Freaks: Alive, on the Inside!by Annette Curtis Klause
Abel Dandy feels all alone, a normal teenager who lives in Faeryland, where his parents perform with other "human oddities." His extended family includes dwarves, fat ladies, and Siamese twins, and his first kiss was with Phoebe the Dog-Faced Girl. Everyone has an act to perform, for in 1899 there are not many ways for these "freaks" to earn a living. But what can… See more details below
Abel Dandy feels all alone, a normal teenager who lives in Faeryland, where his parents perform with other "human oddities." His extended family includes dwarves, fat ladies, and Siamese twins, and his first kiss was with Phoebe the Dog-Faced Girl. Everyone has an act to perform, for in 1899 there are not many ways for these "freaks" to earn a living. But what can boring Abel do? Determined to seek adventure and find a girl without a beard to kiss, Abel runs away from home.
But Abel finds a harsh world outside of Faeryland. Nothing seems to go as planned and he is even more alone except for a beautiful dancing girl who haunts his dreams and seems connected to his ancient Egyptian scarab ring. After misadventure and mishap (complicated by a little problem he thought he'd left behind), Abel stumbles upon a shabby traveling freak show run by the sinister Dr. Mink. It holds secrets that break his heart. Abel's grand adventure takes a dark and dangerous twist, but the dazzling girl of his dreams beckons him onward as does his own true soul.
Annette Curtis Klause has woven humor, adventure, history, and fantasy into this exhilarating epic. Step inside and see the show if you dare. You will never be the same again!
Read an Excerpt
When a boy's first romantic interlude is with Phoebe the Dog-Faced Girl, he feels a need to get out into the world and find a new life. So I thought as I stood in the wings and watched Colonel Kingston introduce the next act. Not that I had anything against Phoebe. She was a sweet girl under all that fur. "Oh, Abel," she whispered prettily whenever I brushed her lips with mine, and perhaps she blushed who could tell? but I was seventeen and yearned to kiss a mouth sometimes without getting hair up my nose.
Out on the stage, Orlando the Magnificent, star illusionist of the Faeryland 1899 Review, requested a volunteer from the audience. A man of pleasant appearance in a long overcoat rose to his feet amid applause and laughter from the crowd. I smiled. He was my uncle Jack.
Orlando bowed his turbaned head to the volunteer as if he were a stranger and beckoned the man up the steps with both arms, which caused the flowing sleeves of his satin robes to shimmer in the stage lights.
I wish there were other girls my age in Faeryland, I thought as Uncle Jack lay down in a long, coffinlike box on a platform. Maybe then Phoebe wouldn't assume I was hers for the taking. There were older, unmarried ladies, of course, but none of them took my fancy enough to risk breaking my mother's heart. Although, I admit, when I was fourteen years old, Miss Makepeace, the Amazing Rubber Woman, came pretty darn close. Anyway, how could a boy take a few liberties in a home where everyone knew his business?
Uncle Jack disappeared from sight as Orlando's young "Ethiopian" assistant closed the lid. A head appeared through one end of the box and feet out the other, and Orlando reached into his starry case of tricks and pulled out a large saw. There were a few groans and titters from those who found the sawing-a-person-in-half trick a mite old hat, but I'd been looking forward to this.
The expected sawing began, accompanied by the usual banter. At one point the "victim" let out a cry, which was echoed by a few delicate and susceptible ladies in the audience, who then laughed along with their friends to cover their embarrassment. When the saw had completed its task, another dark-skinned boy ran onstage to help pull apart the box and show the halves separate toes wiggling from one, head wagging from the other. Polite applause filled the hall. I grinned, not put off at all by the lukewarm response.
As was predictable, the box halves were rejoined, the magician waved his arms and incanted a spell, the box was opened, and the man rose from the box whole once more. Again there was polite applause and knowing laughter.
