Another pack of rat rods grumbled towards the beach. There was a strange expression in James’ eyes, thoughts manifesting in liquid colors. Sacha knew what was on his mind, as it happened to be the same thing that she was thinking—among other interests, they shared a passion for speed. Demolition derby and drag racing were favorite past times for her, having a father who entered both competitions every now and then. James had always been among the other spectators in the grandstand, captivated by the high-octane fueled hot rods, magnificent creations men built by hand. It was often a dream of his to have his very own, with the intention of being able to take part in the races. He craved the thrill of victory and was unashamed to admit that. Reason never mattered when thoughts turned into spontaneous action. That was what drove him to fabricate the meanest, crudest rod the sea had ever seen—a 1932 Ford model A stripped down to the bare essentials with a high horsepower Chevy engine and custom chrome exhaust pipes that spouted flames high into the dark night when he rolled down to the main drag in town. The vehicle earned him some big bills and notoriety as a champion. However, his father had expressed distaste in the races, forbidding James to participate in the deadly event, afraid it would cost him his life. The promise was made—so long as the Geek was alive—but the urge had never faded. Even at that moment, he wished to unearth the metal machine and reclaim that championship. His competitive nature emerged in a greenish-gold hue that sparkled in the late afternoon sun.
James shifted his thoughts back to the present situation, not wanting to get caught up in a dangerous day-dream. The rat rod was stored in a safe place, out of sight and out of mind. He did not even know if it was in running order, so any fantasies of racing again were quickly squashed before he could get carried away. Sacha was wise to the fact thoughts were stirring in his head, wondering if he was going to share. She felt it that it would be impolite to just come right out and ask, but it was not like him to be so distracted. Then again, James was a bit different from his counterpart.
The air reeked of top-quality performance-enhancing fuel and other noxious fumes that belched from twisted pipes. Before them stretched a vast variety of vehicles, many of them in prime condition to enhance their beauty. Customized cruisers with chopped roofs, sectioned bodies and low-rise trunks, the chrome bumpers just a few millimeters from the ground, were not without their charm. Hot rods and rat rods had their own section, those who built them standing proudly beside the work of art fabricated by their hands. The sun reflected off numerous chrome parts and dizzying one-of-a-kind paint jobs. To the side was a pack of misfit motorcycles—mostly choppers—which had their own admirable crowd who paid respect to the men that spent months of intensive labor getting everything just right so that all of the parts flowed. The people who milled around those man-made metal masterpieces were as varied as the creations they ogled. Biker gangs in their colors—names proudly emblazoned on the backs of leather vests—roamed alongside car club members and young gear heads. There were also a few women sprinkled in the mix, many of whom only seemed interested in posing pin-up style with the cars and flirting with all the guys. James and Sacha still stuck out, even though there were many others that sported heavy tattoo work, just not as extensively as the Carnies. However, they moved through the surge of flesh with great ease, the King and his most honored Queen, humble pride in their matched step. The eyes that settled on them were inquisitive and curious. Everyone seemed to react politely, almost as though they were aware of the position the two had recently attained.
“This is weird,” James commented.
“That is because we are used to rude stares,” Sacha replied. “They do not see us the way everyone else does, and I think it is refreshing.”
“When I am with you, there is no one else.” He smiled and stole a kiss. “What I meant is, this is weird because they are being so respectful.”
“It is to be expected.”
“Suppose this will just take time to get used to.”
Sacha became distracted by a deep blue 1936 Ford hot rod, a slightly sad expression drifting across her eyes. After everything that happened, even a night of coke and white lightning could not keep certain things out of her mind—the mere sight of that hot rod had triggered childhood memories. Hot Summer nights packed in the grandstand with other blood thirsty spectators, waiting for the cars to collide, then sharing a strange enjoyment for the motorized carnage. The dense smell of rubber from burnouts mixed with dangerous ethanol cocktails that fueled hard-bodied dragsters. Top-performing hot rods shared the track with unruly rat rods as they screamed down the stretch of asphalt in competition for the championship. She did not quite understand why such a thing fascinated her, but there was always excitement and anticipation for the outing with her father.
“Something wrong darling?” James inquired, stroking her chin.
“Me too. Brings back a lot of memories.” He sighed, staring at his reflection in the chrome wheels of a purple 1932 Ford deuce coupe. “I used to drag, just for the fuck of it.”
A curious smile danced on her lips, jewelry shifting and glimmering under the sun. “Were you any good?”
He laughed and brought her close. “I was undefeated for five years, and then I walked away out of respect for…” James laughed again and shook his head. “The carnival was where he wanted me to focus my attention. What good was I dead, you know?”
“Well, in fairness, he had a reason. Damien used to drive the derby when he was our age. Got in a decent amount of serious wrecks that convinced him to retire before he did not have the choice to.”
“That is the first time I heard you speak his name.”
“There is no reason to mourn forever,” Sacha replied with a small shrug. “That will not bring him back, and I would rather speak of him with fondness than cry.”
“Good point.” James paused to finish off the joint they had shared, slowly exhaling before continuing his previous thought. “Anyway, I never got rid of my rod. It has just been sitting in storage.”
Her eyes danced with slight eagerness. “Oh? Where at?”
“The old carousel house. No one knew it was there, so I figured that was the best place for the car. Out of sight, out of mind. Not even sure if it still runs after all these years, but I am certain it should look pretty decent.”
“May I see?” she inquired, inviting herself to a kiss.
“The thing is…I might get the urge to drive again.” James gripped her arms, a serious expression on his face. “Speed is a dangerous addiction, Sacha. It hits me harder than drugs or whiskey.”
“Yes, I understand. However, in knowing that, would you not be able to just enjoy the race as a sport?”
“Easier said than done. Once that thrill gets to you, it is pretty hard to let go.”
“After the thrill is gone, I suppose one realizes how dangerous it all is.” Sacha sighed happily. “Yes, it is mighty easy to get caught up.”
“That is the end of it then,” James said, tightly gripping her shoulders. “No more trouble—less complications that way.”
“Oh no!” she protested. “You cannot just brush this off and pretend that you made no mention of it. Certainly I was not asking you to race, and just wanted to—”
“I said that I didn’t want to,” he snapped, a spark of anger leaping across his eyes. “The lust for speed is one I would rather not stir up again. I am not happy about the way I act when that competitive nature kicks in.” He paused to bring her closer, his face completely serious. “The element of danger is infectious. The rush it gives you is incomparable to any drug—the adrenaline gets you hooked and then you cannot go fast enough. You were that kind of girl, and you have yet to grow out of it.”
“Can you blame me?”
“Not at all.” A devious smile danced on his lips. “But I will say it one last time—I am not going to race.”
James took her hand, leading Sacha away from the rows of vehicles and towards the carnival, not quite sure of the sanity level that remained. The course of events that had taken place over such a short amount of time were mind-boggling. He certainly had not pictured himself in the current situation, and definitely never expected to have a woman as wonderful as her by his side. There were numerous things that had once seemed impossible, and yet they were becoming quite real. Imagination no longer set limits and boundaries; to the contrary, it was plotting the future faster than either of them could cast doubt. Having waited so long to find a worthy companion left no time to waste, and their adventures seemed to come in a steady stream. The days and nights they spent together blended into one unforgettable memory, with past instances becoming arbitrary. Sacha could not recall having been so happy as she currently was, holding the hand of the man that she deeply loved. It felt right the moment she had laid eyes on him, and their first kiss had only cemented that feeling. Every time she gazed into his eyes, Sacha knew that he loved her just as much, and he certainly proved it in a variety of ways. Neither of them really needed to explain the reason they were together, though agreed it felt like something that was just meat to be.
The noisy midway grabbed their attention, King and Queen moving through the throng of people with ease. James savored the shocked expressions they encountered, perhaps even slightly amused. He enjoyed being with his partner, far more comfortable in his skin with Sacha on his arm. Nothing else mattered so long as he was with her, completely unphased to the stares and whispers—even if a small part of him was still angered by it—keeping his head held high. After all, at the end of the day the King would receive his fair share of pay, earned by the Carnies straight from those people’s pockets. That made everything worth while, including having to deal with ignorance. James smiled, understanding how important they had become and realizing they would need to take a more active role in the carnival. That was something to discuss with Sacha in the near future, as they were equals in all business.
