JULY CARNIVALS 107 – Short Story Contest

THEME: Curiosity

SETTING: At a carnival, street parade, circus, or a festival, your character finds a secret passageway. He/she also loses something. You decide what is lost and if it is found.

3 HIGHLIGHTS: (include): A secret passageway, something lost, and an insect

SUBMISSIONS: Post your story below where it says POST YOUR STORY OF 750-1,500 WORDS

WORD COUNT: 750-1,500

DEADLINE: The deadline is always the 25th of the month – Sunday, July 25, 2021

PRIZE: Winner receives a book!

AWARDS: Each story will receive an award!

SUBMISSIONS: Post your story below in the comment section provided where it says “Post story of 750-1,500 words.”

3 PROMPTS TO GET YOU STARTED:

1.) At the carnival, your character discovers a secret passageway such as a revolving bookcase, Three Sisters Labyrinth, or a hidden path. While exploring the secret passageway, he or she loses something. You decide how much he or she panics. You decide if the thing lost is a good thing or a bad thing.

2.) Your character is afraid of something such as clowns. He or she enters the Clown House to lose all fear of clowns. You decide what happens.

3.) Your character works at the carnival. You decide if the Ferris wheel gets stuck, if someone loses his or her prosthetic limb, or if some other conflict arises.

WINNER(S) and AWARDS will be announced on August 1, 2021.

OPTIONAL RESOURCES:

You can find additional optional conflicts on pages 86-87 in “Writers 750 Emerald Workbook” written by H.M. Schuldt.

ITEMS THAT MUST BE INCLUDED

1.) A secret passageway

2.) Something lost

3.) An insect

Two Kinds of Curious

One has a strong desire, interest, and inquisitiveness to learn something such as finding out what will be at the carnival. The other kind of curious is when something is strange, peculiar, odd, or curious itself such as a haunted house.

Mysteries

The nature of a mystery is something that is difficult to explain or it might even be impossible to understand completely. A mystery could be a black hole, identity of Jack the Ripper, whether a money pit exists on Oak Island, whether a land called Atlantis every existed, or the location of the Ark of the Covenant. A paradox differs because a paradox will have a clear explanation upon further investigation such as time travel, the Monty Hall problem, or a catch-22.

Writing a Mystery

There are at least three kinds of mystery writers. First, a cozy mystery writer is one who uses an upright civilian as the protagonist, usually smart enough to solve the crime. Second, an odd mystery writer is one where strange things are happening, and the protagonist is intelligent but not necessarily an expert at anything. Third, an expert mystery involves a protagonist who is an expert in a specific way such as a scientist, technician, doctor, policeman, etc.

CONTEST GUIDELINES – Skip over this section if you are familiar with the Writers 750 Program.

GENRE: Fantasy, Thriller, Sci-Fi, Mystery, Crime, Comedy, Romance, or a mixture (No erotica)

PURPOSE –
The main purpose of this contest is to practice the skill of writing fiction, explore conflict and character development, write a new short stories, and receive good feedback.

RULES & DIRECTIONS –
• Type in English – a minimum of 750 words; a maximum of 1,500 words

• Post your title and word count total in the first line of your story posting.

• Writers are responsible for their own copyright. Authors keep all rights. PRIVACY POLICY IS ENFORCED. COPYRIGHTS AND INTELLECTUAL PROPERTY RIGHTS BELONG TO INDIVIDUAL AUTHORS. THIS CONTEST DOES NOT GRANT ANY PERSON THE RIGHT OR LICENSE TO COPY OR USE OTHER STORIES. EACH STORY IS PROTECTED BY THE COPYRIGHT OF THE ORIGINAL AUTHOR.

• ONE entry per person, must be the writer’s original work, a final revision, and a new piece of writing. Please do not delete and re-post since this becomes confusing to the readers. Make sure to post your final revision.

SUBMISSIONS: Post your story below in the comment section provided where it says “Post story of 750-1,500 words.” (You will need to login to WordPress to post your story.)

10 replies on “JULY CARNIVALS 107 – Short Story Contest”

Awards and winning story from July Carnivals:

Carnival Invasion by F. F. Burwick
Best Alien

The Hall of Mirrors by Terry Turner
Best Circus Drama

Such a Grand, Colorful Reckoning by Travis Jackson
Best Lesson to Forgive Self

Fondest Wish by Paul Ahnert
Best Tragedy of Idols

LOL Caesar by Arthur Chappell
Best Surprise Villain

The Clown with the Ax by Glenda Reynolds
Best Protagonist

Shimmer, Shine, and Scream by Cortney Donelson
Best Cliffhanger

A Blessed 1976 Bicentennial Parade by Mirta Oliva
Best Contrast – in How People Use Free Will

The winning story from July Carnivals is
Fondest Wish by Paul Ahnert – Congratulations!

Hope to see you all again in August Masks! Here is a link.
https://writers750program.com/august-masks-108-short-story-contest/

Carnival Invasion by F. F. Burwick 1273 words

Roland was on that outing among a several young people out to see a carnival festivity in their town. There were a few rides they found to go on, and were a few funhouse setups there for exploring. The last one they came to was looking so alien with a front covered with strange curved lines leaving mysterious openings in places. Three among the young people went in, and found it surprisingly long, with reflective walls as mirrors in places that lent to confusion of any going through it. Roland came at the end after Pattie and Sheila in there. They came to a slide that should be the exit from that funhouse. But there was an anomaly that became noticeable when Sheila went through it, and she was gone. Roland and Pattie saw this as Sheila went through the anomaly along the slide. Roland called out in alarm.

Confused, after they were calling out some more, with no indication anyone heard them, Roland turned to go back through the funhouse to where he had entered it, as Pattie called for Sheila there where she had gone. Someone was coming up that way they had come. Roland called out, “Go back! There is something there at the way out that has made someone in front of us disappear, and they are gone!” He saw then the figure coming to him looked like a huge dressed up insect.

That figure, with moving appendages above walked erect with two strong legs below. The figure looking like an insect said to Roland, “I know about that. This accomplishes what was meant.”

Roland said, “What do you mean?! What happened to Sheila?”

The one appearing as an insect said, “Your friend went to the realm of our young. They will follow the path she left sliding into their realm, and they will come out this way.”

Roland said, “This is no funhouse! What is this, a trap?! You go out this other way, I will find authorities to do something about this.”

The one who appeared to be an insect, which Roland started thinking more was an insect, a quite alien one, held up an object, saying then, “We shall wait here and see if our young find their way up here soon.”

Roland saw the object held must be some sort of weapon, a long pointy thing with a small hole at the end. He made a quick decision that he knew was a risk, and he tackled the other. That one like an insect fell back and though that one seemed to try shooting with it, the object flew out from where it was gripped. Roland got up and saw the insect being on his back unable to get right up. He found what would have been the weapon laying some distance away, and he picked it up very carefully. He then came back to the insect being, and he grabbed one leg of the two the insect being had walked on, and Roland pulled it. The creature was light, he found, much lighter than human people were. The insect being just slid on his back with Roland pulling the creature’s leg, and Roland pulled him back to the entrance.

Roland’s friends were in front when he came to the entrance. He called out to them, “There is no exit from this, it was a trap! Sheila disappeared on a slide, this is an alien who said she is being used so more will come! We need to get authorities here and see if Sheila can be rescued!” His friends stared in surprise as he pulled the alien body behind him, coming out from that entrance.

