Okay, so it’s not really a short story, but it is a “short story,” coming in at just under 7,500 words. It also may not be the final draft, but I still hope you get a thrill out of the
by Jonathan Edward Ondrashek
“How ‘bout that one?” Nicky asked, voice squeaking.
Michayla peeled her lingering gaze away from the shirtless guys beside the dunk tank and followed her little brother’s pointing hand. “The Tilt-a-Whirl?” She sighed through her nose. “That’s for sissies, Nicky.”
“Well, I think it’s fun.” His hand squeezed the Perry the Platypus plush doll he’d spent his summer earnings on. “Why’d we even come here if we’re not gonna ride anything?”
Michayla glanced toward the dunk tank again. “Because it wouldn’t hurt to meet people our age before school starts,” she replied, a dreamlike glaze shrouding her vision.
“Meet them, or just drool over them?”
“Don’t give me any crap, bro,” she snapped. “I saw you checking out those girls back at the shooting game. You know, the ones who were way too old for you.”
“Oh, whatever. They looked like they were in fifth grade like me.”
“Except they had bigger tits than me.”
Nicky’s brown cheeks flushed. Michayla chuckled. She loved embarrassing him. It was the only excitement she was afforded these days, especially since the move.
With her brother fuming, they took off, meandering through the throng of half-dressed people. As they walked, Nicky pointed out each attraction, pleading to ride one—any—of them.
Michayla stalked past each one. “Hell no.”
“Look at those long-ass lines. We’re supposed to leave in an hour. And besides, I’m too old for these cheap kiddie thrills.”
She ignored his whiny protests and marched on, past more crowds and long lines. A few minutes later, she slowed her pace, noting all of four people gathered around a shoddy stage-like platform. Lame turnout, she thought. Must be a really shitty ride.
A rickety sign hung above the platform, swaying even in the absence of a breeze. Words were painted on it in a smudged blood-red.
Curiosity got the best of her. She grabbed Nicky’s wrist and dragged him toward the small group of people until the sign was readable. Flies hovered around it in droves, but the words were clear:
Horrorcoaster Grand Reopening
3 PM, Saturday, August 15th
Be here, or be scared!
“That’s what I’m talkin’ about,” she mumbled, checking her wristwatch. “And we’re right on time.”
Nicky squirmed beside her. “You’re not really thinking about riding this, are you?”
“Of course I am,” she replied, eyeballing the single car setting on the track. It was a four-seater, with lap belts resting across each plastic seat. The car appeared to hover above the platform, and Michayla wondered if it was like the Batman ride. She enjoyed the sensation of feet dangling, narrowly missing poles and pillars at each turn.
The track’s rusty metallic pieces disappeared in a cluster of trees a few yards to the north. Michayla was certain it’d be gloomy, dreadful, thrilling—exactly what she needed in her life. But it was one car, not the trains she was accustomed to, and there were four people in front of them. How long would she and Nicky have to wait?
Screw it, we can be a little late if we need to, she thought, certain her mother wouldn’t care. Not that she’d even notice. She was probably halfway to blackout status at that moment. Or banging some other random stranger she met while driving her taxicab last night.
“I don’t like coasters,” Nicky said.
“Yeah, but I do.” Brooding thoughts skittered into the recesses of her mind. She turned toward him, a cruel smirk playing at her lips. “If you don’t want to go, you can stay here until I get back.”
“But Mom said—” his eyes darted and his voice tapered off to a meek whisper “—Mom said you aren’t supposed to leave me alone. There could be perverts here.”
Nicky gulped and squeezed Perry ever tighter.
“…heard about this one when I was in Boston,” a voice said, drifting out from the small group in front of them. “Fuck that. I’m out.”
“Didn’t you say you’re from New York, Marty?” A burly, bald man turned, his face visible to Michayla. Dark tattoos gleamed on his chiseled face, and earrings lining his helixes waggled and glinted in the afternoon sunlight.
“Word gets around, and so do I. I’m out, man.” Marty stepped away from the group, smiling at Nicky as he passed. His lanky form lurked in Michayla’s peripherals.
“You mean this is the one?” a female voice chimed in.
“Yeah,” the burly man said. “What of it?”
The sole female of the group crossed her arms over her voluptuous chest. “Well, then I’m not getting on either.”
The female squared up to him. “I don’t want to end up like that guy last year did.”
“Oh, come on. They’ve fixed it up. And it’s not like you have much of a choice, Carla. Four have to ride.”
Michayla’s stomach flopped anew with excitement. She latched onto Nicky’s wrist and all but shoved her way through to the middle of the group. “Sorry, pardon me, pardon me,” she said, knocking elbows aside.
Once inside the triangle, she regretted her brash decision to butt in. The bald man was larger up close, his tattoos sharp and wicked. A tall multi-colored Mohawk adorned the top of another man’s dark head, and he wore a long-sleeved shirt beneath soiled coveralls although it was hotter than Texas in early August. Even the female, Carla, looked like a hardened criminal, with earrings piercing skin everywhere a tattoo wasn’t.
