Aspen deLainey

The July Selected Writer is Aspen deLainey

Feel free to email Aspen at: aspendelainey@gmail.com


by Aspen deLainey

I hate you all.

You will never know me. I can walk your town anonymously; just another stranger here to see the circus, even though you clap for me every night.

You welcome me yearly, me and my brethren. Happy faces surround us, sometimes interfering with our ability to erect a safe haven for you and your family to watch the tented shows. We never grumble in public about your clumsy help, but our dinner hour is full of shown-off bruises while we turn the air blue with our comments.

You love me. You smile through my pantomimes, giggle at my awkward steps, and laugh outright when my compatriots hit me with water, ladders or themselves. Every child wants to have me toss them into the air. You allow that nonsense, as you always know I will catch them, even after I pretend to miss.

My painted face is trusted. That huge smile, red and broad, defines my character. My nose entreats your fingers, just to squeeze it in hopes it will honk.

But I’m despised. My character requires you to look down upon me just because I am a painted face in a crowd, a ridiculous figure for your mockery.

My hooped, baggy pants beg to be filled with detritus from the fair; cotton candy rolled paper cones, candy apple cores, crumpled greasy miniature donut bags—oh, anything you no longer want and haven’t found a receptacle for.

I can never tell you how much I hate you. But believe me, I do. I hate your screaming children you allow to run wild in our compound. I know if any come to harm, you will sue us, even though you, with your lack of parenting skills, are at fault.

I cringe as we turn down some dirt roads. Yes, I know we are the only entertainment some of you will ever see, so poor are your towns. Our free lifestyle is an affront to your village elders, as we show your dissatisfied youth a safe passage out of town. And your nose-in-the-air attitude shows how you feel towards us.

Some villages bring nightmares to all of us here under the Bigtop. To the clowns most of all. You see, we walk among you when we aren’t in the Ring. We help find your lost children, we perform small tricks for your young’uns, and at the end of the night, we pry all your amorous teens from dark corners, sending them grumbling home.

For that you despise us.

Anything missing from your town is our fault. Pregnancies, discovered months later attributed to us—especially the clowns. For we are hidden, under layers of makeup. And your darlings swear they didn’t see who took advantage of them, just felt the seersucker cloth or the flannel as we held them down and had our way with them. But they were afraid to tell you earlier.

Thefts and rapes are never your own waywards’ crimes. Never happened before we pulled into town...or so you say.

We’ve already been convicted, before a jury of your peers—your town elders, your sheriff, your town council. We never have the chance to rebut or defend ourselves. You’ve even sent the deputies out to roust us, on the dark dusty roads; to search through our belongings to find those missing items or teens who’ve begged a ride.

Did you ever find even one?

So tonight, as soon as the show ends, I plan to pay you back. Tonight, I come prepared to this one-horse dirty town. I drive myself, as this is my final stage call this year. Once this curtain falls I leave for my holiday.

I make this journey once every year. Just once. Playing the same piper every time in a different back-water village.

Now, I hear the drum roll, calling all the actors to line up for the parade. The Ringmaster's resplendent in his finery; the silk tophat, tails, a striped vest and spats. He leads us, that baton waving the marching beat we follow when we can.

Our band adjusts their uniforms, tuning weathered instruments, for we’ll march to songs down your main street.

The lions and the tigers, housed in barred wagons pace their cages, looking mean. Occasionally they snarl, showing teeth that can rend and tear. The elephants, wearing leg irons, walk one behind another, guarded from audience-thrown objects by large umbrellas on their heads.

And we clowns prepare our pockets, stuffing candy, small gifts and gags. For as we walk and entertain you, we throw out to the watchers little things—the toddlers get a sucker, young’uns perhaps wee toys, and the hecklers and the teenagers, them we throw our gags or squirt our guns and flowers. Everybody takes this lightly, ‘tis our right to draw you in.

You come in flocks and droves, through the gates to see our shows. You spend your hard-earned dollars on our midway, spin the bottles win the prize, dart balloons to win the teddy, shoot the ducks and win the rose.

