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WHIRLA WORLD

Updated: Nov 30, 2021

This is the 2nd installment of the short story series, to read the first click here Remember to sign up as a member for up to date news and access. Also I love hearing what you have to say so have some fun in the comment section!


f you want to read it/print it, you can download a pdf here.





 

Whirla World

 


"You've got to keep moving sweetie, Daddy might be back there," Valerie tried to pick up their pace, but the girl kept stopping to look behind them. There were no monsters in the crowd, no wolf, only tired parents and excited children. Still, the mass watched without watching, and the wolf waited, stalked. Valerie jerked Suzi's hand, and they lurched across the blacktop.

"You're sure it was Daddy?" said the girl, her eyes wet and trembling. Valerie tried to give her a reassuring smile. The result was a series of jittering expressions that left Suzi in a panic. Her whole body shook, and her fingernails bit down on Valerie's hand with a death grip. Valerie thought her surprisingly strong, and the pain of their embrace radiated up her arm. Why shouldn't she panic? I'm panicking, aren't I? How did he find us?

"I think so sweetie, I think he's back there. Do you remember what we do if we see daddy?"

"We run," said Suzi, squeezing her arm.

"That's right, we run. And as long as we run, we're safe." Valerie tried to look calm, but she could tell Suzi didn't believe it. My God, this girl is sharp, she thought. Valerie had never been able to lie to her successfully. Suzi hadn't gotten that kind of mind from her. Valerie was about as woolgathering as a person could be. She could stand in a rainstorm and wonder about the weather, an absolute space cadet with her mind in orbit. She and Suzi looked almost like twins, and many of the teachers at school thought they could be sisters. Her husband joke that Valerie had ordered a replica in the mail, but that was all on the surface. Suzi might look like a doppelgänger, but underneath they were opposites. Suzi was like a hawk flying a hundred feet above a hayfield on a clear, sunny day. She noticed every detail like it was a mouse she could swoop down and snatch off the grass. Her grades in school surpassed a class of a hundred by leaps and bounds. Her teachers were talking about bumping her up from first grade to third grade, for starters. Words like 'prodigy' and 'genius' were becoming very common. Those were not problems Valerie had ever had, but that was only part of it. The good part. Then there was Suzi's dark side.

Valerie could remember the first week she'd tried to take Suzi's pacifier away. Suzi hadn't screamed or fought. She'd only smiled and said, "Big girl!" before heading to daycare that morning. Valerie had instructed the daycare not to let her have a pacifier, and they had agreed. By noon she'd gotten a call from them, letting her know that somehow Suzi had gotten ahold of one, and they'd had to fight it out of her hands while she screamed, cursed, and swiped at them, knocking over tables and throwing books at other children. She'd hit a little boy flat in the nose, and blood had shot out his nostrils like a river.

"I've seen kids turn on a dime before Mrs. Shallon, but I've never seen that. She somehow got hold of kitchen scissors. Our scissors are always locked, and the staff is careful when they make breakfast and lunch. We've never had a problem before. Suzi had them in her pocket with her little pink shirt hiding the top of them. Then she grabbed hold of the teacher's hair and wrapped it around her fist like rope, yanking Brenda's head down. It caught us by surprise. We got them out of her hand as quickly as we could, but she still managed to lop a length of her hair clean off. We had to send Brenda home; she was hysterical. All we can think is that Suzi brought the scissors from home."

Valerie told them over and over that it was impossible. She dressed Suzi every morning, and she never went anywhere near the kitchen on the way to the daycare. Did they think she wouldn't have noticed Suzi stuffing a pair of scissors in her pants or walking around with them shoved in her waistband? Where would she have even hidden them? That had started a long argument with the staff. Later Valerie figured out that Suzi had heard her talking with her husband about taking her 'binky' away weeks before and had hidden an excellent supply of them under a toy shelf at the daycare. When Valerie had finally told her that she wouldn't have her binks anymore, she'd prepared. They never did figure out where the scissors came from. When Valerie asked her, she just kept repeating she didn't remember until she started crying.

She got that from him, the lying. So how did he find us? I never use credit cards. Nothing is in my name, and I don't have social media. So how in the name of God did he find me? She didn't know, and it didn't matter. It was him. She was sure of that. He'd looked right at her, hair slicked back and glistening like oil. His eyes were always dark, but now they were as dark as his hair. There was loathing in that gaze and hatred. He'd seen her right as they were walking up to one of those pay-for-play game booths, the one with a hundred glass bottles you're supposed to toss the plastic rings over. 'SIX TOSSES FOR $5' read the sign.

Valerie gave a pudgy clerk behind the booth ten bucks and split the rings with Suzi. They'd been having a great time failing at the game, throwing the rings, so they bounced off the bottles with a 'chink' sound, watching as they spun off the tops of them in little blue circles that fell to the ground.

"This game is rigged," Suzi said.

Valerie laughed. "Where did you hear that word? Rigged?"

Suzi thought it over for a moment but said she couldn't remember and smiled. She did like to say she couldn't remember a lot of things, both good and bad, but her eyes were so damn sharp.

Valerie threw the next ring, missing the bottles. The rings skipped across the bottles, and one landed on the counter across from them. That's when she'd seen him. Clark picked up the plastic ring and turned it over in his hand. She'd frozen solid, and he stared at her. He was flashing his teeth. His grin was so white the sun reflected off his mouth. Clark was wearing a blue Whirla World shirt with neatly stamped letters across the front that read 'Shakin' Snake.' A vicious, yellow serpent was printed below that, winding around the letters. Its eyes were twirling different shades of red to make it look hypnotic. 'The Best Dads Can Shake It Twice!'

"You have two throws left... ma'am? Excuse me, are you going to finish your turn?"

Valerie didn't know how long it took her to look into the kid's round face. He was sweating hard from the July heat and looked like he wanted to be anywhere else. Valerie was paralyzed. Time froze, and when it started again, it was like someone hit the fast-forward button. She grabbed Suzi's arm and jolted her so hard that she'd picked her up off her feet. Suzi cried out as Valerie tried to run, dragging her as she went. Glancing over her shoulder, she tripped face-first into asphalt.

