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The Last Rakosh

A Repairman Jack Tale

By F. Paul Wilson

1

“I don’t know about this,” Gia said as they stood outside the entrance to the main tent. A faded red-and- yellow banner flapped in the breeze.

THE OZYMANDIAS PRATHER ODDITY EMPORIUM

Jack checked out the sparse queue passing through the entrance: A varied crew running the gamut from middle-class folk who looked like they’d just come from church to Goth types in full black regalia. But nobody looked threatening.

“What’s wrong?”

“It looks like some sort of freak show.” She glanced quickly at Vicky, then at Jack. “I just don’t know.”

Her meaning was clear.

“Truth is, I’m having second thoughts myself.”

“You?” Gia’s faint, pale eyebrows lifted. “If the most politically incorrect man I know is hesitating, we’d better turn around and go home.”

Jack had seen a flyer for the show and thought this might be a unique experience for Vicks, an exhibit of weird objects and odd people doing strange tricks-sort of like a bunch of Letterman’s “Stupid People Tricks” under one roof. But he didn’t want to take an eight-year-old girl to a freak show. The very idea of deformed people putting themselves on display repulsed him. It was demeaning, and people who paid to gawk seemed to come off as demeaned as the freaks on display. Maybe more so. He didn’t want to be one of them.

“Go home?” Vicky said. “I thought we came out to see the show.”

“I know, Vicky,” Gia began, “but it’s just that-”

“You said we were going!” Her voice started pitching toward a whine. She turned to Jack with a hurt look. “Jack, you said! You said we were gonna see neat stuff!”

Vicky was very good with that look. She knew it wielded almost limitless power over Jack.

“You might be scared by some of the things in there,” he told her.

“You promised, Jack!”

He hadn’t actually promised, not in so many words, but the implication had been there. He looked to Gia for help, but she seemed to be waiting for him to make a decision.

“Well,” he said to Gia, “I think she’ll be all right.” When Gia’s eyebrows lifted again, he added, “Hey, I figure after what she went through last summer, nothing in there’s going to scare her.”

Gia sighed. “Good point.”

Jack led them to the ticket booth where he forked over a twenty.

“One adult, two children, please.”

The guy in the booth, a beefy type sporting a straw boater, looked around.

“I see two adults and one kid.”

“Yeah, but I’m a kid at heart.”

“Funny.”

With no hint of a smile, Mr. Ticket slid two adults and one child plus change across the tray.

Inside, the show seemed pretty shabby and Jack wondered if they’d been had. Everything looked so worn, from the signs above the booths to the poles supporting the canvas. Glance up and it was immediately apparent from the sunlight leaking through the canvas that the Oddity Emporium was in dire need of new tents. He wondered what they did when it rained. Thunderstorms were predicted for later. Jack was glad they’d be out of here and on their way back home long before.

As they strolled along, Jack tried to classify the Ozymandias Prather Oddity Emporium. Yeah, a freak show in some ways, but in many ways not.

First off, Jack had never seen freaks like some of these. Sure, they had the World’s Fattest Man, a giant billed as the World’s Tallest Man, two sisters with undersized heads who sang in piercing falsetto harmony-nothing so special about them.

Then they came to the others.

By definition freaks were supposed to be strange, but these folk went beyond strange into the positively alien. The Alligator Boy, the Bird Man with flapping feathered wings...

“Did you see the Snake Man back there?” Gia whispered as they trailed behind the utterly enthralled Vicky.

Jack nodded. These “freaks” were so alien they couldn’t be real human beings.

“Got to be a fake,” he said. “Make up and prosthetics.”

“That’s what I thought, but I couldn’t see where the real him ended and the fake began. And did you see the way he used his tail to wrap around that stuffed rabbit and squeeze it? Almost like a boa constrictor.”

“A good fake, but still a fake.” Had to be.

One aspect of the show that reinforced his sense of fakery was that there was nothing the least bit sad or pathetic about these “freaks.” No matter how bizarre their bodies, they seemed proud of their deformities-almost belligerently so. As if the people strolling the midway were the freaks.

Jack and Gia caught up to Vicky where she’d stopped before a midget standing on a miniature throne. He had a tiny handlebar mustache and slicked-down black hair parted in the middle. A gold-lettered sign hung above him: Little Sir Echo.

“Hi!” Vicky said.

“Hi, yourself,” the little man replied in a note-perfect imitation of Vicky’s voice.

“Hey, Mom!” Vicky cried. “He sounds just like me!”

“Hey, Mom!” Little Sir Echo said. “Come on over and listen to this guy!”

Jack noticed a tension in Gia’s smile and thought he knew why. The mimicked voice was too much like Vicky’s-pitch and timbre, all perfect down to the subtlest nuance. If Jack had been facing away, he wouldn’t have had the slightest doubt that Vicky had spoken.

Amazing, but creepy too.

“You’re very good,” Gia said.

“I’m not very good,” he replied in a perfect imitation of Gia’s voice. “I’m the best. And your voice is as beautiful as you are.”

Gia flushed. “Why, thank you.”

The midget turned to Jack, still speaking in Gia’s voice: “And you, sir- Mr. Strong Silent Type. Care to say anything?”

“Yoo doorty rat!” Jack said in his best imitation of a bad comic imitating James Cagney. “Yoo killed my brutha!”

Gia burst out laughing. “God, Jack, that’s awful!”

“A W. C. Fields fan!” the little man cried with a mischievous wink. “I have an old recording of one of his stage acts! Want to hear?”

Without waiting for a reply, Sir Echo began to mimic the record, and a chill ran through Jack as he realized that the little man was faithfully reproducing not only the voice, but the pops and cracks of the scratched vinyl as well.

“Marvelous, my good man!” Jack said in a W.C. Fields imitation as bad as his Cagney. “But now we must take our leave. We’re off to Philadelphia, you know.”

“You should stick to your own voice,” Gia said as Jack guided her away from the booth.

Jack didn’t tell her that something in a pre-rational corner of his brain had been afraid to let the midget hear his natural voice. Probably the same something that made jungle tribal folk shun a camera for fear it would steal their souls.

“Look!” Vicky said, pointing to the far end of the midway. “Cotton candy! Can I have some?”

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