by Matthew Tenwick
“This will eventually kill you, you know?” Korin winked.
Wine poured from the decanter into Dionysus’ gaping mouth. A maroon froth lined his lips; his throat lurched in guttural tugs. Dionysus belched, speckling his pale rubbery stomach like an egg and flecking the marble floors beneath his throne.
“I wish it could, Korin. I wish anything could drown this unquenchable heart.” He chuckled, spilling more of the wine down his grotesque series of chins. “Do we have another?”
“No!” Dionysus’ face creased into a frown. It was as if Korin’s assumption had been completely unreasonable. He snatched a napkin from beside him and dabbed at the corners of his mouth. “Do we have another summoned laugh?”
“Forgive me,” Korin retreated into a bow. “Yes, we have another. Are you thirsty for laughter?”
“Please.” Dionysus let the word hiss.
Korin, a slight man with a sharp face and even sharper beard, nodded. The heavy decanter pulled his body into a severe hunch before he finally set it upon a nearby stand. Korin straightened himself. Then he clapped his hands.
The throne-room doors yawned open. A mosaic of colours stretched across the floor from Dionysus’ throne to the doorway. Beyond the threshold, there was a thick darkness.
A twisted shape moved out from the shadows. It was small, this chained thing, a knot of iron with spindly limbs and pointed joints pushing through blackened cloth.
Dionysus’ lips curved in disgust as the chains scraped toward him. Its emaciated frame was completely alien.
“Careful, summoned fiend,” Dionysus barked. “I do not want my floors carved to pieces by your jewellery.”
The summoned laugh paused. It hunched into a clumsy bow. A wet curtain of hair covered its face.
“It is trying to be civil and polite!” Korin mocked. Then, his face dropped with irritation. “Hurry! The Wet God needs a laugh!”
“Yes. A sizeable portion, please.”
Dionysus’ lips slid back, revealing his pinkened teeth. Fine lines of spit pinged as his face pushed into a hungry smile. He raised a gnarled finger and beckoned the summoned laugh closer.
The chains rattled as the figure lifted an inch or two into the air. Then, it drifted forward until reaching the steps before Dionysus’ throne.
The chained being did not resist. This greatly displeased Dionysus. He liked his laughs to put up a fight. To be desperate. Grateful.
Such an honour it was to serve the Wet One. To offer a laugh in exchange for their place in the world. That was all they were: dispensable.
Dionysus slapped the arm of his throne, slamming the chained figure to the floor. He watched it writhe.
The chained beast pushed itself up into a kneeling position. Its head flung back. Black hair sweeping to reveal a face.
Dionysus’ face split into another smile.
“I was not aware that any clowns had survived the Shiraz tanks,” he hissed. “I must admit it wasn’t my finest hour, drowning all those funnies. In truth, it has left me wanting.”
The clown fixed Dionysus’ gaze. Her make-up was crude. Blocks of alabaster chalked her brow and cheeks. Black botches circled her eyes. A bloodied vertical stripe ran down her nose.
“Clown!” Korin moved with motive. “Ears or respect, which is it you lack? Begin your laugh this instance!”
The clown ignored Korin. She just stared into Dionysus.
The god initially appeared taken aback by the clown’s disobedience. Then his face relaxed with annoyance. “Fine. Kill it.” Dionysus gave a dismissive wave. Then, his stubbed hands stretched out to grab at the decanter to his side.
“No,” the clown uttered.
Dionysus awkwardly hung over the side of his throne; his bloated gut impeding his reach. His fingers desperately wiggling.
“After me, there will be no more laughs left. You have purged this realm. I am the last laugh.” Her words rang through the delicate gold chalices lining the shelves of the room.
Dionysus paused, giving the clown a quizzical look.
Korin held his breath behind a smile.
Then, Dionysus erupted into a thunderous chug of laughter. His folded body jiggled with each waft of breath. The clown had sparked something within the god. Dionysus continued to lurch harder with each laugh. His movements were hideous. The laughter, haunting.
The clown’s eyes locked onto Dionysus. Unwavering.
He continued to sputter and choke, heaving on the humour, his mouth frothing. Dionysus tried to speak. Yet, with each attempt, another violent laugh pushed its way out from his throat.
Korin froze. The god’s face was swollen with blood. Limbs flailing in his throne. His body shifting in fits. Then he slipped off his throne.
Dionysus clumsily rolled and fell to the floor. His mass shunting against the decanter stand. Whilst he convulsed, the decanter started rocking atop its stand. The wine sloshed, sending the decanter toppling. The decanter made a dull thud as it hit Dionysus’ head. Blood and wine splashed about him.
Korin gasped and watched the Wet One slump into a heap. He scurried to the god’s side. Dionysus was dead.
The clown, now standing, pointed at Korin. Her eyes burned with intent. “Tell the other gods!”
Korin slipped in the mixture of blood and wine, falling back onto Dionysus’ frame. His hands raised into a shaking shield. “Tell them what?!” The man looked so small. Insignificant.
Should she kill him as well? No. Korin served an important purpose. He would be the means to spread fear. The pathogen.
“Dionysus is the first of many.” The words boomed against the shining marble.
The chains fell to the floor about her with a clatter. Korin winced. The clown straightened her spine and rolled her shoulders. She now stood twice her original height. A godly presence.
“Does my god’s killer have a name?” Korin tentatively rose from Dionysus’ side. His robes were heavy with blood.
Turning on her heels, she strode toward the throne-room doors, momentarily stopping at the doorway. “Gelos” — the clown’s face flashed one last time — “is the name all gods should fear.”
Copyright © 2020 by Matthew Tenwick