There was usually a lot of publicity before a funfair came to Jemimaville – people in face paint handing out fliers in the main street, brightly-coloured posters in the shop windows, and sometimes there was even an advert on the giant hoarding behind Foodworks. But as far as ten-year-old Josh Cencic could tell, this funfair had just appeared out of nowhere. Weirder still, it was the middle of winter! Funfairs normally came to Jemimaville in the summer when good weather was all but guaranteed and it stayed light till 10 o’clock. Josh had never heard of a funfair coming to town when the mountains were still capped with snow and the night-time temperature dropped below freezing.
The first thing he’d known about the funfair was when he’d looked out of the window of the school bus that morning and seen rows of trailers parked in the water meadows and men assembling rides. He’d turned excitedly to his brother Karl and nudged him.
Karl, who’d been listening to his iPod with his eyes closed, bristled at being disturbed, and had been about to tear Josh a new one when he saw what he was pointing at.
‘Sweet as!’ he’d grinned, pulling out his earpieces and letting the music carry on playing tinnily in his hands. ‘We’ve got to go to that!’
Josh had pressed his hand flat against the glass and pulled a face. ‘Mum won’t let us go. You know what she thinks about funfairs.’
Karl pushed out his bottom lip with his tongue and put on a spastic voice: ‘Well, maybe Mum doesn’t have to know.’
Near the fence-line by the side of the road, a large wooden frame, like a soccer goalmouth, had been erected. A man was perched on a ladder nailing a white canvas banner to the crossbar. As the school-bus drew level Joshua read: ‘The World Famous Carneval – ’, the rest of the banner was illegible, as it was flapping wildly in the wind.
Karl snorted. ‘The dickheads have spelt “carnival” wrong. It should be an “i” not an “e”.’
‘Maybe it’s in another language,’ Josh said, feeling compelled to defend the funfair he’d discovered. “They might be from Europe or somewhere.”
Karl sat back and began untangling the looping earpieces. ‘Yeah, you could be right. I think we had “carne” in Spanish the other week.’ He screwed the buds back into his ears and when he spoke again his voice was strangely imprecise like a deaf person’s. ‘Can’t remember what it means though.’ He closed his eyes and was lost in his music once more.
Josh twisted round in his seat so he could keep watching the man on the ladder. He certainly looked foreign: his skin was dark and his beaked nose, prominent cheekbones and deep-set eyes, reminded Josh of the American Indians he’d seen in cowboy movies. The man was in shirtsleeves in spite of the cold and, Josh noticed with an involuntary grimace, had a prosthetic left forearm. Instead of a hand he had two right-angled metal prongs, which he used to hold each nail as he hammered it home.
Josh was about to tell Karl who loved anything gross like that, but he was rocking out to his music and he thought better of it. Josh turned to take a last look at the funfair as it receded into the distance and gave a sudden start; the one-armed man had stopped hammering and seemed to be staring at him, two nails protruding from his mouth like fangs.
Karl told Josh his plan at lunch-time that day. He’d tell their mum he had extra footy training and that Josh had volunteered to run the line. While Josh kept her busy, Karl would go into mum’s handbag and take $50 (he’d nicked some tens but he’d never dared this much before). They’d have to take their sports kit with them, but they could leave it behind the school cricket pavilion on their way down to the water meadows and pick it up on their way back home. Footy training didn’t usually finish till eight so that would give them almost three hours at the funfair. As long as their mum didn’t miss the fifty bucks, they’d never get found out.
