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Morton Snow's Carnival of Souls by Dennis Gamblin Heat rolls through the Trans-Am's T-top and dumps on Phillip Kenely like lava, causing beads of perspiration to ease down his balding head and into the sweatband of his baseball cap. Though the wind rushing in keeps the rest of him fairly dry, he curses. He has felt a lot like cursing lately because, until a few weeks ago, he had been in a rut. It was an altogether different rut but it was his rut and he was happy. That was when it seemed he could not crank out tabloid articles fast enough. That was before his last three articles were deposited in his editor's trash can. So it goes for a rag-sheet writer, one day you are on page one then -BLAM!-the supermarket public gets its fill of UFO and Bigfoot sightings. He smacks the steering wheel with his palm -- That crap sold then so it should sell now! Making a buck had seemed so much easier twenty years ago. He wonders at what point in time things got so complicated. Morton Snow/Gamblin/2 He had discussed this very mystery with his friend, Tony Morgan, just last night. But what Phillip remembers most about their conversation is that Tony talked openly about the lead he had. Though Tony is usually a bit more closedmouth about his stories, the drinks Phillip kept buying loosened Tony's tongue quite a bit. Phillip's guilt trip spanned a total of fifteen minutes after he decided to steal Tony's idea, but, given that amount of time, he was able to convince himself that he has no friends in this business. Anyway, Tony, who has one foot in the grave and the other in the bottle, might not be around long enough to write the story. Gravette, Arkansas is just a spot on the map and, as Phillip crosses into the city limits, he can see it is not much more than a spot on the road, too. He idles past a gas station, a grocery store, a church, then past the city limits sign. In the blink of his eye the town is past him, but just ahead is an unmarked gravel road. "The first right", was Tony's direction, but this hardly looks fit for traffic. It is uneven and choppy, nearly reclaimed by the
Morton Snow/Gamblin/3 surrounding forest. Trees and shrubs on each side reach across and nearly touch. Suddenly he is glad he is in his twenty-year old fixer-upper and, just as suddenly, he looks for a place to turn around. The road widens until it reveals a left turn, or rather an indentation that at one time might have been a left turn. And there, almost completely hidden by the weeds, vines and shrubs is probably the crudest wooden fence he has ever seen. It looks as if it were growing out of the ground, an anomaly of nature, but there is an arch over the opened gate and in a few seconds his luck is confirmed. Shaped out of tree limbs are letters
that read -- MORTON SNOW'S CARNIVAL of SOULS. He trots to his car, gets his camera, then passes under the ancient, wooden arch. For a moment he stands froze. The grounds look nothing like a carnival, at least none he has ever seen. Two rows of buildings are connected by a boardwalk, each row and each building the same size. The thought on Phillip's mind is that Tony has sent him on a wild goose chase, but that diseased bag of lung and liver surely has better things to do with his time and money. Well, it does not surprise Phillip that Tony would Morton Snow/Gamblin/4 come up with a story about a carnival, all he ever talks about is how he and Phillip, as kids, took on any odd job just so they would have money when the next carnival came to town. That was then, this was now, and now Phillip's only concern is getting back on the fast track. The sun is resting just above the treetops and he guesses he has a little over an hour before darkness falls. He realizes he had better get busy with his camera. The first door he comes to stands ajar. He opens it the rest of the way and sees a room with walls painted a soft pink. Scattered across the floor are doll, hair brushes, and stuffed animals, but the canopy bed across the room has not the slightest wrinkle on its cover. All in all, the room seems to be waiting for a little girl to return and resume playing. "What's a kid doing in a place like this," Phillip mumbles as he raises his camera. But before he can snap the picture he is startled by a voice from behind him, "To tell you the truth, she wished herself here." Phillip turns to see a scruffy-looking man with blood shot eyes and a beard the color and texture of barbed wire. Morton Snow/Gamblin/5 "Willa Huette was her name," the old man continues, "I called her Weeping Willa, though." "Who was she," Phillip asks. "Oh, it's not really important," the old man says. "But you could say that she was a very sad little girl who is very happy now." "Okay. Now who are you and what are you talking about?" Not only is Phillip's curiosity aroused, but his suspicions as well. "Snow. Mortimer Snow," he says with a well-rehearsed bow. "I was under the impression you were dead." "Imagine that," Mister Snow says. "Now if you will follow me, I believe I can answer all of your questions." "Sure," Phillip says with some uncertainty. "But let me get a picture of this." "Oh, mercies no!" Mister Snow throws his hand in front of Phillip's camera. "I'm going to have to ask you not to take pictures." Phillip, now quite baffled, lowers his camera. "You see, some here might think it is 'the light' and get lost trying to follow it. Others, well, they might go back," Mister Snow explains. Morton Snow/Gamblin/6 "Go back where?" "Go back to being alive," Mister Snow says as he turns to leave. "Now let me show you the main attraction." Mister Snow leads Phillip past the rest of the buildings and Phillip is able to peek into a few of the rooms, each looks as if its occupant, apparently a