Michayla somehow found her voice. “Sorry. I eavesdropped on your conversation.” She gestured between her and Nicky. “We’ll take the two seats.”
The burly man smiled. Rotted teeth appeared behind pale, cracked lips. “I don’t think you could handle it, toots.”
“I’d be willing to bet your face is scarier than this ride,” she blurted out before she could think on it.
Nicky gasped beside her, but Michayla held the bald man’s cold gaze, strong and stern. Just like Mom, she thought, wishing she didn’t share such pathetic, angry genes. But I’m not a loony, ranting drunkard like she is, and I never will be.
The burly guy chuckled. “Oooh, a feisty one.” He glanced beside her and threw his hands up. “Fine, Carla. You and the noob can stay here.” He clutched at her bicep as she turned to leave, his voice somber. “Just remember what I told you. I haven’t gotten the call yet, but don’t take any chances.”
A mixture of fear and understanding flickered in Carla’s eyeballs. She nodded and walked to meet Marty a few yards behind them.
Michayla scrunched up her brow. What the hell was that all about?
A maniacal, high-pitched laugh blasted from a speaker mounted on a pole above them, disrupting her thought. The bald man turned his attention to the lone rollercoaster car. She followed his gaze.
A figure dressed in a black poncho, black pants, and black boots stood beside the car, a Ghostface Killer mask on his or her tilted head and a microphone held to his or her fake plastic mouth.
The figure flung one arm out wide. “Welcome to the resurrection of the Horrorcoaster!” a sinister, scratchy male voice bellowed. “The only roller coaster in the world that’ll make you scream in genuine fear! Four will ride, but only one will make it out alive!”
Michayla rolled her eyes as Nicky clutched at her arm.
Ghostface beckoned the group forward. “Come! Let the horror begin!”
Haunting piano music blared from the speaker. The two men whooped and hollered and rushed to the car, plopping onto the right-hand seats, wicked grins on their faces. Michayla followed and settled into the far seat on the left. Nicky whimpered but hopped on and sat beside her without pause. They strapped in as the chilling piano notes faded away.
Ghostface strolled around the car, reaching in, checking seat belts with gentle well-placed tugs. Strong whiskey—like the cheap-ass Scotch their mother chugged before, during, and after her shifts—clung to him, hardly stifled by his mask. With the microphone at his side, he grunted after a full run-around, then stumbled over to a giant lever.
They sat there, silent, waiting for the ride to begin. Nicky clutched his stuffed animal to his chest, glaring at the bald guy across from him.
Michayla nudged him with her elbow. “It isn’t nice to stare, scaredy cat.”
“He’s the one,” he whispered back.
“What’s that, little man?” the bald guy asked, an eyebrow raised.
“Y-you’re the one. Who made—who made me waste all my money.”
The bald man scrunched up his face. Then he laughed and nodded. “Yeah, that probably was me. I remember giving away that little guy earlier. But you’ll have to excuse me. In this business, I don’t remember many faces.”
“It was rigged,” Nicky said, a smidgeon of bravado present in his voice. “Those hoops are oval-shaped.”
“Hey, you paid to play the game. That’s on you, son.”
“I’m not your son.”
The bald carnie glanced at Michayla. “What’s his problem?”
She smiled, though she knew firsthand how sore a subject their too-rich-and-busy-to-care father was. “Puberty.”
Nicky’s face reddened.
“I tell ya what, little man,” the bald guy said, genuine kindness radiating from the wrinkles in his cheeks. “If you make it through this ride in one piece, I’ll pay you back every dollar you spent. And I’ll let you keep that little beaver thingy.” He stuck out a hand. “Deal?”
“I’m not supposed to shake hands with strangers,” Nicky mumbled. “Mom says you could be a perv.”
“Hey!” Michayla exclaimed, nudging Nicky with her elbow again.
“He’s got a good point. The real horrors of the world ain’t fair rides.” The burly carnie pointed at his own chest. “Robert, and this here,” he said, pointing at the man to his right, “is Kelly.” He smirked and stuck his hand out again. “I ain’t no pervert. And I ain’t afraid to shake a stranger’s hand.”
Nicky bit at his lip but extended his fingers out and shook Robert’s hand, limp-wristed. “Nicky. And it was forty dollars.”
Robert whistled. “I can see why you’re mad now. And you?” he asked, nodding at Michayla. “Got a name?”
“Hot momma,” Kelly said, licking at his lips.
Michayla glared at him. “I’m not his mom. I’m his sister. And I’m underage.”
Kelly raised his waxed eyebrows twice, tongue still flicking out.
Ghostface’s gravelly voice bellowed from the speaker anew. “Are you ready for your worst nightmare?”
“Yeah!” Robert and Kelly shouted in unison.
Michayla would’ve joined them, but she was too busy shaking off a case of the heebie-jeebies. You’re wrong, Nicky. If anyone’s a perv here, it’s Kelly, she thought, keeping her gaze on the Mohawk-adorned man.
