As the light fell and the elephant slept a strange sound was heard in the distance. There was the whooping of young male voices, the maddening battering of drums, the clattering of wooden boards being spun around, clickerty-clackerty raising some hell. Rain-makers shuushed and whooshed in their wooden tubes, accordions whirly-gigged their tumbling wandering melodies while fiddles spun out jigs and square-dances.
A large crow hopped into the camp. He had one eye right in the center of his feathery forehead, and it glowed golden yellow as it flicked left to right and surveyed the scene. I felt like a worm, a juicy morsel for the chewing and so did the crow. He definitely had the look of a bird that was thinking of of a worm for supper. The Monocular Crow moved as if by clockwork, though he was no toy for children to play with after school has ended. His feathers were of the blackest most night-ish hue, and the only color on his perfect body was the gold of his hypnotizing eye. He was made out of fluffy obsidian, a sleek-beaked creature that breathed the smell of carrion meat over the camp. Pierre Rotten leapt into action.
“Don’t hurt him, you Rotter! There is no need for violence!” I shouted at Pierre who was brandishing a shiny knife and doing his best not to look into the singular eye of the bird. Still in the distance some wild parade grew in intensity and volume, though they seemed still far enough away that we might go undetected by their ragged band of party-animals.
The din which encroached upon the hollow where we had stopped to rest until morning after the whole Rose Garden debacle, the giant hopping crow, five feet tall, and all of him hungry for sustenance, his great eye unblinking, the pupil swirling, inviting his prey to stop fighting, the sweetly sleeping Sweet Pierrot, and the absent King Pierre, being dragged from my slumber, out of my room to ride on an elephant with the menacing trio of clowns, and falling into the snow-globe: it had all got too much for me. There is only a certain amount of adventure a girl can take before the adventure becomes a trial.
There was the sudden flash of steel, the high squawking of an angry bird, and when I opened my eyes again the crow was hopping off naked and plucked, his puckered skin pink and raw, dripping blood from his skinny body, his beak was open in outrage, but nevertheless he was heading away from the quiet camp in the hollow.
Pierre Rotten had got an addition to his grotty suit of moth eaten grey. Over the top of his hobo rags he now wore a cape of the purest black, made from the captured feathers of the One Eyed Crow. It shone in the moonlight, reflecting an ancient time of prophecy in its folds and quills. The cape spoke mysteries and told stories. The pom-poms on his shoes, which only moments ago had been a grimy pink and yellow hue, had been replaced by feathered boots. On his head was a chapeau à bec, its bird’s beak rim a fine shade of yellow, and it was decorated with the smaller feathers from the belly of the great bird, with one long tail feather jauntily poking out from the band of the hat. Rotten twirled around laughing.
“You can’t just let yourself get eaten, Girly! That bird was hungry and you are a sweet little thing!”
“But now he is naked and I swear he will never forgive you! You will always have to watch your back.” I replied in outrage.
“We are both alive to watch our backs, and not dangling from the mouth of the Psychic Crow like a strip of sirloin steak!”
I had to agree that Rotten had a point. Sometimes the Rotten is needed just as much as the good, who will let itself be eaten in order to do no harm. Rotten grabbed me by the wrists and hauled me up.
“Now I am dressed for the occasion, we might as well go and have some fun. Show off this new fit! The cloak was becoming more gorgeous by the moment, trimmed with thick black fur and fastened round his neck by a crow’s head pin. “Your dreams can influence your reality if you let them, Kiddo!” Rotten had a big dirty-toothed smile on his face, as he dragged me from my hollow and took me out into the deep dark mystical woods.
I saw the lights first. Great torches of burning flames, tiki torches that burned in strange colors, medieval torches that looked as if they required a pitchfork and an angry villager to go alongside them, brightly glowing lanterns held aloft sticks, fairy lights hung from the trees, and glow sticks made strange patterns in the night sky. Rotten was running, dragging me through the brush in order to catch up with the this weird parade. As we got closer I could see all manner of marchers. There were clowns of various breeds, hobos and white-faced Pierrots, harlequins and red nosed marauders. In the middle ranks were a group of marionettes with puppet jaws and strings that were raised up to no hand, yet they jerked around as if being made to dance by the wild fingers of a puppet master. There were animal headed men in various states of undress, and be-toga-ed ancients with laurel leaves on their heads and fine precious metal sandals on their feet. Poets and musicians led the forward charge seeing strange visions that were thrown up on the screen of the night sky. Towards the back of the Savage Parade a living breathing incarnation of Punch, of Punch and Judy fame had linked arms with a fang-toothed clown in a butcher’s apron, whose well padded frame shook and jiggled like a nursery pudding in an earthquake. Sausages trailed from his pocket and a small stuffed-toy alligator followed them both snapping at their heels.
Rotten stopped, hugged this unlikely pair, patted the alligator on the head, and turned towards me. “Stay right here, with these two Ne’er-do-well’s! You won’t come to any harm, I have a job to do!” Punch turned his elongated half-moon face towards me and clicked his hinged jaw in joy. The alarming butcher clown passed me a sausage to feed to the gator, and the little tribe closed ranks around me, one on either side, as we watched Rotten run off into the distance.
Strange dances and obscene contortions, wild limb flying and rising crazed music built up until lightning flashed and on a craggy outcrop just ahead Rotten in his finery was silhouetted by the brilliant flash that drowned the night in light and fury. Rotten seemed to levitate, one foot puckishly pointed downwards, one hand up towards the sky in a perfect attitude of a rock and roll prince of darkness. The crowd cheered. The gator snapped at my heels. Punch punched the air, and the butcher jiggled his immense belly laughing uproariously.
I cannot tell you the strange scenes that followed. There was light and music. Dancing and chanting. There was joy and boyish humor. There was darkness, but in the darkness there was great light and color. The Savage Parade wound it partying hearty ways, wild and free, wild and bouncing with energy, wild and electric-sighted, through the trees towards a canyon. Rotten returned to me, glistening with sweat and victorious for once in his rotten decaying life. I had never seen him look so happy and alive. He held out two masks. The first, in his left hand was a scarab beetle mask, made out of ebony wood, gleaming jewels and twisted vines. It’s legs were articulated, and the inner layer inlayed with ivory and mother of pearl. In his other hand was a horse-head mask with a long mane, and a hobby horse with a single wheel to ride on. The pale horse had cut out eyes and nostrils and a dappled pattern on its close cut pelt.
“Pick one! Quick! Don’t think about it too deeply! Which one is calling to you?”
I took the horse head and the wheeled stick out of his gloved hands, and crowned myself with what had now turned into an ass’s head. I brayed loudly as the surrounding hoards giggled. “It’s entirely up to you what kind of beast of burden you are going to be, or if you are going to run free across the forest.” Rotten was entirely serious.
Up ahead the sun started to rise and two clowns on a large grey elephant rode over the horizon towards the Parade to pick up their errant but loyal missing members.