"Mommy!" screamed Suzi, trying to help her up. Valerie felt pain flare in her palms and on her knees where the ground had cut into her skin, but she didn't care. She got up as quickly as she could and grabbed Suzi's arm again, getting to her feet. Confident that he'd be there to pick her up by the arm the way he used to, squeeze tight and ready to take her, prepared to snatch Suzi. Clark was gone, the crowd had swallowed him and all she could see now was the pissed-off face of the fat clerk as he collected her rings and muttered.

It crossed her mind briefly that it might not have been him, but that didn't matter. If it was Clark and he was here, then they were both dead, or worse. She could figure out if she'd hallucinated later when they were in another state with different names, and there was no time to explain to Steve that she'd lied about her entire life, but none of that was important now. The only important thing was figuring out where the entrance to the park was and getting as far away from here as they could. All she had to do was get to Steve, get him in the car, and drive. It would take two days to get to California from here. The Gulf was closer, a little more than a day, but what would be the point in that? They had come from there in the first place, flying down the interstate with a wad of twenty-dollar bills in the glove box, a hammer and red stains all over her white top, with Suzi strapped in her car seat in the back, the bottom of her shoes crusted with her father's blood.

Valerie didn't stop until she'd hit Missouri, then she'd sold Clark's escalade to a man at a gas station for five-hundred bucks and his beat-to-shit Dodge Neon. The whole deal took maybe fifteen minutes. He started it up and looked around, and the car looked good enough, apparently because he didn't ask about the blood on her. To her relief, he hadn't asked about anything. This was a dump and run situation, cut the strings and drop off the grid, and somehow the man had known it. A good deal is a good deal, and he was more than happy to take her fifty-thousand dollar ride off her hands for peanuts. Then she'd driven off in his two-thousand dollar shit box with the AC that didn't work and a window that stayed rolled down halfway. She'd never been so glad to have it, to have Suzi, and the ability to get the fuck out of there. That was three years ago.

"Yes," said Valerie, pulling her forward again. "It was him. We need to go, sweetie." She was trying to keep her voice from trembling. All around them, people were smiling as they walked, laughing, chattering. Parents were walking with their kids in every direction to one of a dozen roller coasters, and others were striking off toward the food stands to get five-dollar lemonades, funnel cakes, or ice cream cones. Painted cement statues of balloons stood anywhere she looked, sporting the Whirla World logo every dozen yards in case people forgot where they were.

"Mommy, I'm scared," said Suzi, who by some miracle had finally decided to open up her gait just enough that they weren't standing still.

"Don't be scared, Suzi Q. We just have to get moving, is all. He can't get us if we keep moving."

Suzi was silent a moment, furrowing her brow. Valerie looked back at her and felt a cold hand squeeze over her heart. It amazed her how much Suzi looked like her. They had the same straw-blond hair, though Suzi's hair was braided in pigtails down either side of her head. The same sea-blue eyes, heart-shaped pink lips, and milky white complexion burnt too quickly in the sun. All the machinery was the same except the mind.

"Mommy, Daddy's fast, do you remember?"

Valerie tried to hold her smile, but she was breaking apart inside, shattering like glass. 'Oh yes, I remember Suzi, I remember how fast he is, but how do you? You were what? Two years old when we escaped? I remember how quick he swam in the ocean when some of my friends took me down to Corpus Christi for spring break and how cute I thought he was. I remember how smooth he talked and that his eyes were like chocolate when he looked at me, and that beautiful, sharp smile he had that I couldn't stop staring at. I remember I didn't go back to college at the end of the break, even though my friends begged and pleaded with me to come back and how they couldn't understand how I'd fallen in love with that beautiful smile and those sweet, brown eyes. I remember I married him two weeks after meeting him, and he told me how much he loved every inch of me and all those pictures he took of me laying in bed, naked, and how I knew it was weird, but I was too in love to care. I remember sometimes I woke up in the middle of the night, and he'd still be taking them, and how sometimes he'd leave bite marks on my thighs that I hadn't remembered him doing. So I just put it away in my wooly little mind.

I remember how he looked at me when I told him I was pregnant with you and how everything had changed fast then too. The little kisses on my neck, the patient hugs, and how he whispered everything would be alright. I remember the gaze that used to level me with a passion so deep it felt dangerous; now looked at his phone, the television, out the window. I remember the loathing that replaced the desire in his gaze and how now it burned like a coal fire, and the chocolate in them had melted into black bone. Then he was somewhere else, not there with me. I could hear him in the bathroom sometimes, whispering into his phone while I laid on our squat, little bed with no frame and no sheets. Then I remember how he stopped coming home at night, and I was left in a two-room apartment above the dry cleaners on Hallen Street, and how I started noticing how unclean it was in there, with the cockroaches and the shit-stained carpet and the smell of piss that never went away. Why did I never see it before? What was wrong with me? Why didn't he have any furniture? Where did he go?

I remember the night he snapped at me when I turned down the dial on the amplifier to his prominent speakers, he'd had the music cranked all day, and I could barely hear myself think. I wanted to ask him some things to get a hold of what was happening with us finally. I was so scared, I felt like I'd woken up in prison, and I'd wanted to tell him so and ask him why he was so angry. I was eight months pregnant by then, and everything inside me stopped working right. I was throwing up when you kicked me, my breasts were swollen, and my feet were aching, and I was always scared. That was the first night he'd hit me. He'd grabbed the only lamp in the room, yanking it up so that the end of the cord was still in the wall where it had snapped off, and brought the lamp across my face so hard that the porcelain shattered. My face still hurts sometimes. I'm convinced he broke my zygomatic bone, and it never really healed. I cried a week straight after that, too afraid to come out of the corner next to the sliding glass door overlooking the alleyway.

