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31 December 2014 @ 11:45 pm
[ one ♛ the art of passing notes ]  
/carnival lights ; twinkless & everyone else
a new year's encore three years in the making
o treacherous, wonderful, deceitful mind!

the art of passing notes

the art of passing notes

“Do you hear something?”

“Yeah, I hear the sound of Japan finally taking the deal, and closing this damned merger! I mean, how do they even have a company left when they feed money to their lawyers for months constantly redrafting a single section of the contract? It’s not a section we’re even fighting them over.”

“No, Ann, really. Doesn’t it sound like—”

“Sorry, Lauren, this is me. See you tomorrow. Japan is coming through because of you – good work today…!”

Lauren watched the meticulous threads in the flood of human traffic as Ann disappeared down the cement steps to Wall Street Station; not seconds after her head had bobbed out of sight did a wash of new faces, new heads, drown the station again.

There was definitely a sound, though, like an itching beyond her ears, pulsing at the atmosphere of her brain. She turned from the train station entrance to the square on the opposite side of the street, and squinted.


Not normal streetlights, or holiday lights, not the headlights of a misdriven taxi, not the lights of a window.

Lights blinking, but unclearly; she couldn’t see them properly, so she couldn’t be sure (or didn’t want to be).

Could an itch be a sound? She started as she realised she’d voiced this query out loud. The itch was starting to waft over the synapses of her brain, feeling like the drone and drawl of horns and calliopes – but then, it had to be.

She walked past this square every day after work, at four twenty sharp, and it had always been filled with people and pigeons this time of year. Today it was filled with tiny buds of flashing light and the smell of caramel on apples.

It came with a hazy sort of sensation. Like a warmth in the pit of her stomach, like floating, like getting out of a cold shower. It winded her.

She felt like she had found something she'd never begun to look for, that maybe she never would have found if she had looked for it. The thought came and went, and when it was completely lost, she headed for the bustle.

She was alone, and staring up at simultaneously the most frightening and most comforting carousel she had ever laid eyes on. She approached it, and it occurred to her that it might be impossibly detailed, the golden whorls painted on its roof seemingly infinite, the hair on the horses each with individual definition. Leaning over the short white picket fence which encircled the machine (that seemed to canter and breathe on its own), she was close enough to run a finger over the aged limewood.

“Hello, my friend.”

Lauren managed not to jump (although she never should have been surprised by another person, surely?). It was a carnival, a full one at that (but it seemed to her, for a fleeting second, that it was entirely noiseless when she wasn’t paying attention).

There was a young man smiling politely at her, with one hand in the pocket of his worn tweed vest and the other on his newsboy cap. She gave him a once-over and thought carnie, and from the twentieth century, by the looks of it. She stepped away.

“Sorry, I’m just passing by,” she said, her warm breath wispy and white and obtrusive in the still air. She walked backward into the center of the sidewalk, where she was promptly shoved by at least two pedestrians.

The man laughed, leaning back against the stand of the carousel. “Tell me – and I want an honest answer – have you ever seen a place that looked this charming?”

She was taken aback. “I… no.” She paused. “And I haven’t been that honest in months.”

His face broke into a wide, dimpled grin. “So, then,” he said, “what’s the hurry?”

“I have to get home,” and she felt awkward saying it.

The man nodded patiently, looking over his shoulder, across the street at the entrance to Wall Street Station. “A very typical dilemma. Do something fun or catch the earliest train – of course, of course. But,” he said, his eyes bright, bowing as if to leave, “maybe you should give our new carousel a quick try?”

He waved Lauren off as she started to protest. The carnie offered her a small ticket off of the roll he stowed in his vest pocket, and she wasn’t sure when she had taken it but was aware, absurdly, suddenly, that it was in her hand. She looked at him.

“First ride is on us.”

Lauren forced a dry laugh. “That’s a terrible business model.”

“Our visitors don’t seem to have a problem with it.” He wiggled his eyebrows and beamed at her, vanishing into the crowded fairground.

After careful deliberation, she closed her hand around the ticket in her palm.

