A TALE OF THE RIVERWORLD
By Dennis E. Power
(Written in honor of Philip Jose Farmer's 86th Birthday)
The sun is shinin', c'mon get happy The Lord is waiting to take your hand Shout Hallelujah, c'mon get happy We're goin' to the Promised Land We're headin' 'cross the river Gonna wash our sins in the tide It's all so peaceful On the other sidePROLOGUE: A JOEY'S DREAM
In the water's reflection was the face of a young man with golden brown hair, clear blue eyes and handsome features if a slightly sharp nose and too feminine appearing lips. He was of average height and but muscularly build. As if a ripple in the surface of the water the features of the man suddenly began distorting. One side of his face and head swelled to huge proportions as fleshly growths transformed his skin and bone. His mouth was twisted out of shape and nearly covered by a huge tumescent growth of several inches that projected from face.
Yet the horror did not end there. His body was also affected by this strange and sudden distortion. His right arm swelled into a lumpy mass and as did his hands and fingers. His legs became shrunken and twisted. Unable to cry or even shout with horror at the transformation that had taken place, the man allowed himself to fall backwards,
The weight of his head and relative frailty of his neck caused a sharp pain. Unable to right himself the young man felt his chest grow heavier as his breath labored. Feeling himself fall endlessly into darkness, a gurgling, bubbling gasp rose from his throat. Had anyone else heard it, they would have thought it merely a death rattle. Only Joseph knew it was a scream of fear.
Bolting up right, he flung his sweat soaked coverings aside and held his hands before his eyes. In the dim starlight he could see that they were both perfectly formed and both perfectly fine. Relaxing he lay back down and was soon lulled to sleep by the lapping of the river's current and the soft regular breathing of his wife.
PART ONE: BALLYHOO
Several fish oil lanterns lit the interior of the giant white tent. The tent itself represented both a remarkable feat and fantastic wealth for it had been pieced together from thousand and thousands of cloths.
Into the center of the tent strode a young man in his mid-twenties, as were all of the people inside the tent and outside the tent; and up and down the river from mouth to head.
This particular young man wore a frock coat made of white cloths upon which had been glued multicolored and polished stones that reflected the torchlight. He also wore breeches also of cloth, dark fish leather boots and a top hat composed of cloth, bark and fish leather.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for coming to see General Charles Sherwood Stratton's Extravaganza with a One-Ring Circus, Dime Museum, Theatrical Players and associated artists. Please allow me to introduce myself. I am General Charles Sherwood Stratton and you are about to the see the most fantastic, most spectacular and stupendous collection of acts, exhibits and entertainment ever put together in the history of mankind. In short the Greatest show on Earth… or wherever we are. " He smiled slightly this.
"No expense has been spared to bring you acts and entertainment from all eras in the history of human kind. We have clowns, jugglers, knife throwers, acrobats, sword swallowers, escape artists, we have a theatrical troupe which will put on several plays, we have artists who will display their works of art. We even have musical acts. We also have the exhibition of Human Oddities, that is former human oddities who will related their life histories to you and tell you how their lives have been changed by the equalizing hands of those who have resurrected us from our final reward.
Our first exhibit is myself. You see before you a young man of devastating good looks, surpassing charm and of average height. However this was not always the case."
General Stratton gestured and two young women of great beauty carried in a wooden easel of about three feet in height. On the easel was a rectangular shape covered by a white cloth. The two women stood on the sides of the easel like bookends. One woman was a dark skinned African-American woman the other a tanned blonde with piercing blue eyes, both women were well formed and smiled with perfect teeth.
At General Stratton's nod the blonde flipped the cloth. A drawing that was quite photo realistic was revealed. It showed a man who many in the audience recognized, Abraham Lincoln former President of the United States of America. He was shaking hands with a very small man in a military dress.
"This drawing was kindly produced by Norman Rockwell one of our wonderful artists. This portrait was based on a famous photograph. The tall man many of your will recognize as Mr. Abraham Lincoln. The tiny man was I. At my full height and weight I was but 3 feet and four inches tall and seventy pounds. I as born normal sized, a little large in fact yet at five months I stopped growing. I began performing at the age of five for Mr. Phineas T. Barnum, the greatest showman I have ever known. He inflated my age by six years, a fact, which I am told, lead to confusion about my actual age among historians. Mr. Barnum was my friend and mentor. Not only did he teach me a variety of entertainment skills such as dancing, singing, horse riding but he also taught me how to entertain.
"Through my years with Mr. Barnum I became world renown, meeting almost all the Kings and Queen of Europe and the heads of state. These included Queen Victoria, the Prince of Wales, the Duke of Wellington, King Louis Philippe of France, Kaiser Wilhelm and the Tsar of Russia.
"My career made me very wealthy and I was able to buy homes, yachts, horses and carriages. Yet my greatest treasure came neither from my wealth nor my fame but rather was given to me. This was the love of my wife, Lavinia."
The African-American woman removed the drawing and placed it behind another one on the easel revealing a photo realistic drawing of two midgets dressed in 19th century finery holding hands. These two people were Charles Stratton and Lavinia Warren Stratton.
"Lavinia and I were happily married for twenty years. We made millions and spent them just as fast. I grew addicted to fine foods and cigars, growing quite portly for my size.
"We were nearly killed in a theater fire but escaped mostly unharmed. I however did not escaped unscathed coming out the ordeal with damaged lungs. My health never recovered and I died when I was forty-seven years old, I died of a stroke or so I am told.
On the day of the Great Shout or Resurrection Day, I awoke to find myself naked, hairless, circumcised and the same height as most everyone else around me. Like the majority of people along the River I was resurrected among those who had also died in the same time period and vicinity as I had died. Therefore I was not subjected to the cultural shock that affected so many people on that wonderful, horrendous day. I also knew many people that I had known during my life. Many of these congratulated me on my new body, no longer would I be small person in a big person's world. No longer would I be forced to deal with devices, transportation, buildings and etcetera that were too large for me to easily utilize. Yet in truth, because my life had been relatively sheltered, I had had very little problem with these situations. I was depressed because although I had found people I had known in my life including my parents and sister, Lavinia and Mr. Barnum were not resurrected in my area. I was also quite depressed because I was no longer unique. I had reveled in my celebrity, in the great acclaim that my short stature had brought me.
"I met two other people who had also worked for Mr. Barnum and it was this synchronicity that gave me the idea to travel the river searching for my lost beloved and entertain people at the same time. It took four years to build the boats and to assemble a crew. We traveled down the river for ten years until we reached the approximate start of the American twentieth century; I found no trace of either Mr. Barnum or Lavinia. We then spent ten years retracing our route and then traveling up river for five. We have encountered lost members, gained new friends, fought in wars, escaped from slavery, endured tragedy and triumph. For those interested in the history of our troupe and its voyage, please visit the Gallery tent after the show, copies of Claudius' History of the River Circus are available for purchase.
"The show must go on and so here is our first entertainment of the evening, the Juggler Extraordinaire!
Charles Stratton left the tent and a young man wearing a white kilt, fish leather sandals and a straw boater entered the center. Although he was muscular his features did have a certain amount of bloat to them, including the start of a paunch. His face was flushed and he had a bulbous nose.
He began his act by juggling three wooden bowling pins. As he juggled he seemed to lose his rhythm as the pins began further and further out of sequence. Yet every time it appeared as though he were going to send a pin flying out of his grasp, it fell back into rhythm. People soon realized that these missteps and bumbles were part of the act. This was especially true when the man seemed to lean too far forwards and his straw boater fell off his head. He seemed to unknowingly add this to his juggling.
As the man juggled, he kept up a patter of cynical and sarcastic dialogue, which many found quite humorous.
"I know how terrible this world can be, I was killed three times before joining up with Captain Stratton. However bad this world can be, I cannot be too hard on a world that does not have any dogs or children.
"In my day I could juggle just about anything, except my account books.
"This world has been a great leveler for many people and has freed people from prejudice, racism and oppression. Me, I haven't changed. I was never prejudiced, I hate everyone equally."
After he finished with the wooden bowling pins, he began juggling three-foot long wooden rods that were about an inch in diameter. He juggled these off of the tips of his fingers, off of his knuckles, his nose and forehead. In one of his tosses his hat "accidentally" was picked up by one of the wooden rods and he spend a few moments attempting to retrieve it from where it stayed spinning atop one of the rods which seemed to always elude his grasp.
As Bill Fields performed, Charlie Stratton smoked a cigar and watched the audience as he listened to his partner W.C. Coup.
"The townies' story has been corroborated by several of the show folk who have asked about him but Preston seems to have finished making arrangements here and then disappeared. The townies believe that he may have ignored their advice and tried to get a booking across the River. These townies don't even trade over there anymore, some religious loonies took over the place a couple of years ago."
"Well, I don't cotton to leaving Preston a captive. Have Glass and Siringo carefully see what they can see on the other side of the River. Anybody know who this religious leader is?"
"A fellow by the name of Matthew Hopkins and his right hand man is Cotton Mather. I recollect that latter name as having to do with the early Massachusetts colony. I will ask Brainiac"
"Anything else going on?"
One of the townies was eyeing the paintings with great interest when we were setting up the gallery tent but something about his manner prompts to think he might be planning on trying to steal some, so I put extra guards in the gallery tent. Also a couple of the locals have been hinting that our tents may suffer from a fire. I think they are trying the old protection racket, although they must know that the towels are fire proof. "
"Yeah, but the boats aren't. Slip the Town Sheriff some presents to make certain his guys remain vigilant"
Fields finished his act by juggling three wooden flasks filled with gin, taking sips out of them until all three were empty.
Charles Stratton put down his cigar and went to introduce the first act.
Sheriff Behan saw O.C. Coup approach him, smiling. Having dealt with these Circus folk for a couple of weeks he knew that they inevitably swung the conversation to business.
For weeks the drums had been pounding a message down the river, the Circus is coming! The Circus is coming!
About a week past a man named Preston Tucker had showed up with a crew of five asking if the Circus could stop in San Jacinto. The town had been very enthusiastic. Tucker made arrangements with Mayor Travis while his crew prepared the grounds and the landing site for the Circus ships. They has also plastered placards up. These were painted like Circus broadsheets but on white towels and glued to the trees and buildings with fish glue.
The broadsides boasted clowns, singers, acrobats, knife throwing acts, sword swallowers, jugglers, artists, high wire acts, magicians, strong man and freaks. Since everyone had been resurrected without deformities, Behan wondered how they were going to make the latter claim.
Twenty-five years on the River and entertainment was still at a premium. With only Stone Age technology the main forms of entertainment had first been sex and war. After the years of constant wars, even war had lost its entertainment value. Certainly there were local singers, actors, playwrights etc. but even their talents grew stale after twenty-five years of monotonous living. So when it was announced that a circus was coming the people of the Republic of San Jacinto were excited. The Republic of San Jacinto was in a stretch of the river where 19th Century Americans had been resurrected, these folks from Arizona, Texas and Mexico. They had managed to form a tight community early on and so had survived almost intact during the early periods of wars. They had even beat back the folks across the river several times. Originally the people on the other side had been composed of 19th century Aleutians and some Aztecs. They had been war-like until some fire and brimstone preacher had converted them into Baptists about ten years ago. When the Baptist preacher had died in a boating accident he had been replaced by Matthew Hopkins who had been resurrected there a few years back.
After several traders had disappeared in the newly christened state of God's Domain, Mayor Travis and the town council had voted to stop all trade with God's Domain and warn all travelers to stay away.
W. C. Coup told Sheriff Behan about the two men who had made veiled threats against the Circus. The descriptions sounded like that damned Billy Clanton and his crony Johnny Chase. They were okay until they started getting likkered up. Behan sent one of his men to keep a watch on the two troublemakers.
After the juggling fellow came out Tom Thumb again. Behan had always wondered what happened to the dwarves and such once they had been resurrected but had never run across any to ask. He recognized Tom Thumb from the many photos taken in his lifetime.
The two pretty young women once more walked out to the center of the ring carrying the cloth-covered easel.
Two young men entered the ring by doing cartwheels and hand springs. They landed on their feet standing next to one another. The blond girl swept aside the cloth revealing a drawing of the two men. In the drawing the man who stood on the left did not have any arms whereas the man who stood on the right did not have any legs.
"Ladies and gentlemen, my name is Eli Bowen and I was born in Richland County, Ohio in 1844. I was born without any legs, although I did have two small feet attached to my trunk. I learned to walk on my hands and eventually to support my weight on one hand for extended periods of time. At the age of thirteen I began working for Major Brown's Coliseum who truth to be told exploited me for my disability yet he taught me quite a bit about showmanship. Eventually I became an acrobatic performer and partnered with Charles Tripp the Armless Wonder. Our most well known stunt was riding a two-man bicycle with me steering and Charles pedaling.
"Despite my obvious defect I was also known as the handsomest man in show business. A trait I confess I used with some notoriety during my adolescence and early youth. Many women wished to see how normal other parts of me were. This however all stopped when I married at the age of twenty-six. My wife and I had several children. I retired to live and die in Ogden, California.
