Weeds overtook the little park after the trolleys died. The new buses ran another way in and out of the city. The highway touched the other side of town so most picnickers went elsewhere all these years. A wanderer could find shelter in the abandoned pavilion and many did. Kids left beer bottles and more and the woods reclaimed the place. The boarded-up carousel had sunk to rot and ruin.
“I’ll fix it up real good,” the guy had said when he talked to the Selectmen. He talked to the Grange, talked to the KofC and to the Masons. “The kids will love it,” he said. “I only need permission, and a couple hundred bucks.” Nobody gave permission. Nobody gave any money. Everybody he talked to thought the guy was crazy. He railed in front of Town hall, he railed up and down the Common but no one paid attention. Finally he wandered out of town, ranting and waving his arms and kicking at the autumn leaves along the side of the road. By the first snowfall they’d all forgotten him.
In the middle of the coldest, darkest night in the heart of January a truck stopped in front of the gazebo on the Common. It sat some minutes with the cab light and the engine idling. Then it pulled out, heading out of town toward the lake. In February nights, a light shone from across the lake and a roil of clanking, whirring, buzzing noises kept the owls away from the woods.
Ice-out on the little lake was heralded by the sound of a calliope in the middle of the night before April Fools’ Day. It shrieked and wheezed and chattered, then finally sighed itself to sleep. Lights came on in the houses nearest the lake, but quickly went back out again. The chat at the barber shop and checkout stand next day was unsurprised. “ …weird noises out there all winter,” they said.
On Monday the calliope began moaning at dawn, and did not stop. Seven kids were absent from the Center School. The Office called their folks, who were very surprised at the news. By sundown, they hadn’t returned home. Frantic calls around town revealed that twelve more kids had not come home for dinner. By eight o’clock that night the parents of nearly all the kids in town had gathered at the Meeting House, spontaneously, with no one organizing it. They just knew where to gather.
Equally spontaneously, once gathered they knew where to go, and headed up the road toward the lake and the old park, where the winter had been so noisy, and now the calliope howled. When they reached the little clearing, the Flying Horses were whirling. Each horse had a child’s face, and their mouths all smiled, and their eyes all screamed.
Dean Quarrell was born in 1946, in Springfield, Massachusetts. He has so far survived public schools, community college, and university (his baccalaureate degree is in English but written in Latin), the US Air Force, various employment, and retirement. His work has been published in Dark Ink Magazine and scheduled for publication in Chicago Literati’s Daily Flash. He lives and writes in New Hampshire.