Under The Track
Despite the tilt-a-whirl’s rotation and speed, Aaden was certain he spotted a male figure in dark sunglasses staring at Team SoNaR. He appeared to be approximately a quarter of a mile away. Aaden attempted to shout over the sound of the ride.
Corbyn and Maddy couldn’t hear him. They were laughing too hard.
As the car spun around again, Aaden looked back towards the tree that concealed the mysterious man. He had disappeared. Aaden knew what he’d seen, and he also knew he wasn’t going to be believed again. After what seemed like an eternity, the ride finally slowed down and came to an end.
The ride operator gave exiting instructions to all of the riders…not that anybody was listening. “Please leave the lap bar down until the ride comes to a full and complete stop. Have a nice day at Chippewa Park.”
“I love that ride,” Corbyn said after getting out of the car.
“Me too.” Maddy was glad the team decided to have some fun. “What’d you think, Aaden?”
Maddy looked back. Aaden was still in the car. He had a bothered expression on his face.
“You all right? Are you still mad at us?”
Shaking his head slowly, Aaden stood up. “I saw him again.”
“The person that was staring at us in the air—”
“Not that again,” Corbyn interrupted with an eye roll. “Just get off the ride so we can get over to the rollercoaster. Why are you doing this today?”
“I swear I saw someone! He was standing over there!”
Aaden pointed in the direction of the tree. Looking that way, Maddy and Corbyn saw nothing out of the ordinary. Normally the patient one of the team, Maddy was starting to get frustrated. After walking off the ride, she pushed her finger into Aaden’s chest and gave him a piece of her mind.
“You know what I think? I think you’re just trying to get back at us. If you have a problem with us, out with it!”
“Hold on a second!” Aaden unsuccessfully tried to push Maddy’s finger away.
Maddy pressed on. “I don’t want to hear it. I’m sick and tired of your attitude, and you need to cut it out.”
“You don’t understand!” Aaden got defensive. “There was a man standing right behind that tree! He had sunglasses on and everything! Go check it out if you don’t believe me!”
Maddy rolled her eyes. “Everybody has sunglasses on right now!”
“Let’s just humor him and go over to the tree,” Corbyn suggested. “As soon as we find there’s nobody there, the discussion and paranoia ends.” He turned on his twin. “Got it?”
Aaden threw his hands up in defeat. He didn’t want to waste his breath anymore. It was simply not worth his time.
The team made its way over to the tree. Maddy and Corbyn looked all over for the mysterious man but found no one.
“What a surprise.” Maddy appeared frustrated and triumphant at the same time. “C’mon, Corbyn. Let’s go to the rollercoaster.”
“You coming or do you want to chase down your imaginary friend some more?” Corbyn asked his brother.
“Shut up.” Aaden pushed through his two friends and walked away.
“I just don’t get it,” Maddy said to Corbyn as they walked some distance behind Aaden. “What’s his problem all of a sudden? He gets mad at us during Monday night’s SoNaR meeting, he’s moody at school, and now he’s making things up. What’s the deal?”
Corbyn shook his head. “I have no idea. He doesn’t act like this very often.”
Maddy sighed. “Let’s apologize once more and at least pretend we believe him. If his attitude doesn’t go away, he’s going to just be in our way this week.”
Corbyn shrugged. “It’s worth a shot I suppose."
Corbyn and Maddy caught up to Aaden and stopped him mid-stride.
“What?” Aaden sighed. “I already told you what I saw. You don’t believe me. End of story.”
“We’ve come to apologize. If you say you saw something, we believe you,” Maddy lied.
“Yeah,” Corbyn added. “Just because neither one of us saw anything doesn’t mean you didn’t.”
“Right.” Aaden tried to push on.
“No, really.” Maddy held Aaden back. “We need to be able to trust that if we see something weird, we can say so and be taken seriously.”
Aaden stopped pushing against Maddy. “Fine. Can we get to the rollercoaster now?”
In silence, Team SoNaR finally made it to the rollercoaster.
“One thing’s for sure,” Maddy said decisively. “We’re not going to waste any more time during the quest. Let’s get what we came here for and move on.”
The twins agreed.
Aaden looked at the rollercoaster. “Hey, guys….”
“What?” Maddy asked.
“Look around the ride.”
“Oh.” Maddy hadn’t yet noticed what Aaden was pointing out. “That’s going to make it difficult to get over to the track.”
A six-foot tall chain link fence encircled the perimeter of the rollercoaster. A sign tacked to the fence read, Stop—Do Not Enter.
