The smell that hung in the night air could only be described as a virtual smörgåsbord of aromas. Of course, there were the usual smells, the animal smells from the petting zoo (both the good and the bad), the aroma of freshly grilled hamburgers, the smell of sugar being spun into cotton candy and freshly made donuts being tossed piping hot into a mixture of cinnamon and sugar. But, mixed in amongst the normal smells there was also an almost intangible scent that permeated it all and made one aware of the fact that the Circus was in town.
As people milled about the foods stands and amusement rides, a man in a garish red tuxedo came out of a tent. He looked at a sign that had fallen onto the ground face down. He grumbled as he stooped down to pick it up which is not an easy task for a man his age and propped the sign back up.
The sign stood by the opening to the tent naming the tent was “The Hall of Oddities” in rich elaborate lettering. The man smiled to himself as he picked up his megaphone and stepped up onto a dais. It was show time. He looked around at the faces of the people walking past him.
"Alive! Alive! Alive!" His voice boomed into his megaphone. He had a very commanding voice that caught the attention of everyone who was within earshot but there was also something about him that mesmerized people, commanding their attention. Soon, a decent sized crowd of people had started to gather around the man like moths to a flame as soon as he started in on his pitch. It was the same pitch that he had used in many towns on many nights before.
"Yes! I personally guarantee each and every one of you that I am speaking the veritable truth Ladies and Gentlemen." The man continued as he looked directly into the faces of the people who had gathered around him. "Each and every one of the Human Oddities that you are about to see tonight is one hundred and ten percent genuine. The real McCoy! Ten dollars is your ticket into the “Hall of Oddities” where you will see the best of the best, the absolute finest that the Carnival has to offer. I guarantee that you will have never seen anything like what you are about to see before. But don't take my word for it - step right in and see for yourself.”
“Work's every time.” The man thought to himself as he looked at the faces in the crowd gathered around him, looking eagerly at him, waiting to see what wonders lay beyond the entrance to the tent. He did a quick head count as the people lined up, waiting to pay to see what oddities were waiting for them inside the tent. He collected their entrance fees and then joined him inside.
“The first stop on our tour is Alexandria - the Alligator Skinned Woman.” The man said drawing them to the first in a series of curtained off areas within the tent. “Alexandria's mother had been savagely attacked by a rabid alligator while pregnant. The poor woman barely survived. It took eight men to tear the horrendous beast away from her. Luckily, she survived the attack but to her dismay when she gave birth her daughter had rough scaly skin not unlike that of the very alligator that had almost taken her life. Behold – Alexandria!" The curtain opened to reveal a young woman in a revealing bikini who had very, very scaly skin.”
Some of the people in the audience looked at her in amazement while others looked in disgust at what they were seeing but still, they couldn't seem to tear their eyes away as the woman on the stage strutted around in front of her audience, twisting her body around to show off the crackling effect of her skin. Alexandria was a natural at this. She loved being on stage in front of an audience.
To tell you the truth, she was in fact the seventeenth "Alexandria" that this particular carnival had employed over the many years since it had opened. The original Alexandria was a true "Alligator girl". She had been born with a very rare skin condition called Ichthyosis that caused her skin to be extremely dry and take on a crackling appearance.
Now, I know that you are wondering how this particular circus manage to find seventeen women over the years who had suffered with the same rare skin condition? The short answer is that they didn't. Alexandria was what we in the industry call a cheat. Alexandria, as she is now known professionally, was originally known on the circuit as “Sprinkles the Clown” and before that she was known as Jessica Steele, a young woman who as a child had always dreamed about one day running away and joining the circus.
Now I know that you want to hear some fantastic story right about now. I know that you desperately want to hear that there was some sort of magical thing that happened to transform ordinary, average, never-had-so-much-as-a-pimple-on-her-skin Jessica Steele into the exotic creature that was “Alexandria - the Alligator Skinned Woman” night after night. Truth be told, there really wasn't anything the least bit magical about it. Her skin condition had simply been created.
The transformation from plain old Jessica to Alexandria – the Snake Skinned Woman began with Jessica painting her most of body with a weak glue mixture. This coating of glue would be left on her skin to dry for a few hours and when it was thoroughly dried, Jessica would twist her body and the glue would crack as her skin moved underneath it, effectively simulating the crackling effect of Ichthyosis. But I must ask you to keep this between us because people outside the circus really aren't supposed to know that some of the performers are just that – performers. Thats the thing about the carnival, you never know whats real and what is just an illusion.
