The air still smelled of sticky candy floss and an excess of butter as Gideon Thomas walked the grounds, dragging an industrial sized garbage bag behind him and a long, pointed trash-picker over his shoulder. His dusty work boots crunched over the grey dirt that was littered with empty popcorn boxes and soda cans which he speared and bagged before moving on. His watch beeped once, signalling the new hour: midnight. His shift was just starting. The game booths and food stands, all made of the same faded red-and-white striped wood, had closed up for the night. The laughter and cheers had died down nearly an hour before, leaving only the puncturing sound of his trash-picker as he walked. Only the whine of the slowly turning carousel broke the silence. The overhead lights glinted off the smooth porcelain horses as they moved. The gentle autumn breeze carried the creaking of gears, and Gideon soon found himself absently working to the rhythm as he cleaned up the carnival grounds for the next day.
It was almost 2 a.m. when he finally neared the larger side of the property, half a dozen trash bags already tied and stacked in his used Chevy, ready for the dump site. Hundreds of feet above him, dark clouds rolled in, hiding the stars. The stands on this side were shrouded in shadows as the overhead lights grew fewer and far between. Distant thunder rolled and Gideon sighed, looking at his watch. He still had at least an hour before he was finished with the cleanup. Gideon glanced at the sky and the unwelcoming clouds, and he swore. The wind, once warm and sugary sweet, turned cold and bitter with the smell of old dirt and rotten apples, scattering unpicked trash around him. A small lamb plush toy sailed to a stop at his feet, its fur grey and matted from rolling in the dirt. The plush stared up at Gideon with only one eye, choked by a torn pink ribbon at its throat. He imagined the crestfallen face of the child that had dropped it and speared it with his picker, shoving it in the bag with no further thought.
The thunder roared above him. He wanted to finish before the storm hit. He hadn’t planned for rain and only wore a ratty button-down over his sleeveless shirt. He rotated his old Patriots cap so that the flap was facing forward, just in case.
The wind was relentless, making it difficult to pick up the discarded trash, but he knew he had to keep going. A spotless ground meant a full paycheck, and his rent was due that week, so he chased the flying pieces of cardboard as they were carried up in a brightly coloured whirlwind towards the south side of the property, past the bumper cars and the funnel cake stand, past the ring toss and the tacky fortune teller’s tent, before settling down in a flutter around the moving carousel.
Gideon lingered in front of it for a moment, watching the coloured horses rhythmically bob up and down as the carousel turned and creaked with every crank of its gears. Why hadn't it been shut off? As Gideon stared at the machine, a splatter on the brim of his cap tore his attention away. The rain had started. If he could finish this, he would be able to seek shelter in the warmth of his truck and drive home, where he’d drink a well-deserved beer for the night’s work.
Ambling over to the control panel, he frowned: the power switch was jammed. No wonder it had kept going all night. He glanced up at the giant hunk of metal and porcelain and hesitated. As a child, the carousel was the only ride he refused to get on when his mother brought him to the carnival every fall. The horses made him uneasy, frozen in position as they were fated to turn and turn for hours, their painted eyes staring vacantly ahead. On most days, he tried his best to avoid it while he worked. He didn’t want to get on, but the platform was scattered with trash, so he had no choice.
Gideon clambered onto the moving ride, using the dull wooden end of his picker for support. It started to rain harder, the thunder growling directly above him. He moved carefully around the horses as he picked up the trash, slowly, so not to lose his balance. Gideon couldn’t see anything. Beyond the carousel, the world was a blur of rain and movement, and it felt like it was going faster the harder it rained. After a few minutes, he couldn’t take it anymore. A wave of nausea hit him hard and he dropped his picker in order to grab two of the ride’s steel poles. He shut his eyes tightly trying to fight off the nausea as above him the thunder refused to relent. He made up his mind then, to jump off without finishing his job. Screw the paycheck, he thought. The damn thing was moving too fast for him to do anything. Gideon opened his eyes, moments from leaping, when there was a crack and a flash of white lighting. It struck the carousel’s control box in a fit of sparks that sent a jolt through the ride, bringing it to a halt. Gideon’s screamed but the storm drowned out the sound as the wind sent his picker rolling under a nearby stand.
Early the next morning, the carnival workers restocked the food stands and game booths. A new row of snow white lambs was lined up at the ring toss. In just a few hours, the previously silent grounds would be filled with children’s laughter again. The carousel would be out of commission, thanks to a fried control panel. It stood perfectly still, covered with debris from the storm, of which it had appeared to be the only victim. None of the workers noticed the smell of burnt flesh.
...Until the wind picked up again.
Myryam Ladouceur is a second-year Professional Writing student at Algonquin College, aspiring to work in the editing and publishing business. She likes to write short stories and poetry, doodle on any surface available, and read whatever catches her eye. She hopes to one day have the privilege to edit the next great novel of her generation.