• 05 May 2010
    These chapters are from the original draft of "Cirque Du Freak". Most of this material appears in the book, but there are lots of little scenes which I cut to give it a sharper feel. If you enjoyed reading about the circus performers in the book, here's your chance to catch a bit more of their acts!

    NOTE: A few of the performers appear differently here than in the book. Hans Hands, for instance, has no legs in this version, and the Twisting Twins are Siamese twins! These changes are all part-and-parcel of the writing process.

    WARNING: The Cirque Du Freak performers are trained and magically-gifted professionals. DO NOT try to copy anything they do!!!!!



    The second freak was Alexander Ribs, and 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 more 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, he was so thin! There seemed to be no flesh on him. He would have been frightening, except he had a big friendly smile.

    Funny music started playing and he danced around the stage. He was dressed in ballet clothes and looked so ridiculous that soon everybody 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) and could do just about anything with his body.

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

    He got a huge round of claps 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 curled himself up into a ball. Mr Tall came on and picked him up, then began bouncing him up and down! Alexander shouted a lot and pretended it was hurting, but we could tell he was joking. He looked so funny, bouncing up and down, I swear, if you were near the back of the theatre, you’d have thought he was a real ball.

    When Mr Tall left the stage again, Alexander Ribs stood up and got two of those drumsticks with furry ends. You know, the sort they use for really big drums in parades? Nobody knew what he was going to do with them, and boy, did we get a shock when we found out!

    Alexander got the first drumstick and hit one of his bony ribs with it. There was no sound for a second, but then he opened his mouth and a musical note sprung out! It sounded like the noise a piano makes. Then he closed his mouth and struck a rib on the other side of his body with the other drumstick. Again he waited before opening his mouth. This time it was a louder note, a higher one.

    After a few more practice goes, he kept his mouth open and began playing songs! I know you won’t believe me, but I swear that’s what he did. He played "London Bridge is falling down" and some song by The Beatles and the theme tunes for a few well-known TV shows.

    We thought for a while that somebody else was making the music, but then he stepped down off the stage and walked through the crowd, and we found out it was for real. He let us touch his ribs and his throat, and we could actually feel the music travelling up! It was incredible. He was like a walking, living piano!

    The skinny man got a huge round of applause when he was finished, and left the stage to shouts for more. But none of the freaks came back to do an encore. It was one of the circus rules.

    After Alexander Ribs came Rhamus Twobellies, and he was as fat as Alexander was thin. He was enormous! You could hear the floorboards creaking as he walked out onto the stage, and I’ll never know how it didn’t collapse beneath him.

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

    Finally he stopped in the middle of the stage. "Hello," he said, and he had a surprisingly nice voice, low and squeaky. As with Alexander Ribs, you sensed straightaway that he was friendly.

    "My name is Rhamus Twobellies," he said, "and I’m called that not just because I’m fat, but because 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."

    Then he picked up the drumsticks Alexander ribs had left behind and swallowed them! Like I said, they were big drumsticks, long and round, but he gulped them down like a couple of lollipops. He waited a moment before doing anything else, then gave his belly a little pat, and back up his throat and out of his mouth they came, one after the other.

    Then the ladies who had hypnotised the wolf-man came out with two trolleys full of food: cakes and chips and hamburgers and packets of sweets and heads of cabbage. There was stuff there that I hadn’t even seen before, never mind tasted!

    "Yum-yum," Rhamus said. "It must be feeding time." He pointed to a huge clock which was being lowered by ropes from above. It stopped about three metres 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. And soon everybody was calling out. I said an hour and three minutes. Steve said twenty-nine minutes. The lowest guess was seventeen minutes. Lots of people said he couldn’t eat that much food, not in one go, no matter how fat he was.

    When we were finished guessing, the clock started to tick and Rhamus started to eat. He could eat like the wind! He went through that food like a hurricane. His arms moved so fast, you could hardly see them. His mouth didn’t seem to close at all. He shovelled food in, swallowed, and moved on.

    Everybody was amazed. I felt sick as I watched him and some people actually were sick! I heard somebody puking in the seat behind me, but didn’t turn around to look, in case I started to throw up as well.

    Finally Rhamus scoffed the last bun, and the clock above his head stopped ticking. We looked up to see how long it had been, and you could hear us gasping when we saw the time.

