The security company assigned him to the Riverside Mall.
At first, the idea made Thomas a little excited. Fresh out of rehab, he hadn’t been to that mall since he was a kid, the storefronts bright and filled with delights all lighting up his memories. The entire layout nearly unfolded itself in his mind from the Gold Coin Arcade and the Sal’s Pizza to the Sears hiding behind the two-story carousel that gave off obnoxiously cheery music that he could still hum with ease.
Once, he remembered, he and his grandmother tried to catch the last feature at the theater—4 screens and an 80 seat capacity—for some cartoon, which they never made. They walked the entire length of the mall in defeat, his grandmother breaking the silence with an apology, but Thomas said nothing in return. The atmosphere struck him dumb.
The entirety of the main corridor with its high ceilings and avant-garde sculptures of doves floating among spheres of tin were for them alone. The storefronts were dark and obscured by gates. Even the carousel was off, the horses with their white teeth and tails no longer vibrant, the life gone without the multi-colored lights. He imagined breaking away from his grandmother and running, running with all his speed and energy through the empty place.
The images came flooding back as he took the highway downtown.
What greeted him was not the same building that had once been a source of joy. Instead, it looked like a blockish beast drudged up from the river lazily moving behind it. Even on, the sign was rusted and some of the bulbs blackened by neglect. The parking lot was more pothole than asphalt and within the ruts were nests of cigarette butts accentuated by the occasional syringe. The service entrance was beside the main doors, the glass carved up with names and gang signs.
He found the door locked and rang a bell beside it. The day man, Carlos, was a minute before he made his way to the door and looked out its steel-mesh window. He recognized Thomas—his ID was photocopied when he was hired—and unlocked the door.
The service corridor was drab, a smell of cardboard and cheap disinfectant hanging all about it. The narrow thing was dotted with steel doors to the shops where deliveries were made and smoke breaks were had. The security room was in the center of it.
Even before entering the little room with its wall of monitors, Thomas was a little uneasy. The isolation. The decay. But, he thought, in the right context, anything could be frightening or strange. Anything at all. The dark had that power. So did the hour. Yet, what tied all the strangeness together was the person waiting for the two security guards at their station.
Mrs. Maria V. Crawford owned the mall. She was a plump woman, short in stature but gave off only a sturdy air, not one of frailty. She did not speak to Thomas until long after Carlos told the new recruit who she was. When she spoke, her voice was surprisingly buoyant and youthful.
“Mr. Castaneda has informed you of the standard duties, yes?” she asked, her black eyes never wavering.
“Not really,” Thomas said.
“No,” he told her. “They just gave me the assignment and told me to show up.”
This seemed to disappoint her. “That is… unfortunate,” she said. “Have you done this work long, Mister…”
“Clarke,” he said. “Thomas Clarke.”
“Well, Mr. Clarke, what is your experience?”
“Truth be told, this is my first week out of training,” he said. “I had some issues… I was away for a while.”
This too seemed to vex Mrs. Crawford. “Regardless,” she said finally, “this job does not require much skill. For one hour, I ask that you sit in this room and watch the monitors. If anything odd occurs, call the authorities. If nothing happens, once that hour is up, you will walk through the building. If, again, you see nothing, return here and repeat the process.”
“Have you had a lot of break-ins?”
“No,” she said. “As you no doubt noticed, this place is past its prime. More than likely, any thief would target the pawnshop down the street. At this point, I’m more interested in not incurring more costs… other than you, of course.”
“It’s understandable, with the economy—”
“The economy has little to do with it,” Crawford corrected. “This city has grown outward. The area is no longer fashionable. And, as it was, even the lowliest of anchor stores wants nothing to do with a mall that’s ‘on the outs’ to borrow a creditor’s phrase. But, as you can imagine, I don’t keep this mall running for lack of other ventures. If I were so inclined, I could sell the land and pocket a hefty profit. But… that brings me to the final and most important part of this meeting.”
“My son, Leonard,” Mrs. Crawford said.
“Does he work here too?” Thomas asked, the question making the silent Carlos fidget.
Mrs. Crawford leveled another glare at him. “Sadly, my son is… unable to work. So much of what was canon in my youth is now seen as barbarity and madness. There were… complications with Leonard. The prenatal supplement, metathormiacin, that’s what did it… made him different. You see, my son… is special. Shy. He was born healthy enough, strong enough. But, his mind never truly developed.”
