Kursaal is an installment tale which is part of a regular challenge involving the use of three given prompts
and a word limit of 100 found at The Prediction, a weekly flash fiction challenge.
MAXIMILLIAN CORVIDAY (Episode 1)
Black duster billowing with every purposeful stride, Maximillian Corviday surveyed his magnificent creation. From the freshly-painted Arcade to the beckoning lights of the twinkling Midway, this would be his vindicating triumph, silencing forever those irritating gainsayers.
Many of his performers and staff had yet to arrive, some having to travel great distances; however, the Grand Opening was imminent and soon, crowds would flock like a murder of crows. He was fond of that phrase. It was personally poetic in nature and would certainly prove to be so very appropriate in execution.
Resplendent in Russian sable, Manasa's arrival was as grandiose as her personality. Maximillian immediately dispatched roustabouts to transport her undulating cargo to the snake charmer's caravan.
MANASA (Episode 2)
"Empty basket?" he queried. "Do we need to report a theft?"
Manasa shook her head.
"Archon was restless and needed to, shall we say, stretch his legs." She chuckled. "My little joke. He will join us soon."
In the nearby forested area, a group of snickering children were torturing several small rodents they had managed to trap. They did not notice the asp emerge from the undergrowth, forked tongue licking the air.
Leaving silence in his wake, Archon navigated the forest floor, a chessboard carpet of dry leaves and tangled tree roots.
ARCHON (Episode 3)
He followed the cobbled byway through the arched entrance of the Kursaal and past the barkers' quarters until he reached Manasa's caravan. Perched upon the wooden steps, she was expecting his arrival. The fragrant smoke from her cigarillo drifted heavenward. Manasa kissed the triangular head and allowed his darting tongue to caress her lips.
"There's my lovely boy!"
Archon coiled into the waiting Charming Basket. If he had been a cat, he would have purred.
Overseer and owner of the Pony Ride Paddock and Hoochie Coochie Tent, Eli Cornelius found the juxtaposition of innocent childhood delight and carnal adult entertainment to be amusing. His ledgers were always perfectly balanced. No discrepancies. No deficits. No shortfalls. Eli took great pride in his managerial skills.
ELI CORNELIUS (Episode 4)
The costumery of both prancing ponies and dancing divas was strikingly similar. Crystal buckles, purple feathers and sequined tassels. If anyone ever wondered why Eli's two troupes of performers could never been seen in the same place at the same time, the question was certainly never given voice.
The Emporium of Enchantments was located beyond the concession stand, amid the aroma of jacket potatoes, turkey legs and funnel cake.
PRIMROSE LEE (Episode 5)
Primrose Lee, proprietor of Artisan Alley's most impressive pavilion, peddled a variety of mystical wares including sandstone piskies and alabaster faeries, but most patrons came in search of her remedies.
Primrose could fulfill any heart's desire for the right price. Being an equal opportunity supplier, she made no distinction between the black and white magicks. However, her profit margin came courtesy of neutralizing elixirs, a necessary evil since bewitchments were fickle and unpredictable and so prone to go awry.
The arrival of Jasper Joad with his Ghost Train and Haunted Mansion was cause for celebration. What Midway would be complete without such staples?
JASPER JOAD (Episode 6)
Beneath the deceptive patina of the marquees and less than dulcet melodies emanating from within, Jasper's rides were basically bluff and bluster. However, this knowledge did nothing to deter patrons. After all, the desire to be momentarily scared witless is inherent in the human condition.
"No Entry" signs peppered the interior of both attractions, barring public access to certain areas. And for good reason. Regardless, these warnings had often been ignored, much to the detriment of any interloper.
The Skyward Merry-Go-Round with its cloud chariots, flying dragons and winged pegasi was located in the very heart of the Midway. Initially slated to be one of a handful of free amusements, Maximillian Corviday had decreed that Skyward remain the sole complimentary attraction.
ROXANNE HUNTLEY (Episode 7)
Regardless, Roxanne Huntley, diehard misandrist, elected to charge male patrons when fancy struck. The engaging green-eyed operator with auburn ringlets met no resistance on such occasions and could manoeuvre the ride from intoxicating speed to quivering standstill in a mere millisecond.
The chosen, however, were rarely the same after being subjected to Roxanne's expert manipulation.
The numerous prevaricating staircases and paths within the Funhouse inevitably terminated at the contoured Hall of Mirrors. The diminutive exterior belied the vast expanse of the interior labyrinth, which was an ingenious if bewildering recipe for deception, distortion and disorientation.
AMBROSE OXENFORD (Episode 8)
The earliest to respond to Maximillian's call for a reassemblage of the glorious old entourage, the pint-sized Ambrose Oxenford instantly claimed the prime location just beyond the Kursaal's grand entrance. Thus, his was often the first attraction to lure certain types of boisterous patrons.
It was also frequently their last.
The Deviant Twins, Illusionarium's headliners, had a metaphorical slurry of tricks up their sleeves. Many were uncommon in interpretation. A hare out of a hat instead of a rabbit, or crows produced from chiffon kerchiefs as opposed to doves. Maximillian Corviday was particularly fond of that one!
RUBY AND RITA DEVIANT (Episode 9)
The Vanishing Cabinet, however, occasionally malfunctioned with the final whereabouts of the volunteer open for perpetual debate. Ruby and Rita refused to justify any mishap, simply claiming there was no problem they could not eventually sort with their heads together.
Not a difficult accomplishment since they were conjoined at the cerebral cortex.
As the Kursaal's eminent clown, Capers was also charged with the distribution of promotional flyers, declaring the park to be, among other things:
CAPERS THE CLOWN (Episode 10)
"Amazing! Incredulous! More Fun Than You Can Shake A Stick At!"
Parents weren't particularly fond of the mute clown, considering his simple-minded posturing absurd but harmless. The little ones, however, adored him. They clamoured for his balloon bunny ears and jumped at every opportunity to dig deep into the pockets of his baggy pantaloons for sweets.
Capers cared nothing for the opinions of adults. He cared only for the children.
His overwhelming passion was the children.
Giselle, exquisite features reminiscent of French aristocracy, was married to Jasper Joad, owner of the Ghost Train and Haunted Mansion.
