This week’s challenge sent us off to a website called They Fight Crime, which randomly serves up two wacky character descriptions. Our assignment, should we choose to accept it, is to write a story of around 1,500 words showing those characters interacting. Having them fight crime is optional.
Here’s what the site gave me:
He’s a hunchbacked advertising executive with a bag of magic beans.
She’s a mentally unstable snake charmer in love with the honey monster.
Together, they fight crime!
After the show, the freaks liked to hang out in the field behind the tent, smoking and gossiping. Ben was there, that balmy Thursday night, the way he often was, even though he was an advertising executive in town, and not a part of the circus. He felt normal among the freaks, accepted, his hunchback of no importance there.
He also kept on showing up because he had a hopeless crush on Janelle, the snake charmer. What would a world-circling sideshow performer want with a boring townie who spent his days parked behind a desk? So he hid his feelings, and he thought he hid them well, but the freaks all knew, and it amused them and gave them something to talk about when Ben wasn’t around.
That night, though, Janelle never showed up for the party in the field. She was in her tent with Cooper, the new guy, her understudy for the snake charmer act. Honey Baby, she called him, because of the way his sweet words dripped into her ears.
“So beautiful,” he murmured. “So kind. You’re the finest woman I’ve ever known. I’ve never loved anyone as much as I love you. Please marry me. Don’t make me wait a moment longer. Please.”
They stood facing each other, a few feet apart. If she stretched out her arm, she could touch his chest with the tip of her fingers. She yearned for him to take a step forward, to hold her.
Instead he dropped to his knees. She did the same, as if an invisible string were pulling her down, making her arrange her limbs to be the mirror image of his. Soft music drifted into the tent. Janelle closed her eyes, swayed gently from side to side.
“Stop! Can’t you see what he’s doing?”
“Ben?” She opened her eyes. Honey Baby was running out through the tent’s open flap. Ben hovered above her, bent over even more than usual, a dopey look of fake concern on his stupid, bloated face.
“Honey Baby, wait!” But he was gone. She looked up at Ben, ridiculous, ugly, annoying Ben, who had just ruined the best moment of her life, Ben, who was worse than her father who left when she five years old, worse than her mother who never accepted Janelle’s snake charming talents, Ben who couldn’t even come up with a decent advertising campaign that would get her out of this two-bit circus. She trembled with rage, her hands in tight fists.
He pried open her right hand, put a small object inside. “Eat it,” he said, but she was already throwing it at him, watching it ricochet off his glasses, fall to the floor.
He picked it up carefully. “Eat it,” he said again. “You need it. It’s a magic bean. Trust me.”
She was not about to trust him. But she respected the power of magic, and she wouldn’t risk offending any magical forces that might be in the vicinity. She accepted the bean, chewed it slowly, watched as intelligence flooded back into Ben’s face, as his chin grew squarer, and his eyes filled with compassion.
“Good,” he said “You’re starting to come out of the spell.”
“What the fuck?”
An image of Cooper running out of the tent popped into her mind, and she glared at Ben, her jaw tensing, but the anger faded as quickly as it had come.
“I had a bad feeling about him,” Ben said. “The sideshow folk, they laughed because they thought I was just jealous, but I knew something was wrong. I hired a private investigator.”
“To track Honey Baby?”
“More like Honey Monster,” he said. “He’s been married – get this – 45 times.”
“Forty-five marriages and divorces?”
“No, no divorces. He never gets divorced. He’s married to seven of the women now.”
“A bigamist? But what happened to all the other women if he didn’t divorce them?”
“Dead,” Ben said. “He killed them.”
And then she understood. Cooper had charmed her the way that she charmed her snakes. She had come this close…
“Why?” she asked. “What does he get out of it?”
“It depends. Sometimes he does it for the money. Sometimes – “ Ben glanced at her, then quickly looked away. “— Sometimes he wants to take over the woman’s job. And sometimes he just does it for fun.”
“Give me another bean,” she said.
The next day, Ben and Janelle set out to fight crime together. They had both spent the night getting ready. Ben drew up eye-catching posters advertising a new circus in town, a circus that didn’t exist, but the posters, which Ben plastered all over town before dawn, were convincing enough to lure Cooper to the hotel room advertised as the site for job interviews.
As for Janelle, she had spent the night composing new songs for her flute.
Cooper walked into the room, looked around, didn’t see anyone there, and sat down on the edge of the bed, crossed his legs, his top leg swinging back and forth in impatience. Janelle, out of sight behind the curtain, began playing her strange new songs, the music welling up from her core, all the pain and anguish she had kept down for so long now spilling out into the room, circling Cooper’s head, until he moaned and fell back onto the bed.
Ben came in with the town Sheriff and deputy. Handcuffs clicked shut, and Cooper and the law men were gone.
“Good job,” Ben said to Janelle.
“Ditto,” she said. She hesitated a moment, then asked, “How did you come to have a magic bean?”
“I don’t seem like the type? Not the type to know magic?”
“Well, no, you don’t. It surprised me, that’s all.”
“I am full of surprises,” he said.
“Good,” she said. “I love surprises.”