Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Merry-Go-Round at the Top of the World

Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Merry-Go-Round at the Top of the World

It's a cold day in this week's Concept Art Writing Prompt, but why is there a carousel sitting atop the ice? Is it a dream? A hallucination? An amusement park at the North Pole? Come up with a short story to go with this image and post it in the comments.

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Illustration for article titled Concept Art Writing Prompt: The Merry-Go-Round at the Top of the World

This digital image comes from artist Vinicius Costa, via Neatorama. If it inspires you to write a piece of flash fiction, please post it in the comments.

Each week, you all put my stories to shame, but here's my response to this week's piece:

Baxter had heard of these things. Sometimes the merchants who passed through the village with these little magazines printed in movable type. There was one called Relics that the kids passed around during the longer ice fishing trips, and it catalogued all the ones people had found: upright arcade cabinets that ran an inverted form of Pac-Man where you played the ghosts, crumbling pyramids made from lime stone or marble, stuffed animals in the shapes of tarantulas.

It was as if the Others were trying to give us back pieces of the old things.

The village was farming its own char, but until the stocks were sufficiently robust, he still had to go out and look for new wild supplies. He'd scold the kids for straying too far from the group, but a new installment of Kona Riggs, Other Hunter had just reached the village, and they insisted on acting out the scene where Kona and Pauline stow away aboard the Other cargo lift, only to discover that all the crates are filled with spiders. After an hour of the kids squealing and crawling over one another (despite Baxter's admonitions that it would scare the fish), Baxter steered his boat buggy away until their laughter faded into the mute whiteness of the ice.

He didn't see the carousel from a distance. In fact, he didn't notice it until he was almost upon it, and he wondered whether it had been created only moments before and plopped down for his benefit.

It had been so long since he'd seen colors brighter than the natural ones.

Baxter remembered a carousel from his youth. Every year, his school held a fair, a two-day fundraiser with rides and games. And every year, they brought out the carousel — not the kind with horses, but the kind with lions, dragons, and elephants. He could clearly remember the baroque scenes lining the top and the canned circus music that aways brought to mind the smells of popcorn and vomit. He road the carousel long after he should have outgrown it, stealing a ride in the twilight when his friends were unlikely to spot him. He snagged his first kiss from Helkin Hayes when she sat with him in one of the stationary carriages. His stomach lurched the wrong way at every turn, taking a moment to catch up with the butterflies filling the rest of his body.

If this carousel, the one planted here in the arctic circle, far from the Other colonies ringing the middle of the Earth, was designed from his memories, then the architect was a poor mindreader. In lieu of horses or beasts, fish bobbed up and down the taffy poles, their spiny fins uninviting as saddles. The only detail they got right was that a few of the lightbulbs were already burned out.

Baxter brushed his hand against a lamppost, reaching back into his memory and failing to retrieve the origin of this strange fiction — a solitary lamppost stuck in the ice. The kids traded stories about what could happen if you engaged with a Relic, spinning pulp horror tales about humans who contracted Other mind-viruses from death metal-singing animatronic fish and double trampolines. But when Baxter saw the seahorse, the only rideable sea creature in this cylindrical ocean, he decided to take a ride.

It was only when he mounted the seahorse and looked back at his boat buggy that he realized the carousel had the same peppermint stripe as his buggy. Perhaps, he thought, this really is a trap. But by then the carousel had already begun turning, and an orchestral prelude sounded out across the ice.

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Drizhuu stared at the thing. He didn't know what it was. He recognized that some of the shapes were fish. Speared fish by the way poles were shoved through them. But he had never seen such colors or shapes in fish form.

Was it an altar made by another tribe? He knew that his people shared borders with two other nations but he had never seen them make such great...

What was it?

He wanted to touch it but he did not know if it was forbidden. Perhaps it was a tomb to some mighty hunter or a powerful chief. To disturb such places even out of curiosity was to invoke the spirits. Drizhuu did not want to bring that wrath on his people. Especially when the fishing season had been so lean and the babies lost to starvation had been terrible of late.

"The order was for Rome, Lenny. Rome. Not Nome."

Drizhuu stumbled backward into the snow at the sound of the voice. His heart thumped against his chest as he watched a man emerge from the other side of the thing. Or at least it looked like a man to Drizhuu. The creature had the shape of man but its skin was blue. He did not know that it had been dyed Greek Sky Blue according to the the fashion trend of the season. The man-creature also wore a single piece of blue clothing, extending from its booted feet to its shoulders. Orange markings ran across the chest and back. Drizhuu could not make out that it read, "Russo's Temporal Zone Movers" or the name tag over the heart said, "Yuri." He did not know how.

The man-creature did not notice Drizhuu, sitting in the snow terrified. It was busy sticking its finger in its ear. "I'm freezin' my ass off here." The man-creature held up a flat rectangle. Glowing lights danced across the surface, changing their shape by the moment. "Not only did you send me to the wrong town you also send me back eight hundred and thirty seven years. No, no, you've sent me back that far. I've got the date-year stamp right here. I'm lookin' at it."

Drizhuu rose to his feet. Was this a spirit? An actual spirit?

"No, I want you to send me to the right place before-oh, shit."

The man-creature stared at Drizhuu.

"Lenny, I've made contact with the locals. A guy. A tiny guy but he's givin' me the weirdest...no, he wouldn't speak English. It's still a good hundred years off before an European steps into Alaska."

"Are you a spirit?" whispered Drizhuu as he took a small, careful step forward. "Can you help us, spirit? The fish have gone..."

"Lenny, he's talking...Lenny, get me out of here."

"My people are starving, sacred spirit."

"Rome, Lenny. Get me to Rome."

"Please, I beg of you-"

A enormous flash of light erupted like a silent bomb. Drizhuu went down again as he shielded his eyes. Slowly, he opened them and rubbed them as sparkling stars shined all around. His vision cleared and gone was the thing and the man-creature. White and only white spread all around. Drizhuu balled up his fist and yelled for the man-creature to come back. To answer his prayer. When no one answered, he climbed to his feet, cleaned himself off and spat in the snow in the name of the spirits.

He turned away and started to walk towards the fishing waters.