On a mid-autumn day at 8 o’clock when the colour of a setting sun begins to show on tree leaves, and the nights are shorter than the steps on your way from sleep to dreams, the Carnival beckons you. It arrives on a train in the pitch black of midnight, chugging on ash-coloured tracks, and rivals a full moon day and the howls it carries. The Carnival breaks out of the darkness so brightly that it brings the sunrise close, and so loudly it wakes up the ghosts of last year.
The smell of black leather gloves and rusting metal rings and satin ribbons and frayed tarot cards passed from mothers to daughters wait patiently luring you like the voice of a siren. You smell the smell of new paint over old wood – wood with magic in its veins, wood that built the Carnival the year before, and the year before, and the year before that. The yellow oak door looks at you, the stairs leading up to it bending and creaking at the will of your worn-out shoes. It pushes itself open to let you in as if you were a guest it was looking forward to meeting. You see the cobwebs that have settled in it since the Carnival last visited your home. The pictures of men and women who lived in a forgotten century look at you, trapped inside their glass cages adorned with golden frames.
These pictures rest on walls with peeling plaster of pink teacups on cream-coloured paper. A clock sits next to them, its pendulum swinging ominously, biding for time. It reminds you of the slow, painful pause of a lion before it pounces on its prey. The Carnival sets up tents that smell like liquorice and gumdrops and dreams forced inside chests years ago. The ropes that hold up the tents prick you and lunge at you and remind you of an old summer love who you met at a carnival that looked just like this one. You thought you forgot that carnival, and you tried to forget that love. Fireflies buzz in your ears and accompany you on the Ferris wheel. In the air thirty feet above the ground, you smell falling leaves and fallen desires and you feel alive.
Boys on the cusp of childhood come to Carnival. They stuff their pockets with nickels and dimes and candy wrappers. Their hearts are so young that they have never met their desires or the heartbreak they can cause. These young boys wish for fathers they never knew. Some wish for fathers that are not old and not weak, while others wish just for fathers. The fathers wish too. Some fathers wish their body was as young as their heart, but for other fathers, even the magic of the Carnival could not bring their hearts closer to their boys.
With the traveling Carnival come its three main attractions. First comes a traveling salesman armed with lightning rods who knows what you want and what you’ve come to seek. Second, come the mirrors that clap eyes on you and reflect your desires that are so dark you forgot you gave them a home in your heart. The third is the carousel which can turn forward and take you 50 years ahead in time or turn backwards and take you 50 years back. Remember to be careful what you wish for at the Carnival.
A few weeks later, the Carnival meets a snowstorm that is threatening to bury it. So the Carnival packs its bags, its ropes, its tents, and its stalls and goes away quietly like guests that have extended their stay a little longer than they should have. The cold November air rudely wakes you up from your sleep and snatches your dreams. They float away with the orange leaves and the lights that are a wayfarer in search of its new home. The Carnival leaves with a promise of returning soon when you are much older but not a bit wiser. It remains like a family secret tucked inside the pages of a big book in the middle of a bookshelf until many Octobers later, a wind knocks it down.
– This article is inspired by the book “Something Wicked This Way Comes” by Ray Bradbury