Chapter SEVEN


THE TICKETS WERE FOR the Saturday show, which was just as well, since it gave me a chance to talk to my parents and ask if I could stay over at Steve's Saturday night.

I didn't tell them about the freak show, because I knew they would say no if they knew about it. I felt bad about not telling the whole truth, but at the same time, I hadn't really told a lie: all I'd done was keep my mouth shut.

Saturday couldn't go quickly enough for me. I tried keeping busy, because that's how you make time pass without noticing, but I kept thinking about the Cirque Du Freak and wishing it was time to go. I was pretty grumpy, which was odd for me on a Saturday, and Mom was glad to see me go when it was time to leave for Steve's.

Annie knew I was going to the freak show and asked me to bring her back something, a photo if possible, but I told her cameras weren't allowed (it said so on the ticket) and I didn't have enough money for a T-shirt. I told her I'd buy her a pin if they had them, or a poster, but she'd have to keep it hidden and not tell Mom and Dad where she got it if they found it.

Dad dropped me off at Steve's at six o'clock. He asked what time I wanted to be picked up in the morning. I told him noon if that was okay.

"Don't watch horror movies, okay?" he said before he left. "I don't want you coming home with nightmares."

"Oh, Dad!" I groaned. "Everyone in my class watches horror movies."

"Listen," he said, "I don't mind an old black-and-white film, or one of the less scary Dracula movies, but none of these nasty new ones, okay?"

"Okay," I promised.

"Good man," he said, and drove off.

I hurried up to the house and rang the doorbell four times, which was my secret signal to Steve. He must have been standing just inside, because he opened the door right away and dragged me in.

"About time," he growled, then pointed to the stairs. "See that hill?" he asked, speaking like a soldier in a war film.

"Yes, sir," I said, clicking my heels together.

"We have to take it by dawn."

"Are we using rifles or machine guns, sir?" I asked.

"Are you crazy?" he barked. "We'd never be able to carry a machine gun through all that mud." He nodded at the carpet.

"Rifles it is, sir," I agreed.

"And if we're taken," he warned me, "save the last bullet for yourself."

We started up the stairs like a couple of soldiers, firing imaginary guns at imaginary enemies. It was childish, but great fun. Steve ?lost? a leg on the way and I had to help him to the top. "You might have taken my leg," he shouted from the top of the stairs, "and you might take my life, but you'll never take my country!"

It was a stirring speech. At least, it stirred Mrs. Leonard, who came up from the downstairs living room to see what the racket was. She smiled when she saw me and asked if I wanted anything to eat or drink. I didn't. Steve said he'd like some caviar and champagne, but it wasn't funny the way he said it, and I didn't laugh.

Steve doesn't get along with his mom. He lives alone with her his dad left when Steve was very young and they're always arguing and shouting. I don't know why. I've never asked him. There are certain things you don't discuss with your friends if you're boys. Girls can talk about stuff like that, but if you're a boy you have to talk about computers, soccer, war, and so on. Parents aren't cool.

"How will we sneak out tonight?" I asked in a whisper as Steve's mom went back into the living room.

"It's okay," Steve said. "She's going out." He often called her she instead of Mom. "She'll think we're in bed when she gets back."

"What if she checks?"

Steve laughed nastily. "Enter my room without being asked? She wouldn't dare."

I didn't like Steve when he talked like that, but I said nothing in case he went into one of his moods. I didn't want to do anything that might spoil the show.

Steve dragged out some of his horror comics and we read them out loud. Steve has great comic books, which are only meant for adults. My mom and dad would hit the roof if they knew about them!

Steve also has a bunch of old magazines and books about monsters and vampires and werewolves and ghosts.

"Does a stake have to be made out of wood?" I asked when I'd finished reading a Dracula comic.

"No," he said. "It can be metal or ivory, even plastic, as long as it's hard enough to go right through the heart."

"And that will kill a vampire?" I asked.

"Every time," he said.

I frowned. "But you told me you have to cut off their heads and stuff them with garlic and throw them in a river."

"Some books say you have to," he agreed. "But that's to make sure you kill the vampire's spirit as well as its body, so it can't come back as a ghost."

"Can a vampire come back as a ghost?" I asked, eyes wide.

"Probably not," Steve said. "But if you had the time, and wanted to make sure, cutting off the head and getting rid of it would be worth doing. You don't want to take any chances with vampires, do you?"

"No," I said, shivering. "What about werewolves? Do you need silver bullets to kill them?"

"I don't think so," Steve said. "I think normal bullets can do the job. You might have to use lots of them, but they should work."

Steve knows everything there is to know about horror facts. He's read every sort of horror book there is. He says every story has at least some truth in it, even if most are made up.

"Do you think the wolf-man at the Cirque Du Freak is a werewolf?" I asked.

Steve shook his head. "From what I've read," he said, "the wolf-men in freak shows are normally just very hairy guys. Some of them are more like animals than people, and eat live chickens and stuff, but they're not werewolves. A werewolf would be no good in a show, because it can only turn into a wolf when there's a full moon. Every other night, it would be a normal guy."

"Oh," I said. "What about the snake-boy? Do you..."

"Hey," he laughed, "save the questions for later. The shows long ago were terrible. The owners used to starve the freaks and keep them locked up in cages and treat them like dirt. But I don't know what this one will be like. They might not even be real freaks: they might only be people in costumes."

The freak show was being held at a place near the other side of town. We had to leave shortly after nine o'clock, to make sure we got there in time. We could have got a cab, except we'd used most of our allowance to replace the cash Steve took from his mom. Besides, it was more fun walking. It was spookier!

We told ghost stories as we walked. Steve did most of the talking, because he knows way more than me. He was in rare form. Sometimes he forgets the ends of stories, or gets names mixed up, but not tonight. It was better than being with Stephen King!

It was a long walk, longer than we thought, and we almost didn't make it on time. We had to run the last quarter-mile. We were panting like dogs when we got there.

The venue was an old theater that used to show movies. I'd passed it once or twice in the past. Steve told me once that it was shut down because a boy fell off the balcony and got killed. He said it was haunted. I asked my dad about it, and he said it was a pack of lies. It's hard sometimes to know whether you should believe the stories your dad tells you or the ones your best friend tells you.

There was no name outside the door, and no cars parked nearby, and no waiting line. We stopped out front and bent over until we got our breath back. Then we stood and looked at the building. It was tall and dark and covered in jagged gray stones. Lots of the windows were broken, and the door looked like a giant's open mouth.

"Are you sure this is the place?" I asked, trying not to sound scared.

"This is what it says on the tickets," Steve said and checked again, just to be sure. "Yep, this is it."

"Maybe the police found out and the freaks had to move on," I said. "Maybe there isn't any show tonight."

"Maybe," Steve said.

I looked at him and licked my lips nervously. "What do you think we should do?" I asked.

He stared back at me and hesitated before replying. "I think we should go in," he finally said. "We've come this far. It'd be silly to turn back now, without knowing for sure."

"I agree," I said, nodding. Then I gazed up at the scary building and gulped. It looked like the sort of place you saw in a horror movie, where lots of people go in but don't come out. "Are you scared?" I asked Steve.

"No," he said, but I could hear his teeth chattering and knew he was lying. "Are you? " he asked.

"Course not," I said. We looked at each other and grinned. We knew we were both terrified, but at least we were together. It's not so bad being scared if you're not alone.

"Shall we enter?" Steve asked, trying to sound cheerful.

"Might as well," I said.

We took a deep breath, crossed our fingers, then started up the steps (there were nine stone steps leading up to the door, each one cracked and covered with moss) and went in.