|I could have that," Esmé said. "Give her one of those crow hats you snatched from the Village of Fowl Devotees."|
"I tell you, Lulu," Olaf said, "your fortune-telling abilities are amazing. I never would have guessed that the Baudelaires were hiding out in that stupid town, but your crystal ball knew right away."
"Magic is magic, please," Lulu replied. "More wine, my Olaf?"
"Thank you," Olaf said. "Now, Lulu, we need your fortune-telling abilities once more."
"The Baudelaire brats slipped away from us again," the bald man said, "and the boss was hoping you'd be able to tell us where they went."
"Also," the hook-handed man said, "we need to know where the Snicket file is."
"And we need to know if one of the Baudelaire parents survived the fire," Esmé said. "The orphans seem to think so, but your crystal ball could tell us for sure."
"And I'd like some more wine," one of the white-faced women said.
"So many demands you make," Madame Lulu said in her strange accent. "Madame Lulu remembers, please, when you would visit only for the pleasure of my company, my Olaf."
"There isn't time for that tonight," Olaf replied quickly. "Can't you consult your crystal ball right now?"
"You know rules of crystal ball, my Olaf," Lulu replied. "At night the crystal ball must be sleeping in the fortune-telling tent, and at sunrise you may ask one question."
"Then I'll ask my first question tomorrow morning," Olaf said, "and we'll stay until all my questions are answered."
"Oh, my Olaf," Madame Lulu said. "Please, times are very hard for Caligari Carnival. Is not good business idea to have carnival in hinterlands, so there are not many people to see Madame Lulu or crystal ball. Caligari Carnival gift caravan has lousy souvenirs. And Madame Lulu has not enough freaks, please, in the House of Freaks. You visit, my Olaf, with troupe, and stay many days, drink my wine and eat all of my snackings."
"This roast chicken is very delicious," the hook-handed man said.
"Madame Lulu has no money, please," Lulu continued. "Is hard, my Olaf, to do fortune-telling for you when Madame Lulu is so poor. The caravan of mine has leaky roof, and Madame Lulu needs money, please, to do repairs."
"I've told you before," Olaf said, "once we get the Baudelaire fortune, the carnival will have plenty of money."
"You said that about Quagmire fortune, my Olaf," Madame Lulu said, "and about Snicket fortune. But never a penny does Madame Lulu see. We must think, please, of something to make Caligari Carnival more popular. Madame Lulu was hoping that troupe of my Olaf could put on a big show like The Marvelous Marriage. Many people would come to see."
"The boss can't get up on stage," the bald man said. "Planning schemes is a full-time job."
"Besides," Esmé said, "I've retired from show business. All I want to be now is Count Olaf's girlfriend."
There was a silence, and the only thing the Baudelaires could hear from Lulu's caravan was the crunch of someone chewing on chicken bones. Then there was a long sigh, and Lulu spoke very quietly.
"You did not tell me, my Olaf, that Esmé was the girlfriend of you. Perhaps Madame Lulu will not let you and troupe stay at the carnival of mine."
"Now, now, Lulu," Count Olaf said, and the children shivered as they eavesdropped. Olaf was talking in a tone of voice the Baudelaires had heard many times, when he was trying to fool someone into thinking he was a kind and decent person. Even with the curtains closed, the Baudelaires could tell that he was giving Madame Lulu a toothy grin, and that his eyes were shining brightly beneath his one eyebrow, as if he were about to tell a joke. "Did I ever tell you how I began my career as an actor?"
"It's a fascinating story," the hook-handed man said.
"It certainly is," Olaf agreed. "Give me some more wine, and I'll tell you. Now then, as a child, I was always the most handsome fellow at school, and one day a young director . . ."
The Baudelaires had heard enough. The three children had spent enough time with the villain to know that once he began talking about himself, he continued until the cows came home, a phrase which here means "until there was no more wine," and they tiptoed away from Madame Lulu's caravan and back toward Count Olaf's car so they could talk without being overheard. In the dark of night, the long, black automobile looked like an enormous hole, and the children felt as if they were about to fall into it as they tried to decide what to do.
