Of Plastic Amphibians and Bunny Ears
Cecelia Haddix stepped away from the backseat of her purple minivan and put her hands on her hips.
“Okay, that’s it?” she confirmed, glancing over the car’s roof, at the driver.
“That’s it,” Rainy replied, giggling a bit. At this vantage point, despite her height, the only thing that Cecelia saw of her wife was the top of her lavender-colored pixie cut.
“No more runs to the bathroom?” Cecelia went on.
“Not from me, or Cassie.”
“And we have everything that we need to get it? All the paperwork and passes?”
“Cece, we’re good! Let’s get on the road!”
“Road,” Cassie echoed from the backseat, looking at Cecelia with all the determination that a seven-year-old can muster.
Cecelia bent down to kiss her on the nose, then slid the door shut. Stepping into the passenger seat, Cecelia buckled herself in while Rainy adjusted the mirrors.
“You’re sure that you want to drive?” Cecelia confirmed.
“Oh yeah, I can totally handle it,” Rainy assured her, slinging an arm behind the passenger seat as she prepared to back out.
“We won’t be stopping in the middle of highways anymore, to save turtles trying to cross?”
“Only if we don’t run into wayward turtles.”
Cecelia blew out a breath, catching the edge of her wavy brown hair. “Well then, at least let me handle any turtle affairs this time. I’m a little better at dodging cars than you are.”
Rainy smiled to the road as they pulled out of the driveway. “Okay. But just because you passed my turtle safety awareness class with such flying colors.”
“Hey, Mommy,” Cassie interrupted, leaning forward. “Change the radio station. I don’t like this song.”
Rainy pressed another one of the presets without complaint. “Better?” she asked.
Cassie paused to listen. “Better,” she decided, getting comfortable again. “I’ll let you know if I don’t like it anymore.”
“I’ll keep it tuned to Cassie radio!” Rainy crooned.
Cecelia just grinned and rolled her eyes as she pulled out the GPS.“Alright,” she dictated, half-remembering the way, “you’re gonna wanna make a left at this light coming up.”
An hour into the trip, Cassie requested a radio change for the 20th time. Rainy, a woman of infinite patience (and Cecelia, a woman who silently agreed with every call that Cassie was making), went to follow through. However, her distracted hand ending up hitting the CD button instead of a preset, filling the car with Fall Out Boy.
“Wouldn’t you rather be a widow/ Than a divorcee?/ Style your wa--”
“Damn straight,” Cecelia muttered, reaching forward and cutting the band off. “Widows get a paycheck.”
“Oh, Henry must have left his CDs in the car,” Rainy commented offhandedly. Then, some amusement to her voice: “Cece, it’s been, like, almost a decade.”
“And I’m sure in all that time, Tim is still a--”
“Daughter in the car,” Rainy sang.
“I’m sure that my ex-husband is still as much of a jerk as he was when I filed suit,” Cecelia rephrased. “Like yesterday. Whenever he calls Henry to check up on him and I answer the phone, he’s always so snotty! ‘Oh, how’s the wife you left a solid 401K for?’ ” she mimicked. “ ‘Hey, you know I can’t ask my son this myself, so tell me: Is he gonna follow in his mother’s footsteps and break some girl’s heart one day?’--I mean really! So immature!”
“Well, I’m sure that a fall from 300 feet above the ground will erase any thoughts of a dumb ex-husband,” Rainy offered. “I think I hear you talking about Zumanjaro in your sleep.”
“Nah,” Cecelia smiled. She twisted around and reached a hand out to tickle Cassie. “Today’s all about the birthday girl! Only Cassie-Rides!”
“Cassie-Rides!” the girl squealed, laughing loudly.
“Oh, guess who sees roller coasters?” Rainy asked, playing up her voice. “And the ferris wheel? Oh my god, I haven’t been on that swinging boat ship in forever. And the merry-go- round has chickens--Cassie, we can ride chickens together!”
“Uh, honey?” Cecelia began, returning to front part of the car. “I think you’re getting more excited than Cassie.”“Oh my god, Six Flags,” Rainy whispered passionately, flipping on her blinker and tightening her grip on the steering wheel.
