*Hi there, and thank you for reading The Supreme Pancake! To get the most enjoyment out of this story, we recommend clicking on all the links provided! Thanks again, and enjoy the show! —The SP
The Vanishing Lady
“Yes, what is it, Jeanne,” Georges asked while keeping his attention on a few stray rabbits and doves he was trying to stuff back into his top hat. She tiptoed toward his boss, nervous despite herself but still determined that this was to be the day, and if not now, then never.
“I wanted to speak to you about the routine, sir. If you have a moment.”
“Oh? And what about it? Fantastic job today, by the way, you really stuck it this time.”
“Oh, thank you sir. It’s just… well, I’ve been hearing things, about… well, what happens to me when you make me vanish.”
He stopped his task at this, even with only one rabbit left to go, and gave her his full attention.
“You’re not accusing me of any impropriety, are you, my dear?”
“Certainly not. But… well, let’s just be out with it, then. I’ve heard you bring back a skeleton.”
He let out a sigh, the kind parents give when their children start to ask them where babies come from. Grasping his pipe from the work table, he lit himself a fresh pipeful of tobacco as he listened to his new assistant. She was quite remarkable in some peculiar way, now that he was paying attention, a certain je ne sais quois as his own people said. She was quite ravishing as well, and he couldn’t help but imagine himself together with her, alas, if they weren’t already entangled in a professional relationship.
“I just don’t understand it, sir. Am I dead during the trick? Is it my actual skeleton, or someone else’s? And if it’s not mine, do you… do you… borrow, a skeleton?”
“For pity’s sake, Jeanne, I’m an illusionist, not a grave robber. And I warned you about this, I warned you not to ask silly, nosy questions about the routine. Now the way I see it, it hardly matters to what immaterial aether I send your corporeal form and specific animus, and it hardly matters to what extent I may bring you back during the bit, so long as at the whole of you, or else as close to the whole of you I can manage, returns at the very end. That’s the prestige, you understand, it’s what the whole trick hinges on.”
“Yes, but… a skeleton, sir. I can’t help but think the other ladies…”
“Never mind what you think you know about the other ladies! I’ll have you know one thing, and never you mind which ones, but sometimes, not only do I bring back ladies’ skeletons, sometimes I make them dance too! How about next showtime I make your skeleton dance? Would you like that?!”
“Er… no, sir, I don’t think I’d much like that.”
“I thought so, now be a good girl and get ready for the bit where I create you from the bust of a pretty woman.”
The young lady meekly left the room. Having seen to that, Georges took a look around his workshop and saw that not only had the rabbit wrecked and toppled over everything that wasn’t already in disarray, but there were now three more rabbits than before.
The Astronomer’s Dream
How much was a single man supposed to take, grumbled Georges to himself as yet again the furniture in his room began to disappear piece by piece. It’s bad enough he couldn’t get a decent night’s sleep on his own time. First it was the inn with the Black Imp lurking in the corners, making chairs vanish before he got a chance to sit on them, removing tables at the precise moment he put a glass of water down, and to add insult to injury, on top of the room for the night he had to pay for the bed after the infernal beast lit the thing on fire! Pay for a whole new bed! And when he moved to the Bewitched Inn, there it was again, furniture disappearing, boots walking away from him as he took them off. The other fellows at work never let him hear the end of the time some invisible devil put his own clothes back on his body after he took them off (he didn’t get even single wink of sleep, he spent the whole night taking off his waistcoat, only to find it back on his shoulders, or his trousers, only to find his other pair of striped trousers on his legs). Georges the Never-Nude, they called him.
But now here was the old familiar routine come back to haunt him at work, of all places! It was already more of an indignity to bear this ridiculous uniform, this silly long robe and pointy hat! He was a serious astronomer, not some sideshow wizard. But to endure this nonsense again, and now at his place of employment? It was too much!
He counted himself lucky that whatever malignant unseen being was afflicting him this way left him, if not a chair to rest his tired legs upon, then at least the main instrument of his employment. Georges lumbered to his large telescope and took another look at his old friend in the sky. At least she cared enough to stay put. Whenever things got to be their worst, he could always count on that lovely lady at night, resplendent in her borrowed light, always a different sight to see with each passing day, but always the same a month from that day.
