The Last Traveling Carnival (Flash Fiction)

Anna’s brother had been sick for a long time. It was around Halloween when he finally died. Only eight years old and wanted to be a clown for Trick-or-Treating. She remembered it very clearly. The traveling carnival had been in town then, too.


Anna joined her two roommates at their usual table at the Cafe. She managed to set down her steaming cup of herbal tea without spilling. She had gotten good at hiding the tremors.

Simon had a textbook open in front of him, but Anna could tell he was too distracted by his girlfriend to study for class.

“I didn’t know the old-school traveling carnivals even existed anymore,” Lisa said as she inspected the flyer she had rescued from tumbling down the street.

Anna wasn’t able to suppress the shudder that slid down her spine.

“You ok?” Lisa asked looking up from the advertisement.

Anna pressed her eyes closed and nodded. It had been twelve years since she lost her twin brother, but she still missed Dan like it had been yesterday.

“They say it’s the very last one,” Simon said as he pushed his glasses up on his nose. He took the flyer from Lisa and examined it. “Most carnivals these days have those rides packed on semi trucks and games and stuff. This is the real deal. Hall of mirrors, sword jugglers, sideshow freaks, animals in cages, scary-looking clowns, a rickety old Ferris wheel, the whole nine yards.”

“Don’t sound so excited. That sounds terrifying,” Lisa said, scowling at her boyfriend.

“It is terrifying. That’s what makes it awesome.”

“I suppose you want to go?”

“Of course.”

Anna wasn’t so sure.


Her roommates dragged her along anyway. Lisa went because Simon wanted to, and Lisa guilted Anna into going with them.

“Don’t leave me alone with this gross boy at a creepy carnvial,” she pleaded.

Anna still couldn’t shake her uneasy feeling.

When they reached the carnival gates, they were accosted by a crazed-looking beggar woman, caked with grime and barely covered by a ragged collection of what might at one time have been clothing.

“Stay away!” she croaked. “It’s the carnival of death. Stay away if you want to keep your loved ones,” she warned, waving her arm awkwardly.

Simon laughed and Lisa rolled her eyes, but Anna felt a chill and thought of Dan.

The woman looked her straight in the eye. “Turn back while you still can.”

Anna thought that maybe the woman didn’t look crazy as much as she did sad.

As they made their way through the carnival, Anna’s sense of foreboding grew. In one of the tents – the one with the claimed alien fetus in a jar – exactly resembled one of Simon’s old pets that had been killed when he was young.

When they went to play some of the games, one of the prize trinkets used to be one of Lisa’s favorite toys that was lost when she was young.

She could tell her roomates had begun to share her unease.

“Simon, are you ready to go yet? This place is kind of creeping me out,” Lisa said, gripping Simon’s hand.

Simon’s smile was tight. “It’s fine, Lisa. It’s all just tricks to get inside your head. C’mon, let’s get our fortunes read.”

“You guys go ahead,” Anna said, hanging back.

An old crone sat behind a crystal ball as she shuffled her Tarot cards. She eyed them up and down, spat on the ground, and then placed her cards on the table.

“Thirty bucks per reading,” she said.

Simon scoffed. “Forget it.” He turned to go.

“Thirty total, but you let me read hers,” the woman said, pointing a crooked finger at Anna.

Anna felt goosebumps rise on her arms.

“You got it,” Simon said, slamming the bills on the table.

“Simon…” Anna said warily.

He ushered her to the table. Anna sighed. What harm could it really do? She didn’t have the energy to fight him.

She regretted it, though. While the woman predicted hardship and eventual breakup for the new couple, she pulled the death card for Anna.

“Your time grows near. The unwelcome visitor in your body will soon evict the original owner, and revert the property to ashes and dust.”

“What’s she talking about, Anna?” Lisa asked, concerned.

“Yeah, are you behind on the rent or something? Don’t worry, we won’t let our landlord evict you,” Simon assured her.

Anna hadn’t told the couple about her illness. Six months at most to live, that’s what the doctor had said. The same illness that had taken Dan all those years ago. She could attempt treatment, but the treatment would be just as painful as the illness and wouldn’t guarantee results. She had decided to enjoy the time she had left, but hadn’t decided how to break it to her roommates yet.

“Thanks, Simon,” she replied softly.

Lisa let go of Simon’s hand and took Anna’s. Anna smiled, but felt guilty. She could tell Lisa sensed something more was amiss.

Lisa’s face lit up, though. “Look! A clown. A little clown.” But then she frowned. “Oh, it’s a sad clown. Why is he crying?”

Anna looked up, and gave a start. She recognized the clown.

It was Dan. Her dead brother.

“Dan!” she exclaimed, dropping Lisa’s hand. The clown gave a start, and as soon as he saw Anna, his eyes went wide, and he fled.

“Did you know that kid?” Simon asked incredulously.

Anna’s mouth opened and closed. “No, I must have been mistaken. He looked like someone I used to know.”

“Story of this whole damn day. I think it’s time to call it quits. This carnival is lame,” Simon said. He draped his arm around Lisa and angled her towards the gate. She noticed he looked pale. Nervous, maybe.

The beggar woman was gone when they left, but as Anna looked over her shoulder, she caught a glimpse of the sad clown clutching the bars and watching her as they went.


That night, she dreamed of Dan. He was wandering the shadowy lanes of the closed carnival, softly, sadly saying her name over and over.

She came awake and felt more alive than she had for a long time. No nausea, no tremors, no stabbing pain. Not bothering to dress, she rose, and as if sleepwalking, made her way through the apartment. She peeked in on Simon and Lisa, bidding them a silent farewell, and then she made her way back to the carnival.

By day, it was a sad affair, old and run down. At night, it was terrifying. A cold wind blew through to her very bones. She thought she saw faces in the wind.

Anna also realized she wasn’t the only one; several members of the town could be seen wandering the lanes of the carnival. One-hundred-and-nine year old Mr. Jones, who had been confined to bed for the last ten years, arrived, and the high wire trapeze star gave him a gentle kiss on the cheek. Little Chuck, who had been hospitalized after a terrible accident, sat on the ground playing with the little people from the juggling act. An old stray cat she had sworn had been hit by a car the day before trotted along behind a caged pacing tiger.

The carnival had come to collect the town’s dead. The beggar woman had been right. It was the Traveling Carnival of Death. The Carnival of Lost Things. Or, truly, the very last Traveling Carnival.

Anna realized that it was her time, then. The carnival had done her the one kindness of reuniting her with her brother before taking her. They would travel together forever with the last traveling carnival.

She felt a small hand take hers. “It’s time, my sister. Come dance with me,” Dan said, his smeared clown makeup revealing a smile.

Sara is a Kansas-grown author of the fantasy and horror persuasions. She is convinced that fantastical things are waiting for her just around the corner, and until she finds the right corner, she writes about those things instead.

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