________ ____ _ _____ _ _ ____ _ | | | | | | | | | | | | BLiP | | | | | | -|-- | | o | | | | |--| |--| |---| | | |--~ |--| |--| |--- ---- | #23 | | | | | | | | | | | \ | | | | | | |___ | | | | | |~~~ | | | | _ | | | | | |~~~ | | ~~~~~~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~ ~ ~~ ~~~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~~~~ ~~~~ ~ ~~~~ [Cover shows a large circus tent, with the Alt.Riders surrounding it, gazing at it dreamily.] --------------------------------------------------------------------------- "Freak Show" Marsha's mind slowly rose to consciousness, taking in the feel of the air flowing over her, of the hard ground underneath her, of the grass tickling her hands. And wondered, vaguely, what happened to her bed... Her mind quickly caught up with the impressions and snapped into full awareness. Ground. She was lying on grass. She had been asleep in her bed but now she was awake and outside. Marsha sat up, turning her head quickly this way and that to take in as much information as possible. She lay on a hillside, the sun shining brightly overhead. Below her, lying in the bowl formed by the hills circling around, were several large tents. Circus tents, in fact. Her attention was drawn to them in a way that she couldn't deny. She had to go. She had to. Rising to her feet, she walked down. Something attracted her attention, and she looked past the tents to see other people converging on the centre as well. She recognized the shapes even at this distance. There was Agent. And there Missy. And there... Her heart skipped a beat. What? What was going on? How was this possible. _Hello? You there?_ she thought in her head. There was no response. Which fit in a warped way since the person she was speaking to was in fact walking down the hillside as well. "Peter?" she said, quietly, disbelievingly. "Peter. Peter!" she finally called. Peter looked up, saw her and waved. It had been so long since she had seen him, and now he was impossibly before her, separated from her. This must be a dream. Now they all converged outside the largest tent. "It dream," Missy said. "What's going on here?" Rick asked. "Is this another attempt by Bennington to get at our minds?" [See _The Alt.Riders #22_ for that attempt - Footnote Girl] "Missy's right," Agent replied. "It's a dream." "How can you tell?" Marsha immediately challenged, feeling hopes and fears welling up in her. "For a start, you two," said Agent, indicated Marsha and Peter. "And I know when I'm dreaming, because I don't." Agent received a few puzzled looks, and he sighed. "That doesn't mean I'm not aware of the state of dreaming. I'm dreaming at the moment, and since I don't dream, someone's making me dream." "Which leads us to the starter for ten points: Who?" Rick asked. At that point, a voice boomed from a microphone, drawing them all to look at a barker announced the following: "Hurry! Hurry! Hurry! Step right up and you will see on display a collection of some of the strangest specimens ever gathered together -- both LIVE and preserved. You will see the incredible JELLO JACK -- the boneless boy and HERMAN -- The Human Mole. You'll see WANDA -- The Worm Woman and MICKEY -- The Mumbling Midget with his secret from far beyond the realm of human understanding. There's also Benny -- Bouncing Benny The Bump who can't wait to show you the eerie and shapeless mass which he hides beneath his shirt and shows only when he does his famous dance -- THE BOUNCING BUMP! So -- step this way, folks come on in, you know you can't resist. Come in and make your mundane lives look like the kiss of bliss." His speech finished, the barker disappeared back inside. "I think I want to wake up now," said Marsha as silence fell over them. "On the other hand, this is exactly the type of incidents we should be investigating," Agent returned. "We should look around, see what we can find out." "Of course we should," Rick replied dryly. "Split up and investigate on our own. Sure, why not? It's the most sensible idea I've ever heard." "If you're quite finished, perhaps you'd like to join the rest of us in doing something productive?" "I'll go with Peter," Marsha said, then looked around for him. There was no sign of him, nor of Missy. At best there was a moving tent flap, where someone had entered. "Where'd he go?" Agent pointed to a tent. "Try in there," he suggested. Marsha eyed him, then shrugged and disappeared inside. "Did Peter go through there?" Rick asked. "No, so someone needed to." Rick shook his head, selected a different tent again and entered. Agent wasn't so quick. He'd like to take a look around first before being told where to go... _-~-_ A