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Story #3: Mr. Snaggle's Oddities

Mr. Snaggle's Oddities is about a young boy named Peter who finds the old man who moves in down the street from his house quite strange indeed. Especially when he puts up three colorful tents instead of a house! When old Mr. Snaggle opens a private circus tent kids in the neighborhood begin to disappear, and all the parents insist their kids are just away at Summer camp despite it being the end of Summer. Peter must discover what's really going on before he too disappears. This story consisted of nine parts.

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Part One, August 25, 2009

Peter Morgan just didn't trust old Mr. Snaggle. There was something strange about the man, even if he couldn�t put his finger on what exactly. Perhaps it was his circus, or that he lived in a giant green tent.

Peter tried to tell his friend his thoughts about the man, but Jackson wouldn�t listen. To him, it was all about the exotic animals. Nothing else mattered. That was how Peter found himself riding his bike to the opening of Mr. Snaggle's twisted circus.

He�d passed by the place-which was not really up to circus standards by his estimation-often enough. Old Mr. Snaggle bought the large empty lot at the very end of the street, three blocks down from his own house, a couple weeks back. There was no house on the lot. Instead, Mr. Snaggle put up three large, colorful tents.

Peter had marveled over them when they first went up, but every day he passed by them they seemed more and more strange. It was his parents that pointed out the oddities. They wondered why anyone would want to live in a tent anyway, and how the man kept out intruders without any doors.

Jackson rode in front of him, making it impossible to talk during the short trip. His friend was just about bouncing off his seat he was so excited. Peter just tried to keep up. Lots of the kids around the neighborhood seemed happy about the largest of the three tents being opened for the first time today.

The colorful tents came into view as they circled around the final curve in the road. Strange or not, they were splendid. The smallest of the three was neon green. The others were purple and yellow. The yellow tent, the largest of them, was the circus tent.

Peter had been to a circus before, a proper circus, and that had been much bigger than all three tents combined. He didn�t see the big deal of this one, even if it was on their street. Really though, it wasn't even that. He was excited at the prospect of the rare things they would see today. It just came back to there being something off about Mr. Snaggle himself.

His parents seemed to agree, it was all they had been talking about for days. He'd had to convince them to let him see the circus when it opened. They made him earn his own entrance fee, but Peter didn�t mind.

Approaching the tent, the boys left their bike�s locked to a tree and made their way toward the tent. Peter looked over the new sign above then entrance. It was done in colorful paint and had shapes and symbols all along the edges.

MR. SNAGGLE'S ODDITIES
Home to the Unnatural and Weird

Despite himself, Peter smiled. He had to admit that sounded like a place he'd enjoy.

"Come on, let's go have a look." Jackson said.

"Not so fast, kids." Peter gulped at the words and turned to their source. Everybody in the neighborhood knew Billy�s voice. Billy was going on to high school this year and thought that gave him a right to pick on everyone smaller than him. It had been a rough summer with him around.

"We don�t want any trouble." Peter said, frowning. The older boy had a friend with him. Peter got the feeling he knew where this was heading.

"I made a bet with Todd here, told him I thought we could get in for free today." Billy said, ignoring his comment completely.

"That's impossible," Jackson countered, "the price is five dollars. It says right there on the sign."

"That's right. Dang, I guess I lose, Todd." Billy smiled at his friend with a troubling grin. "Well, that's a shame. We�ll just have to take your entry money then, I guess."

Jackson paled a little at the realization. He turned to Peter with a look of defeat. They both knew better than to argue with the older boy. If they did, they'd lose their money anyway and probably a black eye for their effort.

Reluctant, both boys pulled out the few dollars they had managed to earn with chores.

"And what do we have here?" The booming voice made Peter jump. It came from old Mr. Snaggle, sweeping out of his tent with a flourish of his cloak. The cloak was another of his strange habits. It was green and made of thick material. Peter thought it was great, but his parents both considered it very odd for a grown man. It seemed to fit a man who lived in bright tents to Peter.

Peter and Jackson, money in hand, stood dumbfounded. Neither had any idea what to do. It didn�t seem like a good idea to tell on the older kids. They would surely pay for it later if they did.

"We were just asking our friends if we could borrow the entry fee. We forgot our money at home, you see?" Billy explained, looking as innocent as possible.

"I see," the old man repeated, eyeing them all at once it seemed. "Well that sounds good to me," he said, pausing while Billy smiled. "Of course, that means these lads have enough to pay for all four of you, yes? Let's see the money, and then I will show you things you've never imagined."

Billy's smile disappeared. Peter would have laughed had it been safe to do so, how was he going to answer without smiling? Billy saved him from having to find out.

"It doesn't even matter. I didn�t want to see the stupid circus anyway. Come on, Todd. Let's go sneak into a movie or something." The two stalked away angrily.

Smiling widely, Peter looked up at Mr. Snaggle and said, "thank you."

"Think nothing of it, my dear boy. And may I bid you welcome to my circus of oddities." The old man flourished his cloak again, sweeping it out beside him as if to gesture toward the entrance. "For only five dollars, you can be the first to witness my collection of all things intriguing, baffling to scientists, thing unexplainable by experts all over the world. Enter, and see the impossible."

Peter laughed in delight and his friend was clapping along with every word. The old man had a way of speaking that he'd never heard before. Why had he ever doubted coming to this place?

They both raised their hands to pay the man and he paused as if in thought. "In fact, for being my first visitors, why don't you go ahead and keep your money. How does that sound? All I ask is that you tell others of what you see today, can you do that?"

Peter looked at his friend in wonder and they both nodded vigorously. To think they both now had five dollars! He turned to thank Mr. Snaggle again. In the back of his mind he remembered thinking there was something strange about the man. Then they went into the tent, and he forgot all about the things he�d been told.

Part Two, September 1, 2009

Peter opened the front door feeling quite excited about telling his parents of all the fun things he�d seen at the circus. It had closed a couple hours ago now, but his friend's family liked the idea of the circus and made it fun talking to about it. Mr. Snaggle had so many stories to tell that they�d ended up staying the whole day. The more kids that showed up, the more interesting the stories became.

