Freaky Commodities II: Freak Harder
rating: +29+x

So, here we are again,” the Man with the Upside-down Face said as the elevator doors slid shut. “You know, when Burgess did this he had security guards.”

“They’re needed upstairs. I…may have left a Sarkist and a Mekhanite together in the same room,” Victor replied with an awkward cough, pressing the button for the desired floor. “Besides, you two I trust.”

“Awww, that’s so sweet,” Lolly cooed as the elevator began its ascent. “I’m so excited, this is like getting a new puppy!”

“We’re not getting a puppy, we’re getting a new attraction for the Circus,” Manny reminded her firmly. “Remember that. It’s not just about whether or not you like something. It has to be a good fit for us.”

“Relax, no one loves the Circus more than I do. No one loves Icky more than I do either, and I would never let her down.”

“Why didn’t Icky come as well, if I may ask?” Victor said. They both remained awkwardly silent for a moment.

“Lolly, do you want to field that one?”

“Tinkles said that Bubblegum’s drinking was going to lead her to an early grave. I was just trying to help!”

“What happened?” Victor asked.

“I slipped her some Antabuse so she couldn’t drink without getting sick,” Lolly replied, shrugging like it was no big deal.

“Now, on top of being down an act, we have a two-tonne elephant going through alcohol withdrawal,” Manny sighed. “Icky is currently handling the situation, and so Lolly is here on her behalf.”

“You’re not mad at me, are you? I really was just trying to help.”

“I know. What I don’t know is where you got an elephant-sized dose of Antabuse.”

“You’d be surprised at what you can buy in bulk.”

Manny gave a nonchalant nod and decided to change the subject.

“Victor, tell me about this first guy again. You said he’s Sarkic?”

“Yes, but I shouldn’t have, and please don’t call him that either,” Victor insisted. “They never call themselves that, it’s like a slur.”

“I’m well aware of that,” Manny said resolutely. The elevator dinged and the doors slid open to the ostentatiously gilded showroom of gleaming tiles, lacquered woods and crystal chandeliers; all of which looked not only very expensive but precariously fragile.

“Oh, I’m starting to have second thoughts about this,” Victor said quietly to himself. The three of them approached a man in front of a draped cage. The man himself wore a rather over-the-top crimson cloak, the hood of which obscured his face. “Manny, Lolly, this is…”

“Valmont will do,” the Sarkist replied in a haughty tone and an accent that, while sounding posh, was clearly an affectation. “And may I say what an absolute pleasure it is to meet two such beautifully deformed individuals.”

“Deformed?” Lolly hissed through gritted teeth, her face turning an incandescent red.

“Easy now; remember the guards,” Manny said.

“Oh, you are lucky I always take Clown Impulse Suppressant before I leave the Circus!” she huffed, taking a deep breath and letting her face return to its regular colour.

Valmont let out a condescending chuckle.

“Deformities are nothing to be ashamed of, child. To survive and thrive in spite of them is proof of strength, and to flaunt them openly is to reject the masses’ insipid obsession with aesthetics.”

“Listen Valmont, we didn’t come here to hear the Gospel of Ion. We’re here on business, so kindly show us what you’ve got.”

“Of course,” Valmont nodded. He raised his hand and pulled the veil off the cage with a single melodramatic gesture. Inside was a mound of ghastly pale flesh, lumps upon lumps like a pool of melted candle wax. Emerging from the mound were several distorted human faces, their mouths perpetually open in an eternal scream, along with a number of limbs that were mangled and twisted beyond any hope of use.

“Behold! Not long ago, while I was reaching across dimensions, I saw a paradise where the sun itself was blessed, where its rays transfigured every living thing it touched into beings of resplendent and rapturous malady. So enamoured was I, that I spirited one such flesh wright into our domain, in the hopes I might be able to recreate such a messianic plague and transmute our own abysmal reality into a utopia of instinctive, rapacious consumption!
“Sadly, it seems that such beautiful beings can only be created by the sun of their native realm, and it’s far beyond my ken to synthesize the peculiar effects of that hallowed star. Having no other use for the poor creature, I’ve decided to sell it.
"Imagine the horror on the faces of your audience when they see this amalgam of souls, this aberrant grotesquery, this singular pile of melted flesh, its mere presence inducing existential confusion and visceral revulsion, challenging the sanctity of nature and the benevolence of God! What do you say to that, upside-down man?”

