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Cromwell the Magician (III)

Updated on March 6, 2010

A Captive Audience

It is then that we feel the urge to move for an instant to lighter sentiments. There was a time, and a recurring one at that, where corn flowers swung in the wind mid-summer and no one had a worry thereabout. The men had been there at that time as well, they even participated in the midsummer festival, drank the beer, did the dance, frequented the merry go round just like everyone else. They lived and worked in the area, farm work that was, and although they had not been there long and their faces were not familiar, soon they won acceptance as labor was scarce and work plentiful. Migrants they were not, exactly, which made them more trustworthy in the eyes of land owners and peasants than other newcomers. It had been a prolonged period of intense activity.

Oh, and then there was the odd little stunt inside the circus tent at the festival. Cromwell, they had seen the posters all over the market place and on light poles in the area, so they purchased tickets and went inside.

Cromwell had been sprechmeister, introducing first the elephants, then the trapeze artists and line dancers and jugglers, then the clowns. He had been brief and to the point, not much humor there, and they had been unimpressed with the man at that point in spite of his high golden hat and matching long jacket. Then the curtain went down for a rather long intermission, at which point one of them suggested they leave, but the others would here none of that, they had come to see Cromwell perform his magic.

When the curtain finally went up, Cromwell had emerged dressed all in black, engulfed in white smoke of some kind. Gone was the dispassionate expression, the man the audience now had in front of them was so focused and sensitive that he seemed to be of a different world. Some women gave gasps and moans of discomfort, and several families took their children by the arm and hastily left. Not so the creeps, they all but hummed with contentment as they sensed this summer of hard work, an endless dull routine, turn into a defining moment of their lives. They probably wanted to laugh at Cromwell, maybe they even tried, this skinny entertainer who put on a black suit and tried to seem all tough. But something must have stopped them, because for once they were silent.

Eyeing the Creeps

Such a bunch they were that those existed who had a tough time telling them apart, hardly ever having encountered any member individually. Others would have the opposite experience, having met only one without ever dealing with them as a group. None of these patterns were coincidental, they left little to chance having learned hard lessons a long time ago. The system had its go with each of them, but they found strength and solace in themselves and one another, emerging stronger and more dangerously antisocial than ever. But there were limits to what they could do for one another, how close they could ever become. Each had attributes so disagreeable that they could neither be shared, negotiated, nor sliced into suitable pieces.

It starts in the tent, presumably. Maestro has taken the audience through an evening’s program of amusement and the occasional slip up, now it is his turn. He stands before the audience wearing a high hat and tuxedo. The spotlight is on him, and the surroundings are dark. A drum adds to the suspense, then unexpectedly a rabbit jumps up and sits on Cromwell’s left shoulder, seemingly coming out of nowhere. "Ladies and gentlemen, this is no ordinary rabbit," he announces. "Now go," he says to the rabbit. "Find me a nice little group of five naughty boys, then bring them up here." And so the rabbit darts off, running between the rows, sniffing and with ears erect, and as it comes to the fourth row it jumps up and runs from lap to lap, people giggling or gasping all depending on their temperament, until it stops and looks with determination at the five boys from Huntsville.

Once he had them on stage, with the powers to hypnotize, it was his sacred privilege to point them in virtually any direction of his choosing. This could be for aims that were benign or malign, and once the course had been set bonds could not easily be broken. This presumably he did not do very often, lest he generate an entire army of zombies. So he would start small, relegating to this task only as much effort as was required to win their confidence, while instilling in them a sense of rapidly growing loyalty and attraction. Their already turbulent lives forever changed, they read like an open book in his clever hands.

For a magician his caliber, the relative primitive and confined, somewhat predictable frame of the circus should seem disappointingly narrow. But it was not exactly so. Well, he did regard the institution with some disdain, but what he had developed here was so much more than what met the eye, and at the same time it provided him an excellent staging ground from which to launch more sinister and sometimes macabre initiatives. That he had parents running from the tent with small children in hand was in itself unusual, yet the fact that the crowds were gathered there in large numbers and law was present put on him certain restraints. At least that was how it would seem. But it was not known entirely whether there were things ongoing that the eye could not spot so readily. So apart from being a cover and staging ground, this might have certain experimental qualities.

What his fellow artists might have to say about him if only they dared speak up? Let us say that they were in his employ, that he usually didn't bother them or vice versa. But let us add, furthermore, that they were frightened of him to the bottom of their soul. They knew that he was so much more than what he let show, and those who had been there long enough would have seen things that were not supposed to ever occur at a circus. A circus, mind you, is supposed to be daring perhaps but happy, not a place for excesses into the spiritually challenging environs.

We are still, and this is somewhat painful, circling around what happened on that first evening when he spotted them. One thing we know is that he spotted them before they saw him. They had seen his poster everywhere for days, but they did not pay much attention when he played toastmaster and introduced everyone before each act. That was when he spotted them. There was something about their manners, or lack thereof, and even more there was something about their clothing and haircuts that gave them away as being from the schools that were to him so utterly familiar. Well then, he was thinking, his mouth barely open and his lips barely moving, see now that they have come all this way for a night of fun not to be forgotten anytime soon. He had spent his days on those schools minimizing contact with the boys, manipulating and tricking those he could not avoid, and with his craft he had somehow managed to hasten through it all. Moving from one institution to another as they gave up on him in horror and despair, he had become like a professional school jumper more than a student. No one took him quite seriously at first, and once they did they were afraid of him, what he might do next, and wanted nothing more than to be rid of him. He had happily concurred, only it had left in him some funny feeling of loss or lack of fulfillment. These schools weren't Eaton, that much was for sure, the boys did not fraternize with style and glamor, arrogance and snobbery nowhere to be found. But there had been something else, some quiet and inward and stubborn solidarity, which could have been made available as it was available among the other boys, had he only stayed there long enough and not terrorized everyone before he got the chance to really come to know them, his schoolmates. And now, this was so gracefully many years later, he was keen to catch up on that once more, and if these five young men could give him a sniff of that rose then he'd be sure to keep them around until he was full.

Except, and this we know about him now with infallible certainty, he was never full, never content. Things would not always retain their value or importance, but instead of letting them go like other people would have done, he merely attributed to them different meanings and - in his own terminology - put them to good use. As it would be for those boys. He would know how to spot the worst in them, then bring it up to the surface from where it could be cultivated until they had forgotten that they ever possessed other qualities. They had the demonic flair, or they would never have come to where they now were, but it had remained undecided whether the demons or the masters of discipline and hard labor would prevail. No more after they had met Cromwell, who would show them decadence to their heart's content then leave them begging for more.

(c) Copyright 2010. All rights reserved.


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