Billy and Stan hit the midway running full speed, hardly noticing what was around them and who they might have run into. Around them, the bright lights twinkled and the fair rides spun wildly. Even though the fair had come late this year and the cool October winds blew their hair back, they barely noticed the cold and instead raced with no aim and no destination in mind. To Billy, it seemed he ran in some fantastic time machine, one that came every year and made him glad he had been born a boy.
It was the same every year they could remember, Billy and Stan came as two and left as two. When they were seven they had tipped over all the portajohns and ran and hid under the grandstands while local cops looked all over for them. When eight years came and the county fair fell under sweltering August skies they had ridden the Tilt-A-Whirl until corn dogs and cotton candy came swirling up from their bellies. Nine years went by and they won arm loads of stuffed animals from the games. Ten and eleven went by in a swirl of rain and thunderstorms, and Billy and Stan rode the ferris wheel and watched the storms sweep in from across the fields until the carnie made them get off.
Now they were a wonderful twelve years old and they planned to storm the rides like the wind. Billy ran behind Stan, watching his taller friend's dark hair streak in the wind and his t-shirt ripple as he matched him stride for stride. Turning by the auction barn, they huffed and puffed to a stop and stood leaning on their knees while they caught their breath. Billy wiped his hair from his eyes and felt the sweat trickle down his forehead. The wind across his face reminded him it was October and he shrugged the thin windbreaker he was wearing across his chest.
Stan straightened up and looked at Billy. The lights from the midway played across his face. The dark t-shirt he wore seemed thin but Stan seemed not to notice the cold at all.
"Which ride is first, Billy Boy?" he asked, shaking his hair from his eyes.
"Scrambler, got to be." Billy said.
"Come-on man, we rode that first last year. How about the Spider?"
"Sure, that'd be great. Let's go."
"Wait a minute," Stan said, his eyes flashing in the lights. He ran his fingers through his hair. "I'm waiting for someone."
"Who are you waiting for?" Billy said, confused. They had other friends but they very rarely did things with anyone else.
"Just wait," Stan said. He looked at the corner of the building then smiled as two girls rounded the corner. One of them, a tall thin girl with dark hair, was Misty Bubaker. Her shorter friend was Stacy Hutton, a pretty girl with long blond hair. She was very quiet at school. Both girls were in the same grade as Billy and Stan, although they were in different home rooms.
"What are they doing here?" Billy asked Stan.
"Relax. They are just going to ride some rides with us." Stan said, smiling but not looking at Billy.
"Hey Stan!" yelled Misty, coming up to them. Billy could smell her perfume. They were carrying little purses, the contents of which Billy could never figure out. She sidled up next to Stan and grabbed his arm. Billy felt mildly nauseated. "You know Stacy." Billy and Stan nodded. Stacy smiled and glanced at Billy, but quickly looked down. Billy felt more nauseous.
Misty started pulling at Stan's arm. "Come on," she said. "Let's go ride some rides!" Billy watched as they took off around the corner. He looked at Stacy. "I guess we should go." She nodded and the two of them followed Stan and Misty.
As they rounded the corner, Billy saw Misty and Stan had already made it to the line of the ferris wheel. Billy looked over at Stacy as he walked. She met his gaze a few times but quickly looked down. "I guess we are riding the ferris wheel," he said.
"Yeah, I guess so," she replied. Billy looked down awkwardly. They caught up to Stan and Misty just as the operator opened the little metal gate to let them onto the ferris wheel. Stan and Misty ran to sit down in the seat. As Billy and Stacy went to sit down, Stan elbowed Billy in the ribs and said, "Next seat buddy."
"What?" Billy asked, surprised.
"I said get the next seat," Stan said, motioning with his eyes at Misty who sat smiling next to him.
"Uhh, sure," Bill stammered, and he and Stacy waited until the next seat came down and sat down. They sat uncomfortably together as the seat rose in the air. The midway lights grew smaller below them and the sounds of the music drifted away on the cool air as Billy and Stacy rose into the air. They rose almost to the top and then the wheel stopped as the operator let some people off and some more on. Billy looked out from their seat at the rolling hills as they stretched away from them. Cars moved like ants across the roads and Billy saw that most trees had dropped their leaves. It was a fine night, and Billy thought it would have been good to be looking up haunted houses and running through the woods as the leaves rustled beneath his feet. However, sitting on this ferris wheel seat with this strange creature, this girl, sitting beside him was something he had not planned for at all.