I wanted to call my friends, and I didn't have any family. I didn't have a phone anymore, and he said we didn't have money for two phones. I remember I went down to the dry cleaners below us and asked to borrow one from one of the women working there. They took one look at my face, and I didn't have to ask twice. I called Sarah. She was my best friend back then. That's who I went on spring break with. I called her six times and left three voicemails, but she never called back. She was still in college, and I was already just a memory. I tried again the next day and the next. After a week, I quit trying.

A month later, you were born in that apartment. Clark was there, pacing the room when I went into labor. I'd never been in so much pain. You were kicking inside me, my body was blowing out and opening up, and my insides felt like they were tearing. I screamed, Clark told me to shut the fuck up, but I screamed anyway. There was no getting around it. I was a sweaty mess, a grotesquerie that used to be a hot, young blond that could fit in a size-small bikini. I had fallen into a nightmare, and there was no waking up.

It was hours before a man with long hair tied behind his head came in. He spoke briefly with Clark and then came in to see me. When he smiled, I could see that he didn't have all of his teeth.

"I'm Dr. Sandy," he'd said. "I'll be delivering your baby. Let me just give you something for the pain. He stuck a needle in my arm and hit the plunger, my veins felt like fire, but I didn't care. Suddenly I was right where I wanted to be, a thousand miles away on a river of whatever the 'Doctor' had given me. I didn't find out what it was until a lot later. I ran, and I ran, and I ran into the back of my mind where I could find a bed and cover myself up with a blanket of shadows. When I woke up, you were in my hands, and I had stitches across my abdomen. That wasn't the last time Clark gave me stitches, nor the last time Dr. Sandy stuck a needle in me. All that in one year, all that before the worst of it came.

"Well, we'd better get going then, don't you think?" Valerie said.

Suzi opened her mouth to reply, but Valerie never heard what she said. The Shakin' Snake rollercoaster shot overhead. The thunder of the tracks drowned out her voice, and there wasn't time to find out. There was only time to do one thing now, and that was to run. Valerie glanced behind them again, scanning for his face. She expected Clark to be standing near there, a foot taller than anyone else, with his slicked-back hair and his wild eyes. That face she had fallen in love with, that had kissed her in a way that used to make her shiver better than the Sweet Stuff. Then later, that same smile made her recoil like an antelope looking out into the night to see a pair of tiger eyes gleaming from the bushes. That's what Clark was to her now, a predator waiting in the undergrowth. She could feel him close, crouching in the herd of happy customers, stalking her like Whirla World was an Indian jungle. He was a killer, alright, that much she'd found out herself. If he got his hands on them, they were dead.

"Come on now, baby girl," she said and pulled hard on Suzi's arm. Suzi yelped at the pressure, but there was no time to apologize. If they didn't get out of this park before he found her, she'd never see her again.

"Ouch!" said Suzi, trying to drag her feet. There wasn't time for that, so Valerie picked her up and slung her around her hip. She didn't make it far, Suzi had shot up considerably in the last year, and Valerie had been carrying her off and on almost the entire day. She'd cried about coming here for months after some Whirla World vendor had brought a bunch of coupons to the school and dispersed them to a cadre of fun-thirsty children. "Buy one get one half off!" That maniac just dropped them off and left, leaving tired, broke parents to deal with the aftermath. Steve hadn't been able to come. He'd had work; he'd always had work. Not that she had any complaint about a man with a job, god no. She hadn't had a pot to piss in when he'd come walking up to her to ask her to move her car away from the construction site he was working at. She'd been working at a daycare at the time. It was the only place she could find that would hire her without any ID. She couldn't risk giving her that. The Daycare manager was a round woman with a heart three times bigger, and she'd been ready to hire Valerie on the spot on a cold January day six months after Valerie drove that little neon into a bit of town on the western skirt of Kansas City.

"I'm sorry, sugar," she'd said. "I can't hire you without a driver's license. Not in this state. If I got caught..."

Valerie had been out of money at that point. She'd been living in her car with Suzi for weeks, stretching out a few hundred bucks as long as she could, but that money was in the wind, just like they were.

"I can't give that to you..." Valerie told her. "I can't..." Then she put her face in her hands and started sobbing right there in the middle of Tina's office. She did her best not to, but people don't get to pick the moment they finally collapse inside. It comes like a mudslide after a monsoon. All that dirt sits there in a place you think you've got it braced good and tight, then that rain comes down, and suddenly the weight is too much to bear. Then it's one little snap, and wet sludge crashes right through you, and you can't stop until it all comes out.

Valerie kept at it until Tina agreed to hire her and pay her under the table. Then and only then could she calm down, and she hugged Tina for ten minutes while Tina kept asking her what had happened, but she never told her. Then, of course, Tina would want to help, and helping would be the last thing Tina ever did if Clark came calling.

Things gradually got better. She made enough money to get a studio apartment across from the daycare. It was one room, not much bigger than the one she'd lived in with Clark, but she kept it clean, and she kept it livable. No shit in the carpets, no piss on the walls, no Dr. Sandy to tie her arm with a rubber cord and shoot her full of heroin. No listening to Clark whisper into his phone in the bathroom.

Then she met Steve, and things went from better to unbelievable in no time. She'd parked out in front of a construction zone, and he'd come out to yell at her to move. The next part got a little hazy, but Valerie distinctly remembered screaming out the half-open window for him to go fuck himself and that she wasn't going to take any more from anybody. He could fuck right off a cliff if he didn't like it, and then she'd thrown a nearly full cherry coke directly at his chest, splashing him down the front with brown liquid. Something about that had made him laugh, and he'd stood there completely soaked in ice-cubes and cola. Not angry, not violent, just surprised. That was the first thing she'd fallen in love with, the rich, booming timbre of his voice and how goddamn kind he looked. He was a big man with a beard and a belly but muscled and hairy like a bear. His soul was something clean, and the moment he'd asked her out, she'd said yes. Six months later, they were married, a fact that should have frightened the shit out of Valerie, but she wasn't scared at all. With Steve, there was no reason to be.

