Sunday, March 13, 2011

A ghost story at a carnival

This is how my latest novel, By The Light Of The Carnival, opens:

Ken, a bald beefy carnie, took the old woman’s flabby arm to help her down off the last metal step. “Watch it.”

She landed on the flattened crabgrass while hundreds of light bulbs flashed behind her. “What a sight!”

He chomped down on his toothpick and said, “The ground is a little bumpy here.”

“Whoopsie daisy.” She let him hold her up as she looked down.

Ken pointed at her shoes. “Right here. It wasn’t like that earlier today. The ground has wrinkled up a bit. It’s sinking or something.” He laughed nervously.

She didn’t catch all that, having bad ears. “What a glass house!”

He nodded. “It’s a bit famous.”

The old woman finally let go of him. “I couldn’t believe it. That was really something. Just when I think I’m going to get ripped off at the carnival, I see something swell. That was worth every penny. Who was that ghost in the glass, or mirror, or what was that? What a sight! She was a doozy! The Bride of Dracula, I bet. What a sight! How’d you do that? It looked so real, so artistic!” The old woman laughed and patted the side of her neck as if she should check for fang marks.

“Did that scare you, lady?” Ken couldn’t understand her very well, her dentures seemed to be in the way of her tongue, but he assumed she was talking about the ghost. At this hour, many people saw something odd in there and commented about it. Some came out screaming to bring attention to it enough to sell more tickets.

The old woman smiled big. “That was a neat trick. The ghost lady looked like she’d seen something horrible, herself. The ghost has seen a ghost! That horrible sad face! Those eyes! Just full of terror. So real! But it seemed like World War II. That war was, what, how many years ago? It is today. Right?” She started to count on her fingers. “That was a while ago. Where did that time go? I felt like I was in the ’40s again as if it was just yesterday.”

“What’d ya say?”

“It’s like the ’40s in there! The ’40s! The ’40s! No disco!”

Ken thought she was saying orgies orgies oh disco. “Pretty sexy, huh, to see something like that. It’s old. Old as the hills. Must be the wood floor. It’s all old. Weighs a ton. Nothing sexier than a good old hard wood floor.”

The old woman looked up into the glass and tried to remember what she’d just seen. The memory was now oddly faded, like a dream. “Seems silly now. It’s only a maze. And I didn’t even find my way out the other side. Is there one? Or is this whole thing just a trick? I don’t think there’s a way out. I don’t think it’s big enough to have both ends. What a tiny thing. Shame on you.”

The power cut out of The Emperor’s Glass House and all its frantic lights went black. The bumper car marquee across the way brightly reflected off the front of the dark maze. Ken left her before she could cling to him again. He hurried off to reset the circuit breaker and grumbled, “Yeah, a neat trick.”

The old woman saw the ghostly figure again. The image was of a nervous looking woman in a 1940s gray wool dress, in the very back wall of the attraction; she was leaping from mirror to mirror as if terrified. However, the old woman couldn't be sure she actually saw anything like that at all. The fractured reflections from the rest of the carnival’s lights were so bright. She noticed backwards words flashing in the front glass. She wondered if it was a secret evil curse just for her.

She shuddered, turned, and saw that it was just the reflection of the bottom row of letters of the bumper car sign. She laughed at herself and put her hand over her heart. The power came back on and again the inside of The Emperor’s Glass House looked bright and empty. The old woman took out her pocket-watch and frowned. The glass face had cracked in half and the hands were stuck on midnight. She touched her nose and remembered that she’d smelled candle smoke, saddle soap, kerosene, and all kinds of other smells that had no business inside a glass maze. Now she smelled cotton candy in the air.

A stern bearded lady came by and plopped a big thick mat down at the bottom of the steps, as she asked the old woman, “Is this where the ground is sinking? They say it got uneven overnight. Crap.” The old woman stared at the other’s beard. The bearded lady angrily kicked at the mat to straighten it. “You okay? You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”

“My watch! My watch!”

The bearded lady continued, “Some people don’t know what to say about that glass house. It’s a haunted place, many say. They’re so touched that they bring the feeling home with them. Some people love it, but others just stay spooked for a while. I bet you’ll tell all your friends and then they’ll come and buy tickets. It’s a shame we can’t fit wheelchairs up in there. No, you have to be able to climb some stairs. Tell your grandkids.”

“My watch.”

“Your what? What’s a what?”

“Watch!” The old woman showed the bearded lady the broken watch.

“Oh. Watch. It’s broke. Crap.” The bearded lady pointed down the midway. “You can win a new watch if you blow out all the red star. Do you shoot a rifle?”

“What?” The old woman pointed at her ear.

The bearded lady shouted, “Do you shoot a rifle?”

The old woman looked at the glass house, remembering soldiers in long coats. She felt sick and looked at the bearded lady in irritation. “Shoot guns?”

The bearded lady was looking at the ground. “Did we have an earthquake?”

Look at it at Amazon!


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