Estimated reading time — 20 minutes
There was nothing strange about Amber. She wasn’t too tall or too short. She was of average height and weight. She wasn’t ugly but she wasn’t pretty either and her grades, although passing, were never top marks. She lived in an average house, with an average family, in an average town. Her father worked an average job in insurance and her mother sold Avon to other average housewives. They drove an average Toyota and listened to average music. Everything about her childhood had been bland, stable and entirely average.
That was why Amber strove so hard to be different.
When she was three, she pitched dramatic tantrums in stores to get attention. When she was five, she delighted in wandering away from her parents so she could hide and watch them panic. She discovered heavy metal at six, black nail polish at eight, and the occult at ten. She first dyed her mouse-brown hair jet black at the tender age of eleven. By thirteen she had gotten several ear piercings and by fourteen she also had a nose, tongue and belly button ring. By use of a fake ID, she got her first tattoo – a skull reclining on a red rose – when she was fifteen. Morbidity fascinated her. She ritualistically wore black clothes and black makeup – with the exception of her penchant for dark red lipstick – and stared down anyone who dared to shoot her a dirty look.
Amber’s strait-laced parents were mortified by her appearance as were most of their very-clean-cut neighbors, yet they were even more horrified by her attitude and behavior. They could not understand why she was so interested in misfortune and they urged her to be thankful for her good health and stable life.
Such suggestions enraged her.
Throughout her teens she drank, she smoked, she skipped school and she stayed out late; sometimes she even ran away. On three separate occasions, the local police had brought her home after finding her passed out on a park bench or fighting at the mall or hanging out with the other cut-ups. Worst of all, she liked the wrong kind of boys.
Amber was no Miss America but she knew how to flirt and she had no trouble attracting men who liked her particular brand of sexy. Specifically, Amber was into musicians. Any guy who had cool hair, a loud band and a bad attitude was just her kind of man. In her mid-teens she had switched boyfriends frequently; quickly tiring of each one, bored by their inability to provide the kind of exceptional and exciting lifestyle that she so craved.
Then, when she was nineteen, she met Jaxson.
Jaxson was three years older than her and ten times poorer. Yet she envied him because, despite growing up with next to nothing, he had what she always wanted – an abnormal childhood. Jaxson had been raised on the carnival circuit and had traveled from place to place with no formal schooling and little respect for authority. She had met him at a rock concert when his fledgling band – known as “Bloody Scum” – was opening for an equally eloquently named group, “Spit Spewers”. Whilst standing at the edge of a mosh-pit, she had admired his drumming skills. Yet she only decided to cozy up to him after she watched the group’s grand finale which involved Jaxson repeatedly slamming his head down on the cymbals. Any guy who did that was hardcore, and Amber liked hardcore guys.
Jaxson rode a motorcycle, drank like a fish, cursed like a sailor and disregarded every rule known to man. He had even been arrested for disorderly conduct a few times; bailing him out gave Amber the hots. He was wild – nearly feral – but he was also considerably less intelligent than she was, thereby making him much easier to manipulate – another trait that Amber liked in her men.
Jaxson was a certified redneck and he could be as mean as poison when he drank, but Amber gave as good as she got. They fought constantly, but after they smacked each other up good and plenty, the quality of the make-up sex was worth every punch, every kick, every bite. For nearly three years things were good – or what qualified as good in their very un-traditional (totally non-average) relationship – until Jaxson discovered OxyContin.
By then his band had broken up and he had gone back to his family on the Floridian carnival circuit, taking Amber with him. By that point, she had graduated from groupie to girlfriend and she was downright ecstatic to join the carnival – feeling right at home amid the tattooed carnies and pink-haired ticket takers. The show even had some genuine freaks – fat ladies, bearded ladies, and contortionists amongst them. Jaxson even admitted that his late Great Uncle had been part of the sideshow courtesy of having been born with a parasitic twin growing out of his back. This tidbit of family history was what really made Jaxson sexy in Amber’s eyes. For a girl who desired difference, a guy with freaky genes was the crème de la crème.
