The Greatest Show on Earth
Born in 1864, Joanna was a reflection of her twin sister, always just a second late, second best, not quite as real.
Jessica was always better, always prettier, everyone always cared about her more. Their parents would say Jessica would be famous some day, she had the voice of an angel, was absolutely beautiful. She could be a singer or an actress. Joanna was plain, though her voice was just as good. Jessica was smart, she studied hard, she helped her mother. Joanna was always in trouble. Jessica loved her sister dearly, and Joanna loved her, but their parents, friends and teachers, always had a preference.
When Joanna was 12, she was staring in the mirror, trying to find what it was that made Jessica so much more appealing. Then a movement caught her attention. Something flickered in the mirror, a face. Looking behind her, no one was there, but when Joanna turned back around, there was a face in the mirror, staring at her. “You’ll never be as good as her you know.” Joanna doesn’t remember the rest of that conversation, but she remembers being pulled into the mirror.
On one side of the mirror was the woman who had saved her. There she learned to change her appearance to help her new mistress discover what new fashion would look the best. The process was painful, growing new hair and shifting features in an instant. But for those moments when Mistress was looking at her, she was allowed to be beautiful.
On the other side of the mirror was her family. At first they seemed confused, but soon they forgot she had ever existed, as if Jessica had always been an only child. Only Jessica remembered, as every time she looked in the mirror she would see a flash of Joanna’s face, and then her own. Joanna saw Jessica grow, become more beautiful, saw her go to her first audition, meet her first caller, have her first kiss. And Joanna became jealous. She didn’t see her own beauty growing, as trapped in the mirror she had no way of knowing. She watched Jessica compulsively, whenever she could, to avoid the brutality of the Mistress. The Mistress always wanted Joanna to watch the people she was torturing, and so whenever Joanna could avoid it, she spent her time with Jessica.
But over time Joanna grew jealous. It wasn’t fair that Jessica was the one with this life, the one everyone had always loved. How could she have been forgotten in so little time Joanna’s love for her sister turned to bitterness and resentment, and she stopped seeing the tears on Jessica’s face when Jessica thought of her sister who no one else could remember. Joanna began reaching through the mirror, something she had long since stopped trying, began to grab at her sister when her back was turned. Jessica became afraid, there was always someone in the room with her, someone grabbing her.
Joanna was trapped in mirror, but she had discovered she could get her hand out. When Mistress left one of her ‘teaching knives’ on the table in front of the mirror, Joanna grabbed it, and made her plan. She bargained with the mirror, begged to be let out. Next time Jessica turned away from the miror, Joanna jumped out, and slit her throat. Jessica’s face flickered with recognition and confusion, and she was gone. Joanna ran down the stairs of her childhood home, her family saw her leave but showed no signs of recognizing her. On her way down the street she heard her mother’s screams, they had found the body.
There was only one place to go, only one place that would take her. Joanna ran to the circus that was in town, and hoped she’d be safe from Mistress there.
Joanna was told that other changelings had fetches made, so their other family wouldn’t know they were gone. She supposes Mistress didn’t bother because she knew her family wouldn’t care.