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The Closest Kind
by Calyn Morgan
The bright lights of Reckless Rick’s Carnival and Emporium overpower the glittery backdrop of the night sky. The moon hangs low and round over the rickety carnival that popped up overnight in the parking lot of the abandoned strip mall near City Hall. No one knows where the carnival came from, but it being here is the most excitement this town has seen in years. Practically everyone I know is here.
Food carts promising the world’s best corn dog and ice cold beverages line the main pathway, with games of chance and skill that my boyfriend Greg insists are rigged, littered between them.
An energy pumps through my veins as if I’m somehow connected with each person here. A central link that binds us all together in carnival bliss. The energy comes with a subtle déjà vu. I can’t recall any time in my life when I’ve been this aware of myself and my surroundings, but the familiarity is as strong as if I had. This level of awareness feels inhuman and unnatural.
“Emily, you okay?” Greg asks, embracing me from behind.
“Yeah, carnival high I guess.” I turn in his arms to meet brown eyes.
He pulls me closer, and our lips meet softly. I don’t care that we’re standing in the middle of the carnival or that families are passing around us, most likely casting judgmental stares in our direction. Being the small town that it is, this will no doubt make it back to my mother, with exaggerated heated passion I’m sure, and I’ll get an ear full about how to be a proper lady, but I couldn’t care less. When I’m with Greg, nothing else matters, and that’s both exhilarating and terrifying.
“Hey, check this out,” Myra calls from up ahead with her boyfriend – my older brother – Sam.
I look up the pathway where she and Sam are standing, but instead of them being off in the distance where I had expected them to be, they’re suddenly right beside me. For a quick moment, I had thought they must have run the distance between us with lighting speed, but then I realize they aren’t the ones who moved. I am.
To my right, Greg is standing there like nothing happened. Noticing my stare, he gives me a closed lip smile and raises an eyebrow, “What’s wrong?”
“Nothing,” I say unsure how to explain.
The shock of the sudden change feels heavy in my heart. Looking back to where I thought we were standing, between the ring toss and the corn dog stand, a large patch of what looks like oil stains the asphalt.
I try to picture us standing there, try to remember if the oil stain was beneath our feet as we kissed. Though, like a dream, the more I try to remember, the harder it is to recall.
“Let’s get on it,” Sam says, pulling my attention back.
Sam, Myra, and Greg are standing in a uniform line, neon lights reflecting off their faces. Sam’s arm is outstretched, mindlessly pointing to something as if I didn’t just defy the laws of physics. I follow his finger to a spacecraft with U.F.O. flashing in bright neon letters above it. The craft is spinning entirely too fast, extended out on a retractable arm, no doubt causing disarray to the people inside who are immobilized against the interior wall by the centrifugal force.
“Look, there isn’t even a long line,” Sam says giddily. I don’t think I’ve ever used the term giddy to describe my brother, yet there he goes running up the queue like a mad man who won the lottery. Myra gives me a wide grin and turns on her heels to follow Sam, her pony tail whipping the air behind her.
Greg reaches out for my hand, and I take a step toward him, but he doesn’t move, and I bump right into him
“Whoa,” he says holding me steady. “Easy there tiger.”
“Sorry,” I laugh. “Do you not want to get on?”
He looks at me with worried eyes. “No I do. I mean, we’ve already been waiting for like five minutes so might as well, right?”
I look over his shoulder to find that I am no longer looking at the ride from a distance, but up close and personal, standing in line with a dozen or so people behind me.
“What the hell?” I say louder than expected, unable to hold my panic inside any longer.
“What’s wrong?” Greg asks, placing a hand on each of my shoulders. “You’re freaking me out.”
“What the hell is happening?” I demand, eyes stinging with the threat of tears.
Sam, Myra and a few of the other patrons in line look at me like I’m a crying baby in a movie theater.
“What are you talking about?” Sam says annoyed. “The ride’s almost over. We’re about to get on.”
“But,” I lower my voice and lean in closer, “but we were just standing over there.”
I point to our previous spot about twenty-five feet away, and just as before, an oil patch covers the ground where the four of us once stood.
“Yeah, and we walked here,” Sam says, using his fingers to mimic walking then pointing to the ground at his feet.
“No, you walked here. I watched you. I took one step and suddenly I was already here.”
“Calm down,” Greg says in a softer tone.
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” My voice is strained. “I don’t understand what’s happening.”
“You’re acting like a child. Stop making a scene,” Sam says, and then turns around to face the front of the line.
I glare at the back of his head and turn to Myra, pleading for some kind of an answer.
“Emily, honey, Sam’s right,” she says. “We walked over here and we’ve been waiting in line for about five minutes, I think.”
“What have I been doing for five minutes?” I ask looking between her and Greg. Myra shrugs.
