I wince as my nurse pulls the needle from my vein. I watch her wrap the tube around the empty metallic bag and tosses it into the biohazard bin next to me. She squats down to my level and I cross my arms but can’t look over to the nurse I’ve befriended through my chemo these last few months.
“Why do you look so sad, Isabell?” she prompts, laying her hand on my shoulder with a slight squeeze. “That was your last bag this round. Your next round isn’t for months.”
“It’s never going to go away,” I mumble dejectedly. I slide down into the cushions in the chair and sigh heavily.
“Bone cancer is very hard to deal with, doll, but you have been so brave. We won’t give up so you shouldn’t either, okay? Your tests have been showing amazing results.” I appreciate her kind words, but the pain and pills I go through in one day is enough to make me want to give up occasionally. Everything inside hurts all the time, so much that I have become numb. “I have an idea!” The nurse jumps to her feet and I follow her just with my eyes as she dashes out of the room and comes back with a pink notebook and pen. I sit up to receive the gift. “Write a bucket list,” she encourages me.
“Like what?” I ask as I open to the first page and look to my nurse for an idea.
“One thing I always see girls put is ‘get a boyfriend’,” she suggests with a wink. I feel my cheeks burn and I let out a giggle. Propped up on my knees, I write out things I’ve never done and things I hope to do in the future. I tear out the sheet and stuff it in my pocket, but I don’t let her read. It’s just for me. I’m happy I’ve become friends with Sam, she makes me happy in such a horrible place. I’m so excited to start my list I scramble out of my seat and leave without saying goodbye. It’s okay though, I hate goodbyes.
Down the hall, I see Mom leaning against the wall next to the nurses’ station, her body close with a doctor’s, my doctor. My excited walk slows as I once again must pry her off another man. She’s hanging on to his stethoscope, shimmying it playfully with a crocked smile. She pulls on the instrument and he bends his head down next to her ear as she whispers somethings probably not appropriate for a married woman to say to another man. He chuckles and opens his mouth to say something back but then makes eye contact with me and my weary approach. His face falls as he rushes to take her hands off him, then he darts off as a slight haze of pink rushes to his cheeks.
Mom looks confused until her head turns and sees me. Unlike him, she’s not embarrassed to found in a compromising situation, she knows I’m used to it. She’s been doing it for years, flirting with every male figure in my life, doctors, teachers, physical therapists, everyone but her own husband.
“Hey, sweetie,” she calls and bounds toward me, her breasts nearly spilling out of her low-cut top. “Feeling up to ice cream?” she asks after a back-bending squeeze and a cheek slicking kiss. The last thing I’m thinking of is food.
“Just drop me off at Alexa’s,” I mumble and wipe her spit off me. In the car, I think about how embarrassing it is having a mother that flirts with my doctors while I’m getting poisoned in the other room. She wasn’t always like this. But a year after Dad went to work on Perdix, she exchanged her humble clothes for that of someone half her age and made me locked in a promise not to tell Dad about her male ‘friends’. Dad isn’t stupid, he knows what is going on, but he can’t do much being on another planet. We just don’t talk about it. When we talk every night over the interplanetary net but we don’t talk about Mom, or his job, or the cancer. We talk about school and friends and whether. Things that make me smile and him forget about how far away we are.
I duck out of the car before I could get another gross kiss. Alexa and I have been friends since birth. Our fathers were old work friends before Dad went to work on Perdix and bonded more so over the fact that their daughters were born on the same day, just rooms down from each other in the hospital. That sparked a lifelong friendship between Alexa and myself. I’m like the Day’s other child. I have a key to their house, they buy me special groceries to go with my new diet ever since I got sick, I even had my own bedroom until the twins were born and took it over. I call them Mom and Dad Day and treat their baby boy and girl like my own siblings, because Lord knows I’ve always wanted one.
I climb the stairs with shaky legs and a dizzying effort. At the end of the hall I push open the door and two sets of eyes look over at me. I plop down on Alexa’s bed to catch my breath and Cameron’s eyes furrow in worry from the desk to my right where he is perched. He’s been our friend for two years. Something about him just clicked with us. He doesn’t mind doing the girly stuff with us, like going to the mall or to the salon, but he also will remind us he’s a boy by pushing us in the mud. He will drag him down with us, of course, and we will all have fun doing it. He’s a year older than us, 15, and got held back a year in school so that’s how we met him.
We are his only friends because he omits this gloomy aura with his long hair in his face and his same dark pants and baggy black shirt he wears every day. But with us, he lightens up in a way no one else sees. He only really talks to us and when he does he has touches of a smile on his lips and eyes. I think he has a crush on Alexa. That can be the only reason we can pull him away from working at his dad’s auto shop to do stupid things like just hang out in Alexa’s room or window shop for dresses.