“Looks like we’re going to have to trespass to get what we came for,” Corbyn said. “But we can’t just climb the fence. Somebody will see us.”
“How’re we going to reach the track if we can’t climb over the fence though?” Aaden asked.
“Maybe there’s a gate we can open or something,” Maddy suggested. “Let’s walk around the fence and see if we can find anything.”
Team SoNaR casually walked around the fence. Looking down, Corbyn spotted something that looked promising. “Check that spot out over there. Near the bottom of the fence.”
Maddy and Aaden noticed a section of the fence that was slightly raised up and bent outward.
“Looks like somebody tried to crawl underneath there,” Maddy said. “Could’ve been whoever it was that left what we have to find.”
“Or somebody that’s trying to get at whatever it is before we do,” Aaden added.
“Let’s hope that’s not the case.” Corbyn looked around. “One of us needs to crawl underneath without being seen.”
The rollercoaster train suddenly rushed by. The metal supports of the track shook and swayed slightly.
Team SoNaR hovered around the opening in the fence. They decided that one team member would climb under while the other two provided cover.
“I’ll do it,” Corbyn volunteered. “You two act casual and keep an eye out. I’ll be quick.” He shielded his face from a sudden gust of wind.
“Be careful,” Maddy pleaded.
Aaden wasn’t fond of the sweet tone of voice Maddy used, but now was not the time. He pushed his feelings aside.
Corbyn dropped to the ground. He army-crawled under the fence and knelt down next to the track. Staying low to the ground, he made his way over to the largest hill and looked around.
“I don’t see anything on the grass,” he called just loud enough for his friends to hear.
“Keep looking.” Maddy looked around nervously. “Hurry.”
Just then, the ground shook beneath Corbyn’s feet. Looking up, he watched the rollercoaster train pass right over him. He also noticed something important: a mark, not much bigger than a quarter, had been etched into one of the metal supports of the track.
The atomic symbol.
Though it was definitely the symbol used for the quest, this mark was slightly different from the one Maddy found on the back of the envelope: it had a dot added to the top-right corner inside the electron path.
Team SoNaR was obviously in the correct location. But where was the item they needed to retrieve? Looking down at the base of the support, Corbyn noticed that some of the grass had recently been disturbed. The train went right over him again. Nervous beads of sweat formed on his forehead.
“You all right?” Maddy was standing nervously a few meters away. “We can’t cover you much longer.”
Still on his hands and knees, Corbyn said, “I think I found something. Give me a sec.”
“Hurry up. Someone’s going to spot you.” Maddy was becoming more agitated.
Corbyn dug at the grass with his hands. He soon felt something metallic buried a few centimeters beneath the surface. He worked the object out and examined it. It was a silver canister in the shape of a tube. It was approximately twenty centimeters long and three centimeters in diameter.
Excited, Corbyn unscrewed the end of the canister and looked inside. A cream-colored envelope had been rolled up inside. He pulled the envelope out and pocketed the canister. The rollercoaster train went screaming by again.
“This has got to be it,” Corbyn said to himself. He turned the envelope over and saw the atomic symbol stamped on the back.
“I’ve got it!” Corbyn held the envelope up for Maddy and Aaden to see.
Simultaneously, a huge gust of wind came up and blew the envelope right out of Corbyn’s hand. He frantically looked around, but couldn’t see where it went. With fear in her eyes, Maddy pointed up towards the track. Corbyn watched with dread as the envelope lifted high into the air, straight over the downhill-side of the rollercoaster’s first hill. As soon as the gust of wind let up, the envelope dropped and landed halfway up the hill. Relief swept over Corbyn—at least the envelope was stationary for the time being.
Corbyn knew what he had to do. “I’m going to climb up there and grab the envelope. Be ready to open the bottom of the fence for me.”
Maddy couldn’t watch.
Corbyn crawled over to the bottom of the rollercoaster’s first hill. He no longer cared about being seen; the only thing he was focused on was retrieving the envelope before it blew away again.
Because the track was low to the ground where he stood, Corbyn had no trouble climbing on. The angle of the track made it impossible for the ride operators to see what he was doing. Corbyn slowly climbed up the first hill on all fours. He kept his eyes down, making sure not to fall off. After a few agonizing moments, he reached the envelope. Just as he was about to grab it, Maddy shrieked loudly.
Reflexively, Corbyn looked up. He knew immediately that he was in mortal danger. Not only could the ride operators not see him, but his position made it impossible for him to see the upward side of the hill. He hadn’t realized until it was too late that the rollercoaster’s train had just crested the top of the hill and was now headed down straight towards him.