hillside, nowhere in the real world. One could only dream of a hillside like this. In fact, it was exactly in dreams that this hillside existed. This was the land of Harnegu, one of the dream worlds that existed within the LNHiverse. Sheep roaming over these hills, representing sleepers in the real world. And watching over them was, to extend the metaphor, a shepherdess. She was Lynk, otherwise a member of Dvandom Force, but more rightly the guardian of this part of the realm. Wind blew gently over the hills, and Lynk was suddenly startled by hearing a snatch of music, a cheery tune that instantly reminded her of circuses and clowns. Immediately her spear formed in her hand. Something was wrong in the dreamlands; it was up to her to deal with it. _-~-_ Despite his intentions, Agent found himself inside of the tents, the exit he had somehow walked through now gone. Walking forward carefully, the tent walls opened up to a display. Of paintings, oddly enough. This was hardly normal circus fair. One painting was of a sunset, quite beautiful in its way, although Agent was hardly moved. Another was of a bowl of fruit, quite crudely drawn in its way, merely blobs splattered onto the canvas, yet capturing enough to still be recognizable. The one next to it was of a field, painted so vividly that Agent almost expected the cows to start moving at any moment. The next painting was of a beach, cliffs to either side, the blue water fading into the horizon, and, off to one side, a woman, painted from the back, and yet she was a prominent focus in the painting. In fact, the woman was in most of the paintings. Never shown full on, at most half turned away, or mainly from behind. There was something bewitching about her, about how the artist cared so much for this woman that came through, but could never quite capture her. One painting was distinctly odd. Only the lower half of the woman was shown, and even then it was mostly her dress. The head was painted into this picture, shown here to be holding a paintbrush between its lips and painting little figures, angels, onto the woman's dress. Agent wondered if this was some kind of self-portrait, although the main picture was better. The main picture. The head. Literally, it was a picture of a head, floating in a jar, eyes closed. There was something quite realistic about it, and it was only when Agent moved and saw that his eyes didn't track the image properly that he realized it was real. This wasn't a painting, this was an actual head in a jar, surrounded by a frame. Sniffing, Agent thought he caught the hint of formaldehyde in the air. Reaching out carefully, Agent placed his hand on the jar. It felt a little warm, but nothing else happened. Daringly, he tapped one finger against the glass, expecting the eyes to open. But again, nothing happened. Wondering what the point of it was, Agent shook his head, turning to leave the room. However, he only managed a few paces before loosing consciousness. _-~-_ Turning her head slightly, Lynk caught another burst of music. Taking the best bearing she could, she crested a hilltop, and spotted the source of the disturbance. It was a large carnival tent, sitting on a relatively flat piece of ground. How it stood without any sign of support wasn't the main question, when its very presence caused so more important questions to rise. It wasn't doing anything other than being there. None of the nearby sheep seemed bothered by it, but Lynk had no way of knowing what it had done whilst she had been tracking it down. Whatever this was, it was an incursion into Harnegu, and that was something she wouldn't tolerate. Taking a firm grasp on her spear, she walked down the hill towards it. _-~-_ Peter slid his hand over the tent inside as he walked along. He wasn't sure what he should be thinking, but he was rather surprise to find out that he had entered a tent to, basically, avoid talking to Marsha. This was the first time since they had been joined that he had really been by himself, and he wanted to preserve that. There were plenty of unresolved issues between the two of them, and the last thing Peter wanted to do was face them. The tent opened up, revealing a large space, with another tent inside it. However, this one was surrounding a trailer caravan. Walking around it, Peter could see a tent flap moving about, but also a ladder leading up to the top of the trailer. Wanting to know a little more before venturing inside, Peter climbed the ladder to find the top of the trailer covered with grass. In it was a small hole, which Peter peered through to only see an old TV. He thought he could make out music faintly, a piano, not the carnival sound track