As we return to Moose’s story, the sideshow’s own (very peculiar) grownups have decided to appear.
Lee was shaking and Pounce took a little step back and even Mr. Spit was breathing hard. Nina looked fine on the outside; but Nina would never let a grownup, especially a stranger, see her lose her cool. And Murphy, of course, looked like he was watching every creepy-wonderful story he’d ever read come to life for his personal amusement. Me? As I said before, scared. I like Ray Bradbury just fine, but he’s safer in a book.
The scratchy waltz went on and on, more music, maybe, than one of those old records could hold. When it finally ended the lady slid forward, almost as if she really was part snake. Her voice was deeper than you might have expected and she didn’t quite hiss.
“Welcome, O young and curious, to the Strangeness of the World—All the Strangeness of All the World, Gathered Together for the Edification of All the People” (Yes, you could hear the capital letters.) “Look around, see all the wonders that we have for you to see … what’s your pleasure? Where will you go, what will you learn?” From what I knew about sideshows from seeing them in old movies, this was the time when she would start introducing the acts, pointing at the banners and saying a few words about each one as a come on. But she just stopped, hands spread. She wore white gloves– and how many hands did she have? It looked like at least six gloves. She was pointing at most of the circle at once.
There was a long pause. The music started up again, still just as scratchy. This time it was a slow dance with a lot of rhythm that sort of sounded Spanish. A tango, maybe? Pounce spoke up first, followed by Lee and Nina, tripping over each other to explain about the storm, about the rest of the fair being out of power, about finding a dry place with lights on and about being sorry but we weren’t planning on seeing the show.
The snake slash top hat lady did not like that at all. And really, why should she? The Strangeness of the World might definitely be creepy and possibly be crooked, but it was her business (somehow I was sure that she was the boss) and of course she needed people to buy tickets. “Oh my,” she said. “I’m afraid the Strangeness of the World is not a mere shelter from the storm. Not entirely … look up, my friends.” We did, and the big tent over the whole show was gone. Had there even been a tent? I couldn’t quite remember. The show was dry; there had to be a tent, didn’t there?
“The show is dry, that’s true, but only the show—the performers, the staff, and of course, the audience.” The suggestion was clear: we could stay, but only if we played our part.
“You gotta buy one ticket apiece” growled the man, and if the lady’s voice was deep, his was a growl from the bottom of the sea. “Pick six for one, pick six for six, but in you gotta go, or else go out.” The thunder started again, drowning out the tango.
We huddled up. Murph wanted to see everything; I wanted to see nothing. Lee wanted to play chess with the Intelligent Ape; Mr. Spit wanted to hang out with the Wild Child. There were votes for Spidora, and votes for the Five Legged Horse.
Then Nina spoke up. The Frozen Cave Girl was traditional. She was part of Kekionga history. I looked at her banner. Maybe she wouldn’t be as pretty as the artist made her look, but at least she wouldn’t have three noses or something. I hoped.
“Probably just a wax dummy in a freezer,” whispered Lee, and I was so glad he was standing there in his summer sweater vest and his muddy saddle shoes. Sometimes it’s great to have a friend who doesn’t have much imagination.
So it was settled. Pounce collected the money. But it was Nina who walked up to the little stage and said to the snake lady in the top hat: “Six for the Frozen Cave Girl, please”.