Monthly Archives: March 2014

The Zoo Man, Pt. 9

Hannah’s stomach clenched as she stepped up and into the carriage. All of a sudden her stomach felt like it was doing flips inside her, like when she was eight and she’d started climbing up the tallest tree in town on a dare. She hadn’t made it more than maybe fifteen or twenty feet up when she’d looked down at her friends on the ground, and they seemed impossibly small, and she’d gotten too scared to keep going. Bucky Smith had gone to get his older brother, who was sixteen, and he’d climbed up and she’d clung to his back and he’d brought her down. But where was Bucky now? Who was going to save her now if she realized too late she’d made a mistake?

The inside of the carriage was surprisingly well lit. Not as bright as the outside, but brighter than she would have thought. Like a room full of candles, but without the flickering of the light. It was a big space, big enough for Hannah and David to stand up straight. Even Clarence was standing up tall and proud, the same smile as ever on his face.

Up ahead was man seated at a table with his back to the three of them, and Hannah’s mind was telling her, “No, that’s not right. There’s no way a table would fit in here. How could it even be that far away,” even as David waddled forward to greet who she assumed was Franklin.

“David, wait!” Hannah cried out, but of course he didn’t listen. Clarence put a hand on Hannah’s shoulder, his firm grip keeping her from chasing after David, and stepped around in front of him.

“It’s alright, Hannah. It’s all okay. But please don’t shout. Franklin’s condition has left him rather sensitive to loud noises.”

David had reached the man by that point, circled around in front of him, and his eyes went wide as he gasped. Hannah shook off Clarence’s grip, and rushed forward to her brother, scooping his heavy form up in her arms as she reached him. Only then did she turn to acknowledge Franklin. Only then did she scream.


The Zoo Man, Pt. 8

The inside of the carriage was a dark room that seemed to stretch on forever. There was a part of Hannah’s brain that knew what she was seeing made no sense, but she didn’t know how to articulate the sensation of unease she was feeling. Part of her recognized that the carriage couldn’t possibly be so big that the insides were shadowy, that there shouldn’t have been echoes coming from inside the thing, that she shouldn’t have felt a faint breeze blowing out from that open door, but she had no name for these things.

She looked down at David. His chubby face was twisted up in consideration, like he’d notice what she had and was even less able to parse it all together.

Clarence stepped onto the carriage’s frame, one hand holding onto the roof, one foot hanging in mid-air. He stuck his head into the darkness and called out, “Franklin! It’s Clarence. I’m bringing company. A girl and her little brother. It’s not showtime; I’m just giving them a quick tour.”

He’s talking like he’s shouting at somebody across a field, not somebody five feet away.

Clarence turned and held a hand out to the two children. “That should be enough notice. Franklin’s a performer by heart, but a bit private when it comes to his personal life. We wouldn’t want to walk in on him with his drawers down, would we?” Clarence barked a single, loud laugh. David laughed with him, then he took the Zoo Man’s hand and let himself be carried up and into the carriage. Hannah looked around nervously, wishing for one of Mama or Papa’s friends to notice her, to make eye contact with her, but no one paid any mind to two children at the caravan show.

David had disappeared into that darkness, and she couldn’t go home without home. She swallowed and took the Zoo Man’s hand, too.

The Zoo Man, Pt. 7

Hannah looked nervously from her little brother, his face lit up with a grin like it was Christmas morning, to Clarence’s, still smiling that inscrutable smile. She could just imagine the consequences of saying no. The disappointed look on Clarence’s face. The petulant anger on David’s.

If I say no, Mama’s definitely going to find out we snuck off. He’ll scream and cry the whole way back. And if he doesn’t, he’ll just walk right up to her and say, “Hannah and I went to go see the Zoo Man when she was supposed to be watching me.”

She smiled weakly. “Okay. But just a quick peek.”

“Wonderful!” Clarence turned and began walking at a brisk pace towards the center of the showgrounds. “Now, if you were to return tomorrow you’d find a grand tent set up, and we’d have a man at the entrance charging a nickel for entry.”

“A nickel?” David cried out.

“Yes, little one, a nickel. I think that’s fair, don’t you? The show is here to enrich the mind and spirit, but at the same time, we must eat.” Clarence paused in mid-step for a moment, then spun on his heels to face Hannah and David. He pointed a finger down at David, and poked him gently in the nose. “Plus, little one, you must consider this. You would spend a nickel on candy, would you not? But it is such a quick thing to eat a bag of candy. A minute or two, and it is gone, save perhaps for the calories if one doesn’t properly exercise. But the experiences you could have in that tent would last a lifetime. You can leave and they would stay with you forever, as fresh and as sharp as if you’d just experienced them.”

Hannah smiled and laughed softly. “You’ve got a real gift of gab, don’t you, Mist– Clarence?”