Although Jaxson’s family was less than impressed by Amber, they begrudgingly came to accept her – in part because she could curse better any of them, which was a highly esteemed skill in their circle. She was also pretty good at reading palms, tarot cards and tea leaves. She had yearned polish her skills, but the ancient fortune teller was a shriveled old hag who delighted in being a complete bitch to everyone. Had that attitude not extended to include her, Amber might have admired it. Despite such early tensions, Amber was starting to settle in – really get with the groove of the nomadic lifestyle – when Jaxson had started popping pills.
It began insidiously. He was depressed by the failure of his band and, on the road, the cure for depression was often found at the bottom of a bottle – a pill bottle, in Jaxson’s case. He went through periods of agitation followed by days when he was completely lethargic. Their fights increased, his family blamed her, and after the police were called in to break up one particularly bad row, Amber packed up her things and moved back up north.
By then, she was twenty-two and hadn’t spoken to her parents in over four years. Instead, she crashed in a small apartment with her friend Lara and didn’t even bother to tell her family that she was living less than an hour away from them. Her stomach was already wrenched enough due to stress and tension.
That was when things got weird.
* * * * * *
”I wanna see if they have any more rodent skulls.”
That sentence instigated the trip to Vera’s Vintage. Amber had been playing roommate to Lara for barely a week and she was already in the mood to redecorate. Lara’s apartment was small and cramped but it didn’t need to be anywhere near as bare as it was. Lara worked nights stripping under the moniker “Lithium” and she slept in the everyday – leaving her with little desire to make an effort to search for home goods. Amber, unemployed and insanely bored, was desperate to add some flare to her surroundings and Vera’s Vintage was the ideal location since it carried some seriously strange – even sinister – items.
“Go yourself, you weirdo bitch,” Lara half whined, half yawned, making no gesture to rise from her nest of bed sheets.
“Look who’s talking, trashy ho,” Amber retorted and leaned down to flick Lara’s nose.
Abusive bantering was part of their bond – it seemed strange, but both women liked strange things.
“Seriously, it’s almost 4 pm. It’s open until 5 pm. If you get your ass up now, we can make it and maybe I won’t go insane and slaughter us both.”
Lara buried her face deeper into the pillows but she was noticeably more awake than she had been a minute earlier. “I’ve been working all night.”
Amber had briefly considered joining Lara as a stripper using the moniker Morphine but she was too flat-chested for it and deathly scared of needles so plastic surgery was out of the question.
“Maybe, I’ll think about it…Just get out of my room if you want me to get dressed.”
“Oh, like I haven’t seen tits and ass before.”
They both started giggling and that sealed the deal, they were going to go to the store. It was pretty remarkable that they got along so well, especially since Amber liked so few people. She had been called cold and callous; attention-seeking and argumentative – a user. Jaxson’s aunt had even suggested that she was a sociopath which Amber regarded as a compliment even though she was fairly certain that it had been meant as an insult.
Part of the reason that Amber and Lara got along so well was that they were practically duplicates – two Goth chicks in their early 20s who hated normalcy, loved rough boys and horror movies and were fascinated by all things dark and weird. They had met when they were eighteen and working at an alternative bookstore. They bonded over volumes on the occult and freak-show history. Truthfully, they also bonded whilst parading around town together looking like two witches heading to a conference on black magic. Plus, Lara had a car and, as old and decrepit as it was, it got them from Point A to Point B. Amber appreciated that bonus, she wouldn’t be caught dead taking the bus. Public transportation was just so common.
Once in the car, they blasted their self-proclaimed anthem, “Black No. 1” by Type O Negative, all the way through town, giggling at the looks of suspicion and scorn that they garnered from every granny and soccer mom that they passed, and subsequently decided to play Nine Inch Nails “Closer” on the way home.
Vera’s Vintage was a dumpy little corner shop that’s basement expanded into a sprawling labyrinth of nicks and knacks. The owner – Vera – considered herself to be a psychic medium and she never looked twice at Amber’s dark appearance; if anything, she seemed more startled by Lara who was a rare Goth blonde.