Josh hadn’t really believed Karl when he’d talked about going to the funfair together on the bus that morning. He’d assumed that Karl would just cut off with his mates and leave Josh at home watching TV with Mum as usual. Since Karl had turned thirteen, he’d wanted less and less to do with his kid brother, and recently the three year age gap seemed to have widened into a yawning chasm. Karl had changed so much over the last year that Josh hardly even recognized him anymore. He’d shot up as if he’d drunk the magic potion in Alice in Wonderland, and was almost as tall as mum now; when he spoke it wasn’t in the reedy falsetto Josh knew so well, but in an alien, croaky bass that occasionally fluted to a higher octave. Karl’s skin had lost it peachy smoothness and become coarse and greasy, regularly breaking out in blackheads and zits. If this wasn’t strange enough, a moustache of wispy fuzz had suddenly appeared on his top lip; for his thirteenth birthday Mum had got him – not a new footy jersey or footy boots – but a shaving kit, and every morning Josh would watch as Karl shaved himself with the anxious concentration of a doctor performing micro-surgery. The most shocking change of all, however, was to Karl’s dick. His bald pubis had grown a bush of wiry black hair, and his minuscule weiner had turned into a carroty club. When Josh caught sight of Karl’s new dick he always felt slightly embarrassed for his big brother, as though his mates had played some cruel practical joke on him.
Mum patiently explained to Josh that the strange metamorphosis Karl was going through was called ‘puberty’ and that it was the process which turned a boy into a man. Josh was excited by this prospect and anxious to go through it himself as quickly as possible. He knew it was puberty that had come between him and Karl and he was confident that, once he’d been through it, he and his big brother would be best mates again. But no matter how hard Josh prayed for it, puberty just wouldn’t come. He stayed a measly four foot six-and-a-half with a voice like Mickey Mouse. His skin remained as soft and beardless as a cherub’s, and, even though he inspected himself every day, he wasn’t able to find a single pube and his winkle stubbornly refused to turn into a root vegetable.
The changes Karl underwent, however, weren’t just physical, they were psychological too. Having shown little interest in girls up to then, he’d suddenly become obsessed by them. To Joshua, girls were still a sort of sad biological anomaly; they’d had the potential to become boys, but somehow something had gone wrong in the chemical process and they’d only been able to become girls, and so, like footy teams that didn’t have any chance of winning the premiership, they were of no interest to Josh. They didn’t want to join in the frenzied footy games or superhero face-offs the boys played at recess, all they wanted to do was skip or sit around in groups together and talk. In fact, Josh struggled to see the point of girls at all. And Karl used to think the same way up until recently. Now he seemed to spend every evening on the phone to his mates Ben and Allan talking about girls, and the names of two girls in particular – Cassy Mortlake and Janice Sinclair – were seldom off his lips. He went ballistic if he caught Josh eavesdropping and told him to buzz off, or worse if Mum wasn’t around. And although Joshua couldn’t have explained exactly why, he was sure girls were the reason Karl was always bad-tempered these days, and shut himself away in his room listening to music, or spent hours locked in the bathroom doing God knows what.
Karl hardly ever wanted to play footy or cricket in the back garden with Josh anymore, and if he did, it wasn’t very long before a dissatisfied look came over his face and he kicked the ball away or tossed the bat down and went back inside. He seemed to find everything Joshua liked ‘babyish’ these days; superheroes were for babies, Transformers were for babies, WWF was for babies, Warhammer was for babies. Everything Josh cherished and that Karl used to cherish too, was suddenly ‘babyish’ or ‘for babies’. When their paths crossed at school, especially if Karl was with Ben and Allan, he’d walk straight past Josh like he didn’t know him.
So Josh could scarcely believe that he was going to a funfair with Karl. A funfair! And while Karl outlined his plan, Josh had to fight to contain his excitement. He uh-huhed and nodded coolly as if it was no big deal to him, when, what he really wanted to do, was shriek like a bird and do the funny robot dance all the kids in his class were doing. He managed to resist the temptation, however, as he knew it was just the sort of ‘babyish’ behaviour that would make Karl change his mind. He determined to act as grown up as he possibly could at the funfair that night so Karl would see that, although he was only ten years old, there was nothing babyish about him at all. He was still in the grip of this resolve as the bell went for the end of lunch, and when Mark Wade ran up to him wanting to do the funny handshake they’d worked out together, Joshua steadfastly ignored him.
