The rich warm colors of the poster grabbed Dannyís attention to such extent that he absolutely had to see what was that all about. He crossed the street running, which caused the white pickup truck coming in front of him to stop amid a screech of brakes. The truckís driver shoved his head out of the window and showered the boy with a barrage of curses. But Danny didnít care; he was already next to the one and only billboard of his small New-Mexico town, his eyes focused on the giant red-green-orange placard. Surrounded by black-and-white advertisements and leftovers from last autumnís elections ("Vote Bobby Smith for Mayor - for our future!"), the sign was as out-of-place as an exotic tropical butterfly would be in an anthill.
"Tonight! One time only! ĎAurora Borealisí Luna-Park - an experience of a lifetime!" the golden letters screamed at the top of the sheet. Beneath them, a background of carousels, roller coasters and other attractions, just the thought of which was sufficient to leave an eight-year-old boy gasping for breath. Danny studied each letter of the huge poster, until the picture was imprinted on his eyesí retina. Then he remembered he had some family obligations to meet, and started running toward his house.
His feet carried him down the searing dusty street. Then, he turned right to a small alley shaded by pecan trees, opened a brown iron gate and entered his backyard. There, he saw his father, who was busy with the barbeque.
"Dad!" Danny shouted and ran up to him.
"Yes?" the father answered without turning his face to the boy, still flipping the chunks of meat on the grill.
"Dad, thereís a Luna-Park coming tonight, they have a carousel and a roller-coaster andÖ."
"Is that a fact?"
"Yes, and thereís this huge poster thatÖ."
"Ok, Iíll talk to him. Iíll teach him a lesson. Thanks." The father turned to Danny, closing down his cellular phone and putting it in the pocket of his pants.
"What is this I hear from George? You jumped in front of his car like a madman?" This time there was no doubt: the words were directed to the kid and not to a friend on the other end of the line.
"There was a poster of a LunaÖ." was all Danny could say.
"Are you mental or something? You want to die for a poster? I donít want to hear about you pulling any more stunts like that, you got me?"
"And you wanted a bike! First you should learn to walk properly!"
Danny didnít answer. He just turned and slouched to the house. The father was not against ending the conversation and returning to his steaks, but just in case, he employed his fatherly authority one more time, "And help Mom to set the table!"
* * *
"Whatís happening, dude?"
"Booooring, dude." Matt sat on the bench next to his friend and wiped the sweat off his brow. Somewhere in the distance Billy Idol screamed "Hot in the city". Apparently, he didnít like the weather too.
"What you doing tonight, man?" asked Lenny, his hand fumbling in his pocket.
"Got some plansÖ."
"What kind of plans?" Lenny found what he was looking for, a pack of Marlboroughs. He took out two cigarettes, lit one for himself and gave the other to Matt. After inhaling some of the bitter-sour smoke, Lenny tried a new line of questioning.
"So, you got something going on with Heather?"
Matt didnít answer, instead surrounding himself with layers of smoke.
"Is it Heather? Are you going to get her?" Lenny managed to squeeze a smile out of Matt.
"Shut up, you jerk!" Matt slapped his friend on the back of the head, but there was more satisfaction than anger to that gesture. Yes, tonight was supposed to be the big night with Heather. Tonight, hanging out with Lenny was not part of his plans. But meanwhile, why not spend the scorching late morning hours in the shade of a pine tree and shoot some breeze.
"Hey, whatís that?" Lenny broke the smoke-engulfed silence several minutes later. They both looked at the huge semi-trailer that just got off the highway and was slowly crawling on a sandy plain just outside town, raising clouds of dust. Not that there was anything unusual in a semi-trailer truck in the area - dozens, maybe hundreds, passed each day. But this one was clearly special, starting down from the golden-colored hubcaps, through the colored paintings on the walls, up to the small statue of a juggling clown, placed where the Michelin man should have been.