“I suppose I do,” he said, rubbing gently at his chin and look up and away somewhere, as if Hannah were a philosopher whose words merited careful consideration. “But that doesn’t make my words any less true.”

He turned, and the children followed him. He led them to a carriage with curtains covering the windows from the inside, and he said over his shoulders, “I’d like to introduce you to the one of the stars of the zoo.”

Hannah blinked. “You keep your jars and stuff in there?”

“’Jars and stuff,’ Miss Haller?”

Hannah looked down at the ground for a moment then back up. “You’re not the first show to pass through Barrow Springs, you know. We’ve seen folks come through with baby pigs floating in jars trying to pass them off as aliens and monsters.”

Clarence smiled at her again. It was the kind of smile her father used to give her all the time when she was David’s age, a smile that said she was adorable and mistaken about something and he was about to correct. “Those folks were charlatans, Miss Haller. I am not. I have a Harvard education. I have been a doctor, a surgeon. A master of sciences both natural and unnatural. We have preserved specimens in the zoo’s cabinet of curiosities, of course, but I don’t see the need to lie about their nature.”

“What are natural sciences?” David asked.

“Oh, you know. That which deals with the stars, the Earth, the creatures and substances found thereon, and the laws that govern them. Astronomy, geology, biology, chemistry, and physics.”

“’Sciences unnatural?’ What are the unnatural sciences?”

Clarence said nothing. He just looked down at Hannah and smiled, and then he opened the carriage door.

The Zoo Man, Pt. 6

Clarence’s shoulders sagged and he sighed. Even in defeat, he was a showman. “It’s true,” he said softly. “I don’t have lions and tigers and elephants, as one might expect from a zoo.”

His head snapped upright and he stared into Hannah’s eyes. She was transfixed by the depths of his gaze, the burning intensity that she saw there. For the first time since they’d started talking, he seemed like a real doctor, like the kind of person who possessed knowledge and a skillset that put them above other folks. “But that doesn’t mean, Miss Haller, that I don’t have specimens and exhibits fit to shock the mind and titillate the senses.”

“I just prefer the term ‘zoo,’ you see. It feels… Cruel, or perhaps hateful to call it a ‘freak show.’”

“You got freaks, Mister?” David asked, his voice eager, demanding not so much confirmation as further exposition. He pushed his way past Hannah, a sticky hand leaving a smear of sugar on her dress as he did so.

Clarence bent at the waist, bring himself down to the level of the boy’s eyes. “I don’t have freaks. Rather, I have a business and in my employ are certain men, women, and animals that were either born with unique and interesting physiological conditions, or else acquired them later in life.”

David blinked helplessly. His face twisted up in confusion. Clarence rolled his eyes and sighed. “Yes, child. I have freaks.”

“Can we see them?”

A wave of panic passed over Hannah. They’d surely been gone longer than she intended by now, and she didn’t know how much longer they’d have until Mama noticed them missing. And she didn’t know that she really wanted to see the zoo if the zoo were full of freaks, anyway.

“Well, the show isn’t ready to go on quite yet,” Clarence said slowly. He rubbed at his chin thoughtfully before a wry smile slowly crept across his face. “But I suppose a quick peek wouldn’t hurt.”

The Zoo Man, Pt. 5

 “I’ll call you Clarence,” Hannah said. “It’s a good name.”

“My parents certainly thought so, Miss Haller.”

“You can call me Hannah, Mist… Clarence.”

The man smiled and shook his head. “It would be improper, Miss. You’re a customer, and I’m providing a service. I am your humble servant, Miss Haller. At least while you’re here amongst the Miraculous Caravan Show.” The man took another deep bow and Hannah giggled.

“But I haven’t even paid for anything yet.”

“Then perhaps you’d like to see the zoo?”

Hannah perked up at that for a moment, eager to have her curiosity sated, but she quickly remembered both the lack of animals amongst the wagons and the lack of money on her person. “I don’t have any money on me, Clarence. And I haven’t seen any big cages or heard any animal noises or anything like that.”

“It doesn’t smell, either,” David said from behind Hannah. She and Clarence both turned to stare at him as he lazily, sloppily chewed on a piece of taffy. “Our barn’s full of animals, and it smells real bad. It doesn’t smell real bad here, so there must not be animals.”

“What bright, intelligent young children you are,” Clarence said. He’d been talking about both of them, Hannah noticed, but his eyes had been locked on her little brother. He was smiling, as he had been since he’d introduced himself, but there was something in his eyes that wasn’t happy, exactly. It was thoughtful, like when Mama was trying to decide what to make for supper, or when Papa was looking at the hogs and deciding how much fatter they’d get before the time came to slaughter them.

The Zoo Man, Pt. 4

A bearded lady stood smoking cigarettes and laughing and talking to a group of men. Two Chinamen no taller than Hannah herself stretched in preparation for some kind of acrobatics routine. There were a few children her own age and younger running about, each trying to gather up groups of people to come and see some amazing tonic or device or pill that would change the very way they lived their lives. There were a few animals about, dogs and cats that must have been pets, and a cage with an old, tired looking mountain lion in it, but no real lions. No lions, no tigers, no elephants, no nothing big and impressive that she had only heard about in stories or read in books.