child has just left. "So Mister Snow, you are saying the dead are here and that you can see them?" Phillip is searching for a few facts in which to insert a few fabrications. "To see the dead you need only go to a funeral. No, its not the dead I see, nor is it the dead that are here. What is here is what the dead gives up." "And what would that be," Phillip asks. "The ghost, my boy! The spirit. It's life force. Whatever you choose to call it." Wheels turn in Phillips head, he knows he has a live one here. Damn, he wishes he would have thought to bring his tape recorder. It would be nice to leave here with some tangible proof to show his editor, just in case he thinks that Phillip has made up the entire story. "Here we are," Mister Snow says, then he offers with opened arms, "my Carnival of Souls." Morton Snow/Gamblin/7 But the only thing Phillip sees is a slightly undersized barn minus the oversized doors and windows. In fact, the only opening he sees is an ordinary door, through which they enter. Phillip follows Mister Snow into a sea of darkness, the shaft of light coming from the opened door stretches across the floor like a plank. Mister Snow pulls a pipe from his pants pocket, inserts it into his mouth as if he is slicing through his whiskers. "Remember when you were a boy, how overjoyed you were when the carnival came to town, and how sad you were when it left? You wished so hard that it would stay. Wished the fun would last forever." "Of course, but every boy is like that," Phillip answers. "Yes, every boy is. But I'm asking you to remember." Mister Snow closes the door and the room goes pitch black. He then strikes a match a touches it to the top of his pipe's bowl, causing a familiar aroma to fill the air. As he exhales a fluorescent smoke, he asks, "Remember the smell of fresh straw, of popcorn, peanuts and cotton candy?" Phillip nods as he concentrates on the glowing smoke. In it he sees shapes taking form. Morton Snow/Gamblin/8 Mister Snow inhales, then blows more smoke. "You were free then, free from parents, from homework, from chores. For a few precious moments you were bathed in pure delight. Tell me you haven't forgotten?" "No I haven't. It was ..." "Ecstasy!" Mister Snow finishes. The smoke starts to dart, circle and twist rhythmically, it rises and falls like an ocean's wave, appearing to solidify and take shape. "Don't forget the rides," Mister Snow reminds. "Oh, all of those fabulous rides. The Carousel and the Ferris Wheel. The Twister and the Scrambler. There were so many, and it seemed that there was a new one each year." Mister Snow inhales, then exhales again. The smoke dances, then drifts to join the rest, and Phillip can identify various forms in the smoky realm. He can see the Carousel, the Twister, and the Scrambler. And beyond those is the ghostly outline of the Ferris Wheel. "It's all here, Phillip. Every carnival you ever saw. All those you
remember, and even those you have forgotten." Mister Snow inhales deeply, more deeply than before, and exhales more smoke than Phillip thought two lungs could possibly hold. Some of the smoke joins to complete the Ferris Wheel, the rest scatters to form -- children, laughing children, everywhere. There are children on the Twister with deathgrips, yelling, "Faster, faster." Some are on the Carousel, bobbing up and down on painted ponies. Others are on the Ferris Wheel, waving to those below. "You see, your wish can come true," Mister Snow says. "What wish?" That the carnival will last forever. That the rides will never stop. All you have to do is wish, wish like you did when you were ten years old." Phillip sees smiles everywhere, not an unhappy face to be found. And as he studies the faces, one in particular stands out. There is a young boy standing in front of the Carousel eating a cone of cotton candy. This boy's face Phillip would know anywhere. It is a young Tony Morgan. Mister Snow speaks just above a whisper as he says, "Close your eyes and wish, Phillip. Wish and you can join them." Morton Snow/Gamblin/10 "I wish..." Phillip squeezes his eyes shut, his heart races like inspired fingers on a keyboard. "No, it's impossible. This has to be some sort of trick." He opens his eyes, tries to see the mirrors behind the smoke. "It's not a trick. I assure you. It is as real as real can be." Mister Snow points to the young girl who is laughing, riding the Ferris Wheel, "Ask Willa. Her days as an abused wife have passed. Or Tony. His alcoholic nightmare is over." Phillip closes his eyes again, "I..." He takes a deep breath. He can smell the popcorn, the cotton candy. Melodies from the Carousel float to him in the form of music box chords. The mechanical grind of the Twister and the Scrambler combine to sound like the roar of a great, awakening beast. His mind's eye can see the Ferris Wheel as it slowly revolves on its giant axle, carrying each benchful of children up, then back down again. "At what point of your existence did you stop believing in the carnivals magic? It's as real as it was when you were ten years old." Mister Snow bends close to Phillip's ear, "Just wish." Morton Snow/Gamblin/11 "I-I've got to get a picture of this." Phillip opens his eyes, raises his camera and clicks the shutter. The camera flashes, the room goes dark. For a moment Phillip see, hears and feels nothing, but in a short while those sense return to him with pure unpleasantness. Random stabs of pain pierce his body until there is no place free from the fiery agony. When he tries to move his efforts are rewarded with waves of nausea. There are shrieking sirens driving white lightning bolts into his brain. And voices, near and far, urgently crying out. He tries to answer, but can not. Another flash of light, just like the camera's flash, causes his body to jerk involuntarily. His eyes open in time to see the paddles pull away from his chest. There are paramedics on each side of him, one of them says, "We thought we lost you there for a minute, buddy." Phillip's mind twists deeper into confusion until he spots his car, which is lying upside down, at the side of the road. And standing just a few feet ahead of it is a sign that announces: GRAVETTE CITY LIMITS.
Morton Snow/Gamblin/12 A crowd has gathered now, and scattered among them are faces of children, familiar faces, that are no longer happy, nor smiling. And as they disappear into the crowd, leaving him behind, he closes his eyes and wishes. THE END