بخش 04

مجموعه: مجموعه بدبیاری ها / کتاب: سیرک مرگبار / فصل 4

بخش 04

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CHAPTER Eight

By the time the Baudelaire orphans found their way back to the freaks’ caravan, Hugo, Colette, and Kevin were waiting for them. Colette and Kevin were just finishing a game of dominoes, and Hugo had cooked up a pot of tom ka gai, which is a delicious soup commonly eaten in Thailand. But as the Baudelaires sat at the table and ate their supper, they were not in the mood to digest the mixture of chicken, vegetables, fancy mushrooms, fresh ginger, coconut milk, and water chestnuts that the hunchback had prepared. They were more concerned with digesting information, a phrase which here means “thinking about everything that Madame Lulu had told them.” Violet took a spoonful of hot broth, but she was thinking so hard about Lulu’s archival library that she scarcely noticed the unusual, sweet taste. Klaus chewed on a water chestnut, but he was wondering so much about the headquarters in the Mortmain Mountains that he didn’t appreciate its appealing, crunchy texture. And Sunny tipped the bowl forward to take a large sip, but she was so curious about the disguise kit that she wasn’t aware that her beard was getting soaked. Each of the three children finished their soup to the last drop, but they were so eager to hear more from Lulu about the mystery of V.F.D. that they felt hungrier than when they sat down.

“Everyone sure is quiet tonight,” Colette said, contorting her head underneath her armpit to look around the table. “Hugo and Kevin, you haven’t talked much, and I don’t think I’ve heard a single growl from Chabo, or heard a word out of either of your heads.”

“I guess we’re not feeling much like making conversation,” Violet said, remembering to speak as low as she could. “We have a lot to think about.”

“We sure do,” Hugo said. “I’m still not wild about the idea of being eaten by a lion.”

“Me neither,” Colette said, “but today’s visitors were certainly excited about the carnival’s new attraction. Everyone does seem to love violence.”

“And sloppy eating,” Hugo said, dabbing at his mouth with a napkin. “It’s certainly an interesting dilemma.”

“I don’t think it’s an interesting dilemma,” Klaus said, squinting at his coworkers. “I think it’s a terrible one. Tomorrow afternoon, someone will jump to their deaths.” He did not add that the Baudelaires planned to be far away from Caligari Carnival by then, heading out to the Mortmain Mountains in the invention Violet planned to construct early tomorrow morning.

“I don’t know what we can do about it,” Kevin said. “On one hand, I’d rather keep on performing at the House of Freaks instead of being fed to the lions. But on the other hand—and in my case, both my hands are equally strong—Madame Lulu’s motto is ‘give people what they want,’ and apparently they want this carnival to be carnivorous.”

“I think it’s a terrible motto,” Violet said, and Sunny growled in agreement. “There are better things to do with your life than doing something humiliating and dangerous, just to make total strangers happy.”

“Like what?” Colette asked.

The Baudelaires looked at one another. They were afraid to reveal their plan to their coworkers, in case one of them would tell Count Olaf and ruin their escape. But they also couldn’t stand resolute, knowing that something terrible would happen just because Hugo, Colette, and Kevin felt obliged to be freaks and live up to Madame Lulu’s motto.

“You never know when you’ll find something else to do,” Violet said finally. “It could happen at any moment.”

“Do you really think so?” Hugo asked hopefully.

“Yes,” Klaus said. “You never know when opportunity will knock.”

Kevin looked up from his soup and gazed at the Baudelaires with a look of hope in his eye. “Which hand will it knock with?”

“Opportunity can knock with any hand, Kevin,” Klaus said, and at that moment there was a knock at the door.

“Open up, freaks.” The impatient voice, coming from outside the caravan, made the children jump. As I’m sure you know, when Klaus used the expression “opportunity will knock,” he meant that his coworkers might find something better to do with their time, instead of leaping into a pit of hungry lions just to give some people what they wanted. He did not mean that the girlfriend of a notorious villain would actually knock on the door and give them an idea that was possibly even worse, but I am sorry to say that it was Esmé Squalor who was knocking, her long fingernails clattering against the door. “Open up. I want to talk to you.”

“Just one moment, Ms. Squalor,” Hugo called, and walked over to the door. “Let’s all be on our best behavior,” he said to his coworkers. “It’s not often that a normal person wants to talk to us, and I think we should make the most of this opportunity.”

“We’ll be good,” Colette promised. “I won’t bend into a single strange position.”

“And I’ll use only my right hand,” Kevin said. “Or maybe only my left hand.”

“Good idea,” Hugo said, and opened the door. Esmé Squalor was leaning in the doorway with a wicked smile on her face.

“I am Esmé Gigi Geniveve Squalor,” she said, which was often how she announced herself, even when everyone nearby knew who she was. She stepped inside the freaks’ caravan, and the Baudelaires could see that she had dressed for the occasion, a phrase which here means “put on a specific outfit in an attempt to impress them.” She was dressed in a long, white gown, so long that it passed her feet and lay around her as if she were standing in a large puddle of milk. Embroidered on the front of the gown in glittery thread were the words I LOVE FREAKS, except instead of the word “love” there was an enormous heart, a symbol sometimes used by people who have trouble figuring out the difference between words and shapes. On one of the shoulders of the gown, Esmé had tied a large brown sack, and on her head she had an odd round hat, with black thread poking out of the top, and it had a large, angry face drawn on the front of it. The children knew that such an outfit must be very in, otherwise Esmé would not be wearing it, but they couldn’t imagine who in the world would admire such strange clothing.

“What a lovely outfit!” Hugo said.

“Thank you,” Esmé said. She poked Colette with one of her long fingernails, and the contortionist stood up so Esmé could sit down in her chair. “As you can see from the front of my gown, I love freaks.”

“You do?” Kevin said. “That’s very nice of you.”

“Yes, it is,” Esmé agreed. “I had this dress made especially to show how much I love them. Look, there’s a cushion on the shoulder, to resemble a hunchback, and my hat makes me look as if I have two heads, like Beverly and Elliot.”

“You certainly look very freakish,” Colette said.

