—For the Benefit of Jeff—
Bills. Bills sorted and stuffed into their authorative wicker basket perches that were nailed up all over the kitchen. Bills arranged by prospective collector and waiting in the file cabinet. Bills spilled from the hutch, bills flew out of the faucet, bills lined the bookshelves. Pocket lining money turned to dust only to form more bills.
Four and one-eighth by nine and one-half white envelopes, all with their mocking windows and the eyes formed from inside. Eyes reflected the recipient's name, chanting it in his sleep.
Jeff, the meek and politely sweet owner of the Mineral Town Supermarket, sat with next to his wife Sasha at the kitchen table, yin to his yang. He looked on as Sasha quietly punched numbers into the calculator at the chaotically increasing garbles of digits, the nauseated feeling from the pits of his stomach becoming the pestilence of his expression and posture.
That's how it's been for a long time. It became more dire than ever in the past months. Many people in Mineral Town owed the shop money, Sasha and the couple's daughter Karen scrounging up every last piece of gold from those who exploited Jeff's kindness. Still, interest rates inflated far past the family's peeving, and every wicker basket in the house overflowed with third and fourth and fifth notices.
Most of it was inherited from Jeff's ancestors. Still, Jeff always wanted his family to have everything they wanted, and to be happy. The karaoke machine and DDR games in the basement manifested the dreams of Karen, the aspiring singer and dancer.
The Repo Depot employee just had to do his job. And as another workweek started, he announced his arrival. At that rate, doorbells had Jeff jolting up and dropping his cup of orange juice. But it was Karen, hiding away all her dread behind her poise, who answered the door.
"Repo Depot," the beefy, tattooed employee dutifully announced as two other employees shoved past Karen. Karen looked up at the shell of a man with a scowl.
"How much more can you take from us??" she pressed, crossing her arms over her chest. And on cue, one of the employees popped his trucker capped head out from behind her.
"There's a bunch of paintings in there. Originals," he announced.
The Repo Leader shrugged as plopped his butt down on the stoop, waving his hand over his head.
"Ehhh… they'll do," he replied.
Karen jumped up at that.
"You can't take those! They're my father's!"
"Holy blue meanies!!" one of the employees exclaimed from inside. "There's at least thirty of them back here!"
The employees began dragging out the paintings of all sizes in eager armfuls, this time shoving Karen into the door frame. She rubbed her sore elbow, but not without another glare at the Repo Leader.
But out of the side of her eyes, she noticed the shadow of a tall and lanky boy stretching across the outer wall of her house. Shifting her gaze, she saw the mop topped, scruffy-looking boy approach the repo men, stopping them as they came around the side of the building.
It was the boy who had inherited the farm on the south side of town. He stood before the repo men, arms folded resolutely across his chest.
"Put them back," he told them, soliciting hardy laughs in response. The farmer boy found nothing funny. "I said…" he began again. "Put. Them. Back."
Lifting his denim-clad butt off the stoop, the Repo Leader strode over to the farmer boy with a quickly fizzling cigar clenched between his crooked teeth. The farmer heaved out a cough as the Repo Leader approached, but stood tall to face up to him. Between drags on the fat cigar, he let out a booming laugh.
"The only way I'd return those paintings is if I saw Jeff get launched out of a cannon and through a hoop of fire… wearing leather and lace garters!"
The farmer cocked his head, befuddlement in his eyes.
Of course, the cannon, the hoop, and the garters were quickly found around town, and before long the setup was ready in the town square. A crowd of onlookers turned to watch a mortified Jeff meekly make his way into the square, decked out in forest green, lacey garters, with a zig-zag of leather straps connecting to black leather, thigh-high boots and almost concealing a greener thong. Even if he was approaching his forties, the baby-faced Jeff was still fit of figure, and was at least a better candidate to don the garters than Duke was, who cracked into a snicker along with his chatterbox wife, Manna.
Jeff didn't let the spine-shivering stares deter his passion for his artwork, climbing into the carnation pink cannon with a heaving sigh. He popped back out briefly to receive a green bicycle helmet from Sasha, and slid back with Sasha's encouragingly resolute face in his mind.
