After passing through the main gate, my daughter Mikie and I make a beeline for her favorite ride. The rain is coming down, thunder rumbles nearby. Since it’s the middle of the week, I hope we won’t have to get drenched while waiting. Sure enough the line is short and moves quickly around the chain-linked posts that lead into a large building that looks like a mountain. We hurry out of the wet and into the large opening of a faux train tunnel. At one point, people do bunch up in the brightly lit passageway. Faux rock walls surround us.
“Why did you tell me this now?” It’s a boy, the same age as Mikie. The boy says this to a woman beside him, clutching the strap of her purse. I assume his mother.
She turns quickly to us and forces a smile at my daughter. “Playing hooky like us?”
“We didn’t want to wait over two hours for this ride,” I say. “And with the weather, we figured today is the day.”
“You figured right,” the woman says.
“I knew you knew him,” the boy says. “You said you never knew who he was because you were wild back then and there were so many guys, but you always did know. Why didn’t you tell me before now?”
“The line is moving,” Mikie says.
“I don’t care,” the boy says. “I don’t want to go on this shitty ride anymore.” He looks at my daughter. “This is the shittiest ride in the park. Only for babies.”
“Hey, now,” I say.
“Elijah,” the woman says. “Elijah!” She tries to grab his arm, but he whips it away. “I’ve wanted to tell you,” the woman says through her teeth. The woman coaxes the boy to walk further down the tunnel. We hear the clatter of coasters up ahead. Mikie and I move slowly, giving some space between us and them. People behind us don’t seem to mind the pace, either.
“Did I say something wrong?” Mikie says. “That stupidhead has problems.”
“Hey, come on,” I say.
We catch up to the mother and son at the loading platform as coaster cars resembling small trains pull up. The mother is still strangling her strap. Riders disembark and we climb in. The mother and son now sit in front us. The harness clicks, traps us.
“This is good news,” the mother says to Elijah. I guess it’s her turn to be riled up. “I thought this could be a good day all around. We’re at your favorite place, and now you know what you’ve always wanted to know. I thought you were old enough to han—”
“This is not a good day.” Then Elijah blurts out, “Where does he live? I’ll go live with him. I want to live with him.”
“I really don’t know where he lives, God’s honest truth.”
The coaster heaves forward and begins to climb the tracks. Soon we will drop into what looks like a dark and cavernous mineshaft, hurtling us along on this out-of-control train, corkscrewing us seemingly deeper into the earth. Mikie screams beside me, her small arms flailing. I hold on to the bar. The coaster rises into a bend. My ex-wife and I delivered the news to Mikie about our separation at her favorite restaurant. Mikie hasn’t wanted to go back since.
The rattling of the wheels, the shrieks of riders, I feel my fingers slip. Gleaming gemstones strobe from the rock walls in every direction. Has Mikie ever yelled at her mother that she wanted to live with me? A dip catches me off-guard, I let go of the bar, my stomach drops. The squeal of metal on metal and instinctually I brace my arm across my daughter’s body. Everything comes to a halt.
“What’s going on? Help, help!” It’s the woman in front of me in the darkness.
Now bright flood lights click on from every direction, and I see how small a space this cavern really is. The coaster sits on the tracks, only a few yards from the last curving bank before heading into the exit tunnel. Above us, the coil of metal tracks, ladders, and walkways. Below is a five foot drop to the concrete floor.
“I can’t get out,” the boy says. The harness is still locked.
I hear people panicking, others reassuring, and then a voice comes over a loud speaker. The voice is sorry for the inconvenience, and that the coaster’s brakes will release momentarily, and then we’ll glide the rest of the way back to the station.
I realize Mikie is talking non-stop next to me. “Look up, Dad. This is so cool. Can you believe this is happening? Look at that, Dad. This is incredible.”
“No it’s not,” says Elijah over his shoulder.
“Yes it is,” Mikie says in a way that I know she means business. “Look around already. It’s like a tornado or something.”
“If I knew, Elijah,” Elijah’s mother says, pleads, “I would tell you where he lives.”
“I’m inside a tornado,” Elijah says.
Dan Crawley is the author of the novella Straight Down the Road (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2019). His writing appears or is forthcoming in a number of journals, including New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review, and Atticus Review. His work has been nominated for Best Small Fictions, Best of the Net, and the Pushcart Prize. Along with teaching creative writing workshops and literature courses, he is a fiction reader for Little Patuxent Review.