Junior sat on the wobbly metal steps of the baby roller coaster. In his left hand was a swiftly melting, toxic looking blue snow cone which had stained his dirty t-shirt, mouth, teeth and tongue. In his right hand he clutched a sticky pink swirl of cotton candy perched on a flimsy, white paper tube smudged with gray, carnival dirt fingerprints. His daddy had given him ten dollars to ride rides at the Pecan Festival but Junior was spending it on food. It lasted longer than a ride on a creaky Scrambler.
His daddy really didn’t care how he spent the ten dollars. It kept Junior occupied while he walked around with Shanna and her kids. Junior’s daddy worked with Shanna at Lumber Supply. She had gotten rid of her husband or he had gone to jail or something. Junior’s mom had gone away for a while. He really wasn’t sure where she was. He didn’t like to think about it too much. But he and his daddy did okay. It was just the two of them. Daddy could cook and Junior knew how to make cereal and frozen pizza. His grandmother, his daddy’s mamma, looked after them some and Junior would stay with her when Shanna was coming over to visit his daddy.
“Hey Mrs. Kopecki!” Junior shouted between bites of snow cone and cotton candy. A pretty lady with dark hair walked over. Mrs. Kopecki had been his first grade teacher. The Pecan Festival carnival was in the field behind the school. She had two boys with her that were a little older than Junior. He could tell they didn’t go to his school. “Well hey, Junior” she said. “How’re you?”
“Good” Junior replied.
“How’s second grade?”
“You have Mrs. Chip this year?”
“She told me you’re doing great. Keep it up and come see me okay?”
“Yes ma’am.” She leaned in and patted Junior’s back like he remembered his mamma doing when she had been around. He liked Mrs. Kopecki and did pretty good in her class. Never got on red and was hardly ever on yellow.
DeeBo Scott fiddled on his dirt bike with a socket wrench. It was almost show time.
He was the mechanic for all of the rides that the traveled with the carnival. He could fix anything. He could also ride the shit out of a motorcycle. He learned how to jump shortly after he learned how to ride at the age of fourteen.
So, on the last night the carnival was in a town, DeeBo would jump two flaming junk cars. Southern Attractions, the carnival company, paid him an extra hundred and twenty five dollars a weekend and gave him his own camper. Most of the travelling crew had to double and triple up.
The stunt always drew a bigger crowd than regular nights. Bossman would call the nearest junkyard wherever they were and spend two or three hundred bucks on a couple of wrecks. When it was time, Ray, the guy that helped DeeBo, would light a few strategically located wads of Vaseline soaked toilet paper. DeeBo would rev the motor, pop a wheelie and jump the “flaming death”.
DeeBo hocked up a loogie, spit it on the ground, and adjusted his crotch, noticeably packed into his dirty blue jeans. Straddling the dirt bike, he put on his helmet, jumped and cranked the motor and revved it making the high pitched, “ rrrunn negga negga” of a beat up Japanese dirt bike.
Through the low, rattling murmur of the carnival, Junior could hear the metallic whine of the dirt bike. He periscoped his neck and looked around. He had heard about the stuntman at school and his daddy had mentioned it specifically. That’s why they decided to go on that particular night.
Most people came to see DeeBo jump the “flaming” cars with the secret (or not so much) hope that he would fail. A couple of times he screwed up the landing. Came in at the wrong angle where the bike lost its footing and slid out from under him on the ramp. He got a little banged up but nothing serious.
Usually there wasn’t an ambulance on hand. DeeBo was pretty good at what he did and as far as Bossman was concerned, ambulances cost money. But on this night, there was an ambulance on hand. The day the Pecan Festival opened, an Elvis impersonator who was performing passed out on stage. Whether it was a stroke, heat exhaustion, or just that he was too drunk to properly pay homage to the King had yet to be determined. However, after the incident and 911 had been called, Mrs. Bossman, she had traveled with Bossman since five years ago, whispered in Bossman’s ear that it might be a good idea if the ambulance stuck around through the weekend. You know, liability and all. Bossman grudgingly obliged.
