Night at the Carnival – by Håvard Loeng
I was twenty-one that night in Archer Park. It was a Friday in late September, a travelling carnival had come to town and rested on the otherwise mute and deserted spot. A joyous collage of shrieks and laughs, loops of waltzes and mechanic sounds ensembled with the sweet smell coming from the candy booths spread around the park. The ground was wet from an afternoon shower and sparkled with the reflections of the carousel lights, wrapping the entire park in a colorful blanket.
Me and my girlfriend Maria stepped off a spinning hell of a ride, the same ride I had sworn a year ago that I would never plant my feet on ever again.
“Come on, let’s get something to eat”, said Maria and pulled my sleeve. Still dizzy and hyperventilating I held up my hand.
“Give me a minute, would you? Thanks.” Everything was just a waving blend of light and shade, and I tried my best to focus my sight on one spot. Eventually, an unclear haze of red and white in front of me melted into a red- and white-striped tent.
“Maria, have you seen that tent before?” Maria looked indifferently at the tent.
“No, never. Come on, Mike, I’m hungry.” She pulled my sleeve again.
“Wait”, I said. Something about it caught my interest. The tent was placed behind the carousel next to us on a spot that was barely lit up by the carnival lights. People were lined up outside the tent, but nobody entered it. Instead, one person at a time had a brief glimpse into the tent through an opening at the top and then walked away. That was it. There was no sign, no person informing anyone, nothing. But if I squinted my eyes I could see the faces of those who walked from the tent. They were not amused.
“I’m gonna have a look”, I said. Maria sighed.
“It won’t be long, I promise”.
“I’ll just wait here”, Maria said without looking at me.
I kissed her on the cheek and walked over to the line of people outside the tent. About ten people stood in line before me. I wondered if the other people had been dragged there by pure curiosity like me or if they actually knew what it was about.
I took two steps forward as the next person in line walked up and faced the tent. He leaned his head in to the small opening on top of the tent and stood there for a few seconds. As he stepped back I could see his face, pale and stone-like. I read terror in his face.
Two more steps.
I looked around me. Though it was dark I confirmed that there was no information anywhere. I was puzzled. Why was there a tent just outside the carnival area with no information tied to it? It was as if it didn’t belong to the carnival at all. Still, the tent was unmistakably carnival-like, and all the people there had come from the carnival. But their faces gave me a hint that this was not a funny ride. I also became aware of the silence. Nobody spoke, not a sound was uttered. Only the shrieks and laughter and carousel waltzes could be heard, but that joyous cacophony seemed so very distant.
Two more steps.
Sweat gathered in my palms and I instinctively closed my fists. A cold feeling was growing in my chest. And I started making absurd guesses on what I was about to see. A dead body? A monster? Ghost? No way, this was a carnival after all; my anxiety makes no sense, I told myself. But my heart was pounding.
Two more steps.
I felt a need to know, to get some bit of information. I stretched out towards the person in front of me, but the fierce shaking of my hand made me pull it back. I looked straight ahead at the tent, this seemingly innocent piece of red and white garment that was pulling me towards it with magnetic force.
A sudden longing to hold someone came to me. “Maria”, I whispered indistinctively to myself. I looked in the direction from where I had come, but the carnival was like a wall of light from where no details shined through. Much like the ever more distant collage of sound. I turned back and saw that the line had moved forward. And like a gust of wind, a feeling of total isolation hit me.
I wrestled through the two steps, as if I was walking upstream.
My mind was racing in an incredible pace. Incoherent chains of thoughts was followed by another, I could hear myself breathing heavily, my heart was pounding like never before, the rush of blood felt like a boiling pot of water inside me. I thought about dying. Was this the end? For a moment I just wanted to give up everything. Everything. To sink down on to my knees and surrender myself to whatever or whoever was to come.
Then it was my turn.
The open space in front of me was threatening, like I was going to face a firing squad. Somewhere in my mind I knew that I could just walk away from there and nobody would ever care. But that was somewhere way too deep inside my mind at that moment. I didn’t have a choice; this was my fate.
I walked towards the tent, my feet shaking endlessly. As I stood facing the small opening in the tent I could swear the air got just a little colder. My heavy breathing continued, my heart wanted to jump out. The cold feeling in my chest had grown to full blown nausea, my feet could barely hold me up.
I took a deep breath, stretched out and grabbed both sides of the opening, and with eyes wide open I leaned my head inside.
There was total darkness.
Author: Håvard Loeng
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