Ghostface hiccupped, hand on the giant lever. “Please remember to keep your arms inside the car at all times,” he said, voice tapering off to a hoarse whisper. “And don’t look the clowns in the eye.”
He pulled the lever down, uttering that same high-pitched laugh from earlier.
Loud hissing sounds broke the silence of midday. The platform beneath them dropped away. Michayla’s legs dangled. Excitement clutched at her chest as the car lurched forward.
“Aw, what the hell,” Kelly muttered, craning his neck and upper torso around. “I didn’t know we’d be going backward.”
“Well, not knowing where you’re going is part of the fun of it,” Robert answered, winking at Michayla and Nicky.
Kelly faced forward in his seat again, gnawing at his lip, his coveralls askew.
Michayla’s cheeks flushed as she noticed the subtle yet telltale lumps on Kelly’s chest, beneath the coveralls. He’s a she, she thought, embarrassed she hadn’t picked up on that earlier.
Then her cheeks burned brighter as she realized she’d just been hit on by a woman.
The car crawled past Ghostface, past Carla and Marty, past the other two or three fair-goers who’d gathered. Shadows stretched inky fingers from the depths of the clustered trees, casting a cool shade over the car inhabitants. Michayla smiled, knowing this would be enough to quell her inner thrill junkie.
“Oh shit, watch your head!” Kelly uttered, ducking down for emphasis.
Darkness swallowed her and Robert, then gulped them all down as the car entered a pitch-black tunnel. Seconds of heart-stopping silence passed. Nicky moaned in distress, and Kelly and Robert cursed. Then something raked against Michayla’s left forearm, warm and wet yet wispy.
More things—finger-like and alive—brushed her skin, attempting to evoke shivers of fear.
It’s fake, she told herself, maintaining her demeanor. Cheap-ass props. Rubber tips or something like that.
A loud clang echoed inside the tunnel, near enough to make Michayla hop in surprise. Then her stomach pitched sideways, as if she were on that stupid Tilt-a-Whirl.
The wisps seemed to solidify, clutching instead of grazing.
Fingernails dug into her right forearm and dread slid down her spine. She yipped.
“Sorry, ‘Cayla,” Nicky mumbled, voice shaky.
Before she could scold him, something like belt straps smacked against the back of her head and slid over her shoulders. Sudden brightness engulfed her, blinding and hot. Humidity clung to her skin. She squinted in the light, saw black plastic shredded flaps swat at Kelly’s Mohawk, which remained unperturbed.
“How did we….” she said, trailing off, disoriented. She’d entered the tunnel facing into it, and now she was facing the exit. Did the car reverse? Were they heading back to the platform? Was the ride already over?
“I think the car’s rotating,” Robert said, voice dripping with boredom.
Michayla stared at her dangling legs. Sure enough, the car swung around in a slow circle. That noise was probably some pin being released, she thought, thrilled once more. It was like another ride she’d ridden once at Worlds of Fun, combined with the free-swinging Batman ride and a regular, old-fashioned belt-strap coaster.
Before she could relish her joy, Kelly’s eyes widened, and fear fluttered down to perch on her pupils. She pointed over Michayla’s shoulder, lips forming soundless words.
Michayla craned her neck around. A giant mass of silky strands struck against her cheek, then stretched as the car rolled forward. The force of the soft strike and the resistance of the strands sent the car gliding around in a fast spin, to her left.
Robert covered his face and cursed again, shouting something about his earrings and the fake spider webbing not mixing well. Kelly screeched as the car careened around, sticking her in the thick of it. She flailed, tearing with her fingernails, shrieking and making a huge scene. Silky threads floated by, the full spectrum of colors glinting along the strands as sunlight bombarded them.
“Whoa,” Nicky whispered, eyes widening.
From the same position she’d been in when the ride had begun, Michayla spotted what had sent Kelly into a frenzy.
A giant spider loomed a few yards away, above the track. Gray hair covered its thick body and legs. Within the multitudes of giant webs surrounding it, silken sacks twitched. They were human-sized, and blobs of redness stained their threads.
Faux webbing snapped. The car hurtled forward, regaining speed. Kelly’s Mohawk flashed left and right as she continued to swat at the props and the invisible spiders Michayla was certain she saw. Webbing clutched at everyone’s ankles, and they lifted their legs a few inches to avoid the scratchy props.
Violent seizures wracked the human-shaped sacks as they passed by. Michayla stared. Muted facial features appeared behind thinner areas of the webbed sacks. Lifelike eyes were squeezed shut, fake nostrils flaring.
She nodded in approval. Nice props.
They passed beneath the giant spider. It rustled above, and its legs stabbed downward. Everyone ducked, eyes wide, but only Kelly shrieked, a horrid, grating noise.
The legs moved up and down on the same trajectory path, like giant pistons. Michayla chuckled. “It’s mechanical!” she shouted at Kelly, whose twinkling eyes resembled a primal, cornered animal. “Fake! Look!” She reached up as one of the legs shot down above and stroked the hairy machine. Her movement set the car in motion to her left once more.