Esmé frowned, as if this wasn’t quite what she wanted to hear. “Of course, I’m not really a freak,” she said. “I’m a normal person, but I wanted to show you all how much I admire you. Now, please bring me a carton of buttermilk. It’s very in.”

“We don’t have any,” Hugo said, “but I think we have some cranberry juice, or I could make you some hot chocolate. Chabo here taught me to add cinnamon to the hot chocolate, and it tastes quite delicious.”

“Tom ka gai!” Sunny said.

“And we also have soup,” Hugo said.

Esmé looked down at Sunny and frowned. “No, thank you,” she said, “although it’s very kind of you to offer. In fact, you freaks are so kind that I consider you to be more than employees at a carnival I happen to be visiting. I consider you to be some of my closest friends.”

The children knew, of course, that this ridiculous statement was as fake as Esmé’s second head, but their coworkers were thrilled. Hugo gave Esmé a big smile, and stood up straight so that you could barely see his hunchback. Kevin blushed and looked down at his hands. And Colette was so excited that before she could stop herself, she twisted her body until it resembled the letter K and the letter S at the same time.

“Oh, Esmé,” Colette said. “Do you really mean it?”

“Of course I mean it,” Esmé said, pointing to the front of her gown. “I would rather be here with you than with the finest people in the world.”

“Gosh,” Kevin said. “No normal person has ever called me a friend.”

“Well, that’s what you are,” Esmé said, and leaned toward Kevin to kiss him on the nose. “You’re all my freaky friends. And it makes me very sad to think that one of you will be eaten by lions tomorrow.” The Baudelaires watched as she reached into a pocket in the gown and drew out a white handkerchief, embroidered with the same slogan as her gown, and held up the word “freaks” to dab at her eyes. “I have real tears in my eyes from thinking about it,” she explained.

“There, there, close friend,” Kevin said, and patted one of her hands. “Don’t be sad.”

“I can’t help it,” Esmé said, yanking back her own hand as if she were afraid that being ambidextrous was contagious. “But I have an opportunity for you that might make all of us very, very happy.”

“An opportunity?” Hugo asked. “Why, Beverly and Elliot were just telling us that an opportunity could come along at any minute.”

“And they were right,” Esmé said. “Tonight I am offering you the opportunity to quit your jobs at the House of Freaks, and join Count Olaf and myself in his troupe.”

“What would we do exactly?” Hugo asked.

Esmé smiled, and began to accentuate the positive aspects of working with Count Olaf, a phrase which here means “make the opportunity sound better than it really was, by emphasizing the good parts and scarcely mentioning the bad.” “It’s a theatrical troupe,” she said, “so you’d be wearing costumes and doing dramatic exercises, and occasionally committing crimes.”

“Dramatic exercises!” Kevin exclaimed, clasping both hands to his heart. “It’s always been my heart’s desire to perform on a stage!”

“And I’ve always wanted to wear a costume!” Hugo said.

“But you do perform on a stage,” Violet said, “and you wear an ill-fitting costume every day at the House of Freaks.”

“If you joined, you’d get to travel with us to exciting places,” Esmé continued, glaring at Violet. “Members of Count Olaf’s troupe have seen the trees of Finite Forest, and the shores of Lake Lachrymose, and the crows of the Village of Fowl Devotees, although they always have to sit in the back seat. And, best of all, you’d get to work for Count Olaf, one of the most brilliant and handsome men who ever walked the face of the earth.”

“Do you really think that a normal man like him would want to work with freaks like us?” Colette asked.

“Of course he would,” Esmé said. “Count Olaf doesn’t care whether you have something wrong with you or if you’re normal, as long as you’re willing to carry out his orders. I think you’ll find that working in Olaf’s troupe is a job where people won’t think you’re freakish at all. And you’ll be paid a fortune—at least, Count Olaf will be.”

“Wow!” Hugo said. “What an opportunity!”

“I had a hunch you’d be excited about it,” Esmé said. “No offense, Hugo. Now, if you’re interested in joining, there’s just one thing you need to do.”

“A job interview?” Colette asked nervously.

“There’s no need for close friends of mine to do anything as unpleasant as a job interview,” Esmé said. “You just have to do one simple task. Tomorrow afternoon, during the show with the lions, Count Olaf will announce which freak will jump into the pit of lions. But I want whomever is chosen to throw Madame Lulu in instead.”

The freaks’ caravan was silent for a moment as everyone digested this information. “You mean,” Hugo said finally, “that you want us to murder Madame Lulu?”

“Don’t think of it as murder,” Esmé said. “Think of it as a dramatic exercise. It’s a special surprise for Count Olaf that will prove to him that you’re brave enough to join his troupe.”

“Throwing Lulu into a pit of lions doesn’t strike me as particularly brave,” Colette said. “Just cruel and vicious.”

“How can it be cruel and vicious to give people what they want?” Esmé asked. “You want to join Count Olaf’s troupe, the crowd wants to see someone eaten by lions, and I want Madame Lulu thrown into the pit. Tomorrow, one of you will have the exciting opportunity to give everybody exactly what they want.”

“Grr,” Sunny growled, but only her siblings understood that she really meant “Everybody except Lulu.”

“When you put it like that,” Hugo said thoughtfully, “it doesn’t sound so bad.”

“Of course it doesn’t,” Esmé said, adjusting her false head. “Besides, Madame Lulu was eager to see all of you eaten by lions, so you should be happy to throw her in the pit.”

“But why do you want Madame Lulu thrown in?” Colette asked.

Esmé scowled. “Count Olaf thinks we have to make this carnival popular, so that Madame Lulu will help us with her crystal ball,” she said, “but I don’t think we need her help. Besides, I’m tired of my boyfriend buying her presents.”

“That doesn’t seem like such a good reason for someone to be eaten by lions,” Violet said carefully, in her disguised voice.

“I’m not surprised that a two-headed person like yourself is a little confused,” Esmé said, and reached out her long-nailed hands to pat both Violet and Klaus on their scarred faces. “Once you join Olaf’s troupe, you won’t be troubled by that kind of freakish thinking any longer.”

