“Finally,” Layla said, as if she had walked the whole way. Irv slid her off his back. “Beer me, someone.”
Mac had already put down the bag he’d been carrying and unzipped it. As I watched, he tossed a can to her, which she caught with one hand, then passed one to Eric as he set his guitar down. Then he held one up to me. I looked at Irv, as he was closer and, as far as I was concerned, had seniority. But he shook his head.
“Don’t drink,” he explained. “No point.”
“He can’t get drunk,” Layla told me. “Too big.”
“That’s why we call him HW,” Mac said. “Heavyweight. As opposed to . . .”
“Don’t say it,” Eric warned him, popping the tab on his beer.
“LW,” Layla finished. “Another one of Eric’s many nicknames.”
“I am not a lightweight.” As if to prove it, Eric sucked down a bunch of his beer, then belched, loudly. Then he looked at me. “Want one?”
I was not much of a drinker, especially after Jenn’s piña colada disaster. But I wasn’t driving, and we were in the moonlight. So I nodded. Mac went to throw one to me, but Eric took it first, then opened it before bringing it over.
“Thanks,” I said. It was cold in my hand.
“My pleasure.” He held out his can. “To you.”
Layla rolled her eyes but withheld comment, letting her civic duty slide as she walked over to sit down on the edge of the structure I’d seen earlier. I’d thought it was a vehicle, maybe an old truck, parked off what I now could see was a logging road that twisted into the trees. Looking closer, I saw it was something else entirely: an old metal carousel, so corroded it almost blended into the dark. I stood there a minute, taking it in. If I’d had more than one sip of beer, I would have assumed I was imagining it.
“Cool, right?” Layla said. She was perched at the base of one of the horses. “Mac found it, during his weight-loss wanderings.”
“They’re called runs,” Mac said.
“Whatever. The point is, someone left this here at some point. But why? And how? Did they bring it on a truck and plan to come back for it? Or build it here?”
I walked around the front part of the carousel, taking in several more horses and a rickety-looking chariot with grass growing up through a hole in the seat. “It’s amazing,” I said. “You really don’t know who it belongs to?”
“There aren’t any houses for miles.”
“What about this road?” I asked, nodding toward it.
“If you follow it, it just ends, long before the woods does.” Layla took a sip of her beer, swinging her legs. “It’s so creepy.”
But it wasn’t scary to me. Instead, it felt magical, like the kind of thing Peyton and I could only have dreamed of discovering during our own explorations. The chance of finding something like this was what brought you into a woods in the first place.
Thinking this, I looked over at Mac. I was surprised to find he was watching me over the rim of the can as he drank, and I returned his gaze, remembering that five-dollar bill tucked safely away in my wallet. Unspent.
“You should check out the other side,” Eric said, appearing suddenly beside me. I heard a pop: he was moving on to his next beer. “That’s where the ring is. Come on, I’ll show you.”
I followed him around, past the chariot, to where a large horse was rearing up, head thrown back, mouth open. Whoever had made this had taken their time.
“You kind of have to get in the right place to see it,” Eric said, climbing up beside the horse. He held out his free hand. “I’ll pull you up.”
I looked back at Layla, who I could now barely make out in the dark. Mac I’d lost sight off entirely. Only Irv remained fully visible, but it wasn’t like he was one to blend in. I gave Eric my hand, feeling his fingers tighten around mine as he lifted me up next to him. Beneath our feet, the carousel creaked.
“Okay,” he said, putting his hands on my shoulders and gesturing for me to look up at the roof of the carousel above us. “Now, see where the pole meets the metal up there?”
I nodded. “Yeah.”
“Then look right to the left of it.” He pointed. “It’s sort of small, but it’s there.”
It took a minute, but then I made it out: a simple ring, hanging above us, close enough that if you were on the horse as it rose to its highest point, you could grab it. “I’m surprised no one’s pulled it down,” I said.
“Oh, believe me, we’ve tried.” He took another drink. “It’s stuck in there good. Whoever made this didn’t want anyone to take it.”
I could see how it would be tempting. Who doesn’t try for the prize if it’s that close? “How do you get up there, though?”
“When it’s moving.”
I turned around, only to realize we were really close, practically face-to-face. Eric, for his part, did not seem startled by this, and I suddenly had the feeling, if not the certainty, that he had done this—all of this—before. “It moves?”
“Only when someone’s pushing it,” I heard Mac say.
Somehow, he’d approached without us hearing him and was now standing just in front of the horse. In the moonlight, I noticed again the coin hanging from the chain around his neck. Instinctively, I stepped out from beneath Eric’s hands, which were still on my shoulders. “How is that even possible? Isn’t it, like, crazy heavy?”