of outside, but wasn't sure. Climbing back down, he drew a breath, then entered the tent. It was dark inside, but the caravan was easy to see, as the sides where made of glass, letting the light inside escape. Peter stood there quietly in the dark, just taking in the sight of the living room inside. In many ways, it was rather pathetic, a small room, with an old TV and a piano. As Peter stared, he realized that there was someone at the piano, playing quietly. The person was small, and white. Not from a lack of sun, but because he was an albino. The music tinkled faintly through, sad music. Peter took a step forward, drawn to the image inside, when the albino caught sight of him. There was a glimpse of pink eyes, then the figure scampered away, through into another room. Peter followed, slowly, not wanting to startle the person again. The other room was a bedroom, an unkempt bed with dirty sheets, and a large chest of drawers. Staring, Peter wasn't quite sure what to make of it. A noise jangled, making him jump, but he quickly realized that this was the telephone. After a few rings, an answer phone picked up, but no message played. The voice at the other end was easily heard. "Hey, Herman, you there? Come on, man, I know you're there. Pick up, man, it's just me. Hey man, you want to do something later? You know, just hang out. Come on man, pick up? ...well, let me know, okay man. Whatever you want." As the voice spoke, Peter thought something moved, and he turned to see the lower drawer of the chest of drawers open slightly. As the voice finished and rang off, the drawer slammed shut again. Nothing else happened, leaving Peter to look at the remains of a lonely life, before blacking out. _-~-_ Rick stared at the walls billowing around him, buffeted by wind he couldn't hear or feel. He progressed slowly down the tunnel, the end always just hidden by a curtained wall gusting into his path. Finally he breached the chamber at the end of the tunnel, a large room made of dull grey bricks. There was a raised dais in the middle, with something on it, but the light was to dim too make anything out. Tapping his foot, Rick glared around the room. "Hello? Anyone here?" There was a click, then a spotlight came on, illuminating the dais. In the middle was a jar, filled with some kind of liquid. Rick stepped closer, looking with puzzlement. Was that...? He jerked back. There was an eye in there, and other...a mouth...what was this? By itself, the jar lifted into the air, then slowly turned over, and the thing inside was poured out onto the platform. The thing formed itself into a large lump, one eye positioned vaguely above the mouth, and the 'head' crowned by a few ragged tufts of hair. "I wish I was a cowboy," a voice intruded into Rick's shocked thoughts. What was this thing on the platform, lump of what might be jello (Jello Jack)? The mouth was moving, but in some parody of breathing rather that talking. "Or maybe just a bird, signing simple melodies that no-one ever heard." The voice was high, or was it low? It sounded like a woman speaking as a man, or was it a man speaking as a woman? "Soaring with the winter winds and bringing in the spring. Sharing air with orioles and bumblebees that sting. And making babies proud of all the bugs that I would bring." Something about Jack, his shapelessness, got to Rick. Something very personal. When you can be any shape, what is your true shape? "I'd sit up high above the ground, and laugh as I look down at all the silly humans as they slowly trudged around." Or when there are no shapes left, what would he become? Another Jello Jack? "But as I see the end of evening turn into the night, the bird inside my brain becomes a light that is too bright..." Jack's voice trailed off. Was Rick looking at his future? Rick took another step closer, closer to the object of his repulsion. Another step. Details started to blur, edges became less defined. In many ways that was him on the stage, him under the spotlight, paraded around for all to see, him that was nothing more than some shapeless mass that could do no more than exist as some tortured being. Thoughts exploded in his head. His thoughts? He couldn't tell, not anymore. _Hot heat smoulders, smoking embers vibrate deep, vibrate deep, causing teeth clench, cause vibrate deep inside the sucking sound of suction, suction, sucking sections of my soul._ Rick tried to turn, make his way back to the tunnel, back to the outside, but was he standing? Was he on the platform? Did he even have a body anymore? _Sucking sections of the only thoughts my mind will salivate and drool and press against itself, and press against itself and feel the