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by Lucy Zhang

At night, the merry-go-round comes to life. The horses snort and toss their heads and stamp their hooves and canter in circles. They tear away from the periwinkle and white striped rods impaling them onto the rotating platter. They shake off their saddles decorated with plastic ribbons and bells, rip into the wreaths of thorny roses wound around their necks, bite through their bridles, jump over the fence. Not all of them are strictly horses. Some have wings like falcons and burst through the star-patterned canopy before escaping to the sky. Others have corkscrew-like horns protruding from their foreheads, long and sharp and twisted like they could pierce a metal brick. Of course, the horns are only plastic.

Some children stay awake at night, sitting by the window in the dark, watching the roadside lamp zap bugs, counting the few cars that drive past, picking at a barrel knot bracelet on their wrist. They’ve never been to a carnival or a circus, never pulled the fluff of cotton candy and let the sweetness linger on their tongue. Across from their room, they hear shouts and fists slamming and the Mickey-Mouse-on-a-sleigh snow globe thudding against the hardwood floor. Sometimes the movement sends vibrations through the drywall to the children’s room and they lift their feet off the floor and onto their chair, knees tucked to their body, imagining themselves as pebbles by the beachside lulled to sleep by waves.

The horses arrive at the window. The children dislodge the screens and climb through the hole. They attempt to balance themselves on the horses’ backs and grip the horses’ manes and hide their faces in soft, warm necks. Only a few seconds pass before they muster the courage to look up and watch their house shrink to nothing as they race past the world. As the world races past them. When the sun rises, the horses return to their carousel, revolving around a cylindrical structure of mirrors and framed panels painted with mountain ranges under cloudless skies, moving up and down to the same looped song, legs and heads still, dolls on a disk. When the sun rises, a child wakes up to thrushes chirping, their dawn chorus unfettered through the open window.

Lucy Zhang is a writer masquerading around as a software engineer. She watches anime and sleeps in on weekends like a normal human being. Her work has appeared in Atlas & Alice, Okay Donkey, Jellyfish Review, Columbia Journal, and elsewhere. She can be found at kowaretasekai.wordpress.com/ or on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.