For a moment I think I’m dead. Light flickering through a hazy tunnel reveals a white oval surrounded by a field of khaki. The oval contains an inscription, which my brain slowly deciphers to read “Kevin”. Nametags? In heaven?
“It’s alright. I think she just fainted.”
Whoever “Kevin” is, his voice carries a comforting air of authority. Two small forms enter my line of vision.
“Aunt Kathy, are you OK?”
It occurs to me that, as they are above me, I must be down. Down where? A firmness beneath my back confirms what I’d begun to suspect. I am flat on the ground, except for my feet which are pointing toward the sky. How did I get here?
Then I remember.
My sister’s family was visiting me for spring vacation. My two nephews arrived primed to go to an amusement park.
“We wanna ride roller coasters.”
I hadn’t anticipated this. The last time they came their tastes ran to the merry-go-round and petting zoo. Surely they didn’t mean the big coasters--ones whose names contained words like “scream” and “doom”. We collected our sunscreen, cameras, and credit cards and drove to the nearest theme park. It was coasters they wanted, and this park had them in spades.
Minutes (or was it hours?) before I found myself splayed on the ground, we stood in front of a twisted behemoth that resembled a child’s discarded Slinky. Enormous loops of tangled metal lay scattered on the ground as a steel beast slung screaming passengers along its crooked spine.
“Are you sure about this?” my voice squeaked. I regretted not having made a will. They were resolute.
“C’mon Aunt Kathy. Ride with us.”
Fearing the loss of my “cool aunt” status, I climbed into the claws of the steel beast and it embraced me with a large black safety bar. A pimply-faced attendant strode down the rows of passengers checking the harness. My eyes implored him to fabricate some reason why this journey could not commence. He walked on, unmoved, clearly in cahoots with the beast.
With a jolt the creature began its slow ascent, carrying us upward as a votive offering to its fiendish god. We rose toward the sky, the slow mechanical ticking of the monster’s heart counting down the seconds until our death.
“Woohoo--this is gonna be great!”
The park receded beneath us. Packs of gawkers waited below for the anguished screams of terrified passengers. My sister stood among them, pregnant with her third child. A large warning sign at the coaster’s entrance listed pregnancy as one of the conditions excusing riders. There was no exclusion for cowardice.
“Look, there’s mom!”
I looked down. Strangely, looking down does not bother me. I can bear to look down at the beetle-like people scurrying about. But I cannot look up. Up into the vast blue nothing. Up where there is no point of reference. I fear falling up. I’m certain that only the safety bar prevents me from tumbling upward into the sky.
Then--silence. The beast’s heart ceased ticking as he turned on his track and I saw the distant high rise buildings of the city low on the horizon. My heart raced into my throat with a rush of blood, beating out the screams surging through my lungs. My mouth opened wide in terror, but nothing came out.
It truly was all downhill from there.
The beast plummeted toward the earth, free-falling toward annihilation. At the final moment, he rose sharply toward the right and the ground rushed by my head. We spiraled up. Then down again. Where am I? The beast writhed in torment. The scream, which had been fighting its way up my throat, finally emerged as we hissed to a stop in the station from whence our journey began. A line of fresh victims waited impatiently.
“Let’s ride it again!”
Satiated for the moment, the beast released me from its grasp and I staggered toward the exit. Relieved by its return to the ground, my body did the only thing that seemed to make sense at the time. It fainted.
“Maybe your aunt shouldn't ride this again.”
I gaze up at my newfound friend. Wise counsel, dear Kevin.
My nephews flank me as they assure the oval name-tagged attendant of our intentions. Taking one elbow apiece, they escort me toward gentler pursuits. Above us the beast roars, clutching new prey. Amusement my foot. I breathe freedom in great gulps.
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