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Unknown Woman #42

Dotty stood and stared down at the simple marker, a metal plaque, time-drawn patina across its letters, set into a simple stone block, and like every other instance, every single one of them, she remembered. She read the date once more: June 22, 1918. Somehow, she was always drawn back to this place.

Around the markers stood four elephant statues, their trunks lowered in mourning. She remembered. She thought that there had been elephants….

Of course, there were elephants. There was a tiger too, though the lions were gone for some time now. It took quite a bit at the beginning for the transport cages to be appropriately modified, because the elephants didn’t like the train much. You could hear them banging around sometimes even above the noise of the tracks. Some of the performers lived together, like Bezo the Clown and The World’s Shortest Woman (Clarissa was her real name), or Julius/Julia, Half-Man, Half-Woman and Titus the Strong Man who’d only recently decided to shack up together. Madam Orenska, the Psychic, sometime wondered if it would be more appropriately called carriaged up, but in the end, that didn’t quite flow. Just like Dotty Smith didn’t quite work as a psychic name. She guessed, in the end, that was why people had stage names. Madam Orenska worked one of the side tents, not like the stars of the show. They worked the Big Top. Not so for Dotty Smith. The Flying Forellis had their own carriage, but they were a family, and they worked the Big Top.

Between the carriages that transported the animals and those, further back, that served as living quarters ran the gear flatbeds, the yellow and red striped big top, the poles and ropes and spikes, the tools to put it all together. It gave them all a few meters’ separation from the noise and stink of the animals. Just as well; she didn’t much like the smell of horses. Dotty didn’t much like the lovely Agneta who pranced around on their backs in her blue sequined costume, teeth bared in her performance smile, arms held aloft either. But you couldn’t like everyone, could you? Though everyone else seemed to like her. Dotty just didn’t get it. After the gear and the animals came the living quarters and the sleeping cars and finally, the last couple of carriages, shared by the roustabouts, all packed in like sardines. At least she wasn’t back there.

They had about five hours before the next stop. Some small town in the middle of nowhere, but that didn’t matter. Everyone loves a circus. Dotty had been with Bayley Brothers and Ryan for about four years now, but they’d only started using the train about two years ago. To be honest, she preferred the old style with the caravans and the wagons. Places you could truly call your own. They could go anywhere they wanted, finding interested crowds, people who’d never seen them before. Now they were more limited, stuck with the places that the tracks led. Sure, it was quicker getting to wherever they were going, but not by much. They had a big circuit now, bigger towns and cities. It meant that they had to regularly change up the acts, keep them fresh. Still, despite those differences, she wouldn’t change the life for anything. It was where she belonged.

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The Harsh Mistress

According to Hank Crandall’s GPS, the little house did not exist. The last home on this street was supposed to be number 87, but there it was: Number 89. Its white aluminum siding was in need of a good power wash, and the landscaping had gone to hell from neglect. As near as he could figure, 89 Cedarcliff Road was in his sales area.

He parked his old Toyota in the cracked, empty driveway and lugged the sample vacuum cleaner out of the back seat, through the overgrown grass, and up the stairs to the stoop. Looking at his reflection in the streaky glass of the storm door, he adjusted his tie and ran his hands through his mussed hair before ringing the bell.

It had been a slow month. His commission would be practically nil – which would make the big boss, Mr. Potts, happy. The lack of sales, however, would not do the same. Surely, someone wanted to buy the quality cleaning instrument which is the Velocity Vac 3700!

Maybe in this house.

The interior screen door was whisked open. The short, white-haired man had a surprised look in his eyes. He took a couple of cautious steps forward and eased the storm door open, which Crandall then held in place with his hip.

Hank launched into his sales pitch: “Good afternoon, sir,” he repeated by rote. “My name is Hank Crandall, and I represent Potts Industries, Inc., makers of the –”

“How did you get here?” the man interrupted nervously, his eyes darting about the outside world as though it was all new to him.

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The Case of the Unicorn

I wouldn’t have picked Miss Lawrence for a nut when she first sat down in my office. She held her back rigidly straight, as if she would be penalized for slouching, and her iron gray hair was shellacked into metallic curls. Her eyes behind her sensible glasses were sharp and fiercely intelligent, and although she dressed in classic little old lady style (navy blue dress twenty years out of style, the kind of shoes that only old ladies and old fashioned nuns wore), there was nothing of the sweet little old lady stereotype in her attitude.

So she surprised me by her opening remark, especially since she sat in the straight-backed chair for a whole minute, studying me, before she made it. “You’ll do,” she said. “I need someone to find my unicorn.”

I folded my hands on my desk. “A statue? Porcelain? Some kind of heirloom?”

She glared at me as if I’d exposed some unbelievable vein of stupidity. “No, of course not. A live unicorn. She disappeared yesterday and I must get her back.”

I chose my words carefully. “I don’t know, Miss Lawrence, where you got my name — “

“It’s none of your business,” she replied without hesitation.

” — But I’m a private investigator. I’m not a psychiatrist, I don’t do delusional clients, and I don’t have time to play games, with you or with anyone else.” I began to rise from my chair, to give her the idea, but she eyed me sharply. There was something about that gaze that told me this woman, in her prime, had probably terrorized whole rooms full of people. I sank back into my seat.

“Don’t pretend you don’t believe in unicorns,” she said, glaring at me. “I know you do. I know you’ve seen one yourself. I know you can still see them.”

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Zombie Jamboree

New York City’s first zombie on record walked onto the train platform at Queens Plaza at 6:43 in the morning. Nobody noticed the zombie for one reason: it was a fresh zombie, and thus indistinguishable from the rest of the commuters shambling onto the platform during rush hour.

After five minutes of waiting, the zombie grew restless. It looked around for a snack. It locked onto 43-year-old Wilma Behraine. She wore the brightest, most garish pink suit, and enough charm bracelets that she sounded like sleigh bells at the slightest movement. As far as the zombie’s thought process was concerns, it could be summed up as “Ooooh, shiny.”

Wilma only had an ominous feeling before the zombie’s hands grabbed her by the shoulder and pulled at her. She reflexively had an arm up when the zombie lunged to bite her. The zombie ended up with a mouthful of metallic charms. She kicked it in the stomach, knocking it back. It staggered, blinked, then roared.

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The Dreaming Wounds

It was a game when we were children. “Your Grandmother has the Third Eye,” Mum used to confide, when we young enough to believe that all her words were gospel. “She can see ghosts.”

“Everywhere?” my brother would always ask, already sceptical. He would grow up to become a scientist, to my Chinese parents’ veiled disappointment, a doctor in qualification only.

“Sometimes people leave the world with unfinished business,” Mum would reply, pitching her voice low, pretending to look left and right. We would shiver in delighted horror.

“I don’t have the Third Eye,” I would murmur, forever made resentful at having been born normal. Thanks to our childhood fascination with ghost stories, I spent nearly a decade of my life pathologically afraid of sleeping against a window with my neck exposed, after our oldest cousin told us a ‘true story’ about a cursed strangler’s hand that crept through open windows to murder the unsuspecting.

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