Dr. Parnassus' Danse Macabre

Keenan Marchand

The street was grey and near an area where a curved bridge of concrete spotted with streetlamps lay sagging above a stretch of the Thames. Cars were on different routes, as a stall was embedded in a street, out of place in the metropolitan. A filthy banner hung above the stall reading "Dr. Parnassus' Danse Macabre" in a gold sequin covered typeface reminiscent of vaudevillian themes of an eccentric circus. At the stall there was a man winding the gears of porcelain wind up dancers, looking as old and grey as the sky, his features made of rough clay, faint wisps of his white beard strewn across his face, as one arm was huddled close to his chest, shivering in his threadbare robes he grimaced and picked his teeth. Beside him, a well-groomed gentleman of short height stood upon an old wooden stool, his cane waving about emphasizing expressive advertisements with animated gestures.

"Damn it! Tony's golden pipe is still stuck in my teeth Percy! I shouldn't have made it shatter like that." The old man, the immortal Doctor Parnassus, grumbled.

Parnassus placed his palm to his brow as it furrowed, coiling up in concern as Percy threw a pitying glance at him, as Parnassus picked his teeth, flicking away the slivers and specks of the golden pipe.

"Some days I can hear her singing," said Parnassus, oiling the gears in a wind up toy that resembled Valentina, his beloved daughter. Her powdered face shuddered as the porcelain legs awkwardly fell into line, making her march like a drunkard with a winding key stuck in her back.

"I should've never made such a bet Percy, not any bet! I'd risked it all Percy, and I can't believe it's over. It was too close Percy, too close, so much that I don't think it's over, it's just….never over. I should have taken my chances and just fallen in with all the other disillusioned and aimless people of the world."

"Yeah, all the other immortal doctors who wander aimlessly would be glad to take you in," chirruped Percy, earning an irritated look from Parnassus, "I mean, look at it in a bright side, she is happy now, and now you are free from any bets you may have had with Mr. Nick. You are free, aren't you?"

Parnassus brushed Percy's concern off like a fly, replying in a voice like sandpaper, "Yes, yes Percy. No more bets."

With a smile Doctor Parnassus mused as indifferent passersby took up their daily busy schedules, talking on phones or playing on iPods, their footsteps a waterfall of sound.

"Oh Percy what would I do without you?" mused Doctor Parnassus with a solid smile.

"Get a midget?" said Percy with a mischievous smirk.

Turning away from him in his chair, the Doctor licked his lips in quiet comfortable discomfort and folded his arms halfheartedly.

"Yes," whispered the Doctor, "no more bets."

"Not even one last little go Doctor?" cried a smug voice with a slurred hiss.

With a wilting shadow, a figure wrapped in a fine white three-piece suit strode lingering along a rickety metal railing, which was next to the scarred face of a pavement sidewalk that was plastered with sodden newspapers, a matter of meters from the bridge. Felinesque and unorthodox, the figure crept along the fence with an acute sense of balance, never straying off the thin steel bar.

A finely greased-back black head of hair obscured by a white mask with searching bird-like eyes and a long beak-like nose was finely unveiled from the darkness as the figure chuckled.

"You may live forever Doctor, but I cheat death!" And with that, the figure peeled off the white mask to reveal the cheeky grinning face of none other than Tony Shepherd.

"Surprised my dear, dear Doctor?" enquired Tony mockingly, throwing his arms out in a wide cheeky arc.

"How, how did you…" Doctor Parnassus' mouth was agape, and Percy looked stunned.

"What? Cheat Mr. Nick once again, even after I had chosen wrong when you had presented the Golden Pipe and the fake that was completely identical to it? Well Doctor, apparently I just have a lot of luck! I did in fact die, and did in fact have a dreadful time in that dreadful place, but I happen to be very sharp-minded!" With this he emphasized by tapping a gnarled finger to his temple, his eyes narrowing with a decayed sense of numb humor. The Doctor groaned to hear Tony's humorous charming voice once again.

"You see, Doctor, you and I both know that Mr. Nick is a betting….man. So let's just say I'm carrying on a tradition here, let's just say I'm keeping the show going. I made my own bet with Mr. Nick, and I am going to claim seven souls. In return, I am free and Valentina once again takes my place. I shall be enlightened, and at your cost Doctor!" chided Tony, "You ruined my world, now I must return such an unsatisfactory favor upon you."

