by Timothy G. Huguenin
It was a warm September evening in High Point, West Virginia, when Silas first saw the Yellow Carousel.
A retired surface miner, he and his wife, Emma, had lived near the top of this ridge for most of their fifty-two years together. The land behind their modest home sloped gradually into a flat, wide depression, before rising again to its piney crown. Silas and Emma had made it their custom to sit on the back deck and watch the sun go down behind the pines as many nights as the weather was comfortable.
Emma had turned in early that night, complaining of a headache, so Silas considered the fading twilight in solitude. Venus opened her diamond eye on him, then gathered her star-children to come watch the field with her and the man below. Katydids chanted as a chorus of other insects added their harmonies to summer’s evening song. A barred owl questioned him from the edge of the pines.
Silas’s tea was nearly empty and his bladder full. He walked down the steps and leaned his shoulder against the railing. He peed in the grass, craning his neck back to study the Milky Way. It shimmered—perhaps movement of heat overhead? The air changed, suddenly very dry and charged with static.
Silas shook off the remaining drops and stowed himself back in his sweatpants.
Time to go. He swung his gaze once more across the hill. His eyes halted on a large shadow hunched in the depression. A nebulous black figure, larger than any animal, smaller than a house. Even in its vagueness, its silhouette was familiar to Silas.
He peered into the dark. His eyes, hungry for light, must be playing tricks. A chimera of his imagination, desperate to make sense of these shadows.
Yet his eyes were well adjusted, and though the moon was not full, he could see silver grass waving in the cool breeze sweeping the ridge.
“Emma?” he said, half-choking on the name. He repeated it again, louder.
She did not respond. Even if she could have heard from inside, she was probably asleep.
He hiked up his pants and walked down the hill toward this apparition. Though it was a gentle descent, his breathing grew heavy.
A high-pitched, ear-splitting buzz stopped Silas for a moment. He chuckled when he realized it was only a conehead katydid calling for a mate. Probably hanging onto that sassafras sapling a few feet ahead. He carried on.
As he passed the sassafras, his ears confirmed the plant as the location of this sound. But he was no longer troubled by this. The thing’s outline was solidifying. He saw now—again, how could he believe it? He must be mistaken…
His pace quickened, despite a creeping feeling that the thing watched him from where it crouched in the field. Yes, it was certainly a carousel, a big one, and as if its impossible appearance wasn’t enough to make Silas wonder, another breeze, seeming to emanate from the object itself, brought to him aromas that sparked the memories and emotions of fairs he had been to long ago: kettle corn, cotton candy, fried dough. A childlike giddiness overtook his fear and disbelief. He ran to it.
It lit up, beautiful and welcoming, shutting out the rest of the surrounding field. Graceful, playful curves adorned its crown. Wide, pointed petals painted sunflower yellow radiated from its base. Instead of horses, all its animals were deer, varying in shades of brown, skewered by gilded poles.
A tear slipped down Silas’s cheek as he breathed heavily in its nostalgic atmosphere. He felt that if he could look in a mirror, he would see an eight-year-old boy whom he hadn’t known in too many years. But there were no mirrors in its center, only a blank, black wall.
He was sure now that this was a dream. Afraid this knowledge might soon bring awakening, he hurried to its edge. He gently knocked on a petal. Carved and painted wood, not fiberglass. Solid. They were chest-high, so that instead of stepping up, he was forced to climb, awkwardly leaning his torso over the edge, grabbing the nearest pole, and swinging his legs up. He rolled onto his back and caught his breath. A dream in which he felt like a child yet felt the fullness of his age all at once—strange. But if he wanted to ride this thing before he awoke, he knew that he must not waste time.
Grasping the heel of a nearby doe, he pulled himself up, then mounted it. There was a sound of gears meeting as the ride began to turn. The deer rose and fell, rose and fell, the carousel revolved. Silas was known by his wife and friends as a somber man, but he could not repress the grin that stretched his lips, nor did he want to. He gripped the gold-leaf pole with his right hand and rubbed his left palm against the wooden doe’s muzzle, patted its neck.
