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Saturday, November 8, 2014

Carousel In The Sky: Excerpt

Carousel In The Sky
by Erik Gustafson

We have something a little special for you today-- Ok, a lot special. An excerpt from Carousel In The Sky, by Erik Gustafson. You are going to love this, I kid you now. This dark piece of fun had me laughing in spots and cringing in others. Make sure you have a stack of sandwiches to eat while you read, because you wont want to put the book down until you have finished it. Plus, there is a great sandwich scene in the book. What? Seriously...will make you hungry.


Snuggled in a forest stuffed with haggard, ancient oaks, whose thick branches reached to the heavens, stood a mansion. Built by hand over two centuries ago, when the trees were still saplings, the home was now famous for the carousel that circled the pitched roof, as if the ride was a crown. The ride went round and round the manor, with some points along the route jutting over the edge, providing a death-defying thrill to all who made the journey.
Jack, a stringy lad with firecracker-red hair and matching freckles, along with his chubby friend Alex, were two such people riding the day the accident happened.
The two teenage adventurers arrived at the home and paid their five bucks. Thankfully, the line was short as the young men were eager to ride. Alex kept peering around the other patrons, gauging the length of his wait. It may have been only ten minutes, probably less, but it felt like hours before they reached the front of the line. They stepped inside a massive brass elevator. The walls and ceiling, and even the floor, sparkled and reflected light on every surface. The illusion made the space feel cavernous. The lift was impressive enough to be a ride in and of itself and it whisked the duo, along with a dozen or so other patrons, up the four-stories, depositing them into a wondrous new world.
It was hard to decide where to look. Outward at the unique vantage point, or all around them at the colorful carousel. They chose to first marvel at the network of greenery concealing most of the sky. Golden crescents of sunlight glistened off the foliage, cascading onto the branches. The twisty, sprawling twigs of the mighty oaks all seemed to point at the amazing ride, or perhaps reaching out for the carousel, as if they were trying to pluck the riders right off the backs of the strange, hand-carved creatures.
The wooden animals were a sight to behold all in themselves. They marched three rows deep, most of them not resembling anything found in nature. A menagerie of both fantastic and frightening creations. The outside and middle rows were all manner of beautiful, inviting figures ranging from mermaids and unicorns to fairies and angels. There were a couple of benches for the occasional rider who wasn’t able to mount the animals.
The inner band of animals was much darker, the ominous feeling accentuated by the gloomy lighting. Hydras with all their heads staring in different directions, black salamanders, howling wolves, gorgons with snakes protruding wildly from their scalps and tongues sticking out between their white fangs. There were even a pair of chimeras, all making a horrid march around the house in unison.
Each was carefully painted with what must have been uncountable hours of painstaking, yet loving, care. The detail in the brushstrokes was breathtaking. Alex was always awestruck at how realistic the wooden creatures appeared, especially the eyes. Each pupil was painted with such artistry that they sparkled and seemed to stare out at him.
Giant, twin Wurlitzer military band organs had been placed on either side of the elevator like sentries, a glorious orchestra consisting of over 100 brass pipes pointing toward the universe itself. Snare drums, cymbals, and bells were affixed to the sides. The machines could imitate the notes of every instrument in a band. When the ride was moving the band organ played, and the music echoed through the forest. If the wind was right it even filtered down as far as the village at the bottom of the hill.
All of this sensory overload had caused the boys to not take a single step. Alex knew his mouth was hanging open, and Jack’s eyes were as large as the moon. A tall, hulking man wearing a blue fedora appeared before the young men and snapped them back out of their trance. He gestured for their tickets as they stepped off. With a signal of his long, thin fingers, he encouraged them down to the gray walkway that made its way to the carousel floor.
“Pick any creature you want!” he said, flashing a huge grin peppered with crooked teeth. Alex bounded down the wobbly plank, taking slow exaggerated steps as he enjoyed the feel of the shifting boards. He stepped onto the platform and, chilled by the frightening demons around the inner circle, moved into the center row where he chose to mount a centaur. He found himself staring at a mermaid that was in the outer most row. Her long hair was golden and flowed gracefully like a horse’s mane on a windy day. But the most captivating feature was her sparkling blue eyes; they were magical, so real, and so riveting that Alex felt guilty for staring at her so long. They seemed to follow him. He finally averted his eyes, only to see her seashell bra concealing very large breasts. Alex was disappointed they were covered.
“Come on, Jack!” he beckoned.
The ride filled with other patrons, both children and adults. An elderly couple sat on a colorful bench with a high back, padded with thick, red fabric for comfort. They were holding hands and grinning, still in love, and reliving memories of ages gone past, Alex decided. A pack of small kids crammed into a white teacup, gripping the center steering wheel and already trying to make it spin.
