Lemony Snicket The Carnivorous Carnival
When my workday is over, and I have closed my notebook, hidden my pen, and sawed holes in my rented canoe so that it cannot be found, I often like to spend the evening in conversation with my few surviving friends. Sometimes we discuss literature. Sometimes we discuss the people who are trying to destroy us, and if there is any hope of escaping from them. And sometimes we discuss frightening and troublesome animals that might be nearby, and this topic always leads to much disagreement over which part of a frightening and troublesome beast is the most frightening and troublesome. Some say the teeth of the beast, because teeth are used for eating children, and often their parents, and gnawing their bones. Some say the claws of the beast, because claws are used for ripping things to shreds. And some say the hair of the beast, because hair can make allergic people sneeze.
But I always insist that the most frightening part of any beast is its belly, for the simple reason that if you are seeing the belly of the beast it means you have already seen the teeth of the beast and the claws of the beast and even the hair of the beast, and now you are trapped and there is probably no hope for you. For this reason, the phrase "in the belly of the beast" has become an expression which means "inside some terrible place with little chance of escaping safely," and it is not an expression one should look forward to using.
I'm sorry to tell you that this book will use the expression "the belly of the beast" three times before it is over, not counting all of the times I have already used "the belly of the beast" in order to warn you of all the times "the belly of the beast" will appear. Three times over the course of this story, characters will be inside some terrible place with little chance of escaping safely, and for that reason I would put this book down and escape safely yourself, because this woeful story is so very dark and wretched and damp that the experience of reading it will make you feel as if you are in the belly of the beast, and that time doesn't count either.
The Baudelaire orphans were in the belly of the beast–that is, in the dark and cramped trunk of a long, black automobile. Unless you are a small, portable object, you probably prefer to sit in a seat when you are traveling by automobile, so you can lean back against the upholstery, look out the window at the scenery going by, and feel safe and secure with a seat belt fastened low and tight across your lap. But the Baudelaires could not lean back, and their bodies were aching from squishing up against one another for several hours. They had no window to look out of, only a few bullet holes in the trunk made from some violent encounter I have not found the courage to research. And they felt anything but safe and secure as they thought about the other passengers in the car, and tried to imagine where they were going.
The driver of the automobile was a man named Count Olaf, a wicked person with one eyebrow instead of two and a greedy desire for money instead of respect for other people. The Baudelaires had first met Count Olaf after receiving the news that their parents had been killed in a terrible fire, and had soon discovered he was only interested in the enormous fortune their mother and father had left behind. With unceasing determination–a phrase which here means "no matter where the three children went"–Count Olaf had pursued them, trying one dastardly technique after another to get his hands on their fortune. So far he had been unsuccessful, although he'd had plenty of help from his girlfriend, Esmé Squalor–an equally wicked, if more fashionable, person who was now sitting beside him in the front seat of the automobile–and an assortment of assistants, including a bald man with an enormous nose, two women who liked to wear white powder all over their faces, and a nasty man who had hooks instead of hands. All of these people were sitting in the back of the automobile, where the children could sometimes hear them speaking over the roar of the engine and the sounds of the road.
One would think, with such a wretched crew as traveling companions, that the Baudelaire siblings would have found some other way to travel rather than sneaking into the trunk, but the three children had been fleeing from circumstances even more frightening and dangerous than Olaf and his assistants and there had been no time to be choosy. But as their journey wore on, Violet, Klaus, and Sunny grew more and more worried about their situation. The sunlight coming in through the bullet holes faded to evening, and the road beneath them turned bumpy and rough, and the Baudelaire orphans tried to imagine where it was they were going and what would happen when they got there.
