I have never been a runner; I get side cramps trying to flag down the ice cream man. But I run so fast, and so hard, to get to my car and away from that voice that I think I may have broken several world records.
“What the fuck?” I yell to the air when I reach my car, as if it’s going to scare away what I’m absolutely certain is a demon living in the woods. I need to stop watching Celebrity Ghost Encounters. Every time something seems amiss, I’m convinced that I accidentally stepped on an ancient burial ground or walked into a vortex of evil.
I struggle with the keys before finally opening the door and locking it behind me. I start the car and scan the lot to look for Micki. Her car is still parked, but she’s gone.
“It’s a prank,” I tell my car. I talk to my car more than I talk to anyone on earth. “It’s a prank, and Micki’s in on it, and I should just go home.”
My car, as ever, does not respond. Dumb car.
I start the engine and begin to drive out of the lot, but the what-ifs start trickling in—I picture Micki being eaten by wolves, or stolen by circus people, or being poorly re-enacted on an episode of normal people’s Ghost Encounters by an actress who looks nothing like her. I can’t leave her. Not like this.
I drive to the edge of the woods where I heard the voice and turn my brights on, looking for any sign of activity. All I see are trees. I roll down the window and call Micki’s name, because I am a coward, you see, and I want to help without actually leaving the car. I realize this is not going to work, and decide to call the police. The police will know what to do. I grab my phone—the battery was at 87% when I left the booth, but now it’s dead. I know enough about ghosts to know that this is how they work their creepy magic. They drain batteries like Bunnicula drains carrots.
I decide to be brave, which is something I’m not great at. I turn the car off, step outside and scream at the top of my lungs, “MICKI?!? WHERE ARE YOU?!?”
“MICKI?!? ARE YOU OK?!”
I decide to drive to the police station, because what else can I do? I’m too scared to consider the things that might actually be happening to a girl I barely know. I can’t handle this, so I’ll let the professionals deal with it.
I pull into the station and notice a familiar face sitting in the lobby. It’s Kevin Barnes, reading a pamphlet on troubled youth and laughing.
“I know you,” he says as I walk in to the station.
“Something happened to Micki,” I say.
He laughs a familiar laugh. “Hello,” he says in a low, creepy voice.
“It was you?”
“Yeah, sorry, dude,” he says. “I didn’t mean to scare you so bad. I mean, I meant to scare you, but, like, not so bad, you know? Anyway, I had one of those brownies? I’m still, like, super messed up, man.”
“She’s working,” he says. He winks, and I’m not sure if it’s because he’s being cute or because he thinks he’s high.
“Those brownies don’t have drugs in them,” I tell him.
“Yeah, no shit. But they have a ton of sugar in them, and I kind of lose my mind when I eat too much of it.”
“Barnes,” a police officer says, walking out from behind the main desk. “Let’s go. Paperwork.”
Kevin raises his eyebrows at me and wiggles his fingers, which I notice are covered in silver paint. “Beware!” he says, giggling. “Woooooo!”
“Can I help you, Miss?” says an officer from behind a window.
“No thank you,” I say. “I was just leaving.”
When I return to the parking lot, Micki’s car is gone. The carnival grounds are completely empty, save for a few squirrels and raccoons picking up fallen bits of popcorn and hot dog. I shine my brights on the main lawn, where our locked-up booth sits, and notice that it has a tiny silver angelfish painted on its side, as does every booth around it. The only booth she spared was Pat’s Pastry Wagon. I guess it takes an artist to respect an artist, or something.
The next day, my mother asks me if I heard anything about the vandalism at the fair. She does not ask me why I got home at 3:30 AM. It is like she’s proud of me for having a secret, or a life.
“Someone painted tiny fish all over the place,” she says. She shakes her head. “Why would anyone do such a thing?”
I think of Kevin’s silver hands, and Brett with the giant bear, and Pat and Pat and their health-food scam, and Brett’s texting girlfriend, and the fact that my car knows more about me than my own mother, and how Micki Porter is going to get out of here a year early, but not without leaving her mark, and I realize that the question my mother is actually asking me, really, is “Why does anyone do anything?”
“Because why not, I guess?” I answer. She looks at me with suspicious eyes, then smiles.
“Sometimes,” I tell my car later, as I’m driving to Micki’s house for an actual party with actual people, “you’ve just got to be willing to cross your fingers and hope that risks are worth it. Get good enough at screaming down the demons, and you might just be able to spin that shit into gold.” ♦