Friday, February 5, 2016

If I Were You - Part 6 - Lions and Tigers

To recap: using black magic learned from a dead wizard's collection of evil tomes, Tom the midget forcefully swapped bodies with circus ringmaster Schmidt, and was having a pretty good time until all of Schmidt's scheming and betrayals blew up in his face.  Then he swapped back with Schmidt, allowing the ringmaster to talk his way out of getting beat up and/or fired, but this put Tom back in danger because while Schmidt was in his body he tried to run out with stolen funds and got caught.  Tom tried to swap bodies with Schmidt again, but accidentally crossed souls with Gordon the lion-tamer instead, so that poor schmuck is now getting hauled away in Tom's little body for a crime committed by Schmidt.

Not a great situation to be in, right?

Having gotten out of the scrape so neatly, Tommy himself, now bronzed and strong, tall and handsome, felt quite elated about the matter.  Plainly he now had his chance.  He had the goods on Schmidt.  He merely had to turn the tables and wrest the proof, and all was well once more.

Tom's about as smart as he is moral.  His plan to deal with Schmidt is to pose dramatically and accuse Schmidt of "all the crimes he knew the ringmaster guilty of," such as... actually, what does Tom know Schmidt has done?  He knows Schmidt has blamed Tom for stealing circus funds, there's something about Betty and letters, and Mrs. Johnson is mad for some reason about the possibility of Schmidt being involved with someone.  There's obviously a few pieces missing in whatever scheme Schmidt is up to, and Tom doesn't have any concrete evidence to back up any half-baked accusations he makes.  More to the point, has he considered the potential reaction to Gordon suddenly making such half-baked accusations?  Immediately after nearly starting a fight over (what Schmidt claims is) a misunderstanding about his wife?

It's all moot, though - just before Tom-in-Gordon can confront Schmidt-in-Schmidt, there's a "long, stirring chord" from the main tent, and Betty says "That's your cue!"  And that's the downside of stealing the body of a lion tamer: people expect you to tame lions.  Or in this case, twenty lions, along with twenty tigers.  And poor Tom has been terrified of big cats ever since that time in St. Louis where one got lose and nearly ate him.

As such, Tom-in-Gordon is paralyzed with fear as Schmidt yells at him for holding up the show and Betty and Mrs. Johnson hustle him along.  On the bright side, his imminent grisly death has allowed Tom to Learn a Valuable Lesson.

How he had failed! Tommy thought.  Bodies did not seem to make any difference at all.  It was the soul of the man that counted.  What he was deep inside him, what courage and daring he might possess.  And if he were the biggest man in the world and possessed no strength of soul, he would still be a bumbling fool.

If only someone could come along and invent something for people like Tom, some way for them to strengthen their soul, to winnow out all the flaws and imperfections and allow them to reach their full potential.  Alas, it's too late for him.  He's already been dragged into the big tent in front of five thousand people, and because of his fear of kitties, Tom never watched Gordon work, so he can't even feign the man's routine.

There is a chance at escape, though - as Tom-in-Gordon is let to his doom, he spies Maizie sitting in the front row.  And once again a Hubbard character "somehow" knows something, as Tom is able to realize that Maizie was close enough to the commotion in Schmidt's wagon to figure out what's going on.  She yells to him "Look at me!  Save yourself!", offering Tom a chance to swap bodies and send another innocent person to be punished for his mistakes.  Except Schmidt intercepts her and shoves her back, allowing Tom to "discover another truth," that Schmidt has also figured out whose soul is in whose body and is trying to get Tom-in-Gordon killed.

Tom doesn't do anything with this knowledge, though, even as he asks himself why he's not fighting back.  To answer his own question, the narration explains "But Schmidt's grip on his arm was painful," so there you go.  One strong grip on one limb is all it takes to disable our hero, even when he's inhabiting the muscular body of a lion tamer.

The spotlight hits Tom-in-Gordon, Schmidt gives the bombastic introduction - and remember that this guy is supposedly pretty Prussian?  He doesn't have much of a German accent.  "Ladies and gennulmun, I give you the most fearless man who ever trod our earth's fair face, Jerry Gordon, Emperor of the Jungle Monarchs, Master of the Wurld's most dangerous animals!"  Not even a little und.

