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Walk the Line
Autumn’s always so magical. I can’t put my finger on why exactly, but I know that it just feels different. Maybe it’s the leaves shedding their green skin and falling to the ground in colorful piles. Or is it the slight crispness of the air that makes everyone feel so giddy? Maybe it’s both, but I’m a firm believer that what makes this time of year so fantastic is the carnival that arrives two weeks before Halloween.
Every year they roll into town with tents of every color. Inside of their majestic realm lies the usual animals: Lions, elephants, monkeys, and so on. Really, it’s more like a small circus, but they really hate for people to say that. The last time an old man mumbled the word, a tiny red-nosed clown came out and bonked him on top of his bald head with a squeaky hammer. Everyone laughed, but I could tell the workers seemed really angry about what he’d said. That’s why I make sure never to even think the word circus if I’m a mile near the place. Not taking the chance of getting hit or worse, locked out of the carnival for life. That to me would be worse than death its self.
“Danny, hurry up! We’re going to be late.” I slump against the wall with my arms crossed.
Black shaggy hair pokes out around the corner followed by a pair of dark-chocolate eyes. “Skyler, chill. It’s not like it’s going to be any different than the last fifteen years we’ve seen it.” He reaches out and flips my auburn ponytail with the tips of his fingers.
I pretend not to be impatient, but fail miserably. Fingers fidgeting with their twins, I sigh. “Come on, Danny. You can eat when we get there. My mom gave me enough to feed you twice.”
“So, you’re not eating?”
I watch as he shoves a banana half-way in his mouth and stop when he sees my frown. “Of course I’m eating, man-gorilla. It’d feed me six times, but I have to feed you too. Now come on.” I don’t wait. Instead, I turn and begin walking towards the front door.
He bolts in front of me and opens the door. “Fine. But why do you want to go so early? Some guy going to be there?” And there’s the look he’s worn for the last two months since we’d lost that stupid game of spin the bottle.
With a shake of my head, I answer his question and he becomes the Danny I’ve known all of my life. As my foot touches the bottom step, I decide to let him in on everything. “Do you know why everybody’s excited about the carnival?”
“Because of the food and shows.” He rubs his stomach and licks his lips causing me to giggle.
“That’s not it. Well, it’s not just that.” Images jump through my mind of the faces of the people. “It’s like they’re sparkling.”
Danny stops mid step. “What’s sparkling?”
Fingers safely inside of their sleeve shelter, I wave my arms in the air like a magician. “Their eyes! When they see her—they just change. It’s so cool, Danny! Haven’t you ever noticed?”
Putting his arm around my shoulders, we begin walking again. “If I had a clue about what the heck you’re talking about, maybe then I could answer. But I’m seriously lost here, Skyler. You have to remember I’m not a girl. I don’t have y’alls built-in elephant memory thing. So, help your BFF out.”
The carnival’s just twenty steps away and already I can see that look. It’s so cool to have my best friend live so close to the carnival grounds. Makes up for Danny wasting our time doing whatever he does before leaving his “sanctuary.” I stare for a moment, fixated on their expressions. My body starts shaking and Danny pulls me closer thinking that I’m cold, but I’m not. That’s not why I’m shivering like the hand-of-death its self has touched me. It’s because for once in my life I can see their eyes a little differently.
They’re not sparkling. They’re glass!
“Skyler? Hello, you there?”
She’s there at the gate, welcoming everybody inside. Normally I don’t see her until the show begins, but this year’s different. I watch as she shakes each hand and see them leave themselves. Five feet from the midnight-blue haired girl, I stop. Nails digging into Danny’s slender arm, I whisper, “Let’s just go somewhere else. I’m kinda over this place already.”
“You sick or something?” When I shake my head, Danny adds, “Weren’t you the one who was dying to get over here like right away?”
Her eyes drift over and meet with mine. Her gaze punches me directly in the gut and all of the air rushes from my body. I’m on my knees in a second, gasping for desperately needed oxygen. Danny’s doing his best to calm me down, but it’s not helping. All I can see is her hot-pink eyes. Hot-freaking-pink! Suddenly everything I once thought was so beautiful about her is scaring me right out of my very own skin.