Fear tiptoed from Kelly’s eyes as her seat spun around to meet another stabbing spider leg. She laughed, then reached out and mimicked Michayla, petting the prop.
She pulled her hand away and shrieked anew.
Several baby spiders skittered around her fingers.
As Kelly flailed like a torched witch, Michayla glanced back up at the spider. It seemed to shimmer. She squinted and thought she noticed hordes of tiny eight-legged figures scurrying across the surfaces of its jabbing appendages.
They weren’t real, were they? she wondered as gloom surrounded them.
Decrepit trees—bare as bones and withered as tumbleweed—rose around them, shutting out the sky overhead. The giant spider stopped moving altogether in the background as the car coasted along a flat track. Then it and its webbed lair disappeared from sight as the car banked sharp-left, losing speed and centrifugal force.
“Kelly! Listen to me!” Robert shouted above the screeching woman.
Kelly’s hysterical screams died in her throat. Her darting eyes fixated on Robert’s face, but her fingernails continued to scratch along her body.
“Look,” he said, pointing at the trees. “They probably came from in here.”
“You don’t know that, Rob!”
“ There’s no way they’d put real ones in as part of the ride. Not purposely.”
“But they are real! And how would you know….”
Michayla ignored the remainder of their exchange, drawn to a rustling of leaves overhead. She squinted into the foggy gloom that’d crept up around them. Something just moved up there.
The sudden, unsettling silence which had encompassed them deepened, broken now and then by quiet, wet smacks.
‘”Cayla,” Nicky said in an urgent, choked tone beside her.
She turned in time to see something break the surface of greenish, festering waters that’d appeared beside the track. Nicky screamed like a pansy, his shoulder crushing against hers as he tried to ease away from the creature.
Michayla shoved him back to the left and chuckled as the fake-ass crocodile head snapped a foot away from the exterior of the car.
“Wow, Nicky,” she said as his breath escaped in sharp hisses. “Bet that would’ve impressed the ladies.”
Something landed on her head with a soft thud.
Kelly’s face contorted in fear.
“Oh, Jesus Christ,” Robert mumbled. “Here we go again.”
Michayla reached up. Something smooth and cool brushed against her skin. She gulped, grabbed the thing, and held it out before her.
Screams erupted from Nicky and Kelly simultaneously. Michayla chimed in, stretching her facial skin to its limits in morbid, soul-crushing fear. She jutted her hands out toward the center of the car as the snake writhed within her grasp.
Then her false scream segued into hearty laughter. She stopped wriggling the lifelike snake, tears streaming from the corners of her eyes.
More slender fake reptiles plopped down from above, their descent masked by the thick fog. Kelly and Nicky flailed and batted at the air. Then, a chorus of exploding, cascading water echoed all around them. Bulbous eyes—like painted maracas—glared, lifeless, from atop what appeared to be stuffed green leaf bags inches from the sides of the car.
Michayla wheezed from laughing too hard. She tried to suppress the laughter by holding her breath.
Several snakes plopped onto Kelly.
Michayla’s breath lingered within her throat. No, they’re not real either. None of this is, she told herself. More things plopped against the top of her head. Her skin crawled.
Within seconds, she joined Kelly and Nicky in their wild snake-deterring dance.
Michayla’s stomach dropped and her legs swung out. The car picked up speed, spinning her to the left, her back to the foggy swamp. The tree line whizzed by, and sunlight spilled onto the car and its panicky inhabitants. She watched Kelly and Robert fling snakes away and didn’t have time to warn them to duck.
Gravity squashed them down with force as the track leveled out, rushing into another dark cave.
White dots whizzed by, like those scenes of space travel in cheap sci-fi movies. Michayla fought to get her stomach under control as battering forces of gravity tugged at her innards. The car was spinning fast, the white-dotted-and-lined walls spinning even faster. Soon, additional dots appeared in her vision.
Warm bile crept up her esophagus, sour and gross. Her head buzzed, and she felt like she’d faint.
“Close your eyes!” Robert shouted in the darkness. “It’ll help!”
Michayla did as she was told, too worried about getting sick all over Kelly to notice Nicky’s fingernails digging into her right forearm once more.
Even with her eyes closed, though, the dots wouldn’t disappear.
What felt like minutes later, her closed-eyelid world took on an orange hue. Warmth once again splashed across her body. Almost like a fine mist.
She opened her eyes. Sunlight beckoned above, and the car wasn’t spinning anymore. In fact, Michayla wondered if it had ever been spinning inside the cave or if the seizure-inducing wall-and-light show had caused the sensation all along.
More warmth sprinkled across her, like a blowing sheet of drizzle.
Across from her, Robert licked at his lips, then furrowed his brow. “Salty.”
A loud noise like that of a jackhammer crossed with a motorcycle drew everyone’s attention to a rocky scene alongside the track.
Beside a giant machine, a flabby triple-chinned squat man stood, shoving a giant red slab of meat into metallic teeth. A soiled chef’s apron clung to his otherwise-unclothed upper torso, and redness stained everything in sight.
The sound intensified, then dulled, as if it were bogged down by something. Then a torrent of liquids blasted out from a chute at the rear of the machine, nearest the track.