Violet, who was the eldest of the Baudelaires, stretched to place her hand on Klaus's stiff shoulder, and held her baby sister, Sunny, even tighter, as if to communicate with her siblings without speaking. Esmé Squalor was constantly talking about whether or not things were in–a word she liked to use for "stylish"–but the children were more interested in overhearing where the car was taking them. The hinterlands were a vast and empty place very far from the very outskirts of the city, without even a small village for hundreds of miles. Long ago the Baudelaire parents had promised they would bring their children there someday to see the famous hinterlands sunsets. Klaus, who was a voracious reader, had read descriptions of the sunsets that had made the whole family eager to go, and Violet, who had a real talent for inventing things, had even begun building a solar oven so the family could enjoy grilled cheese sandwiches as they watched the dark blue light spread eerily over the hinterlands cacti while the sun slowly sank behind the distant and frosty Mortmain Mountains. Never did the three siblings imagine that they would visit the hinterlands by themselves, stuffed in the trunk of a car of a villain.
"Are we there yet?" The voice of the hook-handed man broke a long silence.
"I told you not to ask me that anymore," replied Olaf with a snarl. "We'll get there when we get there, and that is that."
"Could we possibly make a short stop?" asked one of the white-faced women. "I noticed a sign for a rest station in a few miles."
"We don't have time to stop anywhere," Olaf said sharply. "If you needed to use the bathroom, you should have gone before we left."
"But the hospital was on fire," the woman whined.
"Yes, let's stop," said the bald man. "We haven't had anything to eat since lunch, and my stomach is grumbling."
"We can't stop," Esmé said. "There are no restaurants out here in the hinterlands that are in."
"Boss, are you sure it's safe to be way out here?" asked the hook-handed man. "If the police come looking for us, there'll be no place to hide."
"We could always disguise ourselves again," the bald man said. "Everything we need is in the trunk of the car.
"We don't need to hide," Olaf replied, "and we don't need to disguise ourselves, either. Thanks to that silly reporter at ^ the whole world thinks I'm dead, remember?"
"You're dead," Esmé said with a nasty chuckle, "and the three Baudelaire brats are murderers. We don't need to hide–we need to celebrate!"
"We can't celebrate yet," Olaf said. "There are two last things we need to do. First, we need to destroy the last piece of evidence that could send us to jail."
"The Snicket file," Esmé said, and the Baudelaires shuddered in the trunk. The three children had found one page of the Snicket file, which was now safe in Klaus's pocket. It was difficult to tell from only one page, but the Snicket file seemed to contain information about a survivor of a fire, and the Baudelaires were eager to find the remaining pages before Olaf did.
"Yes, of course," the hook-handed man said. "We have to find the Snicket file. But what's the second thing?"
"We have to find the Baudelaires, you idiot," Olaf snarled. "If we don't find them, then we can't steal their fortune, and all of my schemes will be a waste."
"I haven't found your schemes to be a waste," said one of the white-faced women. "I've enjoyed them very much, even if we haven't gotten the fortune."
"Do you think all three of those bratty orphans got out of the hospital alive?" the bald man asked.
"Those children seem to have all the luck in the world," Count Olaf said, "so they're all probably alive and well, but it would sure make things easier if one or two of them burned to a crisp. We only need one of them alive to get the fortune."
"I hope it's Sunny," the hook-handed man said. "It was fun putting her in a cage, and I look forward to doing it again."
"I myself hope it's Violet," Olaf said. "She's the prettiest."
"I don't care who it is," Esmé said. "I just want to know where they are."
"Well, Madame Lulu will know," Olaf said. "With her crystal ball, she'll be able to tell us where the orphans are, where the file is, and anything else we want to know."
"I never believed in things like crystal balls," remarked a white-faced woman, "but when this Madame Lulu started telling you how to find the Baudelaires every time they escaped, I learned that fortune-telling is real."
"Stick with me," Olaf said, "and you'll learn lots of new things. Oh, here's the turn for Rarely Ridden Road. We're almost there."
The car lurched to the left, and the Baudelaires lurched with it, rolling to the left-hand side of the trunk, along with the many items Olaf kept in his car to help with his dastardly plots. Violet tried not to cough as one of his fake beards tickled her throat. Klaus held his hand up to his face so that a sliding toolbox wouldn't break his glasses. And Sunny shut her mouth tightly so she wouldn't get one of Olaf's dirty undershirts tangled in her sharp teeth. Rarely Ridden Road was even bumpier than the highway they had been traveling on, and the car made so much noise that the children could not hear any more of the conversation until Olaf pulled the automobile to a creaky stop.
