The Things We Do For Love

Posted: April 9, 2013 in Flash, Stories


Written for the Aphelion-webzine February 2013  Flash Challenge.  Trading one monstrosity for another may not always be a bad thing . . .


Aileen walked with John along the dusty track to the Carnival lit up in the darkness of the meadow. She was thankful for the dark, people were less likely to see the bruises. Not that anyone would speak of it. She’d had bruises before.

The sign at the entrance declared, “Dr Simpsons’ Carnival of Curiosities. Entry: One Dollar”. John paid grudgingly while Aileen kept her face turned away. Once within, the place was crowded with townsfolk, laughing and shouting, their feet kicking up a little dust from the hard trodden ground between the garish tents and stalls.

“What’s it to be first?” John asked. “The strongman? The bearded woman?”

“Whatever you choose, John.”

John was acting conciliatory for what he’d done but Aileen knew his mood to be mercurial. The smallest slight would set him against her, and if he drank! Oh Lord, if he drank.

A shout from the crowd pulled them onwards to John’s cousin and friends. Aileen stood apart as the menfolk slapped each others backs. If she was lucky John would go off with them and leave her be but John was still acting sorry and broke himself free instead. Not before his cousin had given him a jar of something, a little shine from the backwood’s still. Nothing made John surly like his cousin’s moonshine. Aileen cursed her luck.

“Selena the Snake Woman,” shouted a Barker as they drew near. “Born without bones, see her perform feats that will amaze you, astound you!”

The board outside the tent had a caricature of a woman with a snake’s tail instead of legs and green, scaly skin. John pulled the flap aside and lead her in.

The woman on the stage had no snake’s tail but two perfectly formed legs from what Aileen could see. Her skin was painted green though. There was plenty of skin to see too, for the green woman wore barely a scrap of costume while performing her obscene act. Bending her legs over her head and pulling them wide, the contortionist thrust her hips towards an eager audience of men. John pushed forward, eyes gleaming with lust, lust that he’d put on Aileen before the night was done. Aileen pulled away, towards the back and the exit.

“She’s a snake because her blood runs cold even as it makes theirs run hot.”

The woman’s voice so close to her ear made Aileen jump. She turned and met faded blue eyes, faded like soft denim. The woman was faded too, although she’d been a beauty once. Now she was hard worn and threadbare. Aileen felt sorry for her, thinking how tough life must be travelling with the Carnival from town to town. Aileen saw the pity reflected back at her as the woman stared at Aileen’s bruises, studying them intently.

“Do you stay with him for love?” the woman asked.

Aileen nodded, not really believing it but then why else would she still be with a man who treated her so bad.

“The things we do for love.”

Aileen hurried away, desperate to be out in the cool night air again. The woman caught her hand before she’d gone a dozen paces.

“There’s a special show,” she said. “Invitation only. Some things are only for those who can appreciate them.”

Aileen would have protested but the look in the woman’s eyes hooked her curiosity. The woman lead her on, through the crowds, through the smell of dust, and straw and candy-floss, to a tent beyond the others, small and alone.

“This is my man,” the woman said with pride in her voice as she lead Aileen inside to near total darkness.

“You may be shocked at first but when you truly see him you’ll understand.”

“Understand what?” Aileen asked.

The woman lit an oil lamp and as the yellow flame caught and flickered in the soot stained glass, it reflected dully on the skin of another.

Aileen gasped, a sharp intake of horror. It’s flesh was grey, it’s head grotesque and large with two huge, glistening, black pools for eyes. No nose, but the small line of a mouth. In a fluid movement it stood up, towering over her on legs so thin it didn’t seem right. Aileen couldn’t move, she couldn’t breath. She could only stare in terror as it reached out and caressed her bruised face with soft, slender fingers.

Aileen’s heart skipped.

It didn’t skip with horror or fear. It skipped with joy.

She’d never known how empty she’d been, how lonely and alone, or how drab and dark her world. She knew now. Now she was full of love and was loved, she would never be alone again, and everything was full of color and everything was bright. Her sharply indrawn breath of horror was released as a tremulous contented sigh.

The woman stood by the tent opening, tears running freely from her faded blue eyes. “It’s hard to love and be loved so much,” she said. “I can’t bear the weight of it any more. He needs someone stronger, that’s why I found you.”

Aileen nodded, she understood perfectly.

Outside, John was shouting her name. He was still quite far away but he’d likely been calling for some time. He’d be angry when he found her.

“All that remains is to free you of your obligation.” The woman pulled a knife from the folds of her dress and held the tent open.

“The things we do for love,” the woman said and then was gone.

Aileen turned into her lover’s cool embrace, breathing deeply the musk of dust, straw and candy-floss that surrounded her. Somewhere outside, John’s shouting was cut off right in the middle of calling her name.

The End



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