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They had toured the main freak show and largely found it disappointing. Situated in a separate and smaller tent to the Big Top, it consisted of various people sitting around on plastic plinths like china figurines and being insulted by the general public. Joby sneered at the Fat Man, and informed Hillyard that men of his size could be seen everywhere back in their own time. Hillyard could only look appalled by this. He had accidentally witnessed Fat Man taking a shower earlier (or rather standing naked on the grass and swilling himself with a hose). It wasn't a sight to forget in a hurry.
"You mean his sort were common?" said Hillyard.
"It's just obesity that's all", Joby shrugged.
Next to Fat Man were a pair of Siamese Twins, joined at the hip. They were billed as "The World's Last Brothers", a fact which the twins, who were now in their thirties, did not look at all happy about. They had opposing personalities, and both found the other extremely irritating. It seemed the piece of thick skin connecting their thighs did little to bond them emotionally. They could barely stop arguing long enough to answer the public's questions. As these usually veered along the same monotonous line of wanting to know intimate details of their toilet arrangements, and what happens when one wants to get his leg over someone else, it was hardly surprising that they couldn't be bothered to answer them.
Kieran, Joby and Hillyard wandered around the plinths and felt increasingly uncomfortable. Joby said it was like being in a waxworks museum, only the models were real.
"I feel soiled ogling these", said Kieran "Except I suppose I could be joining them soon".
"Cootie's watching us", said Hillyard.
"Don't sound so nervous about it", said Kieran "I know he can look a bit shifty, but you've got nothing to be afraid of".
"Watch out, he's coming over", said Joby, halting in front of 'The Limbless Wonder'.
"Impressive aren't they?" said Cootie, in his delicate, almost quaintly-refined voice "And yet back in the City we were so short of participants for the freak show that we had to supplement them with wax models, which the public didn't always appreciate".
"I take it they're all embryo's that went wrong?" said Kieran "How did they escape getting destroyed then?"
"They were often kept alive for reasons of scientific research, to learn by mistakes", said Cootie "I encourage all newcomers on my staff to look around the entire show, it makes them realise exactly what they are a part of. Not that I'm saying you're all freaks you understand".
"What then?" said Joby.
"Special people. Everyone here is special in their own way, and that is the gift we bring to everyone who pays to see us here".
Kieran looked at a group of lads who were jeering at The Limbless Wonder, and thought that the only gift some of the customers deserved was a bazooka up the backside.
"For that reason", Cootie continued, dropping his voice to conspiratol level "I would like you to look around our Sealed Section. The public pays extra for this. When you get in there you will see why".
Inside the tent which housed the Sealed Section were a row of wooden booths, all entirely separate from the other and closed off. Customers could only enter each booth in groups of four at the most at any one time. There were two separate rows of booths, one line marked 'Truly Monstrous', and the other 'Sexual Freaks'.
"I don't feel in the mood for Truly Monstrous", said Kieran "Let's see what they regard as Sexual Freaks".
Inside the first booth sat an obese man with close-cropped hair and a beard. He also sported breasts, floping above his huge belly like half-deflated footballs, and the complete lack of a penis. Hillyard was unimpressed.
"He's just a eunuch with tits", he said, as though the man was deaf as well "And he grows a beard to make himself look different that's all".
"Why don't you wear a wig and a frock?" said Joby.
"Because as he said then I'd just be a eunuch with tits", said the man, in a high-pitched effeminate voice "Do I confuse you? You look confused".
"Yea you do a bit", said Joby, and left the booth.
"If that's the best they can come up", said Hillyard, following him "We'd be better off trying Truly Monstrous".
"I found Artuul's tits more disturbing than his", said Joby.
"Hang on a minute", said Kieran "What about this?"
There was a billboard outside the end booth, advertising the exhibit within as 'The Last Woman On Earth', and then proudly proclaiming that she was 'Entirely As Nature Created Her. No Pills. No Surgery. She Has All The Parts Of A Woman'.
Inside the booth they found themselves in a small, darkened room with four stools in front of four peepholes in the wooden partition that passed for a wall. An illuminated sign on the wall warned them that an alarm would ring if they attempted to get through the barrier in any way.
"They certainly know how to give you a build-up", said Kieran.
A distant bell tinkled and the makeshift stage on the other side of the partition was bathed in an icy-white light. Suddenly a slim young being with long fair hair wound gracefully onto the stage, and began to dance silently around the chair in the centre. She wore a silk two-piece outfit, and she immediately began to remove the top half. Underneath she sported a pair of firm breasts which bounced naturally when she danced. Joby thought she looked like something from an old advert for fabric softener. She should be strolling through a cornfield in the sunshine, relishing the softness of her clothes against her skin. There was no doubting that she looked very authentic indeed.