“Just think,” Hugo said, “tomorrow we’ll stop being freaks, and we’ll be henchmen of Count Olaf.”

“I prefer the term henchpeople,” Colette said.

Esmé gave everyone in the room a big smile, and then reached up to her shoulder and opened the brown sack. “To celebrate your new jobs,” she said, “I brought each of you a present.”

“A present!” Kevin cried. “Madame Lulu never gave us presents.”

“This is for you, Hugo,” Esmé said, and took out an oversized coat the Baudelaires recognized from a time when the hook-handed man had disguised himself as a doorman. The coat was so big that it had covered his hooks, and as Hugo tried it on, they saw that it was also big enough to fit Hugo, even with his irregular shape. Hugo looked at himself in the mirror and then at his coworkers in joy.

“It covers my hunchback!” he said happily. “I look normal, instead of freakish!”

“You see?” Esmé said. “Count Olaf is already making your life much better. And look what I have for you, Colette.” The Baudelaires watched as Olaf’s girlfriend reached into the sack and pulled out the long, black robe that they had seen in the trunk of the automobile. “It’s so baggy,” Esmé explained, “that you can twist your body any which way, and no one will notice that you’re a contortionist.”

“It’s like a dream come true!” Colette said, grabbing it out of Esmé’s hands. “I’d throw a hundred people into the lion pit to wear something like this.”

“And Kevin,” Esmé said, “look at this small piece of rope. Turn around, and I’ll tie your right hand behind your back so you can’t possibly use it.”

“And then I’ll be left-handed, like normal people!” Kevin said, jumping out of his chair and standing on his two equally strong feet. “Hooray!”

The ambidextrous person turned around happily so Esmé could tie his right hand behind his back, and in a moment he became someone with only one useful arm instead of two.

“I haven’t forgotten you two,” Esmé continued, smiling at the three of them. “Chabo, here’s a long razor that Count Olaf uses when he needs to disguise himself with a good shave. I thought you could use it to trim some of that ugly wolf hair. And for you, Beverly and Elliot, I have this.”

Esmé removed the sack from her gown and held it out to the older Baudelaires triumphantly. Violet and Klaus peeked inside and saw that it was empty. “This sack is perfect to cover up one of your heads,” she explained. “You’ll look like a normal one-headed person who just happens to have a sack balanced on their shoulder. Isn’t that smashing?”

“I guess so,” Klaus said, in his fake high voice.

“What’s the matter with you?” Hugo demanded. “You’ve been offered an exciting job and given a generous present, and yet both your heads are moping around.”

“You, too, Chabo,” Colette said. “I can see through your fur that you don’t look very enthusiastic.”

“I think this might be an opportunity that we should refuse,” Violet said, and her siblings nodded in agreement.

“What?” Esmé said sharply.

“It’s nothing personal,” Klaus added quickly, although not wanting to work for Count Olaf was about as personal as things could get. “It does seem very exciting to work in a theatrical troupe, and Count Olaf does seem like a terrific person.”

“Then what’s the problem?” Kevin asked.

“Well,” Violet said, “I don’t think I’m comfortable throwing Madame Lulu to the lions.”

“As her other head, I agree,” Klaus said, “and Chabo agrees, too.”

“I bet she only half agrees,” Hugo said. “I bet her wolf half can’t wait to watch her get eaten.”

Sunny shook her head and growled as gently as she could, and Violet lifted her up and placed her on the table. “It just doesn’t seem right,” Violet said. “Madame Lulu isn’t the nicest person I know, but I’m not sure she deserves to be devoured.”

Esmé gave the older Baudelaires a large, false smile, and leaned forward to pat them each on the head again. “Don’t worry your heads over whether or not she deserves to be devoured,” she said, and then smiled down at Chabo. “You don’t deserve to be half wolf, do you?” she asked. “People don’t always get what they deserve in this world.”

“It still seems like a wicked thing to do,” Klaus said.

“I don’t think so,” Hugo said. “It’s giving people what they want, just like Lulu says.”

“Why don’t you sleep on it?” Esmé suggested, and stood up from the table. “Right after tomorrow’s show, Count Olaf is heading north to the Mortmain Mountains to take care of something important, and if Madame Lulu is eaten by then, you’ll be allowed to join him. You can decide in the morning whether you want to be brave members of a theater troupe, or cowardly freaks in a rundown carnival.”

“I don’t need to sleep on it,” Kevin said.

“Me neither,” Colette said. “I can decide right now.”

“Yes,” Hugo agreed. “I want to join Count Olaf.”

“I’m glad to hear that,” Esmé said. “Maybe you can convince your coworkers to join you in joining me joining him.” She looked scornfully at the three children as she opened the door to the caravan. The hinterlands sunset was long over, and there was not a trace of blue light falling on the carnival. “Think about this, Beverly and Elliot, and Chabo, too,” she said. “It just might be a wicked thing, throwing Madame Lulu into a pit full of carnivorous lions.” Esmé took a step outside, and it was so dark that Olaf’s girlfriend looked like a ghost in a long, white gown and a fake extra head. “But if you don’t join us, where can you possibly go?” she asked. The Baudelaire orphans had no answer for Esmé Squalor’s terrible question, but Esmé answered it herself, with a long, wicked laugh. “If you don’t choose the wicked thing, what in the world will you do?” she asked, and disappeared into the night.

CHAPTER Nine

The curious thing about being told to sleep on it—a phrase which here means, as I’m sure you know, “to go to bed thinking about something and reach a conclusion in the morning”—is that you usually can’t. If you are thinking over a dilemma, you are likely to toss and turn all night long, thinking over terrible things that can happen and trying to imagine what in the world you can do about it, and these circumstances are unlikely to result in any sleeping at all. Just last night, I was troubled by a decision involving an eyedropper, a greedy night watchman, and a tray of individual custards, and this morning I am so tired that I can scarcely type these worfs.

