The Secret Pocket
The carnival would drag on for hours, but she knew she couldn't leave. She would lose her nerve and not return. Instead, Milly wandered from attraction to attraction, looking at the faded colors of banners and signs, at wooden stalls worn from years of being taken down and put back up. She tried to play a couple of the games, but only won a small necklace that fell apart before noon.
She used what little money she had to feed herself and Missy. The food was greasy and delicious, often over- salted by sweat that fell from the brows of the people who served it. She caught a boy watching her as she slipped part of a corn dog into her dress's secret pocket, but she stared him down. His look of curiosity melted away as he recognized who she was. Everyone in their village knew.
After a while, Missy said she was tired, so they found an out of the way place to rest. Milly let her sister wrap her hand around her finger as she watched the crowds of people slowly ebb away into the night. She wondered if she should talk about serious things, but Missy didn't want that. Missy just wanted things to be normal, usual. Once they were sure most people were gone, they sang their favorite songs. All too soon, her sister told her it was time.
She kept her head down as she walked to the sideshow wagons. Most people probably viewed the wheeled cages of bearded women and misshapen people with some cross between revulsion and delight. Milly felt only sympathy. She wished she could stop and talk with them, but most of them were asleep. Missy told her she was just stalling.
Their goal sat some distance from the others, framed by an old twisted oak tree. She knew the occupant of the cage had keepers, but custom dictated that his guards would only come to the sound of screaming. She informed Missy this was unpleasant and proceeded to tap on the cage's door.
“A visitor,” came a voice from the darkness. The voice was soothing, deep and attractive.
“Y-yes, sir. You're the one they call the Geek?”
“Were I not, you would not be here, would you?” Chains clanked against each other and slide across the surface of the cage as the man moved closer. “And who might you be?”
“They said there is a key.” It was the story about the key had gotten Missy's attention in the first place. As part of the dark thrill of having a man like this in the carnival, the owners allowed him to keep the key to his cage. He was chained to the walls and couldn't get out, but he could give the key to anyone he wished.
All she could see of him was his hands. Pale fingers clutching the iron bars. His nails were filthy. “There is a key.” One hand let go of its bar and suddenly a battered iron key appeared between two fingers. “You are certainly welcome to join me, though I make no promises for your leaving. Not in one piece, anyway.”
“I suppose that is what she is counting on.” With a sigh, Milly plucked the key from him and unlocked the door. She was shaking as she pulled herself into the cage. It smelled like sweat and rot and other, darker things.
“You're in now, child. Tell me your name.” His voice had a thickness to it, like it held too much saliva. His mouth was watering.
“Before that . . . I have to know if it's true. Do you . . .?”
“Do I?” Suddenly, he slid from his shadow, chains coming with him. The rest of his skin was just as pale as his hands. Someone must shave his face, because she saw no signs of stubble beneath the faded stage makeup of white with black around eyes and mouth. His hair was wild and filthy, standing on end from the oils and dirt. His tuxedo was worn and tattered and possessed too many stains to even count.
She backed away from him, grasping at the far end of the cage. Missy told her there was no reason to fear. “Do you really eat people?”
The man laughed. “Oh yes. I eat them. It's not just some barker's trick. I eat human flesh and to be honest, I'm not sure if I can even help myself.” She met his eyes and wished she hadn't. “Not the answer you wanted to hear, little girl?”
“I . . . no. Well, actually, yes. It is.”
He sat back. “I don't understand.”
“Tell me your name.”
Is this really what you want? Is this how you want it to end? She lowered her head because she knew the answers already. She moved on her knees towards him again. “My name is Milly,” she said. “I am 14 years old.” She grasped the edges of her dress and pulled it up to her breasts. “And this is Missy. She is also 14. She is my twin.”
He gasped. Everyone always gasped. It was always such a shock for them to see Missy there, nestled against Milly’s belly, with her tiny head, one eye, and half a mouth. Missy had some hair, though not much. She had legs that fell limp and couldn't move, but one arm and a hand that could clutch Milly's finger.
“I must say,” said the Geek, “that is truly the most hideous thing I have ever seen.”
“She's not hideous.” Milly caressed her twin's face. “She's beautiful. I think she is the most beautiful person.”
He pointed at Missy, then attempted to touch her and failed. He tried again, succeeding this time, but only for a second before he jerked his finger away. “That is not a person.”
“SHE IS. She is a person. She's MY person. She always has been, even if no one else understood. They tried to ignore her, their own daughter and they treated her like she didn't exist. They didn't even name her. I named her.” She stroked her sister's hair. “I named her and when I was old enough, I ripped open slits in my clothes. Secret pockets so she could hold my finger, so I could feed her things. She can eat. She has some teeth.”
The geek flinched. “You named her.”
“And . . . and why . . . why?”
Could she say it out loud? Did she have to? “Missy tells me she is dying. She can't hold on much longer.”
She supposed it a victory see such horror on the face of a man who inspired so much repugnance in others. “You came because you want me to . . . to eat her off of you?”
“No, I don't wish for this. But she does. She says I might die if she dies and is left to rot on me. She says I could never have a future if she was on me, all dead and everything. She wants you to eat her away from my body.”
The man pulled at his frayed coat sleeve, then ran his fingers through his dirty hair. “She wants me to--”
“But she wants you to still be alive when I am finished. I must admit, I am not sure I can accomplish this. Once I begin chewing on someone, it is quite difficult for me to stop.”
Milly closed her eyes. “That's fine. Maybe that is even better. Maybe I should just die as well.” Missy didn't want that, but she wasn't the one being forced to consider a life without the most important person in it. Tears stung her eyes. The best thing to do was to just get out of here.
The man grabbed her and she cried out. “I can always tell when people are about to leave me, Milly. I just do not think I can let that happen.”
She whined in protest, but felt her body relaxing against him. She promised her twin. She promised. She couldn't leave, no matter how much she wanted to. She knew she wouldn't stop crying until the end. “It's okay.”
“I suppose I'm going to do this,” his voice held that thickness again as he spoke. “Though, I do wonder why your sister chooses for this to be her end.”
“She has always been a part of me,” Milly whispered, “when you eat her, she'll be a part of you. She’ll still belong to someone.”