Hidden Freak

A collaborative story by The Parking Lot Confessional

(Pt. 1: S. C. Green, Pt. 2: Amy K. Nichols, Pt. 3: Amy McLane)

Pine Grove had the unfortunate claim to be one of the most boring towns in Nowhere, America. Sure, if some ambitious soul in town were to write a brochure –and Bobby was positive there wasn’t– it’d have words like “peaceful,” “relaxing” or “pleasant” throughout it’s bland pages. Whatever the spin, it still meant boring.

That was until the carnival came to town.

From what Bobby could tell, it wasn’t really a carnival. He didn’t see any rides being built up other than a Ferris wheel on the far end. It was more like a sideshow gone rogue.

“I tell you, Fix,” Bobby said for the umpteenth time. “It’s better than a proper circus.”

“Would you just listen to yourself.” Fix paused before saying what he’s also now said for the umpteenth time. “There’s no getting better than a proper circus. In fact it cain’t call itself a circus if it ain’t proper.”

Despite Fix’s protestations he followed Bobby to the clearing just outside of town where the not-circus was setting up. By cutting through the woods and hopping the creek bed they were able to get there in half the time as taking the main roads. Not to mention they might be able to get a good look before getting kicked out. That’s when Bobby first realized he planned to do something worth getting kicked out for. No sense getting around it, so he embraced it with both trouble-wielding arms.

“Everyone knows the best part of a circus is the sideshow. The freaks.” Bobby was going to leave it at that, but then felt he needed to clarify. “The freaks that don’t mind being freaks.”

“There you go not making sense again.”

Fix stopped in a bank of pines to dig in his pocket. The light that made it through the boughs wasn’t enough to make the grass grow more than tufts here and there, but the layers of fallen pine needles made up for it, making the ground spongy and easy to walk on. Fix plucked out a pouch of chewing tobacco and pinched a generous lump under his lower lip. After pitting a few stray bits out he continued.

“What kind of freak don’t mind being a freak? As sure as hell would mind if I was a freak.”

This is where Bobby had some experience in. At fifteen he was just shy of seven feet tall. Put like that it ain’t so bad. But when he started school at almost two heads taller than the second tallest kid, he got labeled a freak. And even though by high school some kids started catching up, old labels were near impossible to shake. Maybe if he could’ve land a basket more than two out of ten times, he could’ve traded labels for basketball star. Now he’s just the Tall Guy, though he could still hear the underlying “freak” in its subtext.

“If the bearded lady wasn’t okay with being a freak, she’d shave. Since she’s alright with her freakness, she sits in a booth and makes money off your curiosity. If the fat–”

“I get your point.” Fix cut in and punctuated with a brown glob of spit. “Still no proper circus.”

“I wouldn’t think a sideshow would need clowns.”

This got Fix’s attention. He hated clowns. He was always breaking his little sisters clown dolls. Said they made him angry and couldn’t control smashing them. I think they scared him, but knew better than to ever tell it to his face.

Fix might have been a foot shorter than Bobby, but he made up for it in muscle. See, Fix didn’t get his name because he fixed things. He broke things. It might have started out on accident, but I think somewhere along the way he got used to the attention and kept breaking things. He got to hearing “You gonna fix that” in one form or another so much, the name just made itself.

“It might not be proper, but it sounds like it could be better,” Fix conceded. He got up and started their journey back up.

If Bobby knew it would the last time he saw Fix, he would’ve never mentioned clowns.

Fix reached the edge of the woods first. Bobby ducked beneath an elm branch and stopped beside him.

“Whatcha waiting for?” Bobby reached both hands up to grasp the branch and let his tall frame fall forward.

Fix said nothing. Just spit.

“Scared?” Bobby knew which button to push.

“I ain’t scared.” Fix’s bicep swelled as he squeezed his right hand into a fist. He sniffed and curled his lip like a gash. “Just looking for the right way in.”

Bobby kicked away a pine cone. “Uh-huh.” And he strode off toward the big top.

The fence surrounding the carnival was rickety at best. Easy pickings. The hardest part for Bobby would be to slip his height through unnoticed.

Fix followed him out from the cover of the woods, his steps scuffing the dirt faster to keep up. Neither spoke. Bobby kept his hands tucked in his pockets and felt his pulse knocking at his temple. Thinking and doing are two different things. But Bobby was determined in the doing.

The carnival hadn’t officially opened. Come dark, the place would swarm with the townspeople, curious to see anything outside the daily drudge of their dull lives. But now, midday on an otherwise sleepy Thursday, the grounds were all but quiet.