"Unlike many of my fellow former freaks, I was not too shaken by being resurrected fully cured of my physical disability. Oh, it took me an embarrassing day or so to learn to walk without experiencing vertigo but I revel in being able to walk and run and use my legs as I never could before. Yet I still retained my learned skills of being an acrobat, although I had to learn to adjust for the change in my center of gravity."
Eli Bowen walked over to a pair of fifteen-foot long poles that had been set into the ground. Using only his arms he climbed to the top of one of the poles, he held himself upright over the tops of the two poles by grasping one in each hand. He jerked the poles from the ground and began walking them across the ring while keeping his legs and body extended. Launching himself over the poles, he did a somersault and landed on his feet and took a bow.
He stood off to the side while the man who had come out with him began speaking. He had a soft voice with a pronounced German accent.
"My name Ladies and Gentlemen is Carl Unthan, I was born in Sommerfield, East Prussia in 1848. I was born without any arms. My father was a schoolteacher who realized that a disability is only a disability if you think of it as such. He ordered the family not to show pity for me and to make certain I was treated like everyone else. I had to learn to dress myself with my feet, to climb ladders, help with the family chores, including planting and picking potatoes. I sat in on my father's schoolhouse and learned to read and write at an early age.
"I began to teach myself to play the violin at the age of ten. My father believed that I had talent enough to become a professional musician and sent me to the music conservatory. By age sixteen I was giving concerts which took me all over the world. Yet even being a well regarded violinist was not enough to satisfy many people's curiosity about my abilities. Before my recitals I would give a demonstration of my abilities. I removed my morning coat, lit cigars, opened a wine bottle, poured wine, shuffled and dealt cards, played a coronet and then shot a rifle using only my feet.
Because I received so much correspondence I soon discovered that writing so many letters exhausted my toes so I learned to type with my feet.
While on a concert tour I met a pair of concert singers, one of whom I was immediately taken with. I proposed that we tour together. At the end of the tour, Antonie Besceta agreed to make our partnership permanent and she became my beautiful bride.
In the course of my long career I also starred in a couple of early motion pictures in which I was depicted as using my unique abilities to save lives. I penned an autobiography The Pediscript since it was written by foot rather than by hand. I died after a long and rich life at the age of eighty.
Fate played a cruel trick on me as it did on every person on this godforsaken planet for instead of Heaven or Hell we ended up here. I found myself amongst Prussians however these were Prussians of the tenth century with a minority population of Vikings from that era. I found myself cured of my affliction and for the first time in my life possessed arms and hands. I hated them. Here I was alone among strangers who did not speak my language, without my darling wife or children and thrown totally out of emotional and psychological balance by losing the ability to manipulate my environment as I had done for eighty years. Consider this my friends how would you feel if you suddenly lost your arms? This is how I felt when I gained mine and lost the ability to use my feet as I had before.
I see the looks of disbelief among you, the scoffers who will remind me that I did not lose my feet since they are obviously still there but rather I also gained arms and hands. I had never used my hands before; I did not have the training to use them that all adults have from using them from infancy. What's more since I had used my feet from early infancy to manipulate objects this had induced physiological changes to the structure of my feet and hips, my toes had become longer and agile, my hip joints had gained a great deal of elasticity which allowed me to move in ways most people could not. These alterations to my body had also been cured. While it is true that I was forced to use my hands I never felt comfortable with them, they felt alien to me. Alien and clumsy. My despair was great in those early days but there was a ray of hope in this sea of despair. Resurrected with me was a man named Andrea Amati, you may recognize the name. He was one of the earliest violin makers. Once we had learned to communicate and discovered our mutual love of the violin, we decided to make one. Wood of course was abundant and gut and human hair was a fair substitute for horsehair for the bow.
It took us two years but finally the violin was finished. I played a piece by Paganini or rather made the attempt. I soon discovered that despite the talent I had possessed in my feet, my clumsy hands had no talent whatsoever. Having learned this, I could not bear to touch the violin. Amati left the area in disgust, believing I had lied to him.
In my loneliness and despair, I became a dreamgum addict. In the throes of one particular hallucinatory episode, I begged one of the Vikings to hack off my arms so I could return to living as I had. It was my misfortune that I spoke to one of the Vikings who thought this would be a rather funny prank. His friends held me down while he chopped my arms off at the shoulders. They then cauterized the wounds. I nearly died from shock. Nearly died. I did not die. I was forced to once again use my feet as my mode of transportation as well as the means of manipulating my environment. While I was using my feet however my arms began to grow back. It took five years for them to fully re-grow. Fortunately the people in that area protected me believing I was mad and so protected by the Gods.
By this time I had once again gotten my feet back into the state they had been upon my death. Being forced to use my feet once again brought me confidence and reminded me that nothing was impossible so I forced myself to begin using my hands and feet interchangeably. I took my violin and started down river."
Carl Unthan walked over to the two upright poles. He grasped on in his hand and then grasped one with his feet. He moved up the poles using both his feet and hands to grip the poles. He stood on his hands on top of the poles, flipped and grasped the top of the poles with his feet. He moved down the poles gripping one with each of his feet.
As he climbed down the poles one of the girls placed a wooden stool with a violin in the ring. Unthan sat on the stool and played two pieces with his hands and three with his feet. It was generally agreed that the feet played the best.
As Unthan and Bowen exited the ring, Unthan was stopped by a young and pretty woman of South East Asian descent. She kissed him passionately before continuing onto the staging area.
The next act was a knife-throwing act with Jimmy Hickok and Calamity Jayne. Although Jimmy Hickok was indeed the man who had been known as Wild Bill Hickok, Calamity Jayne was however not Martha Jane Canary or any of her want to be imitators from the Wild Western era but rather a buxom brunette who had once been a blonde motion picture star born Vera Jayne Palmer in 1933 died in 1967 in a fatal car crash. Hickok and Jayne were a couple, of sorts, neither was entirely given over to monogamy.
After Hickok and Calamity Jayne came the pretty young South East Asian girl, wearing a white bra and skirt. She was accompanied by the two models who carried in the easel. She introduced herself in seven different languages. After which she disrobed and stood naked before the crowd. Her skin was a dusky brown and she was well formed. She pirouetted and exposed her nude form to every angle of the audience. The dark skinned woman exposed Rockwell's painting of this girl as she had appeared on earth.
"As I said, My name is Krao. In my previous life I had been known as Krao the Missing Link. I suffered from a condition known as hirsutism that made hair grow all over my body. Despite claims to the contrary I never possessed prehensile toes or ape lips nor did I rant and jump like a chimpanzee when angered or excited. I was born in Laos but was sold to a man named Farini who exhibited me as a missing link. I eventually was sold to someone else and was taken to America. In America I eventually gained my freedom but continued working as a sideshow attraction. I stayed with the circus and the sideshow because I had made friends among the other performers and the duties of my employment allowed me to pursue my hobby, which was to read and learn. I died in 1929 at the age of 49. I do not miss all of my extra hair but I do miss not being able to walk to a nearby library and check out as many books as I wish. So instead I travel with my friends down the river and listen to the various stories of all the people we meet.
"Although my fellow hairy performers were often looked at askew when out in public, generally we were never treated as though we were freaks, so perhaps we made the adjustment to the loss of our freakishness with out any feelings of loss like some of my friends. Let me introduce four more former furry folk.
"Annie Jones the bearded lady! "
An attractive young woman strolled into the arena. She rubbed her smooth cheeks as the blonde model displayed a drawing of a young woman dressed in a Victorian dress. The young woman in the picture had a full beard and mustache.
"Bella Carter, the woman with the mane!"
A rather ordinary looking woman walked out into the middle of the circus ring. The picture of her that was revealed showed a side view of her wearing a Victorian dress. Out of the back of the dress came a long, pale tail of hair which resembled a horse's tail more than it did a mane.
"Lionel the Lion Faced Boy."
An average looking man with a muscular physique walked into the center ring. He flashed a wide smile at the audience revealing a mouth full of strong, healthy teeth. Nothing unusual there since cavities were unknown on the Riverworld and knocked out teeth re-grew.
Lionel's portrait revealed a man whose entire head was covered with hair; his eyes and lips peaked out from a forest of hair. His open mouth revealed that he had but two teeth in his entire mouth.
"Some people who have hirsutism also have an abnormal amount of teeth. Dentists call this partial anodontia. Personally I would trade a full set of teeth for a head of hair any day. The makers of this world were good to me, as they were to my friend, Julia. "
A small, well-formed woman of American Indian descent walked out into the center ring. She was on the cusp of being handsome or plain. She had a large nose and full lips and a full face although she was not overweight.
"I was exhibited as a missing link as was my friend Krao, however in my case, many scientists were serious in their belief that I was some type of a throwback to a primitive species of mankind. In addition to being bearded I was deformed with an over developed jaw, overly large ears and a deformed forehead, I truly did look like a cross between a man and ape.
"My condition appears to have been a combination of hirsutism and acromegaly. Although I was supposed to be an illiterate ape, I was actually quite well read. Unlike my friend Krao, I had a romantic life and married my manager although most people warned me that he was marrying me so he could have an exclusive hold over me I married him anyway. While there was an element of truth to their warnings, I know that my Eddie loved me in his own way. I gave birth to our child in 1860. It was a difficult birth because of my small size and I was fatally injured in the delivery. While I had hoped my child would look like his father he in fact looked like me with facial deformities and hirsutism, yet he was the most beautiful sight I have ever beheld.
"I am told that my baby only lived for three days so I will never find him on this new world on which we have found ourselves. After my baby and I died, my husband went mad. He had our bodies preserved; they were stuffed and showed them in exhibition. Yet this proved too much for him and my husband married another bearded lady. He convinced himself that this woman was my sister or I at times. Eventually he ended up in a Russian madhouse.
You see me as I am now; this is how I looked. I thank God or whoever responsible that I no longer look that way."
The portrait revealed a dark skinned woman wearing a floral embroidered dress. The woman had thick black hair and a beard. She also possessed prominent brow ridges and thick eyebrows overly large ears which resembled a chimpanzee's, a wide nose, a projecting jaw and thick, protruding lips. She did indeed look like she was part ape.
"Because my physical appearance was so noticeable, people often neglected my other talents."
Krao, Annie Jones, Lionel and Belle walked out of the ring. The two models picked up the easel and also left the ring. In walked a handsome young man with curly brown hair who stood nearly six feet in height. He carried a flute and two string instruments. Smiling merrily he handed Julia one of the stringed instruments and took the flute. He began playing Greensleeves. Julia revealed that she was an excellent lute player and a wonderful singer. On the second chorus, the young man joined in. He had a rich, nearly operatic voice.
After the song was finished, Julia introduced her partner as Michael Dunn. Dunn and Pasterna performed five songs before exiting the ring.
The pattern of the show that followed were a variety acts interspersed with the stories of former freaks with their former appearances displayed on canvas. A former albino story led into a sword swallowing act, the former lobster boy led into a roping exhibition, the alligator woman led into a clown act. Of the ten clowns with the circus one was Joseph Grimaldi. Wonder of wonders there was even a cyclist act, the rubber wheels being made of woven fish leather and straw, the cycle was made of bamboo and the chain was also woven leather.
A young man with sandy brown hair walked out into the center ring without introduction. "My life on earth was short, filled with pain and hardship, but it could have been much worse. I had very loving and generous parents; I lived in a time when medical science made my life a bit easier than it had been for my predecessors yet still I died at the age of twenty-two. If General Tom Thumb had lived at the same time as me, he could have used one of my shoes as a boat. Most ceilings were too low for me; most furniture was like a child's playset to me, most beds were too short by several feet. At the age of nine I was 6 and 1/2 feet tall, at fourteen I was seven feet and five inches, at the age of eighteen I was 8 feet and 3 1/2 inches. By the time I was twenty-two I was eight feet and 11 inches and I was still growing. I weighed 439 pounds; none of it was fat. I am Robert Wadlow, I was known as the Alton Giant.
I lived from 1918 to 1940. I died at the age of twenty-two due to infections caused by blisters on my feet. Because of my height I had trouble feeling my feet and so could not sense when the combination of my great weight and size of my feet had caused irritation."
Robert Wadlow walked over to the easel that had been carried into the ring and flipped the easel. The drawing revealed a young man dressed in a dress suit and pants standing in a sitting room. His head nearly touched the ceiling and a crystal chandelier brushed against the side of his face. Standing next to him was another man who came up to his Robert's midriff.
"To give you some additional perspective as to how tall I was, let me introduce my friend Ymir".
A colossus strode into the tent. A man eight and half feet tall with a brow ridges, a huge nose, thin everted lips and convex jaws stood next to Wadlow. Whereas the picture of Wadlow showed a gaunt, almost skeletal man, Ymir was thick boned and heavily muscled. He was also nude and covered with thick, blonde hair.
Wadlow pointed at Ymir and said, "If you are wondering why weren't his anomalies cured along with everyone else, well the fact of the matter is that they were. Wadlow and Ymir grinned at each other. This Ymir's natural height and weight, he is a member of a species that you may have heard of, which had been called the Nephilim, Frost Giants, Yeti, Sasquatch and Titananthrop by various people along the river. Yet in his life Ymir was a human oddity just as I was.