It had been over a year since Amber had stepped foot into the store and she was instantly elated by its musty aroma. Thrift shops were akin to comfort food for her, a treasure chest of nostalgia. As a kid she had messed with her parents by buying old weird antiques – like taxidermy busts and books of potions – and decorated her room, sometimes the house, with them. She had learned that the best way to navigate a thrift shop was to search the top and bottom shelves since those nooks and crannies were where the coolest items were left to rot, overlooked.
Most of the things for sale were the standard junky fair – ancient trinkets that kinless spinsters had left behind. She had almost given up on finding anything worthwhile when a taxidermy owl caught her eye. When she reached up to grasp it, she accidentally knocked over an unremarkable cardboard box beside it – which contained the most remarkable collection of items that Amber had ever seen.
Freaks. Deformities. Oddities. The box was filled with stuff from old-time sideshows, mostly photos. Four-legged girls, men with tails, bearded ladies, pinheads, conjoined twins…some of them Amber recognized. She had been obsessed with freaks since grade school and she knew Pip and Flip, Myrtle Cobain and Stephan Bibrowski on sight. The Camel Girl, the Elephant Man, the Ape Woman – all had been popular attractions in their day. Yet the box contained other images that she hadn’t seen before: a two-faced man, a boy with an eye embedded in his forehead, a woman with horns sprouting from her neck. Amber’s hands shook with excitement as she rooted through the box. The photographs were obviously authentic and probably ranged from the 1860s to the 1940s – the golden age of freak shows.
That was when she found the doll.
It was an ugly old thing yet Amber’s hands grasped it eagerly. It was made of a material as coarse as burlap and while it was probably originally white it was now frayed and dirty. Oddly, its stringy black hair was surprisingly smooth – probably horse, or maybe human. Tattered and featureless, the doll would have been completely unremarkable if not for the strange lump on its side. Unlike lumps caused by misshapen stuffing, this one was stitched onto the doll intentionally as if a tumor was growing from within it.
Someone did this on purpose, Amber thought. She immediately understood that she had to have it. She took the box to the front of the store, prepared to haggle for a good price.
I’ll just get the doll if I don’t have enough for everything, Amber thought…and she would slip the doll into her back pocket and walk away with it if need be. She had never wanted anything as badly as she wanted that weird, creepy, deformed doll.
Vera didn’t haggle about price; in fact, she sold everything for five dollars, seemingly happy to be rid of it. Lara wasn’t nearly as impressed.
“Why’d you want that?” She asked, wrinkling her nose in disgust at the sight of the doll.
“It’s cool, check out these photos! I think some of them are from Coney Island back in its heyday.”
“We gotta take a road trip there sometime.”
The history of Coney Island was something that Amber and Lara were fascinated by along with films like Freaks and the photography of Diana Arbus. Amber eagerly leafed through every image, hoping that one would be such a snapshot, but none of the photos looked like the work of Diane Arbus. They looked more like images that were intended to be used for postcards and newspapers, icons of the freaks that the non-deformed could ogle at long after they left the show. One particular photo commanded Amber’s attention – it depicted a little girl of nine or so staring sadly into the camera. She was naked from the waist up and had a huge lump on her side…a lump that had visible arms and legs – shriveled and half-formed but arms and legs none the less. Amber turned the coarse yellowed paper over; “Opal and Pearl” was scripted on the back in browning, aged, ink.
“They’re parasitic twins!” Amber squealed gleefully. “Isn’t that awesome?”
Lara glanced at the photo and squirmed. “Gross.”
“Parasitic twins are my favorite kinds of freaks,” Amber continued, ignoring Lara’s reaction, “I bet this was their doll!”
“You think some store sold dolls like that?” Lara exclaimed, unable to veil her shock.
Amber rolled her eyes. “No, dummy, this is obviously homemade. Someone stitched this doll to make it look like that girl.”