The carousel was like a bird in mid-flight – a sleek stroke of colour, a weightless motion that had never seen obstacle. She had picked a carriage, and had it all to herself and she never would admit this to the carnie who had so presumptuously ushered her the ticket, but she stayed in her carriage for a turn, then two, then four. This was against the rules of carnival etiquette or something, she was sure, but it never seemed to matter – the carousel was the most beautiful piece of craftsmanship she had ever seen and that grandeur seemed to inspire grandness, seemed enough to accommodate for any new riders. There was never a lack of wooden horses or their painted chariots, so she stayed.

She drew her feet up to the aged leather of the carriage seat, her knees to her chin, and she hummed contently, quieter than the brass and cymbals of the music billowing out from the carousel speakers, but loud enough that she felt her notes buzz warmly through her ribcage. She watched the spinning sky for a turn. Then two. Then four.


No one ever has perfect balance after a funfair ride, she tried to reassure herself. It never used to bother her, this non-threatening disorientation, but she noticed it especially as her shaking legs carried her off the gold-encrusted steps of the infinite carousel, onto the pavement which felt liquid and unstable. It took her a few breaths to re-calibrate as she stared hard at the ground.

“Come on, there’s so much more!”

Her head snapped up. The young man, the ticket-usherer, was rolling a coin over his knuckles; he took it in one hand where it disappeared, and snatched it back out of thin air.

“Oh. It’s you.”

The corner of his mouth quirked up. “It’s me.”

“Listen, how long are you – or this,” she made a clumsy gesture indicating the fair-filled square, “in Manhattan?”

He cocked his head (in completely the wrong direction, Lauren noted), surveying the crowd deeper into the carnival with interest – and certainly ignoring her question.

“Come on,” he said again, facing Lauren finally and pressing a hand to her elbow, “we’re not getting any younger!”

She found herself falling in step with the man as he weaved past the carnival-goers who parted enough for him to get through comfortably. They passed rows of game booths strung with enormous stuffed animal prizes, of stalls selling cotton candy in improbably big puffs, of small tents advertising palm readings.

“Doesn’t he work with you?” the carnie yelled over the din.

Lauren sped up until she was beside him. “Who?”

The carnie nodded his head to the left; Lauren craned her neck and spotted a man in a silk suit, Ted from Accounting, maybe, or Rick. He looked out of place as he admired the ring toss booth, his face lit and lined.

“Don’t think he has a family, that one,” murmured the carnie, so low that Lauren barely heard. “Let his best chance at love get away ten years ago.”

“Excuse me?” said Lauren.

“Oh, over there! Her!” He pointed in a different direction. “Look at her!”

“What? Why?”

“Black pencil skirt, green blouse – you see her?”

Lauren nodded impatiently.

“She’s brilliant. Young, like you. She’s walking by. Just going to pass us. She’s not going to have a family. Very soon not going to have many friends.”

Lauren instinctively stepped away from him. “What are you talking about?”

The carnie pointed again, and Lauren rolled her eyes, looking back to the young woman. Her phone seemed to ring, and she picked it up, stopping along the sidewalk.

“That’s her ‘best friend’ calling. She’s missed dinner plans, it seems, and not even going to apologize. One time too many, and best friend decides she’s not a friend worth keeping. Ouch.”

The carnie hummed quietly, and pointed at someone else. As he commented on the despairing state of their life, Lauren fixed her gaze on the woman. After a brief but apparently heated conversation, she started and held the phone up to her face in shock.

Hung up, thought Lauren.

“… and it’s just terrible.” The carnie turned back to Lauren. “Are you listening to me?”

“No,” she said, sighing, “but I’ll wager you were describing someone with no friends and an awful life and a dead dog. Probably has smallpox.”

The carnie blinked. “Smart-mouth. I’m regretting this.”

“You and me both,” Lauren replied.

He bit the inside of his cheek, considering her. Lauren stared up at him defiantly, ignoring the excited buzz of the crowd, the flashing of the old, coloured bulbs lining every booth, and the occasional waft of candied apples or onion rings.

The carnie combed one hand through his ashy brown hair, clutching his hat in the other. There was a trace of vanilla in the air.

