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Every year, they arrived overnight—hulking beasts of steel, purring in anticipation under the harvest moon. Their shoulders jutted over the trees. Their many eyes glowed a surly yellow as they blinked away the dust of hibernation. Names emblazoned on their chests, they sat pompous in the slumbering playing field, awaiting their next rider.
This was young Brenna’s favorite night of the year. This, the eve of the big street fair, when the air crackled with energy. She would sneak out of her bed and into the tree fort via the bulging branch of the silver maple just outside her bedroom window. Here she would wait until all the house’s windows went black.
This year, the weather was unbearably warm. The sun had held out all summer, and Brenna had given up on any sort of heat. But it had come, slow and heavy, like a season of honey at the edge of autumn. Humidity clung to her skin in her dark blue t-shirt and shorts while she sprawled out on the floor of the fort, waiting. Her parents had already been yawning, their eyelids drooping in the flicker of the television, just after dinnertime. Surely, Brenna could set out in mere moments.
While she waited, she imagined the creatures, rumbling and shuddering as they prepared themselves for the big event. Their humongous backs, so strong against the fence, never strained during this showcase. Their legs could withstand more force and torque than any animal Brenna had ever seen. Some were lightning fast. Would Silver Slither be there this year? And Bruno-Whirl? Some seemed to cause earthquakes with their every move. Thunderling was a force to be reckoned with. Would she see any new, sleek metallic beasts among the pack?
Just as her own eyes began to flutter sleepily, the last lamp went out in the house. Brenna sprang to her feet and scrambled down the tree ladder. The grass was muggy around her ankles, and she padded off toward the playing field. As her legs pumped, and the neighborhood flew by, she couldn’t tell if the thumping she heard was her heart or that of the restless creatures. Perhaps they could sense her arrival. After all, she never missed this ritual.
Brenna dashed by trees and houses, houses and trees, parked cars, fences, and dogs too sleepy to raise their heads to bark at her while her limbs sliced through the heavy air as if they were made of sleek metal. The soles of her shoes pelted the street like the blades of a helicopter gaining altitude when she left the grass and headed toward the open lot. The solid asphalt quickened her pace, and she took the corner too quickly to see what would meet her there.
In the cover of midnight, the silhouette of a young girl in near flight is difficult to discern in the darkness. If she is fueled by the excitement of a carnival’s arrival, then she is also quicker than the bleary eye of an exhausted crewman driving a forklift at the edge of the field.
Under the faithful watch of the steel giants she adored, Brenna would slip away, clinging first to the fence after impact, a pinched expression of heartbroken confusion on her sweet face, then falling as if into slumber, awkward and urgent onto the concrete. The machines gasped—a seemingly eternal moment of interruption to the mechanical purr of their motors—and workers paused in shock before realizing the horror of what had happened. In the bloom of crimson on the sidewalk, a reflection was cast. The eyes of the beasts flickered and extinguished in a mighty sigh of surrendered power. The rumbles and growls fell silent. And suddenly the most anticipated event of the year seemed anything but fair.
Shannon Bates is a musician and writer who spent her young life in Fair Oaks, a lovely town in Northern California. After then living in San Diego for twenty years, she continued the West Coast tour by moving to Seattle, Washington, where she currently resides. Shannon plays the saxophone and flute in local groups of varying genres and holds a Bachelor of Music degree in Composition from Pacific Lutheran University in Tacoma, Washington. Her poems and short stories have appeared in publications including Saxifrage, The Acorn Review, Late-Night River Lights, San Diego CityBeat Fiction 101, and A Year in Ink volumes 5, 7, and 8. She is a current MFA candidate in Creative Writing in the Rainier Writing Workshop at Pacific Lutheran University.