The volunteer smiled, waved at the audience, and headed for the steps, accompanied by cheers and bravos, but halfway there he stopped and frowned. He tottered to the left. He tottered to the right. The audience hushed. He cried out, toppled over and split apart at the waist. His legs scurried off in one direction, and his body crawled off in the other, dragged by his arms.
Gasps and screams filled the air. People rose to their feet. An old man fled up the aisle toward the back doors. At least three ladies slumped, willy-nilly, sideways in their seats as friends and family fanned and patted them. I was still laughing as the torso reached me.
"That was great, Papa!" I said. "Really great!"
"Yes. Perfect," my father answered, and grinned. "But we'd better put them out of their misery quick."
He stripped off the doctored overcoat to reveal the evening clothes beneath, carefully tailored and pinned, for he had no legs whatsoever. He trotted back out onstage on his hands in time to meet his other half, a midget, now with the trouser waist rolled down to reveal his head. Someone pointed at them and nudged his neighbor. Then through the rear curtains emerged the original volunteer, my uncle Jack, whole and complete with legs, the spitting image of my father, for he was his twin.
Someone hooted as the joke dawned on him, another joined in, and soon the auditorium echoed with thunderous applause. I put my arms around the boy assistants, who stood to either side of me, and squeezed affectionately. "Magnificent, wasn't it, lads?" I said.
In the dressing room after the show Colonel Kingston clapped my father on the back and almost knocked him off the wooden stool where he perched, swaddled in his cut-down dressing gown. "Wonderful idea, Andrew! Absolutely wonderful."
"You should thank Florence," said my father. He nodded at my mother, who sat in a cozy chair crocheting with nimble toes.
"I would have played the bottom half myself," she said. "But alas, I am too tall. I'm afraid we shall have to stick to bicycling."
My parents had an act wherein they rode a bicycle together. He, with no legs, was able to steer; she, with no arms, could nevertheless pedal admirably, despite her long skirts and petticoat.
"How were receipts, Arthur?" asked my father as he massaged Macassar oil into his hair and smoothed his locks into glossy place.
Colonel Kingston shook his head and leaned on his cane with both hands. "Could be worse, my boy," he said, but his mouth was pinched and his white whiskers bristled. The crowds were smaller these days, and performers had begun to leave and join new shows. The better acts could make more money elsewhere. Colonel Kingston had hoped that the shows at Faeryland would finance him through his old age, but a stationary show needed continued variety to keep the audience coming back, and no new acts had joined us. Lately I had more than once interrupted a worried conversation between my parents.
Faeryland had formerly been a spa where the rich from Washington and Baltimore took the waters for their health. It had fallen into disfavor years ago, and Arthur Kingston, veteran of three circuses and one war, had bought the property for a song to create a resort that would offer the finest educational entertainments and display of oddities to be seen in one place since the great Barnum's second New York museum burned to ashes in 1868. I had lived in Faeryland most of my life.
The grounds of Faeryland consisted of a Colonial mansion called the Castle; the Elvin Gardens; and Pixie Village, where the midgets and dwarfs lived in miniature houses, alongside a tiny church and a fire station complete with a pint-size fire wagon pulled by Shetland ponies and manned by a troupe of "pixie" firefighters. When customers walked through Pixie Village at certain times of the day, a bonfire was almost certain to be out of control and in need of extinction for their delighted pleasure.
The rest of us, including three giants, lived in the Castle, where visitors attended matinee and evening performances in the great hall "an extravaganza of amazing oddities, mystifying the audience with their uncanny skills, death-defying deeds, and wondrous physiognomy."
After the audience had gone and the theater had closed for the night, I made my way up a back staircase to my family's apartments, but before I reached my front door, Phoebe's little brother scampered up to me, yelping my name.
"What is it, Apollo?" I asked. I tousled the twelve-year-old's silky blond hair. Like his sister and mother, Apollo the Puppy Boy had long hair everywhere. Like his father, he was prone to excitement.
"Violet and Rose are leaving," Apollo said between gasps.