Manny was unmoved by the Sarkist’s sales pitch. He looked at the thing coldly, and then turned his head towards Valmont.

“It’s dead,” he said, matter-of-factly. There was an awkward pause.

“No it isn’t,” Valmont replied.

“Yes, it is,” Manny said with an exasperated shake of his head.

“Its anatomy makes it hard to move so it’s at rest most of the time, but I assure you it is alive,” Valmont insisted.

“It smells likes it's dead,” Lolly said with a wriggle of her nose.

“The miasma of necrotic and rancid tissue is to force those around it to confront the inevitability of death, disease, and decay!” Valmont claimed.

“No, it’s indicative of its own death, disease, and decay,” Manny said, furrowing the brow where his chin should have been. “Look here sarkie, I know a dead beastie when I see one, and this thing is dead.”

Victor gulped at the slur, but surprisingly Valmont didn’t react to it at all.

“No, it’s like a predatory cat; it spends most of its time sleeping. It’s just asleep,” Valmont said with increasing desperation.

“You’re actually going to commit to this?”

“It’s not even breathing,” Lolly pointed out. “Sleeping things still breathe.”

“Its breathing is very shallow. It has a low metabolism to conserve its energy. Chan, help me out here.”

“Well, the creature was a little more lively earlier, so I suppose it is possible it’s merely sleeping,” Victor offered. Lolly pulled a bicycle (technically unicycle) horn out from the hyperdimensional hammerspace of her pockets and blew it at one of the creature’s numerous ears. All three men recoiled at the impossibly loud noise, but the abominable globster didn’t move an inch.

“Yeah, it’s definitely dead,” Lolly announced.

“Well it’s fainted now!” Valmont claimed.

“Fainted?” Lolly asked in disbelief.

“Yes, it’s like a fainting goat; plays dead when it’s scared. It’s a survival mechanism.”

“It’s like a predatory cat and a fainting goat?”

“Well it is a chimera in a way, so that does make sense. It’s probably got some snake qualities in there as well. Quite the bargain you’re getting, really.”

Lolly looked at him in bewilderment, while Manny just shook his head.

“Mr. Valmont, if you cannot immediately provide some proof of life for this creature, we will have to pass,” he said firmly. Valmont became pensive and took a surreptitious step right up to the cage, which then rattled back and forth for an instant.

“There, you see. It just moved.”

“You shook the cage!” Lolly accused.

“Victor, show us the next offer,” Manny ordered.

“You would dare refuse such a treasure, from one such as myself no less?” Valmont asked, resuming his haughty persona. “You will rue this day, Circus freak! No one denies a Sarkist!”

The three of them all suddenly looked at him in surprise.

“What?”

“Tell me, Sarkist, where does the Valkzaron say that Adytum is located?”

“Ahh…in all of our hearts?” he replied uncertainly.

“You’re not really a Sarkist, are you?” Victor asked, utterly mortified.

“How dare you!”

“In all of our hearts? Really?” Manny chuckled.

“I thought you were being figurative! Adytum is like Atlantis, no knows for sure if it even existed, much less where it was,” Valmont claimed.

“Wrong. Adytum is where it always was; in the northern Urals. Ion just cloaked it with mind-bending magic and shifted it ever so slightly out of this reality,” Lolly stated, popping a sucker into her mouth.

“How the hell would you know that?”

“I watch that show Professor Abnormal's Science Lab. He did an episode on Adytum once.”

“And I’ve been there,” Manny added. “Herman had us perform there once or twice. Not the worst thing he ever did, which frankly says more about him than it does about Adytum. Point is, I know Sarkicism. And you boy are not a Sarkist.”