DeeBo took off from the tractor trailer he had turned into a travelling motorcycle garage and tore assed to the edge of the carnival. Through the crowd he could see that Ray had put the ramps in place (pulled them with a four wheeler) and was now lighting the “fire” in the wrecks with a long, bar-b-q lighter shaped like an AK-47 assault rifle. DeeBo could see the almost invisible heat waves rising with just a little flame at their base. He gunned the motor and peeled around the edge of the crowd to the clearing made for his take off zone. He stopped, the front wheel of his bike perfectly aimed at the middle of the ramp.
From seemingly nowhere, a tinny voice tried it’s best to boom over a crackly, carnival loudspeaker. “Ladies and gentleman! It’s the moment you’ve all been waiting for!” On cue the crowd cheered and backed up a safe distance from the jump area marked by four orange traffic cones. Bossman knew he should have ropes. But like ambulances, ropes cost money.
It was also DeeBo’s cue to get ready. He revved the motor and balanced the bike. He looked to his left and saw Amber, the scrawny blonde who ran the “Throw the Dart-Pop a Balloon” booth. He caught her eye and gave her a jaunty salute before flipping down the visor of his motorcycle helmet. Amber made a face like someone was holding a handful of dogshit beneath her nose. She instantly shot him the bird with emphasis on the cocked, bony fingers on either side of the actual “bird”.
The other night, she and DeeBo got high on her break and rode the small, wobbly Ferris wheel. The cars were enclosed, cage like, so DeeBo talked her into it, the weed helped, by promising he wouldn’t finish in her mouth which he did any way. That probably had something to do with her shooting him the bird, DeeBo thought.
To his right, Chassity, the girl who helped Kelly, the guy that ran the airbrushed t-shirt trailer, waved at him enthusiastically. She was a young brunette with big boobs stuffed into an airbrushed t-shirt that said “Pootie”. She rolled with Kelly but typically, he would start drinking a few hours before the show closed each night and the combination of the Busch Light twelve pack and the paint fumes ensured he that he would pass out cold by ten o’clock. More often than not, Chassity would sneak over to DeeBo’s trailer to party and sneak back home before sunrise.
Kelly, when lucid, could be a hothead. There was a story about him beating the shit out of someone at a hunting camp in McIntosh because the guy joked that the buck Kelly had killed and was cleaning had funny looking balls. DeeBo wasn’t too worried though. Kelly had a pretty bad limp and was rarely sober.
Junior heard the loose growl of the motorcycle and stood up on the steps, craning his neck to get a better look. He thought he could smell the fire from the burning, wrecked cars and wished he could get closer. But his daddy told him to stay right there during the jump and he’d be right over afterwards.
The loudspeaker voice continued, “Let’s make some noise for Lower Alabama’s very own…” the voice got louder, distorted “NNNNNNNDAREDEVIL!!!MMMMDEEBOW!!! SCOOOOOOTT!!!” The crowd roared as DeeBo let go of the brake and accelerated around the flaming, jump area. He popped a couple wheelies as he sped past the crowd, pumping his fist in the air and revving the motor.
After a couple of orbits he stopped at his exact starting point, his wheel perfectly centered on the center of the take off ramp. The dirt bike murmured with an occasional pop or skip due to a dirty carburetor and years of high revving use. Junior stood on his tiptoes nervously rubbing his sticky, blue stained fingers together.
DeeBo balanced the bike with one boot on the ground and one foot on the bike. He gripped the brake tightly and turned the throttle hard, getting the RPM’s up to where he could get the speed he would need. Runnnnnnnn negga negga….runnnnnnn negga. The bike was almost screaming now as a thin fog of blue smoke came from the exhaust.
