My name is Sam Barker...well, it is now anyway, it's been that ever since I've been stranded here. I'm not exactly sure what my real name was anymore, and I'm stuck here until someone comes along to replace me. Until then, I run one of the many booths here.
Some of the sellers honestly like being here, others like me are stuck compelled to work until we're released, some are just as blissfully ignorant of the situation as the customers are and some probably wouldn't be able to exist anywhere else anymore.
Where exactly is here? Well, that is another problem. No one seems to know, although it has been a topic of discussion. We move from place to place, but we don't travel. Maybe a better way to put it is that other places move to us. People tend to think we're part of another event...a market, a carnival, a fair, a swap-meet or something else.
Sometimes they just wander in without any idea how they got there, just turned a corner and found us. That's what happened to me. It helps that our patrons see things as matching wherever they happened to come from.
You never know what item or experience they'll be buying, selling, or bartering. Most booths have a customer satisfaction policy. If you aren't happy though, you'd better hope you can still find us to complain. If you are lucky you can, if not you have to wait till we are accessible again from your town or city...which may be months, years, or...probably never.
There are many different types of booths here
What exactly do I sell? Well...it's a service you see, If one of the people who runs the booths is sick or more likely incapacitated I take over there booth. This morning, for example a man came up to my booth de'jure. He looked like some sort of hippie, but I'd seen so many different types of customers I'd stopped really trying to identify them. He had long greasy hair, was shirtless with an open brown vest, faded jeans and sandals. We get all types here.
"Dude, what's with the cape?" He asked in a slurred tone.
"Well it's for effect, and it's really annoying, but it's part of me" I said.
"Dude...far-out...that's like a haiku...poetic even." he said in an awed tone.
"If you say so," I said, wondering if he was stoned. Probably was. I wasn't exactly awe-inspiring to anyone lucid or sober.
"What are you selling anyway?" He asked.
"I don't sell things. It's more of an experience. And no, there are no two headed goats or anything like that in there. It'll be one dollar," I said with a lack of enthusiasm. I have done this so many times at so many different booths. Some days, I feel an urge to be flamboyant to get the customers inside. This guy...well, I guess he didn't need the effort.
"Groovy," he said.
"If the experience fails to impress you, I'll give you your money back."
He handed me a quarter and entered. I pretty much take whatever they give me unless they try to haggle about it. I've gotten all sorts of coins and bills. I think I am saying dollar, but they might hear something else entirely.
After I closed up for the night. I met up with Amelia. She has become my best friend here, and was really helpful when I first arrived. She's still attractive in a cute way even though she's in her fifties. She claims her last name is Earhart. Considering this place, I honestly wouldn't be surprised if she really was the famous Amelia Earhart, but she never insisted she was or wasn't.
We got our food from one of the booths, which always had whatever we wanted. I got grilled ribs and a beer and Amelia got vegetable stew and tomato juice. We found an empty table and sat down to eat.
"So, Sam...you've seemed glum lately, what's wrong?" Amelia said.
"That's kind of personal," I replied.
"But if you can't tell me, who here can you tell?"
"Ok. I'm coming up on one year since I wound up here." I admitted.
"Well, happy anniversary," she said. "Or...condolences might be better. You never did tell me how you got stuck here."
"And you've never told me how you wound up here, No one that I've met who's trapped here likes to share that sort of information!" I said a little more forcefully then I needed to.
"I know, but it might make you feel better." She said.
"I'll tell you, but you've have to tell me how you got stuck here."
"It's a deal," she said.
"If you really want to know..."
I got to "Roy's Bar and Grill" a popular bar near campus. My class got out an hour before my best friend Mark Glover, the guest of honor today, got out of his. Our other friends Jimmy Matthews and Nick Lee had class with Mark and had the job of kidnapping him.
You see, he had been depressed ever since he found out his girlfriend of three years, Becky Davis, was cheating on him. He had taken it hard. It had been over two months and we had gotten sick and tired of his moping. Until Becky left him Mark was a regular party animal.
I got to the bar a little earlier then expected, so I headed across the street to "Red Hearts: Sex Toys". I normally wouldn't spend so muck time in a store like that, but Emma Shea worked there. I have had a bit of a crush on her since I first laid eyes on her two months prior.
"Hey Emma, how's it going?" I asked her as I entered the store.