“Is your girlfriend okay?” A soft, melodic voice asks. My eyes dart up and there are those pink eyes staring down at me.
Danny begins to snicker nervously. “Um, my friend’s okay. Just having a panic attack.” He finishes his explanation off with a mumbled, “For some weird reason.”
My body repels backwards, taking Danny along with me. “Tightrope walker.” I know I’m not making sense, but I’m hoping all of our years of being friends will get the message through.
He looks from me to her and back again. “Is that who she is?”
I nod and pray he gets the same weird feeling I’m having right now.
“Huh. Didn’t recognize her. Have we ever watched her before?”
A freight train roars through my head with memories of the same exact girl walking the same exact line every year we’ve been alive. “Yes.”
We’re too close to the entrance. Must get away.
“Really? Cause I don’t ever remember watching that act here.” He gives her another look and I watch as she begins flirting with him by twisting her hips in that Victoria Secret model way. He doesn’t even look away as he adds, “Is she what you were so excited about a few minutes ago?”
I tug his arm, forcing Danny to focus back on me. “Maybe, but I want to go somewhere else now.” My voice is filled full of false-flirt, but it’s doing nothing to get him on my side. She already has him hooked and he’s dragging me along into Hell with him.
Danny yanks me from the ground and sighs. “I’m hungry, Skyler and we’re already here. Stop being rude and let’s go get some grub!”
“Is she okay?” Once Danny says I’m fine, she adds, “Good! Then welcome to Carnaval de la Muerte.” Her hand slowly grasps Danny’s and I watch as the glass curtain covers his once vibrant eyes. His other hand drops from mine as she adds, “I’m Segadora, the tightrope walker.”
“Danny?” I reach out, determined to break Segadora’s link to him. Just when I’m about to touch him, her hand slips from his and grasps mine. My eyes widen and my heart begins to race. Those pink eyes are locked with mine once again and in a flash, the world fades to a fuzzy realm full of nothingness.
The bed shakes as I shoot up. Deep purple and emerald fabric surrounds me, blocking the cool air from reaching inside.
“You’re awake. Good,” Segadora says.
I try to get up, but something’s locked my body into place. Muscles contract, trying to bring much needed oxygen to my lungs. I’m in full-on freak-out mode and Danny’s nowhere in sight to help me. It takes all I have just to ask, “Where am I?”
“Ah, I remember asking that question once.” She rises and holds out an emerald-sequin leotard, looking at it like it held all of her questions answers. Segadora doesn’t stop her examination as she continues, “And before you ask, your little friend’s outside in the crowd getting ready to watch the show.”
Again I try to move, but nothing happens. “Why am I here then?”
She tosses the outfit on the end of the bed. “Get dressed in that and then we’ll do your hair and makeup.”
“I’m not wearing that!” My mouth protests everything, but my body’s not listening. Instead, I find myself standing and shedding my jeans and tee. Slipping into the soft satin costume, electric tingles crawl up and down my entire being.
Segadora smiles as she releases my hair from its holder. In just fifteen minutes she’s turned my stringy mess of a mane into beautiful, bouncy curls. “Now,” she says, “just a touch of peach gloss and gold shadow with liner and you’ll be perfect.”
Tears sting my eyes. They burn. Worse than anything I’ve ever felt before in my life. The mirror tells me why when I catch a glimpse of my pale green eyes stained with a slight pale pink. “Why is this happening to me?”
“Just relax and allow your instincts to show you what to do. If you freak out, you die. Got it?”
“Good. Now let’s go. It’s show time—Skyler, right?”
Segadora escorts me through a tunnel made from tents of every color into the main one. The worker’s eyes finally make sense to me. I always thought they wore colorful contacts to be funny, but it’s really their eyes. Something about this carnival makes them that way. Makes us this way.
