Chapter TEN

AS SOON AS MR. TALL had left the stage and we'd settled back into our seats, the second freak, Alexander Ribs, came out. He was more of a comedy act than a scary one, which was just what we needed to calm us down after the terrifying start. I happened to look over my shoulder while he was on, and noticed two of the blue-hooded people down on their knees, cleaning blood from the floor.

Alexander Ribs was the skinniest man I'd ever seen. He looked like a skeleton! There seemed to be no flesh on him. He would have been frightening, except he had a wide friendly smile.

Funny music played and he danced around the stage. He was dressed in ballet clothes and looked so ridiculous that soon everyone was laughing. After a while, he stopped dancing and began stretching. He said he was a contortionist (somebody with bones like rubber, who can bend every which way).

First, he tilted his head back so far, it looked like it had been cut off. He turned around so we could see his upside-down face, then went on leaning backward until his head was touching the floor! Then he put his hands around the backs of his legs and pulled his head through until it was sticking up in front of him. It looked like it was growing out of his stomach!

He got a huge round of applause for that, after which he straightened up and began twisting his body around like a curly-wurly straw! He kept twisting and twisting, five times around, until his bones began to creak from the strain. He stood like that for a minute, then began to unwind really, really fast.

Next, he got two drumsticks with furry ends. He took the first drumstick and hit one of his bony ribs with it. He opened his mouth and a musical note sprang out! It sounded like the noise pianos make. Then he closed his mouth and struck a rib on the other side of his body. This time it was a louder, higher note.

After a few more practice notes, he kept his mouth open and began playing songs! He played "London Bridge Is Falling Down," some songs by the Beatles, and the theme tunes from a few popular TV shows.

The skinny man left the stage to shouts for more. But none of the freaks ever came back to do an encore.

After Alexander Ribs came Rhamus Twobellies, and he was as fat as Alexander was thin. He was eNOR-mous! The floorboards creaked as he walked out onto the stage.

He walked close to the edge and kept pretending he was about to topple forward. I could see people in the front rows getting worried, and some jumped back out of the way when he got close. I don't blame them: he would have squashed them flat as a pancake if he fell!

He stopped in the middle of the stage. "Hello," he said. He had a nice voice, soft and squeaky. "My name is Rhamus Twobellies, and I really have two bellies! I was born with them, the same way certain animals are. The doctors were stunned and said I was a freak. That's why I joined this show and am here tonight."

The ladies who had hypnotized the wolf-man came out with two carts full of food: cakes, chips, hamburgers, packages of candy and heads of cabbage. There was stuff there that I hadn't even seen before, never mind tasted!

"Yum yum," Rhamus said. He pointed to a huge clock being lowered by ropes from above. It stopped about ten feet above his head. "How long do you think it will take me to eat all this?" he asked, pointing to the food. "There will be a prize for the person who guesses closest."

"An hour!" somebody yelled.

"Forty-five minutes!" somebody else roared.

"Two hours, ten minutes, and thirty-three seconds," another person shouted. Soon everybody was calling out. I said an hour and three minutes. Steve said twenty-nine minutes. The lowest guess was seventeen minutes.

When we were finished guessing, the clock started to tick and Rhamus started to eat. He ate like the wind. His arms moved so fast, you could hardly see them. His mouth didn't seem to close at all. He shoveled food in, swallowed, and moved on.

Everybody was amazed. I felt sick as I watched. Some people actually were sick!

Finally, Rhamus scoffed the last bun and the clock above his head stopped ticking.

Four minutes and fifty-six seconds! He'd eaten all that food in less than five minutes! I could hardly believe it. It didn't seem possible, even for a man with two bellies.

"That was nice," Rhamus said, "but I could have used more dessert."

While we clapped and laughed, the ladies in shiny suits rolled the carts away and brought out a new one, packed with glass statues and forks and spoons and bits of metal junk.

"Before I begin," Rhamus said, "I must warn you not to try this at home! I can eat things that would choke and kill normal people. Do not try to copy me! If you do, you may die."

He began eating. He started with a couple of nuts and bolts, which he sucked down without blinking. After a few handfuls he gave his big round belly a shake and we could hear the noise of the metal inside.

His belly heaved and he spat the nuts and bolts back out! If there had only been one or two, I might have thought he was keeping them under his tongue or at the sides of his cheeks, but not even Rhamus Twobellies's mouth was big enough to hold that load!

Next, he ate the glass statues. He crunched the glass up into small pieces before swallowing it with a drink of water. Then he ate the spoons and forks. He twisted them up into circles with his hands, popped them into his mouth, and let them slide down. He said his teeth weren't strong enough to tear through metal.

After that, he swallowed a long metal chain, then paused to catch his breath. His belly began rumbling and shaking. I didn't know what was going on, until he gave a heave and I saw the top of the chain come out of his mouth.

As the chain came out, I saw that the spoons and forks were wrapped around it! He had managed to poke the chain through the hoops inside his belly. It was unbelievable.

When Rhamus left the stage, I thought nobody could top such an act.

I was wrong!