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Notes: Ume--plum blossom, Uta--song, Japanese place surnames first, given names second. Uta Ume--plum blossom song, Yat Boon Gau--Japanese dog, baka--stupid
A Last Chance Traveling Show Story
By Fannie Feazell (Scribe)
No one knows for sure when the Last Chance Traveling Show came into existence, but it has been around a long, long time. The Show started out as just a few very different creatures banding together for safety and companionship, but it grew. The world was very quickly outgrowing all things truly unique and 'unnatural', but with the Chancers these beings found sanctuary. The Chancers tell stories of early Chancers performing for royalty--Henry VIII, Louis XIV, Nero. It's certain that they traveled England during the Black Plague, relieving the general air of tragedy just a little, and they more recently gave a show for Queen Victoria on her Diamond Jubilee. She was amused.
If they could grasp the Last Chance Traveling Show's true nature most people would be shocked and amazed. The Chancers themselves view the outside world with suspicion, and they are seldom shocked, and never amazed.
Lucy came awake as she always did--suddenly. She could barely remember a time when she had enjoyed a lazy slide up into awareness, lingering in the warm, shadowy place between asleep and awake, but that had been many decades ago. Now when the rim of the sun disappeared below the horizon she was catapulted from unconsciousness to full awareness. In remembrance of that lost time she often lay in bed for a few more minutes, eyes closed, just thinking. Today, though, she had a hard time concentrating, because what felt like a heavy fur muff was covering her face.
Irritated, she said, "Jing! Haul fuzzy butt off Mama's face." There was a grumbling. "Now! You weigh ton." The muff moved and Lucy opened her eyes to find her Siamese cat settling herself comfortably on her chest. Lucy spat cat hair, and Jing opened her mouth slightly in what could only be a smirk. "I know I not need to breath, but damn." She rubbed the cat behind the ears. "Eh, your behind don't smell as bad as your breath." Jing squeezed crossed blue eyes and purred, rolling onto her back without losing her perch. "Belly scratch, huh? Okay."
Lucy worked delicate fingers vigorously in the fur of Jing-Jing's belly, causing the little cat to squirm happily. "Jing, why you so heavy? You been pigging out on ratties? Not good to get bloated." Jing-Jing waved her paws in the air, as if asking for something. Lucy obligingly scratched harder, giving the cat's soft underbelly a firm massage. Then Lucy hesitated. Her touch became more slow, and thoughtful. At last she lifted the cat till they were almost nose to nose. "You got lumps. Jing..." she hesitated. "You knocked up?" Jing mewed, patting her cheek with a soft paw. "No way Jose! You dead 'un, like me. How you get pregnant?" Did Jing actually roll her eyes? "Well, yeah, you whoopie lotsa times with Sock, but you know what I mean. There never been pregnant vampire cat." Jing's whiskers twitched. "Oh, all right. There never been vampire cat, period, so why not? Ooo, but if YOU can get pregnant..." Her eyes went wide. "Lucy gonna have to start carrying supplies, you bet."
She snuggled Jing-Jing again, then set her aside. "All right, no more up in air for you. No hunt rats, either. They bite too hard. I bet Hank and Hannah not even miss a few sips of blood. Not Hiram, though. Maybe he big, but he still baby. Horses might just stomp Jing into kitty paste. Time for Mama get ready to wow the rubes."
She got into a white, silver spangled body suit, then slipped on a pair of demure Chinese satin pajamas. The first part of her act consisted of her stripping off her outerwear while in the middle of the high wire. It always got a round of applause, especially from the men. She joked that she'd be able to retire on tips if she just went ahead and stripped naked, then did her act in the raw. When she was done she let Jing out and went to tell Artus that he wouldn't be able to include the cat in his spiel. She tried his trailer, then the cookhouse. Harvey mentioned that he'd seen the carnival manager heading toward the Kouros trailer, so Lucy went there.
She was always happy for a chance to see her good friend Callie, and their time together lately had been a little limited. Callie was very tired recently, and needed a lot of rest. Lucy knocked on the door, calling, "Hey, you got visitor!"
She heard Dmitri call, "It's unlocked. Don't just stand out there, c'mon in. It's not like you haven't been invited a hundred times."
Lucy came in to find Dmitri, Callie, and Artus seated on the small sofa and one chair in the living area. She stuck out her tongue and said, "It rude to just barge in."
"I can remember when that didn't bother you," said Dmitri.
"Artus, you gotta change spiel tonight. Jing-Jing not gonna perform."
"Drat," said the old man mildly. "May I hope it's just temperament and not health?"
"Kinda health." Lucy smiled at Callie. "Speaking of--how you?"