With that, the illuminated figure hopped off the railing and unconventionally walked off, moving like a shadow in the night as the last of him to the Doctor's eyes was the glimmer of his white suit underneath the rusted streetlights.

"Tony!" shouted Doctor Parnassus, his voice hoarse, "Tony, come back here, you son of a bitch!"

The Doctor's hysterical cries were met with silence, than gradually, a voice eroded out of the unsteady silence and poured over the Doctor like gravy. Slinking from the darkness, reluctant to let him go, Mr. Nick walked out upon the sidewalk pavement, casually crouching atop the railing, his Oxford's gleaming from the shoe polish heavily coating the tip of the fine leather shoes.

Mr. Nick stood conniving and casual as always, with his thin moustache, oiled back hair, pasty eyebrows, beady serpentine eyes, and his slithery frothy coat lined with dyed ermine fur. His leathery sinewy gloves braced him into balance on the railing as he puffed upon his cigarette, which was carefully embedded in a sleek streamlined black cigarette holder.

"Well Parny, I must admit Tony is a little scumbag, but a bet is a bet! Now, I think you and me can work out another one. Let's say if you earn seven souls before Tony, you keep Valentina. And if not…" Parnassus was staring at his feet as Percy glanced up at him, tugging his threadbare robe.

"Don't do it Doctor, you know it's just going to…" Parnassus shook him off roughly.

"Infernal devil!" roared Doctor Parnassus at Mr. Nick, "When will I be rid of you and your wagers?"

"Well you see here, Parny, the problem is you won't. And this may be your last chance to save your little girl, cause if you beat Tony, well he won't be able to make another wager. But that all depends…" faltered Mr. Nick, his beady eyes falling across a scattered deck of tarot cards, "on how you play your cards!"

"Percy, I've no other choice, and no other route of which to take. I agree Mr. Nick, and though it's sour, perhaps I will find some peace. For myself and Valentina." Parnassus spat the name of Mr. Nick in a highly annunciated and spiteful manner.

"You haven't won yet." Proclaimed Mr. Nick, and with a half-hearted shrug, he was consumed by the darkness. Parnassus and Percy then left alone in the tidy world of late for work office employees, paying their stand no mind.

"Damn." said Doctor Parnassus.

"Modern, ladies and gentlemen, that is what you want as people of such a vibrant culture as ours is not stuffy routines or predictable plots, you want what is modern! And thankfully ladies and gentlemen that is exactly what I wish to bring to you, something you may regard as a marvel: something modern!" preached Tony from an elevated platform of rotten wood. With that, Tony revealed a mirror.

"What the devil does he think he's playing at?" muttered Doctor Parnassus, looking from the side of a concrete column, shifting uncomfortably from foot to foot.

"Well don't look to me, I'm just as baffled as you are." grumbled Mr. Nick. At Dr. Parnassus' side.

"Don't sneak up on me like that you, it isn't polite." rasped Parnassus, returning his eyes upon the grinning masked Tony leading a young lady towards a mirror. Mr. Nick rolled his eyes.

"On the contrary Parny," said Mr. Nick, sucking in a long drag of smoke from his cigarette, "It's what I do." Looking back to Tony, he gestured with a gloved hand.

"What do you think he's playing at Parny, I mean, if I didn't know better, I'd say that was your mirror."

"I'd sold it, because I needed money, too few patrons and that sort of thing. Last I had heard, the Imaginarium had been auctioned off and had been bought by an anonymous bidder. So now I know whom that mysterious bidder was. But how did he manage to learn the secret of the Imaginarium? I never told it to him!" Parnassus then ceased his ramblings and leaned in, hearing Tony speak.

"Now, m'dear, would you happen to know what this beautiful mirror could do?"

"No, I most certainly do not!" replied the women aghast, a mink around her neck. "But tell me, what does it do?"

Tony smiled his greasy grin and then threw his hands wildly in the air.

"Well m'dear and all you other…..m'dears and m'lords…..quite the archaic jabber don't you think? Well, this mirror is the door to your imagination. It is a door to enlightenment. I found this mirror in the deepest reaches of the east, whereupon at the foot of the monastery…I found a secret."

"What was the secret?" A voice in the crowd resounded inquiringly.

