And so they ran, three animals in starlight. A black otter. A tomcat. A rabbit.
Me, thought Will, I’m the rabbit.
And he was white, and much afraid.
They hit the carnival grounds at a good twenty miles an hour, give or take a mile, the nephew in the lead, Jim close behind, and Will further back, gasping, shotgun blasts of fatigue in his feet, his head, his heart.
The nephew, running scared, looked back, not smiling.
Fooled him, thought Will, he figured I wouldn’t follow, figured I”d call the police, get stuck, not be believed, or run hide. Now he’s scared I’ll beat the tar out of him, and wants to jump on that ride and run around getting older and bigger than me. Oh, Jim, Jim, we got to stop him, keep him young, tear his skin off!
But he knew from Jim’s running there”d be no help from Jim. Jim wasn’t running after nephews. He was running toward free rides.
The nephew vanished around a tent far ahead. Jim followed. By the time Will reached the midway, the merry-go-round was popping to life. In the pulse, the din, the squeal-around of music the small fresh-faced nephew rode the great platform in a swirl of midnight dust.
Jim, ten feet back, watched the horses leap, his eyes striking fire from the high-jumped stallion’s eyes.
The merry-go-round was going forward!
Jim leaned at it.
“Jim!” cried Will.
The nephew swept from sight borne around by the machine. Drifted back again he stretched out pink fingers urging softly: “…Jim…?”
Jim twitched one foot forward.
“No!” Will plunged.
He knocked, seized, held Jim; they toppled; they fell in a heap.
The nephew, surprised, whisked on in darkness, one year older. One year older, thought Will, on the earth, one year taller, bigger, meaner!
“Oh God, Jim, quick!” He jumped up, ran to the control box, the complex mysteries of brass switch and porcelain covering and sizzling wires. He struck the switch. But Jim, behind, babbling, tore at Will’s hands.
“Will, you’ll spoil it! No!”
Jim knocked the switch full back.
Will spun and slapped his face. Each clenched the other’s elbows, rocked, failed. They fell against the control box.
Will saw the evil boy, a year older still, glide around into night. Five or six more times around and he”d be bigger than the two of them!
“Jim, he’ll kill us!”
“Not me, no!”
Will felt a sting of electricity. He yelled, pulled back, hit the switch handle. The control box spat. Lightning jumped to the sky. Jim and Will, flung by the blast, lay watching the merry-go-round run wild.
The evil boy whistled by, clenched to a brass tree. He cursed. He spat. He wrestled with wind, with centrifuge. He was trying to clutch his way through the horses, the poles, to the outer rim of the carousel. His face came, went, came, went. He clawed. He brayed. The control box erupted blue showers. The carousel jumped and bucked. The nephew slipped. He fell. A black stallion’s steel hoof kicked him. Blood printed his brow.
Jim hissed, rolled., thrashed Will riding him hard, pressing him to grass, trading yell for yell, both fright-pale, heart ramming heart. Electric bolts from the switch flushed up in white stars a gush of fireworks. The carousel spun thirty, spun forty — “Will, let me up!” — spun fifty times. The calliope howled, boiled steam, ran ancient dry, then played nothing, its keys gibbering as only chitterings boiled up through the vents. Lightning unravelled itself over the sweated outflung boys, delivered flame to the silent horse stampede to light their way around, around with the figure lying on the platform no longer a boy but a man, no longer a man but more than a man and even more and even more, much more than that, around, around.
“He’s he”s, oh he”s, oh look, Will, he’s — “ gasped Jim, and began to sob, because it was the only thing to do, locked down, nailed tight. “Oh God, Will, get up! We got to make it run backward!”
Lights flashed on in the tents.
But no one came out.
Why not? Will thought crazily. The explosions? The electric storm? Do the freaks think the whole world’s jumping through the midway? Where’s Mr Dark? In town? Up to no good? What, where, why?