It was raining lightly the afternoon that the Barnes Carnival arrived and began to set up for the Lafayette County Fair. By that night the carnival workers had laid out the midway from the livestock barns along the western edge of the fairgrounds to within a hundred feet of the river where a natural, three-sided boundary was formed along the north, south, and east sides of the fairgrounds. It was through one of the two admission gates on the western edge of the fairgrounds that the county agent came, choosing to pay the admission fee even though he was on urgent official business.
On the midway, as he looked for the carnival manager, the county agent was struck by the inability of the men and women who worked for the fair to direct him to their boss, as if the carnival manager were a fugitive, difficult or dangerous to point out.
The agent was given no helpful directions until he approached an older woman in a booth who was seated behind a giant wheel laid out horizontally. The labels around the wheel indicated the prizes to be won for 50 cents. Initially, the woman was no more helpful than the other employees and only seemed interested in complaining about the rain that had fallen the entire week, but when the agent said he’d like to spin the wheel and handed over a dollar, the woman’s attitude changed. The agent won a plastic duck necklace on his first spin and a rainbow pinwheel on his second. Once she had handed over the agent’s prizes, the woman said, “He sits along the river sometimes.”
The county agent left the midway and walked to the river where he looked up and down the bank until he saw a man downstream sitting under a tree that leaned so far out over the river that were the tree to fall, it would create a bridge to the other side.
“Are you the manager of the carnival?” the agent asked, when he’d reached where the man was sitting.
“My father says so, and I guess that’s good enough for now,” the man said, “but while I’m sitting on the bank of this river, I am an imagineer–Do you know what an imaginareer is?”
“I have no idea what that is, but this river is exactly what I have come to talk about.”
“And I am sure what you have to say will be fascinating, but just for the sake of clarity, I am not suggesting that this River is particularly majestic; in fact, this river may look more like a gravy flow than any river i have ever seen; and if someone did an analysis of its contents, I think the dirt in the river would exceed the amount of actual water.”
The county agent opened his mouth to give the warning he’d come to deliver, but before he could speak, the Carnival manager continued: “But the sheer awfulness of this little river has reminded me of the river Acheron. Have you ever heard of that river?”
“Have you ever heard of a flash flood? If not, you’re about to if you don’t listen to what I have to say.”
“I will listen to whatever you have to say as soon as I make clear what I mean by an imagineer which I would say is half engineer and half imaginer. Five years of college made me the engineer part of that equation, and this river has made me the other half. I mean, sitting here on the river bank has given me an inspiration that will make even my father proud.”
“Stop talking and listen to me,” the county agent said, and he stomped his foot which was a gesture he had not made since the fifth grade when Mrs. McCarthy told him he was being held in from recess for calling Betty Shriner a ponytailed brat.”
“What do you want to tell me?”
“Within six hours this river is going to be a flowing torrent that will flood across the fairgounds to a depth of two or three feet, and if you don’t move your equipment to higher ground, your canival will soon be floating down the river.”
The fair manager stared at the river. “Because of this rain? ” he asked, without looking at the agent. “It hardly seems like enough water to drown a rat.”
“A thunderstorm hit the headwaters of this river, and in a few hours that rainwater will have come out of the hills into the main branch, and in a few more hours it will reach us here. When it does, it will be wide and deep.”
“Then perhaps,” the carnival manager said, “I should tell you about my inspiration before we become too busy.”
And before the county agent could stop him, the carnival manager began to share his vision . . .