“Alright, new plan,” he said suddenly. He placed his cap back on, and took her carefully by the shoulders, eyes searching her face. Lauren shrank away. “You’ve worked hard for a long time, and you’ve done pretty well, but your losses are just as extreme as your victories.”

“What are you—” said Lauren, the onset of a headache coming on.

a flutter of diplomas and acceptance letters, magna cum laude and a sea of indifferent faces, promotions and fast, eating alone at the same empty table for two decades, the numb echo of footsteps in a glamorous, empty apartment

The carnie continued, louder. “You’re a habitual winner, but you’re not perfect – when was the last time that they called? That you went out?”

two calendars worth of holidays, too busy for the parties she’s not invited to; the blank unfamiliarity on the face of even the concierge of her apartment

“When was the last time you slept?” His grip on her shoulders tightened.

She started to tremble.

tremors in her arms that always accompanied the empty pill bottles cracked open like clockwork around a deadline, a test day; the desperate hyperventilation, the crash of a rogue pulse in her chest and in her ears

Lauren grasped at the carnie’s arms, her clammy palms and fingers slipping easily off his linen sleeves. She managed to gulp in some air.

“But now you’re here,” said the carnie in a softer voice. The headache subsided. “And that’s a start.” The young man nodded, pleased.

“Are you okay?” he asked, after she had stood a while, breathing furiously through her nose.

“Yeah, yes, I…” Lauren said with forced calm. She hastily took her hands off of the carnie’s forearms.

He, in turn, stepped away from her. “Usually, people don’t handle it so well.”

Lauren cursed and reached out to grab him. “Handle what?”

The man was ducking away. “Sorry, gotta go!” he called to her. “There’s a boy over there who needs attending to, bye!”

She sprang after him, limbs functioning on automatic. “Over where? What did you do to me?” she yelled.

To her left, a light flared too brightly for a split second; her eyes flickered away, and when she set her gaze on the fair again, she couldn’t see his newsboy cap. Her stomach dropped.


Lauren turned to see a young girl behind her, at a thoroughly lit wooden stand. She seemed possibly too young to be operating the cotton candy machine, but she was winding the candy silk threads around a cone with a practiced hand.

“Miss,” said the girl, “you’re blocking my stand.”

“Sorry,” Lauren said distractedly, stepping to the side. The girl beamed at her. The flashing lights of her booth cast her face in cycles of red, then green, then blue.

“Would you like one?” the girl asked, waving a half-complete candy spool in the air.

“No, thanks, I–”

The girl pulled the unfinished cone from the machine. “Here, a small one. On us.”

Lauren paused. “Thank you, but I’ll pay for it.”

“You’re in the right place,” the little girl said as Lauren gave her a handful of bills.

Lauren bit back her doubt. “Thanks.”

“Have fun today, miss!”


She walked through the fair tentatively, expecting to see any ghost of a newsboy cap, and catching none. It was a longer walk from one end to the other than she had expected, longer than any city square she had ever crossed in New York. Lauren cast a glance over the rolling sea of tent tops that formed a second horizon, not as austere but more unified than the jagged urban skyline hundreds of feet above it. The pale sky stood formless behind them, like the construction paper background of a craft diorama.

“Looking for someone?” asked the girl at the balloon dart stall. Lauren had been leaning against her booth in what she thought was a casual manner, squinting into the crowd.

“Looking to avoid someone,” Lauren said.

“Ah, I know the feeling, sis,” the girl said. Lauren guessed that they were about the same age, although she looked noticeably less weary (or perhaps it was the yellow light of her stall). “You want to play a round?” She held up a dart.

“Thanks, but it would be embarrassing for both of us,” said Lauren.

The girl was already pulling out more darts from under the counter. “Come on, there’s nothing like throwing sharp projectiles at helpless targets to de-stress!” She slid them toward Lauren. “Have the game on us.”

“Money isn’t the issue,” said Lauren, pulling out her wallet and placing five dollars on the counter, picking up her five darts. “Does that cover it?”

The girl was grinning. “It does.”

A man walked in from the back of the booth, almost a double of the girl, but wearing cropped hair and a huge smirk.

