Monday, February 8, 2016

If I Were You - Part 7 - Out of the Sideshow and Into the Big Top

So Tom, after a busy day of using black magic to swap bodies with people against their will so he could be circus ringmaster for a day, has managed to frame himself for stealing the payroll and is now watching the lion tamer get mauled by a forty wild animals because Tom wanted to weasel out of his punishment.  In the big cage in front of a horrified audience, Jerry Gordon has lost his whip, his chair has been reduced to kindling, and his pistol's blanks are having no effect. 

Circus attendants are trying to use tear gas to calm the beasts, except it's been so long since they've used such precautions that... wow.  The one guy they have to throw the bombs forgot to pull the catch, so they just roll around on the floor.  Better recruit that one for the Apparatus.  And as horrified as everyone is, nobody is willing to actually enter the cage to try to save this guy.

All this to say, it's a strange situation.  Certainly not a good situation.  You could even say it's a... what's the word for when you make such a big mistake that someone dies?

Safe outside, Little Tom Little watched.  There was something all wrong about this, something horrible.

"Horrible," that's it!

He was the cause of Jerry Gordon's coming death.  He had done this to the man - and then he had slipped out of there, to remain safe and sound outside those bars.  Coward!  This was certain proof of it.  Craven coward, that's what he was, to cause another man's death and then let him die!

Coward, thief, murderer-by-inaction, warlock - there's a lot of charges to be applied.

Fortunately for Gordon, Tom growing a conscience also propels the little man into action, and he grabs a torch from a watching carny, slips through the bars of the cage, and rushes forward to help.  And it turns out a three-foot fella carrying a burning stick can succeed where a trained, hulking lion tamer with all of his accessories can fail.  In a berserk frenzy, Tom nearly shoves his torch down one tiger's throat, and when a lion pounces at him, a blow to its chest somehow causes the 400-pound killing machine to cancel its forward momentum and retreat instead of flattening the midget.  He is bowled "over and over" by one passing tiger, but Tom quickly recovers and continues flailing around his torch, until all forty beasts have retreated from the arena and a groaning Gordon is safe.

And there you have it - Little Tom Little has at last found his courage.  All he had to do was realize what a horrible person he was, and this self-loathing allowed him to do the right thing and save a man's life.  Which he put into danger in the first place, because again, Tom is a horrible person.

Tom comes out of his frenzy, drops the torch, and wonders if he's going to be sick.  Betty rushes in to sob over Gordon and confess that he was right about her and Schmidt, but she swears she'll make up for cheating on him.  A "doc" enters the cage to check on Gordon, but the lion tamer, having gone through the trauma of discovering his lover's infidelity, having his body stolen, and then getting mauled by his animals, shoves the doctor back and claims that "You think these cuts are anything, Doc?  Hell, man, I've been sick for weeks and weeks, but this is all I needed!" and limps off with Betty.  So he's... fine?  He's been sick but getting mangled set him straight?

Mrs. Johnson shows up and admits she doesn't know what to say, which is fair.  I don't think any of us are really prepared to see a three-foot-berserker accused of theft escape captivity to fight off forty big cats with a burning stick, even when black magic isn't involved.  Tom replies "Why say anything?" and starts patting his pockets, because like any good hobbit he's concerned about his handkerchief.

And then, well, remember when Tom and Schmidt swapped bodies, and Schmidt-in-Tom took the opportunity to raid his safe for all those incriminating documents and run off?  And then got caught, only for Tom to undo the body swap?  And then Schmidt took advantage of the situation to frame Tom for his own thefts?  Well, Schmidt made one teensie, catastrophic mistake - all those documents are still in Tom's pockets.

So instead of a hanky, Tom pulls out Schmidt's checkbook showing how he was making tens of thousands of dollars in three months despite a salary of just a few thousand dollars... and this is 1930's money?  Damn, I need to get in the circus biz.  Anyway, there's that, and Betty's letters to her "darling Hermann," and with this evidence in hand "a great light sizzled through" Tom.  Little feller's gone from black magic to blood rages to righteous fury all in one afternoon.  Pick a class and stick to it, munchkin.

At this point Schmidt-in-Schmidt makes his reappearance, accompanied by "two John Laws, men without imagination or a sense of the fitness of things."  We might say that the author is letting his biases towards law enforcement show here, but he could be writing for a specific audience, that anti-authority 1930's counterculture that liked stories with circus freak protagonists and evil wizards.  As such, the word "cop" or "police" will not appear in this story, instead any such officers are only referred to as "John Laws."

Schmidt sees what Tom's holding and quickly snatches it away and demands that those John Laws arrest him despite his recent heroism.  Tom demands that Schmidt give the goods back and threatens to tear his heart out.  Schmidt laughs.  And Tom attacks.  A boot to the shin brings Schmidt down, then Tom climbs up and stabs Schmidt's eyes with his thumbs, eeesh.  The Prussian giant knocks him back, but Tom instantly recovers, yelling for the checkbook.