"When I died in that hotel room in Manistee, Michigan I knew I would be going to heaven, I had lived a good life. Yet I woke up besides the river in what I was certain was hell. It was dark and cold. Naked, hairless giants with huge noses surrounded me. I believed that these giants were fifteen to sixteen feet tall, since I was nearly nine feet tall and they were half again as large as I was.
"As everyone was they were shocked to find themselves alive and not in the Afterworld they had envisioned. After they had tired of screaming and then looking at one another with amazement, they began to fight amongst themselves. Old enemies and blood feuds carried over into the next world. It was about this time that I was noticed. A huge brute with a grail the size of a small tree, at least so it seemed, came after me. One of the giants stopped him from killing me by shouting at him. The giant who had tried to kill me prostrated himself before the giant who had saved me. Several others did as well. There were about six people my size who had been resurrected in that area, four of them had been killed.
The other person was a young woman only a few inches shorter than I. I was astounded at this. She was of Asian origin, a Korean as it would turn out. Being the only other human being about we naturally gravitated towards one another and hung about the giant who had saved us.
Along with the giants we were frightened by the discharge of energy from the grailstones at noon. The giants turned out to be no less curious than other human beings and a few brave souls examined the grail stones after the discharge. They discovered a grail filled with fire cooked mammoth meat, fresh berries, milk, some dried grains and nuts and a crude form of beer. They offered it to Ymir, who ate it and found it to be good. He had the grail placed back in the grail stone and placed his there. Everyone followed suit.
The evening grail discharge had filled the grails of everyone with the wit to put them in the grail stone. I received a meal with roast beef, mashed potatoes and gravy, green beans, an apple, a cup of whisky, cigarettes, a lighter, a cigar and a stick of chewing gum.
The Korean woman's name was Jung Hyun; she ate her meal and smoked a cigarette. She downed her liquor and motioned for mine if I wasn’t going to drink it. I took a couple of sips and passed it to her. I also gave her my cigarettes. She accepted these with a smile. We both began chewing the bubble gum. She suddenly grabbed at her midsection and began screaming and beating herself about the stomach and breasts. I grabbed her hands but she fought like a wild cat and scratched my face before I was able to subdue here. She fell into a deep sleep. Although I remained awake I had a nightmare. My parents' home was shrinking with me inside of it but remained the same size. The rooms compressed and all the items in the house grew tinier by the second as I was crushed by the walls and ceiling.
I awoke when I felt someone caressing my cheek; Jung was washing my bloody face with her wet fingers. Her face was shiny with tears. Noticing I was awake she began kissing my scratches and then she began kissing me all over. On the first night of my new life I finally lost my virginity.
Jung and I began to communicate. Jung had known some English at one time but had forgotten it. In broken English she explained that she had died at the age of forty-eight in 1968. She had stomach cancer that had gotten into her breasts and other regions. She blamed the Japanese for her death. As a young woman she had been forced to work as a comfort girl for the Japanese. She had refused to continue cooperating near the end of the war; a Japanese soldier had bayoneted her in the groin. Although she survived she was never the same afterwards, she had been unable to conceive children and that region had been subject to many sorts of infection. After being repatriated in Korea after the World War Two, which of course I knew nothing about, it having started after my death. Her family was caught up in the Korean Conflict and the few who had remained alive after World War II were killed. She and her husband took refuge in Seoul where they operated a small store for a few years. Her husband had to return to North Korea to visit his dying father. She accompanied him. They were not allowed to leave North Korea. Her husband died after many years of hard work on improving North Korea's road system. When she became ill with cancer since she was not a party member, she was not provided with adequate care and died a slow, lingering extremely painful death.
She thought I was being funny when I asked her about her great height. It was true that being nearly six feet tall was unusual for a Korean especially a woman but she had not considered herself a freak. It was then that I realized that in my resurrection that I had been reduced in height. These giants surrounding us were about the same height as I had been. We wondered if we had somehow gotten shifted to wrong sort of heaven or hell. So far as Jung was concerned this was Heaven, she was young and pretty again, she was freed of pain and had plenty of food to eat and a handsome man to love. I felt much the same way but in truth we did feel very much alone since we were so unique.
One day another person like us was resurrected near us. He claimed to be one of the soldiers of Hernado Cortez killed by the small pox plague that had decimated the Aztec population. Jung was immediately distrustful of Diego Sanchez, since she had not led the sheltered life I had. I should have listened to her. We learned that there were many human beings our size down stream. So despite having made friends among the giants Jung and I decided to leave the area and so began building a boat, aided by the giants.
Jung came to our hut one night weeping telling me that Diego had attacked her and would have raped her if one of the giants had not interfered.
I informed Diego that he would not be traveling with us downriver. He seemed to take it well. The next day Jung disappeared. Ymir and I tracked her to the woods in the hills a mile from the river. Diego and a group of three giants had gang raped her. She was quite dead. Ymir and I both screamed in rage, I cast my fire hardened spear at Diego and caught him full in the throat. Without regard for the great odds against me I charged at the three giants.
Although the giants were built proportionately better than I was, they still had some of the same weaknesses. I slammed the head of my flint axe into the insteps of one of the giants. The excruciating pain doubled him over. I cracked his skull with my axe but he reared up with a roar and bloody crown and tossed to the ground. He was going to stomp me like an insect when his knee was torn off by Ymir's axe and his throat slashed in a follow up swing. The other two giants seemed to flee from Ymir's assault yet they doubled back and attacked us. I felt a flash of pain as an axe hit my skull and then awoke on the river. Ymir was beside me. We have been traveling together eve since."
Ymir began to take up the tale; his speech was hard to follow for some because he lisped.
"When I first saw Bob I felt sorry for him because he was a runt. The gods of this world had made me normal but had left this man deformed, I thought. I fit in this show of human oddities not only because I am a different species than you short folks but also because among my own kind I was an oddity. I was a dwarf, among my own kind and stood no more than six feet tall. While the gods had stunted my body they had given me a fine mind, I was a genius among my kind and devised many new tools and weapons. I made the connection between the hard stones of the falling stars and the shiny stones inside the ground. I reasoned that heat would allow us to shape the metal as we saw fit. I invented metalworking among my kind. For this I was regarded as a child of the gods, a status I admittedly encouraged since it provided me with protection.
I guided my people to years of prosperity until I was killed in a great and sudden freeze. When I awoke on this world I was among those who had known me in life. They regarded my change in stature as a sign that the gods continued to favor me. My years of leadership allowed me to organize the various tribes in the area into a relatively peaceful collection of clans. Yet there was resentment, especially when I befriended Bob and his mate, Jung. When the other small person Diego was resurrected in our area, he discovered the resentment that existed and exploited it. He convinced some of my enemies that due to my increased height I was no longer favored of the gods. In fact my leadership was derived from my mating with the small woman. If they mated with the small woman, they too would be favored of the Gods. Bob has told you the rest of the story. One day perhaps I will find myself among my own kind, until then I enjoy meeting all the nice people along the river.
The two giants, one a former giant and the other a current giant, were followed by a group of acrobats doing various stunts on poles, parallel bars and with each other. The observant onlookers would have noticed Carl Unthan, Julia Pasterna, Stephen Bibrowsky and Michael Dunn among the acrobats.
After the acrobatic show, the next act was an odd one. A black man with a bald head walked out wearing an outfit that looked like a monkey suit. He carried a marching drum and had a harmonica in his mouth. The drum had the words "What is it?" written across the skin. The man played percussion and harmonica versions of Swanee River, Old Kentucky Farm and a few others.
After he finished, the black man grinned and said, "As you may have noticed I was not hired for the show for my musical talents in my former stint as a performer, numbers like that were all I had to do or run around and make growling noises. My name is Henry Johnson and I was known professionally as Zip or Zip Coon or What is it? According the handbills of Mr. Barnum I was captured by explorers along the Gambia River, a creature roving the trees like an orang outang. Actually I was born in New Jersey in 1842 and died in 1926. My appearance was rather unique. He gestured to the easel Ladies?"
The two models came out with the easel. The picture showed Henry Johnson dressed in a monkey suit, his head was however oddly shaped in that Johnson did not possess a forehead and his skull sloped to a point at the top. From the top of his head grew a tuft of hair.
"My condition was generally known as microcephaly and in most cases the condition causes severe to mild retardation. While it was true that I did have some learning dysfunction I was not retarded otherwise I would not have been resurrected. While there were many publicity stunts involved in my career with Barnum and the Ringling Brothers Circus, in many cases I was the one who dreamed them up. Now if you folks will excuse me, I am going to get out of this costume because it is hotter than hell!"
The next act was a real surprise, a high wire act. A net was strung across the ring. A man walked across the high wire using a balancing pole. Another man walked across using only his arms as balance. The first man took a wooden chair out with him, balanced the chair and sat in it. The second man took a wooden chair and a foot rest out and balanced on those. He stumbled when getting off of the stool and needed to drop the footrest to regain his balance. Other people began doing stunts on the high wire; a woman walked across in on her hands, another man rode a unicycle across. The acrobats worked their way out to the center of the wire. There they began to form a human pyramid. One of the men gestured at the ground. Several of the roustabouts rushed out and took down the net.
General Tom Thumb ran out and shouted for them to put it back up. The man on the high wire gestured angrily for them to keep it down. Stratton motioned for the workers to put it back up which they did. The people on the high wire refused to move. Stratton shouted for them to get on with the show. They continued to stand there gesturing for the net to be taken down. Throwing his arms up in disgust Stratton motioned for the net to be taken down. However the workers held onto the ropes, ready to pull the net taut if necessary.
The high wire artists formed a human pyramid five people high. They then broke apart and went back to their respective poles.
"Ladies and gentlemen allow me to introduce the Fearless Fliers, Charles Blondin, Karl Wallenda, Mary Grayson, Frank Stonecutter and Christine Smith."
When the ring cleared a young Asian man, handsome and muscular stood in the center.
"I am right, although I have often been wrong. Actually although I was on the right, my name did not really mean that. I am Eng Bunker one of the original Siamese twins. My brother Chang and I were identical twins, as conjoined twins we were joined together at our sides by a ligament about the thickness of an arm. We often thought about having the ligament severed however an autopsy revealed that the operation would have killed us both for the ligament contained our liver, which was the only organ we shared. Despite out conjoined nature in all other regards we were separate people.
"We were born face to face separated only by a couple of inches our mother however insisted that we live as normally as possible so began stretching the ligament. Eventually we were able to stand almost side by side, walking with our arms around each other for balance. We had been born in Siam of Chinese and Siamese parents when King Rama II heard about us he had ordered us put to death as freaks of nature. King Rama II was the grandfather of the person later pictured I am told in the book, play and films Anna and the King. Fortunately for us our mother refused to carry out the order and King Rama II never enforced it. When his son assumed the throne he desired to meet us.
"At about the same time an Englishman living in Siam Captain Hunter had heard of us and wished to exhibit us. We did not wish to leave our home having a profitable business selling ducks and preserved duck eggs. However King Rama believed that we would be a good diversion for his diplomatic mission to Cochin China, our trip convinced Chang and I that we could possibly make a good living doing as Captain Hunter wished. Captain Hunter and his partner promised our mother 3000 dollars for our services, they paid a mere 500, they also paid us ten dollars a month.
"We were virtual slaves to Captain Coffin for many years despite becoming world famous celebrities and having performed across America and England. We finally gained our freedom when we turned twenty-one and broke with the Captain and his wife. We retained our former manager to handle our business affairs and set about exhibiting ourselves. We toured America and then France and the Low Countries before returning to New York and becoming part of Peale's Museum. We took a vacation in North Carolina at the suggestion of one of our New York friends; we fell in love with the area and had the notion to become merchants. We opened up a store and prospered. We bought a farm and also a tobacco plantation. We also fell in love with two sisters, Adelaide and Sally Yates. It was a courtship that surprising despite the odd arrangement was successful. We were married in two ceremonies in 1843. Sally and I eventually had eleven children, six boys and five girls. Chang and Adelaide had ten children, three boys and seven girls. As naturalized citizens we were determined to fit in and we became staunch Southerners, followers of Henry Clay and we held several slaves. Chang's son served with distinction in the Confederate forces. Like many Southerners we found ourselves in financial straits after the civil war, so we began touring and exhibiting again. In 1868 we worked with Mr. Barnum who sent us on tour again.
"We were both private men and neither particularly liked having what amounted to a menage a trois whenever we were with our wives. It is amazing that we had as many children as we did. As our families grew we began living in separate homes and our desire to be with our own families was strong with both Chang and I. Yet when one was with his family the other could not be. Our hobbies and social activities also differed. We became more argumentative with each other and desperately tried to find doctors who would separate us. Each one we consulted believed that the operation would be fatal for both of us. We remained chained together. As the more dominant member of the duo, Chang usually had his way and I gave in for reasons of peace. Yet he drank more heavily to deal with our situation. He died of a stroke and I died a few hours later. Many Doctors claim that I died of sheer fright from the prospect of having to be connected to my dead brother. I remember staring at Chang's dead face and then slipping into darkness.