"Well if I happened to tell you it wouldn't be a secret anymore, now would it?" With that, Tony gestured to the mirror, split in two flaps allowing entry. With a twirl he let the woman spin into the mirror.

Within a couple of seconds, Parnassus, Percy and Mr. Nick as well as all the people in the crowd were greeted by a squeal of delight as a woman exited the Imaginarium, enlightened. As Parnassus looked though, the woman seemed fake, and artificial, with a slight clicking from inside her and a slight puff of steam from her lips, though 'she' was not smoking anything. The squeal sounded clamored and recorded, but that did not fail to fool the audience, as young women pushed and shoved to be next.

"Ladies and gentlemen, step right up for enlightenment! It only takes a couple of minutes here, but you linger for a lot longer in such a beautiful breadth of Nirvana!"

"What's he doing in there?" leered Mr. Nick.

"I don't know, but I intend to find out!"

"Ah, step right up my charming dear," laughed the charming Tony as he led up a beautiful blond woman with eyes like the sea. "May you find enlightenment!" And with that, he paused and narrowed his eyes looking deeply at the woman's eyes. Shaking his head dismissively, he led the woman into the mirror.

The woman's eyes glanced nervously about as Tony waited outside the mirror. With that, the woman lifted her soft hands to her scalp and began peeling and pulling at it, until skin was coming off like a pile of clothes, the woman's clothes coming off as well. Revealed amongst the tattered mass was an old man in a threadbare robe, a dapper man with a cigarette holder and a well-dressed dwarf.

"We're in."

The Imaginarium resembled the set of a play, a myriad of waving painted landscapes. They churned in a way that reminded Doctor Parnassus and others of the waves of the ocean.

At their feet there was a fishing boat, a modest fishing vessel with a whitewash gleam and looped rigging strewn across the small deck. Greeting them there was a preacher who wore the ragged robes of a catholic, along with a boater hat and shoes that had worn away at the toes. His shaggy and unkempt appearance was further emphasized by the ragged wisps of a beard and moustache. The man's beady eyes peered at the three wanderers as he gestured for them to board the boat. They did.

In the churning ocean of cardboard, the boat weaved its way through and through until at last they came upon an island. It was a very small island and it had an office building on it, covering almost its entire surface. The man in the priest's robes tied the mooring line to a crooked dusty post on the shore and waited in the vessel. As they approached, they saw that the doors were barred and a burning fire was pounding inside the building. A quieter pounding was also echoing as a chorus of fists pounding upon the door and a chorus of coughing resounded as Parnassus and Mr. Nick peered into the door's window, while Percy attempted to get upon his tiptoes to see what was happening.

Inside the room was covered in smoke, the fumes of industry, trails of smoke twisting like serpents that leaked out from underneath the door caused even Mr. Nick to cough, as, gazing in, Dr. Parnassus spotted three women. One was thin, and wore a revealing dress; her hair blonde, with seductive lipstick smothered across her mouth, a dash of freckles peppered her cheeks as her vase-like figure cut prominently through the smoke as she bent over coughing. Another, which rosy pudgy cheeks and a jolly gut was screaming herself hoarse in between violent bouts of coughing. Her bland brown hair hung in messy fronds, curly and incomplete strands, some short and some long. The third woman had raven black hair and fiery eyes, a grimace distorting her violent gestures as she pounded with bunched fists in rage upon the door.

"That slimy little toe-rag," rasped Mr. Nick, "he's using my moves!"

"Just a little more deviant I'd say," said Percy, "and that is saying something!"

Peering farther into the door's window, Parnassus saw a quiet brooding woman glaring longingly at the buxom blonde, in a soft-spoken speechless poisonous envy. Her short plastered bowl cut hair and vicious hooded eyes made her look slightly Victorian. They flashed angrily, tears rolling down her sullen cheeks as the smoke pierced them coldly. Beside her there was curled up a red headed woman who was snoring, adding to the cacophony of sounds emanating from inside the office building, her snoring whiffing in the delirious vapors of smoke entwined in the air, stirring her to sleepy-eyed ignorance before she resumed her laziness, her hair strewn across the floor like fire. Sitting a little way off was a plucky young woman with auburn curls and a little blue dress with long eyelashes, her head held high, her nose up in the air, her brow furrowed in disgust at the smell of smoke. To the right of her stood a finely dressed woman with a wig, wearing yellow floral, and holding a purse. Around her neck was an expensive mink, on her wrists golden bracelets, in her ears diamond earrings, on her feet expensive looking shoes. Her forehead was crinkled in genuine discomfort.