“A visitor!” the man said, when he saw Lauren. “I’m Cal.” He held his hand out to her.

“Lauren.” She shook it.

“I’m Cas,” added the girl, “and you’re going to have fun, I promise.”

“Are you two related?” said Lauren, closing one eye and lining up her dart with a particularly large red balloon tacked to the backboard.

“Funny,” said Cal. “Never heard that one before.”

“You need to pop five balloons to win a prize,” said Cas. She flicked Cal on the head. “Where have you been?”

“You don’t need two people to run the dart game,” he said, as Lauren hit the first balloon. “And Big Red goes down! Good job, champ.”

Lauren looked for another easy target. “Haven’t won yet.”

“Please,” said Cas pushing her brother in the face, “tell me you haven’t been in the fortune telling booth again.”

“I haven’t!” he said, producing a plate of chilli fries from inside his coat. “I totally have,” he whispered to Lauren.

Cas shot a commiserating look at Lauren. “Cal, if you accidentally set something else on fire, do not expect me to vouch for you.”

“I didn’t set anything on fire the first time!” he protested, chewing on a fry nonchalantly. “I totally did,” he said to Lauren with a wink. “Fry?”

“No, thanks,” she said, smiling slightly despite herself. She aimed a dart and eyed the two siblings briefly. “Why do all the carnival stalls always look so occupied, but there’s never a line when I get there?” Lauren hoped she had achieved the tone of nonchalance, of small talk, of I-speak-to-friends-casually-on-a-regular-basis, but the knowing half-grin on the twins’ faces seemed to indicate otherwise.

“Well,” said Cal lightly, “things have a way of working out, new stalls pop up, you know how it is.”

“You a professional?” said Cas, examining the backboard, amused. Lauren turned to her. “You implied that you were bad at this.”

“Four for four! That’s some luck you’re having today.”

“I assure you, I’m usually bad at this game.” Lauren aimed for a small green balloon at the centre of the board. She raised an eyebrow at the twins when her dart hit its target. “Did you rig this?”

Cas laughed. “Did we rig this? Did we rig it so you would win?”

“Not the most ridiculous thing that’s happened at this carnival today,” said Lauren.

“I’ll bet,” said Cal, sharing a look with his sister. “You won fair and square, though, you have my word.”

Lauren stifled a laugh, and nodded along.

Cas beamed. “I told you it’d be fun. Pick a prize!” She pointed up at the stuffed animals arranged above the board of perforated balloons.


The sun was falling fast.

Lauren learned very quickly that everyone who worked at the carnival went to the same school of carnie zealousness, as she was reluctantly pulled into two more booths. She won at neither of them, although at the ring toss, she expressed her concern that she had been doing too well, and the game-runner nodded, after which she began to lose.

She paced through the fairground holding onto a small plush victory rabbit, diligently avoiding the overly perfumed tents (“Super shady,” Cal had said), the sky a churning grey overcast. She thought she could almost get used to the fair’s half-tuned accordion harmonies, the ubiquity of funnel cakes and powdered sugar, of the uniquely polite fairgoers who seemed so blissed out that they forgot they were brusque New Yorkers, of the pleasant buzz of patron chatter. She could get used to noise, again.

The carnie raced up behind her as she exited the shooting gallery.

Lauren pressed her mouth into a firm line, and swallowed her surprise.

“Seriously, do I know you from somewhere?” she asked.

The carnie didn’t even look away. “I’ve never met you before today, but I know a lot about you.”

Lauren grimaced. “You don’t know anything about me.”

“Yeah,” he said earnestly, “I do! ‘You’ve worked hard for a long time, and you’ve done pretty well’ – doesn’t that ring a bell?”

“You can say that about anyone who works on Wall Street.”

The man smiled. “You know I know you. You have your suspicions.” He paused. “You don’t think we’re normal.”

She breathed in sharply, and furrowed her brow in distrust.

“So what are you?” she said, careful to keep her voice even.

He laughed. “We’re a carnival,” he replied easily. “We’re a fair; we—”

“You know what I mean.”

