Chapter 13: The dark carousel
...... Tuning out his science master's droning voice, Alex gazed surreptitiously out the open window. Boys on the carousel were playing catch with tennis balls. It looked like a lot of fun.
...... He shifted his gaze sharply back to his teacher as he heard the man raise his voice.
...... "How in heaven's name," declared the master, breaking his drone, "are boys supposed to concentrate with that infernal so-called music?" He strode to the double-paned window and slammed it shut, silencing the carousel.
...... Returning to the front of his class, the master droned again.
...... Boring, boring, boring! Alex looked once more through the window at what was now a silent movie--in an increasingly hot and stuffy theater.
...... An eternity later, Alex snapped his attention back to his classroom as the master again tromped to the window. The teacher jerked it open, letting in both cool air and carousel music. "It's either noise or suffocation," he said with a sigh.
...... Alex gazed intently at the window; while he could feel the fresh air streaming in to the classroom, he wanted to see it as well.
...... On the carousel, one of the boys fell. As if in slow motion, Alex saw the boy looking up from the carousel deck as the great black hoofs of Bucephalus came down on him. But, as if the horse were showing mercy, the hooves started up again. At the same time, the boy rolled sideways and flew off the carousel and onto the grass.
...... Alex shivered. What if the hooves had kept coming down? Abruptly then, the music stopped. The music. Bucephalus was just dancing to the music.
...... "Thank God," he heard his science master say. At first Alex thought the thanks were offered for the kid's escape, but then the master went on, "Now that the racket has ceased, we can return to our discussion of atoms." He pulled down what looked like a window shade, revealing a chart with the heading, The Periodic Table of the Elements. After a second or two of silence, the master added, "Mr. Griffen. Kindly give us your attention."
...... "Yes, sir," said Alex, startled, forcing his attention from the window. If Bucephalus had reins, the kid could have grabbed them.
...... Disoriented and panicked, Alex gazed up
at the sky filled with bright stars and a full moon. He lay supine on the rocky
ground as a black silhouette, made visible against the sky by the absence of
stars, grew bigger above him. He opened his mouth to scream as he saw that the
dark void was Bucephalus, his horse, and its hooves were descending inexorably
toward his face. And he was paralyzed, unable to move a muscle--not even able
to scream. Why, Bucephalus? Why do you want to kill me?
...... Alex woke with a start, his face cold and clammy, his breathing heavy. He wondered if he really did scream--apparently not, for everyone in the dorm-row was still sleeping. Through the window, he saw the first dim light of early dawn. He had time for more sleep, but not the desire. He rolled softly to a sitting position and slipped his feet into his bathroom sandals. Then he slipped out of them again. This time, he'd go fully dressed. After visiting Bucephalus, he could simply stroll in to breakfast.
...... Kneeling on his bunk, he grabbed his clothes and dressed. Then, quietly, he put on his shoes and stood--and winced at the creaking of the ancient wood floorboards. He took a tentative step, putting his foot down slowly and gradually transferring his weight to it.
...... "Where are you going?" came a whispered voice behind him.
...... Alex gritted his teeth and turned, expecting that Todd had caught him again. But he saw Todd still asleep and Woodchuck leaning up on his shoulders.
...... "I'm...I'm going for a walk," Alex whispered.
...... "Shh." Alex turned and took another soft step.
...... "I'm coming, too," came Woodchuck's whispered voice from behind.
...... "What?" Alex hardly had any choice. "Okay. But be quiet." He waited for Woodchuck to dress. Then he took soft baby steps away from his dorm-row. Woodchuck followed.
...... "Woodchuck!" said Alex in a loud whisper when they'd passed through the door of the dorm. "Why are you following me?"
...... "Where are you going?"
...... Alex couldn't think of any answer except the truth. "I'm going to the carousel."
...... "Well, I.... I want to see it at sunrise. I bet it will look like Stonehenge."
...... "Hey. Cool!"
...... "All right," Alex whispered, moving away to the stairs. "Come on."
...... On the ground floor, Alex explained that he was going to unlock a whole lot of locked doors to the outside. "I want to make sure I can back in before breakfast if I want to. The last time, I got locked out."
...... Woodchuck giggled. "Yeah, I know," he said. "Todd told me."
...... Alex pursed his lips and didn't say anything. Now he knew for sure that Todd was the one who'd locked him out. I'll get even, Todd.
...... They went out the front door and cut North across the Dalambertian.
