“When The Sun Sets In The East” by Kate Alsbury
Around this time of August, I always find myself wandering back to that strange event of so many summers ago. The carnival was late—just one week before the start of school, which seemed to cut further into our warm days of freedom every year.
It felt so small when vacant, but now it was filled with sensation. Fresh popcorn, french fries, music—mingled with a touch of exhaust, wafting through the field that stretched the back of town. But it wasn’t the same as every year. Something was different.
On the last night of the carnival I sauntered to the edge of the encampment, not sure where to go first. The sky played cloudy and mysterious, darkening quickly the way it does that time of summer when you’ve grown accustomed to warm blue light hanging above for hours, only to find inky blackness upon you in a few minutes. That evening it was especially so. No moon, no stars.
I lingered for a moment in the middle of the fairground, spellbound by humming engines and the colorful glow of brightly lit food stands. Then it stopped. All of it. The lights went out, rides halted. Someone at the top of the Ferris wheel shrieked. A brief streak of panic weaved through the crowd. Low voices grew louder, questioning. It came back on just as suddenly, and curiously, began to rain at exactly the same moment. A light, pleasant kind of rain.
As I walked through the maze of entertainments, something came to me. Strange as it seemed, all the people were different. Not one person manning the booths or carnival goer was anyone I knew—or anyone that had been there the previous evenings. I usually saw at least one or two people from town, but not that night.
I leaned back against the lemonade stand—the usual meet for Chase and me—to escape the rain. A short awning provided just enough cover. I waited. Drank a lemonade. Then watched what seemed like an unending number of five-year-olds win goldfish. Where was he? It wasn’t like him not to show, not the last night. He’d been looking forward to this even more than I had. Tired of pancaking myself against the wagon, I started back towards the Ferris wheel when a scraggly old woman leapt out of a maroon tent a few feet away—one that was definitely not there last night, and grabbed my arm. Her eyes, stormy grey with peculiar black lines stemming from the pupil locked onto mine with such dominating force I couldn’t look away. “Don’t you want to see your future? I thought all boys wanted to know what hides in the shadows,” she said with a smirk.
Before I had time to protest, I was in the tent. It was small and sparsely furnished. The only light came from a small table where sat the quintessential crystal ball between two simple wooden chairs. Worn, antiqued, the finish finely scrubbed away as if they had been through every sandstorm in Arabia and the Great Flood of China, surviving to end up under this small spread of fabric. She twisted her finger in the direction of one chair and took the other herself. Honing in on the sparkling globe I noticed it wasn’t just a crystal ball—something was moving inside, like a snow globe but more. Strings of glittering colors. Blues and greens, gold and silver swirled in mesmerizing shapes. Dragons and serpents burst into fireworks; scenes from my past shifted to things I’d never seen before—just as the old witch had promised, the future. Or a future anyway. Shining sports cars, dinner at the best restaurants, grand houses on golden shorelines. A hint of desire slithered within me. Once again, I found it hard to look away.
The longer I stared, the darker the room became. Creeping in peripherally until nothing was visible except for that shining glass ball, now almost blinding. Caught in a spin, I could feel myself being pulled further and further into those hypnotic scenes. It was cold, but a golden haze tingled my skin—the way the sun does in early afternoon.
An inferno leapt up around me. Hot blue-orange light towered, but like standing in the eye of a hurricane, I was untouched. Something stared from within the flames—it was hard to make out. They flickered, beat each other back, split apart in a wild frenzy, then merged again. A face, that much I could tell. Familiar, yet, I couldn’t quite place it. Like someone I knew but hadn’t seen since I was small. A half memory.
Wherever I was, it began to shake violently. Now truly alarmed, I struggled to force myself from the vision. As soon as I was convinced of the chair beneath me and feet in my shoes, I darted out of the tent and back home as fast as I could.
The next day I asked my friends, then neighbors, then just about everyone else I knew if they’d been to the carnival the night before. For one reason or the other none of them had. A sudden fever, the car blew a tire—you get the idea. Chase was the only one I found who had been there and he was beyond annoyed when I told him I’d been waiting for hours to meet. “I was there! I waited too. It was you who didn’t turn up!” shouted Chase. And after nearly accusing me of being a two-faced liar I told him what happened; the rain, the thunder, the old woman—he cooled. He hadn’t seen any of it, but my sincerity and the fantastic nature of the story seemed to win him over.
I haven’t come up with too many explanations for what happened. How Chase and I could have both been there but had completely different experiences. Just as perplexing was that much of what was revealed to me that night came true. I ended up with the big house and sports cars. But as I grow older, the face in the flames returns to me, and the mystery fades.
Kate Alsbury is a writer and marketing consultant. Find her on Twitter @KateAlsbury.