“Fairground Rides” by E. Lillith McDermott
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Moira – and the animals – get more than they expected at the fairground that day.
Please enjoy our Feature Story: “Fairground Rides” by E. Lillith McDermott
“Please, Daddy…” Kate’s six-year-old pulled on her father’s hand.
Kate caught her daughter’s other hand, gave a squeeze. “Come on Ben. Remember how much fun we all had at the San Diego Zoo?”
Her husband smiled. “Overruled as usual.”
Moira bounced on her heels, pulled her hands free. “I want to ride that one. I was feeding her grass. She’s really sweet. She liked it when I tickled her nose.”
Ben hesitated. “We’ll see if she’s available.”
“She is! She’s got a saddle. I’m gonna be a real life cowgirl.”
Kate smiled as Ben leaned close to her ear. “Not any cowgirl I’ve ever seen.”
The grizzled man who took their money was happy to untie the harness and pull Moira’s mare from the fence. Moira motioned to her mother, “Lift me up!” Kate smiled, nodded. Together they walked across the paddock’s soft dirt.
With each step Kate’s heart raced. Moira may like these beasts, but Kate would never get used to them. Their size alone left her trembling. Moira walked to the animal’s head. Grass tumbled off the sides of her outstretched hand. Kate held her breath. It didn’t matter that the beast’s leathery lips plucked gingerly at the blades, there were still three colossal horns pointed right at what she loved most.
“Pet her, Mommy!”
With a forced smile, Kate obliged. The Triceratops turned at her touch, fixing her with empty brown eyes. Kate repressed a shiver. She could never stop equating cold-blooded with soulless. The dinosaur’s leathery musk tickled her nose. Fighting the urge to sneeze, she lifted Moira into the saddle. She jumped aside as the merry-go-round style automatic walker lurched forward. With the mechanism squeaking and thumping behind her she made her way back to her husband.
“Seriously like the biggest waste of a technological advance ever…”
Her husband laughed. “I’m not sure I’d go that far… but you’d think they’d have some better uses. I mean, if you’d told me our kids would be riding dinosaurs at the pony rides…”
Kate leaned on the fence, watched her daughter sway and bounce. She scanned the circle of plodding trikes. Six faces echoed her daughter’s bliss. Maybe the technical advances were worth it after all.
Next to her Ben sighed. “Were you into them as a child? Dinosaurs?” He didn’t wait for Kate to answer. “I was. Couldn’t get enough. I had this collection of little plastic figures. Knew all their names. Every one.” His eyes unfocused.
Kate looked back at their daughter. “I guess there’s always been a connection between kids and dinosaurs. Although this real a connection is a bit new. Thank goodness they only cloned the herbivores!”
A scream tore across the paddock. Kate spun around. Loose knots of fair goers’ faces echoed her shock. The background buzz of an afternoon outing morphed into a swelling panic. Bystanders nearest a large tent scattered into the midway. Kate stood on tip-toe. The tent’s entrance flapped open.
Ben gasped. “God! Was that a gun?” The tent buckled. A threadbare young man, not more than twenty, threw himself out the opening. He hit the ground, rolled. Three triceratops, nostrils flared, eyes flashing white, tore through the spot he’d just vacated. Another man followed. Kate watched, transfixed with morbid focus.
Something flashed in his hand. For a second he paused, arm outstretched. She memorized his face, his dirty grey t-shirt that read “Cold Blood. Warm Heart. Dignity for Dinosaurs.” He flung his arm forward. Smoke trailed out in an arc.
The sputtering ball he’d launched exploded in a cloud of smoke and dirt. The dinosaurs panicked toward the paddock. Kate’s blood turned cold.
To their right, wood splintered, no match for giant horns.
Kate screamed. “Moira!”
She spun back toward the arena. Scanning the jostling beasts she searched for Moira. The trikes were a mismatch of movement, turned around and backward, straining against the thin leather and chain. The auto-walker squealed and jerked, pulled in seven directions at once. On the far side Moira’s mount tugged with the rest. The loose trikes were in the arena, circling the riders, inciting riot.
Kate ran. She was hit from the side. Another parent knocked her to the ground, rushed on. Ben raced past. A charging escapee drove him back.
The noise of chaos faded into the background—Kate could hear each of her daughter’s sobs.
A high-pitched rending of metal and her heart nearly stopped. Almost as one the harnesses gave.
A trike crashed through the far fence. Like the first crack in a dam giving way to a waterfall, the others followed. On her feet again, Kate ran. Desperate, she followed the bobbing head of her husband and the screams of her daughter. She charged through the fair, past stricken faces and bright banners.
Pounding feet took her beyond the last of the tents into open fields. The tightening of her chest had nothing to do with the hard sprint . There was nothing left to stop the stampeding triceratops. Kate pumped her legs, terrified.
She caught Ben, his face red, breath loud. She didn’t stop, didn’t dare. She couldn’t see the trikes anymore. Stumbling she crested a ridge, almost fell, staggered toward a copse of trees. They were gone. She’d lost them.
Gasping and sobbing she pushed through low dense branches. And froze, locked in the big-eyed gaze of a triceratops.
Shaking head to foot, Kate stepped to the creature’s side and clutched at her daughter’s outstretched arms. Warm brown eyes watched her every move. “Oh thank you, thank you.” Kate sobbed.
Moira smiled. “Mommy, take off her saddle.” Kate fumbled with a buckle, then two. Leather thudded to the ground. Her hand slid down the warm, thick neck. Moira waved. “Bye-bye.”
The animal snorted, turned, and was gone.
E. Lillith McDermott writes science fiction, fantasy, and horror for young adults and adults who wish they were young. Her work can be found in the anthologies “Under the Stairs” and “Short Sips: Coffee House Flash Fiction”. She lives in the sleepy Midwest where she periodically embarrasses her children by frightening their neighbors.
Tags: e. lillith mcdermott, metro fiction, short stories