I entered the YeahWrite Super Challenge last month, and had 48 hours to write, edit and submit a flash fiction piece of no more than 1,000 words. My story had to include “opening night at a carnival” as a setting, and had to include “putting shoes on someone else” as an action.
I’m excited that this was good enough to advance me to round 2 of the challenge, which will kick off this Friday night. Guess what I’m doing with my weekend? 😉
Synopsis: Following her therapist’s advice, Kate attends a county fair for the first time in 15 years to face her past. When she confides in her new boyfriend, she gets much more than the comfort she so desperately needs.
Kate knew coming to the fair was a bad idea, even before she and Sam walked through the gates. It was opening night, and crowds were thick. Her stomach churned, and a sheen of sweat covered her skin, despite the chill in the air.
Sam took her hand. “You’ve got this, Kate. You haven’t told me what this is all about, but I’m here for you tonight, OK?”
Sam. Her rock. Kate leaned into him, gathering strength. Although she hadn’t known him long, Sam made her feel safe. Her elder by 12 years, he was a recent widower. He’d said his son worked there; maybe she’d get to meet him tonight.
She hadn’t told him why her therapist had recommended coming to the fair, or about what had happened in Minnesota all those years before, but she would tonight.
“It smells the same,” Kate’s voice competed with her pounding heart.
“Yeah, I guess all carnivals do,” Sam replied. “Hot dogs and cotton candy.”
That wasn’t what Kate meant, though. To her, the fairgrounds reeked of sadness and despair. Although this county fair was some 700 miles and 15 years from the last fair she’d attended, it was if she’d stumbled back in time. The lights; the rides; the music; the games; the food trucks powered by noisy generators – it was all the same.
For a moment, Kate couldn’t breathe. Danny… oh, God. It still hurt…
“You OK? Want to talk about it?” Sam’s tone was gentle.
“I… can we sit?”
Not waiting for his answer, she led him to a bench.
As she gathered her thoughts, Sam nodded to the carny across the way. The young man was busy trying to lure people to his ring-toss booth. Was that Sam’s son, Kate wondered idly?
The fair… There were things she hadn’t even told her therapist.
That’s why you’re here, right? To face the past?
Once Kate started to speak, she couldn’t stop the words any more than she could stop the hot tears that streamed down her face.
“I want… I need to tell you what happened at the fair in my hometown in Minnesota, when I was 16, and my little brother was 5. We weren’t even supposed to be there.
Danny needed new sneakers. Mom had to work, so she’d given me cash to take him shopping. On our way to the mall, my friend called from the fair. It sounded like everyone was having so much fun. So, I… made a decision that’s haunted me ever since…”
Kate’s breath hitched. In her mind’s eye, she remembered every detail. It had been noisy and hot. The crowds had been thick, the concrete as sticky as the air. She remembered the feel of Danny’s small hand in hers as he bounced along at her side.
Sam squeezed her hand. “When was this? 2002? Did you say it was in Minnesota?”
Kate nodded. Sam was sweet to show he was listening.
The carny at the ring-toss stand across the way – a college kid, Kate guessed – still didn’t have anyone at his booth. He must not be Sam’s son; they didn’t look anything alike. And, wouldn’t he have greeted them by now?
Sam’s eyes were on Kate, so he didn’t see the young man looking at them; no, looking at Kate, intently.
He’s probably not used to seeing people crying at the fair; I’m bad for business.
Wiping the corners of her eyes with her knuckles, Kate continued.
“I wouldn’t let Danny go on any rides; he was mad. I remember that he stepped in something, so we stopped so I could clean off his shoes. As I helped him put them back on, I saw how worn they were – he really did need a new pair.
We walked from one end of that carnival to the other, but I couldn’t find my friends. My phone was in the car, so I couldn’t even call anyone.
On the way to the exit – we’d just passed the Tilt-a-Whirl – I heard my friends calling my name.
I don’t remember our conversation; it doesn’t matter. While I was busy socializing, Danny disappeared. When I turned to take him home, he’d vanished.”
Kate paused, lost in thought. She didn’t see the guarded look in Sam’s eyes, or notice that his entire body had stiffened.
“There’s not much more to tell. I tried to find him on my own. By the time Mom and the police got involved, Danny was just… gone. The cops figured he’d been kidnapped. Nobody had seen a boy matching his description. He’d simply disappeared. The police never found any remains. I still wonder if he’s out there somewhere… if he remembers Mom and me…”
Kate’s voice broke. She and Sam sat in silence, lost in their thoughts.
Across the way, the ring-toss carny exited his booth and started walking toward them.
Kate elbowed Sam. “Looks like we’re getting the boot. I’m probably not helping this guy’s business tonight. I think I’m ready to go anyway, if that’s OK with you.”
“Kate… I don’t know how this is possible…What are the odds? One in a billion? A trillion? Maybe we were destined to meet.”
Kate didn’t understand. What was he talking about?
Sam’s words were clipped and tight. “I have a carnival story too – you see, that’s where my wife found our son in 2002. In Minnesota. I should have gone to the police. I know I should have. But, she wanted a family so badly… I just wanted to make her happy. So, we raised him as ours. We loved him, Kate. Please believe me.”
Sam gestured toward the carny standing in front of them. “Meet Daniel. Although, I think you already know him.”
The young man in front of her looked at her through eyes that had haunted her dreams for years.
As if from far away, a deep voice she’d never heard but knew instantly said just one word: