Butler and Barrie’s Wild Faery Land Stolen Child Carousel
by Caleb Coy
Caleb Coy is a freelance writer with a Masters Degree in English from Virginia Tech. He was first captivated by the poetry of William Butler Yeats in high school. His writing has appeared in Mystery Magazine, Hippocampus, Coachella Review, and elsewhere. He published his first novel, An Authentic Derivative, in 2015. Caleb lives with his family in southwest Virginia. His website is www.calebcoy.blog.
Where the lakeside geese and ducks swam to the bread crumbs and popcorn, Ed Walsh took his son Timothy to the carnival rides and the games and the vendors who come once a year to set up their booths and contraptions to draw in the public. Mr. Walsh had, over the last three years, taken him to taste cotton candy for the first time, to ride his first train ride beside his father, to see a magic show, to see the shortest woman in the world, and to see the pigs race.
This year, for the first time in this town, Butler and Barrie’s Wild Faery Land Stolen Child Carousel arrived with all her adornments polished, painted and assembled. Round and round the center that held them the magical beasts of pine and poplar tramped and galloped, footing all day and night to the leaping olden melodies of Hudson and Strübbe on the automatic Wurlitzer. The sign claimed it was powered by faery vats, and all could ride for the mere price of a dollar.
The fair rides were cheap for Ed Walsh, and this once-a-year treat took a few coins from his lean wallet. Bedridden for most of his own childhood, nothing did he cherish more than taking Timothy out in the yard, to the park, or round and round the carnival rides. His own legs were too weak to run with Timothy, or to pick him up and place him on his shoulders, but on a hopping horse they could be carried away together, if the chance arose. Timothy, who had learned frugality from his father, did not whine for another confection, did not beg to play the ring toss game that would cheat him. To Timothy, all the sights, scents, and sounds were new and bedazzling. He would take a piece of it away only in his mind each year, and discover it again when he was a year taller.
“Funny name for a ride, you think?” said Ed when he came upon this glowing, whirling amusement. “The sign says it’s powered by real faery vats. What do you say we try it out?”
To this Timothy nodded. His silence permitted him to take in all. There are children who point and exclaim, and there are children who, wide-eyed and breathless, inhale the marvels of the world. His eyes pointed. His mind exclaimed.
Pete Pendleton, who had taken the weekend off from work to indulge his daughter Wendy with a spree of tickets and tokens, scanned the carousel’s name with distrust. It was not as large as the carousel he had taken her to the summer before at the state fair. Wendy was a lover of ponies, and anything that lifted off the ground. This ride had a pony, a rainbow top, and golden molding, so surely it would suffice.
Mary Teller scoffed at the distasteful intonation of such a name—wild, stolen children. “Just great,” she said to young August, digging into the purse strapped tightly to her side. “I suppose you’ll just want to ride that one, too.” Her son’s eyes were too enraptured by the bulbous lights to hear her.
Brandi White entered the line with her daughter, Sierra, who asked her what vats were. “Hon, I got no earthly idea. Why would you think I know that?” Her daughter was curious about the faery vats. Still, Ms. White was sure the ride would be short, and they could move on.
The baroque elegance of the gold and silver cake of a carousel found more approval in the eyes of Nance Dupree than did the clinkety caterpillar coaster she had just passed, and so she took aboard her Kevin, who in a spirited move hopped on and swung around one of the poles. She shooed his hand away from the horse’s mouth. “You don’t know whose hands have been in there. Quit that.”
A menagerie of magical fauna lay in wait for the innocent children to take upon them. Each child boarded with their guardian, rushing to the chariot of their choice: Wendy Pendleton, who was first in line, was told by her father that she could choose any creature she wished, though he had no doubt in mind it was the pony she wanted. August Teller obeyed the demand of his mother—”Oh please, don’t get on that pig, honey”—and went instead of the purple ostrich. Sierra White hopped on the giant rooster, to which her mother rolled her eyes slowly and climbed on the zebra beside her. Kevin DuPree, after surveying each animal, bolted for the reindeer, which his mother regarded as strong enough to counter the effeminacy of the faery connotation. Timothy Walsh could not make up his mind, but after the other children selected their rides he stroked the rabbit’s paw, looked to his father, and nodded his head. The rabbit they would ride.
With parent and child snugly straddling beast or bird, some together, some separate, the Wurlitzer kicked on and the internal engine, powered by faeries, came alive with a buzz. The music began chiming and bouncing with the animate animals, setting in motion the circular parade of weaving dances. The children gripped the ears, antlers and necks of their hopping hosts as the centripetal machine kicked up and bore them onward. The parents raised their brows and forced their own smiles, then turned to one another with mingling glances, fellow strangers worrying over the trifles of silliness and safety, their minds drawn out by the centrifugal thoughts of what they would do next, and what next would come to them.
The bells and winded pipes spoke from the heart of the twirling machine, the widening gears turning and churning out laughter and prancing, in a blurry, bubbly chase across a spinning shire. A thousand light bulbs like faeries swarmed the ceiling and lifted the pilgrims upward on their steeds, and the silver, spiraling poles marched like pistons, pumping a fragrance sweeter than stolen cherries. In mirrors at the center the children found themselves in portraits above. Flapping herons bathed with wild swans, moonlight glossed over lakes where trout tumbled about under the slumbering surface, winged sheep leaped over the fences and continued upward into the purple clouds, calves on the hillside lowed from their pastures in the fluff, making drowsy the older riders of this tiresome, woozy whirl-about.