"Are we there yet?" the hook-handed man asked.
"Of course we're here, you fool," Olaf said. "Look, there's the sign–Caligari Carnival."
"Where is Madame Lulu?" asked the bald man.
"Where do you think?" Esmé asked, and everyone laughed.
The doors of the automobile opened with a scraping sound, and the car lurched again as everyone piled out.
"Should I get the wine out of the trunk, boss?" the bald man asked.
The Baudelaires froze.
"No," Count Olaf replied. "Madame Lulu will have plenty of refreshments for us."
The three children lay very still and listened as Olaf and his troupe trudged away from the car. Their footsteps grew fainter and fainter until the siblings could hear nothing but the evening breeze as it whistled through the bullet holes, and at last it seemed safe for the Baudelaire orphans to speak to one another.
"What are we going to do?" Violet whispered, pushing the beard away from her.
"Merrill," Sunny said. Like many people her age, the youngest Baudelaire sometimes used language that was difficult for some people to understand, but her siblings knew at once that she meant something like, "We'd better get out of this trunk."
"As soon as possible," Klaus agreed. "We don't know how soon Olaf and his troupe will return. Violet, do you think you can invent something to get us out of here?"
"It shouldn't be too hard," Violet said, "with all this stuff in the trunk." She reached out her hand and felt around until she found the mechanism that was keeping the trunk closed. "I've studied this kind of latch before," she said. "All I need to move it is a loop of strong twine. Feel around and see if we can find something."
"There's something wrapped around my left arm," Klaus said, squirming around. "It feels like it might be part of the turban Olaf wore when he disguised himself as Coach Genghis."
"That's too thick," Violet said. "It needs to slip between two parts of the lock."
"Semja!" Sunny said.
"That's my shoelace, Sunny," Klaus said.
"We'll save that as a last resort," Violet said. "We can't have you tripping all over the place if we're going to escape. Wait, I think I found something underneath the spare tire."
"What is it?"
"I don't know," Violet said. "It feels like a skinny cord with something round and flat at the end."
"I bet it's a monocle," Klaus said. "You know, that funny eyepiece Olaf wore when he was pretending to be Gunther, the auctioneer."
"I think you're right," Violet said. "Well, this monocle helped Olaf with his scheme, and now it's going to help us with ours. Sunny, try to move over a bit so I can see if this will work."
Sunny squirmed over as far as she could, and Violet reached around her siblings and slipped the cord of Olaf's monocle around the lock of the trunk. The three children listened as Violet wiggled her invention around the latch, and after only a few seconds they heard a quiet click! and the door of the trunk swung open with a long, slow creeeak. As the cool air rushed in, the Baudelaires stayed absolutely still in case the noise of the trunk caught Olaf's attention, but apparently he and his assistants were too far away to hear, because after a few seconds the children could hear nothing but the chirping of the evening crickets and the faint barking of a dog.
The Baudelaires looked at one another, squinting in the dim light, and without another word Violet and Klaus climbed out of the trunk and then lifted their sister out into the night. The famous hinterlands sunset was just ending, and everything the children saw was bathed in dark blue, as if Count Olaf had driven them into the depths of the ocean. There was a large wooden sign with the words CALIGARI CARNIVAL printed in old-fashioned script, along with a faded painting of a lion chasing a frightened little boy. Behind the sign was a small booth advertising tickets for sale, and a phone booth that gleamed in the blue light. Behind these two booths was an enormous roller coaster, a phrase which here means "a series of small carts where people can sit and race up and down steep and frightening hills of tracks, for no discernible reason," but it was clear, even in the fading light, that the roller coaster had not been used for quite some time, because the tracks and carts were overgrown with ivy and other winding plants, which made the carnival attraction look as if it were about to sink into the earth. Past the roller coaster was a row of enormous tents, shivering in the evening breeze like jellyfish, and alongside each tent was a caravan, which is a wheeled carriage used as a home by people who travel frequently. The caravans and tents all had different designs painted on the sides, but the Baudelaires knew at once which caravan was Madame Lulu's because it was decorated with an enormous eye. The eye matched the one tattooed on Count Olaf's left ankle, the one the Baudelaires had seen many times in their lives, and it made them shiver to think they could not escape it even in the hinterlands.
