$tan is serious business | By: Sergei Ovchinnikov | | Category: Short Story - Surreal Bookmark and Share

$tan is serious business

The boy opened his eyes. The sky above was dark but from somewhere up ahead, bright lights shone out into the night, blotting out the feeble luminescence of the moon and her companion stars. He looked towards the light source. Illuminated in big letters above an archway was the word ‘Carnival’. “Oh look Daniel, a lost small child.” Barry heard a motherly voice say. The voice directed at him- “Are you lost, young fellow? Where are your parents?” The boy was disoriented, but still managed to weakly reply “I have no parents. What’s that over there?” pointing to the carnival. “That’s horrible!” she exclaimed, “You’ve never been to a carnival?” The boy shook is head sadly. After a brief discussion with her husband, she said to the boy “Well, come with us. Then afterwards we’ll find out where you’re supposed to be.” Grasping his hand, she led him and her other two children to the carnival.

Once the kind woman had paid for him to enter the carnival, the boy was struck by the lights and the noise seemingly coming from every direction at once. The first place they wondered into was sideshow alley. He stopped at the funny mirrors and had a look at himself. The face staring back at him did not seem familiar at all. He was a ten year old boy, slightly elongated by the trick of the mirror. He had red hair, brown eyes and was a little bit on the thin side. It was then that the woman asked him “What is your name, young man?” The boy shrugged his shoulders. “Well we have to call you something.” the woman said “How about Timmy?” The boy shrugged his shoulders again. “Alright, it’s settled then. For tonight, you shall be Timmy. My name is Helen, and this is my husband George and two children, Samantha and Adam.” The boy looked at each face as she named them, trying to remember whether he had any brothers or sisters. Fleeting memories of unknown things flashed through his mind but he couldn’t remember anything clearly before opening his eyes in the field outside the carnival.

Timmy spied the Ferris wheel high above the tents of the carnival and began pointing to it. Helen asked him “Do you want to ride the Ferris wheel?” He nodded his head vigorously. The family made their way to the wheel, paid their money and entered one of the cages. Slowly the Ferris wheel began to turn. They rose higher and higher until Timmy could see the whole carnival spread out below him. It glittered in the middle of a dark field like a diamond catching the light. Past its borders he could see indistinct shapes moving in the darkness. As his cage made its descent, he could see other attractions of the carnival- the haunted house, the rollercoaster, the food stands, the jumping castle and the petting zoo. The Ferris wheel started another rotation and he lay back in his seat, revelling in the freedom he felt, in the cool rush of air across his body. He sat, relaxing more and more as the family discussed the fun they would have that evening, until the Ferris wheel slowly ground to a halt. He felt invigorated, ready to try anything and everything all at once. His thoughts raced as he tried to decide what to do next. Each different option tugged at his mind, pulling him this way and that. Helen asked him “Did you enjoy that?” Timmy nodded again, even more vigorously than before. “What would you like to do next?” Timmy, still afraid to speak, as if it would spoil the wonderful dream he found himself in, replied meekly “The rollercoaster?”

They walked across to it, Timmy staring wide-eyed at the colour and wonder of all of the different stalls he passed. He couldn’t keep his eyes off all of the interesting people he saw, revelling in the fun of the carnival. Again, George paid their money to the ride operator and they sat down. Timmy’s heart began to beat faster as the harness was lowered over his torso. All of a sudden, the rollercoaster began moving. Timmy yelped with glee as the ride climbed the first hill. It whooshed down the other side and he screamed in excitement. It turned sharply to the left, to the right, but all too soon it was over. The smile on Timmy’s face beamed from ear to ear and he was short of breath from screaming. He begged Helen to let him ride again. When she agreed, he ran back to the entrance of the rollercoaster and rode it again. And again. And again. Until finally, the man who was operating it laughingly told him that he shouldn’t waste all of his time on just one ride, that he should try everything that the carnival had to offer. But he (and Helen) did consent to one last ride. Timmy left the rollercoaster smiling and laughing, in wonder at the new feelings that he was experiencing. His heart seemed ready to burst out of his chest and do a little song and dance routine to express its happiness.