“Good girl,” he murmured. “Good girl.”
He rode for hours, all the while wondering how long this would last until he would open his eyes, still sitting on the deck beneath the stars, his tea spilled next to his foot.
The carousel stopped turning at last. He dismounted the deer and sat on the base, his legs resting on the flower petals. He held a trembling hand in front of his face. He must be dreaming—but this felt all too real. Confused, scared, and delighted, he scooted off, dropping the remaining few feet to dewy grass.
The carousel’s lights shut off, leaving him to walk up the field in the dark. Coyotes yipped and howled. The sound chilled him.
* * *
Emma snored softly, her bedside lamp still on. Silas stood at her feet and watched her, still trying to understand what had happened. He was no longer sure it had been a dream. He would have awakened by now. Was there something wrong with him?
He slid open the door to the small balcony above the deck and walked out. If there was anything out there, the lamp had ruined his chances of seeing it. But on his way up the hill, while the coyotes were singing, he had turned back, like Lot’s wife, for one last look. A pillar of salt he had not become, and there was nothing left in the depression but a bobcat slinking across the field.
He returned to the room, shutting only the screen so that the fresh air could circulate. Emma opened her eyes and smiled.
“Hi honey. You have a nice sit?” She glanced at her clock. “Wow, it’s late. You been out all this time?”
“Fell asleep in your chair?”
He looked away and nodded. “Something like that. You feeling better?”
“Yeah. Sleepy, though.” She rolled to her side, tucked her hands beneath her pillow. “You’re coming to bed now, right?”
“Uh-huh.” He stripped off his clothes and sat on the mattress. “Emma…”
She grunted, nearly asleep already. Silas wondered how she did that, just turned off at will. It took him at least twenty minutes to drift away.
“Don’t forget the light, honey.”
She fumbled around for the switch for a couple seconds, half-awake. Soon, all was dark.
“You smell like cotton candy,” Emma muttered.
* * *
Rain kept them indoors for the next few days. Silas started a new Zane Grey novel, but thoughts of the Yellow Carousel distracted him. In three days, he only made it through a few pages, and even then, he wasn’t sure what was going on in the story.
He knew he should talk to Emma about what he had seen, but he was too afraid. Not that she would think him crazy—
(Maybe I am?)
An unreasonable weight of guilt hung onto him. As if something that gave so much pleasure must be inherently dirty. So he kept this secret from her. He wasn’t used to hiding anything from his wife, and as much shame as it brought him, it also thrilled him.
The gray blanket finally moved on. A cool, clean sky made him overwhelmingly impatient for twilight. At last, the sun grew heavy. He brewed some tea and settled into his chair on the deck. Emma looked at him with amusement as she sat next to him. but he hardly noticed. His gaze scoured the landscape for some sign of the carousel’s coming.
What if it was a one-off thing? he thought. What if it don’t come back?
Maybe it wouldn’t be so bad if it didn’t return—or if it had never appeared at all. He could live the rest of his life marveling over that night, free from this continued compulsion to hide it from his wife.
“What’s wrong, Silas? You seem so… I don’t know. Uptight.”
“Nothing,” he said, grateful for the low, rose-colored sunlight that hid his burning red ears. “Just watching the deer. Looking for a buck.”
“You thinking about hunting again this fall?”
“Maybe,” he lied. He hadn’t been hunting in five or six years. Though he missed the thrill of a successful kill, it no longer made up for the trouble. His knees hurt too bad to drag anything worth shooting, and he was more sensitive to the cold. What really had sealed his decision was discovering on his last couple hunts that he was no longer able to field dress a deer without vomiting. He felt immensely ashamed of his weakened gut.
“Well, that’s great,” Emma said. “You really should. You been in such a slump. Get out there and get moving, get the blood flowing.”
Silas’s guilt deepened. He did not want to disappoint his wife. He almost came clean right then, but something kept his mouth clamped shut.
She put her hand on his wrist, then slid it into his palm. Her fingers gently sought to interlace with his. He accepted them despite his feeling that this sealed a promise he couldn’t keep.
“I been worried about you.” Emma’s voice was hoarse and tentative. “Why don’t you talk to me like you used to?”
“We talk, don’t we?”
“I mean about… I don’t know.”
“Now you got me worried.”
She shook her head and watched the shadows creep. He didn’t press her to explain. He would rather not talk. Not tonight.
When she excused herself, he didn’t watch her leave. He was too afraid of what he would see in her eyes, and that it would change his mind, that he would follow her inside and miss what might come.
And just after the stars appeared, when he had almost given up, it came.
He laughed as he ran to it, ignoring the undercurrent of dread that seemed to grow with his excitement.
“What does it mean?” His whispers shook with each knee-jarring stride. “How can it be?”
He pressed his palms with wary joy against its smooth sunflower petals. Its lights switched on, blacking out the surrounding field and his house up the hill.
He climbed on. The deer’s eyes followed him as he chose one to ride. He inspected the head of a darker doe. Painted deep chestnut, the details of its face were skillfully hand carved from wood. Yet its painted eyes met his gaze with awareness. A wordless breath of amazement left his mouth. In return, the doe blasted warm air into his face, though he could not see how respiration was possible without an open orifice. He resisted an urge to plug his fingers into its eyes and nostrils. Contrary to its outward appearance, the thing was living, and he didn’t want to hurt or anger it.
It warmed with pleasure as he mounted it. The other deer eyed them jealously, though not with malice, as each knew that the next night would bring a new chance to be ridden.
The carousel’s gears clattered, and the ride began to turn. No music played to conceal its noise, he noticed—now that he thought of it, there hadn’t been music on his previous ride, either. For a minute or so, the sound of its inner contraption filled him with ominous loathing. Coyotes joined in chorus as if to make up for the ride’s lack of song. Silas hugged his doe’s neck with one arm and gripped its golden pole tight with the other.
Its gentle undulation soon lulled him, and they rode in increasing joy until all his dread and misgivings were forgotten. He didn’t even wonder at the meaning of all this, he only smiled through tears. The surrounding field obscured, he could not mark a full revolution, which made it feel like one continuous, everlasting turn.
And why couldn’t it be? Why should it end?
Somewhere else, Emma turned in her sleep, muttering of cotton candy and kettle corn. She cried out for her husband, but he was not there.
* * *
Fair weather continued, though the nights became cool. Silas kept returning to the carousel. Emma often awoke in the night, breathless, reaching for him. The true meaning of his empty pillow never occurred to her. She feared that some kind of sickness kept him from sleeping.
She pictured him at the table, brooding over lukewarm tea. She considered venturing downstairs to retrieve him. But her knees and back ached, and Silas would come to bed when he wanted.
* * *
Another quiet evening sit between them. Silas’s pulse quickened as dusk approached. He smiled when Emma at last left her chair.
But instead of going inside, she said, “How bout a walk?”
Silas hoped that his expression would be taken for surprise and not disappointment. “It’s almost dark.”
“I know. Won’t it be fun? Just you and me and the stars. It will be like when we were young.”
“My knees, though.”
“Ain’t no worse than mine. So it won’t be a long walk, that’s fine. I just want to get a bit of blood flowing through these old joints for a change.”
He couldn’t disappoint her. They stepped off the deck, and she turned for the field.
“Why don’t we take the road?” he said.
“I want to see the sky. Hear the rustle of deer sneaking through the woods. Feel the ferns on my legs.” Her eyes moistened as she spoke. “I want to remember why we settled way up here on this mountain, away from neighborhood church bells and laughing kids riding bikes past.”
“Kids don’t ride bikes anymore. They got their iPhones and shit.”
But he could see she wouldn’t change her mind, so he walked with her along the field’s edge, hoping desperately that the Yellow Carousel would know well enough to wait.
They neared the depression, which remained empty. The strong wind chilled him. Emma did not seem to notice it. She took a deep breath.
“I know better than to press you till you’re ready to talk,” she said. “But I just wanted you to know that I love you and I hate seeing you this way.”
“It ain’t that. I just…”
“I told you, you don’t gotta tell me till you’re ready. But you don’t gotta suffer alone. That’s all.”
“Thanks. I love you, too.”
She smiled with her mouth only, not her eyes, then took his hand. They reached the edge of their property and stepped over the low-bent section of rusty barbed wire. Silas glanced over his shoulder at the open spot where the Yellow Carousel might be. Still absent. He was both relieved and sad, wondering if she had somehow ruined his chances of seeing it again.
Emma produced a tiny flashlight from her knit sweater and pointed it into the woods.
“It gets steep,” Silas said. “My knees.”
“We’ll just cut the corner, come out to that bend in the road. Stay on the ridge.”
She waved her flashlight with a smile. It occurred to Silas that she had planned this little jaunt all along. He tightened his jaw. Did she know about the carousel? Had she seen it one of these nights, when the coyotes howled and the gears clattered without music and time disappeared?
But that made no sense. If this walk had something to do with the Yellow Carousel, why the trek through the woods? He searched her eyes and saw sadness but also a spark of mischief and adventure that took him back to when they had first met. But those memories were interrupted by the scent of kettle corn wafting in from behind.
He looked over his shoulder again. The clearing lay tranquil and empty, but the air was thick with its waiting. He knew now that the Yellow Carousel was not gone forever, nor would it betray their secret to Emma until he was ready to come clean.
He smiled and held his wife’s hand. “Okay,” he said. “Let’s go.”
* * *
Their walk had tired Emma more than she had expected. And though she had tried to give him the time and space to open up, Silas still had not confided in her. But he did seem less tense as they reached home, his smile no longer forced.
“Are you coming to bed now, dear?” she said, hoping that he would follow her for once instead of wallowing in the kitchen with his tea.
“Sure, honey. But you got me all sweaty. I’ll be up right after my shower.”
She waited in bed with her bedside lamp on. Her knees were hot and achy, and her thighs hurt in a good way. The lamp faded off and on. She checked the cord, then laughed softly at herself when she realized that it was her heavy eyelids that were flickering.
The shower started to run. Silas had not lied about that. And why would he? She would have liked to clean up a little too, if she wasn’t so sleepy.
The sound of spraying water put her at ease. She fell asleep.
* * *
High, whiney yelps nearby, babies howling in the nursery—
But Emma had only dreamed of kids, Silas having discovered he was sterile after they married. Adoption had seemed an insincere option to her, something she would only have done as a last resort, and back then she had not wanted to become a mother to any child who would know that Emma was only settling. Having grown older and wiser—too old for parenting, and wisdom wasted—she now realized her excuse had been a copout born from bitterness and self-pity.
The crying, which had sounded so human and infantile as she approached wakefulness, came from coyotes, all joining in one another’s lonesome yowls from holler to holler.
Except they sounded so near, all together.
As if they knew she was listening, they fell silent as abruptly as they had started. Emma reached across the bed to a cold absence.
Silas must have awakened sometime in the night and gone downstairs—if he had ever come to bed at all. Had the shower been a deception? Or had that heaviness of spirit slugged him as he washed, so that he abandoned hope of rest?
The coyotes had made her anxious. Sleep would come no easier for her now than it would for her husband. Wincing, she rose from bed, put on her robe and slippers, and crept down the stairs.
All was dark and deserted. Her loneliness became a being to her, an intruder in the house. She clutched her robe tight around her neck. Not because of the chill so much as she felt exposed to this lack of company. She could feel it leering at her, grinning with lust to consume her, still hungry even though she knew it was eating her husband from the inside out, and she didn’t know how to stop it, didn’t know how to save either of them.
Now the chill came, hitting her back as she gazed at her black shadow cast long on the carpet by the moon. She turned to find the sliding glass door open.
She called to her husband, but no answer came. Loneliness’s hot breath warmed her neck.
She could see their chairs on the deck, both empty. But he might be in the yard, obscured by the bushes. She went outside.
An initial survey of the immediate yard did not reveal Silas in the day-bright moonlight. Then the bloodcurdling yips started again from down in the lower field.
