Two suits of armor stood sentinel at the Renaissance Festival, the sun gleaming off their polished breastplates. Bruce paid the admission, full price for himself and Sarah and almost got away with paying junior price for Wren, who was small for her 15 years. Inside they found a built environment, faux trees lined the main thoroughfare, stands made to look like medieval buildings, venders done up in doublets and hose, the women, known for the day as “wenches” in satin and cotton, ample cleavage front and center, the real selling point.
Village experts recycled this 500 year old celebration as a symbol of the town’s return to greatness, their hope for the future. But it was merely a symbol of tax money at work. They chose the Summer solstice, the longest day of the year—midsummer, the pagan holiday dating back centuries, a time when fairies roamed the earth and play their wicked tricks on humans.
The Wiccan ladies opened the festival in their white robes and clover wreaths, standing inside a fairy ring, chanting, dancing, one with nature. Next came the Maypole, typically used on May 1st, but the what the heck, it made good eye candy. Bruce, Sarah and Wren walked along the main thoroughfare, passing booths selling garlands made of fake flowers and cleavage glasses (not just for drinks, you can put ice in them too and keep your breasts cool). There were hand-forged knives and gemstone pendants and food on a stick and mead by the bucket. There were drunken revelers threatening to sacrifice the virgin, eyeing Wren as she passed in her white dress.
The King and Queen were escorted to their box, sitting in judgment over the festivities. The jousting came first, with Sir Lionel the winner of the Queen’s silk. Bruce, Sarah and Wren held down a bench, their period clothes untrue to the times, the colors wrong, the fabrics artificial. Wren’s embroidery done by a machine.
Wren had been arguing with Sarah, a long, drawn out argument over trivialities, nothing new. Girls always argued with their mothers. She did not want to be there with them, it was hot, the food was revolting, the atmosphere phony. “We’re going to do this as a family,” Sarah said, and that was the end of discussion.
They sat through the court jester, the court musicians, the court troubadours. The music, the hawkers, the revelers vomiting in trash cans designed as tree stumps, they sat on their bench all day, under the hot sun, sweating in their overdone outfits as the sun beginning its downward arc.
Finally at twilight, the main attraction. The Sorcerer bounded onto the stage to Heart’s Magic Man played by the court musicians. He was tall, erect, dark, focused, and wildly beautiful, a genius of public theater, a master of the arcane mysteries of magic and illusion. He spoke of himself in the third person, his voice booming, vibrating the stage. He was the perfect hologram, above suspicion, beyond reproach, black hearted but polite.
Wren was mesmerized, hypnotized. She knew she would be called up on the stage, she could feel it. As he walked through the audience, people reached out to touch him while he promised all of heaven and hell to one special audience participant. He looked into her eyes as she sat between Sarah and Bruce and reached out to her. She took his hand and ascended to the stage. The lights gave an exotic aura to the night, the moon was magical. Long afterwards she would remember the pattern of the stars. The main event, the disappearing act in three parts. First the descent into the box, then the explosion, then the mad dash to the parking lot amid enthusiastic applause and whistles.
“This concludes our show, and remember to sample our wares on your way out, but the gates close in thirty minutes,” came the voice over the PA system. The audience stood, shook the dust off their clothes and left the stadium. Bruce and Sarah sat and waited, a look of stupor on their faces, baffled. Finally they managed to alert the authorities. Soldiers in armor mustered, combed through the debris on the stage, searching for clues of the Sorcerer and Wren’s whereabouts. The Sheriff was called in, his deputies arrived in their Town Cars, sirens out of tune. An Amber alert hit the airwaves, choppers circled overhead, spotlights tracking the highways that led out of the county.
Bruce and Sarah were encouraged to leave, go home, “there’s nothing more you can do here.” Besides, it was time to take down the tents, pack up the props, move onto another city.
Wren became public property. Her picture went up on billboards, milk cartons, at Wal-Mart stores across the nation. She became the poster child for fantasy and speculation. There was a hysterical search for the truth, the truth about young girls, the truth about kidnapping and rape, the truth about victims. And among all the rumors, there was an absence of logic. Wren suddenly became the guilty one, the responsible one, the problematic one. Sarah became the tainted mother, the mother of “Wren,” a girl who probably set up her own disappearance. Her dress was to revealing, her look too knowing, her gestures too bold. Rumors persisted, she was promiscuous, had had several sexual partners, perhaps even with that teacher, the one who quit suddenly. They lived in the wrong part of town, in a rundown house, not one of the finer homes. What can be expected from such an environment?
As time went by, Sarah could sometimes hear Wren’s laughter in the night, an angelic sound, made pure by Wren’s tragedy. Throughout the years, sightings of Wren occasionally came over the airwaves, made the tabloids on slow celebrity days, sightings in bus stations, in drug stores, in public bathroom, in crack houses, in abandoned malls dancing with mannequins.
But sometimes the earth just opens up and swallows people.