Junior tightened his body and held his breath as DeeBo took off, the yellow dirt bike hollering towards the ramp, up and over, landing back tire first then front with a thud on the opposite ramp. The crowd roared again as the distorted tinny loudspeaker voice tried to cut through. “MMMMMMMMMDeeBowwwwwwwwwww SCOOOOOOOTTT!!!!” DeeBo circled the ramps and cars again waving to the crowd and popping wheelies as Ray appeared out of the crowd with a fire extinguisher. The red metal, nozzeled tube whooshed putting out the flaming death.
The whistling and cheering died down as secret disappointment set in that no one was injured. As the crowd started to fade, DeeBo wheeled the dirt bike towards the airbrush trailer. Junior exhaled and relaxed his body. He felt dizzy. His ears buzzed and his vision blurred. It wasn’t a bad feeling and he sort of liked it.
His daddy appeared out of the now almost non-existent crowd. He and Shanna had their arms around each other’s waist, the wrapping hand inserted in the back pocket of the other’s blue jeans. With them walked a stubby, heavyish girl with a high forehead who looked to be about Junior’s age. He recognized her. Her name was Kayla and she had been in his class last year. She was weird and not very smart and Junior remembered her telling a story about the time her dad killed, cooked and ate her dog. Junior didn’t believe it but it made her even weirder.
“Hey Junior!! That was BADASS, wasn’t it?” his daddy said. “Yes, sir.” Junior replied.
“Hey, this is Kayla. Miss Shanna says y’all know each other from school?”
“Yeah.”, Junior said flatly. Shanna shoved Kayla’s shoulder pushing her towards Junior. “Great! We’re all gonna hang around for a little bit. Maybe go get somethin’ to eat afterwards?” His daddy said. “Kay,” Junior said.
“You got any ride tickets?” Kayla asked. “I used all mine.” Junior shook his head. “Sorry,” he said. “Where’s your brother?” Junior asked. Kayla had an older brother named Aidrian. He spent more time in the Principal’s office than the class room. Kayla shrugged. “I dunno. I think he gone to his friend’s house.” It was just as well that Aidrian wasn’t there, Junior thought.
Shanna and Junior’s daddy walked ahead of the kids. His Daddy turned around and looked at Junior. “It’s kinda like a double date, ain’t it?” his daddy said with a wink. Junior didn’t say anything. Inside he felt like you did if you accidentally chewed on a piece of tinfoil.
He looked over toward the airbrush trailer and saw DeeBo balancing the motorcycle with both feet on the ground as he talked to Chassity. Kelly had already disappeared. As they walked toward the parking lot, Junior’s daddy and Shanna mentioned something about going to Sonic. Kayla squealed and said something about how much she loved the tater tots. Junior really didn’t hear what she said. He was too busy watching Mrs. Kopecki and her boys from a distance. A man who was probably her husband was with them. He could tell that he was her boys’ father just by the way they acted together. They were at the balloon dart throw booth and they all laughed together as they threw the darts and tried to pop the balloons.
Looking at his daddy and Shanna with their hands in each other’s back pockets, he thought that he could care less about Sonic. He wasn’t hungry. Especially now. He wondered what they were laughing about and wished he was over there with them instead of the people he was walking with. Like DeeBo, jumping over the flaming wreck and making a perfect landing.
A native and lifetime resident of Mobile, Alabama (unless you count the four years he was held prisoner of war at Auburn University), Seth Cherniak’s long descent into writing was enabled by his sixth-grade English teacher and his mom’s mustard-yellow, Smith Corona typewriter. As a financial advisor/portfolio manager by day, Seth has published regularly over the last decade to a national readership on financial websites. This is his first foray into fiction in quite a while.
Seth's never considered living anywhere else. In his final wishes, he has instructed his two sons to scatter half of his ashes across the Mobile-Tensaw Delta. His wife can do whatever she wants with the other half, as she is not in support of his being fed to the alligators.