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The Carnival Conundrum
As soon as I stepped past the ticket booth to enter the carnival, a whirlwind of lights, sounds, and colors whipped around me. The classic red-and-white-striped tents stood between ten and twenty feet tall and popped up across the entire fair, with wooden signs advertising different attractions at their entrances. Some of the tiles that spelled out words were missing, but aside from that, the carnival was well-maintained. The rainbow light bulbs strung around the tents gleamed as they flashed in wild patterns, the tents themselves were sturdy and spotless, and towering in the back, the Ferris wheel carried its riders smoothly in a circle. The families bustling around me seemed to be having a good time, as they were pointing out the rides they wanted to try, the food they wanted to sample, and the games they wanted to play.
This environment reminded me of my childhood, of riding the most majestic horse on the carousel and spinning gleefully on the teacups. It was nice to be back as an adult, knowing I was about to relive what I had loved as a kid.
Seeing one giggling girl run past with a mountain of cotton candy atop a wobbling cone pulled me out of my nostalgia trip and made me realize how hungry I was. I inhaled the glorious scents of fried deliciousness–funnel cake, corn dogs, apple doughnuts…
That settled it.
I headed off in the direction the girl came from, hurriedly passing clown faces imploring me to “step right up” with their robotic voices. (Why clowns were regarded as comical and not terrifying at carnivals was beyond me. Even seeing just a piece of plastic painted with their outrageous makeup was enough to make my heart race.) I contemplated entering the funhouse, with its clashing neon colors, slanted walkways, and oversized entrances, but the line of babbling children snaking around and disappearing behind a tent gave me pause.
I’ll come back later, I decided, sidestepping around a spilled bucket of popcorn no one had bothered to clean up.
At this point, I could practically taste the crispy sweetness of the funnel cake I searched for, and I scanned the outskirts of the fun-house for a stand. I was so focused on what was thirty feet away from me that I almost slammed into someone merely two.
“Whoa!” I exclaimed, but luckily, the person skirted to the side with a swish of their violet dress and resumed their long stride. But wait, something had fallen out of their pocket. I bent down to pick it up; it was a hot pink envelope with a stamp in the shape of a crescent moon.
I straightened up and rushed to follow them, noticing in the process the…boldness…of their outfit. What I had thought was a dress was actually a royal purple bathrobe, and they had paired it with peach-colored jeans cuffed over glossy Doc Martens. Topping off the whole ensemble, literally, was a forest green fedora that stuck out high above the crowd between us like the star on a Christmas tree.
Man, I wish I had the confidence to wear that in public, I thought, taking note of the stares and mutters the adults nearby were giving them. It was these stares and mutters that gave me the idea to compliment their outfit in addition to returning their envelope.
They made a sharp turn toward a small tent off to the right, cutting a path through the wave of people. As I neared them, I saw that they appeared to be standing in front of a wooden door on the outside of the tent. The door looked solid, like a door one might find opening into a quaint little cottage, but there was no structure that would secure it to the tent, only gently ruffling red-and-white fabric.
By the time I reached this door, the person had already disappeared beyond it. But now that I was up close, I saw that there was a silvery crescent moon painted at my eye-level. I looked down at the envelope still in my grasp. The moon on the door matched the stamp exactly.
Part of me wanted to walk away, to throw the envelope down and pretend I had never picked it up. But the other, more curious part of me wanted to understand just where this door led. I scanned the immediate area around me one last time for the mysterious person, knowing full well they wouldn’t be there, before hesitantly reaching for the knob.
It was warm, like a bowl fresh out of the microwave, and smooth, as if made of polished marble. I turned the knob, and with a soft click, it opened.
Unfortunately, there was not the interior of the tent on the other side. On the contrary, there was nothing but complete darkness ahead of me. Taking a deep breath, I placed one foot through the doorway, relieved to find it landing on solid ground, even if that ground was obsidian tile and not pavement. I fully stepped through the frame, clutching the envelope in my fingers as if it was a rope tethering me to the outside world.
And then the floor dropped out from under my feet.