Beyond the blinking and buzzing rides, far from the jam-packed action of the midway, and even further from the carnival grounds than the protective fence stretched, there was an ancient carousel house. It had existed on the property since the late 19th century, when each horse was tediously carved from wood, every minute detail crafted by hand. The mechanical parts had been removed over the years, as finding replacements became increasingly difficult. Only the horses remained—dusty glass eyes having been witness to millions of faces filled with joy—tucked away with the various instruments of a once great Calliope, hidden away from the public to prevent vandalism. The rough sea air had been constantly eroding the wooden structure, revealing multiple layers of paint in a variety of bright colors. Flowers still bloomed around the perimeter; lilies, roses and gardenias throwing their scents into the air. A path was also visible in the grass that led to crumbling benches, where at one time couples sat to enjoy the ocean view, and now a wild garden of vines and trees that strangled the remains of several buildings existed. The old amusement park was barely visible beneath the overgrowth, a wooden rollercoaster station tucked under the branches of some pine trees.
The heavy wooden door of the carousel house was slowly pulled opened, creaks and groans emerging as though on cue, and sunlight flooded inside, the soft rays dancing on a group of dirty fun house mirrors. Sacha was dumbfounded by the wild range of items that were stored inside, her eyes wandering from the carefully stacked horses to the rolled up canvas piled next to wooden wagon wheels. Jars of pickled punks sat next to taxidermied deformed animals, while a full tent and poles shared space with spikes and sledgehammers. There were paintings on the walls that depicted the grove in full bloom while it was still carefully manicured, with men and women dressed in their finest enjoying the scenery. Framed photographs captured images from that time, with those who worked for the carnival as the main subjects, such as a tattooed man flexing his muscles next to a costumed woman holding a large python, or the married couple of opposites that was composed of a short, fat lady and a tall, skinny man. Group shouts of the rousties and sideshow performers piqued her interest, and she leaned close to inspect them further. Sacha easily found her father in the center of the photographs, always wearing a button down shirt and pressed pants, heavily inked arms showing beneath the short sleeves. There was one where he proudly displayed his artwork, posed in front of the “Illustrated Man” banner, and to the right of that was one of him in a suit fit for evening dinner, a chicken being held by its feet in his tattooed hand. A pitch card had been tucked into the corner of the frame on the outside, and Sacha quickly snatched it, tucking the item into her dress.
Meanwhile, James had been carefully maneuvering amongst all of the antiques, eyes aimed on a dusty sheet that must have been protecting his cherished auto. “What the fuck?” he exclaimed upon pulling it back and staring at a pile of parts in disbelief.
Sacha turned around, confused by his outburst. “You alright, honey?”
“Guess the old man was serious,” James muttered and shook his head. “Never thought he would go this far.”
“Well, that is the end of it then,” she replied.
“Sure is.” James easily climbed over several objects to join her. “Those are great shots of your father.”
“Thought so myself,” she replied with a smile.
He carefully studied the photographs, amazed by how well they had survived the years. “That is one man I would not want to fuck with.”
“He had that kind of intensity,” Sacha chuckled, “but he was also very kind to many people, which in turn made them respect him.”
“I am beginning to believe that Damien had a closer relationship with Dean than we might have thought” he said, pointing to a cluster of pictures where their fathers stood side-by-side. “This is where I have always felt I belonged.”
“Naturally,” Sacha replied, slipping out of his grasp to pull some of the framed photographs off the wall. “These should be properly displayed.”
“Absolutely, as they are very much part of history and should not be hidden in here,” he said, assisting in the removal of cherishable memories. “Perhaps some time can also be set aside to restore this place as well. It is a living museum that could really draw in a crowd, you know?”
She smiled as they exited the sagging carousel house and secured the door closed once again. “Certainly will, my dear. In fact, I was just thinking that and take joy in the fact your mind is in the same place.”
James remained silent as they headed out to the beach, avoiding a return trip through the busy carnival midway with their treasures. He certainly felt it necessary to have mementos of the old days so that he would not forget where he once was, struggling through times of hardship even if it meant performing a seemingly gruesome act. People paid to see it, and that put food on the table. Sacha understood survival quite well, but he wondered if she would feel the same way should he express the desire to be the Geek once more. Being in the spotlight was too much pressure, with all the talking and over-the-top performances, but the overwhelming desire for the Geek act itself made him shudder. Instead James focused on ascending the stairs to their bedroom, where he aided his wife in arranging the found photographs along a wall. Sacha became transfixed by the images and sank onto the bed, memories flooding her head.