Carousel of Dreams

By: Carefree Quill

It was an odd place for an antique carousel, in the corner of an overgrown city park on the edge of the snobby business district. Men in suits cut through it on the way to their favorite cafés at noon, but rarely noticed the carousel. The arrogant hustle and bustle was the same every day, and the misery of it was overwhelming.

Yric leaned against the iron railing that encircled his carousel and sighed as he lit a cigarette and took a long drag. He casually inspected the medieval warhorses. Every detail was perfect from genuine horse hair, colors, armor… right down to the veins in their legs. It brought back memories both bitter and sweet of a childhood full of adventures he wished he'd never had. Yric pushed up the brim of his fedora, closed his eyes and took another drag on his cigarette but nearly choked when he felt a tug on his sleeve.

"Mister, do you run the ride?" a young boy asked.

He looked only four or five years old and Yric smiled at his innocent face, "Yes. Would you like a ride?"

The boy shrugged shyly and then glanced back at his impatient looking father. The look in the man's eyes was nothing short of withering as he approached. Yric saw the boy flinch and heard his gasp. There was no mistaking the body language between them, that father was a tyrant. It took all Yric's patience to remain calm.

"Bobby, I told you we weren't stopping here! Is my kid bothering you?" the man in the expensive suit asked in a tone that was barely civil. His hand clamped down on Bobby's shoulder and the boy bit his lip.

"It's a slow morning, why don't you both have a ride... no charge," Yric said and then turned to those nearby, "Everyone, go choose your steed, the first ride today is free." The children squealed, but the tyrant in the suit stood firm. Yric refocused on him, his eyes making a clear challenge, "Go ahead, Bobby."

The man grudgingly released his hold on Bobby who ran to the carousel. He wasn't happy, but forced out a curt, "Thank you."

"Why not join your son? I clean the horses every morning, so you won't spoil your fine suit," Yric said, barely masking the sarcasm.

James had little patience, least of all for carnival rejects or children. He would damn well have a talk with his wife for leaving Bobby with him over lunch. He was no babysitter. He glared at the ride operator in his vintage hat, vest and slacks, looking more like a forties gangster than anything else. Many comments came to mind, but he'd get out of here faster if he just humored this guy.

"Fine," James finally conceded as he marched over to the carousel and chose a horse.

Yric smiled with satisfaction as he turned the key on his control panel and engaged the power. The music began and the platform started to turn. Horses began to slowly rise and fall gracefully as children laughed. Yric smiled as little Bobby went past him, but frowned at his father. Yric hadn't been tempted to tweak the ride in a long time, but today it would be worth it. He placed both hands on the panel and closed his eyes as power he'd been forbidden to use flowed into the carousel.

James held the brass pole and yawned. He didn't even like boring old carousels as a child. Suddenly he felt his horse jerk and then rear up. Carved muscles took on animation and cold wood gave way to a coat of sleek black fur and the pole disappeared.

"What the hell?" James barked as he grabbed the reins and dug his fingers into the horse's mane.

The carousel vanished and James clung to a runaway horse galloping at full speed into a dark swamp. Dead trees littered the countryside beneath a sky so depressingly gray he couldn't tell if it was night or day. His heart was pounding so hard he could hear his pulse over the thunder of the hooves. He pulled on the reins but had no affect on the horse at all. The sky grew darker as he rode for hours. When the horse abruptly stopped, James found himself in the open surrounded by bubbling bogs of foul smelling water. He tried to tell himself it was a dream, but the nausea was all too real. He gracelessly slid out of the saddle and fell to a heap on the soggy ground just in time to heave his designer deli lunch. He wiped his mouth with the back of his hand and looked up into the big yellow eyes of a little gremlin-like creature. The slimy green thing grinned, showing a mouth full of sharp teeth, and behind him were hundreds of pairs of yellow eyes.

James scrambled back and grabbed for the horse. He launched himself back into the saddle and kicked the horse's ribs desperately, but the beast refused to move. Then he heard a faint whistle and the horse took off at a gallop again. James heard music, and there was a swirl of colors as his hands found a brass pole and the erratic gallop became a lazy rise and fall in time to a calliope.

The carousel came to a stop and Yric smiled as the kids said, "Thank you." But Bobby was still standing on the platform with his father, who looked rather sick.

Yric leaned against the railing and casually commented, "Fear doesn't feel good, does it?"

James was white as a sheet, "What?"

"Fear is not respect, it's just fear. Remember that the next time you lose your patience," Yric said.

James took his son by the hand and walked out of the park, still shaken. Did it really happen, or did he dream it?

"Dad," Bobby interrupted his father's thoughts, "You have mud on your pants."