Amidst ringing, amidst blaring, amidst laughing, the parents of these wide-eyed children exchanged hurried glances with their mirrored selves, glances that turned back and lingered on the cynicism of their many years blurring into the far off lights of the carousel around them.
Ed Walsh let his legs dangle free and his feet point up at the sky. He let his eyes close and held his precious Timothy by the waist. The carousel spun and spun as if by the finger of God, its mirrors glowing and flickering intensely like an old zoetrope in perpetual motion.
Round and round and round we go, Mr. Pendleton, such a simple pleasure for your little girl, and there she rides on that pony all to herself, the one you will buy her for her birthday, and the car after that, yes, the car, and the college tuition for which she will thank you by joining that most prestigious sorority, and there she is with her sisters and beer cups and cameras taking shameless shots of nights and nights that will grow hazy and there is the man she will marry, Mr. Pendleton, that monied man there, or is it this man, the one we swing around to here, and here comes your little Wendy back around to you, Mr. Pendleton, as she will come around time after time, and leave again on gold pony after gold pony after gold pony…
…and enjoy the view, Miss Teller, of August growing up, filling himself out on the tiny indulgences, one after another, snapshots sliding before you, ever in motion but your boy so still, resting on the couch in the dimness of the den and a flashing screen before him and candies in his lap and a console in his hand and no one by his side and is this your little boy all grown up, unmoved like a center stone while the world spins without, never to leave you, Miss Teller, never to leave that cozy basement hole, never to take his eyes off the flashing images that display on and on, never have a companion, never ever ever…
…and it is all such a sudden rush, Miss White, to see in flashing glimpses your Sierra forging on into the world ahead, standing for her own, speaking brand new words and rising to shout them and learning to play well with others and to not play well with others and to strike out at other children, and Miss White, your big girl and that fiery spirit of hers, and how she lights up a room so brightly with burst after burst of rage, this girl’s once small hands gripping bars once again, your little angel, but she will break out again to stir up the world, stir from within her a bold and unrelenting sense of self against others, stirring and stirring and stirring…
…and Mrs. DuPree, your boy Kevin is shaping up to be a nice, well-rounded young man, round and round he goes, from one ball game to another, and is going too fast to pass to the boys who won’t keep up, and the girls, Mrs. DuPree, how well do the girls follow him around and around and how fast does he move with them and how well can he read or not read their signs and slow himself down, but your boy Kevin is too strong to be held back, has come too far to listen to the pleading of a fine looking date who really means to say that yes, indeed she wants him, too proud to be a bad, bad boy, too handsome a young man, and your little all-star, going further and further and further, going too far, becoming unreachable…
…until the falcons have all flown too far for the call of their falconers, until the nets are empty and the gears grind to a stunning halt, until the rotating daedalum of light and sound and magic slows to a complete stop, and what is long gone can never return , never ever return, but only waltz to a halt, coming to rest in some far off place where nothing can again be fetched or returned, and your arms, having let go, are now tired.
And the gates open and the children step off, dizzy with the whimsy of their circular journey. They are too far off in another land to look at one another, or even their parents, heavy and solemn-eyed, tears dripping to the ground below, sliding slowly off their wood-crafted beasts of burden and turning to a world whose colors have drained. Off they step from that devil’s wheel with a golden mold and follow the dizzied skips of their children, now frenzied and piping onward to the next great attraction. Off they follow like drowsy water rats.
“What’s wrong, Daddy?”
“Mommy, what’s the matter?”
But there is no proper answer, and they cannot talk of how something can be drowned and another loosed, cannot describe the peace that has left their hearts. They would go home to drown their griefs with distractions and dismissals, chastisement and affirmation all flung from anxious hearts into the growing worlds of their children, and none of these would be enough. Wendy Pendleton, August Teller, Sierra White, and Kevin DuPree, led by dimmed, weary guardians out of the park, not knowing that their fathers and mothers would toss and turn and weep under the stars that night, anxious with unquiet dreams.
“What’s the matter with them, daddy?” said Timothy as he tugged at his father’s arm.
“I don’t have the closest,” said Mr. Walsh, brushing a sweet tear from his chin. “I suppose the world is too full of trouble, is all. I don’t understand it, either.”
Timothy stared meditatively at the last of the other riders, and back to his father.
“Well, can we ride it again before we leave? Please?”
His father nodded. “I think I can find another dollar in my pocket. Let’s have a rest before we go again.”
Timothy hugged his father and walked with him toward the petting zoo.
“There’s a secret about this ride you should know for next go-round,” said his father. “If you stick out your feet and close your eyes, you can fly away with the moon.”
Timothy squeezed his father’s hand. As the Wurlitzer started up and the rainbow top twirled again, Mr. Walsh held his son close He limped along on his weak legs, and lofty thoughts filled his boy’s mind like a balloon.