...... At the carousel, Woodchuck said "This is sort of spooky." He glanced at the control panel box. "Boy it would be neat if we could turn on the carousel. It would really be spooky riding it in the dark." He nodded at the box. "Too bad we can't open that."
...... "Wolfgang could probably open it."
...... "The APES kid?" said Woodchuck in a disparaging voice. "Come on."
...... "Really!" said Alex. "Everyone knows Wolfgang can open locks. And it's ESAP not APES."
...... "Whatever." Woodchuck hopped on to the deck of the carousel and started to mount a horse."
...... "Not that one," Alex called out. "That horse is mine."
...... Woodchuck gave a puzzled look, then a tiny shrug. He moved to another horse and sprang into the saddle. "Hey, this really is cool," he said, gazing off at the dark school against a slightly less dark background. "It looks like a castle." He spurred his wooden horse with imaginary spurs, then looked back at Alex who was now astride his own horse. "We're knights returning home from a quest."
...... "Yeah," said Alex with a chuckle.
...... "Why don't we start a club," said Woodchuck, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. "Sort of like the Knights of the Round Table. We can have meetings, and secret ceremonies, and initiations--just like Knights. And we won't let kids in who we don't like."
...... Alex considered it--his dark riders fantasy becoming an actual organization. "There's got to be a better purpose to the club," he said both to Woodchuck and himself, "than just keeping other kids out."
...... "Well..." Woodchuck executed an athletic vault, flipping around in the saddle to face backward. "What did the Knights of the Round Table do?" He leaned back against the pole rising up from where the saddle's pommel would be.
...... "They defended the weak and fought infidels." Alex smiled. "I'm not sure though, but maybe I'm an infidel." He paused. "I think it's more fun being an infidel."
...... "Me, too," said Woodchuck. "Riding through the dark and yelling war cries to strange gods."
...... Alex warmed to the idea of a club. "How 'bout we name ourselves the Knights of the Dark Riders of Zeus."
...... "King of the gods. The god of the sky and thunder."
...... "Yeah, I like that," said Woodchuck. "Let's do it. A secret society. And we can each have our own horse--to take care of and keep him clean."
...... "And we'll call our leader the Lord of the Dark Riders." Alex visualized himself in that role. Sir Alexander Griffin. Lord of the Dark Riders of Zeus.
...... "I'm going to name my horse...Fang." Woodchuck vaulted once more, to again face forward. "On, Fang!"
...... "Geez! Not so loud. You'll wake the whole school--both schools."
...... "Oh. Sorry!"
...... Alex thought more about what the Dark Riders would do. "We could defend the innocent, actually." He had a fleeting vision of Todd. "We could stop bullying at the school."
...... "Yeah, sure. How?" Woodchuck slapped his horse's rump and then looked over his shoulder. "The bullies are bigger than we are."
...... "By the Dark Riders banding together."
...... "Yeah, maybe," said Woodchuck. "But I think we should keep out older kids. The fourth-formers would probably try to take it away from us." He stepped hard on the stirrup posts, raising his seat a few inches off the saddle. "And...and we could share our cookie packages from home, and let the knights see each other's homework....As long as we don't have too many knights."
...... "We'll have nine knights," said Alex, firmly.
...... "Why?" Woodchuck cocked his head. "There are a lot more than nine horses."
...... "It's only a nine-hole golf course."
...... "Come on." Alex did a flying dismount to the deck of the carousel. "Let's go get our lances."
...... "Our what?"
...... Alex hopped from the deck and headed off to the golf course. "You'll see. Come on!"
...... When they'd reached the golf course, the dawn had come closer but color had yet to return to the world. The flag-sticks and their flags stood black against the less dark sky.
...... "Lances!" said Woodchuck, "Cool!"
...... They liberated two flag-sticks and played with them.
...... "This is fun," said Woodchuck.
...... "Yeah, but it's getting close to wakeup time. We'd better return our lances and go back."
...... "Yeah, okay," said Woodchuck, disappointment clear in his voice. But then he brightened. "Tomorrow is Sunday--no school. So why don't we come back tonight, after everyone's asleep."
...... "Fine with me," said Alex, starting away. "I like it here at night."
...... "And we can bring flashlights." Woodchuck ran to be level with Alex. "Can we invite Kevin and Roger?"
...... "Kevin's a good kid," said Alex. "But I don't know about Roger."
...... "He's no friend of Todd."
...... "How do you know?"
...... "He told me," said Woodchuck. "He said he hates Todd's guts."
...... "Fine, then. Invite him."