The wild canines sat in a circle, muzzles opened skyward, shrieking their praises or laments around several larger animals. Deer, judging by the size and shape, though it was hard to see clearly into the liquid shadows lapping in the depression.
Knowledge came to her, from some sense other than sight, that Silas was down there, with the deer and the dogs. She ran, crying his name.
The deer scattered early. The coyotes glared at her with lowered heads, backing away sulkily, and they did not flee fully until she fell to her knees in the grass next to him.
Lying naked on his side, arms wrapped around his knees, Silas’s whole body shook. His cheekbones shined with tears.
“Oh honey. Oh God. Oh honey.” She covered him with herself, prayed over him with her heart’s intention since she didn’t have words for it.
After an immeasurable moment, he gasped, coughed on mucous, then, hoarsely, he spoke her name.
“Emma. Emma, did you see it?”
She squeezed him tighter. “Oh Silas, Oh God. Can you stand?”
She pulled him to a sitting position. He stared at her wildly, reminding her of the coyotes. She felt their eyes on her neck, watching her from the woods.
“Did you see the Yellow Carousel?”
“Honey, we need to get you to a hospital. Can you stand?”
Without waiting for an answer, she threw his arm around her shoulder and lifted. He did not resist. Her chest constricted as his frenzied whispers fell on her ear.
* * *
It had not appeared again since that night Emma found Silas outside. He believed the carousel no longer felt safe. It must have known that Emma was watching him more closely now, especially at night, never leaving his side no matter how long he waited on the deck.
The alternative explanation for its abandoning him was that his new medications somehow kept it away. He didn’t like this theory, because it implied that all they were saying about him was true. Even if some of it was true, he knew that the Yellow Carousel couldn’t exist only within his own mind.
But if it was wary of his wife, perhaps it was also wary of the meds. It could be real and also know the pills he was taking, treat him differently for it, as everyone else did.
* * *
“You can talk to me, too, you know,” Emma said as Silas read the paper with his coffee.
“I talk, don’t I?”
“Well, I mean. What is it that you discuss with your doctor every week?”
This again. He tried to hide the annoyance creeping onto his face, knowing she cared and not wanting to insult her for her concern.
“We don’t talk about much at all,” he said. And that was the truth, really.
“All right. Watch out, here comes breakfast.”
He slid his coffee away and lowered his paper to make room for the plate of toast and bacon—only two slices, anymore. Damn that blood pressure. Damn getting old.
A splinter of pain shot into his gums as he bit on it. He spit and swore.
He stopped, his tongue instinctively poking the sore, empty spot where a molar used to be. He searched his plate for the tooth, wondering how a piece of chewy bacon could have dislodged it so easily. All he saw among the saliva and chewed meat was a wet sunflower seed.
“You all right, Silas? What is it?”
The sunflower seed had traces of blood on one end. He reached his finger slowly into his mouth, fingering the absence, checking the rest of his teeth. They all seemed strong enough. And normal.
“Nothing, uh… Just too hot.”
“Be careful, honey. Here. Drink some water.”
* * *
Emma made sure to watch Silas take his pills, but it wasn’t hard to figure out that he had started hiding them under his tongue and then going to the bathroom to spit into the toilet. They didn’t even flush down all the time; sometimes she would find the evidence floating there when she would go in later to relieve herself. She didn’t think he had been doing this for more than a week or two.
She didn’t know how to talk to him about it. And he hadn’t seemed so different, so maybe it wasn’t a big deal. She had always believed that doctors leaned on their prescription pads a little too much. Perhaps all he needed was some time. He had stopped sitting outside and staring so wistfully at the field, now that the nights had become too chilly to sit through the sunset. Maybe the therapy was enough.
She stroked his hair as he slept.
“Rest easy, darling,” she whispered.
She would talk to him—or maybe call his therapist, get some advice about the best way to do it. As long as the therapist didn’t bring it up in his sessions without giving her a chance to do it herself. Then Silas would know that she had gone behind his back.
“Tomorrow,” she said to herself. “Tomorrow, I’ll call.”
“What was that?” He grasped her hand. “I was sleeping.”
