31 Mar The Most Unfortunate Place on Earth
“The Most Unfortunate Place on Earth”Written by Christine Blackwicks Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 16 minutes
“Death by electrocution or hanging?” Ethan asks Garret killing time as we wait in line for the newest ride at the amusement park.
“Boys…seriously. We are in the happiest place on earth, can’t you find something better to discuss?” I glance over at my husband Zack, but he shrugs his shoulders and grins and I can read his thoughts, “Boys will be boys.” I’m outnumbered again. Not that I mind, not really.
“But Mom, the line is soooo long and we are soooo bored.” I stretch my neck from side-to-side in sympathy. I’m constantly busy with work, the kids, and day-to-day life that one would think a few minutes with nothing to do would be welcome. However, there is something about moving inches at intervals that makes creeping time unpleasant.
“I understand, but please don’t hurt my heart by imagining ways to die.”
“Are you tearing up?” Ethan leers over me. He’s eighteen and taller than me by almost a foot and he loves to lord it over me every chance he gets. I catch a whiff of his Ralph Lauren Body Spray and a faint hint of perspiration.
I brush the tear out of my eye. “No. It’s sweat.”
“Aw, Mom, you’re okay. Nothing’s going to happen. Are you worried about the ride?” Not to be outdone, Garret flops a long, lanky arm over my shoulders. He too is inches taller than me but a few years younger than his brother and still willing to nestle in close. The Old Spice deodorant wafts over me and I take in a deep breath of his scent, relaxing into him.
“I’m fine. It’s the incessant heat and the repetitive music. And, the crowds. Let’s take a break after this one.”
“We’re almost there. I can see them loading the cars up ahead,” my husband Zack contributes.
“Thank God,” I mutter. I check my Fitbit for the time, the digital read-out shows me a little after 3:30 in the afternoon and I mentally give myself a high five. With over 25,000 steps, no matter how many churros I eat, I should still be able to tug on my jeans when vacation ends. “I definitely prefer the rides where we can skip to the front of the line.”
“Agreed,” Zack says.
The boys focus their attention to the front of the line while continuing their conversation. “Global warming or alien invasion,” Garret asks Ethan.
Zack rubs my back, but I step away embarrassed my shirt is sticking to my back. “Everything okay?”
I sigh. “Yeah, damn hormones. I feel fucking out of control. Those boys are going to be the death of me.” I take a deep breath and let it out slowly as we move forward a few paces in line. We needed some time as a family to reconnect. I’d lost my mom around the holidays and with Ethan leaving in the fall for college, I wanted to stuff the boys back into my womb, to keep them safe and near me. Hanging onto time with the kids felt like trying to wrangle water, it either slipped away or dried out before I could get a grip on it.
* * * * * *
The rollercoaster takes off like a rocket and immediately pisses me off. The g-force pulls my cheeks into a rictus of terror while a flash of light captures my horror for purchase in the gift shop after the ride. I hate to be scared and I loathe myself for not researching the ride before I got on it.
The harness pins me to the seat of the coaster and awkwardly holds me in its molded plastic embrace through twists, drops and turns in the dark cavernous space. Neon freeway signs guide our passage as the track weaves through the faux pitch of night. Cold air caresses my skin but the wind is as manufactured as the manicured lawns and ersatz lakes of this fantasy land.
Finally, we round the last corner into the flat straightaway. The snake of cars comes to an abrupt stop in the middle of the final stretch of the track. I can barely turn to make eye contact with my husband because my head is braced to the seat, but can see my kids in the seat in front of us smiling and laughing.
Concrete walls surround us as rock music blares out of the speakers. I need to pee. A sign up ahead signals the conclusion. I’m relieved to know the end is in sight.
Zack and I are the last two passengers, the caboose of this adventure train. We come to a complete halt. The kids only have enough movement to turn their heads to the side to shout back to us.
“What did you think?” Garret yells.
Ethan chimes in, “Totally cool, yeah?”
“Awesome, best ride ever!” I shout back.
I can see Garret smile because he is sitting in front of Zack, “So, you hated it, right mom?”
“What gave it away?” I grin.
“I can’t wait to escape off this thing. Did you like it?” I ask Zack.
“Sure, it was fun. But, I’m ready to go back to the hotel and chill,” Zack responds.
“Truer words, babe.”
The pressure in my bladder is growing urgent and I push against the restraint which hardly budges.