    Four minutes and fifty-six seconds! He had 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, "though I could have done with some more dessert."

    We stared at him for a moment, then realised he was joking. We began to laugh and clap and lots of people stood up on their seats to cheer him. Rhamus said nothing, only smiled happily and wiped a few crumbs from his chin.

    When we were finished clapping, the ladies in the shiny suits rolled the trolleys away and brought on a new one. But this didn’t have any food: it was packed with glass statues and forks and spoons and small bits of metal junk.

    "Now before I begin," Rhamus said, "I must warn you not to try this at home! As I said, I have two bellies, but they are also very strong bellies. I can eat things which can choke and kill normal people. Again I say do not try and copy me! If you do, you will surely die."

    Then he began eating. He began with a couple of nuts and bolts, the sort you find in your Dad’s tool-box, and sucked them 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.

    Following a quick round of applause, his belly heaved and he began spitting 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’ mouth was big enough to hold this load!

    Next, he ate the glass statues. He bit their heads and arms and legs off, and crunched the glass up into small pieces inside his mouth, before swallowing them with a drink of water.

    Next he ate the spoons and forks. He twisted them into circles with his hands (they must have been the cheap sort which bend easily), then 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. Then he gave a bit of a heave and I saw the top of the chain come out of his mouth.

    I began to applaud lightly, along with most of the other people, but then, as the chain came out, I saw that the spoons and forks were wrapped around it! He had somehow managed to poke the chain through all the hoops! My light claps quickly became hard and heavy ones.

    "That’s it," I thought, "this must be his final act. There’s no way he could top that one." But I was wrong: he could!

    "Now," Rhamus said in his squeaky little voice, "I am going to try my luck at the restoring and recycling game."

    He picked up the last glass statue, which was a figure of a small woman in a long dress and a wide hat. He bit it into small pieces as he had before and swallowed it, but without the glass of water: this time he drank a tube of glue with it!

    His belly began shaking again, so fast that it looked like he was about to explode! It jiggled left and right, up and down, and around in circles. He was holding his breath and his face was going purple.

    Just when I thought he was going to pop, his belly stopped. He let out his breath in a long sigh and smiled. Then he gave a careful heave, and up came the statue, joined together again!

    Well, everybody just about slapped their hands off, they were clapping so much. Rhamus smiled and walked off the stage slowly.

    "It must have been a similar statue that he had in his belly earlier," I said to Steve. "There’s no way he could have put it back together without using his hands."

    "Maybe," Steve said, but he sounded unsure.

    Before Rhamus left the stage, he tossed the statue out into the audience and asked us to pass it around. When it came to me and Steve we noticed the cracks where it had been glued together. Steve traced one of them with his finger, then passed the statue on and rubbed his finger with his thumb.

    "It’s still sticky," he said, looking at me.

    "So what?" I asked.

    "So if he’d had it in his belly since coming on," Steve explained, "the glue would have dried by now."

    I stared back at him, then touched his finger to make sure, and yes, it was still sticky! I’ve no idea how he did it, but it was the most amazing thing I had ever seen…

    … so far!


    A couple of people in the blue-hooded suits came around after Rhamus Twobellies, selling sweets and gifts. There was some really cool stuff, like chocolate models of the nuts and bolts that Rhamus ate, and rubber dolls of Alexander Ribs which you could bend and stretch. And there were clippings of the wolf-man’s hair. I bought a bit of that: it was tough and wiry and sharp as a knife.

    "There will be more novelties later," Mr Tall called out from the stage, "so don’t spend all your money right away."

    "How much is the glass statue?" Steve asked. It was the same sort of one that Rhamus Twobellies had eaten and put back together in his belly. The person in the blue hood didn’t say anything, but stuck out a sign with the price on. "I can’t read," Steve said. "Will you tell me how much it costs?"

    I stared at Steve and wondered why he was lying. The person in the hood still didn’t speak. This time he (or she) shook his head quickly and moved on before Steve could ask anything else.

    "What was that about?" I asked.

    Steve shrugged. "I wanted to hear it speak," he said, "to see if it was human or not."

    "Of course it’s human," I said, "what else could it be?"

    "I don’t know," he said. "That’s why I was asking. Don’t you think it’s strange that they keep their faces covered all the time?"

