I came up with the idea for The Carny Cage while I was on the road working a gig at the St Paul Rodeo in Oregon. On break, I had lunch at the carnival. People watching is always a good way to understand characters. Most carnies seem a little rough and a prison story made sense to me. I liked the idea of the spinning cage and the chaos inside Dirk’s head.
When I was a teenager, I entertained the idea of running off with the carnival. I went so far as to talk to a owner of one that had made a temorary home on the local mall parking lot. An older man with a worldy look, he was leary but offered to take me on. I was only sixteen. The idea of escape seemed great, better than the home fires I created by running away before. The thought chased me. I went back to carnival many times on my BMX bike, sometimes only to ride by in the day. I wondered what the life would be like on the road. and how cool it would be to operate the rides. The pay would have been cash and I could always go home like he said. All I had to do was meet him, when the crew were tearing down, at the end of the carnival’s run. On the final day I chickened out and did not show up. I thought about it all that night—undecisive till it was too late. Nobody at the time really knew how close I came to running away again.
Years later, on the road with work, I wondered about it again—not of running away but of what it must be like. So I wrote it, and like a lot of projects it took a different spin on paper. The Carny Cage uses the carnival as metaphor and starting point for a hardcore prison story.
Excerpt from The Carny Cage:
Dirk cut the line to The Zipper, the exciting ride with its metal danger. A dwarf with an unhealthy gleam in his eye opened the cage. Dirk climbed in feeling the cool metal through the seat of his pants. The clang of the lock startled him. A commotion broke out all the way to the front of the line. Dirk smiled crazily to the aggravation of the blond cop. There was no way out, but the moment was fun. The Zipper lurched up raising the cage a couple of yards above the carnival grounds. Dirk laughed as it rocked him back and forth. The blond cop took a step back, pointed at his watch, and stared as he mouthed Dirk’s name.
Dirk shook his head. Averting his gaze, he searched for the house of mirrors. A crowd of all shapes and sizes walked the midway blocking the view until a kid dropped an oversized stuffed bear. Max was still there emanating a fifties greaser cool. The Zipper lurched again causing one of its bolts to squeal. Max’s grey eyes found Dirk’s with a look of alarm. The Zipper came to life. Dirk yelled knowing no one could hear. The crowd swallowed the mirrors. The conveyer belt pulled the cage up higher and the whole contraption swung sideways spinning all the cages as it spun itself, circles in circles. The grounds seemed a blur far below. The Zipper lurched again… faster. Something was wrong. Dirk was flung around face first into the bars. He grabbed frantically to get a hold before he was slammed back. The force held Dirk in place. The bolt squeaked once more and he saw it turn, the big one holding his cage in place. Dirk wanted out. The Zipper spun around with a loud pop. At the highest point, Dirk saw the whole scene like a painted memory all the thrill seekers and marks oblivious below. The Zipper spun down and pulled back up hard. The squeak of the bolt was louder. Sweat poured down Dirk’s face. He knew it was not supposed to be this way. The squeak turned to a squeal and the cage broke loose. Dirk had no time to scream, his breath taken away, everything slow motion and weird. He held the bars tight and closed his eyes then let go.