I quit smoking on the first of January, so this one is inspired by that experience!
And Around We Go
The fog was thick and smudged everything with a wash of gray. Still, Jerry was positive there was something in his backyard. Something that wasn’t supposed to be there. He squinted, the crisscross mesh of the screen door came into focus and blurred out the backyard completely. He blinked.
Damned if there wasn’t something out there. Something large.
He set his ceramic coffee mug down on the counter and unlatched the door. He slid it open, cursing himself for forgetting to put the bar down once again. He shoved the flimsy screen door open and stepped outside.
The chilly air greeted him; an unsettling breeze that lingering in the air, warning of the impending winter. He knew the cold was coming soon. October was almost over. It could turn cold any day, in fact.
Jerry filled his lungs with a deep breath of courage. He took a few slow steps across the wooden porch but then stopped. His lungs deflated. He didn’t want to be alone. Hated being alone. Wasn’t even sure if he felt like investigating any further.
The strange object crystalized through the fog.
It was a brick-colored merry-go-round revolving very slowly. Squealing as it turned.
His eyebrows shriveled into his eyes. He brought his wrinkled hand up to his mouth. “What the hell?” He muttered; his mind as active as an unplugged popcorn machine. He didn’t know how to process the oddity on his lawn. “How did that thing get out there?”
Now he was positive he didn’t want to be alone. He turned back to the house, hoping to see his wife. Standing there in her wispy blue robe, worn so thin is was practically see-through and white as her skin. Instead, the only company he made were the vertical blinds dangling down over the open porch doorway. Nothing else.
But then, why would his wife be there? She’s been dead five years now. Damn tobacco companies.
He sighed. Somehow, he suddenly grieved afresh for her. Tears stung the corners of his eyes. And where was Bear? Why wasn’t that dumb mutt crashing through the blinds, sending the plastic strips slumping to the ground as he bumbled onto the porch, barking and full of eager curiosity?
He whistled and stared at the doorway. Nothing. “Bear!” He kept looking at the porch door, trying to will the dog to appear. Will anyone to emerge through that space. Anyone at all, so he didn’t have to turn around and face the mysterious merry-go-round without anyone by his side. “Damn dog.”
He knew he lived alone, but he didn’t know why his dog wouldn’t answer him.
He continued to pause on the porch, now it had been so long he felt foolish. An old man scared to be in his own backyard. Probably just the fog and shadows playing tricks on his eyes. There probably wasn’t anything out there anyway.
Mustering all the courage he had, he forced himself to turn back around.
This time there was a group of kids playing on the merry-go-round. An older boy, about 12 or so, wearing a flannel and jeans, was holding onto one of the bars, pushing the ride in circles. A girl with gray pigtails and a black dress, sat in one of the spaces. Boys filled the other spaces, each one of their faces was expressionless.
An icy fist clenched Jerry’s heart and his breathing came to a dead stop. A tiny squeak escaped his mouth, meant to be something more. Perhaps a strongly worded confrontation or a sharp challenge. But nothing more than whimper came out.
He finally forced himself to blink, hoping that would will the kids to vanish. But when he reopened his eyes, they were still out their playing. Round and round they went as if that damn toy had always been on his property. Like his backyard was the city park or something.
“What are you kids doing back here?” He unfroze and began descending the three steps down from the porch to the grass. “Who are your parents?”
The squeals from the merry-go-round now sounded more like giggles.
The fog swirled, closer. More intimately, like a hugs from a deceased lover. Still, the scene became less blurry and the fog revealed more than he wanted to see.
The pack of faceless youngsters were all staring at Jerry.
More than that, in the center of the merry-go-round, stuck to a silver pole like ademonic flag, was his wife’s tattered blue robe, fluttering in the wind.
He staggered backward. One of his heels smacked the bottom step and he sat down hard.
He did not try to get up. His eyes, his mouth open wide in surprise. His skin as pale as the fog.
The ride stopped spinning.
The fog might have lifted. Time itself may have stopped. Whatever it was, something settled over his backyard and isolated him from the world.
The girl hopped off the merry-go-round and pranced toward Jerry, her thick dress clung to her sides like soaked rags.
As she approached, he recognized her eyes. It was a little girl no doubt, but the meadow-green eyes were old and familiar. The kid reeked of cigarette smoke. She held out her hand.
Jerry looked down at her tiny fingers and saw the cigarette she was offering.
“How about a smoke, honey.” She coughed. A wet rattle in her throat.
He recognized the voice as well.
He wanted to run, wanted to haul ass all the way through the house until he made it back to the liquor cabinet. But he didn’t. Jerry just sat there on the step, his eyes longingly transfixed on the confusing apparition.
He tasted the sour flavor of a fresh tear hitting the corner of his mouth, but he didn’t wipe his eyes. A smoke sounded just fine to him. He reached out for the butt.
He never noticed that the rest of the group, all the boys, their ashen faces void of any features, had gathered around him. They were squatting next to him, even crouched down behind him up on the porch, like gargoyles.
As he brought the cold cigarette to his lips, the girl smiled and the boys pounced.