"And now", continued the man dramatically as the crowd followed him to the next curtained off section on their tour. "Behind this curtain is not one - but two of natures oddities. The creatures that you are about to see are mutations in every sense of the word, but any description that I could offer to you would pale in comparison to the sight that you are about to see. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you - Triton and his wife Aquarielle."
There was a collective gasp from the spectators as the curtain opened to reveal a massive fish tank where it appeared that a mermaid and a merman were swimming around, frolicking in the water. The spectators peered closely at them trying to decide whether or not they were actually mermaids or not. I can tell you that the merman in the tank was simply wearing a costume designed to make his legs look like the tail of a fish.
While I can attest to the fact that the man was not a actually part fish, I cannot tell you for certain that the girl was not in fact an actual mermaid. To the best of my knowledge, not one person on the circuit has ever seen her out of the tank. No one had ever seen her walking about on two legs for that matter either.
Every Friday, there was a poker night that both Triton and Aquarielle attended. It was held just on the other side of the tank, in an area where the spectators never saw and the performers could rest between shows. Aquarielle would just pop her head out of the water and sit on the edge with her tail still dangling in the water as she played a game of cards and talked with the others.
Now, no one had ever just come out and asked Aquarielle straight out whether or not she was actually a mermaid or simply wearing a costume. You see, that would have been considered very rude in their circle. They each knew that some people were what you would call a “Freak” and some people were not actual "Freaks" and some questions are best left unasked.
The bona-fide freaks were accepted by all for who and what they were – no different from the people among them who were just in costume. The ones that were not actual freaks, could take off their costumes and makeup and change into what was called a "Normal" in their circle but where was the fun in that? Being normal is vastly over-rated in my opinion. Besides, what is normal really?
Then, in a category all to themselves were the created freaks. The created freaks are those who actually chose to be a Freak instead of being born as one. They live out their day to day lives as their characters. They make a somewhat gray area in the circus. No one knew exactly where Aquarielle stood and to be honest - no one really cared one way or the other. Thats one of the things about being a member of the carnival. You could become who you really wanted to be or simply create an new you and you knew that no matter what, you were accepted as part of a family. Sometimes a family that you chose can be closer to you than a family that you are born into because in a family that you chose you never have to worry that they won't accept you for who you are.
"This ladies and gentlemen is another human oddity. I proudly present to you Tom Thumb - The worlds Smallest Man!" The man said as they moved onto the next exhibit.
The curtains opened and all of the women in the crowd sighed when they saw a little man sitting on a high stool. His name coincidentally actually was Tom, a young man who had been born a primordial dwarf. A primordial Dwarf is a form of Dwarfism where the person looks absolutely normal only in miniature form. They are for the most part, completely proportionate, rather than having some parts of their bodies that are normal sized while others are quite a bit smaller making their bodies misshapen as you normally see with a “Dwarf.”
Tom at birth, had weighed less than one pound. He was so tiny that he could stretch out fully and still fit into the palm of his father's hand with plenty of room to spare. It was years before he could wear clothes that weren't made specifically for him. When Tom had been born, the doctors didn't expect him to live through that night, or the next, or the next for that matter but here he was twenty years later still alive and kicking. Despite having had major surgery at the age of twelve to correct a curvature of his spine that if left untreated, could have lead to all sorts of complications, Tom was relatively healthy. During his recovery after his spinal surgery it was touch and go for a while as Tom had lost several pints of blood over the course of a few days but he had made a full recovery. Facing death so closely at that young an age made Tom think about his own mortality and ever since he had made a point of making sure that he lived his life the way he wanted to because in the end, if you live your life to please others, is that really living?
"There he is perfectly formed - as normal as you and me but only a foot and a half tall." The man in the red tuxedo said emphatically, as the crowd stared at the little man on the stool. Tom rolled his eyes. He was in fact well over three feet tall but it seemed to him that every show the announcer subtracted inches off his height. Tom was sure that someday he would be the size of a microbe if that kept up.
Tom was actually quite good looking. Who knows, if he hadn't been born a dwarf maybe his life would be different. If he had grown to a normal height, maybe he could have been a model or an actor but he wasn't a normal height and here he was, sitting on a stool, having crowd after crowd, night after night coo over him because he was just so gosh darn adorable. Tom supposed that there were worse ways to make a living. He had been offered a part in a movie once but when he had found out that it was an “Adult” film, he graciously declined. He didn't have much experience with women and having a camera in the room “during” was just a little bit too wild for his tastes.
