“Pff…your name’s Hugo?”
“Hugo Martins! Acrobat, contortionist, clown, whatever pop needed me to be.”
“That’s a really unremarkable name.”
“Well that’s what happens when you name people before you know them,” he chuckled, “anyway yeah, pop was a man of achievement. Of… schedules,” he was doing a bridge with his body, bending his back as much as he could, it was a tad challenging with only one arm. “That was boring, it’s part of why I left.”
“So you were in a circus?” Her voice asked from outside, “an actual circus?”
“Oh yes! Circus Round-The-World.”
“Oh wow, really? I’ve actually been to that one.”
“Great performances, huh?”
“Amazing performances. The things they do there, uff.”
“Yeah, pop runs a tight ship. You either deliver or you’re out in the water, we needed to come up with new acts every few months, it was rough on the others.”
“But not on you, huh?”
“Oh I was born different,” he grinned at himself, “pop’s special attraction!”
“Awww, did mean old daddy hurt poor widdle Hugo?”
“Dad? Pop wasn’t my dad,” he laughed while he did another handstand, “n’ he couldn’t hurt me either. Unless he starved me. Man, I hated to be starved.” It was different doing it with one hand only, but he was getting used to it.
Not enough, however, he slipped and fell.
“Hey! What’re you doing, don’t break my stuff!”
“Oh reaaallly? Which stuff can’t I break?”
“Any of it!”
He laughed maniacally.
“ANY OF IT! I’ll skin yer butt, I swear!”
He rolled around a bit, getting laughter out of his system, she sounded hilarious. When he settled and calmed down, he gave another attempt at hand standing.
“Sorry! I’m still getting used to some o’ this stuff, I used to have another arm, ya know?”
He was also trying to get used to talking to her. He had never talked straight with someone for so long, why didn’t he feel like mocking her? Creeping her out? Being nonsensical?
What was going on?
“So daddy starved ya, then?”
“Oh just sometimes, I was very good at keeping him happy. Well, not unhappy, he wasn’t really happy, not ever. Part of why I left.”
“Were there many parts to why you left?”
“A big group of tiny ones punctuated by one big one: like an exclamation point!”
“Lemme guess, big one is you just felt like it?”
He cackled, more than happy that she had guessed it.
“Exactly! Boy, you catch on fast!”
“Catch? Heh, I’ve been living it. Is your story gonna get interesting any time soon?”
“Well, there was that time I got a kid killed.”
“I didn’t know other people couldn’t turn their heads around, I didn’t know a lot back then – Pop was never big on education. He fed the kid to a wild-cat, just held him in front of a cage for the Wildcat to grab at. Then he could blame it on the parents not watching him.”
“Wait a second,” she seemed to be processing the information. “Did you break a child’s neck?”
“Well don’t make it sound like such a monstrous thing,” he giggled, wanting to be off-putting and freaky. “I was a child too, ya know?”
“Talk about your misunderstandings. What else did you need to learn by…experimentation?”
He nimbly rolled forward and stood straight, followed by starting a wave of sit-ups.
“Oh, not that much. How money works, that there’s people washing clothes for you! And cut your hair, too, that’s so weird!”
“…you’re serious?” She seemed, finally, to be taken aback. And as much as he had been feeling a bit out of place, he immediately eased back into his comfort zone. That tone of voice, the confusion, the perplexing inflexion, it was all as if satiating a big need…and asking for more.
“Oh, yeah,” he licked his lips, “I don’t really like how money works, I prefer to not use it.”
“You don’t use money? How do you eat?”
“I get food. What do you mean, how do I eat? You grab the food, you put it in your mouth then you kind move each end to che–”
“Alright alright! I guess you are the Circus Freak, should be obvious that you’re stealing.”
He finished the situps and sat down, bringing a leg over his head.
“Sure,” he pulled it, forcing it to be placed behind his neck. “Anyways, there was this time I tamed a…a…what was its name?”
Without really thinking about it, the Circus Freak continued to talk while he exercised away his stiffness along with any other consequences that had emerged from the lack of practice he had suffered the past couple of days. He told her about how great of a circus attraction he was, about how Pop forced him to strictly obey every kind of schedules, a control that eventually drove him crazy.
“That’s when I noticed, on that very day. You know, sometimes you’re in a situation, and you see people react and you’re like this is it!”
“Oh, I know the feeling,” she agreed, a bit too mysteriously.
Hugo was jabbing at the air to practice his thrusting speed and accuracy.
“For me, it was right then, when people saw me standing up with my arm completely out of my socket…watching my lack of reaction. And they looked…”
“It just made me feel amazing,” he shivered and hugged himself, “I seriously — just thinkin’ about it! Uuuu!”
“But Pop wouldn’t have it. Circus goers, he said, they’re supposed to be wowed. Things are supposed to be fantastic, near supernatural, not scary and the stuff of nightmares.”
“He called you the stuff of nightmares?”
He grinned proudly.
“Ooo…if ever he was right about something! Anyways, I left soon after that.”
He was still wondering why he was talking to that woman. But even that thinking worried him as he wasn’t one to look at himself, to second-guess his thinking, to question his motives or to doubt his feelings.
Or to not know what they are. He looked down and mentally threatened his organs, you think I need you? Start making sense or I’m getting rid of all of you.
“Can’t really imagine a life where I can’t scare people half to death.”
“It’s a good thing you’re good at it, then.”
“Hah,” he balanced on one foot while wobbling around, challenging his balance, “I was born for it.”