"Now that we're out of the trunk," Klaus said, "let's get out of the area. Olaf and his troupe could get back any minute."
"But where are we going to go?" Violet asked. "We're in the hinterlands. Olaf's comrade said there was no place to hide."
"Well, we'll have to find one," Klaus said. "It can't be safe to hang around any place where Count Olaf is welcome."
"Eye!" Sunny agreed, pointing to Madame Lulu's caravan.
"But we can't go wandering around the countryside again," Violet said. "The last time we did that, we ended up in even more trouble."
"Maybe we could call the police from that phone booth," Klaus said.
"Dragnet!" Sunny said, which meant "But the police think we're murderers!"
"I suppose we could try to reach Mr. Poe," Violet said. "He didn't answer the telegram we sent him asking for help, but maybe we'll have better luck on the phone."
The three siblings looked at one another without much hope. Mr. Poe was the Vice President of Orphan Affairs at Mulctuary Money Management, a large bank in the city, and part of his job was overseeing the Baudelaires' affairs after the fire. Mr. Poe was not a wicked person, but he had mistakenly placed them in the company of so much wickedness that he had been almost as wicked as an actual wicked person, and the children were not particularly eager to contact him again, even if it was all they could think of.
"It's probably a slim chance that he'll be of any help," Violet admitted, "but what have we got to lose?"
"Let's not think about that," Klaus replied, and walked over to the phone booth. "Maybe Mr. Poe will at least allow us to explain ourselves."
"Veriz," Sunny said, which meant something like, "We'll need money to make a phone call."
"I don't have any," Klaus said, reaching into his pockets. "Do you have any money, Violet?"
Violet shook her head. "Let's call the operator and see if there's some way we can place a call without paying for it."
Klaus nodded, and opened the door of the booth so he and his sisters could crowd inside. Violet lifted the receiver and dialed O for operator, while Klaus lifted up Sunny so all three siblings could hear the conversation.
"Operator," said the operator.
"Good evening," Violet said. "My siblings and I would like to place a call."
"Please deposit the proper amount of money," the operator said.
"We don't have the proper amount of money," Violet said. "We don't have any money at all. But this is an emergency."
There was a faint wheezing noise from the phone, and the Baudelaires realized that the operator was sighing. "What is the exact nature of your emergency?"
Violet looked down at her siblings and saw the last of the sunset's blue light reflecting off Klaus's glasses and Sunny's teeth. As the dark closed around them, the nature of their emergency seemed so enormous that it would take the rest of the night to explain it to the telephone operator, and the eldest Baudelaire tried to figure out how she could summarize, a word which here means "tell their story in a way that would convince the operator to let them talk to Mr. Poe."
"Well," she began, "my name is Violet Baudelaire, and I'm here with my brother, Klaus, and my sister, Sunny. Our names might sound a bit familiar to you, because The Daily Punctilio has recently published an article saying that we're Veronica, Klyde, and Susie Baudelaire, and that we're murderers who killed Count Omar. But Count Omar is really Count Olaf, and he's not really dead. He faked his death by killing another person with the same tattoo, and framed us for the murder. Recently he destroyed a hospital while trying to capture us, but we managed to hide in the trunk of his car as he drove off with his comrades. Now we've gotten out of the trunk, and we're trying to reach Mr. Poe so he can help us get ahold of the Snicket file, which we think might explain what the initials V.F.D. stand for, and if one of our parents survived the fire after all. I know it's a very complicated story, and it may seem unbelievable to you, but we're all by ourselves in the hinterlands and we don't know what else to do." The story was so terrible that Violet had cried a little while telling it, and she brushed a tear from her eye as she waited for a reply from the operator. But no voice came out of the phone.