Michayla gasped as the red wetness coated everyone in the car. Frenzied screams and shouts ensued as the car regained speed and barreled down the straight, horizontal track. Thick, wafting clouds of fog once again crept in around them as the wood chipper’s sounds of satisfaction faded away.
Dumbfounded by the warmth and grittiness—the realism—of the props, Michayla ran her palms over her forearms, trying to wipe the muck away but only succeeding in smearing it across every untainted piece of skin. Her stomach lurched again.
Mixed in with the red liquid were slimy chunks of what appeared to be meat and stark-white chunks of bone.
Frenzied shouts turned to shock and disgust, and Nicky began to cry.
“I want off of this!” he wailed. “I want off!”
“Oh, calm down, you wuss,” Michayla muttered beside him, pissed that she was messy and no one had warned them ahead of time.
“This isn’t fun! This isn’t fun at all! It’s—”
The car halted in place, jolting each of them, stretching their restraints to their limits. Another eerie silence settled over them. Even the fake butcher and his fake-blood-spewing machine couldn’t be heard.
Nicky pouted beside her, streaks of his brown skin peeping through on his cheeks where trails of tears had flowed. Across from her, covered in deep-red-colored muck and stains, Kelly rocked in her seat, eyes staring at nothing in particular.
Robert scanned their surroundings. “What the hell?”
Michayla followed Robert’s wondering gaze. Above them, cords dangled, each with a different colored tag affixed to their ends.
“You must solve this riddle to restart: Many feet above,” Kelly muttered, eyes still unseeing. “Choose wisely. Ram.”
“This is the last fucking time I’m bringing you on a ride like this,” Robert said, shaking his head, fists clenched together on his lap.
“Stop, Kelly. Now you’re just saying random bullshit.”
“Ram.” Kelly giggled, then stared into Michayla’s eyes. “Ram.” Her head nodded to her right.
Michayla looked to her left. “Of course,” she said, sarcasm whistling through her nostrils in the form of breath.
A large, ragged sign contained the phrases Kelly had vocalized. And about ten feet behind that, a giant ram hung in between some tree trunks. It looked like the ones used in Viking movies: Stout and sturdy and solid, but it was hard to tell with all the thin fingers of fog curling around the scenery.
“For fuck’s sake.” Robert clenched his teeth together, seething. “This is a dumb ride.”
“Many feet above.” Nicky leaned forward in his seat, his first trace of excitement since jumping on the coaster. “Sky?”
“You would be the one to get excited about a riddle on a horror roller coaster.”
“Shut up, sis! I want off this thing. Something isn’t right about all of this.”
Michayla frowned. He was right. Something felt wrong about the entire ride. As if it wasn’t fake. As if the spiders and snakes and blood and chunks of bone stuck fast to her skin were real.
A strange sensation tickled her guts, and she suddenly wished the ride were over.
She puzzled over his reasoning and stared at the cords above their heads. “Blue, then?”
“Yeah. The blue one.”
Michayla unfastened her seatbelt and stood, then reached up and grabbed the blue cord. “You sure?”
She tugged down. Robert, Nicky, and she waited with bated breath as Kelly continued to rock, silent, in her seat.
“Clouds?” Robert suggested.
Michayla tugged on the white cord.
Loud grating noises resounded within the foggy cove. They all looked toward the ram.
“It’s moving backward,” Nicky said, voice hushed.
The strange sensation in the pit of her stomach intensified. Michayla bit at her lip and stared at the riddle sign. This is fake, she told herself for the hundredth time. They wouldn’t let something actually hurt us.
“Yellow sun,” Kelly said in a monotone voice.
Michayla pulled down on the yellow cord.
Slender ribbons fell in the fog, behind the ram. Tree branches splintered and cracked.
The nose of the ram appeared as if in 3D, heading right for them.
Michayla tried to tame the anxiety welling up within her. They wouldn’t let it hurt us. They wouldn’t do that. It’s fake.
The ram continued to barrel toward them, large and dark and menacing.
Michayla’s stomach twisted in knots. She looked at the other three remaining cords—purple, red, and brown—and then trusted her instincts. Her hand tightened around the brown cord and she tugged.
The car shuddered, then edged forward, inch by inch.
The ram swished past the back of the car.
With shaking legs, Michayla plopped back into her seat and fastened her seat belt. As if on cue, the car gained speed once more. The car spun around until Michayla’s back was facing the peak of the newest hill they were ascending.
“Many feet above. Dirt. The ground,” Nicky mumbled beside her. “Duh. Shoulda figured that one out. Sorry, ‘Cayla.”
“Don’t be sorry,” she said, relieved she couldn’t see whatever else was coming their way. The thrill of the ride had worn off. She, too, just wanted to go home. “I should be sorry,” she continued, low enough so only her brother could hear. “I—I shouldn’t have made you come on this one. Whoever made it is just sick.”
“Like a pervert.”
Michayla chuckled. “Kinda.”
Nicky fiddled with his hands. “Maybe we should listen to Mom more often, huh?”