It was really odd how he wanted to know. “Hey, what was your name, again?” He had never cared to know the name of the king he had just robbed. He didn’t know the name of the people he was helping at Shadow Conclave.
“Minali,” she stated, a bit awkwardly. “We’ve been riding together for two days, I hadn’t given you my name?”
“I didn’t ask.” He had grabbed onto one of the beams holding the roof of the carriage sturdy and was pulling himself up and down on his own arm. It bothered him how he couldn’t help but have one shoulder much more defined than the other one, but not so much that he would care to try and compensate. Still, he still had a few exercises he did with his stump.
“Ooo! Wanna hear about how I started a gang war??”
“What?” She chuckled. “Of course, tell me.”
The summary was that he had freaked out a gang boss during a meet, to the point where he shrieked. He was embarrassed and he didn’t want anyone from the rival gang to know so he killed everyone present, and that triggered a war that lasted for a couple of years.
He had a lot more fun telling it, however. Meanwhile, he placed the stump that used to be his arm against the wall and put force into it. It wasn’t much of an arm anymore, but it was still there, it had to work. The sleeve, as ever, hung down and flapped with his every movement.
The Circus Freak and Minali talked for the entire duration of the trip. By the time he realized there was a lot of noise surrounding him, he was running very short on stories to tell, and to hear.
“Are we here?”
“Beermingbam,” she replied with a snicker, “funniest name, foggiest city, the industrial capital of Brithan and a pretty good place to do commerce.”
“I guess this is where we part ways,” he flung open the carriage doors.
“What? Just like that?”
He glanced back with a grin, catching sight of her eyes as she also looked back through what little room there was in the small front window and in-between all the merchandise.
“Did you expect any different?” He sure did.
She rolled her eyes, and her dark neck covered the panel as she looked away.
“Never mind, get on with your business.”
He grinned wider and jumped, pulling himself up onto the cart with a one arm pull. In a swift movement, he rolled twice across the roof of the thing and looked at her from above. She looked up, gaping slightly.
“How…?” The carriage wrested into a stop, but he held strong.
“Born to,” he reminded her.
“You only have one arm–”
He grabbed the ledge with that one arm and lowered himself upside down to face her very closely. “Oh oh, the things I can still do with this arm, Minali.” He closed his eyes and grinned, giving her his scary face. His legs were in the air, he was holding himself levelled with one arm strength alone, although it was stretched so there was a lot of credit to be given to bones alone by themselves.
Regardless, he must have smiled invitingly instead of grinning threateningly, because hands grasped each side of his head and lips sunk into his own.
Of course, he didn’t immediately know it, he had never experienced the feeling. He had never been kissed anywhere. He opened his eyes, realization bulging them and, for the very first time in his entire life, Hugo Martins freaked out.
His grip failed and the Circus Freak fell hard on the front of the tractor Minali owned and had been using to pull the carriage. He tumbled across the floor, and quickly stood up, fully alert and shocked out of his mind.
She looked completely surprise too.
“I’m…I’m sorry, I thought–”
He looked around, noticing people around him. There were crowds, he hadn’t noticed when he had gone to mess with her and scare her a little bit, or he hadn’t cared. But they had noticed him. They had seen what happened, a few were snickering.
“Did I read that wrong? I–”
He glared back at her with such brusqueness it startled her. He felt gripped by something he had never felt before. His breathing went faulty, and he did what his instincts were telling him to do since they were fully convinced in their interpretation of what was happening with his nervous system: he was very clearly about to die.
They got him running. He sped away from a bemused and regretting “wait!” and ran faster than anyone had expected.
Before she could revive the engine, he was already on a different block and out of sight. Before any spectator had the gall to throw a comment that would likely send him on a killing spree, much alike the gang boss he had made shriek in the past, he bounced off the far wall of an alley, out of sight and hearing.
He grabbed at his chest.
WHAT IS GOING ON?!?!
He had never felt pain. He had never felt anything so strong, he knew amusement and entertainment and fun. Whatever was going on was painful. Very much so.
A part of him was trying to convince him it was good but he knew, down to the deepest recesses of who he was, that it was not good. Pain was not good.
It was related to the curiosity he had felt towards Minali. He knew.
He had been too talkative, he had been too patient a listener. No screams, no rudeness. Enjoyment. He had felt enjoyment? But how, she wasn’t freaked out at all by him.
Why was she not freaked out by him? Why was that any different? Plenty of crazy people weren’t freaked out by him, people who’d seen too much, people who…
No, he could freak out anyone, he just hadn’t wanted to go too far to try to get to her.
He looked out at the exit of the alley and considered killing her. Imagining that reality, however, sunk his insides into new depths of pain.
He punched his chest but, as usual, didn’t feel anything. He pinched himself, he pressed teeth on his finger until it bled. Nothing. Yet clearly, his chest was hurting. From the inside.
WHAT IS THIS?!?
Could he bleed it out? Lots of diseases…disease!
He remembered he had once had a pain in his intestines. Sickness could make him hurt, he just rarely got sick. He started to calm down.
Sickness…some kind of fever. Some kind of disease.
He breathed out, calming out visibly and near-immediately.
The Circus Freak was just sick with something. The lady from the Shadow Conclave, she was a magician, right? Maybe she could help him.
I freaked them out last time, I don’t want to get predictable, right?
The Circus Freak shook his head at himself. Then he looked up and tried to see beyond the industrial fog that was above and around him. He couldn’t, but that was okay, the gesture alone helped.
“Yeah, I’ll go talk to her instead,” he massaged his chest reflexively, annoyed at how little effect his words had over the organs inside him. “She has to help me.”