SHORT STORY FOR THE WEEKEND: Carnival of Tears by Mike Gaines

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Hayley Garner, one half of street artist duo Nomad Clan, working on the mural at Play Dead studio in Highland Road, Southsea

Internationally renowned street artists Nomad Clan prepare for a career-spanning show in Southsea

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Here is the latest in the series of short stories written by members of the 390-strong Portsmouth Writers’ Hub.

‘When exactly did you last see her, and what was she wearing?’ asked the police constable calmly, a torrent of messages pouring from his personal radio.

A tearful Judy Gardner could barely answer; her throat was dry with fear and her stomach churned with a sickly anxiety.

Her eyes darted frantically amongst the seething carnival crowd, desperate for a glimpse of the yellow dress worn by her young daughter Amy.

‘Just a few minutes ago,’ sobbed Judy at last, a first hint of panic now edging her voice. ‘I was just buying us an ice-cream and when I turned round she’d gone.’

‘And how old is Amy?’ asked the constable, already reporting the incident on his radio and making brief notes on his report pad.

‘She’s only four,’ cried Judy despairingly. ‘I must find her, please help me.’

‘Amy can’t be far away,’ said the constable. ‘We’ll start a search, but you keep on looking for her and if you find her let us know.’

It had been such a lovely start to the day. They had been looking forward to visiting the village carnival for weeks, especially Amy.

Judy had told her about the rides she could have at the funfair, the horse and dog shows, the carnival princess and procession plus the many colourful stalls all of which had built up the excitement for little Amy.

Judy worked her way frantically through the crowded stalls and sideshows of the carnival, looking in every nook and cranny.

At the back of her mind was the dreadful fear that Amy might have been abducted, and the horrific stories she’d heard about missing children.

She started to call out Amy’s name in the vain hope that Amy may hear it and call back.

‘Excuse me, I heard you calling out, have you lost someone?’

Judy turned hesitantly toward the questioner. A dark haired teenage girl with a caring look in her deep blue eyes took her arm compassionately.

Tears welled up again from Judy’s eyes as she replied. ‘Yes, I have lost my small daughter Amy, and I’m desperate to find her.’ Describing Amy’s appearance she added hopefully, ‘I don’t suppose you have seen her?’

The girl shook her head slowly. ‘No I haven’t, but I’ll help if you wish; it happened to me once so I know the feeling.’

‘Thank you so much, that would be marvellous!’ said Judy gratefully. ‘May I ask your name? Mine is Judy by the way.’

‘People call me Millie, and I’m only too glad to help. Come on, try not to worry because I’m sure we will find her soon.’

A sudden disturbance broke out nearby, and shouts and screams echoed across the green. Judy felt herself carried forward by the sheer weight of the crowd as police forced their way towards the incident.

Cheers of jubilation were followed by more screams and shouts, and she and Millie found themselves wedged against a barrier separating the spectators from the arena where horses were competing.

From there she could see police attending an agitated, roughly-dressed man, his clothes splattered in mud. Then hardly able to believe her eyes Judy saw her, clasped in the comforting arms of a policewoman. It was Amy!

All the pent up emotion coiled inside her was released in the primeval scream that left her lips. She clambered over the barrier and raced to Amy’s side.

‘Mummy! Mummy, my Mummy,’ Amy screamed joyfully, flinging her tiny arms around Judy’s neck, causing the bewildered policewoman to share the embrace as she clung to her charge.

Judy gazed lovingly into the tear-stained face of her daughter, gently smoothing her hair from her eyes and held her close, the dreadful nightmare over.

Her eyes rested on Amy’s torn, blood-stained dress and the scratches on her legs, before focussing on the figure of the man the police were helping to his feet.

White hot vengeful hatred welled up from inside her as she gently released Amy from her grasp, and moved toward the man, her reasoning warped by the trauma of her ordeal.

‘You evil swine!’ she screamed, surprising everyone as she hurled herself at the man striking him a blow to his face, her fear and mental torment lending extra strength to her arms.

Shouts and jeers rang out around the scene as people watched the drama unfolding, before a wave of sanity then overtook Judy’s actions and she allowed herself to be pulled away from the victim of her moment of madness.

She looked round and saw the constable she’d shared her fears with earlier when Amy had first gone missing.

‘Judy you’ve got it all wrong!’ the constable exclaimed vehemently. ‘When you lost Amy she wandered off towards the horse show arena and into the path of a running horse. The man you have just attacked saw what was happening and flung himself between her and the horse. which saved her life!’

Judy listened aghast as the constable continued. ‘Judy, in saving your Amy’s life he was very nearly killed himself!’

The constable went over to the man who was clasping a surgical dressing over his bleeding nose, and spoke to him briefly before returning to Judy.

‘I’ve asked him if he wishes to bring assault charges against you,’ he said formally. ‘But he said ‘no’ because he understands now why you did it. I think you owe him an apology.’

‘Yes of course I do, more than that,’ said Judy very remorsefully, reaching into her handbag for her purse. But her purse had gone, and looking over to where Millie had been standing, so had she.

Mike Gaines is a retired Royal Naval artificer who now lives in Fareham. A writer of poems and short stories, Mike’s main interests include archaeology and metal detecting.

Send your short story to the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub via e-mail at hubinthenews@gmail.com. For more information check out the Portsmouth Writers’ Hub on Facebook