Tamara Thorne's first novel was published in 1991, and since then she has written many more, including international bestsellers HauntedBad ThingsMoonfall, Eternity and Mother. A lifelong lover of ghost stories, she is currently hard at work on Old Wives' Tales, which will be published later this year. Additionally, she and Alistair Cross' next collaboration, Spite House, will be out this summer, and they're currently working on the fifth installment in The Ravencrest Saga.  They also produce a podcast about all things paranormal called Thorne & Cross: Carnival Macabre and are behind the notorious Purple Probe Newsletter. You can learn more HERE




The carousel calliope sang, slightly off-key, and the music drifted down the midway, eddying among the gaudy booths and banners.  As the roller coaster screamed, nearly drowning out the cajoling voices of the pitchmen, Peter Jellico inhaled the sultry August air. The mingled scents of machine oil, buttered popcorn and sweat brought the memory of boyhood back to him.

The feeling disappeared under the knowing smirk of a ticket taker who watched him pause, tempted, in front of the mirror maze.  Annoyed by his own dignity, Peter sipped his Coke and walked further down the midway.  A seedy spieler offered him a chance to win a portrait of Elvis (on genuine black velvet) and the freak show promised him glimpses of the most bizarre sights in this or any other world.  Next to it was a smaller tent whose blood-speckled banners announced the presence of Olga, the Headless Lady.

Peter was seized by another rush of boyhood; he loved this illusion, hadn't seen one since, oh, college, and he'd never figured out how the trick was done.  Masking his eagerness, he paid the admission and entered the air-conditioned tent.

The curtain was already open.  Wiping his brow and crunching ice, Peter found a seat directly in front of the headless lady.

Olga sat on a wooden chair, front and center on the stage.  Her hands were folded demurely and her navy skirt fell below her knees -- it's not nice to lust after headless women, mused Peter.  Where Olga's head should have been was a clear glass dome, its base hidden below the stand-up collar of her blouse.  Red fluids circulated through tubes that ran from the neck cavity, through the dome and out to connect with a bank of elaborately twinkling dials and gauges several yards behind the lady.

Olga was almost close enough to touch and she sat so still that Peter began to wonder if she was real.  He thought she was; there was a faint tracery of blue veins beneath her skin.

Feeling wicked, Peter fished a piece of ice from his cup and tossed it toward Olga.  It landed on her foot, just above the shoe.  He thought he saw a muscle twitch, but he wasn't sure.  He smiled -- Olga was a pro.  Somewhere, hidden in the trickery and the tubes, she was probably glaring at him and cursing.

Just then, a short, balding man in a doctor's smock emerged from the darkness at the back of the stage.  A stethoscope waggled around his neck and a copper-haired woman in a curve-hugging white uniform wiggled up beside him.  Nurse lust, Peter knew, was not only acceptable, but to be encouraged.

The man beamed at his small audience. "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  I am Doctor Grossman and this is Nurse Weintraub.  His mustache twitched.  "Twenty years ago, a great tragedy occurred.  A train derailed near my home and there were many casualties.  In my search for survivors, I came upon Olga, the most tragic of victims.  I found her in a ditch, covered in her own blood.  To my horror, I discovered the poor woman had been decapitated in the disaster - yet she was still breathing.  She was quickly losing her life's blood, so I brought her to my laboratory, performed the necessary surgery and," he swept his hand back, indicating the equipment, "I created these devices to maintain her.  Olga cannot communicate, though I feel certain she is aware of her surroundings ... and her audience."

Peter watched the last of the ice cube melt and seep down into Olga's shoe.  Feeling a little guilty, he wondered what color her eyes were and if she was watching him.

Grossman had lowered his voice to a confidential stage whisper. "... and a thorough search was conducted, but no trace of poor Olga's head was ever found."

Behind Grossman and Olga, Nurse Weintraub, hips a’swivel, was busying herself with the machinery.  She must be getting ready to switch off the pump that controlled the fluids - and that would start the big medical crisis that was the best part of a headless lady show.

But Grossman wound down the program without special effects, leaving Peter a little disappointed and very curious.  The audience filed out, but Peter loitered, watching Olga for signs of life.  Soon, the nurse noticed him.  "Next show in fifteen minutes, honey.  You gotta leave now."

"Excuse me," said Peter.  "May I ask you a question?"

Dr. Grossman came forward.  "What is it you want?"

"I thought the headless lady illusion always had an emergency in it and I just wondered--"

"My dear young man," interrupted Grossman, irritated.  "I don't expect someone like you to understand, but falsifying emergencies shows a lack of taste and a good deal of disrespect."

"Look, I meant no disrespect.  This illusion has always interested me.  Figuring out how things like this are done is sort of a hobby of mine."

Grossman glared.  "A magician who reveals his art is a fool, as is the one who asks him to.  I advise you to mind your own business."