Its pneumatic brakes groaning in protest, the truck stopped, and four people walked out. The heat, so it seemed, didnít bother them at all as they pulled bars, ropes, iron plates and other stuff out of the truck and arranged all that on the ground in a scrupulous pattern. Everything was done quickly, but their movements werenít rushed, as if following a well-written script. The people kept working, and just as the two friends were about to finish their cigarettes, the entire content of the truck was placed on the ground, rows upon rows of parts.
Now it was the turn of the four strangers to sit and rest in the shadow of the truck.
"Letís see what theyíre up to," said Matt, flicking the cigarette butt onto the asphalt. Lenny took one last draw from his Marlborough and followed him. The foursome ignored them until the friends were almost at a handshake distance.
"Howdy," said Matt.
"Hello to you too," said one of the strangers with a heavy Russian accent. He was a fat guy with a two-day-old shave, wearing a white shirt and khaki pants. The other three were wearing slight variations on the same theme.
"Going to settle down here?" asked Matt with a smile and pointed at the contents of the truck, which was now laid out in front of him.
"Luna Park," said the fat Russian, "One night only."
"Is that a fact?"
"Carousel. Roller coaster. Bumping cars. Target shooting," the fat man recited, as if from a catalog.
"And sweet corn," the man on the left of the fat Russian joined the conversation abruptly. He took off the wide-rimmed hat that covered his features, and the two youngsters flinched visibly. Half of the manís face was covered with remainders of deep scars. His left eye was non-existent, covered in layers of yellow skin. The lips on the left side were yellow as well.
"Gulf war. Tank. Fire." the scary guy explained concisely, put the hat back on, and returned to his rest, leaning on the wheel.
"Yes. Sweet corn. And target shooting, with prizes," the fat man summarized.
"You need help or something?" asked Lenny, "Seems like a lot of work."
"Itís ok, weíre doing fine," another visitor joined the conversation. He got up on his long thin legs, stretched his tall body, then turned to his companions, "Letís go on."
The other three also assumed a standing position. The fat Russian and the burnt guy turned out to be short, barely 5í, and the last crewmember was a girl of about twenty, a thin brunette with a short curly hair and a perpetual smile. When she passed next to Lenny and brushed elbows inadvertently with him, he tried to offer his help once more, but was politely declined again.
"Letís go to my place and watch some videos. Iíll turn on the air condition." Matt pulled his friend away and they left the strange foursome to their own devices.
* * *
George stopped his car, a brown Chevy pickup with a "Deputy" sign on the door, next to the nearly completed carousel. Waving the dust clouds away, he got out of the car and approached the four workers.
"Excuse me, do you have a license for this?"
"License? Sir, this is a Luna park, we donít need a license," said the tall guy, while the others continued the steps of their well-choreographed dance.
"Itís a building. Wall, roofs, everything." George spread his arms wide, as if trying to encircle the structure. Indeed, the carousel had a roof of cloth, walls of plywood, and nine wooden horses arranged in a circle on thin metal rods. Had George been a man who takes interest in such things, heíd notice that each horse had a touch of individuality. There were brown, black, and white horses, and one was spotted. Each horse froze in its own unique posture. Some were galloping; some strode with pride, their heads held high; some slumped to the ground as if looking for some hay. Their tails and manes were either waving in the air or hanging down lifelessly.
But George Clarence Cash was merely a local Deputy Sheriff, and he didnít care much about wooden horses. The only thing on his mind was the holy trinity of local law-enforcement: license, fine or subpoena.
"A Luna Park needs a license too."
"But thatís just for one day, and then we move on."
Aha. That removes the subpoena option. George scratched his head, rolled his eyes, donning his Ďbad copí attire in the process, and then turned to face his challenger.
"No license, no park. I must close the place down."
The tall guy took a few steps back and motioned for his friends to huddle. While they were whispering, George felt sorry he left his gun under the seat of his car. God knows what are those guys capable ofÖ. He leaned on one of the horses - a black mare, stretched forward from the tip of his nose to the end of his tail like a flying arrow. The wood was strange, it seemed warm to Georgeís touch, even a bit moist. Whatís that, wet paint? George inspected his hand; no, it wasnít dirty. Just in case, he decided not to lean his hands on anything anymore, save for his own hips.