There was a sliver of time after the fuse lighting that Jeff took to shriek as he shot just over the upturned heads of the ducked villagers, barreling through the hoop of fire and finally plummeting unscathed into the arms of a few brave souls.
For a full minute, roaring applause spoke for everyone, everyone except the Repo Leader. His soggy cigar pathetically slumped from his mouth along with his macho flaunted chest. Somehow wishing Jeff, basking in praise from fellow villagers, didn't just survive the cannon launch, he dashed over the scene. There, he caught the attention of Karen.
"Well now, what do you think of that?" Karen asked with a smirk. Everyone turned to face the bowled over Repo Depot man with their own collection of smirks and grins, driving the nails into him.
"Fine! So he did it!" he exclaimed, backing away. "But you're gonna have to raise all that money to save Jeff's shop! You have a week before I opt to get the whole place shut down!!" And with a villainously maniacal cackle, he scuttled off in a hand-rubbing dash, distraught villagers looking on.
"But how'll we get the money for the store…?" Jeff wallowed, slumping his shoulders. A muddle of murmured responses arose, no one giving off any sort of idea. Jeff sighed.
"I have an idea."
Everyone turned to the source of the voice, the very man stepping through the crowd with his hands in the pockets of white lab coat.
"I'm a licensed circus proprietor, and I have an idea to get Jeff out of debt," he announced.
And all eyes fell on Jeff. With that, the Doctor said:
"All we'd have to do is get our act to Bishop's Gate."
It's been a week since then, and today is the debut of the Mineral Town Circus. The Doctor told the villagers all about the Bringing of Bishop's Gate.Every ten years on a selected Saturday, magicians, orchestras, exotic dancers, organ players, organ donors, all flanked by the most colorful circus troupe, are gathered for a most delightful night, starting at promptly ten to six. Just about anything one could conjure up in their wildest imaginations could be rounded up, talents and pizzazz sparkling and reflecting in the eyes of the Bishop's Gate fans.
Of course, there's a most gracious pay involved for all participants. All the aspiring, dedicated folk work for years to get a chance at Bishop's Gate. Still, Jeff and the rest of Mineral Town toiled long into each night and day for the past week just to pass the most arduous task they could dig themselves into.
The audition that night.
The panel of three androgynous judges watches on from their makeshift table, making secret comments to each other through straight faces. They look like something out of Cirque du Soleil, painted up like stone statues and possibly naked.
Very casually and coolly, the Doctor set a round tray down on their table. He made eye contact with all three as he handed them tall glasses of water. With their hands wrapped around, they made the same dirty face, but finally began to drink.
"What eez thees, Monsieur Fanque, urine?" the one in the middle sneered.
"It's fortified with vitamins," the Doctor replied.
Mineral Town's very own Rose Square has been converted into a full-blown circus arena, while Cliff and Carter tune a massive brassy instrument previously contrived out of metal tubes, funnels, and even an old satellite dish in the corner nearest to the judges. They're part of the orchestra they took charge of, with Cliff on the brass contraption, Elli and Ann on flutes, Carter on the church organ, and Gray surrounded by a wave of drums large enough to swallow him. They're covered in silver from head to toe; wearing silver jumpers and playing silver instruments. The only exception to the silver beads and clothes is their cobalt colored skin.
The farmer, who has an affinity for a scruffy appearance, emanates a pompous and classy air in his tangerine tux and top hat. He's standing and looking taller with his long legs as Sasha adjusts his broad tie that dripped with bold, spectral colors. She straightens out the collar of his crimson dress shirt, and sends the mop topped boy on his way. He ascends the stairs of a cleverly crafted stage, which is no doubt holding plenty of surprises underneath the blossoming fractals of colors and flowers.
He stands stage center as the flowers behind him light up the night sky. His focus is on the judges on the other side of Rose Square, waiting coolly for the signal.
The judge in the middle pulls out a card of the French flag and holds it in the air. And the farmer slowly brings a portable microphone up to his mouth, starting a long-legged and rhythmic stride across the stage. A black trampoline is being rolled out from under the stage.
