A Night to Remember

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2 votes

Winner
Jury

Time stops for no one, but memories live on.

He brushes his hand over the dusty iron bars of the gate, palm coming back ashy and dark. The smell of damp shifts through the air, filling his nose with the stench of rotting wood and decaying fabrics.

"C'mon Miles, this was your idea dude! Get the lead out!"

Miles shakes his head, shaggy hair smacking his face as he snaps out of his stupor. The overcast sky darkens the already grungy whites and reds of the ragged big top, heat flashes signaling the start of a thunderstorm.

This was a bad idea, he thinks. A bad idea, but once Andy thinks of something, there's no talking her out of it. She's always had a fascination with this place, their town's own little lost slice of heaven, but it creeps the absolute hell out of him, and it always has.

Andy grabs his hand, yanking him forward. "C'mon, Miles! You get to chicken out every other day of the year, but today's my day! Sweet sixteen babe, a national holiday!"

"I hate when you have a point," Miles says, free hand tight around the flashlight in his pocket. He keeps his fingers laced in Andy's— that she doesn't pull away, he takes as a good sign. Her palm's clammy against his own, the soft chill slowly sapping the heat from them both.

Their footsteps crunch dead leaves, toe crushed soda cans and plastic bottles. Remnants of people like them, who walked these grounds for fun, just as drawn to the circus and its promises of entertainment, excitement. Miles's dad told him about when he was little, strings of orange lights radiated out from the round top like fireflies, the grease of popcorn butter clinging to your clothes and the cheers from the audience audible all the way from the other side of town.

They've always been behind the times, here in Podunk nowhere, but with the circus in town, it didn't matter. It didn't matter, because as long as the music played and the trapeze artists swung and the night swirled and shone with colors and life, time didn't matter. Nothing much did.

Or so his dad says. They pass a concession stand, glass on the popcorn machine smashed in and graffiti coating the stall. Even Andy shrinks back, lip curling in disgust. Part of the roof of another stand caves in, mold and bugs feasting on the remnants.

"Dude, I thought this would be more..." Andy bites her lip, turning her flashlight on, of all things, a discarded shoe. "I dunno, spooky?"

"Yeah, me too." The first drop of rain hits Miles on the nose, a couple more splattering his glasses. The sky threatens to crack, a warning surge of thunder shaking the ground. "Would it cheer you up to hang out in the tent for a while?"

Andy laughs. "Might as well. We're three miles from home, dude, and there's no way I'm walking home in this nightmare."
-
Perhaps it's luck, or perhaps it's just the canvas roof still clinging to form and offering some protection from nature, but the wooden bleachers hold their weight just fine. Miles uses his backpack as a pillow, Andy her hoodie, both unconcerned about the dirt staining them both.

"I wonder what it was like," Andy says, drawing her finger down the snapped trapeze swing. It sways in the breeze as rain pelts the roof, a few holes leaking streams of water onto the ground. "Like, my grandma loved this place. Came every week to watch the trapeze artists. Wasn't the guy who ran this caught for, like, tax fraud?"

"Yeah, something like that. Wasn't paying the people either."

Andy snorts. "Talk about sapping the magic out of the circus. 'Ooo, look at me! I because I didn't pay my taxes no one else gets to have fun! I'm the real clown! Honk honk!'"

Miles laughs, just a chuckle at first but it swells up from his stomach and before either of them know it they're laughing like loons, tears in their eyes as the sky laughs with them.

"Man, this blows," Andy says, smile still plastered on her face, stretching her cheeks wide. "I think I'm gonna close my eyes for a few minutes. Let me know when the rain lets up."

Miles hums, checking his watch. "Yeah man, will do."
-
Something nudges his shoulder. Lightly at first, but quickly escalating to his entire body rocking back and forth like a kid drowning a toy ship for fun. He shoves back, batting Andy's hand away. "Dude! What!"

Andy slaps her hand over his mouth, pressing her finger against her own, grinning beneath it. Her eyes sparkle, skin tinted reds and greens and blues by the shimmering circles of light flooding the tent. Faded specters of smoke cheer, their bodies muffled but voices clear as day

Wait, what?

Abruptly, the cheering stops, and for an aching second terror bleeds from Miles' soul like a gaping wound, hand gripping Andy's tight enough to crush it. She grips back, rubbing her thumb over his. "It's okay," she says. "Watch."

Cymbals crash, a drum roll dinning louder than anything Miles has ever heard.

And then they stop. Everything stops, all at once, world twisting in on the silence. No rain, no thunder, no whispers, only the pounding of Miles' heart as it claws against his chest as the space darkens and the only light remaining are the shifting spotlights.

The lights shift up, up, up, flicking through a rainbow of colors before stopping on a soft moonlight yellow, illuminating a figure just as ill-defined as the others, stood atop a solid perch. In its hands, a metal bar.

A trapeze bar.

He'd be lying if he said his fear melted away, but an edge of curiosity dulled it. Curiosity, anticipation. Something shifted in the silence, the first rays of sunlight over the dark horizon.

Something shifted in the silence, and the figure let go, flying through the air with practiced ease, moving smoother than a bird on the breeze.

It swings back, pushing forward against the momentum to flip once, twice, three times, grabbing the waiting bar with one arm and twirling around like a pinwheel before hooking its knees and swinging forward again, waving to the audience as it does.

The crowd erupts, and Miles erupts with it. He slings his arm around Andy's neck, adrenaline pumping and eyes locked on the figure as it swings towards the opposite perch where a second waits, grabbing the first's hands and beginning its own routine.

Miles had heard the stories, everyone has, but the stories never compared to this. The lights shift with the trapeze artists, bathing their ethereal bodies in a radiant glow. The crowd roars, energy infecting every single inch Miles has to offer. Games chatter outside, popcorn clinging to their clothes like perfume.

It's amazing, beautiful, unlike anything Miles has ever seen.

And when it ends, when the spotlights turn off and the darkness lifts from the stage, replaced with dull fluorescents, Miles buzzes.

"Andy, did you see that?"

They follow the crowd out, follow the line of firefly lights they followed in, glow tracing the line of the circus. People crowd around booths, the outlines of people winning toys, sharing cotton candy, playing games.

Andy nods fast enough to shake her brain out of her ears. She talks faster than lightning, once again holding her hand in his. The moon hangs clear in the sky, bright enough that they don't notice the fireflies blink out behind them. Excited enough that they stop noticing the figures swirl back into smoke, the booths falling back into disrepair as the illusion melts.

Excited enough that, when they get home, they don't question the smell of popcorn still clinging to their clothes, the mud caking their shoes and the dirt ground into Andy's hoodie, Miles' backpack.

That’s the funny thing about the circus, really— it might leave, but the impressions it makes never do.

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