THE FREAK SHOW WAS all I could think about that night. I tried forgetting it but couldn't, not even when I was watching my favorite TV shows. It sounded so weird: a snake-boy, a wolf-man, a performing spider. I was especially excited by the spider.
Mom and Dad didn't notice anything was up, but Annie did. Annie is my younger sister. She can be sort of annoying but most of the time she's cool. She doesn't run to Mom telling on me if I misbehave, and she knows how to keep a secret.
"What's wrong with you?" she asked after dinner. We were alone in the kitchen, washing the dishes.
"Nothing's wrong," I said.
"Yes there is," she said. "You've been acting weird all night."
I knew she'd keep asking until she got the truth, so I told her about the freak show.
"It sounds great," she agreed, "but there's no way you'd get in."
"Why not? "I asked.
"I bet they don't let children in. It sounds like a grown-up kind of show."
"They probably wouldn't let a brat like you in," I said nastily, "but me and the others would be okay." That upset her, so I apologized. "I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't mean that. I'm just annoyed because you're probably right. Annie, I'd give anything to go!"
"I've got a makeup kit I could lend you," she said. "You can draw on wrinkles and stuff. It'd make you look older."
I smiled and gave her a big hug, which is something I don't do very often. "Thanks, sis," I said, "but it's okay. If we get in, we get in. If we don't, we don't."
We didn't say much after that. We finished drying and hurried into the TV room. Dad got home a few minutes later. He works on building sites all over the place, so he's often late. He's grumpy sometimes but was in a good mood that night and swung Annie around in a circle.
"Anything exciting happen today?" he asked, after he'd said hello to Mom and given her a kiss.
"I scored another hat trick at lunch," I told him.
"Really?" he said. "That's great. Well done."
We turned the TV down while Dad was eating. He likes peace and quiet when he eats, and often asks us questions or tells us about his day at work.
Later, Mom went to her room to work on her stamp albums. She's a serious stamp collector. I used to collect, too, when I was younger and more easily amused.
I popped up fo see if she had any new stamps with exotic animals or spiders on them. She didn't. While I was there, I asked her about freak shows.
"Mom," I said, "have you ever been to a freak show?"
"A what?" she asked, concentrating on the stamps.
"A freak show," I repeated. "With bearded ladies and wolf-men and snake-boys."
She looked up at me and blinked. "A snake-boy?" she asked. "What on Earth is a snake-boy?"
"It's a..." I stopped when I realized I didn't know. "Well, that doesn't matter," I said. "Have you ever been to one?"
She shook her head. "No. They're illegal."
"If they weren't," I said, "and one came to town, would you go?"
"No," she said, shivering. "Those sorts of things frighten me. Besides, I don't think it would be fair to the people in the show."
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"How would you like it," she said, "if you were stuck in a cage for people to look at?"
"I'm not a freak!" I said huffily.
"I know." She laughed and kissed my forehead. "You're my little angel."
"Mom, don't!" I grumbled, wiping my forehead with my hand.
"Silly." She smiled. "But imagine you had two heads or four arms, and somebody stuck you on display for people to make fun of. You wouldn't like that, would you?"
"No," I said, shuffling my feet.
"Anyway, what's all this about a freak show?" she asked. "Have you been staying up late, watching horror films?"
"No," I said.
"Because you know your dad doesn't like you watching..."
"I wasn't staying up late, okay?" I shouted. It's really annoying when parents don't listen.
"Okay, Mister Grumpy," she said. "No need to shout. If you don't like my company, go downstairs and help your father weed the garden."
I didn't want to go, but Mom was upset that I'd shouted at her, so I left and went down to the kitchen. Dad was coming in from the back and spotted me.
"So this is where you've been hiding." He chuckled. "Too busy to help the old man tonight?"
"I was on my way," I told him.
"Too late," he said, taking off his workboots. "I'm finished."
I watched him putting on his slippers. He has huge feet. He wears size twelve shoes! When I was younger, he used to stand me on his feet and walk me around. It was like being on two long skateboards.
"What are you doing now?" I asked.
"Writing," he said. My dad has pen pals all over the world, in America, Australia, Russia, and China. He says he likes to keep in touch with his global neighbors, though I think it's just an excuse to go into his study for a nap!
Annie was playing with dolls and stuff. I asked if she wanted to come to my room for a game of tennis using a sock for a ball and shoes for rackets, but she was too busy arranging her dolls for a pretend picnic.
I went to my room and dragged down my comic books. I have a bunch of cool comic books Superman, Batman, Spiderman, and Spawn. Spawn's my favorite. He's a superhero who used to be a demon in hell. Some of the Spawn comics are pretty scary, but that's why I love them.
I spent the rest of the night reading comic books and putting them in order. I used to swap with Tommy, who has a huge collection, but he kept spilling drinks on the covers and crumbs between the pages, so I stopped.
Most nights I go to bed by ten, but Mom and Dad forgot about me, and I stayed up until nearly ten-thirty. Then Dad saw the light in my room and came up. He pretended to be angry but he wasn't really. Dad doesn't mind too much if I stay up late. Mom's the one who nags me about that.
"Bed," he said, "or I'll never be able to wake you in the morning."
"Just a minute, Dad," I told him, "while I put my comics away and brush my teeth."
"Okay," he said, "but make it quick."
I stuck the comics into their box and stuffed it back up on the shelf over my bed.
I put on my pajamas and went to brush my teeth. I took my time, brushing slowly, and it was almost eleven when I got into bed. I lay back, smiling. I felt very tired and knew I'd fall asleep in a couple of seconds. The last thing I thought about was the Cirque Du Freak. I wondered what a snake-boy looked like, and how long the bearded lady's beard was, and what Hans Hands and Gertha Teeth did. Most of all, I dreamed about the spider.