Faenum And The Fair

Chapter 1.  Faenum

 

            Hiding in the shade they sit quietly on forest floors.  White petals atop sturdy stems seem to float over the ground.  Faenum would often steal away to gaze at their purity when spring came.  Wake-robin some call them, others say Toadshade or Birthroot; Trilliums, he learned to call them for there seemed to be trillions of them around.

            One spot especially drew his interest in the wood.  Lightning struck here around the time he was born, probably the same storm that took the roof off the barn.  It felled some of the finest trees the forest had to offer.  Selected as if their structure were so impressive they made the sky jealous.  Sunlight poured in through the hole in the canopy causing thick grasses to grow near the downed trees.  Far thicker than the spindly wisps of green that shot up at random elsewhere in the forest.  Trilliums in the opening were few; they didn’t care for sun as Faenum did.

            Strewn about logs made for a monstrous chair only the likes of Bunyan could use properly.  Faenum would perch himself atop and sit in bliss waiting for the sunlight to sprinkle its heat.  It’d been months since his skin felt warmth from outside a hearth.

            As soon as his head was engulfed with light odd thoughts presented themselves.  Red was all he could see through his closed eyelids leading his pondering towards battle.  Fury and heat pushed into his thoughts.  Sunlight now graced his whole body and he was warmed from tip to toe.  Wearing just his denim pants he slumbered in the sun taking in every minute of the measured bath of light.

            Grinning to himself about the terrors that could have slowly moved in while his eyes were closed Faenum tried to picture just what his new surroundings would resemble. Jet-black Simmental bulls wielding pitchforks preparing a slaughter.  The heavy breath of his predator was close, only a few seconds separated Faenum and death.

            Suddenly the light was taken from above.  His eyelids were dark and confused.  ‘It should have taken a bit longer, no?’ Surprised at himself for miscalculating the pace of the sun he opened his eyes.  What he saw gave much alarm. 

            Above him hung a dark orb where the sun should be.  It looked to be just above the treetops and Faenum jumped inside his skin.  “What in the world?”  Faenum muttered looking disjointed at the sky.

A screech from above raked the air and startled Faenum off the log.  Scrambling to get another look Faenum leaned out from under the trunk toward the sky.  More light was falling through the canopy, the orb had moved. 

            Faenum’s eyes were slowly adjusting to the light and he could decipher something dangling from the object.  His ears were picking up all sorts of foreign noises mumbling, chatter, and guffaws.  “People?  Are there people trapped inside?” He muttered trying to get a better view.  He tilted his head back and gave one more look but only the blue expanse of sky could be seen.

            Needing to understand the vision Faenum grabbed his shoes and shirt and dashed off in hot pursuit.  Down small hills and over scattered branches he worked his way seamlessly through the trees.  “Aha!”  He spotted it just to the west and moving fast. 

            Changing directions ever so slightly Faenum dodged a low branch.  His wiry young body moved gracefully through the heavily wooded acres.  Faenum ran with all his might.  His chest was thumping now; pounding, trying to move blood as fast as his heart needed it.  Tight and stinging he pressed on through the rising pain.

            Faenum caught another glimpse of the orb near the edge of the wood.  Summoning the last of his resolve Faenum made short work of the rest of the woods.  Fearing it would escape from sight altogether Faenum made a desperate choice, a shortcut through the thorns.

            With a leap he’d practiced before Faenum almost cleared the wall that guarded the forest entrance.  A tangle of burrs snagged his foot spilling him hard onto the ground.  Rubbing the fresh scratches above his eye he sprinted into the pasture. 

            Looking back across himself Faenum searched the treetops for any sign of the orb.  Nearly half a mile away hung an upside down teardrop.  He couldn’t believe he still had a shot.  Urged by his frustration Faenum pushed again trying to make up lost ground.  Hollering in the direction of the curiosity Faenum hailed it feverishly.  Letting the desperation come out of him in sharp bleats he yawped as one does when calling cattle.  He was catching up slowly but the distance was great.  Shouting with everything he could muster Faenum some how caught the ear of the enigma.