“Hanging out,” Greg says, more like a question than an answer.
I’m on the verge of hysterics. I can feel myself about to let loose all of the pent up energy running rampant in my body.
“Greg, I need you to think for me, about what I’ve been doing for the past five minutes. Did you rub my neck, or kiss me? Hold my hand? Did you talk to me at all? Did I sneeze or cough?” My voice sounds as desperate as I feel.
“I don’t know.” His voice cracks and his eyes are nervous.“We were just standing in line.”
“You can’t remember, can you?” I ask in realization.
Before he can answer, the carnie opens a hatch on the front of the spaceship. He has brown hair pulled back in a low, short ponytail. His shirts wrinkled and his jacket is frayed at the tips of the sleeves. There is something oddly organized about his disheveled look.
The current occupants spill out of the open hatch, with looks of daze and bewilderment. Some are hunched over, holding their stomachs. Others are looking around as if they’re lost. It’s hard to explain on top of all the other weird shit, but watching them look around the carnival as if they just walked into a new world is the icing on the unsettling cake.
I feel myself letting go. About to burst, I lock eyes with the carnie, who is weirdly enough already looking at me. His face is slack, completely void of emotion.
His eyes follow as I make my way up the line, toward the vessel. I have a sudden strange fear that if I were to look away from him he would disappear. As if maybe,he isn’t real. Maybe nothing that’s happened today has been real.
I smell a faint waft of cinnamon as I pass by the carnie, too close for comfort. Even in the moonlight his eyes are impossibly blue. It feels as if he’s piercing into my soul, digging up my innermost secrets and worst fears.
Earlier, I felt I was connected to everyone here, but the only connection I feel to the carnie is my fear and his ability to cause that fear.
A magnificently large smile erupts across his face, and he places a heavy hand on my shoulder, squeezes lightly, and tells me very simply, “Everything is going to be alright,” and I believe him. The smoothness of his voice washes away the ominous feelings plaguing my judgment, and to be honest, I don’t know what I was getting so worked up for anyway. I’m sure there’s an obvious explanation for the odd things that have happened here today. I shouldn’t let it get to me. We’re here to have fun after all.
I return the smile, and he nods towards the ride’s entrance.
I follow Greg up the stairway and into the vessel. The entire circumference of the ride is a flat sheet of grated metal. Vertical sections are partitioned off by wobbly poles and thin wire fencing. A dingy piece of rope connects the poles in front of each pod; I have to duck under it to get inside.
I pull at the rope testing its strength and durability. If something were to malfunction, I highly doubt this rope would save any lives.
Greg takes the compartment to my left, and Sam and Myra take the two spots directly across from us. A few more people hustle in, filling every compartment with an eager body awaiting a cheap thrill.
“Alright,” the carnie says, hopping through the hatch and onto the platform.
His emotionless face is traded this time for one full of exaggerated excitement. He whirls around the ship with too much energy, spot checking the useless ropes.
“My name is Finley,” he says with a slight bow, “and I am your tour guide for all things unidentified. Please keep your feet firmly planted on the ground at all times.”
He walks into our proximity and stops short of Greg, sticking a finger out towards him. “No showing off for the pretty lady,” he says, looking from me to Greg, accusation in his smile.
My cheeks grow hot, and my stomach flutters from the attention.
“What!” Greg says with a laugh, surprised for being called out. Though, in Finley’s defense, Greg does have that mischievous look about him.
Finley spins, waving his arms outward in a grand gesture. “Are you ready to have an out of this world experience?”
“Yeah,” a few people call out weakly. I roll my eyes at the obvious cheesiness of the line.
“I think, you can do better than that,” Finley says, placing a hand over his heart. His facial expressions may be convoluted but his words are so infused with emotion it’s mesmerizing. “Are you ready…” he starts once more, each word more enthusiastic than the last, “to have an out of this world experience?”
A roar of nervous excitement tears throughout the room and vibrates off the walls.
“That’s what I like to hear!”
He jumps around the middle once more and stops just shy of the hatch, then turns to face us all.
“I do have to warn you,” he says, looking around the room at each person one-by-one. “This ride is one of the most intense we have here at Reckless Rick’s. If at any time it becomes too much for your little hearts to handle, close your eyes and go to your happy place…” His eyes fall on me and lingers, “…and know it will all be over soon.”
Finley shoots me another abnormally wide smile and winks. He disappears out the hatch, closing the door and locking us all in. My nerves heighten, and I white knuckle the metal bars. I look up to find Sam pointing his finger at me and laughing. Myra’s shaking her head with amusement.
“How did I let you talk me into this?” I ask Greg, even though I know neither one of us remembers.
“Because you love me,” he says plainly, catching me off guard.
I look over to him between the thin metal fencing separating us, confirming without words, that I am very much in love with him.
