The Brass Ring

(A short-short by me that won the August 2011 short story contest, held by the Aspiring Writers group on LinkedIn. The theme was “Adventure”, genre was “Young Adult”, and focus was “Amusement Park”, with strict word count of 715 words)

Cecile hid her tear-swelled eyes behind her long black hair.

“Have a great time!” bubbled the park employee as she took the ticket. Cecile muttered a “thanks” and struggled through the turnstile. Dusk’s light peeked behind her, framing her slender silhouette.

At the midway, Cecile closed her eyes and immersed herself in the surroundings. The amusement park had always been her escape. The dazzling lights, smell of cotton candy, and roar of machinery — they filled her senses and muted her sorrows.

CarouselRejuvenated, Cecile strolled into the carousel’s line. The ornate mirrors and incandescent light-bulbs gleamed. As smiles and laughter accompanied the disembarking ones, she noticed a twenty-something boy stayed behind on a Pegasus. He had curly, brown hair and wore a retro varsity jacket. She met his gaze and he smiled. He looks familiar. Curious, she weaved her way to a glittering pony next to him.

“Your face’s longer than these horses’.” The boy winked.
Blushing, Cecile closed her hair curtain.
“Apologies for my pathetic attempt at humor. Name’s Henry. You’re Cecile?”
“How’d you know?”
Henry pointed to the embroidery on her bag.
“Oh. Thought maybe we’ve met before.”
“Maybe! I’m always here.”

The pony and Pegasus began galloping to the calliope music. Henry flexed and flapped his arms, pretending that he was really flying a Pegasus, along with a million other silly poses. Cecile watched and cracked a smile.

“Aha! The princess’ smile’s brighter than the carousel!”
“Is your middle name ‘corny’?” Cecile rolled her eyes, still smiling.
“That, and ‘swell’, and ‘charming’. By the way, the Ferris wheel said we should go ride it.”
“Oh really?” she scoffed. “The rides talk to you?”
“When you spend eternity here, you resonate with them.”
“You need to add ‘poet’ to your middle names.”
They laughed, adding to the sense of wonder in the air.

Henry leaped off the carousel just as it stopped, even before Cecile could dismount. They meandered together to the Ferris wheel. The white gondolas were adorned with golden carriage motifs; the operator wore a top hat, a long black coat and white gloves.

“Here ya go, ma’am.” The operator tipped his hat and opened the waiting carriage’s door.
Henry sneaked in before Cecile. “Hope ya don’t mind a stowaway,” he smirked.
The operator did not react. Cecile curtsied in jest and followed Henry. The wheel then started turning.

“My mom passed a year ago today. Haven’t been back here since.” She turned away to admire the setting sun. “I couldn’t stop crying at the grave today.”
“I’m sure she’s at a good place.”
“You wouldn’t know.”
Henry smiled like the sunrise, “But I do.”
Cecile believed him.

They spent the rest of the evening gallivanting around the park. They conquered the ferocious Matterhorn and stomached the dizzying Teacups. Even the Pirate Ship was no match for them. The park was almost empty when midnight crept up on them.

“Cinderella needs to head home soon?”
Cecile forced a smile. “Either that or I turn into an ugly gremlin.”
“Better that than the horse face earlier.” Henry cackled.
Cecile laughed and swatted at him, but he glided away.
“Come on, you can ride the train back to the entrance.”
She huffed but smiled again.

The train station was devoid of visitors. Only the distant sound of roller coasters punctuated the silence. Cecile boarded the last car.

“You’re not coming?”
“Nah, gonna stick around a bit longer.”
“You really do like this park, don’t you?”
Henry grinned, “I just can’t leave.”
The train started to roll away.
Cecile tightened. “Wait! Will I see you again?”
“Just bring the brass ring,” he winked.

The train horn drew Cecile’s attention. When she looked back, Henry was gone.

Brass ring? Bewildered, she fished out an old photo from her bag. The shot was taken at dusk, with her and her mother in front of the carousel in this park. Reflected in a mirror of the carousel was a twenty-something boy with curly hair; he wore the same varsity jacket as Henry’s.

Cecile’s heart skipped a beat. Henry took that picture decades ago! Afterward, he gave her a brass ring so she could ride again. Instead, she saved it as a keepsake and had been carrying it with her ever since.