Cause World

A girl with braided pigtails and fake freckles shouted, “Load up the chickens,” so Magdalene and I stepped into the cage and sat on the cushioned hay bales. Then this other high-school-looking kid in overalls lowered the restraining bar over our heads before latching the seatbelts.

From speakers built into the headrests came a man’s high-pitched, wheezy voice: “Welcome to Eggleston Acres, my precious, hyper-producing hens.”

“You’re nervous, ain’t ya?” asked Magdalene, sitting to my left. She was working over the same piece of gum she’d been chewing when I picked her up earlier that morning. Her warm breath carried the fading memory of cinnamon and hops. She’d stolen a beer from Hickey’s Grocer just before we’d left the sticks and sipped on it the entire two-hour drive into the city. Like all the other times, we’d arrived at Cause World earlier than necessary because she liked catching a few rides before our meet-up with Jeff.

I scoffed at her question. Then I loosened my death grip from the restraining bar and looked around the fake chicken coop as if fascinated by the attention to detail given the decorations (Wow! A meat grinder with “Males Only” stenciled on the side.) and completely bored by the dark tunnel forty yards down the track. The whole place filtered red and blue through our chicken-beak glasses. Above the ride operator’s booth hung a sign. WARNING! This is a high-speed, highconviction rollercoaster that includes sudden acceleration, climbing, dropping, and dramatic images of animal cruelty IN 3D!

Henrietta Yokely and the Escape from Eggleston Acres— inspired by this kid’s movie called Henrietta Yokely and the Escape from Eggleston Acres (which was adapted from a kid’s book of the same name)—was Cause World’s newest ride. When it first opened, the news had reported stories of people who, originally uninformed about what was being called factory farming, turned all vegan or vegetarian after riding. This sounded like just about the worst thing I could imagine. Not eating meat, eggs, or cheese? You didn’t get to be my shape and size by eating shrubs.

Pigtails and Overalls stood on the platform along the track, looking bored as heck, each with an arm extended giving a thumbsup signal. Behind her closed lips, Magdalene hummed the melody to “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger,” which we’d heard earlier on the truck’s radio. She gnawed her gum with the fervor of a rat on Mountain Dew. She drummed her hands against the restraining bar and raked her feet against the cage floor. For a moment I thought she might fidget right through the bars.

“Let’s get to work, my dears,” said the wheezy voice from the headrest speakers. “I want more than three hundred eggs from each of you this year.”

A tractor engine revved. Brakes released. Pssssh. The wheezy farmer went full-on evil villain, cackling hysterically as the caged cart lurched toward the tunnel. I gripped the restraining bar again and closed my eyes. From the speakers, the distant sound of a thousand hens crescendoed to a clucking roar like God’s eighth plague advancing upon Egypt.

“Here we go, Delray!” screamed Magdalene.

Next thing I knew, her hand dug beneath my grip on the bar, nails clawing against my palm, until our fingers interlocked. I turned my head, fully expecting to meet big, mischievous eyes staring back at me. Or to see her gum, shaped something like a shriveled tongue, poking from her closed lips. Just another gag. Ever since the accident that killed her daddy and nearly killed her mama, life for Magdalene Marie Montgomery—whether she was high, drunk, or as sober as a Baptist after communion—had seemingly become an endless opportunity for jokes and pranks. No matter how sacred the moment. Her way of coping, I supposed.

But now her left hand, choking the restraining bar, seemed not to knoweth what her right hand doeth. Her eyes were closed. Her face, scrunched up like a dinner roll, aimed straight down the track. The tiny cage, now picking up speed, had us shoulder-to-shoulder, thigh-to-thigh. My eyes were mere inches from a fresh bruise marbling the top of her neck, just beneath her clenched jaw. A gift from her mama, I was sure. She squeezed my hand even harder. Then the bottom dropped out, and the cart fell into darkness, lurching all my buzzing innards up into my throat. I couldn’t even scream.

Two minutes later we were back inside the coop.

“I almost blacked out,” she said through laughter, removing a strand of windblown hair from her mouth. I unbuckled the seat belt and pushed up the restraining bar. At this point, drawing any attention to myself was just about the last thing I wanted, my shirt being too short to conceal the—I’m ashamed to admit—evidence of arousal still receding below my belt. But, stepping onto the platform, I received the most ferocious backhanded slap against my rear. Magdalene shouted, “Holy shit balls!” You could almost hear the crack of a mini sonic boom when every head in the place snapped our direction. I turned just enough to see her, still sitting in the cage, eyes bulging behind the chicken-beak glasses, tongue hanging out of her gaping mouth. “I swallowed my gum!”