“I’m sorry to hear that,” Thomas told her.
“Apologies are for tragedies, Mr. Clarke,” she shot back.
“My son is a miracle, a misunderstood miracle,” she said. “Children with his condition usually died in the womb. But, not my Leonard. He is a sweet, curious boy. It was people—with their ignorance—that forced my hand, drove him to depression and rage. He tried the world outside and was found wanting. So, I opted for this instead. He always loved this place, so I let him wander around when no one is here. He likes to look into the shops and ride the carousel. And, lately, he’s even taken to playing in the arcade.”
“So, I’ll meet him and introduce—”
“You most certainly will not meet my son,” Mrs. Crawford said. “People looking at him… triggers the old feelings. People made him uncomfortable. I’ve informed him that you will be here during his playtime, so if you hear the carousel or see the arcade gate open, it is most likely him, thus no cause for alarm. But, I cannot stress it enough, don’t speak to him, don’t gesture to him, and, above all, do not look at him.”
“Is that what happened to the last guy?”
“My lawyers have informed me to say nothing about it,” Crawford said, struggling to rise. Carlos moved to help her, but one stare sent him back to the wall. Standing, finally, Mrs. Crawford said, “In spite of all that I’ve told you, this should prove to be a very mundane job, Mr. Clarke. One hour here. One hour of rounds. Repeat until Carlos opens in the morning. And, above all, if you should ever find yourself near Leonard, he will ignore you unless you stare, understood?”
“Good,” she said, making her way to the door. “If there was an incident, you could explain what happened to a police officer,” she said. “You could tell him about the thief, give descriptions. All very neat. Leonard, on the other hand, if he were to catch someone… he wouldn’t be able to explain… The bathroom is next to the food court and the vending machines work.”
“I didn’t bring any change,” Thomas said.
Mrs. Crawford looked at him, a nearly imperceptible grin creeping across her thin lips. “That’s a pity,” she said and left.
Carlos was close behind her.
The footsteps receded down the corridor and then a metal door was shut and a bolt thrown. Thomas Clarke stood in the guard station and tried to adjust to the vast and empty solitude. The walls of monitors served as a reminder of the sheer size of the mall—once the fourth longest in Texas and still favored by mall-walkers—in relation to himself. But, a screen showing the carousel at an odd angle reminded Thomas that he wasn’t alone.
In that empty building, he wasn’t really alone.
There was someone named Leonard.
The first night, Thomas dreaded the thought of making the rounds, the image of him in the dark with a socially inept recluse building and building into a tension in his shoulders. The monitors didn’t ease any of it. The lack of color and sound mixed with the shadows of the storefronts and kiosks until everything looked sinister. All of the cameras recorded at strange angles like the carousel’s frame. He thought on it, figuring it was a way of letting Leonard move around freely. That realization also made the anticipation worse.
At the top of the hour, Thomas took a series of deep breaths and walked into the main corridor of the Riverside Mall. It was a shock to see the state of a childhood memory. What was left were the scraps of commerce.
The benches were square slabs or reclaimed planks painted a sticky blue and the rectangular pots—filled with leafy shrubs once—that dotted the lane were filled with cigarette butts and trees grown withered and cancerous in the stale dirt. Some of the gated storefronts, Thomas realized, had been closed long before he ever got there, their innards vacant except for the bones of countertops and empty display racks. Places with names and logos of a dying era, copies of a copy of a copy, until there was nothing left but distortions.
One such place was a toy store, J & B Toys, with a sign made up of a train with a smiling face; from its smokestack puffed the store’s name in a style popular twenty years ago. From what he could see, the toys were either entirely generic and nondescript or they were shameless knockoffs. Bins of teddy bears left to die and a wall of discolored heroes with misspelled names. Thomas used his flashlight to see further in back where there was a stack of baby dolls of an off-putting design. Even from that distance, Thomas felt the itch of the cheap fabric.
Another, which replaced a Gadzooks if he remembered correctly, was a sporting goods store where, for all the time he stood staring into it, couldn’t find a brand or logo on any of the bats or shoes or balls.
It depressed him to see the mall in such a state, his boots scrunching on broken tiles and dodging more than one “construction” area, which were nothing more than open holes in the floor taped off with cheap plastic ribbons anchored by trashcans. But, as he neared the eastern side, a sign, faded as it was, brought a smile to his face.
The Gold Coin Arcade.
