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The Abandoned Fairground

Life will never be the same for Johnny again, especially after he hears the fairground tunes.

By Sam H ArnoldPublished 5 months ago 22 min read
2

Johnny was drifting off to sleep in the new house. He didn't want to be here, he wanted to return to London. But his mum had died, and his mumma had decided to return home. Now, he was stuck in this broken house, living near a grandfather he had met for the first time yesterday.

The window stood open to try and clear some of the stale air out. That was when he heard the fairground ride start-up. The music drifted across to him like the mist.

Strangely, he hadn't remembered a fairground when they had driven to the house. He got out of bed, wincing at the cold floorboards under his feet. Padding across to the window, he looked out; in the next field, he saw a dim glow of colour. The music was coming from that direction, but why hadn't he seen the fairground in the daylight? He thought back to what he had seen in that field. He couldn't remember, he had been too busy sulking to look out of the window.

He shut the window with a bang and returned to his bed, burying himself under the covers to hide from the world.

The smell of bacon cooking awoke Johnny the next morning. Going downstairs, his mumma was standing at the old range frying bacon. She smiled as he entered, clearly not wanting to start another conversation that ended in cross words.

"That smells good," he said.

"Thought it would be a nice way to start our new life in the country."

He watched her try and suck the last words back into her mouth. The silence engulfed them as she waited to see his reaction. They were let off, making the first move by the smell of the bacon burning.

His mumma spun around, scooping the pan off the stove and throwing it in the sink; as she turned the cold water on, the pair were engulfed in smoke. "Shit. Shit. Shit," she muttered under her breath.

At first, Johnny thought it was the smoke that had made his mumma's eyes run, but then he realised she was crying. "Mum always did say you were a lousy cook," he whispered.

He was treated with the best sound in the world, his mumma laughing; he thought back to the last time he heard her laugh; it was before the accident he knew. She walked over to him and flung her arms around his shoulders, pulling him closer to her. "I miss her too," she said into his neck.

"I know, mumma, I know. I'm sorry I have been, well, you know."

"It's okay, kiddo, you miss her too. I get it."

I miss Mum. I miss my friends, home and life, he thought to himself.

"I think I'm forgetting her mumma. All those memories no longer play in my head."

"It will take time, honey; they will come back. You know I love you right."

He nodded into her chest as she squeezed him a little harder. Both of them jumped at the sound of the gruff voice behind them. "No wonder that lad is soft the way you mollycoddle him."

He felt his mumma stiffen as she straightened up. "He is my son. I will bring him up how I want."

The old man shrugged and sat on the stool near the table. His Mumma returned to the sink, retrieved the pan and started frying more bacon. Johnny sat opposite his grandfather, looking at him, not knowing what to say.

He was a big man, tall and broad. His features looked worn from the time he had spent out on the marsh. Most of his face was covered with a white beard, he reminded Johnny of a worn Father Christmas, not that he believed in that shit.

It wasn't long before Mumma presented them all with a bacon sandwich, a look of triumph on her face. As he ate, his grandfather peppered his mother with questions, the talk was pleasant but not friendly. If you didn't know, you would never guess the woman sitting opposite him was his daughter.

Finishing his sandwich, he said, "Mumma, can I go out for a while? Look around."

"Yeah, if you want. Where are you planning to go?"

"I want to look at the fair that arrived last night."

"What bloody fair?" His grandfather asked.

"The one in the next field. I heard the music last night."

"You stay away from that there field," his grandfather answers. "Nothing good ever comes of that rubbish. Girl went missing over there, one minute she was walking through the field next minute gone."

"Dad, what are you talking about?"

"The field between our houses. Nothing but broken fairground rides. It's dangerous. The boy needs to stay out."

"But, I heard it going, last night it was working," Johnny butted in.

"If you heard it going, then you are as stupid as that thing your mother married who you called mum."

"I hate you, and I hate this place; I wish you had died rather than her. No one would have missed you," he yelled in the face of the old man.

Knocking his chair down, he ran out of the house. He heard his mother yelling at his grandfather, but he couldn't hear what they were saying; he just ran as fast as he could, trying to run the pain away.

When he eventually stopped, he dropped his hands to his knees and took huge gulps of the air around him. He had no idea where he was, but he knew he had to be close to his grandfather's house. Walking a little along the road, he felt like his legs were jelly. It wasn't long before he spotted his grandfather's shack.

Before he knew what was happening, he stood outside the building, looking at it, weighing the large stone in his hand. He pulled his arm back and let the stone go, he watched it turn in a slow arc and smash straight through the front window. Johnny smiled and set off running again, this time toward the fairground.

