The Last Ticket
  

The Last Ticket





Harry felt good this day. He had graduated High School in May, got a job in July and had missed being drafted by mere months. A loud commotion from outside caught his attention and he paused in the chore of sweeping. Leaning on the broom handle he peered around the letters “Hampton’s Feed and Seed Supply” stenciled on the glass windows and watched the circus parade amble down Main Street.


 

An elephant led the parade draped in a white, silk-fringed cloth with the words “Cheevers Carnival”. A flashy blond woman sat on top wearing blue sequined leotard, a shiny royal blue cape and three long white feathers reached for the sky from her hair. She threw flyers from her lofty seat and children below were squealing, trying to catch the elusive wind tossed papers.


Following the elephant was an elaborately painted, scrolled, red and gold, horse drawn carriage shouldering a pipe organ, blaring out the familiar carnival song.

Then came the midgets, a man on stilts dressed in an Uncle Sam costume, men and women dressed in gaudy costumes walking by and waving at the crowd. The crowd responded with waves and applause as acrobats flipped and flew through the air.


Harry’s excitement grew as this turn of events brought an idea to his mind. He would ask his girl, Pauline, on a real date. There was not even a movie theater in the small farming town of Trump, nothing for young people to do except Square dancing once a month at Fullers barn. Pauline and Harry’s dates consisted mostly of sitting on the porch swing in the dark stealing kisses or picnicking in the meadow. A date to the carnival, he thought and smiled at the clowns’ antics in the street. The crowd tittered and giggled as the clowns hit, slapped, and sprayed each other with water from fake flowers pinned to their chests.

The supply trucks and long beds covered in canvas were uninteresting to Harry so he put the broom to work again, whistling, happy in his own thoughts.


 The day of ‘the date’ had finally arrived.

Harry showed his impatience by walking to the car quickly, leaving his parents on the church steps in conversation with the Pastor. Didn’t they know he had to pick up Pauline in less than an hour? This was the last day of the carnival and Sunday was the only day free for both of them. He didn’t want anything to go wrong, like being late.

Barely giving his parents enough time to get out of the car when they arrived home and after assuring his Father he would be careful in the car, not to race or have a bunch of hoodlums drinking and driving his car, he grabbed the keys from his fathers hands. His Father owned the one and only grocery store in town and made a decent living, but not quite enough to lavish his son with any extras. He believed a man should make his own way in the world and that included his son.


Harry drove as fast as he could on the gravel topped dirt roads. Pauline lived seven miles west of town on a farm where her father grew mostly cotton and corn for a living. Her family couldn’t afford luxuries such as a telephone or car. They still used two mules and a wagon for transportation.

Pulling slowly into the pothole littered dirt drive, he spotted Pauline sitting on the porch swing dressed in the pink and white gingham dress that Harry had seen many times before. Probably her only dress clothes. He usually saw her in overalls, a beige thermal shirt underneath and big clunky black boots. Pauline stood and gathered her white sweater as Harry took the four steps onto the porch in two long strides.


“Hi.” Pauline’s impish face and dimpled smile always made his heart skip a beat. Her long blonde hair was tied back with pink ribbon, forming a cascade of gold down her back.


“Hi. Are you ready?” After the question was out, Harry thought, how stupid, of course she’s ready.

Pauline nodded and turned toward the screen door.


“Mama, Harry’s here. We’re leaving.”

The screen door squeaked open to reveal an older version of Pauline. The same dimpled smile and blonde hair done up on top of her head in a bun with just a hint of gray at the temples. The screen rested on her hip as she gathered the bottom of her apron to wipe her wet hands.


“Hello, Harry, How’s your folks?”


“They’re doing just fine, Mrs. Emerson.”


She nodded.


“You kids get on now and have a good time. You need to get Pauline home by midnight, Harry.”


Harry took Pauline’s arm and led her toward the steps.


“Yes ma’am, I’ll do that.”


“Bye, Mama.”


“Bye, honey.” And as an afterthought Mrs. Emerson yelled at the figures entering the car. “You stay with Harry at all times, Pauline.”


“Yes, Mama.”

Neither one paid much attention to those words and never had a clue how prophetic they would be.



The Big Top and Midway had been set up in Old Man Smiths field. They had a bumpy ride through a dead browned out cornfield. Parking the car between two trucks, Harry stepped out, squishing into something. He lifted his foot from the fresh cow patty.


“Damn.” Looking around he noticed a herd of cows not far from the parking area grazing under a tree.


He kept his eyes on the ground as he walked to the trunk, opened it and retrieved a soiled rag. He heard the passenger side door open. Damnit. He had wanted to open the door for her.


“Watch your step.” He finished wiping his shoe, threw the rag back into the trunk, and closed it solidly with irritation.


They walked though a long line of cars and finally reached the lit up archway, the letters flashing red, white and green in random order. Confusing music from the different rides, the yelling of barkers, and smells of sausage, grilled onions, toasted breads and cotton candy assaulted their senses.


They stopped at the wooden sign in front of the entrance to the big top looking at the showtimes.

“Are you hungry?” Harry knew Pauline was always hungry. He didn’t know how her skinny little body held all that food. She nodded still gazing at the sign.


“Ok, what do you think of this plan? We eat, come back here for the circus acts, then catch some rides, then look at some sideshows. And maybe, just maybe I can win you a big teddy bear.”


“Sounds like a good plan. Especially the eating part.”

They smiled at each other.


