I wonder if it's actually anyone's ambition to join the circus. I know it wasn't mine; and yet, here I am. I am the premiere psychic at Madame Malraux's Moonlight Circus, a troupe of individuals—or freaks, as we are often affectionately called—who perform in the bayous of New Orleans. We never perform during the day, hence the name "Moonlight Circus." Our audience consists mostly of tourists with too much money, emptying their wallets and clawing their way to the front to get a glimpse of the bizarre. Madame Malraux says people aren't allowed to embrace oddities in their normal lives, so a part of them—the twisted part we're all taught to keep hidden—desperately craves something strange…and we aim to please.
There's a fervor that's almost primal in the way people stumble over each other to get a glimpse of Tout Petit, the shortest woman on Earth. We all get a kick out of the way people slowly approach Mikey, or Lobster Boy as the poster reads, as if he's a feral animal. In reality, he's an introverted bookworm who makes a mean blueberry bread. Then of course we have Rajah, our meticulously groomed bearded lady. Kory and Klaus, our convivial conjoined twins. Last, but not least, Franklin, who’s about as normal as us circus folk get aside from being born with three full length legs.
There's several of us who don't boast any oddities by birth, but can juggle roaring chainsaws, swallow swords, throw knives blindfolded and other terrifying talents of that sort. Then there's me, the psychic. I've been given the name Hypno, which I might find really cool and interesting if I wasn't faking the whole thing. On top of having no physical oddities, I also possess no magical qualities or psychic abilities of any kind. I'm afraid I'm completely, disappointingly, and woefully...normal.
One might think this would make me feel out of place among a group as eclectic as this. Ironically enough, this band of eccentrics, who have now become like family to me, might be the most normal people I've ever met. They would strap me to the Wheel of Death and throw knives at me for saying so; the title of freak is a badge of honor. In truth, the Wheel of Death might be a welcome punishment compared to what they would do if they knew I wasn't actually one of them.
I wish the story of how I ended up here was more interesting, but I can really sum it up in one painful point: my parents didn't want me. I was their little not-so-pleasant surprise. To their credit, they put up with my smart mouth for seven years before taking me to the circus for my birthday.
My parents hurriedly closed the doors to our station wagon. My mother wrapped her coat tightly around her waist before extending her hand down to me. "Come on, Mal. The show is going to start soon."
As she held out her hand, I noticed two pieces of paper sticking out of her pocket. I caught a glimpse of them for less than a second, but saw the words Union Passenger Terminal printed at the top. My father came around the side of the car and my gaze fell to his hands. His palms were red and had a distinct wrinkled pattern in them, like he had just been carrying something heavy. I smirked to myself and finally grabbed my mom's hand, my observations taking place in a matter of seconds. I didn't bother saying anything, but as my parents eagerly rushed me toward the edge of the bayou, I knew they were going to be leaving without me.
"Why don't you go get the tickets? Your father and I will get you some cotton candy." My mother insisted, handed me a five dollar bill, and turned me away. If either of my parents had paid an ounce of attention to me, they would've known I hated cotton candy and offered to get me popcorn instead. Nevertheless, I did as I was told and approached the dock, holding out the money to the man in front of me, covered head to toe in creepy tattoos.
"Sorry mon chou, you need an adult present to buy tickets." He said, his yellow eyes tattooed to look like a snakes' peering down at me.
I glanced back at the cotton candy stand and failed to find my parents anywhere close to it. I sighed and turned back to the man, noticing a distinct bulge on his right hip and a rough callous on his left thumb and index finger. I narrowed my eyes and looked up at him. "How about this, you let me in, and I won't tell anyone that you're taking a portion of the ticket sales. What are you telling people, anyway? Another five dollars will get them front row seats, or an autographed picture?" I paused and his mouth fell open, struggling to form a sentence. "Hmm, I see. Just upselling the price and taking the extra for yourself. Not as clever, but I suppose it is easier."
"H-how did you—" He began to stutter.
"Intuition." I said plainly. It wasn't worth explaining that the bulge on his right hip had the unmistakable imprint of crumpled up dollar bills—quite a few, I would venture to guess. A callous on the thumb and index finger is always indicative of someone counting money. So, unless his day job was working as a bank teller, I assumed it was from taking some cash off the top of each sale. The tattooed man was looking down at me with surprise and, maybe even, fear? "I'm going to assume by your expression that I'm right. I thought so. I'll show myself to my seat." I said and stepped through the marshy grass of the bayou, taking a seat on a weathered tarp. I didn't bother to look around for my parents. It was already after nine o'clock, and they had a train to catch.
