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two helping hands," Kevin said glumly. "They're both equally efficient. Oh, I wish that I was either right-handed or left-handed."

"Try to cheer up," Colette said gently. "Maybe a miracle will happen tomorrow, and we'll all get the things we wish for most."

No one in the caravan said anything more, but as Hugo and Kevin prepared two hammocks for the three Baudelaires, the children thought about what Colette had said. Miracles are like meatballs, because nobody can exactly agree what they are made of, where they come from, or how often they should appear. Some people say that a sunrise is a miracle, because it is somewhat mysterious and often very beautiful, but other people say it is simply a fact of life, because it happens every day and far too early in the morning. Some people say that a telephone is a miracle, because it sometimes seems wondrous that you can talk with somebody who is thousands of miles away, and other people say it is simply a manufactured device fashioned out of metal parts, electronic circuitry, and wires that are very easily cut. And some people say that sneaking out of a hotel is a miracle, particularly if the lobby is swarming with policemen, and other people say it is simply a fact of life, because it happens every day and far too early in the morning. So you might think that there are so many miracles in the world that you can scarcely count them, or that there are so few that they're scarcely worth mentioning, depending on whether you spend your mornings gazing at a beautiful sunset or lowering yourself into a back alley with a rope fashioned out of matching towels.

But there was one miracle the Baudelaires were thinking about as they lay in their hammocks and tried to sleep, and this was the sort of miracle that felt bigger than any meatball the world has ever seen. The hammocks creaked in the caravan as Violet and Klaus tried to get comfortable in one set of clothing and Sunny tried to arrange Olaf's beard so that it wouldn't be too scratchy, and all three youngsters thought about a miracle so wondrous and beautiful that it made their hearts ache to think of it. The miracle, of course, was that one of their parents was alive after all, that either their father or their mother had somehow survived the fire that had destroyed their home and begun the children's unfortunate journey. To have one more Baudelaire alive was such an enormous and unlikely miracle that the children were almost afraid to wish for it, but they wished for it anyway. The youngsters thought of what Colette had said–that maybe a miracle would happen, and that they would all get the thing they wished for most–and waited for morning to come, when Madame Lulu's crystal ball might bring the miracle the Baudelaires were wishing for.

At last the sun rose, as it does every day, and very early in the morning. The three children had slept very little and wished very much, and now they watched the caravan slowly fill with light, and listened to Hugo, Colette, and Kevin shift in their hammocks, and wondered if Count Olaf had entered the fortune-teller's tent yet, and if he had learned anything there. And just when they could stand it no more, they heard the sound of hurrying footsteps and a loud, metallic knock on the door.

"Wake up! Wake up!" came the voice of the hook-handed man, but before I write down what he said I must tell you that there is one more similarity between a miracle and a meatball, and it is that they both might appear to be one thing but turn out to be another.

It happened to me once at a cafeteria, when it turned out there was a small camera hidden in the lunch I received. And it happened to Violet, Klaus and Sunny now, although it was quite some time before they learned that what the hook-handed man said turned out to be something different from what they thought when they heard him outside the door of the freaks' caravan.

"Wake up!" the hook-handed man said again, and pounded on the door. "Wake up and hurry up! I'm in a very bad mood and have no time for your nonsense. It's a very busy day at the carnival. Madame Lulu and Count Olaf are running errands, I'm in charge of the House of Freaks, the crystal ball revealed that one of those blasted Baudelaire parents is still alive, and the gift caravan is almost out of figurines."


"What?" asked Hugo, yawning and rubbing his eyes. "What did you say?"

"I said the gift caravan is almost out of figurines," the hook-handed man said from behind the door. "But that's not your concern. People are already arriving at the carnival, so you freaks need to be ready in fifteen minutes."

"Wait a moment, sir!" Violet thought to use her low, disguised voice just in time, as she and her brother climbed down from their hammock, still sharing a single pair of pants. Sunny was already on the floor, too astonished to remember to growl. "Did you say that one of the Baudelaire parents is alive?"

The door of the caravan opened a crack, and the children could see the face of the hook-handed man peering at them suspiciously.

"What do you care, freaks?" he asked.

"Well," Klaus said, thinking quickly, "we've been reading about the Baudelaires in ^ The Daily Punctilio. We're very interested in the case of those three murderous children."