Callie returned the smile tiredly. "Not too bad." She rested a hand on her enormously rounded belly. "Though I'm still not convinced I'm not carrying twins, no matter what YaYa says."
"Got good news for you." Lucy wiggled. "We gonna be grandmamas!"
Callie blinked. "How on earth? I won't even have the baby for another two months."
"Not you. Jing."
Dmitri said, tolerantly, "I'm afraid that would be wishful thinking, Luce."
She snorted. "What big dumb man know about babies?" Dmitri pointed at Callie's tummy. "Oh, sure--THAT you know. Hah. How many times you have to try for that, huh?" Dmitri blushed. "You armature when it come to making babies. Cats? Cat's made to make little cats."
Callie was looking delighted. "I've always said that God must love cats--he makes so many of them." A large black-and-white cat crawled out from under the sofa and began to brush himself across Callie's shins. "Dmitri, hand him to me. I can't quite bend over this baby to reach him."
"I catch you trying and you're in trouble," said Dmitri. He scooped up the cat, said, "Hello, you old tom," and handed him to his wife.
Callie cuddled the cat, rubbing her nose against his. "Oh, Sock--your first litter." She giggled. "Well, the first I know about, anyway."
"This boggles me," admitted Dmitri, reaching over to rub the purring cat between the ears. "It just doesn't seem natural."
Callie giggled, Lucy snorted, and Artus shook his head. "Son, a Chancer is the last person on earth who should talk about anything being unnatural."
"What will the kittens be, though? Vampires? Normal cats? In between? Or will they even survive?" He saw Callie's distressed look and said gently, "I'm sorry, babe, but shouldn't we ask ourselves this?"
"I don't know why," said Artus. "No one can ever really be certain how a baby will turn out. Oh, we can make educated guesses, given the parents and the lineage, but it's never a sure thing. Callie, your mother wasn't a Siren, was she?"
"Not that I ever noticed," she admitted.
"How about your sisters? Did either of them show any unusual talent or tendencies?"
"So unless we can research both sides of your family tree back a dozen or so generations... I'm assuming we can't?"
"I doubt it. Pa didn't figure anything or anyone who came before him was of much importance. He didn't like Mama talking about her family, either, and I got the impression that Mama was pretty alone in the world before she met Pa. Lord knows she must have been real lonely to hitch herself to him."
"We might be able to pinpoint an ancestor who shared your nature if we had the records, but it isn't a sure thing. Sometimes a special creature will just seem to spontaneously generate. And if the union is between human and non-human, there's really no telling what might happen. Have you two considered the baby you're carrying, Callie? What do you think it will be?"
"I'm just hoping that it's healthy," she said quietly.
"As it should be. But I'll tell you this--it could be a faun like the daddy, a Siren or succubus (incubus if it's a boy) like the mother, a combination of both, or it could be a completely human child. The Powers That Be made procreation a glorious crap shoot."
"I know what it'll be," said Dmitri. He put his arm around his wife, and his voice was firm. "It'll be ours, and that's that." There was a tap at the door, and he called, "It's getting a little crowded, but come on in."
The door opened, but the visitor didn't come in--she remained standing on the stair outside. "Please to excuse me, but I was told I could find the director of this show here?"
Artus stood and bowed. "Artus, at your service, Madam. Who do I have the pleasure of addressing?"
The woman inclined her head slightly. "I am Uta Ume, and I wish to speak to you about joining your show."
Callie was studying the woman with interest. She was wearing a heavy robe-like garment that concealed her from neck to toes, aside from her arms. These were long, slender, and pale. Her complexion was like old ivory, her dark eyes slanted, and she wore her black hair wound into a high, intricate style. "You're not Chinese, are you?" she asked doubtfully.
"She no Chinese," Lucy's voice was almost a hiss, and her eyes were narrowed in distaste. "She yat boon gau."
The woman stiffened, and Artus said, "Lucy, shame. That's ugly. Please forgive her, Miss Uta. Come along to my trailer and we'll discuss your qualifications."
They left and Dmitri said, "All right--what did you call her?"
"Japanese dog," said Lucy. "I being nice. Could think of lots worse."
"I know, but why so hostile? You've barely met the woman."
"She yat boon gau! Don't need to know her. Her people hate my people and back at 'em. Artus take her on, she be big trouble." Lucy shrugged. "Eh, maybe she no Chancer. Gotta go." She bounced up and tousled Sock's ruff. "Big daddy cat, get all whoopie you can now. Few weeks and Jing pop you in face if you try." Lucy waved to her friends and left the trailer.
"I've never known Lucy to be so antagonistic without some sort of provocation," said Dmitri.