They ate, drank warm cokes, rode rides, and won a teddy bear.


The atmosphere changed as nightfall came. The Carnival became flashier and louder as tents for the hoochie-koochie girls and freak shows opened. Sinister, greasy barkers were trying to entice people into the mysterious tents full of wanton women and unusual humans and artifacts.


They strolled down the sideway, Pauline struggling with her teddy bear that was half her size, and passed stage after stage of sword swallowers, fire eaters, contortionists and dancing girls in harem outfits.


Pauline stopped.

“I don’t like it here. Let’s go back.”


Fewer people ventured this way, a drunk and a few high school kids were giggling and yelling at the harem girls. Each Barker was trying to sell his particular wares or games.


“Hey! You. Young man! You look like a very intelligent person. Come over here. Come here.”


Harry looked in the direction of the voice. A short stocky, greasy haired man wearing a top hat was standing behind a podium in front of a black tent.

Harry pointed to his chest and raised his eyebrows in question.

“Yeah, you. Come here. Step up to the wonders of the world. Have you ever seen a mummy, boy? Queen Nefertitti herself brought all the way from Egypt. The reptile man, head of a man, body of an alligator, brought all the way from the Amazon. All this, boy for just one dime.” He squinted at Pauline. “I will even let your little lady in on your dime. Come on boy, this is my last ticket, and my last show. You will never have a chance to behold these sights again.”


Harry stepped closer and looked at the canvas signs hanging on the tent walls painted with all the unusual freaks. They reminded him of comic book characters. The last one had a big black question mark against a red background.

“What’s that?”


“Well, now, you have to pay a dime to find out.”  One eye twitched on the barker.


“Harry…” Pauline’s voice begged.

Harry turned to Pauline.

“Come on Pauline, It’ll be fun.”

Pauline shook her head.

“I’m sorry Harry. I just don’t like things like this. You go. I’ll wait over there.” She indicated a well-lit picnic area with a white canvas roof and bare light bulbs strung around the outside edges.


He plunked a dime on the podium and took the last ticket.

“All right. I will only be a few minutes.”

He kissed her on the cheek and disappeared behind the black cloth door.


 Harry stood for a moment to let his eyes adjust to the darkness. The single light bulbs in each cage did little to penetrate the shadows. Slowly the metal railing forming a semi-circle around the tent in front of the cages came into shadowy view. He started around coming first to the midget. The small man was only two feet high, standing on a chair dressed in an admiral uniform. They stared at each other in silence. The apathetic sadness in the midgets’ eyes made Harry uncomfortable. He moved to the next oddity. The small plaque boasted the largest woman in the world, weighing in at a hefty five hundred pounds. He looked up to meet beady little eyes sunk deep in mounds of rolling flesh. She was eating a layer cake and had a slice held between her pudgy fingers midway to her mouth. She stared at him with undisguised animosity. He quickly moved to the alligator man. A huge caterpillar-like lump crawled slowly toward Harry. His arms and hands were that of a man with long black claws for fingernails. The things body was covered with hard scales and no legs. He cocked his head at Harry, his face grimacing and his mouth moving in an effort to talk.


“Get….out…..of…….here.” Each word was breathed out of his mouth in a harsh whisper.


Harry was horrified as he took one step back. The thing reached through the cage and clamped a claw around his wrist. He pulled and felt the claws digging into his flesh.


“Leave…


…Now!”

One last pull and Harry stumbled back, free. His heart was racing with fear as he quickly moved to the mummy at the back glancing at the alligator man before placing his gaze on the mummy. Just the mummy and then he would go.

He was still shaking as he looked at the human form wrapped in what looked to him like dirty gauze bandages. Harry nervously glanced back at the alligator man. The slug-like body rose and fell laboriously with every harsh breath.

Harry turned to leave and his whole world turned white with a sharp stinging on the back of his head. He crumpled to the ground quickly into unconsciousness.


Sounds permeated his consciousness first, followed by smells. Harry heard the music of carnival rides and the gleeful, petrified screams. The mingled smells of fried onions and sickly sweet cotton candy forced his eyes open. Shadowy shapes accelerated his confusion. With an effort he slowly sat up. He had to get back to Pauline. He felt as though his body had been through the wringer and his tongue had been pounded with a sledgehammer. Blinking his eyes against the darkness he became aware of the bars and then the people standing on the other side, just staring at him.

Harry stood and walked to the bars, his mind still confused and hazy. The people shrank back in tandem.

He tried to speak but his tongue wouldn’t work. He rattled the bars trying to make someone understand, as he was beginning to understand.

A child squealed and clung to her horrified mother.

All the people heard were angry, garbled sounds coming from the Wild Man of Borneo, advertised as the newest attraction at "Cheevers Carnival".




Word count: 2079














Comments:
 
Bluez   Bluez wrote
on 4/28/2008 7:52:55 PM
As I read this I was thinking about what twist was going to be next, I love how you captured the feeling of the carnival and then showing it's sleazier side, excellent work!

debby   debby wrote
on 4/14/2008 2:47:08 PM
The ending was a huge surprise. Great job.

lindsay   lindsay wrote
on 4/13/2008 11:28:30 PM
Wow! That ending was fabulous. You have a great knack for short stories!

Butterfly   Butterfly wrote
on 4/13/2008 1:26:07 PM
Great ending...never saw it coming.

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Synopsis
Young love, a small town and a carnival sometime in the 1940's era.
A Word from the Writer
Mild horror story with a twist.
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