When the show ended, the audience dissipated rather quickly. A few stayed behind in hopes the freaks would come out and greet them, but soon enough the bayou was cleared of everything except the sound of crickets chirping in the night. I made my way back to the snack stand where a woman with no legs was sweeping popcorn kernels off the ground.
"One popcorn please." I said and held the money out in front of her.
She looked around as if she wasn't sure I was talking to her and turned back to me. Her black hair was curled up into a ponytail and a fresh coat of Avon's Plum Pink was painted across her pursed lips. "I'm sorry doll, the show is over. You can come back tomorrow." She dismissed me and immediately began to sweep again.
It wasn't in my nature to be accommodating and, as it happens, I needed a place to stay tonight. So, I had to think quickly. "Actually, I'm here to audition."
She set the dustpan down and scoffed at me, resting her hand on her waist. "Is that right? And what might your act be?" She looked me up and down dubiously.
"I'm a psychic." I answered without hesitation.
The woman laughed to herself and placed the handle of the dustpan in her mouth, walking on her hands over to a metal bin and tilting her head to deposit the trash in it. "I appreciate your imagination, kid, but I've got work to do," she said and as she passed me, a trace of Tuvaché Oh! de London filled my senses.
Ah, that would explain the lipstick.
"I understand. Don't want to keep your boyfriend waiting," glancing at her hands, I noted an obscure tan on her ring finger, “...excuse me, your husband."
She eyed me warily. "Fiancé, actually."
"Of course, my mistake. He travels so much I'm sure it's hard to organize a wedding. Air Force, right?"
"Yeah, a pilot. How did you know that?" She backed away from me, intimidated.
"I told you, I'm psychic." Well that, or the fact that she had a gold clip resembling a pair of wings in her hair. All of her other jewelry looked well-worn, but the clip was shiny. It was the only piece that seems to be polished, suggesting sentimental value. Combine that with the perfume, makeup and very important date she was in such a hurry to get to, and I had myself a husband in the Air Force. Quite simple, actually…if you have an observant bone in your body.
She peered up at me hesitantly, and eventually extended her hand to me. "What did you say your name was?"
I grabbed her hand and shook it firmly. "Mal. Yours?"
"Mary. Come with me, I'll take you to see Miss Malraux."
I've been Hypno the All-Knowing Heretic for the last ten years. I suppose I should really be called Hypno the Hyper-Observant Compulsive Liar, but that doesn't have the same ring. It doesn't bring in any customers either. I've had people seeking my prophetic insight on love, success, and death since I was seven years old. In return, I get a place to stay, three meals a day, a paycheck, and a family. No complaints here.
I sit with Franklin, Kory, and Klaus at breakfast, which is more difficult than one might imagine. One has three legs and the other two torsos, so together they take up quite a bit of space.
"Well, I hope you've left some for the rest of us." I say and nod towards the twins' plate, piled high with cooked potatoes.
"Hey, we've got two mouths to feed." Klaus defends and I laugh to myself, preparing to make another smart remark, but stopping short.
The edges of my vision begin to drop out of focus, like I'm about to faint, but my body stays upright. I look down at my plate and the shimmer in the glass entrances me until I feel my eyes glaze over. I don't turn my head or move from the table but, somehow, begin to see images through my own eyes that I can't explain.
A white Cadillac Convertible parking in the marsh near the bayou.
A well-dressed gentleman with jet black hair, slicked behind his ears.
Madame Malraux in her dressing room flipping through a stack of hundred-dollar bills.
The Cadillac driving away, now with two bodies in the backseat.
And finally, Madame Malraux laying limp in her dressing room—dead.
I gasp as the blur at the edge of my eyes returns to normal and I'm staring down at my plate once again.
"Mal, are you alright?" Franklin's voice calls to me, but I don't meet his eyes. "Mal—"
"No," I say lowly, "I don't know what that was…I just feel like something bad is about to happen."
"Oh," he sighs in relief, "you had another vision."
"What are you talking about? That wasn't—" I begin to say and remind myself that everyone here believes this happens to me all the time, whatever this was. "I mean," I continue, "I don't know what just happened, but it wasn't good."
Klaus leans in and whispers, "What did you see?"
My brain is still reeling and I'm trying to process the event myself, but I know one thing confidently: Miss Malraux isn't who we think she is, and I think she might be in trouble.
Kory strokes his chin in thought as I finish telling them about my vision. "Hmm, a Cadillac? I've never seen one in real life before."
"Yeah," Klaus agrees, "that would be something."
"No, you don't understand." I groan, frustrated that they're focusing on the wrong details. "I think Miss Malraux is going to—"
I'm interrupted by the sound of a car's tires turning on the ground. My heart stops. No one ever comes here during the day. We all stand up, equally curious. I stare out in shock as a white Cadillac Convertible parks right in front of our home. I've never felt shocked in my life. I've always used reason to figure out what's going to happen, and yet, even seeing it with my own eyes couldn't prepare me for digesting this.
