It’s not what you think. The art deco building that houses the old carousel still stands, but the painted ponies on their pneumatic poles are gone.
History would tell you that the carousel was dismantled because it was old, because Asbury Park was sinking into decrepitude, because maintaining the wooden horses was too expensive.
History would be wrong.
There’s a little known secret about that vintage carousel. It was actually a portal. Or, a collective of portals.
The kids knew. Oh, not all of them, but the geeky kids knew: the bookworms, the dreamers, and the sci-fi enthusiasts knew. If a kid caught the brass ring and made a wish, the ride would speed up and the pony would leap from the platform.
There wasn’t any specific location the ponies went to. It was assumed the destination was tailored to each kid. But they’d be back less then a moment after they’d left – though they always returned talking of adventures that lasted for days.
By the time the news of the carousel’s closure became public, most of the kids who knew its secret had grown too old to go on adventures. But they had a plan.
They identified kids in their communities who needed to escape. Homeless kids. Abused kids. Kids unlikely to be missed.
24 children. Twelve painted ponies. They were put two to a horse and told what to do, how to wish.
The carousel was started. The calliope music blared out, filling the empty building, echoing over the boardwalk.
And one by one, the ponies pranced into oblivion, carrying their charges to permanent safety.
The media reported on the missing carousel horses, but not on the missing children. The rest of the ride was torn apart.
No one ever spoke of the magic carousel again. But the kids who’d grown up around it remembered. And sometimes, they still dreamed of reaching up, catching the brass ring, and going on an infinite ride.
Written for Brief #5 of Like the Prose 2021:Alternate History