"Tony, he's….he has seven souls. He's won. Valentina…" Parnassus slurred, his voice tinged with hopelessness. "She's…she's gone."

With that, Parnassus slumped to his knees, folding like a piece of paper. He buried his knees in the sand, his frame trembling like a door shut too roughly. His ancient face contorted into one of complete despair, all sign of hope gone in the sorrowful wrinkles that crowded his forehead.

"Parny…" began Mr. Nick.

"Enough of your bets Nick, I want nothing to do with you, nothing to do with anyone!" raged Parnassus, delirious in his grief and his pain he stumbled into the cardboard sea, tearing up the painted waves in his anger.

Percy and Mr. Nick rushed over to restrain Parnassus, tears flying off his face as he roared, his cry great and terrible. His eyes were swollen and puffy as he clenched his teeth in fury.

"Hold on Parny, hold on!" Mr. Nick yelled in smothered anger, laying a slimy glove upon Parnassus' shoulders. "He hasn't actually got the souls yet Barney, so dontcha worry!"

Parnassus gazed up at Mr. Nick with open eyes. "Say it's true!"

Mr. Nick rolled his eyes and smacked his lips in an irritated manner.

"Say it!" Parnassus roared, his eyes fiery.

"Alright, alright no need to get touchy Barney!" crackled Mr. Nick in an impatient huff. "He has the souls, but hasn't 'claimed' them yet if you know what I mean. Do you know of the one thing that's always tugging on women's hearts?"

"Cancer?" replied Doctor Parnassus.

Percy threw Parnassus a look of shock. "It's love Doctor Parnassus, you know, on young women's hearts?"

"Well Mr. Nick here did not give me an age to work with!" huffed Parnassus. Following the argument, Percy and the Doctor continued to squabble, while they took out plaster, clockwork spokes and wheels, golden pipes and such things. While working, they found topics to disagree on, such as immortality, magic, restaurants and shaving cream.

Awaiting the end of the conversation with mock boredom, Mr. Nick then snapped his fingers, and the office building demolished like a curtain. Left standing were seven young women, all wearing floral patterned dresses of different colors, and all looking very bewildered.

As they rubbed their eyes and cleared their throats they were greeted by seven men. One was angry looking, another fat, another envious, another sleepy, another extremely handsome, another snippety, another in a fine looking suit. All went up to each woman, who upon seeing them was starry eyed, allowing themselves to be taken up into a loving embrace by each man. With that, holding hands, they delightfully took an escalator up a very high mountain and into a mysterious blinding light. Parnassus smiled, watching the winding gears on the backs of the men slowly curl, the slight clicking of clockwork in their step.

With that, Parnassus saw a dark figure riding in a deliciously fanciful riverboat, standing at its helm and stroking through a river that winded itself through with a long oar. However, the oar showed the water for what it really was, a rich dark filthy tar that burbled and popped at the surface like acne and blisters, resounding in an eerie and sickening hum. The oar slurped at the slime, where dozens of chipped trophies and certificates bubbled noiselessly to the fetid surface. The man was Tony.

His face was at first a look of shock, then a smirk, then a look of shock once again. He took the mask off and his eyes ventured in horror from the remains of the office building, to the forms of Parnassus and Percy. His brow frowned as his charming mouth struggled with finding something to say.

"What…how….what did you do?" croaked Tony barely in a whisper, his hands running down the handle of the oar nervously. Then, he glanced over to see on his left shoulder a leathery glove. A sinewy voice then ensued from snake-like lips.

"You know, Tony, you're just not…as much of a good sport as Parnassus is. Sure, it may have sent a little shivers and stolen a couple breadths, but that just don't cut it."

And with that, the vessel, including Mr. Nick and Tony, were engulfed by the sludge of the river, Mr. Nick's crackly chuckle and Tony's hideous scream the last either of them heard as the entire vessel was engulfed.

With that, Parnassus was left standing and then, after a while he smiled a small weak smile that is the trademark of the exhausted. With that, he walked over to Percy and helped start to make repairs to the broken cardboard waves.

Le Fin