June 1

Boardwalk Thrill Ride (conclusion)

(An Odd Adventure with your Other Father, part 6)

 

We’d been outside a scant ten minutes earlier, waiting to get inside the funhouse.  In those minutes, as we rode our way from one fun scare to another, some real-life horror had descended on the world.

Of course it was one of Jack’s own creative scares.  But after the fluorescent-painted rats, wall-hanging spiders, skeletons and sheeted ghosts and fiendish fake manikins that inhabited the set-ups along each isolated stage of the ride, what faced us now was far more realistic and disturbing.

And…panoramic.

Our vantage point from the second floor of the haunted house ride offered a view that far surpassed the scope and detail of Jack’s previous illusions.  The ocean was tinted red with blood, steam rising from distant waters that boiled flesh off hapless swimmers. Shadows shaped like sun-bathers peppered darker stains along an ashen beach.  The ferris wheel had collapsed over surrounding carnival rides, riders and passersby alike crushed in twisted metal.  Buildings burned along the boardwalk, the wooden pathway itself scorched and covered with dead or dying vacationers, bodies and body parts everywhere.

As if the world itself had exploded.  As if some kind of nuclear bomb had dropped on the beach, or some terrible comet had burned its way to earth, destroying everything in its path.

And I was furious with Jack.  I knew he hadn’t wanted to come to the beach, but it was a summer tradition I’d always loved:  the beauty of the ocean stretching to the horizon, cool air over wet skin relieving the sun’s heat, the smell of cotton candy and funnel cakes, smiles on kids’ faces, the lights, the merry-go-round music and pinball dings, even the rinky-dink charm of an overpriced hotel.  For some reason, Jack had decided to ruin that for me.

Right now, of all moments:  after I’d put my swimming and sunbathing plans on hold to share the crazy haunted house ride he was so interested in.

Our coffin car chugged along that short stretch of outside track on the ride’s second-floor platform, and the world burned and churned with death in all directions.

“How could you,” I said flatly.  Our bodies still touched at the hips in that tight rail-car, and I couldn’t easily turn to glare at him.

Jack didn’t respond.  Or if he did, I couldn’t hear him over the air-raid sirens, the crackle of burning wood and the agonized screams of wounded survivors.

The car chugged forward, reaching the halfway point of that stretch of track.  I closed my eyes, unwilling to look at Jack’s cruel trickery.

I also wanted to plug my ears and shut out the awful apocalyptic din; to plug my nostrils and shut out the horrible smell of burning skin and hair; to fan the air with my hands to brush fire’s hot breath away from my face.

The coffin car vibrated beneath me, slowly lurching forward.

Just before we hit the next set of double doors to return to the inside portions of the ride, I registered what was wrong.  Jack’s projected visions were only visible to me…and they were only visible.  No sounds or smells or sense of touch.

In a panic, I opened my eyes again, glanced back at the disappearing outside world as the car entered interior darkness, the doors flapping closed over…

…that same panorama of devastation, with sounds and smells that matched perfectly.

A sharp tang of charred meat felt stuck at the back of my throat.  I’d breathed it in.  I’d breathed everything in, and I could taste it.

The ride continued along its programmed route.  More plastic skeletons and painted witches and a waxen victim holding his own severed head.  The strobe lights gave me a headache, along with the witch’s loudspeaker cackle, the recorded howls of werewolves and the moan of ghosts.  None of this was fun anymore.

Because as I rode through all those manufactured thrills, I couldn’t be sure what waited at the end of the ride.  Were those screams on the looped recording, or did they come from outside?  Was that a thump from our rail-car, or the drop of another missile or meteor on the beachfront?

I held Jack’s hand and squeezed hard for comfort.

(Sure, Celia.  I was mad, but I loved him, too.  If the world was ending, at least we still had each other.)

Too much noise in the dark and flashing ride.  Too much confusion of my senses.  I didn’t know what to think, couldn’t get a read on Jack.

Finally, we hit the last set of double doors, our car bursting out into the light.

Jack gave the same kind of laugh that I’d noticed from other exiting riders.  I probably had the most ridiculous, exaggerated expression of relief anybody ever had coming out of that spook house.

Because the world was back to normal.

“Jeez, Shawn, it wasn’t that scary.”

“How could you say that.  I really thought — ”  And I couldn’t say much more, since I was having trouble breathing.  My mild asthma was making another of its rare, unwelcome appearances.

Jack was really sweet then, holding me and rubbing one of my shoulders to help me calm down.  Probably a bit more loving than he should have been in public, considering the time period, but I kind of needed the attention.

As my breathing came back to normal, I also managed to collect my thoughts a little better.  Jack couldn’t exactly see the thoughts he projected into my head, so maybe he didn’t know what I’d been going through.  He was acting as if I’d been scared by the ride itself, rather than what I’d experienced during that brief apocalyptic panorama.

I didn’t end up visiting the beach that day.  We walked back to the hotel, and Jack ventured out for boardwalk snacks and brought them to me in the room.  Sometimes, when the hotel floor jostled with the thump of a nearby tilt-a-whirl ride, I’d jump as if another missile struck the earth.

Eventually, I felt back to normal.  As I described my brief waking nightmare, Jack claimed total innocence.

“I had no idea, Shawn.  I was so into that cool ride.  I looked out at the boardwalk during that outside part, and it was really a beautiful day, which almost made me realize why you love visiting the beach.  I was gonna say as much, but you had your eyes closed, and I thought maybe the kiddie-ride had given you a little motion sickness.”

 

#

 

It was clear Jack hadn’t intended to project that kind of image into my head.  The only explanation we could come up with was that the ride had somehow taken over his power, intensified and transformed it for some malicious reason.

Jack wanted us to go back, so we could test the theory.  I wouldn’t do it.

(You think I should have agreed with your other father, Celia?  Well, maybe I did, later.  But that’s a story I’ll save until you’re a bit older…)

 

THE END (for now)

 

[Author’s Note:  Look for Odd Adventures with Your Other Father, for more of Jack and Shawn’s adventures in the 80’s as they fight homophobia and monsters. And keep an eye out for the upcoming sequel, Haunted Places with your Other Father, debuting in 2018!]