Hunger

Reading Time: 4 minutes

Tarrare was always hungry. But they starved him before shows. If he was on stage at 6pm they would refuse to feed him by noon. This meant he could sling his empty stomach all the way around his torso and tie it together in a crude but effective bow. Tarrare was so hungry. It is 5.49pm and in ten minutes and spare change he will eat whatever his master has set out for him on stage. He works seven nights a week. The previous night he ate an entire cat, fur and all, accompanied by the gasps and squeals of gawking Parisians. Then he had been thrown a basket of apples and made to swallow them whole, one by one. Tarrare didn’t mind though because he was always hungry. Ever since he was a child and had been abandoned by his parents after eating ten times his share of food. Ever since he had roved around France with whores and robbers, eating garbage by the bagful for a few franc which were robbed from him that very same night. Tarrare didn’t mind this life though. He was just so hungry.

Tonight he is performing at Laperouse, in front of several of Paris’ luminaries. The revolution is underway and on every street corner there is the lightness of hope mixed with the dense hunger of fear. A pianist had been on stage for an hour already, warming up the crowd with renditions of Ca Ira and other popular chansons. People had heard about Tarrare, had been promised a spectacular, revolting evening. The small seating areas was packed and several rows of heads craned from the back of the room, all desperate to see this freak of nature and the disgusting things he did for money. They didn’t know that all the money went to his boss, or that Tarrare slept in a cage at night while his boss slept in a hotel room. They didn’t know that Tarrare was always hungry, or that they starved him before a show. They didn’t know he would slit their throats and drink their blood if he was given the opportunity.

Tarrare walked onto the stage to cries of monstre and répugnant. He had never seen these people in his life and they had judged him, as had every person he had ever met. The ghost was in the audience, fazing in and out of reality next to a woman in a dress that looked like a tree. The ghost had watched Tarrare the night before and something extraordinary had happened. As the show came to its climax and Tarrare ate live eels in one go, he looked at the ghost and stopped. The room fell silent as he stared at the ghost. The air around both of them dried slightly. The ghost was suddenly very thirsty. Tarrare dropped the eel he was holding into a bucket and walked towards the ghost. No one else seemed to notice. No one made any noise at all. Tarrare crossed the stage and staggered down the stairs towards the ghost. Tarrare stood face to face with the ghost, who had become flesh as soon as Tarrare had noticed him in the crowd. Tarrare reached towards the ghosts face and held it in his hand. He had mouthed something to the ghost then, something that looked like je suis seul and then the ghost had flickered like a dying lamp and Tarrare found himself back on stage, the crowd gawping and gasping as if nothing had happened. He looked for the ghost in the crowd but did not find him.

Tonight though, Tarrare saw him straight away. He was peeling and pulsing, all yellows and purples. Chunks of the ghosts body were cut away, only to reappear moments later, detached and flopping limply on the floor. Simply put, the ghost was not stable. He occupied more of the room than Tarrare could possibly look at in one go. It was difficult to concentrate on the act of eating a dozen rabbits when you were constantly trying to spot the ghost but Tarrare was so hungry he managed it. The Parisians in the crowd tonight, all blissfully unaware of the ghost, were hooting and hollering, urging Tarrare to rip into the fur and flesh of the rabbits with his teeth. But Tarrare’s heart was not in it, and his manager could tell. From the side of the stage he tried to follow Tarrare’s eyes, to see what it was that was causing his freak and retirement fund such great concern, but he could see nothing out of the ordinary. Just the usual crowd of braying idiots, dressed up as if they were going to a royal appointment to disguise the fact that they were watching a dying man eat rodents.

Tarrares boss was angry. The crowd were still enjoying themselves but he knew he needed them to go wild. That’s when the purse strings loosened. He waddled onto the stage and slapped Tarrare on the back in a seemingly inocuous gesture that was heavily weighted with fear and anger. He removed the rabbits, which Tarrare had only finished a quarter of, and replaced them with three lit candles and a dinner plate made from china that Tarrares boss had bought in a flea market earlier the day.

Mesdames et Messieurs. Mes excuses. Mon ami ne se sent pas bien. Mais regardez comme il mange le feu.

There was a small vial of liquid under the table and Tarrare picked it up and swilled it around his mouth before spitting it out onto the floor. He ate the plate first, the ceramic shards cutting his gums and one sliver even wedging itself between his two rotting front teeth. As he swallowed, he could feel the edges tearing at the raw lining of his throat, followed by the familiar taste of his own blood . He smiled, because that was what they expected him to do, then took each lit candle and slid it into his mouth. When he had swallowed the last candle, the gas lamps around the stage were dimmed and Tarrare stood, his legs wobbling as they did constantly nowadays, and opened his mouth wide. The inside of his mouth was on fire, the candles and the gasoline he had drunk making a blaze inside him. The crowd gasped and whooped. His boss smiled. Tarrare slowly melted, the ghost now a pale green light.

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