“And I love you too,” he says, as if reading my eyes, and my heart explodes in the best way.
I wind my fingers in the thin metal fencing separating us and he laces his fingers over mine.
The lights black out, and in total darkness the platform begins to spin. My hands reach out and grasp for the metal bars once more,gripping tightly. Small nervous laughter escapes my throat as a strobe light flickers to life. The momentum of the spin picks up, and I can feel the sensation in my stomach as my body is increasingly pushed to the metal backing until I can barely move.
I tilt my head to the left. Greg is smiling, and I’m smiling, and we love each other, and everything is perfect.
Thrust into darkness again, the strobe light stops, but the ride powers on. An odd green orb barely illuminates the space, from in the center of the vessel. A body appears in the shimmering light, though even in the dimness it’s easy to see it’s anything but human.
Another body appears.
“Whoa!” Greg calls out, along with other exclamations of excitement from the other riders. This must be part of the ride’s attraction.
The body closest to me turns around, and I find myself locking eyes with a stereotypical gray alien. It stands there, with its round head and pointed chin, looking just as solid and made of flesh as Finley did when he stood here not a minute ago. I’m impressed with how a dingy carnival like this can afford such amazing special effects. They look so real, so life-like.
Unhindered by the gravity forcing the rest of us against the walls, the alien creeps forward, eyeing me like a lion does its prey.
The aroma of cinnamon tickles my nose as it raises an arm towards me. Each bony finger is at least a foot in length with five knuckles protruding out under thin alien skin. I want to scream with nervousness, but laughter comes out instead. Its eyes are a brilliant blue that seem to glow in the low light.
“This is crazy!” I yell to Greg, but he doesn’t answer. I struggle to look over at him, his eyes are staring incessantly at the green shimmer as if he’s hypnotized by the light.
Glancing around the alien and across the ship, Myra is just as dazed as Greg. Sam has an alien approaching him too, a look of stunned surprise on his face. In fact, looking around the compartments, most of the occupants are out of it like Greg. The only people moving have an alien approaching them like me – and Sam.
The alien extends its long fingers closer and closer until they appear to be mere inches from my cheek. It brings its other hand up into view and I notice it’s holding what looks like a large metal seed.
My forehead wrinkles as I focus between the seed, the fingers near my face, and the big blue alien eyes, trying to decipher the illusion. What’s the purpose of the seed? What story are they trying to tell?
For a brief second, I swear I feel a light brush against my cheek as its fingers slide past. My eyes widen in panic as the fingers latch onto the side of my head, full contact, definitely not a special effect. I suck in a breath that gets caught in my throat. Screams erupt around me – blood curdling, scared-out-of-my-life screams.Nightmare fuel.
It raises its other hand higher and balances the metal seed between two fingertips. My mouth remains open in shock and it forces the two fingers into inside. I can feel them slide down my throat, and I gag uncontrollably. My eyes water instantly and I try to move. I try to kick, punch, or claw at the alien’s arm, but moving against the centrifugal force is almost impossible.
Unable to breathe, my instincts take over and I bite down as hard as I can until the alien yanks its fingers from my throat. I suck in labored breaths between terrible coughs. The metal seed is nowhere in sight. The alien nurses its bitten hand against its chest, the other hand remains on the side of my head, holding me in place as if I could go anywhere. The alien takes a step closer and my body jerks out of instinct, but I don’t actually move. The force of the ride is stronger now.
Its bitten hand lowers out of my sight and cold fingers pull my shirt up, exposing my stomach. I look down as far as I can manage to see a single finger press against my belly button. Lightly at first, then harder, and harder, until the finger passes through the skin and into my body. I wouldn’t call it painful as much as extremely uncomfortable, but I scream anyway.
The alien’s finger moves inside my body, pushing aside internal organs, like an examination of sorts. Withdrawing its finger,it leans in, its large face inches from mine.Its small mouth, a complete contrast to the large almond shaped eyes, twitches as it studies me.
And it blinks for the first time.
The sun is setting, and the light is perfect for collecting fireflies. Greg, Sam, Myra and a few other people from town are running through the meadow in the center of the cornfield. The stalks are neatly woven under our feet, giving us perfect traction for chasing the hundreds of fireflies that surround us.
I run up to Greg, and he throws his arms around me, and we spin like they do in the movies. Grinning from ear to ear.
My white dress flows in the wind.
“I love you,” I whisper, afraid someone will overhear.
“I…I love you too,” he says,but his face looses his spark and his eyes aren’t focused on me anymore. They’re looking around the clearing, watching everyone in their crisp white uniforms chasing the blue glowing bugs.
“Where are we?” He asks concern in his voice.
“Where we need to be,” I say.
“Something isn’t right,” he warns.
