There were so many stories about midnight. The magic hour, the witching hour. But they were all just stories. Katie was a modern girl, and wisely didn't believe in that kind of thing. Midnight, after all, was just a time on a clock. It was always midnight somewhere.
So when the carnival man had told her not to run the carousel ride after midnight, she hadn't paid much attention. "Don't let little kids ride it late at night" was what she heard. The carnival was open until twelve-thirty the week that it was in town, but who would let their little kids out that late?
But it wasn't really an issue. The carousel wasn't that popular anyway. Katie was pretty, and that helped attract some attention to it — she was pretty sure that was why she was hired — but it was a little kids' ride. A few teenagers rode it on dates. And one pleasant elderly couple relived a ride from their youth. But those were all early riders — by nine o'clock, she was left alone with nothing but the ceramic horses and her thoughts.
And her mind did wander. She mostly remembered how Erik had looked at graduation. She'd had a crush on him for years, and that was the last time she'd seen him. He'd even congratulated her on graduating, although she'd been too flummoxed to say anything in return. She'd wished she had the guts then to ask him out on a date — or better yet, when she'd bumped into him in the halls at school for the three years beforehand after he'd transferred to this dinky little town — but that was done. Water under the bridge. Now she was by herself, working this odd job to save up for college in the fall, and not on a date on this last Saturday night of the carnival like every other girl in town was.
She rued her luck and her shyness. There was no Erik in her future. She didn't know what she wanted to do in college either — she had no trouble getting into a good one with her good grades, but she didn't have any goals beyond that. That hadn't really been her goal either — that was more her parents' doing. And here she wasn't even working a normal burger-flipping job that would last longer than a week. Her life had stopped at graduation, and she really wanted a do-over.
A figure approached through the darkness.
"Hey, is this ride still open?"
Katie's heart nearly exploded. She nodded, dumbly. Standing before her, with a ball of cotton candy in his hand, was Erik. He wasn't the tallest boy in school, but he was tall. He wasn't the strongest boy in school, but he was strong. She had quietly tracked him and his activities for years, and like her, he had wandered. No clubs. No real sports. A little time on the tennis team, but that hadn't lasted.
He ran his free hand through his sandy-brown hair, grinning with perfect white teeth. "I always liked these old carousels," he said. "They're really a slice of classic Americana. And I like them, even if they're not a 'cool' ride. I had to lie to the guys so I could come over here." He glanced over his shoulder, and there were a couple of faces leering in the distance.
She nodded again. Say something, girl! He's right there! Say something!
"I told them that I was coming over here to ask you out on a date," he said, and it took all the force of her will to keep her feet planted on the ground. "So now this is the part where you look like you'll say yes, but only if I ride the carousel first."
The lump in her throat was a mile thick. "Y—yes, but only — only if you ride — the carousel first."
He looked at her quizzically. "Are you alright?"
"F—fine. Just something in the air here."
"Okay." He looked back, and the faces leering in the distance hadn't moved. "Darn those jerks. Okay, look, I know it's an imposition, but as long as they're watching — could you join me on the carousel so it looks like we really made that deal?"
She had nothing to say, and nodded stupidly. She looked down at the carousel controls. The clock read 12:07. Whatever. He was here. She had a shot at him. This was going to be the night she'd remember the rest of her life. Running the carousel would be fine. It was only a very little after midnight anyway.
"C — climb on," she said, pointing.
He walked over to the carousel, picked out a blue horse, and started to mount it. "No, not that one!" she said, biting her lip. "That one." She pointed.
He consented, continuing around the carousel, following her finger, and stopped at her goal. The horse was a marvel, a great fire-red beast with an orange mane and tail. It was the best horse on the carousel by far, bigger than the others, with exquisite detail that she'd studied for turn after turn after turn all week. She watched her knight climb onto his horse, and nearly melted at the sight.
She took a deep breath, flipped the switch, and ran at a full sprint over to the carousel. To the horse in front of him. That would be hers. She couldn't ride behind. She'd fall off if she spent five straight minutes staring at him. No, she had to ride in front, on this dark-purple horse with the pinkish tail, always chased by the red one, but never caught. It was as close as she dared get to him. She held onto the pole as if it was keeping her alive.