“What’s going on? Doesn’t it seem weird to be stuck here? Shouldn’t we be moving or something?” I ask Zack.
Zack shakes his head unconcerned. “I’m sure they’re just unloading the group ahead of us.” He reaches out and pats my hand.
“Are you sure we aren’t stuck?” I pushed against the padded metal contraption testing my wiggle room. It doesn’t shift a centimeter. This thing is safety constructed in the twenty-first century and I am well and truly trapped in my seat.
I want off this ride.
Zack’s harness appears a little looser, like maybe he didn’t pull it down across his chest as tightly as I had.
“Can you shift that thing?” I ask.
He presses and the unit clunks, allowing for slight movement. “Nope, I’m pretty secure here.”
“But it seems like you have more space in comparison to mine.”
“That’s because of my wide shoulders.” He flashes me a wink and flexes his bicep.
I wish for his levity as I twist again, trying not to let my fear of confined spaces weave its tendrils in me.
In front of us, Garret turns his head and shouts back to us, “I think the coaster broke down. Dad, check over the side, do you see a walkway?” I study my surroundings. We are in a tunnel, the track is raised a bit from the floor, but there is a sidewalk off to the right side of the car where we could depart. The entirety of our chain is stuck in the middle of the space. A neon arch signals the tantalizingly close exit just around the bend toward what I can only hope is the disembarking area. The area is no frills. All concrete blocks, and low lighting, meant to be whizzed by in a blink.
“Do you think we’ll be evacuated like we were from Highland Falls?” Ethan asks, the excitement in his voice palpable.
I strain to listen to them because they are a couple of feet away from us. Even though we are sharing the same car the harness makes it hard for them to move their heads enough for their voices to reach us. The short guitar-laden riff keeps replaying, an indication we shouldn’t be sitting for this long.
A recorded voice pops over the music. “The ride is experiencing technical difficulties, please stay off the track. The ride may resume without warning.”
I stifle a giggle and shove against my restraint. “And how exactly, would we be able to hop out to stretch our legs on the track?”
“Maybe it’s a warning to the workers?” Zack suggests.
Ethan shouts, “Cool, do you think we’ll journey behind the scenes again?”
“I don’t know.” Now that we are stuck, my bladder clenches and I wish desperately I had used the bathroom beforehand.
I consider what will happen if I pee on the seat. It’s molded plastic, so I’m fairly certain I would end up sitting in a puddle. Luckily for Zack, we each have our own precast space, so my shame would be my own. I imagine my humiliation as we roll into the unloading dock and the groans of the workers as they witness my soaked ass leaving the ride. All resulting in a loudspeaker telling the guests the coaster is temporarily closed for hazardous cleaning. Boos and jeers follow me as I depart. My kids, horrified, walk as far ahead of me as possible so as not to be associated with me in any way.
To distract myself, I ask, “Do you think a group is stuck in the middle? Like what if they are stuck upside down?” Surely, someone else must have it worse.
“The g-force or gravity would settle the cars to a flat spot,” my husband calmly answers.
“Do you think there is a safety mechanism, a catch release to open our seats or do you think it needs a command?”
“There’s probably a catch hidden, but it will be extremely difficult to find. Too many idiots would be exploiting the system.”
My heart rate picks up and the walls appear to shift closer. The air coming into my lungs feels heavier as if my lung capacity has shrunk and the air can’t inflate my chest.
Zack reaches across the seat and takes my hand. The loudspeaker comes back on with the same recorded message about a problem with the track.
* * * * * *
The time is 4:36 pm and we are still stuck. No workers come to rescue us, the cart hasn’t moved and the recorded message hasn’t changed. We’ve diligently searched for any release buttons, but if there is one to push, we haven’t found it.
My bladder is pulsing with my heartbeat and my thighs and knees are shoved together so forcefully that if it wasn’t for the pain, I’d wonder from the sweat buildup if I’d already succumbed to the pressure.
There are six cars in our little train, each loaded with four passengers. We can’t tell much about the people ahead of us as the coaster spans thirty-five feet and no one can turn their heads more than slightly to the sides due to the head restraints. The music is so loud we can scarcely understand the kids in the seats in front of us, let alone the car in front of them. I can count the hairs on the boy’s heads, yet I can’t reach out to stroke them.