It wasn't long before he came to the gate with the padlock. Pulling the gates apart, he stared in. Just in front of the gates was a tarmac area, and on it sat three caravans that looked like they had seen better days. In the distance, he could see the joke shop; other rides lay behind it in a maze of metal.

Johnny pulled the gates a little more apart and pushed his left leg through; with a squeeze, he could get his torso through the gap, ducking his head under the chain and dragging his right leg after him. He was in the field.

He walked past the caravans; they were obviously empty, yet he still felt like people were watching him from the windows. He shivered and then laughed at himself. He reasoned that the sweat from his run was now making him cold.

The first ride he came to was the carousel the horses stood in a circle not moving. The red and white framework had started to peel, and some of the steps were rotten and had fallen into the earth. He stood on the first step, rocking back and forth, trying to get it to turn even the smallest amount.

On the third time rocking forward, the horse closest to him spun around, facing him. Johnny toppled back onto the grass behind him, in shock his heart raced. The horse sat on its pole, staring at him as if waiting to break free from its mooring to trample him into the ground.

He tried to hurry back on his bum when two other horses spun around to face him. That was when he felt the wind on his face. He waited twenty seconds before another gust, and sure enough, another horse turned. He stood up, dusting himself down, "you are going soft, Johnny, frightened of the wind," he said, hoping no one would hear him.

As he walked away, he thought to himself that maybe those ghost stories his mum used to tell him hadn't been such a good idea. Tears threatened to run down his face, so he stuffed the memory down where it belonged and concentrated on exploring the rest of the field. He hadn't cried, and he wasn't going to start now.

When he finally returned home, he was dirty and tired, but there was a smile on his face. He walked through the door to find his mumma again at the kitchen table, twirling her wedding ring around her finger like she always did when thinking. "I was worried about you," she said.

"I'm okay," he said. Taking a glass from the draining board, filling it with water and swallowing it in three mouthfuls. "Mumma, why does Grandpa hate Mum so much?"

His mother sighed; pulling out the stool beside her, she tapped it with her hand for him to sit down. "Dad and I were close when I was younger," she said. "I was always out on the tractor with him or helping him with work. Then I met this guy he was a labourer on the next farm. Dad was so pleased. My mum had just passed away, and it meant that I would be staying around near him if I married this guy."

"So he is pissed you didn't marry the guy from next door?" Johnny asked.

"Not exactly. You see, I did marry the guy. I didn't love him, I am not even sure I liked him, but I married him for your grandpa."

Johnny physically had to close his mouth at this piece of news, "But how," he said before his mumma held up her hand to stop him.

"The marriage lasted three months before I realised what a mistake I had made. Neither of us was happy so we got it annulled, cancelled if you like. Dad was okay about it, but I knew from that moment on that I couldn't stay here. I realised it wasn't the labourer I didn't like. It was men. Dad would have never understood, so I thought I could move away, date some women without him knowing, get it out of my system, and then move home again."

"But, you met mum."

"Yes, honey. I met your mum, and everything changed. I loved her with all my heart, and for her, it didn't matter what anyone thought because, with her, I felt whole." She wiped her finger under her eyes. Johnny put his hand on her arm, she smiled at him.

"So, Grandpa?" He asked.

"I came to see him after your mum proposed to me. I wanted him to give me away. I wanted him to be part of my life." Johnny waited. "He didn't want any of it. He told me I went against god. I was unnatural. He shut the door in my face as he told me goodbye."

"Fuck," Johnny said. Then he realised what he had said, "Sorry,

"No fuck pretty much sums it up," she said with a smile.

"So why does he hate mum?"

"Because he blames her for making me gay."

"But!"

"I know, I know, but men of your grandpa's generation are different."

"Okay, so why did we come back here?"

"Because despite all the years we didn't speak, I still loved him. When your mum died, I just had to be near someone else who I loved and who hopefully still loved me. You need someone else to love you, too. I couldn't stay in London, Johnny, there were too many memories. I am sorry."

"Do you know, it's okay, Mumma. For the first time, I think it is okay."

She hugged him. When she released him, he made his way up to his room. Turning in the doorway, he looked back at her, "Mumma," he said. She looked in his direction. "I love you."

They were just clearing the dinner plates away when they heard the old van coming up the drive. Johnny froze suddenly, remembering the stone and the window. His grandfather walked in, filling the doorway. Nodding at his mother, he said, "Mind if I borrow the boy for an hour."

Whatever thought Johnny had about getting out of the trip vanished when he saw the look on his mother's face. He followed his grandfather to the van, climbing into the seat beside him. Neither of them said anything as they drove back to the shack. When they arrived, he spotted the broken window. His grandfather got out of the van and walked towards the garage. I am in for a whooping now, he thought.