The three Baudelaires listened carefully, but all they could hear was the empty and distant sound of a telephone line.
"Hello?" Violet said finally.
The telephone said nothing.
"Hello?" Violet said again. "Hello? Hello?"
The telephone did not answer.
"Hello?" Violet said, as loud as she dared.
"I think we'd better hang up," Klaus said gently.
"But why isn't anyone answering?" Violet cried.
"I don't know," Klaus said, "but I don't think the operator will help us."
Violet hung up the phone and opened the door of the booth. Now that the sun was down the air was getting colder, and she shivered in the evening breeze.
"Who will help us?" she asked. "Who will take care of us?"
"We'll have to take care of ourselves," Klaus said.
"Ephrai," Sunny said, which meant "But we're in real trouble now."
"We sure are," Violet agreed. "We're in the middle of nowhere, with no place to hide, and the whole world thinks we're criminals. How do criminals take care of themselves out in the hinterlands?"
The Baudelaires heard a burst of laughter, as if in reply. The laughter was quite faint, but in the still of the evening it made the children jump. Sunny pointed, and the children could see a light in one of the windows in Madame Lulu's caravan. Several shadows moved across the window, and the children could tell that Count Olaf and his troupe were inside, chatting and laughing while the Baudelaire orphans shivered outside in the gloom.
"Let's go see," Klaus said. "Let's go find out how criminals take care of themselves."
Eavesdropping–a word which here means "listening in on interesting conversations you are not invited to join"–is a valuable thing to do, and it is often an enjoyable thing to do, but it is not a polite thing to do, and like most impolite things, you are bound to get into trouble if you get caught doing it. The Baudelaire orphans, of course, had plenty of experience not getting caught, so the three children knew how to walk as quietly as possible across the grounds of Caligari Carnival, and how to crouch as invisibly as possible outside the window of Madame Lulu's caravan. If you had been there that eerie blue evening–and nothing in my research indicates that you were–you wouldn't have heard even the slightest rustle from the Baudelaires as they eavesdropped on their enemies.
Count Olaf and his troupe, however, were making plenty of noise. "Madame Lulu!" Count Olaf was roaring as the children pressed up against the side of the caravan so that they would be hidden in the shadows. "Madame Lulu, pour us some wine! Arson and escaping from the authorities always makes me very thirsty!"
"I'd prefer buttermilk, served in a paper carton," Esmé said. "That's the new in beverage."
"Five glasses of wine and a carton of buttermilk coming up, please," answered a woman in an accent the children recognized. Not so long ago, when Esmé Squalor had been the Baudelaires' caretaker, Olaf had disguised himself as a person who did not speak English well, and as part of his disguise, he had spoken in an accent very similar to the one they were hearing now. The Baudelaires tried to peer through the window and catch a glimpse of the fortuneteller, but Madame Lulu had shut her curtains tightly.
"I'm thrilled, please, to see you, my Olaf. Welcome to the caravan of mine. How is life for you?"
"We've been swamped at work," the hook-handed man said, using a phrase which here means "chasing after innocent children for quite some time." "Those three orphans have been very difficult to capture."
"Do not worry of the children, please," Madame Lulu replied. "My crystal ball tells me that my Olaf will prevail."
"If that means 'murder innocent children,'" one of the white-faced women said, "then that's the best news we've heard all day."
"'Prevail' means 'win,'" Olaf said, "but in my case that's the same thing as killing those Baudelaires. Exactly when does the crystal ball say I will prevail, Lulu?"
"Very soon, please," Madame Lulu replied. "What gifts have you brought me from your traveling, my Olaf?"
"Well, let's see," Olaf replied. "There's a lovely pearl necklace I stole from one of the nurses at Heimlich Hospital."
"You promised me