As soon as they could find them officers came quickly to the apparent attraction. One officer said, “This is not a funhouse on the list! Why is it here?”

Roland said, “See this huge insect? It is some alien that spoke and told me more of its kind, its young, would come through the hole our friend Sheila disappeared through. We want to rescue her, and keep those creatures from coming through!”

While one officer stayed outside watching over the great insect along with Roland’s friends out there, other officers followed Roland and Pattie through that apparent funhouse that was not supposed to be there to the slide that seemed to be for the exit.

One officer said to another there, “Go to the station, there should be coils of rope, bring a couple of those back here.”

Roland asked urgently, “What is there that you see through that? Is our friend there?”

“I saw moving objects all around, and one face in the distance that must be that of your friend.”

Minutes went by as Roland and Pattie fretted. Finally officers came, and a rope that was brought was uncoiled. That first officers made a careful and effective loop, and let that end down the slide through the weird hole with distortion of space around it. More and more rope was passed through, for a long while. Finally there was a responsive tug. The officers lined up to pull the rope together. They slowly backed up with it. Roland and Pattie went in front of the officers and joined in pulling the rope from the hole along the slide. After backing up, Pattie let go and grabbed the rope closer to the slide, and pulled more. Roland let go and went there to join Pattie and to also pull from there.

“Did you see here down there?”

“Yes, I see her. She is still deep in there. And there are other little creatures, also coming where she is!”

Roland cried, “Pull harder! Get her out fast!”

He pulled as hard as he could, and Pattie did too. The officers first up there had backed out of that deceptive funhouse structure, and more officers came in, to join in pulling. Finally Sheila appeared coming up the slide as she had the loop of the rope under her arms and she was pulling herself up more with the rope. And small creatures like leggy worms were coming up there too.

Roland and Pattie came and hurriedly pulled her up from the slide when she got there. They kicked at the leggie larval creatures to send them sliding back, but there were many of those. Officers who had pulled on the rope came up through the passages to where they were, and they saw the creatures.

One officer said, “You have to go on out from here now that we rescued this one. We will try getting rid of these creatures, and very shortly we will destroy this funhouse, with explosives, and hopefully that destroys that opening that they come through.”

Later, that evening, when Roland and his friends saw the whole area there had been evacuated, that structure was exploded as planned. Soon afterward that area was carefully inspected. An official came to Roland and his friends, who had stayed to watch, from an appropriate distance. That official said, “I am Major Richton, from the Department of Investigative Defense. You were pointed out to me, that I know you went through that structure. We gained a lot of information from the captured creature, more than we already know about them, the warriorbugs. There have been previous attempts of invasion from them. This was the first one captured alive that we could communicate with. We would reward you and honor you in a ceremony for successfully capturing that creature for us, and stopping this invasion that really could have been successful, if you had not been here or responded so well.”

THE HALL OF MIRRORS
by terry turner 1456 words

Five-year-old Rose tiptoed past the snoozing babysitter with her rag doll tucked tightly under her arm. She was determined to find her mother who was somewhere in the big top reading fortunes for those who came to see the circus shows.

When she found her mother’s enclosure, she was frightened by what she heard and began to cry. A well-dressed woman was standing at the entrance shaking her fist and shouting, accusing her mother of being a charlatan, and stormed away in quite an emotional state. Those waiting for their reading were stunned and began to murmur and whisper among themselves.

Liddy, one of the female clowns, took the child’s hand and led her to her mother’s side who was sitting at a table behind a crystal ball with her hands covering her face.

“What happened,” Liddy asked?

“Nothing really. This sort of thing happens sometimes when I foresee bad news. Most folks want me to lie and tell them how great and wonderful their future will be. They want to hear that they will meet a wonderful rich man, marry, and live happily ever after. It breaks my heart having to tell them the truth. Sometimes I think this gift of seeing the future is a curse.

Her mother’s reading room, with walls made of heavy colorful fabrics, was tucked away in the back of the big top. Spangled around the doorway were images of crescent moons of various sizes and colors. The entrance was laden with strings of beads that clinked together sounding the arrival of another paying customer. The light in the room was kept low from the glow of many candles creating a mysterious mood. Though the space looked small when observed from the outside, it seemed surprisingly bigger once inside. A deception of course. A simple illusion created with fabric dividers and screens arranged in such a way that only her mother understood.

She sat behind a round, skirted table wearing a dark maroon hooded cloak with long painted fingernails; each one a different color. Placed before her in the center of the table was a large crystal ball. Under the glass ball was a hidden lamp which she could turn on and off at just the precise moment of her choosing. She didn’t need those effects because she was quite capable of reading a client without any props. They were only for show because that is what people who came for a reading wanted and expected. Most came for the fun of it but some came because their hearts were troubled. Rose’s mother knew the concerns of those who came. For some she put on a show, orchestrated in such a way that was sure to please, leaving the customers with the feeling that they had received their money’s worth. For others, she was gentle, caring, and sincere.

Rose’s father was one of the circus clowns. Everyone called him Cookie. There was no marriage, no rings exchanged, and no flowery ceremony in front of a minister because her mother knew a union with him would never last. She didn’t need a crystal ball to know that. She was not the reigning fortuneteller for nothing. Before she could break the news to Cookie that he was the father of her baby, he had met a woman in a small Midwest town and stayed behind when the circus pulled up stakes. The only other person who knew Cookie was Rose’s father was Jolly Judy, the circus fat lady.

At the age of seven, Rose became intrigued with a mysterious room in the big top called The Hall of Mirrors. Mysterious because it was built by a stranger who came to the circus one day when Rose was six years old. The newcomer arrived without fanfare, out of a heavy fog that had settled across the valley and rolling hills. He wore strange clothes and a hat adorned with two feathers from the tail of an eagle.

Shortly after his arrival, Ziggy, the juggler, got into a row with the stranger. No one knew what started it but that night Ziggy lost his voice. The stranger was suspected of having something to do with it but nothing could be proven.

The newcomer was a quiet man and short in stature who spoke with a heavy accent. Everyone kept their distance except for Rose who would sit at the dining table with him and his pet toad named Theo as the others watched from afar with apprehension. Rose took great pleasure in feeding the toad crickets and other insects.

The hall of mirrors, which he was hired to construct, was arranged like a labyrinth and included a secret passageway. A rumor began to circulate among the circus troupe that there was a treasure to be had for the person who was skilled enough to discover the secret passage.

One night after the stranger had finished building the maze, he left during a heavy fog without so much as a good-bye to anyone, taking the knowledge of the secret passageway with him. Whether he told Rose he was leaving, no one knows but she was sorely disappointed that he took the pet toad with him. And that very night, Ziggy got his voice back. Every one searched for the elusive passage but as time rolled by they all gave up except for Jolly Judy.

Snow blanketed the hilltops around the valley and as Winter approached Rose’s mother came down with a malady and passed away suddenly. It is well known that circus people take care of their own and it was decided that Rose would be placed in Jolly Judy’s care.

As the dreary days of Winter crept by, life around the circus began to return to normal after the passing of their beloved fortuneteller except for Rose who missed her mother deeply.

Late one evening, Zelda, the newly hired medium, had been drinking heavily and yelling at her crystal ball. She became angry with Rose and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and threw her into the hall of mirrors, locking the door behind her. Rose bumped her head on the hard surface of the floor and blacked out for a few seconds.