"I guess we should leave," Klaus said uncertainly. "It's definitely not safe around here, but I don't know where we can go in the hinterlands. There's nothing for miles and miles but wilderness, and we could die of thirst, or be attacked by wild animals."
Violet looked around quickly, as if something were about to attack them that very moment, but the only wild animal in view was the painted lion on the carnival sign. "Even if we found someone else out there," she said, "they'd probably think we were murderers and call the police. Also, Madame Lulu promised to answer all of Olaf's questions tomorrow morning."
"You don't think Madame Lulu's crystal ball really works, do you?" Klaus asked. "I've never read any evidence that fortune-telling is real."
"But Madame Lulu keeps telling Count Olaf where we are," Violet pointed out. "She must be getting her information from someplace. If she can really find out the location of the Snicket file, or learn if one of our parents is alive . . ."
Her voice trailed off, but she did not need to finish her sentence. All three Baudelaires knew that finding out if someone survived the fire was worth the risk of staying nearby.
"Sandover," Sunny said, which meant "So we're staying."
"We should at least stay the night," Klaus agreed. "But where can we hide? If we don't stay out of sight, someone is likely to recognize us."
"Karneez?" Sunny asked.
"The people in those caravans work for Madame Lulu," Klaus said. "Who knows if they'd help us or not?"
"I have an idea," Violet said, and walked over to the back of Count Olaf's car. With a creeeak, she opened the trunk again and leaned down inside.
"Nuts!" Sunny said, which meant "I don't think that's such a good idea, Violet."
"Sunny's right," Klaus said. "Olaf and his henchmen might come back any minute to unpack the trunk. We can't hide in there."
"We're not going to hide in there," Violet said. "We're not going to hide at all. After all, Olaf and his troupe never hide, and they manage not to be recognized. We're going to disguise ourselves."
"Gabrowha?" Sunny asked.
"Why wouldn't it work?" Violet replied. "Olaf wears these disguises and he manages to fool everyone. If we fool Madame Lulu into thinking we're somebody else, we can stay around and find the answers to our questions."
"It seems risky," Klaus said, "but I suppose It's just as risky as trying to hide someplace. Who should we pretend to be?"
"Let's look through the disguises," Violet said, "and see if we get any ideas."
"We'll have to feel through them," Klaus said. "It's too dark to look through anything."
The Baudelaires stood in front of the open trunk and reached inside to begin their search. As I'm sure you know, whenever you are examining someone else's belongings, you are bound to learn many interesting things about the person of which you were not previously aware. You might examine some letters your sister received recently, for instance, and learn that she was planning on running away with an archduke. You might examine the suitcases of another passenger on a train you are taking, and learn that he had been secretly photographing you for the past six months. I recently looked in the refrigerator of one of my enemies and learned she was a vegetarian, or at least pretending to be one, or had a vegetarian visiting her for a few days. And the Baudelaire orphans examined some of the objects in Olaf's trunk, they learned a great deal of unpleasant things. Violet found part of a brass lamp she remembered from living with Uncle Monty, and learned that Olaf had stolen from her poor guardian, in addition to murdering him. Klaus found a large shopping bag from the In Boutique, and learned that Esmé Squalor was just as obsessed with fashionable clothing as she ever was. And Sunny found a pair of pantyhose covered in sawdust, and learned that Olaf had not washed his receptionist disguise since he had used it last. But the most dismaying thing the children learned from searching the trunk of Olaf's car was just how many disguises he had at his disposal. They found the hat Olaf used to disguise himself as a ship captain, and the razor he had probably used to shave his head in order to resemble a lab assistant. They found the expensive running shoes he had worn to disguise himself as a gym teacher, and the plastic ones he had used when he was pretending to be a detective. But the siblings also found plenty of costumes they had never seen before, and it seemed as though Olaf could keep on disguising himself forever, following the Baudelaires to location after location, always appearing with a new identity and never getting caught.
"We could disguise ourselves as almost anybody," Violet said. "Look, here's a wig that makes me look like a clown, and here's one that makes me look like a judge."
