Despite the familiarity of the following story, I promise, it is fiction...kind of...
It all began early one morning with the idealism that comes from a good nights sleep, a cup of coffee and a good book. I'm pretty sure that the haze of quixotism carried over into the heat of the day, all the way to the amassing of humanity called a "state fair". What finally broke the spell was something akin to a compost sandwich, which eventually my olfactory receptors tied to grease, humanity and manure. I had arrived.
At first, I seemed prepared to deal with the crowds, noise and impossible combination of smells, and I tried to recall the plan I had spent most of the night assembling and going over, again and again. The images all began to crowd together; corn dogs were being paraded around and praised for their lush coating; the gondola was touring caves filled with oversized reptiles; clowns on antique tractors were chucking cow pies at laughing spectators.
As my head spun and the crowd surged around me unaware, a distant sound began to overtake all of the others and I followed it. Notes from a lilting old folk tune were being carried on the breeze and I did not care if it were dybbuk or spirit guide that led me. That fiddle was in some way my salvation from the heart racing, shortness of breath riddle that most would solve with a stiff drink.
I knew I was almost there as I began to discern other elements of the music, when suddenly something knocked me flat and any djinn sitting on my shoulder had taken flight and left nothing but a ringing in my ears. Despite all of the faces gazing down upon my limp form, I was unaware of how I came to be upright on the curb, leaning on a garbage can buzzing with flies. It was yet another assault to the senses over which I seemed to have no control.
With my head between my knees, fingers rubbing temples, I tried to find answers within the anxiety and nothing was coming except for the rushing sound of waters. I was about to panic anew, fearing at this point that a flood would be all too possible. Breathe in, breathe out. Swallow a dry, choking mouthful of air and look up.
There it was, an answer in a world of mysteries so clear, that I began to laugh quite like an insane person. Add to this cackling the fact that I was being supported by a rubbish bin and was pretty sure that I was sitting on some discarded corn cobs and cotton candy, and it is no wonder that people were leaving me a pleasant berth of four or five feet. What I saw though, was my second moment of clarity. A water wheel, huge in its breadth, looming above me and tossing monumental amounts of liquid into what seemed to be a canal of sorts. The sound washed away all of the other attacks on my senses and I stood up, only a bit shaky.
Not sure of my exact path, I found myself preparing to embark on an unknown journey in a very shoddy watercraft, but again, it was as if I was not in full possession of my body. The poor man working the boats seemed almost as oblivious as I, and gave me only the slightest guidance before pulling the lever that launched me into a bobbing forward motion and towards an opening in a wall just feet in front of me.
By the time the blackness enveloped me, there was no turning back. Nothing confronted me except the noises stored in my inner ear and an occasional glowing exit sign. Exit to where? I began to squirm, wondering if I was in charge of following these signposts and what would become of me if I lost my way when out of nowhere came a blindingly bright room full of wooden creatures sitting on cheap plywood toadstools. My neck swiveled violently, trying to take it in and find an explanation for its being here.
This was my biggest mistake of the day. Already compromised, the craft lurched against the wall and my sideways position allowed me no stability. I fumbled at the back of the boat before loosing my grip and plunging in the surprisingly fast and extremely cold water. As soon as I realized that the water was only a couple feet deep, I tried to stand, feeling more awake than I had in a lifetime, but completely floundering in the dark. I could not see my hand in front of my face and feared the impending pursuit of more boats that might be upon me at any minute. Voices echoed about from all sides and I lost my footing, plunged headlong and was carried a good ten feet surfacing under another exit sign. I stood against the clammy, slippery wall and noticed that indeed there would be no room for me and a boat when one happened upon me. The exit sign proved to be more of a riddle than a help. One red arrow pointed down, but I could ascertain no door and it was then, in my hesitation, that a boat was upon me. Awkward and terrified, I tried to scramble up the wall in vain and fell backwards into the boat when it pushed my legs out of its way.
To my amazement, there was no one in the boat. Completely empty, I began to fear that this was a stygian dream and that Charon was going to creep out of this canal to lead me under, never to return. I wanted desperately to wake up and be safe at home, but my whole body was cold, wet and alive and as another bright diorama showed itself, I realized that this reality was going to continue with or without my consent. I cautiously began to recline and allowed the dark to overtake me and as if by some spell, or by pure exhaustion, I was calm. The only smell was the dankness of the tunnels, the only sounds of rushing water and the meditative knocking of the boat on the walls as it found its way around turns.
The boy showing folks to the exit roused me with a shout and a quick jab. His eyes scanned me with amazement, clothes wet and clinging, eyes tired and just awakened, nose bloodied (I suppose from the fall) and mouth smiling insanely. I laughed short and sharp and sprung out of the boat, surprising both of us with the suddenly spry maneuver.
I left the building quickly, pulled by the third and final unforeseen force of the day. The allure of food and drink. I was starving and sat down and guzzled my beer greedily, ate three corn dogs and considered my salvation. My baptism, if you wiil, that washed away fear by bringing me to the brink of it. Nothing of the immediate past seemed tangible, as if I could not place events in real time. It seemed like I sat there for hours in an empty and slightly tipsy bliss. I had conquered not just reality, but something deeper, something other. I was reborn and the world around me seemed extremely simple.
Let me know if you think there is a place here at SGT for fiction. I love to write and tell stories and if there is value here and writers enough, I would consider a new direction, perhaps once a week, who knows? Thanks for reading and please comment below or send questions/concerns to: firstname.lastname@example.org.