"I awoke lying next to my brother as I did every morning. This time however Chang was hairless and youthful and we were no longer connected to one another by a ligament, we were two individual persons. We hugged each other and danced with joy. We had been resurrected among Siamese of the reign of King Rama the first so they did not know who we were. Chang and I stuck together and built a hut to share. As always Chang was being his usual bossy self. He drank his share of the liquor from the grails and also my share. I chewed the stick of bubble gum. I began remembering every insult, every slight and every abuse heaped upon me by my brother. I grew enraged and without thinking used my grail to smash in my brother's head. This was only two days after the Great Shout so I did not know that people were resurrected again. Overwhelmed with guilt and shame I walked out into the River and drowned myself. I awoke in the same area as Charlie Stratton. When he formed his circus I joined immediately for it would provide an opportunity to seek out my brother and make amends and also find members of my family. I did find Chang's eldest daughter but she was happily married and did not wish to join the circus.
Thank you for your time and patience."
Eng left the ring.
General Charles Stratton strode out.
Ladies and Gentlemen, if you will please once more direct your eyes upward let me introduce to you our Aerial Angels, Lilly Lietzel, Lena Jordon, May Wirth and Francesca Adler.
Lilly performed a series of solo acrobatics on the roman rings, finishing off with 40 planges. She placed her hand in a padded rope, hung suspended and using the one hand and arm twirled herself upward in a circle. Lena Jordan did a series of acrobatics on a stationary bar, including dangling by her foot and doing handstands. He finished with the famous iron jaw routine in which she hung suspended and was lowered to the ground by means of holding a rope in her teeth. May Wirth and Francesca Adler did a double routine of working on the roman rings, and ropes. Their backward somersaults were the high light of their act.
General Charles Stratton returned to the ring. Ladies and Gentlemen allow me to present the amazing tattooed man, Captain Josiah Hayes. The two young models carried in a stiff upright figure of a man. The figure was nude, hairless and every patch of skin had been covered completely with various pictures. It became apparent after a moment that the body had been preserved and stuffed somehow.
A man dressed only in a short loincloth walked out into the ring and stood in front of the tattooed man and commented that this exhibit was in remarkably bad taste. Scattered laughter and gasps of disbelief rose from the audience as they realized that this man was also hairless and had been completely tattooed. His features were also identical to the stuffed body.
In my life on earth I was a sailor and I was shipwrecked among some Malaysian savages. I was forced to join a tribe of these savages in order to survive. I was forced to undergo a year of tattooing by several nubile young women; the one who finished the tattoo design became my wife. Finally I escaped and was found by a passing British ship. Upon returning to England I used my tattoos and the tales of my adventures to make a living exhibiting myself. My wife had been glad that I returned however soon became disenchanted with my decorated body and suspicious of my story. Actually she should have been suspicious of my story since it was all a lie. The truth was that I was tired of my life in the navy and jumped ship. I found these Malaysian people and went native, taking a girl for a wife. After most of my tribe had been wiped out by disease, including my wife. I made way back to civilization once again and made up the story I had just told you. Actually in the tribe I had joined, tattooing was a sacred art. The number of tattoos was a status symbol. I wanted to have a lot of status in the tribe.
I returned to my old life in England but found my tattoos were too distracting for many people. I went into show business as means of getting fed.
I worked for many a carnival, circus, sideshow or museum. Eventually I tired of the constant limelight and retired to a small farm I bought in Iowa. I lived from 1799-1877. When I awoke like everyone else on this planet I was young, hairless and without my tattoos. At first I was glad, however in a year or so I began to miss them. I had been resurrected among some Australian Aborigines who had begun to tattoo themselves. I had myself tattooed on the face and chest and back. Wandering further down river with some passing sailors who also had wanderlust, I came across some Maori who were doing massive body tattooing. I stayed among them for a few years and had most of my body tattooed. The designs were of animals, plants and landscapes no longer available to mankind on this planet. I kept traveling and kept having my body tattooed. I was killed attempting to escape grail slavers. I found myself translated down river, among the Maori I had previously lived among. Of course I no longer had any tattoos. I set about to correct that. This time however I had a design in mind, a design described to me by a man named Burton. The design of the tattoo, which covers my body from head to foot, is a map of the Riverworld. The crown of my skull is the North Polar sea with the Misty Tower at its center, the soles of my feet are the swirling rivers of the South Pole and up and down my legs, arms, truck etc. is the twisting course of the river. Each place we stop adds a tattoo as I place the names of each state we stay in its approximate location.
As I traveled up the river with my new tattoo, I eventually arrived back at the slave state I had been killed. It was no longer a slave state and I discovered a man, who had been a taxidermist on Earth had skinned my body, preserved the skin, stuffed it and was exhibiting my tattooed body. I did not really like the idea of someone else owning my body, despite it being a cast off and so offered to buy it. He challenged me to a fight to the death, no doubt hoping to get another free piece of artwork. I instead tried to use legal means to gain my body back. Eventually the town council ruled that he had to sell me the body back but I would have to play a steep price to get it back. I found myself bond to pay this debt. Fortunately the circus arrived and General Stratton became my partner in acquiring the old skin. So there you have it folks, two tattooed men for the price of one.
Charles Stratton walked out to the center ring. Once again if you would look above you, Ladies and Gentlemen you will see our fearless aerialists on the trapeze. Once again let me introduce Karl Wallenda, Lilly Lietzel, Lena Jordan, Eli Bowen and Christine Smith and Charles Blondin.
The aerialists did many stunts including a four man chain off of the trapeze, a quadruple somersault with a catch, a near miss of the trapeze bar and the single man triple spin and catch. This was with the net up however General Stratton would not allow it to be taken down. There were no mishaps however.
The lights were extinguished as the net was taken down. A single spotlight illuminated the center of the ring. A shadow flickered and wavered as it took shape in the ring. A distorted monster walked into the center ring. A man with an enormous head, from the brow rose a bony mass like a loaf while from the back of the head hung a bag of a spongy mass of flesh. The face looked like brown cauliflower. From the jaw projected another mass of bone, turning the upper lip inside out and twisting the face. The right arm was huge and shapeless, from the chest hung another bag of the shapeless flesh. The lower limbs were also misshapen and huge. Only the left arm and a small portion of the face seemed normal.
A slobbering, speech arose from the thing that had entered the ring.
"Ladies and Gentlemen, I am Joseph Merrick, once known as the Elephant Man. This is how I once looked the result of an unknown condition or variety of conditions. I eked out a living as a sideshow freak mainly because I was unable to do any other sort of work or allowed to do any sort of work. I was found by Dr. Frederick Teves and spent my last few years in relative safety and comfort. I was only twenty-two when I died and I died because I wished to lie down and sleep like everyone else. My head was so large and heavy that lying prone would snap my neck, which it apparently did. I usually slept sitting upright, my body curling into pillows. I tried to lie down once to see how it would feel, my neck dislocated and I could not sit upright. I suffocated.
"When I awoke from the darkness, this is how I appeared."
The Elephant Man worked his left fingers across his chest, he was unbuttoning cleverly concealed fasteners. The Elephant Man suit opened up and an average sized youth with reddish blond hair and gray eyes stood revealed. Dressed only in a white kilt he was shown to be well built and definitely not deformed. He was a handsome youth who immediately caught the interest of several of the members of audience.
"I awoke lying on the grass, a sensation I had never before experienced. My head felt distinctly odd and I felt lightheaded. Although this sounds like a bad pun it is quite accurate since I had been used to carrying around several pounds more of bone and skin matter than I possessed when resurrected. I saw that a grayish cylinder was attached to my left wrist by means of a piece of transparent material. I sat up and cautiously moved my right arm. The arm flung across my chest with only the slightest movement, it also was lighter and more maneuverable than I had previously known. Catching sight of it I stared at it in absolute befuddlement. It was perfect! It was a normal, perfectly formed hand. My eyes moved up and down my arm and then down my chest and my legs. All of my deformations had gone! I began sobbing staring at my hands and feet. I was oblivious to the shouting, screaming, laughing rioting going on about me. I stood up and walked with ease. When I was a child a bone disease had ruined my hip joints making walking painful and difficult, forcing me to use a cane when I walked. Still sobbing and oblivious to the commotion about me I walked down to the river and looked at my reflection.
"Seeing myself as you now see me, I fell to my knees in the shallow water and began sobbing again in heaving, wracking sobs.
"I knew I was in Heaven! I thanked God for my deliverance. To my utter amazement I noticed that everyone was hairless and naked. Oddly enough a few women had gravitated around me, wrongly believing I suppose because of my size and muscular development I would be able to protect them. It is not that I would not make the attempt but I had to that point never physically confronted anyone or anything.
"The illusion that I was in Heaven lasted until the first grailstone's discharge when several men and women fought like animals over the food that was contained in the free grail. A man had his neck broken as he fought for possession of the grail and its contents. I was resurrected in a section of the river where there were Londoners from my own time, a scattering of Americans from a decade or so later and Ancient Celts from Central Europe.
"Since every was starting to make shelters and weapons I decided to do so as well. My group of four women and three men began to assemble a communal hut. Another woman hovered about our group; she seemed as dazed and lost as I was. She fascinated me because I had never seen an African-American before. One of the women told her to leave us and go find her own people.
"For the first time I spoke to them and told this woman that if she did not feel like getting along with that girl she was welcome to leave. This was the first time I had ever heard myself speak in a clear, audible and understandable voice. The bigoted woman looked at me with shock and walked away. One of the men in my group followed her. We visited the grailstone after our makeshift shelter was formed we charged them and received food when it became dusk. After eating we lay down for the night while talking. The African-American girl lay off to the side in a corner by herself. I believe she was sobbing yet felt so disassociated I could not comfort her. I felt out of place once more and kept silent. We were showed what the slabs of sugary candy were used for by one of the few twentieth century folks. As with many folks the dream gum acted like an aphrodisiac. Two of the men and two of the woman paired off. Either affected by their example or also under the influence of the dreamgum, the unattached young lady lay next to me and started kissing my chest and neck. Frightened beyond all belief I pushed her aside. She called me a faggot and went to lie by the other unattached man.
"I chewed the bubble gum and fell into a peaceful sleep. I began choking, gasping for breath. The weight of my head was crushing my windpipe. I sat up and slowly saw my hand swell back into the huge, shapeless mass it had been. I tried to scream but my cries became inarticulate slobbering. Gone was my perfect body, gone was my chance at happiness, at a normal life. I felt a sharp pain in the back of my head and then darkness once more.
"I awoke outside the hut out on the wet, dewy grass. I was lying atop of the African-American girl who awoke as I stirred. She hurriedly snaked out from under me and stood off to the side.
"She explained that I had awakened screaming and would not shut up. One of the men had clipped me on the side of the head with his grail and had dragged me outside. She had come out to make certain no harm came to me, because everyone acted like they had gone crazy all of a sudden. She had not chewed any of the dreamgum and so was unaffected by the psychotropic drug.
"Her name was Christine Smith and she apologized for tagging along after her but she felt oddly drawn to me. Smiling shyly, she hastened to add not in a romantic way exactly but just somehow drawn. As I stated earlier there were Londoners from my time but I did not connect with them, despite being awakened in a normal, healthy body I felt like an outsider, I still felt like the monster that I had been. This was all in my mind of course but my feelings of alienation, of deformation had shaped my psyche over the years.
Christine Smith felt much the same way as I did although I did not know why at the time. Since we both felt like outcasts, she and I drifted together and became hutmates. Most people believed that we were mates in fact but this is not the case neither of us had any experience with the opposite sex and we both had secrets which we kept deep inside ourselves. We became good friends and discovered a mutual love for literature and art. I found that my former skill at creating models translated well into making pottery and sculptures.
As the days went by Christine and I began to feel comfortable with our new bodies, which were youthful, strong, and free from deformity. Christine was more much more outgoing than I and loved to sing and dance. According to her I had a very good singing voice and induced me to sing with her. We often had performances for our fellow citizens in Hyde Park. The Londoners and the Americans had chosen this name from New York because it was a place they held in common. Having been privileged to read Robert Louis Stevenson's The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and the nature of their transformation, I thought the name appropriate to a place where I lived.
I had come to love Christine and desire her as man desires a woman, something that on occasion, given our apparel could not be hidden. The feeling was mutual yet there was ever a barrier between us, the barrier of our hidden pasts. When Christine was teaching me a dance we began kissing passionately. I panicked, knowing that she would discover who I really was and rejected me. I pushed her away, much harder than I intended. She ran from our hut sobbing.
She did not return that night and in my self-loathing I ate a stick of dreamgum. I relieved my experiences as exhibit in hawker of shoe polish in the streets of London, arriving sick and destitute in London and my choking death.
I awoke to find Christine clearing her possessions from our hut. I asked her why she was leaving. For the first time I had known her she reacted with anger. She believed that I had rejected her because I had seen the ugliness she still carried with her, that I sensed that she had been and always would be a freak.
I found myself laughing at that, it was so unexpected and so untrue. My laughter made her even angrier as she stormed out the hut and out of my life I grabbed her and held on for dear life. I told her she was beautiful and desirable and that I loved her but that I felt that she would reject me if she had known who I was. She did not believe me, thinking that I must have learned her secret.
I was befuddled and told her so. I told her there was could be nothing about her that I would ever reject her.