"I know," Klaus said, holding up a large box with several drawers. "This appears to be a makeup kit, complete with fake mustaches, fake eyebrows, and even a pair of glass eyes."
"Twicho!" Sunny said, holding up a long white veil.
"No, thank you," Violet said. "I already had to wear that veil once, when Olaf nearly married me. I'd rather not wear it again. Besides, what would a bride be doing wandering around the hinterlands?"
"Look at this long robe," Klaus said. "It looks like something a rabbi would wear, but I don't know if Madame Lulu would believe that a rabbi would visit her in the middle of the night."
"Ginawn!" Sunny said, using her teeth to wrap a pair of sweatpants around her. The youngest Baudelaire meant something like, "All these clothes are too big for me," and she was right.
"That's even bigger than that pinstripe suit Esmé bought you," Klaus said, helping his sister get disentangled. "No one would believe that a pair of sweatpants was walking around a carnival by itself."
"All these clothes are too big," Violet said. "Look at this beige coat. If I tried to disguise myself in it, I'd only look freakish."
"Freakish!" Klaus said. "That's it!"
"Whazit?" Sunny asked.
"Madame Lulu said that she didn't have enough freaks in the House of Freaks. If we find disguises that make us look freakish, and tell Lulu that we're looking for work, she might hire us as part of the carnival."
"But what exactly do freaks do?" Violet asked.
"I read a book once about a man named John Merrick," Klaus said. "He had horrible birth defects that made him look terribly deformed. A carnival put him on display as part of a House of Freaks, and people paid money to go into a tent and look at him."
"Why would people want to look at someone with birth defects?" Violet asked. "It sounds cruel."
"It was cruel," Klaus said. "The crowd often threw things at Mr. Merrick, and called him names. I'm afraid the House of Freaks isn't a very pleasant form of entertainment."
"You'd think someone would put a stop to it," Violet said, "but you'd think somebody would put a stop to Count Olaf, too, and nobody does."
"Radev," Sunny said with a nervous look around them. By "Radev," she meant "Somebody's going to put a stop to us if we don't disguise ourselves soon," and her siblings nodded solemnly in agreement.
"Here's some kind of fancy shirt," Klaus said. "It's covered in ruffles and bows. And here's an enormous pair of pants with fur on the cuffs."
"Could both of us wear them at once?" Violet asked.
"Both of us?" Klaus said. "I suppose so, if we kept on our clothes underneath, so Olaf's would fit. We could each stand on one leg, and tuck our other legs inside. We'd have to lean against one another as we walked, but I think it might work."
"And we could do the same thing with the shirt," Violet said. "We could each put one arm through a sleeve and keep the other tucked inside."
"But we couldn't hide one of our heads," Klaus pointed out, "and with both of our heads poking out of the top we'd look like some sort of–"
"–two-headed person," Violet finished, "and a two-headed person is exactly what a House of Freaks would put on display."
"That's good thinking," Klaus said. "People won't be on the lookout for a two-headed person. But we'll need to disguise our faces, too."
"The makeup kit will take care of that," Violet said. "Mother taught me how to draw fake scars on myself when she appeared in that play about the murderer."
"And here's a can of talcum powder," Klaus said. "We can use this to whiten our hair."
"Do you think Count Olaf will notice that these things are missing from his trunk?" Violet asked.
"I doubt it," Klaus said. "The trunk isn't very well organized, and I don't think he's used some of these disguises for a long time. I think we can take enough to become a two-headed person without Olaf missing anything."
"Beriu?" Sunny said, which meant "What about me?"
"These disguises are made for fully grown people," Violet said, "but I'm sure we can find you something. Maybe you could fit inside one of these shoes, and be a person with just a head and one foot. That's plenty freakish."
"Chelish," Sunny said, which meant something along the lines of, "I'm too big to fit inside a shoe."
"That's true," Klaus said. "It's been a while since you were shoe-sized." He reached inside the trunk and pulled out something short and hairy, as if he had caught a raccoon. "But this might work," he said. "I think this is the fake beard Olaf wore when he was pretending to be Stephano. It's a long beard, so it might work as a short disguise."
"Let's find out," Violet said, "and let's find out quickly."