Everybody is a winner, calls the midget on the horn.

I hear the barkers calling you to step right up. And the money jingles as the midway lines increase. Popcorn makers pop their kernels, children scream to eat their fill. The ferris wheel grinds slowly, spinning in fits and starts to scare the crowds.

Yes, tonight is the night. I watch out by the sidelines. I placed myself on duty at the fence. Not that the Ringmaster knows just who’s out here. All he knows for sure is that I pulled out my stake at noon, heading out for who-knows-where. He’s assured that I’m planning to catch up in a few weeks, in some other state, some other town. All rested and raring to go. Just like I do every year.

I pick my mark. Select one lonely damsel, standing outside the crowds, looking around; as if she’s waiting for a knight in shining armor to rescue her from this hum-drum existence, someone to save her, move her out into the big bad world. Just outside the fence line, I spot her suitcase, stuffed to overflowing.

You, in this town, have already accused me, stripped me down and locked me up. Why shouldn’t I do the dirty for which I’ve served the time?

I approach, my smile fixed in red paint, promising her no harm—just another hired face in the crowd, that’s me.

“Lost?” my voice is low, almost lost in the cacophony of pleasured screams.

She giggles. “No sir,” she assures me. “I’m waiting for my boyfriend. Promised I’d meet him here.”

“In the dark?  Away from the gates?”

“My parents don’t approve of him,” she giggles again. “We’re running away.”

“You don’t want to do that, honey,” I move closer. “You’re far too young to be leaving the parental roof.”

“I’m eighteen,” she stands a little taller, thrusting out her underdeveloped chest. “I’m old enough. We’re taking off to the big city to make our fortunes.”

“You got a job lined up?”

“No,” she looked down, picking at her nails. “I can wait tables, clean offices. I’ll do anything. I just gotta leave here. Now. Or I’ll never get to go.”

“If you don’t have a job lined up, that city will eat you up and spit you out like last week’s stale bread, Honey. Cities don’t care like small towns. Nobody knows you. Nothing’ll be easy.”

“I’ll make it. I’ve got some money saved up. I’ll just get me a room, find a job. And live. For once in my life!” Belligerence colored her voice, the do or die kind.

“So where’s this boyfriend of yours? This guy that’ll leave you standing in the dark where anything can happen? Sounds to me like you’re talking about being by yourself, not together.”

“He’s…just a friend. Said he had to go into the city tonight. Some job. Some party. Something. Promised he’d give me a ride after I gave him gas money.” She looked at her watch, tapped it as if it’d stopped. “Supposed to be here already. Maybe he isn’t coming?”

“He’s stood you up. Took your money and ran, girlie.” I rubbed my forehead, as if I had an idea but wasn’t sure she’d like it. “Look. I’m off in an hour. I’m leaving the circus for good. I can give you that lift. If you want?”

Her eyes lit up. “That’d be great! I can wait right here until you’re ready.”

“Nah. We ain’t supposed to take townies anywhere. Been in trouble for helping kids run away before. Whole circus gets a real bad name. Better not.” I turned away, watching her from the corner of my eyes.

“Please,” her whole body quivered with disappointment. “I won’t tell. I promise. And they…my parents…won’t say anything. I left a note explaining that I had a ride from someone in town. So they won’t suspect any circus folk had anything to do with my disappearance. Please?”

I hemmed and hawed as she begged and pleaded.

Finally, my smirk hidden by paint, I agreed. “Meet me over by the creek. Past the bridge. Make sure no one sees you. I’ll pull up in a dark blue truck. Climb into the back real quiet. There’s a tarp in back. Make sure you’re covered. I don’t need no cop pulling me over cause some busybody saw you leaving with me. Got it?”

I stood, still in the shadows, watching as she walked out the gates, shoulders slumping as if she’d spent her last dime on our games, didn’t have any money left to remain here, so headed home. Joined lots of others wending their way with kids over their shoulders, all played out for the day.