By the end of the very long and very slow journey to the front gates, Rainy was bouncing in her seat. She practically threw their documents at the worker on duty, who scanned them for accuracy.
“Alright,” the worker decided, handing them back. “Your passes allow you free parking. Go on through and follow the lanes.”
“We should bring Henry next time,” Cecelia said as Rainy pulled away. “With the passes being comped by my work, it’d be a shame if he missed out again.”
“He had school things to do,” Rainy reminded her, taking a break from humming the Six Flags theme song. “He would’ve come if he had the chance. And next time, we’ll schedule it on a day he’s off.”
“Sounds good to me,” Cecelia smiled. “Oh look, there’s Kingda Ka! Can you see it, Cassie? Sure is tall, huh?”
Cassie leaned forward to get a better view out of the windshield. She scrunched up her nose, then grinned.
“Yeah, Mom. It’s almost as tall as you!”
“Ooohh, burn,” Rainy snickered, turning left into the parking lot.
“From my own daughter,” Cecelia scoffed, playfully crossing her arms over her chest. “Well, we’ll just see who gets cotton candy, then.”
“Whoa, check that out! That’s the Green Lantern ride!” Rainy shouted suddenly. “Come on guys, let’s get out of this car already! Cassie, am I right?”
“Yeah, Mommy!” Cassie shouted back. “Let’s move it! Birthday girl says so! Ride time!”
Cecelia lurched to the side as Rainy performed what had to be the worst parking job this amusement park had ever seen. Cecelia lowered her window and looked down. Their minivan was parked at a slight diagonal across four open spots.
“Uh, babe?” Cecelia called. “Shouldn’t you fix this?”
“No one cares! We’re all the way in the back of the park!”
Cecelia straightened up. Either something was wrong with her hearing, or her wife had left the car. Turning around, Cecelia looked out the driver’s side window. Rainy waved back at her excitedly from 10 feet away, holding Cassie by the hand.
Cecelia looked to the steering wheel. Rainy had left the car running. She could just re-park the van herself, and they could get on with their day.
“Mom, let’s go! I wanna ride the swingy boat!”
Cecelia raised her window back up and shut the car off. There were in the very back of the lot, and there had to be a thousand spots left open. Cecelia was in the same kind of “screw it” mood as Rainy. She grabbed the small knapsack she’d brought for today from the passenger seat.It was their daughter’s seventh birthday, and potential parking tickets be damned, they were going to have fun.
Cecelia smiled down wryly at Cassie as, arm-in-arm with Rainy, she watched her daughter read from an upside down map.
“Was this really the best decision?” she asked quietly.
“She’ll lead the way until she sees something she likes,” Rainy replied, just as softly. “And we’ve already gone on every kiddy ride there is. I don’t see the harm in it.”
“We might be wandering for a while,” Cecelia pointed out.
“Have faith in our little explorer,” Rainy said.
“Well, she’s definitely navigating a lot better than I remember you doing, the first time we came here,” Cecelia allowed. “Your reading skills led us into an offshoot of the park meant for golf carts and security guards.”
“Hey, we didn’t get kicked out, and that’s the most important thing!” Rainy shot back. Cecelia’s loud laughter cut off any more arguments Rainy might’ve made, and pretty soon, she joined in too. “Alright,” she confessed, “I’ll admit that we definitely cut it close when we cut through the animal enclosures.”
“Oh, do not remind me,” Cecelia gasped. “I was scared of brown bears for a week.”
“I found it!” Cassie shouted suddenly, stopping in her tracks.
“Oh, that’s great,” Rainy said encouragingly. “What did you find?”
“Bunny ears,” Cassie declared, pointing in front of her. Her tiny finger led to a carnival-style booth, decorated with prizes large and small. Nestled in the middle of the wall of goods were several sets of rabbit ears. She turned and looked at her parents imploringly. “Mommas? Can we win those?”
“Hell yeah we can!” Rainy replied, getting fired up in an instant. “What is it? Shooting? Guessing? Jumping?”
