“How does your ship keep up with the Sun if you never leave Earth’s atmosphere?” Cade immediately regretted his question. Within the thin line of people who stood in front of the carnival stage, faces turned and eyes cut in his direction. That he liked. The loud, angry, and in some cases elderly, adults acting like two-year-olds were about to witness Cade’s smooth intellect.
It was what was happening on stage that made Cade want to walk away. The older man on the platform lifted the tiny, multi-colored hat he held and placed it on the tip top of his mountain of gray hair. “Let me show you how.” He walked down the ramp that led from the stage, held out his elbow as an invitation for Cade to link arms, leaned forward, and gave a head nod back toward his three red tents. “Mr. Infinity at your service. Come take a trip where the Sun never sets and the day never ends.”
With the older man frozen in his same position, Cade’s hands smoothed down his shirt over his belly in an effort to keep its hairy flesh from peeking out below. “You know about the international date line?” Cade asked. “No matter how fast we go, we’ll still cross into new days.”
The carnival barker straightened up and puckered his lips. “Ooohhh, we’ve got a smart one.”
Cade’s happy face, frumpy appearance, as well as his love for cartoons, KFC, heavy metal, and carnival rides often hid his Doctorate in Geology. But he minored in astronomy, which was his initial career goal and the reason he would stand out from the other customers, some of whom had breathed out fiery insults just a few seconds ago, only to melt into the crowds the instant the carnival worker left the stage like the whole thing was none of their business .
Cade picked at a popcorn kernel in a bottom front tooth and eyed the banner on the platform railing. It had a caricature of the old man straddling a rocket that flew up over the clouds. A fire trail from the back of the rocket curved down to the surface of the Earth. Along the side of the rocket were the words “Mr. Infinity’s Day Trips.” When the kernel finally came loose he replied, “You’d have to go at an impossible speed, like a thousand miles an hour, to keep up with the Sun.”
Mr. Infinity’s fingers went through his closed lips and pulled out a ticket. He dangled it and then dropped it as soon as Cade held out his cupped hand.
“If you change your mind I’ll let you try it for free. I’m here till Monday.”
“Won’t you be busy…” Most of those who had stuck around were finishing off a food or beverage. Cade spoke over a small girl wearing fox ears who sucked down the remaining portions of her drink. “Won’t you be busy taking people on never-ending flights the whole time?”
“Try it now and you’ll be my first ride for the day.” The older man spun around and threw up his hand in a wave as he walked away. “Anytime kid. Anytime.”
Cade, feeling a breeze against his belly button, yanked down on his shirt, slightly embarrassed at the thought that his gut might have been hanging out full throttle during his exchange with Mr. Infinity. One glance at the carnival stage background wall, filled with partially ripped up, and, in some cases, completely indistinguishable poster ads and he knew he wasn’t among society’s elite.
“Okay. I’ll be the first.”
Cade found the inside of the man’s tents even creepier than the man himself. Pictures of all sorts of interesting characters hung from the tent walls like they were his relatives. One had a man sporting a goatee and handlebar mustache with a flower on top of his head like it had grown out of his bald scalp. Another was the portrait of a woman with a wide face, pigtails, and one lone tooth in the top middle of her mouth. Mr. Infinity gabbed the entire time but Cade’s attention was on the pictures. He gave a nervous laugh at an image showing a man staring directly at the camera as he rode a horse. The long hair that circled the man’s face was styled to stick outward so that he reminded Cade of a cat.
Through a wrinkled tent flap Cade found the next tent to have more of the same bizarre vibe. In the middle of the room stood a lifelike wax bull with sharp horns curving upward. A cluster of hay hung from its mouth. Cade also caught sight of a large bird, with wings spread, standing in one corner of the room, and a squirrel clinging to the side of the tent by the exit flap.
Before Cade knew it, both men exited the tent into open air, surrounded by people walking in all directions.
“What?” Cade asked. “Where’s the ship?”
Mr. Infinity pulled back the end of his sleeve to check his watch. “I always lose track of carnival time.” He held out his hand. Cade did likewise and the man shook it as quickly as he spoke. “I’m sorry young man. I’ve gotta go. Need to sell some tickets. I hope you enjoyed it.” He walked backwards, smiling at Cade and then winking before facing forward to jog to the stage ramp.
“What about the ride?” Cade asked.
“Check your pocket. And don’t forget to tell your friends.”