The consultation ended and the tall guy returned to the Deputy, "Sir, canít we arrange something? A temporary license maybe?"
"Where thereís a will, thereís a way." The good cop leaped out, taking over Georgeís face.
"So can weÖ."
"You have to pay for a temporary license," George tried to think of a sum that would look reasonable and yet will leave him with a hefty profit, "Fifty bucks. I mean, hundred."
The man put his hand in his pocket. George noted to himself that he didnít raise any objections, thereforeÖ.
"And thirty more Ė er Ė state tax."
"So itís one-thirty, yes?"
"Not including VAT. One-fifty total." George pushed his luck down to the very limit. The tall guy took a tattered leather wallet out of his pocket and, without counting, pulled a heap of bills and gave them to George, "There you go". Maybe I should have gone for two hundred, thought George; that could have been a nice round sum.
He took the money with his sweaty palms, counted it, and then counted again. He was very surprised to find out that there were indeed two hundred dollars there; six twenties and eight tens.
"AhemÖ." he started to say.
"So itís ok? We can have our temporary license?"
"Yeah, I guess. Itíll take me a few days to run through the whole paperwork at the office."
"Weíre leaving tomorrow morning."
"Well Ė then you wonít need Ė anyway, you can proceed." He quickly backed down in the direction of his pickup, and the tall guy joined his friends and they resumed working. The Dodge took off, leaving a cloud of dust and satisfaction in its wake.
* * *
"Honey, pass the steaks."
"Hand me the beans, baby."
A whirlwind of food products swirled all around Danny, while he just sat there, leaning his head on his hands, thinking carousel thoughts.
"Eat something, baby," his mother said, "Look at what Daddy made."
Danny allowed her to drop some meat onto his plate without protesting. His father was never a great cook, but this time the food quality has hit rock bottom. The lamb chops were burned and the steaks still bled. Only the canned baked beans, and the salad, which was made by Mom, were edible. Dannyís siblings apparently didnít care about those culinary deficiencies. They were busy chewing, their jaws moved back and forth in a steady rhythm. Danny was observing the sorry excuse for lunch on his plate when he heard his name. It was spoken in a tone of voice that was even louder than usual.
"Danny, what the matter with you? Iím talking to you. Why arenít you eating?"
"Leave him alone, Bobby," the mother tried to defend her youngest son, "Heíll eat everything now, wonít you, Danny?"
"Everyoneís eating, except for him," the father grumbled, "Whatís the matter, you donít like it?"
"Dad, can I go to the Luna Park tonight?" Danny plunged off the deep end, "They have this carousel and bumping cars andÖ."
"Youíre a bit too young for cars, arenít you?" His oldest sister Heather giggled.
"Ö And a roller-coaster and stuff!"
The fatherís face was already getting covered with the shades of a negative response, but the mother was quick to recognize a window of opportunity.
"If youíll finish everything, you can go," she said.
"Whatís the matter with you, Jennifer? You want us to spend money on carousels?"
"Bobby, give the boy a break. Now heís going to finish his dinner, right sweetheart?"
Danny tried, he really did. He shoved the dark lamb chop into his mouth and tried to chew the rubbery meat. He even managed to swallow some, with no major negative effects.
"Good, eh?" asked his father.
"Danny swung his head up and down to indicate a positive reply. This turned out to be a major error; the motion caused an unruly piece of meat to climb from his stomach back up to his throat. Danny began to cough and choke, and soon had to empty the entire contents of his mouth back onto his plate.
"Look at what your son did," Dannyís father shouted at his wife, "Throwing up in the middle of a family dinner, thatís disgusting!"
"Calm down, Bobby. You just gave him a lot, so heÖ." but Bobby wasnít listening to his wife anymore. He grabbed his son by the hand and dragged him in the direction of the second floor staircase.
"Go to your room. Youíre grounded for the rest of the day, you got me?"
Danny went up the stairs with tears in his eyes, listening to his brothers and sisters, who took a break from chewing to have a good laugh at his expense.