We exited into a gift shop where sunlight poured through floor-to-ceiling windows, illuminating displays of memorabilia. Stacks of vegan cookbooks covered tables beneath posters of farm animals touting the benefits of eating kale. A screaming child clawed at the ankles of an older man placing a stuffed-toy chicken—its beak, missing; its legs, broken; its eye, crying a single embroidered tear—back onto a shelf lined with identical toy chickens.

“Some of that was, like, so hard to see,” said Magdalene, swiping through T-shirts. I never knew her to be the animal-rights type. So I wasn’t sure how to respond. And I had kept my eyes closed the entire ride.

“It really does make you think,” I said, hoping she might cut in. I had nothing profound to say about factory farming or chickens—cage free or free range or pasture fed or grilled or baked or fried or nuggeted. All I could think about was the still-racing, heavy thump of my heart, violently roused by the touch of her palm against mine. That unexpected jolt of electricity. That core of heat and sweat formed within our clasp. Her fingers, soft and smooth from cheap lotion, slipped through the dry skin between my white knuckles.

Forgive me if my attempts at poetry here seem hokey for something so innocent, but pretty girls like Magdalene—or any girls for that matter—didn’t touch guys like me. Touching had been reserved for the taller, leaner, non-red-headed, capable-of-throwing-a-ball-or-gettinga-tan types—everything I wasn’t. Mags and I were more like business partners, each with our own motives. We’d been neighbors for years— she lived three trailers down from Meemaw, Grampus, and me. But after the accident, she needed someone to do her schoolwork and, more recently, drive her to Cause World. I just needed a chance. Some credibility. She let me sit with her in the cafeteria during lunch, usually to copy off my work. She acknowledged me in the halls between classes, usually to bum my notes for an upcoming test. Miraculously, jerks like Dylan Darby or A.J. Felder—two riffraffs from our trailer park who’d do anything to get with Mags—stopped picking on me. Well, at least when she was around. Though never formally discussed, I understood the terms and conditions of the friendship. And I followed them like I followed the Ten Commandments. The thing was, in all of our prior trips to Cause World—and we must’ve ridden every coaster in the park—she never once held my hand. I couldn’t help but wonder if our agreement had changed.

She checked a neck tag for her size. I said: “You’re not gonna become some hippie now, are ya? Doesn’t the Bible say Man was given dominion over the anim—”

“No, like, with all the spinning and flipping upside down, like, I literally couldn’t see a thing. And I really wanted to learn more about this cause.” From the rack she removed a shirt—star-spangled; red, white, and blue with Cage Free Isn’t Always Freedom printed across the front—and held it to her chest. “What do you think?”

“I just don’t know if it’s that big a deal to eat eggs.”

She gave me this super playful look—lips puckered, eyebrows raised, eyelids fluttering. She swiveled her slender body back and forth and pulled the shirt tighter against her breasts. Short of denying The Holy Spirit or slapping my Meemaw, I would’ve done anything for her in that moment.

“You look”—wonderful, lovely, stunning, incredible, exquisite, angelic, beautiful—“like a really depressing American flag?”

She rolled her eyes, but with a smile. She placed the shirt back on the rack. “Red never looks good on me anyway.”

We left the gift shop and retrieved her phone and purse from the adjacent ride lockers. It was noon, and we were supposed to meet Jeff in The Developing World in twenty minutes. Checking her text messages, Magdalene sighed.

“Is it Jeff?” I asked. “Did he cancel?”

Her thumbs tapped against the phone’s screen. “It’s just Mama. She can’t find her….”

She turned and wandered off behind a row of lockers, exactly as I knew she would. She was always keeping her mama hidden from the rest of the world. Including me.

I hadn’t seen Mrs. Montgomery leave their trailer in over a year, which was about how long it had been since she was cut off from her pain meds. From the little Mags told me, I gathered that her mama still lived with serious pain. Rudd Montgomery, Magdalene’s daddy, died with no insurance. The government checks barely covered groceries, let alone painkillers. To help with bills, Mags took a job at the DQ—a few hours after school, plus Sundays, taking orders at the drive-through. She cooked her mama’s meals. She cleaned the trailer. It was almost as if the accident, in some weird way, opened up a portal to an alternate universe, like an episode of The Twilight Zone. Reality flipped upside down. Magdalene Montgomery, the sixteen-year-old mama to a thirty-three-year-old daughter.