Kieran gave a moan of pain and leaned his head against the clear plastic of the peephole. The blonde hair and the firm breasts were too much. She looked like Amy. He couldn't stand watching anymore and got up to leave.
"Kiel?" said Joby, grabbing his hand.
"I'm alright", said Kieran "You watch the rest of it. Tell me what happens. I'll wait outside the door".
The person removed the bottom half of her costume to reveal a mass of dark pubic hair, from which a small penis peered like a child emerging from the womb. Joby gave a moan of exasperation. The person then sat down on the chair, reached below the penis and pulled at her labium to reveal a genuine vagina. The Real Woman was an hermathrodite.
"Did women look like that?" said Hillyard, confused.
"Of course they didn't", said Joby.
He found Kieran sitting in the sawdust outside the booth door. He had been crying, but Joby thought it best not to pass comment.
"You didn't miss much Kiel", he said "She had a fanny alright, but with a bloody great cock swinging above it".
"I suppose they missed that bit out of the advertising", said Kieran, kicking at the billboard as they passed.
"Come on", said Joby, linking arms with him and also surprisingly with Hillyard "Let's go and find a drink".
By the time they got back to the wagon, which was parked behind the Big Top, Adam was in a filthy mood.
"Ransey and I had to do all the settling in arrangements", he snapped.
"Oh dear", said Joby, sarcastically.
"And you've been drinking haven't you?"
"Where's the baby?" said Kieran.
"Lonts was getting overwrought with all the noise so I sent him to bed", said Adam.
"He's got it fucking made he has!" Joby exclaimed.
"Bissy's been round", said Adam "To see you Patsy. He wants to discuss your routine with you".
"My routine?" said Kieran, nervously "I haven't got to do a song-and-dance act have I? I thought I'd be in the other tent with Fat Man and the Siamese Twins".
"It seems Cootie doesn't want you hidden in there when you could be out-front as part of the main show", said Adam.
"But I can't sing", Kieran protested "Not a blinking note. And the only dancing I can do is a bit of jig when I'm pissed".
"I thought you wanted to be a big star?"
"Adam, you've got to get me out of this!"
"Don't panic sweetcakes", Adam patted Kieran's cheek playfully "He simply wants you to ride a horse around the ring that's all, and smile and wave at the punters".
"Will he have to wear a pink tu-tu?" Joby giggled.
"Shut up Joby", said Kieran.
The Spring Festival (the three time-crossers had to keep remembering not to call it Easter) occurred at the very end of the month. It was to be a big gala, graced by royalty, and Cootie wanted to save Kieran's debut until then, even though everyone in Pepuaah had been aware of his presence for some time. In the meantime the circus was still open for business as usual, and performing to capacity each night.
The rest of the cast and crew had accepted Kieran and his group on-board with little hassle. The State Circus was now too large and full of incomers to sustain a hothouse feel. The only difficulty they got was from the top-billed comedian, an ageing foul-mouthed drunkard who, nonetheless, was extremely popular with the punters. Whenever he limped passed Kieran's wagon he muttered "fucking amateurs" or occasionally just for a change "more fucking amateurs", but otherwise that was the limit of his abuse.
None of them had trouble getting jobs. Bissy had been right, Cootie had something approaching genius when it came to selecting people for the right posts. Kieran spent most of his days brushing up on his horse-riding skills, and taking tips from Bissy on the best way to show himself to his advantage. Joby and Ransey were put in charge of the box-office, which Cootie had been having to manage himself until then. Hillyard helped out with the horses. And even Lonts got a job, helping the dog-handler with the bushy-tailed snow-dogs who performed a routine at the children's matinee. Lonts was well-used to snow-dogs because of his native Kiskev origins, and thoroughly enjoyed working with them, unaware that Cootie was biding his time until he could approach the others about putting Lonts in the show too. Meanwhile he made do with Gimmit, whom he had accidentally come upon fooling around with a padlock-and-chain backstage. Unable to resist any opportunity for showcasing new talent Cootie had taken one look at Gimmit's thin, wiry body, and decided he was ideal escapalogist material. The last one had never recovered from being trapped inside a water-tank for several minutes, but he didn't tell Gimmit this.