Shoulders slumped, he scaled the staircase and entered his room on the second floor. He closed the door, blocking out any voices from below. Then, he went up to the closet and took out a box of crayons. He sat at his desk, took a clean sheet of paper and started drawing. Soon he forgot all his trouble, swimming in an ocean of shapes and colors.
* * *
Matt stood in front of a mirror and stuck his tongue out at his reflection. He was almost ready for the big date with Heather, and only a few final touches remained. He sprayed himself with aftershave and deodorant - not too little, and not too much, then checked his biceps in the mirror - everything was in place. He entered his room and put on his green shirt. Then he opened the table drawer, and took out a small plastic square, which he put into the back pocket of his pants. He was almost ready to leave, but then, with the self-confidence of his age, took two more identical squares and put them into the same pocket. He walked into the living room, got the car keys, said goodbye to his parents and left.
* * *
Martha Cash was surprised to see her husband in a cheerful mood upon his return from a long day of upholding the law. Usually George would return home nervous, bearing stories of stupid campers getting lost, dirty Ďinjunsí setting up illegal trading booths, and similar professional challenges. But this time, from the moment he entered the house, she could notice something was amiss. Firstly, he was smiling when he came through the door. Secondly, he walked to her and kissed her, on both cheeks and then on the lips! Next, he never criticized her cooking during dinner, not once. When she gathered the courage to ask him for the meaning of all this, he replied: "Honey, thereís a Luna Park in town tonight, do you want to go?"
* * *
Danny was so immersed in his work that he didnít hear the door open and didnít notice someone was in the room. When a hand was placed softly on his shoulder, he didnít have to turn around to recognize the touch of his sister. Immediately, he covered the drawing with both hands.
"What you got there?" asked Heather.
"Nothing, just drawing. Nothing special."
"Let me see!"
"I donít wanÖ Ayyyyy!"
Heather had extensive experience in dealing with her young brother, being her parentsí favorite babysitter. She knew exactly which buttons to push. Her hands reached around his body, left and right, somewhere between the fifth and sixth rib, and her fingers moved swiftly. Against this combined attack, Danny didnít have a chance. He tried to curl into a ball in order to escape the tickling, filling the room with his laughter. Meanwhile, Heather got a good look at the drawing on the table.
"Wow," she said, finally freeing her brother from her grip, "Thatís beautiful, what is it?"
"Itís nothing." The laughing sunshine on Dannyís face was now partly clouded.
"I didnít know you were so gifted. And now tell me," said Heather, "Did you want to go to the Luna Park?"
"Yes." Danny admitted without raising his eyes off the page.
"So get dressed. Be ready in five minutes. Donít tell anything to Mom or Dad."
"But Dad saidÖ."
"Do you want to go to the Luna Park or do you want to listen to Dad? Just get dressed, Ok?" Heather walked away without expecting an answer. Only at that time did Danny find the time to turn his head around and look at her. This time it was his turn to go Ďwowí, even though he did it quietly and to himself. Heather was wearing a tight red dress, and her black hair, combed in perfectly straight lines, was glowing dimly like a precious stone.
After she left, Danny carefully folded the drawing and put it at the bottom of the closet. Then he started to put on his jeans and shoes as if his life depended on it.
* * *
The new white Chevy stopped in front of Bobby and Jenniferís house. Quickly, Heather pushed her brother into the back seat, and before her date had a chance to object to this unwelcome addition, she slid inside and put her hand on his shoulder.
"Hi Matt, this is Danny, my brother. Heís going to the Luna Park with us."
"What are you talking about, I thought we were going to the disco?"
"First I want to ride the bumping cars Ö a little," she said in her best spoiled-princess tone and leaned backwards.
"Ok, bumping cars," this combination of words clearly had the effect of lowering Mattís resistance, "And then to the disco, ok?"
From the second floor window, Jennifer watched the Chevy as it drove away. She glanced at her husband who was lying on their bed, watching a Monday Night Football rerun. She wondered if she should say anything about the third person that entered the car.
"So, they left?"