Their plan worked like clockwork. Mum swallowed the story about footy training and Josh kept her busy while Karl filched $50 from her purse. In his bedroom, Josh packed his footy stuff and changed his Spiderman jumper for one of Karl’s hand-me-downs, which made him look more grown up. At his bedroom door he hesitated and went back for his pocket torch. It would be pitch dark on the way home and Karl was bound to take the short cut through Cundy park. Josh was scared of the dark (or, more accurately, he was scared of the ghosts and vampires which came out in the dark), and he still slept with his bedside light on, although this was a secret he and his mum kept closely guarded from Karl. The torch needed a new battery, but the old one wasn’t completely dead yet, and it had given off a feeble light the last time he’d tried it. Anyway, he thought, it would be better than nothing, and put it in his anorak pocket.
The brothers slipped out while Mum was on the phone and got down to the water meadows just before six. They passed into the funfair under the gate they’d seen the one-armed man working on that morning, and paused to read the banner he’d been nailing up. It read:
‘THE WORLD FAMOUS CARNEVAL LATINO FROM SOUTH AMERICA.’
‘See?’ Josh said. ‘They’re from South America. It must be the Spanish spelling for “carnival.”’
‘Still weird though,’ Karl shrugged. ‘I mean everything else is spelt right’.
It was a good job Josh had resolved to act as grown up as he could that night because he found this new funfair horribly intimidating at first. It was nothing like George Chadwick’s Fun-O-Rama which came to Jemimaville every summer. The Fun-O-Rama was always full of families and young children, but the ‘Carneval Latino’ seemed mainly to have attracted gangs of older teenagers. Everywhere Josh looked they were whooping and braying, showing off and brawling. Instead of the cheery sing-a-long music he was used to, aggressive techno pounded from the sound system so loudly that Josh could actually feel the thump-thump of the bass guitar in his chest. The surging, heaving crowd put Josh on edge and he was constantly tensed for a violent surprise – a stiletto spiking into his foot, an elbow striking the back of his head; when a firecracker went off nearby he’d almost leapt out of his skin, but luckily for him so too had Karl.
The carnies, however, unnerved Josh even more than the crowds. They had the same exotic features and sunburned skin as the one-armed man and their obsidian eyes seemed to seek Josh out like his had done. But what disconcerted Josh about them most were the injuries. The tattooed youth moving with uncanny speed around the Euphoria Wurlitzer had lost his right arm and a nub of pink flesh protruded from his T-shirt like a roll of liver sausage; the man in charge of the Hoop-La stall had a purple zipper of scar tissue running down his right cheek where a large flap of skin had been sewn back into place, and the young girl in a wheelchair, selling tickets for the Ferris Wheel, had had both her legs amputated below the knee. Josh tried not to look, but he found it hard not to, and the sight of these grisly disfigurements only added to his anxiety.
The first rides Karl took him on had almost been too much for Josh. Everything about them terrified him: the flashing lights and blaring sirens, the violent bucking and spinning, the older kids who screamed like lunatics and smelt of beer and stood up in their seats even when the attendants told them to sit down. To his horror, he’d found himself choking back tears and thinking about his mum in a way that even he would have called babyish. But, thankfully, he’d managed to hide his misery from Karl; as the rides had jolted and tipped him, he’d held on tight and stared at his trainers, and when Karl had leaned towards him on the Big Dipper and yelled, ‘How cool is this?’ Josh had given him an enthusiastic thumbs up. He couldn’t let Karl see how frightened he really was or it would be baby, baby, baby forever.
But after the first few rides things started to get better. Josh’s uneasiness gradually subsided, and he began to enjoy himself. He survived The Plummeteer, hailed as the scariest ride at the fair, with only the tiniest squirt of piss into his pants when his pod plunged to the ground at nauseating speed. He’d done well on the dodgems too, laughing off a nasty side impact from some Goths, and even managing to hit Karl with enough force to jolt him forwards in his seat. In between the rides they’d hit the food stands and gorged themselves with a greed that was truly ecumenical: hot dogs, popcorn, cheese burgers and chocolate waffles, all washed down with so much coke that their swollen bellies sloshed as they walked. It was a miracle Josh hadn’t thrown up on the rides, although he had come perilously close on the swing boat. He’d felt an eggy biliousness rising in the back of his throat, but one enormous belch had somehow managed to divert catastrophe. It had also made Karl and everyone else around them burst out laughing and Josh had glowed with pride for a good long time after that.