The Baudelaires found out quickly. In just a few minutes, the children found out just how easy it was to transform themselves into entirely different people. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny had some experience in disguising themselves, of course–Klaus and Sunny had used medical coats at Heimlich Hospital in a plan to rescue Violet, and even Sunny could remember when all three siblings had occasionally worn costumes for their own amusement, back when they had lived in the Baudelaire mansion with their parents. But this time, the Baudelaire orphans felt more like Count Olaf and his troupe, as they worked quietly and hurriedly in the night to erase all traces of their true identities. Violet felt through the makeup kit until she found several pencils that were normally used to make one's eyebrows more dramatic, and even though it was simple and painless to draw scars on Klaus's face, it felt as if she were breaking the promise she made to her parents, a very long time ago, that she would always look after her siblings and keep them away from harm. Klaus helped Sunny wrap herself in Olaf's fake beard, but when he saw her eyes and the tips of her teeth peeking out of the mass of scratchy hair it felt as if he had fed his baby sister to some tiny but hungry animal. And as Sunny helped her siblings button themselves into the fancy shirt and sprinkle talcum on their hair to turn it gray, it felt as if they were melting into Olaf's clothes. The three Baudelaires looked at one another carefully but it was as if there were no Baudelaires there at all, just two strangers, one with two heads and the other with a head that was covered in fur, all alone in the hinterlands.
"I think we look utterly unrecognizable," Klaus said, turning with difficulty to face his older sister. "Maybe it's because I took off my glasses, but to me we don't look a thing like ourselves."
"Will you be able to see without your glasses?" Violet asked.
"If I squint," Klaus said, squinting. "I can't read like this, but I won't be bumping into things. If I keep them on, Count Olaf will probably recognize me."
"Then you'd better keep them off," Violet said, "and I'll stop wearing a ribbon in my hair."
"We'd better disguise our voices, too," Klaus said. "I'll try to speak as high as I can, and why don't you try to speak in a low voice, Violet?"
"Good idea," Violet said, in as low a voice as she could. "And Sunny, you should probably just growl."
"Grr," Sunny tried.
"You sound like a wolf," Violet said, still practicing her disguised tone. "Let's tell Madame Lulu that you're half wolf and half person."
"That would be a miserable experience," Klaus said, in the highest voice he could manage. "But I suppose being born with two heads wouldn't be any easier."
"We'll explain to Lulu that we've had miserable experiences, but now we're hoping things will get better working at the carnival," Violet said, and then sighed. "That's one thing we don't have to pretend. We have had miserable experiences, and we are hoping that things will get better here. We're almost as freakish as we're pretending to be."
"Don't say that," Klaus said, and then remembered his new voice. "Don't say that," he said again, at a much higher pitch. "We're not freaks. We're still the Baudelaires, even if we're wearing Olaf's disguises."
"I know," Violet said, in her new voice, "but it's a little confusing pretending to be a completely different person."
"Grr," Sunny growled in agreement, and the three children put the rest of Count Olaf's things back in the trunk, and walked in silence to Madame Lulu's caravan. It was awkward for Violet and Klaus to walk in the same pair of pants, and Sunny had to keep stopping to brush the beard out of her eyes. It was confusing pretending to be completely different people, particularly because it had been so long since the Baudelaires were able to be the people they really were. Violet, Klaus, and Sunny did not think of themselves as the sort of children who hid in the trunks of automobiles, or who wore disguises, or who tried to get jobs at the House of Freaks. But the siblings could scarcely remember when they had been able to relax and do the things they liked to do best. It seemed ages since Violet had been able to sit around and think of inventions, instead of frantically building something to get them out of trouble. Klaus could barely remember the last book he had read for his own enjoyment, instead of as research to defeat one of Olaf 's schemes. And Sunny had used her teeth many, many times to escape from difficult situations, but it had been quite a while since she had bitten something recreationally. As the youngsters approached the caravan, it seemed as if each awkward step took them further and further from their real lives as Baudelaires, and into their disguised lives as carnival freaks, and it was indeed very confusing.
When Sunny knocked on the door, Madame Lulu called out, "Who's there?" and for the first time in their lives, it was a confusing question.
