Whirl: Chapter Two
Adara stepped off the train that ran to Coney Island and hurried from the station. Stepping outside into the sunshine, she stopped and inhaled a great breath. The air was heavy with salt from the sea, fresh popcorn, and roasting hotdogs, and with a grin she headed down the Bowery toward Feltman’s, her favorite food stand.
The Island wasn’t too crowded; being just Thursday afternoon, there weren’t as many frolickers as usual. It was the weekends, when millions of people flocked to Coney and took up every available square of space, that she tried to avoid coming to the Island. But now, with the Bowery wide open before her, she made her way to Feltman’s and waited in the short line for a hotdog and a Coke.
Food and drink in hand, she wandered down toward Surf Avenue, taking in the welcoming sights and sounds with a huge smile on her face. This was where she was free to be who she really was – this was her homeland. She drew a few odd looks; being a young woman, she should’ve had an escort of some type. But she needed no escort. Her mother refused to come to the Island, and there was no other person Adara was close to that she could invite.
It was no matter. She came to the Island to be free from the constrictions of society, not add to them. As she neared the carousel she’d been heading for, she stopped to throw away the wrapper from the hotdog and the empty cup. She heard someone yell something, and turned toward the carousel.
Oliver Flynn was standing there, talking to the operator of the carousel.
Adara sucked in a breath and watched, heart pounding. It had been two weeks since she’d met Oliver in the alleyway next to her home, and in that time, she’d managed to not think about him for all of about ten minutes. He looked every bit as dashing as she’d thought he had, his fedora set back on his black hair at a jaunting angle, his handsome face creased in a laugh.
She marched across the street toward him, and just before reaching him, he noticed her. His blue eyes sparkled, and she almost faltered. Almost. “Oliver Flynn,” she said.
“Miss Adara Rose.” He grinned, but it faded after a moment. “And by yourself?”
“Never mind that. Did you fight your enemy?” She put her hands on her hips and stared up at him, forgetting about the man running the carousel. “Well?”
“Good luck, brother,” the other man said and returned to the carousel, climbing up on the platform and disappearing from view.
Oliver frowned down at her. “I don’t believe that’s any of your business, Miss Rose. And where is your escort?”
“I don’t need one.” She dared him to argue, tilting her nose into the air at a ridiculous angle.
A slow smile tugged at the corners of his mouth. “I see. Well, you had best be careful. There are bad things lurking here.”
“There are those, too, but that’s not what I’m talking about.” He took a breath. “Well, I had best be on my way. Good day.” He touched the brim of his hat, but she wasn’t going to let him run out again.
“Wait. Who are you, exactly? You said you don’t work for the mob, but you’re the most mysterious person I’ve ever met,” she said.
He huffed out a breath. “You can be mysterious and not work for the mob, Miss Rose.” Humor touched his eyes.
“I know that.” Her tone was sharper than she’d meant it to be. “But what are you doing? Where do you work?” That he had some sort of job was obvious; his clothes were much too fine for a jobless man.
He was about to say something when his head jerked to the right, and his body stiffened. Adara peered around him and saw three men across the Bowery from them. They were standing close together and one of them, a man with red hair, was gesturing and pointing in their direction.
“Blast,” Oliver muttered. He turned away and started toward the carousel.
“What? Who are they?” Adara asked, following him.
“You should run along,” he said over his shoulder. He climbed up on the platform and started around the carousel to the right until he was on the opposite side, away from the Bowery. She followed after him, curious and even intrigued. What was it about this man? Or was it whatever he was involved in that made him seem intriguing?
“Oliver, what’s going on?” she asked once he’d stopped.
He sighed and jerked his hat off his head so he could run his free hand through his hair. Shoving the hat back on, he said, “Nothing that you need to worry about. You should go on now.”
“No.” She leaned against one of the horses. “Who are those men?”
“Not friends,” he said. His tone was clipped. She opened her mouth and he added, “I’m not in the mob.”
“Okay then,” she said. “But obviously you’ve run afoul of something, or someone, you shouldn’t have. So?”
He turned away from her and rested his elbows on the saddle of the horse next to hers. She took a moment to take in the horses; they were beautiful, with ornate saddles and bridles, and charming expressions. The carousels were her favorite rides. She loved horses; when her father had been alive, they’d often spent time at his parents’ house in the country, where she’d learned how to ride. But after his death, her mother had shuttered them both away in the town house and had taken to only going out to the big socialite parties she was so fond of. Adara had had to give up the horses.
But her father had also instilled in her a love for Coney Island and all of its amusements. When she’d been quite young, just nine, Dreamland Park had burned. Her father had gone to see the great fire, but had refused to bring her. He’d wanted her to remember Dreamland the way it had been, and not the way it fallen. One of her favorite carousels, the double-decker El Dorado, had almost been lost. Now restored, it held residence in the great pavilion, where she still visited it.
Oliver was still not speaking, and she sighed a little, loudly, just to remind him that she was still standing here. He said nothing. She turned away and ran a hand down over the bay horse’s neck that she stood next to. The wood was smooth as glass, polished by millions of hands gliding down it as they rode up and down. She put her cheek against the horse’s, imagining him as if he were a real, breathing horse, and not one made of old wood.
“You really love horses.”
She eased away from the horse and turned to look at him. Oliver watched her with his head cocked to the side, and there was something in his eyes that made her falter. “I do,” she said.
He continued to study her, with that odd expression, until she was uncomfortable and started to fidget. “I’m sorry,” he said, a harsh tone in his voice. “I didn’t mean to stare.”
“And yet you did.” She eyed him, seeing that weirdness in his eyes leave, only to be replaced by fire tempered with amusement.
