Anyway, this is a short story for a flash fiction contest. We had 1000 words to play with. A roll of the dice got me the following prompts:
Teenage Noir; A Family Torn Apart; Carnival Folk
The air was damp, making my jacket cling uncomfortably at my neck and wrists. Only the biting wind that tossed trash around our ankles kept me from taking it off. We walked past the Ferris wheel. It was dusk, not yet dark enough to hide the rusted hinges, peeling paint. The carnival came every year, though I wondered for how many more. Even today, a midsummer Saturday, there were barely a handful of visitors. Most loitered in the shadows. I saw Kenny Warren from my Geometry class huddled behind the Tilt-a-Whirl whispering with an older man. He glared, hushing his companion, as we walked by. I’m not sure why. It wasn’t as if everyone in town didn’t already know what he was into.
“He’s such a sleaze,” Jessica said when we were out of earshot.
I nodded, still too dazzled in her presence to trust myself to speak freely. I looked at her though - tall, thin, perfect. She wore a light blue sweater over a flowered top, and looked out of place amongst the seed and grime, like a daisy growing through the cracked sidewalk and weeds of an abandoned lot. I smiled.
“What?” She grinned down at me.
“Nothing,” I muttered, huddling lower in my coat and making the difference between our heights even more apparent. My glasses slipped down and I felt nerdier than usual. I didn’t understand why she, a cheerleader, had asked me out.
“Oh! A Fun House!” She tugged me toward a low building.
I stared dubiously at the entrance, a barrel turning in fits and stops. “It doesn’t look very safe.”
“I’m sure it’s fine. Live a little.” She ducked through the barrel and into a mirrored passageway. Though only a few steps behind, I soon lost her in the maze.
“Jessica!” No, she said to call her Jess. “Hey, Jess! Wait up!” I called as I turned a corner. Dead end. Backtracking, I found another. Just think, Sam. You’re good at mazes, simple logic. When I started again, my steps were more assured. Right, left, left again, I tracked where I’d been.
A couple turns further, I caught a glimpse of blonde and blue. “Jess! Stop!” I ran after her. She didn’t stop, ducked into another passage. I followed through a doorway and we burst into night. Lights glowed garish in the sudden dark and for a second, I couldn’t see where she’d gone.
There! A glance as she turned a corner. What game was she playing? I followed and saw her start up a tall fence at the end of an alley. “Hey, wait!” I ran and managed to catch her ankle before she’d scrambled too far. “Where are you going?” She kicked, but I held on until, with a sigh, she dropped back down.
She grabbed my arm, pulling me behind a dumpster. “Shh! He’ll kill us both if he finds me.”
“What? Who? Jess…you aren’t making sense.” She clamped a hand over my mouth, silencing me. I blinked at her as she scanned the alley. Her shiny blond curls now looked limp, tangled. Her face was streaked with dirt and showed no sign of the makeup she’d worn earlier. The sweater was the same, but beneath was a gray shirt, frayed, ill-fitting jeans.
“You… aren’t Jess,” I whispered when she’d moved her hand.
“No. I’m Caroline.” She brushed the dirt from her hands. “I think we’re okay. Come on then, you’re part of this now.” She dragged me to the alley entrance. A glance assured we were alone and we rushed along the path toward the trees behind a bank of games.
Once away from the midway, I stopped her. I had questions, lots, and it was time for answers. “Where is Jess? Who are you? Who’s trying to kill us? And what is ‘this’ I’m a part of?” I threw my hands up in exasperation.
Caroline sighed, running a hand through her hair. “I’m sorry.” Her voice was quieter now. “I didn’t know what to do. She…appeared, in the storeroom. I don’t know how, and… and it was like looking in a mirror. I didn’t…didn’t even think. I’d been trying to get away from him for so long and it felt like fate dropped her in my lap.”
“And?” I prompted. “What did you do to her?” I tried not to yell.
“Hit her. Took her sweater. Ran. He’s probably back now, probably found her.” Caroline’s shoulders shook. “I didn’t mean to hurt her…didn’t want anyone to get hurt. I just…” she trailed off in sobs.
I put an arm around her and she jerked away. She seemed small, frail, and as I looked closer, I saw much of what I’d thought was dirt on her face was bruises.
“We have to go back for her.” I said with a confidence I’d rarely felt.
“I can’t. I know it’s mean to leave her with him, but I can’t go back. I don’t even know her.”
I looked at her, long and hard, taking in sapphire eyes, the small upturned nose. She and Jess were identical, down to the dimple on their left cheeks. Her eyes were sad, a look of frantic panic playing at the edges. I wondered how long Jessica would have to spend with ‘him’ before she had the same haunted look.
I thought of what I knew about Jess. We’d been in the same classes since kindergarten, though she’d barely talked to me before this year. A memory came - myself at four, faint images of my parents huddled around a table, snippets of conversation. “Poor Swansons. Can you imagine? One of the twins. No leads? Missing.” They’d thought I wasn’t listening, or didn’t understand, and it’d never been mentioned again.
My silence clearly made Caroline nervous and she wrung her hands. “Look, I’m sorry. It’s not like I don’t care about your girlfriend, but I can’t go back. Not for a stranger.”
“She isn’t a stranger.” I took her hands, stilling their movement. “She’s your sister.”