cursing flow of fever, driven, biting, grinding, clinching, ream the center of the Sun with shafts of solid steel._ Rick reached out, grasping, gasping, one breath mixed with the next, his own mind running and shapeless until he was Jello Jack. _Know that there is nothing like the feeling of those steel fingers up inside of something sticky, sweet and wet. Feel the lips of licking licky wet liquid; feel the tongue that touches the tips of sharp pointed things._ Rick collapsed onto the floor, unseeing, uncaring...unconscious. _-~-_ It was times like this it was handy to have the VAXX around, Lynk mused. But she hadn't seen him for a while. She had walked all the way around the tent, examining it carefully, but there was no sign of an entrance. Time to make one. Raising her spear, she thrust it at the side of the tent, expecting to rip through. But all that happened was her spear slide across the material, before falling away. Changing her spear into a sword, she tried again, with the same result. Right then, approach number two. Crouching down, Lynk dug the tip of her sword into the ground, and started peeling away the dirt near where the tent touched the ground. Only to find that it didn't just touch the ground, it burrowed into it. As far as Lynk could dig, the tent kept going down. Frustrated, Lynk wildly attacked the tent, changing her sword into other implements, all of which met with the same lack of success. Lynk stood for a moment, getting her breath and patience back. This might take a while... _-~-_ Marsha paced through the curtained tunnel. A part of her was still in shock from seeing Peter. She hoped that when whatever this was was over, they'd have time to talk. But right now she supposed she'd better focus on what was going to happen. She entered a room, in the centre of which was a chair with a figure on it. Due to the darkness Marsha couldn't make out who. "Hello?" she called out. A spot light flicked on, illuminated a large woman, an obese woman in fact. She sat on the chair, a large ball of fat, with a worn smile on her face, and a vacant look in her eye. At her feet, a bucket of worms writhed, causing Marsha to step back in revulsion. The woman slowly reached down, not without a few signs of discomfort, and picked a long worm out of the pail. With a practiced motion, she brought it up to her face, and sucked the worm into her mouth, before pulling it out again. Marsha felt sick. An image flickered onto the wall behind the woman, of another woman, younger, thinner, in a nun's habit. With a startled revelation, Marsha realized that the woman on the screen was the same as the woman on the chair. "Watch me, watch me, watch me," the woman on the chair crooned. "Won't you watch me for a while?" The image on the screen changed, drew back to show the nun was looking at a Father, in full priest regalia, standing in front of a pulpit, delivering a sermon. Even Marsha could tell that the Sister was in love with the Father. Another scene, the Father leading them in prayer now, and the Sisters kneeling down on mats, heads bowed. Except one, half-raised, looking at the figure at the front. Another image, the Father instructing the Sister personally in reading the Good Book, one hand on the woman's leg. The woman on the chair dipped a hand into the bucket, and placed them on her chest. She repeated this slowly, singing to herself "Watch me pick my worms up, and put them in a pile." Another image, this time of the Father and Sister in bed. The woman was resting on the man's chest, looking up adoringly at him. He was staring upwards into space, more lost in his own thoughts than thinking of the companion he was with. Then another scene. Starting on the nun, with a look of horror on her face, it panned over to see the Father talking to another nun, with his arm around her waist. Quick cuts now. The nun eating food. Images of the Father and the other woman, happy. More food, more images of the couple together. In only a short space of time, the thin nun had become the fat woman, her eyes lost to any sense of life around her. As the final pile of worms were placed on the woman's face, she sang "Watch me sit upon it, with my Mona Lisa smile." Disturbed in ways she couldn't name, Marsha slowly backed away, her mind spinning away into senselessness. _-~-_ Missy followed the path of the tent along, but found herself outside again. Figures flittered through the space around her. Turning her head, she thought she saw one man grabbing at the air, trying to catch something, but there was nothing there. Another turn, and there was a woman. She sat on the ground, drooling, paying no attention to anyone around her. The