The farmer cues the orchestra and with sharp rolls of Gray's snare drum, he sucks in a deep breath. Then he begins to sing in a melodic narrative.
"For the benefit of Mr. Kite, there will be a show tonight on trampoline…" He spins into a back flip off the stage, springing into the trampoline and launching into the air. Basil, Anna and Mary in matching blue and red checkered leotards jump onto the trampoline from different directions, and bounce their way onto the stage. They break into break dancing, complete with back flips and gravity-defying grace.
"The Hendersons will all be there, late of Pablo Fanque's fair, what a scene!"
With a cat and nine-tails clutched in his right fist, the Doctor walks out from behind the stage. He's wearing his normal white lab coat and stethoscope, but his sunglasses swirl in red and black and draw out the yellow of the rest of his clothes. He flexes his wrist as he commands the red leather garters and biker boots clad Rick, Zack, Won and Saibara as masked horses into doing incredible feats. They balance on their noses, pull off triple cartwheels, and lick their elbows.
"Over men and horses, hoops and garters, lastly through a hogshead… of real fire!" The farmer then crouched into a roll over his head, disappearing under the green velvet skirt of the stage.
The carnation pink cannon is wheeled out from the right end of the stage as Jeff steps out in his garters. Karen is knocking back moonshine in a silver oil keg in her feathery violet one-piece, and walks barefoot over to a realistic looking hog's head propping up a seven-foot. She turns to the judges with confident eye contact and pulls a match from her bosom, sticking out her tongue and striking it. With a jaunty motion, she tosses the match into her mouth as she spins on the balls of her feet, and spews out an incredible sky blue flare. The hog's head and hoop catch them, and are steadily flaming in gracefully dancing embers.
White sparkles suddenly bursts out and twinkles around the center of the stage, missiles of smoke zooming into the sky. The farmer slowly rises onto the platform with his free hand slowly tracing a crescent up to the stars.
"In this way, Mr. K will challenge the world!"
Jeff is flying a silver UFO kite the size of his house now, and he guides it to drift just over the flowery curtains. Stu and May emerge from the top in sunshine yellow leotards and roll down the sides, catching onto trapeze swings suspended high above the stage. They swing once, flying off with mid-air somersaults, passing each other straight above the stage, and catching the other's swing.
Cliff bellows out a few more notes and Gray snaps into another drum roll. Stu and May swing again, this time flinging sparkling confetti into the air.
"The celebrated Mr. K performs his feat on Saturday at Bishop's Gate." The farmer descends the stairs at the edge of the stage with his stride with red, green and blue spotlights swerving around the cobblestone ground of Rose Square, alternating between overlapping as white and separating. He sent his eyes' focus on the judges as he continued walking, pointing with his white-gloved hand over his shoulder.
"The Hendersons will dance and sing as Mr. Kite flies through the ring, don't be late." He turns his chest to face the judges, and begins to tip toe backwards in the same stride into the raining confetti, flowers, and silly string being flung in from Sasha, Lillia, and Popuri, all wearing open pink blazers and indigo leotards. He spins around and bounds on and off the trampoline, backflipping onto the stage.
Gotz is now on the stage and dressed up in a brown walrus costume with silver fangs, and he lifts Ellen up from an open trap door. With a spin of his feet, he tosses Ellen behind his back and the farmer catches her in both arms, winding up and throwing her into the air. He then crouches into a roll off the stage while Ellen is caught by the Stu on the chain of the trapeze kids. She's being held by her wrists while Doug, Saibara, Greg, and Harris dash onto the stage with a taut, circular, red parachute, painted with an striking grey spiral.
"Messers K and H assure the public their production will be second to none."
The parachute bearers take up a moderate, counterclockwise walk just as Stu drops Ellen in a curve. With a jump, the bearers take off stage left while folding up the parachute, and the farmer jumps onto the stage just in time to catch her. He tosses her to Gotz as she waves goodbye, and Gotz sticks her back under the trap door. Gotz turns to run towards the farmer while Kai, who's dressed in draping golden pants and a lion mask, dashes in from the other side.
They both grab the farmer and fling him into the air.
"And of course, Henry the Horse dances the waltz!!"