He cleared his throat. "Sure can see a longs ways up here."
Stacy looked at him. "I don't bite. You can talk to me. I know you'd rather be with Stan right now but I think he's occupied."
Billy was surprised at how forward she was. His mouth dropped opened and he couldn't reply for a few seconds.
"Uhh, sure," he said. "Aren't you in Mrs. Winters home room?"
"Yeah, that's me." They lurched forward as the wheel started up again. "Don't you think that she is a mean old witch?"
Billy thought. Mrs. Winters was pretty mean. She had made Stan and him stay after school once for just talking in the halls. "Yeah. She IS a witch," he said.
Stacy nodded. "Once, me and Misty and a couple of girls put ex-lax in her coffee she's always drinking. I bet she was on the pot for a month!"
Billy laughed out loud. He watched Stacy's hair as it flew in the breeze and saw the midway lights moving on her skin as she talked. He had no idea that a girl could do something so cool as this prank she had just described.
"I bet she was!" he said. "That's so cool!"
"Yeah, we've done all kinds of cool things like that. We put plastic wrap over the toilet in the teacher's lounge too. They never did figure out who did that."
Billy laughed again. "Actually, they tried to blame me and Stan!"
They both laughed. They were still laughing when the wheel stopped and the operator motioned for them to get out of the seat. As they passed the fence they saw Stan and Misty moving off to the Hall of Mirrors.
"Come on," Stacy said, grabbing his hand. "I love that place."
Billy flushed as he felt her cool hand on his and allowed himself to be led to the tent entrance of the Hall of Mirrors. They stopped by the operator. The old man working the tent had gray hair flowing out of a dark sock hat pulled low on his head. The man wore all black, and huddled in a long black wool coat. He smiled down at Billy and Stacy from where he stood leaning against a post.
"Two tickets each," he said.
Billy handed over four tickets to the man. The old man snatched them and shoved his hands back in the pocket of the coat.
"Are you sure you're ready? You might see all kinds of things in these mirrors. You might see the future!"
"Yeah, sure," Billy said and he and Stacy moved through the tent flap. Away from them mirrors stretched in all directions, and their images moved with them, tall and short, laughing and stretching as the mirrors dictated. They moved carefully through the mirrors, laughing and pointing as Billy was squashed to the size of a dwarf and Stacy was stretched away like a tent pole. Just ahead they could hear Stan and Misty laughing. Making a turn, they found themselves in front of two final mirrors before the exit. They stopped and looked at their reflections.
Billy gasped. This mirror stretched him, making him about the size of his father. A bulge had appeared in his midsection, like a belly from too much food. A weird lighting made his hair look graying. Billy looked like an adult, like his father asleep in the chair after Sunday dinner. Gone was the boy he had been, replaced by some man who went to work and came home and repeated as needed. He felt sick and couldn't find any words to say.
"Boy," muttered Stacy, "I look weird. Check me out."
Billy looked over at the mirror in front of Stacy. Her reflection almost brought tears to his eyes. Her blond hair shimmered in the light. She had been stretched as well, but in her reflection her chest was larger and her legs were long. Billy stared. He had not seen anything more beautiful in his life.
"Weird," Stacy said. "Are you ready?"
Billy could find no words to say so he just nodded. They moved out the exit flap. As they rounded the tent, the old man waiting by the entrance waved at them.
"Did you see the future?" the man asked.
Billy looked at the midway, and heard for the first time it seemed the rock music from the speakers. He watched the lights, and turned to watch them twinkle in Stacy's hair. He felt a million years away from the boy who had gone in the tent.
"Yeah, I think so," he said.
Stacy took some gum from her purse and placed it in her mouth. Billy watched the gum disappear between her lips.
"Hey, where are Stan and Misty? she said. " I thought you and Stan went everywhere together."
"I guess not," he said. "That's okay." He took her hand. "Let's go check out some more rides."
Hand in hand they walked away into the night.
Kevin Blankenship lives and works in Berea, Kentucky, with his wife and child. He has published fiction and poetry in Pegasus, The Zephyrus, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature.