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Stale potatoes.

The words formed in Giuseppe’s head as he looked down at his morning meal.There was no edge to the thought; it was a simple statement of fact emerging from an otherwise idle mind. He didn’t mind the meal at all – food is meant to fuel the body, anything else is just frill. He tore a chunk off the heated tuber as his eyes stared vacantly across the English countryside.

Stale potatoes indeed. They were bitter, hard, had ugly growths on their undersides where light had been unable to reach. It was a common dish to be had for the Sogno di Marmo; no one wanted them and so had little worth. Giuseppe recalled what a staple potatoes had been in his youth. They were still eaten, of course, but not nearly as much as they once were. And no one wanted potatoes as old and grotty as these. Yet, it remained a staple for the troupe, and was eaten with little else. They were fairly bland except for a few spices; old ringmaster Hadi knew of a few simple mixtures that were probably long forgotten. Giuseppe took another bite, mild and content. They required little, and frankly could only expect very little given their situation.

This temperament was shared by some, but not all of the troupe. “By God!” spat Andre, turning his fierce gaze randomly at Giuseppe, “Can we not, just ONCE, have something other than these goddamn spuds to eat???”

Giuseppe, unfazed by the sudden outburst, stared back blankly at the young performer. He was a young Frenchman who had only been with them for a few years, he had short red hair and bold black rectangle glasses. A singer and an actor of considerable skill, he thought himself a marvel, and often swore he’d one day make it to Hollywood. The frequent, miserable rain which the troupe had encountered since they arrived in the British Isles two months ago had only caused the man to gripe more.

Giuseppe spoke in his usual calm, gruff manner. “No point whining, Andre. Here, you just need to warm your food up” The older man grabbed his flint and steel and motioned towards the fire pit, which was surrounded by about ten members of the Sogno di Marmo. Some showed signs of irritation at the young hothead, other wore faces of grim agreement. Hadi looked at Giuseppe and said nothing, his ancient face wearing an expression which said even less.

“Oh for God’s sake old man, here, use a lighter!” Andre revealed the device from his pocket, still angry about the food but not averse to starting up a fire on the cold, wet morning. “And I don’t care if it’s heated or not! I want real food, damn it!”

Giuseppe raised an eyebrow. “Perhaps you were hoping for some game animal. Boar, perhaps even an untamed bull? I wish you the best of luck; I’m sure you’ll have no trouble hunting one with that lighter of yours.”

Andre spat again and left, cursing under his breath. Shortly after began the morning’s work: tents were spruced up inside and out, work was done, a struggle was made to coax the essence of the carnival into their worn and shabby act. It was there – but it was buried under rotten wood, ripped tarps and rough men. It wasn’t very often that people came to see the wandering show, and rarely did anyone bother to look under that surface.

They only had two groups of visitors that day. The first, a middle aged German couple, stopped to ask for directions in broken English. The well-travelled group was able to offer a German response, but no real help – the only place they ever knew they were was “going”. Later, they got a young man and woman with a little boy about six. They parked at the side of the road in their new car and wandered into the Sogno di Marmo, looking to see if they could interest the boy. The child was pudgy and wore a Burger King crown on his head; apparently, it was his birthday.

Giuseppe and Hadi met the family as they entered the area, giving them a warm welcome. As they showed them around, the parents spoke loudly to them: Hello hello my what a place this is Saunio Dee Marrrmo my how exotic! it’s very quaint as well we’re from America we don’t have things like this around looks like you need a bit of a clean up here don’t you hahaha well it’s part of the charm I suppose but you really ought to consider some interior design advice have you seen that wonderful interior design show no you haven’t? well I suppose maybe you don’t get that channel at home quaint, very quaint say have you heard of Cirque du Soleil oh you have fantastic aren’t they I don’t suppose you’re friends hahaha no well that’s fine anyway really fantastic stuff they do though you really ought to try out a few of there acts oh and have you seen that one magician? the one who does all those fantastic tricks oh honey you know those tricks are all special effect nonsense I’m very good at catching those sorts of things you know they say I have a gift of excellent concentration skills that’s what they told me back in my school years between the parties and booze of course hahaha really though you must admit sirs it’s a good bit of nonsense to do tricks and such in today’s world with so much science and technology to advance things to build money to make you know it’s a bit silly to do these simple little acts to make a living sort of old fashioned like religion you know all smoke and mirrors and whatnot there’s a real world out there! well, it’s nice for the boy to see at least I heard somewhere this sort of thing can be a good “stimulation for the mind” not sure why exactly but let kids be kids eh hahaha! oh but is our little angel bored well I guess we’ll be on our way thanks for the show we’d best be going it’s been rather interesting nice meeting you all quaint very quaint hahaha!