GISELLE (Episode 11)
This wax effigy purist was propriétaire of the Timeless Tableaux Exhibition Hall. The posture of her Jeanne D'Arc was sufficiently believable to very nearly experience the juddering of a tortured body. The eyes of Baroness Orczy's so-called popinjay, The Scarlet Pimpernel, virtually alive with audacity.
Many of Giselle's spectacles were dedicated to her husband. Sans his generous contribution regarding certain necessities not otherwise easy to procure, the masterful authenticity of her historical and fictional tableaux would be decidedly lackluster.
Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally, rumoured to be Maximillian Corviday's relatives, ran the shellfish stall and coconut shy respectively. The calligraphy of their signs was courtesy of Sally's penmanship. Her "Penny A Pitch" was especially eye-catching.
UNCLE BOB & AUNT SALLY (Episode 12)
Sucking a clay pipe, Sally was a permanent fixture at the park but her success was severely hampered by the inexplicable daily disappearance of the goldfish swimming in bowls she distributed as prizes.
However, business at "Bob's Barrow" flourished. His variety of cockles, served in small white dishes with available vinegar, were touted to be freshly harvested and a particular favourite with the crowds.
Isabel la Gaya deigned to name her place of business, preferring the symbols of her craft adorning the exterior -- tarot cards, zodiac cups, crystal balls and such - to speak for themselves. Her forecasting ability was unrivalled regardless of the medium.
ISABEL LA GAYA (Episode 13)
The beaded curtain of Isabel's sanctum prevented intrusion by any who might be tempted to barge in on her readings, which were always optimistic. The mood of Isabel's clientele upon departure was carefree, almost foolhardy.
Post-mortem photography was Isabel's pet project. She was rather skilled at it. The walls of her establishment displayed some of her favourites...past and present.
Barnabus Dobbs, head of the one-man maintenance operation, needed no written itinerary of duties. He overhauled each attraction every day. His manner was boorish, even crude, but his work ethic was impeccable.
BARNABUS DOBBS (Episode 14)
His living quarters were devoted exclusively to storage of autographed first editions, gramophone records and voluminous editions of The Times, all of the crosswords having been meticulously and accurately completed in black ink.
Barnabus was often sighted inspecting several locations at the same time. An impossibility, of course. But those most familiar with the paradoxical and ubiquitous Barnabus knew such was well within the realm of his capabilities.
Since the Kursaal's arrival, townsfolk disappearances had escalated. Absent evidence, the fairground's involvement was speculative. Chief Constable Twittering took it upon himself to investigate.
CHIEF CONSTABLE TWITTERING (Episode 15)
Oozing charm like melting butter, Maximillan Corviday served as personal escort. Although Twittering found little untoward, something he could not exactly pinpoint appeared to be amiss. Then, he met Isabel la Gaya.
The crystal-gazer foretold a glittering future. By the time Twittering donned his bicycle clips and was pedalling back to the police station, he was not only convinced the park was clearly above suspicion, but that he would soon benefit from a most serendipitous happenstance.
Patterned after Shakespeare's "Globe," the Sixpenny Theatre was home to the rakish Jester Brothers who performed on the outside stage thrice daily. Their act was also threefold: amusing anecdotes, daring acrobatics and humorous antics.
BENNY, LENNY & ARBUTHNOT, THE JESTER BROTHERS (Episode 16)
Benny was unsurpassed at sword-swallowing and Lenny was a consummate juggler, but Arbuthnot was the trio's true lady-killer.
Despite being dwarfen and missing two fingers on his left hand courtesy of a knife-throwing incident, the debonair Arbuthnot was a firm favourite with the fair sex.
It was said that the female had yet to be born who could resist the sensual charm of "Adorable Arby."
Bruiser Bartók, the Boxing Booth's most experienced prizefighter, took on all challengers. None ever lasted longer than sixty seconds. Bruiser's pugilistic margin for error was non-existent and he was infamous for his killer uppercut.
LASZLO "BRUISER" BARTÓK AND LUDMILLA (Episode 17)
Many of Bruiser's victims were transported to the nearby First Aid Station run by Ludmilla, the brawler's oldest daughter. A more benevolent soul than her father, Ludmilla tended to those who had suffered the most severe injuries.
She was well acquainted with the fact that patients often fell in love with their nurses. She had met her previous seven husbands in exactly such a fashion.
Maximillian Corviday had acquired Daisy in settlement of a debt. Her pedigree qualified for official registration but Maximillian always avoided paper trails.
DAISY THE DOBERMAN (Episode 18)
From her pricked ears to her docked tail, the steadfast Doberman was a one-man dog devoted to her master. All other mortals were simply tolerated...with one notable exception, Manasa the snake charmer. Daisy found remarkable pleasure in nuzzling Manasa's décolletage and gently nibbling her neck. Maximillian himself was exceedingly fond of the same practices.
It was, however, necessary to keep a wary eye on Manasa's overly-protective serpent brood. Archon in particular was a jealous and possessive asp.
Charlotte Fitzroy was the manageress and owner of "Lottie's Larder," the Kursaal's only outdoor café. Charlotte specialized in exotic edibles and elixirs: crickets-on-a-stick, balut and herbal tea made from bracket mushrooms, the latter reported to be medicinally beneficial to those diagnosed with intestinal parasites.
CHARLOTTE FITZROY (Episode 19)
Most patrons found the items on Charlotte's menu to be ludicrously overpriced and the fungal brew in particular was obnoxiously bitter. Charlotte acknowledged that the libation was an acquired taste.
"The unusual flavour lingers on the palette rather like strychnine," she informed her customers with a charming smile. "Or so I've often been told."
Fernanda Frontera performed at the Palais de Dance. In traditional flounced skirts of Rioja Rojo and boots of Moroccan leather, her execution of the Fandango was unparalleled. She fancied her partners young, knavish, rascally. No experience necessary. She preferred a blank canvas.
FERNANDA FRONTERA (Episode 20)
She sought a fresh consort every month, releasing her previous protégés into the populace as changed men. Mature, solemn, utterly dependable. They remained fiercely loyal to the dancer, refusing to divulge what transpired during their apprenticeships.
