THERE WAS ANOTHER BREAK after Mr. Crepsley and Madam Octa's act. I tried getting Steve to tell me more about who the man was, but his lips were sealed. All he said was: "I have to think about this." Then he closed his eyes, lowered his head, and thought hard.
They were selling more cool stuff during the break: beards like the bearded lady's, models of Hans Hands, and, best of all, rubber spiders that looked like Madam Octa. I bought two, one for me and one for Annie. They weren't as good as the real thing but they'd have to do.
They were also selling candy webs. I bought six of those, using up the last of my money, and ate two while waiting for the next freak to come out. They tasted like cotton candy. I stuck the second one over my lips and licked at it the same way Mr. Crepsley had.
The lights went down and everybody settled back into their seats. Gertha Teeth was next up. She was a big woman with thick legs, thick arms, a thick neck, and a thick head.
"Ladies and gentlemen, I am Gertha Teeth!" she said. She sounded strict. "I have the strongest teeth in the world! When I was a baby, my father put his ringers in my mouth, playing with me, and I bit two of them off!"
A few people laughed, but she stopped them with a furious look. "I am not a comedian!" she snapped. "If you laugh at me again, I will come down and bite your nose off!" That sounded pretty funny, but nobody dared chuckle.
She spoke very loudly. Every sentence was a shout and ended in an exclamation mark(!).
"Dentists all over the world have been astounded by my teeth!" she said. "I have been examined in every major dental center, but nobody has been able to figure out why they are so tough! I have been offered huge amounts of money to become a guinea pig, but I like traveling and so I have refused!"
She picked up four steel bars, each about ten inches long, but different widths. She asked for volunteers and four men went up onstage. She gave each of them a bar and said to try bending them. They did their best, but weren't able. When they had failed, she took the thinnest bar, put it in her mouth, and bit clean through it!
She handed the two halves back to one of the men. He stared at them in shock, then put one end in his own mouth and bit on it, to check that it was real steel. His howls when he almost cracked his teeth proved that it was.
Gertha did the same to the second and third bars, each of which was thicker than the first. When it came to the fourth, the thickest of the bunch, she chewed it to pieces like a candy bar.
Next, two of the blue-hooded assistants brought out a large radiator and she bit holes in it! Then they gave her a bike and she gnashed it up into a little ball, tires and all! I don't think there was anything in the world Gertha Teeth couldn't chew her way through if she set her mind to it.
She called more volunteers up onstage. She gave one a sledgehammer and a large chisel, one a hammer and smaller chisel, and the other an electric saw. She lay flat on her back and put the large chisel in her mouth. She nodded at the first volunteer to swing the sledgehammer at the chisel.
The man raised the sledgehammer high above his head and brought it down. I thought he was going to smash her face open and so did lots of others, judging by the gasps and people covering their eyes with their hands.
But Gertha was no fool. She swung out of the way and the sledgehammer slammed into the floor. She sat up and spat the chisel out of her mouth. "Hah!" she snorted. "How crazy do you think I am?"
One of the blue-hoods came out and took the sledgehammer from the man. "I only called you up to show the sledgehammer is real!" she told him. "Now," she said to those of us in the audience, "watch!"
She lay back again and stuck the chisel in her mouth. The blue-hood waited a moment, then raised the sledgehammer high and swung it down, faster and harder than the man had. It struck the top of the chisel and there was a fierce noise.
Gertha sat up. I expected to see teeth falling out of her mouth, but when she opened it and removed the chisel, there wasn't as much as a crack to be seen! She laughed and said: "Hah! You thought I had bitten off more than I could chew!"
She let the second volunteer go to work, the one with the smaller hammer and chisel. She warned him to be careful of her gums, then let him position the chisel on her teeth and whack away at it. He nearly hammered his arm off, but he wasn't able to harm her teeth.
The third volunteer tried sawing them off with the electric saw. He ran the saw from one side of her mouth to the other, and sparks were flying everywhere, but when he put it down and the dust cleared, Gertha's teeth were as white, gleaming, and solid as ever.
The Twisting Twins, Sive and Seersa, came on after her. They were identical twins and they were contortionists like Alexander Ribs. Their act involved twisting their bodies around each other so they looked like one person with two fronts instead of a back, or two upper bodies and no legs. They were skillful and it was pretty interesting, but dull compared to the rest of the performers.
When Sive and Seersa were finished, Mr. Tall came out and thanked us for coming. I thought the freaks would come out again and line up in a row, but they didn't. Instead, Mr. Tall said we could buy more stuff at the back of the hall on our way out. He asked us to mention the show to our friends. Then he thanked us again for coming and said that the show was over.
I was a little disappointed that it had ended so weakly, but it was late and I suppose the freaks were tired. I got to my feet, picked up the stuff I'd bought, and turned to say something to Steve.
He was looking behind me, up at the balcony, his eyes wide. I turned to see what he was looking at, and as I did, people behind us began to scream. When I looked up, I saw why.
There was a huge snake up on the balcony, one of the longest I had ever seen, and it was sliding down one of the poles toward the people at the bottom!
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