"I wasn't asking you to reveal--"

Grossman cut him off curtly.  "You will leave now."

Barely controlling his temper, Peter spun on his heel and stalked out, wondering if he could sic the carnival's knife thrower on the doctor.

Then he had an idea.  When Olga came out of the tent tonight he would be waiting for her.  It would serve Grossman right for being such a bastard and satisfy some of his own curiosity at the same time.  Besides, he could apologize to Olga for throwing the ice cube.

Happy with his plan, Peter headed for the Tilt-a-Whirl and, by one in the morning, when loudspeakers announced the fair's closure, he'd seen all the exhibits, been on every thrill ride and consumed an obscene amount of junk food.

His excitement growing, Peter made his way back to Grossman's and headed down the side of the tent to crouch among some trash cans between it and the freak tent.  He was nervous and a little frightened, but righteous indignation fortified him.  He wouldn't give up now.

Twenty minutes passed and he was afraid his aching legs wouldn't survive the long squat.  But then he heard footsteps.  Rising, he peered over the cans and saw Grossman and Weintraub leaving, arm in arm.  There was no sign of Olga; maybe she was only a wax doll after all.  Well, he'd know soon enough.

A can rattled as Peter hunkered back down.  The footsteps ceased and he heard Grossman grumble, "Did you hear something, Nora?"

The nurse's voice soothed.  "It was nothing, Samuel, only a rat."  Their footsteps clicked away.

Peter came out of hiding and crossed to Olga's tent.  Near the rear, he found a loose spot and quickly shimmied under it.

Inside, the instrument panels cast an icy blue light.  Above the hum of the air conditioner, he could hear the tubes bubbling away.  They'd left everything on; maybe they were coming back.  He'd better hurry.

Peter climbed the steps to the stage and saw the outline of Olga's chair -- and of Olga.  She was fake then, but he still wanted to see her up close, see what she was made of.

Peter came around the chair to face Olga and, dropping to his knees, took her hand.  It was warm and moved with the limp ease of a person in deep sleep.  Gooseflesh prickled on his neck as he carefully replaced the hand.

He rose and studied the glass dome.  "Excuse me, dear," he whispered, trying to lighten his nervousness, "this is for research purposes only."  He unfastened the blouse's top two buttons exposing the place where the base of the neck should be.  The bottom of the glass bulb and the skin-like material were joined with gruesome perfection.

Next, he crossed to the table of equipment and found Grossman's stethoscope.  It appeared real. Trying to remain calm, he carried the instrument back to Olga.  He didn't know what he expected to hear; maybe the clicking of a heating element as it warmed Olga's lifelike skin.

He undid a few more buttons and slipped the stethoscope inside the blouse.  Dizzily, he realized he was touching the warm swell of what felt very much like a genuine female breast.  He shivered in the cool air.  "Barbie Dolls have breasts," he whispered, and put the disk firmly in place.  He listened.

A heartbeat.  Two.

"You approve of my Olga?"

Peter jumped.  Grossman's voice came from across the stage.  His own heart beat wildly as he turned to face the man.

The doctor came slowly toward Peter.  In his hand he held something shiny.  A scalpel.  Peter's skin began to crawl.

"Forgive me," he stammered.  "She's so realistic -- I just had to see her up close.  Uh, what's she made of?"

"I believe you already know the answer to that, young man," Grossman came closer.  Peter retreated until the backs of his legs were pressed against Olga's knees.

Suddenly, someone grabbed Peter's hair and yanked him backwards into Olga's lap.  Nurse Weintraub's face smiled down at him from behind the bubble dome.  Her fingernails dug into his scalp as she tightened her grip.

The doctor moved in. Before Peter could regain his wits, Weintraub jerked his head up and back, stretching his neck over Olga's shoulder, exposing his throat.

Grossman raised the scalpel.


The tent was filled to overflowing when the curtain finally opened.  The man introduced himself and his nurse, then began his tale.  "Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen.  Twenty years ago, a terrible tragedy occurred.  A train derailed near my home, causing many injuries and deaths.  In my search for survivors, I found this poor couple.  They were lying in a ditch, locked in a bloody embrace and, ladies and gentlemen, it was a horrifying and pitiable sight for, during the disaster, their heads were shorn from their bodies.

"The most heartbreaking part of all was that they had been married only that morning and this was to be their honeymoon trip.

"I felt I must try to save them, so I took them to my laboratory and, working day and night, created these devices to allow them to live again.  My success is a miracle."  He looked heavenward, in supplication.

"They cannot communicate, except perhaps with one another, but, ladies and gentlemen, I feel certain that their love has survived."

The couple sat, hands joined, silent and unmoving in their blood-stained wedding clothes.  And in the tent, not a sound was heard, except for one soft sigh, as someone remembered a lost love.

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