A Tale from Tall Timber

When the magician cut her legs off she was understandably upset. You need legs for so many things, she reasoned. Dancing. Soccer. Stomping on hamsters for the rich and the bored.

Frederick was not terribly supportive. ‘It’s worked every time before!’ he said. ‘I didn’t do anything differently. It must be YOUR fault!’ She stopped talking to him, started locking the door to her trailer. He didn’t notice — after all, with her legs gone, why should he come a-scrabbling at her door of a night?

The rest of the circus avoided her, except for the freaks, who sent her a tentative welcome bouquet. She was touched — she loved anemones! — but dissatisfied. Who wanted to be a freak?

After two weeks the shiny skin that had grown across her wound began to itch abominably. ‘Leave it alone,’ said Dr. McGuillicudy. ‘It’s psychosomatic. Phantom limb pain. If you scratch it, you’ll just tear it open again.’ He stared fixedly into her eyes. What was ‘it’, she wanted to know. McGuillicudy coughed and left abruptly. When he was gone she scratched furiously, tongue lolling out of her mouth in relief.

Of course she tore the skin open. Of course. But it felt so good to scratch, so wonderfully sensual that she couldn’t stop herself, even as her fingernails grew black and crusty with old blood.

She noticed little black hairs curling from the edges of the scratches, stiff and wiry hairs like something on the bearded lady. She tried tweezing them, but pulling on them was so excruciating that she stopped immediately. That night she lay sweating in her bed, hand busy at what had been her waist, while underneath her window the freaks serenaded her. ‘Lovely lady, sweet and calm, here in the night you belong, twisted limbs, broken brains, drooly teeth and feebled mind, lovely lady…’

‘Shut it!’ she yelled out at them, and they scattered.

The next day was torture. She had dizzy fever dreams of men with flaming pincers pulling at her, knives that dipped in and out of her legs, pins dragged across her face. Her legs hurt the worst, which, even in her torment, confused her, but the pain drowned everything else.

Her new legs grew in, long and lithe and black as Hedy Lamarr’s eye.

The fever broke and she was ravenous. She tracked Frederick down, found him pistoning away over one of the acrobats, and sang her teeth into the long meat of his thigh. When she was finished with him, she began on the girl, and, after her, on the rest of the circus.

She let the freaks run off into the woods — who would want to eat a freak? — and began to build a grotto for herself at the bottom of the nearest lake.