    "Maybe they’re shy," I said.

    "Maybe," he said, but I could tell he didn’t believe that.

    When the people selling the toys and stuff were finished, the next freak came on. This time it was the bearded lady, and at first I thought it was meant to be a joke, because she didn’t have a beard!

    Mr Tall stood behind her and said, "Ladies and gentlemen, this is a very special act. Truska here is new to our family. She does not speak your language, nor mine, and there is much we do not know about her. All I can say is, she is one of the most incredible freaks I have ever seen, with a truly unique talent."

    Mr Tall walked off after that. Truska was very beautiful, dressed in flowing red robes which had lots of slashes and gaps. Lots of the men in the theatre began to cough and move around in their seats.

    Truska stepped closer to the edge of the stage, so we could see her better, then said something which sounded a bit like the way a seal barks. She put her two hands on her face, one at either side, and stroked the skin gently. Then she held her nose shut with two fingers and tickled her chin with her other hand.

    An extraordinary thing happened: she began to grow a beard! I saw the hairs creeping out, first just on her chin, then on her upper lip, then on the sides of her face, and finally all over. It was long and blonde and straight.

    It grew about ten or eleven centimetres, then stopped. She took her fingers away from her nose and stepped down into the crowd, where she walked around and let people pull on the beard and stroke it.

    Now, I know a bit about beards, because I asked my Dad a few years ago, and he said they grew between half a centimetre and one centimetre every month, usually. So to grow ten or eleven centimetres in a couple of minutes was truly amazing.

    Truska stopped by my chair and let me put my hand on the beard. She smiled at me while I was feeling it, and I smiled back. But then, all of a sudden, the hair wrapped itself around my hand like a snake!

    I yelled in fright and tried pulling my hand back, but I couldn’t. Truska laughed, then laid her hands on my head and calmed me down. I sat back and stopped tugging, then watched as the hairs of her beard began waving around and tickling my arm.

    She let go of me after a few seconds and moved on. The beard continued growing as she walked, until finally it reached down to her feet! When she arrived at the back of the theatre, she turned and walked back to the stage. Even though there was no breeze in here, her hair blew about wildly, tickling people's faces as she passed, sweeping along in front of her and behind her and to the sides.

    When she got back to the stage, an iron ring was lowered from above by a rope, and the beard tied itself around the ring. The ring moved up a few metres and she rose from the ground. She hung there a while, and then she began to do pull-ups, using only the hair of her beard!

    She did twenty pull-ups, then got down and bowed while we clapped. Next Mr Tall came back on-stage and asked if anybody had a pair of scissors. Lots of women did and they raised their hands. Mr Tall invited a few up on stage.

    "The Cirque Du Freak will give one solid bar of gold to anybody who can slice off Truska’s beard," Mr Tall said, and held up a small yellow ingot to show he wasn’t joking.

    Well, that got a lot of people excited, and for ten minutes nearly everybody in the theatre tried cutting off her beard. But they couldn’t! It didn’t matter how strong they were, or how sharp the blades of their scissors. Nothing could cut through the bearded lady’s hair, not even a pair of garden shears which Mr Tall handed out. The funny thing was, it still felt soft, just like ordinary hair! We couldn’t understand why it couldn’t be cut.

    Finally, when everyone had admitted defeat, Mr Tall emptied the stage and Truska stood in the middle once again. She stroked her cheeks as before, and held her nose, but this time the beard began to grow back in! It took about two minutes for all the hairs to disappear back inside, and then she looked exactly the way she did when she first came out.

    She left to huge applause and the next act came on almost directly after.

    This time it was Hans Hands, a man who had no legs. His body was normal down to his waist, but there it stopped. He walked on his hands. He told us that he was born without legs and had learned to get along very nicely without them. He said there wasn’t anything he couldn’t do with his hands that normal people did with their feet.

    To prove his point, he called four men up to the stage and bet them a bar of gold that they couldn’t beat him in a race. They accepted his bet, then all five got down and lined up in a row.

    "We will race around the chairs," Hans told them, "and all the way around the theatre, until we get back here. First person back gets the gold."

    The men were laughing. They thought they were going to beat him easily, but I didn’t think they would. I remembered Truska’s beard, and I didn’t think any of the freaks would make bets unless they were sure they would win.