“Nothing. I just need to remember to call the credit card company tomorrow. I noticed a strange charge on the statement. It’s nothing. Go back to sleep.”
“Uh-huh. That’s nice. You know something?”
She squeezed his hand in return, waiting for him, wondering if tonight he would finally open up.
“I know that I complain about visiting the doc. But I think it’s helped. I think I’m getting better.”
“Oh Silas. I love you so much.”
“I love you too. You’re the best in the world.”
* * *
It was back.
Silas knew this immediately upon opening his eyes. The air in the bedroom seemed to vibrate silently, thick and warm. Through the window, the moon painted a silver rectangle across his and Emma’s bare legs. They both had kicked the duvet off in their sleep. Silas touched Emma’s forehead and found it clammy. He wondered for a moment if the thermostat had broken, but he quickly understood that this had nothing to do with an overactive baseboard heater. This was all part of it.
He fought himself to rise slowly and quietly, fought his skyrocketing elation, lest it all be a mistake and the disappointment devastate him. The bedroom door’s latch stuck and then released loudly. A small cadre of coyotes barked. Silas froze.
Emma stirred, breathlessly squeaked something about someone’s babies, and their father endangered.
“Darling?” Silas said.
“He needs your prayers, my babies,” she returned. “I will talk to him. I won’t wait another day.”
So she had not awakened. He told himself this would be a quick visit. She would not notice he was gone. It was a bit of a risk, he knew, but he could not miss this chance. One more ride.
His mouth tasted rotten from sleep, and his gums ached. As he passed the bathroom, he decided against brushing them. Too risky; Emma might hear the water running.
The door slid open freely, without noise. Silas’s shallow breathing puffed tiny clouds into the humid moonshine as he stepped out onto the deck. Sweat dotted the back of his neck. It felt like mid-summer, not autumn.
His breath halted. His pulse surged, fingertips throbbing. A soft moan sounded from high in his throat.
“True!” he whispered.
A nearby great horned owl echoed in agreement.
“True! True!” they said together.
His joy was so intense that another man might have mistaken it for terror. He leapt from the deck and ran, arms outstretched, heart straining.
Down in the lower field, the great flower awaited him.
* * *
Tonight, her children plead. You must talk to him tonight.
I will call the doctor first thing in the morning, my babies. I will call the doctor and then I will know what to do.
No, Mommy! Her children begin to bawl. No, please.
Their wails grow in pitch and volume, until they are feral sounds, no longer the anguished screams of young children.
Emma hugs her own sweaty arms as her children fade from her. She sits up in the bedroom’s stuffy emptiness. She knows without looking that Silas is not at her side.
Dear God, not again!
She does not even bother to throw on her robe or slippers—too hot for all that, anyway.
Maybe it’s all a dream, a nightmare recounting that one bad night. This ain’t that night, it’s a dream…
There is something different than last time. Something new.
A draft meets her on the stairway, fragrant with cotton candy, popcorn, burning oil. A clockwork cog-grind drills through her ears.
She runs through the open door, down the deck’s steps, then stops in the grass, unbelieving.
Spinning, spinning, grinding, surrounded by the dogs. Yellow petals bright in a spotlight that comes from nowhere. Deer bounding on gilded poles. There goes Silas, appearing and disappearing with each revolution.
How can this be?
A dream! Yes, it must be. Oh, let it be!
She screams something, probably his name, then she runs.
The carousel slows. Silas dismounts one of the deer, then steps down from the ride. The coyotes, just outside the lighted area, remain quiet.
She is close now, close enough that Silas should be able to hear her screaming. But he doesn’t acknowledge her. A divot in the field trips her, and she rolls several feet in the high grass. It becomes suddenly dark, and the clattering gears stop. For a moment she thinks she has blacked out. But as she lies there, she realizes that the carousel’s mysterious light has extinguished itself, confusing her night vision.
She pushes to her knees, sticky with sweat, itching from her tumble in the grass. As her eyes readjust to the moonlight, she sees that the Yellow Carousel is gone. Silas stands now amidst a group of deer, as if the wooden ones dislodged themselves from their poles and walked off the contraption with him before it vanished.
