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book 3

Madame Tan's Freakshow

Chapter 1 - Heike

Unedited and subject to change.

   “Ten thousand dollars? Is she insane?” I scoffed, waving my hand in a circle next to my temple.

   “No clue. Maybe.” Omkar shrugged, gesturing to the passing waiter for another round of drinks—whisky on the rocks for him and a mango juice for me.

   I didn’t come to his bar to drink. I’d come here to hear what he found out for me about Madame Tan’s and her show. If I were to decide to spend that much money on a single ticket, I’d better be completely sober before making that decision.

  “That’s crazy!” I shook my head sending the end of a long strand of my black-brown hair into my juice glass.       “Oops.” I fished it out and dried it with a napkin.

  The price had been quoted in the US dollars, too, not the Singapore, which made it even more expensive. No person in their own mind would demand that amount of money for a short show of…something. That was the craziest thing right there—no one could tell me exactly what Madame Tan offered for the money.

   I personally knew a few people who’d seen it. They shelled out ten grand each and went to her show, some in the United States and a couple in Europe.

  “Out of this world!”

  “Incredible, magical, and simply fantastic!”

  “I’ve never seen anything like it!”

  That was all I'd been able to get from them when I'd asked about it, however. Those of my acquaintances who’d seen the show, highly recommended it. However, no one would tell me exactly what they’d seen.

  Omkar took a drink from the glass that the waiter had just deposited in front of him.

  “Apparently, that’s the reduced rate.” He leaned back, his trendy leather jacket creaking against the back of the booth seat. “This being her last show, some of the tickets went for as high as fifty grand.”

  “What? You’re kidding me, right?”

  Not that I didn’t have the money to spend. I came from a family who believed in hard work. My mom was Chinese and my dad German. They met here, in Singapore, when both of them worked for the same financial company. Dad’s contract ended shortly after they got married, and they moved to Munich, Germany. I was born and grew up there before moving to the United States.

  I’d been earning my own money since I was two, first by appearing in commercials then magazines. My mom signed me up with a modeling agency when I was a baby. By the time I was twelve, I’d earned enough to pay for any college in Europe or North America. By then, however, I’d had enough of modeling and of working for others. I’d figured I could do something for myself.

  Social media had been taking the world by storm, and I'd tried a few things, some of which stuck. Those I’d expanded and grown, constantly trying new things of course. Now, by my current ripe age of twenty-nine, I was running several video channels, had a couple of older but still very successful blogs, and maintained several websites. I ran a podcast, traded domain names, managed a number of interest groups, along with a whole lot of other things, some of which came and went, with others being more permanent. My revenue came from selling ads, indorsements, and publicity services. And my expenses were low.

  I was also a part of a network of people like myself. We helped boost ratings, expand each other’s reach, and maximize exposure.

  Omkar was a part of it, too. Originally from India, he owned a few businesses in Singapore. The bar where we were sitting was one of them.

  “Have you seen the show?” I asked, casually swirling the ice cubes in my glass of juice.


  “Are you getting a cut of the ticket price?”

  “No. I don’t know Madame Tan personally. I’ve heard about it from a friend of a friend. It sounded like something you’d like to do. So, here we are.”

  “Do you think she’d do a barter?” I hated spending my hard-earned cash if there were so many other ways to get what I wanted. Barter was my preferred form of tender in many cases.

  “For what?”

  I shrugged.

  “For publicity.”

  I had tens of millions of followers on some of my accounts, to a combined total nearing a hundred million. The power wasn’t in numbers, however. I often had better results with some of the smaller, but highly targeted accounts. If Madame Tan let me, I could blow her show up in popularity in no time.

  “I could do an interview, record a video—”

  Omkar stopped me with a hand gesture, leaning in across the table.

  “Absolutely no recordings of any kind. That’s the main condition of purchasing the ticket.”

  "We’ll see about that," flashed through my mind.

  “Would you like to go?” I asked, keeping that thought to myself instead of arguing.

  “Me?” Omkar winced, furrowing his thick, ink-black eyebrows. “I’d rather spend the money on other things.”

  So would I. Except that curiosity nagged at me now. With it being the last show, I’d never have another chance to find out what this was all about.

  “Tell your friend of a friend that we’ll pay fifteen thousand,” I offered.

  Omkar sputtered his sip of whiskey.

  “You what?”

  “We’ll pay fifteen for two tickets” I said. “You’re coming with me.”

  I was curious but not stupid. There were some places a woman shouldn’t be going alone, especially to some underground nightclub on the East Side of Singapore, where this show was rumoured to be held at midnight.