“…Okay, maybe not technically, but I’m dating a black-blood girl and her dad said that if I could just get rid of this thing for them that he’d accept me as an Orin and…”

“Security!” Victor shouted.

“No please! I need the money. Neo-Sarkic girls have expensive tastes!” Valmont cried as the two security guards dragged him towards the elevator.

“So…I vote no on the gross dead thing from the Sarkic poser,” Lolly said.

“Agreed,” Manny nodded. “Victor, do you not do background checks on these guys?”

“Those don’t exactly work with secret societies,” Victor informed him as they walked over to the next display. “I do apologize for that. I can however personally vouch for the authenticity of this next seller. Manny, Lolly, this gentleman goes by the epithet of Silicon Soul. He's a…"

"A Maxwellian," Manny finished his sentence. "It's obvious enough."

The short man before them was pale and gaunt, with a pair of electrodes permanently attached to his smooth scalp. Their wires fed into something under his heavy black coat. There was a neural port behind his right ear, and his amber glass eyes had mechanical apertures. There was a black breathing mask over his nose and mouth, and some small dark device upon his throat. Though his right arm was mechanical, it hung limp and useless, seemingly as broken as his god.

"It is nice to meet you," he said in a raspy, modulated voice. "I believe I attended your Circus once, as a child. It deeply perturbed my still developing sense of reality, and the image of a man with an upside-down face has haunted my dreams ever since."

"We try to make a difference."

"You said your name was Silicon Soul. That sounds like a screen name," Lolly commented. "You go by a screen name IRL? Lol."

"I consider myself a foreigner to meat space, and my name reflects that," the man replied.

"So what do you have for us then? Some Broken tech?"

"No, actually. Like that Sarkist swine, I too have a creature that I came upon more or less by happenstance and don't know what to do with."

He took the cover off the pedestal behind him, revealing a 'tabby cat' with dark purple fur. It was a long-haired breed, a little overweight, and its violent eyes shone with an electric luminosity.

It was also floating a few feet off the ground.

"Oh my god, it's adorable!" Lolly screamed. "Its eyes are just like Icky's!"

"I named him Khoshekh, since I've heard of a similar creature by that name described of in that anomalous radio broadcast that leaks into our reality from time to time," Silicon informed them.

"The one from that nexus in the Southwest? Yeah, I've been there too," Manny said. "Briefly, I mean. We never got to perform. We were chased out of town by a mob screaming 'interlopers'."

"Can I pet him?" Lolly asked with eyes as big as saucers.

"Just be careful. He's not the friendliest cat I've ever known," Silicon nodded. Lolly approached the floating feline, only for it to hiss at her. The hissing it made sounded more like something from an enormous serpent than an overweight cat, and its teeth were not even mammalian, let alone feline.

"Poor thing. He's scared to death. How much?"

"Lolly, hold on a second," Manny insisted. "Aside from just not being friendly, does this animal have any other liabilities I should know about?"

"It is venomous," Silicon admitted.

"Venomous?"

"Yes, it has venom sacs in its mouth, as well as some venomous spines on its back, so you do need to be careful when interacting with it."

"That sounds like something you should have told us before you said Lolly could pet him," Manny said with an agitated shake of his head. "What about tricks? Can it do anything?"

"Well, for now, it just sort of floats there, which to me seems good enough for a freak show," Silicon said. "I did a bit of research, and I think there's some sort of flux pinning or something going on. I guess it doesn't really matter. But it's purple, it's got glowing eyes, it's poisonous, it makes scary noises, and it floats! You've got animal tamers, right? I'm sure they could teach it some tricks, or at least not to bite people. It's no more dangerous than any other animal act you have."

"What happened to your arm?" Many asked.

"What?"

"I said what happened to your arm?"

Silicon took a glance down at his disabled arm, seemingly trying to will it to move and failing.

"…It's unrelated to the cat."

"Really?"

"Yes. I mean, okay, maybe it's tangentially related to the cat. When I found it I tried to pick it up by the scruff of the neck, as you do with cats, but it didn't like that so it somehow produced an electric surge in my arm that fried all of the electronics."