When her eyes opened she was afraid and began to cry. As she looked around, she realized she was not alone for in the mirrors she saw hundreds of reflections of herself reaching out and crying in unison. Then she heard her mother saying, “follow the sound of my voice, Rose.”

Wiping the tears from her cheeks, Rose followed her mother’s voice down a hallway that seemed to go on forever. The light around her became faint and the mirrors began to crackle and change color presenting slightly dull grey reflections of herself.

At the end of the long hallway, she came to an ornate door of great beauty. She heard her mother’s gentle voice encouraging her to turn the key and open the door. When the door opened, she was surprised at what she saw.

“You are not my mother,” Rose said with disappointment.

“I know, Rose. I am sorry but I was afraid you would not come. So I used your mother’s voice,” the labyrinth builder said. “Please, come and sit with me.”

Rose smiled when she saw the toad sitting on the table watching her.

“Theo. I thought I would never see you again.”

The toad opened its mouth with a high-pitched trill as Rose sat with the builder sitting on the other side of the table.

“Rose, since your mother is gone and you have no relatives to live with, you are welcome to stay here with us. You will be well cared for and Theo would be delighted to have your company.”

After much thought, Rose didn’t want to stay and decided to go back to Jolly Judy and the life of the circus which she loved. She said her goodbyes, turned, and walked to the door. When her hand touched the door handle there was a flash of bright light.

The next thing she knew, she was on the floor in the hall of mirrors with a throbbing head wondering if what she just experienced was real or just a dream.
“Are you alright,” Jolly Judy asked, walking toward her? “I have been looking all over for you. There is a bump on your forehead. Come with me and I will put a cold compress on that.”

As Rose stood she looked for the long hallway which she had walked down following her mother’s voice but it wasn’t there.

“What is it, Rosy,” Judy asked.

“It’s nothing,” she answered taking Judy’s hand. “Can we get something to eat? I am so hungry.”

SUCH A GRAND, COLORFUL RECKONING

By Travis Jackson

1468 words.

“I admit it! You all died because of my mistake! I’ve admitted it every day ever since…”
Buster Flannagan fell to his knees, bowed over and cried in the center of the now quiet carnival. The lights were off, squirrels, owls and rats inhabiting its tents, rides and temporary buildings. The night sky moaned with north winds, few clouds obscuring its stars. The latter seemed to glare at Buster, their light stinging him as much as the memories of those he once worked with, those who no longer perform before intrigued, fascinated crowds.

“All thanks to me. All thanks to a train…”

Wiping his tears, Buster rose, then walked slowly, his face downcast. Now and again, he looked at the yellow and red striped carnival tents, void of people, snacks and prizes. Empty, like the way I feel, he thought as the winds grew stronger.

Stopping, he slowly looked up, his eyes drifting left to right, focusing on three large carnival tents before him. The first, which displayed a pattern of alternating green and red lines, had a wavy white sign made to look like an opening scroll, the words “Friar’s Freak Show” written on it in red. The second carnival tent, one that was solid black, had a triangular, red sign, its black letters stating “Abandon All Hope, All Ye Who Enter…”. The opening below it was flanked by two plastic skeletons, grinning and motioning customers in. Best carnival haunted house ever, Buster thought, before turning his attention to the huge, blue and silver tent to the right of the black one. Its sign was a huge white hand with an eye at the center, the words “Mr. Surreal’s Fun House” written below the palm.

“I should have known. I smelled wine on the train driver’s breath…”

Slightly shaking, he turned left, walking over to the freak show. As a stray cat hissed and then leaped past him, he walked inside.

At first, the darkness held way. Slowly, however, lights appeared. Customers suddenly materialized around him, along with Haddie the Bearded Lady, who despite her sole masculine aspect was built like a supermodel. A part of Buster wondered how people suddenly appeared out of nothing around him, how Haddie was standing instead of lying six feet under in a grave seven miles to the west, but his shock, his fear, was overridden by a insane, insatiable desire to join the others, a desire to see the grand show for a final time.
“Gather round! Gather round, all you nice ladies, lovely kids, and sexy hunks.” Haddie said, giving the tallest man in the crowd a wink. Turning, she lifted her hand, walking seductively as she spoke.

“You have no doubt heard of freak shows before. Some of you may have previously visited one, or even a few before arriving in this one. Well, forget what you think you know about them, forget what you have seen, for today, you’ll see oddities the likes of which the world has rarely known, indeed more bizarre than the usual garden variety oddity like myself.
“Consider the Hampton Twins to you right, teen girls joined at the hip who have no legs, crawling on their bare hands. Or consider the Human Sasquatch to your left, a man who suffers from both pituitary gigantism and hypertrichosis, the former making him seven and a half feet tall, the latter covering his body with hair.

Haddie walked further.

“Consider also the world’s strongest child, a boy born with three times the normal amount of muscle mass.” Haddie said, pointing to her right,

“See him lifting those clowns? Each of them weighs 300 pounds.”

Turning, Haddie pointed to her left.

“Consider the Human Vase, a physical specimen like no other! A thin, petite woman from the waste up, but as you can see, from the waist down, a colossus, with legs thick as oaks and an eight feet wide butt, most of which is muscle and bone.

“And these are just the least phenomenal of our oddities!” Haddie said, turning to the crowd and putting her hands on her hips,

“The question is, are you ready to see what lies ahead?”

Haddie raised an eyebrow, stroking her auburn beard.

“Are you, Buster?”

As Buster gasped, the tent went dark. He suddenly found himself standing in its entrance. Going insane, he thought, chuckling.

Might as well.

Nodding, he walked over to the haunted house. Patting both skeletons on the shoulder, he went inside.

The lights appeared, revealing a dusty, bricked tunnel, glistening with fake rubber slime. Buster had taken only two steps before a gray, blood-stained hand reached out in front of him, its arms covered in ripped black cloth. At the same time, unnatural screeches erupted from hidden speakers. The ventilator kicked on, lowering the tent’s temperature. Smiling, he walked past the rushing devils, floating ghosts and prancing skeletal horses. Everything around him had been crafted by Charles Dulles, the son of a former Hollywood special effects guru. Buster regained his smile as he continued to walk through the tunnel, not spooked by the fake growls, the fake blood or the fake body parts. He wasn’t, for some reason, even spooked by the fact that there was no power connected in the tent, that nothing should be running, that no lights should be on.

He was spooked, however, when a hand grasped his arm.

“Buster…” someone whispered.

Not someone! That’s Dulles’ voice!

Spinning around, he expected Dulles to appear in his mummy outfit, which he always wore in order to spook those who were leaving his haunted house. Instead, he saw nothing but the dark entrance to the haunted house, finding himself outside again.

“Nuts…”

A light appeared inside the funhouse. As he turned and walked over to it, a realization struck him.

They’re all back. They’re back from the hereafter…ready to take me with them.

Buster cried, yet also smiled.

Good. I deserve to join them.

Accepting his fate, he walked in.