Zack maneuvered his phone out of the holder in front of him, but has no cell service. Ethan tried to grab his phone from the front pocket, and proceeded to drop it on the floor. He shuffled with his feet to try to snag it, but so far with zero success. Garret, having watched Ethan (and given us the humorous play by play), carefully retrieved his phone and was currently playing a game, which kept them both occupied for now.
“Zack, what is going on?” I ask for the hundredth time.
“I don’t know.”
“This can’t be good.” My breath hiccups as I try to keep from crying.
“What could possibly be keeping them from coming to rescue us? The lawsuits alone should have them rushing to release us. Why hasn’t a real person made an announcement?”
Zack stares at me with bleak eyes and holds my hand tighter. I wish I hadn’t pulled away from him in line.
“I’m scared,” I whisper.
* * * * * *
I’ve since peed the seat and my butt is already starting to dry out. The boys also had to go, but at least they had the option to aim for their feet.
Pain is starting to shoot down the sides of my neck from being locked in the same place for so long. Garret’s battery died and now they keep asking more questions that we can’t answer. We’ve played several rounds of I’ve Never and Would You Rather. The game stopped when Ethan, asked, “Would you rather die slowly of starvation and be dead or die fast, but live on eating others for the rest of your life?”
“What the fuck Ethan? Dude, not cool.” I don’t want to admit how much his question unsettled me, at 6:43, it’s after sundown and still nothing has happened. “Let’s take a break. I’m struggling to hear anyway.”
“What? I’m joking.”
“Right, but I love you and don’t like to think about those things okay?” The boys turn forward and I trade a look with Zack and we both shake our heads. My skull is pounding and an internal pressure is building like I’m going to burst out of my skin. I’m not sure I’ll be able to enter into an enclosed space after this experience ever again.
I’m craving the touch of my family. I want Zack’s arms around me. I want Ethan stepping on my toes and Garret’s arms hanging around my shoulders. I start to hyperventilate and push those thoughts away; we’ll be out soon enough I tell myself.
Over the music, a woman screams to be heard, “Hello? Can someone call 911? I think my husband is having a heart attack.”
A murmur goes up as the canned announcement breaks in and one man yells out, “Lady, I’ve tried my cell phone a thousand times, I can’t receive any service in here. The system is down.”
Another woman shouts out. “I’m sorry. We’ve had the same experience.”
The first woman’s lilting voice makes me wonder if she’s from the South. “Does anyone know what I should do? I can’t reach him.” Her voice breaks into a sob. Tears of commiseration rise in my eyes, as I peek at Zack and wonder what I would do.
My son gazes back at me and I shake my head miserably. We’ve been stuck for hours. We have a bag of kettle corn and a half of bottle of water. My kids, screwing around, spilled what soda they had left arguing about whose it was and so they have nothing.
“My daughter is going to try to dislocate her arm to get out of out of the seat.” A man yells out to the group.
“Will that work?” I ask my husband.
“It can’t hurt,” he answers.
“Ma’am, tell your husband to hold on. Amina is twisting herself right now. She’s super flexible and she’s willing to try to knock her arm out of the socket if it means getting us help.”
“Yes! Please! Hurry!” Her voice is hysterical and keeps breaking as she tries to be louder than the guitar rift. “He’s having trouble breathing.”
A few minutes later, a little slip of a girl is standing outside of the tracks on the walkway. Everyone starts applauding. Sweat is trickling down the sides of her face, her arm is hanging perversely, and yet she holds her head proudly as she walks down the line of cars to the front. A mischievous grin comes across her face and she gives a quick bow, holding her one working arm out like a performer. As she walks down the track, I can see her bottom is wet from sitting in a puddle. We cheer her and she limps off, holding her arm gingerly as she rounds the corner and exits out of sight to find help.
Excited whispers and chatting reanimates the group.
“I think my feet are numb.” I try to wiggle my toes, but it’s just something to say. I feel reinvigorated; finally, something will happen and we can clear off this damn ride.
Zack grasps my hand and squeezes. “Not for long.”
“I can’t wait to go home and take a shower.”
“Mom, do you have any water? We are dying up here!” Garret yells back at us.
“Well, if you guys hadn’t been fooling around,” I respond.
“Please. It was Ethan’s fault. Help is coming. Dad can reach, right Dad?” The hopeful expression in his eyes just about breaks my heart. Whatever is keeping people from liberating us can’t be good. While I try not to think about it, it’s all I can do to keep my mind from ping-ponging on possibilities. Why hasn’t anyone come looking for us? In a place dedicated to providing outstanding experiences, this situation is more than a little abnormal and, in a world, where lawsuits are a dime a dozen, well…
I glance at Zack, “What do you think?”