I approved of her gambit. Neighbors sure to mention they’d seen her going home, all by her lonesome, safe and sound.

My shift over, I tipped my hat to my overseer, sought my trailer, changing as quickly as I could. Time to take off before anyone saw me again. I knew if they saw me, I’d be in for a long, liquid goodbye.

In my civvies, I crept back behind the cages. Since clowns take up lots of the slack, all the animals knew me enough to keep quiet. They’d gotten used to me shoveling their shit out. No threat.

I opened the back gate, where the manure gets trucked out into pits we dig when we first reach town. Heaven forbid we leave a mess behind. We’d never be allowed back.

Two miles out I walked, not quite past the creek, pushing myself into the brush where I’d hidden my vehicle. It rumbled its readiness. I ran just parking lights, picking my path to freedom.

She stood, in the bushes, exactly where I’d told her. She’d doubled back to pick up that suitcase. “Hop in, Honey,” I said as I idled beside her. “Make yourself comfortable. We’ve got a long ride ahead of us.”

I felt her climb in, heard her rearrange my duffles and the tarp. She’d fall asleep soon, what with the half-empty bottle of liquor I’ve placed enticingly just within reach, that soothing engine sound, the warmth and the slight lack of oxygen she’d suffer if she hid herself properly.

I drove till near dawn, down backroads, always staying just under the speed limit. Just another lone man, heading somewhere.

She woke just after dawn, when I pull into an old motel. I see her face, questioning, through my back window. “S’all right,” I say through the just opened glass. “I gotta get some shuteye. Stay hidden. I’ll rent a room.”

Her face pinches. She’s scared.

“Don’t worry yourself none, Honey. Thought you might do best on the coast. Lots of work out there. More hotels and motels there. Lots of restaurants. You’ll get a job easier there, I thought. And I’ve a hankering to see my sister. Maybe she’ll let you stay till you’re on your feet enough to afford your own place. I’ll ask her myself. Sound like a plan?” Just listen to me, Mr. Nice Guy himself.

She smiles in relief. Nothing in her small-town experience to get her suspicions up.

I demand a back room, far enough off the road I won’t be woken by any inconsiderate truckers using retarder brakes. Motel clerk sees nothing unusual about that request.

I pull around, backing into my slot. Once the door’s open, I whistle to let the girl know the coast is clear. I wander off, order two of everything interesting from the local diner, to go, and return to the dingy room. She’s in the shower, singing. Husky and slightly off-key, I make a mental note.

I roll into that sack ready to zonk out after eating my share of the food. Hope she gets the message that the rest is hers.

Dusk finds me refilling that thermos in back, more liquor and pop, then back at that diner, eating one terrific special, pie and coffee with a to-go order for my trip. No one’s seen her; no one knows it’s not for me. I take the food bag with me as I shower before leaving, doctoring this drink as well, leaving the folded bag on the TV before walking round to the front desk to pay my due.

The take-out’s gone and she’s hidden when I return.

And we set off, turning ever westward, staying off the major highways, just in case.

She doesn’t hear me park and I leave that engine running, just to keep her dreaming of her life to come.

Becka’s waiting in her usual spot, tail wagging. She’s already warned the inhabitants of my impending arrival—probably barked a warning. Her job. And she’s damned good at it.

The regulars bustle out, net at ready just in case. One burly man uncovers a tiny foot, a slim leg just barely covered in worn denim, smiles at me as he finds a vein. No trouble with this one. She’s out before she wakes. They lift her carefully, brush the hair off her face and hold her highlit by the yardlight.

The burly man grunts, “Not bad,” he tells me reaching into his back pocket. “Blonde, like they prefer. Young and slim. Top money for this one.”

“She sings, too. Don’t think she’s virgin. Didn’t have a chance to check.” I watch him count the money out, ten dirty Cs.

He hands the cash over, “Can you make a second run this year? One of the crew hit the slammer hoisting a deb. Figured he’d get a better price with a well-known bimbo. Dammit, I don’t pay you guys for thinking. I’m not running an extortion service here.”