Mirrors, mirrors all abounded within, each of which distorted his appearance. Some made him look like a giant, some like a dwarf, some fat, some thin, some that made him solid blue or solid red. They were among the few things in the carnival that he had made, learning how to make them when he was fourteen. For a few moments, he forgot the crash that he had witnessed while making a phone call at the train station, telling his sister that he would have to stay in town to work out a will of his recently departed uncle. He forgot the fire, the smoke, the real body parts, along with the train station itself, which was heavily damaged as the two trains struck head on, their cars coming off the tracks and striking it. He forgot it all…

…until the last mirror.

Until he saw Morgan Tannenbaum, his first, late wife, inside it. The tears returned.

“I…should have said something.” He said, as Morgan walked in the mirror, approaching him.

“I should have spoken out…!”

All the mirrors now had someone in them, someone who had worked at his carnival, someone who had died. Suddenly, all of them, including Morgan, walked out of the mirrors, surrounding him. Bawling, Buster fell to his knees, putting his hands on his face.
“I’m to blame! I’m to blame! I thought it was nothing, smelling alcohol on him! I thought I was mistaken! Kill me! Kill me-

Morgan put a frosty hand on his shoulder. As he tremored with sorrow, she leaned down to his ear.

“We’ve forgiven you.” She said, in a whisper almost too low for him to hear. As other cold hands touched him, Buster shook his head with disbelief.

“Oh yes, we have.” She said again, her lips near his right ear,

“Why can’t you?”

Buster opened his eyes. Once again, he was outside.

The carnival tents were gone.

All of it was gone.

Indeed, it had been gone for thirty years.

That terrible night was gone, replaced by a gorgeous day.

Sighing in overgrown grass, Buster wiped his tears away.

“Grandpa?”

Startled, Buster turned around, seeing his 8-year-old grandson approaching. Making sure that his tears were gone, he smiled, rose and walked over to him.

“Yes, Kevin?”

“Whatcha doing?” He said, not detecting his sorrow. Buster looked around, then back at him.

“Just thinking about old times, that’s all.”

“About the carnival?”

Buster fought back tears, nodding quickly.

“Yes, about the old days. Keeping the good things…”

Buster walked up to him, patting him on the shoulder,

“…and letting the bad things go.”

“Bad things?”

Buster nodded.

“Hey, why don’t we finish our day together by going to the movies? What do you say?”

“Sure, grandpa!”

As they walked towards their car, the ghosts of the carnival watched, waved…then vanished.

Fondest Wish
Paul Ahnert
1496 words

FONDEST WISH

Jim, carrying Linda on his shoulders, walked under the brightly lit archway as happy childhood memories flooded his heart, the smell of fried food, the screams of thrill riders and thundering rock music blaring from high mounted speakers. The Carnival, a timeless place of wonder and excitement, a place to leave the real world behind, if even for only a few hours. Jim’s heart swelled, as his giddy little girl giggled with anticipation, pointing at the illuminated chaos. “Daddy, I want cotton candy, please!”

Jim made a beeline to the truck emblazoned with happy cartoon children, purchased a large plume of sugary joy on a stick and handed it up to his very excited daughter. “What do you want to do first, princess?” Jim asked. Linda’s eyes widened as she saw a pretty teenage girl walking alongside her jock boyfriend, carrying a giant stuffed bear. “I want you to win me a giant stuffed bear, daddy!”

Jim took a deep breath and said, “Ok honey, one giant stuffed bear, coming up!” He was pretty sure all these games were rigged, but, he reassured himself thinking, if Jock Boy could win one…. His anxiety rose, however, as he saw the various games of skill, each costing a minimum of two dollars per play. He found himself longing for the days when all you had to do was lay your quarter down on a number and take a chance on a spin of the wheel.

Forty dollars and an hour of frustration later, Jim realized he was not good at popping balloons with darts, throwing rings over bottle necks, or knocking down milk cans with a softball. Shamefully, he attempted to bribe his daughter away from the obviously fixed games with a ride on the Carousel. Linda, normally a happy compliant child, caught Jim off guard when she, in a very uncharacteristic manner, stomped her little foot, placed her tiny hands on her hips and defiantly stated, “I want a bear, you promised!” “Sorry sweetie, Daddy’s just not lucky tonight.”

“C’mon, Pops, you don’t want to let down the little lady, do ya?” the sly carnival worker said with a smile, winking at Linda. “Tell ya what I’m gonna do buddy, take a free shot on the house, if ya win, ya get the bear.” “Thanks,” Jim said as he reached into the bucket of balls, “I really appreciate this.” “Think nothing of it,” the attendant smiled, as he leaned over and touched the tip of Linda’s nose with his finger, “I hate to see such a sweet young lady go home empty handed.”

Jim pitched as if it was the bottom of the ninth in game seven of the World Series with two outs, two strikes and bases loaded. Unfortunately, Jim was not going to lead his team to victory this night, he watched as five milk cans fell and the sixth one tottered only to remain upright. Linda’s anticipation quickly turned to disappointment as the man in the booth raised his hands and shrugged his shoulders.

“Almost Pops, ya almost nailed it.” “Come on honey,” Jim said, reaching for his daughter’s hand, but Linda refused to budge. The man in the booth leaned in towards Jim and, in a quiet voice, said, “I don’t do this for everyone, but I got a good feeling about you two, tell ya what, there’s a game booth reserved for VIPs and everyone wins, if you’re interested, go back around the Monster Fun House and head down the passageway, there’s a tent set up, go inside and ask for Lu, tell him Johnny Legion sent ya, he’ll take good care of ya both.”

Jim and Linda headed behind the Monster Funhouse, as Legion instructed, and found a poorly lit passageway, one most would not have noticed. Just as Legion promised, at the end of the path stood a tent. Jim hesitated, but Linda grabbed his hand and began pulling him toward the flaps, “C’mon daddy!” Jim took a deep breath, ignored the ominous feel of the place and allowed his little daughter to lead him inside.

All trepidation fled as they entered the brightly lit interior and were met by a jovial man in top hat and tails, “Welcome my friends! How can I help you?” “Uh, Johnny Legion sent us, he said this was a VIP game.. I was trying to win my little girl a bear.” Jim felt a little foolish until he heard Linda’s sharp intake of breath as she pointed to the giant plush bear hanging next to a numbered wheel. “Look Daddy, it’s perfect!” Jim had to admit, it was probably the most amazing stuffed bear he had ever seen. The fact the bear was the only prize in the tent did not register in his mind.

“Ah, yes! Please, please come on in!” Addressing Linda, Lu said, “I see you have your eye on Reginald, my finest bear!” “Uh huh,” Linda replied as she nodded. “Is this what you want more than anything else in the world?” Lu asked her. “Yessss,” she almost whispered, entranced by the prospect of walking out of the tent with such an amazing prize. “Well,” said Lu, smiling broadly, “I just happen to be in the business of granting your fondest wish!” Lu gestured to the counter as he stepped inside the booth, “All you need to do, Dad, is lay a quarter down on one of the numbers and see if you can match the wheel.” Jim immediately pulled a quarter from his pocket and laid it on number seven. Lu spun the wheel with a flourish as little Linda held her breath. As the wheel came to a stop, the indicator landed dead center on number seven. Linda squealed with delight while Jim gratefully thanked Lu. As Linda stood hugging the bear, which was almost as big as her, Lu winked at Jim and said, “It’s that easy, my friend! Now, son of Adam, what is your fondest wish, hmmm? Don’t be shy, everyone wants something.” Lu’s conspiratorial smile was hard to resist.