Valerie picked up her phone for about the tenth time in the last fifteen minutes, went down her missed calls list until she found Steve's number. She was sweating fiercely as she tried to touch his name, but nothing happened. She pressed it again and again, but the screen glitched and wouldn't call.

"Come on, you piece of shit!" she hissed at the screen.

"Mommy, don't," said Suzi, tears forming in her eyes.

"I'm sorry, baby," she said. "I'm so sorry, I just wanted to call Steve, and it won't let me."

Suzi held out her hand. "Let me try."

Valerie smiled a little and brought the phone down so Suzi could touch it. He pressed the button, and the phone rang. "Thank you," said Valerie and put the phone to her ear.

The phone rang and went to voicemail. Pick up the phone, Steve. You need to pick up as fast as you can. I don't have time to explain, but honey, please, please pick up. I need you." Valerie looked at the phone and then double-clicked the side of it. The phone shut off, fear crept up from her toes.

"Ok, honey, we need to find a map. Look for one of those stalls with the pamphlets, ok?"

Suzi nodded and looked around. It took her less than five seconds to find it. "There's one right next to us." She pointed at the ice cream cart not twenty feet from them. There was a plastic container on top of it, full of pamphlets.

"Oh...thank you, sweetie," she steered them over to it. The cart was vacant and locked. Valerie grabbed a pamphlet and fumbled with the paper, her fingers were trembling, and it took her several tries before she could unfold it. Finally, she got it open, revealing a cartoonish map of the park, with the rides all jumping out like animated characters in an oval area. Her hands trembled as she tried to figure out where the Shakin' Snake was.

"It's in the bottom right!" said Suzi, peeking under her arm.

"We're going the wrong way, Mommy. We've got to turn left past the Tilta' Wheel and take the bridge over the Chuga' Choo Train track. That goes back to where we started."

Valerie glanced down at Suzi. She felt a little annoyed at her, and for a moment, she completely forgot that a mad man was chasing them through the park. My daughter is already smarter than me.

"Let's go, Mommy. We've been standing here too long." Suzi glanced over her shoulder and stared at the mess of strangers zipping through the park. They could hear children laughing somewhere behind them, but that was quickly drowned out once more by the train.

"Do you see him, baby?" Valerie asked, glancing into the crowd.

Suzi was quiet, she almost looked hypnotized, like she'd looked into the eyes of Clark's shirt, and now she couldn't look away; Real Dads Shake it Twice!

Valerie tried to follow her gaze, but all she saw was the crowd. A little girl dropped her ice cream cone to the ground and started screaming, her parents tried to calm her, but she wouldn't listen. Two little boys were playing basketball in a netted arcade machine. They were jumping hard toward the net, but they were too small to reach the hoop. The basketball rolled down, and they scrambled to toss them again while a digital clock counted down. Two parents were screaming at each other over whether or not their eight-year-old was tall enough for the Tilta' Whirl. There was no sign of Clark in the frenzy of bodies, but fear slowly crept up her back like a vine, tightening around her neck. In her mind, she saw that tiger hunching down in the undergrowth, its eyes shining. The jaws weren't open, but they would be soon, with teeth so white they reflected light.

"No," said Suzi finally. "But we need to hurry, Mommy. I think he's close."

Valerie didn't ask what she meant, and somehow she knew Suzi was right. Valerie grabbed Suzi's hand and turned down the path, but she didn't have to drag Suzi anymore. Suzi was walking fast, all on her own. She was damn near leading.

"We need to find park security," Valerie said suddenly. "I don't know why I didn't think about it earlier. We need to fin..."

Suzi immediately cut her off. "No, Mommy, they won't help us."

Valerie blinked, the six-year-old who was telling her where to go and what to do. There was a finality to her voice that was cutting and made her even more afraid. Suzi was an unusual girl, but this was getting ridiculous. She summoned her authority and tried to get a handle on her six-year-old.

"Suzi, the park security will help us. I want you to stop this now. Are you listening? Stop. Now."

Her daughter swung around in her arms. The same girl that not five minutes ago was crying and shaking was glaring at her. "Now listen to me, Mommy.". She sounded far older than she should have, an adult trapped in a child's body. "I told you, we can't go to fucking park security. Would you like to know why? Daddy didn't come alone, that's why! They're looking for us right now, Mommy, and there's a lot of them. Some of them are dressed as they work here, some of them are dressed like they're joyriding like everyone else. If they find us, Mommy, they're going to tie us up like livestock. Daddy's mad. He's very, very mad you hit him in the back of the head with that hammer. He came a long way for us, and he's not letting us go this time. They're going to sell you, Mommy, they're going to throw you in the back of a big, black car and drive you down to ole' Mexico where they drink tequila with dead snakes in it, and beer Daddy calls horse piss. Then a man with a burned face is going to have Dr. Sandy pump you full of the Sweet Stuff. Do you remember the Sweet Stuff mommy? They plugged your veins with it every day and every night for two years, before and after I came out of you. You were scared I'd be one of those addict babies they put on TV, skinny and tiny and half-breathing. Do you remember how you cried with relief when I was ok? You prayed Mommy, you prayed to God and thanked him that I wasn't roadkill. Well, Mommy, if you don't get your ass moving, then Daddy is going to pick me up too, and we're taking a trip over the border together, shoved under floorboards with duct tape over our faces. Now Mommy, shut the fuck up and come with me and don't talk to anybody. If you do that, we might just survive this, but if you don't, Daddy will sell us to bad men in China and the Philippines, and we'll never see each other again. Ok?"