He almost ran to it, all the old memories of pumping quarters into the Koth-Dar the Barbarian machine or firing off round after round in Classroom of the Dead. Always dark except for the lights of the arcade screens. But, he knew what kind of place the Riverside Mall had become. Thomas hoped that somehow, by some miracle, the arcade had been spared. The smell of it dashed his hopes away. A stale stink of mold and cigarette smoke left to moisten in the humidity of the air.
Some of the arcade games were still inside, their cabinets discolored and chipped. But, the place was now filled mostly with slot machines and video poker. He lingered there, hoping to catch a glimpse of any game he remembered, but was again disappointed. He turned away from it and lit a cigarette, knowing no one would care. He couldn’t make it any worse with its coin-operated rocket ships half destroyed and its lone restaurant called Pizza & Beer which smelled like congealed grease and farts when he passed it.
He didn’t see or hear Leonard that first night, only the vague shadows of the past springing to mind as though they wanted Thomas to mourn the loss of what had once been. Still, he always kept his mind sharp, ready to freeze at the sound of a strange echo or whispered word. Yet, it wasn’t until the fourth night that he had any real evidence Leonard existed.
On his third set of rounds, he stood at the front window of Babette’s which, from the merchandise, catered to the slutty but economical grandmothers of the area. After lighting a cigarette, he noticed one of the potted plants had been dug up, the soil and cigarette butts scattered on the floor.
Further down, dirty handprints smeared the carved-up walls and smudged the glass of a jewelry store, their cubic zirconia and glass pieces glistening in the mall’s sparse light. Further still, one of the store’s gates had been lifted enough for a man to squeeze through. Unsure of what to do, he stood outside listening.
In the heavy silence, hangers clinked on their racks and heavy feet, bare flesh on tile, moved about the dark. It laughed, throaty and buffoonish, and Thomas froze. It was not the jubilant laughter of a thief collecting his loot but that of a child happy to have found some shiny bauble to consume them for the moment. Yet, there was a raw power to it, a strength in its childish unpredictability.
Thomas backed away slowly, careful not to make a sound. As Crawford had told him, all he had to do was make the rounds and leave Leonard alone. If it was a thief, he’d find out about it the next day and tell Crawford that all he did was follow her instructions. He’d be blameless.
Back in the guard room, Thomas watched the monitors diligently. Even the hint of movement sent him face-to-face with a greasy monitor. But, the angles were all wrong. Perfect for a Hitchcock film but terrible for any real surveillance. He didn’t see or hear Leonard again that night, though his rounds were now exercises in dread, each step a false herald to that idiotically powerful laugh.
Two nights later, Leonard followed him. Thomas had made his way from the center of the mall to the carousel. Fat and painted to resemble a circus tent, the carousel was marred and savaged like the rest of the mall. The horses tattooed, the brass torn off their saddles and hooves. The old scenes painted on the inner walls were hidden in tagger-scrawl and misspelled messages.
Thomas thought he’d heard something, a click or scrape against the metal of the two-story carousel, but paid it no attention. It was old and abused, decaying a little each day until all that would be left were wooden corpses and ink.
He’d made a ritual of it. Since no one had said anything about his smoking, Thomas lit one up at either end of the mall and enjoyed it on the way back to the guard room. That night, he stopped in sight of one of the entrances, the pollution of light seeping in like a limp tongue into the hall.
Outside, the river flowed and his car sat alone in the parking lot.
He smoked his cigarette slowly, watching the glow of the moon surf on the flowing water. When the flame singed the filter, Thomas brought up his boot and stubbed out the cigarette. As he did, a shape receded behind one of the rectangular pots. From the little he saw of it, the shadow was shaped somewhat like a person, but, knowing it was Leonard—any thief or junkie would’ve clubbed him to death long before—Thomas didn’t look back. Instead, he continued his rounds, keeping his stride even and calm.
Yet, if Leonard could see Thomas’s face, he’d know, even with his primitive brain, that Thomas was terrified. Terrified that now all Thomas heard between his steps were the soft pads of bare feet moving from shadow to shadow, a thing that had been put into hiding, isolated from all the world. In rehab, Thomas learned that, sometimes, solitude helped ease a troubled mind. Yet, other times, it degraded them further.