Gathering in the wings for every performance, they gazed adoringly at the aging bailaora even though she no longer acknowledged their existence.
As freelance zealot, Hilda Jane Pickett's mission was to obliterate sin and corruption. Much had gone awry since the Kursaal's arrival. Despite Chief Constable Twittering's reassurances, Hilda determined to ferret out the truth.
HILDA JANE PICKETT (Episode 21)
Her appointed escort was the diminutive Arbuthnot Jester. His fulsome flattery turned her head, as did the exotic lunch at Lottie's Larder (both of which she ate up with a spoon) and Arbuthnot's gift of an unclad alabaster faerie purchased at the Emporium of Enchantments set her spinster heart aflutter.
Hilda did not return home until the following morning, by which time she was an enlightened woman.
C.C. Sebastian worked the last nocturnal shift at the Kursaal's ticket kiosk. With unmatched eyes of mud brown and cerulean blue, pallid complexion and gaunt physique, C.C. was perfect for enhancing the nefarious atmosphere of the facility's witching hours, when the park often descended into affable miscreancy.
C.C. SEBASTIAN (Episode 22)
A staunch advocate of blood donations, C.C. promoted this noble ideal at every opportunity. Unfortunately, his efforts were restricted to the nighttime only. A lamentable medical condition dictated that C.C. take shelter during the day lest the rays of the sun cause his flesh to burn.
Wally Leadbetter (dec.) was the original designer of "The Argosy Experience," an elevated ride criss-crossing the park via overhead cables. Feinting left and right, the dangling boats provided a birdseye view of the Kursaal. A checkered canvas of attractions and amusements.
WALLY LEADBETTER (DECEASED) (Episode 23)
Each pier sported the cardboard cutout of a ship's mate, rumoured to bear a startling resemblance to Wally Leadbetter (dec.) himself, holding aloft the notification: "Closed For Renovations." However, every seat of the perpetual people mover was always occupied. The passengers might have been mannequins if not for the fact that their mouths opened and closed in mindless chatter.
Little Lucy Pepperdyne was the consummate child with no obvious imperfections. Her father, Luther, owner of "Pepperdyne's Pastries," the local bakery, was particularly renowned for cream buns and lemon curd tarts, but all his wares were temptingly delicious.
LITTLE LUCY PEPPERDYNE (Episode 24)
The populace was devastated when Lucy went missing. A makeshift shrine was put together by the copse outside town where Lucy would gather wildflowers for her mother, but hopes were high for the little girl's eventual safe return.
Capers the Clown often visited the memorial, leaving behind a posy of bluebells.
Lucy had been picking them last time he saw her.
Georgie-Boy Endicott was the Kursaal's jack-of-all-trades. Awake before the sun rose above the horizon, Georgie-Boy stood ready to undertake whatever task be assigned that day. No omissions. No exclusions. No job too small. None too large.
GEORGIE-BOY ENDICOTT (Episode 25)
Every inch of Georgie-Boy's skin sported a tattoo. His palms were most impressive. Facing outward, thumbs together, they formed an owl butterfly so authentic that the wings appeared to shimmer in preparation for flight.
"An illusion," assured Georgie-Boy.
Same could be said for the barbed wire motif encircling his throat. It often seemed to pierce the flesh producing deceptive sparklets of rich red blood.
Two weekends a month, the Kursaal hosted bridal receptions in its South Meadow. The specialty of Kat Shelton, party planner, was recreation of a Tudor banquet: centre-piece of peacock feathers, loin of veal and gilt sugar-plums. Authentic costumes were provided and strolling minstrels serenaded the newlyweds with ballads and folk songs.
KAT SHELTON (Episode 26)
At some point during the festivities, Kat would take the couple to a small gazebo and reveal the ancient block and axe taking center stage.
"A dissolution for one partner in the event marital bliss be found wanting," she confided, prepared for the customary incredulity.
"Just my little joke!"
The Caledonians claimed descent from Bonnie Prince Charlie. None challenged this. Appearance suggested they wielded claymores as skillfully as bagpipes. None dared inquire what was worn beneath the kilts either.
THE CALEDONIANS (Episode 27)
The marching quartet possessed a voluminous repertoire. Airy melodies meandering through fragrant heather and dolorous dirges stodging through murky marsh. Requests were accepted and, when it suited, sometimes even granted.
Not every Kursaal patron appreciated the skirl, grimacing with hands over ears and giving the Scotsmen a wide berth. However, a chosen few became ardent fanatics, so beguiled that ever after they were unable to enjoy any other musical style.
Decor of the Archaic Arcade was drab, dreary and, according to some, downright arid. Here, within a raised booth, Sibyl Wainwright, ancient and grey as her establishment, arthritic fingers poking from lace mitts, swapped legal tender for game tokens.
SIBYL WAINWRIGHT (Episode 28)
Many of the attractions were rarities. Pachinko, fruit machines and metal-typers were popular but "The Prophetess" took pride of place. Featuring a turbaned crone with features similar to Sibyl herself, "The Prophetess" dispensed printed fortune cards to eagerly waiting customers.
The Archaic Arcade was unique in that its paraphernalia needed no scheduled maintenance. Each contrivance replenished itself at very regular intervals.
"The Orbiter" was the Kursaal's tallest attraction. If the big wheel were a clock, each of the twelve zodiac-themed people-carriers would have been suspended at five minute intervals. It was operated by a personage know simply as The Wheelman.
THE WHEELMAN (Episode 29)
The ride closed temporarily for an hour each night so The Wheelman could catch the 9 o'clock performance at the Hoochie Coochie Tent, where his reserved seat was front and centre.
"The Orbiter" was a disorientation, sometimes over in a twinkle and sometimes lasting a month of Sundays.
There were no repeat customers.
It was a once in a lifetime experience.
Keaton Harrier, an alluring creature with heavy-lidded eyes and exotic appearance, captivated as many patrons with her mystique as her prowess with the raptors. She gave demonstrations daily at the South Meadow. Her bird of choice, a Falcon named Gawain. soared straight and true as any archer's arrow.
KEATON HARRIER (Episode 30)
Her favourite avian, however, a Hill Mynah known as Kaleo, was a quintessential mimic: everything from the whinny of Eli Cornelius' ponies to Daisy's demanding woofs. Perfectly imitating the voice of Maximillian Corviday, Kaleo could often be heard privately debating physical transmutation possibilities with his beloved mistress.
