Saturday, April 8, 2017

Excerpt from Retrograde Horizon (coming soon)

 “Single rider, please stand on the purple three.” The roller coaster attendant touched his elbow, and he jumped. Somehow he had made it all the way to the front of the line. He started to raise his hand to call the attendant back, and then he shrugged and headed to the purple three. 
Might as well. One last time. He could always bother the attendants on his way out. Maybe the adrenaline would clear his head.
He found himself strapped into a seat beside a row of three girls, faces glowing with sunburn, chattering about the seaweed wrap massage at their hotel. Salty breeze licked his face as the coaster climbed, giving him a view of home, and everything familiar, bathed in sparkling lights. A slim crescent of moon floated in the sky. The firework show was starting, out over the ocean. Uncle Duke would be out there, fussing with his primer and fuse. 
He checked his deld as the coaster ratcheted up the hill but it still wasn’t responding. The coaster paused up on the top of the first drop, red and orange lights cycling through the track to symbolize dragonly rage. The three girls beside Sonny let out synchronized screams as they smiled for the camera that took souvenir photos.
Aaaaaaaaaaaaaahhhhhhhh!” Sonny added his scream to the chorus and gripped the grab bar, his fingertips nestled in grooves left by other frightened riders over hundreds of years, or whenever they had most recently changed out the cars. Sonny saw his castle home, far down the coast, outlined in twinkling lights. He looked down at the section where Rufe had been signing autographs and saw flashing police lights.
The car released and plummeted down. It got halfway down the slope and then it jerked to an abrupt stop.
The riders paused briefly to consider whether to scream. They reached a collective decision to scream for real, a far different sound than the for-fun kind of screaming they’d been doing moments ago. The seat restraint cradled Sonny tight. All of his weight was resting on the padded bars across his chest. Bright lights flashed on as a loud recorded voice commanded them to stay calm. 
Sonny closed his eyes, and took deep breaths. He could hear one of the girls beside him shrieking while another girl put on a brave show of being reassuring, and many of the other passengers were adding their voices to the chorus. He could smell fresh urine. As far as he could tell, it wasn’t his. Bright lights pounded against his eyelids, from the fireworks, and the bright floodlights currently illuminating the coaster. 
His collarbone ached from supporting his weight. Some of it was on the footrest panel, but his bad knee didn’t really feel like supporting weight in a flexed position at the moment, and Sonny didn’t really blame it. The formerly reassuring girl beside him gave way to her own hysterics and began screaming at the top of her lungs. Sonny reluctantly opened his eyes, thinking about how it was safer than the three point harness he had worn while sailing across the Pacific, where you might actually die, as opposed to Royal Beach Boardwalk, where considerable efforts went into making sure tourists failed to kill themselves or each other while trying to have a good time. They probably had a full team of medics standing by, ready to heal anybody from anything, and maybe sell them a bodysculpt as part of the package.
He stared at the flashing police lights. His abdominal muscles clenched. He could hear official sounding amplified announcements filtering through the screaming in his immediate area, but he couldn’t quite understand what they were saying. The possibility that the clones had started some kind of a fight sprang to mind. Maybe they had tried to assassinate Rufe. He snorted. Good luck with that.
A small cart rolled up beside the coaster track and extended a cherrypicker, which rose to the same level as the train.  Four strong rescue workers extricated the four people in the front row, strapping each one into a climbing harness before releasing the cross brace. Sonny counted the rows. He was in row seventeen. 
The cherrypicker returned to the ground with the first eight passengers, where Boardwalk employees greeted them, steering them to a hastily set up hospitality area with a drink table and a pile of souvenir shirts. Sonny settled into his situation and looked around, noticing a lost purple shoe far below. He could see the exit, and the people moving beyond it. It looked like the whole autograph signing end of the Boardwalk had been closed down. People in uniform were setting up stanchions and strings of colored lights to deflect the crowds. 
And right there, lounging against a lightpole, wearing a rainbow-colored souvenir fedora and eating a corn dog, was a clone. The same one who had accosted him earlier, wearing his casino shirt. He was staring at Sonny, in fact. When he noticed Sonny staring back at him, he gave a little wave. 
Sonny extended his middle finger.
The clone held up his palm, so Sonny could see a tiny flash of color there. The clone turned his palm to face Sonny and poked it with the stick from his corn dog. 
The rollercoaster train released from its locked position and roared down the track. The restraint bars for the first two rows flew upwards, and one of them tore off, flying behind them with a shower of sparks. The train wasn’t under any power besides gravity, and it lost momentum over the third small hill following the big drop, rolling forward and backward until it came to rest.  One of the girls beside Sonny threw up, and some of it splashed his arm. 