For the briefest of seconds, Thomas tried to put a positive light on his pursuit. He thought, perhaps, Leonard was like a curious puppy, sniffing around behind a new person in his territory. The thought made a single breath easier before he remembered that even if Leonard followed him out of some sort of curiosity, Leonard was still very much a human and with such a designation came a complex proclivity toward the deviant.
Maybe, Thomas thought, he followed to see if Thomas touched a favored plaything or otherwise disobeyed some other unspoken rule of the house. Or, Thomas panicked, Leonard’s state of mind was toward the sexual, toward ideas that would have Thomas pinned face-first on the floor with an idiot’s cock up his ass and all the screaming would have Leonard pounding harder and harder until Thomas needed to go to San Antonio or Houston for an experimental surgery to fix his anus and throat. Or, maybe still, he’d never get to that point, Leonard, satisfied and no longer able to pound away at Thomas’s destroyed ass, would then turn violent, beating Thomas to death.
All of those images flooded his imagination and threatened to drown him. They made his entire being go through the primal struggle of survival versus logic and reason. Every fiber and muscle wanted to run at the grunts formed out of an idiot’s mouth, wanted to jump at every treble-filled breath. But, his mind told him to walk slowly. Calmly. Leonard, by all accounts, was like a pet tiger. Yes, it grew accustomed to people, learned not to bother them, but, like all captive animals, it was still very much a wild thing. Unpredictable and dangerous.
Finding the door to the service hall was like seeing god. Still, even when the door was closed, Thomas didn’t sprint for the guard room. If Leonard was the unpredictable beast-man Thomas thought he was, even the slightest sound of retreat might send him into a rampage. So, he made his way to the room slowly. Opened the door in no rush.
In all that time, the service door never opened after him.
Still, he locked the door and didn’t leave the room until Carlos relieved him mid-morning.
For the next few nights, Leonard was bolder. Never standing in plain sight, but louder and sloppier in his trailing. The full weight and strength of his limbs present in the sounds of his approach. Throughout it, Thomas kept his pace and his hand on the nightstick provided by the company—they wouldn’t risk a former junkie with a gun or taser. He knew it would do him little good. Every scenario always ending with his horrible death.
Leonard was a wild thing and Thomas was a frightened one.
Once, lighting a cigarette, Thomas finally caught a glimpse of his pursuer in the reflection of a mirrored column. For the days afterward, during his rounds, Thomas held onto his nightstick so tight his knuckles hurt for the rest of the day. Not only did he have his own morbid imagination to contend with, but now he knew Leonard’s dimensions.
Crawford had said he was special, was shy. Thomas thought it was due to his stunted mental age. But, the deformities hadn’t stopped with Leonard’s mind. It seeped outward into his limbs and flesh. Suddenly, Thomas was painfully aware of why the cameras were set at such odd angles.
The bulbous skull and drooping chin. One small arm pressed to its chest like an injured wing; the other was strong but twisted. All of its visible skin was patchy and gray. It moved as though it were an ape, its large arm leading and his deformed legs catching up behind it.
Still, as crippled as Leonard seemed, Thomas knew the truth about him. He was a threat. Never to be trusted. The man was libel—isolated from society and any concepts of boundaries save the most primal—to do all types of things to Thomas against his will.
Yet, through it all, Leonard always kept away. Never close enough to touch and never so aggressive as to be seen. But, he was always there.
At the end of one shift, Thomas asked Carlos about Leonard.
“Just don’t look at him,” Carlos said. “He won’t do anything—”
“And he’s running around all night, following me,” Thomas told him. “He’s followed me-”
“I used to have your job,” Carlos said. “And trust me, Leonard is ugly, but harmless if you leave him alone. If he’s following you, it’s because he’s curious. That’s all.”
“Curious? Curious about what?”
“Ah, it’s like a dog,” Carlos said. “Just wants to know who you are. In time, he’ll get bored and leave you alone too.”
Thomas nodded and went home to soak his cramping hand in ice-water.
Carlos had been right. After a week, Leonard no longer hounded Thomas on his bi-hourly rounds. It seemed Leonard found him as boring as all the other security guards—there had to be more than just Carlos, he was sure—and went back to terrorizing the mall in his own harmless way.
One day Leonard squirmed his way into the toy store and overturned a bin of dusty teddy bears. Thomas heard his brutish laugh throughout his entire circuit of the mall. On another, Leonard managed to turn on one of the games in the Gold Coin Arcade. Thomas walked to the brief tunes of 32-bit glory cut short by sounds of loss and Leonard’s frustrations. But, most nights, Leonard played on the carousel.