On the night of the accident, the paramedics found Mrs. Montgomery unconscious, arms and legs contorted in ways inhuman, blanketing the roots of an oak tree forty feet from the scorched pick-up truck. Two days later in an interview with the local paper, the sheriff described her as a barely breathing bag of bones. Eleven broken ribs, one collapsed lung, a broken shoulder, broken arm, three displaced vertebrae, and two broken legs. It took nine surgeries and seventy-nine days in the hospital before she was completely healed. Well, healed enough. Grampus called it a miracle of God.

She was discharged on a Monday. On Tuesday, we watched as Magdalene’s Uncle Bobo lowered into the ground a small box filled with tokens of Rudd Montgomery: his sun-faded blue fishing cap, the pocket-sized New Testament he took to work every day, a pack of Marlboros, his favorite coffee mug with the pink possum princess on it (a gift from Magdalene when she was six). The fire had left nothing of his body to bury. Magdalene stood the entire ceremony, stoic and still, as if she’d already made her peace. But when her mama, sitting beside her in a wheelchair, reached up and took her hand, signaling it was time to leave, Magdalene collapsed to her knees. Mrs. Montgomery pushed herself forward in the wheelchair’s seat, wincing with pain, before flopping onto the wet ground. I will never forget Magdalene’s face in that moment, framed in the grip of her mama’s hands. The smear of black beneath her red eyes. It was the last time I ever saw her cry.

“Well let’s get goin’ already,” said Magdalene, returning from behind the lockers. Straight-faced, she wore sunglasses I had noticed earlier that morning when we perused the gift shop for the climate change ride, Hell On Earth. The plastic frames were meant to look something like melting glaciers—white and jagged near the top, fading to a rounder, ocean blue at the bottom, upon which hung strands of sequins shaped like water drops (but clearly meant to double as human tears). My two reflections, warping within each of the dark, oversized lenses, stared back at me, their smiles revealing the decayed, picket-fenced condition of my teeth.

“I see you swiped yourself a gift.”

She turned up her nose. “I wouldn’t dare.” Her words came out in what I think was meant to be a British accent.

“Everything okay with your mama?”

“I know not of what you speak.”

On our way to meet Jeff, we cut through War Torn Alley. Smells of popcorn, funnel cakes, and gunpowder puddled in the stagnant air. It was a Saturday, and hordes of people crowded the walking paths. To our right, children screamed and laughed as they weaved through fountains of water bursting from the ground inside the Land Mine Removal Exhibit and Splash Pad. To our left, park workers in tie-dyed shirts and headbands smoked fake joints beneath the marquee of a bombed-out Chechen movie theater, now being repurposed for viewings of this documentary called The War on The War on Drugs, or something like that. The sun sat directly above us, scorching. It must have been over one-hundred degrees—an hour earlier the digital sign above the entrance to Hell On Earth had read ninety-nine—and my jeans and long-sleeved T-shirt, providing cover for my sensitive skin, clung to every unfortunate curve of my body.

Magdalene wore tight-fitting cutoffs and a more-summer-appropriate spaghetti-strapped tank top, its open back exposing the clasp of her bra. She walked ahead of me at a reckless pace, looking down at her phone, probably still texting with her mama, unaware of the many collisions she avoided thanks to the quick diversions of those in her path. I could barely keep up. Her arched neck, visible through a veil of hair hanging loose from her hair-band, displayed a path of vertebrae—stones in a shallow creek—dotting a line down the center of her back, dividing evenly her protruding shoulder blades. Her purse bounced in sync with the narcotic sway of her hips. Her lotioned legs gleamed in the sun, muscles flexing, flip-flops slapping the heels of her feet with every step.

I never quite understood what Jesus meant by the whole “committing adultery in one’s heart” thing, but the guilt and shame I felt in that moment for looking at Magdalene with so much lust still did not pull my eyes from her or keep my mind from fantasy. It must have been what Brother Bill called Man’s sin nature, or our bent toward wickedness. I’d fantasized about other girls before, usually in that vulnerable state of mind every night shortly after my head hit the pillow. Those dreams typically never passed first base, though. Just lots of necking.

