Chapter ELEVEN

 

ACOUPLE OF PEOPLE in the blue-hooded robes came around after Rhamus Twobellies, selling gifts. There was some really cool stuff, like chocolate models of the nuts and bolts that Rhamus ate, and rubber dolls of Alexander Ribs that you could bend and stretch. And there were clippings of the wolf-man's hair. I bought some of that: it was tough and wiry, sharp as a knife.

"There will be more novelties later," Mr. Tall announced from the stage, "so don't spend all your money right away."

"How much is the glass statue?" Steve asked. It was the same kind that Rhamus Twobellies had eaten. The person in the blue hood didn't say anything, but stuck out a sign with the price on it. "I can't read," Steve said. "Will you tell me how much it costs?"

I stared at Steve and wondered why he was lying. The person in the hood still didn't speak. This time he (or she) shook his head quickly and moved on before Steve could ask anything else.

"What was that about?" I asked.

Steve shrugged. "I wanted to hear it speak," he said, "to see if it was human or not."

"Of course it's human," I said. "What else could it be?"

"I don't know," he said. "That's why I was asking. Don't you think it's strange that they keep their faces covered all the time?"

"Maybe they're shy," I said.

"Maybe," he said, but I could tell he didn't believe that.

When the people selling the gifts were finished, the next freak came on. It was the bearded lady, and at first I thought it was meant to be a joke, because she didn't have a beard!

Mr. Tall stood behind her and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very special act. Truska here is new to our family. She is one of the most incredible performers I have ever seen, with a truly unique talent."

Mr. Tall walked off. Truska was very beautiful, dressed in flowing red robes that had many slashes and gaps. Lots of the men in the theater began to cough and shift around in their seats.

Truska stepped closer to the edge of the stage, so we could see her better, then said something that sounded like a seal barking. She put her hands on her face, one at either side, and stroked the skin gently. Then she held her nose shut with two fingers and tickled her chin with her other hand.

An extraordinary thing happened: she began to grow a beard! Hairs crept out, first on her chin, then her upper lip, then the sides of her face, finally all over. It was long and blonde and straight.

It grew about four or five inches, then stopped. She took her fingers away from her nose and stepped down into the crowd, where she walked around and let people pull on the beard and stroke it.

The beard continued growing as she walked, until finally it reached down to her feet! When she arrived at the rear of the theater, she turned and walked back to the stage. Even though there was no breeze, her hair blew about wildly, tickling people's faces as she passed.

When she was back on the stage, Mr. Tall asked if anybody had a pair of scissors. Lots of women did. Mr. Tall invited a few up.

"The Cirque Du Freak will give one solid bar of gold to anyone who can slice off Truska's beard," he said, and held up a small yellow piece of metal to show he wasn't joking.

That got a lot of people excited and for ten minutes nearly everybody in the theater tried cutting off her beard. But they couldn't! Nothing could cut through the bearded lady's hair, not even a pair of garden shears that Mr. Tall handed out. The funny thing was, it still felt soft, just like ordinary hair!

When everyone had admitted defeat, Mr. Tall emptied the stage and Truska stood in the middle again. She stroked her cheeks as before and held her nose, but this time the beard grew back in! It took about two minutes for the hairs to disappear back inside, and then she looked exactly as she had when she first came out. She left to huge applause and the next act came out almost directly after.

His name was Hans Hands. He began by telling us about his father, who'd been born without legs. Hans's father learned to get around on his hands just as well as other people could on their feet, and had taught his children his secrets.

Hans then sat down, pulled up his legs, and wrapped his feet around his neck. He stood on his hands, walked up and down the stage, then hopped off and challenged four men picked at random to a race. They could race on their feet; he'd race on his hands. He promised a bar of gold to anyone who could beat him.

They used the aisles of the theater as a racetrack, and despite his disadvantage, Hans beat the four men easily. He claimed he could sprint a hundred yards in eight seconds on his hands, and nobody in the theater doubted him. Afterward he performed some impressive gymnastic feats, proving that a person could manage just as well without legs as with them. His act wasn't especially exciting but it was enjoyable.

There was a short pause after Hans had left, then Mr. Tall came out. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "our next act is another unique and perplexing one. It can also be quite dangerous, so I ask that you make no noise and do not clap until you are told it is safe."

The whole place went quiet. After what had happened with the wolf-man earlier, nobody needed to be told twice!

When it was quiet enough, Mr. Tall walked off the stage. He shouted out the name of the next freak as he went, but it was a soft shout: "Mr. Crepsley and Madam Octa!"

The lights went down low and a creepy-looking man walked onto the stage. He was tall and thin, with very white skin and only a small crop of orange hair on the top of his head. He had a large scar running down his left cheek. It reached to his lips and made it look like his mouth was stretching up the side of his face.

He was dressed in dark-red clothes and carried a small wooden cage, which he put on a table. When he was set, he turned and faced us. He bowed and smiled. He looked even scarier when he smiled, like a crazy clown in a horror movie I once saw! Then he started to explain about the act.

I missed the first part of his speech because I wasn't looking at the stage. I was watching Steve. You see, when Mr. Crepsley walked out, there had been total silence, except for one person who had gasped loudly.

Steve.

I stared curiously at my friend. He was almost as white as Mr. Crepsley and was shaking all over. He'd even dropped the rubber model of Alexander Ribs that he'd bought.

His eyes were fixed on Mr. Crepsley, as though glued to him, and as I watched him watch the freak, the thought that crossed my mind was: "He looks like he's seen a ghost!"

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