The smell of dinner from another room distracted all other thoughts. His stomach growled at the delicious smells reminding him of dinner time. He found his parents already sitting at the table, waiting for him.

"You almost missed dinner, you know? Have you been down at that circus all day?" His mother asked, not unkindly.

His father had more irritation in his voice. "So, was it everything you'd hoped?" Neither was enough to make Peter forget the fun of the day though.

"It was," he said, "there was an enormous toad with three heads! And I saw a monkey that could fit into the palm of my hand. I'm serious, I saw it with my own eyes!" His parents only looked at each other in disbelief.

"Nothing more than illusions, I'm sure." His father's words made Peter's jaw drop open. "Go on in the kitchen, Pete. Clean your hands and come eat. You can tell us all about it."

With a sigh of disappointment, Peter went into the kitchen to do what he was told. Why did he think they would care? They never liked the things he did.

Back in the dining room, his parents were already filling their plates with food. He smiled at the sight of it all. It wasn't often that his dad cooked, but it was obvious when he did. He always made way more than they could eat.

Tonight was some sort of chicken dish, with a red sauce he didn't recognize. To go with it, there were two kinds of rolls. And three other bowls that he could only tell certain ingredients from. It all smelled wonderful. His stomach grumbled again at those smells, so he sat down quickly at the table.

Peter scooped different dishes onto his plate while he tried to think of something his parents might like to hear about from the circus. It seemed so obvious when it finally came to him.

"There was one one thing that was really weird about the circus. I bet you guys would like that since you think Mr. Snaggle is so strange and all."

"Honey," his mother interrupted, "it isn't polite to talk about Mr. Snaggle like that."

"You know better than that, Pete." His father finished the thought for her.

Neither stopped eating. Peter stared at them back and forth without saying anything. He just couldn't think of anything to say. It's not polite for me to talk about strangers, he thought?

"But, you were the ones so convinced he was a strange old man." His argument fell upon deaf ears. His parents just stared without expression.

"Did we, now? Well I guess we just had to sit down and think it through." Said his father with a shrug, and his mother nodded in agreement. Peter didn't know what to think. Five minutes ago they obviously had felt completely different!

He didn't feel much like telling them about his day after that. It didn't seem to bother his parents either. So they sat there, eating in silence.

(*****)

Billy had watched all the kids pour out of the circus when it was time to close. He watched over the tent for a couple of hours to make sure than the old man living there had moved on to one of his other ridiculous tents. He had it in for Snaggle for making a fool of him earlier.

Maybe trashing his tent will teach him to mess with me , he thought. The sun went down early this time of year, which was all the better to him, because he didn't want anyone to see him sneaking into the circus.

He walked slowly up to the bright yellow entry flap and peaked his head inside to make sure nobody was there. The place was dark without any lights on. He sighed at not having brought a flashlight.

Billy crept through trying to peak into different cages and glass tanks. This was pointless, he couldn't see anything at all in the dark. He leaned close into one enclosure and the biggest snake he'd ever scene hissed and attacked him. Billy fell back against a wooden block, his heart pounding in his chest.

He leaned in again to notice the snake in a glass enclosure. Billy breathed a little easier. Then he blinked at the realization that the snake, which he recognized as a cobra, had two heads! He decided not to release that one.

Then he felt something touch his back. Billy jumped, turning in alarm, but his cry was cut off short. The last thing he saw was a shadowed outline of a beast, towering in the darkness.

Part Three, September 8, 2009

Peter was bored. He put on a video game, but he just didn't feel like playing it and turned it off. He looked over the books on the small bookshelf in his room, but he'd read them all, some more than once.

He sighed and lay back down on his bed. Above the bed was a poster of his favorite comic book hero. He wanted adventures like the ones Spider Man got to go on. An ordinary kid that woke up to realize he was special. Every morning Peter hoped that he would put on his glasses only to find that he didn't need them either. So far it hadn't happened.

He stood and jumped on his bed pretending he was shooting webs from his wrists. A loud thud caught his attention and made him stop. He plopped down on all fours and crawled over to look off the edge.

Sitting on the floor, apparently knocked off by his bouncing, was an old leather book. That was weird, it surely hadn't been there before. Peter didn't recognize the book at all.

Intrigued, he jumped backward to sit on the bed with the book in his hands. He was about to open it when he heard laughter from downstairs. Wondering who it might be, Peter left the book hanging over the edge of the bed and ran downstairs.

"I didn't know we were having company today." Peter said as he entered the kitchen. Then he noticed Mr. Snaggle sitting with a coffee cup in hand. What was he doing here?

"Ah, speak of the little devil and he shall appear. Pete, come over here, Mr. Snaggle has something to ask you." Peter's father said.

Last night had been weird, but this was downright strange! What was happening to his parents? It's like everything they thought was changing. It made him very nervous. But, seeing as how he no other option, he approached them.

"What is it?" He asked.

"My boy," Mr. Snaggle began with his usual grandiose speech, "have I got the opportunity of a lifetime for you! How would you like to become my own personal assistant at the circus? You can help me with the animals, show around visitors, things like that? Would you like that, Peter?"

Peter's suspicions disappeared in an instant. "Would I!? Is it really okay Mom?"

"It's okay with us." She smiled down at him. "Of course, you'll have to finish your reading assignments before school starts back up."

"I finished those weeks ago, you know that, I told you." Peter said, and his mom looked confused for a second.

"I see, well I guess I must have forgotten about that. Then I see no reason why you shouldn't. It sounds like a great opportunity."

Peter smiled. "I'll go get my shoes on, can you show me around today, Mr. Snaggle?" He asked.

"Of course, my boy. I'll go on ahead, you just come whenever you are ready, alright?"

"Alright, I'll be there soon, I promise."

With that he ran back upstairs to get ready. He grabbed his shoes and jumped on his bed to put them on. When he was done he hopped up again and headed for the door.

As he stood, he heard another thud and looked back to the old book that had fallen off the bed again. He'd forgotten all about it. Oh well, it would be there he got back home, whatever it was.

