Wednesday, April 19
Sometime between leaving the scene of the crime and reaching Heath Street, I phased out.
When I came back to myself, I was standing in front of Fun Country’s door, and it was ten minutes to nine by the midway clock.
“Kate,” I whispered; “you’re a damn’ fool.”
Which was a proposition that had been proved more often than not during the largely misspent course of my life.
I tried the knob, but the door was still locked. Naturally. Marilyn was a woman of her word. When she said ten o’clock, by God, she meant ten o’clock.
Still feeling a little gone in the legs, I wobbled over to the gate. The chain was off, so I tripped the latch and slipped through. A moment later, I was heading across the lot, taking it slow by necessity.
It was quiet in the park, the neighborhood of the carousel being no exception. The Oriental Funhouse was still boarded up, the giant samurai straddling the doorway mummified in blue tarp, but somebody had been at Summer’s Wheel: four gondolas, still in their winter wrappings, were sitting haphazard on the platform, and the plastic had been peeled back from the control panel. Across the square, Tony Lee’s concession was locked up, storm hatches down and secured. I caught a whiff of old grease, and a wistful memory of fried rice before the breeze whisked the odors down the plaza toward Dodge City.
Across from Tony Lee’s, next to Summer’s Wheel, in the corner nearest the sea, there sits the Fantasy Menagerie Merry-go-Round. I leaned against the storm gates to catch my breath, and to let the shakes settle down. It wouldn’t do to let the animals see me weak. No, no, not at all.
As I leaned there, panting and shivering, I felt a. . .twitch. . .at the edge of my consciousness, like a child tugging at an adult’s sleeve.
The breath caught in my throat.
Visiting the Wood, frying a man’s grass for him — not exactly walking lightly on the land.
And the land had taken note of me.
Back when I’d first come to Archers Beach, fresh from my grandfather’s castle and the horrors therein, Gran had explained to me how it was that an Archer had always been Guardian of the Land — like Lydia, my father’s mother. And that, as the last Archer around, it was my duty to take up the charge.
I was new in this place, having lost my family, my home, and my integrity before what passed for my thirteenth birthday. It was work and worth I wanted — I’d been born royal, after all, and rigorously trained in my obligations. I took up the charge, and offered myself to the land.
My offering was enthusiastically accepted; the land and I forged a bond — and it happened that Gran was right. The connection and the duty healed my wounds and settled me into my new life.
I was a kid. I didn’t know then that there are some things we can’t be healed of. Because they’re inborn, part of the warp and woof of our being, running black in the blood, tainting every action and turning every good intention.
It hadn’t been long until my nature caught up with me, and even my bond with the land wasn’t strong enough to withstand it. Horrified and soul-sick, determined not to infect or destroy anything else that I loved — I broke my oath, and cut myself free of the bond.
Crippled, I left Archers Beach and embraced exile in the desert lands, where the grand-daughter of a sea king could scarcely hope to thrive — and where the poison that blackened my heart could do no further harm.
Cutting the bond should have been enough to kill me — at least, those few of Gran’s stories which dealt with the topic strongly suggested as much. Unfortunately, the sea king’s line was a hardy one. The amputation hadn’t killed me outright.
But it was killing me in stages.
And now here I was, where I’d sworn never to come again, and ironically, with an imperative to stay alive for just a bit longer.
The land had recognized me. I could infect it, if I renewed the bond.
Assuming the land would have me.
And assuming I was idiot enough to try.
The twitch at my metaphysical sleeve came again, somewhat stronger.
Biting my lip, I concentrated, visualizing a high stone tower and myself in the topmost room. A third twitch came, tentative now. Grimly, I kept to my tower, tasting salt from my abused lip, until I was at last rewarded with the feeling that I was alone.
I sighed out the breath I’d been holding, leaned my head against the storm gate and closed my eyes. Overhead, a gull screeched an oath, and I heard a motorcycle winding out, away down on Grand Avenue.
It was silent inside the storm gates, as if the space occupied some reality where gulls, motorcycles, and even the ocean didn’t exist. Shadows were deep along the walls, hanging in hungry shrouds from the beams, roiling inkily ‘gainst the ceiling: A winter’s worth of frigid shadow, which would be what you’d expect. Beneath it, glowing with a silver-pink light like fog coming off the waves at dawn was — the carousel.
It’s an old machine, as machine age gets counted — a menagerie, like the name says; three across, twenty-three animals and a chariot. The decking’s hardwood, dark with age; the rounding boards and the swan chariot carved and gilded tupelo. Inside, boxing the center, and behind the orchestrion, are four oil paintings, depicting a tree in Spring, Summer, Fall and Winter. Each overhead beam supports its own army of incandescent bulbs. The poles and the hardware are every damn’ one of them brass; the orchestrion has brass grace notes and plays music off a perforated spool of Violano paper.
The animals are tupelo wood, like the boards and the chariot, the figures fanciful: dolphin, seal, seahorse, dragon, unicorn, goat, giraffe, ostrich, and leaping deer; a bobcat with tufted ears, a brute of a brown bear — there’re those. Horses, too, if you didn’t mind that some are a little odder than others. One’s an Indian pony, with a blanket saddle and no reins; another’s tall, broad and bejeweled, a lance set through the rings in its armor; still another’s a dandy little gray with fangs, and batwings half-furled against its sides. I remembered them all — some more fondly than others.
Gingerly, I took a single step forward.
Force flowed and flowered, prickly against my skin; the wards resisted me, then yielded. I tasted mint and honey — a tattered remnant of Gran’s signature — and then I was inside.
I took another step, which wasn’t as easy as you might suppose — and one more, going by touch and memory, senses dazzled by the interplay of force. . . My fingers touched a clammy metal door; I yanked it open and hit the switch.
Electric light filled the space, melting the worst of the shadows. I sighed and sagged, shivering, against the post, considering the reality of the situation.
The animals looked dull in the ordinary light, their jewels clearly faux, the unicorn’s horn listing a touch to the right. The bobcat was slightly misshapen, the bear a bit mangy, the brass bits on the orchestrion cloudy and showing a greenish sheen. Nothing that couldn’t be put right with spit, polish and paint, though it would be a job for one person working alone — but that wasn’t the worst of the work to be done.
And how it was going to get done before the start of the Early Season on May 14, God alone knew. Just my luck the carousel was one of Fun Country’s treasured Name Rides.
I sighed. Forcefully. Dammit, I was so going to give Gran an earful when I caught up with her.
A little voice muttered a worried if from the back of my head, but there wasn’t any use borrowing trouble. Her tree was healthy, and she had to be somewhere in Archers Beach. Unfortunately, until I got hold of Gran, the carousel — and its occupants — were mine to deal with.
And may God have mercy on my soul. So to speak.
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Carousel Tides copyright 2010 by Sharon Lee