  “Heike…” He racked his fingers through the glossy mass of his thick wavy hair. He obviously didn’t want to come, but couldn’t think of a polite way to decline. I was fully intending to take advantage of that.

  “Come on. This could be phenomenal. Everyone says it is,” I pressed.

  He blew out a breath.

  “You need to get yourself a man. Someone who would take you to all those places you always want to go but shouldn’t.”

  I knew Omkar was not hinting in any way for him to be my man. I wasn’t his type. Besides, he had a fiancée. A demure girl next door from the village where his parents lived in India. It would be an arranged marriage, but Omkar truly cared about his future bride. To my knowledge, he was faithful to her, too.

  I found Omkar attractive and intelligent. He’d been a great friend, and were he available, I might possibly consider to have something more with him. Though, with my track record, it would be best for him to stay away from me, single or not. The longest and the most memorable relationship I’d had happened back in my last year of secondary school in Germany, when I was eighteen. Nothing else has worked out well since then.

  Omkar’s leather jacket screaked against the pleather of the bench seat again.

  “Heike, I’m really not that interested in seeing the show.”

  “Don’t you want to know what it’s all about?” I leaned over the table to him.

  “I’d love that. But I could just as well live without ever knowing.”

  “Listen, fifteen thousand for two.” I wouldn’t give up. “I’ll pay ten, you’ll just have to pay five.”

  “I don’t think she’d sell you two tickets for that price. Besides, I told you there is only one ticket left anyway. Heike…” He shook his head. “She won’t go for it.”

  “But it’s worth to try, isn’t it?”

  If I had to spend this amount of money, I’d better made it an investment. Madame Tan might not be interested in publicity, but a video of her show might end up being very valuable one day, especially if it was indeed the very last show ever.

* * *

  The two tickets ended up costing twenty thousand dollars after all. Madame Tan refused to budge on the price, though she agreed to sell two instead of one. I paid for Omkar’s ticket, too, since the poor guy didn’t even want to be here in the first place.

  I was extremely grateful that he came, though.

  The place ended up being deep in the basement of a tall skyscraper. Two levels under the underground garage. There wasn’t even a button on the elevator for that floor. We had to take a set of concrete stairs to get there.

A massive bald man with a neck and arm tattoo met us as we arrived.

  “Names?” he asked, hardly sparing us a glance. Tall and muscular, he must be a bouncer.

  “Heike Schneider,” I said.

  “Heike?” he lifted his dark-brown eyes at me. “What kind of a name is it?”

  “It’s German.” I took in the empty hallway—a wide space with concrete walls and a red runner on the floor.

  “You don’t look German,” the man observed, marking something on the tablet in his hands.

  I glared at him. If I got a dollar for every time I’d heard a comment like that, I would’ve possibly made close enough to any of my other revenues by now.

  “Sorry. Left my lederhosen at home,” I quipped one of the many responses I’d stored in my mind for this kind of situations.

  He smirked, giving me a once-over, then moved on to Omkar who stood at my side.

  “Follow me,” the bouncer said after verifying our identities.

  I shifted the strap of my purse on my shoulder to make sure the camera in the flower pin on my jacket wasn’t abstracted in any way. I’d turned it on still back in the elevator. Madame Tan might have her rules, but I had to get my money’s worth, too.

  We passed by the entrance to the nightclub. Red light pulsed inside in the rhythm to techno music blasting through the door.

  “This way.” The bouncer gestured for us to proceed down the corridor.

  After a turn, another set of doors came in the view, with velvet burgundy curtains opened in front of them, each held back by a twisted, golden rope with tassels.

  The bouncer opened the doors, and we were greeted by another man, who looked nearly identical to the first. Of similar built and wearing the same dark clothes, he was also bald and had the identical tattoo on his right arm and neck.

  “A drink.” The man handed each of us a tall glass with shimmering blue and pink liquid. The way he said it, it didn’t sound like an offer or an invitation, but an order.

  I sniffed at the liquid as Omkar took a tentative sip.

  “It’s good.” He nodded.

  It smelled very good, too.

  “Does it have alcohol in it?” I asked the man at the door.

  “Do you want it to have?” he replied.

  That was an odd question.

  “No,” I said.

  “Then it doesn’t,” he said flatly.

  His reply did nothing to assuage my suspicion. I moved my gaze to Omkar, who was now gulping his drink, making it half-way through his glass already.

  “What?” He lifted an eyebrow at my stare, his lips shimmering from the liquid. “It’s really good. Try it.”

  His happy expression and the glossy shin in his eyes made me pause, however. Omkar could relax and enjoy himself, by all means, tonight. But I was here for work. With the camera rolling, I was breaking the rules, and I couldn’t afford to be inebriated in any way.