“You guys can wait a few more minutes. Teach you a lesson,” he says. I narrow my eyes at Zack and he doesn’t look at me.
I keep obsessively looking at the time. The guitar rift lasts three minutes, forty-three seconds, the announcement twenty-five seconds and in-between there is a blessed five seconds of bliss. It’s been one hour since Amina left.
Zack is pelting the boys with the kettle corn, challenging them to catch it with their mouths, which serves to occupy and distract their starving bellies. The announcement ends and in the window of silence I make out a pop-pop-pop which sounds like distant gunfire.
I pull a muscle in my neck jerking my head to Zack. “Did you hear that?”
He shakes his head, “What?” The music starts up again.
“Keep throwing popcorn!” I hiss.
Zack frowns at me and complies. I reach over and seize his hand in a death grip. “I think I heard gunfire.”
His eyes widen.
The message ends and we both hunch forward straining our ears. Zack watches me as he concentrates and then I catch a rhythmic rat-tat before the guitar screams out over the speakers. We both sag back into our seats.
Garret’s turned to face us and his eyeballs scan back between the two of us. “What’s going on?” He asks.
Zack throws a kernel and nails him smack on the nose. Garret grabs the corn and pops it into his mouth, allowing himself to be distracted.
“It must be pretty bad for her not to return.” Ethan states.
“There is no point wondering,” Zack says trying to shut down speculation. All it does is stop the kids from talking to us as they whisper back and forth with each other.
“Did you hear anything?” I ask.
“I don’t think so.”
“Well, keep listening. I think the second time I might’ve heard an automatic weapon. That can’t be right, right? Not here?”
“I think you are getting yourself worked up. Just breathe.” Zack says.
“I will once I get out of this seat.”
He mimics taking a deep breath and blowing it out. I yank my hand away from his and face forward.
A loud wail interrupts my thoughts of throttling Zack. “I think the woman’s husband died,” I whisper as if I’m afraid she will overhear us.
“Where is the girl?” I ask as I reach back to clutch his hand. “What could be keeping her? What is happening out there? Do you think this is it? Are we going to die here?”
“I hope not.”
“Is there anything we can be doing?”
“Well, that’s why I didn’t give the boys the water.”
“Yeah, I figured as much,” I say grimly.
I occupy myself with going over every square millimeter of space I occupy, but it’s useless. There aren’t any screws or knobs for me to try to manipulate.
Someone screams. “Oh, my God.”
“What is happening?” A voice sounds above the music.
A wave of panicked voices surges over the zippy beat. Someone whistles sharply.
A man’s voice calls out. “There is no easy way to say this, but the woman’s husband who died of a heart attack appears to have come back to life and is trying to eat her.”
I turned to Zack and start to cry. The kids peer back at us with panic in their eyes. I struggle against my restraints. I look at Zack. “Is there any way I can do what that kid did? Can I dislocate myself to twist out of this thing?”
Zack’s frantically shoving against the restraint. None of us are flexible, so bending our way out of this situation is out of the question. I catch heads bobbing as the people in front of us gyrate with what I assume is the same ferocity as us. Straitjackets would be as damning.
“Mom, I’m scared,” Garret yells.
“Me too, buddy. But hold on. Try to wiggle out. Do whatever you can to maneuver out of your seat. Break your arm if you need to. We have to get out. Our lives depend upon it.”
I start hitting my shoulder against the plastic molding. With my shoulders firmly secured, I can’t get a good enough angle or enough momentum to twist enough to make a difference. I scream in frustration. Ethan squints at Zack because he can’t quite turn enough to make eye contact with me. I force a laugh. “I’m just trying to Hulk it. I thought a little extra inner power might help.” He nods, not believing me, but wanting to.
When I pictured all the dangers my kids would face, I imagined things outside of my control, strangers-someone luring my kid with candy, or them following a ball out into the street. As they got older it switched to online fears, which morphed into concerns about alcohol or heroin or antibiotic-resistant chlamydia. But I didn’t think I would end up watching them die in front of me while I could do nothing but bear witness. This was the most fucked up hell I could imagine.
