He had never liked the circus. He was a sensible man by nature. Not one to be amused by such things. Or rather he had been sensible once upon a time. Before the doctor had given him a death sentence.

The bench where he sat on the wooden bleachers was cramped. The air stifling. The smell of sweat, stale popcorn, and cotton candy suffocating. The sound of chatter, laughing, and infants crying was jarring. Too many bodies. Too much noise. Too many odors. But it was expected from the most visited carnival to ever surface since the nineteen twenties and into the thirties.   

It had been twenty two years since his birth in the year nineteen eleven. In that time medicine had not come far enough for Marvin Abrams’s liking. Which was why he was forced to find an unorthodox means to cure his disease. He was tired. Fatigued. He had been at this for days. Weeks. There was little time to rest. But rest and survival could not always exist within the same plane. 

He tugged the handkerchief from his pocket, using a clean corner to dab the sweat from his forehead. The leftover blood stains from his earlier coughing were a reminder of how far his health had declined. Tuberculosis. Consumption. Whatever one wanted to call it, it was a monster. A horrid slow killer that made Marvin wish he hadn’t taken his healthy days for granted.   

His brown eyes cut to the side as the man beside him laughed uproariously at the painted  clowns below. Idiots the whole lot, he thought.   

He had always been one for solitude. A good book, a few smokes, silence. Those were the only companions that Marvin had ever needed. Even now while he was dying he didn’t regret his isolation, his introversion. Even if he had someone like a doctor to turn to they couldn’t do anything. That was the reason why Marvin was under the big circus tent. 

When modern medicine had failed him Marvin became desperate. He wanted to live, even if he was alone. Death was not an option; he was too young. There was too much to see, too much to do, and in his desperation Marvin’s sensibilities had gone out the window.   

He had begun reading outside of his usual spectrum of fiction. Instead he read books, newspaper articles, religious pamphlets. Searching for alternative forms of medicine was when his traveling began. Marvin had left his home in Ohio with nothing but a small brown suitcase full of more books than anything, the clothes on his back, a pack of cigarettes, a pair of loafers, fifty dollars, and a wool newsboy cap.   

He went to a faith healer in Virginia. A potbellied man with too loud of a voice that spewed spit when he spoke. That only left Marvin splashed with “holy water” and a nasty bruise on his pale skin where the man had laid hands on him. He had had a coughing fit only two hours after getting back to his motel.   

Next was the voodoo priestess in Louisiana. She was a creole woman of Haitian descent with a fire about her that Marvin admired. She was all dark skin and bright colors. Her hair a tangled mess of dark curls as she cut off the head of a dove and smeared the blood over Marvin’s face. She murmured rather fervently in Haitian Creole for two hours in a trance like state. Nothing happened. She blamed Marvin’s lack of belief. “Voodoo is not for the skeptic,” she had told him.   

The next stop was Illinois. He had gone to visit an acupuncturist in Chicago’s Chinatown. The man was a second generation immigrant whose family had been merchants since the eighteen hundreds. While the man had not cured him, the treatments had bought him some time. His health had improved some and he was sent off with a great variety of books on Chinese medicine. The only thing about the experience that Marvin had not liked was the dinners with the man’s large family. Marvin had only his father, growing up. When the man was not working he was drinking. His mother had died during childbirth. He had never had a family dinner and didn’t even enjoy eating lunch with the men at the factory where he had once worked.   

But it was one of the workers (whose name Marvin could not recall) who fancied himself Marvin’s friend and had given his last lead. He had mailed Marvin and advertisement for the Saints and Sinners Circus stationed in Vermont. Even with the economic depression the seats stayed full.  It was an oddball freak show with horned clowns, unearthly animals that could not be named, and human spectacles with an array of unfortunate disfigurements.   

However, Marvin was not there for the macabre exhibition. He was there for the headliner. A woman by the name of Lilith Baptiste, a trapeze artist. A mulatto woman who had become a sensation with the traveling circus first surfaced near New Orleans just three years ago.  It wasn’t her aerial acrobatics that made the act so popular. It was the finale that consistently wowed the crowd.   

Marvin’s attention perked up as the lights lowered. The crowd quieted suddenly. He was grateful for the silence. Then the announcer introduced her. The Amazing Miss Lilith Baptiste. She was beautiful. Even in the glittering blue monstrosity she wore. She stood high above the crowd with her black hair pinned up and her brown hand waving to her public.   