Anyway, once the show starts, Gordon's legs propel Tom forward almost on instinct, and that gives the little guy-inside-a-bigger guy hope that maybe muscle memory will get him through this hellish experience.  So he rallies, resolving to prove to himself that maybe he can do this.  Tom-in-Gordon "mechanically" cracks his whip and fires the blanks from his revolver, and the snarling, stinking lions and tigers all get on their perches.  All except one unruly lion, that is, but once again Gordon's body knows what to do, naturally using a chair to drive the animal back and into place.

And this is a bit confusing, Hubbard.  Earlier the lesson was "it's the soul that's important, not the body," except here Gordon's muscle memory is saving Tom's dubiously-heroic ass.  If the real moral is supposed to be that Tom just needed confidence, it falls a bit flat since Tom was totally terrified and was expecting to be torn apart by wild animals until said muscle memory kicked in.  In fact, Tom's misplaced soul and misguided confidence is what dooms him.

Everything's going swimmingly, Tom-in-Gordon is cracking the whip and firing his pistol to put the lions and tigers through their paces, and the act gets to the part where one tiger rushes him but is driven back when Gordon advances on her behind a chair, glaring at the beast until his gaze hypnotizes the tiger into submission.  Except because it's Tom-in-Gordon, and he's used to being much smaller than he is now, he takes three steps where he should have taken one, proceeds to trip on a dropped hoop, and falls onto his back.  The lions and tigers react like any good predators would in this situation, and turn upon their handler.

Immediate death was not scheduled by fate in that instant,

Ouch, that might be the worst string of words in the story thus far.

for a great lion jostled a tiger as they both leaped in the van.  Blood enemies, personal enemies, they whirled and met with a thud which shook the bars like straws.

So it all goes to hell.  The big cats are having a snarling tussle, circus workers are trying to intervene with sharp sticks and burning brands poked through the big cage's bars, the audience has "gone crazy" which is to say that everyone's gone silent... huh.  Crazy silent.  Anyway, Tom seems to be thoroughly boned, until...

"You fools!" screamed a shrill voice.  "You fools, get away from that door!"

Tommy, through the haze of battle, saw a sight which came into his consciousness more acutely than even the shock of immediate death.

Or maybe that's the worst string of words.

Yes, "Somehow" Gordon-in-Tom has gotten free of his captors, come to the ring, and upon seeing his body about to get torn apart by dozens of lions and tigers, is doing his damnedest to save Tom-in-Gordon.  "He belonged in that cage, and he was fighting his way to it."  He yells at Tom-in-Gordon to use his pistol, and... oh good grief.

And in that instant the thing was again effected.

Okay, that sentence is less inherently cringeworthy than the others, but it's still pretty bad.

Tommy could not have helped it had he tried. He had been called, the words were hot in his brain, and a moment later all the strain was done. For there he stood, safe outside the cage, staring in at Jerry Gordon, all buried underneath the savage cats!

So the body swap mechanic has gone from requiring sustained eye contact and a muttered incantation, to misfiring and sending a concentrating Tom into the wrong body based on someone speaking to him without eye contact, to just going off unintentionally because someone off a ways was yelling at him.  This is some twitchy-ass magic.  It's a wonder the Magician didn't swap bodies five times a day whenever someone looked at him or talked to him bumped into him on the way to the can.

But there we go, Tom's back in his original three-foot body.  Things are looking pretty good!

Here he was safe.  He had turned the tables again.  There was Gordon in his rightful self.  Here was he, Tommy-

Jerry Gordon, beneath the howling hell, blazed away hysterically with his revolver, straight up into the bodies of the brutes.  But the bit of powder had only one effect.  They had forgotten Gordon.  They had been intent upon killing each other.  But the sting in the bellies of the lion and the tiger made them leap back away from one another and see their original goal.

Well, at least he'll be torn apart in the right body.  And again, I guess the important thing is that Tom is once again safe and has escaped the consequences of his actions.

Back to Chapter 5

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