This is a story I wrote some thirty odd years ago. I thought it was long lost, but I chanced on a copy while packing. As I am about to embark on a perilous journey myself to an uncertain future, this seems a very fitting story to leave my readers with. Enjoy:
I suppose I should have been more careful. Or possibly more alert, in retrospect I am not sure what action on my part could have averted the predicament that I now find myself in. The whole adventure started so innocuously, I would be hard put to say where I went wrong..
To begin with, it was my day off. The one day a week I am completely free from my activities at the university. I love my work, but find I must have regular breaks to maintain my sanity and keep some perspective on the world outside the university walls. This day in particular was truly a day off, as I had succeeded in keeping it free of any personal commitments as well. As a result I was strolling through my town in a relaxed and worry free state of mind.
I was quite enjoying myself as I wandered through the well kept streets of our little town. It was a lovely day, the flowers were blooming in their summer glory. Recent rains made the streets and buildings cleaner and fresher than usual. And as is all too often the case in my strolls, I soon had no clear idea where I was. I eventually came to the edge of town, where I was greeted by an unexpected sight.
Instead of the usual farmland or park, there was a tremendous bustle of activity. In a series of fields, a large carnival had been set up. Gaily colored tents and innumerable stalls and booths were laid out in front of me, with crowds of townspeople exploring the rides, games, and amusements such carnivals offer. A carnival this size must of been the talk of the town for some weeks, but I had heard naught of it, a sign of how isolated I get among my books and studies. I felt a sudden flush of happiness about my day off, if it wasn’t for these days to myself, who knows what great events might pass me by?
Feeling optimistic, I decided to venture into the carnival. Normally such events interest me little, I am afraid that crowds can affect me in a quite peculiar and sometimes even unpleasant way. Today felt different though, I paid a modest fee and entered. It actually felt good to mingle with the crowd, every sort of person was represented, as I suppose these sorts of events are designed to appeal as broadly as possible.
For several hours I wandered among the various booths and displays. Art and handiwork from far and wide was to be had, and the aromas of exotic cuisines wafted through the air. The variety and stimulus put me in an unusual state of mind, a sort of nervous excitement, unlike my usual placid bearing. As the sun began to set I realised I was hungry and thirsty. I satisfied myself in an open air cafe, it seemed food and drink had never quite tasted so good. As I sat there, enjoying the colors as the day turned to night, the carnival grew even more crowded and noisy. Thousands of coloured lights were turned on, their flashing and flickering casting a mysterious aura on my surroundings.
Refreshed after my meal, I again strolled through the fairgrounds. This time though, my wanderings did not seem so aimless. I felt somehow drawn towards a particular section of the carnival, at intervals great screams and shouts arose from the direction I was headed. Whatever was happening there, it was certainly generating a lot of excitement.
I soon saw the cause of the clamor, it seems I was being drawn to a section of the fair reserved for various rides and breakneck entertainment. Watching people being hurled about at high speeds, I was amused and amazed, normally such activities have scant appeal to me. In fact the last time I had been aboard any sort of mechanical contrivance was on a train journey some years before. I had to admit that now the rides had an allure to me, they were bringing back feelings of excitement and anticipation I had not felt since my childhood long years ago.
I was compelled to follow my impulse, and went in among the rides. The whirling lights, the screams, and the flushed faces of those around me sharpened my sense of unreality. The sound of yells and clattering machinery drowned out all normal conversation. It seemed as if people were treating me with more deference than usual. Perhaps it was my age, the rides were mostly frequented by the young and adventurous. I realised I was the oldest face in the crowd.
Moving on, I found it was one ride in particular that drew me. It was a dark towering thing, metal towers loomed above me, marching into the distance. Carloads of people were being carried at wild speeds and impossible angles on gleaming metal rails. I had never seen such a thing, it was astounding to me that such a device could be a part of a temporary carnival.
At this point it started to seem as if I was in a dream. I found myself in the line to the great ride. My senses heightened, details of everything around me stood out. As the line wound around support towers I remember staring at the rivets and girders with fascination. In some fashion my will was paralyzed, the giant structure seemed to have a life of its own and was pulling me in.
The line moved quickly, and I was soon seated in one of the cars riding the steel rails. By chance I was seated at the front of the first car in a train of cars. What an excellent perspective I shall have, I remember musing to myself. Only one person sat ahead of me, a large sweaty man in some sort of uniform. I presumed him to be the conductor or the engineer of some sort. I realised it was some sort of train ride, alas I did not take alarm sooner considering the perplexing nature of my last train ride some years earlier.
Before my musings could continue, the train lurched into motion. We climbed a great metal hill emerging into the clear night air above the carnival. The fair laid out all around us, the lights of my town visible in the near distance. I was trying to spot the university when the train precipitously plummeted downwards and I found myself pressed back into my seat. Either by the acceleration or the first inkling of fear, I am not sure which.
The ride continued, up and up we would climb, and down we would plunge. At one point the cars did a complete vertical loop turning us momentarily upside down. Surely a contraption like this should have some sort of seat belts? I was rapidly becoming alarmed, my dreamlike state was fading and this was all too real. How had I ever gotten into this situation? I realized that the cars we had gotten into had been empty, where had the previous riders disembarked? I hoped the ride would end soon, I had had more than enough excitement already.
The ride continued with more speed, if such was even possible. The other passengers, when I risked a glimpse backwards, seemed excited and unconcerned. I clung grimly to my seat. After an interval, we found ourselves climbing to an unprecedented height. I swear I saw wisps of clouds go by, but I knew that couldn’t be.
Coming to the top, the train slowed. For the first time I leaned up and looked past the man in front of me to see what lay ahead. Shock and fear coursed through me, it was an incredible sight. The track plunged insanely downwards then rose again … and ended jaggedly over an abyss. What had happened? I rubbed my eyes, could this possibly be real? I couldn’t believe that such a disaster had befallen my quiet and restful town.
As the train rolled downwards I cried and screamed. Desperately I tried to draw the attention of my fellow riders to the dreadful fate we were surely approaching. Unfortunately they seemed oblivious to what lay ahead and were concerned only with their enjoyment of the moment. The cars careened downwards, reaching a terrible speed. My gibbering and screaming, so unlike the joyous shouts of the other passengers, finally attracted the attention of the big man in front of me.
Just as the train hurtled out into the abyss, he turned to me and placed a concerned hand on my shoulder. I looked into his eyes, the terror in mine must have been plainly visible. The last thing I remember is his booming voice shouting over the wind: “Enjoy the Ride Buddy!”
(Copyright © Doug Stych, 2019. All rights reserved.)