Alexa is a beautiful girl. She breaks all the boy’s hearts by just walking in a room. We’ve had a contest since we were five to see who can grow their hair the longest. Since the chemo hasn’t taken my hair the race is still on. Her hair is so much more beautiful than mine though. Hers is soft and flowing like perfect melted chocolate all the way down to her hips. She never ties it up. She loves to show it off and I love to run my fingers through it. Mine, however, looks and feels like burned brush so I usually make Mom wrangle it into a braid down my back. Alexa has beautiful caramel, tan skin and mine is pale and sickly, even before I got sick. Whenever we are photographed together I drop the value of the shot. I’ve never been photogenic and she always looks like a model. Oh, how I envy her.
“Mom is bringing us to the festival!” Alexa announces with way too much enthuse, bouncing on her bed. “It’s our last night together until you go to your dad’s for the summer, so this is perfect!” I raise an eyebrow at Cameron and he gives a one shoulder shrug. We’ve always could communicate like that. This small transaction just meant we have no idea why she’s bouncing off the walls about a silly festival. I’ve been to a million carnivals, nothing that warrants that much excitement.
We pile into the Day’s white mini-van and I entertain the toddler siblings on the way to this unknown destination. Bonnie can say my name since most people just call me ‘Bell’, but Peter does not seem to want to try. He’s a lazy baby. Maybe I will add that to my bucket list. ‘Make Peter say my name’.
Gravel pops under our halting tires and I peer up to see an old fashioned red and white stripped carnival tent over the huge number of cars. Whatever is in there has drawn a huge crowd.
“A circus?” I question and look over at Alexa who is already throwing off her seatbelt. Her face is nearly bursting with excitement.
“Won’t this be so much fun?!” she nearly screams and is out of the car is two seconds flat. She’s never been one to stay calm. I unbuckle Bonnie and Cameron struggles awkwardly to hold the squirming Peter as Mom and Dad Day set up the double stroller. I stare at the tent with stomach chilling anxiety. I really hope this isn’t what I think it is. But really, with Alexa this excited, I don’t have much hope. Alexa hooks her arm in mine as soon as I pass off Bonnie and hauls me toward the tent. Cameron dashes after us. My stomach gets more and more upset the closer we get. My ears blur the noise of parking lot road rage and Alexa’s ramblings along the lines of ‘for those less fortunate to not go to Perdix three times a year and see all this ourselves’. We burst into the tent and I saw three large attractions shrouded in black curtains and my worst fear was realized. This circus is exactly as I thought.
Though Dad’s contract allows free travel to Perdix for his immediate family, I don’t get to go three times a year as Alexa exaggerated. I only get to go on summer vacation. The wormhole humans use to travel to the world is two weeks away from our planet and two weeks away from Perdix, which means two months of my three-month vacation is traveling and the other month is trying to spend as much time with my father as possible, though he is still working. Working on capturing and killing my friends.
He hates his job as much as I do, but when my cancer surprised us three years ago, he needed a way to pay for my treatment. A contract hunting and poaching on Perdix was the quickest way. They are always hiring.
Mom and Dad Day sit next to us on the bleachers with Bonnie and Peter in their laps as the lights turned off and a spot light clanked on. It casts down on a solitary man on a small podium with a red suit that had tails on the jacket and he waved a stick cane with a large fake diamond on top.
“Ladies and gentlemen,” his voice boomed through the tent speaker system. “You’ve seen all the pictures and heard all the stories, now see it for yourself! The Beasts of Perdix!” With a wave of his cane, trapeze artists dove from the platforms and grabbed onto the curtain of the farthest exhibit from where we sit. I can feel the excitement radiating from Alexa. She can’t sit still. My cold stomach kept sinking lower and lower.
Amazed ‘Oh’s and ‘Ah’s and gasps of bewilderment spread through the tent of near five hundred people. The curtain rose to expose a cylindrical tank of water fifteen feet high and ten feet from side to side. Inside the water holds two merpeople and once they were seen by everyone, the man on the dirt stage slams his glass topped cane against the tank. The man’s face reflects his pride with the crowd response.
There’s a boy merman and girl mermaid, even at this distance I can tell by the build of their fins. Male mermen have fins that wave side to side, like a shark, where as a female mermaid has a fin like all the fairy tales, as if two legs have fused together and covered in dazzling scales and a split fin at the end. The circus people even put a tube top on the girl to cover her normally exposed breasts. The most sickening thing I see was that the male has a buzzed head. The humans have cut off his hair in order to make him appear more masculine. This realization makes me nauseous. How much did that man get for that poor merman’s hair? $10,000? $15,000?