"The woman struck me as a little chilly, but I agree that there didn't seem to be any reason for Lucy to get her back up like that," said Callie. She pushed Sock into Dmitri's lap. "Let him out, hon. He'll want to see Jing-Jing, and if he starts crying I'm afraid I'll get a headache."
Dmitri dropped Sock outside the trailer, saying, "Have fun, and be nice to Jing. Pregnant ladies need special care."
"I haven't been that much trouble, have I?" asked Callie.
"You've been an angel. YaYa's told me stories about what my mother put my father through during her pregnancy. He'd have to go out at two or three in the morning looking lemon pie and pickle relish."
Callie looked a little green. "And I thought I was being odd with my crackers-and-peanut butter addiction.
In his trailer Artus showed the woman to a seat and offered her a drink. "No, thank you. I'd like to get this settled as quickly as possible."
"Very well," said Artus agreeably. "We're a rather specialized troupe. What makes you think you qualify to join?"
"This." The woman stood up, opened her robe, and threw it off. Beneath it she was wearing an unremarkable blouse and pair of slacks, but what they revealed... She had two extra arms and two extra legs. The spare legs sprouted from either side of her hips. They were shorter than the normal ones, and bent slightly at the knee so that the feet (shod in plain slippers) dangled around her calves. Her spare arms sprouted from her shoulder, and they two were shorter than normal, but by no means tiny. The fingers on these hands were also very long, and thin. All four excess limbs were very slender, and the skin was as pale as cheese.
Artus stared for a long moment, then cleared his throat. "My. I may assume that is all you, and no rigging?"
"Yes. I was born normal, and went through my childhood with no hint of the abnormal. These gradually appeared in my twenties."
"Well, now, this IS unusual. I've seen folks with spare limbs, of course. Some of them are very famous. But their condition always existed from birth. I've never heard of such a transformation in adult life. It's remarkable."
"Then I may join?"
"Patience, ma'am. While this is unique, it is not alone enough to gain you entry into our group. Is there... is there anything else... special about you?"
Her eyebrows arched. "This isn't special enough?"
"We've never really exhibited freaks of nature."
"I believe I know why you hesitate. I am aware that most of the carnival members are not human--or at least, not mortal."
Artus frowned. "I don't know what you mean."
"Please, sir, do not fence with words. It was very clear that the Chinese girl is a vampire. I had a look at your Marina, and she is most assuredly a natural born mermaid. I'm assuming there are many others, not so obvious, who also have strange natures. I understand your not wanting to take in someone who might be frightened, disgusted, or threatened by your friends. Who am I to point a finger and say 'unnatural'? Please. While I might be able to find a place in some other venue, it would not be a haven, like the Last Chance Traveling Show."
Given that she seemed to know their secrets, and touched by her plea, Artus couldn't think of any good reason to refuse her. "Then so be it." He held out his hand. "You are now a Chancer. We'll expect ten per cent of what you pull in for your show, but the sales are your own. Also we have a substantial fund to help out our own who find themselves in tight circumstances. Do you have a trailer or wagon, or do we need to find you accommodations?"
"I have a very small trailer, but it is all I need."
"Good. We have a few spare trucks, so there'll be no trouble having it towed. Do you have a show tent, banners, fliers?"
"While I have never exhibited myself, I have been preparing for this day. I have all those things. Here." She reached into a pocket of the discarded robe and handed Artus a folded sheet of paper.
He opened and scanned it. The top third of the paper held a slightly blurry headshot of the woman. Below it was a clearer , smaller photo of her showing her extra limbs, and beside that was a sketch depicting her with spider legs and arms. It read UMI THE SPIDERWOMAN. It gave a brief history, placing her birth around the turn of the century, and her birthplace as a rural hamlet in Japan. There were a few paragraphs about the amazing appearance of her deformity, her shunning by superstitious peasants, her rescue by kindly missionaries, yada yada. The standard freak show template for a natural oddity. Some of it might even be true. "This is nice. You can sell these, and add a charge if you autograph them. You can always get something to eat at the cookhouse if you don't feel like cooking, and Harvey will be willing to pick up things for you when he goes into town for supplies. Just ask."
"I thank you." She picked up her robe and began to slip it on again. "If you will excuse me, I can go and have my trailer brought. It will only take an hour or two, and I can make arrangements for the tent and other items to be delivered here tomorrow."
"Splendid. And don't worry about Lucy..."
"I wasn't going to."
Artus rubbed his moustache. "Good. I just wanted to say that I'm sure she'll warm up to you when she gets to know you."
"I do not wish to appear rude, sir, but I do not like being known. The baka little bloodsucker can avoid me all she likes, and I will do the same for her."'
As she left Artus muttered, "Oh, dear. I'm afraid that Sock and Jing-Jing aren't the only cats around here."