I had this one recurring dream where, on my wedding night, after the ceremony and the partying, after friends and kin disperse, I’m standing before my bride inside Grampus’s shed, ready to make it official. My bride’s hands disappear behind her back, unzipping her white dress. The lace straps slip from her shoulders, sending my heart into hysterics. But then, and always then, the blast of a trumpet sounds. I jolt awake, pajama shirt soaked with sweat. Then I lay there for hours, convinced that Jesus will most certainly return before I ever find a woman desperate enough to be with me. It’s always “Big” Britney Junk, or Crystal Lee from church, or Tami-Jo Butler—in the dream—playing the role of my bride. Never Magdalene. Maybe deep down, hidden far away from my heart and all of its unexpressed desires, I knew that certain dreams—dreams that could never come true—just weren’t worth dreaming.

“Last chance to shit,” said Magdalene, nodding her head toward the green military tents pitched along the border fence of War Torn Alley. There were no toilets—or for that matter food concessions, water fountains, or trash bins—inside The Developing World. “You need to go?”

I did need to go. I always got nervous right before meeting with Jeff. But I lied and said no. The first time we ever bought from Jeff, I’d made the mistake of stopping into one of the tented bathrooms. A lanky kid wearing army fatigues handed me a pamphlet. A row of rectangular portable toilets—made from plywood, labeled LATRINE in white letters—each equipped with two seats positioned back to back ran through the center of the tent. There were no privacy walls or curtains. Other than ArmyKid—who showed some courtesy by looking away—the tent was empty. But just as I sat down, blue jeans at my shins, a father and son walked in and shared the latrine right beside me. Locked me right up. I just sat there, flipping through the pamphlet, reading about human waste disposal in war zones and the billions of people who still lived without toilets.

We crossed into The Developing World and headed straight for the three-hundred-foot-tall, cylinder-shaped tower of Clean Water Well Tumble, passing Trash Mountain and the haunted, non-GMO cornfield maze of Sustainable. No matter how many times we met Jeff here, I never felt comfortable in this section of Cause World. The stench from the strategically placed ASSes (Artificial Sewage Scenters™) never bothered me so much—our trailer park’s septic tank once leaked for three months before the county made proper repairs. But the hunched-over women, tilling the soil with bloodied hoes, barely visible through soldiering maize stalks, or the half-naked children roaming the jagged ledges of compacted paper and plastic—in some spots piled thirty feet high—they were just too convincing. Dark skin, leathered from hours in the sun. All ribs and twiggy limbs. Though I knew their presence was for dramatic effect, I sometimes wondered if maybe they weren’t actors at all but, rather, real inhabitants—or even worse, slaves—of this fictitious world.

Of course, the overwhelming impression of poverty only helped make Jeff stick out like a turd in snow. He stood just past the entrance to Clean Water Well Tumble—like he always did—wearing a purple Cause World employee polo tucked into khaki shorts and the cleanest white sneakers I’d ever seen. Beaded bracelets and leather bands covered his tan wrists. Blond highlights capped the tips of his gelled, brown hair poking from the top of a purple visor. He wore these black, sporty sunglasses. In all of the times we bought from him, I never once saw his eyes.

We walked straight past him and into the locker awning. At the payment kiosk, Magdalene inserted the five dollars it cost to reserve a locker and took the receipt, which contained our locker assignment and code. Nobody else was around—The Developing World was the least popular section of the park. But to be safe, we stuck to the script. At the locker, Magdalene read aloud the entry code. I typed in four digits at random and pulled the handle.

“Hmm,” I said, shifting my pressed lips to one side. “I must have punched it in wrong.” We’d performed this charade at least a half-dozen times, but I was still a terrible actor. Magdalene usually complained that I spoke too loud, or that each word emerged from my mouth as its own sentence—percussive and monotone. “Read. The. Code. Back. To. Me. One. More. Time. Wouldya?”

She reread the code. Again I pressed four random numbers and pulled the handle.

“Still not working,” I said. “Do we have the right locker?” Magdalene raised the receipt to her face, squinting needlessly.

“Says B14.” We both looked at the locker’s badge, labeled B14. “This is the right one.” She paused for a moment and glanced down the row of lockers. “So what in titty-tarnation is going on, Ray?” It was a departure from script, and she cupped her hands across her mouth, fighting back laughter. I looked over my shoulder, heart pounding, to make sure we were still alone.

Once Mags pulled herself together, I took a deep breath and continued: “Maybe we should ask for help from one of the park employees. I think I saw a guy standing right outside the ride entrance.”

“I think that you are right, Delray.” Magdalene was no better an actor than me.

Turning to go find Jeff, we froze when from around the corner hobbled this old Mexican woman wearing a long green skirt and a tattered African-patterned shirt. Dirt and blood covered her face, arms, and bare feet. A rusted machete swung in the grip of her gaunt hand. Horror must have set on our faces because when the woman finally looked up, she too stopped, almost falling over, and her unblinking eyes stared back at us through strands of filthy hair, fallen across her wrinkled face. Then she looked down at the machete.