“Someone must’ve really loved her to do that,” Lara replied, with an audible edge in her tone. Lara had a horrible relationship with her parents and she resented anyone who had been even remotely cared for as a child…including the deformed little freak in the photo who had undoubtedly died decades earlier.
When they got home, Amber leaned the doll against the lamp on her nightstand and reached for an aspirin. She was starting to feel queasy again.
I hope this isn’t the flu, she thought. Without insurance, antibiotics would cost a fortune. Yet the queasiness passed and she and Lara spent a pleasant evening eating ramen noodles and watching “Paranormal Witness” reruns.
The weird shit started at 2:43.
She was vividly dreaming…a tall man in a top hat and a fancy coat is standing at the foot of a grand stone staircase, beckoning to her. There is something unnerving about him – unnatural – but alluring. She steps closer and closer and when she gets near to him, she sees that his face is made of nothing but burlap. He reaches for her, urging her to ascend the stairs towards a regal looking brick building….
Amber awoke with a start, keenly aware that shadowy figures were moving around her room; she could see them out of the corners of her eyes but no matter how swiftly she swiveled her head she couldn’t focus on them. Uttering a little scream of surprise, she switched on her bedroom light. The rag doll stared back at her, neither accusing nor sympathetic.
“Fuck,” Amber said aloud and immediately felt a deep aching sense of loss. She missed Jaxson, if he was lying next to her, she’d be able to cuddle up beside him and sleep. Junkie or not, he made her feel safe, secure and sexy. She missed being desired.
She switched off the light and burrowed back under the sheets, unwilling to let her imagination turn her into a hysteric. Her stomach lurched and she wondered if she had a tapeworm, a big fat one like the kinds she sometimes saw in tequila bottles. It was a possibility. She was always hungry no matter how much she ate and yet her stomach still complained. She also felt bloated but had a weird craving for fried onions – which was beyond strange because she normally hated them, she even forbade Jaxson from eating them near her. He loved the damn things.
Maybe the worm is missing him too, she thought, and felt another pang of loss.
The room suddenly seemed very warm. Amber kicked off the comforter but still felt like she was sweltering.
Roasting and queasy – an all-new low, she thought as she begrudgingly rose from the bed and walked over to the window.
The evening was chilly; a cool breeze blew forth from the lake directly across from Lara’s apartment complex.
I’ll open the window wider and that’ll get me cooled off enough to sle–
There was someone standing by the edge of the water. It was a little girl in a white dress, illuminated by the moonlight; her eyes were as black as her hair. Then Amber noticed something incredibly strange – impossible, even – although there was only one girl standing by the waterside, the reflection showed two; a duplicate so precise that it could only be an identical twin. The little girl on the water’s edge beckoned to Amber and her twin water reflections mimicked the gesture; a triple threat.
Lara burst into the room within seconds. Amber pointed out the window and babbled about the figure but when Lara looked there was nothing to see but water and reeds and distant trees.
“You’re crackers, my dear bitch,” Lara opined but she did agree to stay in the room that night so Amber was eventually able to descend into a deep – and thankfully dreamless – sleep.
* * * * * *
Three days later, a pregnancy test came back positive. She had brought it on a whim after her bouts of morning sickness weren’t responding to Tylenol. She hadn’t believed it at first but when three others came back likewise, she begrudgingly accepted the situation – she was likely one month pregnant. The dates worked out; although she was surprised that Jaxson still had such virility given his newfound pill habit. Lara saw immediate opportunities given the circumstances.
“You can totally get him on child support,” she said.
“Unless he ODs and dies first,” Amber muttered, staring miserably down at the hateful blue line.
“So? Then his family will pay. Carnie freaks or not they make steady money running the circuit, right?”
“True,” Amber agreed. “You know for someone who’s never been knocked up, you’ve got this whole baby daddy thing well thought out.”
Lara shrugged. “I know a lot of girls who make good money from having kids. You’ll be able to get welfare way easier now and you can feel free to stay with me. That money will come in handy.”
I can stay here, good.