Valerie tried to speak, but she was so shocked nothing came out but a whisper. She was dreaming again, and her reality was unwinding like a baseball with no skin. Here was the goddamn space cadet again in goddamn space, orbiting around her daughter, trying to make sense of things happening on the surface of the planet, things that couldn't be seen. Suzi didn't say that; she couldn't. Valerie's mind felt like it was skipping like an old record on a turntable, threatening not to play at all. Valerie put her hands on her daughter's shoulders, but when she looked into her eyes, she didn't see Suzi. She saw Clark. A memory of him popped out of nowhere. They'd been sitting on the floor in the living room, watching a ten-inch television he'd hiked against the wall. He had a weird fascination with cartoons, one of the many waving, red flags she should have noticed about him. He loved Whinnie the Pooh, especially Tigger. Sometimes he quoted some of Tigger's lines at her, flashing his white grin.

"The wonderful thing about Tiggers, is Tiggers are wonderful things. Their tops are made out of rubber, their bottoms are made out of springs.

They're bouncy, trouncy, flouncy, pouncy, fun, fun, fun, fun, fun. But the most wonderful thing about Tiggers is, I'm the only one! IIIIII'm the only one!"

She would have stayed in shock if her phone hadn't rung. The top was sticking from her pocket, and she could feel it buzz against her thigh and as her fingers slipped down over the top of it. Her mind was still floating in front of that small TV, watching a cartoon tiger spring across the forest floor with its arms wide open. Steve, she thought. Then she came rushing back and scrambled to pick it out of her pocket. 'Huzbeast' flashed on the phone, she slid her finger across it, but it glitched. She thought she'd miss the chance, but finally, the bar slid, and the phone opened. Valerie almost cried out as she pressed the phone against her ear. "Steve! Where are you? I need you to come to Whirla World and pick us up in the parking lot. Don't ask questions, just get here, ok?"

The phone was silent. Valerie had missed the call, but it was counting the seconds at the top of the screen. She pressed it back against her ear. "Steve?" At first, she thought there was no one at the other end, but then she heard it. A faint hiss was coming from the other end, breathing. "Steve, are you there?" Her voice was quivering now, but again no one spoke. The phone kept breathing, kept hissing, and for a moment, she thought she could hear children laughing.

CALL ENDED

She couldn't take her eyes off the screen. Her mind was frozen.

"We're too late, Mommy," whispered Suzi. Valerie glanced up at her, and what she saw spooked her worse. Her daughter wasn't scared. The tears in her eyes were tears of sadness.

"Everything will be ok Suzi, I just need to call him back," she said, and she opened her phone to return the call.

Suzi shook her head. "That isn't Stevie," she said. "That was Daddy on the phone. You know that, don't you? Stevie is dead."

"Steve is fine, honey, you'll see," she said, and her phone vibrated again. This time it wasn't a call. It was a text from her husband. 'Huzbeast has sent you a video: 1:32' read the text.

"Don't look, Mommy,"

Valerie wasn't here, not really. She was floating in space like she'd done all those times on the bed in that apartment when Doctor Sandy had come creeping in like the Cheshire Cat, with his bag of tricks to keep her rocketing through the dark and the cold, not feeling a thing.

The picture on the video was of a sign that read 'Whirla World' in old lettering. It looked like it was in the parking lot somewhere, one of the old sections that hardly anyone used unless the place was filled with cars. Of course, on a day like today, with the temperature climbing close to 100 degrees, no one would be out there.

"Don't..."

Valerie pressed play. The screen shook from whoever was holding it, and the audio caught the background noise of the interstate not far from the lot. She thought she knew the place, on the south side of the park. It was very remote, and it took a solid fifteen minutes to walk from there to the front gate.

Then two people came into view, one of them was Steve. Valerie instantly started crying; his wrists were handcuffed tightly behind his back, his arms were so thick they barely looked contained by the restraints. He struggled to remove them. She could see that his hands were bloody and bruised from the attempt. Someone was holding a gun to his head, but he wasn't facing the camera. All the same, she knew who it was. She could tell by how smooth his voice was, how fast he spoke. Steve put his feet on the asphalt and tried to stop walking, but Clark wasn't having any of that. He hit Steve in the back of the head so hard that Valerie could hear her husband's skull crack where the metal struck him. Steve tried to cry out, but he had duct tape over his mouth. He staggered and then lurched forward toward the sign. Then Clark flipped him around so that they were both facing the camera. Steve fell back against the wood, using it to keep himself from falling to the ground, and Clark stood beside him, grinning at the camera like some kid with a brand new toy.

"Coming to you live from Whirla World, Valley Girl!" said Clark. Valerie hadn't heard that name in a long time, Valley Girl. That's what he used to call her. "NO!" she screamed. She didn't care who heard her anymore. Her eyes were glued to the screen, her other hand tightly around Suzi's arm.

"Mommy, turn it off."

Clark waved the gun around, playing with where he'd place the barrel. One moment he pressed it into Steve's forehead, the next, he stuck it under his chin, his grinning face pressed against Steve's tired and frightened one. In the background, Valerie could see the tall, high track of one of the bigger roller coasters; she recognized it immediately as The Silver Bullet. The image of a werewolf was snarling on the side of a green track. The rollercoaster itself was hovering at the apex of it, preparing to jolt straight down at high velocity. It was the kind that didn't have a seat, where people hung from overhead bars, letting them kick their feet as they twirled and fell at high speed. Clark was following the progress of the roller coaster with the gun. "Are you watching this Valley Girl? Don't get scared, don't look away. I came all this way to show you a good time, Valley Girl. Are you ready?" The Silver Bullet lurched high in the air as it came to the crest of its track, paused a moment, and then came hurtling down towards the earth. As it sped down, a dozen or so people screamed with glee and excitement, their hands waving in the air. And as it came down, Clark shot Steve in the face.

Before Valerie dropped the phone, she saw his brain splatter on the Whirla World sign. Chunks of red and grey sprayed on the wood like confetti, and as her phone fell to the ground, Steve's head snapped back into the sign, and then he fell to the ground.

"Boom!" shouted Clark, the video froze.