My gut sank. The Giovanni Siamese twins were stars of the show. I hurried after Apollo down to the main entrance.
In the front hall a small group of performers and staff were whispering and glancing to where Colonel Kingston talked to the Giovanni twins' father. Apollo bounded over to where the pinheads had gathered with their nurse. All three wore long, colorful shifts, even though two of them were male. Apollo pretended to lift their hems up, which made the simple creatures giggle and grab their skirts around their knees.
Violet and Rose stood by a stack of trunks and boxes, back-to-back of necessity, dressed in their best traveling gown and matching black veiled hats with cherries. Long black gloves graced their hands. Next to Violet stood her dark-eyed gentleman, quiet as always. My mother swore he was sullen and after her money, at that but perhaps he was shy.
Every time Violet edged toward her beau, Rose tugged the other way. Joined irrevocably to a stronger soul, Violet had no choice but to follow. Both girls appeared ready to burst into one of their famous spats. I felt a little sorry for Rose, even if she tended to bully her sister. After all, Violet was the one who had found love, and it must be hard to ignore one's sister's beau when one was joined to her at the rump. I had heard some cruel speculation about what married life would mean to the maiden twin.
"That's my final word," proclaimed Signor Giovanni, his stormy temperament finally getting the better of him. "The offer is too good to pass up."
More than once my mother had shaken her head over Colonel Kingston's informal business practices. "A contract is better than a handshake," she had warned. Lately she had often been proved right.
"Where are they going?" I asked Jolly Dolly, the fat lady.
"Europe," Dolly said, and wiped the eternally present sweat from her brow.
"They are going on tour with Fortuna's Circus," said her younger sister, Baby Betty, in a voice too hushed and tiny to come from a woman of her bulk. Together the sisters were billed as One Ton of Fun.
Dolly warbled with laughter. "And Violet thinks she and her fancy man may have a chance to be wed there," she said.
Violet and her beau had been turned down for a marriage license in at least five states. There was some question as to propriety, as well as whether Violet and Rose legally constituted one person or two.
I supposed the twins couldn't be blamed for their decision to join Fortuna's. A considerable amount of money could be made on tour by an act like theirs, but what about those left behind?
I went to say my farewells, and Violet raised her arms to welcome me. Rose elbowed Violet aside and took my hands. "Good-bye, my dear," she said. "I shall miss you most awfully."
"Not as much as I," declared Violet. She elbowed Rose back and claimed one of my hands for her own.
I blushed. Why did they always have to make a fuss of me?
"Why should you miss anyone, hussy?" spat Rose. "You have your slimy lothario to comfort you."
I squeezed their hands to get their attention. "Please don't go," I said. "What will we do without you?"
"Have some peace and quiet," Archie Crum said from behind me.
I ignored the hurtful words of the dwarf strong man. "Who will I talk about our books with?" The twins and I shared a passion for the novels of Mr. Kipling and Mr. Haggard.
"Oh, darling, you will find someone else to read to," said Violet, wiping a tear from her eye with a gloved finger. "Someone younger and prettier "
"And unattached," inserted her sister.
At that moment their carriage to the train station arrived and ended the impending squabble. Trunks and cases were carried through the front door, and the twins were bundled into the coach, despite the coachman, who fell over his own feet several times, too busy looking over his shoulder at the assembled oddities to watch where he went.
"Go on, kiss 'em good-bye, Tall Dark and Handsome," Archie Crum said, and slapped me on the rear.
I glared at him before I poked my head through the window to give each young woman a peck on the cheek. They were argumentative, it was true, but they were witty and bright when not fighting, and made me feel important.
"You're a sweet boy, Abel Dandy," said Violet. "I swan, if you were older, I wouldn't be going. Wear this to remember me by." She pressed something small and hard into my hand.
I found a gold ring in my palm, fashioned in the Egyptian style with a turquoise stone carved into the likeness of a scarab beetle, the details of which were etched in a darker green.