“Or that’s what you think, anyway.”
Georges looked up from his telescope, and there she was, right in front of him, all of her! He could see her as clearly as if he was looking through that great instrument, every lovely curve, every myriad crack and gorge and crater.
“You… what… what are you doing here? Why are you… hey!”
Without another word she opened wide her gigantic magnificent lips and devoured his telescope whole, chewing it once or twice before swallowing.
“So even you are involved in this. In my torment! Why did you take that from me? It was all I had left, and after I was such a devoted student of yours, such an infinitely curious disciple to all your wonders.”
“I don’t know. Maybe I didn’t like all the attention so much.”
“You’re cruel. People always warned me you were a cruel mistress, and I never believed them until now.”
“I’m not anything. I’m just the moon.”
“And another thing, with you all the way down here, how will the tides… in God’s name! The tides will come in so far they will engulf the whole world in water! Humankind as we know it will cease to exist!”
“Don’t be so melodramatic. Sure, some buildings and things might not survive the floods, but I think humankind will pull through it all just fine. Honestly, this is nothing. I courted the sun once, and when we moved around in space it caused a whole ice age back on earth. I killed off the dinosaurs simply because I wanted to go to bed with the sun.”
“This… this is a nightmare, isn’t it? It’s an unpleasant dream, and I’ll wake up and…”
“If that’s what you want to believe, I won’t stop you.”
The waters began to rise, slowly taking over his observatory tower, slowly creeping up to his chin, then his nose. He lifted his head from the waters as high as he could to ask her one more question.
“What’s your name? I’ve known you your whole life but I have no idea what to call you.”
“Jeanne… I used to love a woman named Jeanne. That is, before I fell in love with the heavens.”
“Oh, hello there, I don’t think I’ve seen you around here before.”
“How do you do? Yes, that’s right, I just started working for the fairy godmother yesterday.”
“I see. And how do you like it so far?”
“It’s a living, isn’t it? A few of the rat valets have been very kind to me, showing me the ropes, you know the kind of thing.”
“Of course. So, I noticed you have a large clock prop like mine, will I see you in the chorus line?”
”Oh, not me, I’m afraid I’m only starting out with a bit role. I play the old man who jumps out of the clock and frantically points to the hands close to the twelve to let Cinderella know it’s only a few strokes away to midnight before disappearing in a cloud of smoke.”
“Ah, I see. I thought maybe because of your big clock… well, I’m in the long and thematically-similar musical number.”
“Oh. Well, maybe…”
“I mean, once this lady gets the slipper on and becomes the queen of all the land or whatnot… do you like films? There’s this Lumière film I really like with a gardener with a hose, and a boy steps on the hose, and then the gardener looks at the hose to see if it… well, maybe you’d like to come to the nickelodeon with me sometime when we’re off work?”
“That sounds lovely. What do they call you off the clock, Father Time?”
“Georges. I’m Georges. And you are…?”
“Jeanne. Well, that’s my cue. Nice letting time pass with you, Georges.”
“You too… Jeanne…”
It had been what, a week, or maybe two?, since the Terrible Turkish Executioner embarked on his usual trip, from Constantinople all the way to gay Paris. He was at first ecstatic to try out his new invention, a long set of stocks in which he could fit the necks of four doomed criminals, and then doing so swipe them off in one fell swoop from his mammoth scimitar. It was to finally put France’s own guillotine to shame once and for all!
Or so he thought. There was that troubling business a month ago or so, when the heads would bounce around and then find their way back to the necks of the beheaded men. It was embarrassing to say the least, to take the lives of evildoers so elegantly, so efficiently, only to find, before hundreds of witness, those same miscreants guffawing at his incompetent work, taking the stocks off their own necks and slapping each other’s back in hilarity at the whole thing as they left to their own business.
