This story is by Kerr Pelto and was part of our 2022 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
The Forever Attraction
The excitement in the air was palpable and rippled through every nook and cranny in the tiny hamlet of Furville. The carnival had come to town! Colorful canvas tents appeared fully erected before daybreak in Hopper’s Field on the outskirts of town on the exact winter day each year. They disappeared just as mysteriously after midnight.
Shop owners hustled to pull the shades down over their showcase windows, and restless children pestered their parents to escort them to the festivities.
Not only did amusements such as Animal Oddities, Fortune Telling, and contests of all sorts attract folks to the festival, but they were also pulled in by a force they couldn’t resist.
Every year since Clare was sixteen, she’d entered the Baking Contest. This year, she tied a checkered apron around her tiny waist and stood proudly behind the table she’d covered with a cloth festooned with Beatrix Potter’s whimsical illustrations.
The judges huddled together, whispering their pros and cons concerning each of the mouth-watering entries, then awarded Clare the blue First Place ribbon.
As townsfolk approached, Clare raised her prize-winning carrot cake so they could admire the detail of the coconut-covered bunny on top eating marzipan lettuce. The heavenly aroma wafting from the dessert made Harry halt abruptly as he passed by. She held the fancy dish up to his nose. He closed his eyes, taking his time to inhale the hints of cinnamon and vanilla. When he opened his eyes, he felt weak in the knees. Clare’s luminous beauty enraptured him. He was especially drawn to her cute buck teeth that gave her smile a hint of mischief.
Harry bought the cake on the spot and said, “My dear one, may I share a slice with you at this nearby picnic table?” He lifted the cake in one hand and held out the other.
Clare instantly took a shine to the lanky man who couldn’t keep his kind eyes off her. His large ears, which stuck out slightly, were endearing, and she giggled. The animal attraction between them was unmistakable. She took his proffered hand, and they ate in silence, oblivious to the constant noises of the festival, and delved deep into one another’s eyes, unlocking their innermost desires.
From that moment on, the two were inseparable. Eight months later, they were married in the same open field where the carnival appeared. No one thought it odd that little bunnies frolicked in and out of the joyous occasion.
Every year, Clare created a new version of her delicious carrot cake, decorating it with a different whimsical rabbit, and every year it won first prize, but she never sold them. Once the judges left the coveted blue ribbon on the table, Clare would carry her confection to the picnic table nearby and share it with her beloved Harry. It was one of their traditions.
The other agreed-upon tradition was never to miss the festival’s newest attraction, whatever it may be. One year, they stood side by side, took deep breaths, and choked down a dozen fried crickets dipped in chocolate. Another year, they thought they’d die on Deathmaker, the rollercoaster that soared up and down and twisted around the middle of Hopper’s Field. At midnight, the newest attractions disappeared forever.
The years passed by gently, with no drastic changes to their days. They had an easy dance of life together. The couple raised rabbits on their acre of paradise and sold them to local markets as pets. They tried to have children, but when it was made apparent Clare was barren, the love they would have showered on a family was instead given to their ever-growing fluffle.
Time passed, and the years caught up with Harry and Clare. One night, they sat next to each other on their old porch swing, watching the sun dip into the horizon, and brooded over their waning future.
Harry took Clare’s delicate hands in his mottled ones, and his voice cracked with emotion. “Dear One, I fear our sunset years may soon be coming to a close. If I could figure out a way for us to be together forever, I would.”
Clare stroked the bunny sitting on her lap and looked into her husband’s ice-blue eyes with all the love in her heart. “My dear man, my love, if only we were like our vivacious rabbits, always full of energy, not having a care in the world.”
“Yes. I’m afraid I’ve been worried about my shortness of breath lately.”
“And my arthritic knees make it more difficult for me to walk. Harry, I fear we have but one more carnival to attend before our lives peter out.”
The tents appeared yet again on a cold winter’s day, the exact day they always materialized in Hopper’s Field.
Clare made a carrot cake with Harry’s help, the last one she’d ever enter into a contest. Once again, the judges awarded her the blue ribbon. Harry and Clare shared the delicacy at the nearby picnic table. Even though Clare was long past her prime, Harry still saw the young girl in the checkered apron he’d fallen in love with decades earlier. Clare reached up, put her tiny hand on his large ear, and smiled her mischievous smile. Both recalled the animal attraction they’d experienced when they first met and longed for it to be reignited.
A loudspeaker blared an announcement and rudely interrupted their thoughts.
“Come one, come all, to the latest Happily Ever After attraction! Never again will you enter such a magical tent! Hop right up, those who dare, and experience the change for a lifetime! It’s free! The only price you’ll pay is the loss of what had been.”
Harry took Clare’s wrinkled hands in his. “My sweet, shall we experience what may be our last attraction?”
Clare nodded her assent, and he helped her up and over the picnic bench.
They inched their way to the carny who was dressed in a white satin suit, top hat, and pink bowtie, then stood alone near the entrance to an ethereal gossamer tent. No other attendees seemed to have heard the announcement.
“Ahhh, here you are! Welcome to the Happily Ever After tent! I’ve been waiting especially for you. And what lovely matching faux fur coats, just right for the occasion! Are you ready? I must advise you, once you enter the tent, there’s no going back. I can see you both have a great love for one another, and do I perceive a possible animal attraction? Good, good, that is what makes the magic happen. Don’t be afraid, dear ones. Over the years, many have entered and experienced their desired change for a lifetime.”
Harry hesitated and took Clare aside. The carny’s words made his ears itch, and Clare said they made her nose twitch.
“Clare, did you understand the carny’s words? Is the tent truly magical, or was he just piquing our interest? Change for a lifetime? Was that on purpose? What does it mean to lose what had been? I don’t want to lose you.”
Clare was silent until Harry finished with his ruminations. She patted his shoulder and said, “Does it matter what it all means? You said this may be our last attraction. Come what may, I have a feeling we’ll always be together.”
In the end, tradition won out.
Harry put his frail arm around Clare and guided her back to the tent.
“Ready?” said the mystifying man.
The old couple looked deep into one another’s eyes, then nodded at the carny.
The tall man’s white suit glowed, and his eyes sparkled. He waved his orange wand over their heads and uttered an indecipherable incantation.
The air sizzled with excitement, and a gust of wind blew open the curtain at the entrance to the tent.
Harry and Clare paused briefly, then stepped inside. Their bodies tingled with the sensations of a metamorphic change. Either the tent was getting bigger or they were getting smaller. Their clothes piled in a heap around them. Oddly enough, they still felt warm from a covering of fur.
Clare jumped back, frightened at the large bunny that stared back at her in disbelief.
“Clare, is that you?” His kind blue eyes recognized her toothy grin.
“Harry?” She recognized the large, floppy ears. “Are we rabbits?”
Both looked at their enormous feet, then hopped close to one another. The animal attraction was unmistakable. They laughed and romped around, full of energy and strangely ravenous for the carrots popping up out of the ground.
As the years passed, Harry and Clare basked in the new life they’d been given. They scampered in and out of weddings in Hopper’s Field where they first met and were wed. And they looked forward to the carnival that mysteriously appeared one day each year, always making sure to nibble on the crumbs underneath the baking contest tables.
Harry and Clare had many offspring, and the furry couple lived hoppily ever after without a care in the world.