"Well," the hook-handed man said, "those kids' parents were supposed to be dead, but Madame Lulu looked into her crystal ball and saw that one of them was alive. It's a long story, but it means that we're all going to be very busy. Count Olaf and Madame Lulu had to leave early this morning to run an important errand, so I'm now in charge of the House of Freaks. That means I get to boss you around, so hurry up and get ready for the show!"

"Grr!" Sunny growled.

"Chabo's all set to perform," Violet said, "and the rest of us will be ready soon."

"You'd better be," the hook-handed man said, and began to shut the door before stopping for a moment. "That's funny," he said. "It looks like one of your scars is blurry."

"They blur as they heal," Klaus said.

"Too bad," the hook-handed man said. "It makes you look less freakish." He slammed the door and the siblings could hear him walk away from the caravan.

"I feel sorry for that man," Colette remarked, as she swung down from her hammock and curled into a contortion on the floor. "Every time he and that Count person come to visit, it makes me feel bad to look at his hooks."

"He's better off than me," Kevin said, yawning and stretching his ambidextrous arms. "At least one of his hooks is stronger than the other one. My arms and legs are exactly alike."

"And mine are very bendable," Colette said. "Well, we'd better do as the man says and get ready for the show."

"That's right," Hugo agreed, reaching into a shelf next to his hammock and pulling out a toothbrush. "Madame Lulu says that we must always give people what they want, and that man wants us ready right away."

"Here, Chabo," Violet said, looking down at her sister. "I'll help you sharpen your teeth."

"Grr!" Sunny agreed, and the two older Baudelaires leaned down together, and lifted Sunny up and moved into a corner so the three children could whisper to one another near the mirror, while Hugo, Colette, and Kevin performed their toilette, a phrase which here means "did the things necessary to begin their day as carnival freaks."

"What do you think?" Klaus asked. "Do you think it's really possible that one of our parents is alive?"

"I don't know," Violet said. "On one hand, it's hard to believe that Madame Lulu really has a magical crystal ball. On the other hand, she always told Count Olaf where we were so he could come and find us. I don't know what to believe."

"Tent," Sunny whispered.

"I think you're right, Sunny," Klaus said. "If we could sneak into the fortune-telling tent, we might be able to find out something for ourselves."

"You're whispering about me, aren't you?" Kevin called out from the other end of the caravan. "I bet you're saying, 'What a freak Kevin is. Sometimes he shaves with his left hand, and sometimes he shaves with his right hand, but it doesn't matter because they're exactly the same!"

"We weren't talking about you, Kevin," Violet said. "We were discussing the Baudelaire case."

"I never heard of these Baudelaires," Hugo said, combing his hair. "Did I hear you mention they were murderers?"

"That's what it says in ^ The Daily Punctilio" Klaus said.

"Oh, I never read the newspaper," Kevin said. "Holding it in both of my equally strong hands makes me feel like a freak."

"That's better than me," Colette said. "I can contort myself into a position that allows me to pick up a newspaper with my tongue. Talk about freakish!"

"It's an interesting dilemma," Hugo said, grabbing one of the identical coats from the rack, "but I think that we're all equally freakish. Now, let's get out there and put on a good show!"

The Baudelaires followed their coworkers out of the caravan and over to the House of Freaks tent, where the hook-handed man was standing impatiently, holding something long and damp in one of his hooks.

"Get inside and put on a good show," he ordered, gesturing to a flap in the tent that served as an entrance. "Madame Lulu said that if you don't give the audience what they want, I'm allowed to use this tagliatelle grande."

"What's a tagliatelle grande?" Colette asked.

"Tagliatelle is a type of Italian noodle," the hook-handed man explained, uncoiling the long and damp object, "and grande means 'big' in Italian. This is a big noodle that a carnival worker cooked up for me this morning." Olaf's comrade waved the big noodle over his head, and the Baudelaires and their coworkers heard a limp swishing sound as it moved slowly through the air, as if a large earthworm were crawling nearby. "If you don't do what I say," the hook-handed man continued, "I get to hit you with the tagliatelle grande, which I've heard is an unpleasant and somewhat sticky experience."

"Don't worry, sir," Hugo said. "We're professionals."

"I'm glad to hear it," the hook-handed man sneered, and followed them all into the House of Freaks. Inside, the tent looked even bigger, particularly because there wasn't very much to see in such a large space. There was a wooden stage with a few folding chairs placed on it, and a banner overhead, which read HOUSE OF FREAKS in large, sloppy letters. There was a small stand where one of the white-faced women was selling cold beverages. And there were seven or eight people milling around, waiting for the show to begin. Madame Lulu had mentioned that business had been slow at Caligari Carnival, but the siblings had still expected a few more people to show up to see the carnival freaks. As the children and their co-workers approached the stage, the hook-handed man began speaking to the small group of people as if they were a vast crowd.

