Palo Alto Weekly 26th Annual Short Story Contest
Second Place Teen

About Emily Katz

Short Story ContestWriting is more than an activity for me. Writing is a release, and a way of sharing my thoughts with other people. When I learned about the short story contest, I was thrilled that I could have the possibility of sharing with many people, that I had the chance to tell them a story.

I wrote multiple stories, and it took multiple tries, but I decided on this one simply because it was my favorite. I tried to work into it a message about the delicacies of life, how the smallest things and shortest moments can change us, and about how we should make every moment matter. I wanted to show the reader these different characters, with different stories and backgrounds, and intertwine their lives for a few simple minutes.

The end of the story is fairly open ended, leaving the reader to decide exactly where these people go with their lives. The people who ride the merry-go-round represent the fact that everyone has a story behind them, and that story is made up of moments like the ones they experience on the carousel.

by Emily Katz

Jerry loved carnivals. The smells of the sticky candies and the buttery popcorn, the bright colors and the men in costume, the thrilling rides, it all made him squeal with delight. Holding tight to his mother’s hand, he hopped up and down with joy as his little eyes darted around, not knowing where to look first. Then he saw it. It sat right in the center of the circle of rides, it’s loud music and dancing banners begging to be the center of attention. It circled slowly to the music, allowing those who rode it to see the entire park. Although in reality it was a giant, clammy piece of brightly colored plastic, in Jerry’s four-year-old eyes it was beautiful. He began to walk in the direction of the ride as fast as his stubby legs would carry him, tugging his mother behind him. She chuckled, and let him lead her around. When he got closer, he could see the horses moving up and down, as if they were galloping around and around. The ornate details glimmered in the afternoon sun, chipped gold paint that decorated the harness giving off its tarnished shine, and the pinks and greens and reds of the flowers that covered them. Their manes looked wind tossed and picturesque; their plastic hides perfectly brushed. Jerry imagined himself hopping onto one and stroking its head as it tossed and stamped, eager to be off. He whistled like he’d always wished he could, and his beauty took off into the sunset, to the adventures beyond. They would be best friends, through thick and thin, and would go every place they wanted. They would battle pirates with long beards and eye patches, and parrots that talked to them. They would fight off the invading robot army from mars, and save the planet, because without the planet there would be no adventures. Jerry stood there and dreamt. He wanted to be free from the cramped apartment waiting for him after his day at the carnival, free of his dad. In Jerry’s mind, his dad was huge; he took up every space in the house with his menacing presence. When his father fought with his mom, he could hear his great voice booming in his room as he tried to sleep through it. In the morning, his mother would smile at him with tired eyes and act like it was okay, but Jerry knew it wasn’t. He knew she was leaving soon, and it made him cry at night. The only things Jerry truly loved in this world were his mother and his imagination, and he couldn’t bear to lose one of them. So Jerry retreated into his mind, and he saw himself loving that horse like his mother, and he knew he had to ride it. He went through the line, hopped on his favorite horse and waited for the adventure to unfold.

Hailey turned up her music louder, trying to cover the annoyingly repetitive yet catchy carnival tunes with her favorite punk rock music. As she wandered around with a cynical gaze, all she saw was pink and red and yellow, and irritating sticky children everywhere. Lots of people trying to sell her something, too. She had been forced to accompany her younger sister here, and was determined to hate every second of it. She despised roller coasters, spinning rides, and any other ride that made her feel like she was about to plummet to her death. So, she avoided everything and everyone, standing by herself in a secluded corner of the park. Carnivals were one of the many things she loved to hate. But, glancing around, she saw it; a black horse. It looked oddly out of place among the carnival scene, contrasting greatly to the carousel on which it stood. Mesmerized, she stared into its rebellious eyes, and saw a fire captured behind the greasy plastic. It was in the process of tossing its head, his nostrils flared, fighting against the reins. It was surrounded by white horses, and light brown horses, covered in flowers and gold with gentile expressions. He stood out, yet blended in at the same time. Unadorned with anything but a worn down silver bridle, his raw beauty was stunning for a plastic horse. Hailey paused her music, and suddenly it was much quieter. She walked closer to the annoying ride, looked at the horse, and thought. Her life only seemed bad because she made it that way, and she knew it. She knew she viewed things negatively on purpose, but she couldn’t bring herself to like things, she was so used to hating them. This time, though, Hailey couldn’t resist the temptation. She wondered what it would be like to ride that horse, to just let go of herself and circle slowly for a few minutes. After a couple long seconds of debating with herself, she gave up. After looking around to make sure no one she knew was near, she walked up through the line and mounted her horse. Pulling up her black hood to hide her face, she waited for the horse to move her forward.

