Sideshow

“Step right up, folks, step right up. For only one thin ….”

The barker droned on, his patter oozing under the tent just there, near the peg by the entrance. Not for the first time — and she was sure it wouldn’t be for the last — he wished the barker would swallow his tongue with as much skill as he swallowed her ….

Wait. What was he today? Was he the bald and bulky stripper/naughty girl or the hunky contortionist with braids who gave new meaning to the phrase “taking care of himself”? She looked down to check costuming. It was the quickest way to tell standing there on display. Ah, the corset with tassels. So he was a she today. She really needed to keep track of the shifts better.

If the pattern were more stable it would be easier, but the universe’s sense of humor was well-documented — the platypus and underwater volcanoes being prime examples — so she’d stopped expecting anything different. She hadn’t stopped complaining about it, however, and her superiors were beginning to get a bit annoyed.

Which explained the current run in a freaking sideshow. She laughed softly at her own joke and then mentally braced as the first clump of marks were admitted. She posed and turned and posed again until Clive signaled her that was all of them. Her music started and she began the slow bump and grind that got the men — and a few women — to fork over the gelt, assuming they’d get a bit more than a strip down to a g-string.

If Danron wasn’t on the boards today. He thought it was funny to finagle the shift at awkward times. Like now, damn it, just as her music started. She could see the aura, the jags and jigs of peak-and-valley light blossoming at the corner of her eye. Damn. Stop it, Danron, I’m on stage!

Silva, it’s not Danron. It’s Milo and I’m not doing anything. Something happening?

I’m shifting, Milo, on stage. Can you stop it?

Sh— I’ll work on it, doll. Hang in there.

Oh, god, Milo, it’s too late. I can feel the lady bits changing and I can’t see much. Get me out of this!

Go with it, Silva, just go with it. I can’t pull you in front of even a small crowd. As soon as you exit, I’ll bring you in so we can run the diagnostics.

I can’t, Milo. This is a strip show, remember? That g-string’s not covering what they expect it to be covering, and what it is covering, isn’t covered well. You have to get me out somehow, or they’ll beat me to death. Some of them are already giving themselves a rub under their coats.

More than the risk of a beating, with her rapidly lessening field of vision, she could easily fall off the stage, so she stood a good chance of breaking her ankle before things got to the big reveal.

She grinned for a moment, as the image came to her of what the EMTs would say about picking up a woman and delivering a man to the ER. Of course, Milo wouldn’t let that happen. They’d make her into an urban legend before they’d let a doctor exam her. A vanishing patient, yanked from the back of an ambulance to add to all the vanishing hitchhiker tales they’d been the genesis of. But X-rays hitting some of the implants would turn the hospital into a field of molten glass.

And wouldn’t do her any good either.

Damn! Milo! She stumbled, his suddenly size 12 feet spilling out of size 7 stilettos. He had time to wonder whether a pratfall or a faceplant would be better and then —

“What the hell is going on, Milo?” Silva demanded.

“Cool your jets, dude. Dude?”

“Yeah.”

“It’s not just you. Looks like system-wide breakdown.”

“Oh my god. What are we going to do?”

“Bugging out. It’s either that or pull back the curtain and let this little ball of nothing see the little green men they’re so scared of.”

“Damn! I liked this place. The food wasn’t bad, and the sex has been good.”

“Better than you and me?”

“Oh, hell, no. When’s your shift over?”

“Who knows with bugging out? You’d better report for duty. I’ve got twelve more to pull in.”

Silva nodded and turned to leave.

“Oh, and sweetie ….”

Silva looked back over his shoulder.

“Wear that for me?”

Silva leered at him. “Oh-ho, getting a little kinky, are you?”

“A little kink never hurt.”

They finished in unison, “Unless we want it to.”

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