by C.C. Parker
On Planet Circus:
Hermaphrodite bears lounged in courtyards while quadriplegic midgets rolled through streets.
But from space, Planet Circus was little more then a sickly looking, pinkish dot lodged in the darkness, an inconsequential imperfection in the universal skein. It was just as easy to overlook as it might be to miss a single yellow blade of grass in a vast field of green.
Still, he discovered it . . . Captain Willard and his boat full of cronies.
* * *
They had left Earth long ago, and now it was too late. They had been drifting for too long. Nobody counted days, but it might have been years, and the darkness kept swallowing them . . . kept sucking them in -- deeper, and deeper still; there was no end to it.
And then Captain Willard saw it: the pinkish dot, like a light drop of blood floating in tar.
For a long time he couldn't believe it was there at all, and for all he knew it wasn't. When you've been floating in space for what might have been years, this was to be expected.
Willard, consulting with his shipmates, realized that he wasn't seeing things.
"It could be anything," said Beales, the Captain's right-hand man.
"Yes, but it could be . . . something," said Willard.
"But it's beyond the known universe," said another. "So even if it is inhabited, we won't know what it is until we get there."
"Could be something terrible," said Burke, the ship's mechanic.
"Or beautiful," said Willard. "Besides, it's better than what we have here. Even if death awaits, it's worth the sacrifice. We're going to die out here before too long, anyway. What do we have to lose?"
They were silent because they all knew that Willard was right. They didn't have anything to lose, and soon they would all be dead. Supplies were running low, and the fuel was long gone. They were floating, floating, into the nether regions of space, and their minds. Many of them felt that they were going insane, and others had already gone there.
No, they didn't have anything to lose.
And they drifted further, deeper, into that darkness.
* * *
When the spacemen arrived on Planet Circus, nearly every freak and clown relied on the notion that these men were Gods. When you're living mad with great, colorful leaps and lion roars . . . when you have reveled in the aromas of circus sweat and animal dung for so long....
The spacemen came out of the darkness -- that rolling vast, night . . . and they came because they had nowhere else to go. They came with dumbfounded looks and expressions that reflected the end of the universe. They brought with them frightening tales of wars; of suffering and pain. They talked of space exploration and man's insatiable need to discover countries outside of his physical, and mental, jurisdiction. They talked of life; and death.
Captain Willard looked out across the tapestry of their faces. It was like a Grateful Dead concert times a thousand, he thought, remembering the days of his youth. He had never seen so many freaks, misfits, abnormalities, even in his craziest, most fucked-up dreams.
"It's like an ocean," said Beales. "An ocean of freaks."
* * *
The council of Planet Circus sat the Earthmen down and tried to figure out why it was they had even bothered.
"If we hadn't landed here," explained Willard. "We would have perished."
"I don't know what's worse," one of them joked.
"I don't understand."
"Can't you see that everyone here has gone insane. We used to be normal, like yourselves, but something happened. There was a great period of strife on the planet, and the struggle therein began to alter people's perception of who they were. Reality was shattered."
"War. Famine. Millions of people killed."
"Sounds familiar," said Burke.
"I don't understand," said one of the councilmen.
"The wars of Earth are known throughout the universe, at least the known universe. Bouts of violence beyond reckoning. Screams from the abyss."
"Yes," said the same councilman. "But if you destroy yourselves, it will be known. If we destroy ourselves it will be like someone's uncomfortable dream."
"What does it matter, either way?" said Willard.
"You can see what it has done to us," said a councilman with a pair of dice lodged in his eye sockets. Both die were ones. "It's mutated us, and made us insane. I liked to gamble before all this . . . Doesn't that mean anything to you?"
* * *
"Beales," said the Captain. "I wonder what's beyond Planet Circus?"
Captain Willard was unsure whether he'd gone crazy, or whether he simply started expecting less of himself. Even his crew, cavorting with these Morlocks of the universe, these freaks of God and nature. He was frightened that he was going to lose himself completely, which might have been a good indication that he was not crazy after all.
"Are you crazy?" said Beales, which did not help to deter the good captain's descent.
"I just think we could go further . . . find ourselves once again."
"Beales," whispered the Captain. "Our very essence has been suffused. And soon . . . soon we'll begin to change . . . and not just mentally . . . physically. We'll be freaks," he said. "Like them."
Beales didn't say it, but he didn't think that was such a terrible idea. After all, this was after madness . . . not before it.
Story copyright 2001 by C.C. Parker Nazoch3@aol.com
Illustration copyright 2001 by Lee Ward email@example.com
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