Why’d everyone call him the Zoo Man if he didn’t even have a proper zoo?

“This is boring,” David said, his voice rising in a whine. “I want my candy!”

“You ain’t earned it yet. Now hush.”

“But I want it!”

“You keep hollering, and we’re going to go back to the house and you won’t get anything.”

The chubby little boy stamped one foot on the ground. “I want some! Buy me some now!”

Hannah ground her teeth. This had been a bad idea, if for no other reason than she couldn’t trust David not to squeal or scream or cry or cause a fuss. All she needed was one of Mama’s friends to hear him and see the two of them there and then bring it up to Mama later. “There ain’t no candy here,” she said through clenched teeth. “I will buy you some the next time I’m in town. Now hush.”

“Miss,” a deep voice from behind her rumbled. “I’m afraid that’s simply not true.”

Hannah turned and found herself staring into the gut of a tall man, impossibly tall, taller even then her Pa. He looked at least as tall as their house, like he’d hit his head if he were standing on their porch and stood up straight. He was dressed in East Coast finery, and he had a waxed mustache and a pocket watch with a chain poking out of his vest, a fine felt hat and a monocle. He looked important and famous and kind of like a character from the newspaper funnies all at once.

He looked like trouble.

“Oh, don’t mind us, Mister. We were just… We were going to–”

The man reached into his vest in a single quick motion. Hannah yelped, startled and not sure what to expect. David just stared up at the man with wide-eyed wonder. He pulled out a bulging waxed paper bag and held it out for Hannah and David to inspect.“Here you go, children. Peppermint sticks and taffy. That’s all I have on me at the moment, but if you come back tomorrow when we’ve set up proper, there’s all kind of treats and sweets to be had.”

David reached forward with both hands, grabbing in the back and drawing it back to his stomach. He opened it just enough so that only he could see into it, and he grinned. He didn’t even eat any, Hannah noticed. He just stood there staring and smiling, like a pirate with his treasure. He didn’t even say thank you. The man said nothing, though. He just stood there smiling gently behind his mustache. His eyes twinkled behind his monocle like he saw something that amused him, and after a moment he turned his attention to Hannah. He held out his hand, and she saw that he was wearing a soft velvet glove. “Doctor Clarence Holloway at your service,” he said.

She stared at his hand for a moment before shaking it. “My name’s Hannah. Hannah Haller. That’s my brother, David.”

The man shook her hand and gave deep bow, waving one arm out in a flourish. “What a pleasure to meet you, Miss Haller.” He stood up straight, his eyes locked on David greedily popping piece after piece of candy into his mouth, and he smiled. “And what a pleasure to meet you brother. What a charming young boy he is.”

Hannah looked over her shoulder at him and sniffed. “If you say so, Mister.”

“Doctor, please, Miss Haller. Call me Doctor. Or Clarence.” He grinned, his teeth bright and white behind his moustache. “Or the Zoo Man, if you like.”

The Zoo Man, Pt. 3

 Hannah watched from the window, waiting to see Mama go into the barn or turn her back on the house. We won’t be long, she thought. Just fifteen minutes, like I said. She won’t even notice us gone.

“You’re going to sneak off,” David said somewhere behind. “That’s bad. Mama wouldn’t like you leaving me behind.”

“I’m not leaving you behind. I’m taking you with me.”

“I’m going to tell Mama.”

“You keep your mouth shut and I’ll buy you penny candy.”

David gasped. She could just imagine his eyes going wide, his chubby little cheeks pulling back in a big dopey smile. “I won’t tell her nothing.”

“Good. Come on.”

They rushed out into the fields, Hannah carrying her little brother on her shoulders and cutting through the tall grass so Mama wouldn’t see them if she ventured out for a look. She could always go back into the house, of course, but she probably wouldn’t for a while. It was worth the risk.

Hannah stayed close to the road that cut through the fields, following its bends and curves until she felt that they were far enough away from the house, and then walking along the dusty path itself. She set down David and told him, “Come on. You can walk now.”

“I want you to carry me.”

“It’s too far to carry you. I’ll carry you when we get this close on the way back.”

“Carry me or I’ll tell Mama!”

“I’m already buying you penny candy, David Haller! Don’t you be greedy. Being greedy’s a sin.”

The little boy snorted at that, folding his arms across the chest and pouting, but he walked. He sulked the whole way, but he walked. Their ears guided them, the wagons as loud as any revival tent had ever been. The caravan had even set up in the space that had been cleared for such things, it seemed. Instead of religion, they provided a space where people could gaze in wonder and horror at the strangeness of the modern world.

%d bloggers like this: