The week the carnival came made everyone happy and friendly. It was always the best time of year. That all changed when Melody went missing.
My friend Ben and I circled the carnival and fair grounds like vultures over a dead animal. Nothing could stop us from losing money on rigged games, going on nauseating rides, and seeing side show acts. Mostly, we followed girls. It was always fun until Melody disappeared.
I saw her right before she vanished.
It happened on a night the lightning lit up the sky, but the rain stayed away. Carnival workers, known as carnies ran games and rides while vendors and old-time residents of the town sold everything from food to religious items.
The contrast amazed me. They all coexisted with everyone making money until that night.
Melody walked past me with her family while Ben and I looked for girls. I
remembered her because she wore a bright blue dress and she stopped in front of us then spun in circles when a band started playing Italian songs. Her family lived near me.
We stood in the area between the town and the carnival. The smell of sausage and meatballs battled with the scents of popcorn and funnel cake. We couldn’t decide which to eat so we went for both.
Ben got sick. He stayed inside the portable toilet for a long time. I sat on the steps of an old house. When I looked across the street, a girl in a blue dress spun in circles. It was Melody. Her parents waited in line for cotton candy when she ran toward a group of kids watching a magician making things disappear. The magician left and the kids dispersed, but I never saw Melody leave with them. Melody vanished. It wasn’t a magic trick.
Ben recovered and we walked until we stopped at the side show of oddities and the house of mirrors. Both were good for a few laughs, but I always worried that if I looked too hard into the mirrors, I would see that the true odd one was me.
Before we could move on, police lights flashed through the carnival and sirens drowned out the happy music playing through the midway. Everyone spun around wondering if they should run or remain in place.
“Melody.” Someone yelled out. I saw her family running through the crowd calling out her name. People started looking at the carnival workers. They were the strangers, the different ones that didn’t live here. Police concentrated on them. They rounded them up and kept them together.
“I saw her.” I grabbed Ben’s arm.
“Watching a magician.”
“No shit. Are there any here?”
I looked around, but couldn’t find a single one. “Where did the magician go?”
“Are you going to tell the police?”
I found the nearest one. “I saw Melody watching a magician do tricks.”
“Is this a joke? Did he make her disappear?”
“It’s not a joke.” I looked at Ben and saw him staring at the ground. He didn’t believe me.
The policeman led me to the exit. Nobody believed me, not even my parents.
Melody vanished. The carnival was closed. They insisted they never used magicians. A few of the carnies were arrested for having warrants or refusing to give their real names.
Numerous searches found nothing.
The police put tape around the carnival to keep people out. Many of the residents gathered on the outside and shouted insults at the carnies. I snuck in and watched them. They worked in unison. They stuck together like a family. I admired that. A girl who worked one of the stands approached me.
I stared at the purple highlights in her hair and the colorful dress she wore that ended at her knee-high black boots.
“What’s your name?” She stood in front of me.
“I’m Gabriella. Aren’t you afraid of us like your neighbors out there?”
“We’ll maybe one day you can join us.” She handed me a card. When they left for the next location I was filled with emptiness. I kept the card.
They never found Melody. The family moved from the area. It was too hard for them to stay. People still held out hope for a happy ending
Ben went to college while I lingered here. My parents divorced. I got a job in a hardware store. Loneliness overcame me. Then I found the card.
When the carnival returned, I was on the other side. A carnie. People walked by. There were no magicians. The children laughed. Melody was forgotten. The thought of what could have happened to Melody made me shudder.
“Tickets.” I called out. “Come see the things that give you nightmares.” Gabriella stood beside me.
People bought tickets and walked inside the tents. They screamed and gasped. They didn’t know that the monsters were everywhere. It was better that way.
Maybe one day I can save someone like Melody. Maybe, I can catch a monster. I always keep my eyes open except when the memories come and they are filled with tears.
William Falo writes flash fiction. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in the Foliate Oak Review, Newfound, Soft Cartel, X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine, Fictive Dream, Litro Magazine, and others.