drool fell from her chin, but was caught in a cup. Looking closely, Missy could see that the cup was full of coins, coins and now drool. The woman abruptly stood up, spilling the cup onto the ground, and staggered off. And then, out of the corner of her eye, she saw a glimpse of white. She managed to turn just in time to see a woman, all in white, disappear behind another tent. Intrigued, she followed, but never quite catching up, just hints each time. Suddenly, coming around another tent, she saw the woman, swaying on her feet. She wore a severe white business suit, and was clutching herself rigidly. But it was her face that drew Missy's attention. It was white, pure white. Not naturally, but because the woman was covered her face with cold cream, layered it on, formed a mask to hide behind. The woman spoke, sometimes softly, sometimes crying out against the anger. Missy watched enthralled as the woman poured herself out. "There's a spot a spot on my glove, on my glove I know, no no maybe it was... make em runny, make em runny honey... doilies, doilies where have all the doilies gone?... "Roses will whither and die Along with the lace and the lies Nothing is nicer than death At matching the bad and the best. "He he... He hated me. He hated me. And hate is white. And hate is hot. But I'll not even have disdain for him. Not even a stain on a memory looked up to. Lacking all respect for him. I'm blacking out the specks of decent thoughts that linger in me. And leave only white. White peaceful white. Calm white swans silently flying in the snow. Look down. And see the bleached bones of a noble knight. Who died trying to save his lady. His lovely white lady. Who brought her man milk in the moonlight. But it was too late. It was too late. Too late he said. He said..." All of a sudden, the woman spun and grabbed Missy, yelling into her face: "Scratch out the pin holes Open up the sores Don't look out the window White hatred's at the door." The woman broke down, crying onto Missy's shoulder. "And he tried to make me dirty. He tried. Tried to make me dirty. Make me dirty..." Missy couldn't stand it anymore. This woman's plight touched her. Missy wanted to help people, and this woman obviously needed help. "It all right," Missy told her. "I'll help you. Whatever you need." She reached out, and touched this soiled soul. _-~-_ Time froze. Nowhere, a voice laughed in glee. _-~-_ Lynk was forced to take a step back as the tent before her suddenly exploded in light. Shielding her eyes, she frowned as the tent slowly collapsed before her, drawn into a tiny point of light, which then vanished. Lynk looked around the landscape. It was back to normal, in that it was a hillside, sheep were grazing, and there was no carnival tent. However, she knew that things weren't normal. Something had just got past her from the dream world into the real world. Something unpleasant... _-~-_ Marsha woke up, startled into alertness. She cast her eyes around wildly before realizing she was back in her room in the Alt.Riders headquarters. She took a moment to calm her breath, and to remember what she'd just experienced. It wasn't entirely clear, but she got a hazy image of a woman and worms. _Peter? Are you there?_ she asked, in her mind. There was a pause, then _Yes._ _What happened? You were there. I remember that._ She frowned in her empty room. _You left._ There was another pause, longer this time. _I went to explore,_ eventually came the reply. _What did you see?_ Marsha asked. _Peter?_ There was no response. _-~-_ Missy rolled over in her bed, still asleep. She had helped someone. She was happy. And that wasn't the only change... -------------------------------------------------------------------------- NEXT ISSUE: The return of a villain. And there is no cruise control in this issue. CREDITS: All are mine (or at least reserved by me) except Lynk, who appears courtesy of Dvandom. Lyrics copyright The Residents. NOTES: Another issue based on a Residents' album, like issues #4 and 5. The only freaks I didn't use was Benny and Mickey, but they weren't appropriate (and it's rather fortunate that Barry wasn't in this issue as neither of them correspond to him the way the rest of the freaks lined up the Alt.Riders). I'm not sure that I really captured the freaks in the way I wanted to, but I started writing this issue about two years ago, and can't remember if this is exactly what I intended. Either way, I've finally finished it! As for what happened to Missy (who was created during that previous Residents' inspired story line), we might just have to wait for another Residents' inspired issue to find out... (Or maybe not.)Back to the Index.