The ride attendants walk down the line, checking each seat to make sure that the black safety bar is securely in place. The blue-eyed boy beside me is reminded to keep his hands and feet inside the ride at all times; he quickly pulls his arm back inside the car, wrapping his other arm behind me. I scoot a little bit closer to him. “Good afternoon everybody, welcome to the wooden roller coaster that has not one loop, not two loops, not even three loops, but a grand total of zero loops! Enjoy your ride on the Mine Train!” A voice announces through the speakers. Our heads bonk together as the ride starts with a sudden jerk. He says he’s sorry, I tell him not to be. We give each other a sideways glance and both laugh a little. Our cart, the front row, is just making it out of the loading dock, down a slight hill before making a 180 degree turn. The incline that follows is slow. I watch the birds fly overhead, a huge cluster of them like misshapen black dots passing by in the sky.
Over the roaring noise of the Mine Train I can hear the screams of acrophobics on the Sky Screamer; additionally, the sound of metal wheels on metal tracks is all around, the roaring noise is easy to tune out with the sound of Demi Lovato’s song Heart Attack playing through speakers throughout the park. The wind speeds up as the cart crawls up the incline. Just to the left side of the tracks is a wooden holding box for one of the ride attendants; he’s watching us, waving as we ride toward him. His smile is fake, his eyes scream “I don’t want to be here, but my paycheck is keeping me here.” His curly ginger hair shifts in the wind. As we approach, the boy beside me utters something about “I hope he doesn’t steal my soul” or some other “gingers are evil creatures” joke that makes me laugh. It’s a girly laugh, more like an alto-pitched giggle; much different from my typical I’m-dying-of-an-asthma-attack no-seriously-get-me-my-inhaler laugh. He smiles at me, his blue eyes squinting as if he’s staring into the sun. Suddenly, we’re falling.
The wind blows my hair back, hitting the face of the rider behind me who had been leaning forward in his seat. The girl beside him snorts and then screams. Everybody is screaming, a sea of soprano and countertenor voices flying behind me. I’m laughing and trying to pull my hair in front of me, it immediately slaps my face. From the sputtering noise and laughter I gather that it’s also in the face of the boy beside me. I apologize, but my voice is lost in the roar of screams and metal riding metal. The cart jerks into a curve, the boy slides toward me in the bench seat. I try to reach behind me and pull my hair into a hair tie, but give up on the task to enjoy the ride. The coaster isn’t a smooth ride, the cart jostles at every rotation of the wheel, adding an obnoxious tick noise to the sea of other sounds. As we round another curve, I reach up to grab a leaf from a low hanging branch. That can’t be safe.
I hold the leaf in my hand, it’s still a vibrant green, but the yellowing edges suggest the proximity of autumn. Just a few weeks away. I let the leaf fly out of my hands and look to my left to see the happy boy beside me. He’s 18, but the joy on his face suggests greater youth than that. I smile in turn, facing the tracks ahead; the boards on the coaster look heavily worn, an ashy grey from the abuses of sunlight and rain. The cart crawls slowly up the final incline, the people behind me are cheering in anticipation of the coaster’s grand finale. Tick. Tick. Tick. The jostling is separating in time as we reach the top and slowly round the final curve. We’re faced by a pitch-black tunnel. Some girl near the back screams in what sounds like genuine terror as the cart suddenly lurches forward at breakneck speed. We’re suddenly submerged in darkness. The boy beside me is laughing, everyone behind us is screaming. I sit silently, watching as the light at the end of the tunnel grows larger and brighter.
Just as quickly as we were submerged in darkness, we’re returned to light. The cart suddenly stops, I’m flung forward against the safety bar. A slight “oof” comes from beside me. Then, we’re slowly rolling forward into the docking station. “I hope you all enjoyed your ride on the Mine Train, please exit to your right and have a fan-TASTIC day.” The ride attendants rush to push the safety bars back into place and a small crowd rushes away, a different boy and girl taking the front row as soon as it’s vacated. I turn to follow the crowd back into the park.