Oct 20: FREAKSHOW/SIDESHOW
October 10, 1899
I pray this letter finds you well in Rochester, and that the doctors have already found a cure for what ails you. You know that I pray for you every night before I go to sleep and every morning when I wake up. I feel as though God is punishing me for my sins. If I could take your troubles on myself, I would.
Not much has happened since you left with your brother, other than harvesting the corn on the binder. We have already had our first frost here, with only about half the apples picked, which means that we’re trying to get the rest of them turned into juice for cider before they go bad. The orchard smells sweet from all the apples lying on the ground already. Guess who will have to rake that all up, with you gone?
There’s a circus come outside town. Without you here, I don’t want to go, but it’s supposed to be a strange one. I may go just to write you about it.
All my love,
October 15, 1899
I pray this letter finds you well at the clinic, and that the doctors have already found a cure for what ails you. My prayers go with you every day. I know now that what has happened to you is not God’s punishment for my sins, but the devil’s reward. God grieves for your troubles as much as anybody, but I guess His hands are tied.
I went to the circus on Friday night with your brother. He pressed me to accompany him. Your brother is a man of Christian charity, although with his rough ways it is sometimes hard to notice.
What we saw there I do not know how to describe, for there was a freakshow and we went to it. Such shows are normally not fit to be describe for ladies, but what happened there was a different thing altogether.
There were seven cages, each of them filled with a freak more terrible than the last.
In the first cage was a small man or creature with a large head and wide eyes, dark blue from edge to edge except for the very center, which was a deep black. Its body was supported by a kind of walking chair or frame that kept its frail body stable. I doubt that it could have stood unassisted.
The second freak had no face. It, too, was pale and weak, with a large head. But no eyes, and only three fingers on each hand. This one sat in the corner and seemed to sleep, despite your brother knocking against the bars of its cage.
The third was like a hairless dog standing on its hind legs, but with two sets of eyes, one large and sympathetic-looking, like a dog’s, and the other faceted and glittering, like an insect’s. It seemed to pity us as the professor lectured us.
The fourth, and I have to warn you that we saw them all, looked like someone’s idea of a demon, with bony plates like shoulder blades coming from its head where the eyes ought to be. That one tried to talk to us, only its mouth was so split up that it was making more spittle than sense. It trembled as if it were cold, and I felt overwhelmed by pity myself, that nature had gone so badly as to make such a creature.
The fifth was of a terrible nature, and I was glad of the cage that surrounded it. It almost seemed not to have come from the body of Woman at all. It had a long head that swept back over its shoulders, and its bones were set all a-jumble. The joints of its knees seemed to move backward, like a horse’s. It snapped at anyone who came close, and I think it craved our flesh. Your brother snapped his fingers at it and would have lost a hand, had I not pulled him back.
The sixth appeared less terrifying than the fifth one at first glance, a man in a robe. But the other freaks had all been unclothed. (There is a shameful secret that ladies generally are not told.) I looked again and gasped. It did not seem a man at all, but a winged creature that, like a bat, had its wings wrapped close about it. It seemed to laugh at us, from its glittering black eyes.
I asked your brother if he had ever seen anything like it, and he said that he had not, but also he seemed less startled than I.
The last of the freaks was the worst of all. Its back faced the crowd, and the handlers had to prod it with rods to make it turn around.
Slowly it faced us, and we all gasped. Some men tried to run, and others wept. Your brother swore and reached under his jacket to his knife hilt, only slowly releasing his hand.
As for myself, I knelt and prayed to God for forgiveness for my sins.
I did not speak to your brother about it, for what could I say? But I owe you my life and my soul, if such things have not already been claimed by the devils.
When the last freak turned around, above its twisted, decaying limbs that seemed to belong more to a spider than anything human, the face that it showed me was yours.
All my love,
October 20, 1899
Now that Cecilia has passed, I have no reason to live. I would linger and help bury her, but they say that they will keep her there in Rochester to study the growths inside her. And you know my shame is such that it is no great addition of sin that I take my own life. I hereby bequeath all that I have to you, to do as you see fit.
Do not let them bury me in hallowed ground. Bury me by the children that Ceclia bore to me, out in the woods.
This one comes from The Seven Faces of Dr. Lao, with Tony Randall dressed really inappropriately as a fake Chinaman, etc., and The Circus of Dr. Lao by Charles G. Finney, an altogether darker and more terrifying book, in which more is revealed about the characters of the patrons than the so-called “freaks.” Also, of course, the Alien series. The place in Rochester is the Mayo clinic, established in 1889. The epistolary (letter-writing) format comes from Stephen King’s short story “Jerusalem’s Lot,” which happens over a century before his novel ‘Salem’s Lot.
Whatever Casper did, it must have been bad. But the character refused to give me specifics.