  We followed the two bouncers toward another door. This one was roped with the glowing VIP letters attached to the rope.

  “Here.” I discreetly traded the glasses with Omkar as soon as his was empty. “Have this one, I’m not thirsty.”

  He didn’t argue, immediately taking a huge gulp from my glass.

  “Good evening, my darlings,” a melodious feminine voice thrilled from inside the room.

  The bouncers removed the rope and a tall beautiful woman invited us to enter.

  The room was lavishly decorated, illuminated with soft, multi-colored lighting. A large object in the middle was covered in silver silk. But it was the woman who attracted my attention the most.

  Dressed in a long red garment of an odd cut, her fiery red hair coiffed into a voluminous up-do with a long, elaborate braid draped over her shoulder, she appeared like a fantastic vision of fire and beauty.

  “Welcome,” she cooed. “My name is Madame Tan. I’m so happy you joined us.” She gestured at the long table set next to the massive, silk-covered object. Seven people sat in the chairs on one side of the table, the glasses in front of them shimmered pink and blue in the dim lighting of the room.

  The long sleeves of Madame's dress draped all the way to the floor, with the cut-out slits for her hands. Leaving her shoulders exposed, the robe cascaded in soft silk faults down her hips and legs, streaming in a wide train behind her as she moved. The gold-embroidered ends of the wide, black sash tied around her waist draped down her skirt at the back.

  “Please enjoy the refreshments.” She paused her gaze on the half-full glass in Omkar’s hand, and he hurriedly gulped down the rest of the liquid.

  We took our seats at the end of the table. One of the bouncers appeared, with a pitcher to refill our glasses.  Another one came, bringing out a tray with small round dishes. He placed a dish in front of each of us.

  “That’s great!” Omkar happily popped the small roll from the dish into his mouth.

  The middle-aged Asian lady on his right gave him a smile.

  “Simply delightful,” she said in a slightly accented English, daintily lifting the roll with her fingers and taking a small bite. “Truly out of this world.”

  Their eager praise felt a bit off to my ear. Their giddy expressions didn’t seem natural. I decided to leave my food on the plate, no matter how “delightful” they claimed it was.

  Madame Tan slid her gaze along the table, pausing it on my glass. I lifted it in my hand as if ready to take a sip.

  “This is…um, delightful cocktail,” I gushed, trying to imitate Omkar’s excited tone of voice. “What’s in it?”

  A wide smile spread on Madame’s beautiful face, her dark eyes narrowed with cunning glee.

  “Magic,” she purred.

  “Oh, I can’t wait to see what’s behind the curtain!” The lady next to Omkar clapped her hands, like an excited little girl at a carnival.

  Madame glanced back at the silk-covered object, and I quickly traded my plate with Omkar. He eagerly swiped the roll off the plate and shoved it in his mouth.

  Whatever was in the food and drink Madame had been serving made him happy. I knew for a fact spectators of Madame’s show didn’t get sick or died from it. If anything, Omkar would have double-good time tonight. While I had work to do.

  I straightened my back, sticking out my breasts, to give the camera in my pocket the best angle as it kept recording.

  Madame dramatically waved her hand in the air. Three red spotlights fell on the silk, merging into one, crimson bright.

  “Ladies and gentlemen! One show only! Behold, the most amazing transformation never before seen by a human eye.”

  I had to give it to her, she was a true show woman, not stingy on dramatics.

  The silk flew away as if with a blast of wind, revealing a huge, spherical cage. I’d seen this type before at fairs and carnivals. It was about fifteen to seventeen feet in diameter, and usually there was a motorbike inside and someone would ride it in circles up and down inside the cage.

  The bars of this cage, however were too thick and too far apart for a bike. There wasn’t one inside the cage, either. Instead, a man stood in the middle of it.

  Tall and muscular, he had the identical tattoo as the bouncer who’d greeted us. Unlike the bouncer, he sported a full beard and was completely naked.

   I blinked, unsure what to think. The man certainly was a sight to behold. He wasn’t just well-built, he seemed like he worked hard on it, too, probably spending his days and nights in the gym and living on a steady diet of protein shakes and steroids. Was the “amazing” show supposed to be all about nudity? To show off his hard work? He didn’t appear to be here for the attention. In fact he didn’t seem to want to be here at all. 

  Ominous music flowed from speakers somewhere. Trepidation scraped unpleasantly inside my chest at the sinister sound.