Timmy and the family made their way to the jumping castle, which the other children were keen to try, paid their money and threw themselves into the tangle of arms, legs and other body parts. Bouncing up, down and every which way, Timmy felt something that he never remembered feeling before- freedom. Inside the castle, he was free to jump anyway that he wished, the soft rubber protecting him from pain. Outside the barrier, Helen and George smiled as they saw the joy that Timmy was experiencing. But they couldn’t help but wonder where this small boy had come from, to whom he belonged. Timmy continued jumping over and over and was the last to leave when the man said that the session was over. The operator almost had to crawl in to extract him, so lost was Timmy in his delight.

After this session of jumping, the children said that they felt hungry so they went in search of some food. Timmy saw some other children eating what looked like pink, fluffy clouds on sticks and asked Helen if he could have one. As soon as his tongue touched it, he stopped in his tracks. It was the best thing he had ever tasted! Quickly he gobbled it up and Helen, seeing how ravenously he had devoured the fairy floss, offered him more food. The fairy floss was quickly followed by a hot dog, a can of cola and a toffee apple. He felt lucky to be here, at this time to experience the magic that he was experiencing.

The family decided to have a look inside the haunted house. They entered and were immediately confronted by plastic skeletons and sheets hung over poles to look like ghosts, coming at them from within the walls, which caused Helen and Samantha to jump. George and Adam simply laughed but Timmy did not know what to think. The contorted figures reminded him of something but he couldn’t quite remember it. Cobwebs hung from every corner as they moved deeper into the house and scenarios of witches stirring a pot and gallows began to appear.

Suddenly, as they entered the darkest part of the haunted house, Timmy felt a tug at his body, but when he looked around there was no-one there. He felt another tug, then another. He felt tears well up in his eyes, as his body disappeared into the ether.

Heat was the first sensation he could feel when he materialised. Again, ‘Timmy’ was disoriented and wasn’t quite sure what was going on. A large, grotesque figure sat on a throne in front of him. Suddenly, his memory returned. This was the place he had been before he had awoken outside the carnival- Hell. He was not a boy, he was an imp, in the service of the devil, sent to earth to wreak havoc on the living. But why had he lost his memory when he had arrived? “What did you learn of the humans?” Satan bellowed at him, his hot breath reaching ‘Timmy’ even though he stood fifty metres away. He stood there, in shock, until Satan roared again. “Well? Are you just going to stand there?” ‘Timmy’s’ mind slowly began to clear and he realised where he was, and who was yelling at him. He began cowering as he replied “S-s-sorry sir, my mind still feels strange from the journey. The humans seemed strange at first, but the more I did, the more I realised that they’re actually alright. I had so much fun up there! I went on a Ferris wheel, a rollercoaster and ate the most delicious food! Can I go back?” Satan stared at him for a moment. “FUN!? FERRIS WHEELS!? ROLLERCOASTERS!?” he roared, “This is what you bring back to me? Of course you can’t go back, this is your home! Anymore of that talk and you will join the souls of the damned in their torment for all eternity! Now get back with the others!”

Before rejoining his brethren ‘Timmy’ stopped by Satan’s scientists, stem cell researchers doomed to spend eternity in the flames of Hell for their sins. But they could provide no answers as to why he had lost his memory and had thus failed the mission that he had been sent to earth to complete. They had sent other imps there hundreds of times but this had never happened before.

‘Timmy’ crept back to join his fellow imps and demons. For the first time in his millennia of existence, he didn’t feel at home in the fiery furnace of Hell. He had discovered fun and realised that there were better places than this out in the universe. He just wished that he was not doomed to spend eternity in this terrible place.

MORAL 1: Hell is bad. Try not to go there.
MORAL 2: Some ten year old boys are actually imps.

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