The Carding Fair is celebrating its 25th season this August, and the event’s logistics get more complicated every year.
Now there are hiccups in the run-up to every event but this year in Carding, the hiccups are testing the resolve of the Fair’s steering committee.
But sometimes a challenge is just an opportunity in disguise, right?
Thank you for visiting the Carding Chronicles. These are short works of fiction based on the four novels about the little town that no one can quite find on a map. You can find details about the novels at the end of this story.
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Two of Carding’s more observant folks stopped to watch the wanderings of Carding’s chief of police, Charlotte Davenport, and her companion Gideon Brown as they ducked in and out of the town hall, Cooper’s General Store, and the Crow Town Bakery in search of Edie Wolfe.
“What in the world do you suppose they’re lookin’ for?” one of the watchers commented to another.
“I bet they’re lookin’ for Edie Wolfe. I’ve been hearin’ rumors that something’s up with the Fair,” his watchful companion said.
“You know, I sometimes wish the town would just quit doing it. There’s so much traffic and way too many people and the cleanup afterwards just goes on and on,” his friend said.
“Yeah, I know what you mean. It supposedly brings money into the town coffers but I can’t say that it makes any appreciable dent in my property taxes.”
“Well, the Inn’s full up so and the bakery’s seats were all taken when I got there for breakfast this morning so someone’s making money,” the second man said. “Still, it would be nice to have a quiet August around here for once.”
The two men stood shoulder to shoulder, their arms crossed over their chests as they watched Charlotte and Gideon head up the hill toward the Carding Academy of Traditional Arts.
“So, are you planning to go to the Fair on Saturday? I hear the weather’s going to be nice,” the first man asked.
“Oh yeah, wouldn’t miss it for the world.”
When Charlotte and Gideon finally cornered Edie in the large art studio on the Academy’s second floor, she and her committee chairs were standing around a table in the center of the room, a large map of the town green open in front of them.
“Oh Charlotte, your timing couldn’t be better,” Edie said as the chief walked in the door. If she was surprised to see Gideon Brown, she didn’t show it. Volunteers for the Fair had been drifting in and out of the Academy all day. “Have you had a chance to talk with Gary Miller over at New England Midway Amusement yet?”
Charlotte glanced at Gideon before she replied. They’d been discussing alternatives to the carnival rides during their perambulations around town, and she thought Gideon had come up with some pretty interesting ideas.
“I have but I’m not sure you’re going to like what he had to say,” Charlotte said.
Edie sighed. “Let me guess. Gary was trying to persuade us to move the fair to the high school parking lot for his convenience. He does that every year.”
“True but this time, he added a kicker to his request,” Charlotte said.
Everyone around the table stopped moving, all their ears tuned to the police chief’s next words.
“Miller claims he doesn’t have any experienced drivers or crews to send up to Carding this year,” Charlotte said. “He told me that truck drivers are getting hard to find, and I know that’s true from what I’ve read in the papers. He said all his experienced help is tied up with other events.”
“And these new drivers can’t negotiate their trucks around Meetinghouse Road and the Green, have I got that right?” Edie said.
“Yeah. He wants us to close off all the routes into town starting at 5:00 a.m. on Wednesday morning and keep them closed until the rides and food stands are set up, and that could take all day,” Charlotte said.
Edie pressed her lips together. “I see.” She turned to the group around the table. “Agnes, you’re our treasurer. Can you tell us how much we brought in from the fried dough and carnival rides at the Fair last year?”
“Just under $5,000,” Agnes said as she scanned a sheet of figures.
“Five thousand?” Gideon said. “Is that all? I swear the lines at the fried dough stand at last year’s fair never got any shorter all weekend.”
“You’re probably right, Gideon,” Agnes said. “But Garry Miller keeps three-quarters of the take.”
“What? That’s highway robbery.”
Agnes nodded. “I agree with you but Miller’s the most generous midway entertainment dealer we could find. All the others we checked into were only willing to give us an 80/20 split because Carding’s pretty small potatoes on the summer fair circuit.”
The police chief was now staring at Gideon full on. “Go on, tell them what you told me,” she urged.
Every eye in the room shifted in his direction. “Well, I was telling Charlotte about this fair that I went to when I was a little kid down in western Massachusetts. If memory serves, it was about the same size as our fair. There were no carnival rides but there were all kinds of things for kids to do.”
“And you still remember it so it obviously made an impression. What did they have?” Edie asked.
“Well, there was a tug of war down the middle of the fair that everyone got into. There was a dunk tank where you could take turns being the one who got dunked. There were some zip lines to play on and a walkway suspended from one tree to the next all around the fair. It was only about five feet off the ground so parents could hold the hands of the smallest kids. And some of the older kids taught little ones how to walk on stilts. My brother Jacob just loved that.”
Gideon suddenly stopped, embarrassed by the attention he was getting. But Edie was grinning.
“You know, when we had our first fair meeting in February, we got to talking about taking this event in a more traditional direction and getting rid of the carnival rides because every other summer fair has carnival rides,” she said.”We’ve only got eight days to go but maybe we should look at this as an opportunity
Edie looked around the room. “I’m not in favor of giving into Gary Miller’s coercion, and we ruled out the high school parking lot a long time ago. If we have hot weather…”
“…and we usually do,” Agnes said. “Last year, it was in the nineties the whole weekend.”
“Which makes it unbearable in the parking lot with all that asphalt and no trees,” Edie said. “What do you folks think?”
Andy Cooper fixed his eyes on Gideon. “Do you think you could organize enough substitutions for the carnival rides in the time we have left?”
Gideon looked anything but stunned. He’s lived in Carding his whole life so he knew that if you stuck your oar in the waters of the Carding Fair, you were bound to get sucked in. But it was okay. Ever since the ignominious end of his marriage to Chloe Cooper, he’d sought out ways to reassure himself that not everyone in town hated him.
So he nodded. “There’s enough clever folks here in Carding to make something interesting happen so yeah, I think we can pull it off.”
Edie clapped him on the shoulder. She sensed how much Gideon had struggled to regain his dignity. “It will give me great pleasure to call New England Midway and tell them their services are no longer needed,” she said. Then she whipped her head around. “Unless you’d like to do the honors, Charlotte.”
The police chief grinned. “It would be my pleasure, Edie. And Gideon, I think we should call Lee Tennyson to see if he’d be willing to bring those two Belgian horses of his down to the center of town to give kids rides in a horse-drawn wagon.”
TheCarding Chronicles are short stories based on the Carding novels by Sonja Hakala.
You can visit Carding any time in The Road Unsalted, Thieves of Fire, and The Dazzling Uncertainty of Life. The fourth in the series, Lights in Water, Dancing, should be available on Amazon shortly.
You can subscribe to the Carding Chronicles by clicking the subscribe button on my home page. When you do, my stories speed from my keyboard to your inbox every Thursday without any further effort on your part.
If you’d like to get in touch, my email address is: Sonja@SonjaHakala.com.