<<previously, on the episodes… “You can’t trample infidels when you’re a tortoise. I mean, all you could do is give them a meaningful look.” — Terry Pratchett>>
written for the theme: hats
New Orleans, in the Fall of 1929.
There is a fellow up in the clouds who looks down on all of us who live here in Louisiana. He doesn’t have a big white beard and his name isn’t God or Zeus – it’s actually Albert, and he’s about as nice a fellow as you’re likely to meet. But this sub-entry and this episode don’t really have anything to do with Albert, except that he had pulled the lever up there that made the clouds dump their thousands upon thousands of buckets of water down upon the city of New Orleans. Now, I’m not gonna say that if you haven’t seen it rain in Louisiana, then you haven’t seen it rain. Because what it does here doesn’t fall under the definition of rain – it’s something else entirely. What happens here is enough to make you question the way you’re going about your life. It’s enough to alter the way you see things – or alter the way that things see you.
Now where was I? Oh yes, so Albert had pulled the lever high up above, and I was making my way through the entryway to Pontchartrain Beach, the amusement park which had recently put Spanish Fort out of business. Spanish Fort was just across the bayou, boarded up and soon to be forgotten. All I had was a heavy coat and a fedora to give me the vaguest illusion of protection from the rain, so I was running. I made it to the quaint little lounge and stepped inside the glass door, where the jazz music was playing and the people were mingling. There on the stage was my old squeeze, Martha Boswell and her two sisters, singing their hearts out. (for Martha’s intro – see sub-entry 15)
I ordered a whiskey to shake the chill away and took a table by a window, leaving my coat and hat on the rack by the door. Outside, through the thickness of the rain, was the tent with the lit-up sign above it, displaying to anyone who cared to read it what exactly the tent housed: the episodes. (for the episode tent and Spanish Fort – see sub-entry 17)
“Not sure why they brought that ugly old tent over here from Spanish Fort,” said Martha, taking a seat at my table. I hadn’t even realized that they’d taken a break from singing. “Wonder what it’s for,” she said. “Tarot cards, maybe.”
“Maybe so,” I said.
“Didn’t think you were the hat type,” said Martha. “Of course I didn’t figure you for the flower type, either. Except for that one you gave to me, though it wasn’t exactly a real flower. It was made of balloons, wasn’t it?”
“Yeah. I think it was.” I looked down at the lapel of my jacket, where the dark purple flower was sticking out of the button hole. The Forestay had put it there, and it had stuck with me. (sub-entry 18)
“Are you meeting someone, or just dropping by?”
“I won’t be staying long,” I said. “Though I kind of hoped I’d see someone here.” I ran a fingertip along the purple petals. “Someone that may not even be real.”
She laughed. “Oh, I’d forgotten how strange you could be. It almost makes me wish I’d gotten the chance to figure you out.”
I smiled and took a drink of whiskey. “I don’t think there’s much chance of anyone figuring me out.”
Martha smiled. “Well, I hope you stick around a while. I’m due back on stage.”
I raised my glass. “Cheers.”
The sisters went back to singing, and when I glanced back out the window it was pouring down even more than before. The rain was so thick, in fact, that at first I didn’t notice the figure in the doorway of the episode tent. The figure walked right out into the rain and set something on the ground. Then he looked up, right into my eyes, and I saw that it was the faceless balloon-sculpting clown. He pulled at the brim of his blue top hat, as if greeting me, but his eyes were dead serious. I bolted for the door, leaving behind the whiskey and my overcoat and hat, and ran out into the pouring rain. When I’d gotten to the episode tent, the man had spread out a few more of his balloon sculptures, which I saw were all hats. Each one of them had some sort of cartoonish face – one had big bug-eyes and a long proboscis and antennae. It was a balloon hat of Scape. Another looked like a goofy version of my employer. Another was The Aspect (or The Forestay, since they both look identical), and another was in the blurred shape of a Collector’s head. Behind him, in the entrance of the tent, was a stack of them – hats all bent into the shape of some person from my past, from the episodes.
“Who are you?” I yelled over the pounding of the rain.
He raised an eyebrow and sang loudly over the noise, “It is I, isn’t it, who should be asking that of you?”
I stepped towards him. “Did you do this to the episodes?”
He looked around, raising his hands to the air. “Do what?!” he sang. “They look perfectly fine to me!” He turned and grabbed the fabric of the tent’s entrance and pulled at it in his hands. “Nice and tough! Seems like it’s all staying together rather well, I’d say!”
I felt the burn on my wrist begin to twitch, the tingling sensation slithering up to my elbow, over my shoulder and spilling across my back and chest. The episode was almost over. A pounding erupted in my chest, again and again like a slow war drum. The pounding held the episode in place, kept it from ending just yet, like holding a ball underneath the water.
“Will I ever see her again?” I called out to him.
He turned to me, glancing down at the flower, which was somehow not being destroyed by the downpour. “I hope so,” he said, no longer singing. “For all their sakes. She has the key, after all.” Impossibly, he lit a cigarette in the midst of the rain.
Thick blackness poured out through my sleeve and poured up through the neck of my shirt, wrapping around me until I was gone.
Boom. The pounding in my chest was the only sound, but it held me there like an anchor in the dark. Boom. With the pounding echoed the same thought, over and over: I’m not done here yet. Boom. I reached out, my hands gripping where the blackness had closed around me, and every ounce of strength I had was pumped through my arms and hands as I forced the blackness to open. Boom. The clown was there, his eyes widening as he stepped backward against the tent. Boom.
I leaped out through the rain, grabbing him by the lapels of his checked jacket. “If I’m leaving, you’re coming with me!”
Then the blackness reached its claws around the both of us, and we were gone.
story Copyright 2010 by Andy Reynolds
for more stories and a menu of the episodes, visit my website: AndyReynolds.net