The Carnival of Wishes & Dreams
1 Audrey 10 HOURS TO MIDNIGHT
COME TO THE CARNIVAL OF Wishes and Dreams. Meet me at the Ferris wheel at midnight. We’ll ride it together.
Audrey McKinley stared at the message on the pumpkin gram she’d just received and blinked. She didn’t need an invitation; of course she was going to the carnival tonight. Everyone in Clarkville was going. It was the biggest social event of the entire year.
She twisted a strand of curly red hair around her finger and examined the rest of the note. Her name was
written in big block letters in the space next to the “To” section. But the space next to the “From” section was blank. Had the sender just forgotten to sign their name? Or was the note intended to be anonymous?
Pumpkin grams were a big fall tradition at Clarkville Middle School. Students paid a dollar to write a special note to their friends on orange construction paper pumpkins, which were delivered at the end of the school day, a few hours before the carnival opened. The whole point was to know who sent them. To know who your friends were and just how many you had.
Seriously, why even bother sending one if you weren’t going to sign it?
Audrey glanced up and looked around Miss Prescott’s seventh-period math class. In the seat in front of her, Grace Chang was staring off into space. She considered asking Grace what she thought about the pumpkin gram, but since Audrey and Grace weren’t supposed to talk to each other anymore, she decided against it. The members of the student government were still making deliveries, so she flagged down Lucas
Carter, who had dropped the pumpkin gram on her desk.
“Do you know who sent this?” she asked. “It’s unsigned.”
Lucas shook his head. “Maybe you have a secret admirer.”
An anonymous note. A secret admirer. These were mysterious, wonderful things. But the message itself was not wonderful.
Audrey loved the Carnival of Wishes and Dreams—the fall festival that blew into town for one magical night every October. She loved the gold-and-crimson-striped tents; the carousel that some people swore could grant wishes; the way the carnival lights frosted everything with a golden glow; the way the whole evening smelled like popcorn and roasted peanuts. This year she especially loved that her dad had gotten a job operating one of the rides. It was good money, and she hoped they’d be able to make rent this month instead of falling behind again.
The only thing she didn’t love was the Ferris wheel.
She was afraid of heights—everyone in town knew that. Last year when she’d tried to ride it she’d had a huge panic attack. She’d been sitting with Harlow Carlson—back when they were all still friends with Harlow—and Harlow had tried to keep her calm until their cart reached the bottom. After that, Audrey swore she’d never ride it again.
She made a quick list of everyone who had already sent her a pumpkin gram. It was a respectable haul, but still, none of that respectable haul included a pumpkin gram from Julia King, her best friend. Julia had been acting a little weird lately—maybe the message was her idea of a joke? Audrey pulled out her phone and texted Julia, who was sitting three seats up in the front row.
That’s NOT funny.
Julia texted back: What’s not funny?
The message you sent, Audrey answered.
Julia twisted around in her seat and mouthed, What?
In response, Audrey held up her pumpkin gram and frowned.
Julia pretended to smack her forehead, and a few
seconds later, she sent another text: Totally forgot to send you one.
Julia forgot to send her a pumpkin gram? Audrey knew for a fact that Julia had sent twenty pumpkin grams. So how could she forget to send one to her own best friend?
Audrey could only send five this year. She’d had to spend most of the birthday money Aunt Lisa gave her on groceries—and even then she’d felt bad about keeping five dollars for herself. It could have meant a couple extra boxes of cereal in their bare pantry, but instead she’d used it for pumpkin grams.
She looked down at the message. If it wasn’t from Julia then it had to be from someone else. Someone who wanted to meet her at the Ferris wheel at midnight tonight.