“Throwing,” Cecelia said, stepping closer to the booth. The brightly-painted sign “Frog-A-Palooza” hung from the edge of the establishment, half-covered with a slightly out-of-place fishing net. The stand was decked out in hats, extra large stuffed animals, toys, and other prizes.
Cecelia pointed at the set up the vendor was standing beside: A large pool filled with lily pads and, at the bottom, dozens of plastic frogs. “You have to toss them,” she added.
“Yup,” the vendor took over cheerfully. “Three frogs for three dollars. Get all of them on the lily pad, and you get free choice. But you’re a winner no matter what, so long as you just get one.”
Cassie giggled as the man walked over, juggling three plastic amphibians. He laid them out one by one on the counter and smiled up at Rainy and Cecelia. “Wanna try your luck today?”
“Well, I don’t know about you, Cece, but I haven’t thrown a frog in a while,” Rainy announced, slipping a hand into her pocket. “And I think Cassie would look particularly cute as a bunny.”
“Bunny,” Cassie whispered intensely, grabbing the edges of the counter and leaning forward.
Rainy palmed one of the plastic frogs, tossing it into the air a few times. Then, assuming the position of a pitcher on the mound, she aimed her throw. The first frog hit the edge of a lily pad, then plopped into the clear water.
“Aw,” Rainy pouted.
“Let me,” Cecelia offered, plucking the second frog from the counter and lightly tossing it forward. It too bounced off of the lily pad and into the deep. Cecelia shrugged her shoulders and glanced down at Cassie. “You wanna try, tiger?”
“Yup,” Cassie said simply, grabbing a frog and throwing it blindly. Rainy and Cecelia made surprised noises as it landed smack dab in the middle of a lily pad.
“Nice job!” Rainy cheered.
“Yeah, you got some skills,” Cecelia added.
“One out of three,” the vendor cut in, reaching for a prize. “Not first pick, but you can still have this, if you like.”
The vendor handed down a pair of white bunny ears to Cassie.
“Oh,” Rainy said, confused. “I guess...”
“The stuffed prizes are the first-pick prizes,” Cecelia summed up. “We aren’t very good at asking for information.”
“I am beautiful,” Cassie declared as she donned her extra set of ears. “Let’s go to Wonderland.”
“Wrong theme park, sweetie,” Cecelia said good-naturedly. “Come on, why don’t we go see the animals?”
“Cecelia?” Rainy began as they started walking. “Animals? Safari? We just had a conversation about this.”
“Well it’s not like we aren’t allowed back in,” Cecelia whispered. “Cassie wants to see the antelope.”
“Antelope,” Cassie echoed.
“Do they even have antelope?” Rainy wondered.
“Don’t care,” Cassie decided. “Antelope.”
“And there’s your answer,” Cecelia said proudly. “And look: The Golden Kingdom is right over there.”
Rainy narrowed her eyes in suspicion. “You just want a chance to sit down for an hour because your feet hurt.”“And to fulfill my daughter’s split-second dream,” Cecelia said, linking arms with Rainy. “Relax. The Safari tour has gotta be the easiest, least stressful event in the park.”
An explosion of dust and rubble rained from the entrance to the Safari. Quick as anything, a black shape flew from the cloud of destruction and began circling the plaza. Serpentine in nature, with red and yellow markings trailing down its body, someone might’ve mistaken it for a Chinese kite.
That is, if wasn’t opening its fanged mouth and shooting orbs of white-hot energy at park goers.
“Wow,” Rainy remarked, impressed. She drew Cassie closer to keep her from being trampled. “I thought this kind of stuff only happened at Disney World.”
Cecelia kept a cold frown on her face, and looked to the source of the chaos. A group of teenagers were stumbling away from the wreckage at a much slower pace than everyone else, and kept staring up at the creature.
“Hold Cassie’s hand, so she doesn’t get lost,” Cecelia ordered. “I’ll be right back.”
“Mommy, is that thing a problem?” Cassie asked, concern in her voice.
“Yes, but your Mommas will take care of it,” Rainy assured her.
Cecelia approached the teenagers and crossed her arms over her chest. “Alright, what did you do?”