"Yes, Bobby, they left. Heather and the Branton boy. ButÖ."
"Fucking Branton!" Bobby sputtered.
"Calm down, Bobby. You know you shouldnít get mad," Jennifer lay on the bed next to her husband, "Is there something else on TV?" she tried hopefully.
* * *
The Luna Park was now working in full swing. An alley of lights welcomed all who came through the gate on which the letters "Aurora Borealis" were glowing. Behind it, the wooden horses of the carousel were going in circles, the little cars bumped into each other, and the one and only wagon of the roller coaster went back and forth on its rails above the heads of the visitors. The four employers were manning their positions: the three men were supervising the rides, and the girl ran the archery contest and managed to sell some sweet corn as well.
Dozens of families were there, either waiting for their turn to embark a ride, shooting arrows into balloons, or just sailing the sea of lights. Here and there, stood a few distorting funhouse mirrors. Those were big favorites with the children.
George Cashís kids, who were given a small advance on their allowance, immediately spread across the park, leaving their parents alone amid the crowd.
"Look, Martha, theyíve got prizes here!" George pointed at the archery booth.
"You think youíll win something? Maybe we should take a car ride?"
"I was a sniper at the National Guard. Iíll showíem." George paid a dollar to the brunette, took the small crossbow in his hands, took a good aim at the orange balloon and let the arrow fly. He missed. Another shot, another miss. Third shot Ė Bang!
"Did you see this, Martha?" and since his wife was busy seeking out the kids and didnít notice him, he turned back to the girl, "What did I win?"
Without a word, the girl pointed at the sign above her head, which said: "Three strikes Ė grand prize! Two strikes Ė great prize! One strike Ė try again!"
George turned to the girl again, but she was now busy selling sweet corn to a couple of kids and paid no attention to him.
He circled the park slowly. His kids passed above his head on the roller coaster, shouting and waving at him. He waved back, barely lifting his hand to shoulder height. Behind him, a scream of joy was heard - someone had won a prize; not the grand prize, he hoped. As he was walking around the archery booth, his foot hit something on the floor. It was one of the arrows, which had missed its target, and was now lying on the ground. George picked up the arrow, looked at it, looked at the booth, and then had an idea.
* * *
"Here, take a buck, ride the carousel or something," and after he thus got rid of the kid, Matt exclaimed, "Letís go to the cars!"
He and Heather somehow managed to cram themselves into the tiny car. The small arena barely had enough room for two cars, but the park owners decided to place four vehicles there. The other three were driven by kids who could barely reach the pedals, and Matt had no difficulty to become King-of-the-hill.
He pushed and shoved the other cars aside, his car dominating the arena like a tank. Heather sat motionlessly beside him and whispered in his ear not to get overzealous, not to break anyoneís arm or leg - those were kids after all. She wasnít sure he heard any of that.
* * *
Danny sat on the back of the white stallion, and the carousel started to spin, slowly at first, and then faster and faster. Eventually it was going so fast that Danny could no longer distinguish any details from the external world. All he saw were streaks of light, and all he heard were the screams of the other kids, who were holding their iron rods so tight that their fingers became white. He removed his left hand from the rod and gently stroked his horseís head. The hair was soft like the fur of the carpet in his room, but much more gentle. Slowly, he lowered his head to the horseís ear and whispered something. The horse turned his head slightly and revealed two rows of perfectly white teeth.
"I knew it!" whispered Danny. The stallion moved his head right and left.
"Iím not telling," said Danny and looked around. The other kids were still busy screaming and holding on. The horse bared its teeth again and moved his head up and down. The carousel slowed down gradually, until it finally stopped. The children jumped off their horses and ran into their mothersí arms laughing. Danny descended slowly, patting the black horseís head one more time.
Then he bumped head to stomach with Matt.
"Weíve been looking for you, kid."
"I was at the carousel, like you told me."
"Ok, ok. Listen, weíre moving on now, so hereís another buck, have a good time."
"Do you know the way home?" Heather asked, before Mattís strong hand would drag her away.
"Yes." said Danny. She blew him a kiss and disappeared.