"Hiya Sam, it's been good, you?" Emma replied.
"It's been good, been good. Are those new Um.. Dildos you got there?" I asked, looking for something to say.
She chuckled at me, and gave me a look. "Can we cut the crap? You're cute when you try to flirt, but it's been two months already. I like you and you obviously like me. Let's go get a drink some time. How about when I get off work?"
"That would be great," I said, way too eagerly. "But me and a few friends are going to try and cheer my friend up. He's been in a funk since his girlfriend left him."
"Too bad. But if you finish by the time I get off, come back. If not," Emma said as she wrote something down and handed it to me. "...call me, and we can do it another time."
"Okay," I said, taking the paper.
"See ya," she said as I walked out the door.
I got to the bar a few seconds before the guys showed up and we took a seat in a booth by the window.
"So guys what are we doing here?" Mark asked.
"Mark, we're sick and tired of you. You've been a downer ever since Becky dumped you" Jimmy said. Jimmy thought Mark needed some tough love.
"Frankly, we're worried," Nick told him.
"And we're not going anywhere until you snap out of this rut." I added.
"Guys, seriously, I'm fine," Mark insisted.
After over two hours, we made some progress. Nick, Jimmy, and by that point the bar owner an old hippie, Roy, figured the best thing to do to was get Mark laid. Satisfied with their progress, they left and I went to let Emma know I was done. I stumbled over there, already a bit drunk, and told her we were done.
"Since you've obviously had enough to drink, let's go for coffee instead," Emma concluded after looking at me. "Then I'll drive you home. You're not getting behind the wheel like that."
Her replacement came in around then and she clocked out. We walked to a nearby coffee place, when she dropped her purse and everything spilled out. I offered to help her, but after making matters worse, she insisted that since the coffee shop was right around the corner I should go ahead and just buy the drinks.
I turned the corner and found myself here. There was always some event going on, on or near campus, so I didn't really pay it any attention in my drunken state. I wandered over to where the coffee shop should be and instead found a tent run by a man dressed in medieval garb and wearing a magician's cape, which seemed to clash with that.
"Excuse me, do you know where the coffee shop is?"
"Sir I think thou are confused, I know not of this coffee shop of which you speak. I run a tent of wonders, would thou like to partake of its mysteries?" he asked.
"I don't know, I just want to get coffee," I said.
"It will only cost thee one dollar, and if thou are not wholly enraptured by its wonder, I promise on my honor to give thee thy coin back," he said.
"Why not?" I said and handed him a buck. He put on a good show with all those thous and thees.
I went inside the tent. And, well, if I try to tell you what goes on in there, I'll be suddenly speaking gibberish. I tried early on. I have to more or less stick to the script.
I came out of the tent dazed, and oddly totally sober. I felt weird, and clear headed. The Knight was standing there, his cape in his hands. He had a look of awe on his face. "Thou have my deepest thanks, and mydeepest sympathies. This is for you," he declared, handing it to me.
"Um.. Okay," I said and put on the cape.
"Freedom, Freedom" The Knight screamed as he ran off.
I was confused and tried to follow him. Unfortunately, I found I couldn't leave the tent during working hours. So doing the only thing I could think of, I tried to go back into the tent which I also couldn't do. I was forced to run the booth. For the first few days, it was like I was a puppet. Then, as I learned the routine, I was able to keep control of myself. Then, well, I met you a few days in." I concluded as we finished our meal and threw out our trash.
"I know that part," Amelia said.
"If I knew then what I know now, I would have run. Or at least wouldn't have put the cape on inside-out, now it's stuck, and it itches," I said, and she chuckled.
"But the thing I wonder, why you can't remember your real name?" Amelia asked.
"The only thing I can think of is maybe it has to do with me putting the cape on wrong, but that's probably not it. It's getting pretty late," I said seeing the time. "Us carnies got to rise early." She nodded. "What about your story?"
"I got tricked into signing a contract," she said.
I gestured for her to continue, but she didn't. I hadn't told her the full truth either. Some of the story was true, but she wouldn't know which parts. Still I did feel a little better talking about how I wound up here.
We separated and I went to get some rest.
"Maybe tomorrow I'd be free." I had marked off 365 days in a notebook. I laid down and realized that as of tomorrow, it would be one year exactly.
Right before I fell asleep I added "Maybe not."