I watch, frozen in place. A man in a suit exits the driver's side and I let out a breath I didn't realize I was holding. He doesn't look at all like the man I described.
Though, it seems I've spoken too soon. The man in the suit opens the passenger door. I look on in horror as a well-dressed gentleman with jet black hair, slicked behind his ears, exits the vehicle with a smug grin on his face. He looks around as if the entire bayou is beneath him, walking carefully through the grass so as not to get anything on his shoes. With each step he takes, a dark omen follows him. For the first time in my life, I am making an observation about someone without analyzing them. For the first time in my life, it's not logic or reason bringing me to this conclusion, it's not even a gut feeling. It's as though I can see him, all of him—his past, present, and future—circling around him in a blaze of purple and black.
Miss Malraux emerges from her tent and I gasp, rubbing my eyes, sure that I'm seeing things. I open them back up again, but it's still there. Miss Malraux has the same dark glow as the black-haired man, and I know as surely as the sky is blue that that is not a good thing. A weight swells into my chest and my expression turns grim. From this point forward, I don't trust either of them.
"Oh, Monsieur Blake. I'm so glad you made it." Miss Malraux gushes as she approaches him. I notice she is wearing her most flattering, lavender gown and has done her hair and makeup. You don't need hyper-observant deduction skills to see she is trying to impress this man. Miss Malraux sticks her hand out to the gentleman. He takes it reluctantly.
"Welcome to our cabinet of curiosities. Why don't you come have a look around?" As she turns, the chauffeur retrieves a handkerchief from his breast pocket and hands it to the gentleman—Mr. Blake, apparently—who then wipes off the hand he just used to greet Miss Malraux and drops the cloth to the ground.
The two of them make their way over to us and I can feel my heart racing. It's beating so loud I can hear it in my ears. This can't be happening. Just twelve hours ago I was telling a lovestruck young woman about her future with the man she hopes to marry, based on nothing but the clothes she was wearing. Every reading, every prediction, it's all been an act, an incredibly accurate act, but an act nonetheless. This is different. This is real. Their dark auras advance toward us and I swear I hear the black and purple clouds laughing sinisterly to each other.
"Friends, this is Mr. Blake. He will be attending our show tonight, but has paid quite a price to meet you all before hand." Miss Malraux beams at him and gestures him toward us.
"I must say, I've heard so much about your little show and simply had to come see your oddities for myself." He shakes our hands one by one, pausing when he gets to Kory and Klaus. He narrows his eyes at them. "Conjoined twins...fascinating." He muses, and I feel a pang in my chest. My eyesight begins to cloud again and I see with complete clarity the two bodies in the backseat of the Cadillac from my vision.
In fact, it's not two bodies at all, just two heads. It's Kory and Klaus.
My head begins to spin and I feel dizzy. Miss Malraux leaves with Mr. Blake to show him around and I have to take a seat. The money, the twins, Miss Malraux dead in her dressing room. What does all of it mean?
I tie the blue ribbon at the back of Tout Petite's dress and her tiny face smiles up at me. "Thank you, Mal. You are always so kind to me."
"It's my pleasure." I smile warmly. "Are you able to finish the rest by yourself? I have to make sure the twins are ready.
She nods to me and I exit her tent. Despite our odd encounter this afternoon with Mr. Blake, the troupe is preparing for the show as normal. I begin to think that maybe my psychic episode resulted from a lack of sleep.
As per usual, I've spoken too soon.
"Kory, Klaus! Ten minutes to showtime!" I call as I enter their tent. Upon finding it empty, a feeling of dread consumes me. Without wasting another moment, I sprint around the grounds asking the other performers if they've seen the twins. Everyone shrugs indifferently and my feeling of dread shifts to panic.
I pull at my hair as tears begin to well up in my eyes. I glance toward Miss Malraux's tent. She's my last hope. Nothing here happens without her knowing. With each step I take, the dread creeps back in and I don't even realize I'm crying until I'm standing right outside her door. Perhaps because I already know what I'm going to see.
"Miss Malraux?" My voice calls weakly, practically a whisper through my tears. I lift the curtain slowly and gasp. I seem to recall mentioning that I never feel shocked. Yet, here I am. Despite having seen it once already, and hoping it not to be true, I find myself debilitatingly shocked as I peer over Miss Malraux's lifeless body on the ground. My head spins, processing a million thoughts at once, but I'm certain of one thing: I am completely, disappointingly, and woefully...psychic.