Peter rode his bike as fast as he could to Mr. Snaggle's tents. A job at a circus, how cool was that? He couldn't wait to tell his friend all about it. After he got the behind-the-scenes tour of course. Jackson had seen everything he'd seen so far, it would be more fun to get to tell him something new.

He found Mr. Snaggle waiting for him outside the tent. He could tell from the cars lining the circle that many people were already visiting. Peter wondered how Mr. Snaggle had watched over the place while coming to visit him. Maybe he had just opened it up for the day.

"Peter, my boy, come on inside with me." Mr. Snaggle led him into the tent. Peter smiled again at the sight. Rows of exhibits formed makeshift aisles for people to walk down. There were a lot of people inside the tent, pointing and gawking at the many strange things.

He'd listened to all the stories the other day with great interest, so Peter had some idea of where these creatures came from originally. Mr. Snaggle had traveled all over the world collecting his odd freaks of nature.

The old man stopped in front of the biggest toad he'd ever seen before. "This is a gluttonous animal to be sure. Do you know the word?" Peter nodded and the man smiled at him. "Of course you do, well he must be fed a great deal. Look, he's gotten so dependent on being fed that he hardly moves around at all." Peter thought there was something sad about that, but Mr. Snaggle was already moving on.

"This over here," he gestured to a monkey hanging from its tail, no, it was hanging from two tails! "This little guy is far too hyperactive. Some seem to think the extra energy is connected to his two tails." Mr. Snaggle laughed at that.

"What do you think it has to do with?" Peter asked. Mr. Snaggle looked down at him with a smile.

"You are a good observer, Peter, I like that. I suppose I think that just happens in nature. Some are born calm, others just cannot seem to keep their hands to themselves." As he said it he moved further down the aisle. That wasn't really an answer by Peter's estimation, but he let it go and followed the old man anyway.

Mr. Snaggle led them through the exhibits, telling him the eating habits of different animals. Peter assumed it was because those would be the animals that were his responsibility. Some he skipped all together. Like the King Cobra that had two heads and the alligator with a second head instead of a tail! Peter was relieved that those would not be his responsibility.

When they got to the end of the aisles the people that had been there when he arrived were gone. In their place were other people. Most of them he didn't recognize. Peter wondered just how far people traveled to come see this circus.

"Come, Peter, through here." Mr. Snaggle led them out of one tent into the one next to it. It looked like a science laboratory. There were long tables with instruments that he didn't recognize, and lots of beakers, some empty and others with colorful, bubbling liquids.

"What's in this one?" Peter asked. There was something drawing him to one beaker full of a dark green liquid. It had smoke pouring out of it, creating a little cloud on the counter.

Mr. Snaggle smiled and warned him not to get too close to that one. "It's a special shampoo for some of the animals. I make all my own supplies. Everything from shampoo to food. Only the best for my exhibits."

"How neat, can I help you with this stuff too?" He asked.

"Why, of course you can my boy, of course you can. For now though, I fear you must get back home. As they say, time flies when you are having fun. Your parents made me promise to send you home for meals."

Peter was feeling rather hungry now that he mentioned it. "When can I come back?"

"Any time you like, of course."

Peter smiled. He had the feeling he was going to like being Mr. Snaggle's apprentice. He moved to leave the tent and head home.

"Oh Peter, one more thing before you go." He turned back to face Mr. Snaggle, who now wore a very serious expression. "You are welcome back here any time, but I do not ever want to catch you in this tent without my express permission, alright?"

It seemed like an odd request, unless he thought Peter would break something, either way he saw no problem with it. He shrugged and nodded in agreement. "See you later, Mr. Snaggle. Thanks again for letting me help you out!" The old man nodded with a smile and Peter left for home.

Part Four, September 15, 2009

Peter thought of the last few days as apprentice at the circus while he got ready. So far, it had been everything he'd hoped it would be. Mr. Snaggle had even gotten a couple new animals since he started. All of them came from places Peter had never heard of.

With a weary step, Peter got out the door before his parents could ask him to do some other task that he'd already taken care of. It was very strange the way they were treating him lately. In every other way they seemed completely themselves, but anything to do with him and they seemed distant.

He hopped onto his bike and left for Jackson's house. His family had gotten home from vacation the night before. Peter was excited to tell him all about all his work at the circus. When he got there, he noticed John and Tyler were over as well. He left his bike laying next to theirs and headed for the back yard.

He was surprised to find the three of them actually sitting in the back yard. He hadn't expected that, it was just the way he went in to his friend's house. They were usually in the living room anyway, and always waved him inside through the large windows. It looked like Jackson and the other boys were throwing rocks into a beat up coffee can and having a very serious discussion.

"How was your trip?" Peter asked.

The three looked up and waved him to come over. When he did, they continued on with their conversation. Jackson didn't seem to have heard his question. Of all things, they were talking about Mr. Snaggle. What were the odds?

"He's who I came to talk to you about actually." He said with a smile.

They all looked at him suspiciously for some reason. It took away his smile. "Oh yea? So have you been noticing all the weird things going on lately too?" Jackson asked.

The question caught him off guard. "Um... no, what do you mean?"

"Well, Tyler noticed that a few kids have been missing. The bully from down the street, and a couple of his friends."

"Billy?" They all nodded in agreement. "Maybe they just went out of town, you just got back after all." He said.

"His parents are still at home. That wouldn't make any sense. Besides, I asked my parents and they told me he was sent away to camp. She said they all were." Tyler said.

"Sent to camp?" Peter asked. "At the very end of Summer vacation?" All four of them had gone to camp, but they'd gotten back almost a month ago now.

"I'm telling you," John said, "it is old man Snaggle. It has to be."

"What about him?" Peter asked.

"Oh right, that's what we were talking about when you got here." Jackson said. "All these weird things that keep happening seemed to start when he moved here."

"Kids going away to camp isn't all that weird, you know?"

Jackson looked at him very seriously. "It's not just that. It's my mom, she's been acting so strange lately. She can't seem to remember anything. I thought it was nothing until they both said the same thing." He gestured to Tyler and John. "We talked about it and we decided it all started when that crazy old man moved here. We're going to sneak out tonight and go have a look inside those tents. Want to come?"