"Ladies and gentlemen, boys and girls, adolescents of both genders," he announced. "Hurry up and buy your delicious cold beverages, because the House of Freaks show is about to begin!"

"Look at all those freaks!" giggled one member of the audience, a middle-aged man with several large pimples on his chin. "There's a man with hooks instead of hands!"

"I'm not one of the freaks," the hook-handed man growled. "I work here at the carnival!"

"Oh, I'm sorry," the man said. "But if you don't mind my saying so, if you purchased a pair of realistic hands no one would make that mistake."

"It's not polite to comment on other people's appearances," the hook-handed man said sternly. "Now, ladies and gentlemen, gaze with horror on Hugo, the hunchback! Instead of a regular back, he has a big hump that makes him look very freakish!"

"That's true," said the pimpled man, who seemed willing to giggle at one person or another. "What a freak!"

The hook-handed man waved his large noodle in the air as a limp reminder to the Baudelaires and their coworkers.

"Hugo!" he barked. "Put on your coat!"

As the audience tittered, Hugo walked to the front of the stage and tried to put on the coat he was holding. Usually, if someone has a body with an unusual shape, they will hire a tailor to alter their clothing so it will fit comfortably and attractively, but as Hugo struggled with the coat, it was clear that no such tailor had been hired. Hugo's hump wrinkled the back of the coat, and then stretched it, and then finally ripped it as he did up the buttons, so that within moments the coat was just a few pieces of tattered cloth. Blushing, Hugo retreated to the back of the stage and sat on a folding chair as the members of the tiny audience howled with laughter.

"Isn't that hilarious?" the hook-handed man said. "He can't even put on a coat! What a freakish person! But wait, ladies and gentlemen– there's more!" Olaf's henchman shook the tagliatelle grande again while reaching into his pocket with his other hook. Smiling wickedly, he withdrew an ear of corn and held it up for the audience to see. "This is a simple ear of corn," he announced. "It's something that any normal person can eat. But here at Caligari Carnival, we don't have a House of Normal People. We have a House of Freaks, with a brand-new freak that will turn this ear of corn into a hilarious mess!"

Violet and Klaus sighed, and walked to the center of the stage, and I do not think that I have to describe this tiresome show any longer. You can undoubtedly guess that the two eldest Baudelaires were forced to eat another ear of corn while a small group of people laughed at them, and that Colette was forced to twist her body into unusual shapes and positions, and that Kevin had to write his name with both his left and right hands, and that finally poor Sunny was forced to growl at the audience, although she was not a ferocious person by nature and would have preferred to greet them politely. And you can imagine how the crowd reacted as the hook-handed man announced each person and forced them to do these things. The seven or eight people laughed, and shouted cruel names, and made terrible and tasteless jokes, and one woman even threw her cold beverage, paper cup and all, at Kevin, as if someone who was both right-handed and left-handed somehow deserved to have wet and sticky stains on his shirt. But what you may not be able to imagine, unless you have had a similar experience yourself, is how humiliating it was to participate in such a show. You might think that being humiliated, like riding a bicycle or decoding a secret message, would get easier after you had done it a few times, but the Baudelaires had been laughed at more than a few times and it didn't make their experience in the House of Freaks easier at all. Violet remembered when a girl named Carmelita Spats had laughed at her and called her names, when the children were enrolled in Prufrock Preparatory School, but it still hurt her feelings when the hook-handed man announced her as something hilarious. Klaus remembered when Esmé Squalor had insulted him at 667 Dark Avenue, but he still blushed when the audience pointed and giggled every time the ear of corn slipped out of his hands. And Sunny remembered all of the times Count Olaf had laughed at all three Baudelaires and their misfortune, but she still felt embarrassed and a little sick when the people called her "wolf freak" as she followed the other performers out of the tent when the show was over. The Baudelaire orphans even knew that they weren't really a two-headed person and a wolf baby, but as they sat with their coworkers in the freaks' caravan afterward, they felt so humiliated that it was as if they were as freakish as everyone thought.

"I don't like this place," Violet said to Kevin and Colette, sharing a chair with her brother at the caravan's table, while Hugo made hot chocolate at the stove. She was so upset that she almost forgot to speak in a low voice. "I don't like being stared at, and I don't like being laughed at. If people think it's funny when someone drops an ear of corn, they should stay home and drop it themselves."