"Not the rubbish from that half-wit professor," said Rose. "The one he said a goddess in a dream told him to give to you."
Violet knit her brow. "No, hon," she said. "I think that was my dream. She told me to give it to Abel."
"Whatever you say, you mixed-up hussy," said Rose. "I thought you were going to treasure it forever."
"I was, wasn't I?" Violet said. "But I now want to give it to him."
The ring was thrilling. It spoke of far-off places and exotic lives. I wasn't sure if it was quite my style, but I was honored to receive such an intimate gift from a grown woman. "It shall be my good-luck charm," I said, and slipped it on my finger. What were the odds? It fit perfectly.
The world shifted.
For a moment my eyes were blinded as if by bright sunlight, hot air seared my nostrils, and I heard birds and babbling water. I swore lips brushed my cheek. Then the dim interior of the carriage came into focus again and the worried faces of the twins.
"Are you all right, hon?" asked Violet.
"Yes," I mumbled. I felt foolish.
The coachman cracked his whip, and I half fell, half jumped off the running board. "Thank you," I called, and waved at the carriage until it reached the end of the long driveway, too stunned by my odd spell to do more.
Finally I took a deep breath and followed the others indoors on unsteady feet. Was I so unnerved by the twins' leaving that I would have a fit? Did I fear this was the end of life as I had known it? If Faeryland closed down, my parents might have to go on the road again to make a living. They hadn't done that since I was small. Now I was almost a man, I would have to pull my weight too, but was I afraid I wasn't up to it? I was so ordinary, after all. I didn't have an unusual physical difference to trade on; did I have enough talent? Was my knife-throwing good enough?
A crowd still loitered in the lobby, and worry hummed in the air. My parents had come down to find out what the fuss was about, and Phoebe had joined her ma and pa there. The people present were as firm a part of my home as the furniture: midgets, dwarfs, fat ladies, one of the giants on tottery legs, and Apollo holding on with hairy hands to two of the pinheads, who wanted to dance. They were proud of their skills and defiant about their appearance. I loved them all, but for the first time in my life I felt different and alone.
"What's wrong, pretty boy," said Archie Crum, "you never seen freaks before?"
The laughter around me was meant to be harmless and friendly, but this evening it placed me across the universe from them. I hung my average head, clenched my commonplace fists, and marched myself to my room.
That night I dreamed that I stood beside a garden fountain tiled with a design of lotus flowers. A dusky beauty barely dressed in white linen, the reflection of water sparkling in her eyes, slipped a scarab ring on my finger. She uttered words in a strange language that flowed and clicked; yet I knew what she said. "Wear this to remember me always." My heart held the heat of the red clay garden walls. The pungent fragrance of flowers and spices enveloped us, and our lips touched in a soft kiss that melted me with desire.
I woke short of breath and smiling, with an ache in my loins.
Where would I find a girl like that? I wondered. Not at home, I was sure.
Copyright ©2006 by Annette Curtis Klause
Follow through, follow through," Uncle Jack called across the barn. "You stopped short and flipped the knife. No wonder your aim is east of Bethlehem."
I tried to concentrate and wipe from my mind the delicious dream kiss that had haunted me all morning, but my next knife went awry like the last and clattered to the boards. I threw my arms in the air with a snort of disgust.
"Maybe you need a heavier knife for distance," Jack said. "Try these." He handed me the bandolier he wore over his shoulder.
I strapped it on and tested the balance of the knives, then pushed up my sleeves and walked to my mark.
Colonel Kingston insisted that everyone develop at least one skill, so I had studied with Jack for a year now. That expectation included the human oddities. "Nobody sits on their hind end here and gets by on their pretty looks," the colonel said. "A two-headed man can amaze the audience three times at the most, but a two-headed man who juggles his hats that's a show!"
I flipped a knife from each hand, and my scarab ring caught the light, splintering it into shards of sun. Perhaps that was a charm. Each knife pierced the target. I pulled two more from their sheathes and struck in quick succession, then two more; all hit around center. I felt like crowing.
