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Galloping Nowhere

by Amie McCracken

The clunk of my suitcase is what makes the first sound. I stand in the gray light, waiting for something. I don’t know why I’m back here. I don’t want to be. Yet here I am.

No one comes, and the sun sets. So I lift my suitcase, which feels heavier now, and trudge to my parents’ house, imagining the tinkering and wheezing of an organ song. I search the moonless sky. At the door the air is silent. I push the bell. It clangs in my ear, a reverberation reminding me how long it’s been since I’ve been home. The door opens and light spills through and covers me on the walk. There they stand, silhouetted in the artificial gold.

“Hi Mom, hi Dad.” I don’t look at their faces. I squeeze between them and head up the stairs to my old room. They follow me. It’s not my old room anymore. It’s a guest room with flower-printed wallpaper and a flower-printed comforter. But it smells like me, so I curl up under the blankets on the bed. My parents block the doorway, staring. They say goodnight and shake their heads, silently communicating to each other—normal for a couple who has lived in harmony for so long.

The sound of children laughing wakes me in the middle of the night. I jolt upright. In my day-old clothes and mussed, curly hair, I step out of bed, creep, barefooted, down the stairs. Outside, I walk on cold concrete and silky dirt down the road, around the corner, to the park near my old house. There I wander through the eerie, empty playground to the center square. My feet touch the chilled cobblestones. The abandoned carousel stands suspended in time before me—at once covered in cobwebs and chipping away, as well as freshly painted and inviting.

The silence of the wind traversing the park and dancing between the carousel animals is deafening. I never thought it could be so quiet. Even the merry-go-round doesn’t squeak as it’s teased around by the strength of the gusts.

The moonlight that wasn’t there moments before caresses my cheeks and leaves the wooden animals in darkness. Slowly, shadows lengthen and form into people. The rest of the group begins to arrive. We were called, something deep inside of us tugging and pulling and drawing us here. I feel each presence. Everyone except her.

So many years ago, in the middle of the night, we were all children in search of adventure. Who wouldn’t be? A high schooler had dared us to break in and ride the merry-go-round. The lights would blaze and the song would blanket the neighborhood, waking the town in bright, giddy intensity.

I chose a zebra. She chose an alligator. The rest of our group, four boys and the two of us girls in all, settled onto the other animals. Our breaths mingled with the foggy air, our hearts beating strong and fast. After a few minutes we giggled. No one had been designated as the operator, so we all sat in the dark on cold wood.

One of the boys hopped down, hauled a Polaroid camera from his neck, and snapped a few photos as proof. Then he went over to the booth. As soon as the knob turned easily, he glanced at us, shrugged, and slipped inside. The rest of us sat, hoping and not hoping he would figure out how to work the controls.

All I could see behind me was the shining smile of the alligator she sat on. The wind made me shiver.

The organ music echoed across the square. We were blinded by the yellow bulbs, and we started to bounce and spin. Someone shouted in glee.

Then the boy in the operating booth screamed.

The carousel spun faster and faster. My fingers slipped from the twisted pole, and I gripped the zebra with my knees. Ahead of me I saw the boys clinging to their creatures, melding with the shapes in the blinding light. I couldn’t turn my head to look back. When I tried, my neck felt as though it would snap. So I lay my cheek on the zebra’s mane and closed my eyes.

What felt like hours later, we slowed to a standstill and my aching muscles let me crumple to the ground. The others called for me, racing to my side and staggering off the platform. The boy in the operating booth was the last to appear. But she was gone.

Running from the carousel, we all stopped on the edge of the clearing, huddled together as one massive shadow beneath the full moon. Until the sun started to rise we waited. She was gone.

Now on this night twenty years later we stand in the park again; all of us but her. We had run away soon after. I hadn’t been home since, only called sporadically and sent a few emails. Fleeing the magic that pursued us across state lines and into our beds. Wondering if it would catch up with us. We are back; we don’t know why.

I slink closer than anyone else, stretch my hand out and caress the crocodile. The haunted carousel begins to creak and groan and spin, and I snatch my hand away. Her laughter is all that fills the square.