And so it was with the Baudelaire orphans that night, after Esmé Squalor had told them to sleep on it, and decide the next morning whether or not to throw Madame Lulu to the lions and join Count Olaf’s troupe. The children, of course, had no intention of becoming part of a band of villains, or tossing anyone into a deadly pit. But Esmé had also asked them what in the world they would do if they decided not to join Olaf, and this was the question that kept them tossing and turning in their hammocks, which are particularly uncomfortable places to toss and turn. The Baudelaires hoped that instead of joining Count Olaf, they would travel through the hinterlands in a motorized roller-coaster cart of Violet’s invention, accompanied by Madame Lulu, in her undisguised identity of Olivia, along with the archival library from underneath the table of the fortune-telling tent, in the hopes of finding one of the Baudelaire parents alive and well at the V.F.D. headquarters in the Mortmain Mountains. But this plan seemed so complicated that the children worried over all that could go wrong and spoil the whole thing. Violet thought about the lightning device that she planned to turn into a fan belt, and worried that there wouldn’t be sufficient torque to make the carts move the way they needed to. Klaus worried that the archival library wouldn’t contain specific directions to the headquarters, and they would get lost in the mountains, which were rumored to be enormous, confusing, and filled with wild animals. Sunny worried that they might not find enough to eat in the hinterlands. And all three Baudelaires worried that Madame Lulu would not keep her promise, and would reveal the orphans’ disguise when Count Olaf asked about them the next morning. The siblings worried about these things all night, and although in my case the dessert chef managed to find my hotel room and knock on my window just before dawn, the Baudelaire orphans found that when morning came and they were done sleeping on it, they hadn’t reached any other conclusion but that their plan was risky, and the only one they could think of.

As the first rays of the sun shone through the window onto the potted plants, the Baudelaires quietly lowered themselves out of their hammocks. Hugo, Colette, and Kevin had announced that they were ready to join Count Olaf’s troupe and didn’t need to sleep on it, and as so often happens with people who have nothing to sleep on, the children’s coworkers were sleeping soundly and did not awaken as the siblings left the caravan to get to work on their plan.

Count Olaf and his troupe had dug the lions’ pit alongside the ruined roller coaster, so close that the children had to walk along its edge to reach the ivy-covered carts. The pit was not very deep, although its walls were just high enough that nobody could climb out if they were thrown inside, and it was not very large, so all the lions were as crowded together as they had been in the trailer. Like the Baudelaires’ coworkers, the lions must not have had much to sleep on, and they were still dozing in the morning sun. Sound asleep, the lions did not look particularly ferocious. Some of their manes were all tangled, as if no one had brushed them for a long time, and sometimes one of their legs twitched, as if they were dreaming of better days. On their backs and bellies were several nasty scars from the whippings Count Olaf had given them, which made the Baudelaires sore just looking at them, and most of the lions were very, very thin, as if they had not eaten a good meal in quite some time.

“I feel sorry for them,” Violet said, looking at one lion who was so skinny that all of its ribs were visible. “If Madame Lulu was right, these lions were once noble creatures, and now look how miserably Count Olaf has treated them.”

“They look lonely,” Klaus said, squinting down into the pit with a sad frown. “Maybe they’re orphans, too.”

“But maybe they have a surviving parent,” Violet said, “somewhere in the Mortmain Mountains.”

“Edasurc,” Sunny said, which meant something like, “Maybe someday we can rescue these lions.”

“For now, let’s rescue ourselves,” Violet said with a sigh. “Klaus, let’s see if we can untangle the ivy from this cart in front. We’ll probably need two carts, one for passengers and one for the archival library, so Sunny, see if you can get the ivy off that other one.”

“Easy,” said Sunny, pointing to her teeth.

“All the caravans are on wheels,” Klaus said. “Would it be easier to hitch up one of the caravans to the lightning device?”

“A caravan is too big,” Violet replied. “If you wanted to move a caravan, you’d have to attach it to an automobile, or several horses. We’ll be lucky if I can rebuild the carts’ engines. Madame Lulu said that they were rusted away.”

“It seems like we’re hitching our hopes to a risky plan,” Klaus said, tearing away at a few strands of ivy with the one arm he could use. “But I suppose it’s no more risky than plenty of other things we’ve done, like stealing a sailboat.”

“Or climbing up an elevator shaft,” Violet said.

“Whaque,” Sunny said, with her mouth full of plants, and her siblings knew she meant something along the lines of, “Or pretending to be surgeons.”

“Actually,” Violet said, “maybe this plan isn’t so risky after all. Look at the axles on this cart.”

“Axles?” Klaus asked.

“The rods that hold the wheels in place,” she explained, pointing to the bottom of the cart. “They’re in perfect condition. That’s good news, because we need these wheels to carry us a long way.” The eldest Baudelaire looked up from her work and gazed out at the horizon. To the east, the sun was rising, and soon its rays would reflect off the mirrors positioned in the fortune-telling tent, but to the north, she could see the Mortmain Mountains rising up in odd, square shapes, more like a staircase than a mountain range, with patches of snow on the higher places, and the top steps covered in a thick, gray fog. “It’ll take a long time to get up there,” she said, “and it doesn’t look like there are a lot of repair shops on the way.”

“I wonder what we’ll find up there,” Klaus said. “I’ve never been to the headquarters of something.”

“Neither have I,” Violet said. “Here, Klaus, lean down with me so I can look at the engine of this cart.”

“If we knew more about V.F.D.,” Klaus said, “we might know what to expect. How does the engine look?”

“Not too bad,” Violet said. “Some of these pistons are completely rusted away, but I think I can replace them with these latches on the sides of the cart, and the lightning device will provide a fan belt. But we’ll need something else—something like twine, or wire, to help connect the two carts.”

“Ivy?” Sunny asked.

“Good idea, Sunny,” Violet said. “The stems of the ivy feel solid enough. If you’ll pluck the leaves off a few strands, you’d be a big help.”

“What can I do?” Klaus asked.

“Help me turn the cart over,” Violet said, “but watch where you put your feet. We don’t want you falling into the pit.”

“I don’t want anyone falling into the pit,” Klaus said. “You don’t think the others will throw Madame Lulu to the lions, do you?”