Cade dug something out of his back right pocket but it slipped out from between his fingers and his palm before he could close his hand. When he looked down the only thing on the ground was a wadded up piece of paper. As he reached for it, the wind sent it between his legs. Cade moved faster than he’d moved in a while, running after the paper, picking it up, straightening it, and holding it close to his eyes to read the small lettering. At the top of the page was an image of the carnival worker’s face. Below it read:
“In order to prevent the theft of tradecraft secrets, it is the policy of Mr. Infinity’s Day Trip Inc. to require all of its customers to agree to never disclose, in any form, to any individual, any part of their experience within Mr. Infinity’s Day Trip tents as well their experience aboard Mr. Infinity’s Day Trip aircraft. I, the undersigned, understand these conditions and agree to abide by them under penalty of law.”
Below, sitting on an actual dotted line, was Cade’s signature followed by the day’s date.
Across from him was another show. Its poster featured a miniature monkey sitting in the palm of a woman's hand. Though the attraction was probably a fake, Cade felt like the monkey. Not just dumb. Used and abused.
Without thinking he shouted, "That figures!”
A man passing Cade actually gave HIM a dirty look. Mr. Infinity, who was back to selling his trips, put both his hands on the platform rail in front of him and leaned forward. “It was a free ride. Remember?”
“Let’s go one more time," Cade said.
“Then purchase a ticket.”
A young boy stopped to watch the exchange, gnawing away at some sort of candy stick with a wrapper partially split open and peeled back over his hand.
“How much?” asked Cade.
Mr. Infinity pulled up his sleeve to show a tattoo reading “$ 22,226”.
“Or,” the carnival worker said, ”you agree to do some odd jobs for me - I’m a scientist - as we whirl around the Earth. It takes two to carry out my experiments.”
“I don’t wanna work. I want you to stop advertising something that’s not even there.” He hoped that the eyes he felt from the crowds around them were paying attention to his words and not just his tone. “And how did you forge my signature and get that in my pocket?”
Still leaning into the rail, Mr. Infinity faced down in what was either an angry, serious, or impatient stare at the ground. Despite his eyes being shaded, Cade could see he was watching the boy, who now licked what turned out to be a red sugar stick with a sharp point that he’d most likely fashioned earlier through countless licks. Something off behind Cade caught the boy’s attention. With his right hand holding the treat, he bent the index finger on his left hand and stuck it in his nose. The boy laughed and headed off toward whatever had amused him.
“Look,” said the older man. “You obviously really want to do this… again.”
For some reason Cade felt the joy of a smile pulling at the corners of his mouth.
The carnival worker continued, "It's just that you keep coming back. This last time I let you keep your memories of entering and leaving the hangar. I just wiped out the time in the hangar and on the aircraft. I figured that would turn you off enough to send you away.”
Cade’s memory was why he stood out among his University classmates as well as his work colleagues, even the older ones. Mr. Infinity was throwing out a messy tangle of lies.
“On the other hand,” Mr. Infinity said, "on every single trip you practically beg me to let you help with my experiments. Experiments that put food in my mouth and fuel in my ship.”
“Just take me back through your tents. All three this time.”
“You have to go like a thousand miles an hour, that’s faster than the speed of sound,” Cade said.
Mr. Infinity put a hand inside the hat he held. Instead of a rabbit he pulled out a ticket. “Why not try it for free?”
“Why not?” Cade’s eyes went wide, though he had no idea why.
The older man pointed to an outside corner of the tent closest to them. “We enter through the back of this tent. It’s the hangar for my aircraft. The other two tents are just side projects. We’ll eventually exit out the front of the tent on the other end.”
As both men left the crowds of the fair behind them, Cade asked, “How many trips have you done today?”
“The whole experience is instantaneous in relation to fair time. So I can get in quite a few rides.”
“This’ll be our - MY - fiftieth one this morning.” Mr. Infinity stopped in front of the tent flap. He had snuck on tinted goggles. He threw a pair to Cade who started tinkering with the strap slides.
“Don’t bother.” Mr. Infinity leaned in close so that Cade could hear him over an oscillating whirring that was getting louder and louder. “They’re pre-fitted.”
The appearance of the clouds through the goggle’s tint was a familiar sight; not in a deja vu sort of way but in a way Cade had never experienced. His confusion erased his smile and made him queasy. A million memories paradoxically filled his head while remaining impossible to pinpoint individually.
All of that erased when Mr. Infinity pulled back the tent flap, becoming a darkened figure against the glow of the tent’s interior.