    Mr Tall blew the whistle and off they went. Hans raced into the lead. He was wearing strong leather gloves to protect his hands. He was able to swing his hands forward like a gorilla, taking huge steps.

    He got so far ahead, he was able to stop and wait for the others to catch up! He made a few jokes while he was waiting, then let them pass him by. He watched them run on ahead, then took off after them and made noises like a train. When he caught up, he pretended to bite their bums. One guy got so confused, he ran smack into a wall and nearly knocked himself out! It was very funny.

    Finally, when they were getting close to the end, Hans Hands took the lead and raced home as the winner. Everybody else was panting but he wasn’t even sweating. He only laughed and pulled himself back up onto the stage.

    "I would have won at the Olympics if they had let me compete," he said. "I can run the hundred metre sprint in under eight seconds!"

    After that, he did some gymnastics. He was able to do somersaults and cartwheels, and could stand upside-down on one hand using just two fingers! He must have been very strong.

    When he was finished, he hopped off-stage on his head! I suppose he wasn’t a real freak, only somebody who had learned to get along without legs, but he was a lot of fun to watch all the same.

    There was a short pause after Hans had left, and then Mr Tall came on. "Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "our next act is another unique and perplexing one. It can also be quite dangerous, so I ask that you make no noise and do not clap until you are told it is safe."

    The whole place went quiet. After what had happened with the wolf-man earlier, nobody needed telling twice!

    When it was quiet enough, Mr Tall walked off the stage. He shouted out the name of the next freak as he went, but it was a soft shout. "Mr Crepsley and Madam Octa!" he called.

    Then the lights went down low and a creepy-looking man walked out onto the stage. He was quite tall and thin, with very white skin and only a small bit of orange hair on top of his head. He had a large scar running down his left cheek. It reached to his lips and made it look like his mouth was stretching up the side of his face.

    He was dressed in dark red clothes and was carrying a small wooden cage, which he put on a table. When he was set, he turned and faced us. He bowed and smiled. He looked even scarier when he smiled, like a crazy clown in a horror movie I once saw! Then he stopped smiling and started explaining about the act.

    I nearly missed the first part of the speech because I wasn’t looking at the stage. I was watching Steve. You see, when Mr Crepsley had walked out, there had been total silence, just as Mr Tall had ordered, except for one person who had gasped really loudly.

    That person was Steve.

    I stared curiously at him. He was almost as white as Mr Crepsley and he was shaking all over. He’d even dropped the rubber model of Alexander Ribs that he’d bought earlier.

    His eyes were fixed on Mr Crepsley, as though they were glued to him, and as I watched him watch the freak, the thought which crossed my mind was, "He looks like he’s seen a ghost!"


    "It is not true that all tarantulas are poisonous," Mr Crepsley said. He had a deep voice. I managed to tear my eyes away from Steve and train them on the stage. "Most are as harmless as the spiders you find anywhere in the world. And those which are poisonous normally only have enough poison in them to kill very small creatures.

    "But some are deadly!" he went on. "Some can kill a man with one bite quicker than ten rattlesnakes can. They are rare, and only found in extremely remote areas, but they do exist.

    "I have one such spider," he said and opened the door of the cage. For a few seconds nothing happened, but then the largest spider I had ever seen crawled out. It was green and purple and red, with long hairy legs and a big fat body. I wasn’t afraid of spiders, but this one looked terrifying.

    The spider walked forward slowly and seemed to look from left to right, as though sizing-up the audience. Then its legs bent and it lowered its body, like spiders waiting for flies do.

    "Madam Octa has been with me for several years," Mr Crepsley said. "She lives far longer than ordinary spiders. I am not sure how long, exactly, but the monk who sold her to me said some of her kind live to be twenty or thirty years old. She is an incredible creature, both poisonous and intelligent. Were she to take it into her mind, she could terrorise any nation and bring it to its knees."

    While he was speaking, one of the blue-hooded people led a sheep onto the stage. It was making a frightened baa-baa noise and kept trying to run. The hooded person tied it to the table and left it.

    The spider began moving when it saw and heard the sheep. It crept to the edge of the table, where it stopped, as though awaiting an order. Mr Crepsley produced a small flute from his trouser pocket and blew a few short notes. Madam Octa immediately leapt through the air and landed on the sheep’s neck.