The carnie gave her a look she couldn’t read.

Lauren scoffed, and made her words slow and clear. “Who are you? What are you?”

“We’ve been called a number of things,” he said, after a few seconds of consideration. “People have different reactions to us. We’re magic.” He wiggled his fingers playfully at her. “We’re epiphanies and godsends, and nightmares and fever dreams. We’re mass hallucinations, mass hysteria – shared madness. But Lauren, there’s no doubt that we’re being seen by you and everyone else in this square.”

Brilliant, she thought. “So, I’m crazy.”

He shrugged. “If that is what you choose to call this. That’s what we really are; a choice. A series of choices. You made your first decision when you approached us, and entered. You’ve made choices since then, countless choices, to stay. To talk to me.”

“Don’t pretend this is my fault,” she said, flinching away. “You did this. This is all your trick.”

He leaned back, and for the first time, looked frustrated. “Are you always this stubborn?”

“I don’t know, I thought you were the expert on my life.” Lauren rolled her eyes.

The carnie folded his arms and breathed out a stream of warm air from his nose. “Alright, first of all, you need to learn to accept help.”

Lauren nodded sarcastically. “Helping – is that what you’re doing, then?”

He threw his head back and sighed. “There are a hundred more, probably a thousand more people just like you on this island, in this city, in this big, busy country. There are people like you all over the world, people who need—” he waved his hand around vaguely at the haze of hot dog smoke and string lights. “But I’m still talking at you, because you’re smart. Most will laugh their way through us, and be the exact same people tomorrow. But I think you’ll get it.”

Lauren buried her nose slowly in her coat collar and turned away.

His face settled into an infuriatingly caring kind of expression. “Why did you come here?”

“Because your creepy mind tricks made me come here.”

The carnie hummed softly. “You know that’s not true.”

After a concerted effort to swallow, and not meeting his eye, she mumbled in attempted stiffness. “Your carnival had interesting lights.”

“Alright, good,” he said, and placed his hands into his pockets, pulled his hat brim lower.

Recovering some of her pride, Lauren smoothed out her jacket and cleared her throat. “I answered you. It’s past time for me to leave.”

She heard him to her side: “You haven’t answered the real question, though.”

Lauren whipped around, but there was no trace of a person standing beside her. There wasn’t even an empty space; fairgoers glided past her from every direction (for a moment, she was confused about who she was even looking for).

“Stop doing that!” she called out to nobody.

Lauren nearly stomped her foot to the ground, as a first-grader having a temper tantrum, but her self-control caught up to her impulse almost immediately. She only managed a sort of graceless trudge of her foot. Something crinkled on the ground under her shoe.

The note was a scrap of tattered paper; on it, a slanted inky scrawl.

Birds’ eye is stunning.

Who does he think he is, being cryptic and leaving notes around for people to pick up and expecting them to follow like some twisted scavenger hunt, was her first thought. She evaluated the note involuntarily and lifted her head to the skyline. She understood almost immediately when she saw the striking silver Ferris wheel (which she most definitely did not remember seeing when she first noticed this carnival, only a flurry of lights on the square across the street, a million years ago).

She walked quickly to the giant wheel, and tried to look inconspicuous as she peered around the heads of other people to find her carnie. Or the carnie, rather.

She wondered if she hadn’t been made the victim of supernatural Stockholm Syndrome.

She couldn’t otherwise justify her actions over the next fifteen minutes, doing stupid things like standing on top of crates to visually sift through the jostling crowds or asking the operator of the Ferris wheel where the carnie was. The operator was definitely as unreliable as the man in the newsboy cap, and she promptly stopped asking for him when she realised she couldn’t give a name to search for.

It was a few minutes later, when the chill was starting to drift through the space between her scarf and her collar, after she had misplaced the plush rabbit in her haste, after several carnival workers recommended that she try out their ‘superb Ferris wheel’, that she checked the note again, annoyed, just in case.

Birds’ eye is stunning.

She grumbled and inspected the paper more closely, rustled it with frustration, even flipped it over—

What are you waiting for?

She flared her nostrils at the backside of the note, not amused, as she joined the boisterous queue for the Ferris wheel.