Well, a good thing that was all over, he thought as he knocked on the usual door, that of the domicile of the local Parisian magician. The bald and mustachioed fellow answered the door and led him through the labyrinthine workshop. A few moments later the Turkish gentleman had emptied his sack and the Frenchman inspected the wares with great interest.
“Yes… yes, indeed, these will do quite well. Here you are, good sir, and at the usual rate per, ahem… that is, per capita.”
The Turk nodded that all was in order. Before he turned to leave, he couldn’t help but notice what the gentleman was working on. A huge musical stave, suspended in midair, and to his horror, a sequential row of heads suspended between the bars! There had to be hundreds of them, all there to serve one ghastly purpose, to sing their assigned note according to their position on the accursed stave!
And that was not the only thing of note in this macabre musical display: each and every one of the heads were that of the gentleman’s! They were all the same balding, mustachioed Parisian gentleman who even now stood before him.
“Admiring my troublesome heads, I see. Yes, the melody’s quite good, but unfortunately one line of music doesn’t seem to satisfy me as much as it used to. That’s why I need your, ahem, merchandise, you see. I think I’m finally ready for chords!”
At these words, what the hapless Turkish gentleman assumed was some sort of cleaning lady for the magician poked her nose through the man’s door and interrupted the conversation with a rather hoarse and phlegmy voice.
“Oh, that’s enough out of you, mister Georges! Listen, my friend, don’t get the man started or he’ll go on all day about his heads. Ever since he divided himself into his own orchestra the first time he’s never let us hear the end of it. I told him, I told him mister Georges, the next time I see you blow up your own head with a bellows until it explodes, the next time I have to clean up hundreds of little bits of your rubber head, I’m out the door! Find yourself another maid, that’s what I told him all right!”
“Thank you Jeanne, and yes of course we’re all very fortunate to have you here with us, aren’t we? Well, if you’ll excuse me sir, it’s back to work for me. This Rondo alla Turca isn’t going to compose itself.”
The Turk politely thanked the man and took his leave as Georges threw the first head of some condemned Turk upon the stave. He just remembered that he meant to ask the man about the curious incident of the prisoners’ heads returning to them, but completely forgot during the meeting. He wanted nothing more than to never see him again, but knew just as well he’d be back the following month with another sack of heads. Money is money, he grumbled to himself.
The Devil and the Statue
It is a well-known and unfortunate fact that France, unlike much of the world, never really endeared itself to the dramatic works of William Shakespeare. For example, there is an extant copy of Romeo and Juliet from the First Folio edition, apparently recovered from a Parisian theater company who wished to put on one of the earliest known stagings of the play in that country. The document is littered with copious notes in its margins, all of which were obviously feedback between a director and producer constantly at odds with each other as to the play’s direction, and quite often its general sense of worth. For example:
“Mais j’aime bien cette scène du balcon ici. Qu’est-ce que tu pense, Georges?”
And much further down the page, in parentheses, as if the writer of the note was almost afraid to say it:
“Aussi, je peux être le diable.”
The Infernal Cake-Walk
Further down and further in to the infernal pits the poet and his guide went. He had already seen such sights of suffering and woe that would have made him abandon all hope several circles prior, as that ominous sign at the entrance suggested he do, were it not that his constant companion, that Swan of Mantua who in life inspired in him the sweet new style of poetry he so loved, even now inspired in him courage and resolve to plough through the circles, to the end of hell, and with any luck, to Beatrice, his true love.
At a certain point in their terrible journey, the poet stopped and regarded a strange group of sinners clamoring up a frightening din in one of those awful fiery chasms.
“Master, what is the divine lot of those unfortunate souls? What did the Lord on High in His infinite wisdom decree was to be their eternal fate?”
His companion, that beloved poet of Roman antiquity, turned to him and smiled.
“Ah, my son, those unfortunate souls are no doubt part of that wide and terrible circle of lust, that sad multitude ensnared in wicked surfeit of prurient…”
“But master, I thought we had long passed that second circle of Hell. And it looks like… master, are they dancing?”