"Kiwoon!" Sunny agreed, forgetting to growl. She meant something along the lines of, "I thought I was going to cry when all those people were calling me 'freak,'" but luckily only her siblings understood her, so she didn't give away her disguise.

"Don't worry," Klaus said to his sisters. "I don't think we'll stay here very long. The fortune-telling tent is closed today because Count Olaf and Madame Lulu are running that important errand."

The middle Baudelaire did not need to add that it would be a good time to sneak into the tent and find out if Lulu's crystal ball really held the answers they were seeking.

"Why do you care if Lulu's tent is closed?" Colette asked. "You're a freak, not a fortuneteller."

"And why don't you want to stay here?" Kevin asked. "Caligari Carnival hasn't been very popular lately, but there's nowhere else for a freak to go."

"Of course there is," Violet said. "Lots of people are ambidextrous, Kevin. There are ambidextrous florists, and ambidextrous air-traffic controllers, and all sorts of things."

"You really think so?" Kevin asked.

"Of course I do," Violet said. "And it's the same with contortionists and hunchbacks. All of us could find some other type of job where people didn't think we were freakish at all."

"I'm not sure that's true," Hugo called over from the stove. "I think that a two-headed person is going to be considered pretty freakish no matter where they go."

"And it's probably the same with an ambidextrous person," Kevin said with a sigh.

"Let's try to forget our troubles and play dominoes," Hugo said, bringing over a tray with six steaming mugs of hot chocolate. "I thought both of your heads might want to drink separately," he explained with a smile, "particularly because this hot chocolate is a little bit unusual. Chabo the Wolf Baby added a little bit of cinnamon."

"Chabo added it?" Klaus asked with surprise, as Sunny growled modestly.

"Yes," Hugo said. "At first I thought it was some freaky wolf recipe, but it's actually quite tasty."

"That was a clever idea, Chabo," Klaus said, and gave his sister a squinty smile.

It seemed only a little while ago that the youngest Baudelaire couldn't walk, and was small enough to fit inside a birdcage, and now she was developing her own interests, and was big enough to seem half wolf.

"You should be very proud of yourself," Hugo agreed. "If you weren't a freak, Chabo, you could grow up to be an excellent chef."

"She could be a chef anyway," Violet said. "Elliot, would you mind if we stepped outside to enjoy our hot chocolate?"

"That's a good idea," Klaus said quickly. "I've always considered hot chocolate to be an outdoor beverage, and I'd like to take a peek in the gift caravan."

"Grr," Sunny growled, but her siblings knew she meant "I'll come with you," and she crawled over to where Violet and Klaus were awkwardly rising from their chair.

"Don't be too long," Colette said. "We're not supposed to wander around the carnival."

"We'll just drink our hot chocolate and come right back," Klaus promised.

"I hope you don't get in trouble," Kevin said. "I hate to think of the tagliatelle grande hitting both of your heads."

The Baudelaires were just about to point out that a blow from the tagliatelle grande probably wouldn't hurt one bit, when they heard a noise which was far more fearsome than a large noodle waving in the air. Even from inside the caravan, the children could hear a loud, creaky noise they recognized from their long trip into the hinterlands.

"That sounds like that gentleman friend of Madame Lulu's," Hugo said. "That's the sound of his car."

"There's another sound, too," Colette said. "Listen."

The children listened and heard that the contortionist had spoken the truth. Accompanying the roar of the engine was another roar, one that sounded deeper and angrier than any automobile. The Baudelaires knew that you cannot judge something by its sound any more than you can judge a person by the way they look, but this roar was so loud and fierce that the youngsters could not imagine that it brought good news.

Here I must interrupt the story I am writing, and tell you another story in order to make an important point. This second story is fictional, a word which here means "somebody made it up one day," as opposed to the story of the Baudelaire orphans, which somebody merely wrote down, usually at night. It is called "The Story of Queen Debbie and Her Boyfriend, Tony," and it goes something like this:

The Story of Queen Debbie and her boyfriend, Tony.

Once upon a time, there lived a fictional queen named Queen Debbie, who ruled over the land where this story takes place, which is made up. This fictional land had lollipop trees growing everywhere, and singing mice that did all of the chores, and there were fierce and fictional lions who guarded the palace against fictional enemies. Queen Debbie had a boyfriend named Tony, who lived in the neighboring fictional kingdom. Because they lived so far away, Debbie and Tony couldn't see each other that often, but occasionally they would go out to dinner and a movie, or do other fictional things together.