At the front of the line, the operator didn’t ask for a ticket and she was assigned a car, alone.

The wind pushed timidly at her eyelashes as she so calculatedly didn’t enjoy her ascent.

It was halfway up the wheel (with the buildings of the skyline half-painted in orange by the low winter sun, their mirrored surfaces spraying the carnival below with a soft sheen) that she turned accidentally to see the carnie seated beside her. A waft of vanilla.

She tried to speak but choked on the breeze.

“You found my note.”

“Do you make a habit of inviting people out via melodramatic scavenger hunt clues?” she said, regaining her speech.

“How you wound me,” the carnie replied, as he threw his head back and clutched his chest. The whole ordeal rocked their Ferris wheel car; he laughed.

Lauren gave him a flat stare. “At least one of us is having fun.”

“You’re not having fun, Lauren?”

She turned away. “I never told you my name.”

“Details.” He hummed noncommittally. “I’m just good at reading people.”

“What the hell does that mean?”

“It means I know about all the grades you’ve ever gotten, and what books you’ve read, your favourite songs, and what happened at your eighth birthday party.” To his credit, he sounded apologetic. “Your name is the least of it.”

There was a pause.

“What do you want from me?” Lauren blinked wearily.

He shushed her. “Look around.”

They had slowly reached the apex of the wheel’s cycle, looming impossibly high over the fairground below, with only the glass panes of corporate towers like a fort around them. The windows’ reflections caught the dying glow of the sun, already fallen below the horizon. She almost forgot about the carnival, its smells and sounds lost to the altitude and brisk air, to the walls of the carriage. New York had never looked like this, she thought.

“It’s the reverse, actually,” he said.

Lauren turned to him and stared. “What?”

He quirked his mouth. “What do I want from you? Nothing, but I know what you want from us.” He made a very deliberate flick of his head that indicated the fair below.

“I want a carnival?” she said, flatly.

The carnie smirked again. “Stubborn and literal. How did you get through high school English?”

“Brute force. And I don’t want anything.”

The carnie reclined on the carriage seat, and looked out at the sharp skyline. “You say you’ve gotten what you wanted, but maybe you didn’t want the right things.”

Lauren shook her head. “You’ve never won any awards for subtlety, have you?”

“Do they give out awards for that?”

“Unsubtle and literal.”

He grinned. “I’m young. Give me a break.”

She scoffed.

The carnie leaned forward with her, resting his chin in a hand and an elbow on his knee.

“Breathe deep,” he said.

Lauren found herself accepting his instruction, and thought vaguely that maybe she could pretend she had inhaled of her own accord. The idea hadn’t ironed itself out when the carnie started to talk again.

He wore his soft, default, residual smile but Lauren looked instead at his eyes, which were crinkled in the wrong places, tired. “Are you happy?” he asked.

“Yeah.” She felt as if someone was stomping repeatedly on her chest.

Lauren saw the man cast his glance downward (to the fairground or to his shoes at the bottom of their compartment, she couldn’t tell). He gave a humourless laugh, and sat silently for several long moments.

“No, you’re not,” he said.

Lauren didn’t appreciate having someone else, much less an apparition, telling her that she wasn’t happy. Once she had thought of a snappy retort, she looked over to see that he was gone. Her hair was out, she noticed, free from the tight bun she made of it every morning for work, and she felt the strands drifting out in the wind. She made to re-pin it back, but stopped, hands shaking.

She watched the sky bloom into an inky blue, the dancing glimmer of lights in the fair below crystallizing into phosphorescent beads, at once imitating the stars and daring them to outmatch their fervour, the stars of the carnival seabed. Their wash of colour brushed her cheeks warmly as she sat, in revolutions, in revolutions.

[click to listen]


She woke up.

One hundred – more than a hundred other people were also dragging themselves back to their feet.

There were pigeons around the gently rushing fountain, and Lauren lifted her head off of the cold bench, lifted herself off the pavement. The gleaming sunlight bounced off the cool stone tiles that lined the ground, stretching to the hushed roads barren of traffic.

The square was static and deaf. The chill stung her face.

