DARK HORSE by Nancy Sweetland

Some nights when the moon is full, I sit in my statuary garden and my thoughts find their way back to the last time Clem the Carousel Man let my friend, Harry, and me ride his horses after the Bay Beach Park was closed for the night.

Almost every summer evening, Harry and I would hide behind the bumper cars pavilion until the park lights went off and the crowd was gone. Then we’d go beg Clem to let us ride once more, just once more, in the moonlight. No lights. No music. Just the moon-dappled dark and the rush of warm summer wind against our faces.

Usually, he’d let us ride. But no matter how we’d beg, he’d never let us get on the black horse.

“Mephisto’s a devil,” he’d say, shaking his head. “Makes bad things happen. Don’t want you on him. No. Never.”

Mephisto’s black shape was barely visible in the pale moonlight, except for a sinister glint reflecting in the painted white of his eyes. Makes me shiver, here in my garden, just to remember how he looked.

“Just this once, Clem,” Harry begged that last night again, like he always did. “I’ll never ask again.” He didn’t know how true that was.

“Yeah, Clem,” I urged, chicken to ask for myself. “Let him ride. What could happen?”

“No.” Clem turned to look up at the sky where a wispy cloud surrounded the moon with a glowing nimbus. “Mephisto’s evil. Takes moonlight riders away. Never see ‘em again,” Clem stated. “Down in Tennessee, ‘fore I came here”–he paused, remembering, then whispered as though the horse could hear–“lost a real nice boy.”

At the tone of his voice my whole body shivered into goose bumps.

Harry just grinned and slapped his baseball cap against his thigh. “Aw, please, Clem. C’mon. Just this once.”

“Yeah, Clem,” I echoed. “Just this once, let him!”

Clem frowned at me and screwed his face into a sad grimace, but after hesitating, let Harry climb onto Mephisto.

I picked Snowflake, a few horses ahead.

With a grinding squeal, Clem started the motor and the rough wooden platform began to move. Slow at first, almost reluctantly. Then the squeal stopped as the carousel picked up speed and we began to sail through the night, faster, faster. Under me, Snowflake seemed to come alive–to soar over imaginary terrain. I could glimpse the moonlight sparking off the brass ring but every time we came around we were moving too fast for me to catch it.

On and on, the horses leapt up and down…up and down…faster, faster, the wind rushing by my face so sharply I squeezed my eyes closed against it. Incredible!

Suddenly, we slowed, and I looked behind me.

Harry was slumped over Mephisto and Clem, his own eyes glinting with the devil’s light. He lurched toward me. In his outstretched arm was a bloodied knife.

I hit the ground running, stumbling through the dark, screaming, “Help! Somebody! Clem’s gone crazy. He’s killed Harry!”

I’ll never forget that look in Clem’s eyes. I’ll never forget that I urged him to let Harry ride Mephisto.

Clem went back to prison. The park sold the carousel off in pieces.

That was a long time ago. Last summer I found Mephisto in an antique shop on the peninsula and bought him for my garden, where he stands proudly among my other statues.

Sometimes, when the moon is full, I stand beside him, put my hand on his mane, touch his flaring nostrils. Just to remember–to feel the night wind on my face again.

There’s a nimbus around the moon again tonight. It’s magic. Dark magic. It makes me wonder what really happened when Harry rode Mephisto that night.

There’s a real nice boy down the block that always wants to ride him. Maybe one night soon I’ll let him…

Along with her mystery and romance novels set in small Wisconsin towns, Nancy Sweetland has published articles, award-winning poetry, short stories and juvenile picture books. Her third mystery, “The Perfect Suspect,” will be out in June from Soul Mate Publishing.

Copyright © 2016 Nancy Sweetland. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited. 

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