Fiction: The carnival in the clearing

STEEPED BY SAMIA #8 | 10.29.22
I wrote this Halloween-themed short story for my Craft of Creative Writing class during my first year at Mills College (shout-out to Prof. Truong Tran!). I did some edits to condense it and spruce it up. Enjoy!!

It’s Halloween night. When Samir was a child, his parents didn’t allow him to go trick-or-treating or participate in festivities with friends. They would shut the porch lights at the first sign of sunset, so trick-or-treaters would know not to solicit their house for candy.

But Samir has always loved Halloween. On Halloween morning, he would sneak a makeshift costume into his backpack to change into in the school bathroom. In the evening, he would peek through his bedroom curtains to watch neighborhood kids shriek & shrill in their superhero and witch costumes. He would read all kinds of horror stories from the library — in bed, with the covers over him, flashlight in hand. Ghosts drifted around the wooden floor, leaving wispy trails of smoke; bats hung from the ceiling, swaying gently.

Now that he is much older, Samir keeps his porch lights on and puts out a hefty bowl of candy.

He just got off the phone with his mother who nagged him, for the twentieth time, to “start looking for a wife, behta.” Samir is 27; he received a good job offer from a tech company after graduating from UC Berkeley, and has been working there ever since. He is content with his life, for the most part. He has his family, friends, stable work, a tiny rental house — what more could he need?

Most of all, he has Em (short for Emerald). She senses Samir’s annoyance and brushes against his leg, purring. He looks down; Em looks up at him. Samir’s heart fills with warmth; Em is the light of his life. She is a beautiful cat with a creamy white, fluffy coat of fur and piercing green eyes. Like large emeralds stolen in a heist movie. Her harness and leash lay next to her. She likes to go on walks almost every evening — 5pm, on the dot. Samir grabs a light jacket, puts the harness on Em, and they’re out the door.

Samir and Em walk their usual route: through the neighborhood streets and a couple of twists and turns to the nearby forest. Children dressed in costumes shuffle through the neighborhood, pumpkins carved with grimaces sit on doorsteps, and fake spider webs are tossed on bushes. Samir smiles.

The sky is a fading blue, brushed with light strokes of pinks and oranges. Trees, up and down the streets, shudder in the breeze. A pile of crackling leaves are whisked into a frenzy.

As soon as they walk near the forest, the usually calm Emerald keeps tugging at her leash. She yowls.

“What’s wrong, mera jaan?” Samir asks Em, stopping for a moment. She suddenly breaks into a run, forcing Samir to let go. He feels a burning sensation on his palm.

“EMERALD!” Samir yells.

Samir breaks out into a run after her. Em disappears into the forest. He stops in a clearing in the woods. He hears a dizzying chorus of caw’s from crows perched in the trees. Emerald is nowhere in sight.

But there, in the clearing, stands a young girl. She has piercing green eyes and wears a faded princess dress.  

He opens his mouth, but before he can say anything, she says, “Hey, you! Play with me!”

She steps closer; he notices a translucent quality to her whole being. Like the remnants of pencil marks erased by a bad-quality eraser (we’ve all had one of those). She stretches out her hand to Samir and repeats, “Play with me!”

“O-okay,” Samir replies, taking her hand. Despite its faded quality, her hand is solid and cold. “Have you seen my cat…?”

“Nope,” she shrugs.

What the fuck is going on?? he wonders. His mind races. Where is Em??

As Samir follows the girl, the clearing transforms before his eyes.

He holds his breath. Tendrils of fog coalesce into a towering Ferris wheel, merry-go-round, and various tents and booths with games. Dust coats the vicinity, reminding him of a black and white photograph. The cloying scent of bubblegum-pink cotton candy permeates the air. Strange creatures roam the carnival, floating on clouds of fog and dust and smoke. They don’t notice him.

“You’re shaking,” the girl says. She gazes up at him, her head to one side.

“Y-yeah; this is all so weird,” Samir says. “Am I dreaming?”

“No, silly! We all get to play on Halloween night — not just humans,” she says. “But don’t be scared. I’ll be right by your side. Always.

“I appreciate that,” He laughs. When he swallows, his throat feels scratchy.

“Let’s go on the Ferris wheel,” the girl exclaims, tugging on Samir’s jacket.

The Ferris wheel compartments gyrate clock-wise slowly and then counter-clockwise in an unpredictable fashion. Lights begin from its epicenter and travel outward on the spokes, like the rays of the sun. Bright, pulsating, constant.

As they approach, the Ferris wheel slows to a stop and the compartment at the bottom swings open. They hop in, and it resumes its odd rotation. The creaking of the iron framework makes Samir nervous. As it nears the top, Samir is in awe.

“It’s the Witching Hour,” the girl says, quietly.

The sky is a mystical shade of purple, blotchy with orange and pink. He could have sworn that he saw the silhouette of a witch with a broomstick soar through the sky.  

“Isn’t that midnight?” Samir asks.

“The Witching Hour flows at its own time, in between what you know of as time,” she replies. “It starts and ends when it feels like it.”

After getting off the Ferris wheel, they wander through the creature-crowded carnival. He hears the notes of a merry-go-round song, bright and cheery.

“Where should we go next?” he asks.

“Anywhere! You pick!” she says with a wide grin. Her teeth are jagged, like broken glass.

Samir sees a maroon tent with the words “HOUSE OF MIRRORS” written on the front.

He points to it and says, “Let’s go there!”

When they enter the tent, it is much bigger inside than it seemed from the outside. Mirrors of different lengths and shapes hang suspended in the air. The room is dark except for lanterns that swing from the ceiling.  

One depicts a small version of himself in a sleek Batman costume, holding a plastic pumpkin basket. Another mirror shows him napping on the couch with Emerald on his lap, A book in his hand. The next mirror shows him standing on a mountain, watching the sunrise.

“Look at that,” he says, turning to the girl.

But she is no longer there.

He runs outside of the tent. Everything — the Ferris wheel, the carousel, the tents, the booths, the creatures — begins to fade. The girl stands there, waving at him with a sad smile. Parts of her body are fading into dust.

Last, he sees her glowing, green eyes.

His head spins. The world around him goes black. 

Samir wakes up to the sound of meow-ing in his ear.

Emerald is sitting on his chest, staring at him with her wide, emerald green eyes. Samir props himself up on his elbows. He’s in the middle of the clearing. He pets Em on the head, smooths her fur, and grips her leash. The wind has picked up; he feels the tingle of goosebumps prickling his skin. The sun has almost set.

— S.A.


  1. a fan says:

    Thanks for sharing your story! Has your relationship with the story changed over time as you are closer to Samir’s age?


    1. samiaabbasi says:

      This is an interesting question! I haven’t thought about this story much at all; it was a random assignment. So, I’d say not at all, lol. I will say that going back and editing it, I could see how much my writing has grown since then! That was nice to see.


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