“You’re the one who’s doing this to everyone. Why are you doing this?” My brain’s screaming at my legs to run, for my fist to punch Segadora, but nothing happens. Instead, I walk forward as the ringmaster announces their brand new tightrope walker, The Amazing Skyler, to the audience. Cheers fill my ears, but it’s not loud enough to drown out her response.
“Fifteen years. I’ve waited for you for fifteen long years.”
I find myself for a second and turn to face her. “What does that mean? How old are you?”
Segadora’s ruby lips slide into a Cheshire cat grin. “You’re here so now I’m free. Fifteen years from now you will find her and then you will be free as well.” Her fingers plays with one of my loose curls. “It’s not fair, I know. But the carnaval demands a walker. The first was fifteen and she served for fifteen years before she found her replacement. She left at the age of fifteen same as I am right now. In that same time you will repeat the same past until you’re released into a new present. Your Danny will be thirty, but you’re not into him like that anyway. But you won’t complain because you’ll be free. I know I’m not complaining.”
“I won’t do it. You can’t make me.” My words come out weaker than I intend.
Again she smiles, eyes changing from that frightening pink into a soft baby-blue. “My poor, Skyler. I’m not doing anything to you, nor can I make you do anything. It’s the carnaval. She demands you. It’s your turn to serve her since my time has ended. And if you can find a way to free yourself when I couldn’t, then bravo.”
Bright white-light surrounds me and my body swiftly turns and starts strutting towards center ring. From the corner of my eye I see Danny, cheering madly in the front room without realizing who I am. Again, water clouds my vision and it takes all I have not to fight against my limbs as they carry me to the top of the stand. Segadora said to follow my instincts or I’d die, so I do because dying is something I’m not willing to do at the moment. I may be losing myself, but I refuse to lose my life before I figure out how to break this freaking curse.
My heart beats madly, threatening to rip itself from my chest. As my foot leaves the safety of the small wooden ledge and rests on the flimsy metal wire, my stomach flips upside down.
Just breathe and keep going. Everything will be fine. Just breathe, Skyler.
Step after step, I keep walking until I’m in the center of the tightrope. And now I remember what’s next. Rising on the tips of my toes, arms raised above my head, I spin and begin doing little hops in place. The crowd goes wild with every little move I make. I know what I’m doing is impossible, but as long as I’m not falling, my body keeps doing what it’s told to do. The wire bends and sways, but somehow I stay put. Even when I do a fancy little spin and the tightrope threatens to move right from under my feet, we remain one and I land safely on the exit platform just as Segadora had every year I’d watched her perform.
Night-after-night, town-after-town, the same routine repeats with nothing new happening. Segadora’s long gone, but her words are fresh in my mind every second of every day. The carnies all treat me as an old friend, but deep down I know they know one day I’ll be gone. A new walker will take my place and I’ll be free. Someday I’ll be the one to doom a girl to this fate. For the first five years I tried to fight it until I found Segadora’s diary. Her words of trying to fall from the tightrope and failing along with the nightmares that followed scared me enough to realize we are powerless against the Carnaval. So for ten more years I will walk the wire until I find her and doom her to take my place.
After it’s over, will I even remember this place? Her name? Dear, God—will I remember what I’ve done?
Baby-blue seemed to be the color for her and the costume fit well. I leaned against the pole near the exit and watched as she did our old act. I know she’ll be fine. The wire takes care of us and makes sure us walkers don’t fall. Her acts almost over now so it’s my time to go.
Walking out into the crisp, Autumn air, I sigh. It’s been fifteen years since I’ve felt so alive and I plan on enjoying my new-found freedom. Lucky for me I found her on the opposite end of the country from my hometown. I don’t know what I would’ve done if she’d been there. If she’d been his daughter I know I would’ve just died and allowed her to be free. That was something I vowed when the thought first came to my mind.
I’m on the edge of the street when I hear it. That squeaky voice that brings tears rushing to my eyes as it exclaims, “Skyler?”
And now I’m face-to-face with a thirty-year-old Danny. Gone is the shaggy hair. In its place is a neat adult cut. But those dark-chocolate eyes have the same look in them that they’d had so many years ago when he last looked at me.