* * *
Martha Cash wasnít too happy to cooperate with her husbandís scheme, but he used the good-cop-bad-cop tactics on her as well. After some threats, combined with promises, she finally agreed to step up to the archery booth. She paid a dollar, took the crossbow, aimed without much zest, and shot an arrow in the direction of one of the balloons. Bang! - The yellow balloon exploded, even though Marthaís arrow clearly missed it. George, from the other side of the wooden wall, smirked quietly to himself. When he saw his wife taking aim again, he pushed his arrow though a crack in the wall and burst another balloon.
After the third time, Martha was honorably presented with the Ďgrand prizeí, which turned out to be a somewhat unattractive table lamp. George walked around the booth to meet her, when he stopped cold in his tracks seeing a hideous monster in front of him Ė and as quickly as he got scared, he calmed himself down, seeing that this was just one of those funhouse mirrors. Strange, he didnít recall seeing it here last time; were they moving the mirrors around?
"Well, are you happy?" Martha presented her win to him without enthusiasm.
"Sure Iím happy. Letís do it again."
"Again? Iím not sure I want to do this anymore."
"Are you dumb or something? Canít you see weíre on a roll here?"
George stood behind the booth for most of the evening. He didnít care about the jaundiced looks from the other park visitors. Until Martha had won all the prizes, he was there, sticking his arrow into the cracks time and again. Then he gathered up their kids and they walked to the car, laden with table lamps, ballpoint pens, beer mugs and other paraphernalia.
* * *
Matt was driving the Chevy slowly, which was unusual for him. The beat of the music was still hitting his temples, together with the large amounts of alcohol. They left the old factory, where the disco was located, and were driving on the service road, which was supposed to take them to the highway, and from there back to town.
Suddenly, the car stopped at the side of the road. Heather, who was very tired after hours of dancing and was already beginning to doze off, woke up straight away.
"Nothing, just wanted to talk."
"Talk then," she said with a smile.
Instead of answering, Matt leaned over her and kissed her lips. He felt Heather melting in his arms - but she refused to cooperate with his tongue.
He sent his hand behind her back and found the zipper of her red dress.
"No." she said, pulling away.
Matt was not a man easily daunted. He held her in his arms and pulled her close to him once more, and again she tried to draw away. He held her tight, denying her the ability to move. She tried to struggle, but couldnít help it. He reached for the zipper again.
"Let me go!" she screamed, but there was no one to hear her. She tried to pull herself away with all her strength. The crimson cloth stretched itself, moaning in agony, until a tearing sound released it from its misery. Heather managed to get one hand free, and sunk her nails deep inside Mattís cheek. Now came his turn to scream, and she managed to set herself free. She left the car much faster that she entered it a few hours ago. After regaining at least a fraction of his composure, Matt followed her.
"Iím sorry, Ok? Got carried away a little."
Heather stood about twenty paces away, clinging to the shreds of her dress. Even though the night was warm, she was shivering. Matt started to walk in her direction.
"Donít come any closer!"
"Calm down, ok? It was nothing."
"You calm down, maniac! Look what you did!" she backed down two steps for every one of his.
"Oh come on, like what did I do? I was trying to do you a favor."
"Yeah. Heather Smith, the daughter of the biggest loser in town. Whoís gonna want you anyway?"
"Donít dare to even mention my dad! And donít come near!" she pointed her fingernails at him.
"Your dadís a loser. Oh yeah, my dad whooped his ass in the elections r-e-a-l good! So I thought, I should do his daughter a favor. And youíre just an ungratefulÖ."
"Get away from me, jerk!" Although the nearest houses were over two miles away, her screams became so loud that Matt began to fear someone might hear her after all.
"Ok, enough of that shit," he turned back to the car, "Are you coming or not?"
Heather didnít answer. Matt sat behind the wheel of the Chevy and motioned Heather to join him. She gave him the finger. That was too much for Matt; he pressed the accelerator pedal and drove away, almost running over his ex-girlfriendís foot along the way. Heather stood there for a few moments, fuming. Then, the moon came out from behind the clouds and smiled at her. Heather smiled back, kicked off her high-heels and began to walk in the direction of the townís streetlights.
