Winner – ‘An Autumn Fair’ by Tom Gimlette
When had he started to hate fairgrounds? The waft of burnt sugar and piercing shrieks of small children dizzied him as he strode purposefully past the carousel. Each wooden horse, perhaps once resplendent, now mottled and chipped, scarred like an ancient war ravaged cavalry. Eyes, for those that had them, stared blankly into the middle distance – traumatised veterans of the carnival.
It was autumn now. He had used to love autumn. It struck him as being the most heavily nostalgic of the seasons. If he closed his eyes and concentrated hard enough he sometimes thought he could hear the frantic sprints and unbridled laughter of echoing, disinfected school corridors. As he dragged his feet through wet, rotten brown leaves, he thought of how he had once played. He recalled damp and fertile woodlands – overturned, decomposed logs and all of their treasures. Fatty slugs and furtive woodlice, these had been the subjects of his kingdom. Now the damp disgusted him. He only saw dirt and decay.
A trio of boys hurtled past him. He watched them chatter excitedly as they queued for a ticket for the helter-skelter. From afar, he observed the owner of the ride. He had a face like a fist and his back was twisted and knotted like an old oak. Running a hand through his thinning hair, he spied on the carny’s strong, nicotine stained hands, before sharply realising the owner’s rheumy black eyes were staring back at him. He looked away, embarrassed, and the reasoning for his hatred of the fairground crystallised. It was fear. Not of the strange itinerants, but the stark feelings that this kaleidoscopic playground stirred in him. He was outsized and outgrown. Children swelled around him. It was autumn, and he hadn’t done anything he had wanted to do with his life.
Runner-up – ‘Unfairground‘ by Cordelia Milward
Children shrill over cockney yells “roll up, roll up…50p a bop… everyone’s a winner!”
Small hands, sticky from candy floss, tug every length of my coat. To the next bone rattling ghostride, life threatening death slide.
Sugared fingers lead a guilty trail on everything they touch, no surface left unstuck. A candied glue gathering muck, snowballing at speed across the mud. Collecting congealed remains of someone else’s hotdog.
Teeth stained blue slurp up a now colourless jug of crushed ice.
Bug like antennas attached to a small boy’s head
down a helter skelter. Brain pounding, seeing green.
Dripping with exhaustion we tke the tube home along with every man and his dog-sized stuffed animal; his winnings from a funfair loot.
A toddler straddles the train seat, with the face of a gigantic bear double her size, dangling from her proud grip in a full throttle headlock. Like the trophy hunter knelt beside the stiff body of an antelope, she is a coconut shy victor, wielding a plastic gun.
We’re wedged between the newly engaged couple doting on each other’s dilated pupils in their matching ugg boots, and the kid whose head keeps banging against the glass panelling on the central line.
Don’t tell me I didn’t warn you about the deep diving candyfloss crash.