“Not if we get this done in time,” Violet said grimly. “See if you can help me bend the latch so it fits into that notch, Klaus. No, no—the other way. I just hope Esmé doesn’t have them throw somebody else in when we all escape.”

“She probably will,” Klaus said, struggling with the latch. “I can’t understand why Hugo, Colette, and Kevin want to join up with people who do such things.”

“I guess they’re just happy that anybody’s treating them like normal people,” Violet said, and glanced into the pit. One of the lions yawned, stretched its paws, and opened one sleepy eye, but seemed uninterested in the three children working nearby. “Maybe that’s why the hook-handed man works for Count Olaf, or the bald man with the long nose. Maybe when they tried to work someplace else, everyone laughed at them.”

“Or maybe they just like committing crimes,” Klaus said.

“That’s a possibility, too,” Violet said, and then frowned at the bottom of the cart. “I wish I had Mother’s tool kit,” she said. “She had this tiny wrench I always admired, and it would be just perfect for this job.”

“She’d probably be a better help than I am,” Klaus said. “I can’t make head or tail of what you’re doing.”

“You’re doing fine,” Violet said, “particularly if you consider that we’re sharing a shirt. How are those ivy stems coming, Sunny?”

“Lesoint,” Sunny replied, which meant “I’m nearly done.”

“Good work,” Violet said, peering at the sun. “I’m not sure how much time we have. Count Olaf is probably inside the fortune-telling tent by now, asking the crystal ball about our whereabouts. I hope Madame Lulu keeps her promise, and doesn’t give him what he wants. Will you hand me that piece of metal on the ground, Klaus? It looks like it used to be part of the tracks, but I’m going to use it to make a steering device.”

“I wish Madame Lulu could give us what we want,” Klaus said, handing the piece to his sister. “I wish we could find out if one of our parents survived the fire, without wandering around a mountain range.”

“Me, too,” Violet said, “and even then we might not find them. They could be down here looking for us.”

“Remember the train station?” Klaus said, and Violet nodded.

“Esoobac,” Sunny asked, handing over the ivy stems. By “Esoobac,” she meant something like, “I don’t remember,” although there was no way she could have, as the youngest Baudelaire hadn’t been born at the time her siblings were remembering. The Baudelaire family had decided to go away for the weekend to a vineyard, a word which here means “a sort of farm where people grow grapes used in wine.” This vineyard was famous for having grapes that smelled delicious, and it was very pleasant to picnic in the fields, while the fragrance drifted in the air and the vineyard’s famous donkeys, who helped carry bushels of grapes at harvesttime, slept in the shade of the grapevines. To reach the vineyard, the Baudelaires had to take not one train but two, transferring at a busy station not far from Paltryville, and on the day that Violet and Klaus were remembering, the children had been separated from their parents in the rush of the transferring crowd. Violet and Klaus, who were quite young, decided to search for their parents in the row of shops just outside the station, and soon the local shoemaker, blacksmith, chimney sweep, and computer technician were all helping the two frightened children look for their mother and father. Soon enough the Baudelaire family was reunited, but the children’s father had taught them a serious lesson. “If you lose us,” he said, “stay put.”

“Yes,” their mother agreed. “Don’t go wandering around looking for us. We’ll come and find you.”

At the time, Violet and Klaus had solemnly agreed, but times had changed. When the Baudelaire parents had said “If you lose us,” they were referring to times when the children might lose sight of them in a crowd, as they had at the train station that day, where I had lunch just a few weeks ago and talked to the shoemaker’s son about what had happened. They were not referring to the way the Baudelaires had lost them now, in a deadly fire that it seemed had claimed at least one of their lives. There are times to stay put, and what you want will come to you, and there are times to go out into the world and find such a thing for yourself. Like the Baudelaire orphans, I have found myself in places where staying put would be dangerously foolish, and foolishly dangerous. I have stood in a department store, and seen something written on a price tag that told me I had to leave at once, but in different clothing. I have sat in an airport, and heard something over the loudspeaker that told me I had to leave later that day, but on a different flight. And I have stood alongside the roller coaster at Caligari Carnival, and known what the Baudelaires could not possibly have known that quiet morning. I have looked at the carts, all melted together and covered in ash, and I have gazed into the pit dug by Count Olaf and his henchmen and seen all the burnt bones lying in a heap, and I have picked through the bits of mirror and crystal where the fortune-telling tent once stood, and all this research has told me the same thing, and if somehow I could slip back in time, as easily as I could slip out of the disguise I am in now, I would walk to the edge of that pit and tell the Baudelaire orphans the results of my findings. But of course I cannot. I can only fulfill my sacred duty and type this story as best I can, down to the last worf.

“Worf,” Sunny said, when the Baudelaires had finished telling her about the train station. By “worf,” she meant something along the lines of, “I don’t think we should stay put. I think we should leave right now.”

“We can’t leave yet,” Violet said. “The steering device is ready, and the carts are firmly attached to one another, but without a fan belt, the engine won’t work. We’d better go to the fortune-telling tent and dismantle the lightning device.”

“Olaf?” Sunny asked.

“Let’s hope that Madame Lulu has sent him on his way,” Violet said, “otherwise we’ll be cutting it close. We have to finish our invention before the show begins, otherwise everyone will see us get in the carts and leave.”

There was a faint growl from the pit, and the children saw that most of the lions were awake and looking around crankily at their surroundings. Some of them were trying to pace around their cramped quarters, but they only managed to get in the way of other lions, which only made them crankier.

“Those lions look hungry,” Klaus said. “I wonder if it’s almost show time.”

“Aklec,” Sunny said, which meant “Let’s move out,” and the Baudelaires moved out, walking away from the roller coaster and toward the fortune-telling tent. As the children walked through the carnival, they saw that quite a few visitors had already arrived, and some of them giggled at the siblings as they made their way.

“Look!” one man said, pointing at the Baudelaires with a sneer. “Freaks! Let’s be sure to go to the lion show later—one of them might get eaten.”

“Oh, I hope so,” said his companion. “I didn’t come all the way out here to the hinterlands for nothing.”