    The sheep jumped about a metre high when the spider landed, and began baa-ing really loudly. Madam Octa took no notice, only hung on and moved a few centimetres closer to the head. When she was ready, she bared her fangs and sunk them into the sheep’s neck!

    The sheep froze and its eyes went wide. It stopped bleating and a few seconds later, toppled over on its side. I thought it was dead, but then realised it was still breathing.

    "This flute is how I control Madam Octa," Mr Crepsley said, and I looked away from the fallen sheep. He waved the flute slowly above his head. "Though we have been together such a long time, she is not a pet, and would surely kill me if I ever lost it.

    "The sheep is only paralysed at the moment," he said. "I have trained Madam Octa not to kill outright with her first bite. The sheep would die in the end, if we left it, but we are not that cruel." He blew the flute again and Madam Octa moved up the sheep’s neck until she was standing on its ear. Mr Crepsley blew again and once more she bared her fangs and sunk them in. This time the sheep shivered once, then went totally still.

    It was dead.

    Madam Octa dropped from the sheep and began crawling towards the front of the stage. The people in the front rows became very alarmed and some jumped to their feet. But they stopped dead in their tracks at a short command from Mr Crepsley.

    "Do not move!" he hissed. "Remember your earlier warning: a sudden movement or noise could mean death!"

    Everybody froze, though they couldn’t stop shivering with fright. Madam Octa stopped at the edge of the stage, then stood up on her two back legs, the same as a dog! Mr Crepsley blew softly on his flute and she began walking backwards, still on the two feet. When she reached the nearest leg of the table, she turned and climbed up.

    "You will be safe now," Mr Crepsley said, and the people in the front rows sat down again, as slowly and quietly as they could. "But please," Mr Crepsley added, "do not make any loud noises, because if you do, she might come after me."

    I don’t know if Mr Crepsley was really scared, or if it was part of the act, but he looked frightened. He wiped the sleeve of his right arm over his forehead, then placed the flute back in his mouth and whistled a strange little tune.

    Madam Octa cocked her head, then appeared to nod. She crawled across the table until she was in front of Mr Crepsley. He lowered his left hand, at the same time playing a new tune on the flute, and she started to crawl up his arm. The thought of those long hairy legs creeping along his flesh made me sweat all over!

    When she got to the top of his arm, she crept along his shoulder, then up his neck, over his ear, and didn’t stop until she reached the top of his head, where she lowered her body. She looked like a funny sort of hat, but I wouldn’t have worn it!

    "You may clap now," Mr Crepsley said, and the audience began applauding as softly as it could. When we finished, he began playing the flute again. Madam Octa slid down the other side of his face, along the scar, and walked around until she was standing upside-down on his chin. Then she spun a string of web and dropped down on it.

    She was hanging about ten centimetres below his chin now, and she slowly began rocking from side-to-side. Soon she was swinging about, getting fairly high, about level with his ears. Her legs were tucked in, and from where I was sitting she looked more like a ball of wool than a spider. But I wouldn’t have tried knitting a jumper with her!

    Then, as she was making an upward swing, Mr Crepsley threw his head back suddenly and she went flying straight up into the air. The thread snapped and she went tumbling around and around. I watched her go up, then come down. I thought she’d land on the floor or the table, but she didn’t. Instead, she landed in Mr Crepsley’s wide-open mouth!

    I nearly got sick when I thought of Madam Octa sliding down his throat and into his belly. I was sure she’d bite him on the way down and kill him. But the spider was a lot smarter than I knew. Because, as she was falling through the air, she had stuck her legs out, and they had caught on his lips.

    He brought his head forward, so we could see his face. His mouth was wide-open and Madam Octa was hanging between his lips. Her body was throbbing in and out of his mouth and she looked like a balloon which he was blowing-up and letting the air out of.

    It took me a few seconds to wonder where the flute was and how he was going to control the spider now that she was stuck in his mouth. Then Mr Tall appeared with another flute, which he began playing. He couldn’t play as well as Mr Crepsley, but he was good enough to make Madam Octa take notice. She listened, then began moving from one side of Mr Crepsley’s mouth to the other.

    I didn’t know what she was doing at first, so I craned my neck trying to see. Then I began to understand: she was spinning a web!