Now as he walked through the fairground at his brother’s side, Josh felt more than a little pleased with himself. He’d quelled his initial fears, and had managed to bridge the three year age gap between him and Karl. He wasn’t ten anymore, he was thirteen too, and when Karl punched him on the arm, even though it hurt like hell, he welcomed the pain because that was what Karl did with his mates when they were fooling around together. Josh exulted in his triumph. This was sweet as! Everything in the world was sweet as, and it was only when he caught sight of the one-armed man in the crowd and felt his lustreless eyes gimleting into his own, that he turned back into the ten-year-old boy who was frightened of the dark. But that was only for the briefest second as the one-armed man’s face was quickly swallowed up again by the crowd.
By half-past seven they’d been on all the rides they wanted to go on, and their crisp fifty dollar bill had turned into a pocketful of loose change in Karl’s jeans. The sky was a bruised indigo, alive with swirling skeins of inky black cloud, and a full moon peered through the rollercoaster’s iron latticework like a giant yellow eyeball. A petulant wind had got up, sending discarded fast-food cartons cart-wheeling through the grass. Josh and Karl both had stomach aches, and when they passed a burger stand, the sweaty stink of the meat patties frizzling on the griddles made them grimace. Karl said if he ate so much as one more French fry he’d puke his ring up.
Near the St. Valentine’s Day Massacre shooting gallery they bumped into Ben and Allan with Cassy Mortlake and Janice Sinclair. Josh felt Karl tense up, and knew he was mortified to be discovered at the funfair with his ten-year-old brother.
While Karl chatted awkwardly with the foursome, Josh stood with his arms folded in sullen silence. He knew full well that Cassy or Janice, or some other stupid girl just like them, would eventually take Karl away from him, and he hated them for it. He hated their overly made-up faces and the loud smacking noises they made as they chewed their gum; he hated the disco glitter they’d put on their cheeks, the dumb badges on their denim jackets (So bite me!), their ear-piercing squeals of laugher that cut right through him. And puberty, Josh thought, had made them even more hideous. Under all that make-up their skin was lumpy with acne, and they’d both grown big fat boobies which jiggled in their T-shirts when they laughed. What could Karl possibly like about them? Why would he want to have anything to do with grotesque creatures like Cassy and Janice? Mark Wade said it was all to do with boobies, that boobies were like kryptonite to boys and made them so weak they had to do what girls told them to do – but Mark Wade was always making things up and there was no way Josh was falling for that one.
When Josh tuned into their conversation again, Karl had overcome his initial nervousness. He was talking easily to the girls now, cracking jokes and making them laugh, and Josh was suddenly frightened that he’d go off with them and leave him to walk back home in the dark. But he needn’t have worried. After a few minutes, Ben and Allen ushered the girls away, too unsure of their dates to want Karl around for long.
Josh could tell the meeting had upset his brother. He was sulky and preoccupied, and a couple of times he looked back over his shoulder, as if trying to catch a glimpse of the girls again. He’d lost all interest in the funfair and Josh could see that look coming over his face again, that look he had just before he threw the cricket bat down and went back inside the house.
Karl looked at his watch. “Come on, let’s go. I’m over this now.”
Josh was horrified. They still had another half an hour before they had to think about heading home. He couldn’t bear to think of the night ending so soon, not when he was having so much fun, not when he had Karl all to himself like this. Desperately he looked around for something that might rekindle his brother’s enthusiasm in the funfair. He caught sight of the crenellated cardboard facade of the ghost train, and blurted, “What about the ghost train? We haven’t been on that yet.”
Karl snorted like he was hawking up phlegm.
‘The ghost train? You’ve got to be kidding! Ghost trains are for babies!’