"We're freaks," Violet answered, in her disguised voice. "We're three–I mean, we're two freaks looking for work."
The door opened with a creak, and the children got their first look at Madame Lulu. She was wearing a long, shimmering robe that seemed to change colors as she moved, and a turban that looked very much like the one Count Olaf had worn back at Prufrock Preparatory School. She had dark, piercing eyes, with two dramatic eyebrows hovering suspiciously as she looked them over. Behind her, sitting at a small round table, were Count Olaf, Esmé Squalor, and Olaf's comrades, who were all staring at the youngsters curiously. And as if all those curious eyes weren't enough, there was one more eye gazing at the Baudelaires–a glass eye, attached to a chain around Madame Lulu's neck. The eye matched the one painted on her caravan, and the one tattooed on Count Olaf's ankle. It was an eye that seemed to follow the Baudelaires wherever they went, drawing them deeper and deeper into the troubling mystery of their lives.
"Walk in, please," Madame Lulu said in her strange accent, and the disguised children obeyed. As freakishly as they could, the Baudelaire orphans walked in, taking a few steps closer to all those staring eyes, and a few steps further from the lives they were leaving behind.
Besides getting several paper cuts in the same day or receiving the news that someone in your family has betrayed you to your enemies, one of the most unpleasant experiences in life is a job interview. It is very nerve-wracking to explain to someone all the things you can do in the hopes that they will pay you to do them. I once had a very difficult job interview in which I had not only to explain that I could hit an olive with a bow and arrow, memorize up to three pages of poetry, and determine if there was poison mixed into cheese fondue without tasting it, but I had to demonstrate all these things as well. In most cases, the best strategy for a job interview is to be fairly honest, because the worst thing that can happen is that you won't get the job and will spend the rest of your life foraging for food in the wilderness and seeking shelter underneath a tree or the awning of a bowling alley that has gone out of business, but in the case of the Baudelaire orphans' job interview with Madame Lulu, the situation was much more desperate. They could not be honest at all, because they were disguised as entirely different people, and the worst thing that could happen was being discovered by Count Olaf and his troupe and spending the rest of their lives in circumstances so terrible that the children could not bear to think of them.
"Sit down, please, and Lulu will interview you for carnival job," Madame Lulu said, gesturing to the round table where Olaf and his troupe were sitting. Violet and Klaus sat down on one chair with difficulty, and Sunny crawled onto another while everyone watched them in silence. The troupe had their elbows on the table and were eating the snacks Lulu had provided with their fingers, while Esmé Squalor sipped her buttermilk, and Count Olaf leaned back in his chair and looked at the Baudelaires very, very carefully.
"It seems to me you look very familiar," he said.
"Perhaps you have seen before the freaks, my Olaf," Lulu said. "What are names of the freaks?"
"My name is Beverly," Violet said, in her low, disguised voice, inventing a name as quickly as she could invent an ironing board. "And this is my other head, Elliot."
Olaf reached across the table to shake hands, and Violet and Klaus had to stop for a moment to figure out whose arm was sticking out of the right-hand sleeve.
"It's very nice to meet you both," he said. "It must be very difficult, having two heads."
"Oh, yes," Klaus said, in as high a voice as he could manage. "You can't imagine how troublesome it is to find clothing."
"I was just noticing your shirt," Esmé said. "It's very in."
"Just because we're freaks," Violet said, "doesn't mean we don't care about fashion."
"How about eating?" Count Olaf said, his eyes shining brightly. "Do you have trouble eating?"
"Well, I–I mean, well, we–" Klaus said, but before he could go on, Olaf grabbed a long ear of corn from a platter on the table and held it toward the two children.
"Let's see how much trouble you have," he snarled, as his henchmen began to giggle. "Eat this ear of corn, you two-headed freak."
"Yes," Madame Lulu agreed. "It is best way to see if you can work in carnival. Eat corn! Eat corn!
Violet and Klaus looked at one another, and then reached out one hand each to take the corn from Olaf and hold it awkwardly in front of their mouths. Violet leaned forward to take the first bite, but the motion of the corn made it slip from Klaus's hand and fall back down onto the table, and the room roared with cruel laughter.