“Um, hi, Danny. How you been?”
He bum rushes me, wrapping stronger arms than I remember him having around my body. I can hear him crying and my heart actually breaks in a way that finally allows me to understand why people say that.
You’re fifteen, Skyler and he’s thirty. Let it go. Let him go. I’m telling myself this when I hear him rambling on about how he’s missed me and how he’s never gotten over losing me. And that’s when I realize that for fifteen years we’ve both been walking a tightrope. Me literally and Danny—well, he’s been pretending to live while searching for me in secret. I know this because he’s whispering in broken sobs as he pulls me close.
I catch my pale green eyes in a side mirror of a nearby car and sigh. “Shhh, Danny. I’m here now and everything’s fine. Just chill.”
He refuses to release me. “Chill? You sound like it hasn’t been forever since we talked.” When Danny does pull away, the question comes. “Where have you been, Skyler?”
Those chocolate eyes. I never realized what they did to me. Why I didn’t fight about losing the spin when the bottle landed on him. Damn, you’re who I was thinking of every night. I raise up, clasp my hands on both sides of his face, and press my lips to his. To hell with age difference. Right now all I want to do is what I should’ve done back then.
My body trembles with every second I kiss him, but it’s not until I catch my reflection again that I understand why it felt so violent. With one kiss I aged to the point where I look like Danny. I can even see the little lines edging the corners of my eyes and mouth from laughing too much. I look back at him, but Danny doesn’t seem to notice the change. All he can see is the same girl he was crazy about fifteen years ago. I know this because he’s wearing that same stupid-grin he had when I kissed him in that closet. At least this time I don’t want to slap him.
Danny shakes his head and looks back at me. “Where have you been?”
Taking his hand in mine, I turn and we begin to walk away as I reply, “You know. Walking a tightrope and being a star.” I can tell he doesn’t believe me, but he doesn’t ask again. As we get farther away from the carnival I feel guilty about what I’ve done to the new girl. But at least I know there’s a chance she’ll find happiness. We may walk the wire for fifteen years, but once we’re free from the act, we’re free to find ourselves and that’s something I would’ve never found without Segadora the Fantastic Tightrope Walker.
“Skyler,” Danny stops and gives me a strange look. “What’s wrong with your eyes?”
My head snaps to the right and I scream as hot-pink covers the pale-green once again. An explanation starts to tumble from my lips, but when I turn back to him, Danny’s gone and I’m standing on the tightrope ledge alone once again.
It was a dream. He’s not here and I’m not free.
Tears sting my eyes while the crowd keeps cheering madly. Segadora once thought the walkers were truly what kept the carnival going. That’s why we couldn’t die. At first I couldn’t understand why she’d wanted to die, but now I totally get it. Water streams down my face as I take my first step onto the wire. It bends as usual, but my vision’s too clouded to see anything clearly.
Three steps and then spin. As I’m allowing my instincts to keep the instruction firmly in my mind, a sentence from Segadora’s diary finally clicks with me. The wire knows what you’re thinking so it’ll always move to save you. It’s useless to even try to leave it before it’s time.
I keep thinking left. The word is connected to a series of spins and I know that direction isn’t part of the act. When the time comes I begin to spin. The wire responds under my feet and just when I think about jumping off to the left, the wire sways that way and I leap to the right.
As the air rushes around my body, I see the tightrope above me and I’m wondering if it’s trying to catch me again. The ground’s going to hurt, but I don’t care. To hell with this carnival. I’m done being a walker. The crash shatters every bone in my body, and it’s almost impossible to breathe. The glassy look in the crowd’s eyes is gone and now they’re screaming and running away. As the last person exits the main tent, the sapphire and gold fabric falls around me.
It worked. I’m free.
Just as the last breath’s leaving my body I see it. The girl from my dream’s standing beside the ringmaster, hot-pink stains her eyes as a demonic smile decorates her face.
The carnival must have a walker. Leaving before it’s time is useless.
I fade away as Johnny Cash’s Walk the Line is hummed wickedly into my ear by the new girl who is taking my place on the wire.
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