Authors: Mark Beech,Charles Schneider,D P Watt,Cate Gardner
Tags: #Collection.Anthology, #Short Fiction, #Fiction.Horror
Published by Egaeus Press, MMXIII
their individual authors.
A Brief Preamble
Ladies and Gentlemen, boys and girls, children of all ages...
Indulge me if you will in these few words of introduction to the curious artefact you hold now before you. A work concerning old Mister Punch: On a visceral level you are perhaps at once drawn to thoughts of grotesque and cracked lacquered wooden things, of bells and distended bellies and moon-shaped grinning heads; or else perhaps to some garish childhood memory of fairground pandemonium or the melancholic sounds of candystriped tarpaulin flapping on some windblown seafront where Punch and his associates screeched and capered for your entertainment. Yet for all their pin-prickly poignancy, these recollections are essentially superficial, grounded as they are in basic sentimentality.
The Transfiguration Of Mister Punch
proffers something more complex. It is the work of three celebrated contemporary writers, working more or less in isolation from one another to produce what might be termed a literary triptych—a three panelled piece—fantastical in its parts, suggestive in its entirety of a reality altogether out of this dream we call life. A reality behind that little rectangle of gloom and plywood scenery where the myth of Punch is played out in time honoured fashion to the human world. This is the wondrous and dreadful, tragical and comical domain of Mister Punch & Co., fettered no more by the manipulations of humanity; real living things, breathing, large as life, real as the stars.
What do you say?
Would you like to come inside, oh little puppet?
The show’s about to start.
Being a curious and rambling essay with certain
grand, glorious and once-secret revelations
‘Bold Punch! Myghtye Chiefe of ye Rosy-Nose Fraternitye, now sepulchered in ye Vault at Bamarzo.’
‘Triumphant Punch! With joy I follow thee through the glad progress of thy wanton course; where life is painful with such truth and force.’
Byron, ‘Don Juan’
A Funny Little Show Begins
Whatever you do, I beg you, Dear reader, do not flip nor skip ahead to the end of my story. Do not skim, speed through, nor give a cursory reading. Disobey, and face The Stick! Easy now. All is calm and quiet. The night sky will soon turn blue. Make some tea, let the cat sit in your lap and stay with me a while.
Make your mind blank, dark, save for a waving blue silk curtain of old. It parts slowly and a grotesque little figure dressed in red velvet appears, instantly hypnotizing you. See the pronounced hunch on his back. See how his velvet garment is custom tailored to accommodate the poor bloke’s deformity. He cares not and is proud of his birthright! He is as big as a squirrel, but alive! Alive! The sun glints off of his fancy trim of golden braid. He has a conical cap that points forward, and deftly mimics his curving-up chin and hooked nose. Such a nose, pendulous and aggressive! Such a chin, pointing up like an accusing finger! He wears old-fashioned knee breeches and buckled shoes from another time. His hair is unkempt, wild even, as is the sparkle in his eyes. This strange, maniacal little man, who acts like he owns the world, is permanently ‘wall-eyed’ or vagl-eygr, in the old Norse, where the phenomena was first observed in the fifth century. For a single eye to wander. Strabismus is the fusion and blending of the cross-eye and the wall-eye. This is very disconcerting to the viewer, who feels his are being looked at and away from at the same time. His energy is confused and left in a strange, new purgatory that alternately heightens the senses and fills one with the most ancient form of dread. Panic. The sound of a beehive exploding all around you. The rage of nature. Listen to his inhuman cry: part insect, part human. Something dreadfully red and yellow with a brightly painted exoskeleton that prances in an Italian court between Casanova and the Comte de Saint Germain! What kind of strange royalty is this to wear so vivid and precise a garb? How the painful ear to ear grin and single-minded denial of all things sacred contrasts with the clothing of King or fool!
It is seventeen minutes after four in the morning. I have just awoken, yet again.
Like falling stars that have yet to coalesce and freeze into a constellation, the sharpest, pore-fill’d focus. From searching fuzziness I snap awake. I am forced alert. I realize that I must barter, permit and seduce myself to write this tale of a Puppet down, what happened between Mr. Punch and I since we met a long, long time ago, and what he told me, what he whispered in my ear, like a mosquito hissing until I thought my eardrum might burst. His nasal twang vibrates in my brain as if I’d been struck by puppet lightning.
I slide out of bed in the dark and make my way to the bathroom mirror. The small, red night-light below makes my face look all the more Mephistophelean, albeit a bit puffy. What does my face look like and what does it matter? In truth, it pertains to our Subject. If a face is a mirror to the soul, what kind of soul would mirror a face like the mesmeric visage of our Mr. Punch? The older I get the more I look like Mr. Punch. I suspect this is true of many Punch performers. From years upon year of performing, show after show with all the variations, with the smell of the seaweed and ‘fairy floss’ filling the dockside air, the face remembers and mimics the little man! We become the character whose wooden skin we step into thousands of times until the day when all good Punch Professor’s look at the little man and wonder: Who is puppeting whom?