The bitter October wind, laced with the promise of an icy winter, sank its teeth deep into the pale skin of my face as I trudged through the sludgy mud of the old apple orchard, to the heart of the newly-arrived carnival.
I had never been one for funfairs and circuses but my sister, on the other hand, had a love for threads of pink sugar slovenly wrapped around poles of white and the cacophony of loud rickety rollercoasters and bass music exploding all around. All of which were guaranteed by the cheap posters plastered around town, a week prior to the funfairs arrival.
For me, however, carnivals ensured a dull evening spent queuing for a badly assembled ride that contravened all aspects of health and safety legislation and was a throwback to the 50’s.
Looking back, I’m not quite sure what changed my mind that Halloween night when Maura, my younger sister begged me to go to The Funfair of Frights. Whether it was her soft puppy-like eyes, bigger and bluer than puddles on a rainy summer’s evening, or her enduring pleas and beseeching. Whatever it was, I wish I had not surrendered.
“What do you think, eh? Should we go on The Nutcracker first or The Tempest of Terror?” Maura probed, giggling like a child as we neared the twinkling lights and vibrant tents of the funfair.
I shrugged, more focused on battling through the crowded field of quicksand mud and trying not to swallow too much of the choking diesel fumes pouring from the rides like water from a tap. “Actually, I think I’m going to go to the Coconut Shy over there,” I said, pointing to the grimy stand tucked behind a grouping of apple trees in the corner of the field.
Maura laughed, “Of course you are! You’re surrounded by exciting rides and rollercoasters but no, you want to go the grungy Coconut Shy in the darkest corner of the Orchard,”
Smiling meekly, I began to walk over to the stand, Maura following at my heels, sighing deeply at every moment she got. I bit back a giggle as we neared the stand which, now up close, I wish I hadn’t decided to go to.
The exterior of the Coconut Shy was encrusted with dried mud and smudged with dust and grit. The man behind the stand looked no better with a shirt that didn’t reach over his hairy, round belly, stained with every colour under the sun.
“Still want to win a coconut?” asked Maura, her voice spiked with sarcasm as she eyed the hairy coconuts perched on stands in the tent, green mould crawling up the sides like poison ivy.
Feeling a bucket of ice cold water spill down my shoulder, I shuddered violently. “What was it again? The Nutcracker of Terror?”
My sister chuckled triumphantly, clutching at my hand and dragging me back to the centre of the fairground. “No, no. It’s either The Nutcracker or The Tempest of Terror. I think we should go on The Nutcracker first, apparently it feels like you’re going to get smashed into a million pieces, how cool is that?”
I gulped back the burning sickness at the back of my throat and gave a wobbly smile. It didn’t sound ‘cool’ at all but I knew Maura would never let me forget how I wimped out. I could almost hear her voice saying “You’re such a wuss! Chicken, chicken, chicken!”
“Okay,” I finally muttered, blinking back any tell-tale tears and striding through the jungle-like grass of the apple orchard, keeping my head down so Maura wouldn’t see or hear my strangled sobs.
I hit the glass box before I heard Maura’s screams of warning. “Ow,” I cursed, rubbing at the newly-forming lump on my forehead and stepping back to see what I’d just bolted into.
“Cool,” Maura sighed with glee and I began to question Maura’s definition of cool as I stared up at the towering glass tank. Inside the large bottle was a man of plastic hunched over a glowing crystal ball that sparkled like a thousand mirrors. “Hand me a quid?” Maura requested, stretching her hand out and showing her huge puppy-like eyes.
“I don’t know Maura,” I said, shying away from the fortune telling machine, the words of my late grandmother ringing through my mind. “Remember what Grand-Mary used to say? ‘Never trust a person who reckons they know the future’”
Shrugging, Maura scuffed her feet along the ground, creating a sandstorm of drying mud and dust. “That doesn’t count because, first of all, Grand-Mary was tripping on her medication half the time she was alive so you can’t really believe anything she said and, secondly, this is a machine not a person so it’s totally okay. So, hand me a quid please?”