“Well,” Jim reluctantly replied, “the thing I wish for most in the world is to have Cali back, my wife, Linda’s mom. She passed away last year.” Lu, rubbed his chin as he contemplated Jim’s request. “Actually, I’m not in the raising the dead business,” he muttered, as he averted his eyes upward, “That’s someone else’s department. But, if I understand you correctly, you really wish little Linda here could have a normal life with a mommy and daddy to love her, right?” Jim looked down, “yeah, I do, he mumbled.” Excellent request my friend! Do you happen to have another quarter?”

Jim reached into his pocket and pulled out another quarter, without too much thought, he placed it down on number twelve, the day of the month in May he married his beloved wife. As Jim placed the quarter down, he did not notice the tiny pin sticking up on the counter until it jabbed his finger. As a drop of Jim’s blood landed onto number twelve, next to the quarter, Lu said, “Never mind that, son of Adam, it will only increase your luck!”

“Ready?” Lu asked as he reached out to spin the wheel. Jim merely nodded. Lu gave the wheel a good spin and just as before, the wheel stopped dead center on the number Jim had chosen. Lu clapped his hands, “Look at that! Another winner!” Suddenly, Jim clutched his chest and fell to the ground dead. Linda, mesmerized by her new bear, did not even notice. Within seconds, a timid couple entered from the rear of the tent, clutching each other’s arms, each with a tiny pin prick on their fingers. Lu gestured magnanimously towards the little girl and told them, with the tenderness of a loving father, “And here, children of Adam, here is your fondest wish, a daughter to call your own”

As the man and woman joyfully, if not a tad bit guiltily, directed Linda from the tent, anxious to get on with the business of being a family, they passed two non descript men, dragging Johnny Legion between them, into the tent. “We swear, Lu, we didn’t tell them anything!” Legion whined, as the two men stood before Lu. The man on the left said, “Lu, huh? Cute, but this game’s over Baalzebub, the boss wants to see you.” A fly landed on Johnny Legion’s head as he asked, “what about us?” The second man said, “Oh, I’m sure there might be some pigs around here somewhere.” “Oh, no! Not that again,” said Legion, “we’ll just leave”

Suddenly, the two men, Lu and the tent swirled up into the sky in a pillar of fire, disappearing from sight. Where a brightly lit tent once stood were only one dead body and a very bewildered carnival worker named Johnny who seemed to have lost track of the last few months of his life.

THE HALL OF MIRRORS
by terry turner 1454 words

Five-year-old Rose tiptoed past the snoozing babysitter with her rag doll tucked tightly under her arm determined to find her mother who was somewhere in the big top reading fortunes for those who came to see the circus shows.

When she found her mother’s enclosure, she was frightened by what she heard and began to cry. A well-dressed woman was standing at the entrance shaking her fist and shouting, accusing her mother of being a charlatan, and stormed away in quite an emotional state. Those waiting for their reading were stunned and began to murmur and whisper among themselves.

Liddy, one of the female clowns, took the child’s hand and led her to her mother’s side who was sitting at a table behind a crystal ball with her hands covering her face.

“What happened,” Liddy asked?

“Nothing really. This sort of thing happens sometimes when I foresee bad news. Most folks want me to lie and tell them how great and wonderful their future will be. They want to hear that they will meet a wonderful rich man, marry, and live happily ever after. It breaks my heart having to tell them the truth. Sometimes I think this gift of seeing the future is a curse.

Her mother’s reading room, with walls made of heavy colorful fabrics, was tucked away in the back of the big top. Spangled around the doorway were images of crescent moons of various sizes and colors. The entrance was laden with strings of beads that clinked together sounding the arrival of another paying customer. The light in the room was kept low from the glow of many candles creating a mysterious mood. Though the space looked small when observed from the outside, it seemed surprisingly bigger once inside. A deception of course. A simple illusion created with fabric dividers and screens arranged in such a way that only her mother understood.

She sat behind a round, skirted table wearing a dark maroon hooded cloak with long painted fingernails; each one a different color. Placed before her in the center of the table was a large crystal ball. Under the glass ball was a hidden lamp which she could turn on and off at just the precise moment of her choosing. She didn’t need those effects because she was quite capable of reading a client without any props. They were only for show because that is what people who came for a reading wanted and expected. Most came for the fun of it but some came because their hearts were troubled. Rose’s mother knew the concerns of those who came. For some she put on a show, orchestrated in such a way that was sure to please, leaving the customers with the feeling that they had received their money’s worth. For others, she was gentle, caring, and sincere.

Rose’s father was one of the circus clowns. Everyone called him Cookie. There was no marriage, no rings exchanged, and no flowery ceremony in front of a minister because her mother knew a union with him would never last. She didn’t need a crystal ball to know that. She was not the reining fortuneteller for nothing. Before she could break the news to Cookie that he was the father of her baby, he had met a woman in a small Midwest town and stayed behind when the circus pulled up stakes. The only other person who knew Cookie was Rose’s father was Jolly Judy, the circus fat lady.

At the age of seven, Rose became intrigued with a mysterious room in the big top called The Hall of Mirrors. Mysterious because it was built by a stranger who came to the circus one day when Rose was six years old. The newcomer arrived without fanfare, out of a heavy fog that had settled across the valley and rolling hills. He wore strange clothes and a hat adorned with two feathers from the tail of an eagle.

Shortly after his arrival, Ziggy, the juggler, got into a row with the stranger. No one knew what started it but that night Ziggy lost his voice. The stranger was suspected of having something to do with it but nothing could be proven.

The newcomer was a quiet man and short in stature who spoke with a heavy accent. Everyone kept their distance except for Rose who would sit at the dining table with him and his pet toad named Theo as the others watched from afar with apprehension. Rose took great pleasure in feeding the toad crickets and other insects.

The hall of mirrors, which he was hired to construct, was arranged like a labyrinth and included a secret passageway. A rumor began to circulate among the circus troupe that there was a treasure to be had for the person who was skilled enough to discover the secret passage.

One night after the stranger had finished building the maze, he left during a heavy fog without so much as a good-bye to anyone, taking the knowledge of the secret passageway with him. Whether he told Rose he was leaving, no one knows but she was sorely disappointed that he took the pet toad with him. And that very night, Ziggy got his voice back. Every one searched for the elusive passage but as time rolled by they all gave up except for Jolly Judy.

Snow blanketed the hilltops around the valley and as Winter approached Rose’s mother came down with a malady and passed away suddenly. It is well known that circus people take care of their own and it was decided that Rose would be placed in Jolly Judy’s care.

As the dreary days of Winter crept by, life around the circus began to return to normal after the passing of their beloved fortuneteller except for Rose who missed her mother deeply.

Late one evening, Zelda, the newly hired medium, had been drinking heavily and yelling at her crystal ball. She became angry with Rose and grabbed her by the scruff of the neck and threw her into the hall of mirrors, locking the door behind her. Rose bumped her head on the hard surface of the floor and blacked out for a few seconds.

When her eyes opened she was afraid and began to cry. As she looked around, she realized she was not alone for in the mirrors she saw hundreds of reflections of herself reaching out and crying in unison. Then she heard her mother saying, “follow the sound of my voice, Rose.”

Wiping the tears from her cheeks, Rose followed her mother’s voice down a hallway that seemed to go on forever. The light around her became faint and the mirrors began to crackle and change color presenting slightly dull grey reflections of herself.