Michayla scoffed. “She’s a bit loopy, you do realize that, right? She’s just trying to scare you, keep you safe, keep you at home.” She glanced at the thickening fog surrounding them and wondered why sunlight hadn’t broken through the gloom. They had to be reaching the peak of the hill by now. “This place feels real. More real than all that bullshit she’s always talking about.”
“What was that?”
She quirked an eyebrow at Robert. She was certain he couldn’t have heard her, not with Kelly steady mumbling beside him.
Then she, too, heard the voices.
Soft whispers burst from the confines of the gloom and fog and darkness. Cold breath brushed against her earlobes. A multitude of tones—female, male, child—burrowed into Michayla’s brain, harsh and incessant.
Another noise joined the disembodied voices, like that of a bullroarer, distant yet nearby.
“This shit ain’t even funny,” Robert said, glancing side to side. “Now it’s just getting annoying.” He jumped as the car swung around once more, taking his and Kelly’s greater weight mass down the slope as they trekked over the peak of the newest hill.
The car rushed down the slope, levelled out, then slowed and stopped with jolting force once again. The bullroarer sound intensified. Fog dissipated, but the darkness remained. Bursts of warm air plowed down upon them, drying any of the remaining wet fake-blood-and-guts-and-bone material which clung to their bodies.
A loud boom echoed around them, and an intense, bright light shone down from above.
Michayla fluttered her eyelids, blinking away the sudden sensory intrusion. She looked over her right shoulder, over Nicky’s head. A black velvet curtain hung next to the car, stretching along the horizon beyond where the light illuminated the scene.
She glanced up, shielding her face, trying to make out the source of the bullroarer-like sound. She gasped.
Giant horizontal circle saws with glinting metallic teeth hummed, suspended a foot over their heads.
“Please remember to keep your arms inside the car at all times,” Kelly said, mimicking the slurred, scratchy voice of their host, Ghostface Killer. She glanced up at the giant blades and then back at Michayla. “Fake?”
Michayla gulped and nodded.
Kelly giggled. Then her right arm shot straight up, her giggle more explosive and crazy.
The blade above sliced through her fingers knuckle by knuckle, all the way down to her wrist. A great roar of hysteria and pain snatched the giggle from her throat.
Warm droplets speckled across Michayla’s face, stinging her wide-open eyes. She and Nicky and Robert chimed in, screaming, shocked.
And for the first time since jumping on the coaster, Michayla felt—no, knew—none of it had been fake.
Kelly brought her arm back down, eyeballs practically hopping out of her sockets. Blood spurted from the raw, gory stump where her hand had been, coating Michayla’s shins. Robert reached across, shouting at Kelly, attempting to staunch the blood-flow with her coveralls.
A chorus of maniacal yet cheery cackles broke out around them, amplified, drowning out their screams of panic and fear and pain. The giant spotlight shifted to the curtains, which whipped open at the center, stretching off into the darkness.
On the center of a black stage, three clowns—one short and fat, one medium-sized, and one tall and lanky—stood, unmoving. The short one held a giant mallet, the average one gripped a crowbar, and the tall one held a pistol with an elongated barrel.
Aside from Kelly’s moans, no one spoke. They just sat there, staring at the clowns, breath escaping in sharp bursts.
The short clown tilted his head to the side. “Hey,” he said, nodding at Nicky. “You got a problem, buddy?”
“Why you starin’ at me then?”
“I’m not! I mean, uh, well, y-yeah, I am, but—”
“Why are you staring at me?” the clown shouted, tendons protruding from his neck to his collarbones.
The three clowns hefted their weapons and stomped forward in their giant red clown shoes until they were at the edge of the stage. The lanky one positioned himself at Robert’s shoulder and the average-sized one at Nicky’s.
The fat one leaned toward Nicky. “Is it because I’m a clown? It is, isn’t it?” he stated, glaring at everyone in the car. “’Look at the clown, he’s so funny! Oh, hey, he hurt hisself. Ha ha!’ Well, I’ll show you fuckin’ funny.” He jumped forward and snarled. “Get out of the car. All of you.”
“Fuck you,” Robert said, lip curled in defiance.
The tall clown reached up and then brought the butt of his pistol down across the base of Robert’s neck. Robert howled and caressed the wounded area but didn’t pass out.
“Get the fuck out!”
Robert glanced at Michayla, eyes wild, lips pursed together tight. He nodded, then reached down to unfasten his belt. She and Nicky followed suit while Robert unbuckled Kelly and helped her to her feet.
The apparent clown leader stepped back, hideous red smile widening.
Gingerly, they stepped off the car, Kelly leaning on Robert and still moaning, Michayla clutching Nicky close to her side.
“What the fuck is your problem?” the average-sized one asked, leaning toward Kelly, whose face had taken on an ashen hue. He snatched at her arm, but she wrenched it from his grasp with a wounded wail. He chuckled. “Hey, Bo. I think we got usselves a bleeder over here.”
“Good. She can go to Brutus. He needs more pieces for his chipper,” the short fat one replied.