The music started to play, and the carousel began to spin. Erik grinned. "I love these old things. I like modern conveniences and new rides too, but there's really no substitute for the classics. Plus, I like horses. My family owns one, but I don't get to spend much time with it. You're lucky that you get to run this thing all day."
She nodded. She couldn't speak. Around and around and around — her head was spinning faster than the carousel was.
"I've seen you before, in school. You graduated in my class, didn't you?" he said. "What's your name?"
"K — Katie," she said.
"That's pretty," he said. "It fits you."
He did not just compliment her! Her mind was swimming.
"I'm really sorry I forced you to ride with me," he said. "I'll make it up to you. I at least owe you dinner, or something."
"Is — that a date?" she said, gulping.
"Uh — sure," he said. "If you'd like. It's been a while since I was last on a date, but, uh, sure."
The carousel was surely spinning faster — or was it Katie's head? The lights of the carousel were brighter, too, flashing faster. She started to feel dizzy. Around and around, and he was there. The impossible was happening. He'd asked her on a date. It was no wonder it seemed too much.
"I — is this ride — off?" he asked. "It — it feels like it's faster. Too fast."
Maybe it was. But she couldn't let go of the pole. She'd fall over if she dared.
The lights flashed brighter and brighter, and surely the carousel was spinning faster now, the music an indiscernible melange of notes, and suddenly sparks flew down from the ceiling, golden-white stars raining over her, twirling about her, whirling about her, and she looked up, daring to bask in the cascading sparks that fell over all the horses, every one around the ride. The world vanished in a whirl of white.
The carousel's lights dimmed, and it wound back down to a halt. Two figures stumbled off the ride, their feet clanking loudly on the hard metal platform, and disappeared into the hazy blackness behind it.
And before the lights went out, before the last glimmer went away, one could just barely see that two of the horses were missing.
* * *
Katie wandered in the darkness. Blackness. Grayness. No, this wasn't darkness — it was fog. And it was lifting, quickly, as she moved. It was brighter over there.
She emerged from a forest into a green meadow on a bright, brilliant sunny day, with puffy white clouds in the sky.
It had been night, hadn't it? She remembered the carnival. She worked there. It was late then. Yes, she had worked the carousel ride. Tonight was the last night before they packed up. And — Erik.
He had been there, with her, on the carousel. That was right. No, that was a dream. Impossible. And then — it grew dizzy and hazy and bright. And then she was here, standing in a meadow, the wafting breeze gently brushing the grasses against her legs.
She saw him.
He was there in the meadow, farther down, riding a fire-red horse that she swore looked like the one she remembered from the carousel. He was there, and she was there, and she didn't know where there was, but he was there, and that was all that mattered.
She had always liked running. And a big, open meadow was a good place for running. She sprinted, a gazelle in the breeze, savoring every leaping step toward him. Her ears started to clear, and she could hear a horse thundering up behind her, nearing her, but she didn't care if someone was following; she had to reach him.
She neared him, and as she did, he turned at the waist to look at her. She skidded to a halt. Her jaw dropped wide.
In his hand, he held his shirt, and had a puzzled but amused look on his face. His chest was bare, his sturdy pecs and strong arms exposed for the world to see. Her eyes dared trail downward, over his smooth stomach, over the impossible junction between man and horse. The carousel horse was real, a real live creature with smooth red hair over rippling muscles and a long, flowing, swishing tail, and it was a part of him, joined to him at his waist, so smoothly blended that she could not tell where horse ended and man began.
"Erik!" she said.
"So you're a centaur too," he said, pointing.
She paused, and looked down at herself. What had once been long brown tresses around her face were now long and pink-violet, perfectly accentuating her short yellow blouse. And below there could be no doubt: Smooth, soft feminine skin grew darker and darker at her waist, melding into a rich, deep violet body that trailed out behind her to a swishing tail that matched her hair. Four hooves supported four elegant, graceful legs, and they were hers. She stared at herself in wonderment.
She shook the impossible sight from her mind, and looked up at him again. His eyes had been a deep brown before, and now were silver-gray, and his hair had gained a tint of orange to match his tail.
"So is there a reason you turned me into a centaur and brought me — wherever here is?" he said.