“Oh!” she said, amused, tapping the blade against her leg. “Is fake. Recycled plastic.” She pointed the machete in the direction of Sustainable. “For shucking organic corn.” Our mouths had fallen open, but words failed to emerge. “Having trouble with lockers? Yes, can be tricky. Here, let me see ticket.” She stepped forward and took the receipt from Magdalene’s hand. A reassuring smile stretched across the woman’s blood-splattered face. “See, you have code here. And you just 79 type into keypad here. And—”

“Consuela!” A shadowy figure, backlit by the sun’s glaring light, stood at the awning’s entrance. The very top of the figure’s silhouette spiked like road-kill porcupine.

Jeff.

“Mister, I was just—” Jeff charged forward, stopping just short of the startled woman. He bent down, placing his mouth at her ear, and spoke through clenched teeth so straight and white, I would forever think of him anytime Brother Bill preached of heaven’s pearly gates.

“Consuela,” he said, slowly. “You know that you are forbid to break character in front of the park guests.”

“I’m sorry, sir. I was just on way to lunch break and I—”

“Quiet!” Nobody moved except for Jeff, straightening to survey the locker complex, his echo still dissipating in the awning rafters. He pulled a handkerchief from his back pocket and wiped away sweat formed around his lips. “Go take your lunch break,” he said, whispering again. “And when you’re done, meet me in Admin.” The old lady stared straight ahead at the locker keypad. “Consuela?”

“Yes sir,” she said, turning. Her arms hung limp as she shuffled away, the fake machete tapping against her leg with each step.

“Don’t worry,” said Jeff, still gazing where Consuela had just wandered. “She’s probably illegal.” He looked toward us. “She won’t say anything.”

We said nothing and just stood there, staring up at him. My arms and legs trembled. He finally raised his eyebrows, as if to give a hint or something. I wasn’t sure what to do. So I just picked up where we’d left off.

“Hello, sir. Could you help us with our locker? The code doesn’t seem to be working.”

Jeff rolled his eyes. “Jesus, kid. Relax. Maybe take a few Valium before we do this again.” He took the receipt from Magdalene, punched in the correct code, and opened the locker door. “Just the one purse, correct?”

“Yes, sir,” said Magdalene, her face now pale white, as if reluctantly surrendering to the seriousness of our actions. The corner of a clear plastic bag poked from Jeff ’s clenched fist. With both hands he shoved the purse deep inside the locker. Hidden from view, he took the money from the purse’s front pocket—four hundred dollars rolled in one of Magdalene’s hairbands—and replaced it with the small sandwich baggy of pills: Vicodin, OxyContin, sometimes Percocet. The whole process took him no more than three or four seconds.

In one fluid motion, he pulled his arms from the locker and placed the roll of money in his pocket while closing the door with his other hand. Like all the other times, he turned to us and, with his too-good-to-be-genuine smile, delivered the scene’s closing line: “Enjoy the ride.”

Only fifteen or twenty people stood in front of us, but the line for Clean Water Well Tumble wasn’t moving. Some kid had lost his lunch, and the giant water bucket needed to be scrubbed. Magdalene and I remained side-by-side, waiting, wedged within the dim, underground tunnel leading to the ride platform. She stared straight ahead with tranced eyes. Neither one of us had said a word since leaving the lockers. The close call with Consuela must have had her a bit rattled. Not because she thought the old lady was going to hack us or anything, but because returning home without those pills would have sparked an unholy rage inside her mama.

The last time Mrs. Montgomery’s supply had run out, Mags showed up to school with a black eye. She tried to hide the bruise with tons of makeup, saying the caked-on look was popular in New York City. I hated seeing her beat up like that and—to be honest—I feared our continued dealings in Cause World would eventually land us in jail. So later that same day, in the school cafeteria, I asked if there might be a better way to help her mama.

“Maybe we could talk to Brother Bill,” I’d said. “He could host a prayer rally.” She rolled her eyes, barely looking up from her tray of chicken-fried steak and mashed potatoes. She hadn’t set foot in church since her daddy died. “Or what if we took her to the Chinese place, with the little needles and the incense? Britney Junk’s been. Said it helped with her cravings.” She was barely listening to me. “I just think it’s worth trying something a little less, you know, criminal.” Her fork hit the table. She was right in my face. All the makeup in the world couldn’t have concealed the fire in her cheeks. With a half-chewed piece of meat still in her mouth, she just started shouting. How I didn’t understand her mama’s suffering. How she’d do anything to make her mama’s life more tolerable.

