Bookcase Short Stories


(c) Arike van de Water 2007-2009

Merry he Goes Round

The caroussel at the Moscone Convention Centre in San Francisco had seen a lot of use. Many children wanted to go on it once they saw it. Even on a rainy day, some parents trundled their squirts up to the glass-fronted display of horses, carriages and other things to sit on. Only in the late afternoon, when rush hour approached and everyone wanted to avoid it, would the audience return to their cars and quiet descend on the place. That was the summer. In winter it was often as unmoving and remote as the light stone of the entire block, broken up only with shrubbery that had been picked for its longevity, not for its looks.

On the stairs that led up to the caroussel sat a boy that looked human, but wasn't. He ate ice-cream. His dark hair flopped into light blue eyes, grey-white skin not unusual in this season, although it made him sickly in appearance. He wore only a shirt, jeans and sneakers. People might have commented on him, had it been possible for them to do so. For no one saw the boy.

Castor had only just learned to become forgettable, and he was now trying so hard that people's eyes slid right past him before their minds had a chance to notice he was there. He hadn't payed for the ice-cream.

He took a contented lick from the candy-cane and triple-chocolate scoops, with fudge sauce liberally dribbled over the cone. If his mother discovered he'd been eating sugar again, she'd strip his hide and put him in his room for the three weeks it took to grow back. And then he would be on a strictly blood-only diet. He hated the taste of blood. The only reason he took it, two big dripbags 'foraged' from the hospital each week, was that he liked to live.

He slurped up a trickle that tried to escape down the cone and his fingers. He closed his eyes to enjoy the chocolate explosion that blossomed on his tongue. He loved ice-cream in winter, it didn't melt as quickly, so he could enjoy it properly. The cold didn't bother him, not when he could command his body to warm up in a trice.

While he ate the rest of his ice-cream, Castor kept one eye out for danger. He searched each straggler as they came by, shopping bags glutted with department store treasures and China town goodies, the only reason for tourists to frequent San Francisco in winter and after christmas, that and the sea lions. Their quick pace brought them past Moscone, and to the parking garage on 4th and Mission.

When his ice-cream was gone, Castor rose and brushed, or tried to brush, his sticky hands against his pants, instead, they stuck. He fumbled with one pocket, opening it with a hand and gingerly lifted out something that had once been a paper towel with the other hand. Now it was shreds held together by bogeys. He wiped his hands on it. While he was distracted with putting it in his pocket, he missed the first glimpse of a very familiar face. When he looked up again, and saw it very close by, he froze. His mother.

He stood as still as he could. It would not help to run now. Please don't see me, he pleaded in his head. His mother came up the street in quick strides, her gaze sweeping either side of the street in turn. Her eyes focused directly on him. He swallowed. A frown formed on her face, and her eyes slipped unwillingly away, compelled by his shielding not to see him.

She strode away. Castor's heart lifted in his chest with great, beating wings. His mother could not see him. He could go anywhere and she would never catch him. He could even eat a second helping of ice-cream.

He made a pirouette in search of something to do next. His gaze fell on the caroussel, empty except for a single toddler held on a horse by its mother. Of course! The most forbidden thing, to play in an enclosed space with mortals present. He grinned. He could do anything now. He dashed up the stairs and into the glass enclosure, onto a horse of his own. A giggle nearly escaped, but that might have betrayed his presence. Perhaps his shielding would not hold up with sound. So he bit his lip and went in circles and circles of fun. The world spun around him, before him, all the world that he could explore without fear of discovery. He could even go in the same toilet as a mortal, he thought giddily, and his mother would never know, and the mortal would never know, but he would know. He could break every rule as much as he wished. This knowledge like a drug in his head, spinning the world wilder than the caroussel could, he went circles with the toddler until mother and child went away. Then he waited, and went round again with two girls and an anxious father for company. And he waited, and went round again by himself, and again. He spun until late at night, invisible to the world.