Jack held up his stopwatch. "You need to work on that speed."
I almost cried a protest, except Jack's lip twitched in amusement, and I realized he was teasing. I was good, and he knew it; maybe soon he would recommend that the colonel let me throw onstage. Perhaps then I could prove I was an asset to the show, even though I had no difference.
Jack's difference currently hid beneath the billowing front of his white shirt. When he worked onstage, he stripped to the waist to reveal the stunted legs that should have been attached to my father, his twin, if not for some strange accident in the womb. The other night I expressed surprise that the audience had not recognized Jack when he rose from the seats as a volunteer. "Do you think they ever look at my face when I'm onstage?" Jack asked.
At least they saw him. I was too much like the audience to be noticed. In my nightmares I found myself trapped in the seats, unable to find the aisle, forever forbidden the stage. I often wished I were not so ordinary.
My normality made me a useful errand boy, unfortunately. Today I had to go to the post office to collect some packages. They were probably the usual items: special shoes for the giants, custom-made clothes for the midgets they would rather rot in hell than wear children's apparel and, if I was lucky, the books I'd sent for.
Phoebe met me outside the stables. The hair of her face was neatly brushed and held back with ribbons under her ears. "Your mama says to remind you to take Apollo if you go swimming today," she said, lashes lowered shyly.
I rolled my eyes. Why was I always put in charge of that boy? What if I had plans? Oh, no dependable, boring old Abel wouldn't have plans, would he?
Phoebe glanced around the deserted yard. "And she says not to forget her wool."
I noticed a breathy quality to her voice that hinted of anticipation, and wished I hadn't. The coast was clear and she wanted me to kiss her. The memory of that dream kiss still haunted me, and I couldn't bear to erase it with a furry, real-life substitute.
She hesitated; then, "I'd advise you to talk to my father soon if you've intentions," she said all in a rush, and giggled.
Oh, heavens! What had I started with a few kisses? Did she expect me to ask her father for her hand?
I backed away. "Um, tell Apollo I'll meet him by the gate." I groped for the stable door. "Well, I'd better hurry," I muttered. The disappointment in her eyes filled me with guilt. I bolted for the shadows of the barn, where I harnessed Old Sukie to the buggy and silently begged that Phoebe wouldn't linger outside. To my relief, my prayers were answered.
All the way into town I berated myself. I should speak to her honestly. I had obviously given her false hopes. It would be cruel to let her go on thinking I had serious intentions. I had let this go on too long. What if she ran to her father with tales? Her father had a furious temper. What if he decided his daughter had been compromised? Would he make me marry her? My mouth dried, and I tried to think of other things.
Redbrick row houses lined Main Street. They'd been there for a hundred years. Down side streets were the newer houses, with wood sides and large front porches, some with turrets, as if they were gingerbread castles. I had never lived in a town, gone to a regular schoolhouse, and attended the same little church each Sunday. Before we came to Faeryland, when I was seven, my life had been spent in boardinghouses, trains, and stagecoaches.
Outside the post office two young ladies dawdled. One of them held a bicycle at her side and wore a sensible long, dark skirt and dusty boots. The other wore frills and carried a parasol. I tipped my cap as I passed them, but they cut me dead. My heart fell, although I could have predicted that would happen. It was useless to search for a sweetheart in Smithville. They all knew where I came from. I lived with the freaks and was a common charlatan, and probably degenerate into the bargain.
Dust floated in the sunlight that slanted through the post office windows, and a smell of ancient sealing wax permeated the air. The sound of my boots on the wooden floor caused the postmaster to raise his head. He grunted a neutral greeting and proceeded to stack parcels on the counter. Sadly, none was from Burke and White, Booksellers.
