What Happened At The Festival (Short Story)

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Every year on the first Saturday of October, the town of Selmington holds their annual Fall Festival Celebration. Booths and a stage are set up in the town’s central park and vendors try to sell deep fried food for three times what it’s worth. Over the years it’s grown to become quite the extravaganza: hundreds of people come out to join the festivities and local businesses and organizations rent the booths to hand out business cards and pens and talk to people who are pretending to care about buying their frivolous household products. There’s also always live music playing, some local band or other alternating performing up on the stage. With the festival being a staple of the town and this year being the thirtieth anniversary since its inception, naturally the local news station, The Selmington Observer, sent over one of its reporters, Matilda Michaels, to do a telecast live from the park.

And so Matilda stood in the shade under a large tree atop a small hill a short distance off, providing a nice view of the festival behind her. A few paces in front of her was her cameraman, a fresh college graduate named Kevin Thompson, who held up the monster of a camera balanced on his shoulder. He was peering into the viewfinder with his other eye closed and scrunched up while Matilda held the microphone close to her chest, her frown reflecting back at her on the small monitor attached to the camera beside the teleprompter that previewed what would be broadcast.

“Should be any minute now,” Kevin said to her, pulling his head away from the camera and grinning.

Matilda nodded and was quiet. She was a slender woman in her early forties with plain brown hair and green eyes that were forever narrowed with unvocalized criticism. Even now, as she glanced at her cameraman, she was no different. She hated the boy, for a number of reasons, most of them little things, small infractions he was guilty of; forgetting that she prefered iced coffee and not hot even when it was cold out, taking too long to set up his equipment, accidentally tripping her with the wires, things like that. Matilda was a very particular person and there were not many people in the world that she enjoyed.

With a sigh, Matilda held up a hand to her ear and concentrated on the voice coming from her earpiece. It was that of her chief reporter, Trip Miller, giving his morning telecast from the studio back at the office.

“…local Selmington congressman Simon Wei is excited to announce that he will be seeking reelection this upcoming…”

It didn’t seem like he would be handing over the reins of the telecast to Matilda “any minute now.” He was droning on and on about the stupid congressman. He was always doing this, Trip, purposely dragging out a dull topic, an unspoken way to slight Matilda and the studio’s other ten reporters by making them wait… or so she had always assumed. Ever since they met when she joined the studio as a junior reporter and Trip shook her hand too hard, she knew he was a bad egg. He had spent the next fifteen years proving her right.

Shifting in her position and thinking happily about what she’d say in a hypothetical telecast where she got to be the one to break the news that Trip had been fired, out of the corner of her eye Matilda spotted a young boy no older than ten racing up the hill towards them, carrying a stick of queasy-blue cotton candy. She didn’t say anything to stop him trying to get into the shot: that was Kevin’s job, after all. However, her cameraman said nothing except for a quiet “thanks” as the boy approached him, handed over the cotton candy, accepted a five dollar bill, and disappeared back down the hill towards the festival.

Oh my God, is he having a snack now? Matilda thought, staring at Kevin. She hoped he was. It would just be another reason for her to report him to the higher ups.

But without taking a bite, Kevin held the stick out for her. “Here, Mattie.”

Matilda blinked. Her eyes moved from the cotton candy back to her cameraman. “What?”

“Take it,” Kevin said, nudging the stick slightly. “For the telecast.”

“Why?”

“It shows you’re having fun,” Kevin said. “That you’re really engaged in the festivities.” He paused before adding, “Trip explicitly told me to make sure you have it for your report and that the audience can see it in the frame.”

That explained it. Matilda rolled her eyes. “No,” she said, shaking her head. “I’m not doing that.”

“Mattie,” Kevin said slowly in his serious-idiot tone that Matilda so hated, “he said you need to. Now come on: he’s started his intro.”

Matilda breathed deeply to calm herself. If smoke could have come out of her nose, in that moment it would have. She accepted the cotton candy, holding it lopsided in her free hand.

“A little higher up, Mattie,” Kevin said, peering back into the viewfinder.