    When she was finished, she lowered herself from his chin, like she had before. There was a large web spun across Mr Crepsley’s mouth. He winked at the audience, then began chewing and licking the web! He ate the whole of it, then rubbed his belly (being careful not to hit Mrs. Octa) and said, "Yum-yum. Nothing tastier than fresh spider webs. They are a treat where I come from."

    I don’t know where Mr Crepsley came from, but if spider webs were treats there, I’d hate to think what they ate for normal meals!

    He did more tricks with Madam Octa after that. He made her push a ball across the table, then got her to balance on top of it. He got her jumping from one top of a box to another. She could leap almost the entire length of the table! Then he set up small pieces of gym gear, weight and ropes and rings, and put her through her paces. She was able to do all the things a human could, like lift weights above her head and climb ropes and pull herself up on the rings and do somersaults.

    After that he brought out a tiny dinner set. There were plates and mini knives and forks and teeny-weeny glasses. The plates were filled with dead flies and other dead insects. I don’t know what was in the glasses, and to tell you the truth, I’m not sure I want to!

    Madam Octa ate the dinner as neatly as you please. She was able to pick up the tiny knives and forks, four at a time, and feed herself the flies and insects. There was even a fake salt-cellar which she sprinkled over one of the dishes!

    It was round about the time she was drinking from the glass that I decided Madam Octa was the most amazing pet anybody could ever have, and that I would give anything in the world to own a spider like her.

    When the act was over, Mr Crepsley put the spider back in her cage and bowed low while everybody clapped. It had been a frightening act, and I heard a lot of people saying it wasn’t fair to have killed the poor sheep, but it had been thrilling.

    I turned to Steve to tell him how great I thought the spider was, but he was watching Mr Crepsley, his eyes glued on him as they had been earlier. He didn’t look scared anymore, but he didn’t look normal either.

    "Steve, what’s wrong?" I asked.

    He didn’t answer.


    "Ssshhh!" he snapped, and wouldn’t say another word until Mr Crepsley and the spider had left. He watched the odd looking man walk all the way back to the wings, his eyes never leaving him for an instant. Then he turned to me. "This is amazing!" he gasped.

    "You mean the spider?" I asked. "Yes, it was great, wasn’t it? How do you think –"

    "I’m not talking about the spider!" he said. "Who cares about a silly old spider? I’m talking about Mr … Crepsley." He paused just before saying the man’s name, as though he’d been about to call him something different.

    "Mr Crepsley?" I asked, confused. "What was so great about him? All he did was play the flute."

    "You don’t understand," Steve said angrily. "You don’t know who he is or where he comes from or anything."

    "And I suppose you do?" I asked.

    "Yes," he said, "as a matter of fact I do." Then he rubbed his chin and started looking worried again. "Now all I have to do," he muttered to himself, "is figure out what to do with the information." He paused, before adding: "Assuming, of course, we get out of here alive…"


    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 and why he was being so mysterious, but his lips were sealed. All he said was, "I have to think about this." Then he closed his eyes, stuck his head between his hands and started thinking.

    They were selling more cool stuff during the break: beards like the bearded lady’s, toy models of Hans Hands and, best of all, rubber spiders which looked just 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 I was waiting for the next freak to come out. They were yummy, a bit like candy-floss. I stuck the second one over my lips and licked at it, the same way Mr Crepsley had, and pretended I was him.

    When the next act was ready, the light went down and everybody settled back into their seats. Gertha Teeth was next up. She was a big woman, not exactly fat, but large all over. She had thick arms and thick legs and a thick neck and a thick head.

    "Ladies and gentlemen, I am Gertha Teeth!" she said. She sounded strict and wasn’t very friendly looking. "I have the strongest teeth in the world!" she said. "When I was a baby, my father put his fingers in my mouth, playing with me, and I bit two of them off! Nobody has put their fingers in my mouth since!"

    A few people started to laugh, but she stopped them with a furious look. "I am not a comedian!" she snapped. "If I want you to laugh, I will dress like a clown! If you laugh again, I will come down there and bite your nose off!" That sounded quite funny too, but nobody dared chuckle.

