Single Rider

Black-and-white image of a roller coaster track loop

She left him at the entrance to the mummy-themed ride, him and his questions and complaints and wrenches thrown into her plans. She left him holding the overstuffed backpack she had lugged every day of their vacation, along with the kids who stopped squabbling to stare, churros drooping in their hands. She did it swiftly, without words, shoving park maps into his hands and launching herself into the ride’s single rider line. She didn’t look back until she had raced through several of the queue’s turns, and by that time her family was out of her sight.

She had never been on this ride. Last year he said it was too rough for the kids, so he rode it by himself while she waited with them outside. Inside it was dim and cool, styled like the passages of an Egyptian pyramid. She wove her way through a maze of black metal railings, catching glimpses of other riders winding through other portions of the queue. Their laughter echoed in the passages after their shadows had gone.

She passed scarab carvings and statues of jackal-headed guardians. As she walked, the wave of frustration that had swept her there ebbed. As long as she was in this line she had relative solitude and freedom. She laughed herself then, her echoes joining the others from her unseen fellow riders. Her phone buzzed in her pocket and she pressed a button to silence it.

She reached the loading area, a vaulted chamber where blocky ride vehicles rolled in and out. A teenager in a sand-colored uniform gestured for her to come to the top of the queue and pointed to a single open seat in the first row of a loaded vehicle. She hurried into it and pulled the safety bar down over her shoulders. She gripped the bar’s handles as the ride vehicle jerked forward on the track.

When had she last been on an intense theme park ride? Probably as a teenager on school trips. These days she planned her family’s theme park trips every year, booked the resorts, flights, and rental cars, bought the tickets, made the meal reservations. She packed and lugged the backpack. She took care of things while her husband and children enjoyed themselves and she had come to dread vacations more than her regular hours of chores and empty daydreaming.

As her husband had said, the ride was rough. It backed up, twisted around, and swooped in corkscrews. There were flashes of strobe light and slashes of neon. Projected beetles swarmed around the cursed temple, and real fire bloomed with the mummy’s return. She screamed throughout and gasped when the vehicle braked. She ducked underneath the raised safety bar and entered the exit queue, her giddiness deflated now that the brief ride was over.

But by the time she reemerged into the harsh sun and noise of the park, she had made her decision. She stuck to the building’s shade as she circled back around to the entrance. When she didn’t spot her family standing at the top of the single rider line, she ducked back into it. She wound her way back to the ride, her feet skipping steps in anticipation, and once again boarded a vehicle headed for the mummy’s temple, smiling to herself as the vehicle pulled away.

After that, she rode twice more. If her family had tried to follow her in, they never found her. She had turned her phone off. She could do this forever: an unending spin of roller coaster thrills, pretend danger, and even more pretend escape, spiraling around and around until it erased everything but the present sensation. No planning, no questions, no mistakes. Just her, slipped loose.

When the vehicle next rolled back into the loading chamber, no one noticed the empty seat at the end of the first row, and if from that point on the ride queue held more echoes and shadows than there were humans to produce them, no one ever noticed that either.

/All writing