“So I did,” he finally agreed. “You’re a most unusual woman, Miss Rose.”
Like she’d never been told that before. It was one of the reasons she kept no close friends. “Thank you,” she said. Some haughtiness filtered into her voice, and he frowned, shaking his head.
“I didn’t mean to offend you,” he offered. “I meant it as a compliment. I’ve never met anyone like you.” He was considering her again.
“Do you come here often?” she asked. She wanted his attention off of her – it was unnerving.
“Yes.” He nodded. “You like the carousels.”
“Yes. But you have to admit, they lack the thrill factor so many young people want these days.”
“That’s just because they don’t appreciate them. They don’t know how to ride them,” she said.
His eyebrows went up. “What do you mean?” But there was an oddness to his voice, and she suspected he knew exactly what she meant.
“They’re magical, you know. You can’t see it of course, but if you know how to look, how to ride, they come alive.” Her voice dropped to a whisper, and she ran a hand over the bay horse. “My father loved horses – I get it from him. My mother says it’s a sickness.”
“You don’t agree?”
“I do.” She looked away from him, and ran her hand down the horse’s neck, into his shoulder, and up over his bright saddle. “They’re so much more than we are. They’re wild at heart, true to themselves and what God meant them to be.” She could feel a blush working its way up her neck. “It sounds silly, I know. And of course, these are wood. But their spirit isn’t made of wood. It’s real.”
“Adara.” Her name on his tongue sent crazy shivers all through her, and he put his hand on her shoulder, turning her to face him. “It’s not silly. I feel the same way about them.” His voice dropped low and he took a step closer to her. “There is magic out there. I’ve felt it. I’ve seen it, firsthand.”
She was now the one considering him, trying to make sense of what he was saying, seeing if he was just making fun of her. But those eyes of his were so serious, so intense, that he couldn’t be lying.
“There’s a carousel, a brand-new one, so new it’s not been installed here yet, and it’s magical, Adara.” Excitement filled his voice. “The horses have been endowed with magic. And I’ve been looking for the perfect person to truly bring them to life.” His eyes took on a gleam. “And it’s you, Adara Rose. It has to be.”
Her breathing quickened and she took a step back, coming up against the body of the bay horse. Oliver’s eyes glistened with what she could only describe as lust, but it wasn’t lust for her body. It was lust for something he thought she could do. It frightened her.
“You have to come with me. You have to meet the Flying Ponies,” he said, and took hold of her hand. Giving it a tug, he said, “Come on. We have to go right now.”
But any fuzzy feelings she might’ve had fled in the face of his instant urgency and the way his eyes glazed over. “No. I don’t know you. I’m not going anywhere with you,” she said, and tugged her hand from his grasp.
He frowned. “You’ve spent the last half-hour with me. You do know me. You’re just letting yourself be scared.”
“Letting myself?” She could feel anger swell through her. “You’re the one who said I shouldn’t be here alone, and now you want me to go off somewhere with you? To see a magical carousel?”
He forced a grin. “You said yourself that they’re magical.”
“I know, but—“
“But what, Adara? Are you saying you didn’t mean what you said? Because I don’t believe that.” His voice was hard, even though it was clear he was trying to keep smiling. “I think you believe that there is magic out there. And I can show you. You can meet my Flying Ponies, see for yourself what they are.”
She stood in silence, heart pounding, trying to decide what to do. She could refuse to go. What could he do? There were too many people about for him to kidnap her. And I’m not afraid of him. I probably should be, but I’m not. Making her decision, she nodded. “All right. Let’s go see these Flying Ponies.”
An instant grin bloomed across his face, and he took hold of her hand. “You won’t be disappointed, I promise,” he said as he led her around the platform. But once they reached the stairs, he stopped and let go of her hand.
“What is it? Are those men still there? Who are they?”
“You don’t let things drop, do you?” He shot her a look. “We just have to be careful, that’s all. The Ponies aren’t ready to meet the public yet.”
Before she could say anything, he was moving, taking the stairs two at a time, and she scurried to keep up. They reached the Bowery and headed back toward the subway station, and he glanced back a few times to make sure she was still coming along. Of course she was; interest piqued, she wasn’t about to fall behind.
They took the train back to the city, but once they disembarked, they turned toward the working district. Now he took care to walk beside her, and she was surprised to see how others reacted to him. Women standing outside the shops tittered and blushed as he passed them by, and men immediately doffed their hats or tipped their hats in deference. Oliver took this all in stride with a purposeful grin.
They reached an old warehouse and stopped. The lock on the door was shiny compared to the peeling paint on the door itself. Oliver glanced about before unlocking it and shoving it open. “Inside, quick,” he said. Adara went in and he followed, flipping on a light switch.
She stopped, the air feeling like it was sucked from her. In the middle of the big building was a carousel. Oliver walked past her, and after a moment, she followed. She’d known this was what they’d come to see, but the beauty of it – the sparkling jewels, the pale wood on the platform, as yet unmarred by the passing of millions of feet, the thousands of shining white lights – it was magnificent. But it wasn’t just the adornments. There was something else, something infinitesimal about the machine and its prancing horses that she couldn’t decipher that made it seem like so much more.
“This is the Flying Ponies Grand Carousel,” Oliver said, sweeping his hand toward the machine. “Come. I want to introduce you to them.” He stepped up on the platform and she followed. He stopped next to a dapple grey with a lovely curved neck, a red bridle, and a silver mane. “This is Penumbra, the lead horse of the Flying Ponies.”
“He’s beautiful,” she said. “Do they all have names?”
“We do. You humans all have names, yes?”
She froze, eyes locked on the grey. He turned his head and looked at her. And before she could fully register what had just happened, Penumbra snorted, and the world tipped.