WE HAD MR. DALTON again after lunch, for history. We were studying World War II. I wasn't too excited about it, but Steve thought it was great. He loved anything to do with killing and war. He often said he wanted to be a soldier of fortune one who fights for money when he grew up. And he meant it!
We had math after history, and incredibly Mr. Dalton for a third time! Our usual math teacher was out sick, so others had been filling in for him as best they could all day.
Steve was in seventh heaven. His favorite teacher, three classes in a row! It was the first time we'd had Mr. Dalton for math, so Steve started showing off, telling him where we were in the book, explaining some of the trickier problems as though speaking to a child. Mr. Dalton didn't mind. He was used to Steve and knew exactly how to handle him.
Normally Mr. Dalton runs a tight ship his classes are fun but we always come out of them having learned something but he wasn't very good at math. He tried hard but we could tell he was in over his head, and while he was busy trying to come to grips with things his head buried in the math book, Steve by his side making ?helpful? suggestions the rest of us began to fidget and whisper to each other and pass notes around.
I sent a note to Alan, asking to see the mysterious piece of paper he'd brought in. He refused at first to pass it around, but I kept sending notes and finally he gave in. Tommy sits just two seats over from him, so he got it first. He opened it up and began studying it. His face lit up while he was reading and his jaw slowly dropped. When he passed it on to me having read it three times I soon saw why.
It was a flyer, an advertising pamphlet for some sort of traveling circus. There was a picture of a wolf's head at the top. The wolf had its mouth open and saliva was dripping from its teeth. At the bottom were pictures of a spider and a snake, and they looked vicious, too.
Just beneath the wolf, in big red capital letters, were the words:
CIRQUE DU FREAK
Underneath that, in smaller writing:
FOR ONE WEEK ONLY CIRQUE DU FREAK!!
SIVE AND SEERSA THE TWISTING TWINS!
THE SNAKE-BOY! THE WOLF-MAN! GERTHA TEETH!
LARTEN CREPSLEY AND HIS PERFORMING SPIDER
MADAM OCTA! ALEXANDER RIBS! THE BEARDED LADY!
HANS HANDS! RHAMUS TWOBELLIES WORLD'S FATTEST MAN!
Beneath all that was an address where you could buy tickets and find out where the show was playing. And right at the bottom, just above the pictures of the snake and spider:
NOT FOR THE FAINTHEARTED! SOME RESTRICTIONS APPLY!
"Cirque Du Freak?" I muttered softly to myself. Cirque was French for circus...Circus of Freaks! Was this a freak show?! It looked like it.
I began reading the flyer again, immersed in the drawings and descriptions of the performers. In fact, I was so immersed, I forgot about Mr. Dalton. I only remembered him when I realized the room was silent. I looked up and saw Steve standing alone at the head of the class. He stuck out his tongue at me and grinned. Feeling the hairs on the back of my neck prickle, I stared over my shoulder and there was Mr. Dalton, standing behind me, reading the flyer, lips tight.
"What is this?" he snapped, snatching the paper from my hands.
"It's an advertisement, sir," I answered.
"Where'd you get it?" he asked. He looked really angry. I'd never seen him this worked up. "Where'd you get it?" he asked again.
I licked my lips nervously. I didn't know how to answer. I wasn't going to tell on Alan and I knew he wouldn't own up by himself: even Alan's best friends know he's not the bravest in the world but my mind was stuck in low gear and I couldn't think of a reasonable lie. Luckily, Steve stepped in.
"Mr. Dalton, it's mine," he said.
"Yours?" Mr. Dalton blinked slowly.
"I found it near the bus stop, sir," Steve said. "Some old guy threw it away. I thought it looked interesting, so I picked it up. I was going to ask you about it later, at the end of class."
"Oh." Mr. Dalton tried not to look flattered but I could tell he was. "That's different. Nothing wrong with an inquisitive mind. Sit down, Steve." Steve sat. Mr. Dalton stuck a thumbtack on the flyer and pinned it to the bulletin board.
"Long ago," he said, tapping the flyer, "there used to be real freak shows. Greedy con men crammed malformed people in cages and..."
"Sir, what's malformed mean?" somebody asked.
"Someone who doesn't look ordinary," Mr. Dalton said. "A person with three arms or two noses; somebody with no legs; somebody very short or very tall. The con men put these poor people who were no different from you or me, except in looks on display and called them freaks. They charged the public to stare at them, and invited them to laugh and tease. They treated the so-called freaks like animals. Paid them little, beat them, dressed them in rags, never allowed them to wash."
"That's cruel," Delaina Price a girl near the front said.
"Yes," he agreed. "Freak shows were cruel, monstrous creations. That's why I got angry when I saw this." He tore down the flyer. "They were banned years ago, but every so often you'll hear a rumor that they're still going strong."
"Do you think the Cirque Du Freak is a real freak show?" I asked.
Mr. Dalton studied the flyer again, then shook his head.
"I doubt it," he said. "Probably just a cruel hoax. Still," he added, "if it was real, I hope nobody here would dream of going."
"Oh, no, sir," we all said quickly.
"Because freak shows were terrible," he said. "They pretended to be like proper circuses but they were cesspits of evil. Anybody who went to one would be just as bad as the people running it."
"You'd have to be really twisted to want to go to one of those," Steve agreed. And then he looked at me, winked, and mouthed the words: "We're going!"