When I came back out with the packages, two young men had joined the girls. Although I hardly came close to them, the young men reached for the arms of the girls as if to move them out of harm's way. A worm of anger squiggled in my gut. They didn't even know me. I called out a cheery "Good afternoon." I would make them work hard to ignore me. The bicycle girl nodded, and her girlfriend elbowed her. The boys scowled. One of them spit casually in my direction, his eyes bright with anger. I wished I had left well enough alone.
My heart thumped as I tossed the packages under a tarp in the buggy and crossed the street to the dry-goods store. My back prickled with the sense of the boys behind me. I wished I had brought the mail in with me, but I didn't want them to know I was worried. I did worry, however, all the time I waited for the salesman's attention. When I emerged with my mother's wool, the young people were gone, replaced by an elderly lady in black, who then entered the butcher's shop, and a spotted dog sniffing in the gutter. My packages lay undisturbed.
On my way out of town a colorful poster on the fence outside the blacksmith's shop caught my eye. I pulled over to look at it. MARVEL BROTHERS CIRCUS, the large yellow and red type proclaimed. The performers depicted were strong and beautiful men and women, not a freak among them. The acts listed included acrobats, tightrope walkers, and equestrians all acts that depended on talent rather than unusual looks. Was that where I belonged? Yearning welled up within me. The circus's advance men were ambitious in their advertising, for the show was to set up in a town more than fifteen miles north of my home. It was too far to drop by casually for a look. I stifled my disappointment and snapped the reins.
On the ride home I pondered love. There was someone for everyone, I knew. Whether you were short, tall, wide, or thin, someone somewhere would appreciate your qualities and inspire your love in return. I hadn't met a fat lady yet who didn't have a string of admirers, and my parents had found each other, hadn't they? Who was the girl for me and where would I find her? Perhaps the girl who gave me this ring in my dream, I thought, and smiled fondly at it. I laughed. I would have to go pretty far to find her. Beyond this world, I should think. I wouldn't mind trying, however, I decided.
"I rather like the term prodigies," whispered Jolly Dolly, mopping her brow with a voluminous handkerchief. "Much more dignified than freaks, don't you think, Abel?" She was referring to the text of the new advertisement Colonel Kingston had sent to the newspapers.
Onstage Albert Sunderland, the four-legged man, kicked a soccer ball around. I'd heard a rumor that limbs were not all Albert had extra of. Once, when I was younger, Archie Crum had called to a heckler who mocked Albert's skills, "Come up here and say that. He's twice the man you are." It took me a year to figure out why Albert had laughed.
Albert wove and dodged as the ball spun an intricate pattern from foot to foot, and his arms executed circles in the air to maintain his balance. It was an odd sight no matter how often one saw it, for no two legs were of exactly the same length; indeed, one of the central pair hung nine inches above the ground, and it took considerable skill to give that foot its fair share of kicks. He looked like a dancing spider.
"The giants prefer the term anomaly 'something that deviates from the general rule or the usual type,'" I said.
"My, the child swallowed a dictionary at birth," exclaimed Baby Betty in her little voice. The droopy flesh of her arm swayed as she fanned herself.
Dolly sniffed, and her ample bosom jiggled. "There is no talent implied in that term. Anomaly's just a fancy way to say freak. We are much more than that. Did you know that prodigy also means 'a marvelous thing'?"
Her sister, Betty, grunted. "I am not a thing."
"But quite marvelous," I said, not wanting them to fight.
Betty favored me with a brilliant smile. "Always the gentleman," she said, and giggled, an earthquake that resulted in a tidal wave of flesh.
"With the face of an angel," said Dolly.
"And the body of a devil," Betty crooned, and poked me gently in the chest with a sausagelike finger.
Albert Sunderland exited stage left to thunderous applause, and the sisters quieted. They never failed to enjoy their introduction.
"And now, for your delight and amusement," proclaimed Colonel Kingston, "those wonders of pulchritudinous plumpness, those beauties of remarkable adiposity, those portly pretties and roly-poly riot of laughs the sisters known as Jolly Dolly and Baby Betty. Ladies and gentlemen, One Ton of Fun!"