Thomas never saw it even in the guard room. Only the slow revolutions and lights were visible at the camera’s odd angle. But, Thomas heard it. The cheap circus music scratching through worn-out speakers. The squeak of gears. And Leonard’s laughter. Full of sound and fury as it was, Thomas couldn’t help but to pick out a twinge of innocence in it. Perhaps it was in the glee that Thomas felt somehow matched his own when he too rode that carousel, with his grandmother watching on a nearby bench. Or, maybe, it was what Carlos had told him.
Leonard was like a puppy. Like any animal.
He was not inherently good nor evil. He was a creature of basic reactions. There was a bestial quality to his intelligence, prone to fits of emotion that overpowered his limited intellect, but there was no malice in it.
As dogs needed to be fed, Leonard needed to be ignored.
More and more, Thomas thought on the words until there was less fear in Thomas than pity towards Leonard Crawford, harmless but forever shunned. Ugly but kind, drawn to the meeting places of the public but only when they were gone, leaving nothing but the ghosts of their scents. Thomas thought the world was particularly cruel then. A perfectly fine creature confined to a decaying place all for the comfort of the masses.
It would take too long to explain to each and every one of them why they shouldn’t be afraid. He wasn’t cruel. The discoloration was not contagious.
If only they could hear him laugh, Thomas thought. At first, as it was with him, it would be frightening. The sheer palpability of it was seldom heard in daylight. But, if they could only stand there, listening. Thomas knew they’d feel the warmth and innocent joy in it. They could learn something from Leonard’s laugh. Like a child seeing through the graffiti and faded paint to the core of a new discovery that, in its own way, was exciting and beautiful.
It was infectious. Not that Thomas dared join in with it—in fact, the creature hid himself whenever Thomas got within fifty yards of him—but he listened.
Thomas grew to admire it.
Admiration soon grew to envy.
Thomas used to laugh like that. Used to look at the world like it was built on magic and miracles, all of it new and exotic. Life stole that from him, though Thomas couldn’t remember how exactly. Ex-girlfriends took some of it with them, a few by force. School took another along with a sizeable chunk of his wages still. Work stole the rest, grinding away the days with early or late shifts, gnawing until weeks slid by with nothing to show for it but more bills and a crick in his neck from a shitty mattress he couldn’t afford to replace. But, those reflections, when matched against Leonard’s voice, made him feel worse.
Thomas tried to find that feeling again with needles and powders, but they’d only left him twice as empty and twice as broke. But, not Leonard.
Leonard had learned enough of the world to hide from it, the memories of scorn and terror still fresh in his mind. Leonard’s life was frolicking through the garbage of visitors like they were relics of a world he once knew. Yet, despite it, Leonard laughed with what sounded like his entire being.
All over a carousel he’d ridden for decades.
In the guard room and on the way home, Thomas tried to recall a time that he was ever happy enough to laugh like that. The fact that he couldn’t followed him for days.
Thomas got it into his head that seeing Leonard on the carousel would somehow transfer some of that childish joy into him. But, as enamored with the idea as Thomas was, he still knew that Leonard was dangerous. All he needed would be a glimpse, just one quick look at Leonard’s face further deformed by happiness. He’d have to be quiet, careful.
It took days of deliberation, of convincing himself to do it. It was Leonard’s private matter, he told himself once. But, that thought was demolished by Thomas’s selfishness. The world needed the kind of unbridled positivity that was hidden away at the Riverside Mall. All Thomas had to do was witness it and then it would pass like a virus. The world, he told himself, would be a better place if he took one look at Leonard trapped in a moment of pure joy.
For a week, he only left the guard room when the cheap circus music came and even then, he only walked close enough to see the lights play across the storefronts. Always close, but never too close, until the day when it played like a siren’s song and Thomas decided he needed to look.
He removed his boots, the floor gritty through his socks. He stepped a few times to test the silence. Then, he lit a cigarette, puffing at it until he was sure the cherry was bright and strong. Thomas dropped it, thinking that if Leonard was anything like an animal, the smell’s distance might deceive him enough to let Thomas get close.
Even then, Thomas didn’t move immediately. The human mind is resistant to any difference including the addition of joy. The carousel creaked on, the music played. Leonard laughed and pulled at the stained poles.
