This story is by Emily Dockery and was part of our 2017 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Her weather app read 65 degrees Fahrenheit and breezy. Jackie smiled and set her phone down on the counter in her tiny Rockwood r-pod travel trailer. It was small but better than the tents her coworkers slept in.
The day was perfect for her third season going up against Paul Marecek and this time she would win. Jousting might be a show for festival-goers to enjoy between deep-fried cheesecake and their next round at the archery booth, but not today. Normally, every lance thrust was choreographed and every fake shoulder hit planned. But thanks to a three-year old argument with Paul, all bets were off.
Jackie inhaled slowly. Mike had been right, the breathing exercises helped. She tied the strings of the quilted cap under her chin. It cushioned any knockings from her helmet and disguised her appearance from the audience. She grabbed her helmet and left the trailer, breathing in the crisp fall air. She traveled the circuit all year, but the giant forest in the Maryland countryside, full of blazing yellow and orange color, was her favorite job site. She smiled. It was going to be a good day.
“This is the worst day,” Sam complained. He had finished giving his fifth Heimlich to a guy who shouldn’t have had a third turkey leg, or worn that leather kilt. Sam scrunched up his face, trying to scrub the previous 30 minutes from his memory.
“Hey dude,” Michelle said. “Most people would kill for a gig like this, and it’s perfect weather?” She sounded like she couldn’t believe her luck. “If all we do is patch up a few drunk guys in leather jerkins, it’s worth it.”
“Jerkin?” Sam asked. He hadn’t heard anything after that. “Watch a lot of Game of Thrones?”
“Hey, don’t knock it. That’s good TV.”
“Yeah, but I couldn’t pull the word ‘jerkin’ out of thin air.”
“Well, I may have branched out into other historical fiction after that.”
Sam got up from the back step of the ambulance to stretch his legs and shivered. He missed summer, he thought, pulling the company fleece over his head. Now it was October, he’d have to wait whoknows how many more pay periods before he could afford to continue night classes, and then came the holidays. He couldn’t imagine dropping so much money on tickets for a medieval fair. He kicked a pile of dead leaves as he brooded over his bank account.
“Come on, grumpy,” she said, standing. “It’s time we get to the jousting arena.”
The crowd roared in applause as she walked out. It felt amazing, even though she knew the two Andrews were standing opposite the crowd with cue signs.
Deep breaths, she told herself. You’ve got him this time.
Sam leaned back on his bench, the row behind him digging into his back. He was alone on the edge, everyone else sat in the center. They all wanted to be close to the action. He grimaced, thinking of Michelle waiting in the wings to treat any injuries that might happen when two people rode at each other with heavy wooden sticks. He knew it was theatre, but it was still dangerous. Dark clouds gathered overhead, echoing his mood, but as the brightly-dressed herald started his speech, he leaned closer.
Bobby was doing his thing, drawing in the crowd, and that meant it was almost game time. She went over her mental checklist. Girth tightened? Check. Helmet on? She pulled down her visor with a clang. Check. Game face? She crinkled her nose and bared her teeth under the helmet. Check. Overwhelming nerves? Double check.
A trumpet blared and the crowd cheered louder as she and Paul passed each other in the middle. She stationed herself on the northern side and turned to face him. She breathed shallowly but adrenaline made the ten-foot lance feel light in her hand. Any moment now.
Sam saw both horses bolt forward as the trumpet sounded. The riders approached each other at incredible speed, smoothly lowering their lances and then impact. The lance of the larger knight—actor, he corrected—made contact with the smaller knight’s left shoulder and knocked him back. He resettled himself quickly.
The smaller knight waved away the medic’s white flag. Of course he would, it was a show. He took up the lance someone had retrieved, the trumpet blared, and they went again. This time the smaller knight landed a hard hit. His lance even broke in two, splinters flew everywhere. Someone whooped in excitement.
Sam let out a low whistle. Was it just him or did this look more real than he had expected? The larger knight waved the white medic flag away too.
It was still overcast but he was hot in his fleece as he watched the knights race toward each other for a final time. Something went wrong though. The smaller knight fumbled with his lance and as he leaned forward to adjust his grip, the other knight’s lance caught his shoulder.
Sam stood up as the knight tumbled backwards over his horse and hit the ground. He was halfway down the stands as he watched the horse drag the knight 100 yards to the end. Sam jumped the railing and sprinted across the arena. Michelle was on the other side; he could get to him first. Worst-case scenario this could be a broken neck or a spinal fracture.
Jackie felt like an elephant was sitting on her chest as pain radiated from her side with every breath. Her foot thudded on the dirt. Someone had cut the stirrup loose.
“Jackie? Are you alright? Don’t move okay!”
That sounded like Bobby. She reached up to pull her helmet off but stopped as pain streaked through her chest. She needed to get it off. Someone slid a hand under her neck and the helmet popped off. There was Bobby and a stranger. Someone with beautiful dark skin and eyes that crinkled in worry.
Had she hit her head? Wait, the answer was yes. Who was this guy?
“I’m Sam, can you tell me your name?” he asked, enunciating his words.
“It’s Jackie.” Her voice was hoarse and shaky. A horse neighed nearby; she could see a large chestnut blob off to her right. Marion, that was Marion. “How’s Marion?”
“Um. Jackie, you may have hit your head–“
Bobby stuck his head close to hers. “She’s fine, Jackie. I checked her out myself.”
She cleared her throat. “Look, whoever you are, I’m fine. Let me get up.”
“No,” he said, but she ignored him and stumbled to her feet, her armor clanking.
“I have to insist, man,” he said, catching her as she buckled at the knees.
He was persistent.
“Alright. If you insist, help me to my trailer.” She didn’t want to be here anyway. Paul couldn’t see her like this.
After a very awkward half-limp, half-carry to her r-pod, the medic insisted on checking her over. He choked and blushed rather cutely when he realized she was a woman.
“Can I help you?” she asked in her lightest voice.
“Ah, nope. Just a, uh, surprise,” he said dropping his eyes to his work as he finished prodding and poking.
“Sorry,” he said. “Would you please take off your cap? I need to check for contusions or bumps.”
Her short dark crop was plastered to her head with sweat. As he felt along her scalp, his thoughts wandered to her riding earlier. It didn’t help his concentration either when she arched her eyebrows at him in frustration.
Sam frowned: there was a bump, but she had passed the concussion exam.
“Well, you’re lucky. You’ve got bruised ribs and a bump on your head, but no concussion.”
“Good, I need to be able to ride the rest of the season,” she said.
“You do this every weekend?”
“I do this all year.” She ran her hands through her hair.
He whistled under his breath. That was a lot of potential injuries, but she seemed to be holding up well.
The medic—Sam, she thought—was looking down at her with a curious expression. Whatever he was thinking it made a very cute dimple appear in his right cheek. She was furious with herself for losing to Paul another year in a row, but maybe this day hadn’t been a total waste. She smiled up at him.
“How much longer does this fair last?” he asked, packing away the stuff from his kit.
“Only another month.”
“And you perform every weekend?”
“I ride every weekend, yes.”
He nodded and looked away from her sharp eyes. This trailer was starting to seem a bit close.
“Well, take it easy until next week.” He tripped down the stairs, too preoccupied as he mentally checked his schedule. He was off next Saturday; and when he took into account everything the fair offered, the tickets were reasonably priced.