Peter gulped. He no longer wanted to tell them about him being the man's apprentice. He certainly didn't want to go sneaking into his tents either though. He tried to think of something, but nothing came.

"What's wrong, if you don't want to do it you don't have to." Jackson said. "Anyway, what did you come to tell me? You never did say."

"Oh, it's nothing. I just wanted to see how your trip was. I can't go tonight, my parents have been acting strange too. They keep adding all these new rules. Do you really think he could have something to do with it?"

"Of course, what else could it be?" Jackson's tone showed that he'd made up his mind. It made him feel guilty about not being honest with them.

"Are you sure you should go though? He has signs up warning about trespassing. What if you get caught?"

"He can't possibly watch the place all the time. We'll just wait till he should be asleep. What's the worst that could happen?" His friend smiled with confidence. He'd always admired that about Jackson, but now it was making him very nervous.

He sat with them while they planned out their adventure. Peter wondered what he should do while they took turns throwing rocks. He couldn't very well warn Mr. Snaggle and go against his own friends. All he could do was sit back and do nothing, hoping that everything turned out alright.

After awhile Jackson's mom came out to say she was going out for awhile and to call her if anything was wrong. They took the opportunity to go inside and play some video games. Apparently, the three were just avoiding her.

Peter noticed it was getting darker outside and looked at the clock. "Well, I guess I better get home. Be careful tonight, okay guys?" He said.

They all nodded and said their goodbyes. Peter rode home and closed the door quietly. With any luck he wouldn't have to come out of his room until it was time to eat. Not that his time was being spent any better pacing back and forth across his room.

Eventually, he decided there was nothing else to do but go tonight as well. So he sat through another quiet dinner and waited for his parents to go to bed. Then he climbed out of his bedroom window and rode his bike to the circus tents. He just couldn't decide who it was exactly that he was going for. His friends or Mr. Snaggle?

Peter found the three boys' bikes hidden in some tall grass near the tents. The circus looked much creepier at night. The three tents looked more like different shades of gray in the moonlight.

He crept up the entrance to the circus and peeked his head inside the tent flap. It really was strange that the man did not get robbed more often considering anybody could walk right in. The tent was much darker than he was expecting it to be, but he had the place pretty much memorized.

As he looked around he got more and more nervous about his friends. He couldn't find them anywhere. At the end of the aisles he came to the exit. Or there was the side path that led into the laboratory of course, but he'd been forbidden to enter it without permission.

With a frown, he made his decision and walked to the other entrance. He had to know if his friends were alright. Surely he could explain himself to Mr. Snaggle if he had to.

Peter took a deep breath and opened the flap a little bit. He was surprised to find light coming from the other side. The source of it seemed to be moving around. After a few seconds he realized it was coming from a candle. He was about to poke his head into the tent when he heard a voice from the other side. He couldn't make out what it said, but it sounded like Mr. Snaggle. Then the light trailed off the other direction and disappeared.

Without making a noise, Peter crept into the tent to where the talking seemed to have come from. He hoped to find his friends, but only noticed two very large caged rats. Something about the voice he heard clicked in his mind. Sneak in like rats... Peter blinked.

The two rats noticed him and rushed to the edge of the cage whining. The noise was very loud. He whispered for them to be quiet, and remarkably they did. What was going on here? He looked at the cages, but they were locked tight with a numbered padlock. He'd never guess the right combination.

Maybe he was imagining it, but the two actually looked like Tyler and John. Thinking about all the animals behind him, Peter shuddered. No, that didn't make any sense. He heard a noise and whispered to the rats, "I'll figure something out." Then he moved quickly to the main circus tent.

Peter quietly closed the tent flap and moved toward the exit. Whatever he was going to do, it didn't involve confronting the man. He needed time to think about it. He even laughed a little at talking to rats. What could it hurt? If they were his friends they would hopefully understand, and if not who cares? He thought about his words. If they were his friends? That was crazy, and if it were true, then where was Jackson?

Something caught his attention from the side. It was the two-tailed monkey ushering him to come over. Peter had never seen a monkey do that before. The little guy had something in his hand and gave it to Peter when he came near. He took the paper, but couldn't read what was on it in the dark. The monkey then made a noise and pointed toward the exit. Very strange indeed.

When he got outside and a street away he stopped under a street light and pulled the note out of his pocket. It just had one word on it, scribbled to the point of hardly being legible at all.

All it said, in bold letters, was BOOK.

Part Five, September 22, 2009

The next morning Peter woke up very early. He paced across his room waiting for even a peep from the hallway. After what felt like a lifetime, he heard something.

Peter waited for a few minutes while the steps moved past his door and down the stairs. Then he left his room and followed to the kitchen. His mom looked surprised at seeing him awake.

"What are you doing up so early?" She asked.

"Oh I don't know, I couldn't sleep I guess."

"Can I get you some breakfast? What would you like?"

"I'm not hungry. Mom, I saw something at Mr. Snaggle's last night. I think he's done something with my friends."

"That's quite a story, maybe all this work you do at the circus has you a bit on edge." She laughed the words.

"I'm not kidding, I followed Jackson and a couple others to his tent last night. I saw their bikes in the grass nearby. I really think he did something to him." She just laughed even harder.

"That's ridiculous, Peter, stop telling stories. I happen to know for a fact that Jackson is away at camp right now."

Peter froze. His mother was just looking down at him as if expecting him to say something. The words just wouldn't come.

"Oh that's right, I must have forgotten."

His mother smiled. "It happens to the best of us. Now go get dressed, Mr. Snaggle wanted you to come in today. I told him I would send you along whenever you got up. I didn't think it would be so early, but I don't think he'll mind."

Peter's shoulders dropped and he slid off the stool. What would he want to tell him? Should he ask him about what he saw? He stopped before he left the kitchen and turned back to his mom. He's almost forgotten all about it.

"Mom, there was a really old book in my room. I can't seem to find it anywhere, have you seen it?"

