Freaky Commodities
rating: +74+x

There were four men in the elevator. Two buff men in loose suits stood on the edges, staring blankly at the wall in front of them. Next to the left-most guard was a middle-aged British man with a graying mustache. He was smiling unevenly, perhaps due to a stroke in his earlier days, such that one side of his mustache was significantly higher than the other. He was wearing a white button-down shirt with a cursive "Marshall, Carter, and Dark LTD" embossed on the breast. The final man was not smiling, although he appeared to be, because his face was upside down.

"We have some very interesting options for you today, Manny, correct?" the British man asked.

"You may call me that, yes," the Man with the Upside-Down Face responded. It was a stupid nickname, but he had met the British man, Burgess, twice before (although he had accompanied Fuller those times). Moreover, being called Manny as opposed to something more formal helped alleviate the painfully over-professional air of the conversation.

"Very good. You may follow me." The British man finished the sentence just as the elevator doors slid open. Wholly unimpressed, Manny strode behind him through a brightly-lit hallway into a large red room adorned with tapestries. Three creatures, as they seemed, were in the middle of the room inside of tight steel cages. One, a heavily neotonized old Aboriginal, had her head pressed to the bars of her cage with a hungry look in her eyes as she tracked Manny from the doorway. In the other cage sat a younger boy, no older than fifteen, whose entire body was covered in a thin film of a dark pink substance. He did not look up. The third cage appeared to be filled with a flickering fire, and the Man with the Upside-Down Face could have sworn he saw a figure shift around.

"Alright. What can they do?" He paused for a second. "This female one," Manny said. "I'd like to see her talent."

"Ah yes, we call her the Amazing Australian. She is able to move her center of weight a couple feet or so outside of her body, allowing her to accomplish incredible feats of acrobatics. We haven't a clue as to how she does it, but then again, we don't care." Burgess spoke with a pitchman's flair and a younger man's energy, though he knew as he spoke that folks from the Circus of the Disquieting would remain mainly uninfluenced by even the best deliveries. After all, they sold things for a living, just as he did.

"May I see it?" inquired the Man with the Upside-Down Face. His eyebrows fluttered near his neck as he spoke.

"Of course!" said Burgess. "Anna, flip the cage."

Nothing happened. "Anna, flip the cage." he said again. Still nothing. Burgess walked over and kicked the bars next to the woman's face. Shrieking, she plastered herself against the top and sides of the box and flung the box high up into the air, until it was jerked back to the ground by a thick steel chain bolted into the floor. She peered again outside through the bars at Manny.

"Mr. Burgess," he said exasperatedly, "This woman doesn't have long to live. That little stunt is hurting her every time she does it, and she's already old. I'm afraid that if I took this one, we wouldn't get more than four shows out of her. Five maximum."

"Perhaps you would like to examine her more closely? She is healthier than she looks." Burgess suggested.

"No, she's not. What is the next one?" asked Manny. In the middle cage, the creature groaned softly.

"This one has a weird property that we thought might interest you as a freak. It secretes a slippery salmon-colored substance that smells ever so slightly sweet. This one is much younger than the previous, which ought to better serve your purposes."

The boy in the cage did not look up or acknowledge either man. It moaned again forcefully, then let out a loud whimper.

"Heh, this one's harmless." Burgess fished a small key out of his pocket and walked around behind the cage, unlocking it. With great effort, he spun the cage around so that the door was facing Manny and tilted the cage up, so that a wave of pink goo washed on to the floor like a red carpet rolling out in front of a movie star. The creature inside slid out as well on the raft of sludge, panicking. It stumbled to its feet, slipped on its secretion, and immediately fell back down. Its gaze slowly met Manny's as it desperately tried to take account of its new surroundings.

Manny leaned down low to talk to it, so that his forehead was just above the creature's. It looked up at him pleadingly. After a long second, Manny stood up again and faced Burgess directly. "I'll come back to this one. I'd like to see the last option, if you don't mind."

"Of course, sir," said Burgess. He sidestepped carefully so as to avoid the sludge that was slowly covering more and more of the floor towards the third cage. "This one's a bit unfortunate. Lost a bet to the wrong person, I'm afraid. His entire head is eternally engulfed in flame. Perhaps this interests you, Manny?"

"I'm quite numb to it, actually," the freak chimed in. It had a London accent almost as strong as Burgess'.

Manny smiled a wide grin that made his cheeks puff out and leaned in to the cage near the fire. "You're English?"

"Yes sir," it replied.

"How would you like a job?" he asked. "You'd be fed three times a day and clothed."

"I would like that very much, sir."

"Perfect!" With that, Manny stood up and walked over to Burgess. "When would you like your performance scheduled?" he asked.

"Our patron has requested the Thursday after next."

"Great. We will inform them where it is the day of the event." Manny stuck his hand out. "Pleasure doing business with you again, Burgess."

"Likewise," Burgess responded. He shook Manny's hand and handed him the key. Manny unlocked the freak's cage and nodded to himself while it made its way to its feet. "Shall I walk you out?" Burgess inquired.

"No thank you, I know the way. Send Marshall my regards." He turned. "Follow me," he said, directed at the man on fire. The two walked down the hallway towards the elevator. After getting a glare from one of the guards, they decided to take the stairs down. Finally, the flame-faced man spoke up.

"Thank you," he said quietly.

The Man with the Upside-Down Face smiled again. "Most people don't come with me so easily. I usually have to convince them, offer them love, or money, or fame. All you wanted was to be let out of that cage." Manny sighed.

"I guess some people are simple," he replied.

"I guess some are."

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