Wild RecklessBy: Ginger Scott
The caramel aroma that scented the air was thick. The smells of the Annual Wilson Orchard Apple Fest always began to permeate the streets the night before. Thin lines of smoke trailed from windows and front porches down residential streets of Woodstock, awakening the noses and stirring hungry bellies one at a time until they found the Harper residence.
This was going to be Owen Harper’s first year at the festival. His dad took off special from his job at the warehouse just so he could take his middle son to the hometown tradition where the town’s best bakers lined up their pies made of the fruits from Old Man Wilson’s trees.
Owen liked the pies. He always ate them when his parents or grandparents brought them home. But what he really wanted to do was go on the Ferris wheel. His older brother James had been to the festival twice. James was ten, and he’d always been tall, so he could pass the height requirement easily and ride alone. But Owen was not yet five, so he would need a chaperone. His mother worked long hours, and his father rarely got a weekend off. But today…today was an exception. And today, Owen Harper would ride the Ferris wheel and look out over the town until he could see the roof of his house.
He promised to bring his younger brother Andrew to the festival one day too. He’d be old enough to walk to the festival on his own then, and tall enough to serve as his brother’s chaperone—and together they’d both feel like they could fly.
Owen’s dad talked to himself a lot. It wasn’t anything unusual to Owen. He’d often watched his father have arguments within his own mind, his lips muttering fragments of words over his cereal. He learned to ignore the nonsensical tirades his dad would have with someone who seemed to be invisible while he drove his son to school. And the long hours on the porch at night, when his dad would stare off at nothing for hours at a time—those were routine, too. Owen loved those nights the best, because he would get to lie in the hammock, and sometimes he’d wake there in the morning.
Bill Harper was talking to himself a lot today. And everyone was staring. But Owen didn’t understand why. Nothing was unusual.
His father paid their admission, and his son breathed in deeply, his lungs so full of the caramel, cinnamon, and apple fragrances that he was sure he could actually taste them.
His father’s hand was rough from working heavy machines for hours every day, and when he pulled his son’s hand into his, his skin felt scratchy. Owen didn’t care. His own fingernails were chewed away and his palms were dirty from his morning hunt for worms in his mother’s garden. He squeezed his father’s hand tightly and let his grin stretch the freckles on his cheeks as he took in the sounds of popcorn popping, kids screaming on the roller coaster and carnival workers yelling out from all directions to win prizes.
Everything about today was perfect—just as Owen had dreamt it would be.
Bill Harper pulled his son up to the ticket booth, and stood him next to a hand-painted post. Owen stood tall, stretching out a little and lifting his heels up just enough that the woman checking his height wouldn’t notice he was cheating. He didn’t want anything to go wrong, and this would be just a little bit of insurance. In the end, he didn’t have a reason to worry. He was forty-four inches—two inches taller than the requirement. Still too short to ride alone, but tall enough to ride. And that was all that mattered.
As his dad handed the tickets to the man wearing overalls and working the controls for the Ferris wheel, Owen noticed the people in line behind him staring again. His dad was talking off to the side, arguing with himself over something. But it was nothing unusual. His dad did this—often. Sometimes Owen did it too, because he wanted to see what it felt like.
Their brows were all pinched, and when one woman pulled her two girls in close to her body, away from him and his father, it made Owen angry. He sneered and actually let out a faint growl, which only made the woman hold on more tightly to her girls, who looked like they were about the same age as Owen. Their blond hair was pulled up on either side in pigtails. They wore matching dresses—pink—and they looked afraid. He had scared them, and eventually they left the line.
Owen was pleased.
He forgot all about the angry and frightened faces as soon as his carriage lifted from the platform and he and his father climbed higher in the air. The wind was colder up there, and everything about the day smelled like Halloween. It was morning, so the lights weren’t on for any of the festival rides, but it didn’t matter to Owen. The earth looked magical from up above.
While their cart was paused at the top, Owen twisted in his seat, counting rows of trees and buildings until he was sure he had the right road in his view. He counted chimneys to seven. And then he was sure he found it. He turned back around when the wheels started to spin again, satisfied that he could now check off the box in his mind—the one to see his house from up above.