Kaleo was a percipient bird.
Access to The Grotto, enveloped in candy floss clouds, was limited to those no taller than 36 inches. Pathways meandered through woodlands, where dwelt mystical creations of sandstone and alabaster donated by Primrose Lee. The Grotto offered sanctuary where bruises of the flesh and spirit could heal. Many of its little visitors desired to stay.
FAYE SEALY (Episode 31)
Faye Sealy, designer and overseer of the attraction, moved silently through the crowds, hem of her sweeping gown leaving the scent of poppies in her wake and unmerciful parents, muttering threats of punishment, had forgotten ever being accompanied by children before even reaching the exit.
"The Tarn," located just beyond "The Orbitor" with its zodiac-themed suspension cars, was the Kursaal's oldest aquatic ride and had not been updated or renovated since its inception. Operated by former merchant seaman, John Splice, it offered a waterbound experience aboard the replica of a vintage packet boat.
JOHN SPLICE (Episode 32)
"The Tarn" appealed to those of advancing age; elderly persons with no desire to sample the more thrilling rides. Indeed, the park's younger patrons appeared unaware of its existence.
"All ashore that's going ashore," Splice announced at the commencement and conclusion of each trip.
The proposition was never accepted.
Pending the Kursaal's official Grand Opening, an interim celebration was arranged. Most attendees, Uncle Bob and Aunt Sally, Maximilliam Corviday and Manasa, for example, were assumed couples. Arbuthnot Jester, however, invited local ladies, Hilda Pickett and Edith Witherspoon, to accompany him. He would choose which later.
EDITH WITHERSPOON (Episode 33)
Tension between these rivals ran high, culminating with Edith shoving Hilda into a thicket of brambles. Chagrined, Hilda visited elixirologist Primrose Lee, who commiserated with the spinster's plight.
Drifting on an ecstatic cloud, Hilda arrived at the gala on Arbuthnot's arm.
That coming Tuesday, he promised he would escort her to Edith Witherspoon's funeral.
By advertising for an "amanuensis," Maximillian Corviday hoped for someone sufficiently educated to understand its definition or sufficiently motivated to find out. He did not, however, expect Alexis Champagne. Her reference portfolio was impressive, but this woman possessed many talents. Aphrodite in human form with amber eyes, copper ringlets and cupid-bow lips, she epitomized burlesque.
ALEXIS CHAMPAGNE (Episode 34)
Manasa watched the encounter. Maximillian's composure was obviously rattled. No easy accomplishment! From his basket, Archon's darting tongue sensed disruption in the customary tranquil aura. He tracked the gaze of his mistress.
She did not like the recent arrival.
So, by default, neither did he.
Governed by Cancer, Daisy was subject to lunar influences. At full phase, as always, she heeded the convulsive baying of her adoptive pack, joining them in the nearby woodlands where even the alpha male deferred to her superiority.
DAISY THE TOP DOG (Episode 35)
Beneath refulgent moonbeams, the horde scrabbled at a shallow grave and unearthed the remains of a little girl. She held a posy of wilting bluebells in one hand and clutched a fake rubber nose in the other.
The shriveled flowers held no allure, but Daisy was very interested in the red ball.
Tail wagging, she carried it home to her toy box.
Ollie Newton operated the "Lazy River." High-sided vessels navigated intersecting channels, floating upon water permeated with petrichor oil.
OLLIE NEWTON (Episode 36)
The tall boats presented an ideal opportunity for Ollie to promote his sideline, the "Lovely Legs Beauty Pageant." Females were obliged to hike skirts in order to gain entry, thus presenting Ollie with a prime view.
Some of the chosen were reluctant to participate, citing various physical shortcomings, but Ollie insisted only upper thighs and parts below would be displayed, all else hidden behind a screen to ensure fair judging.
Flattered, many accepted his invitation.
Consequently, Ollie had quite an extensive collection.
Gianni and Leonardo entertained crowds waiting to purchase tickets. Given his prestigious lineage, Leonardo wore a cap and jacket of royal indigo velvet, rather than common red. Gianni never smiled or spoke, except for an occasional "grazie," but he unceasingly turned the handle of his barrel organ.
GIANNI AND LEONARDO (Episode 37)
To garner gratuities, Leonardo rattled his tin cup while skillfully twirling a tiny pocketwatch and fob. He was an exceptionally talented monkey.
Every evening, the duo retired to their caravan, where Leonardo removed Gianni's batteries to prevent them from running down and, donning miniature spectacles, tallied the day's takings while listening to Pavarotti.
Frenchie, so called due to her surname and no association to the country, operated one of the park's souvenir booths, each offering unique wares. Frenchie sold personalized tee-shirts of finest pima cotton. No inferior synthetic to chafe the skin or quickly lose its shape for Frenchie!
FRENCHIE (Episode 38)
She took photographs with an antique box camera in her family for decades. She was proud of the sharp images created on the finished product.
Frenchie believed each picture also captured a sliver of the soul.
She stored her collection in an ivory and lapis lockbox purchased during a voyage to the Venetian Lagoon.
Dickie Dawkins owned and operated Artful Dodgems. The attraction was a favourite of all jack-the-lads who visited the park and fancied themselves the next Mario Andretti. The youths made lewd gestures to females both young and old, and taunted the elderly who were assisting their grandchildren to steer.
DICKIE DAWKINS (Episode 39)
Dickie was extremely lax when it came to scheduled maintenance of his bumper cars. More often than not, some of the conductive poles shorted, delivering a painful and occasionally fatal electric jolt to the passengers.
Strange that only the loudmouthed yobs ever unwittingly chose to ride such defective vehicles.
Shemayne Olive stocked claw machines, major attractions for toddlers who whined until parents manoeuvered articulated arms over coveted prizes, attempting to drop them into delivery tunnels. Such rarely happened.
SHEMAYNE OLIVE (Episode 40)
Sometimes, incidents of budding explorers taking matters into their own little hands occurred. Scaling the chute, they disappeared, only to be immediately ejected from a companion mechanism in a different location, where Shemayne waited to transport them, desired treasure and all, back to hysterical mummies and daddies.