"Look at them!" one of the white-faced women laughed. "They can't even eat an ear of corn! How freakish!"
"Try again," Olaf said with a nasty smile. "Pick the corn up from the table, freak."
The children picked up the corn and held it to their mouths once more. Klaus squinted and tried to take a bite, but when Violet tried to move the corn to help him, it hit him in the face and everyone–except for Sunny, of course– laughed once more.
"You are funny freaks," Madame Lulu said. She was laughing so hard that she had to wipe her eyes, and when she did, one of her dramatic eyebrows smeared slightly, as if she had a small bruise above one eye. "Try again, Beverly-and-Elliot freak!"
"This is the funniest thing I've ever seen," said the hook-handed man. "I always thought people with birth defects were unfortunate, but now I realize they're hilarious."
Violet and Klaus wanted to point out that a man with hooks for hands would probably have an equally difficult time eating an ear of corn, but they knew that a job interview is rarely a good time to start arguments, so the siblings swallowed their words and began swallowing corn. After a few bites, the children began to get their bearings, a phrase which here means "figure out how two people, using only two hands, can eat one ear of corn at the same time," but it was still quite a difficult task. The ear of corn was greasy with butter that left damp streaks on their mouths or dripped down their chins. Sometimes the ear of corn would be at a perfect angle for one of them to bite, but would be poking the other one in the face. And often the ear of corn would simply slip out of their hands, and everyone would laugh yet again.
"This is more fun than kidnapping!" said the bald associate of Olaf's, who was shaking with laughter. "Lulu, this freak will have people coming from miles around to watch, and all it will cost you is an ear of corn!"
"Is true, please," Madame Lulu agreed, and looked down at Violet and Klaus. "The crowd loves sloppy eating," she said. "You are hired for House of Freaks show."
"How about that other one?" Esmé asked, giggling and wiping buttermilk from her upper lip. "What is that freak, some sort of living scarf?"
"Chabo!" Sunny said to her siblings. She meant something like, "I know this is humiliating, but at least our disguises are working!" but Violet was quick to disguise her translation.
"This is Chabo the Wolf Baby," she said, in her low voice. "Her mother was a hunter who fell in love with a handsome wolf, and this is their poor child."
"I didn't even know that was possible," said the hook-handed man.
"Grr," Sunny growled.
"It might be funny to watch her eat corn too," said the bald man, and he grabbed another ear of corn and waved it at the youngest Baudelaire. "Here Chabo! Have an ear of corn!"
Sunny opened her mouth wide, but when the bald man saw the tips of her teeth poking out through the beard, he yanked his hand back in fear.
"Yikes!" he said. "That freak is vicious!"
"She's still a bit wild," Klaus said, still speaking as high as he could. "In fact, we got all these horrible scars from teasing her."
"Grr," Sunny growled again, and bit a piece of silverware to demonstrate how wild she was.
"Chabo will be excellent carnival attraction," Madame Lulu pronounced. "People are always liking of violence, please. You are hired, too, Chabo."
"Just keep her away from me," Esmé said. "A wolf baby like that would probably ruin my outfit."
"Grr!" Sunny growled.
"Come now, freaky people," Madame Lulu said! "Madame Lulu will show you the caravan, please, where you will do the sleeping."
"We'll stay here and have more wine," Count Olaf said. "Congratulations on the new freaks, Lulu. I knew you'd have good luck with me around."
"Everyone does," Esmé said, and kissed Olaf on the cheek.
Madame Lulu scowled, and led the children out of her caravan and into the night.
"Follow me, freaks, please," she said. "You will be living, please, in freaks' caravan. You will share with other freaks. There is Hugo, Colette, and Kevin, all freaks. Every day will be House of Freaks show. Beverly and Elliot, you will be eating of corn, please. Chabo, you will be attacking of audience, please. Are there any freaky questions?"
"Will we be paid?" Klaus asked. He was thinking that having some money might help the Baudelaires, if they learned the answers to their questions and had an opportunity to get away from the carnival.