Valerie opened her mouth to scream; there was no avoiding it. The need rose from her gut like a poltergeist that wanted out, and by God, she was going to let it free, and she didn't care who knew about it. Her body sucked in all the air it could, and for a moment, she stood there, unable to breathe, unable to think, like a fish out of water. Then right as she let it out, she felt a hand snake around and cover her mouth. She screamed anyway, a blood-curdling, demonic sound straight from the pit, muffled by the sounds of a thousand kids playing, roller coasters rolling, and arcade games making their digital beeps and whistles in a hundred directions.

"I gotcha' Valley Girl," Clark whispered in her ear. "I snatched you right up. You made it a long time. I was very, very impressed. But now I got you good, and I'll never let you go again. Stop making that fucking noise. I mean it. If you don't, it's going to be a lot worse for the kid. I won't lie to you, it's bad for you either way. But it doesn't have to be for her. Make up your mind, ok?"

His breath was hot against her ear, and she could feel him grinding against her back, keeping her tight against his pelvis. She looked out to the park and kept screaming against his hand, and through the rising tide of shock, she had one constant thought. Someone is going to see this. Someone is going to notice, won't they? We're in the middle of a fucking theme park.

"Don't think anyone is coming for you, don't think that, baby girl. Look where we are right now, you walked to this ice cream cart, and we're all by ourselves, baby. Just you and me and my friends."

Valerie could see that he was right. The cart wasn't far away from the road, but it was secluded well enough. A tall pine tree stood to her right, blocking most of the view on that side, and on the other, another one of the cement balloons rising with metal strings from the asphalt like a sentinel. Behind them was a metal fence overlooking the Shakin' Snake. No one would come. No one would see any of this. Valerie glanced down at her daughter, who was staring up at her with that sad gaze, the one that told her there wasn't a damn thing they could do. "Don't hurt her. Please don't..."

"Well, that depends on Mommy now, doesn't it? All she has to do is listen. That's all either of you have to do mmkay? Do you hear me, Valley Girl? Are you going to keep quiet, or do I have to throw you in a ditch with your fuck-wit new husband?"

Valerie slowly took her hands off his arm. She hadn't realized it, but her nails had bit into Clark's arm, and he was bleeding three red trails down his tan skin. At least I made him bleed. At least I have that.

"I'm calm," she said. "I'm going to be calm ok? Just don't hurt us, please don't."

Clark's breath quickened as he released his hand from her face to her neck. "That's a lot better, Valley. You know I love to hear you scream, but not here, not now. Don't you forget, I've got a Ruger sticking in the back of my pants, ok? I won't hesitate to shoot you in the fucking face, crowd or no crowd." Then he took his phone from his pocket, touched a number on it, and put it against his ear. "I've got them," he said into the phone. Follow my location. Hella' Cool Ice cream cart, north of Shakin' Snake. Hurry." He turned off the phone and put it back in his pocket. "Now, we're going to sit tight a minute while my friends come. Then the lot of us are going to take a ride..."

"Down to ole' Mexico," said Suzi.

Clark's eyes widened. "How the fuck did you know that?" he asked.

Suzi had stopped shaking. Valerie didn't know when but she had. That look was in her eyes again, almost hypnotic, she was staring at him coldly, and to Valerie's surprise, a smile slipped across her daughter's face.

"Where you'll buy tequila with a dead rattlesnake in it, right? They let the venom soak in the tequila, and the longer it soaks, the crazier you've got to be to drink the shit. The last time you took a shot from a snake soaked three years, and you got sick as a dog, right daddy? Everyone else was scared to do it, but not you. You're not scared of Jack or shit. Right?"

Clark stared at Suzi in surprise, and for a moment, the smile slipped off his face. "How do you know about that?" he said. "How the fuck do you know any of that?"

Suzi giggled a little, and Valerie could swear that her pupils were snowballing, and suddenly they looked as big as dimes.

"Here's what I know, Daddy. Here is what I'm certain of. You say you're going to kill us, but you won't do it. Not because you're scared, you'll kill us both dead as that snake you drank. You're the kind of guy that will leap into the Nile and swim with the crocodiles, like in that magazine. You're not afraid to shoot little girls, you've done it before when the deals go bad, but you are afraid of prison, right? Your dad died in a shitty Mexican jail box, and it scares you for the same reason it would scare that tiger tattooed on your arm. Predators don't belong in cages. You can't stand getting locked up in boxes, like the one you put Mommy in on Hallen Street."

Clark's eyes were wide, and the sweat was beading down his face. Absently he reached back for the gun on his back. "I'm not scared of shit, you little bitch. I'll do you both right now, I've got no probl..." but he couldn't get the rest out, suddenly he wasn't running the show anymore, and he knew it. Suzi was walking at him, her white sneakers tapping on the asphalt. Valerie didn't say anything. She was past speech. She thought about that hawk, circling in the air, ready to swoop down and strike.

"But I also know you won't let us go, Daddy. I know you mean that. If we got away here, you'd just hide and wait and watch us until you found us again. There's no point in running, so I want to make a deal with you. I only want one thing, and it's simple, Daddy. I won't fight, I won't scream, and neither will Mommy. All you have to do is give me one tinsey weensy little thing."

Clark was breathing heavily, and for a long moment, he didn't say anything. Valerie had never seen him like this before, so out of his element. A six-year-old with blond pigtails had knocked him off his horse.

"What is it?" he said with a glare. "What the fuck is it you want? Tell me, and maybe I'll give it to you. Maybe."

Suzi grinned and turned, pointing her finger toward the length of green track that was arching high in the air over the park: The Silver Bullet. As she pointed, a carriage full of suspended people came to the arch of it, and Valerie could see the yellow-eyed wolf snarling on the side of it. Then it dropped, and the people hanging from it screamed as they disappeared.

"I want to ride a roller coaster," said Suzi. "I want to ride that one."

Clark looked shocked for a moment, and then he laughed. He let go of Valerie completely, and for a moment, she thought about trying to turn around and kick him right in the balls as hard as she could, but what if that didn't work? He still had the gun, and she could try and grab it, but if it didn't work, if she failed...

"You want to ride that fucking thing?" he said. "That's what you want?" He sounded relieved.

