I drove down Highway 491 in early June of 2008. My watch said 3am and I hadn’t seen any other cars for at least an hour. I started to get that uncomfortable feeling. The one you get when things don’t feel right; like something bad will happen. I looked out the windows up at the sky. I expected to see a bunch of bright lights flying around. I never believed in aliens, but for some reason I kept looking up.
I finally stopped looking feeling foolish. I put my eyes back on the road and I saw it. It felt strange that I didn’t see it before; a circus tent with cars parked all around. Some of the cars looked old, but shinier than mine; like restored classics. I couldn’t understand why a circus performed in the middle of the night.
Is my watch broken?
I had driven for a while and needed the rest, so I pulled over. I at least wanted to see the old cars from all decades; as much as 80-years-old.
I never saw a circus themed car show. After looking at a few of the classics, I went inside to see what the show.
The smell of popcorn attacked my nose as I entered. I could feel something crunching under my feet though I didn’t hear it from the loud music. Peanut shells covered the ground. An elephant in the center ring balanced things on its tusks. No one stood at the entrance, so I found myself a seat.
Everyone in the audience wore clothing from different decades. I didn’t notice at first how strange people looked. When I saw a man with one of those curly mustaches throwing popcorn, I started looking at everyone. One section had a group of soldiers dressed in World War II uniforms. A bunch of flower power hippies threw flowers instead of popcorn in another section. No one noticed me or any other people around them. The performances in the three rings hypnotized the audience.
I leaned over and spoke to the man next to me.
“What kind of show is this?” I said.
The man looked at me confused and uncomfortable. Without answering he returned to watching the well-trained elephant. After the elephant, a group of clowns ran out from behind the trainer and started goofing around. I decided I had stayed long enough and began to leave.
A man in a candy-striped jacket and straw hat stood at the entrance with an over exaggerated smile. He put one of his hands up.
“You cannot leave.” He said.
“I’m sorry I didn’t pay, but no one was around.”
“Admittance is free, but you cannot leave.”
The wide smile on his thin face and shrill voice made me uncomfortable.
“Why can’t I leave?”
“It is almost time for the finale. You do not want to miss that.”
He gestured for me to sit back down.
I returned to my seat but looked back every now and then to find the creepy man still standing there watching me. Before the clown act ended, I noticed a young man and woman walking into the tent greeted by the creepy man. I found it strange that the girl wore a blue shirt that said Clinton 2016. I took my chance and snuck out behind the creepy man while he spoke to the couple.
As I left, I could hear the Ringmaster on the loud speaker.
~ An excerpt from “Highway 491” from the short story collection The Morbid Museum.
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