KENT VICKERS WAS thirty-four years old. He was six feet, three inches tall, had light brown hair, hazel eyes, muscular, a good tan. Women considered him very handsome; all except his ex-wife, who hated him and said he was ugly. He was a Deputy Sheriff by profession, being groomed to become the next Sheriff. He had custody of his daughter, Marci, who was eight. He had enough of marriage to last a lifetime and remained a single father. Marci was adorable, having inherited her good looks from Kent and his perfidious wife. Even before her mother had relinquished joint custody, Marci preferred living with her father. She had Kent wrapped around her little finger and had him jumping through hoops. Prior to relinquishing joint custody, it irritated her mother when she could not turn Marci against Kent.
A traveling carnival was in their small community and Marci was glad she was with her father. Her mother always complained that carnivals were a waste of time and that the money could be better spent on new heels. During the joint custody period, the week that Marci was with her father was when she got all her new clothes and shoes. Her next goal was to convince him that she needed a cellphone. Her excuse would be that with a cellphone, she could contact 911 if she was in danger. But this week’s goal was the carnival.
As always, Kent gave in. This was his weekend off and Marci tugged him to the carnival on Sunday afternoon. She already had cotton candy and they rode the tilt-a-whirl. It was approaching sundown and the dazzling lights and calliope music of the merry-go-round were drawing her like a bee to a spring blossom. The flashing neon lights said the name of the merry-go-round was Forever Young.
He rolled his eyes and said, “Alright.”
“I want you to come with me.”
He would feel foolish riding a merry-go-round horse, but he loved her and finally agreed. He had never seen a merry-go-round that large. It was literally twice the size of the average merry-go-round. For a ride of this quality, the ticket prices were extremely reasonable. He bought two tickets and they got in line. He knew that many of the rides at carnivals and fairs were individually owned. He assumed that whoever owned this ride must be a millionaire. At the ride’s entrance, there was a young man with wristbands and a talking clown manikin.
Kent asked the ticket taker, “Why the wristbands?”
“If your daughter wants to ride again, the second ride is half price. The wristband shows that you already paid full price.”
Kent started to tell him, “I don’t think…”
Marci interrupted him, “Please, Daddy. It looks like fun.”
He rolled his eyes again and held out his wrist. The wristband said Forever Young. The young man also put a band on Marci’s slender wrist.
“Daddy, the wristband glows.” The glow was a bright orange, rather than the normal green of the light sticks.
Kent looked to the young man for the answer.
“The wristbands are like the chemical sticks that you bend and they emit light. The children love them after it gets dark.”
Then the automated clown manikin said, “Ladies and gentleman, boys and girls, welcome. You’re about to experience the ride of a lifetime. Make sure that you pick a fast horse. Our merry-go-round is so much fun, you may want to ride forever.”
“Look, Daddy, the clown can talk.”
“You’re right. He almost looks real.” He led her up the ramp and she began deciding which horse she wanted. She finally picked a rearing pinto and he ended up on the outside horse, a brown galloping pony.
A very attractive black woman, maybe thirty, took the horse next to Marci, and her son, close to Marci’s age, had the next horse. A teenage boy and his girlfriend had the two inside horses. They were holding hands. The young man was grumbling because this carnival did not have a Tunnel of Love ride, where they could be alone in the dark.
Marci complained, “Why aren’t we moving, Daddy?”
“I think they want to put riders on all the horses first.” The ride thoroughly impressed him. Often carnival rides looked as if they needed painting or refurbishing, but everything on this ride looked brand new. The ride had thousands of lights, and every light was burning, with no burnt-out bulbs. The brass was all polished and the mirrors spotless. No scratches on the horses and the loveseats for grandparents were immaculate.
A carnival employee walked between horses, making certain that every horse had a rider. Finally, he nodded to the young man with the wrist bands and the merry-go-round began to move. A voice came over the speakers, “Welcome to the Forever Young merry-go-round, where no one ever grows old.”
Children cheered, parents smiled, grandparents laughed and the teenagers squeezed hands. While Marci’s horse was up, Kent’s was down. She called out, “My horse is faster than yours, Daddy.”
He agreed, “You picked the best one.”
The ride seemed to last longer than the average ride. Another thing he noticed, each time they passed the young man with the wrist bands, it was darker. The sun was setting, but not that fast. Then, every time they passed him, more of the carnival lights were going off.
The black woman next to Marci called to Kent, “Something’s wrong.”
He called back, “You’re right, but don’t scare the children.”
By the next time they passed where the young man had been, all the carnival lights were off and pitch black reigned beyond the merry-go-round.
The children did not see anything wrong, but parents frowned, grandparents worried and the teenage boy was kissing his girlfriend’s cheek and she was blushing. The ride continued, but parents started calling out for an explanation. Grandparents were demanding to know what was happening. People tried their cell phones, but all they got was No Service Available.
The black woman next to Marci called to Kent, “Could they have dropped a curtain down, like they do on some of the race car rides?”
Being on the outside, he leaned to his right and reached into the black. He pulled his hand in quickly, got off his horse and moved to the black woman. Marci complained, “Daddy, you’re not supposed to get off your horse.”
“I know, Darling, but I want to talk to this nice lady.”
He stood close to the black woman, “I’m Kent.” He talked as she went up and down.
She told him, “I’m Pam. Is there a curtain?” She was exceptionally beautiful: five feet, six inches tall, skin the color of a hazelnut, eyes like milk chocolate, breasts that were illegal in the Bible Belt, legs that caused men to fall into manholes and her hair in a French braid; an incredible feat for a woman of color. Another black woman would say she had bright skin and good hair, which was given to her by an Oriental ancestor in the bloodline.
Kent shook his head, “No, just the black, but the feeling was strange, so I pulled my hand back in quickly.”
She looked frightened, “What do you think it is?”