There was one devil among them overseeing a group of revelers. The shades of these sinful ones danced in a mad gyrating circle, kicking their legs up and down, waving their arms to and fro.
“Er, yes, my son. It would seem that, ah… the punishment these souls endure, is to partake of a dance, made popular in the realm of the living and brought down by one such devil as you see, for all eternity. Such is the great wisdom of…”
“That’s their punishment? They just, dance? And what about them? Those two sinners leading the pack? Why are their faces so darkened compared to the others? Is it the profound soot of this circle, that stygian filth that blackens their complexion?”
“Er… yes, my son. The stygian soot is why, um… their complexions are so dark.”
The dance came to an end, and the revelers cheered among themselves. The devil in charge of them went off for a moment, and returned with a large cake on a platter, upon which the revelers cheered its arrival.
“I don’t understand, master. It appears the sinners are… rather enjoying themselves.”
As the sinners brought up yet another dance, this time round and round the cake itself, the devil roared at them in a horrible infernal shriek:
“Alright, good show, you lot! Who do you think takes the cake this time? The man who found this fun little dance for us, Georges? Or this beautiful young lady, Jeanne, over here?!”
“Master, am I hearing them right? If they perform their punishment well, they get… rewarded with cake?”
“Er, no my son… uh… Ah! I see, we are indeed at the threshold between the second circle of lust, and the third circle of gluttony. It is a dark fate for these unfortunate sinners, forced to dance, then forced to eat cake, what was once pleasurable in life made into an exquisite quotidian punishment.”
“I see now, master. If my soul is indeed to be saved, it seems I must also partake of this cake, and maybe a brief spell of this mad infernal dancing. Only then will I recognize this foul sin for what it is and steer clear of it in life.”
“I assure you, my son, you are not to touch the cake, nor take a single step in dance, if your eternal soul is to meet that blessed lady and the Creator of All Things in paradise. Now, come along and take my hand, there is much more to see.”
“But surely it would come to no harm, if I were to take only a small piece-”
After the Ball
How long had it truly been? Jeanne was of course long since removed from the picture that was Georges’s amours. But how long had he gone without the familiar touch of any woman? Of not even the mere sight of one erogenous zone or another? Had it been so long he had forgotten what a woman even looked like?
Which is why news of this particular bit of cinema was irresistible to him. Fellows around the workplace, friends of his around the licensed premises, all of them whispered of a certain film at a certain nickelodeon. After the ball, indeed…
It was of course the first cinèmatographe he had taken her, for their first date all those years ago. He tried to banish the thought from his mind as he inserted the coins into the machine and took a look.
Ah yes, it was a lovely ball, wasn’t it? Time to freshen up now, time to cast off those vain ball gown trappings… yes, she was perfect. Round, voluptuous, nothing like the small string-bean shape he accustomed himself to with her. Yes, almost there, might as well get in the bath, but come on now, keep going… yes, it was coming, he could feel it… the part he’d been waiting for all this time, the first film in the history of film, to show a… to show a woman’s actual…
If you had asked Georges then and there, the gendarmes dragging him away in handcuffs, his trousers hanging around his ankles, right at what should have been the moment of truth, at the point in the film when, for some reason, the woman’s attendant poured some kind of black ash down her back… it would have been hard for him to say whether or not it was all worth it.
The Living Playing Cards
“Georges, please. It was one thing to make those billboards come alive and throw flour at people, and yes we all had a good laugh at that. But I really don’t think it’s a good idea to meddle with, you know, time. Especially just for a simple magic trick.”
“Just for a simple magic trick?! Don’t speak such nonsense, Jeanne, there are no simple magic tricks in my act. Besides, what’s the worst that could happen…”
No one can explain why Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth I mysteriously vanished from her own throne that fateful day. Of course, whatever the reason, the strange occurrence could not have come at any worse of a time for England. The Queen was gone not long, but just long enough to be completely absent during the hour of her country’s most dire need, the arrival of King Phillip II’s Armada, which had been inching closer and closer to England’s fair shores. One cannot overstate how astronomical the loss was for England; it became a Catholic nation once again, and the Inquisition that tagged along below the decks of the Armada’s ships, like a pack of rats carrying a plague, infected English culture and society for years to come.