“Going through the front door, dumbass?”

Bobby hated when Fix took that tone. Same one he’d heard his whole life, teased and knocked around. So he didn’t answer. Just kept walking, listening to the wind rustling back in the woods and the occasional sound from the tents and trailers ahead.  When he got close enough, he rounded the chain link and headed toward the back. Later, the action would be inside the big tent, sure. But Bobby knew the trailers were the place to start. Bobby searched beyond the fence for signs they’d been seen or trouble to get into. Fix followed, marking his path with globs of rancid spit.

“There,” Fix said, and Bobby looked to where he pointed. The break in the chain link that would let them slip through. Disappointment twisted Bobby’s stomach. He wished he’d seen it first. He ducked his head beneath the chain and the other six feet of him followed. Fix had more trouble with his bulk. He masked his pain with indifference as the metal scraped his spine; but Bobby saw. Bobby knew.

Inside, they both stood rooted, looking. Listening. A line of road-worn trailers circled the back of the lot. Cheap, splintered siding and windows pocked with rock holes.

“Which one you think’s got the clowns?” Fix whispered. He cracked his knuckles real slow.

Bobby shook his head, his eyes trained toward the end of the line, on the shiny Gulfstream with the plaid curtains flapping out the windows. Clowns or freaks, he didn’t care. That trailer was the one that called him. Three wooden steps led to its metal door. He’d have to bend nearly in half to get through.

“Come on,” he whispered. He had no doubt Fix would follow.

A man lounged at the Gulfstream’s cramped kitchenette, shuffling a pack of cards between webbed fingers. A rainbow clown wig sat askew on his head, a half smoked Marlboro Red smoldered in a tin ashtray at his elbow.“Hello Robert.”

“How do you know my name?” blurted Bobby.

“It’s my business to know.” He flicked a card at Bobby, who caught it on reflex.“Not bad, Robert. You know, you could play basketball, if you really wanted. But you don’t want to.”

Bobby turned the card over.

DR. GIGGLES, ESQUIRE. MD PHD PHARSEE

– was scrawled over the joker’s face.

“My calling card,” said Dr. Giggles. “Ah, Cecil, I see you back there. Don’t be shy.”

Red-faced, Fix shouldered his way past Bobby. “Don’t nobody call me that.”

“Hmm,” said Dr. Giggles, setting aside his pack in favor of the cigarette butt.

“Where’s my card?”

“You don’t get one, Cecil. You’re not a freak. In fact, I’d venture to say you’re perfectly, completely, hideously normal.”

“Who you callin’ hideous, you frog-palmed weirdo?” Fix started forward, raising his fist. Bobby winced, but Dr. Giggles caught the punch in one of his webbed hands.

“And now, for my vanishing trick.”

Fix disappeared.

Dr. Giggles banged on the wall of the Gulfstream. “Send in the clowns!”

The forest outside echoed with laughter. A chainsaw roared to life, and the laughter redoubled.

Dr. Giggles pushed aside a frowsy curtain to peek out the trailer’s window. “What delight. I love a good laugh, don’t you?”

“What did you do with him?”

“Oh Robert, don’t fret over your miscreant friend.” Dr. Giggles snubbed out his butt. “I only gave him what he really wanted.”

“Fix only likes breaking stuff.”

“Precisely. He wants to break. Now, he is breaking.” He picked up his pack of cards and cut. “So, my seven-foot friend, would you like to see the show? More importantly, would you like to be the show? You can join us if you want. The wages are paltry, but I promise you this: No one will ever laugh at you again.” The cards made a ripping sound as he shuffled them. “We don’t tolerate that sort of foolery here.”

“I just want to be smaller,” stuttered Bobby.

“As small as your courage,” murmured Dr. Giggles, his eyes gleaming, “As small as your wit.”

“No,” cried Bobby. His skin crawled, itched, burned as he fumbled for the door handle. The lever would not give.

“Good luck, Robert Thumbkin,” said Dr. Giggles. “Enjoy your adventures, and remember I promise you this: As your soul grows, so shall you. And, to paraphrase a song about a far better man than I, if you ever wish to receive me, only say the word and I shall be there.”

The door swung open and Bobby bounded out of the Gulfstream, no longer needing to crouch, and ran through the forest. His shoes tripped and plopped right off his feet. His pants fell down, catching around his knees. Bobby kicked them off and kept going, his sweatshirt dipping down to cover his nakedness until it too slid off, the neck hole slipping down his belly. Shivering, Bobby looked for a burrow to hide in.

It was twilight, and the owls were waking.