Lauren took in her surroundings: an empty plaza, several disoriented citizens sitting up from the frozen December ground, and no sign that the fair had been, was, or ever would be in town. She scrubbed her face and pulled her collar closer.

Lauren looked down to see a scrap of paper at her feet.

She frowned and picked it up, the crinkle of the note ringing through the mute morning.

Chase happiness
it said.

Lauren glanced around her again, to be certain, to be sure. She didn’t see him.

She flipped the note over.

Breathe deep.

Nodding imperceptibly, she made to stow the slip of paper away, when she saw (where the first message should have been):

What are you waiting for?

Once more, she turned it over, but there was nothing on the backside. She turned it again to see the front, to see the last message. It wasn’t there.

She paused a while, and after careful deliberation, she tucked the paper into her jacket pocket. She could see the fog from her breath in the sharp, tangy morning sun; she checked the time. They would be expecting her in the office soon.

“I’m Rob, by the way.”

Lauren started, tripping backward. Her breath hitched.

The words had stumbled out of her mouth before she could shut it. “I was starting to think that I really was crazy. That I made up this whole carnival, and you were only in my head.”

The carnie wrung his hat in his hands, seemingly impervious to the cold as Lauren shuddered behind her coat. He looked up at her through his lashes.

“Sorry. Well, I’m here. I’m sort of real. Well,” he amended, “other people can see me, so that means they can vouch for your sanity.”

“What now?” Lauren asked.

They stood in silence.

“We do what the carnival always does,” he said. “We move on.”

“You’ll just vanish? That would be like you were never here.”

“I’ve got to do my job.”

“Really?” she challenged, skeptical. “What is your job?”

He pressed his lips together to think, but Lauren instinctively felt she shouldn’t let that happen.

“Why do you have to leave?” she blurted out instead.

“Why do you want me to stay?” he countered seriously.

Lauren found she had no adequate answer; her questioning fell apart. She pressed her lips together.

“Are you coming back?” she said.

A smile slowly crept over his face. “Do you want me to?” Rob asked.

“I wouldn’t be opposed,” replied Lauren coolly. “And I was asking about your fair, not you.”

He laughed. “Oh, of course.

“We might return one day,” he said, after a pause. “Maybe you’ll find us again.”

He fidgeted with his hat, staring off to the side. They fell back into silence.

Eventually, Rob held out his hand. “Awkward handshake?”

Lauren considered his face. She frowned, catching the ember of an idea.

“If I never look away, does that mean you can’t go?” she asked.

His eyes crinkled in that strange way again, and it dawned on Lauren that he was sad. “Smart. That’ll get you into trouble.” He sighed.

“But, Lauren, you have to look away. You have a life to change.”

Lauren stared at the carnie again, the sunlight threading through his brown hair, the light wash of vanilla in the still air, and she thought about not looking away. She thought about the carnival and the twins at the dart booth, the candy spools, the hazy smoke. Lauren looked at the carnie, her carnie, at Rob and perhaps the first person she’d had a conversation with for years.

She held his gaze, his expression encouraging and regretful, and she felt at once a sharp, shared uncertainty.

There were no flashing carnival lights to force her hand.

Lauren breathed in (— felt the press and sudden fullness of the air from caramel apples and soft pretzels, the phantom laughter and calliopes, the glint of lights spread like a map below a Ferris wheel carriage —) and looked away.

notes: (click underlined for links)

