Element

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THIRTY-TWO

She’s just a cosmic girl. It was called the Bat Coaster. It looked like an erector set. Blue rails suspended on yellow supports, the track twisted and convoluted around and within itself like tangled yarn. Erika sat down in the forward left seat, John in the seat to her right, and let his legs dangle. The seats were blue with soft black cushions. A ride attendant walked up to them and pulled down their safety harnesses, locking them in place with a buckle at their waists. The fit was snug. The attendant moved on. John instinctively placed his hands on the silver tubes on either side of his torso, looking down at his bare knees.

Below his dangling feet, the floor was a metal grill. His t-shirt was sweaty from all the heat, which wasn’t helped by the rubber harness, which pressed warmly into his chest. Erika swung her legs back and forth. Behind him, he heard clicks accompanied by tremors in the mobile frame he was attached to. He tried to look over his shoulder to see if André and Josh were locked in yet but his torso was thoroughly secured and in any case, his head was blocked by a wide headrest.

He looked to his left. All he could see of Erika was her feet. He leaned forward against the harness, pressing his shoulders into it enough to see her face. When he could, she turned her head, smiled, and waved. Suddenly, he was thankful he had gone with them to the theme park. He waved back, letting his head fall onto his seat. The tremors continued.

The operator stepped down off the platform and looked down at a console. There was an electric whine and John was pushed back as his chair jerked. The ride started up a steady incline, auspiciously slowly. He took the opportunity to lean forward against gravity and look at Erika one last time. She was looking forward. John looked at the track above him. It was slowly tilting to the side. He hadn’t been on a roller coaster in a while. As they neared the peak, he felt his heart race. And then they were at the crest. John sucked in deeply and let physics take over.

The roller coaster fell to one side, pushing John’s ass into his seat with centripetal force. They looped downward. Smiling, he breathed normally. He didn’t have a fear of heights or high speed. On the contrary, he liked them. Upside-down. UGH. He felt that one though and found his body’s desire to freefall skyward unsettling. Sideways once more. Right side up. Sideways again, slightly upside down. Wind whipping past his legs. Suffocating deceleration, and then they were back where they’d started. The ride halted. Looking down at his waist, he undid his restraint’s lock and pushed it up, hopping down. Erika undid hers and they laughed.

“That was really good,” he said.

“Yeah it was. Want to go on another?”

“Hell sure,” he said. Behind them, André ambled towards them. And held his mouth. John patted him on the back.

“Walk it off.” André didn’t reply, just lumbered down the exit ramp. They were broken up into three groups. John, Erika and André, Josh and Brian, Cory, Viktor and Katie. They were all wearing relatively little because of the heat. So much heat. And so humid. They perspired helplessly. As they walked, Erika interweaved her fingers between John’s. Oxytocin flooded his blood stream. Oh God. It was amazing feeling her hands. He thought of not feeling them again and wanted to sink into the earth. It made his spine tingle. He pressed his shoulder into hers. He looked at her and wondered how he would tell her he was leaving. She looked at him and her eyes asked a question, why was he staring at her, most likely. It wasn’t fair…

The next ride was a terrifying contraption. Called a skycoaster, it was seventy-five meters tall and consisted of a special three person harness that dangled by two wide tethers and swung towards the ground after being pulled backwards and upwards by a detachable cable. They peered up at it as a young couple and a kid were lifted up to the release point. The really sadistic thing was that they made you pull the cord that released you. As they looked up, Viktor, Katie and Cory came up behind them.

“Hey guys, what’s up?” Cory said.

“Just chillin,” Erika said. The three people lingered up there for a little while, and then without warning, they were released and the family fell, screaming their brains out, their hair fluttering in the breeze. John and Erika looked at each other at the same instant and smiled.

“Are you guys going to go on this?” Cory asked

“Hell yeah,” Erika said.

“Are you going on too?” Cory asked André. He looked at her with an expression of utter disbelief.

“NO.”

She laughed. “Sweet, can I go with you then?”

“Sure,” John said.

“Awesome.” The line advanced one party and another group of three was harnessed in, hooked to the cable and pulled up. Watching them, John felt his heart flutter. The three people reached the top. He was suddenly struck with uncertainty. Maybe the group in front of them wouldn’t go through with it… Maybe they would take forever and they’d have to go somewhere else. A woman screamed. Or not... The three people flew towards the Earth, and swooped over their heads, reaching apogee and penduluming back, then forward again. With each swing, they lost energy to wind resistance. Simple thermodynamics. Entropy happened. But suppose, just suppose, there had been no air. They would have swung forever. He tilted his head and gulped. After four swings, an operator caught the three high school students in the tether and pulled them towards a soft mat. Another operator held them from the other side and they were lowered to the ground. One of them looked shaken and was really slow to climb out of the harness. John followed her with his eyes.