Tony's birthday arrived, and Queen Debbie had some royal business and couldn't travel to see him, but she sent him a nice card and a myna bird in a shiny cage. The proper thing to do if you receive a present, of course, is to write a thank-you note, but Tony was not a particularly proper person, and Called Debbie to complain.

"Debbie, this is Tony," Tony said. "I got the birthday present you sent me, and I don't like it at all."

"I'm sorry to hear that," Queen Debbie said, plucking a lollipop off a nearby tree. "I picked out the myna bird especially for you. What sort of present would you prefer?"

"I think you should give me a bunch of valuable diamonds," said Tony, who was as greedy as he was fictional

"Diamonds?" Queen Debbie said. "But myna birds can cheer you up when you are sad. You can teach them to sit on your hand, and sometimes they even talk."

"I want diamonds," Tony said.

"But diamonds are so valuable," Queen Debbie said. "If I send you diamonds in the mail, they'll probably get stolen on their way to you, and then you won't have any birthday present at all."

"I want diamonds," whined Tony, who was really becoming quite tiresome.

"I know what I'll do," Queen Debbie said with a faint smile. "I'll feed my diamonds to the royal lions, and then send the lions to your kingdom. No one would dare attack a bunch of fierce lions, so the diamonds are sure to arrive safely."

"Hurry up," Tony said. "It's supposed to be my special day."

It was easy for Queen Debbie to hurry up, because the singing mice who lived in her palace did all of the necessary chores, so it only took a few minutes for her to feed a bunch of diamonds to her lions, wrapping the jewels in tuna fish first so the lions would agree to eat them. Then she instructed the lions to travel to the neighboring kingdom to deliver the present.

Tony waited impatiently outside his house for the rest of the day, eating all of the ice cream and cake and teasing his myna bird, and finally, at just about sunset, he saw the lions approaching on the horizon and ran over to collect his present.

"Give me those diamonds, you stupid lions!" Tony cried, and there is no need to tell you the rest of this story, which has the rather obvious moral "Never look a gift lion in the mouth." The point is that there are times where the arrival of a bunch of lions is good news, particularly in a fictional story where the lions are not real and so probably will not hurt you. There are some cases, as in the case of Queen Debbie and her boyfriend, Tony, where the arrival of lions means that the story is about to get much better.

But I am sad to say that the case of the Baudelaire orphans is not one of those times. The story of the Baudelaires does not take place in a fictional land where lollipops grow on trees and singing mice do all of the chores. The story of the Baudelaires takes place in a very real world, where some people are laughed at just because they have something wrong with them, and where children can find themselves all alone in the world, struggling to understand the sinister mystery that surrounds them, and in this real world the arrival of lions means that the story is about to get much worse, and if you do not have a stomach for such a story–any more than lions have a stomach for diamonds not coated in tuna fish–it would be best if you turned around right now and ran the other way, as the Baudelaires wished they could as they exited the caravan and saw what Count Olaf had brought with him when he returned from his errand.

Count Olaf drove his black automobile between the rows of caravans, nearly running over several visitors to the carnival, stopped right at the tent for the House of Freaks, and turned off the engine, which ended the creaky roar the children had recognized. But the other, angrier roar continued as Olaf got out of the car, followed by Madame Lulu, and pointed with a flourish to a trailer that was attached to the rear of the automobile. The trailer was really more of a metal cage on wheels, and through the bars of the cage the Baudelaires could see what the villain was pointing at.

The trailer was filled with lions, packed in so tightly that the children couldn't tell just how many there were. The lions were unhappy to be traveling in such tight quarters, and were showing their unhappiness by scratching at the cage with their claws, snapping at one another with their long teeth, and roaring as loudly and as fiercely as they could. Some of Count Olaf's henchmen gathered around, along with several visitors to the carnival, to see what was going on, and Olaf tried to say something to them, but couldn't be heard over the lions' roars. Frowning, the villain removed a whip from his pocket and whipped at the lions through the trailer bars. Like people, animals will become frightened and likely do whatever you say if you whip them enough, and the lions finally quieted down so Olaf could make his announcement.

"Ladies and gentlemen," he said, "boys and girls, freaks and normal people, Caligari Carnival is proud to announce the arrival of these fierce lions, who will be used in a new attraction."

"That's good news," said someone in the crowd, "because the souvenirs in the gift caravan are pretty lousy."

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