“Let’s go on one of the scary ones.” Jack pointed to the inside track filled with hideous beasts growling and snarling. Fiery eyes, some red and some yellow, glared from every one. He pointed at a long sea serpent whose elongated body took up the space of at least two rows of beasts. Jack jogged off and vanished behind the black wing of a dragon.
Alex sighed, staring again into the magical eyes of the silent mermaid, and he hopped down from his centaur to follow his friend.
Apparently Jack had changed his mind, as he was farther around the curve of the platform, scrambling up the shiny black side of a huge wolf.
“Cool!” Jack shouted down from his mount.
Alex caught up and ran his fingers through the tangle of snakes that made up a gorgon’s hair as he made his way to the five-headed hydra. The monsters were creepy, but so much cooler, he admitted to himself. He stepped up and tried to get comfortable. Two of the five heads of the hydra were turned so they faced Alex. Their long fangs and piercing eyes were most unsettling. Alex squirmed, considering going back to the centaur, but he knew Jack wanted to be on the scary ones so he stayed put.
He leaned out in the aisle and found the mermaid. As he looked on, Alex felt a knot in stomach that he didn’t understand. It wasn’t quite sadness but something else. He almost jumped down and run back to her.
“Is everyone ready?” the carny asked, running his hand through his black ponytail which hung over his chest. “Here we go!”
It was too late for Alex to change his mind anyway. The carousel lurched forward and high-pitched circus music began to play. He had no idea what the tune was, but he loved how the gorgon moved gracefully up and down as they made their way around the roof of the house. Alex pretended he was on the hunt. He looked over at Jack and his eyes were wide with delight as he held the center pole and leaned back.
On the third lap the whole carousel rocked sharply, rattling the riders. Alex smacked his forehead on the pole. The forest seemed to invade the ride. Twigs and leaves rained down, branches poking in every direction as if the greenery was searching for something. Or someone.
The ride squealed loudly and came to a halt. The music faded.
The platform wobbled and tittered. Alex saw blue sky for an instant and then the ride righted itself. He thought he was going off the edge. People were jumping off their animals, screaming. Some were crying. Everything was moving. A blur of rushing people streamed toward the elevator in the center of the roof.
Jack slid off his mystical wolf and found himself in a sea of branches and leaves. He struggled to step through the mess; he was scared. There was blood on his arms and hands. He didn’t want to wait too long, but a quick inspection of his limbs didn’t reveal any serious injuries. He pushed a branch taller than himself out of the way and stepped over something brown.
As he moved, he gazed out away from the carousel. There, extended from the forest itself, was a thick limb torn away from one of the mighty oaks and resting on the split-open green back of the mermaid. The blond siren had been decapitated from the impact, the broken head lying on the platform, staring up at Jack.
There was no one around, and Jack hoped no one was on the ride at the time.
“Come on, Jack!” It was Alex, behind him, already away from the scene. He was far out on the walkway. People were racing past him, shoving him.
“Look!” Jack shouted without turning around. His eyes were following the downed limb across the sky to the trunk of the tree it broke from. The fallen branch had exposed a clearing in the foliage, a space where he could just make out a small wooden structure wedged between a fork in a distant tree. “A tree house!”
A flickering light glowed from within.
“Let’s go!” Alex beckoned, but Jack could see he was trying to locate the tree house through the rush of people. He started going against the flow, back toward Jack. “Wonder what that is doing all the way up there.”
“I don’t know.” Jack pushed on the limb several times, testing the strength of the branch that had crashed down over the mermaid. The limb didn't budge; it felt strong enough to serve as a bridge. “Come on!”
“What? You’re crazy!” Alex stepped backward, bumping into something soft. He turned to see the carny towering over him.
“You boys hurt?”
Alex shook his head.
The carny knelt down by the head of the mermaid and stroked its yellow-painted hair. The old man looked sad, and Alex thought the guy might start crying at any moment. “Darn shame, don’t you think? This here was lovingly created over a hundred years ago.”
"Alex, come on.” Jack jumped on the thick limb. The fallen limb held strong. He maneuvered through the tangle of twigs, but paused when he was out above the security railing. With wide eyes he stared at the sheer drop to the parking lot.
But Alex was moving backward, gripping the mangled railing to guide him as he inched toward the exit. He looked scared and couldn’t stop staring at the carny.
The branch held strong and was thickening as it got closer to the trunk and, Jack found, was nearly free from obstacles. It was a straight shot. He was easily able to discern a route to the tree house, climb over the white mealy tear at the end of this branch, and shimmy down the rest of the way. He could then move across the fork and onto another branch, making his way across a final limb that was bowing down right where it needed to be. It was almost like a path.
“Stop, boy,” the carny said, but he was smirking and spoke so quietly Jack thought he might be just mouthing the words. “Come back.”
“Come on, chicken!” Jack taunted, holding his hand out to Alex. The wind tousled Jack’s hair.
Alex shook his head.
“You better get down where it’s safe. I’ll get your friend.” The carny shooed Alex toward the exit. “Run along.”