"No, no, no," Madame Lulu said. "Madame Lulu will be giving no money to the freaks, please. If you are freak, you are lucky that someone will give you work. Look at man with hooks on hands. He is grateful to do the working for Count Olaf, even though Olaf will not be giving him of the Baudelaire fortune."
"Count Olaf?" Violet asked, pretending that her worst enemy was a complete stranger. "Is that the gentleman with one eyebrow?"
"That is Olaf," Lulu said. "He is brilliant man, but do not be saying the wrong things to him, please. Madame Lulu always says you must always give people what they want, so always tell Olaf he is brilliant man."
"We'll remember that," Klaus said.
"Good, please," Madame Lulu said. "Now, here is freak caravan. Welcome freaks, to your new home."
The fortune-teller had stopped at a caravan with the word freaks painted on it in large, sloppy letters. The letters were smeared and dripping in several places, as if the paint was still wet, but the word was so faded that the Baudelaires knew the caravan had been labeled many years ago. Next to the caravan was a shabby tent with several holes in it and a sign reading WELCOME TO THE HOUSE OF FREAKS, with a small drawing of a girl with three eyes. Madame Lulu strode past the sign to knock on the caravan's wooden door.
"Freaks!" Madame Lulu cried. "Please wake up, please! New freaks are here for you to say hello!"
"Just a minute, Madame Lulu," called a voice from behind the door.
"No just a minute, please," Madame Lulu said. "Now! I am the boss of the carnival!"
The door swung open to reveal a sleepy-looking man with a hunchback, a word which here means "a back with a hump near the shoulder, giving the person a somewhat irregular appearance." He was wearing a pair of pajamas that were ripped at the shoulder to make room for his hunchback, and holding a small candle to help him see in the dark.
"I know you are the boss, Madame Lulu," the man said, "but it's the middle of the night. Don't you want your freaks to be well-rested?"
"Madame Lulu does not particularly care about sleep of freaks," Lulu said haughtily. "Please be telling the new freaks what to do for show tomorrow. The freak with two heads will be eating corn, please, and the little wolf freak will be attacking audience."
"Violence and sloppy eating," the man said, and sighed. "I guess the crowd will like that."
"Of course crowd will like," Lulu said, "and then carnival will get much money."
"And then maybe you'll pay us?" the man asked.
"Fat chance, please," Madame Lulu replied. "Good night, freaks."
"Good night, Madame Lulu," replied Violet who would have rather been called a proper name, even if it was one she invented, than simply "freak," but the fortune-teller walked away without looking back. The Baudelaires stood in the doorway of the caravan for a moment, watching Lulu disappear into the night, before looking up at the man and introducing themselves a bit more properly.
"My name is Beverly," Violet said. "My second head is named Elliot, and this is Chabo the Wolf Baby."
"Grr!" growled Sunny.
"I'm Hugo," the man said. "It'll be nice to have new coworkers. Come on inside the caravan and I'll introduce you to the others."
Still finding it awkward to walk, Violet and Klaus followed Hugo inside, and Sunny followed her siblings, preferring to crawl rather than walk, because it made her seem more half wolf. The caravan was small, but the children could see by the light of Hugo's candle that it was tidy and clean. There was a small wooden table in the center, with a set of dominoes stacked up in the center and several chairs grouped around. In one corner was a rack with clothing hung on it, including a long row of identical coats, and a large mirror so you could comb your hair and make sure you looked presentable. There was a small stove for cooking meals, with a few pots and pans stacked alongside it, and a few potted plants lined up near the window so they would get enough sunlight. Violet would have liked to add a small workbench she could use while inventing things, Klaus would have been pleased to be squinting at some bookshelves, and Sunny would have preferred to see a stack of raw carrots or other foods that are pleasant to bite, but otherwise the caravan looked like a cozy place to live. The only thing that seemed to be missing was someplace to sleep, but as Hugo walked farther into the room, the children saw that there were three hammocks, which are long, wide pieces of cloth used for beds, hanging from places on the walls. One hammock was empty–the Baudelaires supposed that this was where Hugo slept–but in another they could see a tall skinny woman with curly hair squinting down at them, and in the third was a man with a very wrinkled face who was still asleep.
