When I was very young, there was a small children’s carnival called Kiddie Land on the south edge of Kalamazoo, Michigan. Open during the warm months, it featured rides like a tiny Ferris wheel, a toddler-sized train, little boats in an algae-green pool that went in circles like a merry-go-round, and live horses tied to another merry-go-round contraption across the street, enduring an endless line of would-be cowboys and cowgirls.
I adored Kiddie Land.
It’s long gone now. The place where it stood is less than a mile from where I live today, just a parking lot and restroom serving a bicycle trail. But one day I wondered: What if Kiddie Land had survived the decades since? What would it be like?
I suspect it might be a lot like Wakefield Family Fun Park—a tattered attraction desperately trying to hold onto something the world no longer offers.
Like many of my stories, this one sprang from a single image. Somewhere I once read—sadly, I can’t find the reference—that C.S. Lewis, one of my favorite authors, would create a story from one mental image that might not even be significant to the tale. I find myself doing this often. My novel, Radiance, developed out of a short story I wrote years earlier, but there was a single image that prompted me to write it: a drawing I found of an astronaut standing on a small asteroid hurling toward the Earth. Who was the astronaut? Why was he on that asteroid? Why does it matter?
Wakefield Family Fun Park was an alternate future for Kiddie Land. And that led me to write this story.
In some respects, Wakefield is also a metaphor for Nelia Rodge. Nelia isn’t falling apart—far from it. Her career is skyrocketing. She’s the picture of success. And yet, in her mind, that picture isn’t complete. She can’t help but cling to a long-held fantasy of a perfect mate. If she could somehow tweak that one thing, she believes, her life would be even better.
“What Might Have Been” is a classic “be careful what you wish for” story. But it’s more than that. It also a reminder to find and celebrate the value in what you have. Nelia had a loving husband and healthy, if not always agreeable, children. But she convinced herself it wasn’t enough—until The World of Might-Have-Beens teaches her a frightening lesson.