“Alex!” Jack pleaded, as his friend vanished behind the closing elevator doors, and then turned his attention to the crazy-eyed carny.
The huge man leaned out over the railing, observing the people below flowing from his house and getting into their cars. Jack looked down again too, and they looked like toys from way up here. He was waiting for the man to try to stop him, but he didn’t seem the least bit interested in him. “I’ll run across this branch, I’m not scared.”
The carny squinted at the young man and pursed his lips. His eyes flashed wide open and a toothy grin unzipped across his jaw. “You have beautiful red hair, kid.”
The carny’s teeth were blue.
“Freak,” Jack spat, and hurried across the balance beam, suspended forty feet above the forest floor. The branch was solid and simple, much to his surprise. His heart was beating fast, but he felt confident and sure-footed as he advanced, despite his disbelief that he was actually out on a limb. When he arrived at the other side, where the break in the branch originated, he stepped over the sappy rip and glanced back.
The carny was gone.
Standing in the nook of a tree, leaning against another branch, Jack couldn’t believe the view. He was part of nature. A warm breeze smoothed him and the tree tops swayed in rhythm with the pleasant wind. Up in the trees, both the house, and even the carousel, already seemed to be a different reality for him. Disconnected somehow.
He made his way through the labyrinth of limbs, climbing when he had too, shimmying at other times. At one point, imagining he was a squirrel, he mustered his courage and leaped to a nearby offshoot.
He cheered as he snagged the branch and scrambled onward.
Huffing and getting tired, he thanked God the goal was in sight. A ladder extended down from the tree house onto the trunk of the next tree but stopped after only about ten feet or so. It looked too small for the trunk, as if the tree had grown up around the ladder. Jack felt the first hints of anxiety. How was he going to get down?
He brushed off his worry and scooted along the branch until he was next to the man-made wall of wood, beneath one of the open window frames. Holding on to the windowsill, he stood up, balancing carefully, and got a closer look.
What he saw amazed him.
Hoisting himself up, Jack dropped inside the wooden box.
The air was much cooler and Jack enjoyed the change from the humid woods. The atmosphere was so comforting that Jack thought the place might even be air conditioned. His wet t-shirt clinging to his skin made him shiver.
The large structure seemed to be constructed of a single piece of wood. There wasn’t a seam or joint anywhere to be seen, except for a square on the floor that had a brass handle and hinges on it. A crystal chandelier hung from the ceiling, sparkling and shining. Necklaces of reflected light danced on the ceiling and highly polished walls.
Each diamond shaped crystal was generating its own light.
“What is this place?” His own voice startled him.
Jack felt like he was on the inside of a Christmas tree ornament. He approached a black end-table centered in the room. The table didn’t hold his attention; the silver chalice did. The over-sized goblet twinkled, almost as if it were winking at him.
Leaning over the cup, he saw it was filled with a clear liquid. The sight of the drink made him salivate. He realized how dry his lips had become. He absently traced his tongue over his scratchy skin.
He scanned the room but saw nothing else of interest, except for the apparent exit. The ornate glass was captivating enough, and he wasn’t disappointed in the least with his discovery. He wondered how much it was worth. He touched the ice-cold sides and his whole body tingled with excitement.
Straining his neck back, he stared up at the mesmerizing crystal diamonds dangling like frozen raindrops on a dew-covered field during a bright sunrise. Minuscule rainbows arched in every direction within the chandelier.
He wanted a drink. Needed a drink.
Heart racing, he leaned down and picked up the chalice. He froze and scanned the room again, but nothing happened. He fantasized that maybe the place would start rumbling and collapse, or at least spring some type of trap.
The contents sloshed, the secret language of delicious liquid calling to him.
Jack held the drink up to his nose. It had no smell, but, now that it was so close to his face, he noticed golden ribbons were gently swirling in the liquid.
He wandered over to the window, drink in hand.
Jack stood there, watching the distant carousel. He was surprised how far away it appeared. It didn’t seem like he had climbed across that many treetops. It was almost as if it was an optical illusion.
He sipped the ice-cold refreshment.
As he watched the amusement ride, the lights flickered and came back on. Then he realized that the broken branch he had used to venture out here was gone. Or maybe it was just out of sight from this angle.
No matter, the drink tasted so invigorating. He gulped. The water ran past his childish grin.
The sweet, sweet song of the Wurlitzer drifted through the trees.
His eyes glazed over and the colorful carousel became a blur of swirling colors. Jack felt like he was floating. The cup fell from his grip, but he didn’t notice.
He didn’t notice the trap door on the floor flip up either, or the man in the blue fedora rising from the opening.
When the carousel opened the following morning, the mermaid stood ready for riders in the same spot in the circular procession that it always had held, completely restored, all the way down to the bright red hair.

You can buy Carousel In The Sky at Smashwords and Amazon. It will be available in paperback later this week.

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