His grandfather returned with a broom in his hand. "I reckon if you are going to break someone's window, the least you can do is clean the glass up," he said. Handing the broom to Johnny.

It took Johnny fifteen minutes to sweep the glass from outside the house. He was considering whether he should knock on the door to clear the inside up when his grandfather emerged with a can of Coke in his hand.

"Here," he said, handing Johnny the Coke.

"Mumma doesn't like me drinking Coke," Johnny kicked himself; how was that the first thing that had come out his mouth?

"I'll have it back then."

"No, it is fine," Johnny pulled the ring pull and sat on the step to drink. His grandfather sat beside him.

"Do you like it then?" His grandfather said.

"Like what?"

"The Coke. You said you weren't allowed it. So, do you like it?"

Johnny realised this was the most he had ever heard his grandfather say. He swallowed, "my mum used to take me out for a coke sometimes if I had been good," he said in a rush.

The silence seemed to envelop them both. Finally, his grandfather stood up, "Best be getting you home."

They travelled back in silence. As he pulled up outside the house, Johnny opened the door and jumped down. "What I said about your mum before was wrong. So was breaking my window. We will say no more about it."

Johnny nodded as he shut the door and ran into the house.

Johnny was riding the carousel; the wind was whipping his hair in front of his face, and the ride turned faster and faster. The tune was in his head, the same monotonous beat that seemed to keep time to the horses.

He heard a giggle beside him, and there was his mum, hair all over the place, laughing as the horses went up and down. She smiled at Johnny, and he saw the fun twinkle in her eyes.

She reached her hand to him across the gap and letting go; he went to join his hand to hers like he had so many times in the past. As he went to grab her fingers, her hand melted into a red mist and started to fall away, large blood droplets hitting the floor.

He woke in a pool of sweat. He didn't want to open his eyes. He wanted the image of his mum to stay with him forever. If he concentrated, he could still see her smile and hear the music, the four bars repeating and repeating.

The four bars repeating and repeating. He opened his eyes, and the images disappeared, but the tune was still there, repeating and repeating. He went to the window, pulling back the curtains, and there was the light from the fairground and the sound of music.

He must still be dreaming. He had visited that fairground, and his grandpa was right. Nothing was ever going to work there again. This was one of those dreams when you think you wake up only to find you are still dreaming, and no matter how hard you try, you can't wake up.

He looked at the dresser near the window. Grabbing the metal comb from the top, he turned it over and dug it into his leg. It didn't take long before he was hopping around his room, knowing he was undoubtedly awake. He threw the comb into the corner, licking his thumb, and wiped it over the four puncher wounds that had appeared below his shorts. Still, the music haunted his thoughts.

Pulling his jeans and jumper on, he took one last look out the window before picking up his trainers and sneaking past his mother's room. The time on the clock said 2 am. He opened the front door as quietly as possible, shutting it behind him. He bent down and laced his trainers up, then he took off at a sprint towards the field.

This time, he jumped the fence on his side of the field. Dropping down into the wet grass, he looked around him. Following the light, he came to the waltzer. The music was coming from the ride. The bucket chairs swung round as the waltzer turned. Faster and faster, they spun, completely empty but still turning.

Standing on the spot, Johnny turned round, looking at all the other rides. The rollercoaster made a squeaking noise as it rolled over the rusted rails. The ducks were floating round the hook a duck game. The magic carpet rose and dropped at intervals as if invisible forces rode it.

Out of the corner of his eye, he saw a movement near the children's teacup ride. Out walked a little girl. Her hair in pigtails had started to escape the bands. She wore a red party dress with tiny satin shoes. She looked younger than Johnny, maybe six years old.

The girl smiled at him as she skipped past. Having gone a couple of metres in front of him, she turned. Putting her hand out, she extended her first finger and curled it to tell him to follow her.

He followed at a distance before she stopped at the ghost train. He stood beside her, "I'm not allowed on that. It is too scary," she said.

"Well, there is no one to stop you," Johnny replied.

"No, I have to do as I am told, or I won't get any cotton candy. I am Alice."

"Hi Alice, what are you doing here?"

"Riding the fairground, silly," she said with a giggle.

"How long have you been here?" Johnny asked.

"Forever. If you stay one night you can stay all the nights. Let's go on the horses."

She sat to his left on the horse, "Don't you want to ride the fairground forever? That is what I did. I get to ride all day, every day. No grown-up to tell me it is time to go home."

He shook his head, "I don't actually think I do."

