Jesus Christ. That was Matt’s only thought while being strapped into a convoluted system of straps and harnesses passing for a “seat” on this metal leviathan he’d been muscled into riding. Why did I let Luis insist on the front seat. Why did I let him do this. Oh Christ. He looked over at the guy he met about an hour ago near vibrating with glee as he put his life and limb in the hands of a carefully designed brush with death. Oh God.
“You excited dude?”
“Yeah,” Matt replied, concealing the terror that permeated every inch of his body, soaking through to his muscles that begged him to tear loose from the restraints and run home.
“Hell yes!” Luis hollered. The blue-jumpsuited attendant cleared the train and it clicked down on the rails, Matt’s heart climbing into his throat. I am going to die, he thought. I am going to die with this weird Californian metalhead who has near-death experiences as a hobby and not painlessly in my sleep like I’d always hoped. The train climbed higher and higher, Luis’s motormouth firing off at a hundred miles an hour.
“You know the front seat is better anyways, at the back you can’t see anything, and like, you’re also at the short end of the whole feeling of momentum, which kinda blows-”
Matt held his breath the entire ride up the lift hill, hoping he’d pass out before the nightmare of the first drop. Reaching the crest of the hill, the train paused. Matt started inventing new swear words under his breath.
“Ooh! This one’s got one of those brakes that hold you before the drop!” Luis craned his head out of the restraints. “That’s preeeetty far down!”
Before he could scream at Luis to shut up and go to hell, his soul was left at the top of the track as his body careened down a near-vertical drop of over 300 feet. The force made Matt feel like the air was being wrung out of his lungs before the train abruptly rocketed skyward, making him let out his first of many expletives as the train banked and flipped and twisted, Luis cackling in pure, adrenaline-filled delight.
Matt sat on a bench by a drinking fountain, too disoriented to move. The benefit to riding a whole bunch of roller coasters in one day, he found out, was that you quickly learn how to step outside your own body at the station and meet back up with it again once it’s all over. This time it was just in time for him to lean into a trash bin and expel the contents of his stomach.
“So what was your favorite?” Luis asked, sitting next to him and offering a sports drink to help his nausea.
He was no Luis, who hadn’t ever met a death machine he didn’t like, but they weren’t all bad. His favorite ended up being a smaller wooden coaster, crammed in an empty lot near the south end of the park. It was loud as hell and Luis decided he’d pull a fun prank on him by pretending to find a loose bolt at the floor of the traincar, but at least it didn’t go upside down.
“Rolling Thunder,” he sighed, chugging the off-orange liquid.
“Oh yeah, that one was good. I was a fan of Breakneck myself, wish I wasn’t so tall though ‘cause it makes the-”
“-ride much more rough,” he completed, recalling that Luis had said this before.
“Yeah! You get it.”
Matt nodded, not having experienced the same issue due to being much shorter. Not a lot of him to jerk around when some of the restrains near swallowed him whole. Through his squinted eyes, Matt angled his head upwards and stared off into the distance to regain his balance. As he did, something strange caught his eye.
“Do you see that?” he asked Luis.
Matt pointed across the empty courtyard of concrete and gardens to a bizarre structure. A small concrete building that housed a public bathroom, a structure that would have been completely normal if it hadn’t been built 20 feet off the ground. Luis squinted, gears turning in his head long enough for Matt to worry it was his own disorientation playing tricks on his vision.
“Whoa, that’s super weird,” Luis said, chuckling.
“Why’s it like that?”
“I dunno,” a gleeful smile spreading across his face. “Can you imagine though? Needing to take a leak real bad and it’s like ‘Nah dude, shoulda brought your climbing harness.’"
Matt couldn’t contain a laugh. The sun dipped low in the sky as they walked back to the rooms they were staying in, and Matt felt his body sway with the motion of the Earth as he drifted into a pleasant, dreamless sleep.
Matt leaned against his push broom, sweat dripping off his face and onto the boiling asphalt as hundreds of guests attempted to occupy the same stretch of pavement at once. Opening day sure didn’t pull any punches, he heard the guests that milled about talk about ride vouchers, half-price tickets, free city-to-park shuttles, and you know what they say when you build it (a massive, all-rollercoaster theme park).