A waft of cinnamon is carried in the breeze.
“We have to get out of here!” Greg yells. He ducks under the dingy rope and grabs my hand,pulling me under mine in haste. The ride has already come to a stop, and the hatch opens almost as soon as we get to it.
“Greg,” I say after we clear the stairway. “What’s wrong?”
He doesn’t stop walking until we’re completely across the pathway from the ride.
“Dude, what’s going on?” Sam asks as he and Myra catch up to us.
“Are you serious? What the hell just happened in there?” Greg is officially freaking out.
Sam, Myra, and I exchange worried glances.
“Do you feel sick?” Myra says, holding her own stomach.
“No,” he protests.
I glance over to the ride watching the rest of the people exit, looking deranged and I notice the carnie watching us intently. He lifts a walkie talkie close to his mouth but doesn’t say anything.
“Come on.You’re making a scene,” I tell him. “Just try to calm down.”
“Don’t tell me to calm down!” He turns to me and puts a hand on both shoulders. “Please, please tell me you remember.” His voice is panic-stricken, and his eyes are full of un-fallen tears.
“Before the ride, you were freaking about something weird – like time jumping or something. You were in one place then all of a sudden you were in another.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about, Greg.”
“Damn it,” he says, shaking his head. “Listen to me…”
He looks like he’s holding something back, something he wants to say so bad but doesn’t quite know how to put it into words.
“They’re messing with your memories.”
“Greg, you’re scaring me,” I say, but he doesn’t stop.
“What you experienced today, was a…a crack. Our minds can only take so much working. Finley, the carnie, is one of them.” He points to the man with the walkie talkie.
“One of who?”
He pulls me closer and his cold stare chills my bones. “Aliens,” he says pointing a finger to the sky.
“Did you hit your head or something?” Sam asks. “You’re not making any sense.”
“Everything is making sense for the first time in a while. We’ve been here before.”
“This is the first carnival in this town since I was a kid,” Myra says.
“No, we come here regularly. They just don’t let us remember.”
“The aliens?” I ask confused, and he nods. “And why would they do that?”
“The crop circle,where everyone’s wearing white, the perfect sunset – it’s not real. Think about it.Really think about it. Fireflies don’t glow blue.”
I can feel something on the outer reaches of my consciousness begging for my attention, but I can’t grasp it. I want to understand him, but he’s not making sense.
A chirping sound rings out and my attention goes to the carnie. “We have a witness,” he mutters into the handset.
Greg’s head whips around to the carnie. “What the fuck did you just say?”
“Greg,” I say, but he pretends not to hear me.
The carnie just stands there, unwavering as Greg takes off for him.
“I know who you are, you son-of-a-bitch,” Greg spits.“I know what you are!”
The carnie seems almost amused. Greg manages to get a few short feet away from him when two men in black suits swoop in and snatch Greg up by the arms.
“What are you doing to us?” He yells, pushing against the suited men.
The suits pull him away from the carnie, dragging him toward an un-plated, black SUV.
Greg turns to the people gathered around, watching the commotion.“Wake up! Can’t you see what they’re doing? They’ve been using us for years,” he says, though the carnival goers only look half invested in his words. I can’t help but to feel a little embarrassed for him.
“They can’t get away with this,” Greg continues. “We have to stop them before it’s too late.”
“It’s already too late for you Greg,” the carnie yells.“You think this is the first time we’ve hauled you away from this carnival.”
Greg’s face falls slack with defeat. They throw him in the backseat and I can hear him yell, “Run Emily! Don’t ever stop running!”
They slam the door closed and with a shriek of the wheels, the SUV takes off. I watch the rear lights until they disappear around a corner.
It’s been two weeks since Greg stopped coming to school.
His front porch creeks under my feet, as I bang on the door for what feels like the hundredth time, hoping Greg, one of his parents, or even his sister, will open the door. They never do.
My brother lays on his horn and I abandon the porch and climb into the back of his car.
“No luck?” Myra asks from the passenger seat.
“No,” I say, watching the house grow smaller as we drive away.
I was really hoping he would go with me to the carnival tonight. It just popped up out of nowhere last night, everybody’s talking about it. No one knows where it came from, but it’s the most excitement this town has seen in years. Practically everyone I know is going – well, everyone except Greg.
Calyn Morgan is a writer of YA Science Fiction, who is obsessed with the unknown and and all three Back to the Future movies. Self professed fangirl, she gets overly excited about almost anything. Currently, she is finishing up her second manuscript in hopes of diving into the query trenches in the near future. She lives with her husband, daughter, and two fur-babies in Baltimore, Maryland.
Anyone may enter the giveaway. This includes the artist and writers contributing to the Dark Carnival, as well as the readers of the stories. Enjoy! Muahahahahaha! Ahem. I mean good luck.