Another group was harnessed in and hoisted up. Now John’s palms were sweating. His eyes were fixed on the distant riders. They were released and fell. Zoomed overhead. Swung back and forth. And were soon caught by the operator.

Cory tapped him and he jerked his head around.

“Are you ready?”

“…Yeah.” They stomped across the soft mat, towards the harness. The operator pressed his hand into John’s chest.

“Vous ne pouvez pas porter vos lunettes.”

“Vos lunettes?”

“Oh, your glasses,” Cory said. She took them off his face.

“What?” John exclaimed.

Erika laughed. They started working their legs into the harness. The ride attendant helped them. As he did, John’s heart raced. Dear God. I can’t even see. What am I doing? Dear God. The attendant attached the cable to them. And held up the rip cord. Erika was on that side and took it in hand.

“Oh, so you get to kill us,” Cory said, between them. They were pulled up a few feet. John crossed his arms across his chest and looked down at the mat, ten feet beneath him.

“You look so scared,” Cory said.

“I am,” John said. She patted him. They started up. Unnervingly quickly, the ground receded. Oh God, he thought. Oh God. Oh God. Until the people below were only blurry dots. Viktor, Katie, all of them. The cable kept pulling. The dots got smaller. The pointy spires of the animal tent porcupined towards them. Higher still. The trees became sponge prints. And higher still. John looked straight out and saw the blurry curve of the Earth. The pulling stopped. They were there.

“Oh my fucking God,” Cory said in her thick accent. John tried to see Erika’s face but his view was blocked.

“Do it,” Cory said.

“Fuck!” Erika yelled. And pulled it.

They freefell. Cory yelled. “AHHHHHHH!” The wind whistled past John’s ears and he opened his eyes to see the ground rushing towards him. My God. He held out his arms and smiled in terror. They reached perigee, and didn’t hit the ground. Continued on. Then they hung in the air. For one over infinity seconds, they were utterly motionless. John bet this was what it must feel like to be an astronaut. They fell back. Cory yelled again, her hair blowing over her face. They hung in the air again, and fell back. They did this three times. One more swing…

Then the attendant caught them. John exhaled loudly. They were lowered down. Back on terra firma, their legs felt wobbly. They unclipped their harnesses in a daze and stumbled clumsily off the mat. Viktor looked at John’s face.

“You are so pale right now.”

“Ha.”

“Yeah, you are,” Katie said.

“Walk it off,” Viktor said. Terrible advice.

They walked around the rest of the day, baking in the scorching heat. It was a nice theme park. As the sky got dark, their bodies cooled. John looked behind him at the group that had formed up, too tired to wander separately anymore. All of a sudden, it all hit him. All of the experiences he was going to leave behind. All of the memories he would have to take with him. It was too much… Carnival lights sparkled around him, like eye candy. It was hypnotizing. Like the lights in Paris the first night. But of course, that hadn’t really been the first night. No, that was just the first night he’d known them. Now he had been with them nonstop for almost three weeks. Three weeks. He rolled the words around in his mouth.

The Bobsleigh ride chattered behind them like a freight train. They stopped at a booth. John was tired. Looking for something to lean against, he propped himself against the wall of the booth and looked at the ground. He looked up at Viktor, who was attempting to shoot a basketball into a small hoop. He looked at all of them. His motley crew. Viktor lost, they walked on.

He didn’t tell Erika that he had to go until they were back in the hostel. She took it badly. It was the worst thing he’d seen in his entire life. All his other bad memories paled in comparison.

“Can’t you stay… a little longer?” He looked at her and didn’t know what to say. He didn’t say anything. It was breaking both of their hearts. She jumped at him and hugged him. He hugged her back. And thought of blowing off his life at home. Running across Europe with her. He still had seven hundred euros left. He could make it another week maybe, if he was frugal. And that wasn’t counting his credit card. Besides, he was already in huge trouble… Oh God he wanted to. But he couldn’t. He knew he couldn’t.

They locked the door and had sex. When they were finished, they got dressed and lay together, talking softly. Telling each other things they hadn’t told anyone. From the darkness, someone knocked on the door. Faces pressed together, they squinted at each other. Another knock.

“Fuck,” Erika said. John rose and opened the door, to see Katie and Viktor.

“Hey guys.”

“You busy?” John thought to say yes but said no for some reason. He instantly regretted it.

“What’s up?” Katie held up a note pad.

“We have another one.”

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