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September Submission to WriScaRe

The sun was slanting toward the horizon as the man made his way across the empty fairground. The falsely confident strides he had taken as he first stepped onto the fairground had slowed now that he was sure that no one was around. “Always look like you know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing and you can get away with anything,” his old man had once told him. Or maybe it had been Jeb, the hard-faced old railroad worker that he had befriended for a while, until he had been run out of the rail yard. No matter. It was true, wasn’t it -- no matter who said it.

He made his way along the paved footpaths until he spotted a wide corridor that he knew must have been the Midway. The fair’s clean-up committee wouldn’t start until tomorrow morning, at earliest. Carnies had had until then to be off the premises, but this was fair season, and they were on a tight schedule. Their trailers had been packed up and on the road within hours of the gates closing on the 73rd annual Oakridge County Fair. Just as well. He knew those carnie types, and they weren’t anything to mess around with.

He stepped into the midway, or what was left of it. Last night as he had peered casually through the chain-link fence, the place had looked magical. There had brightly colored lights from all sides twinkling in the late-summer twilight, cheerful music and screeches from the rides, the smell of popcorn and cotton candy, and throngs of people moving up and down the midway. And under everything, a throbbing undercurrent of excitement and anticipation that you could almost feel prickle along the back of your neck

Now the sandy lane was deserted and litter-covered. The man shuffled his way through discarded tickets for rides, candy apple wrappers, wadded together napkins, Styrofoam cups with the straws still dangling out, hay from the animal barns, brightly colored schedules of events, cheap little plastic toys won in some rigged game, and god only knows what else. As he walked, he pulled his beat-up tennis shoes in a circular pattern on the ground, flipping over the refuse, hoping to find something worth salvaging. Occasionally, he bent down to pluck a coin or two out of the mess. It was something at least.

After he had made his way to one end of the midway, he stopped to stretch his back and looked over his shoulder to see if the dog was still following him. She was, back a ways -- her lanky frame trotting purposefully, nose to the ground. Her whitish yellow coat in the rapidly falling dusk was almost iridescent from a distance as she zigzagged tightly across the midway, stopping to raise her head to meet the man’s eyes.

He looked away. Damn dog. She had appeared trembling beside him a few nights ago as he was huddled under an overpass, trying to ride out a particularly ferocious thunderstorm. He had tried to drive her off, was ashamed to say that he had even thrown a rock or two at her, but she had just paced in nervous circles around him, always gradually moving close with a keening whine. He had finally given up, resigning himself to getting rid of her in the morning. Her nose was ice-cold and her pale fur spiked from the cold rain, but he let her curl up beside him until her shaking stopped. By the time they woke up, he knew there was no getting rid of her. Not that he needed another mouth to feed, but he did enjoy her company, loath as he would have been to admit it, even to himself. Still, he hadn’t named her because that would have implied some ownership over her, which he didn’t feel was right. He supposed he belonged to her as much as she belonged to him. Which was to say that neither of them really belonged to anyone.

He turned back to the task at hand, hoping to make quick work of it before darkness fell completely. There was still the red white and blue spray painted trash barrels to peruse for food. By the time that dog finished her rounds, there sure wouldn’t be anything edible left on the ground.

They continued along side by side until they reached the far end of the midway. It was almost full dark, but he had gotten lucky with a crumpled and torn five dollar bill and close to ten dollars in change, so he was ready to call it a night. Since he had heard the dog chomping and swallowing greedily, he assumed that she was also satisfied. A low rumbling in his stomach reminded him that he needed to find some dinner too. Just as he turned back the way he had come, a floodlight snapped on. As he instinctively crouched and whipped his head around to squint into the sudden light, he saw a quick glint from the corner of his eye.



September 2011

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