"Sir, I'm afraid this animal has too many potential liabilities for us to consider incorporating it into our Circus," Manny said firmly.

"But he might die if we don't adopt him!" Lolly objected. The cat hissed again, this time flicking out multiple barbed tongues, wriggling like the tentacles of a Kraken.

"…it might kill us if we do," Manny countered.

"But we can take precautions. Put up warning signs or something, and then everyone could enjoy him," Lolly suggested. "Icky and I could use him in our 'pussy lovers' routine, or we could put him in the petting zoo!"

"Only if we want every child to die a slow, painful death," Manny said. "Lolly, I get that this thing is cute…"

"Super cute!"

"But it's also very dangerous. So dangerous no one can even touch it safely. I really can't imagine any scenario where someone doesn't get poisoned by this thing. Do you want that on your conscience? You said you weren't going to let Icky down. Do you really think Icky would want something this dangerous around kids, or up your skirt?"

Lolly gave the creature a forlorn look, only for it to swipe at her with horrifically distended claws.

"No," she admitted. "Fine, we won't get him. I'm sorry Mr. Kitty. Maybe Victor can find you someone immune to poison to be your forever home."

"I know a surprising number of people who meet the description," Victor told her. "The cat will be fine, don't worry. Silicon, put the cover back on it and wheel it out of the showroom until the next showing, won't you?"

"It seems to prefer the darkness anyway," he said, covering the cat-like creature up and hauling it out of the room.

The creature produced a rolling, thunderous buzzing sound that they could only hope was purring.

“Victor, please tell me you saved the best for last,” Manny said.

“I did indeed. Right this way,” Victor said as he led them to the final display. Unlike the other two, this one had no attendant. It was simply a full-length mirror with an ornate brass frame, encased in some transparent material. “This item came into our possession when its previous owner passed away and we took control of their estate.”

“And what’s interesting about it?” Manny asked.

“I know this may not be the most original premise, but this old antique mirror…is haunted," Victor said with a dramatic flourish.

Literally nothing happened.

"Pepper? Pepper that was your cue," he said, still to no effect. He walked up to the mirror and gave it a gentle shake. This finally produced a result, causing a pale light like moonbeams to shine down from the mirror, illuminating the translucent figure of a pubescent girl with braided pigtails and an old fashioned dress.

“Okay, I'm out. Jesus,” she said, her voice an ethereal echo. She put on a forced smile and curtsied before them. "Hello, people who want to buy me. I'm ever so pleased to make your acquaintance."

“Oh my god!” Lolly screamed in elation, jumping right in front of the girl and scaring the no longer living daylights out of her. “Are you really a ghost? How did you die? What do you have to do with the mirror? Are you stuck as a kid forever? How come Victor wants to sell you? Can I touch you?”

“No, don't touch me! What the hell are you on?"

"Clown's Milk," she replied, giving her signature eerily serene smile that Victor still found so unnerving. Pepper didn't seem to find it endearing either.

"I don't know what that is, but it sounds gross," she said.

"It's no grosser than regular milk, and it's so much more fun!" Lolly told her. "I'd let you try some, but you're dead, and if you weren't already dead it would kill you, so…sorry."

"So what's your story Pepper? How'd you end like this?" Manny asked.

"Does it matter? You're just going to make up some sensationalized horse crap to draw in bigger crowds."

"True, but I like to know my freaks. Are you actually a ghost?"

"I am. There's not really much of a story to that though. I caught pneumonia and died. I haunted my mother because I loved her and couldn't stand to see her so heartbroken. My dad knew someone who could make a mirror that would let me be seen and heard like a real person."

“The mirror acts as a focal point for aspect radiation, letting her take a semi-corporeal form,” Victor added.

"I was actually pretty happy with my folks, considering that I'm dead and can't go anywhere or do anything. But of course, they died eventually and now I'm stuck to this stupid thing forever!"

“There are worse soul traps than a mirror, believe me,” Manny said. “If you piss off the wrong god or mage, or get resurrected with any quantum retrocasuality tech you’ll be trapped in your own rotting corpse, still able to feel everything until you’re completely scattered to the winds.”