Not having mastered communication skills, the tots were unable to explain what happened, but never again clamoured for anything from the elusive claw.
The Theatre of Shadows, catty-cornered from Aunt Sally's coconut shy, was the brainchild of one Erasmus McDougal. A juggernaut of a man, Erasmus claimed direct descent from Macbeth. The real McCoy, not Shakespeare's garbled perception.
ERASMUS McDOUGAL (Episode 41)
The Theatre was a fascinating attraction. Illuminated walls lining fog-enhanced corridors featured reenactments of famous...and infamous...nefarious deeds, silhouettes so lifelike and animated they could have been conjured from the very fabric of living history.
A sign at the entrance cautioned those with weak constitutions to seek entertainment elsewhere in the park.
A few chose to ignore the warning.
Even fewer lived to tell the tale.
In a forgotten corner of the Kursaal, Nellie Hubbard's "Playpen" stood dejected as an abandoned orphan. Originally intended to serve as a safe and happy haven for toddlers whose parents were off enjoying thrill rides, the "Playpen" never had managed to drum up business, despite its inviting sandbox, crawl tubes and Wendy houses.
NELLIE HUBBARD (Episode 42)
Perhaps it was because Nellie's unfortunate appearance...pointy chin. warty nose and straggly hair...failed to inspire confidence, or maybe the fact she often traipsed around the park accompanied by a one-eyed black cat and dragging a broomstick had something to do with it.
Seventeen days after going missing, Little Lucy Pepperdyne was laid to rest.
PAYING RESPECTS (Episode 43)
Corrugated cardboard dotted the gravesite path due to rain-sodden ground and local businesses, Barlow's Butchers and Sweet Treats Bakery, for example, donated foodstuffs so mourners would not go hungry following the service.
Primrose Lee and Capers represented the Kursaal. Primrose brought alabaster faeries to flank the headstone. Capers, tears streaking his whiteface, clutched bluebells and expressed desire to snuggle the attending little ones in his lap, thereby offering comfort.
Given the mood of a suspicious congregation, however, Primrose managed to dissuade the clown from such a dubious practice.
Admittance to the Kursaal's First Annual Carnival of Mirth was free. One-price bracelets provided access to all attractions. The event catered primarily toward children, with Capers confined to his quarters for the duration...just in case.
CARNIVAL OF MIRTH (Episode 44)
Nellie Hubbard mended the rip in her best pointy hat, promised to behave and, in her element, roamed the park cackling, "Hello, my pretties."
An elaborate miniature city fashioned after the Square Mile was erected for the tots' enjoyment, complete with cobblestone walkways, bow-fronted sweet shoppes, zebra crossings and belisha beacons.
For once, the turnstile headcount was precisely the same coming out as going in.
Alexis Champagne suggested a toy drive -- one new item for half-price rides -- to benefit the Children's Hospital. Maximillian Corviday, keen to enhance the Kursaal's dubious respectability whenever possible, applauded the idea.
CHARITY BEGINS... (Episode 45)
Manasa, unquieted by the growing relationship between Maximillian and his voluptuous assistant, thoughtfully traced the puckered cicatrice on her bosom where Archon had sunk his fangs before domestication. She doubted the intention of Alexis' suggestion. Manasa recognized a snake in the grass when she saw one.
Perhaps the time had come to grant the asp freedom from the confinement of his basket for a little while.
When Arbuthnot Jester's efforts to end his liaison with local spinster, Hilda Jane Pickett, fell on stony ground, he procured a "Humperdinck Release Me Portion" from elixirologist, Primrose Lee.
THE AMOROUS AFFAIRS OF ARBUTHNOT JESTER/PART ONE (Episode 46)
During a candlelit supper of steak (tough), mashed potatoes (lumpy) and Baked Alaska (gloppy meringue) prepared by a smitten Hilda, the diminutive Arby slipped the draught into his lady-love's Beaujolais.
"Aphrodisiac," he whispered.
With a girlish giggle and flirtatious flip of her feather boa, Hilda drained the glass.
She was sleeping when he left. He hoped she would take the hint.
He really didn't want to resort to more drastic measures.
The whimsical Cosmic Clock dominated the Kursaal's entrance. From the topmost tower, pearly gates opened to reveal twelve rotating cherubs astride cirrus clouds, rather like chubby, rosy-cheeked jockeys.
BAD TIMING (Episode 47)
Maximillian Corviday could recite chapter and verse on the colourful history of the timepiece, particularly the pair of caiques -- one white-bellied and the other black-headed -- carved from bristlecone pine whose beaks indicated "fair" or "foul" weather conditions.
Despite innumerable efforts to coordinate angelic revolutions to take place on the hour, the unreliable cherubim had their own agenda and appeared at curiously random intervals.
The connection between Eli Cornelius' exotic hoochie coochie girls and his string of adorable ponies...costumery of both being strikingly similar for one thing...was seldom uppermost in anyone's mind, but word of mouth around the Kursaal did suggest a mysterious association.
PHENOMENA AND ENIGMATA (Episode 48)
Notably, Eli's dancing divas (providing adult entertainment) and his equine prancers (providing children's rides) were never seen in the same place at the same time.
This curious anomaly was never more apparent than when Bijou the Star Pony went lame and Jewel the Burlesque Queen was forced to sit out several performances while nursing a severely sprained ankle.
Arbuthnot Jester remained the target of Hilda Jane Pickett's undying affections. Dressed inappropriately (short skirt, fishnets, stiletto heels) for a spinster of mature years, she hounded him constantly.
THE AMOROUS AFFAIRS OF ARBUTHNOT JESTER/PART TWO (Episode 49)
"I cannot live without you, my Arby!"
The diminutive performer paid a second visit to Primrose Lee.
"That release potion? Ineffective," he told the elixirologist. "Most regretful."
Sweeping a lock of chestnut hair from his forehead in Byronic fashion, Arbuthnot's dark eyes searched her own. Entreating. Compelling. Suggestive. He really was extraordinarily attractive.
Primrose took his hand, the one missing two fingers, and squeezed.
"I'll see what I can do."