The lanky one aimed his pistol at Robert and motioned for Kelly to walk forward. In a daze, the bleeding woman obeyed. She cradled her arm, gibberish spilling from her blue lips, eyes glazed and sight distant.
When she was behind the trio of clowns, Bo licked at his lips, and his dark, beady eyes reminded Michayla of a lizard. “The little one can go too.”
“Like hell he will,” Michayla said, hugging Nicky tighter as he whimpered and trembled.
Bo marched forward until his bright red nose was centimeters from her face. His grin disappeared. “Does this like the face of someone who’s clowning around?”
Michayla stood tense and poised. Even if they were real, she couldn’t let Nicky go away with strangers. Clowns, nonetheless. “Fuck you.”
Arms gripped her from behind, pinning her arms to her sides. At the same time, the barrel of the lanky clown’s pistol nestled up against Robert’s temple and Bo yanked Nicky away, holding him fast around his waist.
“No!” Michayla shouted, struggling to get loose, but the average-sized clown was stronger than he appeared.
Nicky thrashed and flailed, screaming his sister’s name over and over, to no avail.
“Let him go!” Robert demanded.
“You know,” Bo said, “you’re starting to become a real problem. And we don’t like problems. Why don’t you get back on your little ride, hmmm? And keep your hands where we can see them. No one likes heroes.”
Robert clenched his jaw, glanced at Kelly and Nicky and Michayla and the other clowns, then turned and stepped toward the car, hands up.
Michayla kicked out and screamed for Nicky, but the clown holding her dragged her back to the car and shoved her onto it. She fell, splayed across her seat and Nicky’s, then scrambled back to her feet.
The car lurched forward, a sharp jolt which sent her sprawling across the two seats again. She found her feet and screamed, “Nicky!”
Nicky screamed in return, still flailing. Bo held him tight and offered a goodbye wave. Then the spotlight turned off, and complete darkness overtook the scene once more.
She made to jump off the moving car even as it picked up a tremendous amount of speed, but Robert grabbed her around the waist before she could spring loose.
“No! Don’t! You’ll kill yourself!”
She batted at his hands and screamed and screamed, her voice hoarse but calls for her brother still oozing out in frantic bursts.
“Stop! Just stop!” Robert shouted, spinning her around to face him.
“Fuck you!” she said, still trying to break his grasp. “That’s my fucking brother!” The car careened down the track with her oblivious to its course. But she didn’t care. The ride wasn’t a ride, and it wasn’t fun. It was a fucking nightmare.
She needed to find a way to get Nicky back. Couldn’t he see that?
Michayla watched all emotion wash from Robert’s face. He let her go and plopped onto the seat behind him, fumbling at the belt, eyes wide and staring past her.
She lost her balance as the car moved like a slow merry-go-round, head spinning, thoughts incoherent. Nicky! I have to—This isn’t a fucking ride! It’s real! All real! I have to get Nicky! Her ass cheeks slapped against one of the plastic chairs.
“Put your goddamn belt on!” Robert said, head swiveling to follow the car’s path along the track. “Hurry!”
She followed his gaze. Her strength drained from her. Seconds. Only seconds.
Numb and confused and petrified and sickened with herself for leaving Nicky behind, she clutched at the belt. The metallic clasps clanged against each other but didn’t snap.
“You’re no good to him dead! Hurry up!”
She began to sob. Wild wails of hysteria and hopelessness escaped the confines of her mouth. With sight blurred by tears, she touched the clasps together again and again.
The car jerked as it hit the sideways spiral of the track.
The belt pieces snapped together.
The car spun one more time, pulling Robert’s weight down, leaving them sitting sideways, and then the car flipped upside-down.
Her breath caught in her throat as her waist strained against the belt, against gravity. Robert was shouting at her, fearful, but she couldn’t hear him.
Her mother’s voice taunted her about perverts and sickos and psychos and molesters and evil and greed and all the other horrors which existed outside their front door. I told you, her mother scolded, sipping from a bottle. I fucking told you, you dumb little bitch.
She stared forward, watched as Robert’s belt snapped, did nothing and said nothing as he held onto the lips of his seat with all his might, legs dangling in a giant black void beneath the upside-down car. Blood rushed to her head, and a buzzing noise drowned out his final cry as his fingers broke free from their pathetic, hopeless grasp.
Robert fell into the void, mouth wide. Darkness swallowed him entirely.
You should’ve listened to me, her mother said, her voice louder than the buzzing sound. None of this would’ve happened if you had.
White spots danced in her vision, and the void opened wide to devour her.
Her ass slammed against the seat. Air rushed into her lungs. The white spots bounced and blurred, then disappeared. A minute or two later, plastic flaps slapped against her face, reviving her, bringing her back to her state of insanity and disorientation. Bright sunlight beat down, warming her skin.
The car stopped. Hands groped at her shoulders, fumbling with the seat belt. Voices—real voices—droned into her eardrums, but she couldn’t hear the words. Nicky. I have to get Nicky. I have to get off this ride. I should’ve listened to momma!