"Yes, dear, it's on the shelf in your closet. Can't imagine why you wouldn't think to check there." Despite everything, that made him smile. It was more like his mom than he'd seen in days. Peter never did check his closet. "Where did you get that old thing anyway?"

"From Jackson," he lied. "His uncle found it at a garage sale and got it for him."

"Well, don't spend all day reading it up there. You can look it over when you get back from the circus."

Peter frowned and agreed. In his room, he pulled the book out of his closet and hid it in one of his drawers. He wasn't really sure why, but it seemed like a good idea. Away at camp, that was the same thing his friends had said about Billy's mom. It was beyond coincidence. Not to mention it was impossible, Peter knew very well that Jackson didn't leave for camp. He had the feeling if he went to check, John and Tyler will have left too.

No, whatever was going on seemed to be affecting parents. That made him nervous since Peter was worried that their children were being turned into animals. What might be in the book that would help him figure it out? Whatever it was, it would have to wait until he got home.

He got dressed and rode his bike to the end of the street. There were cars lining the street now, and luckily Mr. Snaggle seemed busy. Peter walked out to the field of grass next to the tent and frowned when he found the three abandoned bicycles. That was proof enough that they never went home.

Nervous, Peter headed into the circus tent. The place had been completely re-arranged to allow for a large stage in the center of the tent. His jaw dropped when he saw the two large rats that were on display there. All around the stage people who shouting and laughing.

"Quite large, aren't they? Just got them in this morning. Some of my best exhibits so far if I do say so myself." He hadn't realized Mr. Snaggle was standing next to him.

A few days ago that comment wouldn't have seemed strange to him. Now he saw it for what Mr. Snaggle really meant. He was getting better at turning kids into animals. It made sense the more he thought about it. Despite their size, the rats looked almost real. No extra tails, or eyes, or faces.

"Where did you get them?"

"From a very small island in the Pacific. It's not even on most maps. Come, Peter, I have something I wish to discuss with you." He held out his arm pointing to the laboratory.

"What about the crowd, who's going to watch them?"

"There's no need to worry, I have everything under control."

In the lab the old man gestured to a stool for Peter to sit on. "Peter, the time is coming that I will be leaving this place. My show travels all over the world of course. I never stay in one place for very long." Peter grew more nervous with every word. "You are special, do you know that? I have met thousands of kids looking for even one like you."

"Like me?" He asked, suddenly curious. Mr. Snaggle smiled down at him.

"Yes, you have a wonderful ability inside you, it's just waiting to burst. I could tell from the very first time we met. It's why I asked you to be my apprentice here."

"What kind of ability?"

"Everything on this earth has something most people cannot see. These special properties can be changed, sometimes they can be made more powerful. Few people have the ability to discover these properties, even fewer can actually use them. This," he spread his hand to gesture to the whole laboratory, "is where I experiment with these different properties. You have this ability as well, Peter."

"So... you, like, make potions?" The old man laughed.

"Yes, my boy, something like that."

Peter gasped. "And, you are saying that I can make potions too?" This was not what he had expected to talk about at all. How exciting! Then he thought of the rats outside and his excitement was gone in an instant. How did Mr. Snaggle always do that?

"What is it, Peter?"

"Um, nothing. You said you were leaving soon. So obviously I'm not going to get to learn any of it." The answer surprised Peter, it was actually a very good lie.

"That is what I wanted to talk to you about, Peter. I have already spoken to your parents, and they've agreed that it would be great if you got to travel with me for the rest of your Summer break! Isn't that wonderful?"

Peter blinked in surprise.

Part Six, October 6, 2009

Peter did his best to seem excited about the prospect of spending the rest of his Summer with Mr. Snaggle. Inside there was something else going on entirely, he felt sick to his stomach from all the worry. He finished all his duties-trying very hard to avoid and ignore his friends-and made his way back home. It seemed a safe bet that his parents were going to side with Mr. Snaggle on this, but he had to try to talk them out of it.

Whatever the man claimed, Peter was sure that Mr. Snaggle had no intention at all of letting him come home at the end of the Summer. How was he supposed to convince his parents of that though? He seemed to have them completely under some kind of spell.

Peter stopped suddenly. Mr. Snaggle said he mixed together concoctions. He'd laughed when Peter called them potions, but wasn't that exactly what he was making? The thought of Mr. Snaggle in his kitchen drinking tea with his parents came back to him then. That must be how he was controlling his parents!

If that were true, then what if there were a potion that would reverse the affects as well? He had to get home and check that old book. It just had to have something inside it to help him. And maybe he could find out about what was given to his parents as well. Peter ran all the way home, smiling for the first time all day.

When he got there, nothing was as he'd expected. Peter found two large suitcases in the entry way. They weren't his, but it seemed a safe bet they were for him. His parents, smiling very wide, came to greet him. It was a bit unnerving.

"Mr. Snaggle told us the great news! I bet you're pretty excited?" Peter's mother said. "It was so hard for me not to say something this morning." She seemed so genuinely happy for him, could all that just be the potion? Or did some part of her want him to leave?

"Um, I was actually kind of hoping I could choose not to go. I haven't gotten to see Jackson much lately, you know?" He knew the words were wrong as they came out.

"Well he won't be back till the end of Summer anyway. He's away at camp, remember?" She turned to his father, "How quickly they forget!" They both laughed at the joke. Peter only frowned.

"Mom, I don't trust Mr. Snaggle. I really don't want to go. Please, don't make me. You can just say I had something else I had to do. Maybe I could go see Grandma?"

"You know, Pete," his dad interrupted, "you said the same thing about Summer camp the first time you went. Don't you remember how much fun you had despite all those complaints? I'm sure this is no different, it's always a little frightening to try something new. But that's certainly no reason not to try it."

Peter sighed, he knew when it was a lost cause. "Alright, why have you already packed for me? He said he wasn't leaving for a few days?"

"Those aren't for you, you know those aren't your bags." His mother laughed and grabbed his father's hand. "We've decided to go on a little vacation of our own while you are gone. We haven't traveled alone together since our honeymoon." She smiled and put an arm around his father.

