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Carousel

The carousel lights shone bright and golden as it made its last rounds before closing time. Kids squealed with joy and pumped on the real leather reins, as though this would make their horse go faster than the rest. Parents balanced their little babies on the stationary horses, while just outside the circle of light their grandparents proudly smiled and took pictures of “Baby's first horsey ride.”

Sarah slowed the carousel for the last time, then stopped it altogether, watching as the riders got off and exited the platform. She turned off the calliope and lights, and all was silent as she waited for the people to leave. Then she made her nighttime rounds. She touched each horse’s forehead gently, and whispered a word of encouragement here, and greeting there. She told herself she was just inspecting the equipment, but in her heart, she somehow knew that these horses were more than just carved wood and lacquer. To her, they were alive.

The horses were beautiful, painted wood with a fine, shiny finish. There were some of every equine color you could imagine: there were of course bays and blacks and browns and chestnuts, but there were also roans, buckskins, red duns and golden duns, dun-skins, and palominos, pintos and spotted horses and silvery grays and grullas. There were even some horses that were dark with silver manes and tails and one pure white mare. But there was one that was special to Sarah. For some reason she could not explain, a little bay with no white had caught her attention. She had named him Little Joe, Joey for short. Again, no particular reason. The name had just popped into her head as she was petting him the very first day, and it’d stuck.

Some of the others had names, too. There was a petite black-and-white pinto mare she called Sly, a handsome, tall gray named Sargent, a regal flaxen chestnut mare by the name of Sun Goddess, and a rangy dun stallion she called Willow. She had no idea why these names occurred to her, but there they were and there they stayed.

As she walked through the ranks, she reflected. The horses were over 150 years old, and renowned locally for their historical and cultural value. But there was something about them that disturbed Sarah, thought she could never pinpoint quite what it was. At last, she reached Joey’s side. Looking into his glass eye, and though it was chipped and cracked in places from a century and a half of use, she felt as thought she could she into the little horse’s soul. That’s silly, she thought, a wooden horse doesn’t have a soul. Stop pretending. You’re sixteen now. Much too old for this.

But as always, something powerful drew her into the eye. And, for a second, she thought she heard a plea in the back of her mind, so quiet it was barely even perceptible: Help. But she shook her head, and it was gone. She stroked the delicate nose, and turned to go. As she went, something gripped her like panic and she suddenly saw Paige in her mind, lying on the pillow, and her parents crying bitterly and she, a tiny girl beside them-- but then it was gone. Her sister. Paige. Paige had died of some mysterious illness thirteen years ago, leaving Sarah without a sister and her parents without their oldest daughter. She’d had a pony, too, and sometimes she’d let Sarah ride it, but when she died they sold it or something-- Sarah had been to young at the time to remember the details.

Feeling suddenly very tired, Sarah walked onto the carousel platform and sat down on one of the two brightly painted benches for people who could not ride even the stationary horses.

On an impulse, she walked over and stroked Joey’s forehead, wondering, even as she was doing it, just why she was. She looked once more into the horse’s eye, thinking that it looked so real, and suddenly, she heard in her mind a clear thought that was not her own, almost as if someone had spoken inside her head: Help us!

“Who are you? And how am I supposed to help you if I can’t see you?” Silence and the soft call of cicadas was her only response, and she instantly felt foolish. She really needed some sleep. I had better go home right now, she thought. But something kept her there, glued to the spot, mesmerized by the dark eyes of the little wooden pony.

You can...can see m-me. The voice sounded faraway and weak, as though saying the words took more energy than the speaker could muster.

“But who are you? Breaking eye contact with Joey, which took quite an effort, Sarah looked around. But she couldn’t see anything that could speak, anywhere. She began to feel creeped out. But before she left, she took one parting glance at those strangely lifelike glass eyes, and she heard the same voice, but stronger than it had been just a minute before, with more conviction.

I am before you. Have an open mind, Sarah. Help us!

It couldn’t be. But it was! Joey was--he was speaking to her, as it were, through her mind! And he was asking her to help. Staring intently into his eyes, she asked, “What can I do?”

You must wish with all your heart to free us.

Sarah thought: I wish to free them. She thought and thought and thought. But nothing happened. He said I must wish “with all your heart.” With all my heart...I wish with all my heart to free you, she thought, feeling a surge of longing like none other, so powerful and real, she’d never felt anything like it before. She instinctively laid her hand on Joey’s neck, to steady herself, and suddenly, she felt it expanding. This is so not possible, she thought, but it was actually happening. Patches of horse hair were appearing as though the paint was nothing but a shell and it was melting away. And in a moment, a real, flesh and blood horse stood before her. Sarah was astonished and overjoyed, and she ran to him, but something flashed through her mind, now the others, Sarah, quickly, before night is gone.

And Sarah ran. She laid hands on each horse, and, one by one, the lacquer shells melted away and live horses appeared. She touched Sargent, and the next minute, there was a lovely, huge draft-cross horse before her. She had barely time to acknowledge it before she had to run to the next horse along. This was a tall chestnut, and she leapt back as he split his shell in two with his growing size. The platform was so full now that the horses had begun to leap off, into the surrounding area. At last, Sarah freed the last one: Sly, the tiny pinto. She walked with the mare, off the platform, and into the grass where all the rest stood. She found Joey right away. “Now what do I do?”

I have much to tell you and little time. The reason we are all here is a curse. Long ago. We were captured, one by one, from our times and imprisoned here in these cases. We needed someone to release us. Someone with a still young and open mind who truly cared. Then you came. You set us free. Now we must return to our own times. But remember, we are eternally in your debt. Call to us if you ever need. Now on we go to our times. Yet for this, too we need you, our freer. Say our names and we may return. Goodbye, my dear, dear Sarah, and thank you, more than you can ever imagine.

Sarah was very sad that she had to say goodbye, and briefly she considered keeping them there, with her, but she knew that this would be selfish. She sighed wistfully and laid her hand on the first horse, a golden dun. But she didn’t know his name! Dark Sun, she heard in her mind. It was not Joey. It must be Dark Sun himself, Sarah decided. “Goodbye Dark Sun, and go safely back to your time.”

*****

“Goodbye, Miss America, and go back to your own time.” She patted the neck of a pretty roan Arabian mare. The mare turned, and trotted away, then, when she had gone a few paces, she disappeared into the mist. It was nearly morning, but Sarah, instead of being tired, was filled with a strange vigor. She turned to the last three: it was Sly, Sargent, and Joey. “Goodbye Sly, and safe journey back to your own time.” Sarah sniffled a little and she bid farewell. Then came Sargent. “I don’t want to say goodbye to you,” she admitted, “But I know I have to.”

“G-goodbye S-Sargent, and safe travels back to your own time.” She was crying for real as she reached Joey. “I don’t want you to go!” She sobbed, into the pony’s warm neck, “You’re my friend, and I love you!”


I know. And I love you. But there comes a time when everyone must say goodbye. I belong to a little girl, not so long ago. After I was taken, she fell ill and passed away. If I go now...I cannot change history, but perhaps the last months of her life will be more pleasant for having me.

“What was her name? I had a sister...”

Paige.

“No. It can’t be! That was the name of my sister! She died only thirteen years ago!”

It is no wonder, then, that you were drawn to me. If I go to her, she may yet live. I must go, though, before dawn. Hurry, the sun is about to rise!

Filled with urgency, and energy, and joy, and sadness, and a million other things, Sarah reached out to the little horse.

“Goodbye, my Little Joe, and go safely and quickly back to your time. Help my sister through the last days of her life.”

And with that, Joey turned and trotted away. But just before he disappeared into the mist, he turned his head and she could’ve sworn she saw him wink.




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bookmouseThis teenager is a 'regular' and has contributed a lot of work, comments and/or forum posts, and has received many votes and high ratings over a long period of time. said...
Apr. 5, 2013 at 5:35 pm:
I like the desciptions.
 
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