Suzi smiled at him. "Unless you're scared, Daddy. It's a big roller coaster. You'll have to get me on there too. It might not be easy. Mommy tried to get me on one earlier, and they wouldn't let her. They said I'm not tall enough."

Valerie stared at her daughter in disbelief. "Honey, this isn't time..."

"I want on the rollercoaster. I don't care, Mommy. If Daddy doesn't do it, I'll scream. I swear I will. I don't care if he shoots us both."

Three people walked up behind them, and for a brief moment, Valerie had an inkling of hope. The one in the middle was a security guard, a tall, black man that was even bigger than Clark. He looked like he could lift the other two over his head and toss them. The other two, a man and a woman, were twitching something awful. Valerie recognized the kind of aura they had anywhere, the odd looks and the glazed eyes. It wasn't the Sweet Stuff they were on. No, they were too twitchy for that. It was an upper, something chock full of electricity and lousy wiring, meth maybe. The source was undoubtedly the same. She recognized Dr. Sandy's work anywhere. They were both wearing bright Whirla World shirts that were too big for them. The moment one of them spoke, all hope vanished.

"We need to leave," said the security guard. "I got the call. We're out of time."

"Soon," said Clark, who had regained some of his composure. "Something I've gotta do first."

"What the fuck could you possibly have to do here?" said the man.

A grin spread across Clark's face. "I'm taking my daughter on a rollercoaster," he said.

The man blinked at him. "Have you lost your mother fucking mind? We don't have time for this. Do you have any idea what it took..."

"I don't give a rat fuck!" screamed Clark, and the man he was talking to glanced behind him.

"Keep your voice down. We blew a man's head off less than a mile from here. You think maybe somebody heard that shot?"

"No, I think maybe no one did. I think maybe the interstate swallowed the sound, just like we planned. I think maybe we've got a little time here, and I think you're going to shut the fuck up and do what I say, or I'm going to tell Lewis you backed out."

The security guard was silent for a moment. "In an hour, we've got to be out of here. If there's a line, we'll never get back to the car in time. You'd better pray there isn't a line on that fucking Coaster. If there is, we can't stay for it. This is grade A batshit crazy, by the way."

Clark was grinning now like it had been his idea the whole time. "It'll be fine, just like I promised. You'll make a good chunk on this once we get to Lewis. Now, let's get over there so I can take a ride with my daughter."

No one spoke on the way to the Silver Bullet. They walked across the park, the security guard pretending to be exactly that as he nodded and waved to people. No one else looked up, and Valerie kept her eyes trained on her daughter, waiting for the moment that whatever delirium she had fallen into would pass, waiting until she needed her mother again. She felt entirely helpless as they approached it, like a bag of leaves that might get picked up and float away at any moment. The walk was an eternity, and the heat was suffocating as the sun sank into the horizon. Her shirt stuck to her back as beads of sweat rolled down her forehead. When they reached the rollercoaster, she came back and tried to pluck it off her skin, and that is when Clark put his hand on her hip like it was supposed to be there all along. His touch felt like acid on her skin, and she shrugged him off.

"You're going to learn not to do that," he whispered.

A green, metal railing rode in a zig-zag line up a cement walkway to the station for the rollercoaster. Valerie followed the lines up to where the carriage was approaching the station.

"Hot fucking dog," said Clark. "It's damn near empty. Will you look at that."

The other three glanced at him, and the woman on her left, who looked so skinny that her skin was almost hanging off her, reached up and scratched her neck nervously.

"Don't like these things," she said, biting her lip. "Don't like dropping that fast; scares the piss out of me."

"Well, no one asked you to go," said Clark. "You can wait for the fuck down here for a suspicious real security guy for all I give a fuck." She said nothing else but followed the rest of them as they walked up the path towards the station, with Suzi in the lead. Finally, they reached the entrance, where a sign with a fake child let them know that they had to be this tall to ride the ride, but no one was there checking. "It's your lucky day," said Clark, all of his old confidence was back, and his teeth flashed white.

"I'm the only one!" sang Suzi, "I'm the only one!" Valerie recognized the words immediately, and when she glanced over at Clark's face, his eyes were on his daughter, and the smile evaporated.

They reached the end of the line in a matter of minutes. Hardly anyone was in front of them, maybe enough to fill half of it. Valerie could feel the ground tremble from the speed of the Silver Bullet as it rocketed above them, carrying the last load of screaming human beings around one previous loop before the brakes caught, and it came to a stop at the platform.

A friendly male voice came over the loudspeakers. "Please wait until the ride has come to a complete stop before attempting to exit. An attendant will be with you shortly. Thank you for riding the Silver Bullet, and have a fun rest of your day! Pictures are available at the booth immediately to your right."

"Why don't we sit together, like a cute little family," Clark said. "You get on first Valley Girl, Suzi in the middle between Mommy and Daddy. My friends can sit behind us. You won't go anywhere, right? I've got Suzi here."

Valerie walked across the platform once the rest of the previous group had gone. The seats were bolted to a thick bar, the kind you hang from instead of sitting on with your feet dangling in the open air. Valerie hadn't been on one of these things since she was a kid, and a smiling girl with black hair came over to help her into the seat. She could hear the girl explaining that the bar comes down over your head like a harness, clips shut. Valerie heard herself vaguely ask if it was safe, and the girl laughed and said it was very safe and not to worry. Clark helped Suzi into the next seat and was smiling at him in a way that made Valerie sick. "Thank you, Daddy," she said. Seeing them together like that was more than Valerie could take, and the look in Suzi's eyes horrified her beyond comprehension. Whatever was looking at him was not her daughter, that much she was sure of. It was like her face was an illustrated mask, and beneath it, something lurked and spoke, hiding behind her eyes like a Halloween mask. "Daddy, have you ever played the carrot game?" Suzi asked.

Clark stared at her cautiously as he got in his seat. "What is the carrot game?"

