March 2019 Issue #4 (Theme: Carnival)
Chewing Gum, by Luna Rugova
“Chew a gum, have some fun; chew a gum, troubles gone!” the ticket lady recited; her smile an over-arched one. “Enjoy the carnival!”
Samson frowned at the gum in his palm. He hated gums. He didn’t even want to be here, but there’s no way his mom would let him stay home by himself.
Floating lights, bubbles, cotton candies, hot dogs, balloons…everyone seemed jubilant. Was he the only one that sensed no smile in the clown’s eyes? Could no one see the shadows lurking in the corners?
His parents could never understand why he didn’t like the carnival. They insisted that it’s a family bonding activity and that the whole family must go. Carnival was all fun when he came last year until his classmate went missing after the carnival, and no one seemed to notice. No one seemed to care; no one seemed to remember him.
“Next! Watch your step!”
He glared at the merry go ‘round. Golden poles and two rows of fancy fake horses shined bright under the colorful lights; jolly music played loudly in the background. And some statues of overly happy children stood randomly among the horses.
Samson climbed unto a horse next to his sister reluctantly. Fortunately, a statue of a boy stood and posed as a barrier between him and his parents; at least he could enjoy some solitude during the ride.
The giant disk moved, and the horses rose and fell rhythmically. His sister squealed in excitement. Samson sighed and stared blankly in front of him.
Ever since Peter’s suspicious disappearance and the whole town’s mysterious oblivion of him, nothing about the carnival seemed right—why would a circus sponsor a carnival in an isolated run-down village of two hundred?
Samson’s gaze fell on the boy’s statue, its ecstatic grin looked rather pathetic. He recalled Peter almost had a panic attack when they ventured into the carnival together last year. It was the first time that the village experienced a local carnival. Peter dragged him around, itching to get on all the rides.
Come to think of it, Peter was wearing the same denim overalls as the statue; the statue even had the identical red flannel that Peter wore all the time. Samson stared at the statue’s face.
The merry go ‘round came to a stop.
He sprung off, leaving his family behind.
He ran and searched frantically; he had to tell them. They’re here, somewhere. He could swear he saw them just around the—then he found them. He dashed towards the ice cream stand.
“Mrs.—Mr. and Mrs. James!” he blurted as he reached his destination, panting.
“Oh, good evening, Samson! Having fun at the carnival?” the woman smiled.
“I—I found him! I finally found him!”
“Peter. He went missing after the carnival last year. I found him on the merry go ‘round. He got turned into a statue, I don’t know how—”
“Who’s Peter?” the smile faded away from the couple’s face.
“Peter James! Your son! We were in the same class until he disappeared—”
“What is this nonsense? We’ve got no children. You know that,” Mr. James’ face turned red.
“No, you do! Peter is your son, and somehow you forgot about him—everyone forgot about him ever since the carnival—”
“Come on, darling. Let’s go. I’ll have a word with his parents tomorrow,” Mr. James stumped away with his wife.
“No, wait. Please—”
A clown blocked his path. “Chew a gum, have some fun; chew a gum, troubles gone. Want a gum?”
Samson flung the gum away furiously. “I want none of your stupid gum!”
He turned and walked away, but the clown grabbed his arm in a firm grip.
“Something’s troubling you,” the clown smiled. “You need a gum.”
With his face up close, the clown’s grin seemed rather malign. Several other clowns appeared behind him.
Samson yanked his arm away and sped off in horror. He pushed through the crowd and stormed out of the carnival, desperately trying to escape from the towering shadows lurking behind him.
“Ah, the Jenkins. Had fun at the carnival?” Mr. James asked.
“Why, yes! We had a blast. How are you?” Mr. Jenkins replied.
“We were having fun until your son came babbling and mocking us.”
“Son?” Mr. Jenkins said confusingly, his hands on his wife and daughter tightened. “What son? We’ve only got a daughter.”
“Oh. Umm…yes, why did I think you have a son? My apology, that was utterly rude of me.” Mr. James said while scratching his head.
“Please pay him no heed. He had too much fun. Did you have a piece of that gum?” Mrs. James said.
“Yes. Honey flavored gum! Who would’ve thought!” Mrs. Jenkins said excitingly. “I wonder what flavor they’re gonna come up with next year!”
“We shall find out when they come back. Well then, that’s enough fun for the evening,” Mr. James held unto his wife’s hand. “You guys have a good night.”