That left Adam. Cootie was uncertain how to approach the tall fair-haired man who seemed so sure of himself and so protective of his brood, and decided to let him be until he had the full measure of him. As such Adam, who up until then had been group leader and spokesman, found himself reduced to being group housewife instead. Left by himself all day, excluded from the private jokes of the circus team, and being snapped at by Ransey for not getting the washing dry in time for the box-office hours, Adam felt increasingly in despair. He wasn't a naturally domesticated person, and found the whole daily round of cooking and washing (for "five ungrateful louts" as he put it), tedious beyond belief.
On one particular afternoon he had lit a fire, and bunged all the dirty washing into the largest billy-can and set it to stew over the flames. As he stirred it pensively with a pair of wooden tongs, whilst smoking a cigar at the same time, he marvelled that the threadbare clothes didn't disintegrate entirely. Suddenly he was seized from behind in a rough embrace, which so surprised him that he sent the billy-can flying, and the clothes landed in a sodden heap on the grass.
"What the ...?" he spun round and encountered Julian, who was looking irritatingly pleased with himself "What the fuck did you think you were doing Julian? And what the hell are you doing here anyway?"
"I think I preferred it when you fainted on me last time", said Julian. He had lost weight. The new gauntness gave his face a vulnerable look that hadn't been there before "I find this rather casual reaction a bit upsetting".
"Tough shit", Adam exclaimed "Look at the washing. Look at it!"
"It doesn't matter. You can do it again".
"I don't want to do it again!" Adam screamed "It was tedious enough the first time. To do it again would be sheer unmitigated Hell!"
Adam ran into the wagon to try and collect himself. Julian followed. Adam suddenly saw the interior of the wagon with his eyes and felt ashamed. Everything was dusty and stained, and stank too. He nearly wept.
"Why did you have to turn up now Julian?" he cried.
"I don't understand what you're getting so upset about", said Julian.
"Look at all this!" Adam wailed "I don't want you to see me living like this, in a crumby wagon with torn canvas".
"I'm not much better off", said Julian "I've lost my home, I'm a refugee now".
"Things got a little uncomfortable in our neck of the jungle. Soon after he became President, Gabriel was convinced your cute little friend was hiding out there somewhere, and turned the place upside down looking for him. I suppose I panicked, convinced he'd find out Tinkerbell had stayed at my house, and I fled. I didn't know how much he had on me you see".
"What about that painted stick-insect you normally have in tow?"
"I was hardly going to leave Finia there to face Gabriel's zombie army alone, so he came with me. He's rather keen on getting a job here as a snake-dancer".
"Pity the poor snake", Adam muttered "So, your house is gone, all your things ..."
"Property can be replaced", said Julian, and put his hand gently on Adam's neck "People can't. I'd almost given you up for dead. When we arrived in Pepuaah the other day and heard the Vanquisher was here at the Circus, I thought where your cute little friend is you will be. So what happened to you?"
"Too much to go into now", said Adam "As the old children's stories used to say 'they had many adventures'".
"All of which seem to have worn you out".
"No, it's cooking and washing that wears me out".
"Why are you reduced to being the tweeny-maid then?"
"Oh get lost Julian", Adam picked up a half-empty bottle of rum from the floor, only to have Julian instantly snatch it away.
"You don't need that", he said, firmly.
"I was just tidying it up", Adam protested "Although God knows I've felt enough like going on the booze lately".
"Are you alright Adam?" said Lonts, who had appeared at the entrance of the wagon.
"I'm fine sweetheart", said Adam "Why don't you be an enormous help to me and collect the washing from the ground? Watch you don't scald your hands on it".
"I'll do that", said Lonts, and left the wagon again.
"Good grief Adam", Julian exclaimed "How do you do it! Another pretty boy to add to your collection. I shall dream about those dark eyes of his tonight".
"Lonts and I aren't lovers", said Adam, wearily.
"Whyever not?" said Julian "If I didn't still have my ... er ... problem, I wouldn't be able to resist him".
"You'll have trouble from me if you try anything", said Adam "I've adopted Lonts. He's like a son to me".
"Why a son for heaven's sake?"
"Because he's not well", Adam hissed "He's mentally ill. He has been for most of his life. What in our time would have been called 'learning difficulties'".
"What, a retard you mean?"
"It's a horrible word, but yes he is. He gets confused easily. His physical age is about eighteen, but his mental age is many years younger".
"A terrible waste", Julian sighed "And you protect him from the lions and tigers and bears I suppose?"
"I'd never forgive myself if anything happened to him".
"I don't envy you trying to shield that one. It's a cruel world Adam. Everywhere I go I see crumpet, and I can't do a damn thing about it!"
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