“The woman at the ticket booth told me that a journalist from The Daily Punctilio is here to report on who gets devoured,” said another man, who was wearing a CALIGARI CARNIVAL T-shirt he had apparently purchased at the gift caravan.

“The Daily Punctilio!” cried the woman who was with him. “How exciting! I’ve been reading about those Baudelaire murderers for weeks. I just love violence!”

“Who doesn’t?” the man replied. “Especially when it’s combined with sloppy eating.”

Just as the Baudelaires reached the fortune- telling tent, a man stepped in front of them and blocked their way. The children looked up at the pimples on his chin and recognized him as the very rude member of the audience at the House of Freaks.

“Why, look who’s here,” he said. “It’s Chabo the Wolf Baby, and Beverly and Elliot, the two-headed freak.”

“It’s very nice to see you again,” Violet said quickly. She tried to walk around him, but he grabbed the shirt she was sharing with her brother, and she had to stop so he wouldn’t tear the shirt and reveal their disguise.

“What about your other head?” the pimpled man asked sarcastically. “Doesn’t he think it’s nice to see me?”

“Of course,” Klaus said, “but we’re in a bit of a hurry, so if you’ll excuse us…”

“I don’t excuse freaks,” the man said. “There’s no excuse for them. Why don’t you wear a sack over one of your heads, so you look normal?”

“Grr!” Sunny said, baring her teeth at the man’s knees.

“Please leave us alone, sir,” Violet said. “Chabo is very protective of us, and might bite you if you get too close.”

“I bet Chabo’s no match for a bunch of ferocious lions,” the man said. “I can’t wait until the show, and neither can my mother.”

“That’s right, dear,” said a woman who was standing nearby. She stepped forward to give the pimpled man a big kiss, and the Baudelaires noticed that pimples seemed to run in the family. “What time does the show start, freaks?”

“The show starts right now!”

The pimpled man and his mother turned around to see who had spoken, but the Baudelaires did not have to look to know it was Count Olaf who had made the announcement. The villain was standing at the entrance to the fortune-telling tent with a whip in his hand and a particularly nasty gleam in his eye, both of which the siblings recognized. The whip, of course, was the one that Count Olaf used to encourage the lions to become ferocious, which the Baudelaires had seen the previous day, and the gleam was something they had seen more times than they could count. It was the sort of gleam someone might get in their eye when they were telling a joke, but when Olaf looked at people that way it usually meant that one of his schemes was succeeding brilliantly.

“The show starts right now!” he announced again to the people gathering around him. “I’ve just had my fortune told, so I’ve gotten what I wanted.” Count Olaf pointed at the fortune-telling tent with his whip, and then turned around to point at the disguised Baudelaires as he grinned at the crowd. “Now, ladies and gentlemen, it’s time to go to the lion pit so we can give the rest of you what you want.”

CHAPTER Ten

“I’m going to the pit right now!” cried a woman in the crowd. “I want to have a good view of the show!”

“So do I,” said a man standing next to her. “There’s no point in having lions eat somebody if you can’t watch it happen.”

“Well, we’d better hurry,” said the man with pimples on his chin. “There’s quite a crowd here.”

The Baudelaire orphans looked around and saw that the pimpled man was speaking the truth.

News of Caligari Carnival’s latest attraction must have spread far beyond the hinterlands, because there were many more visitors than yesterday, and there seemed to be more and more arriving every minute.

“I’ll lead the way to the pit,” announced Count Olaf. “After all, the lion show was my idea, so I should get to walk in front.”

“It was your idea?” asked a woman the children recognized from their stay at Heimlich Hospital. She was wearing a gray suit, and chewing gum as she spoke into a microphone, and the siblings remembered that she was a reporter from The Daily Punctilio. “I’d love to write about it in the newspaper. What is your name?”

“Count Olaf!” Count Olaf said proudly.

“I can see the headline now: ‘COUNT OLAF THINKS UP IDEA FOR LION SHOW,’” said the reporter. “Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”

“Wait a minute,” someone said. “I thought Count Olaf was murdered by those three children.”

“That was Count Omar,” replied the reporter. “I should know. I’ve been writing about the Baudelaires for The Daily Punctilio. Count Omar was murdered by those three Baudelaire children, who still remain at large.”

“Well, if anyone ever finds them,” someone in the crowd said, “we’ll throw them into the lion pit.”

“An excellent idea,” Count Olaf replied, “but in the meantime, the lions will have a meal of one delicious freak. Follow me, everyone, for an afternoon of violence and sloppy eating!”

“Hooray!” cried several members of the crowd, as Olaf took a bow and began to lead everyone in the direction of the ruined roller coaster where the lions were waiting.

“Come with me, freaks,” Count Olaf ordered, pointing at the Baudelaires. “My assistants are bringing the others. We want all you freaks assembled for the choosing ceremony.”

“I will bring them, my Olaf,” Madame Lulu said in her disguised accent, emerging from the fortune-telling tent. When she saw the Baudelaires, her eyes widened, and she quickly held her hands behind her back. “You lead crowd to pit, please, and give interview to newspaper on way.”

“Oh, yes,” said the reporter. “I can see the headline now: ‘EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW WITH COUNT OLAF, WHO IS NOT COUNT OMAR, WHO IS DEAD.’ Wait until the readers of The Daily Punctilio see that!”

“It will be exciting for people to read about me,” Count Olaf said. “All right, I’ll walk with the reporter, Lulu. But hurry up with the freaks.”

“Yes, my Olaf,” Madame Lulu said. “Come with me, freaky peoples, please.”

Lulu held out her hands for the Baudelaires to take, as if she were their mother walking them across the street, instead of a fake fortune-teller leading them to a pit of lions. The children could see that one of Madame Lulu’s palms had an odd streak of dirt on it, while the other hand was closed in an odd, tight fist. The children did not want to take those hands and walk toward the lion show, but there were so many people gathered around, eagerly expecting violence, that it seemed they had no other choice. Sunny grabbed ahold of Lulu’s right hand, and Violet grabbed Lulu’s left, and they walked together in an awkward knot in the direction of the ruined roller coaster.