    She spoke very loudly. Every sentence was a shout and ended in an exclamation mark (!). I wouldn’t have liked to have Gertha Teeth for a mother. I bet she’s the sort who would send you to school even when you were sick, and make you wear short trousers no matter how old you were.

    "Dentists all over the word have been astounded by my teeth!" she said. "I have been examined in every major dental centre, but nobody has been able to work out why they are so tough! I have been offered huge amounts of money to become a guinea-pig, but I like travelling and so I have refused!"

    She picked up four steel bars, each about thirty centimetres long, but different widths. She asked for volunteers and four men went up on stage. She gave each of them one of the bars and asked them to try bending them. Well, they did their best, but they 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 the man and he stared at them in shock. He 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 assured everybody that it wasn’t a fake.

    Gertha did the same to the second and third bars, each of which was thicker than the first. Then, when it came to the fourth bar, the thickest of the lot, she chewed it to pieces like a chocolate bar. She rolled the pieces round in her mouth and went on chewing. In the end, she started spitting bits out into the audience. One landed on the man in the row in front of us, and I was able to see that the metal had been shaped into a bullet by her teeth!

    When the bars were finished, 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 chewed it up into a little ball, tyres 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.

    After a while, she called some more volunteers up on stage. She gave one a sledge-hammer and a large chisel, one a hammer and smaller chisel, and the other an electric saw. Then she lay flat on her back and put the large chisel in her mouth. She nodded at the first volunteer to swing the sledge at the chisel.

    The man with the sledge-hammer was shaking and didn’t look like he wanted to do it. He shook his head, but Gertha insisted, and so finally he raised the sledge-hammer high above his head and brought it down. I thought he was going to smash her face open, and so did lots of other people, because there were loads of gasps and some people covered their eyes with their hands.

    But gertha was no fool. At the last possible second she swung out of the way and the sledge 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?"

    Then one of the blue-hoods came out and took the sledge from the man. "I only called you up here to show the sledge 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 once more. The blue-hood waited a moment, then raised the sledge high and swung it down even faster and harder than the man had. It struck the top of the chisel and there was a fierce noise. My teeth grinded together at the sound and my spine went tingly.

    Gertha sat up and I expected to see her 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 anywhere! She smiled, then laughed. "Hah!" she said. "You thought I had bitten off more than I could chew!" And this time she waved a hand to show it was OK to laugh.

    She let the second volunteer go to work then, 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 them. He nearly hammered his arm off, he was trying so hard to make a dent in her teeth, but he wasn’t able to harm them.

    The third volunteer tried sawing them off with the electric saw. She made him cut through a piece of wood first, to prove the blade was sharp. He ran that saw from one side of her mouth to the other, and sparks were flying everywhere, but when he put it down and the dust had cleared, Gertha’s teeth were as white and gleaming and solid as ever.

    Gertha got a huge round of applause when she left. I still didn’t like the look of her much but I sure as hell respected her.

    The Siamese twins, Sive and Seersa, came on after Gertha. Their act was pretty good, but a bit dull compared to the others. I think they were put on at the end in order to give people a chance to get their breath back.

    Sive and Seersa were joined from their hips to their shoulders. They had four legs between them, but only two arms. They dressed in different clothes, though of course the clothes had to be stitched together in the middle. They were pretty, not very old. They didn’t say much, but when they did speak it was in low giggly voices.

    They started off by asking if anybody had a book. A few people had and a couple were brought up on stage. Sive covered her eyes with a cloth and Seersa began reading from the book. Seersa would read half a line, then pause, and Sive would finish it! They told us they had two separate brains, but thought as one person.

    Next they got people up on stage and asked them to write things down on sheets of paper. They could write anything: their name, the date, a poem, whatever. Then one of the twins would cover her eyes and the other would study the writing, and the one with the covered eyes would tell us what it said. They never got it wrong!

    After that, Seersa swallowed a glass of water and Sive spat it back up! They did the same thing with a meatball and also with a string of spaghetti. It was cool!

    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 or something, but they didn’t. Instead, all that happened was, Mr Tall said we could buy more stuff at the back of the hall on the way out. He asked us to mention the show to our friends and not to tell the police. Then he thanked us again for coming and said that was it, the show was over.

    I was a bit 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.

    Steve was looking behind me, up at the balcony, his mouth wide open. 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 towards the people at the bottom!
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