Christine Smith told me her story, like me good friend Eng, she had been a conjoined twin. She had been born into slavery in 1851. She and her sister, Millie were joined at the base of the spine and possessed a common anus and vulva although two sets of legs. Eventually they were bought by a man named Smith who also bought their parents. Smith was interested in exhibiting the twins and so hired a showman to do this for him. The girls were exhibited as the Doubled Headed Girl. The showman stole the children and left the country. Their owner tracked them to England and sued to get them back. However England did not recognize slavery and so the girls mother had to sue for custody. During their stay in London they met Queen Victoria.
Returning to the United States they toured. They skipped rope, sang and danced and performed other tricks. They took a position at Barnum's museum and when that closed worked for circus and variety theaters. In the 1900s they retired. Millie contracted tuberculosis and died on October 19, 1912. Christine followed her sister a few hours later. Despite being outwardly cheerful and given to acts of charity, both Millie and Christine were sad and lonely. They never married and could not bring themselves to have suitors, feeling that since they were so intimately joined it would be unnatural for them to even entertain the thought of having a husband much less a child.
I told her quite truthfully that her exterior looks never mattered to me, although if they had she would have nothing to worry about on that account. I showed her the sculpture I had made and had hidden under my cot. It was a sculpture of how I had looked in life. She looked at it a long time and then gazed at me. She carried the sculpture out of the hut and smashed it into pieces. She threw the pieces into the River.
"As I saw the dust from old image drift away down river, she took my hand in hers. "Our old lives are gone, we need to start making the most of our new lives and new bodies."
"When General Stratton came our way some twenty years ago we joined up in part to exorcise our past and in part to find Millie. You will not see Christine perform in the former freak show but you have seen her as part of the Fearless Fliers and Aerial Angels. She and I also sing and perform in the Oldham Theatrical Troupe. If you are interested I also have wood carvings and sculptures on display in the gallery. Thank you for hearing my story."
The spotlight shut off of Joseph Merrick and swung around to position on General Stratton.
"Ladies and Gentlemen the performers of General Charles Sherwood Stratton's Extravaganza!"
A band entered playing the triumphant march. The band had metal instruments such as a sousaphone, tuba, trumpets and trombone and cymbals in addition to those made of skin, bone and wood. All of the performers joined in a parade that circled the tent three times and then exited.
"Ladies and Gentleman that concludes the Circus performance for today. We will be giving two shows a day of the major acts for the next three weeks or until our welcome wears off. We also had a sideshow and a gallery where you can once again see the individual performers and talk to them, play games of chance, listen to musical recitals, view and purchase works of art and books, hear lectures on a variety of interesting subjects. The Oldham Theatrical group will also be putting on a variety of plays in these three weeks ranging from Shakespeare to a fellow named Edward Albee. "
"Good night and pleasant dreams"
General Charles Stratton bowed deeply once and exited the ring.
PART TWO: KICKING THE SAWDUST
About the same time that Charles Stratton had been introducing the first act, across the River in God's Domain, Preston Tucker was thrown into a bamboo cage after his latest round of interrogation by Hopkins' Proctors. Hopkins wanted to know about the security of San Jacinto but mostly he wanted to know about the military capabilities of Stratton's Extravaganza. Hopkins believed that the Circus was an abomination in the eyes of God and needed to be destroyed. This was especially true when Hopkins and Mather had learned that the Circus had among its members many members who had been in their previous, earthly incarnations cursed with various deformities. To Hopkins and Mather deformity was next deviltry, their bodies had been sick and twisted because their souls had been sick and twisted with corruption. When Tucker had suggested that their cure upon arriving in this world was a sign that God had forgiven him, Hopkins had slammed a spear haft against his, knocking out a tooth and breaking two more. These were the least of his injuries. Over the past week his fingers had been shaved by several layers of skin, his back had been flayed, his left eye had been put out by a burning torch, his face and chest had been slashed and burned, his feet had been broken, yet they would not go so far as to kill him and release him from his torture.
Preston noticed that he was not alone in his cage, there was another man who like Preston had been hog-tied. He was a Negro, uh make that African-American fellow and he had been beaten quite severely.
"You the chap from the Circus?' the man asked in a lilting accent from the Caribbean.
"Can you untie me if I can get your hands free? "
"Truthfully I don't know. My fingers are all messed up from being whittled on. I can try, that is all I can promise"
Rolling onto his belly, the hog-tied West Indies man inched over to Preston. Putting his face above Preston's bound hands and feet, he began to work at the ropes with his lips, tongue and teeth. In about a half-hour he had untied Preston's bonds. Spitting out the ropes, the man introduced himself as Randian. Preston began to work on the ropes tying up Randian but he had to stop every couple of minutes because the pain to his fingers caused them to shake.
When he had finally freed Randian he lay on his sides, panting and sweating from the exertion and agony thrumming from his fingers to his shoulders.
Randian suggested that they lay as if they were still tied until the guards brought them their wonderbuckets. In order for the wonderbuckets, or grails as Preston Tucker knew them, to be opened the living owner had to touch the lids, otherwise they remained closed. In grail slavery, the slavers took most of the food and all of the goodies from the captives, this was the case among those being held captive in God's Domain, except that liquor, dreamgum and tobacco products were consigned to the flame as instruments of the devil.
When the two guards came into the cage carrying the grails and bent over to touch them to the prisoners bound hands; Randian grabbed his guard in a scissors lock between his legs and snapped his neck. Preston slammed his knees into his guard's chin, breaking his jaw and knocking him unconscious. This guard fell across Preston and landed on his broken feet making Preston's vision go scarlet black and foggy from the sudden agony.
Randian moved rapidly he stomped the exposed throat of the still living guard and crushed his windpipe. He grabbing his grail and Preston's he picked Preston up and slung him over his shoulder. He ran as swiftly as he could between the darkened huts. In God's domain at sundown the people ate in communal huts. This was a carry over from the original majority population of Aleutians which George Whitfield the missionary who had converted the Aleutians and Aztec's had transformed into daily dinners and prayer meetings. Matthew Hopkins and Cotton Mather had made the nightly prayer meetings mandatory.
Although Whitfield had eschewed violence he did adopt a policy of isolationism until Aleutians and Aztecs were civilized enough to mingle with the rest of the world. Hopkins and Mather were not opposed to violence and they had tapped into the religious fervor of the Aztecs who had replaced their fanatical faith in their native deities into a fanatical devotion to Lord Jesus. The Aztecs had lived in a society governed by strict religious law and at heart wished to do so again, so whatever the Priests of Lord Jesus commanded they would do. With Whitfield taken to God in a fishing accident, Hopkins and Mather manipulated the minority of fanatical Aztec converts to seize control of the community. They called their religious soldiers The Proctors. They instituted a form of grail slavery in which the grails of all the community were collected and only those deemed in a state of grace could receive food from the grail or from the community. The contents of the grails were collected and rationed. Those who refused to accede were killed.
Randian was spotted however as he darted past the communal house nearest to the community wharf. Angry Proctors began shouting at them but Randian ran as fast as he could. The Proctors then began shooting arrows and throwing spears at them. Randian heard Preston grunt in pain and then he felt fire in his right calf and he went tumbling onto the ground. He tore the arrow from his calf. He and Preston were only a few feet from where the canoes were tied up on the wharf. They crawled towards the canoes as if their lives depended upon reaching them.
A spear hissed and stabbed the ground in front of Randian's hand and he knew that they would not make it.
An explosion sounded behind Randian accompanied by screams of pain from among their pursuers. He heard the swift snikking of arrows being fired from ahead of him and more shouts of pain from their pursuers. Two men came running up from the river and grabbed Randian and Preston. A third ran up and threw a bomb at the most stubborn of the Proctors who were then either hit by the explosion or finally ran away. Randian and Preston were carried over to a beached canoe. Once the canoe was underway, one of the men lit a strip of cloth hanging out of a glass of liquid that he threw against God's Domain's wooden wharf.
"Waste of good whiskey but at least it will keep them busy for a while."
The other two men laughed. The man who had thrown the whisky bomb looked at Preston Tucker and stopped laughing. In addition to his other injuries an arrow protruded from Preston's side.
"Jesus, Preston that looks like it went pretty deep."
Preston let loose a bubbling, bloody laugh. "Don't it figure, Bill." His eyes glazed over a moment and then his right hand clawed upward reaching for something tangible to grasp. The man named Bill grabbed Preston's hand. "Tell Tom…gonna… gonna kill the circus. Burn… formed." Preston Tucker's eyes glazed over and he drifted away on the river's currents to rise again somewhere on its banks.
"Dammit, Dammit to hell!" swore Bill, He closed Preston's eyes and spit towards the shore of God's Domain. "You wuz a good man and a good friend. I hope you find happiness somewhere else but I sure will miss you. Playing poker with you was always a challenge, never knew when you were bluffing or not."
"What's your story, hoss?" Bill asked Randian.
"I heard about the Circus from down river. I was on my way to see if there was a possibility that I might become part of the enterprise. I stopped on the wrong side of the river and made inquiries to the wrong people. They held me prisoner and were going to kill me for being a demon or else corrupted by a demon. I am not quite certain exactly what was the exact theological reasoning for sentencing me to death. I think it had something to do with my previous existence as a human oddity."
"Oh, yeah" Bill answered and winked at the other two men in the boat. "I suppose you worked for Mr. Barnum himself and was a famous and well known performer?"
Randian looked shocked and said, "Yes. How did you know that? Do you recognize me?"
Bill and the other two men grinned. "Just about everyone who wants to join the circus makes that claim"
Randian smiled softly, "I understand. However I really was well known but I will make my case to Mr. Stratton. Might I know your names?
"Well, you know I am Bill, the fella steering is Hugh and the one paddling is Charlie."
Randian leg was hurting something terrible so he lay back and let the water lapping against the side of the canoe lull him to sleep. He awoke as he was being carried out of the canoe. He told Bill that he thought he could walk.
Bill shrugged and said, "Okay, hoss." He and Charlie put Randian down. Randian forced himself to his feet and walked behind them. Even after twenty-five years, Randian relished the sensation of using his legs, of the simple act of walking. The Hugh was already ahead of the other two with Preston Tucker's body cradled in his arms.
They walked over to one of the four ships anchored and tied together a bit of the way from the main area of San Jacinto. A cluster of huts lined the area near the ships. Bill called out and a flap opened. A lantern was lit and a man came out of the tent. Randian chided himself with a chuckle he had expected a dwarf to exit the tent but there were no more dwarves just as there were no more Human Caterpillars.
Charles Stratton tied his robe tighter around his waist regarded the dead body of his friend with a mixture of sadness and anger. He stuck his head back in the tent and said, "Anna, dear would you go get Melissa. We have some very bad news for her."
Charles Stratton's wife stepped from the tent and gasped at the prostrate form on the grass. Sobbing Anna Swann Stratton went to go break the news to Preston Tucker's wife.
Noticing for the first time, Randian standing next to Bill, Charles Stratton asked, "Who's that?"
"A fella who want to join the circus, " Hugh said.
"Well, you don't waste any time do you friend! Sure enough, we have a spot open!" Charles Stratton snapped bitterly.
"Hey, Tom, this fella freed Preston and was carrying him while escaping from those religious loonies. He almost had made it to the canoes when he was shot in the leg and fell. All we did was bring him a few more feet into our canoes. Don't blame him, blame them nuts across the river." Charlie said speaking up for the first time.
Charles Stratton looked abashed. "Sorry friend, we will talk about a job later. Say Charlie take this guy over to Doc and see if he can patch up his wound."
As Randian and Charlie left, Anna arrived with a stone faced woman. Preston's wife was not a demonstrative person. Charles Stratton knew that Melissa Waring Tucker had been a pioneer in the early part of the 19th Century. Her first husband and she had settled in Ohio. Her husband had been killed by some Miami warriors who had captured her, used her and traded her to the Shawnee. She had married a Shawnee man and had lived with him until he had been killed at Tippicanoe. Melissa had then married a trading post owner and was married to him for decades but a frontiersman killed him over the price of furs. With the proceeds of the trading post, Melissa had joined a wagon train and traveled to Texas. She was killed during the Mexican-American war.
Most people thought Melissa to be a exceedingly hard woman and wondered what Preston had seen in her. Charles Stratton certainly did although he appreciated her facility with numbers and ability to keep track of the company's supplies and stores.
Charles Stratton and the other men began to smoke cigars and stood off to the side to give her time with her slain husband.
Viewing the body, a few trickles of tears ran from Melissa's eyes and she wiped them quickly.
"I'd like to say that he will be in a better place now but of course we don't know that he will be." She kissed his battered face and split lips. "Bye, Prez, hope to see you again someday."
"Okay, pass the word, we will send him off tonight. He would not have wanted us to miss a show day."
Bill, Charles Stratton and Hugh tied the body of Preston Tucker to a stretcher made of bamboo that they kept for such purposes.
Randian watched with bewilderment as most of the compliment of the circus paraded past the body of Preston Tucker. Each person said a few words and poured a libation of liquid over the body. Randian believed that he recognized a few of the people but it had been years since he had seen them. Besides he thought it would be best to wait until the funeral was over before approaching them.