"You're what!? Where are you going? What if I need something?" Peter's heart raced.

"Mr. Snaggle has our cell phone numbers and the numbers for our hotel rooms every single night. You have nothing to worry about. We're going to Europe. It will be so romantic." She smiled. Peter hated how everything seemed decided already.

He wanted to be happy for her, he really did. But they were going to Europe!? He'd thought they meant to another city, not another country! Peter was growing more and more convinced that he would never see his parents again.

He knew he didn't have much time. Remembering the curiosity about potions, he excused himself and ran to the kitchen for a drink. There were three pitchers in the fridge, but one he recognized, so he just dumped out the other two just to be safe. One definitely looked like some kind of tea.

When he went back into the entryway, he found his parents had already gone back to whatever they were doing. He made sure nobody was around and looked into their bags. Sure enough he found a big bundle of tea bags. Smiling at figuring it all out, Peter took out the tea bags and took them upstairs with him. Now he just had to keep them from drinking any more of the stuff, then maybe they wouldn't leave. He wondered how long the affects would last.

In his room, Peter took the old book out of his dresser and sat down on the floor to look it over. Just as he'd hoped, it was all about recipes and it even had personal notes written in the margins.

As the book progressed, Peter began to understand Mr. Snaggle more and more. He could tell which notes came first, and his research seemed to begin innocently enough. It seemed the need to try his potions on more intelligent subjects was where he strayed from harmless tactics. Or maybe he wanted to all along, slowly working up the nerve.

As he read, his thoughts turned to how he might use this knowledge to his advantage. Maybe he really could make things that would reverse the affects of what Mr. Snaggle had been doing. Peter knew one thing at least, he didn't have very much time to figure it out.

Part Seven, October 13, 2009

Things just didn't go very well for Peter over the next few days. His master plan of curing his parents backfired, earning him a long lecture about privacy and wastefulness. On top of that, it hadn't even worked. They found the tea bags in his room before he even woke up.

Every day that passed his parents asked him to spend more and more time with Mr. Snaggle as well. They became more and more distant, even staying in their rooms more than anything else even when he was home. With his friends gone, it was all very lonely. A small part of him began to wonder if things would be better with Mr. Snaggle after all. At least he was always excited to see him.

The one good thing about all the time by himself was that he was beginning to understand the old book he'd found. There was a lot more to mixing potions than he had guessed at first. In the movies it was just about pouring it the right sorts of ingredients, and getting to recite some cool magic words of course. In reality, it was much simpler, true, but it was much cooler he thought.

Peter did notice after a while that the animals had some understanding of him. He noticed it because he was trying to tell his rat friends that he was going to rescue them. They seemed very relieved by the news, so he began talking to the other animals as well. Some didn't seem to figure it out, but others also seemed a bit relieved. That only offered mixed emotions though. He was happy to try, but what if he failed? How many of these animals had tried the same thing?

He'd made it a point to act as excited as he could around Mr. Snaggle in the laboratory. It was the key to everything. The old man had complimented him again and again on his wonderful achievements. It seemed Mr. Snaggle wasn't lying when the man said he made all the suplies for the circus himself. Today Peter was making a new kind of shampoo for the monkey that had helped him realize the importance of the old book. If it worked, it would calm the monkey down a great deal, among other things.

He originally found hints for the changes to Snaggle's shampoo from the book. Since it wasn't any changes to the actual ingredients, he didn't think the man would realize just what it was he was doing. As they'd worked together over the last few days, both quickly found there was a difference in the things they could do. Mr. Snaggle found that very fascinating, which made Peter pay closer attention to it.

Peter had taken a few supplies home with him when Snaggle hadn't been looking so he could explore exactly what those changes might mean. What he did today was one of the things he'd figured out. Shampoo is an ordinary thing most of the time, but not so for an alchemist, which is what Snaggle liked to call himself.

Their shampoo could affect someone both physically and emotionally to a rather powerful degree. It was a terrifying thought in Peter's mind when they started, but he'd thought hard about it and decided it wasn't really a bad thing, if you were careful. In this shampoo he was offering bits of courage and dignity. He'd also figured out how to help with the poor creature's hyperactive behavior, which Peter was quite sure the animal hated.

He wasn't sure exactly how it was that he could put pieces of himself into what he made, but he found the whole thing fascinating. Mr. Snaggle had taught him that it had to do with someone will power. You had to visualize what you wanted to offer traveling from your head into your concoction. Peter could now even see it happen, like a mist floating from the center of his forehead.

Mr. Snaggle couldn't see it though, or at least Peter couldn't see it when the old man did something. Snaggle had said there was so much he was learning from Peter. It seemed so strange because Peter knew so little, but just having someone else around that could do what he could was enough apparently.

When he was finished, Snaggle was clapping with a large smile on his face. The circus had been closed to the public already, so they spent most of their time together in the lab. That was fine for Peter, since he felt guilty being around the animals. The old man couldn't tell exactly what it was Peter had made, but it would be obvious to him that he was finished. Something that didn't change between them was the results of an unsuccessful creation. The vial would solidify and turn very black. It was rather hard to miss.

"Very good, my boy, very good!" Despite himself, Peter smiled at the compliment. He was rather proud of it after all, and he certainly wasn't going to hear any such a thing at home tonight. "I am eager to test your treatment for the hyper beast." Peter hid his sadness, it was the difference between them. Peter wanted to help the animals, and Mr. Snaggle didn't care at all about that. "There's something I'd like to talk to you about before you go wash him though." Peter wondered what the man wanted now. He already had complete control over him. "I know you found your parents tea bags, Peter. Your actions show plainly enough that you have figured out what it is that I do here, and how I get away with it as well. No, there is no need to deny it. On the contrary, I compliment you on figuring things out. You are a very bright child, my boy."

Peter's heart was racing. The man paused in his speech and seemed like he wanted Peter to say something, but nothing came to mind. Or rather, too many things came to mind and he couldn't figure out which was the right thing to say. Finally, he knew what the man wanted, and he knew what he had to do.

"You really think so? I thought this was just something you did with someone in every town you visited?"

