Let's wait just a moment longer and read Shakes's comments:
And the name of our Winner and the author of The Barker is ...
... Christina Dalcher. Congratulations, Christina, a thoroughly deserved win.
Enjoy her story.
I stride through the gates of Palisades Park, past the hootenanny thundering its dance beat, past the girls lined up at the fortune teller’s booth, and into the heart of the action. There’s gravity here; it pulls you in deep, like it or not.
Over at the Helter Skelter slide, Joey stops his routine and points a finger in my direction, crooking it, calling me over. He’s so young, like teenage young.
The barker and me, we go back a while, all the way to short pants and tugging Mary Malone’s red pigtails in third-grade social studies. Year after that, we tried to be blood brothers, but Joey’s always been kind of sensitive—second he saw the bubble of red on my thumb, he passed out. I told some of the other kids about Joey going all sweaty and paste-colored. He didn’t mind too much; said he’d get even one day and slugged my shoulder. That’s the way it is with best friends.
Joey put up with a crap-ton of my antics over the years. Like the time I raided his dad’s liquor cabinet and used the bottles to make Molotov cocktails in his backyard—what an infernal mess that was. Or that one day I asked his little sister out on a date. “Psych!” I said when she agreed. “April Fools!”
Okay. Maybe I was a bit of a shit.
Katie eventually grew out of her buck teeth and braces. I took her to prom and out to the diner afterward, tried to get her to smoke a little weed with me, but that didn’t work. She always wanted to go Palisades Park and slide down the Helter Skelter, the very one Joey barks at now, yelling his spiel, getting customers to fork over their dough for one short ride down and around. So I took her.
“It’s more fun if you’re high,” I said. What I meant was, it’s only fun if you’re high. The Helter Skelter had to be the lamest ride ever. Unexciting, over too soon. Maybe that’s why they tore it down along with the rest of Palisades Park back when the peanut farmer president reigned.
Joey’s standing at his post. He points at me, says he’ll give me a free go if I want. Neither one of us looks at the scarred earth below the slide. If we did, we might see Katie, limp as a kewpie doll, head tilted in an impossible angle. Wrongly asymmetrical, like the Helter Skelter she tried to ride standing up.
I’d told her not to pull so deep on the joint. Joey hands me a paper ticket, the kind with a notch on each side. Admit One, it says. An invitation. His fingernails, gray and cold, graze my hand.
The slide is way longer than I remember. It goes around and down, down and around. And it never stops.
It gets hotter, but it never, ever stops.
Christina Dalcher is a theoretical linguist living in the American South. Recognitions include Bath Flash Award’s Short List, nominations for Best of the Net and Best Small Fictions, and second place in Bartleby Snopes 2016 Dialogue-Only Contest. Laura Bradford represents Christina’s novels, which feature a sassy and stubborn phonetician with anger management issues. When she’s not writing, Christina teaches flash fiction at The Muse Writer’s Center in Norfolk Virginia. Find her on Twitter @CVDalcher or read additional short work at christinadalcher.com.