"It's an app on Mommy's phone I play sometimes. You're a rabbit, and you have to jump out of your hole now and catch the carrots before they fall off the screen. It's a lot of fun, and I can't remember what it's called."

Clark grinned a little. "Sounds like Duck Hunt. No, I haven't played that one. We've got lots of time on the road after this. Maybe I'll check it out while you and Mommy are resting in the back."

Behind them, Valerie could hear the other three laughing at what Clark had said.

"You mean where you tie us up and put us under the floorboard," said Suzi absently. "Ok, Daddy, I'll wait."

Clark was staring at her hard now. His face was a white sheet.

"How do you..."

His voice was cut off by the loudspeaker again. "Welcome to the Silver Bullet! The fastest, loopiest Roller Coaster in Whirla World! An attendant will walk by to make sure you are buckled in, and we'll be getting underway shortly!"

Suzi kicked her feet absently as she hung there. Her attention was now entirely on the track. She was singing to herself a little, waiting.

Valerie turned her head to look at the man sitting next to her. "You don't have to do this, Clark. You can just let us go..."

Clark glanced up at her. "Oh, we're doing this Valley Girl, we're doing it all the way. You see this scar here? Do you see what you did with the back of that hammer? You're coming with me, baby, just enjoy the Coaster. It's the last one you'll ever ride."

Valerie turned her eyes from him, put her head back against the seat, and tried to keep from crying.

Then a piston went off somewhere, and the seats snapped shut over them. People giggled excitedly in front and behind them, and Valerie felt her feet come up even further from the ground as the bar adjusted.

"All ready, go!" said the speaker. "Have a wonderful, loopy ride on the Silver Bullet! Thanks for coming, away we go!" A wolf howled on the speaker, and then it went silent. The train started moving.

They came slowly out of the gate, towed along a metal chain while the track twisted to the left just outside the station and began to climb into the air.

"Woo!" shouted Clark, clapping his hands excitedly. "Are you ready, Suzi? It's going to be a hell of a ride, isn't it?"

"Yes, Daddy!" said Suzi with a grin. "A hell of a ride!"

Clark laughed as the Coaster ascended into the air. Soon they passed the tree lines, and Valerie could see a lot of the park. The Detonator stood tall in the background, lifting kids in the air along a single column like a reverse elevator; several trains pulled people in every direction. And on the far side of the park, she could see a vast assortment of colorful water slides that marked the Whirla World waterpark. Soon all of that was below them as well, and the only company they had were blue skies and white clouds trailing not far above. Finally, the train came to the crest of its arch and lurched to a stop, and for a moment, they sat there in the sky, with only metal and plastic keeping them suspended from a high fall.

"Isn't this something there, Suzi?" Clark said again, grinning at his daughter.

"You should never have come for us," she said, giggling in the sky. "You should have left us alone."

The Coaster dropped out of the sky on the track, and the air flashed in Valerie's face, strands of her hair going wild. The track trembled, whirred, sped, twisting as it went. Then it arched up again as the first loop came, sending all of them upside down and then tumbling right-side up again. "Whoooooo!" shouted Clark. In the rush and the exhilaration, he had forgotten anything Suzi had said; a tiger at full sprint, he was focused only on the speed.

They came through the first loop fine, just like they were supposed to, bolted along the track again, picking up speed, dropping a little, and getting ready for the second wind of looping track. The Coaster vibrated and roared, twirling them through the air as it went, pulling them high above the trees again, arching them so that they had their feet in the sky. Clark was running his feet on the air, laughing all the while. He didn't notice that the harness over his head was opening, and by the time they had summited the loop, it was too late to see anyway. Everything happened fast, the way things are supposed to occur on rollercoasters. Valerie couldn't tell the difference in his face when he was excited or afraid. As Clark fell out of the sky, he tried to grab the back of his seat as the carriage sped toward the end of the loop, but he didn't catch it. None of them did.

Clark was screaming until his head snapped against the track as the carriage roared underneath him. Valerie thought she could hear something cracking as his head caught in the gears. No one else screamed. The Coaster hadn't stopped to check on whether or not three of its passengers were falling through the sky, grabbing in every direction as if they thought they might catch part of the Coaster or a lucky tree branch. Valerie was sure that they were all dead, and no one else seemed to notice. A light flashed in her eyes from the top of the camera as they came down the last wave of the track, and then the train slowed. The world came back to its average pace.

"Please wait until the ride has come to a complete stop before attempting to exit. An attendant will be with you shortly. Thank you for riding the Silver Bullet, and have a fun rest of your day! Pictures are available at the booth immediately to your right. "

"Ma'am...excuse me, ma'am?"

Valerie looked up slowly into the attendant's face. "You can get off now," she said, her eyes were on Valerie's fingers. Several of her nails had broken off on the edges of the harness.

"It's a scary ride, isn't it? No accidents, though, not since this Coaster started. It's an old one, too. Come down now. We've got a whole load after you. "

"What about the others..." said Valerie, looking at the seats next to hers. Valerie wasn't smiling anymore. She looked terrified, and her eyes were full of tears. The seat next to her own was vacant, so were the three seats behind them.

"What happened to the other four people that were on here?"

The attendant looked confused. "I don't know, ma'am, I wasn't here before. I just started my shift. You want me to ask Sally? That was the girl that was here..."

"No," said Valerie. "No thank you, no....no thank you, I just want to get out of here." She slid out of her seat, shaking like a leaf as she took Suzi's hand. "Let's go, baby, let's go," she said, and Suzi didn't try to argue.

"What happened, Mommy?" she said. "What happened to Daddy? Did he die? I feel sick, Mommy, I feel sick."

"I don't know, sweetie, I don't know, but we need to get out of this park. Take my hand," she said as she was nearly running down the asphalt, the sound of Suzi's sneakers tapping the ground beside her. Then they stopped.

"Suzi, I said, take my hand right now. We don't have time for this." Valerie turned to look at her daughter. "Suzi?"









Copyright © 2020 by Kenneth McIntosh


All rights reserved. No parts of this short story may be reproduced or

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