Dottie Randall, first in queue for "The Orbiter," arrived while The Wheelman, yawning and rubbing his eyes, initiated daily operations of the ride.
DOTTIE RANDALL (Episode 50)
With her pad of recycled paper and supply of 2B pencils, Dottie intended to sketch the Kursaal from the circling arc of its tallest attraction. Art was her passion. She was no slouch when it came to her chosen craft.
Drawings found on Dottie's seat were a testament to her talent. The map was authentic and she had even captured the likeness of certain performers with incredible accuracy.
Of Dottie herself, however, there was no trace.
Aware that overwhelming obession only served to exacerbate her failing relationship with Arbuthnot Jester, Hilda Jane Picket was nonetheless unable (and unwilling) to squelch the infatuation.
THE AMOROUS AFFAIRS OF ARBUTHNOT JESTER/PART THREE (Episode 51)
Arby had been beastly of late, but the unexpected delivery of flowers and chocolates courtesy of her diminutive lover elevated the spinster's blood pressure and rekindled hope. She inhaled deeply of the lilies while munching on almond nougat.
In the perfumed boudoir of Primrose Lee, it was with much enthusiasm (not to mention prowess) that Arbuthnot expressed appreciation at the elixirologist's supreme form of disentangling assistance.
"Kill her with kindness."
The Pendulum had no operator, starting of its own accord the moment all benches were occupied. Fashioned after a viking warship, the hull of the open-seated gondola was virtually obliterated by barnacle-shaped lodestones.
THE PENDULUM (Episode 52)
The gondola's momentum and height gradually increased until level with the Cosmic Clock, at which time, the pearly gates of the Clock's topmost tower opened and cherubs emerged to circle the lofty spire.
Maximillian Corviday often wondered about a possible connection between the timepiece and the magnetic pull of the passing swing, both said to be the brainchild of the same inventor, identity lost to time.
Archon needed no torch in the darkness to guide him to his mistress. The asp instinctively knew Manasa's location and never chary in responding to her innermost desires.
MINDERS (Episode 53)
From the caravan steps, floating within the euphoric haze spiraling from her cigarillo, the snake-charmer awaited Archon's return. He had not been gone long. Just long enough.
She contemplated recent events. Maximillian Corviday and his assistant, the stunning Alexis Champagne, had become increasingly cozy of late. Manasa felt snubbed, rebuffed...even scorned.
Regardless, she was a compassionate and forgiving soul. Maximillian would need comforting in the morning when he realized Alexis was gone.
On the heels of Dottie Randall's disappearance, Alexis Champagne had now also vanished. In essence, Chief Constable Twittering was just a local bobby with no experience in missing persons -- one who remained befuddled by the devastating abduction (and later demise) of little Lucy Pepperdyne. Regardless, duty called to investigate recent occurrences.
FORTUNE FAVOURS (Episode 54)
Isabel la Gaya, the fascinating crystal-gazer Twittering met on his first visit, greeted him at the Kursaal entrance. Isabel's pet project was post-mortem photography and she was well-pleased with her latest additions.
"We will make this undertaking our personal joint venture," she assured taking him by the arm.
Isabel la Gaya linked arms with Constable Twittering and steered him toward Lottie's Larder where Charlotte Fitzroy, owner and culinary artist, was setting out a display of delectable consumables.
FOR THE TAKING (Episode 55)
"Tiger Nuts," declared Twittering. "Haven't seen those since I was a boy!"
"My own unique recipe," said Charlotte, "prepared in a special marinade of arrowroot, coconut oil and a secret ingredient."
She offered him a dish, adamant that it be complimentary.
"Doesn't taste the same as I remember," said Twittering with a frown.
"So often the case," sympathized Isabel. "Don't you find one's memory is remarkably unreliable most of the time?"
Quinn Underwood, the Kursaal's most competent customer service agent, took excellent care of those who wished to lodge complaints. In her spare time, she crocheted white lace placemats for the tables at Lottie's Larder.
QUINN UNDERWOOD (Episode 56)
Irate patrons of the park, regardless of grievance validity, never left Quinn's kiosk unsatisfied. Appeasement, often in the form of free tickets for attractions, was paramount.
She also oversaw the "Lost and Found" depository, which housed many and varied articles, some very unusual. The sizable cache included a supply of 2B pencils and a fake rubber nose (somewhat chewed).
Unclaimed items were rarely discarded.
Lenny, middle Jester Brother, specialized in knife-throwing. Apart from one incident early on (Lenny was blameless but it led to Arthuthnot losing two fingers), his competency was above reproach. Being splay-footed, however, Lenny never participated in acrobatic stunts.
LENNY THE LONER (Episode 57)
With sanguine complexion, thinning hair and pale gooseberry eyes, Lenny (a/k/a The Loner), failed to achieve intimate conquests enjoyed by his brothers. The dwarven Arbuthnot fascinated ladies and handsome Benny had a retinue of adoring gentlemen.
Lenny spent his solitary spare time chronicling the comings-and-goings of the Kursaal's performers and visitors. He stockpiled many journals.
One day, such information might prove beneficial.
"The Kursaal, with its flux of visitors, represents an intriguing ever-changing transition, wouldn't you say?" asked Isabel la Gaya.
FATA MORGANA (Episode 58)
A simple man, the question bewildered Chief Constable Twittering.
"Out there, all is commonplace. Dull and coarse as jute threads," explained Isabel "But in here, everything is remarkable. A smorgasbord of fancy and mulberry silk. The turnstile is the passage between two worlds. From the mundane to the extraordinary, provided one is careful not to spoil the illusion."
She patted his hand. Her beryl ring sparked carmine red in the sun.
"You do see that, don't you?"
Pint-sized Ambrose Oxenford ran the Fuhouse. He also managed its antithesis: an attraction located in the Kursaal's defunct sewer system. It was known as the Horrorhouse (as opposed to one of fun).
THE HORRORHOUSE (Episode 59)
Wire cages suspended from a hangman's noose were lowered over the ramparts of a crumbling barbican, whereupon patrons alighted into murky catacombs where all manner of unsavory critters roamed free amid unidentifiable filth.
For varying reasons, it was unreasonable not to expect a smattering of resulting casualties, some of whom were difficult (or even impossible) to rescue.