He craned his neck as far as he could, trying to catch a glimpse of the clone, and that was why he missed the explosion. He definitely felt it, a puff of hot air flavored with chemicals and cinders, and he couldn’t help but hear it, backed up by a chorus of ragged screams from the hoarse throats of his fellow passengers. He whipped his head around to the other side in time to see the big illuminated letters that said “Raging Dragon” were gone, as well as the dragon head below it, although its flaming breath was still sparkling periodically with reds and oranges and yellows. A large section of coaster track was gone too, replaced by twisted metal.
The restraint had to have an emergency catch somewhere. Had to. His fingers fumbled around until he found it, and once he did, he snapped it open and squeezed out of his seat. He was on a section of track about a meter and a half high, and there was a utility pole a few meters ahead with ladder-like grips built into the sides.
The train rocked beside him as others, noticing his escape, copied him. Sonny grabbed the car to steady himself, his eyes combing the crowd for electric blue. Instead he saw panic, with Boardwalk security stretching out rolls of crowd control rope. Either the blue-shirted clone was caught up in the mob or he’d slipped away, and Sonny imagined anyone smart enough to hack the Raging Dragon could figure out how to slip away.
“Remain in your seats!” said a voice through a loudspeaker as the cherrypicker maneuvered. “We will extricate you as quickly as we can!”
Sonny glanced at his vomit-stained seat. He glanced at the ladder-like pole, which wasn’t much different from the main mast of the Reckless, which he had climbed a few times. He could slip away too.
Instead of going down he climbed up, a few meters into a shadowy spot where the track connected to a support. As he was watching security control the crowd, peering for flashes of electric blue, he heard another explosion. He wrapped his arms around the pole, suddenly illuminated.
The fireworks. Uncle Duke was out there in fact, on the floating stage where they kept the control panels. Going on with the show.
Firework light threw the coaster tracks into creepy shadows. The cherrypicker was lighting up the stranded train with floodlights, helping the last of the passengers into the bucket. Sonny stared at it. The clones were waiting for him. They knew exactly where he was, and they were willing to kill him in the middle of a crowd.
He climbed onto the track and started walking along it, toward the part where the coaster looped out over the water. Fireworks streaked and blossomed above him, forming into colorful flowers and smiling faces and cheerful sunbursts.
He was nearly there when he heard the unmistakeable roar of a roller coaster train below him. It was probably a minute away, depending on how fast it ascended the hill it was currently climbing. Sonny glanced around frantically and spotted another ladder-pole, and he nearly missed it for a heart-stopping moment given that the shadows were telling all kinds of lies about depth and distance. Then his hand slapped metal and he caught hold of a grip, and he pulled himself away from the track just as the train came hurtling down. He could smell the vomit-streaked seats as it whizzed by. It looped out over the water and flew toward the missing section of track as Sonny clung to his pole, and for a moment he thought it was going to jump the gap, but it didn’t.
The train flew headlong into a support, making the whole structure wobble. Sonny dragged himself back onto the track and covered the short distance to the water. Two meter drop. He squinted at the darkness below, feeling the coaster framework shaking underneath him, until a flash of firework lit up lapping waves, without hinting at what was beneath them.
He jumped, and splashed in. His feet rebounded from the sandy bottom and his head broke through the surface. He swam swiftly and quietly out toward the floating stage, which was all lit up and playing music.
Halfway there he remembered he was wearing a highly visible lime green shirt. He stood on the sandy bottom, catching his breath as he slithered out of it and stuffed it in his back pocket. Royal Beach was shallow for a long way out, not like some of the beaches in Carquinez that suddenly and unexpectedly turned deep. In the daytime there would be hundreds of tourists floating around on their inflatables, but late at night there were only a few people out, most of them drunk. Sonny also removed his shoes, which were probably ruined, and then he remembered his deld, which was definitely ruined.
He splashed his way to the floating stage several minutes after the firework show ended. It was empty except for a security bot that told him he was unauthorized. He could see a departing boat that must have held the pyrotechnics crew, loud music blasting in its wake.
Sonny fixed his eye on the castle. Swimming there would be faster than walking ashore and looking for a taxi, and he was fairly certain he had lost the clones, for now. Especially now that he no longer had a functioning deld.
It was late at night by the time he waded past the graffiti streaked rocks welcoming him to WeMo. He could see the castle a few short blocks away, just past the school. A headache knocked at his temples as he forced his squishy wet shoes onto his feet. You didn’t want to walk around WeMo without shoes since there was nearly always some blood or piss or sharp debris sprinkled across the pavement.
He found a shadowy spot and stood very still, catching his breath and listening to the night. Loud raw music indicated a party was happening a couple blocks to the left, and he could vaguely make out a group of male voices arguing somewhere off to his right.

©2017 by Charon Dunn

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