"Those were hard things for me to come by, and I offer them to you for what they may be worth." - Toby Wolff

Wednesday, October 5, 2011


I drove by a sleeping carnival early one morning, watched the sun rise and bathe it in mood. Finally loneliness had perfect images. Silent. Abandoned. Eeerie. I walked around in complete anonymity taking pictures. No security, no maintenance workers. Just me, alone, fingering fish bowls, leatherette seats, blinking lights on ticket booths, and staring at myself in the fun house mirror. Big rig cabs were lined up with curtains drawn as I imagined snoring carnies and their life on the road. If any one of them had been awake, I might have stumbled across an interview...some fodder for a story. As it was, the story found me anyway.

He was nothing more than a pipsqueak, scruffy hair plastered down with Brylcreem to please Momma in the mornings, but flying free by noon, which pleased him just fine. In first grade you learn to read. You learn a lot of things that get etched in your marrow. Sometimes they turn to cancer, and sometimes they don't. The flier next to the water fountain said "Carnival".  He KNEW what carnival was. He felt it rub up against his shin in good and bad ways, a cat with sharp claws. He scratched his chin with the back of his nails as if he had stubble, a gesture he would come to repeat so often it was like a tic. Casting a furtive glance at the empty play yard, he tore the flier off it's nail and shoved it in the back pocket of his jeans, depository of such treasures as coins, rocks, and broken toys that it had never seemed right to abandon.

With measured steps he ambled home, smoothed the leaflet out as best he could and placed it under his mattress, figuring to ask his teacher to point out July 4 on the calendar. Making his way into the kitchen he opened a can of beans for dinner...pots and spoons rattling around the empty house as if for company. He was grateful for the noise.


One year earlier, as now, he had no curfew except to eventually show up, as if that were indication enough all was well. It was not. Holes had been forming where tendernesses should have been, and scabs across the backs of little hands that should have been held within bigger ones. He was hungry in ways that would never be satisfied. He knew it already, at the tender age of six, though having no words for the ache. Having spent the night darting among tents, staring mesmerized at the red and green lights dancing across the water of the little boat ride, and collecting tickets dropped by the throngs of the attendees, he was the last one standing. It was Carnival. It was dark. He was alone, and he'd never felt lonelier.

Soiled leaflets stuttered across the pavement and one forgotten fish swam lazily in an eternal arc around a bowl with a ping pong sized mouth. He turned towards it. He didn't like being forgotten and imagined the fish liked it less. But his ears lurched in another direction and his eyes did a slow uneasy roll towards the sound. Music coming in bursts and sputters, the kind that came from Grandma's music box when the ballerina was about to stop. He liked the country tunes that sometimes played on the radio when his parents were home and of a mood. But this was....an avoided sound, a siren song, a taunt. He was able to shut it out well enough when the park was packed and his buddies were screeching at the carnies for a free ride on the Tilt-A-Whirl. Alone, he could not block the sound anymore than he could stop his feet now moving in the direction of it. The Merry-go-round wanted a rider.

Stories had been passed down, gaining speed and heft as stories do, along with a goodly dose of fiction in most cases. But he didn't think "Merry" was accurate, not by a long shot. He'd heard that Merry-go-round horses were not solid. They had mouths, and inside the hollow tunnel that fed their gut....it was not empty. His mind backpedaled, but the song was the long arm of a sticky substance that wrapped itself around his narrow shoulders and pulled. Perhaps he knew that this was just one of many things he was going to have to face down alone. Squaring up, he kept walking, imaging himself taller and broader, when in fact he was a small boy, bearing the stature of his mother. When at last he stood before the horse, (the black one, with a blood red seat and a chipped smile, as if horses could smile...but it was...and not in a nice way. It was the same smile the bullies gave him when "after school" was going to be a big deal) he was barely nose to nose with it.

He fingered the trinkets in his worn jeans and then watched in mute panic as his hand reached unsteadily forward. He thought about the horror flicks he'd seen on the side of Mel's Diner, how everyone knew you shouldn't open that door, or enter the woods, or get in that car...but those actors always did anyway. Now he knew they had little choice in the matter. Knowing what was coming did nothing to lessen his terror when something alive snaked out of that horse so fast he would have missed it had he blinked. He stumbled backwards.....straight into a solid form.

not again, not again, not again.

Turning, he beseeched the radiation of a thousand suns and shrunk to the size of a marble, rolling away as fast as the uneven pavement would allow. As scared as he was of that Merry-go-round...clowns were far worse.

~ Epilogue ~

She removed the rainbow colored wig and shook out her brunette mane of curls. Shaking her head, she wiped a forearm across the white/red paint that made up her smile. It was no use chasing him down. She'd made attempts, but he was a fast little sprite. She tried so hard to love the boy. He never could let her.


  1. Interesting story and neat photo treatments - a great pairing!

  2. this was rather amazing. Easy to get "trapped" there...

  3. Such gorgeous images and such a fascinating story to go with it - this whole piece is a amazing.

  4. Thank you! Carnivals and clowns creep me out in general. I especially hate the ferris wheel. When I saw my opportunity to look around, I took it. What was amazing was that I could have been removing bolts and pieces of rigging! No one was keeping an eye out. It's no wonder I think those rides are unsafe!

  5. great descriptive poste...although i like the rides myself, clowns are a trip...not scary, just kinda strange to me...the other day we had people hanging out in the park across from my office, insane clown posse fans, i forget what they call themselves, but picture skaters w/ clown faces. hmph!