At the end of the long hallway, she came to an ornate door of great beauty. She heard her mother’s gentle voice encouraging her to turn the key and open the door. When the door opened, she was surprised at what she saw.

“You are not my mother,” Rose said with disappointment.

“I know, Rose. I am sorry but I was afraid you would not come. So I used your mother’s voice,” the labyrinth builder said. “Please, come and sit with me.”

Rose smiled when she saw the toad sitting on the table watching her.

“Theo. I thought I would never see you again.”

The toad opened its mouth with a high-pitched trill as Rose sat with the builder sitting on the other side of the table.

“Rose, since your mother is gone and you have no relatives to live with, you are welcome to stay here with us. You will be well cared for and Theo would be delighted to have your company.”

After much thought, Rose didn’t want to stay and decided to go back to Jolly Judy and the life of the circus which she loved. She said her goodbyes, turned, and walked to the door. When her hand touched the door handle there was a flash of bright light.

The next thing she knew, she was on the floor in the hall of mirrors with a throbbing head wondering if what she just experienced was real or just a dream.
“Are you alright,” Jolly Judy asked, walking toward her? “I have been looking all over for you. There is a bump on your forehead. Come with me and I will put a cold compress on that.”

As Rose stood she looked for the long hallway which she had walked down following her mother’s voice but it wasn’t there.

“What is it, Rosy,” Judy asked.

“It’s nothing,” she answered taking Judy’s hand. “Can we get something to eat? I am so hungry.”

LOL Caesar (!,032 words)

“Happy Saturnalia Festival Brutus.”
“Ta, feelin better now. Overdid it a lot at the Vomitorium last nite.”
“That’ll teach ya. U getting all this through live on Twitter Mark A?”
“Luks quiet compared 2 last year. R Vestal virgin cheerleaders not dancing this time?”
“No, that got banned as sexist.”
“Pity but 4 the best really. Hey, I’m seeing some great footage here. Woz that the slave U selfied with B4?”
“Yeah. ROLF. Lion just bit his hed rite off. Ace. U-Tubing it 4 evry 1 know rite now.
“Going Viral rite round the Empire already Brutus.”
“That was quick. U R missing all the fun. How come your not here ureself? They do the best choclat covered crickets I ever crunched on.”
“Couldn’t get a ticket quick enough. It sold out as soon as news went out on Bread N Circus Toutline. U were lucky. I’m watching on Zoom Livestream from the comfort of my villa in Gaul. Quite enjoy lounging round watching from my bath while eunuchs feed me grapes. I’d rather B there with U though.”
“Shame. Evry 1 misses U. Senaca sends hugs! Great carnival atmosphere here. Do U like my new ‘Drone wasn’t built in a day toga? Got it on the souvenir traders stalls.”
“Cool, but b careful getting political. 2 many drones buzzing over the amphitheatre. I hear it makes JC N the Senate pretty nervous. They want fly overs banned. Political correctness gone mad.“
“Sorry, nearly missed that. Damn spam ads. Latest 1 says Bware Ides Of March. 15th March is 2day isn’t it? Do ya think they are trying to warn JC about something?”
“Could b but he doesn’t look 2 worried. He’s busy judging the Ben Hur skateboard race. Luv the spikes on the sk8 board wheels this year. Wot U watching next?”
“The old poets, Pliny, Ovid & Livy R having another rap battle at 2pm. Nearly that now if the sundials R on the rite time. Culd b fun.”
“They saving crucifying the Remember Spartacus Rebels till last as usual?”
“Yea. That’ll B the grand finale.”
“After the gladiators shoot out?”
“No guns allowed any more. They r goin back to sword fights, Mark.”
“Oh Crap! That’s so XXII BC.”
“Security crackdown. Protectorate protecting Caesar.”
“Undastandable – Things R getting messy. Facebook says Vizigoths have just taken East Germany. Rome says it wasn’t a fair fight, but the High Vizi’s say no backsies. Caesar asked 4 a best out of III but the Vizi’s R saying no chance.”
“Stupid Empire’s declining and falling B4 our eyes. Mark. We’ve lost the lot. There’s only France, Spain, Switzerland and Angle-Land left.”
“Yeah, the map keeps shrinking. Hannibal trolling again too. Says he’s coming through the secret pathways he’s found on and under the Alps on elephants to get us. Reckon that’s just hype and trash talk.”
“Isn’t Hadrian still after money to build a wall round the mountains 2 stop him?”
“Yeah. Says his Scottish wall stopped the Scots getting in 2 Angle-Land. He’d have to tear down the Matterhorn to get enough rock 2 surround that though. They can’t keep taxing us 2 pay for projects of such a nature, and as Hannibal lectures, in his essay Silence Of The Elephants, he can get his entire army through tunnels under the ground and therefore under a wall, no matter how high we build it.”
“Watch yourself. They R monitoring txts closely 4 sedition spreading. Fenitus got Axe-cuted last week just 4 saying Cleopatra looks a bit fat nowadays.”
“Fenitus had it coming. I Luv Cleo. Her last Golden barge show on the Nile was banging, Oops. Shudn’t ave sent that one out. U know JC gets jealous when others lust after her, Brutus. I had a bit of a fling with her myself. JC was less than happy about it.”
“Yes, B Xtra careful. Spycams R evrywher Mark.”
“Getting good close ups on the Italian Broadcastin Network XXIV – VII coverage here. Julius is on the platform now. Look. Bet he gets U all goin with his usual Friends Romans & countrymen catchphrase.”
“Good one Mark LOL! I’m not lending him my ears. I’m still using them myself. Seriously though, I’m gettin much better footage on the I-Phone than I can get just looking from the middle of the crowd. R U gettin wot I’m gettin now? Wot R those red dots waving about on his toga n laurel crown?”
“I’m not sure. Oh Jupiter. It’s laser sites. The snipers R out. Quick. Film it. History in the making. U could B a real celeb influencer if U get this out on social B4 anyone else does. If Suetonius and Tacitus write about U, ure made.”
“Can’t txt now. Sorry Mark. Busy.”
“Whoa. Someone’s running up to JC. The film crew’s going for extreme close ups. Hey, it’s U. Wot ya doing Brutus? .Don’t help him. Oh Gods stop!”
***
“Brutus. Where R U? R U still reading my txts?”
“I’m back. Sorry. Got a hero’s reception. They say I saved JC’s life. Sort of did I guess. They offered a reward. I settled 4 another bag o choc;at coated crickets.”
“U know they’ll give you gold. Don’t get so smug about it. I saw it all. Quite the champion act. You shoved him over B4 the bullets fired. VI dead. XXXIII injured. U OK?”
“Bit shaken, but not hurt. Thnx. U knew that woz coming though didn’t U Mark?”
“Of course not. Y wuld U say sumthin like that?”
“Logic. You reminded me to buk my tikets in plenty of time. U never missed them selling. U wanted to organize the assassins from afar. 2 much of a coward 2 do ure own dirty work. U failed. Caesar lives. Hail Caesar.”
“Et 2 Brute! U were my friend. Y betray me like this. Gods. Wots that noise?” Brutus wot have U done?”
“I told Caesar wot I think you did. He sent a legion over in their fighter jets. You have a Centurian Missile strike with your name on it headin your way rite about now. Any last words?”
“Yes. Wot’s Latin for Up Yours Brutus?”