There was a dangerous air about her that Marvin didn’t quite understand. It made him uneasy, but he was as riveted as the rest of the crowd as she swung out and began her routine on the trapeze.   

She flew through the air all poise and all grace. Then suddenly her hand began to slip. Marvin looked down and realized that there was no net, but there was a reason, he reminded himself. This was a part of the act. Soon would come the finale.   

Her hands slipped from the bar completely and the crowd gasped as she plummeted toward the ground. She screamed. Marvin held his breath. She landed on the ground with a loud thud with a nauseating crack as her neck snapped. She could not have survived, he thought. There was no way. Not unless the myths were true.   

The silence stretched. Cold and long. Then after what seemed like forever, her fingers twitched. Her body came back to life in pieces. Limb after limb. She stood slowly, her neck still broken and askew. Marvin watched in wide eyed horror with the rest of the crowd as reached up with her hands and twisted her neck until it popped back in place. She was absolutely fine as if nothing had happened. 

The crowd stood. Everyone was in an uproar as she smiled and waved once more. Marvin remained seated. Stunned. It was true then, he thought, this woman had the secret to immortality. He promised himself silently that no matter what it took he would get it out of her.  


Marvin was led to Miss Baptiste’s trailer by a woman with an unformatted resemblance to a mouse, with a tail and all. The long pink appendage dragged behind her as they walked. Marvin tried not to show how disturbed he was by this as she smiled at him, showing off her bucked front teeth.She was just one of many. A freak among freaks. A terror among terrors. Her rounded ears perked up and she tucked a stray strand of blonde hair behind it as Marvin spoke. “Will she see me do you think?” he asked.
A nod and then she was focused on him with her black beady eyes. “She sees everyone,” she squeaked. “Especially those who want to know her secret.”  
Marvin raised a brow at the statement. “Will she tell me? Do you think?” Silence. He decided to change the subject. “Were you born with the tail?”  
A pause. “Can’t say really,” she peeped after a moment. He wanted to ask her what he could say but they came to trailer and she gestured toward the door. “If you ask her for something,” she said, her face suddenly serious (as serious as a rat woman could look Marvin supposed), “Make sure you be specific.”
“Thanks,” he muttered with a nod.  
As she disappeared Marvin’s excitement got the better of him. He had finally found his answer. He was sure of it.  
He took the steps two at a time and knocked on the wooden door with enthusiasm. A smooth voice ordered him to enter and he did so without hesitation.  
The trailer was meticulously organized. Costumes in a chest in one corner. A desk with chairs behind and in front. A curtain separating the office like space from what Marvin supposed was where she slept. There was order. Nothing out of place.  
Lilith sat behind the desk, still in costume though her black hair was now down. She eyed him over the smoke coming from her clove cigarette she was smoking. Her lips unwrapped themselves from around the black holder and Marvin waited for her to speak. “You’re dying,” she said.  
Marvin blinked. He would have asked how she knew but there was something unearthly about her. About everyone in the circus. It was all ethereal. “And you cannot,” he replied, deciding to be just as blunt.
“How poetic the two of us are,” Lilith chimed. She was giving him confirmation without confirming outright. “What is your name?”  
“Marvin Abrams,” he told her, and then, “I wish to know the secret behind your immortality.”  
Lilith frowned. “I am not human,” she stated, “You are. Therefore you cannot achieve immortality by my means. But that does not mean that you cannot live forever.”  
Marvin was not as surprised as he should have been at her statement. The reason their circus was a sensation was because they had monsters in place of men after all. “What are you?”  
Lilith’s black eyes narrowed. “I’ve been called many things,” she revealed, “Devil. Angel. Goddess. I prefer the last one, but I am closer to the first. If you must know, I am a demon. One of the more benevolent ones really.” There was a pause. She waved her hand dismissively in the air. “But what I am is not important,” she said, “And it doesn’t really matter to you. What matters is what I can do for you. Am I right?”  
Marvin nodded. He adjusted the jacket he was wearing and forged ahead. “What can you do for me Miss Baptiste?”  
She took another drag of the cigarette before she spoke, “In exchange for your soul, anything you wish Mr. Abrams.”  
My soul, he thought, of course there was a price. One could not cheat death without making some sacrifice. What did he really need with a soul anyhow? He had not done enough good in life to go to heaven and would most likely end up in purgatory. Would that be so much better than rotting with demons like this woman in hell?  
He could ask for a cure and long life. That could buy himself more time on earth before he had to pay his debt. He would be specific like the mouse-girl said and not let himself be tricked.  
“There are a few things I want,” he started, “I want to be cured of my disease. I want to live a long life, much longer than that of a normal man. I want to live it in solitude, have time to think, to read, to travel. I want to be more than a man. I want to be more than a pale sickly creature who ran out of time.”  
She raised a brow at him when he stopped. “Is that it?” she asked. He nodded. He was a simple man, desperate, and dying. “Very well then,” she agreed.  
Lilith snapped her fingers together and a paper appeared on her desk in a puff of black smoke. He leaned over and looked at the page. The print was too fine for him to make out. But he made out key words here and there. Cure. Live. Travel.  
“It’s a contract,” she explained, “A mere technicality. Nothing to worry your ailing little head over.”
Marvin frowned as she held out a pen to him a moment later. But there was no going back now. He had tried everything else. He had a few more weeks left if that. This was it. This would work. He could feel it. “Where do I sign?” he asked.
“Initial on the short lines,” Lilith smiled, “And sign at the bottom.”

