"Well, isn't this an arresting situation."
Sara screamed in surprise and spun around. Joel stood behind her in the shadows, one thumb hanging from a belt loop, the fingers of his other hand fumbling inside the fob pocket on the front of his waistcoat. His stovepipe hat made his silhouette look too tall, and despite the dark, his bad eye almost seemed to glow white.
"Kara's had a fit," Sara managed to say, her breath regained. She paused. Joel didn't move, didn't speak. "We need to get help."
Then Joel finally came to life. He walked around to Kara, circling the unconscious girl slowly, until he was standing opposite Sara. Behind him, across the carnival paddock, stood the dark carousel. He stared down at the body, apparently unconcerned and unwilling to lend assistance.
Sara stepped forward. "Come on, Joel! I'm going to get — "
There was a cranking sound from somewhere ahead. Sara jumped, her attention drawn to the machines arrayed behind the carnival master.
The fairground attractions on either side of paddock had lit up faintly, strings of bare colored bulbs that outlined their frames buzzing softly in the evening air. The light flickered rhythmically, almost like a heartbeat. Like her heartbeat, Sara realized with growing fear. She held her breath, willing the lights to stop, but they didn't. Still Joel stood, silent, unmoving.
Sara stumbled backward, fear coursing through her body. The cranking sound increased in volume, increased in tempo, as all around the lights on the carnival rides glowed brighter and brighter, but not in synch. The light spread out from the stall of wooden clown heads to her left — heads that were all facing her, their mouths gaping — and grew in brightness as it swept around clockwise. Sara turned her head and watched as the rides on her right lit up, the wave of bright white, red and yellow sweeping back around, meeting in the middle with the light from the other side.
Sara felt her heart in her chest. The lights of the carnival pulsed to the same beat.
In the center of the field, the carousel lit up in a blaze of Victorian glory. The giant machine was an orgy of elaborately carved and painted wood: horses, unicorns, and winged versions of each; dragons, centaurs, and other things: things with tentacles and heads like starfish, undersea monstrosities that scared adults but that children loved. At the center, crouched above the steam-powered organ, sat the carved wooden form of a monkey, its eyes cut red crystals that shone as bright as the bulbs that ran along the edge of the carousel's revolving platform.
Sara fell onto the damp grass on her backside, jarring her elbows as she instinctively put her arms out behind her. She tried to push herself backward, away from the nightmare in front of her, but she felt like she weighed a thousand tons, each movement a titanic effort.
Joel spread his arms out wide as he stood behind Kara's unconscious form, then he turned to face the carousel. He tilted his head back and began to chant. Sara couldn't understand the language. All she felt was fear, cold and pure. Then her attention was taken away from Joel by something else.
The fairground was moving. Joel bobbed his arms up and down, the rise and fall of a conductor directing his orchestra. As he swayed here and there, up and down, so the machines around him responded. The big dipper behind the carousel rocked, the movements of the sailing ship that swung like a giant pendulum matching the side-to-side motion of Joel. The lights on the Ferris wheel looming over everything on the other side flickered and buzzed, and the wheel rolled in either direction, all in time to Joel.
Sara's eyes crawled around the ring of machines in horror. Each of them moved, twitching in time with one another and in time with their master. The lights were on full now, and they pulsed, almost organically, as power ebbed and flowed, ebbed and flowed. Far and near, far and near, as Joel swayed and swung his arms from side to side, side to side. In front of Joel, the carousel puffed like a steam train as the engine at its heart sprang to life, and it began to rotate, slowly at first, spinning about its axis as it should. In the machine's hub was a pipe organ, surrounded by mechanical puppets and automaton musicians, and on top sat the monkey, as large as a small child. It's red eyes were glowing, and the organ started to play, a drone, a tuneless wailing, a whistling of pipes that sank into Sara's bones, the sound of stars falling, the sound of the endless cold of space.
Joel swayed and the carousel began to accelerate, faster and faster, around and around. Sara watched the painted horses and elephants and monsters whip around, their forms and lights blurring in the misty evening air. The discordant drones of the pipe organ formed a familiar fairground melody. But it was slow, somehow, and out of tune. As Sara watched she felt her heart beat and her head thump, in time to the music, in time to the pulsing lights.
The pipe organ melody turned into a single shrill blast, and the carousel suddenly braked. Sparks flared from the undercarriage beneath the painted wooden skirt.
In the center of the merry-go-round, between the monsters that orbited the hub, the automatons on the pipe organ began to move. Maybe they were supposed to, maybe the carved wooden animals spinning around just gave the whole thing that zoetrope flicker. Sara blinked. She couldn't take her eyes off it. She pushed back, felt the air leave her lungs, felt the sweat on her brow.
The automatons had turned, and they were all looking at her. In the center of it all, the monkey sat, and now it was pointing at her, its eyes burning red.
Sara screamed and Joel turned around, his gray-white eye now glowing red.
He smiled, and Sara screamed again.
From Hang Wire by Adam Christopher. Copyright 2014 by Angry Robot. Excerpted by permission of Angry Robot.