"Oh my, Peter, that is not true! You poor thing, I never meant for you to worry about all of that. I was not lying when I told you how long I have been looking for someone to share this ability with. You can't possibly imagine how true that statement really is."

Peter forced a smile. "Well, I'm excited about the prospect of traveling. I, um, wouldn't mind figuring out exactly how you are turning the kids into animals though. I have to admit it has fascinated me for some time now. I didn't want to anger you by asking." The man lit up at his words, exactly what Peter was hoping.

"I'm glad you brought that up, Peter. Before we leave this weekend, I would like to let you try it."

Part Eight, October 20, 2009

Peter didn't know what to think about Mr. Snaggle's request. He thought his comment had been safe enough because surely he wouldn't actually ask him to do such a thing. That obviously was not the case. With time running out, he saw no other options and agreed to do it.

"Good, Peter, very good. I see you're scared, that's perfectly fine, my boy, perfectly fine. Did you know that I was just as nervous my first time?"

"Were you really? Does that mean we are going to do it tonight?" Peter asked.

"No, I have been searching for a special book for some time now. It must be here somewhere, but I haven't been able to find it. Until I do, I'm not sure that I can talk you through the process I'm afraid. Do not worry though, I will find it soon enough."

Peter's heart skipped a beat at that. What was he going to do? Could he return the book without the man realizing what had happened? An idea came to him, he just hoped his guess was right. "Is it an old leather book? Brown, with golden symbols on the cover?" Snaggle turned to him, suspicion plain on his face and he went on quickly. "I- I found a book like that last night in my bedroom. It had the word book in it too, scribbled very poorly."

"That damned fool of a beast! I don't even know why I still bother with him after all this time." The man said.

"Who?"

"It's the monkey, I know it. It's not the first time he's pulled such a prank. I should have seen it coming I suppose. Peter, have you looked in the book at all?"

Peter was happy that his guess was right, but he pretended to be nervous anyway. "I did glance through it a bit last night. I'm sorry, I didn't mean to be nosy. I was going to bring it back, but I completely forgot about it today when I woke up. I meant to bring it right back, I really am sorry I forgot."

"That's alright, my boy, I understand your curiosity. I don't imagine what was inside made much sense anyway." Snaggle laughed at that. "Sometimes I don't even understand it!"

Peter forced a smile. "If you want I can go get it and bring it to you?"

"That's quite all right. Why don't you read some more from it tonight. I'd be curious to know what you can make of it. No, don't worry, I know it won't be much. You are very bright though, so perhaps you can find something that makes sense."

"I can try, was there anything else you wanted before I leave tonight?"

Mr. Snaggle considered the words for some time before answering. Peter felt a little uncomfortable at the way he was just staring at him. "I do, Peter. I'm curious why you have not asked me about your friends yet."

Peter couldn't hide his surprise this time. He'd tried very hard to avoid talking about that all together. He looked at the ground, unsure of what to say.

"I understand that you don't want to talk about it. You must understand that I don't seek out people to harm, Peter. The only ones that I change, are the ones that sneak into my tents late at night. It's their own fault, you must understand this above all else."

"I had suspsected the rats you put on display were my friends. I wasn't sure because there were only two of them though. They warned me that they were going to try to sneak in. I tried to stop them! I'm sorry I couldn't stop them!" Tears began to fall and Mr. Snaggle put his arm around Peter.

"I don't blame you, my boy. Not at all. The third boy is the reason that I am bringing it up. He is the one I would like you to transform."

Peter pushed at Mr. Snaggle and jumped backwards. "No, I cannot! You can't make me do that!" He yelled. If Snaggle was worried about him being heard, he didn't show it. "I can't do that to my own friend!"

Mr. Snaggle let him complain for some time until he was tired and sobbing on the floor. "I know it's hard, Peter. It's important though. I assure you, he will have no idea that it is you. You have my word."

Peter's mind raced. How was he supposed to do this? He was running out of time to stop Mr. Snaggle, he was running out of time to help his friends, he was running out of time to do anything at all! He felt like the walls were almost crushing around him now. Snaggle was just staring at him, waiting for a response. He slumped his shoulders. "Alright, I will try. It won't kill him, right?"

Snaggle lit up with excitement. "Of course not, my boy, of course not! He will not be harmed in the least." He wouldn't be harmed? In what world was turning someone into an animal not the same as being harmed? Peter decided the arguments would not go over well if he said them out loud, so he just kept them to himself. "That is all for today, Peter. Why don't you head on home. Tomorrow you can bring the book with you and we'll talk about how to mix the right kind of concoction."

The whole way home Peter knew it was now or never. When he got there he wasn't surprised to find his parents were not even home. They'd been going out almost every night to some place or other. He thought it was to see a musical tonight. Sad and lonely, he made his way to his room. He pulled the old leather book from under his mattress and turned the page to the one he'd bookmarked with the monkey's note.

He was pretty sure the page described how to turn animals back into humans again. Some parts of it he didn't understand, but it was becoming more clear as he read through the old book every night. He was sure he could figure it out in a few more days. Then he flipped to another page toward the back, the page described something else he was close to figuring out. And that was the key to everything.

Part Nine, October 27, 2009

Sweat dripped from Peter's forehead as he concentrated on the vial in front of him. Next to it, three other vials were mocking his previous failures, each was filled with a solidified black substance. If he thought making special shampoos and vitamins had been a challenge, this was a nightmare. Peter knew he had to finish it tonight, they would be leaving tomorrow morning.

He knew this was it. If this potion didn't work, everything he had set up would mean nothing. His parents would still leave for Europe tomorrow morning and he would still be leaving with Mr. Snaggle. The man went on and on about how together they would make a circus fit for royalty. That didn't sound interesting to Peter at all.

Worse still, his need to keep lying about his interest only served to excite Snaggle a little more each day. He hated lying to the old man, but what else was he going to do? He needed more time. He always needed more time. After tonight, it would be the one thing he didn't have.