Marvin did as he was told. As his hand completed the last pen stroke he felt a bout of nausea. It was painful and dizzy. Hair began to sprout up on his arms and hands. His bones broke into a new anatomy. The pain grew just below his spine as a tail burst through his black trousers from behind.

“Don’t worry Mr. Abrams,” Lilith’s voice came through the fog, “The pain will soon end.”  
Marvin’s mind worked, even as he screamed. He tried to figure out what was happening. What he had done. As his feet burst through his shoes he looked down. They were not the feet of a man but those of a chimp. He knew then. The circus. The deformities. The freaks were all Lilith’s doing. The rat woman had been trying to warn him. Be specific she had advised.  
But I had been specific, Marvin thought as the pain ebbed and his body had settled into its new form. He had asked to be cured. He realized then that he did not feel sick. He had asked to be more than a mortal man and now he was. But this was not what he had wanted.  
Lilith stared him down with a smug expression. It was clear that she was pleased with her handiwork. “I think I will call you Marvin the Monkey,” she nodded to herself, undisturbed by his transformation, “It has a nice ring to it.”
Marvin tried to scream but his voice came out in unintelligible hoots and grunts.  
“Don’t be that way,” Lilith pouted, “You were one of the easier ones, so don’t start giving me attitude now. I gave you want you want. A cure and a long life. You’re more than a man now, you’re a chimp as well. And now that your soul belongs to me, you’re a part of the circus. That means that you go wherever we go. You were very specific indeed Mr. Abrams.”  
Marvin beat on her desk with the flats of his hands and screeched. He cursed her with his thoughts but his mind told him the truth. He had done this. He was to blame.  
“You’re going to make me cage you, aren’t you?” Lilith smirked, “You will be with us a very long time. You should really try and stay on my good side.”  
Marvin realized as Lilith laughed that she would take advantage of owning his soul despite his now extended life.  


Sunlight shown in through the bars of his cage. Marvin rolled over on the hay covered bottom as he heard the jingling of keys. He glanced mournfully at the books he would have to abandon momentarily in the corner of his cage as one of the workers stepped inside.

Lilith had been right. Marvin was alive. The sickness was gone. Still had his mind even with the deformation of his body. He could still read. While in his cage he had his solitude. When the circus traveled so did he. Just like he had stipulated. He had learned to be grateful for the little things.  

The shackles around his feet were unlocked and Marvin shuffled forward. As he stepped out of the cage he was greeted by Lilith. She wore a glittering purple costume and a smile. He might have strangled her with his newly clawed hands were it not for the fact that she owned him now. Even if he managed to kill her she would rise again a moment later. He would simply have to settle for dropping her prematurely during their trapeze act. It would not kill her. But it would hurt, he knew. He took some gratification in the thought as she placed a purple propeller cap atop his head.  

“Show time, my little monkey man,” Lilith beamed. She walked away, her hips swaying gracefully. Marvin sighed knowing he had no choice but to follow.  

The Greatest Show On Earth

By: Jasmine Griffin


​East Fork:

A Journal of the Arts​​