There were seven people ahead of me; I know that because I made a point to count them. They stood along the uneven ground, their faces glowing under the neon lights as they waited with the same sort of unspoken impatience.
The booth sat apart from the other tents and stalls.
Like everything else, it was painted in purple and white pinstripes with tiny silver stars glinting at each seam. There was only one door that I could see leading inside, but when it swung open and the little lightbulb above it lit up, there was never anybody inside.
I watched as an elderly couple ahead of me entered together.
‘I only needed three coupons to buy the water. Why did you spend them all on those toffees?’
‘Well, I can get you some more, can’t I?’
‘Yes, you can. But we were waiting in line for ten minutes. It would’ve been smarter to get more when…’
The door shut firmly behind them, blocking out their voices. A moment later it opened, and the old couple had vanished.
The line moved quickly.
After the old couple, a middle-aged woman with a heap of show bags in both hands entered, leaving her bags by the door. They were still there when the door opened once more. But the woman was gone. Next a man with tattoos all along his neck and on both of his arms stepped inside after her.
He disappeared in the same way.
After him, a young man slumped back in his wheelchair was wheeled into the booth by his carer. She stood outside the door, tapping her foot impatiently. When the door opened this time, the young man was missing but his chair remained in the booth. She looked startled. She went inside and the door swung shut.
It opened again.
She was gone.
Someone from the carnival came to collect the wheelchair from the mysterious booth before the next participant entered, and it all seemed like part of the show.
One more person disappeared before it was my turn.
I noticed that the line had grown much longer behind me, and yet there wasn’t a single child in sight. With that many exciting shows going on at once, there wasn’t enough appeal in a simple booth with a sign reading: The Incredible Vanishing Booth.
When the door opened before me, I peered inside just to make sure it was in fact empty. It was. I stepped inside and the door slammed shut behind me. There was no light, but the dark walls were gleaming with swirling galaxies painted on with some kind of glow-in-the-dark paint.
I sat down on the little bench bolted to one wall.
A tiny screen came on in front of me.
It flashed once. Twice. And then spat out a small polaroid. I picked it up and turned it over. The galaxies on the walls seemed to skim passed the edges of my vision, moving faster and faster as I focused on the glossy slip of paper in my hands.
It was a picture of me, only, it wasn’t.
In the photograph, I was wearing the same worn jeans and pale blue cardigan. My hair was in the same thick braid I always wore, and the little garnets still glittered from my ears.
But it wasn’t my face that peered out from the picture.
Well, it was, but it wasn’t.
My pimpled twelve-year-old face peered back at me with a mysterious smile. Suddenly the door swung open, letting a flood of artificial light into the booth. It was still night outside, but the air was aglow from all the twinkling lights strung up throughout the grounds.
I stepped outside into a carnival that looked exactly the same, but felt completely different. There were only children in sight running from one show to the next with toffee apples dripping in their hands and excited grins on their faces.
‘You used all of them up on yourself!’
The voice sounded familiar. A little girl was chasing after a boy holding a great big cone of pink cotton candy, while the little girl scowled at his back.
He stopped and held the cone out to her. ‘Here, we can share.’
‘Ok. Thanks, Morty.’
At that moment a boy of about sixteen passed by. He was leaning heavily on two crutches and his legs seemed to drag under him as he made his way to the glittering carousel beyond the pointed tips of the tents.
‘Jonathan! Be careful!’ shouted an older girl as she rushed around the corner after him. ‘Let me know if you need your wheelchair!’
I stood frozen in place as the lights and noise of the carnival moved around me. A beautiful gypsy smiled from her tent, her dazzling green eyes pinned on me. I started to move forward, not towards the gypsy but towards the mirror hanging on the wall of the tent behind her.
‘Want to know your future, darling?’ her voice was as sweet as honey. ‘Only one token and I can show you.’
‘No thanks,’ I muttered. I felt the world move faster and faster around me. My heart thumped heavily in my chest. Looking back from the small oval mirror was me as I had looked nearly thirty years ago. ‘I already know what my future holds,’ I added before turning around.
The booth had vanished.
In its place was a simple lamppost, and nothing else.