Running Away with the Carnival

carnival cropped

Some years ago, I overheard my aunt telling my mom that her niece had run away with the carnival… again, leaving behind her navy boyfriend, who chased after her and tracked down the carnival encampment.

I was like, “Wait! What? Who, where–I demand details!”

I was, I think, only fourteen or fifteen at the time, and every summer we spent in my grandma’s small town, the week the carnival set up their rides and games on the fairgrounds was always the most magical and mysterious time of the summer.

carnival cropped

How could it not be? Wandering around amid a hazy, overwhelming burst of colors and lights, everything vivid and loud, shrieks of laughter, ribbons fluttering and glassy-eyed stuffed animals stuffed to overflowing every other game stall, your head in an intoxicated daze of spun sugar and caramel apples, dizzy and half-queasy from spinning rides.

And me, always secretly enamored of the dark-haired boy who ran the carousel while watching everything with dark eyes.


If one summer a carnival boy had asked me to run away, I might’ve done it. Beneath the bright lights and secretive smiles under the summer stars, everything looks fascinating.


But here was a girl who actually had run away with the carnival, not only once, but twice! My cousin by marriage (or whatever it’s called when it’s your cousin’s cousin by the parent not related to yours).

I needed details! I pounced on my aunt for them, and so the story unfolded…


Her niece, Terah [not her real name], ran away with the carnival first when she was twenty, when she fell in love with a carnival boy of eighteen.

She traveled with him and the carnival up until he robbed a convenient store and got himself thrown in jail. After which, while in prison, he murdered a fellow inmate, which just increased his bail.

Terah begged her aunt for money, but her aunt only laughed and said, “You get no cash unless you work for it, honey.”

So Terah got a job at Stop&Go. After a while, she met a navy man and started dating him.

All went well until, after she turned twenty-one, the carnival came again.

Oh, the lights, the sounds, the mystery!

She ran off with it again, this time with her former lover’s younger brother, who was fifteen.

At this point, fifteen-year-old me was goggle-eyed. A fifteen-year-old boy with a twenty-one-year-old woman? That happened in this world? I was utterly fascinated–or appalled? Envious, for sure!

Then she got pregnant.

Whaaaat? Sheltered, fifteen-year-old me was scandalized in the best way. How could this be so real, so juicy, so mortifyingly engaging when I hated my mom’s soap operas? How did the tale continue?

With the navy man tracking her down.

In the middle of the carnival encampment, he dropped to his knees and offered her a diamond ring, proposing to her even though she’d run away and was pregnant with a fifteen-year-old boy’s kid.

He wanted to marry her because he loved her.

Such–what would you call it? Love, devotion, fanatical obsession?–whatever it was he felt that drove him to chase down the carnival and find her, it utterly enthralled me. It had to be powerful, and as I’d never been loved yet at all, I couldn’t help but wonder how it felt to be the living center of someone’s affection.

Did she accept?

I don’t know! [actually, I do now] I don’t know if my aunt didn’t know or the conversation was interrupted or if I didn’t like her answer and blanked it out of my memory (selective memory, yay!), but whatever the reason, I don’t know [or didn’t know until yesterday, because I asked my mom, who asked my uncle, who said that Terah lived with the carnival guy two summers and that was it. He only knew about the one carnival guy, though, and said she’s now married to someone else and has some kids].

In any case, that story sank into my mind. So sparse on detail, but it took such a grip on my imagination! I could envision the navy guy, furious, passionate, kneeling in a dusty camp under a merciless summer sun and offering her the ring, uncaring of whoever might be watching.

And her–how would she feel? Uncertain? Pitying? Loving? Torn?

I infused the scene with so much intensity, so much emotion that I wrote a poem about it. It’s terrible; I can’t bring myself to post it–not in its entirety, at least, but I’ll include a few of the lines:

In the middle of the carnival,
his voice hardened and hot,
He uttered, “Here’s a diamond ring,
you marry me or not.”
Then everyone turned silent
as he faced me on his knees,
While I still stand here thinking
in the cool dry mountain breeze.

And if you don’t believe that the rest of it is really that bad, here’s a snippet cut from the drivel:

He’s fifteen, but he works the carousel—and me—with skill.
I’m pregnant now—we were so poor, I left off of the pill.

Yeaaaah. Let’s just not post the rest of it.

In any case, I think maybe that’s what started me on the path to writing about complex loves in crazy-adventurous situations. I may not have run away with the carnival, but my character would in a heartbeat. And I’m sure she would find beauty in the hardship that is the reality behind the strings of lights and magic.

I think maybe that’s how I want to start feeling every morning. Not just when I sit down to work on my story and weave a scene about my character racing from monsters and leaping off a cliff while clutching the hand of a starved man with ruined wings.

When I wake up, I want to think, “Who knows what I might do today? I might run away with the carnival. I might dance under the stars. I might fall in love.”

Can’t crazy stuff happen?

Thanks for reading! Now for book news!

If you want more of my writing on crazy loves (in a fictional world), and you want wings and troubled minds, maybe try Luminesce or Incandesce. Or for epic fantasy, check here. Or, if you like darker and gorier, well… here.

Sneak peeks!

I’m still putting up sneak peeks of my works in progress (I added one today about a boy healer trying to fend off plague-ridden ferals to protect his girl). They’re on my Patreon page for anyone who wants to check it out 😀

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Book news!

The anthology my dark faerie tale is no longer on sale for $0.99! But you can still get over 500 pages of dark faerie tales for less than three dollars (or free if you have Kindle Unlimited).

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First chapters of books (God willing) soon to be released!

The first chapters of fantasy romance / epic fantasy romance books currently in progress:

Owner of two cats and huge dreams and author of any kind of love story so long as wild stuff is going on...

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2 comments on “Running Away with the Carnival
  1. DebE says:

    What an inspiring story!
    And… I wonder who the navy man loves now…

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Sonya Lano

Sonya Lano

Owner of two cats and huge dreams and author of any kind of love story so long as wild stuff is going on...

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