Indeed, a corpse or two already resided within its remote depths.
Lucy Pepperdyne had gathered bluebells when she disappeared and Libby, her twin, wanted to plant a memorial garden. She shopped for seeds at "Eve's Oasis." Eve herself donated packets of Dwarf Cornflowers and Thumbelina Zinnias to Libby's cause.
LUCY'S LEGACY (Episode 60)
Libby chose a spot close to where Lucy's remains were found. She liked getting dirty and was happy digging. She missed Lucy but they had been very different in character and never close.
A figure in ostentatious garb, sporting a red rubber nose. watched from nearby trees. It was déjŕ vu.
The little girl was the absolute image of her twin sister.
Chief Constable Twittering was a martyr to acrophobia, but when Isabel la Gaya suggested a balloon ride (the Kursaal's triumphant emulation of the Montgolfier hot-air creation), masculine vanity dictated only a weak protest.
UP AND AWAY (Episode 61)
The higher the ascent, the whiter Twittering's knuckles gripping the basket's perimeter. Isabel entwined elegant fingers around ropes securing the swaying gondola to the overhead balloon. The ties were slender as a camisole's spaghetti straps.
"To think these delicate attachments are all that prevent us from plumeting like a stone," said Isabel.
She raised a quizzical eyebrow.
"Ever ponder the exciting prospect of defying gravity, Chief Constable?"
Manasa learned belly dancing long before discovering a penchant for snake charming. A handsome albino Burmese python named Kudos (Greek for "fame") customarily partnered her during such performances, which were legendary. A ticket to these occasions was exorbitant but loyal devotees willingly paid any asking price for the privilege.
TERPSICHOREAN MUSE (Episode 62)
Open-mouthed, expressions vacant and eyes lustful, Manasa's disciples evaporated after the theatricals, making their presence known once more, heavy cash box in hand, only when the consummate ecdysiast announced advance bookings to another provocative production.
On the brink of the clearing, a bizarre figure shuffled. Gigantic shoes snapped twigs, squelched stalks. Aware of the presence, Libby Pepperdyne did not look behind. Muddy fingers wiped damp earth from her trowel as she nodded. The memorial garden planted for her murdered twin would soon be alive with colour.
DOUBLE TAKE (Episode 63)
In the parlour of Pepperdyne Cottage, Libby's mother traced faces of two little girls smiling within an oaken frame. Different characters but identical features, even down to each button nose and smattering of freckles.
One would never return home.
The other would shortly bounce through the door demanding tea.
Cinders, older sister of Capers, hosted children's parties. Her pinhead condition cleverly disguised courtesy of a humongous wig the colour of lime sherbet, Cinders was an excellent planner. She designed her menu to provide the ultimate sugar rush, always ending the festivities with a game of hide-and-go-seek.
CINDERS, THE CONVIVIAL CLOWN (Episode 64)
Although cautioned not to venture beyond the designated area, some children (particularly boys) whose energy levels bordered on recklessness, ignored Cinders' warning and later, failed to appear despite repeated callings of: "Olly, Olly, Oxen Free."
Cinders would recruit Capers to ferret out the little scalawags.
Unfortunately, their safe return could not be guaranteed.
Keaton Harrier was midway through her second demonstration when she noticed the slow descent of the meandering hot air balloon. Gawain, her favored Falcon, also spied the wayward craft, fremescent helium heralding its approach. The raptor shuffled restlessly on Keaton's arm, sharp eyes beneath the lacquered hood focused on the lurching gondola, which landed smoothly in the middle of the South Meadow.
DOWN TO THE GROUND (Episode 65)
Examination of the undamaged basket proved less than revealing. It was empty save for a beryl ring thought to be the property of crystal-gazer extraordinaire, Isabel la Gaya, and credentials bearing the name of Chief Constable Basil Twittering.
Ménage ŕ trois was harmonious with Arbuthnot Jester's rubric. When the Deviant Twins gave him the eye (total of four), he was up for the challenge.
THE AMOROUS AFFAIRS OF ARBUTHNOT JESTER/PART FOUR (Episode 66)
Otherwise identical, the sisters were diametric in character. Ruby's outlook was sparse. Ask for little. Place no strain on Arby's finances. Rita was a spendthrift. She embraced the finer things but happy to pay. Arby delighted in both arrangements. Not so the Twins.
Each conspired for the diminutive Arby's exclusive affection. Far from easy, given they were conjoined at the cerebral cortex. No thought was private.
"Over my dead body!"
"That can be arranged!"
Little Libby Pepperdyne packed her picnic basket with all necessary items, including the Willow Pattern tea set that had been one of her twin sister's prized possessions.
TEA FOR YEW (Episode 67)
Arriving at the remembrance garden planted in honour of the murdered Lucy, she spread a checkered cloth on the ground and sprinkled puckered yew leaves for decoration. There were plenty left over, after all.
Out of the corner of her eye, she noticed the toes of gigantic clown shoes.
Capers shuffled to a halt behind her.
Been waiting for you," she said cheerfully, reaching for the steaming teapot before turning around.
Isabel la Gaya delivered a dazed and confused Constable Twittering to the First Aid Station run by Ludmilla, oldest daughter of Laszlo "Bruiser" Bartók, the Boxing Booth's most experienced prizefighter.
AWOL (Episode 68)
Ludmilla collected husbands like souvenir spoons, but she didn't hold out much hope for this specimen.
"The local constabulary will descend like the Spanish Inquisition once they learn of his condition and whereabouts," said Isabel.
"He'll be secluded and sedated," assured Ludmilla.
As the crystal-gazer returned to her establishment, past the hot-air balloon (now fully-operational again), she was accosted by Cinders, lime sherbet wig totally askew.
"It's Capers. He's missing!"
Maximillian Corviday missed his late night soirées with Alexis Champagne. Philosophical discussions with the voluptuous assistant over suppers of chicken vindaloo were often followed by equally spicy romantic interludes.
IN ABSENTIA (Episode 69)
Manasa had been his constant intimate since Alexis disappeared. She offered consolation to the morose Maximillian who, to the delight of the snake-charmer, began to depend on her company. It was to be expected. They had been friends for many years.