Josh took the remark personally, as he was meant to, and felt his cheeks burn. Just when he’d been doing so well he’d gone and forgotten himself and said something only a stupid, dumb, babyish kid brother would say. He knew there was nothing he could do now to prolong the magical evening, nothing he could say that would stop Karl making his way through the crowd to the exit. And that’s when he saw it. On the other side of the meadow, tucked between the coconut shy and the Hall of Mirrors. The freak show.
He was amazed he hadn’t noticed the marquee before considering the number of times they’d criss-crossed the fairground that night. It was decorated in garish red-and-white stripes, and on a sign above the entrance the word ‘FREAKS’ had been painted in the Victorian lettering synonymous with funfairs the whole world over. On either side of the tent’s flaccid mouth there were cheesy paintings on wooden panels. The left-hand panel depicted the usual freak show staples: a bearded lady, a pair of Siamese twins, a midget riding a dog like a horse; but the paintings grew more fantastical on the right-hand panel in a cynical attempt to lure the gullible inside. Here the artist had painted a squid-like sea creature with a woman’s face, a man in a tuxedo with the enormous shaggy head of a lion, a girl with a nest of writhing snakes for hair. Chalked on a blackboard propped against the side of the ticket booth was written: ‘Step inside, if you dare, and behold the greatest freaks the world has ever seen!’
Josh felt his spirits start to soar again. If there was one thing guaranteed to snap Karl out of the mood he was in, then this was it. Karl loved freaks, the grosser the better. Just the other day he’d come home from school with a book on freaks that Ben had lent him, but before he’d been able to show Josh any of the pictures, Mum had confiscated it.
Josh had to yank hard at Karl’s arm to get his attention, but as soon as he saw the freak show his eyes lit up just as Josh had hoped they would.
“Sweet as!” he crooned. “I’ve gotta see this!”
Josh was so happy he forgot his determination to act grown up, and, putting out his arms, he turned into a jet fighter and screamed away across the grass at supersonic speed. He stopped dead in his tracks when he saw the one-armed man smiling at him from the shadowy confines of the freak show ticket booth.
While Karl counted out the exact change, Josh skulked behind him, stealing surreptitious glances at the one-armed man. There was something about him that made his flesh creep the way it did if he caught sight of a snake wriggling through the long grass in the back paddock. It wasn’t just the flesh-coloured prosthesis he banged on the counter as he dragged the coins into his right hand, it was the translucent skin of his face which showed every contour of the skull beneath, it was the anxious glances he kept throwing at the two boys, as if worried they might change their minds and run away. And there was something else. Something Josh hadn’t been close enough to pick up before. A rank, pungent smell like bloated road-kill.
‘So what happened to your arm, mate?’ Karl asked.
The man laughed, seemingly amused by Karl’s bluntness. When he replied it was in a heavy Hispanic accent that distorted the familiar words, tortured them into grotesque new shapes.
‘Some peerson thod eed wud be a gud idea to turn the chair’planes on while I wos steel inside servicin’ de motor….’
Josh saw the machinery suddenly roar into life and tug the man’s arm into its metal interstices. He saw the greasy cogs begin to turn, and their metal teeth start to work their way up his forearm like the lips of a lover, but instead of bestowing kisses, they chewed the soft flesh into a bloody pulp.
‘Fairgroun’ ees dang’rous work,’ the man said, holding the tickets out to Karl in his metal prongs.
Karl turned to go, then stopped as if he’d suddenly remembered something. ‘You’ve spelt “carnival” wrong on your sign. Or is “carne” a Spanish word ?’
The one-armed man grinned, his top lip peeling back like an ape’s to reveal a row of discoloured teeth. ‘Very gud,’ he said. ‘You’re very observan’! Yes, ees Spaneesh.’
‘So what does “carne” mean?’
‘You weell see. Inside,’ he said, and he indicated the marquee with a theatrical flourish of his good hand.
‘Injoy de show!’ he called after them, and Josh could feel the beady snake eyes boring into his back as he walked away.
