Aine Teutil leaned out of her bedroom window and grinned. She could just make out the Big Top from there, on the middle green. Aine had just turned nineteen but she was as giddy as a spinning hippo to be going to the circus. Her mother and aunt had bought the tickets as a surprise but they were going for dinner first and, if she didn't get a move on, they were going to be late.
Mavis Nunez smiled at her sister as she checked the clock on the wall again.
"We're going to be late again" Gaia sighed. Mavis laughed and patted her arm.
"You were the same when you were Aine's age. Relax, a few minutes won't make any different." Heavy footsteps on the stairs announced Aine's arrival; she almost floated into the living room and grinned at her mother and aunt.
"Don't I get to see this amazing artwork before we go?" asked Mavis. Gaia and Aine smiled, they lifted their tops to just above the belly button. Gaia had a red rose with Aine written beneath it tattooed on the flesh, while Aine's rose was yellow and had mother beneath it. Mavis gave them a little round of applause before leading the way out to the car.
The restaurant they had picked was a small place called Kaydee's, it served Italian food at good prices and it was always delicious. They were given a table in the corner and ordered their meals quickly before turning to more important matters.
"What's this circus? Is it animals or people?" asked Aine. She sipped her drink and looked expectantly at her mother and aunt. Mavis chuckled and pulled a flyer from her bag, handing it to Aine. The girl flipped through it, a huge grin on her face. Gaia glanced at her sister and Mavis winked before moving aside so their food could be put down on the table.
Halfway through the main course, Aine excused herself and hurried across the restaurant to the ladies room. Gaia watched her go, a frown on her face.
"She was moving pretty quickly there, I hope she's not sick."
"She's just excited. You were the same when you were her age" replied Mavis. Gaia threw her sister a look and wondered how many more times she was going to hear that phrase this evening. The waitress cleared their plates and asked if they would like the dessert menu, they both nodded and took their time choosing what they wanted.
"Are you ready to order?" asked the waitress when she returned. Gaia asked for a few more minutes before standing and heading into the ladies room to find her daughter. Mavis ordered another round of drinks and settled back into her chair.
Fifteen minutes later, neither Gaia nor Aine had returned to their table. Mavis asked the waitress to check the ladies room but she said there was nobody in there. Mavis paid the bill and went to check herself but the waitress was right, there was nobody in there. She left the restaurant and found Gaia's car still in the car park. Mavis took out her mobile, she was about to call a taxi but thought better of it and called the police.
They never found Gaia or Aine. They had vanished without a trace and, after two years, Mavis had finally given up hope of ever seeing either of them again. She sat in the window and watched as the circus rolled, once again, back into town. Mavis smiled, she hadn't gotten to go with Aine and Gaia. Maybe she would go this time, it would be good to get out and she needed to think of something other than her niece and sister for a while.
As usual, the circus had been set up on the middle green and Mavis joined the small crowd of people heading for the entrance. The sign above the front proclaimed to the world that they had a new attraction, The Freakshow. Mavis frowned; she didn't think they were allowed to have those anymore. In dismay, she noticed that the only way to get to the main tent was through the Freakshow. But it couldn't be that bad, there were a lot of young children and parents filing inside. The little ones giggled as the Bearded Lady pulled faces at them, the Tattooed Man turned somersaults on his little stage. From the opposite end of the line, a child screamed and burst into hysterical sobs.
"This is absolutely disgraceful! Where is your manager? How can you treat these poor people like this?" The voice was upraised and outraged, people were starting to turn and rush out of the tent. Mavis edged her way forward until she was standing next to the woman and her shrieking offspring. Behind them, on a little stage were two people. Above them, a sign informed the world that they were looking at The Torso Twins. They wore nothing but bras and knickers and looked dreadfully unhappy and terrified; both women were missing their arms and legs. As soon as Mavis came into view they began to struggle to move and made strange, gurgling noises. As they opened their mouths, Mavis could see that their tongues had been removed.
"Oh my God" she breathed. On their stomachs, near the belly button, they had matching tattoos. One rose was red while the other was yellow.
"What's the problem here?" cried a booming voice. Mavis swung around and encountered a big man she assumed to be the owner. Before the woman with the crying child could even draw breath to speak, Mavis had launched herself at the man and wrapped her hands around his throat.
"The problem? What did you do to them? WHAT DID YOU DO TO MY FAMILY?" Mavis continued to scream, the woman called the police and The Torso Twin sobbed in exquisite relief.