When the last person had paid their respects, Bill whom Randian now knew was the famous Wild Bill Hickok and Charlie Siringio towed the body out to the center of the river. They lit it with a torch and set it adrift. The blazing pyre was carried out of sight by the swift current of the river.
As the circus people began to drift away, Randian limped over and grabbed the arm of one of them. It was a bit of shock to see that this man was now half a head shorter than Randian. The man started and looked at Randian with puzzlement as if he had a glimmer of recognition.
Randian said, "It is you, isn't it Bob? That is, you are Bob Sherwood?"
"Yes, but I am sorry I cannot place you." Sherwood said with half smile, "But you do seem familiar to me"
"Last time we saw each other I was about as tall as your belt buckle although I never really stood, I moved around on my belly like a snake or a caterpillar."
Bob Sherwood stared at Randian for a second longer and then threw his arms around him and hugged him "Prince! You old sack of bones! God, legs and arms certainly do make a difference I did not recognize you. When did the General find you?"
"I just arrived tonight I was a prisoner across the river but I was on my way to join up. I did not have the time to tell Mr. Stratton about myself. I gather many people have falsely claimed to have worked for Barnum and other circuses. "
Bob Sherwood grinned at that. He gestured expansively and said, "Yeah, we get a lot of gillies trying to act like they was circus folk in the past life." Clapping Randian on the back, "Hey, you got me to vouch for you. There's a couple of other folk you'll know too. Zippy is here and a few others but we are still looking for P.T. but haven't heard anything as of yet.
Randian met with Charles Stratton early the next morning. The General was very apologetic about his behavior the night before. He listened to Randian's story and his past experience with the circus. That he had been Prince Randian the Human Snake or Human Caterpillar. Having no arms and legs he had trained himself to use his lips and tongue. He was able to write, paint, shave and roll his own cigarettes using only his mouth. Randian told how he retrained himself to use his lips and tongue in this new life as he had on Earth, in part so as not to forget how he had worked off his karma in the past life. Stratton told him that he would be glad to have him with the circus but in this modern version most people had to do several jobs including sailors, soldiers and roustabouts when necessary. Randian told him he would do what ever was necessary. Charles Stratton thanked him and shook his hand.
Before he left Stratton asked him if he had ever heard of anyone being contacted by the people that had brought everyone back to life.
Randian shook his head at that. He knew many people believed that the Riverworld was a man made object or project but Randian felt differently. It was too vast and too complex for mere man. Vishnu or Brahma had created this world a further refinement of the karmic cycle.
As Charles Stratton was preparing for the day's series of shows, Sheriff Behan visited him. He told Stratton that he had heard that one of Stratton's people had died last night. He was sorry for the loss but according to the city ordinances the body should have been turned over for rendering.
Stratton rocked back and forth on his heels for a moment before answering. "We are circus folk, we are a community unto ourselves. Although we obey all the legal ordinances governing the rights and property of people in the lands where we play, we will not become embroiled in their domestic rivalries, we will not take part in their wars, we will not surrender our property to them nor will we hand over our fallen fellows to be butchered and rendered for the useful products of their bodies, no matter that they will be alive elsewhere the next day. Many of my people were brutalized because of their bodies when they on Earth and seeing a body so misused, even after death brings back horrid memories. Just as a person's grail becomes inoperable the moment they die and rapidly breaks down into useless dust, so we feel that a person's body should be allowed to do the same. If your government has objections to how we honor our dead, we can always end our stop here and move on down the River
Sheriff Behan told him that there was not any reason for that, Mayor Travis had not known that the Circus folk felt so strongly about their dead.
As a new member of the troupe, Randian was trained with the circus standard weapons. In addition to the normal weapons that Randian had seen along the river, the Extravaganza also possessed crossbow rifles, and crossbow pistols. The crossbow rifles barrels of which had been rifled, painstakingly so by hand. The crossbow pistol was a hand held mini-crossbow with rapid fire and a ten bolt capacity. The string was a synthetic rubber made from distilled resins and dissolved gut. It was quite strong and flexible. These weapons had cost the Extravaganza two months of free shows at a place called New Coventry.
Randian was amused to discover that one of the theatrical productions that the Extravaganza put on was dramatic recreation of the film Freaks, although most of the people in the film were not original cast members. The dialogue and staging had been written by the man who called himself Brainiac. This was a man who had died in 1989 who had a form of eidetic memory. Braniac had died six years later from the other two people that Randian had met from the 1980s.
PART THREE: BLOW DOWN
General Charles Sherwood Stratton's Extravaganza was on careful watch for attacks from the other side of the river but none were forthcoming. A few days before the Circus was scheduled to leave this all changed.
When the attack came it was in the middle of the night. A covert attack group from God's Domain had eliminated the guards for San Jacinto some hours before the actual attack. San Jacinto had grow complacent in the many years since the period of wars had ended and so only had skeleton guards in place.
The attack was a three pronged simultaneous attack on the residential section of San Jacinto, on the Circus Tent and midway and on the ships of the Extravaganza.
An odd noise in the relatively noiseless night had awakened Charlie Siringo. He ran out of his tent and saw the fleet of war canoes arriving on shore. He set up the cry of Hey Rube (the circus cry of distress) before taking an arrow to his side. He killed one of the attackers before succumbing to spear to the throat.
The battle raged on for hours but the invaders from God's Domain were beaten off. San Jacinto had suffered few casualties; the main focus of the attack had been on the circus. The Ballyhoo, one of the circus ships suffered very serious fire damage but The Red Wagon, The Straw House and The Cherry Pie were unharmed. Ten of the circus people had been killed outright, Charlie Siringo, O.C. Coup, Stephan Bibrowsky formerly Lionel the Lion faced Man, Mabel Stark, Claudius, Francis Coogan, Peg Entwhistle, Robert Everett, Jalâluddîn Rumi, and First Man. Several others had been seriously wounded. When all the commotion had died down, it became apparent that although the people from God's Domain had not destroyed the circus as they set out, they had not left without doing more serious damage. Several of the members of the troupe had gone missing.
Among the missing were Joseph Merrick, Robert Wadlow, Grace McDaniels, Julia Pastrana, Eli Bowen, Eng Bunker, Fred Wilson, Earl Davis and Henry Johnson.
General Stratton and Bill Hickok had to talk hard and fast to both the people of San Jacinto and to the members of the Extravaganza. Behan, now Mayor since Travis had been killed in the raid, wanted to mount a punitive raid on God's Domain. Stratton was certain that would spell certain doom for the captives. Also it could be that Hopkins and Mather were counting on such a raid to take place. The captives might be bait to draw the San Jacintians and Circus people across the river. The large force of the San Jacintians and circus folk might then attack a sparsely guarded settlement while the rest of God's Domain destroyed San Jacinto and torched the circus ships and then attacked the invaders from the rear when they returned to God's Domain. He convinced Behan that a small scouting/raiding party would be more effective at first.
Behan offered to provide some of his city guard for the raid but General Stratton said, more angrily than he intended, that those were circus folk that God's Domain held and circus folk would free them or die trying. This was one fight the townies could stay clear of. Despite Behan's indignation and protestations, Stratton believed that Behan was secretly relieved. In the decade of peace, the San Jacintians had lost their stomach for violence and war. During their trek up and down the river, General Stratton however at times was forced to resort to violence to keep his people from harm, to prevent them from being sold into slavery or from having their goods and vessels stolen from them.
General Stratton knew that if he called for volunteers, he would have been overwhelmed by requests, he consulted with his Chief of Security to assemble a commando team to infiltrate God's Domain. They had two people demand to go already. One was Robert Wadlow's best friend Ymir the Frost Giant. Another was Christine Smith, Joseph Merrick's wife. In both cases Hickok thought that Ymir's brute strength and Christine's skills would prove useful.
Hickok insisted on going, as Stratton knew he would. Hugh Glass had frontier skills however rusty. Johnny Baker's marksmanship could come into play. Hickok further suggested Charlie Blondin, Michael Dunn and Bill Pickett. He also wanted to bring ten of the security force. Stratton agreed and left it up to Hickok to pick them.
The tent of Stratton's tent flung open and Melissa Tucker strode in. "I'll be going to your little party as well."
"I understand your reasons, Melissa and know you want to see them suffer for what they did to old Prez but my guys won't have time to protect you while you are watching the show."
"Step outside," she said and turned on her heels back outside the tent.
She pointed to a spot on a tree twenty feet away from where they stood. Pulling a flint hatchet from off of her belt, she flung it. The hatchet blade sunk where she had pointed.
"I didn't spend all my time among the Shawnee or on the prairie watching the grass grow. They killed my man and I am going. With you or without you."
Hickok said, "Okay, I'll take her."
Prince Randian approached General Stratton. He told them that he might be of some use since he knew about the general layout of God's Domain. He also believed he knew what Hopkins and Mather had in store for the people he had captured. Randian explained how Hopkins believed that deformity was a sign of god's disfavor or as a sign of corruption by the devil. Hopkins believed those who had been deformed in life on Earth but resurrection on the Riverworld without deformity were devils placed among the population to keep most people from achieving salvation. He had collected a few other people besides Randian but Randian never met them or seen them. He did know that Hopkins planned to celebrate the anniversary of Resurrection Day by placing the "devils" on the wonderstones and letting God's glory incinerate them.
Stratton counted the days and swore, they would not have that long to prepare, Resurrection Day was in three days.
Randian sketched out a layout of as much of God's Domain as he had seen. He placed question marks near the areas where he believed Hopkins was keeping the "devil" captives. He trained with the other members of the crew so that all their movements would be smooth and as coordinated as possible.
On the day before Resurrection Day just after dark, Hickok and his team paddled down river for several miles before turning back up river. They beached their canoes in God's Domain far from the settled community. Hugh Glass took point threading his way through the darkness of the woods. Like the people of San Jacinto, the people of God's Domain, despite their recent attack against San Jacinto had grown lax about security in the past few years, lax at least enough to let a single man creep up on them. Glass killed both the sentries simultaneously with a thrown axe to the throat of one as he jumped on the other. He clamped his hand over the struggling man's mouth and cut his throat.
He signaled for the rest to follow. Glass silently killed three more sets of sentries before sustaining a wound, a slashed face. He ignored the cut, hell he had suffered much worse and continued onwards. After they had traveled in the woods for two hours, it was approaching about one in the morning and the main settlement of God's Domain hove into view.
Hopkins and Mather had made finding the captives much easier than Randian had led them to believe. There was a wooden stockade in the center of the town. Randian said they must have broken apart some homes to make it because it had not been there when he had been a captive.
Hickok believed that Stratton was correct and that the Hopkins and Mather had wanted the circus folk and the people of San Jacinto to attack them and head straight for the captives whom they supposed would be in the stockade. He was not certain that this was the case. There were five guards patrolling the outside perimeter of the stockade. Taking careful aim, Johnny Baker and Bill Hickok took aim. Their crossbow rifles accounted for the five guards in as many seconds. Ymir and Randian dragged the bodies away.
Johnny Baker then shot a quarrel with a rope into the top of the stockade. Charlie Blondin scampered up the rope and then using his lifetime of experience from tight rope walking, he scampered across the pointed tops of the stockade fence. He took quick survey of the interior before returning to the rope and climbing down it. There was a large contingent of armed men inside but he had not seen any prisoners. There was one building inside the stockade but it was dark.
Hickok decided to leave the stockade away for now. He sent Glass, Melissa Tucker and two of his security members experienced with stealthy reconnaissance. One had been Apache warrior named Lozen, the other was Do Ba vu, a "Kit Carson Scout", that is a Viet Cong who had changed sides, for the United States Army in Viet Nam who had died in 1970. They moved through the darkened streets of God's domain swiftly and silently, killing any guard they spotted. They took mental notes of the layout and returned back to Hickok.
Do Ba Vu had spotted a pit that had been dug behind the town. It had a security contingent of ten men. The mouth of the pit seemed to be ringed with sharpened stakes. He had heard voices from within the pit but could not get close enough to see who was inside the pit.
Hickok divided his team into three groups. One was to take out the guards at the pit and release the prisoners. The other was to infiltrate the stockade, kill the guards and fire it. The third was to take up position and start to fire the houses when the stockade fire began.
Hugh Glass and Do Ba Vu lead one team to the pit. The pit was far enough away from the town where screams would barely be heard, which was probably deliberate. At a signal the assault team fired their weapons at will and decimated the guards. Because of the dark, they were unable to find an easy means of entry into the pit. They tied a rope to one of the sharp ends of the stakes ringing the inside of the pit and Michael Dunn climbed down into the pit. He found a major problem, most of the prisoners had been beaten, and many had had their legs broken so they would have to crawl around in the pit. They would have to physically extract the prisoners from the pit. They would also be unable to crawl over the sharp stakes so they would have to be lifted out before that.