Matilda glared at him, internally screaming. This was so stupid. She was a reporter for God’s sake. She deserved a little more dignity than being forced to do something childish like this…

She held up the cotton candy properly. Kevin extended a hand and gave her an “okay” sign. In Matilda’s ear, Trip was saying, “…as every Selmington resident knows, the Fall Festival Celebration is a welcoming in of the new season. Celebrated every year on…”

Kevin held up a hand, all five fingers extended. He began retracting them, one at a time.

“…and now we go to Matilda Michaels, who is on the scene with the full story on the festival’s special thirtieth anniversary. How’s it been going so far, Mattie?”

A light on top of Kevin’s camera turned green. It was go-time.

Instantly Matilda’s frown vanished, replaced with a bright smile, the kind that shows teeth. Her grip on the microphone tightened, her fingers digging deep into the grip’s material.

“Thanks, Trip. Well, it’s been going pretty well so far,” she said, allowing the words on the teleprompter to tell the story for her. “Today is a day that many Selmington residents have been looking forward to all year. The Fall Festival Celebration has become a staple of our town just as turtles, our home-grown pottery industry, and pears have. The vendors have been up and running since early this morning, selling snacks and goodies such as these-” she motioned weakly to the cotton candy “-and local bands Outside Rock and-” she squinted at the name, unable to believe anyone could come up with something so stupid, “-and The Running Bowls have been doing a fantastic job providing the music and entertainment. With this year being the thirtieth anniversary, our town has gone all out to make sure that…”

Behind the camera as Matilda continued, Kevin was grinning. He kept the smile for the duration of the three minute report. The time flew quickly and before she knew it Matilda was already wrapping things up.

“…and later today an assortment of competitions taking place on the stage will close out the festivities, as they have done every year in the past. This includes the pie-eating competition, dart-throwing competition, and quite a few more. I’ve also been hearing some rumblings that a special ceremony will be taking place to honor the thirtieth anniversary, although more on that will be revealed later. It’s been quite the big event fitting of the thirtieth anniversary! Back to you, Trip.”

The light on top of Kevin’s camera went out and Trip’s voice came back on in her earpiece, though Matilda had already pulled it out while he was still in the middle of thanking her.

“We’re out,” Kevin said. He lowered the camera and gave her a thumbs up. “Great job!”

Matilda nodded, now working quickly to remove the various wires attached to her person. She handed them in a crumpled bundle over to Kevin, thankful to be unburdened of them.

“So you heading home now?” Kevin asked, fitting the camera into its equally massive case he’d left open on the ground. “Or you sticking around for the rest of the festival?”

Matilda turned her back to him and began buttoning up the coat she was wearing; the weather had turned rather chilly over the course of the telecast. “I actually have to stick around,” she said, notching in the final button. “My daughter’s doing something with the festival. Something with the special ceremony.” A small laugh escaped her. “She’s been pretty secretive about the whole thing, won’t tell me a word about what it’s about. Said it was a surprise…” She paused a moment before cautiously asking, “Do you have any idea what it’s about?”

“No,” Kevin replied, “but do you want some company while you wait to find out?”

Internal alarm bells went off as Matilda, white-faced, turned around and saw Kevin staring at her bare fingers. “N-no,” she stuttered, looking away and suddenly unable to match his gaze. “That’s alright.”

Through short glances made before returning to the safety of the grass, Matilda saw Kevin shrug before slamming the camera case closed and bolting it shut.

“Alrighty then,” he said simply enough as he picked the thing up and held it in front of him with two hands. “I guess I’ll see you tomorrow night for the LDsomething or other report we have lined up.”

“LDM,” Matilda corrected. “And please remember not to be late.”

“Right.” He turned and started walking away. ”Anyway, see you. Have a good one.”

“What about the cotton candy?” Matilda called after him, holding the stick out over her shoulder.

Kevin stopped and turned his head. “Oh,” he said, “um… keep it, I guess.”

Without another word he continued on his way and was gone. Matilda didn’t watch him go. She turned and made her way into the fair, dropping the untouched cotton candy into the first garbage can she passed, her mind swimming with intrigue about what this special ceremony might just be about…

– – –

To be continued in Part II…

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