* * *
One of those lights was illuminating the house in which Danny just woke up. He got out of bed and started to dress. This was not an easy task, since his whole body was aching. His father caught him returning home at a quarter-to-midnight, and the punishment was swift. He tiptoed to the living room and opened the houseís door. Without even bothering to close it behind him, he turned to a well-known destination.
* * *
In another house, very similar to that one, George Cash woke up from his sleep, feeling very thirsty. He went to the kitchen and opened the refrigerator. As he was searching for a can of coke or a milk carton, he saw something that made him freeze in his place. Right there, between the cheese and the salami, stood a small crossbow, identical to the one he shot earlier tonight at the Luna Park - except that this one was made entirely of ice. The arrow loaded in it was also of ice, and its sharp tip sparkled like a diamond. Before George had a chance to even scratch his head, the arrow was shot straight at his chest. He fell to the floor, a sharp ice stake in his heart. In the morning, his wife found him lying there, next to the open refrigerator, in a puddle of blood and water.
* * *
"Fuck her," thought Matt as he reached the highway, "At least my dad is a Mayor, and hers is a goddamn loser."
Only a few minutes, and heíll be home, where he can crash in his bed and forget all about this disastrous date. He saw an oncoming car with its long-distance headlights on. He sputtered a curse between his teeth, and signaled to the other driver with his own headlights - but the latter refused to take the hint. Matt cursed again and stared at the white stripe at the right edge of the road.
The other car veered slightly to the left, and was now right in the middle of the road, about quarter of a mile away. Matt clicked his headlights again, but to no avail. He swerved a bit to the right, but the other car imitated his motion. The frosty fingers of fear grasped Mattís heart. He tried to move to the left, and the other driver followed and was right in front of him still. When the vehicles were but a few yards apart, Matt turned the steering wheel sharply and hit the brakes. At that time, the other car hit the side of his car, and Matt caught a glimpse of the small bumping car in which he rode only a few hours ago. At the next second, Matt lost control of the Chevy. It rolled over and hit a tree, killing him on the spot.
* * *
Danny reached the sandy plain, where the remainders of Luna Park were being dismantled. The four partners greeted him with slight nods, not surprised at all to see him. The fat Russian pointed at the open truck and Danny climbed inside. There he saw the nine horses, standing between a heap of roller coaster parts and three little cars stacked onto each other. He fondled their heads one by one and they licked his hands.
"Poor creatures," the curly head of the girl appeared in the truckís opening, "They donít have anything to eat here. Itís ok, darlings, weíll move on in no time."
* * *
The truckís engine rumbled across the interstate at dawn. Near Albuquerque, when the sun was already ablaze in the sky, a pair of state troopers pulled them over.
"What seems to be the problem, officer?"
"Thereís a missing child report. Weíre checking all the semi-trailer trucks that match this description."
"No problem, officer, check away." The foursome waited in their vehicle as the troopers opened the truck and investigated it. Since they didnít know what to look for, they didnít notice anything strange in the fact that there were now ten wooden horses inside, or that one of the tiny cars was badly battered, almost broken in half.
"So, where you headed?" asked the trooper, giving the driver his license back.
"Thatís a long trip, isnít it? Whatís there is Oregon?"
"Grass," was the laconic reply, as the engine came back to life.
* * *
Six month later, Heather sat in her room, writing in her diary. As she did each day, she dedicated a few lines to her brother, who hasnít been heard from since he ran away from home that night. She looked at the picture hanging above her desk. It was a final souvenir from Danny, the last thing he drew before disappearing. After Heather found it in his closet, she insisted to hang it in her room; her parents didnít mind.
On the rectangular piece of paper, ten horses pranced merrily on a green meadow, their manes and tails waving in the wind. After Heather sighed and lowered her head back to the diary, the small stallion at the front of the picture raised his head and winked at her.
Bio: Alex is an electronics engineer. He is 35 years old and has two children.
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