Fortunately the pit was only about fifty feet wide. One team ran around to the other side of the pit and secured a rope onto one of the stakes on that side. Once the rope was tied off on the other side, Christine Smith walked on the rope about ten feet from the tie off point. She tied another rope onto the tightrope and dropped it into the pit. She climbed down into the pit. On the other side Michael Dunn was doing the same thing. Christine and Michael began carrying those people in the worst shape on their backs as they climbed hand over hand back up to the tightrope. They swung as they climbed to gain momentum so that once they swing themselves high enough so that their momentum would carry their passengers flying off and into the arms of people waiting to catch them. They were able to each carry four people before needing to be spelled. There were sixteen people in the pit and most were unable to walk.
Joseph Merrick was in the worse condition having been beaten into a bloody bruised mess and having his arms and legs and many other bones broken. He forced himself to remain conscious and told his wife about a prisoner wagon nearby. A quick survey found a small cart with a bamboo cage on it. They placed the captives inside and outside on the roof. It was a very tight fit. They began moving towards the canoes. It was a gamble that they would be able to pull the heavy cart unnoticed through the village.
Glass and the other security people set up a security perimeter, ready to fight to the last man or woman, if necessary.
Charles Blondin, Lozen, and Bill Pickett led the party that assaulted the Stockade. They silently climbed down the rope. Once inside, Blondin opened the stockade gate while Lozen and Picket went around killing the guards inside using a knife and strangling cord or knife and lariat in Pickett's case. The mysterious building inside the stockade was a small jail that held two cages and a jailer. The two cages had a beaten man of Caucasian origin and an Asian man of great familiarity, there was also a man with a sharp prod who kept walking back and forth between the two cages, jabbing a the inhabitants when they began to fall asleep.
The torturer was a Caucasian man rather than one of the Aleutian/Aztec inhabitants of God's Domain. His head cocked slightly as he heard the whistling of the lariat behind him. His shout of surprise was choked off as Pickett cinched the rope tight.
Once Pickett made certain the torturer was strangled. Blondin and Lozen freed the two prisoners by opening the primitive lock with the Guard's key. Once inside she hugged Eng Bunker and kissed him but broke the kiss almost immediately.
"What the hell is the matter with you!" Lozen asked Eng Bunker she stepped back.
Eng Bunker frowned. "I appreciate the greeting but who the hell are you?"
"You are not Eng, you are Chang!" Lozen cried. She hugged him again. "Your brother will be happy to see you."
"Eng! You know Eng!" shouted the battered Asian Man. "Where is he!
Lozen explained that Eng was also a captive of Hopkins and Mather.
"Sorry to break up this family reunion," Pickett said "but Mr. Bunker do you know where Hopkins and Mather are located."
"No, I never met him face to face. Despite living among these people of color, Reverend Hopkins does not really associate with such people because of the curse of Ham." His split lips twisted into a bitter smile, perhaps remembering his past as a slave owner.
The other prisoner spoke up. "I know where he lives but a direct assault would kill a lot of innocent people. Most of the people in this sad, benighted land are prisoners, grail slaves as a matter of fact. It is the Aztecs who act as Hopkins and Mather's henchmen. They use terror and brutality to rule here.
"When I first arrived Reverend Hopkins welcomed me as a fellow Englishman and was pleased that I was close to being a contemporary of his. I was born a mere forty years after his demise. I knew of the man, slightly but thought perhaps time on the River had changed him. It had not. His reception towards me cooled almost immediately upon finding I was of Catholic heritage. It became entirely hostile when unable to hold my tongue I critiqued his character and despotism. He felt that I was doing him an injustice since he had treated me like a guest but quoted myself, " Not always actions show the man: we find. Who does a kindness is not therefore kind". Cotton Mather who was a contemporary of mine knew who I was from my early literary work. Fortunately he had died before he had read some of my later works otherwise I would have been truly tortured. However he did know enough about me to know that I had been deformed in life and knowing Hopkins obsessive mania about deformity so informed Hopkins and so here I am.
As the prisoner had rattled on Blondin and Pickett exchanged looks. "So you know where Hopkins is located right?"
Getting the idea the prisoner nodded.
Blondin and his group exited the prison and began to set fire to the stockade using fish oil that they had brought along as accelerents.
While waiting for the team in the stockade to finish their business Hickok had spent the time talking to Randian about some of the mysteries that he had heard about the River. He asked if Randian had heard of the man named Burton or Perkins who had awakened in a large chamber among floating bodies, some only half complete before Resurrection Day? Or that this Perkins or Burton had also traveled with a man from space.
Randian had never heard about this man. Hickok then asked about Randian's opinion of the world in which they had found themselves, did he think that there was purpose. Randian told him that he believed that mankind had been given a second chance to work out their karma, much as the Church of the Second Chance believed.
More of a pessimist Hickok believed that the planet was a cruel hoax, a giant experiment of some type. He also believed that the creators of the world were messing around with his mind. Hick related a series of vivid dreams that he had had a few months back. Dreams so tangible that Hickok believed that they actually happened for a while after he awoke. These dreams had come sequentially over a period of months. Hickok was friends and partners with Richard Black or Richard Burton, the man who had been the one who had awakened in the pre-resurrection bubble. They had run a business called the Missing Persons Agency that located people up and down the River. Also the Trade Mart in which people bartered for items up and down the River. They were plagued by an evil River Pirate named Murel. Murel had invaded their lands where they lived. Burton had been killed as had been Murel. In Hickok's dreams everyone on the river aged and were susceptible to disease but when they died they were translated and rejuvenated just like on the River.
Randian thought it was an interesting story but also felt that Hickok had an ego as large as the giant gas clouds that provided illumination in the night skies to believe that the mythical creators of the planet would single him out for special attention.
When Blondin's group left the burning stockade, Hickok's group set to work. From the vantage point of the stockade's tall fence they shot fire arrows into the roofs of the nearby huts. Others in the group ran through the village throwing burning torches onto the roofs of the huts of the villages. The plan was to create mass confusion during which Hickok and his group would eliminate Hopkins, Mather and as many of their Proctors as possible. Stratton was not going to travel anywhere until his people had been avenged and until the threat of Hopkins had been removed. Stratton did not a want a sneak attack to follow him some months later.
As planned the populace boiled out their homes in a confused state of near panic. Some bucket brigades started but they were ineffective due to the crush of people and the number of buildings on fire. Hickok, Johnny Baker and the other two marksmen that Hickok had chosen for this detail began picking off anyone with a weapon. They were to be on especial look out for any Europeans looking men who ran out of the burning buildings.
Blondin and his group came up behind Hickok and added to their firepower. Blondin's group had rescued Eng Bunker and another man.
"Glad we got you out, Eng."
Pickett said, "It's not Eng." At Hickok's perplexed look, he said, I will explain later. This other fella knows where Hopkins lives.'
The man, who introduced himself as Alexander Pope, pointed to a building much like the others but not yet on fire. They rectified that. As soon as the roof started flaming a group of Aztecs formed a protective barrier around the building. A man whom Pope identified as Hopkins came running out of the burning building. Johnny Baker shot at him but an Aztec blocked the shot with his body. The Aztecs formed a protective wall around the man who fled towards a stone building that Pope identified as their Church.
Unable to get at Hopkins with firepower, Hickok decided to make direct assault. To break the wall of Aztec protectors, Hickok put Ymir on point. Dressed in Dragonfish armor wielding a large ironwood club and a stone axe, the eight foot Ymir cleared a path slowly but surely. The Aztecs had never fought a Titantanthrop before and despite their bravery broke in panic before the seemingly unstoppable behemoth.
As the ranks of the Aztec's broke apart Randian, Hickok and Kurt Schneider found themselves racing past the main group to close on Hopkins. Ymir was right behind them. A man jumped in front of Ymir and threw a spear that arced up and stuck in Ymir's hand. Ignoring it, Ymir swung his club and sent the man tumbling head over heels where he landed in a heap off to the side.
Hopkins was one step ahead of Hickok and reached the Church. He slammed the heavy wooden door shut and barred it.
Ymir began to pound on the door with his club and axe.
PART FOUR: THE BLOW OFF
Matthew Hopkins had awakened with a start and began coughing from the thick smoke pouring into his room. Roaring flames surrounded him and for a split second he wondered if God had finally judged him and damned him to Hell. Just as quickly as doubt has flooded his mind, he regained his confidence and knowledge that God of course would not damn him. When he reached his final reward, he would be with God for all his good works on Earth and here on Purgatory.
He stumbled out of his burning hut and onto the street outside. It seems as though all of God's Domain were afire, including he saw with some trepidation, the stockade. People were running in a panic or to the river to get water. Hopkins heard a hiss and a man in front of him fell with an arrow or crossbow bolt sticking from his back. Keeping low and keeping other people in front of him, Hopkins hurried towards the stone house in the center of town.
He had not expected the demons to rouse that much support and fight so effectively. With some self-recrimination, he should have expected as much, they had after all destroyed his life on Earth.
In 1644, Matthew Hopkins had been a desperate man. His career as a Solicitor had ended in failure and he had been forced to return to Manningtree, his home town, in disgrace. He had prayed to God, beseeching Him for aid, for purpose to his life. God had sent him a vision, not one like Saul of Tarsus or Moses but rather a vision so subtle that it took Hopkins a while to understand what it meant.
In the village of Manningtree where he lived was a woman named Elizabeth Clarke, although he did not have any personal contact with her, he did see her a few times. Each times he saw her, he felt disgusted and nauseated for she was one-legged old woman. For many weeks he was haunted by her image. One night he awoke from a troubled sleep and took a walk to clear his head. He stumbled upon a Witches sabbat led by Elizabeth Clarke. He watched in horror as the witches communed with their familiars. He stumbled back to his home and fell into a swoon. The entire episode felt like a dream but Hopkins was certain of its reality.
He denounced one-legged Elizabeth Clarke and began his career as a witchfinder. Although the touch of Satan most often left visible marks demonstrating his subjects familiarity with corruption, usually in the form of deformity or ugly blemishes that ruined the handiwork of God, this was not always the case. The blemishes would not bleed when pricked. Hopkins discovered that he had a gift and could find hidden witches, those without any discernible marks. However skeptic demanded proof and Hopkins had to use a knife with a retractable blade which made it appear as though even unblemished skin bore an unbleeding witch's mark.
Matthew Hopkins became wealthy in a short time and commanded high fees as a Witchfinder but then Satan marshaled his forces. In 1646, a Reverend John Gaule of Great Staughton, wrote a pamphlet called Select Cases of Conscience towards Witches and Witchcraft, which was an exposé of Hopkins' methods. Gaule also preached against Hopkins' brutality from the pulpit, and hinted that Hopkins himself was a witch. Matthew Hopkins was once again a failure. His faith lapsed and the devil visited him with physical corruption. He died of consumption in 1647.
Yet God was merciful and Matthew Hopkins was resurrected once again. He immediately saw that despite most of their erroneous and heretical teachings, the Papists were correct about there being such a place as Purgatory, although it was nothing like Dante had imagined.
Matthew Hopkins spent his first five days on the Riverworld among devils. They were dark skinned, curly haired with oddly shaped skulls who had never heard of the Lord Jesus Christ. They talked of large animals with long ears that hopped around upright. Obviously the ears were horns and the animals were demons. They had no interest in converting and instead tried to give him a woman from their people and teach him of their ways. He resisted. He had a stark vision of what he needed to do one night after eating. In the throes of the vision he grabbed a weapon and began killing the demons, believing that this would sent him to heaven. They killed him and he ended up among more devils. These were short and stocky but massively muscled with jutting noses set in large faces with massive brow ridges and no chins.
Hopkins thought perhaps he was sent to convert them and tried to convert these devilish beings. A few of them did convert but as a group they were very literal minded and had some trouble with abstract concepts such as the concept of original sin. Hopkins refused to take part in most of their cultural activities including their wars with others like them. After five years of dwelling among these creatures he was among those killed by an invading force.
In his next incarnation Hopkins awoke and found himself a captive, once again among devils although these were human devils. Short, dark skinned people who built large buildings out of fire baked clay and mud. They also practiced what Hopkins learned to be called manna slavery, in which the gifts from God that appeared in the cylinder were taken from the slaves and given to the rulers. Hopkins was forced to toil digging in the mountains, digging up clay and mud or working on building the monuments these people favored.
Among the people also captured by these small dark people were people who spoke a form of English. They laughed at his perception of his existence in purgatory and that his belief that the various people whom he had found himself among were devils. One of these people explained that he was from Hopkins future. The man Davis Elkins had been born in 1894 in what Hopkins would have known as the New World. The people that Hopkins had first met sounded like ancient Australian aborigines from a land not yet discovered in Hopkins times. The second people sounded like cavemen or what some scientists called the Neanderthals. The people that held them as slaves were ancient Babylonians or Sumerians.
Elkins told Hopkins he did not think that this world was Purgatory or Heaven but something like a laboratory experiment. He then had to explain the scientific method to Hopkins. It was not perfect but at least he had his good looks back. He grinned at that. Hopkins demanded to know what he meant.
Davis Elkins had been a handsome young athlete at his school but after his schooling had finished his country had gone to war with the Germans. The Germans had a terrible weapon called poison gas, a smoke that killed. Elkins was gassed but her survived but it had left him permanently changed. His body began to change. His hands, feet nose, chin and lips -- all became elongated. His lower jaw became larger and his hands and feet grew gigantic and spade-like. At least on this world Davis now had his original form back. He confided to Hopkins that given the opportunity he would dash for the river and drown himself and hopefully awaken in a better place.