Toby looked at the scene around with him with heavy eyes. The carnival, which had once been a colorful jumble of plastic joy, was now dull, and overcrowded. The screams of sticky little children and the whirring of the rides sounded blunt and soft, like he was hearing them from behind a wall. He shuffled around the carnival, peering into booths of overpriced stuffed animals and impossible games, dodging laughing children running through the maze of rides. A clown tried to get him to buy a balloon animal and a dog sat on his foot, but he finally made it through to the center of the carnival. Toby came to a stop, resting against a makeshift railing for some ride or another, and slowly eyed the scene around him. To his left was a tiny stage, on which mimes were pretending to be on a seesaw while children stood gaping. To his right was a huge spinning ride, with a line that curved and twisted in front of it like a sleeping snake, twitching every now and then as the ride emptied. There, right in front of him, sat the carousel. In all its brightly colored, short lived glory, it spun in lazy circles to music blasting from the loudspeakers at the top. He gazed at it, his eyes glazed over as he remembered. He remembered how it used to be her favorite ride, the only one she would go on because she was scared to death of roller coasters. They would sit in the grass on the edge of it together and wonder who picked the music, and where that person was so that they could blackmail him into playing something better. Best of all, they would sit next to each other on their own separate horses, neither speaking, yet somehow communicating. Lost in thought, they would brush their legs together or hold hands as they twisted round the park. Though at first he had felt silly, Toby knew how much this ride meant to her, and so he learned the tradition of not speaking while riding the carousel. It had been her mom’s favorite, before she passed away. And just like her mother before he, it had been his girlfriend’s favorite before she passed away. The memories of her hit him like a flood, and Toby could hear her laugh, see her smile in the crowd before she turned and ran away, begging him to chase her. But she disappeared, and was lost in the crowd. Every time the carnival came, they would go together, just Toby and his girl. Now, by himself, he felt wrong. Like he somehow shouldn’t be here without her. Like he left her behind. A tear building up in the corner of his eye, Toby slowly walked forward and into the line of people, making the unconscious decision to go forward onto the ride. He picked the only gray horse he saw, and swung his leg over the side, waiting to relive the memories.