She stared at him dumbfounded for a moment.

"You are a weird dude," she said. Lolly tentatively ran her hand through the ghost's intangible body.

"She's tingly," she giggled.

"I said don't touch me!"

Manny stepped up to the mirror and examined its casing.

“What’s this you got it in?” he asked.

“Aluminum oxynitride with a clear superhydrophobic coating,” Victor replied. “You won’t have to worry about any of your guests breaking it, and it’s easy to clean.”

Lolly cleared her throat and put on the most business-like countenance she could muster.

“Pepper, would you like to come back to our Circus with us?” she asked sweetly. “It’s full of all sorts of magic people just like you, so you wouldn’t be alone anymore, and I promise it’s the most amazing, fantastic place you’ve ever seen. You’ll have an enormous family, the most special family in all the worlds who will love you and take care of you and keep you safe. Best of all you won’t have to be a secret; new people will come and see you everyday and be amazed by you because you’re magic, and that single magical experience will brighten their lives forever! Would you like that Pepper?”

The ghost gave an apathetic shrug.

“I dunno. Maybe. I guess it would be better than being sold to some creepy rich pedophile or something. But I don't want people touching me all day!"

“Manny, we have to take her with us. It’s non-negotiable. She's a freak and she has nowhere to go. She needs a home.”

“She’d be a fine addition to the Den or the Hall at the very least,” Manny nodded. “What’s the sticker price, Victor?”

“We’re asking a hundred and twenty thousand U.S. dollars,” Victor replied.

“Well knowing the way you guys mark stuff up that means you’ve got at most ten grand invested in her. How about twenty? Be reasonable, that’s a decent profit margin.”

“Maybe by the Circus’s standards, but not ours. I can take twenty thousand off.”

"Yeah, just haggle over the helpless adolescent girl like I'm a used car. That's not fucked up at all," Pepper groaned.

“Hush," Manny said. "Victor, who do you think’s going to pay a hundred grand for a ghost? People abandon houses worth more than that because they’re haunted. I’ll pay thirty thousand. That’s triple what you’ve spent on her, which is the same profit margin Apple has on its iPhones. Are you saying you’re greedier than Apple?”

“I think you know the answer to that. Lolly’s already made it clear that you’re not leaving without her, but if it helps I can knock a few more grand off; ninety-six thousand.”

“Forty thousand, and before you counter-offer keep in mind that we’re still your ticket to the Utterly Bazaar. Seems to me that if someone was going out-of-universe for the first time, they wouldn’t want their Sherpas to be angry at them for gouging them in a simple business deal.”

Victor actually hesitated this time before answering.

“Forty-eight thousand, final offer.”

For a second Victor thought Manny was frowning at him, before realizing it was a smile.

“Deal,” he said sticking out his arm for a handshake. “Gary will wire you the money by the end of the day tomorrow.”

“Awesome! Thanks Victor!” Lolly shouted, grabbing the mirror and sticking it under her arm. “I can’t wait to introduce you to Ragamuffin. She’s going to love you!”

"Please don't carry me sideways, it mucks up the whole projection," Pepper complained. Her visage was still vertical, but it was now a fun house distortion of itself, as tall as the mirror was wide.

"Yeah, you look silly!" Lolly laughed, moving the mirror around erratically to produce increasingly distorted forms.

“A pleasure as always, Emcee D. We’ll show ourselves out,” Manny said, relieving Lolly of the mirror and ushering her towards the elevator.

“Take care of yourselves,” Victor waved as the elevator doors slid shut. He nearly jumped out of his skin when the silence was broken by multiple sharp gasps from the flesh pile in the cage.

“Oh thank god, I thought they’d never leave,” one of the faces said.

“Did you see the face on that one? So much makeup; she looked like a clown!” another face said.

“Security, take that damn thing back to Valmont!” Victor ordered as he attempted to bring his breathing and heart rate back to normal. “And tell him I’m still charging him a broker’s fee!”

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