"You forget everything here. All the bad stuff, all the sad stuff, it is like one big holiday."

For the first time, Johnny realised that perhaps he didn't want to escape the run-down house, his grumpy grandpa and his life. The girl stiffened beside him as she saw his reaction.

"You could get to spend the rest of your time with her," she said, motioning to the horse at the right of Johnny.

Johnny turned around, even though he knew what he would see. There sat on the horse was his mum. He reached across the gap, and he felt her hand enclose his.

"Come and be with me, Johnny," she said to him. "I miss you. You know I am the one you should be with." Something in her voice, the way she said it, stopped Johnny.

He took a deep breath, "My mum would never make me pick between her and mumma; you are a fake." Tears sprung to his eyes as his mum faded from the horse to be replaced by Alice glaring at him. She sprang off the horse towards him with her nails extended towards his eyes.

Johnny managed to duck and roll off the turning carousel, landing on the grass with a thump. Alice followed him, jumping from the middle of the carousel to the ground just in front of him. Her arm shot out, and he felt her fingers close around his throat.

Images in front of his eyes started to swim, and darkness started to creep into his vision as he fought for air. When he thought he could not take anymore burning in his lungs, he heard a voice far away that he seemed to recognise.

"You get off my grandson, you bitch."

Air flooded his body. He gasped a couple of times as his vision cleared. There stood in front of him was his grandfather with a cross in his hand, facing Alice, who had returned to being a sweet little girl.

"We had an agreement," his grandfather shouted to the air around him. "You get to play in the fairground undisturbed if you agree not to take anyone else. "

Johnny heard a chorus of rustling voices all around him as more and more people came into view. Some were dressed in long flowing gowns; others wore tight jeans and bomber jackets; some wore jeans and hoodies. Wherever he looked, people in different dress styles descended from the rides around him. In the middle of all this stood his grandfather.

"We haven't taken anyone else."

The voices echoed in unison. Johnny had no idea who had spoken, it was as if they had all spoken separately at the same time as one.

"You have my boy here. You were trying to take him." His grandfather shouted.

"Alice," the voices hummed.

"I am bored. I am the only child here. You never let me do anything. I wanted someone to play with," Alice said.

The shadows of people moved towards Alice. They circled her as if they were going through her and around her at the same time. Johnny thought he heard a tiny scream as the bodies parted. Alice was no longer there.

"Go, we will keep our agreement," they said.

Johnny's grandfather reached down his hand, never once taking his eyes off the shadow. Johnny grabbed his hand and felt the old man lift him to his feet. Putting his arm around the boy, his grandfather pulled him into him and walked across the field out of the gate. Turning, he locked the gate behind him again, propelling Johnny towards his house.

Having sat Johnny on the sofa and told him to stay, his grandfather returned five minutes later with a cup of tea. "Drink," he said.

"Johnny sucked the hot liquid into his mouth, wincing as it hit his tongue. He had never tasted anything so sweet in his life."

His grandfather chuckled, "Sweet tea is good for shock. So is brandy, but I think we have had enough spirits for tonight," he said with a smirk.

Johnny chuckled despite himself. "How come you can see them?"

"Always have been able to since I was a nipper."

"What is that place?"

"A broken fairground, as the sign says. But, it is also where spirits come to have a last piece of fun."

"You knew about the place?"

"Course I did. It has been in my family for years. Was meant to go to your mother, but then she ran off. So, it has just been me managing the place. Part of the reason I couldn't come to that wedding, can't leave this place for more than a couple of days, or the visitors start misbehaving. I know I upset your mumma for years, but I couldn't help it."

"Alice?" Johnny asked.

"Happened when my Ella died, your grandmother. She had cancer, you see, and I wanted to spend the last moments with her, so I didn't go home for a couple of nights. A couple who had died in a car crash wanted a child, saw Alice and decided to have her. She was young and thought riding the carousel all night would be fun. Poor thing didn't realise there would be no other night. Told them I did when I returned if they took anyone else I would burn the place to the ground."

"My mum died in a car crash," Johnny said. He felt the grief threaten to engulf him and pushed it back down.

"Yeah, I know," his grandfather said. "She was a journalist, I understand. Bloody good writer from what I have read."

Johnny nodded.

"You know I was wrong about her. I know that now. She must have been okay cos you ain't so bad, and good kids come from good parents. Plus, she loved your Mumma, I know that. I am pleased she had someone love her how she should have been."

"She was the best," he said in barely a whisper.

"Best get you home, sun is coming up and can't have your mumma worrying about you."

As they arrived back at the house, they walked through the door as his mumma walked into the kitchen for her first coffee only half awake. She started at the sight of the pair of them together.