This, of course, is also why everyone in North America to this day speaks Spanish.
The Impossible Voyage
Georges pored over his receipts one more time, now having burned literally quite a bit of the midnight oil, and it still made no sense to him. It was all in front of him to see, plain as day: food 500 francs, rent 1,500 francs, film stock 1000 francs, trick shot editing 400 francs, craft services 4000 francs. So what was he missing? Or did it finally come to it, was it now necessary that someone good at the economy come on board and help him budget this whole thing? There were only, after all, two more children of his he could put up for adoption before things were to come to a head. He was at his wit’s end, the end of his rope, and several other cliches he could think of. His family was starving…
“That’s it, Georges! I’ve had it!”
Georges turned and saw Jeanne, scowling, her shawl draped tightly over her bedroom gown.
“I can’t stand you sitting there all hours of the night, staring at our bills, trying to figure out why we’re all starving to death here! It’s all your impossible voyages, Georges! And it’s bad enough you plan your impossible voyages every month with your damned Geographic Society! But what do you do, you decide to go to the most out-of-the-way corners of the universe, in the most inefficiently-designed vehicles, and you crash them all into the mountains! A speeding carriage to take you to the Alps, crashed into a mountain! A flying locomotive to take you through space and into the sun, crashed into a mountain! An icebox car on that locomotive designed to get you around on the sun’s surface, which you almost froze to death in and then opened up, in which case the sun’s heat melted all the ice in it anyway, crashed into a mountain! Another speeding car to get you off the sun and convert into a submarine once you reach the earth’s ocean, which you then accidentally blew up, and crashed into a mountain! You know I love you, and I know you have a dream to see as much of the universe as you can, but we have spent 30,000,000,000 francs on quirky steampunk vehicles that you have crashed into the mountains! Georges, I’m begging you, the next time you want to go to Jupiter or wherever the hell, can you, I don’t know, can you just take a magic horse or something? Please?!
Jeanne wrapped her shawl tighter around her shoulders and made for the bedroom. She might have a point, Georges thought, but on the other hand the boys in the Geographic Society and he were planning a huge trip to the South Pole in the coming month. It was to be quite a spectacle, they were going to commission a special aeroplane that would first take them through the solar system…
A Trip to the Moon
Georges and Jeanne looked over their slides from their wedding anniversary trip to the moon. If you had asked them a year before, they would have never been able to dream of a trip like that, not in a million years.
“Can we really leave for the moon,” Jeanne remembered asking Georges, delirious with joy, “oh, Georges, can we really leave?”
“Not without leaving a piece of youth,” he replied. “But also, yes. I booked our tickets for next month.”
It was Georges’s brilliant idea to save several billions of francs by not paying for a vehicle of his own to get there, but instead to take public transportation. The zeppelin that brought them to the moon was just as good, he was willing to wager, as being shot via cannon in a large bullet-ship, as the old boys in the GS were doing even as he was headed for the same place with Jeanne.
As George and Jeanne boarded the S.S. Melencolia, Georges noted a little inscription painted upon the hull of the ship, which read: Le temps n’est jamais le temps en fait.
“Here we go, darling. As of now, our lives are to be forever changed!”
“Yes, dear. After this trip we will never be the same.”
“Yes, darling. After all, as the saying goes, the more you change, the less you feel.”
“…it does, doesn’t it? The saying, I mean.”
Georges let Jeanne take a peek in his own telescope on the way there. She could see the moon even before they were to land.
“The moon looks upset,” Jeanne told Georges. “It might be because your friends crash-landed their bullet ship into her eye.”
“The moon doesn’t get upset, she’s just the moon.”
“How do you know that?”
“Oh, we’ve met.”
“Well… it just goes to show how you know you’re never sure, but you’re sure you could be right.”
“If, as the saying goes, you hold yourself up to the light. Not unlike the moon does every month, I’d wager.”
“It’s amazing, we floated from the zeppelin to the moon’s surface just by the use of our umbrellas.”
