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Marched Away

by Northern Life

In a Blackpool theme park, a mechanical horse got a mind of its own...

Julia H Dixon

Carolyn slotted the key into the control board and turned it. The merry-go-round hummed, the cresting lights blinking on. Her smile sank when she saw the new installation; a pony which, in appearance, was completely inoffensive. She’d operated merry-go-rounds in Blackpool since her teens. She knew the standing figures from the prancers and the jumpers. But this was her first “marcher.”
“An innovative marching figure,” was how her manager described it. Timothy Trotter could stomp its hooves, move its eyes, and nod its head. It “modernised” the merry-go-round. What rubbish!

She powered up the ride for a test-run. An organ rendition of I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside trumpeted through the speakers. When the platform began to turn, Timothy stumbled like a newborn giraffe. Another reason to do away with this thing.

Timothy stomped its hooves to the beat, eliciting cheers

Not long after opening hour, the crowds filtered in. She cheerfully invited visitors to climb the platform steps.
“Bottoms on seats, ladies, gentlemen, others,” she said into the PA system. A girl with braids was sitting on Timothy’s back. Carolyn pursed her lips, hoping all went well. No matter her feelings on the so-called improvement, she wanted people to have fun.

When she started the ride this time, Timothy stomped its hooves to gasps and applauds. Before the ride finished, the queue doubled in length. By midday, it tripled. Those uninterested in riding stopped purely to watch Timothy march. Whether mothers in sunglasses, youngsters with warm sugar around their mouths, bringing the smell of freshly baked donuts, or men wearing caps; phones were up, cameras directed.
By then, Carolyn had relaxed enough to sing over the PA system to a harmony of muffled laughter. “…Oh! I do like to be – sing along if you know the words! – beside the seaside!”

Timothy stomped its hooves to the beat, eliciting cheers. Carolyn glowered at it through the booth window. She was not about to be a double act!
As the season went on, she heard no end to people’s love for Timothy. Kids went giddy when it swivelled its ears. The next time she saw her manager, she struggled to voice her list of protests. For all she disliked the animatronic, it delighted visitors young and old. She couldn’t even say its appearance spoiled the antique ride; its design matched its neighbouring ponies so perfectly nobody would think it was fitted later. She did, however, mention the bolts.

Everyone who recognised her asked what happened to Timothy

“They’re wobblier every day. I tighten them when I do the safety checks. They’ll hold, but it’s a
design flaw if you ask me.” If it wasn’t barmy, she’d swear Timothy rocked them loose on purpose.
It seemed to move more energetically each day, especially when she sang.


Though tempted, she didn’t blame this design flaw for Timothy’s disappearance. It had been a
disorientating day. Temperatures skyrocketed; sweat-salted lips, suncream-as-perfume kind of
weather. It was a relief when the park’s PA announced closing time. She picked at her sticky
uniform and hoped she didn’t smell too terribly as she shooed away the robot enthusiasts
dawdling beside the merry-go-round. Only when she got home and cooled to a less oppressive
temperature, did she realise she hadn’t checked the bolts on Timothy’s hanger. By dawn, Timothy
was gone.

Management closed the ride, of course. Carolyn was assigned to a different attraction for the day,
one too new for her liking. Everyone who recognised her asked what happened to Timothy and
she could only say that she didn’t know. Some had visited specifically to see him, having heard
about him on the news, and were devastated to learn he was missing. Carolyn couldn’t stand the
unhappiness. CCTV cameras were all over the park, but nobody would confess what happened
the night Timothy vanished. Her manager had only asked her not to say he’d been stolen, to not
upset people further. But what else could she tell them?

On her lunch break, she took a brisk stroll around the park. Habit brought her to the merry-goround.
A small crowd mourned at the barrier. The unlit ride was accompanied with dreary signage
reading ‘CLOSED.’ Carolyn left quickly. She hummed I Do Like To Be Beside The Seaside,
remembering how Timothy looked at her whenever she sang, like the lyrics fascinated him.
She stopped walking so abruptly someone collided with her. “I’m sorry.” She side-stepped
between two carnival games where she wouldn’t be in the way. She unclipped her radio from her
belt and brought it to her mouth.

What could she say? She’ll sound mad! Worse, if she was right… It meant Timothy was something
she couldn’t comprehend. Machines she knew; mechanics, music, and electricity made up her
beautiful merry-go-round. But intelligence? Enough to listen, to think, to want?
She grumbled, “No, thank you,” while signing out at reception. She snapped, “Not for me!”
dashing through the gates and across the tram tracks. She yelped, “Absolutely not!” when sand
spilled into her trainers.

Blackpool Tower acted as a red beacon guiding her. Even at a distance, it was easy to spot the
pony no taller than her waist. She inhaled salty air and ran to him. She was still panting her
protests when she reached him, scaring off the few children clustered nearby.
“You!” She jabbed her finger at his mechanical eye, “are going back on my merry-go-round like a
good, stationary pony!”

Timothy swivelled his ears before he turned tail, inviting her to chase him. For a second, she could only gawk.
“Go on then!” hollered one of the kids.
“Oh for goodness sake!” She yanked off her trainers and peeled away her socks. Timothy took off. The children cheered as she raced after him.

 

NorthernLife June/July/Aug 24