Angela wandered through the carnival. As a child, carnivals had been the highlight of her month. To her cheerful disposition, the splendor of carnivals appealed greatly, and she had thoroughly enjoyed every carnival she had ever been to. Now, in her early thirties, Angela saw this carnival a little differently than she had in the past. Angela had gone from a carefree child to an adult, and the transition had been hard for her. Leaving the comforts of her home was a huge shock at first, although in her opinion, she had begun to adjust quite nicely. Her long time boyfriend was a fantastic guy with a huge personality that complemented her own, her job was working out great for her, and she never had a hard time paying the bills. In fact, for a long time, Angela had never had a hard time with anything. Even recently, that remained true. And so, with blissful free time, Angela had put on her boots and trudged out to the carnival she knew so well. The sky was beginning to darken, but she stayed where she was, not wanting to go back home. As she thought about it, she figured out why. She was hiding. Hiding from the decisions waiting for her, haunting her. Angela didn’t like responsibility, or rather, she was unaccustomed to it. Decision making was one of the skills she needed to practice, but she didn’t like practice either. She knew these decisions would define her immediate life and probably her future as well. She needed to decide; did she love her boyfriend enough to accompany him to London for his job? Was he the one for her? Could she find a job all the way out in Europe? Angela knew that she would have a hard time getting used to life in a completely different place, and that it would be a lot of work for her. Although it was a risk, it was an opportunity. Her disposition was unfailing in bringing out the best in things, and looking at what she had before her as an opportunity was a great way for her to be able to shrug things off and wait. It was not in her nature to dwell on things, so Angela decided to have a look around while she waited for an answer to come to her. Everything was sticky and sugary and brightly colored; the people, the rides, the ground, even the air. She loved it. She sat and watched a clown pull a long bandana out of his mouth, and then wandered off again. What she saw in the middle of the park made her stop. This carousel was new, different from the one she had grown used to when she was a kid. She remember sitting on the horses and riding round and round, using the time to think undisturbed, which she could not do very often. It seemed like a great idea to her even now, and she realized that maybe a little time was all she needed to decide. She climbed onto the prettiest horse she could find, and waited for her opportunities.

Eloise felt old. She looked at all the young children running, laughing, eating, and she couldn’t help but feel nostalgic. In her late sixties, she seemed a bit out of place among the youth of the carnival. She tried to pay no heed to the feelings as she wandered about by herself. As dark fell and the lights began to come on, the wrinkles on her face looked deeper with shadow, but she smiled as much as she ever had, willing to forget her appearance. To see others happy made Eloise happy, for with her age came an incurable selflessness. This did not happen for everyone, but for her it was there to stay. While ambling through the park, she bought an ice cream for a child that dropped his, bandaged scraped knees on two little boys while their mother was tending to the younger sister, and taken three photos for people. She smiled. Carnivals had always been a place where she could be herself, skip around and have a good time. Older now, she could still be herself and have a good time, but in a very different way than before. She sat down on a bench, being to careful to avoid any overly sticky sections, and watched young couples strolling through, young children racing around, even middle aged groups standing together and laughing. That had been her once, and Eloise loved to remember. Life had been good to her. Her husband was her best friend, her friends were amazing and supportive, and her retirement was going as planned. Sitting there, Eloise knew she was lucky, and she wished she could spread that feeling with others. Not to stay in the past, Eloise got up and begin to amble again. When she saw the carousel, she couldn’t help but smile. All the different people, put together at one time, it amazed her. A bouncing four year old, an angry teenager, a sad young adult, and a thoughtful young woman. She wondered about their lives, how they were, and they would be. To make the moment perfect, Eloise decided to ride the carousel too. Ignoring some the stares of the people around her, she walked into the ride and sat on the last open horse, and waited for her moment in time.

Soon after Eloise got on the ride, the horses slowly began to move up and down and the carousel started to turn with effort. Jerry, Hailey, Toby, Angela, and Eloise, different people with different backgrounds and stories, circled together for those short two minutes. After the ride stopped, Jerry stayed on his horse, bouncing up and down for another adventure. Hailey sulked off after saying goodbye to the black horse and went to find her sister, so she could maybe try one of those rides she hated so much. Toby moved a short distance away and sat in the grass with a sigh, before a nice girl from one of the booths came over to ask him what was wrong, the beginning of a long friendship. Angela turned and went right home, having made her decisions with confidence and also deciding that she should make decisions more often. Eloise hobbled off and went on her merry way, helping others as she slowly made the journey home to where her husband was waiting for her with dinner. On that ride, for just two minutes, five very different people had sat together and thought. And, after those two minutes, in very different ways, the lives of five people had been changed. All in the course of a merry go round.


Judge's comment

"Merry Go Round" is an ambitious piece of work, featuring multiple points of view rendered in a very convincing manner.

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