“Everybody and their whole family will come,” Matt completed under his breath, sweeping up the litter that seemed to spawn directly from underneath the sneakers of parkgoers. He glanced up at Luis, who’d been assigned to clean at the courtyard adjacent to his by Ted that morning, happily tossing garbage bags into a rolling cart while listening to music. He noticed Matt was looking at him, and waved with a long, stringy arm. He weakly held up a hand in response, the heat making it hard to even move.
“Hey dude, you look hot,” Luis said, almost teleporting to Matt’s side.
“What?” he wheezed in reply.
“Roll up the sleeves on the jumpsuit! And here-”
Matt yelped as ice cold water crashed down the sides of his head, Luis pouring a sweaty, ice-filled water bottle onto both his ears.
“Old trick I learned at a construction job. Fools you into thinking it isn’t as hot as it is.”
“Thanks,” Matt grimaced as the water seeped into his jumpsuit. Luis was right, he felt remarkably less overheated. Rolling up the sleeves of his jumpsuit, he glanced at the time. Luis seemed to have looked too.
“How about we knock off early for lunch huh?” he said, jokingly elbowing Matt.
“Can we do that?”
“Sure! I don’t see Ted around. Plus, we’ve earned it right? I’m starving.”
Twenty-five dollars and two mediocre burgers later, Matt started to feel human again. The flow of guests was a non-stop onslaught, but at least their uniforms got them a nice discount and front place in line. They walked back to their positions to face the inevitable buildup of trash and the stomach contents of a few unfortunate guests, chatting up a storm with each other, or rather Luis was, with Matt scanning the park while he listened.
“Then the last job I took before this was as an electrician’s assistant, which I’m glad I got fired for not showing up ‘cause the day I didn’t the guy actually got electrocuted and fell 50 feet from a powerline and onto a parked car, and I think that would have super blowed,” Luis mused, taking a long gulp from a cup of half-melted ice and soda.
“What about you?”
“Huh? Oh. Office job then unemployed for a while. Nothing exciting.”
“Must be a good change of pace then, getting paid again and also working somewhere like, completely different.”
“Yeah,” Matt sighed as they passed under a brief blessing of shade, “I miss air conditioning though.”
“Me too man.”
Passing by the station of a nearby ride, a massive looping behemoth named after some obscure mythical monster, Matt stopped and looked at a guy in a blue suit cranking away at the wheels of a train with his wrench. Hefty and tall, with a big red beard.
“Oh shit, is that Ted?”
He stood up from the floor of the station and gave a thumbs-up to the queue, making them erupt in applause. Their question was answered with a hearty laugh from the man in the blue jumpsuit as he left the station. Ted caught a glimpse of the two of them, and his expression hardened.
“Uh oh,” Matt mumbled.
“We did take our break like, 2 hours early,” Luis said, grabbing Matt’s shoulder.
They sprinted across the pavement back to their positions. Luis had pulled far ahead of Matt, disappearing into the fray of guests. Matt struggled to get past the thick crowds, getting swallowed up in an advancing phalanx of sweaty, oblivious parkgoers. His poorly fit work boots struggled to find stability as he weaved in between their footsteps, suddenly plummeting forwards as he yelped, his ankle rolling at an unnatural angle. He broke his fall with the palms of his hands, feeling them burn from the scrapes and the heat.
“Matt!” he heard Luis call out. He picked himself up and looked at his beat up hands, how the skin had shredded against the rough asphalt.
“How did you get here so fast man?” Luis huffed, having run up to Matt’s side and hunched over to take a breather.
“Wh- I didn’t go ahead of-” Matt paused, looking around. He was right back where he was that morning, a stretch of path covered in trash and puke. Luis shook his shoulder, jarring him out of his bewilderment.
“C’mon, Ted’s probably gonna be here soon and we do not wanna get any more on his bad side than we are right now.”
The park had begun to clear out now, the sun lowering in the sky and all the sunburnt guests heading home for dinner and a whole lot of aloe vera. Luis and Matt tossed the last bag of garbage into the rolling bin by the time Ted came strolling by.
“Great work fellas!” he bellowed to them from across the courtyard. “This place looks fantastic! Go ahead and clock out for the day eh?”
They looked at each other in confusion, expecting him to be furious for taking lunch really early. Ted smiled and left, walking down the sidewalk, adjusting the collar of his green jumpsuit.
“Wasn’t Ted wearing blue earlier?”
“Yeah, he was. Maybe he’s got two jobs?”