Josh couldn’t have said exactly what he was expecting when he ducked inside the marquee, but it certainly wasn’t what he found. The tent was filled with life-sized waxwork figures of famous ‘freaks’, some displayed within glass cabinets, some arranged in little tableaux like scenes from a stage play. The waxworks were very old, with the glassy stares of shop dummies and nothing like the lifelike modern waxworks Josh had seen on TV. They’d clearly seen better days: their clothing looked moth-eaten, the velveteen shiny with age, the lace trimmings spotted with mildew; some had had a front tooth blacked out by a wag, others had lost their hairpieces and showed their bald wax domes; the props they used to hold – the tea cups, parasols and walking sticks – had been lost or stolen long ago.
The waxworks bitterly disappointed Karl who’d been hoping to see real freaks, and he stomped up and down, railing at the ‘cheaters’ in the most colourful language he could think of. But Joshua found the display strangely compelling, in spite of the sad state of the mannequins, and as he wandered around the exhibits, he soon stopped fretting about the one-armed man.
Here, beneath a dusty bell jar, like a stuffed exotic bird, was Zara Wentworth of East Dixfield, Maine (b.1832 – d.1864), a serious-looking woman in a high-necked gown, who’d never grown more than twenty-six-and-a-half inches high. Here was Franz Coppel, ‘The Dog-Faced Man of Leipzig’, sitting at his dressing-table in a red plush smoking-jacket, combing the hair that covered every inch of his face save his besieged brown eyes (it took Josh a couple of goes before he was able to sound out the disease he’d suffered from – ly-can-thro-py). The waxwork figure of Robert Wadlow, minus his metal-framed spectacles, rose an incredible eight feet eleven inches from the ground so that his head almost touched the tent’s roof, and Josh, who barely came up to his pelvis, had to crane his neck to see the giant’s gentle, long-jawed face. Next to him, Sarah McDermott of Meath, Ireland, pulled up her frilly hem to reveal a right foot that had swollen to gargantuan proportions, a potatoey lump the size of Josh’s sports bag from which her toes protruded like the teats on a cow’s udder.
It was the waxwork of John Merrick, the ‘Elephant Man’, however, which made the most powerful impact on Josh. He stared in disbelief at the monstrously deformed head, the knobbly outcrops of bone disfiguring the left side of his face like clumps of dead coral. He winced at the huge sacs of soft tissue, lobulated like cauliflowers, sprouting from his back, buttocks and thighs, at the left foot so grotesquely deformed and cloggy with excrescences that only the tips of the toes could touch the ground. But what appalled Josh most was the giant, oversized right arm hanging by his side like some enormous fin or paddle. Josh leaned close (but not so close that the misshapen hand could suddenly seize him by the throat), and stared at it. It was four times, five times the size of Merrick’s normal left arm.
Josh hadn’t realized until that moment that human beings had the potential to metamorphose into monsters. He’d seen what puberty had done to Karl, how it had stretched him, coarsened his skin, furred his top lip, but this was of a different order of magnitude altogether. He hadn’t understood until then the extremes the body could arrive at when it decided to rebel. He’d had no idea that bones could just keep growing until a man was nine feet tall, that hands and arms could inflate to gigantic proportions, that skin could sprout bulbous sacs like mushrooms on a dead log. Here was suddenly a whole new definition of horror, not vampires and ghosts, but ordinary people whose bodies had revolted against them, and turned them into prodigies more terrifying than anything Hollywood’s special effects departments could invent. And what made it even more spine-chilling was that this potential lurked inside everyone. Everyone made of flesh and blood was at the mercy of their own body, which, like a treacherous fifth column, was waiting for the right moment to mount its awful insurrection. Who knew what deformities, what humiliations their own body had in store for them, what monsters it planned to turn them into? And what was to stop it happening to him, Josh wondered? He was only ten years old after all, he was still developing. What if the bones in his arms and legs just went on growing and growing, doubling, triplicating in length like Robert Wadlow’s? What if they began to thicken and form knurled clusters, craggy accretions like the Elephant Man’s? What if his body grew a pelt of thick hair like Franz Coppel? What if one of his legs or one of his feet swelled to such immense proportions he couldn’t walk, he couldn’t leave the house, he couldn’t go to school…..? The potential for human monstrosity suddenly seemed endless to Josh, endless… and unspeakably, unimaginably, appalling.