  6. Annie! What an awesome story and hauntingly beautiful photos. Had I known you were scared of clowns I'd have gotten out Ray's old clown outfit/shoes and scared the bejesus out of you when you were here. Ha! No, I wouldn't have done that to you...probably not...maybe....

    I guess it won't do for me to recommend "The Night Circus" by Erin Morgenstern to you? It didn't have any clowns, I don't think. Everything in that circus was black and white with a touch of red. Love you!! xo

  7. Fantastic story, Annie. Incredibly strong and rich and personal. I think you and I know all too well of the same holes left behind where tenderness was supposed to be, and you've written it so beautifully here.

    Carnivals fascinate me, ever since I read (and saw) Something Wicked this Way Comes. And clowns scare the crap out of me.

    Well done, my friend. Incredibly well-written.

  8. "Finally, loneliness has perfect images..." Stunning words for amazing pictures...

  9. I always found clowns more annoying than scary. But this was magnificent pairing of words and images! I really love this blog :)

  10. The story here is slightly haunting, puling me in to the silent place, with no one around, and then the unsettling story. Carnivals have always seemed a little sinister and dangerous to me, like being in an imitation world. I’ve never liked the clowns or the wooden horses and other animals going around and round, either.

  11. Great... really great... and I SO love the photos...


  12. What gorgeous shots!! They kind of do have a creep feel to them...but in a beautiful way. Love it :)

  13. I love this post! It's so descriptive; everything from the surroundings, to the actions, to the feelings and thoughts...

  14. Ecogrrl - If it's all the same to you, I'd rather not!!!!

    Marion - OMG. Well, if I pee'd my pants, you would have been doing the laundry my friend!

    Phoenix - I really felt this boy. I love him so incredibly much. He is of course myself, and you, and others I know with similar history. But I loved tracking him this night and finishing with how hard love tried to find us. Sometimes the thing we fear could actually be our savior. P.S. I think you could scare the crap out of clowns too with some of your get-ups ")

    Liza - Thank you so much.

    Ben - Um...can I just say that clowns and gnomes both creep me out! Actually I pretty much avoid all garden statuary. And dolls. And things with fringe. I know, I know...I'm pretty nuts. But I'm glad you like it here ")

    Anthony - Thanks. Hit the mark then, because I wanted it to be haunting and unsettling. That's EXACTLY how carnivals feel!

    Shoes - I love these shots. Took me a good hour to capture them just right, to get that MOOD.

    LMF - The photos are so much a part of the story. Their feel is so lonely and I sense in them neglect, as I knew the boy was neglected.

    Elisecrets - Thank you. It's fun to take photos and create a story. It's fun to create a story and take a complimentary photo. Blogging is just plain FUN!

  15. Well...this is stunning. Richly imagined and so well written. The prose is expert, with surprising turns of phrase and eccentric word-choices. Such a vital demonstration of the art of empathetic conjuring. Yes, amazing.

  16. nice...really like your use of metaphor/imagery...the marble rolling away etc...your word choice is very good as well...you set the feel of the piece very nicely as well...i was a clown once, hehe...carnival is a magical place, some of it dark for sure...

  17. Mr. Buck - Thank you sir. Empathetic Conjuring sounds eerie in an of itself!

    Brian - Sorry. Just don't like clowns. Or Dentists. Did you become a dentist? ")

  18. i can understand how such a scene would evoke the creative muse, and the piece would be a touch dark. carnivals in autumn have a distinctive flavor, for sure.

  19. That was amazing. I loved all the imagery, and the pull of emotions. The fear and loneliness were palpable. And the epilogue was well done, tying everything up neatly.

    Well done.


  20. i'll be by again in a while. i need time to savor this, to linger with it all.

    not to mention that the air is warm and the day is mine and i have miles to go before i rest, ah, no, before i find the mum stand and buy the hamburg for my friend's favorite spaghetti and meatballs.

    too much information? that's the best part: i know you don't mind.


  21. what a thought''sleeping carnival''

  22. Ed - I think that would be Kettle Corn and Cotten Candy :)

    Matthew - Thanks man.

    Donna - Fear and loneliness should be palpable. If we can feel it, then we can share it, and the character is not longer really alone. Thank you.

    KJ - I don't mind at all. Always real life should be front burner, and this just a lingering scent. Mums and spaghetti. Sounds lovely.

    Arooj - Welcome. The carnival was certainly sleeping when I found it! I liked it better that way. Never been one for crowds.

  23. This was so cool. It's like playing a game of telling stories about strangers, but you did it about places and built a world around it.

    There is a tiny little amusement park in the town I used to live in. I never did go there during the day. A couple times I visited the empty rides at night.. it was so scary and I was always sure someone was watching me.. a lonely man perhaps sleeping in the house of mirrors. I took a girl there once for a date :).

    Sorry for being so mia btw. The past couple months I've been stretched so thing between work and volunteering. I'm glad to catch some of your stories at least..

  24. beautiful imagery and images. i have some ominous feelings related to carnivals and this definitely brought them up.

  25. Ayon - Nice to hear from you. I've not as much time for blogging as I once did either. There is an ebb and flow to these things, and we allow that for each other. We have to. Glad you are okay, just busy.

    Elliot - Thanks. Ominous is the perfect word! *shudder*

  26. Interesting photos that speak well of your story. Your character behaves just the way children who spend too much time taking care of themselves are supposed to. Kinda felt sad for the woman at the end who I assume is his mom. She doesn't understand what's happening with him.

    BTW- Came over from Matt's blog.

  27. Very haunting story and fantastic pics. I am over from Matthew's QQQE blog and a new follower :-)


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