The carousel revealed itself by centimeters, mere glimpses of the tops of bulbs at first, then the edges and eventually parts of the horses. Defiled as they were, they kept a steady pace, the gears all greased and in working order. It took Thomas a moment to spot Leonard among the horses. Thomas thought he’d find Leonard at the bottom, his disfigurement not allowing any more than that.
Leonard was resourceful, Thomas realized, spotting Leonard on the second story, seated on a two-seater shaped like a carriage and pulled by a thick-necked Clydesdale. His monstrous arms were held up as though he were holding a set of reins. The simple flick of his wrists, the snap of imaginary leather that urged his steed through untold adventures playing out in Leonard’s head, brought forth that laugh that Thomas wanted to hear.
Thomas stepped closer and stared at Leonard’s face. The eyes were semi-closed and his mouth gaped open like a wound. The teeth he had showed yellow and twisted. All the movements were the workings of broken parts reassembled. Yet, Thomas saw through it. He saw no skin color splashed over Leonard’s cheeks. Paid no attention to the misshapen skull and mouth. All he saw was a joy as pure as the universe in its first instant. A thing no amount of money or drugs could ever duplicate.
And he’d found it at the end of a road of laziness and bad decisions.
When the carousel’s revolution hid Leonard from sight, Thomas was filled with what he was convinced was the grace of charity. In flashes, he went over the next few months with Leonard. The gaining of his trust and start of their friendship, all started because Leonard saw that Thomas wouldn’t look away, didn’t treat him cruelly. Thomas thought he could teach Leonard to speak and he would, after many weeks of talks, would reveal to Leonard that it was the simple joy that he displayed on the carousel that inspired Thomas to be a better person.
The thoughts filled Thomas with a warm, sleepy feeling. A sense that he’d found a path that he could be proud of and that would lead him to new heights of the human experience.
When Leonard came around again, he stared at Thomas. There was no anger in his eyes, just a hesitant curiosity. Leonard got out of his seat and, with a nimbleness Thomas thought Leonard couldn’t possess, climbed down from the still moving carousel. Once on the tiles, Leonard looked at Thomas, unsure of what to do.
“It’s okay,” Thomas said, patting the air. “I’m not here to hurt you. I want to be friends.”
Leonard was uncertain of what to do next, but, after a few moments, he shuffled a few steps closer and sniffed the air as if to test it.
Thomas knelt and beckoned him forward. “I’m not going to hurt you,” he said gently.
Leonard inched closer. As he neared, Thomas got a clearer view of the extent of Leonard’s deformities. The goiters and swellings. The patches of hair and scaly skin. A mouth with only a few gnarled teeth.
“It’s okay,” Thomas said again. “I just want to be friends. Don’t you want to be friends?”
Leonard grunted, trying to imitate Thomas’s speech.
“Yes, yes,” Thomas said, smiling. “I want to be your friend, Leonard.”
At the sound of his name, a distortion rippled through Leonard’s frame, settling in his eyes.
There was no innocence in them. Yellow and sickly as they were, they had more tiger than lamb. Thomas stood in their predatory focus and was introduced to another universal experience alive since the first seconds. Fear. The fear mice have of hawks. The fear calves at the sound of howls in the night. There was no humanity in Leonard’s eyes. Only anger. Anger so complex that Leonard’s mind could articulate it in anything but the pose of a wild animal ready to attack.
Like the laughter, the purity in Leonard’s anger was hypnotic.
Thomas didn’t react to Leonard jettisoning forward like a wounded ape until Leonard was only a few feet away, teeth bared and voice quaking. Thomas turned to run, but his socks slid on the tile, sending him to his knees. Like a sugar-coated infant, he crawled as fast as he could.
He knew it was useless. Knew Leonard would tear him apart. Still, the animal part of his brain screamed scenarios at him, all the horrid possibilities. There was a purity in it too. No worry of property of defilement or defamation, only the desire to feel no pain, the desire to be away, away, away.
Something heavy landed on his back, flattening Thomas out. His brain told all of him to move, to summon all his strength. Only his arms responded, flailing fruitlessly. The misshapen hand clamped onto his back of Thomas’s skull and pressed his forehead into the tile.
Thomas felt the cheap tile crunch against his forehead and felt the pressure of Leonard’s weight on his neck. Behind his eyes, a pressure built until he couldn’t shut his eyes against their inflation and evacuation.
Leonard laughed, hearty and strong.
The carousel spun on.