She swayed, her legs like Jell-O, feet planted on solid ground though she knew she was dangling in that car, that horrid car that’d taken her brother and thrust her into the world of true horrors against her will.
Familiar faces huddled around her, a mixture of concern and humor splashed across their features. Robert and Kelly and Ghostface. Their souls had returned to haunt her.
She recoiled, recalling Ghostface’s initial warning: “Four will ride, but only one will make it out alive!” And she knew he’d lied, and she was dead, they were all dead. And then she remembered Robert telling Nicky true horror wouldn’t be found on an amusement ride, that it existed elsewhere, and then her mother’s face swam across her vision, shouting about perverts and molesters, and—
“Michayla!” Robert shouted, shaking her shoulders.
She batted her eyelids. He looked real. Not fake. But then she remembered Kelly winking at her, claiming the saws weren’t real before having her fingers ripped off. She cried out and swatted at the thing acting as Robert, trying to shove him away.
“Michayla! It’s okay! Seriously—It was all part of the show!”
Show? She stopped swatting at his corporeal ghost.
“It was all fake, Michayla,” Robert’s soothing voice said. Kindness radiated from the wrinkles on his cheeks. “From the beginning—Marty and Carla and Kelly and I were all in on it. The argument—That was faked. We saw you coming up and needed to make enough room.”
“Fake?” Michayla said, unable to keep the hysteria from her voice. “The spiders weren’t fake! The snakes weren’t! Kelly—Her hand—She’s dead! You died! Nicky—he—” Words stuck in her throat and she couldn’t get her tongue to work anymore.
“I fell into a slide. Just as we’d planned. Just as we’ve been practicing for months. Well, except for Marty. He’s new. And no, the baby spiders weren’t fake, but we do think they came from the jungle scene. As for Kelly’s hand…” he said, gesturing at the woman, voice trailing off.
Kelly whipped a stump of an arm from her coveralls and squeezed a hand trigger at the bottom of it. Red liquid shot out from two little tubes and splashed against concrete at her feet.
“The—the b-butcher! The b-blood!” Michayla stammered. The haze shrouding her vision softened, and the world slowly returned to the vibrant colors she was accustomed to.
“Corn syrup and water, and he was another actor. So were the clowns.” Robert stroked her shoulders, gentle, caring. “It was all fake. I promise.”
Nicky! Nicky’s alive! “Where is he?” she asked, swiveling her head to and fro. “Where’s my brother?”
“He’s with Carla. He’s safe. Trust me.” A rock song blared within Robert’s pocket. He snatched the cellphone out, frowned, then excused himself and stepped away.
Michayla stared at Kelly, dumbfounded. She wanted to slap the Mohawk right off her damn head. “The snakes. Those were real. They hissed,” she muttered, still not convinced. Still believing she was somewhere between life and death.
Kelly smiled and withdrew a reptile from her coveralls. She pushed a button on its back. It hissed and slithered with mechanical movements.
“Why?” Michayla asked, temper rising along with the pitch of her voice. “Why the fuck would you do this to someone? To me?”
“You wanted to ride the ride, right?” Kelly asked.
“Why didn’t you warn us? Why didn’t you tell us it was fake?”
“We did. Several times. You were too frightened to catch it. Which was the idea, really.”
Just then, Carla stepped up beside Kelly, Nicky’s Perry the Platypus doll in one hand. She grabbed Kelly’s ass with her free hand, then looped that arm around her waist and hugged her close. “That was a lot longer than the practice sessions.” She nodded at Michayla, a similar smile of amusement playing at her lips. “I take it it went well?”
“Scared shitless, babe,” Kelly said, flicking her tongue at Carla the same way she’d done to Michayla earlier.
“You’re all fucking sick!” Michayla said, a snarl plastered to her face. “Who would be okay with leaving their ten-year-old brother in the hands of strangers? You-you didn’t even tell us we’d get dirty! Nothing! You’re fucking—”
“Carla!” Robert jogged up, grabbed Carla’s arm, and whirled her around, maintaining his hold. “Where the fuck is he? Where’s Marty?”
“With Nicky. The bathrooms. Right over there,” she replied, pointing over his shoulder to a building about twenty yards away.
Robert turned, then snapped his head back around to glare at her. “You mean the bathroom right next to the fucking exit?”
“Hey, look, they only been gone about two minutes or so.”
He shone his cellphone in her face. “The background check came back. Martin Elijah Landow died last year. They don’t know who this guy is.” He pulled her close, teeth clenched together. “I fucking told you something wasn’t right. The way he looked at the kids. The way he talked to them. And I told you to fucking watch him. Goddamnit!” He released his grasp and sped away.
Michayla watched dread slither across Kelly’s and Carla’s faces. The words sunk in and Perry the Platypus’ bulbous eyes glared at her in an accusatory fashion.
Her mother’s face floated back into her vision, brow contorted, spittle flying as she preached about perverts and molesters and sickos.
And then she was hanging upside down again, breath stolen, gut wrenched.
The white dots danced in darkness anew.