A girl with bright green hair sneered at her, though her hands were shaking. “Didn’t do shit, lady! Now fuck off, let’s get out of here!”
Cecelia grabbed the nearest member of the group--a boy with piercings and a gray hoodie--and pinned him to the wall. “Just tell me. Any magic mumbo jumbo?”
“We were flipping tiles,” he stammered, fighting against Cecelia’s grip. All of a sudden, he was sobbing. “Please, I’m sorry, it was just a prank! We were just flipping them to fuck with the staff, but that--that thing flew out from one of them, and--”
“Yeah, it’s fine,” Cecelia exhaled, dropping the teen. “Go on; get.”
Cecelia walked back over to her family, now taking shelter in a nearby dining hall. Rainy and Cassie sat calmly, amidst the security alarms and calm female voice broadcasting an emergency announcement across the park.
Rainy smiled pleasantly at Cecelia. “So? Is this our kind of scene?”
“Unfortunately,” Cecelia sighed.“This is a weird place for a rogue spirit to be hanging out, but oh well.” Rainy raised an arm and held her waiting palm out to Cecelia. “Lay ‘em on me.”
Cecelia furrowed her brow. “Uh. Lay what on you?”
“The stamps?” Rainy lowered her arm and looked at her wife in slight concern. “Oh no.”
“You were responsible for the stamps,” Cecelia said slowly.
“You’re the one with the bookbag!” Rainy exclaimed.
“You said you’d put them in the car, so we could run out if we needed to get them. But we weren’t supposed to need to get them, because this is Six Flags!”
“Bookbag!” Rainy repeated herself, as the spirit destroyed a nearby game booth.
“The bookbag is for maps and water bottles, and--” Cecelia paused to kneel down and address Cassie. “Sweetie, take off your bracelet and use it, okay?”
“You said that’s for emergencies.”
A piece of rubble landed squarely in the middle of Frog-A-Palooza, causing tiny plastic frogs to fly out in all directions.
“This is an emergency,” Cecelia said flatly.
Cassie brought the beaded piece of jewelry closer to her face. “I just gotta say the word, right?”
“Right,” Cecelia said. “Say the word, and think really hard about what you want it to do. Remember how we practiced.” Cecelia gave Cassie a quick hug. “Your mommas will take care of this.”
Cassie smiled and nodded, getting out of her seat. She stared at the beads with a suddenly determined expression. “Thurisaz,” she said strongly.
Cecelia and Rainy celebrated the small victory with Cassie as a large bubble surrounded her. Cecelia rapped her knuckles against the surface of it and, satisfied, turned her attention back to Rainy.
“She really is quite good with her pronunciation,” Rainy said. “And her summoning abilities are stellar.”
“Rainy,” Cecelia said firmly. “You were supposed to bring the stamps.”
“Cece, we wouldn’t be having this conversation if we got tattooed, like my family suggested. Like they’ve been doing for hundreds of years?” Rainy made a face. “It’s so much easier, having the rune right there! No drawing, no stamping...”
“That’s dumb,” Cecelia said instantly. “I’m not going to PTA meetings all inked up. They wouldn’t even let me in. Rainy, we’ve had this conversation a billion times.” Cecelia ran a hand through her thick hair. “Look, what are we gonna do about our serious lack of runic stamps?”
“Well...” Rainy stood and tapped her lips in thought. “We could look inside a gift shop for some markers. I know pretty much all the runes we could need.”
Cecelia’s face fell a little. “Yeah. Right.”
Rainy nudged her with an elbow. “Aw, buck up. You only just took on the family mantle a couple years ago. And look on the bright side: You and Cassie were able to start your training together! What a great chance to bond.”
Cecelia squinted at Rainy, thinking on her words. “Rainy, you’re a bit of an asshole.”
“A married asshole with a huge rock, a pretty wife, and a mission. Come on, let’s do this! Cassie, you be good, babe!”
“Alright Mommy,” Cassie replied, playing with the tops of her bunny ears. “See you, Mom.”“Bye honey; watch the monster while we’re gone,” Cecelia said, waving as she turned away.