[This is a (very) short horror story I wrote some years ago. I’m posting it now for International Short Story Day.]
Imagine the city. And now a small park: a block in area, green space, trees on the perimeter, hockey rink, playground. Monkey bars, swings, slide. Carousel. Got it? Good. Now listen. There was a grad student. Owen Astor. He was auditing an evening class. When he walked home, it was natural for him to use Gyro Park as a shortcut. But he walked home at night, and the neighbourhood was a bit sketchy, and he wasn’t a big guy. So he always gave the park a quick scan before actually setting foot in it. Sensible. Smart.
Usually there was no problem. Plenty of events at the rink, with people around. But then October came, and everything died.
Owen was getting back late from the bar. He was tired, he had class the next morning, and he had that stomach ache that comes sometimes when it’s cold outside and your body thinks it should have been in bed half an hour ago. He almost didn’t look, because he was in such a hurry to get home. He did look, though, at the last second, and good thing, too: there was someone in the park. A big guy. Really big. He was lying down on the carousel. He had one foot on the ground, and was slowly pushing himself around and around, counterclockwise. Owen took no chances. He stuck to the streets.
After that, the guy was there every time Owen walked home by the park at night. Didn’t matter what time. Creepy, and annoying, too, because it was a real pain always to have to take the long way round. Once or twice he was tempted to say the hell with it and cut through. A little tempted. Not much.
One week, two weeks, three weeks, four, always there, always lying on the carousel, and round and round, counterclockwise. Widdershins.
November came with cold and dark, and one night, the man sat up as Owen reached the park. Looked right at him. Owen knew this, even though the man was the diagonal length of a block away and Owen couldn’t even see his face, let alone his eyes. He could feel the man’s gaze lock onto him, hawk on rabbit, and then he ran home, oh yes, and took the extra long way back, detouring up to the main drag, away from the little streets. Oh yes.
The next morning, there was a piece on the radio about a man who’d been run over and killed nearby during the night. A short piece: no mention of the victim’s name, or how old he was, or where he’d lived, or what he’d done for his community. Or to it. Owen heard the news item, but it didn’t mean anything to him, and so in one ear and gone.
November before snow: dead and black. Owen was walking home after a party. He reached Gyro Park, walking by it for the first time since his big scare, and lo and behold, the creep wasn’t there. So he cut across. The moon was a corpse-light the colour of chill. Wind leached over ground hard in the grip of rigor morits. The night was huge in its cold. And when Owen drew level with the carousel, he noticed the way it glinted in the sepia glow of the park lights.
He glanced around. And you know, the lights weren’t on. But the glow was. Yes.
He looked back at the carousel.
You know what the worst thing is? It’s not the unexpected. You know those really awful nightmares that start off fine, and you’re humming along, and then, in the dream, you’re suddenly afraid and you think, What if this turns into a nightmare? And it does? That’s the worst: to think of the terror, and have it happen. So the glow wasn’t the worst thing. The worst thing was that Owen had that incoming bad dream feeling, and he tried to stop the thought that was oozing up in his mind, but it was too late. And he thought, Wouldn’t it be just too, too terrible if that carousel started to move by itself?
So, with a faint metal creak, that’s just what it did. Against the wind. Counterclockwise. Widdershins.
Owen had time for one good scream.
(c) 2012 by David Annandale