Hopkins realized that Davis Elkins had told him a pack of lies. His boasting of his deformed body on Earth was confirmation that he was a devil in disguise. He also realized that in Purgatory his most effective weapon in discovering witchery, the water test was useless. Since the demons looked like everyone else and resurrected like everyone else they also could make themselves appear to drown like everyone else. No longer would they float.
His Christian duty clear Matthew Hopkins informed his captors through an interpreter of his intention to drown himself. When Davis Elkins learned who had betrayed him, he strangled Hopkins. As he died Hopkins saw Davis be clubbed to the ground.
When Hopkins awoke again he found himself among a group of people who claimed to be from the future from the land of the Czars, only these people no longer gave allegiance to the Czars but worshipped a man named Stalin. These people had died in a great conflagration between the land of Russia and the Germans. Hopkins wondered if it were the same conflict in which Davis Elkins had been malformed. They also practiced a form of grail slavery in which all goods were held in common and distributed by a man they called the Commissar. They would not allow Hopkins to talk about the word of God to them much less preach to them in an attempt to convert them. Rather they tried to convert him to Stalinism and the philosophy of Dialectical Materialism.
Matthew Hopkins dwelled among the Soviets for nearly fifteen years before he could no longer take their blasphemies and lies. It was very discouraging when the Soviets began to pay more attention to missionaries from the heretical Church of Second Chance than they ever did to him. He sat on top of a grailstone and committed suicide one morning.
He next awoke in what was known as Unangan as named by the Aleut majority. He was gratified to discover that George Whitfield, a white man, a man of God was in charge of the community. Although Whitfield claimed only to be a regular citizen among others Hopkins could see how the natives deferred to him. Later when Cotton Mather arrived in a canoe, Hopkins knew that at last God had set him on the right course.
Despite enjoying Hopkins and Mather's assistance in teaching the word of God to the heathens George Whitfield was less enthusiastic about adopting ideas of proactively seeking out and destroying the corruptive influences of Satan. Whitfield believed that since God had given them all of the time in the world for conversion, they should be patient and let the Aleutians and Aztecs come to Christ in their own time.
Many people blamed Matthew Hopkins for George Whitfield's drowning death but Hopkins had nothing to do with that. It was entirely the work of God. God knew that Hopkins and Mather's philosophy and goals were correct and so had removed the influence of Whitfield. Once Whitfield was gone Hopkins and Mather were able to influence the most fervent converts, the Aztecs and use them to reshape the society of Unangan, renamed it God's Domain. This reshaping took several years. The nations across the river and up and down the river soon cut off diplomatic and trade relations with God's Domain due to Hopkins insistence that for God's Domain to have contact with other nations, they had to make certain no demonic elements existed in those societies. Hopkins could not yet save the entire Rivervalley; he had to save one section at a time.
When ever travelers happened upon God's Domain they were interviewed to see how pure they were. If they were impure they were tested as witches and if found wanting they were hung, burnt or drowned on Resurrection Day. This practice for some reason also bothered the nearby nations.
When the man named Preston Tucker came to God's Domain and told of the circus Hopkins could not believe his luck, an entire fleet of devils to purify. The impending arrival of the so-called Circus also called to the demons and they came towards it like a moth to flame. The black man Randian who had been a demon on Earth, the Asian man Chang who had also been a demon. There was also the Englishman Pope who had not only been corrupted by the devil but, Cotton said, was a corruptive man of letters as well.
Hopkins planned to destroy the circus boats when they tried to depart the area.
Cotton Mather had stolen across the river to see the circus and their defenses. His description of the many variety of demons inhabiting the circus was incredulous. Their defenses were also quite advanced, far beyond God's Domain's primitive weaponry. Matthew Hopkins had stolen across the river as well, mingling with the people of San Jacinto. He watched the Circus, which had in its complement an ogre, he toured the gallery and watched a theatrical presentation called Freaks. He realized that the hidden message of the devils was hidden in this play.
No matter the cost the circus had to be destroyed and San Jacinto as well since it had been corrupted.
The battle did not go as planned. Only one of the circus ships was fired. The combined forces of San Jacinto and the Circus beat back the conscripts from God's Domain. Cotton Mather's secondary plan of capturing several of the demons in human form and taking them back to God's Domain seemed to be more effective. Mather believed that the circus would try to retrieve its familiars. So a Trojan horse was built, a stockade where the invaders would most likely believe was where the captives were held. They planned to lure the main forces of the circus and San Jacinto inside the stockade and set it afire. The captives were actually held outside of town to remove their corruptive influence, in a pit, as they deserved.
Yet the circus people were too cowardly to take the bait and did not attack. They left their fellow demons to suffer.
Matthew Hopkins made plans to incinerate the demons on the grailstones on Resurrection Day.
Then this night the demons had attacked God's Domain in a sneak attack, setting the town on fire.
Hopkins loyal Proctors had protected him from the weapons of the invaders, sacrificing their lives as human shields. He ran towards the Church. He saw the ogre mow down his men like a scythe cutting wheat. Some of the invaders ran through the gap and closed in on Hopkins. He barricaded himself in the Church.
The door began to shake as heavy blows hit it. He knew without looking that the Ogre was pounding the door down. Had this been a Papist church Hopkins could have used idols to defend himself but this was a plain church with only a pulpit and pews. He began clawing at the stone work trying to wrest a stone free of the floor when the doors burst in with crash of wood.
The black man who had escaped Hopkins was the first through the door, followed by two, one of whom was the head of the Circus' army. Matthew Hopkins knew that they would corrupt him, make him join them.
After Ymir finally broke through the wooden doors, he stood to the side and panted.
Randian was the first through the door, with Hickok and Kurt Schneider on his heels.
Matthew Hopkins looked like a trapped animal, his eyes wide with fear and loathing.
Bill Hickok told Randian and Schneider to fan out and get Hopkins. He began to loop a rope through his hands.
"Ordinarily I would cut you down like a dog but General Stratton had to promise the people of San Jacinto to bring you back for a trial. Just a formality, I would hazard, before they stretch your neck like a Christmas goose."
Randian spoke to Hopkins as me moved towards him. "If the people of San Jacinto let you go we can always let you join the circus as a geek or freak. "
Kurt Schneider laughed and began chanting "One of us!"
Randian grinned and took up the chant as well.
Hopkins knew what that meant and screamed with fear. He ran forward as fast as he could and rammed his head as hard as he could into the stone wall. He was barely conscious of falling backwards and slamming the back of his head on the hard stone floor. His vision doubled and sounds came to his ears as if he were underwater.
"Dammit, boys! There will be hell to pay if he is dead. Mayor Behan wants to show to his folks that he took some kind of action against this maniac"
"To Hell with that noise," spoke the sharp, flat voice of Melissa Tucker. We got Mather trussed up outside that way the townies'll get their pound of flesh. This sumbitch ain't going no wheres but River traveling."
She stepped forward.
Matthew Hopkins saw the sharp, flat edge of a tomahawk sweep down towards his eyes. A second later he was no longer in God's Domain.
Hickok spat out an expletive at Melissa but in was only for show. He did not blame her a bit and he liked her grit. She was one hell of a woman. He motioned everyone to turn around. They left the body of Matthew Hopkins in his church.
Hickok and his people fought their way back to their canoes. The Aleutians only put up token resistance, instead fled or tried to put out their burning village. Most of the fanatical Aztecs lost their heart for the fight when they learned of Hopkins' death and they saw that Mather was a captive.
A few diehard fanatics however made the trip to the canoes rather harrowing. They were responsible for one more tragedy visited upon General Charles Sherwood Stratton's Extravaganza.
When Hickok and Blondin's team met up with the team that had freed the captives, they helped to carry the broken and battered captives. They discovered that Hugh Glass had been killed fighting off two of the Aztecs as his team fought through the burning village. Ymir carried Glass's body in his arms. Eng and Chang had a tearful reunion. Chang supported his brother as they limped towards the canoes. Eng heard an ominous hiss and pushed against his brother's chest with all of his might. Chang tumbled over backwards. The thrown hatchet that would have hit Chang's head instead sank into Eng's chest.
The hatchet thrower was immediately perforated by four crossbow bolts fired simultaneously by Hickok, Johnny Baker and
"Why! Brother why!" Chang moaned at his dying brother.
Eng smiled weakly, "I owed you a life, brother. Fear not, we will be together again, I feel it."
"We are never apart, even when separated by distance and time." Chang lifted his brother onto his shoulders and carried him to be with his friends among the circus.
As prearranged The Red Wagon was anchored off shore near where the canoes were beached. Everyone was ferried over to the Red Wagon in a few trips and then the canoes were tied off behind the ship.
General Stratton greeted everyone warmly and wept at the news of the deaths of Glass and Eng. This was somewhat alleviated by the arrival of their captive Cotton Mather.
Chang sat with his brother's body, talking quietly with the people who came to offer their condolences. He saw Stratton offer Alexander Pope a cigar and begin talking to him. He was probably offering him a place on the show. Chang decided to accept the offer that Stratton would no doubt make to him. His brother would find a way to get back to the circus he was certain of that, and he would be waiting for him.
Christine Smith Merrick sat on the deck with her husband's head in her lap. She stroked his hair. "You've been very quiet all night. I guess the dreams were really bad in that horrible pit."
Merrick gazed up at her with a soft smile. "Actually I did not have the dreams there, not once. Even the dark, miserable pit did not trigger them. All the time that I was in the pit, I realized that there was something I feared worse than suddenly being transformed back into the way I had been on Earth, that compared to that, being The Elephant Man was nothing, a mere inconvenience."
Christine frowned slightly, "What could be so terrible as to drive away the dreams?"
"The idea that I would never see you again, never hear your sweet beautiful voice again, never feel the touch of your hand or your lips for the rest of my life. To die and live again even in a perfect body would not be compensation enough for losing you. I would rather be the most horrid wretch in the world than spend a lifetime without you."
Christine gave Merrick and upside down kiss. "Let's hope the bad dreams are gone for good"
Despite his broken limbs and various other injuries, for the first time since arriving on the Riverworld, he slept through the night and only had pleasant dreams.
EPILOGUE: ALL OVER AND OUT
After the funeral pyres of the fallen circus folk had been lit and sent on down the river. General Charles Stratton's Extravaganza pulled up stakes. The Circus sailed on down the river.
Stratton was only too glad to leave Cotton Mather in the custody of the people of San Jacinto. He heard that they gave him a fairer trial than he deserved.
Cotton Mather sat in one of the two jail cells in San Jacinto, reciting some of the Psalms that he still remembered. The new Sheriff Jack Helm allowed a visitor inside the jail. It was a young woman.
"Yes, young lady. Have you come to curse me or offer words of encouragement to hasten my demise or are you perhaps one of the few people in the accursed town who feels favorably towards me."
The woman smiled and shook her head. "Definitely not the latter. I just wanted to make certain they were now allowing anything near you that would rob the hangman. I think it would be ironic to attend your execution."
"Why is that. Was your husband among those who were killed when we invaded San Jacinto or when they invaded God's Domain?"
"So you do not recognize me? I guess it has been longer for you than it has been for me. For me it has been only twenty-five years but for you I have heard it has been over fifty."
"My good woman, I am afraid I do not have the slightest idea of what you are speaking."
The woman laughed "My good woman… well, how times have changed. My friend Brainiac told me about your later career how you downplayed your role in the Salem Witch trials, as if you hadn't been personal friends of three or four of the judges. How you revised your position on the use of spectral evidence and tried to minimize your own large role in its consideration in the Salem trials. How you turned away from the supernatural and may have come to question whether it played the role in life you suspected. Yet here on this world, you went around hunting witches and demons all over again."
"Here the evidence of the supernatural quite apparent. Life is impermanent and human evil runs rampant. God is testing us more fiercely than before so we must pursue evil more vigilantly and more fiercely than before," Cotton Mather replied as he stood up and adjusted the black cloths he preferred to wear. He looked more closely at the woman's face but could not place it. He told her as much.
"I am Martha Carrier"
Mather did not recognize the name.
Frustrated and angry, Martha Carrier said, "Martha Carrier about whom you wrote something like, "This rampant Hag, Martha Carrier, was the person, of whom the Confessions of the Witches, and of her own children among the rest, agreed, That the Devil had promised her, she should be Queen of Heb"
Mather looked shocked.
Martha Carrier laughed, "Did you expect me to be in Hell? Well, welcome to Hell then." Smiling sweetly she said, "I am told you attended my execution, it will be my great pleasure to return the favor."
Curtseying, she then departed, leaving
Cotton Mather to ponder death, damnation and the corruption of the soul,
and to question all of what he had been so certain of just a few moments
If you have read my previous Riverworld stories you will have noted a theme, in that I am fascinated by the transformative nature of the Riverworld.
In this particular story almost every named character, with two or three exceptions, was a real person. Many of whom would have been physically transformed by the Ethicals. I have not provided a history or synopsis for many of these since a lot of the fun of the Riverworld books for me was in researching which characters were real people and which were created by PJF. I hope you enjoy it as much I enjoyed writing it.
Dennis E. Power