“It’s us. We’re not the same, we’re different.”
“On the moon, that is. Our mass has a different density on earth than on the moon, and our umbrellas too.”
“Well, this might be it,” Georges told Jeanne as the moon creatures tied them up and did their strange ritualistic dance around them. He could have sworn one of them was bringing in some kind of… moon cake? “At any rate, my dear, I don’t regret a thing and I would have done this with you again in a heartbeat.”
Jeanne looked off into space, and saw the earth rising up.
“It’s so beautiful, the earth. It’s like an array of glowing embers on a blue orb in the sky.”
“Yes dear, and the embers never fade in your city by the lake.”
“Do you mean the place where I was born? How romantic of you.”
“Why… no, I mean Paris, darling.”
“You did say ‘lake.'”
“Did I say lake? I meant the Seine of course.”
It was a good thing the umbrellas, being mass from earth and therefore of a differing density than moon creatures, were as effective a weapon against them as they were. It only took one swing from their weapons to reduce the creatures to an ineffectual cloud of smoke. With both parasols swinging Georges and Jeanne made short work of them.
“Huzzah! Oh Georges, there’s nothing we can’t do together!”
“Indeed there isn’t, darling. Crucify the insincere!”
Jeanne stopped in her tracks and stared at George for a while.
“It’s a saying I’ve been working on, to sort of give me some pep and vigor in my step.”
“You’ve come up with better ones before, dear.”
“Drat,” Georges groused as they watched the zeppelin leave for earth without them. “Now how will we get home?”
“There’s the bullet ship your friends at the GS are using. Maybe we can borrow it?”
“I don’t see how we have much of a choice. There is of course the resolute urgency of now to consider. Come along.”
“I just hope the boys will get along without their ride home. Seems almost not right, stranding them on the moon like this.”
“Don’t worry, darling. I’m sure we’ll find a way to offer up once we get home.”
“Georges, who were these people?”
“…I don’t know.”
It seemed like time had come to a halt ever since Georges and Jeanne first crash-landed their bullet ship into the water and stumbled into the underwater kingdom of Neptune and the mermaids. The old king speared away a sea monster menacing the pair before looking to their bullet ship, rusted from the briny water and in no condition to bring them back to Paris.
“Well, that won’t do at all. Fear not, good travelers. You are to be honored guests in my kingdom at the bottom of the sea. We will make things right, we will feel it all, tonight!”
“Did he get that way of talking from you too, dear?”
“Don’t be silly, darling, I only just met the fellow same as you.”
The aged, salty monarch of the deep and his many daughters put on yet another fabulous underwater show-stopper for them. Georges’s favorite part was the singing starfish-men, suspended in the water like heads singing a tune on a musical staff.
“Now this,” Georges said as he squeezed Jeanne’s hand tighter, “this is what I call one of the indescribable moments of your life.”
The trip to the moon and back was a rousing success, of course, and the ride by mermaid bubble to their home was pleasant enough, but now Georges and Jeanne were back in Paris, still several billion francs in debt, still with a house full of rubber heads, of former women who became dancing skeletons, of time-space wormholes through which long-past monarchs can appear in life-sized playing cards, still racked with torment by green and long-horned demons, and a host of so many other problems.
“Georges, what are we going to do? There’s got to be a way out lives can change, we can’t just be forever stuck in vain like this.”
“This,” he replied, showing her the slides from the trip to the moon and back, “this is how we will make a name for ourselves.”
“I don’t understand, it’s just…”
“It’s just the birth of modern cinema as we know it, Jeanne. Don’t you see? The Lumières, with their trains arriving, their card games, their snowball fights, their ladies all pouring out of their factories… They have no scope, no vision. But this, this is film with a narrative. We used to love watching films, now we’re going make them, out of everything, all our problems, all the weird things we’ve seen and been through. We’re going to change everything with this, you’ll see.”
“Oh Georges, I want to believe what you’re saying is true. I want to so much, but…”
“That’s all I ask, Jeanne. Believe in me, as I believe in you.”