A SHORT STORY OF TIME AND MYSTICISM
There’s some really good saying’s that stand up to the test of time, PT Barnum said it best when he coined the phrase, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”
My name is Tommy and I’m in the entertainment business, have been for five years now. Only problem is my career chose me, I didn’t choose it. It happened when the carnival came to town right after my 13th birthday. The year my folk’s let me and my buddy Frog go off on our own……….
It was cloudy that Friday. The rain that swept through town the night before had stopped, and the field that the carnival was set up in was still damp and a little muddy in places. It was amazing how fast the carnie’s set everything up. They came to town just yesterday, and were open for business today.
My folks were taking me and my buddy Frog to ride the somewhat dangerous rides for my 13th birthday. This was a different fair than the one that usually came to town each year and set up in old man Johnson’s empty cow pasture. We walked through the colored archway up front and were making our way down the midway as a man dressed like a circus ringmaster yelled out an extravagant welcome to everyone.
“Come one! Come all!” he yelled, “Tour the grand midway of the most famous carnival in the world!”
If it was so famous, how come I’ve never heard of it? I am the quintessential carnival junkie of my day.
“Show your bravery and push your nerves of steel to their limit on the daring rides!” the ringmaster continued, “Test your luck on the games of chance, and feast on delicacies from around the world!”
What luck? Everyone knows carnival games are rigged to make your spend more money.
“Have your fortune told by The Great Zambini!” the man added, “Then tour the side shows of Carnival Mystique, where the wondrous can happen, and freaks of all types aim to amaze you with their oddities!”
Now you’re talking fella! I love freak shows! The more bizarre they are the better. Strange though, the carnies that run the gypsy like traveling carnivals are usually freakier than the freaks in the side shows. Have you ever noticed that?
Anyway, it’s my 13th birthday, I’m finally a teenager, and my folks said me and Frog could go off on our own this year as long as we meet them for something to eat at 6pm by the funnel cake stand. After that we had to meet them at 10pm by the Wheel of Death to go home.
Cool, I don’t have to tag along with them while they take my stupid little brother Kenny on all the kiddie rides. I’ve had to endure that pain and embarrassment every year up to now, and let me tell you, it can really make you look like a dork in front of all your friends.
Dad gave me twenty bucks on the way here, and Frog’s folks gave him the same when we picked him up. His real name is Augustus, try being a kid with that name. Everyone calls him Frog though because when he was little he used to carry a frog to school each day, in both pockets. Then he would chase the girls with them. He gave this up when Wendy Sanders stood her ground one day and smacked him for it. No one likes to be hit by a girl, he told me later.
We took off running past the skee ball game and were just about to turn the corner by the target shooting game, when my mom called me.
“Tommy!” She yelled above the noise of the crowd.
I took my time walking back to where she was.
“Be careful young man,” she said as she tried to keep my bratty little brother from picking his nose, “Don’t talk to strangers, and don’t fill up on junk food.”
“Yes ma’am”, I told her and took off again. We were almost past all of the games and coming up on the freak shows when Frog stopped to call his breath. He has asthma so we always have to be careful about how much excitement we take in all at once.
Frog whipped out his inhaler and sucked in a good breath from it, and then we started checking out the advertisements for the freaks. The pictures on the plywood and on the canvas tents that screened you from the performers were always works of art. Usually they portrayed the person in their before, then after look. Showing the transformation their body could make in elaborate paintings with magnificent works of color.
A lot of the time these paintings were better than the actual performances. Sometimes it was easy to tell when the fake part of the act happened.
“Which one do you want to see first?” Frog asked.
“It doesn’t matter,” I told him, “I want to see them all!”
We started out by watching the fat lady lift her super skinny husband over her head, then took in the bearded lady, then the tattooed wonder boy. The girl that turned into a gorilla made Frog jump, I thought she was kind of funny looking.
After checking out the chicken with two heads, and other barnyard oddities we decided to go on some rides. Frog loves roller coasters so we rode both of the ones that came with this carnival. One was your typical fair type coaster; the other went in a complete loop over and over and made us drunk. It was fun to watch people stand under it and collect the change that fell from the riders pockets as the cars circled the loop.
We stopped long enough to eat a corn dog and suck down a soda, and then I talked Frog into going on the Swiss Bob, my all-time favorite ride. The line was really long, but it was worth it. You ride in a two seat cart that looks like a ski lift shuttle that hurls you backwards over a track while the carny operating the rid pumps loud rock, raunchy rock music into your ears. Wow! Nothing could be better!
When the ride was over we figured that we would slow things down a bit. We were about to check out the house of mirrors when I noticed a funny looking big orange ball sitting next to it, just a little bit down the midway. The huge sign on it said, “Take a ride on the Time Machine of Tomorrow!”