"I hope the boards hold up," Betty muttered in her baby voice. She said this every performance, almost like a prayer. No matter how many times she'd been reassured, she remained deathly afraid of falling through.
The sisters launched themselves, wheezing, onto the stage, and I couldn't help but smile. From behind, in their bathing suits made of bloomers and frilly short skirts, they looked like two hippos at a fancy dress party, but I would never tell them. In their minds the humor was to be found in their clever repartee, not in their vast size, even though most of their act concerned jokes about their weight. Even if they had been thin, they would be funny but in show business you have to grab the attention of the audience first. I didn't need to move scenery until the next curtain, so I stayed to watch even though I knew their jokes by heart.
After the show the performers gathered around the perimeter of the grand ballroom next door to the theater. The public was invited to walk a lap and converse briefly with the entertainers. I circulated among our guests and sold photographic souvenirs and a charming memoir written by Gladys Dibble, the Pixie Queen.
My father took advantage of these occasions to spin dreadful tall tales. Hopping from one hand to the other, he told gullible folk, "If you think I am remarkable, you should have seen my father he didn't have a head. It was quite amazing how he got about, and how he became enamored of my mother I shall never know perhaps it was the glossy feel of her scales...." He lied, of course. My grandparents were perfectly normal. As I moved through the crowd, I listened for his cheerful tenor so I might eavesdrop.
I also liked to watch the young ladies.
"She will break your heart, Abel," Mama warned if she saw me glance at an ankle, "and her daddy will break your nose."
"Not good form to mix business with pleasure, Abel," my father said.
I ignored them, of course, and smiled at as many pretty girls as I could.
I did a brisk business this day, with a portrait of Phoebe's family entitled Mrs. Papandreou the Dog Lady and Her Human Puppies, as well as a photographic tableau of Dolly and Betty posed in the unlikely historic meeting of Helen of Troy and Cleopatra, an event that could truly be called monumental. When a handsome lady in a fashionable little hat and veil approached me, I held out my wares, but she ignored the photographs and eyed me like a dog eyes a bone. "Do you have any unusual qualities to show me privately?" she drawled in a husky voice.
"No...no, ma'am," I stammered.
"What a shame," she said, and chuckled.
Albert Sunderland hobbled by on three of his four legs and caught her attention. As the woman left me in pursuit of him, I remembered the gossip about what lay between those legs, and understood her desire. I blushed to the tips of my normal extremities. I wanted a sweetheart who thought me an interesting fellow, not a novelty act.
After work I grabbed my towel and walked down the driveway to meet Apollo. I knew that he'd be mad enough to bite fleas at having to wait for me to take him swimming, but no madder than I was at always being assigned as nursemaid to the boy. The swimming hole lay outside Faeryland, and Colonel Kingston wanted none of his special people to go there unaccompanied. Perhaps he feared they'd be kidnapped by a rival show.
As soon as I reached the wrought-iron gates, Apollo ran through the trees yipping, as happy as a dog on a summer day, and any ire I felt, dissolved. He danced a little over the hot gravel of the road in his bare feet, but he didn't slow down. I swear he looked like he was wagging a tail as he finally panted before me. He'd been called a puppy for so long he believed he was one.
"Come on, Abel," he said. "I'm about to bake like apple pie."
"You're the hairiest apple pie I've ever seen," I answered. "Someone must have dropped you on the rug." I took a playful swipe at him, and he growled at me but then ruined the effect by laughing.
Down at the hole we stripped to our birthday suits and hung our clothes on the bushes.
"Race you in," said Apollo, but I won.
What a shame we had no time to enjoy the water.
"Well, lookit here," a voice whined as I surfaced from a clumsy dive. "I've heard of a catfish, but I ain't never heard of a dog fish."
Two boys stood at the edge of the pond the two I'd seen in town that noon. They had big boots and mean faces and meant to have business with us whether we wanted it or not.
Copyright ©2006 by Annette Curtis Klause
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