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Friday, January 11, 2013

January 11, 2013 Short Story Challenge

Let's Write in 2013 

January 11, 2013 Writing Prompt:

"While on a camping trip, a little boy strays from his family and happens upon a carnival in the middle of nowhere."

I’m already scared!
“Carnival of Souls”

       Joseph had been excited for weeks: his Mom and Dad had promised to take him, his sister Josie, and their dog Pete, on a camping trip to celebrate the completion of Dad’s big project at work. As a freelance architect, his work “went in fits and spurts,” as Mom put it, so even though sometimes Dad worked very long hours in his home office and on the job sites, other times weeks went by and he “did nothing but piddle” (also a Mom quote). She ran the home office, answering phones and keeping files and maintaining track of whatever Dad needed and the clients required, so she too had empty weeks at a time and in a way, although it made budgeting a nightmare, it was good for providing lengthy stretches of family time.

       Dad had finished up this latest project, a demanding one, designing a small office block for a perpetually indecisive and confused client, so everybody needed a rest, some time away from home (and from the ringing office phones). Weeks earlier, Mom and Dad had told the kids about the proposed camping trip; they lived in Ohio, in a small suburb near Cleveland, and they would camp in the Adirondack Mountains of upstate New York, about a 7-8 hour drive each way. Mom had grown up near Lily Dale, and she loved the scenic beauty of the area. They would leave early on a Friday morning, in early April, and stay till the second Sunday and then return. That made an entire 10 days away, an unprecedented length since their Disney World visit two years ago (which Josie had been too young to enjoy much).

       Departing at 7 AM on that Friday morning and stopping only for gas and for lunch at a Denny’s in Rochester, the drive went about as smoothly as could be expected with two tired overworked adults, a sheepdog who believed himself to be the children’s watchdog, and an 8-year-old boy and 4-year-old girl: in other words, tiring, aggravating, fatiguing, and argumentative. When they arrived in the mountains and located their pre-reserved campsite, the day was not improved by evidence that Dad was a good draftsman, but only a fair tent-constructor. However, he had been smart enough to recognize his limitations in advance, and so had purchased equipment that practically raised itself. After a quick, and early, meal, everybody turned in and slept deeply, right through early morning.

       The weekend went on: Joseph learned from Dad about tying the foodstuffs way up high in a tree to avoid bears, and Josie learned from the woods on bathroom break about poison ivy. Dad complained about missing client calls; Mom complained because Dad had brought his cell phone at all. He explained it was only in case of an actual emergency, and showed her that he had it turned off. Dad and Joseph hiked; Mom and Josie lounged around the tents—or rather, Mom lounged and read her paperback while Josie played in the dirt. Dad and Joseph spotted a doe and her fawn sipping from a creek; Josie napped.

       This is how the weekend went: uneventful. That is, until Sunday night. Josie and Joseph did not have the same “I want to stay up just one more hour,” “I wanna finish this TV show,” “I want a drink of water,” behavior that most kids do at bedtime, not here in the woods. Everybody fell asleep early, everybody remained asleep. Until Sunday evening, the first Sunday in the mountains, when close to midnight, something stirred little Joseph awake. He had been dreaming of playing in a sandbox, much like the one in the city park in their suburb.

When he was smaller, probably about Josie’s age, which was 4, or younger, his Mom had taken him often to the playground at the park. By the time Joseph was six, the playground had been razed; some environmentalists had raised a fuss, about toxic seepage into the water table, and soon the entire park had been declared off limits, the playground equipment removed and hauled away, the park fenced in; even the ducks in the pond had been euthanized. Dad said once that it was like the suburb had developed its own little Love Canal. Joseph didn’t understand what that meant, but he knew he missed the playground, the sandbox, the merry-go-round slide, and swings. The merry-go-round had a chime on it, which rang gleefully whenever someone pushed the rail to make it spin, and Joseph kept hearing that in his dream. He thought he was playing in the sandbox, and he was much smaller, maybe 4, and someone was on the merry-go-round. At first it was a pleasant dream (he really did miss that playground), but then something began to seem not so right: a fog started to roll in, and soon he could not see the playground equipment, and then he heard chortling. At 8, the conscious Joseph had never even heard the word “chortle,” and would have had no idea what it meant. But the subconscious Joseph knew and understood. He shook himself awake, but even that didn’t help, because he could still hear the chiming.

       Joseph and Josie had their own, smaller, pup tent; and as he rolled on to his side, trying to shake himself loose from the vestiges of the dream, he saw that Josie, too, had awakened. “What’s that sound, Joseph?”

       “I don’t know-I dreamed it first. Maybe we should go see.”

       “Let’s tell Mom.”

       “No, not yet, don’t wake ‘em. I’ll go look.”

       “Me too! Don’t leave me!”

       “All right, come on then.”

       “Potty first.”

       “Hurry up, Josie! I’ll wait.”

       So Josie climbed out of the sleeping bag and exited the tent, in search of her preferred poison ivy patch. Joseph crawled out too and stood up, waiting on his sister. When she returned, yanking up her pj’s with her left hand, he took her right hand and they threaded in between the trees, following the sound of the chiming, which soon became accompanied by music, laughter (but not yet chortling), and intermittent sounds—bangs, shouts, “come on!” and “hurrah!” and then something like a brief musical interlude playing. The noise was loud enough even to be heard over Dad’s snoring, as the kids passed the bigger tent, moonlit in the clearing. Neither child noticed that old Pete, the watch-sheepdog, had remained soundly asleep in their tent and never stirred.

       The youngsters kept walking, although Josie complained periodically of pebbles underfoot, even though she was wearing footed pajamas. Joseph hushed her and threatened once to leave her, which resulted in silence for a good 10 minutes. Finally they had climbed a small rise and looked over the top: in a concavity down below, much too small to be an actual valley, but more like a hollow, the kids saw a Carnival, all bright lights and noise, music and laughter, chimes and chirps, the banging of the bell on the Strong Man pole (which is only supposed to ring when someone hits the weight sufficiently to raise it to the bell). All this went on and on and on, delighting the children at first, so that they carefully climbed down the slope toward the Pied Piper-ish music and games. Neither at first noticed nor realized that they were alone: the Strong Man’s weight rose to the bell without anyone striking its plate; the Ferris Wheel churned, lights twinkling, music rolling, without an attendant; merry-go-round for the smaller kids spun counter-clockwise, but no kids played on it. Somehow it looked as if Joseph and Josie were the first, as if this wonderful event had been designed and planned solely for them. And, of course, what child is going to turn away from something this glorious? So they entered the Carnival grounds—and they played. Oh, how they did play!


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1 comment:

  1. This prompt reminds me a little of "Something Wicked this Way Comes." You've done a great job and this looks like a fun one for you!