Author: Lewis Spiel
Writing: short story
Word Count: 970
This was not, Olivia admitted to herself, her best idea. She didn't like the carnival; in fact, she hated it. It was too loud and she really preferred quiet places where she could curl up and sleep, especially when it was the weekend. But it was her cousin's birthday, and she had agreed to accompany Gretchen on her date with her first-time boyfriend. Why they even needed a chaperon was anyone's guess. Why they thought that taking sick people to noisy, crowded places was another.
She was still recovering from the effects of a cold that had her stuck in bed for weeks. Olivia mopped at her cold and dripping nose with a tissue and watched the pair sidle toward her, swinging their joined hands.
"Olivia!" Gretchen let go of her boyfriend's hand and embraced her. "I’m so glad you're here."
"I am, too." Olivia reached up with her free hand and patted her on the shoulder awkwardly. She hadn't seen this girl since kindergarten, and even then they hadn't been that close. What else was she supposed to say?
After a long pause, Gretchen withdrew, smiling sheepishly. "This is Verity. Verity Teach. He's a year above me at the school I go to." Flushing slightly, she added, "He's also my boyfriend."
As if that wasn't obvious, Olivia thought, eying the kid. He didn't look like much. They shook hands.
Over the next hour they flitted amongst the food stalls and picked at the samples being offered there. As night fell, the lights strewn about cast such a dim glow that it was too dark to see what was on the floor. This resulted in many a concussion as well as a subsequent guilty party’s surreptitious escape after apologizing. But most of the group had the tact and presentiment to stay well out of the walkway and thus managed to stay unharmed. It was after dodging a collision with a tipsy balloon man that Olivia looked back and noticed that Verity was trailing behind them.
“Shouldn’t we wait for him?” she said.
The other girl continued walking ahead of them. “It’s all right. He’s just feeling a bit- -. Is there anywhere you’d like to go?”
Olivia felt a twinge of annoyance go through her at the reply. Gretchen hadn’t even bothered to answer her question.
“Is he sick? Maybe we should take him back home?”
Gretchen’s voice became strangely muffled and distorted with a sound like the snap and pop of radio static. “No, no, no. He’s just- -. Look, he’s caught up. Hey, Verity. Let’s go on to the circus tent, all right?”
Seeing that there was nothing else to be done, Olivia followed. Gretchen’s and Verity’s antics bothered her, but she wanted to wait until her suspicions were a little more than dubious.
At long last they stopped at the long line leading into the circus tent. Gretchen made several more attempts to talk to Olivia, but as each fell flat she finally excused herself, saying she had to go use the restroom. Olivia didn’t feel like talking and didn’t have anything to say, and though she felt bad for her she didn’t know how she could help. The buzzing in her ears continued even as she left, a feeling of discontent like brambles pricking the edges of her consciousness. She turned her attention to the circus tent. It was the main event everyone came to see at the carnival, Verity said, and the one they’d originally come for. Something about a very talented magician equal to the likes of Houdini.
Olivia looked up in surprise.
“That’s the clearest voice I’ve heard all day,” she told him. “There’s no static at all.”
Verity glanced at her quizzically. “What?”
There was a lull in the conversation as the line of people filed into the circus tent to take seats. Verity and Olivia sat in the highest tier where it was less crowded and saved one for Gretchen.
“She wanted to make friends with you, you know,” said Verity, earnestly appealing to her.
“I didn’t.” Olivia, taken aback by his sudden change in tone, was disbelieving. “We haven’t met for years. Why? And wasn’t this your date?”
“She’s scared of dealing with people. I was trying to help. It was my fault, I’m sorry-“
“Calm down. Nothing’s gone wrong yet. You’re fine.”
Verity broke into a hesitant smile. “Thanks, Olivia. We won’t screw it up next time.”
“How’s the show?” Olivia eagerly seated herself beside the two of them with a large tub of popcorn in hand. “It looks like the magician’s got some pretty cool performances up today.”
“I told her,” said Verity, looking like he wanted some of the popcorn.
“It’s okay, Gretchen,” Olivia said encouragingly.
“Well, I just wish he wouldn’t spill-“Olivia lost the last word of his sentence in the buzzing.
“She said,” repeated Verity, who was beginning to look uncomfortable.
“Wait, what?” Olivia said, straining to hear over the radio crackling in her ears.
The angry mutterings of the people around them had escalated to a roar. Through the silhouettes of their standing figures she could see that the magician’s set up had collapsed, revealing his trick. Audience members booed and threw pieces of refuse at him; children climbed over the stands and attempted to replicate the performance. The man himself was sullenly pulling himself to his feet with his top hat pulled low over his head, picking up his spilled tools of trade with a grim face.
The rest was lost in static.
Long after the magician had left and the rest of the audience had cleared out, Olivia crouched over her seat on the bench with her hands clasped over her ears. They were still ringing.
“All right there, Olivia?” Gretchen shook her gently by the shoulder. “Let’s go home.”
Artist's note: This was not written in the theme for February. This was partly written for a class assignment. As you can see it's a bit disorganized and confusing and vague. I'll probably have this edited later. If this 3-day weekend goes well I might come up with another post soon.
It's supposed to take place several years before Dog Eat World (the nanowrimo thing I was obsessing over last November). After this Olivia goes deaf and Verity becomes a very prolific liar, but not as direct results of the event.