The sound of the man hitting the tank startled the merpeople. The male jumps up off the ground where they were resting and spreads his arms out to protect the damsel behind him, barring his pointy shark like teeth at the man. Cheers and applause erupts once the crowd sees movement. The ringleader’s eyes glimmers with pride. The man slams his cane again and the mermaid screams in response. She busts out from behind the merman’s arms and attempts to dive, but hit the bottom of the tank. Frazzled, she tries to swim away but ends up slamming into the side and blood seeped from her nose. The merman screeches and swims up to the girl, but the man slams his cane against the glass again. She darts down again, but reaching the bottom she pushs off the glass and swam up. The crowd is silent as they watch the terrified mermaid launch herself ten feet into the air. Even I was caught up in the beauty. Her shining red tail and her long brown hair as she bows backwards then splashs back into the tank. The merman rushes to her and grabs her in an embrace, running his webbed hand over her dreaded hair to calm the frazzled girl.
The ringman must have known that he wouldn’t get anything else from the merpeople, so he moves on to the next big black curtain.
“For our next thill,” the ring master rounds up, swinging his cane haphazardly as the trapeze artists jumps down again. They snag on to the next curtain and hoists it up. This one is a cage with thick metal bars that are being chewed on by three, restless, foaming dog mouths the size of dumpsters. When the crowd sees the adult cerberus they erupt into cheers again and the three headed, brown beast shakes each of its heads in annoyance. The middle head points its maw up and lets out a heart-breaking howl skyward. My heart sends tears to my eyes. The two outside heads that have control of the paws bat down on the middle head with the force of probably a car. The middle head whimpers then bites at the left head’s neck. A pained yelp comes from the beast and the left head bats at the middle head again then both heads clamp down on the poor middle head’s neck. The middle head yelps and cries and tears finally cascade from my eyes. I feel a touch to my face and look over at Cameron who cups my cheek and wipes away my tears with a long face. Alexa is oblivious to our silent transaction.
Another yelp cries out and we look back to see the right head grasping the middle head’s floppy triangle ear in its teeth and pulling it sharply away. I grab at my stomach and Cameron rubs my back to calm my nausea. The crowd is egging on the dog, cheering and groaning. It’s only because they’ve never seen a cerberus before. They’ve never seen them as pups tackle each other in the grass and playfully pull at each other. They’ve never held a newborn pup and helped another nurse. They think this is normal. These beasts are not violent at all; they are as caring as any dog in Earth.
The middle head slumps and pants. I bit my lips together to stop them from quivering. That poor pup.
“Quite the vicious beast, isn’t he?” the man’s voice booms through the tent and the crowd cheers in response. The ring leader was drinking in the enthusiasm from the crowd, feeding on it like it was his lifeline. “Now what could possibly be behind curtain number three?” he teases and the crowd cheers on the trapeze artists. They grab onto the curtain and I twist my shirt anxiously. Please don’t be a unicorn. Please don’t be fairies. Please don’t be… Oh no.
He has a huge muzzle around his maw so only smoke leaks from his nostrils. His scales are falling off at an unhealthy rate and his wings are tied down with rope. He’s curled up on the bed of the cage, back turned to the man, peeling off his dark blue scales on his arm with his long claws. This dragon is severely depressed, locked up unable to fly or breath fire, now he pulls off his own scales like how a depressed bird pulls his own feathers. The crowd is considerably quiet compared to the other shows because of the inactivity of the dragon. The man slams his cane against the rails but it does not even stir the dragon. The crowd gets quieter. He does it again. Quieter still.
The man starts to get irritated, losing the interest of the crowd. He mumbles something indistinguishable from the ruffling of the microphone in his jacket. He stomps around to the face of the dragon and the dragons silver eyes look up at the man. He slams his cane again but the dragon does not move. He does, however, huff smoke at the man. People giggle and the man got noticeably more irritated. The man stomps then lunges himself at the cage. Oh no…
He swings the door open then slams his cane down on the dragon’s snout. The dragon growled from his chest and sat up. His maw strains to open but the muzzle is padlocked heavily on either side. The room is silent and incredibly tense. The man stepped into the cage and next thing we see is the dragon swing his clawed hand at the man and send him flying twenty feet to the left, crashing into the crowded bleachers. Pandemonium ensues.
People start screaming and bolting for the exit. Most made their own exit by ripping up the bottom of the tent and slipping out from under it. My eyes are locked on the poor dragon, taking its first tender steps out of the cage. But the trapeze artists descend to the ground with rods that crackle loudly with electricity through their microphones. They stab the poor beast with their rods and the dragon cries out and huffse huge clouds of smoke as he is pushed back into the cage. He swings more but the nimble acrobats evaded the clumsy movement of the giant beast. Cameron grabs my hand and started pulling me through the chaos, my eyes still locked on the dragon as they force it back into his prison. We slice through the panicked mob and meet up at the minivan just as they are ready to pull away.
“What a terrible beast!” Mom Day gasps as she peels out on the gravel, narrowly avoiding another car as she skids out.
“I don’t understand who you can live on a planet infested with those things!” Dad Day continues. Bonnie and Peter are crying so Alexa and I go to work trying to distract them with their favorite car toys. Mom and Dad Day talk of the dragon as a horrible beast, but I only saw one beast up there and he was the only one wearing human skin.