Night Fair
by Katy Naylor, 31st October 2022

Sometimes I see it in the spaces between tall buildings, or when the end of the street gives way to the sea. The future. Big and silver, stretched out thin and shimmering. A shining city. It could fill the whole world, the whole sky. But I can only glimpse it through the cracks, all too briefly. Before I can blink it recedes again, and it’s as if the dream never existed.

The darkness comes early now to Bear Creek, as the leaves start to turn and the cold begins to sharpen. The sour salt smell that hangs in the air on days when the weather is turning colder and the dying year is showing its true face.

The walk from Main Street to the showgrounds isn’t long, but they may as well be in another town entirely. We don’t go here much. The things that linger in the shadows, the ones with long arms and too many teeth, they aren’t something anyone wants to confront on a full stomach. So we leave them be, keep our distance.

But on Halloween it’s different. It’s our one day of reprieve. The shadow that hangs over us lifts for the night. I guess even terrible things need a little time to relax.

On this night, the mood is light, giddy even. And the showgrounds blaze with lights and noise as the funfair comes to town.

When I walk along Main Street by day I keep my head down. My hands in my pockets and my thoughts to myself. Though Joe Carter always has a friendly word, standing on the corner with his cart of anthropomorphic fruit and veg, I never give more than a mumbled greeting in return. I like to think he’d understand.

Tonight, however, with the lights bright and a couple of coins in my pocket, I let myself raise my head and look around. A rowdy gang of werewolves is gathered around the test your strength machine, howling in delight whenever the bell rings. The banshees have colonised the big dipper: their screams when they want to go faster send the small crowd waiting their turn running, hands clamped over their ears. A silent, almost transparent couple leave the ghost train hand in hand, their faces contorted with laughter only they can hear.

Wild Abe’s Lucky Dip Hotdog Stand is doing a roaring trade, as ever. A long line of patrons wait to put their hand in the box. None of them know whether they’ll get a plump premium dog, a purple tinged Stomach Churner or something that will make them flip dimensions. Whatever happens, it’ll make a good story to tell tomorrow, when the shadows draw back in and the front doors once again slam shut.

I’m not in the mood to try my luck or my stomach tonight, and so I turn to the cotton candy instead. A tall, thin woman with long dark hair, and a long black coat is working the machine. She pours in dark pink sugar and swirling the long white stick, round and round, until it emerges fluffy and ready to eat.

As I hand over my dollar I look again. The sticky mass crowning my stick isn’t the usual pink. It’s a deep crimson, and gleams faintly under the lights. Under the sweetness is an iron tang, suprising but not unpleasant. I can feel the eyes of the tall thin woman on me as I walk away. I turn to see her flash a wide and perfect, sharp toothed smile.

I take my time over my candy, and walk slowly through the crowds, taking in the rush and dazzle. I’m still hungry, maybe even hungrier than I thought I’d been before, but I don’t have the money to buy anything else right now, and anyway, hunger is something I’ve grown used to ignoring.

A chorus of delighted shrieks rises from other end of the grounds. The bouncy castle is dominated by a great dog’s head with a long snout, large cartoon eyes and trademark floppy ears. Parents watch and smile as, at intervals, groups of kids are taken between its inflatable jaws and swallowed whole. Tonight, at least, they know that their children will come out the other side, laughing, and with as many body parts as they went in with. I feel another pang. There’s something of the iron tang of the candyfloss in the air.

I want to go on a ride, but I know I need to choose wisely. I only have a few dollars left to spend, after all. As frugal as I am day to day, the bills are getting higher and work harder to find. The town’s exorcist trade used to keep me afloat. Someone always wanted a stake sharpening or some holy water sourcing. My home grown garlic was the best in the county. Now things are different. The rise of online rituals didn’t help. But I think more than anything, people began to give up on the idea that there was anything they could do to hold it back. The Bear Creek Scouts and Spirit Guides keep the worst of the trouble at bay, and as for the rest: well I guess we got tired of fighting. The shimmering silver future was too hard to keep in our sights. Easier to draw back, to know the places to step away from, to keep the doors locked at night.

As for me, when the work dried up I did what I could. An errand here, an incantation there. Or if all else failed (as it has lately), a long walk down Main Street, to seek a little kindness from strangers.

I walk for a long time, my stomach churning. It’s almost painful, but I’m determined to ignore it. The iron smell is growing stronger. Perhaps one of the rides is overheating. That might explain the faint pulsing I can hear beneath the clatter and the shrieks.

I shake my head, and look around. I’m where I want to be, where I want to spend those last few dollars in my pocket: the Ferris wheel. Tonight, I want to see the view from up high. Away from the iron smell, and the pulse and the ever more insistent growl in my guts.

I settle in my seat, legs dangling into the black, and wait to be swept up in the whirring rise as the wheel turns. I rise, and catch my breath, and the sour, sharp of the night air fills my lungs. I rise, and the fair, the blurred whirl of the Wurlitzer, and the flash of the bumper cars, are spread out before me. I rise, and the attractions and the crowds and the noise get smaller and more distant, blending into a contented buzz of sound and light.

I rise, and for a moment the wheel stops, just as I reach the top. My seat sways gently, and I feel my feet kick against pure nothing. And, slowly at first, but then faster and faster, until it is on me in a rush of glory, I see it. The answer is there, spread out below me.

I close my eyes and breathe it in. The warm popcorn and cotton candy and fried onions rising up from below. And the iron smell, stronger than ever, more delicious than all of it. The muffled beat that is music and laughter and the thrilled shriek that isn’t really fear, that holds the promise that there is really nothing to fear after all. And the pulse, the slow and steady pulse through the veins of all the people, so many of them gathered together down below. So many hearts beating faster. So much blood.

I know that any minute, the wheel will turn, and I’ll begin the long journey back down. Below I can see the cotton candy seller. She’s waiting for me, flashing her sharp toothed smile. Her long black hair flies back in the wind and her eyes glow faintly red. For the first time in a while, I know where my next meal is coming from. But for now I am happy to watch, and happy to wait. For the moment when I descend upon them, and take the shimmering city, its silver streaked with red, that is now mine.