Genre / Location / Object
Fantasy / Carousel / Cookie
The Carousel would manifest in bits and pieces, looking nothing like itself until it was just there. One moonlit evening you would see a pile of forgotten construction materials; the next, you saw a Carousel there, announcing its presence with manic calliope music that only a lucky few could hear. The evening after that: gone.
I heard about this iteration at a coffee shop, when a local youth mentioned that the garbage in the vacant lot by their school seemed to be moving on its own. Some days the trash even looked like animals.
This was it! My hands shook with anticipation as I planned my departure.
The night of the full moon arrived, hazy and hot. The only others on the street appeared, like me, to be trying too hard to blend in with their surroundings. Fellow Wanderers, I was sure. I felt safe using bolt cutters on the lot’s padlocked gate.
“Excuse me,” A petite, pale woman with lively eyes tugged at my rolled-up shirt sleeve. She was lucky I didn’t use the bolt cutters on her. As it was, I dropped the implement. “Oh! I’m so sorry if I started you!”
“No need to apologize, ma’am,” I said, still uncertain as to her intent.
“It’s just…I’ve only done this once before.” She wrung her hands in worry. “How do we know…um…when…it will end up?”
“We don’t know,” I said, relaxing a bit. “We can only tell once we get on and the machine starts revolving.” She still looked worried. “Remember, though, that you can just stay on and Ride instead of Wander, if that’s your preference.”
“Yes, of course,” she sighed. “I’d forgotten…”
“There is no need to worry, Ma’am…” I held out my hand. “Or is it Miss?” She shook my hand.
“Debra is just fine.”
“And you may call me Martin, Debra.” She looked at me skeptically. “You must be from, what, the 1930’s? No one in this time even knows there’s a difference between Ma’am and Miss.”
“Actually, I was born in the 90’s. I had an uncle who Wandered. I was only twelve when I walked off the Carousel in 1938.”
“So young!” Debra grasped my arm. “Why did you…” Her question was drowned out by the blare of bright music. We opened the gate.
“Hurry, hurry!” The barker hollered, as he helped folks up the steps. This version of the Carousel was run by a skinny, youngish black man in a shiny white shirt and gold vest. “Step right up and take the riiiiide of your life! Find yourself a seat, then get ready to leap!”
Find a seat, indeed. All Wanderers knew how difficult on the senses the first part of the Ride was. If someone became disoriented and went over the side before the appropriate era was reached, they were destined to land in an unknown time.
I seated myself on a bench to make disembarkation easier. I was happy when Debra sat down beside me. “I need to hear the rest of your story!” She quipped.
I continued my tale: how the sight of a girl with dark braids and a winning smile had gotten me off my horse and close to the edge. How the girl had spotted me, and waved as I whizzed past. How I had already been madly in love by that point.
“Then I saw that she held an enormous cookie in her other hand.” I continued. “She held it out to me. What else could I do? That Ride became my first Wander.”
Debra laughed. “So did you blame the little girl or the cookie?”
“Blame?” I said. “I thanked that little girl often for that cookie. I did marry her, after all!”
“Oh, how perfect!” Debra laughed, then stopped abruptly. “But you Wander alone now?” She asked quietly. I sighed.
“We did Wander together for many years.” I said, finally, then paused. “It’s easy to become disoriented when you’re a Rider and the Carousel first starts…” Debra moaned in understanding. “Lorraine lost her balance and went over the side…”
“And you have no idea what time she landed in!” Debra finished my sentence with alarm. I was silent, but I could see that she was doing the math in her head. “How long have you been looking?”
“Thankfully, our children were grown when we mounted the Carousel that day in 1968.” Debra laid her hand on mine. We sat in silence.
With a rumble we began to move. The barker continued circling, making sure everyone was safe and secure. I took Debra’s hand, and the modern world whirled itself away.
How fast did the Carousel turn? Our sense of balance told us it was not fast at all, but our eyes said differently. The blur beyond the platform morphed into a psychedelic palette worthy of Pollock. I closed my eyes and prayed, to whatever gods had built this machine, that this would be the right time.
After a minute I opened my eyes to another anonymous carnival on another anonymous evening. In the background lighted metal and wood rose to form rides, as tents in the mid-ground offered cotton candy and stuffed animals. Closer still were the crowds, which I scanned with desperation.
“1995!” The barker yelled. “It’s a big first step, but the landing’s smooth as butter!” Most of the Wanderers now stood and moved to the platform’s edge.
“Martin! There!” Debra leaned into me and pointed.
But it had gone by too quickly. She swung her arm to the left in anticipation of the Carousel’s revolution. “She’s on top of something, standing above the crowd! I know it’s her!” I wondered at that last statement until she directed my gaze once more. “There!”
She was right. To one side of a row of nearby tents was a small paddock, perhaps for showing livestock. In that paddock right now, however, was a beautiful woman, standing on a stool, holding something in the air.
It was a cookie.
Copyright 2020 by Melani Weber