With a deep breath, he projected the last ingredient of his potion. The vial turned a bright green that started to turn darker. As it turned, Peter got nervous. If it didn't stop changing soon, it would be another two hours wasted. If that happened he would only have one more shot. That would mean he'd have to skip the final ingredient. It was that final bit of himself that made the whole thing a challenge.

If he was right, that last little bit would allow Jackson to retain his thoughts after his transformation. There was one other option if it should come to that, but Peter liked this one more. He watched as the potion turned to a deep green before beginning to lighten back up.

"My boy, you've done it! And quite masterfully, if I do say so!" Mr. Snaggle slapped a hand on Peter's back and he fought the urge the move away from the man. He felt more contemptuous of the things Mr. Snaggle had done to trap him every day. Instead though, he gritted his teeth and put on a good face.

"Thank you, I see how right you were about the complication now. I feel as if I just ran a marathon after so many hours of work."

"Well you should be proud, Peter. You may think the afternoon a failure because it took so mcuch time, but know that I do the same all the time! You are a natural, my boy, a natural! It was as if you had done it before." Snaggle said. "What do you say, shall we give him the potion then?" The excitement was plain in his voice. Peter did the best he could to put on a smile.

He waited in the lab while Mr. Snaggle went to get Jackson. Peter didn't want to know where the man had been keeping his friend for so long. He must have had him locked up somewhere. It fueled the fire that was building inside him against Mr. Snaggle. It was now or never, he knew, and he fought all the feelings of trust he had picked up for the old man.

Jackson came in, blindfolded, with a frown on his face. At least he looked healthy. Peter was glad Mr. Snaggle had fed him well.

The old man sat him in a chair next to where Peter was sitting. Snaggle smiled encouragingly toward him. With a gulp, Peter took his potion and poured the vial on his best friend's head. It took everything he had to keep the tears inside at the fear on Jackson's face. Snaggle was looking at Jackson with greed in his eyes.

Jackson began to twitch and fell from his stool. He wriggled about on the floor as his body bagan the transformation. Mr Snaggle moved forward, watching eagerly. "Yes, yes, simply magnificent." His words were drawn out, like he was under some spell watching it all. Jackson cried out at the painful process, catching Peter's attention. He could see the claws forming on his hands and feet. His friend let out a gutteral cry as he sat up on arms and legs. Fur sprouted up across his body as the growth began.

"Quick, hide behind something!" Snaggle shouted, eyes wide. Jackson grew a couple hundred pounds as the orange and black fur finished growing. Peter jumped behind the nearest counter. Before he ducked down, he stared in awe at his creation. Jackson was the exact image of a tiger. His best friend growled viciously at Snaggle. It had worked, his potion had worked! Even the bits of anger Peter added had worked. He could tell that Jackson felt all that anger toward Snaggle.

Peter finally ducked behind the counter as Snaggle let out a horrible cry. In his mind he saw Jackson pounce on the old man. He couldn't suppress the smile that found its way to his face. He peeked out from around the corner and saw Snaggle struggling with the tiger and his smile disappeared. Actually seeing the attack was something else entirely. It wasn't as large as a real tiger, but it was still enormous.

He realized that Mr. Snaggle had been struggling to pull something from a pocket hidden in his sleeve. Peter watched in horror as the man pulled the stopper and poured the vial on Jackson. Immediately, the tiger slumped to the ground. Snaggle had gashes all over his body.

"No!" Peter yelled. "Did you kill him? I didn't mean for this! It was an accident"

"Calm down, my boy." Snaggles words were tired and strained. "It is only a sleeping potion. What you did, it- it's remarkable work, Peter. Why don't we have a toast to your success. I could certainly use a drink." Snaggled limped back to the counter Peter hid behind. He opened the cabinet and pulled out his favorite brandy, and a jug of juice for Peter.

"My heart is racing. I can't believe that it worked." Peter said.

Snaggle smiled down at him, handing him a glass of juice. "To your very first potion!" The man held his glass down to toast Peter. The two glasses clinked together. Mr. Snaggle didn't waste any time in downing his brandy. "You didn't drink?" Peter looked to the ground, suddenly feeling very guilty. "What is it, my boy?"

"It's just that, I couldn't toast to my first potion until you took that drink." The man's eyes widened. "I'm sorry! I had to do it, you- YOU DESERVE IT!" Peter moved backward reflexively.

Snaggle dropped his glass and it shattered on the ground. "How- How did you do this? You are never alone in here, I know it for a fact!" The man fell backward into a chair, not fighting the changes beginning inside him.

"When you fought with Jackson." He said. "I added it to your brandy when you were fighting. It was all I could come up with."

Oddly, Mr. Snaggle smiled at that. He looked very peaceful. "I always said you were a very clever boy." Then he screamed as the changes really started. His body shrunk and his skin turned green all over. He shook uncontrollably as the final changes took place. Peter took a jar and trapped the caterpillar inside. He breathed a sigh of relief. Finally, it was all over.

Peter ran to the stock room that he wasn't supposed to know about. The potions he was looking for were packed in a box in the corner. He'd found the clues to get around Snaggle's securities in the old book he'd found. He took the whole box and ran back into the lab. He took one of the vials and poured it in Jackson's mouth.

He was thankful that the sleeping potion would keep Jackson from the painful transformation back to his human body. He watched in amazement as his friend changed from the tiger form. It really had been a good plan, he was quite proud.

(*****)

After all the animals were made human again, Peter found himself in a new set of trouble. Some of the kids Snaggle had transformed were very old indeed, and many were from other countries. Eventually, he decided it wasn't something he should have to deal with at all. He asked some of the neighborhood kids to watch over everyone and he and a few others went to their houses.

It was a pleasant surprise that the parents did not argue with them. It was pretty obvious that their kids were not away at camp when they were standing right in front of them. On top of that, that realization seemed to snap them out of whatever Snaggle had done to them. While they were skeptical, they listened and agreed to check things out on their own.

Peter left it to all the parents to figure out what to do with dozens of children, some with no homes. After a few dozen thanks and hand-shakes, Peter left. He still had his parents to see to. He'd found a concoction that would counter the tea his parents had been drinking. Then everything would be back to normal again.