Nancy was a demonic liar. This was a terrible job, and Franny was unsure as to what she did to deserve this. She locked eyes with the freckled redhead manning the bubble station (Ann with no E) and gave a sympathetic nod. Wait no, no she did not want to have her picture taken. Ah, she was joking. Her ears threatened to melt off her skull. Darn it.
Turns out, no one was fooled by the mirage of daily sunlight and delighted squeals permeating through the atmosphere–the job meant cleaning up after upset stomachs, even on the teacup ride–and so, Franny found her steps quickening to a run at the behest of the voice on the other end of the radio. Just as her fingers began to snake her tangled nest of hair through the last loop of her hair tie, she felt her elbow get wrenched backwards, the back of her neck bidding goodbye to any wisp of cool air. She looked back at the figure who just barreled into her–eye contact made her more intimidating and appearances put more weapons in her arsenal–but stopped herself. Black? In this heat? Must be keen on fainting in this weather.
Which, as it happens, was why she found herself in a stuffy cabin, the sun bearing down on her face unhindered, instead of on the cushioned stool behind the candy store counter where there was more air conditioning and less flippy-sequin-flaunting, tired-mom-backpack-touting, pastel-phone-cases-and-polaroid-camera-carrying human beings. Quite frankly, with the long pants and 34℃ weather outside, she was sure she’d faint here too.
The Banshee was the worst and most interesting ride to operate. At 98 metres tall carving a soaring path through the suburban sky, it was an exhilarating giant metal squiggle. This meant that by the time the friend group with the very complicated social politics she passed at the end of the line made it to the climactic decision of who gets to sit with who in which order, her “beep beep” sounded more like an exasperated robot going through a crisis than a…well, she didn’t know, a Thomas the Train impersonator? But it also meant that she witnessed the entire tumultuous saga of Miss Romper and Mister Red Sweatshirt’s relationship while in line.
She saw Miss Romper roll her eyes and yank her hand out of her partner’s sweaty grasp, but as they began to inch forward, she looked like a ghost someone threw bleach on. The ride really was cruel. It wouldn’t be so scary if it just dragged you into the sky from the get-go, not giving you a single chance to regret your life choices, question your friendships, or ponder your altitude. Her gaze followed their car as it crawled to the top. And finally (she could already hear someone start screaming), it made it to the top, pausing there teasingly for a second before…huh?
“Hey, this is supposed to be part of the ride right?”
She looked around. The seatbelt-checkers stared expectantly at her. Right. As senior ride operator, it was her job to climb the 1012 step ladder and evacuate passengers, should the ride fail to resume as per usual. Of course, a flurry of radio activity later, there it stayed.
So to the tune of wailing toddlers and middle-aged adults, she slapped her hand onto the metal railing (a mistake) and began to trudge her way up. As encouragement, a gust of wind blew her hat off her head, eliciting a new vigour in the panicked screaming ahead as a bonus.
She hadn’t actually been this high up since the Towering Cycle incident. When she was 13, it was her favourite ride–she couldn’t leave the park without the tower’s bright lights illuminating the sky as she was spun away from the pizza smells and pop drink spills below. And then, at 21 stories above the ground, the ride stopped.
She’d never been afraid of heights, but her heart struggled to stay in her chest. The night blanketed everything outside the radius of the park’s festivities, which made it hard not to fantasise about the systems failing, seat-bearing tentacles dropping like an oddly shaped ring toss, everything crumpling as they crashed into the ground. Just to test it, she wriggled her shoe off her foot, hoping someone would yell out as they felt it hit their head so that she could calculate how long she had to fall. She managed to get her other shoe off too, but she never did find out what happened to either of them.
Which is how she found herself with 20 metres left to go, strangling the railing, knees threatening to give out and delete her and all her progress. The pavement below looked so ominous and frightening, but at the same time part of her wanted to escape from the unforgiving sunlight and vacant surroundings and run into the pavement’s warm, inviting, deadly arms.
“Look forward, my god.”
The orange-vest behind her sounded like this was an incident of road rage at a dull-witted driver who forgot to go at the green light, rather than someone a slippery step away from a broken skull.
Just as she finally overpowered her wobbly fingers and fit her key into the correct slot, the car lurched away after 30 minutes of idleness.
Upon contact with a solid, continuous plane of ground, she ran to the nearest garbage can, desperation beating out any residing wasps, and spewed her measly excuse of a breakfast.
She’d recruit a replacement next week.
Photo: Vincent Camacho on Unsplash