I had never seen this ride at any Carnival anywhere, so naturally I had to check it out. Problem was between the two of us we only had enough tickets to go on one of them. It was either the house of mirrors or the time machine.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve been through the house of mirrors so I chose the time machine. When we found out that only one person at a time could on it frog said he would go on the house of mirrors then wait for me by the time machines exit gate. That works out good I told him, then we could find my folks since it would be about time for dinner by then anyway. Maybe we would be able to talk my dad out some more money. Cool, we had a plan.
I gave the homely looking carny my last two tickets and stepped inside the big orange ball. The door closed and I sat on the ripped vinyl seat that was covered in duct tape. Some very bright lights beamed out of a hole behind me and then some swirly, spiral like things flashed on the wall, making me dizzy. Everything lit up like a Christmas tree, and then it all stopped. The door opened and the ride was over. How lame could you get?
The carny that helped me out wasn’t the same one that took my tickets when I got in, this one looked more like a zombie than the other one. Maybe the first one went on a break. Oh well, I jumped out and went to wait for Frog. Obviously my ride was shorter than his walk through mirror land.
While I was standing there waiting I noticed that people walking by were looking at me kind of strange. A group of girls about my age walked past pointing at me, giggling. I looked down and saw that somehow my jeans had shrunk up way over my calves. None of my clothes seemed to fit. How did this happen.
That was when I started feeling weird inside so I walked up to the man operating the house of mirrors and asked if he’d seen Frog come out, I was ready to go. As I stood there trying to explain to the spaced out carny what Frog looked like I saw myself in one of the large mirrors. I looked real goofy, and a lot older. When I asked the spacey carny jerk what time it was he just held hand and said nothing. The watch on his wrist was at 10pm.
How could that be? It was just before 6pm when I stepped into the time machine. Man, something wasn’t right. I took off running towards the front of the carnival where I was supposed to meet my parents by the Wheel of Death. Wouldn’t you know it, when I got there they were nowhere to be found, so I sat down on a bench to wait for them.
A really long time passed by and the carnival started shutting down. People were leaving like forest animals running from a wildfire. All of the lights were going out and I began to get really scared. Where were my folks? Where was Frog? And why did he skip out on me?
When the last of the midway lights went out this really creepy looking old guy shuffled up to the bench I was sitting on. He looked like the hunchback that was the butler from that old 70’s flick “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”
He sat down next to me and spoke to me in a really ghoulish voice, “You going to be all right Tommy?” he asked.
Startled, I looked at him and asked, “How do you know my name old man?”
“I know all about you Tommy,” he replied.
At this point I was really beginning to freak out. My folks never showed up, Frog was nowhere to be seen, and this creep knows my name. I got up and started to leave.
“Where are you going Tommy?” the creepy old guy asked.
“I’m going far away from here!” I yelled back at him.
“There’s nowhere for you to go anymore Tommy,” said the old man.
I looked over at him, he was holding up a hand held mirror, the kind you see on your granny’s make up table.
“Look at yourself boy!” he said rather sharply.
The face in the mirror was mine, but then it wasn’t. I looked at least ten years older. I even needed a shave. This can’t be real I thought. I must be dreaming.
“That’s right boy you aged!” the old man cackled.
“How could that be?” I asked.
“You rode my time machine Tommy,” the old geezer said.
“But that was just a fake carnival ride,” I told him.
“Was it?” the creepy old guy asked.
“Where are my folks?” I asked, “Where is Frog?”
“They’re gone Tommy,” he replied, “They looked for you everywhere that night. Even accused me of kidnapping you and followed my carnival around for two years. That’s why I had to make you wait so long before I brought you back.”
“But I was only in the ride for about two minutes.”
“Two minutes, ten years, what’s the difference?” the old man wheezed.
“What about Frog?”
“Oh that boy waited for you all right, all night long, even came back the next day, and the day after that. He just stood around by the time machine all day looking stupid. It messed him up real bad it did. He never got over it. He’s the town drunk now.”
“No!” I yelled, “This can’t be happening!”
The old creep rose up off the bench and walked towards me, “Oh it happened all right!” he snarled real loud as I started to back away. “You are mine now! Just like the rest of the freaks that I have collected over the years! Someone has to operate these rides!”
The old man threw his head back and laughed, the wispy white hair on his head whirled around his ghostly face as he stared at me.
“I want to leave,” I told him.
In the immortal words from an old 70”s rock song the old creep looked at me and fire flashed in his eyes when he spoke, ”You can’t Tommy boy,” he cackled, “You can check out any time you like, but you can never leave!”
That was five years ago. Today I drink a lot of booze to keep my memories repressed. I look and feel just like all the other spaced out carnies that travel around with the old man. The worst thing is my job is to operate the freaking kiddie rides, what dumb luck.