Until at last they drew up their feet, socked each other’s shoulders, embraced knees tight, rocking, and looking with swift bright happiness at each other, growing wine-drunkenly quiet.
And when they were done smiling at each other’s faces as at burning torches, they looked away across the field.
And the black tent poles lay in elephant boneyards with the dead tents blowing away like the petals of a great black rose.
The only three people in a sleeping world, a rare trio of tomcats, they basked in the moon.
”What happened?” asked Jim, at last.
”What didn’t!” cried Dad.
And they laughed again, when suddenly Will grabbed Jim, held him tight and wept.
”Hey,” Jim said, over and over, quietly. ““Hey hey …”
”Jim, Jim,” Will said. “We’ll be pals forever.”
”Sure, hey sure.” Jim was very quiet now.
”It’s all right,” said Dad. “Have a small cry. We’re out of the woods. Then we’ll laugh some more, going home.”
Will let Jim go.
They got to their feet and stood looking at each other Will examined his father, with fierce pride.
”Oh, Dad, Dad, you did it, you did it!”
”No, we did it together.”
”But without you it”d all be over. Oh, Dad, I never knew you. I sure know you now.”
”Do you, Will?”
Each, to the other, shimmered in bright halos of wet light.
”Why then, hello. Reply, son, and curtsey.”
Dad held out his hand. Will shook it. Both laughed and wiped their eyes, then looked quickly at the foot prints scattered in the dew over the hills.
”Dad, will they ever come back?”
”No. And yes.” Dad tucked away his harmonica. “No not them. But yes, other people like them. Not in a carnival. God knows what shape they’ll come in next. But sunrise, noon, or at the latest, sunset tomorrow they’ll show. They’re on the road.”
”Oh, no,” said Will.
”Oh, yes, said Dad. “We got to watch out the rest of our lives. The fight’s just begun.”
They moved around the carousel slowly.
”“What will they look like? How will we know them?”
”Why,” said Dad, quietly, “maybe they’re already here.”
Both boys looked around swiftly.
But there was only the meadow, the machine, and themselves.
Will looked at Jim, at his father, and then down at his own body and hands. He glanced up at Dad.
Dad nodded, once, gravely, and then nodded at the carousel, and stepped up on it, and touched a brass pole.
Will stepped up beside him. Jim stepped up beside Will.
Jim stroked a horse’s mane. Will patted a horse’s shoulders.
The great machine softly tilted in the tides of night.
Just three times around, ahead, thought Will. Hey.
Just four times around, ahead, thought Jim. Boy.
Just ten times around, back, thought Charles Halloway.
Each read the thoughts in the other’s eyes.
How easy, thought Will.
Just this once, thought Jim.
But then, thought Charles Halloway, once you start, you”d always come back. One more ride and one more ride. And, after awhile, you”d offer rides to friends, and more friends until finally …
The thought hit them all in the same quiet moment.
… finally you wind up owner of the carousel, keeper of the freaks … proprietor for some small part of eternity of the traveling dark carnival shows…
Maybe, said their eyes, they’re already here.
Charles Halloway stepped back into the machinery of the merry-go-round, found a wrench, and knocked the flywheels and cogs to pieces. Then he took the boys out and he hit the control box one or two times until it broke and scattered fitful lightnings.
”Maybe this isn’t necessary,” said Charles Halloway. “Maybe it wouldn’t run anyway, without the freaks to give it power. But—” He hit the box a last time and threw down the wrench.
”It’s late. Must be midnight straight up.”
Obediently, the City Hall clock, the Baptist church clock, the Methodist, the Episcopalian, the Catholic church, all the clocks, struck twelve. The wind was seeded with Time.
”Last one to the railroad semaphore at Green Crossing is an old lady!”
The boys fired themselves off like pistols.
The father hesitated only a moment. He felt the vague pain in his chest. If I run, he thought, what will happen? Is Death important? No. Everything that happens before Death is what counts. And we’ve done fine tonight. Even Death can’t spoil it. So, there went the boys and why not … follow?