  “Allow me to introduce the species I created myself—the rage shifter. A fine specimen, isn’t he?” Madame cooed, sauntering in front of the cage. “I’m proud of my creation, rightfully so. Look at him. Handsome, strong, immortal, but most importantly…” she slid a finger up one of the bars, leveling the man inside a glare with so much hatred, it made my skin crawl with dread.

  Could a person be proud of someone and hate them this much?

  “Most importantly, my rage shifters are loyal to a fault. They were designed with one purpose—to serve me. Sadly, no design is without its flows. This one is what you would call ‘an earlier model.’"  She sneered, lifting a corner of her mouth to display a perfect white canine.

  The man inside the cage stared straight ahead over our heads, as if not even noticing that we were there. He appeared calm, but when I looked closely, I noticed his chest rise and fall rapidly. His hands were fisted at his sides, and the massive muscles in his arms twitched flexing. He seemed aware of his surroundings, and unlike us, he probably knew what was about to happen.

  “Normally, I don’t let my darlings reach the level of rage that would trigger their transformation. But this one needs to be punished. Lucky for you, you’re the only people on Earth who will get to see my creation in all his glory.”

  Madame Tan raised her hand, turning her palm to the man in the cage.

  His strong features crumbled in a grimace of pain as red sparks ran up the tattoo lines on his arm to his neck. Yet he made no sound. The sparks merged into streaks, lighting up the intricate design of his body art.

He threw his head back, baring his teeth, which started to grow, canines lengthening into fangs. His entire body expanded, bulging out of proportions.

  The people at the table gasped in awe.

  The lines of the man’s tattoo swelled and rose like fresh burn scars, changing the colour from black to inflamed red. The man finally released a sound—a blood-curdling roar of agony and rage. His body shook. Much taller and larger than an average to begin with, he grew two or three times his size. The cage was not tall enough for him anymore. He had to curl his shoulder and drop his head down to fit inside it.

  In addition to the dramatic change in size, his proportions changed, too. His neck grew so thick in almost merged with his hulking shoulders. His arms stretched longer as his torso got wider. His beard disappeared, the bald head flattened and widened. The veins in his arms and chest bulged, throbbing, along with his tattoo, which now looked like one raw inflamed wound.

  The sight of him was monstrous and grotesque, no longer resembling a man at all.

  He roared again, throwing himself against the cage with so much force, I thought it would break the chains and wrench it off the flat platform. Snapping tight, the chains held, however, keeping the cage in place.

  Madame laughed. The sound was sweet and melodious, like the thrill of silver bells, and I truly hated her at that moment.

  “And that’s why I call them the rage shifters,” she cooed. “You can literally watch his temper grow. Isn’t he magnificent?”

  The people at the table murmured in agreement. Their expressions were those of delight and awe, and none of my concern for the tortured man. They certainly seemed like they were getting their money’s worth in entertainment.

  Omkar winked at me.

  “Not something you’d see everyday, right?” he said with a happy smile.

  “Right…” I moved my gaze from him back to the cage.

  The scarlet spotlights slid down the man’s naked body, making it look like streams of blood. He growled twisting his torso in obvious pain. His mangled arm dangled at his side, the wounds on it pulsing with light. The wound on his neck seemed just as bad. He avoided moving his head, probably as not to aggravate the pain. But it appeared his massive erection tortured him the most. Engorged, it turned bluish in colour, pulsing and bobbing in the air while pointing straight up. He hovered his hand over it, his fingers curled, rigid like claws, yet he wouldn’t touch it.

  “Turn around, sweetie,” Madame ordered. “Let us see more of you.”

  With a wave of her hand, he jerked as if punched in the tattooed shoulder, pivoting on his heel. His back came into view, covered in long red slashes crusted over with dried blood. These appeared as they’d been inflicted just a few hours earlier.

  What had been done to this man? And for how long had he been hurt by this woman?

  The deafening roar of pain ripped from his throat. He clawed at his neck with both hands, tearing at his mangled flesh, as if trying to rip the tattoo off his skin.

  “Is he okay?” the lady next to Omkar inquired.

  I whipped my head in her direction. Did she share my horror at seeing this?

  “Oh no, he isn’t okay at all, far from it,” Madame said in a sing-song voice.

  The lady giggled, as if she’d just heart a witty joke.

  “Will he turn back?” someone else asked. The question was filled with curiosity, but not the outrage that I felt.

  “Maybe,” Madame replied with a lazy smile. “When and if I feel like it.”

  While the man twisted and rolled in agony inside the cage, Madame spoke, “His name is Radax. He is my first creation. And despite his many misdemeanours, I still have a soft spot for him. Sometimes I think he keeps misbehaving because he craves the extra attention from me, like a petulant child. I have so many children, and they all vie for my attention. Well, here you go, Radax, my sweet. This night is all about you. Time to shine!”