• I’ve never been to NYC. I’ve also never been to a carnival. What I’m saying is that I’m unqualified to put words into sentences.
• Calliopes sound like this
• Yes, I 100% stole a non-joke from The Social Network re: the twins, don’t touch me. The line was orignally said by Mark, so in a way I've accidentally written Mark/Eduardo AGAIN because the carnie is Andrew Garfield ie. in my process notes, he’s referred to as “Agarf” before he had a name. He was originally pilotted as kind of Never Let Me Go Tommy in aesthetic and Anton from Doctor Parnassus in role and Social Network Eduardo Saverin in nature
Additionally, the twins are straight up lifted from a cadre of OCs I made in the 7th grade; they're all mercenary assassins, and some of that bleeds through
• I did some research on Adderall (the pills being mad popped) overdose side-effects, but honestly I think the way it came out resembles caffeine overdose more because, write what you know, right
• Alluded to: the carnival expands when more people show up. It’s less fucking SCP than it sounds.
• “People have different reactions to us. We’re magic.” He wiggled his fingers playfully at her.
Is Andrew not the greatest thing of life photo Bestgifevernoexceptions.gif  nancy get a grip
• You’ve probably noticed that the song (x) is from Short Term 12! I’m not drawing any parallels, it’s just the kind of song I’d match with that scene if I’d made this a film. I thought a bit about what music might be appropriate for the epilogue section and I didn't come up with anything solid, but (x) was the final contender that I eventually nixed.
• I had a weird 200 word backstory for her written up like I need to chill
• Here are literally four pictures of carousels that I encountered in the 3 years it took to write this: x (lights) //
x // x (nice colours) // x (at night!)

oh man nancy tell me again what the title of this fill is remind me what the title is i don’t think saying it 3 times is enough times

I’d ship it.
Fun fact: I way extended the epilogue part because I’m a fu c king sucker
This is like the second thing I’ve written for you where the ending is just a person breathing. That’s ridiculous and I’m sorry.

Think bokeh, think unifying colour palettes, think indie movie Steadycam close-ups and the unfettered overuse of racking focus. Think acoustic score. (Think Chris Evans’ Before We Go, when it comes out.) Whoever let me take a film course didn’t know what a pompous, term-spewing monster they’d create.

The problem with this fill (and this has been the struggle since I started writing it in 2011) is that I think this would make a better short film than a written story. It relies on a lot of cinematic device, a lot of visual ambience, and I tried, I tried.

Three years! It’s over now, and I can go to therapy.
Honestly, it's ROUGH AS HELL and still unbalanced. I wrote different sections at different times (the beginning 300 words are in almost exact original form, written in grade 11 biology class, sitting beside ur ass actually!! You can tell it’s ancient because it’s pretentious and doesn’t do a lot of dialogue), and the characters even were re-concepted every year. It’s inconsistent af u deserve better

everybody play mass effect
have a good new year
nancy outie
twinklesstwinkless on January 1st, 2015 06:39 am (UTC)
omg i love it. no seriously. it is exactly my kind of thing, whimsical and bittersweet and filled with magical carnival lights.
i especially liked the notes (they sort of remind me of fortune cookies, now that i think about it). and the scent of vanilla that pervades the story. and the ferris wheel - 'in revolutions, in revolutions', followed by that music, was probably my favourite part.
i don't mind the breathing, i love how subtly powerful it is, especially in combination with that flashback.
your atmospherics are phenomenal, as always, and the imagery is gorgeous; i was visualizing it all in my head as it was happening. i'd love to see it as a short film. if you have film major friends you should recruit them to make this happen.
also, already sort of mentioned this - but i can't believe you actually included a soundtrack!! and pictures of carousels!!! have a heart ♥
i don't think it's as fragmented as you believe - the atmosphere is consistent throughout, and i think the descriptions at the beginning were quite fitting, not to mention necessary to setting the scene and tone of the piece.
i really want to attend a fair like this now.

anywayyy, THANK YOU ♥♥♥ for writing this. you have a beautiful writing style and i love reading all your works. please write more :)

happy 2015!! here's to more bad resolutions and sleepless nights~
n²: cakeplanetnotfound on January 2nd, 2015 06:49 am (UTC)
ew thank u for picking out a quote that you like because i'm sure you remember me saying that i find that su per flattering!!! u suckup!!!!

thank you though for real, thanks for always reading my stuff??
honestly if first semester has taught me anything it's that i don't function well around actors so it would be an actual miracle if this were ever made
as always, you know i push that imagery for you lmao i'm always concerned there's not enough for your liking ("mORE ADJECTIVES SHE NEEDS MORE ADJECTIVES" i scream the nights before a fill gets posted)

always here 4 ur random music link/random photo link needs

bloop thank you again! here's to the new year being slightly less shit than the old one