Day 212: Freak Show

I raced to the institute, that spot of pomposity that added so much cheer to a town full of high school dropouts. Dusk approached, and a full moon came on with a flourish. It was irresponsible to have waited so long. I ducked into the east wing and took the stairs to the basement. At the end of the long wide hall was Doctor Mason’s lab. I called it‘Mason’s Jar.’ Har-har.

“Sorry I’m late,” I said as I busted through the door. Waste high partitions separated different parts of the lab—a chemistry area, a bio station, a physics set up, and a large area for nano-imaging.

Mason’s face glowed beet red. “The hell you say. You know the stakes here, Geller.”

His assistant, Ivan, who I called Igor, rushed me into the cage. I tossed my Michigan Wolverines hat on the imaging counter. I didn’t want it getting damaged.

“Don’t worry about him, Sam.” Ivan clamped the shackles on my legs. “He’s been like this all day.” He put the manacles on me and locked them, then stepped out of the cage and closed the door. This is what we do every full moon.

“I don’t mind,” I said. “It can’t be easy for him.”

Ivan locked the door. I sat on the bench and waited as they set up the camera for the freak show.

“Hey, aren’t you forgetting something? I won’t come back if I don’t get my cheeseburger.”

Ivan tossed me a Wendy’s sack. I pulled out the burger and chowed down.

“We’ll be back in a minute,” said Mason.

“Last time you missed the transformation. Start the camera before you step out.”

Doctor Mason gave me that arrogant look of an academic who won’t be instructed. “We’ll be right back.”

Right after they left I felt the effects. “I knew it.” I had no way to reach the camera. Everything in the room became extremely sharp with ultra brilliant colors, and I could pick up every smell in the room, including the anise cookies on Ivan’s desk. It seemed like a movie. Like my body was part of it, but I wasn’t. Everything gave off a threatening vibe, the machines snarling at me, and rage surged through my eyes. Then it all went blank.

I awoke, a lingering musk in my nostrils, dried sweat tightening my temples. My clothes were a little tattered, but holding together. As usual, my ankles and wrists were bruised and bloody, and my mouth seemed full of sawdust. Ivan gazed at the back of the camera at his desk.

“What was it this time, Igor?”

He shook his head. “Pretty bad, Sam.” He set the camera down and unlocked the cage.

“Tell me,” I said.

He took off the shackles, then opened a bottle of water and handed it to me. “Easier for you to just see it.”

At his desk, he pulled the memory card from the camera and slid it into the laptop. He navigated to the video and double clicked.

A horrible rasping squeal came from the laptop, and the monitor showed a vaguely man-shaped wild boar with grotesque tusks, yanking against shackles and viciously biting at the cage’s bars.

“Hm.” I took a drink of water. “At least I wasn’t reptilian this time. You missed the transformation again.”

“We had a close call,” said Ivan. “Dean Biestermeister came down to argue about funding, almost came into the lab.”

“I told you to start it.”

“Yeah, I know,” said Ivan. “But you might want to make it sound a little less like barking orders next time.”

“Barking?” I was a dog one night last month.

“Sorry. Very insensitive of me.”

“All right,” I tossed the empty water bottle into a waste basket. “See you tonight.”

Doctor Mason passed me in the hall. “Not so late this time.”

“Yeah. All right,” I said. When I stepped outside, the brisk air cooled my head, and I realized I’d forgotten my Wolverines cap, so I turned around and trotted back down the hall. I was about to open the Jar door when Doctor Mason let out a guffaw on the other side. Doctor Mason never laughed.

I opened the door without a sound and listened in.

“He’s really taking it in stride,” Ivan said.

I felt a little pride at the praise and listened for more.

“He’s a great subject,” said Mason. “Everything I’d hoped for. It’ll make great copy for Psychology Today.”

Psychology Today? He’s a psychologist?

“You’re going to have to show him a transformation, though.”

“Yeah,” said Doctor Mason. “I got a special effects guy for that, but he couldn’t make it last night. He’s coming by shortly.”

“We should get Jason here during the day to film ahead of time.”

“Who’s Jason?” asked the doctor.

“He was the pig.”

“I thought Melvin was the pig.”

“No, Melvin did lizard man. You should get to know your interns.”

“What’s the fun in that? Psychology is all about tormenting people. They’ve got to learn.”

“Well, tonight’s the full blown wolfman, so be nice to Jason. He’s got some major acting to do.”

My blood ran cold, then it boiled. I swore I was turning into a werewolf right there and then, but I kept it together and slipped back out of the building. Anger fed my stride.

Wolfman, eh? No. I had a few tricks of my own.

Grouse at me for showing up late? I’ll show you late—after-the-full-moon-is-up late. We’ll see what kind of copy a psychology professor will get from an enraged gorilla man on the loose in his lab. All I had to do was find a costume shop with a convincing enough suit.

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6 thoughts on “Day 212: Freak Show

  1. Yeah, that was one of the possibilities I considered but it reads more like the hamburger is merely incidental, a bit of exposition inserted to show there is a friendly power struggle between the doctor and subject that necessitates an acquiescent bribe to get Sam to agree to all this. It situates Sam closer to Mason in rank, which is nice for the tension and plot build. It’s one thing for Sam to feel superior to Mason Jar, it’s something else altogether if Mason thinks so, too.

    Injecting some mystery into the hamburger, itself, would help as long as it’s subtle as hell. Like, say, Sam muses to himself as he chews that he likes Wendy’s new special sauce recipe. And leave it at that, nothing more.

    Another way to go with the story would be to follow Sam to the costume shop, then indicate that he truly is transforming as he walks by enhancing the writing as his senses enhance–powerful verbs, adjectives, and the like, pointing out things that humans wouldn’t notice and using them in only that segment. Also, you could form a cliffhanger with him back home the next day, sucking a paper cut and musing to himself how sweet human blood tastes.

    But the flow is nice, I like the cadence. Dialogue seems to be tough for many but you’ve got it down. In my fiction writing, there’s a full-fledged movie already in my head and all I have to do is observe and type, like a court reporter taking down the story. A rather omniscient court reporter.

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  2. It’s good writing but I’m not sure what I read. Are you alluding that he really does transform while all the others were merely actors? If he knows this and they do not, why would he need a gorilla suit to enact his revenge?

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    1. Thanks for the compliment. Your thoughts are very helpful for an eventual rewrite.

      In retrospect, this is actually one of those “fooled ya” kind of stories that I usually don’t like. It would have been better to tell the story from the doctor’s or his assistant’s POV. The protagonist (in this version) is the subject of a psychological experiment where the doctor drugs him and fools him into believing he transforms into a different monster each full moon. He discovers the deception and now plans on scaring the beejeebers out of the doctor by pretending he really did change.

      Kind of silly, but kind of fun.

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