That was comforting. The last thing Amber wanted to do was admit to her parents that they had a grandkid. They would almost certainly try to remove it from her care and that would be the end of any money to be had. It was a fucked-up situation but if she could make payout from it, she wasn’t one to complain. People like her took what they could get.
After a few moments of silence, Lara asked, “Do you think it’s a boy or a girl?”
Amber shrugged. “Doesn’t matter.”
“You should get a sonogram.”
“No!” Amber practically shouted, glaring icily at her best friend. “No doctors. You know I can’t stand hospitals; those places are just fancy slaughterhouses.”
“All pregnant women see doctors; you can even get free care–”
“I don’t need it. I’m not going to a hospital; if I can pop this kid out right here, I swear I will.”
“No way,” Lara replied, horrified. “Do you have any idea how disgusting that would be? Birth is akin to pure gore!”
“Anything’s better than needles. Besides, women gave birth at home for centuries before there was medicine and the human race survived. Plus, the women in my family always have easy births and healthy kids. It’ll be fine.”
“And if it’s not?”
“If I start bleeding to death during a breeched birth in the bathtub you have my permission to call 911.”
“Thanks for that lovely image, mommy.”
The weeks went on and, as Amber’s stomach grew, the dreams intensified. In them, she was always in a crowded place – sometimes it was a big building and other items it was a tattered tent but there were always people catcalling and screaming. Some were well dressed and others looked like bums but they were from a long time ago – their clothes and hairstyles conveyed an era long past. The dreams came every night and showed Amber more and more. A tall man in a top hat and tails – a caller – always stood outside enticing people – the rubes – to come in, and those very crowds were always amused but also shocked, even horrified, as they pointed and stared at a stage. Amber always awoke before she could see what was on display, but – on more than one occasion – she opened her eyes to find the odd little doll resting on her tummy, as if embracing the life that was growing inside of it.
In the sixth month of her pregnancy, Amber’s dream finally allowed her to see that a little girl was being exhibited on the stage…a little girl who had a much tinier half-formed body – two arms, a torso and two legs – hanging from her side, her clothes had even been tailor-made to fit her odd anatomy. Amber instantly recognized her as the little girl from the photo in the thrift store box – the doll’s original owner. As soon as Amber looked upon her, the girl stared back – her gaze was fiery and unforgiving. Seemingly oblivious to the rest of the crowd, she pointed at Amber’s belly with all four of her arms and sang the word “Mommy.”
Amber woke sweating profusely; pain seared her belly and she rolled onto her side. As she did, she uttered a scream of surprise – the little ragdoll was twirling around on the bedroom floor, dancing as if in a ballet. Amber blinked hard and then saw that the doll was simply lying on the floor, somehow staring at her in spite of its lack of eyes.
Despite the unsettling dreams and odd waking moments, Amber continued onwards with her regular routine. She continued to crave fried onions and jam out to bands like Kittie, Rob Zombie and Soil. She also continued to smoke and drink, figuring a kid with fetal alcohol syndrome could get her disability benefits.
“You better be careful,” Lara warned. “If you keep smoking and drinking after junior’s born those bastards from social services will pay you a visit.”
Amber sneered. “And do what? Take the little brat? Come on, foster care kids cost the state money and in lieu of the Great Recession, the government likes to save money. They cut corners wherever possible – letting some white trash rug-rat fall under the radar is the norm.
Besides, I could always say I’m a Christian Scientist or something and can’t do all that medical shit. At least I’ll be a cool mom which is more than I can say for my folks.”
“When are you gonna tell Jaxson?”
Truthfully, she had decided to tell Jaxson about the baby after it was born…provided that Jaxson was still in the land of the living.
The dreams kept on, frequently following her into her waking moments. Sometimes she’d open her eyes to see the doll coming towards her, life-sized as if in the form of a grown woman, reaching towards her, groping at her. Other times it was the girl with the misshapen body who she awoke to, standing at the foot of the bed – sometimes weeping, sometimes glaring. It was unnerving but the apparitions always vanished within a few seconds. Amber supposed that she might be losing her mind…but being crazy was better than being boring so she tolerated her circumstances.