We joked about a zombie apocalypse. Jesus, what had Ethan said? “Eating others for the rest of your life”? Surely this had to be some sort of reality TV joke and someone was going to bust out any moment and…
“Mom, I don’t want to die like this,” Garret shouts, tears streaming down his face.
“I know. We will figure out a way.”
“Mom, I don’t want to be a zombie.” He cries, hands pushing against the bars holding tight against his shoulders. I flash to him on a baby swing, face screwed up, arms outstretched hollering for me to rescue him.
Ethan starts jumping up in his seat, “Garret, shut up.” I remember one day when I got mad at Ethan for something stupid when he was two and yelled at him. Instead of crying, he laughed at me as if my overreaction was the funniest thing in the world.
“We’ll figure this out. Right, Zack? We got this.” Zack is silent as he studies the front of the cars and I’m so angry with him for not fixing this. Why can’t he fix this? Why can’t I? “Zack” I scream. “We can’t let this happen to them. We’ve got to do something.”
Zack looks at me with tears in his eyes and smiles. His hand is holding mine and he blows me a kiss and I breathe.
A loud whistle rips over the music. Startled, I glance up.
A small figure limps into view. Behind her is an undead cavalry.
Amina’s head dangles and swings, her hair hangs in her face so I can’t make out her features. I strain my eyes to understand what I am seeing. At first, my eyes think she is moving funny because of her dislocated arm, but I catch the shine of white bone and understand the arm is no longer attached.
Behind her follow six tourists. Because of the dimness, it would be easy to think this is the rescue we’ve been waiting for, but deep down I recognize they are not our salvation. My chest vibrates with a hum rising and resounding through my clenched teeth.
They don’t appear dead, more like plastic dolls puffed up like marshmallows. Their skin is tight and shiny as if stretching to contain their fluids. Blood should be gushing out of the missing bits and pieces but instead the raw flesh is startling bright like the red scales of a koi fish.
One rather large woman has had her breasts ripped off and her belly removed, but her double chin is in-tact. Her empty rib cage gleams in the twilight with an inner pearlescent.
“Mooooom?” I hear. I grip Zack’s hand and my bones pulverize from his pressure. I close my eyes.
“Shut your eyes, guys. I love you. Shut your eyes.”
* * * * * *
Buzzing vibrations itch in tight threads. The rippling crimson waves distort my vision. Hunger roars and recedes and like the ocean. It will never be satiated.
I lift my head and push away; no more is to be had. My hand tangles and I tug, eager to move on. When my hand frees, it loosens an object that falls into my lap. Light is sucked into its depths. Oily metal fills my nose and the hunger urges me to move on. I pause. Cold sinks into my thighs and I try to understand the object.
This is a gun. I hold the word in my mouth as I grasp it with my hand.
I try to stand and fall over.
I try to stand and fall over.
I slide on the ground. A part of me scrapes against the pavement. A piece of white chalk on a black chalkboard flashes in my mind and is gone. Meaning is as ephemeral as the memories of who or what I am. I rise to my knees and am able to place one foot down and then the other. I’m not right. The emptiness in me howls and eats my thoughts. Everything but the hunger.
I breathe the air searching for something to fill the clamoring void. A scent on the breeze that is not food, calls insistently. I peer down at my hand and observe I am clutching the black object. My hand loosens to let go.
My mouth remembers the word “gun” but keeps it safe, tight within my lips. I increase my grip.
I trip and get back up.
I trip and get back up.
A gust of wind blows against my face and the aroma is stronger. I know this scent and it guides me into a dark carnivorous space. My ears hurt with the loud sound and I almost leave. The hunger cannot detect food, but the scent is stronger here and its claws are sharper than the hunger.
The world is washed in cerise ribbons. The odor is in front of me, but I don’t understand what I see. I pause and try to remember but hunger needles me with every cell leaving no room for anything else.
I move forward to take one last inhalation of the smell that is better than hunger. I trip and my arm falls against one of the objects no longer food.
Soft hair brushes against my bare skin.
“Mom, I don’t want to be a zombie,” I remember screaming in my head.
The word safely held releases from my mouth. “Gun.”
I raise my hand and point and pull. The hunger chatters against the ringing in my ears. There is another and I reach out to touch before I point the gun again. The harsh noise distracts the hunger. In that moment, I am satiated.
The oily metal does not call like food yet it feeds. I move it to my mouth and put it in. The cold burns my lips and I pull.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A