Josh jumped when Karl touched his arm. ‘Hey, there’s another room through there. It’s still only waxworks but they’re better than these ones. It’s just the baby stuff in here.’
Josh didn’t want to see any more freaks. He’d seen enough already and he felt a rising dread at the thought of what awaited him. What Karl thought was better could only be worse. Much worse. But he was stung by that word ‘baby’ again, and in spite of his misgivings, he reluctantly followed Karl.
The second room was noticeably darker than the first. It was illuminated by a row of naked bulbs that cast a sickly light over the waxworks but left the rest of the room in sombre shadow. To Josh’s surprise (it was still winter after all), several large flies droned around him, futilely repeating their aerial circuits.
While Karl ran up and down the aisles exclaiming ‘gross!’ or making wisecracks, Josh walked through the exhibits with feet of lead. He had to force himself to look at Xiou Lan, ‘The Devil Woman’, a ninety-five year old grandmother from Beijing with a horn, nineteen centimetres long, growing out of a pink mouth in the middle of her forehead (‘…the horn began growing when Xiou Lan was seventy and grew progressively bigger until it took over her entire face…’). And it was only with the greatest effort of will that he made himself stand before the waxwork of Larry Carlyle, ‘The Lobster Boy’, and take in the two enormous pig-pink ‘claws’ he held crossed over his chest like a pair of surreal duelling pistols. When Karl joined him, Josh had to pretend to laugh at Esther Dolebridge’s withered supernumary legs dangling from the froth of her underskirts. He had to copy Karl and do his best to imitate Dino Valentis of Miami, Florida, who was stretching the skin of his face out to half a metre with one hand and writing the alphabet on it with the other.
Before moving on to the next exhibit Josh stopped and pretended to read the card: ‘Mr Valentis suffered from a disease known as Ehleus-Danlos syndrome which made his skin…’ but the truth was he just needed to be still for a moment. The world around him was starting to bend out of shape. He wasn’t prepared for this assault on his senses. He felt as if he was losing his coordinates, that the maps which he carried had turned out to be maps for a different country to the one in which he found himself. At the waxwork of the little girl, Amber Wilkins of Perth, Australia, who had a second head, dark-browed and demented-looking, growing out of her left shoulder, Josh felt the ground suddenly tilt beneath his feet and he broke out in a cold sweat. When he felt it was okay to move again, he found himself looking straight at Edwin Turner of Lavenham, Suffolk, ‘The Cyclops’, whose nose split in two at the bridge to reveal a shrivelled fish’s eye in the centre of his face.
As Josh penetrated deeper, the monstrosities grew more and more shocking. ‘The Human Shark’s’ unspeakable facial deformity. The 300 pound tumour that grew out of Gabriel de la Concha’s back like a bloated external lung. ‘The Indonesian Tree Man’s’ rampant papillae infection which covered his body in a jungle of horn-hard growths so thick it was no longer possible to discern the shape of a human being underneath it all. Joshua knew if he saw much more of this, if the ground pitched again, he’d be sick; he’d bring up the hot dogs and the burger and the popcorn and the coke, right there in the freak show tent. He wanted to go home now. He didn’t want to be at the funfair anymore. He knew he was seeing things he shouldn’t be seeing, things he might never be able to get out of his mind, things he sensed could damage him for the rest of his life. Men and monsters used to be separate, but now everything was all confused, now men were monsters and monsters were men. He needed time to assimilate all this. The world had changed suddenly, a whole new dimension had been revealed, a shocking and hideous one, and he needed time to come to terms with it all.
That’s when he heard Karl calling his name from the deep shadows at the far end of the room. He was standing in front of what looked like a curtained doorway, urgently waving Josh over.
‘There’s another room through here!’ he hissed. ‘And they’ve got a real freak on display!’
(To Be Continued…)