Countdown to Launch gives you one of our favourite submissions every Monday. Sacha’s story can be found in the FREAK Circus bumper Kindle edition. Available October 1st.
This week we have a poignant tale of freak show twins from Sacha Kyle. With a wonderful writing style Sacha gives us an imaginative and tragic look into the life of twinned freak performers growing up in circus life.
They moved two by two, side by side, ear to ear. Twinned. Birthed at the same time. Stuck together. Some said they had clung so hard to each other on the inside that their bodies became intertwined as they grew from seed to human. They were never wanted. The shouting on the outside shook the placenta as their new limbs grew and precious ears buds formed into place. Loud blasts of their father’s dark baritone words penetrated the womb like little daggers. Sometimes the shouting was slurred and they were unable to distinguish the exact words but the frequency of the sound, the pitch, the tone of each word could be felt. It vibrated through each protective layer causing the embryonic fluid to move in waves swishing them about like little pirate ships caught in a storm. Their mother often sang to them at night and the soft gentle tones calmed and lulled them to sleep. The only additional sound that they had become accustomed to was the constant murmur of the audience, the high and low frequency of the cheers and the oohs and ahs as the trapeze artists tumbled high above them. The claps rippled inside the twin’s inner bubble tickling the tiny hairs on their skin and the laughter from the clown’s slapstick finale reflected against their mothers belly making them both hiccup in unison. They were being moulded into show performers before they were even born and soon they wouldn’t know any different. Their act was ready made.
S I D E S H O W F R E A K S:
Their father Demetrius, the ringmaster, was a hot-tempered man who carried forward the shows bloodline from each generation before him. But their mother Elizabeth, a kind and gentle soul, was birthed into a very different environment – one of expectation, money and class. She was the daughter of a doctor and was often simultaneously ignored and shown off in equal measure. Elizabeth always dreamt of running away from the stifling reality that was quickly becoming her own, she just hadn’t planned on it being with the circus.
One muggy August when the air was full and the trees stood still the circus had arrived into Elizabeth’s town. The striped red and white tent lured in the wealthy and it was while watching the matinee from a private booth that Demetrius had caught her eye. Flamboyant and bold the ringmaster was the opposite to everything Elizabeth had known and over an elicit meeting mixed with ale and boredom, as sometimes does happen, they gave way to their individual desires. By the end of the last evening show, Elizabeth had packed a small suitcase. She left her family without a word instead choosing to scribble a quick goodbye onto her show ticket just below the fading admit-one stamp and left it on the cold stair in the parlour.
The young lovers jumped in with soaring hearts and good intentions but the claustrophobic nature of the circus soon began to play with Elizabeth’s emotions. This, along with the pressure of finding new acts began to make Demetrius’s skull crack underneath his black top hat. These fault lines grew deeper and deeper until both of their hearts grew heavy like cold red stones held up by dead flesh. The blessed pregnancy had lifted their spirits temporarily although the news of a half-breed, a potent mix of circus and townie, entering into the fold wasn’t easily welcomed by the inner show circle. Demetrius swiftly returned to alcohol and debauchery and Elizabeth retreated more and more into herself.
They certainly weren’t expecting two of them.
Elizabeth, who had been checked over by the elephant tamer, was told that there was definitely only one baby and that it would be a girl. It was only when curiosity had got the better of her and a visit to the palm reader had revealed the truth. The tarot cards read plain to see – two boys. Two. Both male. Twice the help Demetrius had said. Brawn and muscle was nothing to be sniffed at. But Elizabeth had ever so wanted a precious little delicate flower of a girl.
As soon as the twins had been born and the shock had subsided, Demetrius put them straight to work in the sideshow as the ‘Two Headed Cherubini’. Fate works in mysterious ways he had said to Elizabeth as he counted the freshly paid notes each night. She would watch on helplessly cradling the two deformed boys in her arms as fresh warm tears tumbled down her cheeks. The twin’s act was saved for the blow off, the unadvertised extra after the ten-in-one. This extra fee allowed spectators to get up close and observe first hand the oddity of the two-headed tiny human. At first, the sight of the two-headed cherub drew in the crowds, but after a while the new edgier acts including the hermaphrodites and tattooed people stole the show and the boys became nothing more than a nuisance. When they were old enough to walk and think for themselves they were hastily given the job of unlocking the menagerie of caged animals just before each performance. Demetrius’s reputation of running a circus pulsing with the must-see acts was fading and his descent into lurid night habits and drinking spiralled out of control. His temper worsened and the twins were regularly found at the centre of a dark mood or the aggressive back swing of his hand or whatever object had been lying nearby. The twins eventually grew quiet, nervous and detached from the rest of the troupe.
Elizabeth desperately wanted to fix them. Whenever the circus arrived at each new town she had scoured the charity shops for old medical journals and began researching the procedure meticulously. It was possible. Every afternoon and evening at precisely the start of each show she would hide away in a small cupboard behind the spare costumes to study. A simple slice straight through the middle and they would be separated. She would preserve their bodies side by side within one jar and showcase them as the ‘Pickled Punks’ in the sideshow. This way she could see them every day, free from ever growing older and saved from a life of sadness. She waited patiently until the day of the twins sixteenth birthday – the very day that they would become men and the day that she would free them. Demetrius had gone out for the night and she knew he wouldn’t return until the very early hours stumbling into the caravan dripping in a musty sweat mixed with the stench of paid women and cheap vodka. Vlad the circus cleaner who was trained in the ways of first aid had always showed a shine for Elizabeth and she intended to use this to her advantage. The twins were peacefully asleep, two heads sunk into their single pillow tucked underneath their shared blanket. She had given them each a bottle of the finest whisky she could afford and encouraged them to guzzle the honey liquid down their throats. They wouldn’t wake from this intoxicated slumber and if they did the shock would cause them to faint back into it immediately. She stepped softly towards them and blowing a silent kiss into both her palms, placed a hand over each of their hearts. Then she stepped aside to allow Vlad the access that he had needed. He wiped the steel blade on the edge of the blanket and lifted it upwards. The knife caught the light from the lamplight blinding Vlad for a few seconds. This gave Elizabeth enough time to breathe, inhale deeply before gasping for air as the panic of what she was about to attempt set in.
‘Stop’, she wheezed.
‘My babies’, she gasped collapsing on top of the twins. Vlad dropped the blade onto the bed and picked up Elizabeth dragging her out into the setting sun to catch her breath.
‘I can’t do it, my heart is breaking in two at the mere thought of it, yet I can’t continue on as the mere thought of that also breaks my heart in two’.
She glanced up at Vlad his eyes wide pupils dilated knowing exactly what she wanted him to do. She took his trembling hand and guided him back to the dressing room. She flicked the switch and the bulbs around the periphery of the mirror blinked brightly. Guiding his hand with hers she gently placed the rusting blade above her heart. Two halves she said. One for each twin.
That morning as the yellow sun set into a deep pink sky the town remained quiet. The entrance to the circus tent billowed in the light wind as black crows silently pecked around the steel frames searching for popcorn shrapnel. A few miles away, past the last collection of houses, a single black top hat floated along the canal near the edge of the town. The twisted reeds under the canal bridge had dragged down Demetrius’s body. No one knew whether he had ever returned to find his wife that night.
Two days of mourning took place as the big top tent and all the inhabitants were shrouded in black. The rain poured down slantways as it always seems to do on these occasions and soaked the earth under the wheels of the wooden caravans. That evening, the twins following in the show tradition, took their place as the ringmasters at the centre of the show. Around their necks they wore a golden locket with half a heart encased inside each one delicately engraved with the words ‘The show must go on’.