Arthur Chappell XI / VI / MMXXI

The Clown With The Ax
By Glenda Reynolds (1,070 words)

When I unlocked the front door, I threw the keys on the hallway table. I was tired after a full day’s work. You may not think so, but working in a circus as a live puppet is very exhausting. It’s a good thing that I happened to have some money stuffed into my blue velvet bustier or I wouldn’t have been able to buy chicken nuggets on the way home. I misplaced my purse between here and the circus, and I was worried sick. I was about to remove my thigh-high black and white stockings when the phone rang.

“Gretta, sweetie!” greeted my boyfriend Edwin Wilder.

“Yes, honey?”

“Someone found your purse here at the circus. I’m working late. How ‘bout you come back in two hours, pick it up at the entrance, and we’ll have dinner together. What do you say?”

“Ok. I’ll try not to spoil my appetite.”

“Good. See you then.”

I ate as little of the chicken nuggets as I dared to. The rest I gave to my poodle Teddy to eat. He looks like a caramel-colored teddy bear with drooping ears and a longer tail. I put on a red, white, and blue bustier with a pair of denim shorts and high heels. Then I stopped at the hallway mirror to fluff my pink hair and walked out to my car which happens to be a pink VW Beetle convertible. After fighting quitting time traffic, I parked my Beetle near the entrance to Circus World. When I showed up at the window, I was greeted by a staff person.

“Hey, Gretta. I have a note for you. Don’t move.” He handed me a folded note which read: Go see Hannah. She’ll take care of you.

“Where’s my purse that Edwin said would be here?”

“I don’t know anything about that. But I’m sure it will pop up somewhere.”

After getting past the entrance, I followed the path to my left. There I spotted Hannah the snake charmer standing outside of a tent. She had not one, but two long boa constrictors wrapped around her neck. Picture if you will the singer Cher dressed in a skimpy black lace outfit with hip to knee length fringes, and doing a slow dance with a snake head in each hand. It gives me the willies.

“Hi-a, Gretta!” One of the snakes flicked its tongue in the air to taste my scent. My eyes bulged. “Here’s a note for you.” The note read: Go see Gill and Garfield. Tell them I said ‘hello.’

“Thanks, Hannah!” I was too happy to leave her tent.

I walked a little ways in the same direction and came to Gill and Garfield’s tent. The welcome board outside said World Famous Two-Headed Man. The lights were still on. They were wrapping things up for the evening.

“Hi, guys. Do you have something for me?”

“Yes, of course. And I understand that congrats is – ouch!” yelled Gill as Garfield hit him in the back of the head. I was always curious which one of them was in control of their arms and legs. “Why did you go and do that for?” Garfield gave him a fierce facial expression to shut him up.

“It’s nice to see you, Ms. Gretta. Gill and I have some cleaning up to do before closing. Here’s a note from Edwin. Oh, and here is a bag of peanuts. You both have a good evening.”

I exited the tent and read the note in the dim light: Go feed the elephants. I rolled my eyes in frustration. I walked to the fenced grassy area where some elephants were kept. A big female approached me as I offered her some peanuts. She gladly took some with her trunk and then dumped them into her mouth. A young woman approached on the street with her white horse, reigns in hand as she walked by its side. She had a headband with a large feather plume and sequined short outfit. Her horse was equally bedazzling. They performed together doing horse tricks in another tent.

“Good to see you, Ms. Gretta.”

“Good to see you, Ms. Carla. Is this meeting by chance or are you on a mission?”

“Very, intuitive of you! And they say blondes are dumb – even if your hair is pink!” They both shared a laugh. Carla took a tiny note from her waistband and handed it to Gretta: Come to the Clown Around tent. I closed my eyes and regretted that I even came back to the circus grounds. “Let’s get this over with,” I told myself.

I continued on the road and was greeted by the caped Tatoo Man, the Wolf Boy, and the World’s Smallest Lady. They each waved at me as they busily closed up their tents for the evening.

Finally, I arrived at the Clown Around tent in which the front entrance was the face of a creepy clown with an open mouth and jagged teeth. The light was still on inside. Although I was curious, I stepped cautiously inside. I heard the clicking of the large spinning wheel that had a female mannequin strapped to the center. A clown was throwing axes at it. Fake blood was smeared on the axes as well as the mannequin; a leg was missing for further effect. The clown turned to greet me with a wicked smile full of pointy teeth; he brandished a “bloodied” ax.

I think I just swallowed a gnat.

“Want some candy, little girl?” he said in his most sinister voice.

“Cut the crap, Edwin before I stick my high heel up your…”

“I’m sorry, Gretta,” apologized Edwin. He pulled the fake teeth out of his mouth. After dropping the ax on the floor, he stood in front of me regretfully, and he embraced me. His mouth covered mine in a warm kiss, proving what he meant. Then he dropped to one knee, pulled out a small velvet box, and opened it to reveal an engagement ring. Suddenly everything that preceded this vanished. It was just the clown and I in our own little world.

“And my purse?”

“It should be safely behind the driver’s seat on the floor of your car. Tatoo Man put it there after I heard you drove back.”

I smiled at him, enjoying the moment. I’m ready for this next chapter in our lives.

The show must go on!

Shimmer, Shine, and Scream
(word count: 929)
By Cortney Donelson

Maggie strode confidently through the hay-covered parking lot, swatting a mosquito attempting to feast on her leg. Her honey-colored, braided pigtails hung behind her ears then cascaded down the front of her collar bones. It was her favorite week of the year—the week the county fair sprang to life at the corner of three intersecting streets in her town. She looked forward to hanging out with friends, eating her fill of funnel cake, and enjoying the rides.

As Maggie approached the gates, the familiar smell of farm animals touched her nostrils like a gift. Maggie’s family kept goats and sheep on their small farm. Her younger brother, Wyatt, was likely over in the animal section squirting waterless soap into kids’ hands after they finished petting the sheep and ponies. Maggie and Wyatt’s parents had dropped him off before the fair opened, but she hadn’t wanted to wait around for the fun to start, electing to drive herself later.

Maggie pulled a few crumpled bills from her jeans’ pocket to purchase access to her evening entertainment. After handing the money to the silver-haired attendant, Maggie kept her hand stretched out to collect her twenty tickets; she couldn’t wait to find Whitney and get in line for the Ferris wheel.

“Maggie!” she heard her best friend call from over her right shoulder. Maggie turned her head and spied Whitney, skipping toward her and sporting a goofy grin that overflowed with baby blue cotton candy.

“You couldn’t wait?” Maggie laughed as she pointed to Whitney’s mouth.

“Of course not; don’t be silly.” Whitney chided. The girls hooked elbows and ambled toward the rides.

That’s when the scream split the fairgrounds in two—a core-rattling, piercing scream that lasted seven terrifying seconds and then abruptly ended. The scores of people who had already populated the grounds stopped in their tracks and halted their conversations. The music cut off. The rides stopped mid-turn. Even the toddlers in attendance stopped giggling. An eerie silence filled the space left by the scream.

Then all of the lights flickered and went out. The sun was still setting, casting an orange glow on everything. That was when Maggie and Whitney screamed. They pulled each other closer, questioning one another with their eyes. What do we do?

The sudden stampede toward the front gate answered their question. Families rushed for the exit, not wanting to stick around to discover the source of the terrifying scream or the reason for the loss of electricity.

