The Carousel

Andrea Stephenson

None of us saw it arrive. When I’d last looked, there was an empty field, stubbled with the remains of the harvest. Nobody could say who’d built it. But there it stood: an old-fashioned carousel, lovingly painted with a tented roof. In the centre were the brass pipes of an organ, but there was something missing. No horses pranced around this carousel. When it rotated, as it sometimes did, and the organ commenced its wailing, there was nothing to waltz to its tune.

We all went down to look. Sometimes in crowds, sometimes in couples – never alone. When it became clear that nobody was responsible for it, we tried to forget it. It was there. Never mentioned but hovering at the edge of our dreams. At ploughing time, the farmer worked around it, jumping out of his seat each time the organ moaned.

When the animals started to go missing, we put it down to bad luck. Ignoring the scratch of unease between our shoulder blades. There was no pattern: a pet dog here, a prize pig there, two mules from the end of the lane. We shook our heads in commiseration and kept a closer eye on the animals that were left.

But the day came when the organ started up and didn’t stop. We’d got used to ignoring the odd tune, as we ignored everything else about the thing in the field. Pretty soon the whole town was headed there, the organ a tuneless siren song. The wheat was full grown, so from a distance we could pretend there was nothing there. The nervous chatter died down the closer we got. We waded through the wheat, heedless of the stalks crushed beneath our boots.

The carousel was no longer empty. Prancing donkeys and leaping dogs, waddling pigs and shuffling sheep, stalking cats and a wobbling calf. The platform was full. Each creature was recognisable, but it wasn’t as it had been. What had been fur was now wood, what was skin was now paint. Each animal was beautifully rendered but each was driven through with a whittled pole and had a seat moulded to its back.

The organ faded into sobs and cries. The chatter rose up again into shouts and screams. People invaded the boardwalk, wrenched open the door to the organ, searching for hiding places the carousel didn’t have. No culprit could be found. There was talk of burning it down, smashing it to pieces, but that seemed disrespectful somehow, or too much like bad luck.

We wandered away in the end, because what else could we do? The carousel is still there. A little faded. Never mentioned. Hovering at the edge of our dreams. Sometimes people visit to pay their respects to the animals they once cared for. And once a year, when the wheat is full grown, the organ starts up its jaunty tune. It plays all day and all night, calling us to communion. We lock our doors and turn up the TV.

This story won the Runner-Up Prize in the March 2021 CIRCUS Themed Flash Competition.

About the author: Andrea Stephenson is a writer and libraries manager from the north east of England, where she lives with her wife and a Border Terrier. Her stories have been published in Popshot and Firewords magazines and in the Aesthetica Creative Writing Annual. Inspired by nature, the coastline and the turn of the seasons, she writes about creativity, magic and nature at