"No!" she gasped. She stared at him in terror, her blue eyes as wide as eyes could go.
"Okay, okay, calm down," he said. "I didn't think you did, but I thought I should ask."
"I don't know what happened," she said, looking down and away.
She looked back at him, staring at his waist. "Are you — really half Firebolt now?"
"That's what I named that horse," she said. "I named them all. There's not much else to do at the carnival."
"Oh," he said. "Then which one are you?"
She looked down at herself. "I'm — Priscilla. Firebolt was always chasing after her. She was a lucky horse."
He chuckled. "Well, I guess we'd better start walking. I don't know where we are, but we should probably try to find civilization." He started forward.
"Wait — " she said, and he paused.
Katie bit her lip. "I know — I know this is going to sound crazy, but I've had a total crush on you for years, and this has got to be a dream, but now that we're here, and you look like that with your shirt off and — "
She darted over to him, grabbed his face, pulled him down, and kissed him. He was startled, but in a moment, he put his hand behind her head and pulled her closer and deeper into the kiss. Their tongues touched for a moment, and it was like an electric shock ran through her body.
At length, he separated from the kiss, smiling. "Um — hello," he said.
"Yeah, definitely," she said. "Please tell me you like that."
"I won't say I didn't," he grinned.
"Would you — would you be willing to humor me?" she asked.
"Sure," he said.
"Chase me," she said, and bolted.
High and far over the rolling meadow she ran, her arms spread out beside her to catch the air, the wind rushing through her hair and tail, and behind her, she could hear the thunder of his hooves, feel the rumble as he struck the ground, feel him approaching but never quite reaching her, and at length she slowed, smiling and panting, enough to let him reach her.
Katie felt something pull behind her, and when she looked back, Erik had grabbed her tail.
She laughed, slowing to a walk, and stopped.
"Hey," she said. "Let go."
"No," he said, smiling.
The back of his hand brushed her hindquarters as he held her, and she gasped. That, too, felt like electricity, and it raced through all of her body, from head to tail to hoof to hoof.
She looked back at him, her mouth slightly gaping. "Do — that again," she said.
"You — touched me. My — butt. Do it again," she said.
Erik's eyes went wide, but the horse-girl looked certain. He let go of her tail, and placed one hand on each round cheek.
She melted. "Your hands are warm," she said.
"Is that bad?"
"No," she said. "Best dream ever." She closed her eyes, savoring his touch. There was no way she could have imagined this, but it was so very good, so very perfect. It was impossible, completely impossible, for her to be a horse and for him to be a horse and for two horse people to be racing through the fields together, but they were here, and he was close, and if this was the only way she could have him, then it was how she would have him.
She pulled her hindquarters free of his touch and turned around, facing him. She took a deep breath, looked up at him nervously, then reached around behind her yellow blouse and loosed one button, two buttons, three buttons, four, five — and then let the blouse slip over her arms and fall gently to the ground, revealing small, pert breasts unencumbered by a bra.
Katie looked up at him sheepishly, and squeezed her breasts together a little with the sides of her arms to show off her cleavage.
"Wow," he said, dumbfounded.
"Do you — like them?" she asked.
"You can touch them, if you want," she said.
Erik stood there stupidly.
She took a step closer, and took his right hand in hers, and placed it over her left breast. She looked up at him and smiled. "Go ahead."
After a moment, he began to touch, ever so gently, his hand on her skin, over her breast, around her breast, and then just barely brushing her nipple. It stiffened at the touch.
She took his hand again, and made it cup her breast. "Squeeze?"
He did, and she smiled. He watched her intently now, staring deep into her rich blue eyes, watching every reaction as he pressed and rubbed and squeezed her breast. He was gentle, very gentle at first, but she seemed to enjoy more, and after a while he was rubbing her breasts, hard, squeezing her nipples while she cooed and moaned, one arm behind her to hold her close, his lips kissing at her neck and shoulders. She leaned back, her eyes closed, savoring every part of him that she could feel.
But it wasn't enough.
Her eyes pried open, and she took his hand and gently pulled it free of her chest. She stood back upright.
"More," she said.