"Boy came to help me with the chickens," his grandfather said.

"Right," Mumma replied. Johnny was pretty sure she hadn't brought the excuse, especially as it was the first time Johnny had heard anything about chickens. "Brought some eggs for breakfast?" She asked.

"Wrong weather for laying," his grandfather said, heading back out the door. His mumma shook her head as if she was trying to work out if she was still asleep.

As his grandfather reached his van, Johnny raced after him, "Grandpa, Grandpa."

"What is it, son."

"If they are ghosts, why do you lock them in? Surely, they can float through the gates."

"Lock isn't for them. It is to keep idiot thirteen-year-olds out." With that, he reached his hand out and ruffled Johnny's hair before shutting the door and driving back down the lane. Johnny watched his grandfather until he was out of sight with a smile on his face.

The rest of the day was pretty uneventful. Johnny was tired, so had gone back to bed, not getting up until the afternoon. The pair had sat eating sweets and watching films for the rest of the day. Johnny could tell his mumma wanted to ask about his grandfather, but she also didn't want to know.

Johnny went to bed at 9 pm, saying he still felt tired. He heard his mumma shut her door an hour later. He lay awake in the dark, staring at the window, wondering if he would see the lights. That was how he found himself once again dressed at 2 am walking through the field towards the hook a duck stool.

"How did you know I would be here?" She asked.

"It was always your favourite," Johnny replied.

"No. How did you know I was here."

"Grandpa told me."

"He promised he wouldn't."

"It wasn't his fault. He started talking about you, and I realised he knew things that Mumma wouldn't have told him. He had to have got it from you." He turned and, for the first time, looked at his mum. Not the fake image he had seen on the carousel but his real mum.

She opened her arms, and he walked into them, burying his head against her shoulder. "I miss you," he said as the tears broke from his eyes.

"I miss you all too, but I am always here, baby, and always will be."

"It isn't the same, we can't be together."

"No, Johnny, we can't. But, life is cruel; things change, and sometimes it is better to have had a short time with someone than no time at all." She brushed her fingers across his cheek, wiping the tears away.

"It will never be the same without you. Why did you have to die."

"It was my time, buddy. No one knows when that is. And no it won't be the same, but it will be different and sometimes."

"Different is good," Johnny finished her sentence for her.

"Exactly, kiddo. Anyway, you have your grandpa now, and no matter what your mumma says, he is a good man. He loves you both as much as I do."

"What did you two talk about?"

"You, your mumma. The fact you like Coke."

"He isn't you, though," Johnny said.

"No, he is different, and different is", she said with a smile.

"Good," Johnny grinned through his tears.

The night raced through. Johnny and his mum talked and laughed. It was three hours later when she held his hand and walked him through the fairground field back to the house.

"Will I see you again?" He asked.

"No," she shook her head. "I will be here, but you won't see me. It isn't good for you, baby. You need to start living your life."

"Why can't I see you?"

"Close your eyes," she said, holding his hand. "Think about all those times we have had together. Do you see them?" He felt her touch his head, and a film flickered into place in his mind. All the birthdays, all the holidays, sledging, decorating the Christmas tree, it was all there. "Every time you need me, close your eyes, and I will be there."

"Will Grandpa still be able to see you?" He asked.

"No, buddy, that isn't fair on anyone. After tonight, no one will see me."

Johnny threw his arms around her. Maybe she wouldn't go again if he held on a little tighter. He saw the sun rise out of the corner of his eye, and when he looked down, his arms fell to his side. They were no longer holding anything.

Johnny went back to his room and fell onto the duvet fully clothed, letting sleep take him away.

When he woke up, he heard laughing downstairs. He was halfway down before he realised it was his mum and grandfather laughing together. He then realised with a jolt that he thought it might have been his mum. He closed his eyes to check, and the cinema film started again. Smiling, he opened his eyes and went into the kitchen.

"There you are," Mumma said, touching his forehead. "Do you feel okay because you have been sleeping a lot lately?"

"Mum, I'm fine," he said, pushing her hand away.

"It is the air down here that does that to a boy, makes him sleep more," Grandpa said.

"The air, really," his mum replied with a giggle.

"Yeah, the air here isn't the same, mumma. It is different," Johnny said.

"Yeah, but different is good," his grandfather replied with a wink at Johnny.

For more of my short stories find me on Ream

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About the Creator

Sam H Arnold

A writer obsessed with true crime, history and books. Find all my dedicated newsletters whether you are a true crime fan, bookworm or aspiring writer on Substack - https://substack.com/@samharnold

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  • Esala Gunathilake15 days ago

    Fantastic job.

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