One day when Amber was eight months pregnant, she awoke to the sound Lara screaming. Amber willed her cumbersome body up and lumbered into the living room to find Lara shaking badly and pointing at the change dish.
“Why did you put that out here?” she shrieked.
The little doll was sitting in the dish with coins stacked up all around it. Amber hadn’t put it out there nor had she any idea how it had gotten there. She suspected that the doll had a mind of its own.
Possession – either demonic or ghostly – was the ultimate in interesting and thereby piqued Amber’s curiosity.
She decided to uncover the origins of the doll; beginning with the history of Opal, the deformed child who she believed it had initially belonged to. Opal’s life did not have abundant records like those of many other freaks, but diligent Googling eventually revealed the whole strange, sad, story.
* * * * * *
Opal Pearson was born on February 9, 1908, in Pennsylvania, to impoverished farmers Gemma and Tobias Pearson. Gemma was widely regarded as being an oddball around her village so no one was overly surprised when Opal emerged from her womb entwined with a malformed twin, Pearl. Some people believed that Gemma – who was rumored to have dabbled in witchcraft – had cast a spell over her womb, willing her child to be born malformed. Certainly, Gemma instantly saw a means of making money out of her baby’s physical misfortune and quickly started exhibiting her deformed child – children – off to her neighbors for a penny a peak – or food, or fabric…whatever they had to give. Tobias was horrified by his wife’s behavior but was seemingly powerless to stop it. He fell into a deep depression and died nine months after the birth of his firstborn – borns – although rumors were whispered that he had been poisoned. Gemma reportedly kept great quantities of arsenic around their shabby home, allegedly to deal with an ongoing rat problem.
After Tobias’ death, Gemma started showing her odd little child – children – off to circuses and even museums, Amber recognized the large stone building from her dreams as the Smithsonian. Throughout the duration of her childhood, Opal and Pearl were touted around the county being mocked by crowds or laughed at or feared. Gemma, raking in the cash, didn’t seem moved by her daughter’s unhappiness. Aside from tailor-making the misshapen little doll for her, Gemma showed little love for the being which she had birthed.
When Opal was fifteen, she was touring around with Sigfried’s Circus; a second-rate sideshow that just so happened to be the home of Merv Gilman – more commonly known as “Rat Man”. Merv was famous for having a tail and, although he was twenty-three years older than Opal, Gemma immediately seized upon the ultimate publicity stunt – she arranged to have Opal marry Merv in a grand hoopla ceremony that was open to the public for a fee. In fact, over the course of a year, Opal and Merv got “married” in several different states with new guests at every show. Opal and Merv were wed only fourteen months before her death. According to the records, her demise was the result of accidental drowning.
After Opal’s untimely departure, Merv continued touring with the troupe but Gemma was quickly cut out of the show-business lifestyle. She lived another fifteen years, desperately trying to hang onto the carnie way of life, even by performing meager duties such as selling tickets and making popcorn before succumbing to alcoholism. She died whilst living in a flophouse, destitute – likely with nothing but the doll and some pictures left to hold onto.
Knowing Opal’s history made Amber feel closer to her memory – and also envious. She had lived a life of exception; a life devoid of normalcy and filled with excitement…just the kind of life Amber had always wanted.
The final dream was the most vivid. Amber had gone to bed tired, sore and swollen – three days past her due date. She had lain down, sure that sleep would be fleeting, but instead fell into a remarkably deep slumber.
* * * * * *
The dream started like all the others. It was the 1920s and she was at the freak show – except this time she was on stage. People were pointing at her, staring at her; screaming and laughing and ogling. She was the freak, this is what it felt like and, surprisingly, it didn’t feel good.
Suddenly the scene jumped to a tiny bedroom. Amber – or Opal, as she seemed to be – was sitting on a bed. A tall raven-haired woman – Gemma – handed her a glass.
Drink this, it’ll help you relax.