“Olivi—” Klaus started to say, but then looked around the crowd and realized it would be foolish to use her real name. “I mean, Madame Lulu,” he corrected himself, and then leaned across Violet to speak as quietly as he could. “Let’s walk as slowly as we can. Maybe we can find an opportunity to sneak back to the tent and dismantle the lightning device.”

Madame Lulu did not answer, but merely shook her head slightly to indicate that it was not a good time to speak of such matters.

“Fan belt,” Sunny reminded her, as quietly as she could, but Madame Lulu just shook her head.

“You kept your promise, didn’t you?” Klaus murmured, scarcely above a whisper, but Madame Lulu stared ahead as if she had not heard. He nudged his older sister inside their shared shirt. “Violet,” he said, scarcely daring to use her real name. “Ask Madame Lulu to walk more slowly.”

Violet glanced briefly at Klaus, and then turned her head to catch Sunny’s eye. The younger Baudelaires looked back at their sister and watched her shake her head slightly, just as Madame Lulu had, and then look down, where she was holding the fortune-teller’s hand. Between two of Violet’s fingers, Klaus and Sunny could see the tip of a small piece of rubber, which they recognized immediately. It was the part of Madame Lulu’s lightning device that resembled a fan belt—the very thing Violet needed to turn the carts of the roller coaster into an invention that could carry the Baudelaires out of the hinterlands and up into the Mortmain Mountains. But instead of feeling hopeful as they looked at this crucial item in Violet’s hand, all three Baudelaires felt something quite a bit less pleasant.

If you have ever experienced something that feels strangely familiar, as if the exact same thing has happened to you before, then you are experiencing what the French call “déjà vu.” Like most French expressions—“ennui,” which is a fancy term for severe boredom, or “la petite mort,” which describes a feeling that part of you has died—“déjà vu” refers to something that is usually not very pleasant, and it was not pleasant for the Baudelaire orphans to arrive at the lion pit and experience the queasy feeling of déjà vu. When the children had been staying at Heimlich Hospital, they had found themselves in an operating theater, surrounded by a large crowd that was very eager to see something violent occur, such as an operation performed on someone. When the children were living in the town of V.F.D., they had found themselves in a field, surrounded by a large crowd eager to see something violent occur, such as the burning of someone at the stake. And now, as Madame Lulu let go of their hands, the children looked at the enormous and strangely familiar crowd towering over them at the ruined roller coaster. Once again, there were people eager for something violent to happen. Once again, the Baudelaires were afraid for their lives. And once again, it was all because of Count Olaf. The siblings looked past the cheering crowd at the two roller-coaster carts that Violet had adapted. All the invention needed was the fan belt, and the children could continue their search for one of the Baudelaire parents, but as Violet, Klaus, and Sunny looked across the pit at the two small carts joined with ivy and altered to travel across the hinterlands, they felt the queasiness of déjà vu and wondered if there was another unhappy ending in store for them.

“Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the most exciting afternoon of your entire lives!” Count Olaf announced, and cracked his whip into the pit. The whip was just long enough to strike the restless lions, who roared obediently and gnashed their teeth in hunger. “These carnivorous lions are ready to eat a freak,” he said. “But which freak will it be?”

The crowd parted, and the hook-handed man emerged, leading the Baudelaires’ coworkers in a line toward the edge of the pit where the Baudelaires stood. Hugo, Colette, and Kevin had evidently been told to dress in their freakish clothes rather than in the gifts Esmé had given them, and they gave the Baudelaires a small smile and stared nervously at the snarling lions. Once the children’s coworkers had taken their places, Count Olaf’s other comrades emerged from the crowd. Esmé Squalor was wearing a pinstripe suit and carrying a parasol, which is a small umbrella used for keeping the sun out of one’s eyes, and she smiled at the crowd and sat down on a small chair brought by Olaf’s bald associate, who was also holding a long, flat piece of wood that he placed at the edge of the pit so it hung over the lions like a diving board over a swimming pool. Finally, the two white-faced women stepped forward, holding a small wooden box with a hole in the top.

“I’m so glad this is my last day in these clothes,” Hugo murmured to the Baudelaires, gesturing to his ill-fitting coat. “Just think—soon I’ll be a member of Count Olaf’s troupe, and I’ll never have to look like a freak again.”

“Unless you’re thrown to the lions,” Klaus couldn’t help replying.

“Are you kidding?” Hugo whispered back. “If I’m the one chosen, I’m going to throw Madame Lulu into the pit, just like Esmé said.”

“Look closely at all these freaks,” Count Olaf said, as several people in the audience tittered. “Observe Hugo’s funny back. Think about how silly it is that Colette can bend herself into all sorts of strange positions. Giggle at the absurdity of Kevin’s ambidextrous arms and legs. Snicker at Beverly and Elliot, the two-headed freak. And laugh so hard that you can scarcely breathe at Chabo the Wolf Baby.”

The crowd erupted into laughter, pointing and laughing at the people they thought were funniest.

“Look at Chabo’s ridiculous teeth!” cried a woman who had dyed her hair several colors at once. “She looks positively idiotic!”

“I think Kevin is funnier!” replied her husband, who had dyed his hair to match. “I hope he’s thrown into the pit. It’ll be fun to see him try to defend himself with both hands and feet.”

“I hope it’s the hook-handed freak!” said a woman standing in back of the Baudelaires. “That will make it even more violent!”

“I’m not a freak,” the hook-handed man snarled impatiently. “I’m an employee of Count Olaf’s.”

“Oh, sorry,” the woman replied. “In that case, I hope it’s that man with pimples all over his chin.”

“I’m a member of the audience!” the man cried. “I’m not a freak. I just have a few skin problems.”

“Then what about that woman in that silly suit?” she asked. “Or that guy with only one eyebrow?”

“I’m Count Olaf’s girlfriend,” Esmé said, “and my suit is in, not silly.”

“I don’t care who’s a freak and who isn’t,” said someone else in the crowd. “I just want to see the lions eat somebody.”

“You will,” Count Olaf promised. “We’re going to have the choosing ceremony right now. The names of all the freaks have been written down on small scraps of paper and placed in the box that these two lovely ladies are holding.”