“Might be able,” I stall, thinking. “Outfit’s got a gig near here in a couple of months. Rented a shopping mall parking lot for two weeks. We get all kinds at those places. See what I can come up with. She’ll be city-trash from there. Thought you preferred country pure?”

“Way the money’s flowing these days, they’ll take anything. Nuevo rich have different standards. Long’s we can get ‘em off the coast up to the freighters, they’re buying them like they’re gold. Keep ‘em youngish. Long hair’s preferable. Blondes always acceptable. But not dye jobs. Don’t want no druggies.”

I hear waves slap against a boat taking off from the dock. They don’t keep the merchandise here any longer than necessary. Time that girlie comes to; she’ll be off on the adventure of her life. The good life she’d prayed for. All bought and paid for.

“See ya soon,” he calls as I climb back into my truck. I head out for the nearest burning dump. I’ve got some trash in the back needs carbonizing. Sure, I’ll take the extra cash she’s squirreled away somewhere in her bags, but the rest disappears. Forever.

I take no reminders of my path upon this road, except my memories.

Slightly smoky, I rent another back-road motel room, shuck down and shower away any scent she’s left on me. I’ve cleaned out her luggage—suitcase and purse. Never bothered with looking at her ID. Why would I care? All is burning merrily in a tiny town’s refuse pile. My tarp’s been replaced. My duffle’s washed in bleach. Truck’s been through at least four car washes, so she’s clean as a whistle.

Going to trade that wad of cash in for gold. Got me a jeweler knows exactly what I like. Even chromes my stuff, once I’ve approved. Let’s me stand and watch the process. My trailer’s all hung with these trashy looking chains. Pure gold, though no-one knows it.

See, circus don’t pay much, not really. Sure, we share. All the costs, all the profits. We get our fair share of the profits, each and every one of us.

This here, relocating them pretty girls what want to leave their homes for a better life, it’s a perk of the job. I do it for my retirement. I’m not stealing them. I always wait for them to ask. I just oblige their wishes. Well, some of them. Never figured any one of them girls wanted to travel overseas for the rest of their lives. I didn’t ask, neither.

So now I rent a cabin at the fishing spot I frequent every year. Bait my hook and doze in the sun. Might rent a trawler, wend my way through river and swamp catching whatever bites, grilling it up with some spuds in the evening. Even been known to sit in the local bar, guzzle a few while swapping lies with the local fishermen. Nothing outrageous, just neighborly-like. Cause I’m a regular in these here parts. Come by every year. I even know some of these old boys by their names.


The weeks pass, uneventful.  I load my duffles, trashy chains and all, into my truck and head back to the circus route. I’m fresh, relaxed and ready to deal with the screaming kids every day at the circus brings.

I’ll keep my eye out for some honeys, the right kind, wherever I am. Opportunity knocks lightly, so I have to be ready.

Won’t be able to follow the road all my life. One day I’m going to buy me a pretty stretch of back country land, maybe on a lake. Build me a little cabin and rest. And then I’ll never go back to any circus. Not even as a paying customer. 

Aspen deLainey has always been a storyteller. Her mother tells me of her three-year old self entertaining her two-year old brother with made-up stories while she rested.

She loved creative writing in school, cursing her teachers for receiving a word limit on her tales, and loving reading them out in class. She raised her children on bedtime tales of a dragon-child experiencing the same difficulties as they themselves, or problems she saw arising, and solving those problems in unusual ways—along with the usual reading of books to them.

Aspen has always needed to write. Her sense of ‘what if’ has never diminished. In 2010, her grown daughter told her that if she didn’t start sending out her tales, she would delete them off her computer. That night she sent off her first tale. With almost immediate acceptance, after she finished panicking, she almost believed her wee tales might have some merit in the wide world.

Now, in 2017, Aspen has many short stories published and her urban fantasy books (Love ‘n Lies and Howling Hearts) are available.