The dream skipped again and suddenly she was lying flat, naked and unable to budge, as an older man – Merv – moved atop her; sweating and panting and thrusting, raping her. Opal tried to scream, to beg him to stop. Their marriage was a sham, she was too young, and the pain – the searing unbearable pain! Yet she couldn’t move. Her mother had drugged her, seemingly the driving force behind this consent-less consummation of the marriage of the freaks.
The dream skipped again. Now Opal was standing on the ledge of a tall stone bridge. It was nightfall and she could both hear the water below and see it reflected in the moonlight. She had snuck out of her sleeping quarters and was dressed in her fine white nightgown, the one she had gotten in New York. Her hands caressed her belly which was hard and firm, swelling in a rounded way that could only indicate the early stages of pregnancy. Her mother was pleased about the child; it was her will for Opal (and Pearl) and Merv to welcome a baby into the world.
It’ll be a real stunner; Gemma had crooned to her sobbing daughter on the day that the doctor had confirmed her condition. Surely, it’ll be an instant crowd-pleaser; perhaps it’ll have both a twin and a tail! Your freakish brood will make us a fortune!
Then she had laughed in her hard, cawing, witch-like way. But Opal hadn’t laughed since she saw no humor in the circumstances. She hated her life – she detested her mother and her husband and the whole sideshow business. She couldn’t imagine subjecting an innocent life to it…Death was the most merciful option. And so, Opal jumped off the bridge and hurdled downwards; taking her parasitic sister, unborn child, and mother’s ambitions with her.
Amber awoke right before she – Opal – hit the water. She was shaking and had a coppery taste in her mouth.
That was no dream, they were her memories! It was some kind of a flas–
There was a woman hovering over her bed. She was shriveled and sharp-featured with dark hair and tattered clothes – undoubtedly the spirit of Gemma. A clear vision suddenly formed in Amber’s mind – Gemma right before she died, poor and mostly insane, pulling her hair out and using it to fill in the ragdoll’s thinning lochs…Gemma who had practiced witchcraft and surely knew exactly how to attach herself to such an object – therefore living on in spirit long after her body died.
Before Amber could move or utter a sound, the spirit reached down and rubbed her exposed belly as if it was a crystal ball.
“You’re going to get what you always wanted,” she crackled.
With that said, the labor pains started. They were stronger than Amber had expected and far more painful; although she had fully intended to give birth in the house, her wails of agony quickly frightened Lara into calling an ambulance. Amber was rushed to the hospital where she gave birth slightly over eight hours later.
* * * * * *
The condition was rare in modern times, at least in first world countries. The doctors said that Amber’s daughter (daughters) was the first parasitic twin they had ever seen outside of a medical book. Although one twin was little more than a spine, an arm and two limp legs, Amber decided to name it. And so, she became the mother of Crystal and Jade. The doctors said it didn’t have to be this way, they said they could surgically remove Jade and let Crystal lead a normal life but Amber would have none of it; normalcy was a far worse fate. Oh no, this baby would bring flavor to the world… difference.
Lara was mortified. “I told you to get a sonogram,” she babbled. “You could have seen it! You could have done something–”
But Amber wasn’t nearly as concerned. She assumed that Jaxson’s family would be amused, maybe even downright pleased. After all, such occurrences were in his genes.
“You’re not serious about the freak show, right?” Lara asked a few weeks later as Amber packed up to visit Jaxson. “I mean, you’re not really gonna show the kid off for cash… are you?”
“Try me,” Amber replied as she placed the old ragdoll in the car seat where it lay against the soft skin of her sleeping offspring. She had long since surmised that the spirits in the doll had sensed the difference in her baby (babies) and had purposefully found her in the thrift shop during the first days of her gestation. She had also surmised that she and the late Gemma Pearson had much in common.
And so, Amber packed her child (children) into the car and headed back towards the carnival circuit. As she drove along, singing aloud to Hole’s Asking for It, she stole a peek at the rearview mirror. Gemma’s spirit was hovering over the tiny freak, smiling wickedly and making the old ragdoll dance in midair. The baby (babies) laughed and Amber smiled. Her life would never be normal again.
Artwork courtesy of Omega Black
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