  She flicked her fingers and Radax’s tattoo wounds on his arm and neck caught on fire. His roars of pain twisted my insides, bringing bile to my throat.

  “Wow! How did she do it?” Omkar gasped with excitement.

  His distorted perception of the “show” made the anger flare hot inside me, but it wasn’t directed at Omkar. I saw him as just another victim of Madame’s tricks. Obviously, his feelings and reactions were no longer his own. The Omkar I knew would never delight in the sufferings of another being.

  Madame spun back to face her audience, and our gazes crossed. I couldn’t fake the delightful indifference of the others. I couldn’t even muster a neutral expression fast enough. She saw it all—my horror and compassion for the tortured man in the cage. And my severe dislike of her.

  Her eyes flicked to my still very full glass. The cheerful mask of lighthearted fun slipped off her face, revealing a smirk.

  “I see you aren’t thirsty,” she prowled my way, menacingly but with some eager anticipation, like a cat about to play with a mouse.

  I shoved the glass aside. There was no point in pretending to drink it now. Someone had to do something to stop the suffering of the man in the cage. I didn’t care what he’d done to deserve the punishment. This was not a way to treat a living being.

  “Let him go,” I said softly but firmly.

  Fear dampened my anger. The cold menace in Madame’s eyes promised nothing good, and I’d seen the level of cruelty she was capable of. But I had to say it, if only to put on the record that she’d been told—this was not okay.

  “This is not entertainment. It’s sick.” I fisted my hands on the table, holding her glare.

  She tilted her head.

  “Sorry, you don’t see it my way. Our way.” She gestured at the rest of the spectators at the table. All of them were watching us with the same excited anticipation as they’d watched her torment Radax—as if I was the second act of the show.

  Madam came flash with the table, opposite to my seat. Every muscle in my body flexed under her stare, getting ready for me to run, but I forced myself to remain seated. I wasn’t some “creation” of hers. I was a free human being. I had rights. She wouldn’t dare…

  “Bring her over here.” She gestured to the two bouncers by the entrance.

  “No!” I sprang to my feet and dashed for the exit.

  Ducking, I tried to evade the hands of the bouncers reaching for me. Surprisingly agile for his size, one of them lunched for me, quickly catching me around my middle.

  “The show is over, ladies and gentlemen,” Madame cooed in her saccharine-sweet voice she reserved for the public. “Thank you for coming, everyone. Nerkan will show you the way out, now.”

  She ushered everyone from the table to the exit where another burly, tattooed man led them out.

  “Omkar!” I yelled in desperation, struggling against the hold of the bouncer.

  The serene expression on my friend’s face wavered. His brows twitched, moving closer together.

  “This way, please.” Madame stroked his cheek, bringing his attention to her and renewing his smile.

  One by one, everybody left, including Omkar. Now, it was but the bouncer holding me, Madame, and the man rolling in pain in the cage.

  “Are you local or a tourist?” Madame asked me sternly, any hint of the friendly sweetness was gone from her voice and expression.

  “I’m well-known in this country,” I bit back. It wasn’t entirely a lie. Some of my followers did come from Singapore. “If any harm comes to me—”

  Madame waved her hand, her expression growing bored.

  “You know what, it really doesn’t matter anymore," she said. "No one can stop me from doing whatever I want with you.”

  “There'll be consequences.” I made an effort to sound strong and threatening.

  “None of which I couldn’t deal with.” She shrugged, glancing back at the cage. “You want me to let Radax go? That’d do more harm than good, with him in this state. He needs to be calmed down to shift back before I can release him. The only way to calm a raging brack is sex.” She settled her heavy stare on me. “I am the only one in this world who can fuck a rage shifter in this form and stay alive. For me, sex with a brack gone berserk is fun. For someone like you…”

  A playful smile curved her lips, and a spark of amusement flashed in her kohl-black eyes.

  Her pause was pregnant with meaning that filled me with dread, cold and heavy like lead.

  “What? No…” I stared at her, my dread turning to pure horror at the realized of what she implied.

  “Did you feel sorry for the poor Radax over there?” Madame formed her full, cherry-red lips into a pout. “Then why don’t you help him instead of me? You see that cock?” She jerked her head at the man’s raging erection the size of my freaking thigh, and murmured, “I love riding it. But what do you think will happen to you when he shoves it in you? Do you think you can take it?” She laughed, the beautiful sound sent a spear of panic through me.

  “No…please,” I begged, clawing at the burly arm that held me as tight as a vise.

  She smirked and tossed the order to the man holding me, “Throw her in the cage!”

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