Maggie thought of Wyatt and begged Whitney to release her hand. “Whitney, let me go! I have to find Wyatt!” She pushed Whitney toward the herd moving into the grassy parking lot. “I’ll meet you at my car . . . promise!” Maggie took off toward the live animal pens.

As she sprinted, she peered to her left and right, looking for anyone—or anything—lurking in the shadows. That’s when she saw it. On her last glance to the right, her eye caught something that shimmered and sparkled in the setting sunlight. She stopped running and tried to discern the source of the dancing lights.

Maggie crept forward toward the foliage, and a metal lever came into view. It seemed to grow out of the brush on the edge of the fairgrounds. Inching closer, she held her breath, wondering how it got there and what it was for.

When she was inches away, she reached toward the sparkling metal. When her hand gripped the lever, she wiggled it. Nothing. She pulled it toward her, and immediately, the earth beneath Maggie’s feet gave way. She screamed for seven long seconds as she fell into the darkness. Immediately, the earth closed back up where Maggie had been standing, and the fair’s electricity clicked back on. The rides that had stopped jerked into motion. The lights re-ignited, and the music started playing again.

A few minutes later, the voices of families cautiously re-entering the park echoed in every corner.

Back at Maggie’s car, Whitney looked around for her friend. She strode toward the farm animals, hoping to find her with Wyatt. Wyatt claimed he had never seen her. The two searched the grounds for nearly thirty minutes without success.

Eventually, the police were called, and the fairgrounds were closed. And a family’s hearts were shattered.

No one ever found the lever. No one ever found Maggie. No one could explain the scream they all heard or the temporary loss of electricity. No one else was reported missing that night.

Flyers were hung around town with Maggie’s picture centered on the page. A reward was offered.

A week later, in late July, Whitney snatched the newspaper off the kitchen counter in her home and sat down with a glass of cranberry juice. She stared down at the front page. The headline stared back at her.

“A Fifth Person Goes Missing at State-Wide County Fairs”

The first lines of the story read: “Another person is missing after a terrifying scream and the power going out during the early evening hours at a Union County fairgrounds this past weekend. Grace Sheffield, age 11, was last seen walking toward the exit before she disappeared, seemingly into thin air. The power outage was never explained. This comes on the heels of the disappearance of Maggie Walters, age 16, at the fairgrounds in Delaware County last week and others in other counties around Ohio this past June. At this point, law enforcement leaders across the state of Ohio are shutting down all county fairs until further notice. Their investigation continues . . .”

A BLESSED 1976 BICENTENNIAL PARADE CELEBRATION

By Mirta Oliva

Parades are not for me… or so I thought. Being among so many people sort of scared me. What if this or the other happened? The only ones I attended were to participate as a member of the school bands where I was among my school pals and, of course, our music teacher guiding us throughout the event. Thus, I felt safe then and enjoyed the parades.

George, my boyfriend, had asked me to watch the town’s 1976 Independence Day Parade and I gladly accepted. It was a beautiful day and I marveled at the town’s efforts to beautify the streets to honor the July 4, 1976 Parade. It was a thrill to watch the band’s colorful uniforms and diverse instruments, their marching precision, and their highly-spirited demeanors. It was a show I will never forget… or should I want to?

It was impossible to compare this event with the ones when I was a member of the school bands. A few years had passed… each year bringing beautification and other improvements to our town. Dressed for the occasion, George and I left home to see this special event. After all, the town and its people were celebrating our unique country’s bi-centennial.

Having arrived early, we stopped at our preferred café for refreshments and a hotdog like no other. Unannounced, a lady bug planted herself on my shoulder. I had to stop George from getting rid of it.

“No, please, these beetles bring luck to the person they choose to land on. If she stays with me, fine but I suspect it will soon fly away.”

“That’s all right. I thought it would scare you.”

As it turned out, the pretty red thing stayed with me during the parade. Would it bring me luck? By now, we were sitting in our reserved booth, close enough to enjoy the well-organized show. At the end, we decided to take a stroll throughout the city proper, something I had longed to do for some time. To avoid the exiting multitude, we looked for nearby roads never explored, stopping at shops or admiring the home decorations to celebrate this important date. But, without saying goodbye, the ladybug began flying away toward a narrow corridor and I ran after her. I asked George to stay there but to come to my rescue should I scream for help. As the red bug made a turn, I followed her only to be grabbed by a drunkard, an old man stronger than a mule. Avoiding confrontation, I asked if I could help him. He declined but continued his stronghold on my arm.

“I could bring you food, is that okay…?”

There was no answer… the old man got an even better grip of my arm; somehow, I stood still. I did not want to scream—not as yet—to see if this event could end peacefully. Finally, the drunkard pushed me away, causing me to land on the floor. I got up in a hurry and run as fast as I could toward George.

As luck would have it, I noticed that the ladybug was back on my shoulder. Awesome, I thought.

When I told my boyfriend what had happened he was incredulous at first but, noticing how nervous I was, he believed me. We agreed to buy the man some food and a soda—not certainly what he would want but it is what he needed to have. As expected, he placed the bag on the floor and began yelling at us to go away. The next day we went to the authorities to see what could be done. Nothing, they said. This is the life he wants and already has turned down many times a clean habitat and guaranteed food. Mental illness and/or addiction to alcohol brought him to this state. While some accept help in various forms, others reject therapy and/or room and board since those require discipline which is what they do not want–a vicious and sad cycle.

This old man chose to beg for liquor and some food, living on the sidewalks of a secluded corridor. The above brought me back to thinking of what freedom means. Not to do as we please disobeying the laws of the land or of normal living but rather the freedom to choose our creed, to live a decent life, working hard to achieve our goals, forming a family and providing for it, loving our neighbors and humanity as they deserve, respecting our parents, teachers, authority, and others as we expect to be respected.

As George and I walked, I began discussing with him that only two hundred years had passed with a few generations enjoying the attained freedom. In such a short time our country grew to what it is today the 4th of July 1976—far from what prior civilizations had accomplished. Many of the latter achieved great scientific discoveries, creating a better world for themselves while yielding the path for the new world to make greater discoveries and the subsequent inventions, creations and developments that followed. And it was thanks to the efforts of the newly arrived immigrants around mid-1500 plus others from various nationalities looking for freedom or for work, and the new native population that included blacks, native Indians, whites, and, again, a multitude of nationalities, that our young country turned out to be the leader of the world.

As I explained to my boyfriend, I believe like others that this is a unique country. If parenting (by all individuals, men, and women of any nationality, color or creed) has faults—some criminal, inhumane, despicable deeds against their own children, and others for lack of wisdom or better judgment—building a country such as hours had its faults too, mostly “a product of prior times,” and many corrected over the years. And because no great endeavors are perfect at their creation, many appointed individuals usually in a governmental capacity and other voluntary ones, continue trying to make things right, equitable, and better for everyone.

As I told George, we have strived to work on the human aspects of growth and many laws have been created to achieve equality for all. That more needs to be done? Of course, but every person in this country has that responsibility. And the same applies to other countries of the world.
The above was a cause for a celebration so George and I, with the loving ladybug still on my shoulders, shouted for everyone to hear “GOD BLESS AMERICA–THE UNIQUE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA—THIS YEAR 1976 AND ALWAYS!

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