The Mysterious Menagerie

By Chris Bunton

Dr. Bernhard’s Traveling Menagerie had a problem. All the clowns had killed each other in an argument over whose rubber chicken was the biggest. It was a tragedy, and it could not have come at a worst time.

The wagon train had pulled into the small town of Grand Tower on the banks of the Mississippi River, and the Yellow Fever was rampant.

The people lined up for the Medicine show to get a dose of Dr. Bernhard’s Crazy Goat Dick Tea.

“It cures everything.” He said from the stage.

“It’ll heal the fever, and help you rise to the occasion when needed.” The Doctor said.

His beautiful assistant walked the stage showing bottles to the people gathered around below them.

“This potion is made by witches in the backwoods of Tennessee, just add it to a cup of warm water and drink it every day till you feel better. It’s a good thing we came when we did so you can benefit from its magical powers during the outbreak. It’s on sale for you only, I didn’t give this deal to anyone one else. Buy one get the other half price.” He barked.

The people got into lines and pushed each other to get a bottle of the elixir. The blonde lady sold them as fast as she could make change. While Dr. Bernhard stood around conversing and answering questions.

“You can use it to clean pots and pans or to get your husband ready for duty, if you want.” He told a little house wife. She blushed and smiled at the thought of her husband having more energy for his duties..

After a few minutes he remounted the stage and started barking.

“Tour the Menagerie folks! It’s just 10 cents to enter and see the beasts straight from the wilds of Africa!”

He pointed to the entrance of a fenced in corral where several large multi-colored tents were set up. A small dwarf of a man stood ready to take the money from the folks as they entered the corral.

“And don’t miss our freak show!” Dr. Bernhard yelled “We have the best freaks you’ve ever seen; including the Lobster man. He has lobster claws, folks. And don’t miss the one legged whore, 20 cents a pop. She lost her leg in New York City, when she trespassed on a gang’s territory. They said she’d never walk there again. It’s Men only for that one!”

The folks lined up for the menagerie, and Dr. Bernhard went back to his wagon for a drink. As he walked he was joined by a dark figure which shimmered in a way that was ghostly. It was there, but not quite there. The being whispered in a fast tongue that only Bernhard understood.

“We will replace the clowns, with new ones like we always have.” Bernhard said, nodding to the being that drifted beside him.

The being whispered to Bernhard again, in a voice that was like a dozen whispers talking over each other.

“No. We will see who comes, and decides to join.” Bernhard said.

The Being folded into itself and disappeared.

                                                        ***

The people meandered about going from tent to tent seeing all the animals in cages and tied up.

The biggest draw was the Rhino. He was a majestic beast. He wasn’t even chained; he just wandered around and looked at people with a sad intelligent eye. It was almost like he was human.

A group of four boys snuck away from the crowd and went behind the Freak show tent. They peeked underneath and saw Sally the One Legged Whore plying her trade. She saw them peeking, and winked at them.

The boys quickly pulled their heads out from under the tent and ran around the other side, till they saw a tent marked “Clowns”.

The leader of the boys group went into the tent, and the others followed.  But, there were no clowns. Only a table full of make-up and a large mirror leaning against a post. The boys looked around for something to steal, but there really wasn’t anything, except for the mirror.

The boys stood in front of it, and they saw themselves. But, for a moment they saw themselves painted as clowns. Each one of them was different. Each one of them was reflecting who they were inside.

The moment grew longer. Then, it turned into an eternity staring into the mirror of their souls.

                                                                     ***

The Traveling Menagerie pulled into the town of Cairo, at the Confluence of the Ohio, and the Mississippi. It was here that they set up the next show. The number of animals had grown it seemed; including a pack of wolves following behind Sally’s wagon, almost like they were devoted to her alone.

A crew of what seemed to be gorillas wearing shirts, trousers and Derby hats set up the stage. Then, as evening fell and the hot summer air cooled, a crowd gathered.

Dr. Bernhard shouted from the stage.

“This elixir will cure anything! It’ll get rid of the fever and remove warts. Just pour a few drops into your coffee and see what happens.” He yelled

The crowd stood and listened while a group of 4 creepy clowns appeared and ran amongst them. The crowd laughed nervously, and Dr. Bernhard shooed the clowns away.

“Go on you! I’m trying to sell these folks some medicine.” He yelled “We can never get away from the clowns folks. It seems that every town has a group of them! Little rascals to their cores.”

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