The two white-faced women held up the wooden box and curtsied to the audience, while Esmé frowned at them. “I don’t think they’re particularly lovely,” she said, but few people heard her over the cheering of the crowd.

“I’m going to reach inside the box,” Count Olaf said, “draw out one piece of paper, and read the name of the freak out loud. Then that freak will walk down that wooden plank and jump into the pit, and we’ll all watch as the lions eat him.”

“Or her,” Esmé said. She looked over at Madame Lulu, and then at the Baudelaires and their coworkers. Putting down her parasol for a moment, she raised both of her long-nailed hands and made a small, pushing motion to remind them of her scheme.

“Or her,” Count Olaf said, looking curiously at Esmé’s gesture. “Now, are there any questions before we begin?”

“Why do you get to choose the name?” asked the pimpled man.

“Because this whole thing was my idea,” Count Olaf said.

“I have a question,” asked the woman with dyed hair. “Is this legal?”

“Oh, stop spoiling the fun,” her husband said. “You wanted to come and watch people get eaten by lions, and so I brought you. If you’re going to ask a bunch of complicated questions you can go wait in the car.”

“Please continue, Your Countship,” said the reporter from The Daily Punctilio.

“I will,” Count Olaf said, and whipped the lions one more time before reaching into the wooden box. Giving the children and their coworkers a cruel smile, he moved his hand around inside the box for quite some time before at last drawing out a small piece of paper that had been folded many times. The crowd leaned forward to watch, and the Baudelaires strained to see over the heads of the adults around them. But Count Olaf did not unfold the piece of paper immediately. Instead he held it up as high as he could and gave the audience a large smile.

“I’m going to open the piece of paper very slowly,” he announced, “to increase the suspense.”

“How clever!” the reporter said, snapping her gum in excitement. “I can see the headline now: ‘COUNT OLAF INCREASES SUSPENSE.’”

“I learned how to amaze crowds by working extensively as a famous actor,” Count Olaf said, smiling at the reporter and still holding up the piece of paper. “Be sure to write that down.”

“I will,” the reporter said breathlessly, and held her microphone closer to Olaf’s mouth.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Count Olaf cried. “I am now unfolding the first fold in the piece of paper!”

“Oh boy!” cried several members of the audience. “Hooray for the first fold!”

“There are only five folds left,” Olaf said. “Only five more folds, and we’ll know which freak will be thrown to the lions.”

“This is so exciting!” cried the man with dyed hair. “I might faint!”

“Just don’t faint into the pit,” his wife said.

“I am now unfolding the second fold in the piece of paper!” Count Olaf announced. “Now there are only four folds left!”

The lions roared impatiently, as if they were tired of all this nonsense with the piece of paper, but the audience cheered for the increased suspense and paid no attention to the beasts in the pit, gazing only at Count Olaf, who smiled and blew kisses to the carnival visitors. The Baudelaires, however, were no longer looking over the heads of the crowd to watch Olaf do his shtick, a phrase which here means “increase suspense by slowly unfolding a piece of paper printed with the name of someone who was supposed to jump into a pit of lions.” They were taking advantage of the fact that no one was watching them, and stepped as close as they could to one another so they could talk without being overheard.

“Do you think we could sneak around the pit to the roller-coaster carts?” Klaus murmured to his sister.

“I think it’s too crowded,” Violet replied. “Do you think we could get the lions not to eat anyone?”

“I think they’re too hungry,” Klaus said, squinting down at the growling beasts. “I read a book about large feline animals that said if they’re hungry enough, they’ll eat practically anything.”

“Is there anything else you’ve read about lions that can help us?” Violet asked.

“I don’t think so,” Klaus replied. “Is there anything else you can invent from that fan belt that can help us?”

“I don’t think so,” Violet replied, her voice faint with fear.

“Déjà vu!” Sunny called up to her siblings. She meant something along the lines of, “We must be able to think of something that can help us. We’ve escaped from bloodthirsty crowds before.”

“Sunny’s right,” Klaus said. “When we lived at Heimlich Hospital, we learned about stalling a crowd, when we postponed Olaf’s scheme to operate on you.”

“And when we lived at the Village of Fowl Devotees,” Violet said, “we learned about mob psychology, when we watched all the villagers get so upset that they couldn’t think clearly. But what can we do with this crowd? What can we do now?”

“Both!” Sunny murmured, and then growled quickly in case anybody was listening.

“I unfolded the paper again!” Count Olaf crowed, and I probably do not have to tell you that he explained that there were only three folds left, or that the crowd cheered him once more, as if he had done something very brave or very noble. I probably do not have to tell you that he announced the remaining three folds as if they were very exciting events, and that the crowd cheered him each time, eagerly awaiting the violence and sloppy eating that would follow, and I probably don’t even have to tell you what was written on the piece of paper, because if you have read this far in this wretched book then you are well acquainted with the Baudelaire orphans and you know what kind of freakish luck they have. A person with normal luck would arrive at a carnival in comfortable circumstances, such as in a double-decker bus or on the back of an elephant, and would probably have a pleasant time enjoying all of the things a carnival has to offer, and would feel happy and content at the end of their stay. But the Baudelaires had arrived at Caligari Carnival in the trunk of an automobile, and had been forced to put themselves in uncomfortable disguises, take part in a humiliating show, and place themselves in dangerous circumstances, and, as their freakish luck would have it, had not even found the information they were hoping to discover. So it probably will not be a surprise to you to learn that Hugo’s name was not printed on the piece of paper in Count Olaf’s hand, or Colette’s name, or the name of Kevin, who was clasping his equally skilled hands together in nervousness as Olaf finally unfolded the paper completely. It will not surprise you that when Count Olaf announced what the paper said, the eyes of the entire crowd fell on the disguised children. But although you might not be surprised at Count Olaf’s announcement, you might be surprised at the announcement that one of the siblings made immediately afterward.

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Count Olaf announced, “Beverly and Elliot, the two-headed freak, will be thrown to the lions today.”

“Ladies and gentlemen,” Violet Baudelaire announced, “we are thrilled to be chosen.”

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