No Good Deed
Susan Brassfield Cogan
"Do you believe in aliens?"
The O'Brien and Bengal Circus caravan had just barreled through Roswell, New Mexico on its way to the next show in Lubbock.
Fred, one of the candy and peanut butchers, the youngest guy in the group, had asked the question of the general crowd but only a few of the roustabouts and riggers seemed interested in the question which was met with "sure" or "nah" and not much else.
Fred was playing cards with Melissande. She studied her hand and ignored him. She usually went stone deaf when she was asked a question she didn't want to answer--which was most of them. Fred had made himself her best buddy and never gave up trying to pry personal information out of her.
Melissande was one of the midway acts. She just showed up one day last spring and O'Brien had hired her on the spot. Exhibiting freaks of nature was illegal most places now. No more Jojo the Dog-Faced Boy, no more bearded lady, no more Elephant Man, but Melissande, hideously deformed as she was, had a legit shtick -- she could read your future. Madame Melissande knows all sees all. Her eyes were different sizes and different colors and her hands were twisted bird claws. Her hair looked like it hadn't been combed in ten years. It was full of twigs and leaves like she slept in the woods. But the best part, the part that packed in the rubes, was her hunch back--big, twisted and loathsome--perfect for gawking.
Melissande was more than a curiosity to Fred. She was an enigma wrapped in a mystery. He always pushed to know more about her. He wanted to save her somehow, rescue her from a life of twisted torment. He'd ferreted through her things when she was busy wowing the townies and discovered she had a daughter in Ohio. He'd written to the girl weeks ago, but never heard back.
"So do you believe in aliens Melissande?" Fred insisted.
"Yes," she growled.
Fred, surprised at the answer drew a card. "How come?" he asked with elaborate unconcern. She smiled and didn't say anything. He guessed it was a smile. She pulled her lips back and exposed yellow stumps of teeth.
"Discard," she hissed. He had momentarily forgotten the cards in his hands. He glanced down, happy to look at something else and discarded. He shut up the rest of the way to Lubbock.
By the next afternoon the big top canvas had been unrolled and the polls organized. The roustabouts had set up most of the attractions. Fred knew Melissande always went into her dark little booth the minute it was ready. As soon as the main tent started going up, the rubberneckers came out in force. Melissande hid herself away until it was time to begin telling fortunes with her filthy, old cards. Any rube knew the more faded, the more outdated and more worn the cards, the more true the fortune, also the more deformed and ugly the fortuneteller the greater the thrill up the spine.
Fred spotted a young girl, about college age, maybe, picking her way through the poles and the cables. She didn't look like a regular townie. Fred was pretty sure he'd never seen her before but still, she looked familiar somehow. On a hunch he went up to her.
"Can I help you, Miss?" he asked. She had big beautiful eyes and long brown hair. She was a fresh as a peach.
"I'm looking for my mother, Melissande Baker. Do you know her?" Fred gaped. Of course the daughter would show up, what was he thinking?
"Sure. Right this way," he said when he'd recovered enough to speak. His knees were a little weak. He knew he'd be in trouble the minute Melissande laid eyes on the girl.
Fred led her to the fortune telling booth and pointed, not daring to go any closer. The old freak would know who wrote to the daughter and she'd come for him. She was deformed and frail, what could she do to him? Somehow he knew she could do plenty.
About fifteen minutes later the girl ran out of the booth, face red, crying hard. She ran and kept on running stumbling a little now and then until she was out of sight.
Fred hid out the rest of the day except when he had to work the crowd. He did okay, even relaxed a little until the midway closed down and the townies drifted away leaving empty popcorn boxes and discarded wads of floss rolling in the night breeze like sticky tumbleweeds.
She found him before he could lock himself in the men's bunk trailer. She stepped out of a black shadow like a nightmare come to haunt him. She grabbed his wrist with a grip of iron. He tried to tear his arm away but it was useless.
"You told her where I was," she said, her face splotchy shadows in the thin blue security lights. Suddenly he was weak with terror.
"Let me go!" he whined.
"She tried to hug me!" Melissande jerked his wrist for emphasis, hurting him. She gripped him so tight his hand was falling asleep. "It almost got her!"
"It?" he whimpered.
She pulled her purple lips back from her teeth in a monstrous rictus. "You always want to know about me, poking and snooping and asking stupid questions." She wrenched his wrist and he cried out. His heart was pounding so hard it was about to knock a hole in his chest. "Now you get to know."
She unbuttoned the neck of her blouse and pushed it off one withered shoulder, shrugging it down further. Something moved. Fred tried to scream but nothing came from his throat. A silver head, impossible glistening eyes.
"He's the first," Melissande whispered. "He's got to stay alive until the others come. He's almost used me up and he's always hungry." The silver thing rose up and launched itself at Fred, who did finally scream. Briefly.
"Yes, Freddie, my boy," said Melissande softly in his ear. "I do believe in aliens."
Susan Brassfield Cogan is the author of MURDER ON THE WATERFRONT, A Countess of Chesterleigh Mystery (Read a review here: http://www.overmydeadbody.com/ladymarg.htm) and JUBILEE, A NOVEL (2003). She writes short stories and essays on a broad range of topics and has been published in SDO Detective, Orchard Press Mysteries, AlienSkin, The Writer's Hood, Oracular Tree, Writers Unbound, Anotherealm ("No Good Deed" won the flash fiction contest), Moondance and the Norman Transcript.
She would like you to visit her website.
Previously published in Anotherealm.com. Re-printed by permission of the author.