“What’s so criminal about easing someone’s fucking pain, Delbert Raymond?”

I lowered my head, blinking at the tab on my Pepsi can, hunched beneath the silent stares of every kid in the cafeteria. I couldn’t remember the last time she’d called me Delbert.

Up ahead, two park workers wearing plastic yellow gloves stepped from the water bucket, holding mops and trash bags. The ride operator finally signaled for the next eight riders. I can’t say if I did it on purpose but, moving forward in line, I edged closer to Magdalene, and the hairs on my hand brushed against her fingers. Shivers shot through my arm and down my neck. About near knocked the wind out of me. But she didn’t seem to notice.

With the riders strapped in, the bucket’s door was latched shut. Metallic gears and motors groaned, and a heavy cable, hanging from the top of the towering water well, pulled taut on the bucket’s handle. A young park employee in filthy, ragged pajamas grimaced while pretending to turn a fake hand crank. The bucket rose from the platform and disappeared into an opening at the base of the well.

“Free will,” Grampus had once said to me when, a few days after Rudd Montgomery’s death, I asked how God could allow such a horrible thing to happen. “God didn’t make Rudd get in the truck after drinkin’ all of them beers.”

It seemed a bit insensitive, but his answer made some sense to me at the time. Choices have consequences. My daddy, a man I have no memories of, apparently chose to hit my mama one too many times. Consequentially, my mama chose to slip some kind of poison into his egg scramble. When Daddy dropped dead and Mama hit the pen, Meemaw and Grampus chose to take custody of me. But yet, there were some things in life that just seemed to happen on their own, free of anyone’s choosing. Like the tornado that leveled Uncle Harlan’s trailer, spreading all his belongings across the county, killing every one of his hamsters. Like the mop of red hair I saw crowning my head every time I stared into the mirror, wondering if shaving it all off would end the teasing or only make things worse.

My hand kept creeping closer to Magdalene, now crossing behind her arm. I couldn’t stop it. There wasn’t a bold bone in my body, yet the spirit of some valiant Don-Juan-type had come upon me, guiding me to her with the ease of a master puppeteer.

The tips of my fingers found her palm and caressed the creases and folds of her velvety skin. I could have lived there forever.

But then my hand pressed in.

Surprisingly, her fingers made room for mine.

She lingered in the blurriness of my periphery, but I could tell she was looking at me. The walls, the ride décor, the workers—the entire park—all dissolved away. The straining sounds of pulleys and cables, trundling the water bucket to the top of the well, faded until I heard nothing but the pulse of blood in my temples.

I turned. Her eyes were small and easy, unblinking. Her lips, slightly parted, inviting. With gentle breaths her chest matched the motion of waves lapping ashore. I truly believed we’d somehow slipped across some impassable line, setting us free from the old covenant. My deepest longings would—for once in my life—align perfectly with reality. Like in the garden, before the fall. Before their eyes were opened.

I opened my mouth to speak. What I meant to say, I don’t remember, because at the same time, Magdalene let out the biggest belch I’ve ever heard. She pulled her hand from my grip and punched the holy heck out of me, right in the shoulder.

“Delray! You dirty devil!” she said, laughing. “Burping in front of a lady?” The walls returned, spinning now. The people in line behind us laughed and took a few steps back. Magdalene leaned in and whispered: “Sorry. Must’ve had some leftover gas from my beer.”

I could barely eke out a chuckle, my shoulder throbbing.

“Jesus,” she said, even softer. “That was a close one back there. You thought that Mexican lady was gonna kill us, didn’t ya! I hate that Jeff was, like, such a dick to her, though. No way those horse teeth of his are real. Hey, I didn’t hurt ya, did I?”

Before I could answer, she turned back toward the ride and looked straight up. She placed a finger to her grinning mouth and began chewing at the nail. Her legs rattled. Her foot tapped the ground. Her head bobbed to a song I couldn’t hear.

Three hundred feet above us the water bucket released from its lifting cable, and the screams of eight strangers, now in free-fall, poured from the fake water well. Four seconds later, brakes engaged, and the bucket reappeared, slowing for a safe return.

One by one, each of the eight riders stumbled to the platform, laughing, giving high-fives and hugs, all of them clearly thrilled to still be alive.


Jacob Schrodt is a freelance musician and emerging writer living in Nashville, TN, with his wife and two children. This is his first publication.

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