by Wayne Summers
The horses rising and rolling like froth-tipped waves in slow motion upon a beach of gold. So attractive to five-year old eyes. The smell of fairy floss and toffee dance in tiny nostrils, but the allure of the painted ponies exerts a stronger pull.
“Come. Come,” they whisper in soft tones only small ears can hear. “Ride the pretty ponies. Ride the pretty ponies.”
Fiona giggles and tugs on her daddy’s pants. He looks down and sees her gapped-tooth smile beaming back at him. He grins and follows her finger to the dancing horses rising and falling in poetic rhythm.
“Would you like to ride the horsies?” he asks.
Fiona squeals and claps her hands with glee while her father passes the gnarled and bent ticket seller a ten dollar note.
“Keep the change.”
The ticket seller smiles until their backs are turned and then his thin lips form a sneer. He gives a slight nod and chuckles under his breath. Crumpling up the note he stuffs it into the pocket of his unwashed and urine-stinking pants. He withdraws his hand and runs it through his greasy, dull grey hair before turning to scour the bustling crowd for more customers.
As the horses slow to a walk and then stop Fiona runs to a large dappled grey mare with flowers twisted into the coarse hair of her mane.
“This one Daddy!” she squeals and jiggles on the spot, impatient for her father to lift her into the saddle.
“Do you want me to ride with you?”
Fiona grips the pole which breaks through the horse flesh just between the shoulder blades and feels secure enough to shake her head.
“I want to ride by myself.”
“Daddy will ride behind you then.”
Daddy throws a leg over the polished saddle of the jet black steed behind her and settles in, feeling slightly awkward. His eyes stay fixed on his daughter.
“Hold on tight, darling,” he cautions. “Are you ready?”
Fiona nods; her head a mass of bobbing blonde curls tied back with a bright red ribbon.
“Are you ready, Fiona?” another voice whispers.
Fiona frowns and turns her head as far as she can in the direction of her father. Her little heart skips a beat, but the horses have started and there is no escaping them now.
“Watch out, darling,” her father shouts, half-ready to dismount and catch his little princess. “Hold on tight.”
“Yes, hold on tight, darling. Hold on very tight.”
The smile melts from her face and her bottom lip starts to quiver.
“Daddy,” she calls, but the sound of the calliope drowns out her voice.
“He can’t hear you.”
The horses start trotting faster and faster. The people milling about between the rides and stalls of the carnival begin to blur. The music grows louder and faster. The horses seem to have broken free. Fiona screams as she nearly slips from her saddle.
The horses are galloping.
Daddy hears her cries and dismounts. He stumbles and reaches for the rump of his daughter’s horse, but his hand swipes the air. He can hear her wailing and the half-smile falls from his face, pulling his brow down with it.
“I’m coming, darling.”
Fiona attempts to catch a glimpse of her daddy but the horse bucks and she instinctively tightens her grip on the pole. There is a neigh and a sudden jolt as Daddy finally catches up to the horse and clambers on. It feels good to have him sitting with her. His strong arms reach by on either side of her to grasp the pole, now slightly bloodied as it jiggles in the wound it has caused. Fiona is blinded by tears but she can sense her daddy’s fear.
The world outside the carousel is a greyish blur. The horses are running faster and faster almost becoming part of the wind themselves. Around and around in a never-ending circle they chase the horse in front. Daddy searches the blur for a sign of the man with the greasy hair.
“Let us off!” he bellows.
The horses whinny to each other above the quickening melody of the calliope and a frown darkens Daddy’s face. Fiona’s heart quickens. It feels as though it’s been shaken loose and is resting just inside her lips. She swallows hard and begins wailing again. Her little legs lift in unison and slam down on the beast’s sides. She begins kicking angrily, frustrated. Terrified.
The blur of white on either side of them is disorientating and they can only hear snatches of calliope, but they can tell something is happening. The horses are tiring. They are slowing and the world of white Fiona and her daddy have been transported into is darkening. White turns to grey and grey becomes a murky green, which fractures into myriad shades of natural green and shadowy brown.
Fiona clutches her father grimly as he steps onto the grass. She looks across the field but she doesn’t recognise it. The trees are like none she has ever seen before. It disturbs her that what she expected to see is not there. Where is the man with the greasy hair? Where is the carousel?
Their attention is captured by a snort from behind. Daddy slowly turns and together he and Fiona’s eyes fall upon the beast. It’s facing them, head lowered and front hoof tearing at the ground before it. Another snort. A scream escapes Fiona’s mouth. The horse whinnies, raises its head and bares its teeth.
The colour drains from Daddy’s face as he turns to run.
The horsie charges.