Perhaps he had learned something from the tigers, or perhaps Schmidt looked small compared to a lion.  Anyway, small fists, correctly placed, and small boots stabbing sharp, and a small target which moves faster than the eye can follow will always be superior to slow and heavy brawn.  The John Laws gaped in amazement and got in each other's way.

So yeah, this is happening - immediately after getting kicked around in the process of fending off forty freakin' tigers, Tom is now going to town on big bad Schmidt.  The ringmaster ironically trips on the same dropped hoop that screwed over Tom-in-Gordon, Tom takes the opportunity to stomp Schmidt's solar plexus a few times, and out he goes.  Guess he... cut off blood flow to the brain or something?  I mean, I've never seen anyone knocked unconscious from blows to the belly or torso, but I don't get in many brawls.  The important thing is that Tom recovers the incriminating checkbook, gives it to Mrs. Johnson, and tells those useless John Laws who to arrest.

Oh, and Maizie's here too - she intervened when one of the John Laws tried to grab Tom, biting his hand and swatting his rear with a torch, an act of assaulting an officer that will go unremarked upon, let alone punished.  She gazes at Tom "hungrily" and gushes how she could tell when he was in the right body, but before she can praise his bravery Tom mercifully cuts her off.

"Forget it," said Tommy with a grin. "You were right and I was wrong. But I was right, too, you see,

That's not how you apologize, Tommy.

because... because... well, if the ghost of the Professor is around, I'll bet he's plenty disappointed.  He did me a favor, Maizie.  He showed me that I was a selfish fool, a coward.  I'm ashamed of myself.

And you should be!  You were stealing other people's lives to fulfill your own ambit-

I didn't think of you at all when I started this.

No, no, the bad thing you did wasn't failing to think of your girlfriend when you stole people's bodies, it was stealing people's bodies.  Well, I mean, ignoring your girlfriend isn't good either, but-

I won't ever do it again, Maizie.  Never... I promise!"

Unless, you know, someone yells at you loudly while you're startled and distracted, and whoosh you're suddenly a clown or something.  Damn trigger-happy soul-transfer magic.

Maizie's eyes were very bright.

"And you'll come back and be satisfied to be - a freak?"

"No!" cried Tommy.  "Who said anything about going back?  Look up there, Maizie!"

See, they're right next to the microphone platform in the big ring, and Tom promptly runs up, adjusts the mic, and gives the whole "Ladies an' gennulmen!" speech introducing the next act, because after all the show must go on.  Just because someone nearly died in the ring doesn't mean that they're canceling the night's fun, and of course the audience has stuck around instead of fleeing or anything.

It was Tommy the Showman, Tommy at his best, doing what he had longed to do, realizing the ambition that had burned all these years in his frail but valiant little body.

Tommy was glowing, vivid, terrifically alive - and happier than he had ever been in his life.

Maizie is briefly worried that having attained ultimate happiness, something might happen to snatch it all away, but Mrs. Johnson is watching approvingly, and the audience seems impressed with the crazed little midget who charged a bunch of wild animals and gave a man a savage beating a few moments ago.  She meets the smaller woman's eye and slowly nods "her much wiser old head," ellipses, end of story.

And that's that.  Tom uses dark magic left to him by a transparently evil wizard, steals peoples' bodies to fulfill his own ambitions and to avoid the consequences of his actions, accidentally thwarts an embezzlement scheme and manages to rescue someone he endangered in the first place, and so gets everything he ever wanted - to graduate from a sideshow freak to a novelty act in the big top, as a midget ringmaster.

Of course, the real moral of this story is that it's the soul that's important, not the body, but that said the body is pretty smart and can get you through a tough situation if you don't misjudge a step and fall on your ass because you're not used to that particular body.  And you might be able to find the courage to stand up for yourself and achieve your dreams if you nearly get someone killed and desperately act to save their life, so the next time someone tells you that some stunt is a terrible idea, that's a sure sign that it's an opportunity to better yourself, even if it leaves someone else hospitalized and scarred for life.

Also, ladies, if your boyfriend turns drunk and abusive when life takes a turn for the worst, don't trust any new love interests, they're only trying to exploit you.  Just tough it out, and beg your boyfriend's forgiveness if your heart wanders.

Or maybe a better moral is to not trust evil wizards.  Wait, or maybe you should trust them, because if Tom had never messed with black magic he'd never have (accidentally) thwarted Schmidt, put Gordon's life in danger, and thus found his courage.  It's not like Gordon seemed upset after being stuck in a three-foot body in a cell for a little bit. 

Or maybe that's the real lesson - the soul is what's important, not the body, so if someone steals your body, no biggie.

Back to Part 6

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