She took a step back. "I don't know if I'm imagining that we're here," she said, "or dreaming that we're here, or if we're really here. Maybe I'm insane and in an institution right now, and you're just a figment. But I don't care. It feels real. It feels so real. I've wanted you for years, and I have you here, now, and even if we're somehow carnival horses in this dream I don't care. I want you, all of you, inside me and around me and through me. I want you to make love to me, use me, take me, have delicious, impossible dream sex with me, to claim me for your own, and I won't take no for an answer. I won't lose this chance. I won't wake up before I've gotten the one thing I've wanted so much for so long."
He had nothing to say. Her words flattered him, she could see. She circled around him, slowly, like a predator circling its kill, a dark look in her eyes. She would not miss this chance. Not now. She ran her hand over his hindquarters, tugging playfully at his tail. Even if his was the wrong butt, she was claiming it as hers. She'd cared for it, polished it, cleaned it, watched over it. It was hers. Firebolt had sought Priscilla, and Katie had sought Erik, and now both would get what they wanted.
She knelt down beside him, and reached under him, smelling his scent. There was no ceramic body part here; there was a real, live, hanging chunk of horse-man flesh, larger than she had imagined such a thing could be. She wanted it. Even if it was weird, even if it was a horse, it was him, and she wanted him, whatever that might entail. She caressed it, gently, and he responded, his member stiffening as she touched it. More. More. She had to see it all, to see that there was no inch of him that wouldn't want her. Bigger and bigger it grew, and she marveled that she not only wanted to see it but wanted to feel it. It was not weird, not like she expected: She was a centaur, and he was a centaur, and it was right that she should want him, all of him.
She leaned over and licked the glistening sweat from it, and it tasted like him: Not like a man, not like a horse, but like him, like the one and only being she desired. She leaned closer still, and, holding it in both hands, she took all that she could of the flared tip in her mouth, and sucked on it, trying to draw from it every bit that it would give her.
Erik gasped, and bucked, and Katie knew he was getting closer.
She let go of him and stood up. She did not know how to do this. She had never done this as a human, and although she knew the mechanics of sex, she had no idea how to proceed in these bodies. But instinct took over where reason failed. She ran her hand on his side as she walked past him, and stopped in front of him. She wiggled her butt at him, looking back over her shoulder, and motioned with her finger for him to come closer.
He stepped up behind her, and lifted her tail out of his way. There were lips there, hidden under it, pretty dark lips that looked like they were made of rough leather but they were soft, and her mind nearly exploded as his fingers ran over them.
And then suddenly his fingers slipped inside, and Katie planted her hooves, grabbed her breasts, and cried to the sky as she experienced her first orgasm.
She stood, panting, for a moment, as the unexpected wash of joy ran through her from head to tail and back again.
"Oooooh," she said.
"Are you okay?" he said, pausing. He held up his hand. It was dripping.
"I — I'm fine," she said, looking back at him. "Don't — stop."
Down his hand went again, this time deeper inside her, and it was all she could do to hold onto the grass with her hooves. It was impossible, feeling him like this, but so good, and his hands were everywhere, every inch of her —
Katie felt something brush her clitoris, and she screamed with joy as another orgasm overtook her.
She breathed hard for a moment, watching the stars dancing before her eyes. There should not be stars during midday, but there they were, dancing before her eyes and and laughing with her. This was impossible, and she would surely wake any moment, but as long as it would continue, so would she.
The world slowly reconnected with her, and she realized he was still fondling her, his hand deep inside, rubbing against places she didn't know she had, while his other hand stroked her clitoris. She took a step forward, pulling him out.
"More?" she said, looking back over her shoulder.
"How do you mean —?"
"I want you this time," she said.
"I'm not sure how — "
"Haven't you ever watched a nature video? I hold my tail to the side, like this — " and her tail flipped up and over, revealing her pretty dark lips — "and then I wink at you, like this — " and those pretty dark lips parted and pouted, revealing an even darker region inside, surrounded by pink flesh. His mind began to swim, staring at the intoxicating shapes emerging between her cheeks. "And then when I'm dripping and wet and ready — and I'm very dripping and wet and ready — you climb on top of me, and take every inch of that long, gorgeous thing you have hanging under you and drive it deep inside me."