The orchestra transitions into a moderate waltz while he bounces off the trampoline and flings himself towards a pit of villagers. Barley guides a purple, elongated horse from behind the stage, dressed in a lemon colored jockey's uniform, and he takes it to the front of the stage.
Henry the Horse dances in a side-stepping 3-count stride, who isn't a horse of course, but Manna manning the front and Duke coming up behind. Barley lets out a devilish smile as he takes a bullwhip from a walking stack of hay about the height of Mayor Thomas. He gives it a lash at his left back leg, and another. Henry the Horse finally screams a nay and gallops off while avoiding usage of his bad leg while the crowd tosses the farmer back onto the stage.
He strides across the stage in a clockwise circle, and slowly but surely, his costume is changing color! It's turning a deep shade of purple, and now shifting to lime green, now it's crimson red! He finishes the circle, his suit once again that particular tangerine color. But now the sky's swirling like an Australian toilet, streaming an auburn color that crescendos into crimson. It splits off into guavas, limes, and tangerines and stars streak out with lilac afterburner.
Then there's the floorshow. The residents of Mineral Town, save for the orchestra and the farmer, are scattered about the square, climbing brain busting stairs that Escher himself would get the chills over seeing. Stairways emerge from the stage, leading to midair doorways that open up sideways and inside out in midair, and the villagers run amok through the mind-boggling maze. Even Ellen floats up from a trap door in the stage, and enters back in through one on the other side.
Kano scrambles onto the stage in a white leotard, using his bent back elbows to maneuver himself. His left leg is over his head and toes crammed into his ear, right leg tucked neatly underneath his opposite arm. With a seven inch tongue, he manages to wedge open a trap door, sliding into it.
With a couple bangs from the organ, the stairs vanish and the farmer strides to the front of the stage. He crouches down.
"The band begins at ten to six, when Mr. K performs his tricks without a sound."
He rises to full height and waves a hand in Jeff's direction, who pulls himself up to the opening of the cannon. With his own wave and thumbs-up, Jeff disappears into the cannon.
"And Mr.H will demonstrate ten somersets he'll undertake on solid ground."
Basil zooms up one set of stairs from the side of the stage, ten foot pole vault in hand. He curves in and flings the vault's base to the ground, and is lifts off into the air. Nearly bringing the stars down, he somersaults his way down to the ground, landing neatly in another roll. He gets up, and pulls off a few more somersaults.
"Having been some days in preparation, a splendid time is guaranteed for all!"
Slowly but surely, the farmer's feet are now lifting off the stage. He's steadily rising up in mid air.
"And tonight, Mr. Kite is topping the BILL!"
The organ takes the solo, and…
Jeff rockets straight through the air, leaving gold and pink smoke in his wake as clears the flaming hoop, completely unscathed. The smoke spreads to the stage and the strobe lights kick on. And the trapezes are swinging, Kano is contorting, and the leotard clad residents of Mineral Town skip and dance about as the sky swirls into an azure wonder as the farmer does a final backflip off the stage.
The sky falls black again, and all the lights of the town dazzle into brilliance before the judge's eyes.
They hold their pens over their clipboards, empty glasses in front and the entire town posed before their eyes. The one in the middle summons Doctor "Pablo Fanque" Tim over to the table, and he strides over with his hands in his pockets.
"Mr. Fanque," he begins with his usual sneer. "You have made me feel so…" He takes a moment to find the word to describe the ineffable feelings running through his intestines.
"Dirty?" the Doctor asks, cocking his head.
"Oui," the middle judge replies. "So we pay you, now. You better show up at Bishop's Gate next month."
By this time, the entire town has gathered around the table, and they erupt into waves of joy. Sasha and Karen grab Jeff into tight hugs, who's a little dazed. He passes out, being brought slowly to the ground by his family.
"Monsieur," the middle judge whispers to the Doctor. "How in the name of zee Eiffel Tower did you do zat??"
The Doctor shrugs nonchalantly.
"Wouldn't wanna spoil the magic," he replies as he gathers up the glasses.
Thanks for reading. You ask… huh? And I say, have another drink.