Surrendering, I delved into my pocket and produced a handful of change which Maura took happily.
“Okay, let’s see what my future is,” she smiled, pouring a fistful of silvers into the machine and watching gleefully as the machine rumbled and roared before spitting out a papery ticket smudged with fresh ink. Maura rolled her eyes across the paper, her face crumpling up with displeasure like a sheet of paper. “What the hell is this?” she muttered, handing me the ticket stub. On it read in block capitals: HELP ME, PLEASE GET ME OUT OF THIS PRISON!
I dropped the ticket, shocked and confused. There must be a reasonable explanation for all this. “Maybe it’s just a printing error or something like that? Try it again?” I suggested, dropping another tower of coins into her palm.
Maura fed the machine and stood back. We both watched as the plastic man waved his plastic hands over the crystal ball, staring through us with his plastic eyes as the machine bellowed and snarled like a caged up tiger yearning for its true home.
Another ticket fell from the lips of the slot and I lunged to grab it, quickly reading the tiny printed litters on the paper: THIS IS NO JOKE, HELP ME!
Gasping, I searched through my mind for some sort of justification for this but I couldn’t find any. “I’m going to go get somebody,” Maura whispered, her voice croaky and creaking like the floorboards of an old house.
I nodded, refusing to take my eyes off the man in the machine. My head was reeling with ideas as to what was happening but none of it added together, it felt like a puzzle with pieces that didn’t fit.
Searching through my pockets, I scraped together another pound and rolled it into the machine, waiting anxiously for the next ticket.
Finally, after what felt like forever, a ticket flew out of the slot and I ripped it from the teeth of the machine quickly. THANK YOU FOR YOUR SACRIFICE, it read as a cloud of curling black smoke coiled and wound itself around me like a Boa Constrictor, strangling the life out of me.
Dazed by the tornado of thick, choking smoke, I frantically ran about, searching for the clear air of the apple orchard but every which way I turned I met a wall blocking me in. I slammed against the walls begging for my release but nothing happened.
After a while the fog of smoke thinned and I could finally see but it was something I wish I hadn’t seen. Something I wish I could forget.
“Where are you? This isn’t funny anymore, stop messing around!” Maura yelled, circling around me angrily. “I’m not joking around, where the hell are you?”
“I’m here Maura? I’m here!” I shouted, my throat as dry and rusty as an ancient garden gate hanging on its last hinges. “What are you talking about, I’m here?” I tried to walk towards her but as soon as I tried to move it felt like I was sinking in a lake of cement.
That’s when I saw him. The plastic man. Only, he wasn’t plastic anymore. His skin was soft and human, the colour of warm toffee. “Excuse me child, might I ask what the matter is?” his voice sounded wretched and old as though his throat was filled with sand. He hobbled towards her, wearing the same cloak of purple that was around his shoulders before, embroidered in threads of blue and yellow.
“You! It’s you!” Maura screamed, pointing at him in fear. “What have you done with my sister?” she cried.
He grinned, his teeth cracked and broken, the colour of old pennies. “She made a sacrifice, the same I did almost a hundred years ago,” he laughed like a mad man, limping over towards me looking as though he hadn’t walked in years. “You’re sister is here,” the man smiled, pointing at me.
“Yes, I am. Look Maura I’m here!” I smiled before being interrupted by Maura’s screams.
Tears swelled over her eyes, bursting the banks like a river and streaming down her face. “You’re sick!” she yelled. “My sister isn’t in that machine, she can’t be! You’re a sick, sick old man!” Maura finally yelped before running off to the twinkling of the fairground and leaving me with the old man, shrouded in the darkness from the trees above.
“Sorry about abducting you like that,” he snarled, not one ounce of remorse in his voice. “But don’t worry, you won’t be in there for too long. A couple centuries if you’re lucky!” he chuckled venomously, leaving me in the glass tank to fester and rot as if I wasn’t a real person. Well, I wasn’t. I was made out of plastic.