Amy & Anne

Amy and Anne got in line for the ferris wheel. By now, they were no longer speaking to each other. The tension hung between them like a wasps nest swaying in the night breeze. Even the ferris wheel operator paused. The cobweb tattoo on his elbow stretched as he extended a sweaty palm.

“Tickets please!”

Amy and Anne boarded the empty gondola waiting for them at the end of the ramp. A bird in flight, like a phoenix, was carved into the carriage’s crimson side. The girls gazed around at the lights of the carnival perched on the end of the wooden pier, the delirious throngs of people, the ocean stretching into the black night. Their eyes took in everything but each other. The ride operator gave one last quizzical look before shrugging, then pulling the safety bar down onto the girls’ laps, locking them in.

As the ferris wheel turned, Amy and Anne’s carriage floated to the very top, then stopped. The sounds of the carnival—laughter, yelling, the merry-go-round—merged into the warped cacophony of a broken music box. From this din, the voices of two girls arguing gradually emerged. The other passengers on the ferris wheel did not notice right away. They slowly snapped out of their reveries and looked around, wondering where the angry voices came from. Eventually, all eyes converged on the crimson carriage, rocking queasily at the top of the ferris wheel.

The arguing soon escalated into yelling, screaming. Amy and Ann’s carriage swung forward and backward. People down on the ground began to notice also. They pointed, looking upwards. They saw arms and legs flailing about, the girls seemed to be shoving each other, struggling. Tremors ran down the length of the ferris wheel, paralyzing the other riders as they stared at the carriage creaking above them.

The ride operator stopped what he was doing. He turned his eyes up to the top of the ferris wheel. The carriage swung rhythmically like a pendulum.

“Girls! cut it out!”

The carriage continued to rock. A woman watching from the ground gasped when the back of one of the girls’ heads appeared over the side. There was a shriek, and a green leather purse hurtled over the side, landing on the ground with a thud.

“Alright! That’s enough!”

The ferris wheel operator pulled a lever and the wheel shuddered into motion. Amy and Anne’s gondola descended to the ground. The two girls were flustered, breathing heavily. Hair plastered against their foreheads with sweat, makeup smudged.

“What’s wrong with you two?!”

He unlocked the safety bar clamped across the girls’ laps, and lifted it. Amy and Ann stood up and wobbled down the ramp.

“Where’s my purse?” Anne slurred. She searched around her, a flask dangling out of one hand.

The ride operator picked the green bag up off the ground and shoved it into Anne’s arms.

“This is a no-no!” he grabbed the flask.

“Hey, that’s ours!” Amy cried indignantly.

“Not anymore. Bunch of trouble makers, aren’t you? We need to escort you off the premises now.” He placed the flask into his back pocket. “I don’t want your two faces around here again!”

Security arrived, and the girls were escorted to the carnival entrance, past the gawking eyes of families, teenagers, and children.

“Let go of me!” Anne lashed at the security guard clasping her arm.

They walked the two girls to a rickety wooden staircase leading down from the pier to the shadowy beach.

“If we see you again, we’re calling the police!”

Amy and Anne stumbled down the stairs. Anne leaned over the handrail and expelled the contents of her stomach, making splattering sounds on the wet sand below.

“Get yer friend home!”

*****

The carnival had shut down by the time Amy emerged from the darkness draped across the beach. Ocean waves crashed unseen under the cover of night, slapping against the sand. Amy shuffled along, dragging her feet back towards the pier.

The crowds were gone by now. Tickets scattered on the ground, dirty stuffed animals, popcorn and paper soda cups crushed underfoot were the only signs that people had been there at all. The lights of the game booths, the food stands, the rollercoaster and the merry-go-round winked out one by one. The ferris wheel remained the sole beacon still brilliantly shining as Amy approached the first carnival worker she came upon. Her hands latched onto the tattooed arms of the ferris wheel operator.

“I thought I told you not to come back here…shit! What’s wrong?”

Amy’s lips emitted no sound, but her eyes were wide open and frantic. Her hair was wet with ocean water, weighing her head towards the ground. She gulped in air, breathing heavily. Sand crusted her bare, white arms and pale, trembling legs. The ocean seemed reluctant to release its grip on her.

The ferris wheel operator furrowed his eyebrows, “Where’s your friend?”

*****

The rotating red lights of the police cars flashed along the sand and on the faces of men and women standing around, murmuring. The sky slowly brightened through a gauze of blue as the long night released its hold on the landscape.

“Where did you last see Anne?” asked the police officer. “What happened after you left the carnival? What were you two arguing about?”

Amy mumbled incoherently, like a baby babbling for its bottle.

The police spoke with the carnival employees. They heard accounts of the girls fighting on the ferris wheel, how one of them had nearly fallen off. Someone mentioned their inebriated state, how the missing girl had been swinging around a flask apparently snuck onto the carnival grounds. The police interviewed the ferris wheel operator.

“Do you know where this flask is now?”

“No, I don’t,” he replied. “The girls took it with them.”

The police escorted Amy to a police car, her wrists clamped behind her back in handcuffs. Amy paused as she stepped into the car. She looked over her shoulder, eyes alighting over the sand, the crashing waves, the ocean. The officer pushed Amy’s head down, and she disappeared into the back of the car.

The police vehicles pulled away, one by one, driving back into the city. The ferris wheel operator, the carnival workers, yawned as they got into their trucks and cars. Eventually, they all drove away as well.

The beach was empty again, but for the seagulls flapping, floating in the air. The sun climbed higher into the sky—the blank, stony face of a new day.

*****

Waves slapped onto the wet sand underneath the pier, pulled back into the ocean, then crashed onto the sand again. The roar of the surf rose and fell, punctuated by the shrieks of seagulls calling to each other. The retreating water pulled sand and pebbles away, revealing a mound laying in the sand. The mound stirred, morphing into the body of a young girl. She raised her head, and looked around, as if noticing for the first time where she was.

Anne stood up, her wet clothes clinging to her skinny body. She walked unsteadily on wobbling legs. She slowly made her way to the boardwalk, past a parking lot, to a bus bench on the street. In the distance, a bus meandered down the street towards her. She dug a hand into her pocket, fished out a clutch of wet bills and coins. The bus pulled up to the stop and opened its doors. Anne climbed onto the bus, dripping water on the steps. The bus doors closed, and the bus drove away.

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