The crowd was moved along to the next exhibit , the tattooed man who had been, according to the man in the red tuxedo - forcibly tattooed by savages from the wilds of Umpapamaomao - wherever the hell that was. Jigsaw was the name that the Tattooed Man went by on the circuit, primarily because most of his tattoos seemed to connect in some way or another like the pieces of some sort of fleshy puzzle, and he had never been to Umpapamaomao. He hadn't been anywhere outside of the U.S. for that matter.
None of his tattoos had being forced upon him by savages in an ancient ceremonial ritual. In actual fact, the majority of his tattoos were the result of drunken revelry - that and the inability to say no to a dare, which was the explanation that he usually gave for why the tattoo on the back of his neck may have come from a Chinese take-out menu.
Jigsaw had long forgotten what it said but he often heard Chinese people snickering at him when they caught sight of it. Someday he would ask someone snickering at him what it said but for now he was a little scared to know. Some questions are best left unanswered, like the time when he was sixteen and he found out that the origin of his childhood nickname, Peanut, was not in fact because he ate a lot of Peanuts as a child but because when he was born his “wee-wee” was, well, for lack of a better term, wee - very wee in fact. He could have gone his entire life without knowing that little nugget of information.
The crowd was then moved onto the next exhibit which was the Estelle - The Bearded Lady. Estelle had been born with a genetic condition known as Hypertrichtomania that had caused thick hair to grow all over her body including most of her face. This disease is what many people think may have been the origin of the werewolf legend. A long time ago, there wasn't a name for many diseases that we now know today and the people who had these diseases were persecuted because society didn't know what it was and people are often afraid of what they do not know.
Estelle supposed that she could have waxed, or shaved or done many other things in an attempt to remove the excess hair from her body. In fact, she had tried many hair removal methods in the past, but it became such a chore to upkeep that she came to the realization that short of something more permanent like laser hair removal, the hair on her body was there to stay.
To put it simply, Estelle was a very hairy lady. The hair on her body was a part of her and if the people around her didn't like it, that was their problem. It was around the same time that she started to accept herself for who she was that she had found the carnival.
One of the rowdy young men who happened to be in the crowd that night, looked as if he had drank one too many beers prior to coming for the tour. He shouted out quite loudly that he thought she was in fact a man and demanded that she show them a certain part of her anatomy to prove that she actually was in fact a female. It was nothing that Estelle hadn't heard a million times before and normally she would not have even acknowledged it but tonight was different.
Tonight Estelle lifted up her shirt, did her best girls gone wile impersonation and showed that drunken jerk in the crowd, and everyone else who happened to be in the crowd, that she was in fact a female. It was a good thing that there weren't any children in attendance otherwise there may have been some complaints. Instead there was applause from the crowd. Estelle bowed, smiling to them and curtsied as they were dragged off to the next exhibit
The man in the garish red tuxedo had ushered the crowd out of the tent, after bringing them to the last exhibit , the man eating chicken which was usually just a hobo eating a bucket of chicken and marched over to where Estelle sat, telling the other performers about her “show”.
"Estelle, you shouldn't have done that." He said in a stern but fatherly tone. The other performers who were relaxing after the show suddenly scattered when they had seen him coming and wanted to flee before he got a chance to lay into Estelle.
"Why should I care? This is my last night remember?" Estelle said, smirking.
"Yeah I know." The man said, nodding sadly. "Its not gonna be the same without you here Estelle."
"I'm retiring not dying." Estelle said as she slipped out of the tent. The man had been about to lay into her but he didn't have the heart. He was truly sad to see Estelle leave. He felt as if he were losing a daughter.
Estelle made her way across to the other side of the carnival now that the “Hall of Oddities” had officially closed down for the night. She walked through the carnival, past the fire dancers, a sword swallower and a man hammering railroad spikes into his nostrils as people in the audience gasped all choreographed to the music that played over the intercom. She came to the tent where her fiancé, the strong man was holding his nightly shows.
According to the announcer, he had been part of a military experiment gone horribly wrong but in reality he was just freakishly strong. Estelle passed by a table just outside of his tent where a young girl was selling strongman dolls. She really didn't think that the dolls looked anything like her husband-to-be but for some reason they were selling like hot cakes. She walked around to the back of the tent and entered through the performer's entrance.
Stepping into the tent's backstage area, Estelle stopped, peeking through a small opening at one of the seams to see her fiancé holding a sofa with three pretty young girls seated on it above his head.
"Show off." Estelle said to herself, smiling to herself as she entered