Suzy Darlington

The pre-dawn field is alive with the buzz of labour—chains, pulleys and winches rattling and whining. My breath escapes in plumes of silver against the still-dark sky. Most of these contraptions have literal teams working on them. Some of the air cannon barrels extend a hundred feet.

This is my fourth year coming to the Punkin Chunkin festival, and though I get nervous as hell every single time, I live for it. I love the atmosphere, love setting up on the first day, in the pall and the cold, seeing what the other entrants have spent a year working on.

Most of all, I love sticking it to them. Sure, I get weird looks. Basil gets weird looks. But we’re a solid duo. And The Diviner, our ingenious trebuchet, improves every year.

And this might be the year—my year. The record is 3,636 feet. Just last week, before I had to take it apart to come here, I measured a throw of 3,713 feet. The number itself is lucky. I’m sure it’s a sign.

‘I can’t believe you forgot the snacks,’ Basil says, jumping out of the cab. He saunters over to where I’m attaching the ropes to the cup and sits down on the dewy ground.

‘Maybe you should have reminded me.’ I don’t bother looking at him. Too busy.

‘What am I going to eat?’

I know him. He’ll harp on like this until I go buy him something from one of the vendors over in Country Fare Alley. ‘I’ll get you a sausage as soon as the stalls open.’

I could go all day without eating. My stomach’s twisted by the carnivorous butterflies eating away at everything inside anyway. But I can’t tell him that. Well, at least something’s eating around here he’d say.

The expanding band of light on the horizon finally brings up the sun, and my job suddenly gets easier. Behind us, in another field, the distinct whistle of an air cannon firing makes Basil jump. Those cannons may get the distance, what with their compressed air tanks and long barrels, but there’s something inherently beautiful about the trebuchet. A trebuchet is art. The perfect amalgamation of poetry and physics.

Beside me, four dudes wheel the Chuck Norris off a truck onto the grass. They’re late. But when I catch the eye of their team leader, he nods. Doesn’t smile, just nods.

The first year I came to Delaware, it wasn’t just funny looks I garnered, but laughing and jeering, as well.

‘Oh, look at that silly girl in her pointy hat.’

‘Don’t you know Halloween was last month, honey?’

‘Look at her talking to her cat!’

But did I have news for them.

This isn’t a costume. And Basil isn’t just a cat. In fact, he’s the brains of this operation. And 32-hundred feet shut them right up. They haven’t laughed at me since.

Author: Suzy is the most half-arsed writer in the world and spends all the free minutes she doesn’t have reading manga, playing video games, and searching for high-angst, LGBTQ+ romantic tension in fiction. When she’s not having unexpected (but totally welcome) dreams about being Timothee Chalamet’s best friend, she’s at her desk trying to figure out which of her three bulldogs farted this time.

Editors: David Farr and Grace Harvey