The coyotes lean back and cry to the stars. The miserable cacophony sends a shiver through her. She springs to her feet and rushes for him.
The coyotes pay no attention to her as she infiltrates their circle. The deer don’t scatter, either. Silas’s glassy stare registers surprise but not recognition. She stops a few feet from him.
“You shouldn’t be here,” he says, his voice wavering unnaturally.
“Silas, it’s me,” she shouts over the shrill canine din. “It’s me, darling!” She is afraid to come closer to him, not sure what he might do in his trance-like state.
The deer shift slowly around them, surprisingly calm. A bulky twelve-point buck settles just behind Silas. It stomps and glowers at her.
“Please, come home,” she says. Her eyes brim with tears. “I don’t know what’s happening, but you have to come home.”
He blinks slowly, then he shakes his head. Long, hairy fingers wrap around her arms from behind. She screams and struggles. Whatever has grabbed her is too strong for her to break from its grip. Hot, rank breath on the nape of her neck petrifies her so that she can’t turn to see its face.
“Help! Help me, Silas!”
The buck behind Silas stomps again, then it lifts itself fluidly onto its hind legs, more like a man standing rather than a horse rearing. As its spine straightens, its front hooves become long, spindly hands that stretched down past its knees. The rest of the deer, all female, transform in a similar fashion. Emma no longer needs to turn to guess at her captor’s appearance.
The coyotes stop suddenly. Emma whimpers in the humid night’s pregnant stillness. In her mind, she pleads with herself to wake from this inconceivable nightmare; with her eyes, she pleads with her husband to save her.
The immense, bipedal buck monster steps closer to Silas, who looks up at it with adoration and expectancy. The creature snorts.
Silas nods before turning briefly to his wife. His lips turn slightly upward, and he says, “My seed,” as if that should make her understand.
“No!” she says. “Please, no!”
The buck snorts again, impatient. Silas opens his mouth wide. The moon hits his face just right so that Emma can see that something is wrong with his teeth. They are all too narrow, sharply pointed.
“What’s happening? What have you done to my darling?”
The creature holding her squeezes and jerks so that her own teeth click shut. She moans in fear and agony.
Incredibly, Silas’s mouth continues to open. His head tilts back so that his eyes point up at the stars, while his chin remains low, ninety degrees. Emma thinks first that he has somehow dislocated his jaw, but then his forehead continues further back, the angle between them widening impossibly. As his face unfolds like a paper fan, the pointed things she thought were teeth multiply, filling his mouth’s open void.
Her stomach heaves its contents, spewing over her chest and seeping into her bra. She wishes desperately to wake up or to pass out, but for some reason she cannot close her eyes. The one holding her shoves her forward so that she sees her husband’s open face closely, now more resembling a ripe sunflower than a human head.
They are not teeth. They are seeds.
The buck snorts again, and she is jerked backward, giving room for the antlered leader to continue this nightmarish ritual. A doe presents a large tool. The buck claims it with freakish hands and raises it well above its antlers as the doe bows out of center. The tool appears to be a massive pair of gardening shears. They gleam like silver in the sky, but Emma knows they are gold.
The buck lowers the shears and stomps. All step back. The does begin to mew, and the coyotes start another round of frenzied caterwauling.
The buck’s long-fingered hands open the shears and raise them to the flower’s neck for harvest.
Emma’s screams are lost in the rest of it.
At the field’s edge, a barred owl voices his own confusion. Deeper in the forest, a bobcat growls, then defecates. Overhead, stars watch without judgment or interference, as per their aeonic station and privilege.
As the Yellow Carousel spins, so turns the world.
Timothy G. Huguenin is a hillbilly writer of the strange and spooky, living in the dark Allegheny Mountains of West Virginia. His books include Little One, When the Watcher Shakes, and Unknowing, I Sink. His short fiction has appeared in publications including Vastarien: A Literary Journal, Dim Shores Presents Vol. 2, and The Saturday Evening Post. You can find out more about his work and get a free ebook by visiting https://tghuguenin.com/