The boy had kept mostly quiet and seemed little interested in the juggling, the clowns or the magic tricks. He kept looking around and rustling through his Burger King bag, occasionally stuffing a handful of fries into his mouth. Hadi asked the boy if he wanted to ride the camel before he left? The boy said no, and the parents seemed to agree, saying that they’d “stick to car rides, or maybe even a horse”. The camels did look rather feeble and sickly as well. They still played their part in the troupe, but they had grown weaker as they could only graze and dig up old roots to eat. As they left, the boy offered Hadi some of the greasy french fries.

“No thank you, my child” the old Arab said with a wrinkled smile “I am old, and they are very bad for me”.

As the sun set into a cloudy twilight, the troupe decided they would get no more visitors today and switched the performance tents back into their quarters for the night. After preparations were complete, Giuseppe went to collect firewood. Never losing sight of his task, he mused casually over the day. Where has the crowd gone, he wondered. Not only the people who make it up, but the very crowd itself, a sort of entity made of excitement and wonder. It was all gone, and so was the modest amount of money that had come with it – though he didn’t think they had both disappeared to the same place. The Sogno di Marmo had travelled far in its day, and he had always found the biggest differences did not spawn up from new adventures, but from old places revisited. Regardless, Giuseppe was not a man to brood. He shrugged it off just as easily as he shrugged on a large load of firewood onto his back, and returned to the camp.

It had grown dark, but the camp itself was illuminated as Giuseppe returned. As he came closer, the scene became more clear: one of the tents had caught fire. He quickened his pace but refused to drop the load of wood. If there had been any commotion, it had already ended: no panicked figures ran about, and life continued as usual. There was little in the tents worth caring about.

Hadi filled him in on the situation. Andre had fled the camp earlier that evening, loading one of the camels with a very small supply of personal valuables and stealing into the night. Always being one for theatrics, he had taken the time to light the tent Giuseppe slept in on fire. Giuseppe was not terribly daunted as he spoke with Hadi.

“So the boy was more than just talk, if not by much. Well, always more tents, and conveniently, less people. He’ll have a hell of a time getting to Hollywood.”

“More so than you think, old friend. Observe.” Hadi revealed the contents of his pockets, “He left in such a hurry he forgot his lighter at your tent. And his spectacles, too! The world is far too big a place to be without one’s spectacles.” His ancient suddenly filled with wrinkles as he smiled “And so begins the journey of our companion Andre, riding to Hollywood on a camel in the dark, with no light or spectacles to guide him!”

Giuseppe gave a wry and sarcastic look “Happy trails”.

The potatoes had been charred in the fire. They ate them that night for dinner anyway. The one thing about stale potatoes, Giuseppe thought, was that you could do just about anything to them and they’d still be the same as ever.

As he went to sleep that night, it occurred to Giuseppe for a moment that the day’s events should probably strike him as odd. He quickly dismissed the idea, though – he’d lived for a long time, and nothing today had surprised him at all.

Giuseppe wakes up at 4:30 am (11:30pm EST), just before the sun rises. His day begins as he gets out of bed and prepares himself for another day. Prior to breakfast, he notices that he has not yet seen Hadi, who is normally up before him. He is still searching for him as the time reaches 5:00 am, the sun just barely in the sky. It appears brighter than usual today, and Giuseppe can't help but notice a certian stiffness in his muscles, a numbness to his movement's. He thinks it is probably just sleepiness from the night before. But strangely, fatigue seems to overcome him, dispite the fact that he is usually an early riser.

The sky brightens, and everything becomes aglow with white light. Giuseppe sees the world around him fading. Maybe his time has finally come. That seems alright, no point fighting it. And the heat feels nice, pleasent. He wonders just what he is suffering from though. The elderly performer loses consciousness.


---Prologues-->

----Chapter 1-->