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Less Than Animals

Chapter Text

Gory knew it was dangerous to visit the circus. She wasn’t stupid, she knew what they did to monsters. Her mother claimed that the humans used to ignore them, but Gory didn’t really believe her. She had grown up moving every few months, living in abject poverty, hiding from humans. Most recently, her mother had found a small, cramped apartment in the worst part of a bad city where they could live relatively unnoticed. It was lucky that they could pass for (very pale) humans if they kept their mouths closed. Most monsters couldn’t.

Normally, Gory stayed near the apartment complex during the day. Specifically, on a corner at the end of the street. But when she heard about a circus coming to town, she couldn’t resist going to see. Her mother thought she was working, but fortunately she slept during the day and didn’t have to know. The whole time she was running to the location specified on her flier, Gory pushed away the constant whisper of "bad idea bad idea bad idea". The circus was much more cheerful than she’d expected. Her mother had told her all about circuses-they were places where humans performed dangerous stunts, whipped deadly animals, and kept monsters in cages.

But this circus had a brightly colored tent surrounded by other, smaller temporary structures. Humans milled around with delighted expressions, most holding what looked like pink clouds on paper cones or stuffed toys they had won at the games scattered around. Gory hesitantly walked up to the ticket booth, paid with money she had just earned yesterday, and entered without speaking to the acne-ridden human working there. The circus air smelled of popcorn, sweat, hay, and something sweet, possibly the pink clouds. No one looked at her twice, and she again thanked her lucky stars that she was just pale-some vampires, she knew, had distinctive pink skin.

There was music coming from the biggest tent, mixed with delighted shrieks and, occasionally, what sounded like a lion roaring. Since the next big top show was in a half hour, Gory wandered over to the second largest tent, which was separate from everything else. A quick pang of unease went through her when she saw the sign outside-this was the freak show. Several humans were milling around outside, but not nearly as many as there had been elsewhere on the circus grounds. Noticeably, there were no children here. It wasn’t long before a fairly small crowd emerged from the tent, followed quickly by a middle-aged man smiling wide enough to reveal two gold teeth.

The man didn’t speak as he escorted them inside, fortunately not giving Gory a second glance. Inside, she filed into the bleachers along with the rest of the group, and sat down between two young women wearing entirely too much makeup-not that she was really one to talk, Gory reflected, touching her cherry red lipstick. Instead of an arena, there was a huge stage in front of the bleachers. There were several large somethings covered in sheets, and the gold toothed man smiled as he stepped on stage. After clearing his throat, he waved to the audience and grandly announced, “Welcome, ladies and gentlemen! Tonight, I will be your guide to the unusual, the strange, the… monstrous.”

Gory rolled her eyes, but everyone else seemed enthralled by the corny speech. After more babbling, the man gave them a dark smile and turned to the first covered object. He tore the sheet off with a dramatic gesture, revealing it to be a metal cage. Inside were three teenagers, huddled together and completely naked. Gory leaned back, but the rest of the audience looked delighted. “Behold! These creatures are werewolves-no, don’t be afraid,” he added as a man in the front row jumped in shock. “They won’t hurt you! These three are actually siblings. Clawd is the oldest, followed by Clawdeen, and then precious little Howleen.” The older girl snarled at the audience, and Clawd lunged forward without warning. Several people cried out, but Gory just bit the inside of her cheek.

Next, the gold toothed man whipped off a sheet to reveal three teens (were all his monsters this young?) sitting near each other, but not quite as close as the werewolves. This time, it was two boys and a girl, all different species. The girl had blue skin and fangs protruding from her mouth, as well as snowflakes swirling around her. One boy had red hair and yellow skin, while the other looked… completely human. They were naked as well, and while the seemingly human boy had his knees pulled to his skinny chest to hide this, the other spread his legs and blew the audience a kiss, which caused several of them to cry out in disgust. The girl clearly didn’t care that she was naked, and sat straight up, glaring at everyone. “These are my elementals,” explained the gold toothed man. “Abbey, a yeti. Heath, an obnoxious fire imp.” That got a laugh. “And Jackson, who must look completely normal to you.” A few people made vague noises of agreement. “Well, not to worry, we’re not keeping humans in cages! Watch…”

He pressed the button on a radio, which had previously gone unnoticed, and rock music blared from the speakers. Jackson cried out, covered his ears, and then shrieked in pain as fire enveloped his legs, spreading up his small body until he had completely changed appearance. Now, a boy with blue skin, red hair, and a black mark on his face was holding his head and groaning in pain before them. Gory felt like she would throw up. Legally, this was fine. Monsters had less rights than animals, so freak shows were completely within the law. But how could these humans enjoy watching this sort of thing?! Couldn’t they see how humiliated Clawdeen looked, or how much pain Jackson had been in when he turned into… this other boy. With a broad smile, the gold toothed man reached through the bars of the cage and put a hand on his head. “This is Holt. I like to call them Jekyll and Hyde… you can see why!”

Holt evidently didn’t appreciate the joke, because he grabbed onto the gold toothed man’s arm and raked his fingernails into his flesh, yelling obscenities. He was promptly backhanded away, and the gold toothed man flicked the music off. Holt screamed as he too was enveloped in fire, then Jackson was lying on the floor. Abbey and Heath watched this all silently, sympathy etched into their faces. “Little bastard… well, if you would like to come closer after the show, I advise you to stay away from that one!” He strolled over to the next cage and proudly displayed it’s lone inhabitant. “This is Frankie. She’s quite new here… only about sixteen days old. Look at this!” He tapped on the bars, making poor Frankie whimper and scramble backwards, the bolts in her neck sparking. With a frown, the gold toothed man hit the cage again, and this time Frankie seemed to take it as a cue. She turned to the audience, held out her hands, and fired pure electricity against the bars of her cage.

Next was a boy with snakes for hair and a blindfold wrapped tightly around his eyes. He was followed by two mummy girls, a boy who could make himself invisible, a poltergeist, a ghost, a banshee, a phantom, three cat girls, a sea monster and a river monster, a couple of zombies, a plant girl, a gargoyle, and finally two vampires. Gory had been horrified throughout the entire show, but when the gold toothed man revealed two kids he called Draculaura and Kieran, she nearly fainted. The girl was petite and pink skinned, shrinking back and curling in on herself to hide, while the boy subtly crossed his legs and scanned the audience while nervously twirling his hair. That was the end of the show, and guests were free to leave or come closer. Stupidly, Gory chose to approach the stage.

She locked eyes with the phantom, a badly scarred girl named Operetta, who looked bored with her for a moment-then suddenly got closer to the edge of her cage. Gory noticed that her lips were stitched together, something that she’d missed from her place in the audience. Operetta looked at her for a moment, then turned to the other monsters in her cage-the banshee, the ghost, and the poltergeist. She waved them over and pointed to Gory, who looked away. She ignored the whispering behind her until one of the cat girls cried, “Another vampire?!”

Everything froze as Gory whipped around, looking at the cages in horror. The gold toothed man, who had been showing the zombies to a pair of very obese old ladies, stared at her. He ran to the edge of the stage to get a better look, and Gory turned to run. She hadn’t gotten far when a member of the audience stopped her. Then the gold toothed man was there, holding her tightly and feeling her neck for a pulse. “Nothing. Open your mouth, girl.” When Gory clamped her lips together, he pried them apart with his hand and gasped as he felt her fangs. “I’ve been hoping for a new exhibit!”