She bundled and disposed of Alexis' belongings so Maximillian might not be continually reminded of the missing woman.
In truth, he hoped for Alexis' return.
In truth, Manasa knew better.
Lenny Jester maintained a meticulous record of the Kursaal's activities, most stimulating being sexual escapades of Arbuthnot, his younger brother. Secondhand aphrodisiacs were better than nothing.
PEEPING LENNY (Episode 70)
Of late, however, Lenny had not seen hide nor hair of Hilda Pickett, Arby's elderly inamorata and the dwarf's fanatical stalker. Interrogation of Arby rendered no joy so Lenny decided to visit the source.
He found her sprawled upon the chaise-lounge wearing a negligee of see-through gauze, erotic image shattered by pink flannel knickers and cotton vest. She cradled a box of chocolate caramel chews to her bosom and appeared not to be breathing.
Cinders found Capers, flaccid and unmoving. A marionette with severed strings.
SEND IN THE CLOWNS (Episode 71)
She had failed him. Not kept her promise as the protective big sister.
Years before, she carted the sprog in a knapsack as the family moved venues, repeatedly warbling "Send In The Clowns" until the lyrics were forever etched in her brain. Not exactly a lullaby, it had nonetheless brought a crooked smile to that tiny disfigured face.
She gathered him into her arms. "And where are the clowns?"
Held him closer. "There ought to be clowns."
How would she tell Cobbles and Crow their little brother was gone?
The didicoy waited for Mrs. Pepperdyne to open the door. She regarded them with contempt. Ne'er-do-well gypsies! Still, given threat of the evil eye, it was probably prudent to make a purchase.
RAGGLE TAGGLE (Episode 72)
The woman's basket overflowed with trivial items. Clothes pegs, shoelaces, sprigs of heather, lavender and the like. The man appeared to be present merely for protection. He said nothing and stared into the distance.
Little Libby chose a beaded barrette from the woman's pannier. Her mother paid the asking price before firmly closing the door.
Cobbles and Crow took their own sweet time leaving the premises.
In a comfortable room at the rear of the First Aid Station, where would-be pugilists recuperated from being pummeled to a pulp by her father during the Boxing Booth's Amateur Night, Ludmilla Bartók played draughts with Chief Constable Twittering.
NAME OF THE GAME (Episode 73)
Strategic matches often continued well beyond midnight.
"Are you familiar with huffing?" asked Ludmilla. "Not how the big bad wolf demolished the little pigs' houses, but failure to make a capturing move when available."
She studied the board and sighed.
"You have huffed too frequently of late, Basil. Regretfully, you must be penalized for the oversight."
Isabel la Gaya was proud of her achievements in the field of post-mortem photography. It was really more of a vocation (although she would never abandon fortune-telling) than a hobby and she succeeded admirably in elevating what might be customary forensic-style crime shots to a sophisticated and pleasing art form.
EVERY PICTURE TELLS A STORY (Episode 74)
Unfortunately, her latest showpieces could not be displayed for fear of stirring up more unwanted speculation than already existed.
After all, Alexis Champagne and Dottie Randall were officially listed only as missing persons.
When Daisy whelped a dozen pups, the entire Kursaal was amazed. Not least of all, Daisy. The litter didn't resemble their dam (pure bred Doberman). Whether they favoured their sire was speculative. Identity unknown, as they say.
DAISY'S DOZEN (Episode 75)
The puppies were prize offerings at Aunt Sally's coconut shy, which was running low on goldfish. Cobbles and Crow thumb-tacked notices to trees and telephone poles advertising the event.
Libby Pepperdyne persuaded her recumbent father to leave his comfy sofa for the afternoon and procure one of the little dogs.
She named it "Lulu" in memory of Lucy, her murdered twin sister.
Nellie Hubbard, witch-like proprietress of the less-than-successful "Playpen" (intended as a safe creche for toddlers whose caregivers went thrill-seeking), desired to purge her image as one who was batty, daft, loopy (and all other applicable synonyms inbetween). Hopefully, such catharsis would stimulate business.
CH-CH-CH-CH-CHANGES (Episode 76)
She redecorated crawl tubes and Wendy houses in pastels, painted roundabouts and see-saws in primary colours and dished out small replicas of plush Velveteen Rabbits to tots who stayed longer than six hours.
One in fifty of the miniature bunnies (randomly distributed) possessed the same potential magical possibilities as the original. It was an unexpected bonus.
Daisy's pups, undoubtedly mongrels of dubious parentage, were...with two notable exceptions...nonetheless cute as proverbial buttons. The Doberman cared nothing for her offspring and divorce from the little squirmers came as a relief. She was obviously not cut out for motherhood.
PICK OF THE LITTER (Episode 77)
Against the advice of his sister, Cinders (The Convivial Clown), Crow adopted the pair of uniquely deviant littermates. He was rather taken with the aniridia eyes, bristly coat and irascible temperament. An aficionado of Victorian poets, he named them "Algernon" and "Dante."
He would train them well.
Even sans greasepaint, Crow's hooded eyes, harelip and elongated skull ensured a visage sufficiently bizarre for any outlandish clown. Regardless, Algernon and Dante adored their master. His training methods, while strict, were never cruel.
"NOT ON MY WATCH" (Episode 78)
"Whist!" he commanded on midnight walks, particularly near a certain cottage. The resolute pups responded with silence and stealth beyond their years.
During such outings, as if by premonition, Lulu (female litter mate and runt adopted by Libby Pepperdyne) would materialize to stand vigil beneath the bedroom window of her young mistress.
Her ominous growls sent Algernon and Dante into a state of unaccustomed trembling.
Ludmilla Bartók decided to end her engagement as Chief Constable Twittering's caretaker. He was boring and his presence at the First Aid Station hampered any potential romantic liaisons with incoming patients.
RETURN OF TWITTERING (Episode 79)
She provided a thermos of olive leaf tea (medicinally instrumental in his recovery and to which he was now addicted) and a packet of plain digestive biscuits before accompanying him to one of the Kursaal's lesser known exits.
Though not as pugnacious as her prizefighting father, Ludmilla had no problem being defensively forceful when challenged.
It was a trait she would need when Isabel la Gaya discovered Twittering gone.