"Kevin!" Hugo called up to the sleeping man. "Kevin, get up! We have new coworkers, and I'll need help setting up more hammocks."
The man frowned and glared down at Hugo. "I wish you hadn't woken me up," Kevin said. "I was having a delightful dream that there was nothing wrong with me at all, instead of being a freak."
The Baudelaires took a good look at Kevin as he lowered himself to the floor and were unable to see anything the least bit freakish about him, but he stared at the Baudelaires as if he had seen a ghost.
"My word," he said. "You two have it as bad as I do."
"Try to be polite, Kevin," Hugo said. "This is Beverly and Elliot, and there on the floor is Chabo the Wolf Baby."
"Wolf Baby?" Kevin repeated, shaking Violet and Klaus's shared right hand. "Is she dangerous?"
"She doesn't like to be teased," Violet said.
"I don't like to be teased either," Kevin said, and hung his head. "But wherever I go, I hear people whispering, 'there goes Kevin, the ambidextrous freak.'"
"Ambidextrous?" Klaus said. "Doesn't that mean you are both right-handed and left-handed?"
"So you've heard of me," Kevin said. "Is that why you traveled out here to the hinterlands, so you could stare at somebody who can write his name with either his left hand or his right?"
"No," Klaus said. "I just know the word 'ambidextrous' from a book I read."
"I had a feeling you'd be smart," Hugo said. "After all, you have twice as many brains as most people."
"I only have one brain," Kevin said sadly. "One brain, two ambidextrous arms, and two ambidextrous legs. What a freak!"
"It's better than being a hunchback," Hugo said. "Your hands may be freaky, but you have absolutely normal shoulders."
"What good are normal shoulders," Kevin said, "when they're attached to hands that are equally good at using a knife and fork?"
"Oh, Kevin," the woman said, and climbed down from her hammock to give him a pat on the head. "I know it's depressing being so freakish, but try and look on the bright side. At least you're better off than me." She turned to the children and gave them a shy smile. "My name is Colette," she said, "and if you're going to laugh at me, I'd prefer you do it now and get it over with."
The Baudelaires looked at Colette and then at one another.
"Renuf!" Sunny said, which meant something like, "I don't see anything freakish about you either, but even if I did I wouldn't laugh at you because it wouldn't be polite."
I bet that's some sort of wolf laugh," Colette said, "but I don't blame Chabo for laughing at a contortionist."
"Contortionist?" Violet asked.
"Yes," Colette sighed. "I can bend my body into all sorts of unusual positions. Look."
The Baudelaires watched as Colette sighed again and launched into a contortionist routine. First she bent down so her head was between her legs, and curled up into a tiny ball on the floor. Then she pushed one hand against the ground and lifted her entire body up on just a few fingers, braiding her legs together into a spiral. Finally she flipped up in the air, balanced for a moment on her head, and twisted her arms and legs together like a mass of twine before looking up at the Baudelaires with a sad frown.
"You see?" Colette said. "I'm a complete freak."
"Wow!" Sunny shrieked.
"I thought that was amazing," Violet said, "and so did Chabo."
"That's very polite of you to say so," Colette said, "but I'm ashamed that I'm a contortionist."
"But if you're ashamed of it," Klaus said, "why don't you just move your body normally, instead of doing contortions?"
"Because I'm in the House of Freaks, Elliot," Colette said. "Nobody would pay to see me move my body normally."
"It's an interesting dilemma," Hugo said, using a fancy word for "problem" that the Baudelaires had learned from a law book in Justice Strauss's library. "All three of us would rather be normal people than freaks, but tomorrow morning, people will be waiting in the tent for Colette to twist her body into strange positions, for Beverly and Elliot to eat corn, for Chabo to growl and attack the crowd, for Kevin to write his name with both hands, and for me to try on one of those coats. Madame Lulu says we must always give people what they want, and they want freaks performing on a stage. Come now, it's very late at night. Kevin, give me a helping hand putting up hammocks for the newcomers, and then let's all try to get some sleep."
"I might as well give you
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