            Still unsure of what it was Faenum ran towards the lowering dirigible.  At least five cows wide the balloon gently swayed beholden to the will of the wind.  Faenum could make out shapes leaning over the basket that hung 40 feet off the ground.  The same screech raked the air every so often, ‘Caaa-hoooshh’.  Hats and shiny buckles and a number of flags Faenum did not recognize could be seen moving about as it calmed its movement.  Massive blue and white stripes led upwards above the figures in the basket creating a most impressive sight for the out of breath boy. 

“Careful!  Careful!  Not too close.  I’ll do the talking.” Faenum heard from above.        

Panting, the boy looked up at the party suspended by the orb.  Some kind of uniformed soldiers kept crowding towards the front each surprisingly close in age to Faenum. 

            “Hush.  Hush up now.”  Bellowed a voice from the side trying to quiet the group.  A hatted man with a round, mustached face came to the center of the group.  His hands moved swiftly around as he gestured a warm wave.  “Hullo youngster!  You gave us quite a start.  Born out of a toadstool were you?” he shouted down with a laugh.  “You’re lucky we came this way, been holed up in the north on account of the tough winds.  Duluth is a fine place to be stuck for a week.  They’ll have a fair one day; a mighty city grows on the water.”

            Still out of breath Faenum was trying to make sense of the scene.  Surely it was real, the man and his cohorts but what was this thing they rode in?  Big as a house it filled all he could see.  “What are you?”  Faenum yelled to the group of two-dozen curious eyes peering down.   His question caught them by surprise causing them all to laugh.

            “Huh ho!  Oh, my young hayseed, we are the future.”  He said leaning back to his crowd of travelers. 

            “What is that you fly in?  What makes it go?”

            “Sorry, son, no time to get into all that.  We’re behind schedule and we still need to stop in St. Paul.  All the answers are in St. Louis.  Come to The Fair my boy and learn all about the new world you’ll soon be living in.”  Puzzled by the man’s suggestion Faenum furrowed his brow. 

“The fair?  That isn’t until the end of the summer, and it surely won’t have the answers”.

            “Tell you what, son,” the man said confidently.  “I’ll give you the key, open the door yourself!”  The portly man disappeared for a second below the side of the basket.  He returned with an armload of papers every color Faenum could name.  With a gentle heave he launched the papers into the sky where they instantly spread apart, fluttering in a thousand directions.  A sea of rainbows fluttered down as the balloon raised itself with an oooosh, waaaa-ooosh.  “Here’s your key!  Don’t leave it lying around!”  He shouted as the balloon put distance between it and the boy.  “Look into your future; look into the Fair!”  He echoed before becoming a black spot against the bright sky.

            As the first papers finally reached the ground the balloon was back to its distant position on the horizon.  Faenum thought of chasing it down again but his curiosity in the papers was stronger.  Grabbing a bright white flyer out of the air Faenum raced his eyes across the text.  The elegant black print on the page was striking, far more distinct than newsprint or books.  Faenum scanned the propaganda looking for clues as to the meaning of the encounter.  Across the top it read, ‘World’s Fair Contests and Special Events’ in large flowing letters.  Followed below with smaller type of clearer distinction, ‘Prizes totaling over $100,000’.  The page was filled with curious statements and numerous grandiose claims of varying interests.  His eyes skipped around from column to column being more enamored with every line he read.  Looking up from the paper one last time to see the balloon eek out of the sky he smiled.  “No way this is true.  But there’s only one way to find out.”

            His heart stopped when he neared he bottom of the page.  He reread it just to make certain he was not mistaking the words.  In the lists was one contest of particular note.  It read, ‘Washer Contest-World’s Largest’.  Bringing his head up with a jerk Faenum looked in the direction of where the balloon left the horizon.

            “Look into my future, huh?”  Faenum said aloud stuffing the paper in his pocket.  His head began to twirl on distant triumphs as he sprinted for home, trampling the fallen rainbow.