Matt laid back on the bed in his room, an ache creeping up his back. He felt like he’d been outside for weeks rather than hours, but his body was used to sitting at a desk for work rather than restlessly pacing around in the sun. He turned his head on the pillow, fruitlessly searching for a comfortable angle to rest at. Through the window, spots of light glowed brilliantly against the pitch darkness of the desert. He heard at a knock at the door.
“Who is it?” he groaned.
“Oh, uhh,” the familiar voice replied, “Luis!”
“I think I left the door unlocked.”
Luis tried the handle, Matt was right, unlocked. He strolled in, dressed in an oversized black shirt with an indiscernible band logo on the front.
“How are you doing after that spill you took?”
“Fine,” Matt said, showing off the gauze taped to his palms, “used some of the stuff in the first aid kits to patch up.”
“That’s good, here, I gotcha an ice pack too. Noticed you were limping on that leg a little,” Luis said, gesturing to the ankle Matt had rolled earlier.
“Thanks man,” he replied, holding the ice to it and laying back.
“So whatcha think of the job so far?”
“Honestly…” Matt started, avoiding eye contact with Luis. “I don’t think I can keep doing it. My body’s really taking it hard, I’m probably better off just hitting the office job listings again.”
“That’s fine man,” Luis laughed, “gonna miss having you around though! You’re a fun dude.”
“Maybe I’ll catch you around here sometime again!”
“Maybe, depends on if I’ll have the time to head all the way out here.”
“Aw, you can find the time!” he ribbed, nudging Matt with his hand. Matt smiled.
“Alright, alright. I’ll do my best then. Hey, you got an e-mail?”
“Yeah! It’s, well, uh, lemme just write it down actually.”
Last day before this is all over, Matt thought, diligently sweeping the path. Guests poured around him, chatter fusing with music fusing with heat fusing with the dull, gnawing ache in his back. Every time he looked at his watch, less and less time seemed to pass. He paced back and forth along the sidewalk as coasters roared behind him, guests yelled out conversations, tossed empty cans to the ground with a hollow metal clatter. His thought process was like a smear of color and noise and sensory input, brain scrambled like a car radio tuned in between stations.
Glancing up into the sky, he leaned back and watched the clouds overhead, the sun fixed solidly at its zenith. They stayed still, bordered in his vision by the arcs of bright colored metal and structural trusses. He picked out the colors of each one, blue, green, red, purple, black, pink- Wait. He angled his head downwards. Was there always a pink one? It didn’t look familiar to him as he examined it. It twisted through the other tracks like it had been built as an afterthought, turns and bends at sharp angles to avoid colliding with other tracks. He winced as he watched one car hit a turn and a guest’s head violently whip to the side. Matt looked at his watch, still over an hour until his first break.
“Hey Luis!” he called over to the other courtyard where he saw his friend picking up trash from the ground. The headphones over his ears indicated that he definitely couldn’t hear him. Matt walked over and tapped his shoulder.
“Oh, ‘sup Matt? Breaktime already?” Luis said, smiling and taking off his headphones, the same screechy guitar solos from day one blaring through.
“No, still an hour off.”
“We probably shouldn’t knock off early again, plus I’m not hungry or anything so-”
“I’m just bored is all, my sidewalk’s been clean for a while.”
“Well I can chat, just be ready to run back when we see Ted,” Luis laughed.
“Do you remember that pink coaster being here?” Matt asked, pointing to the track as it arced through another loop of green and black track.
“Uhhh…” Luis hummed, thinking hard. “No? But maybe we just didn’t remember it,” he looked at Matt and grinned. “You did spend all your time on every coaster with your eyes shut!”
“Haha,” Matt replied, unamused.
“I think you made brand new combinations of swears that the universe hasn’t ever seen before dude.”
“No, seriously! I don’t remember that one.”
“Okay, okay, I know how to solve this.”
Luis produced a map of the park from his pocket, flipping it open. They scanned the page together, searching for the pink coaster that gave you whiplash and sped through every other ride in the park, to no avail. Matt grew uneasy, he swore up and down it wasn’t there before.
“Okay, okay, maybe the map is old,” Luis theorized, the two of them having moved to the fence behind the bathroom where it was more quiet. “They could have printed them before they installed it, it’s no big deal.”
“Doesn’t it take a long time to build a rollercoaster? We got these last week!”
“Maybe but like… I dunno man. Maybe they’re still building it?”
“We both saw it with a train full of guests on it though.”
“You’re right it’s just… really weird man.” Luis started shifting around on the concrete, eyes locked on the pink track arcing overhead. A train roared by, taking a 90 degree turn to avoid another coaster’s supports. A poor passenger on the rear of the train yelled as he was jerked into the wall of the car abruptly.
“Ok. We’re probably overheated right, maybe we’re just misremembering something. It should be lunchtime now-” Matt stopped, looking at his watch. The date was wrong.
“What is it?” Luis asked, his hands gently fidgeting with his rolled up sleeve.
“What day was it when we came?”
“The… the thirteenth?”
“Of July, right?”
Matt’s stomach dropped like it did on the first hill of Breakneck. The date read the 15th… of August. He checked and checked again, but it still said 8/15 on his watch. There’s no way. They’d only been there a weekend, the shift only started a few hours ago.
“What...” Luis said, voice wavering slightly as he looked at his watch. “Are you messing with me man?”
“No! Why would I do that?”
“I don’t know! Getting me back for the Rolling Thunder prank maybe.”
“Luis, seriously. Something’s wrong.”
“I- Maybe there’s something we’re missing, I-”
“Luis, how many times have you been through that album?” Matt said, pointing to the mp3 player strapped to his side.
“Two… wait no, three, four...” Luis trailed off, concern growing across his face as he realized he’d completely lost track. He frantically ripped it from his belt and tapped a few buttons. His eyes widened and he drew in a shallow, horrified breath. 1,046 plays on an album barely 45 minutes long.
“I- I downloaded this just before the bus ride,” Luis’s hands began to shake. “What the fuck.”
“Luis,” Matt grabbed his shoulders, “we need to leave.”
He didn’t reply, only staring at the mp3 player in shock. Matt took him by the hand and led him to their rooms through an employee sidewalk. They frantically stuffed their bags with everything in the rooms before ducking into the hallway. Two men in red jumpsuits stood at the end, chatting with one another before freezing and slowly turning their heads towards Luis and Matt. Matt pulled Luis down the other end of the hallway, down through a fire escape, right in time for them to hear the men in red speak into a garbled radio. Emerging from air conditioned paradise into the terrible heat, they slunk through the crowds with their duffel bags towards the southern entrance of the park.
Luis pointed through the crowd they hid in at a golf cart parked at the edge of the sidewalk. In it sat Ted, dressed in a bright red jumpsuit and wraparound shades.
“Oh god,” Matt muttered.
Almost as if he could hear them, Ted angled his head toward the two of them, and a snarl formed underneath his wiry beard. He leaned into the walkie-talkie on his shoulder and covered his mouth as he spoke. Matt and Luis didn’t need another warning signal, they ducked into the well-maintained gardens and skirted into the southern corner of the park. We’ll just make it to Rolling Thunder, Matt thought, use the supports to sneak away, and- his train of thought was cut off as they entered a large swath of dirt and concrete where Rolling Thunder was two days ago.
From the sidewalk running along the empty lot, a set of golf carts sat, large men in red jumpsuits standing around, Ted among them. Matt and Luis slinked behind a beautifully maintained topiary.
“Luis, are you good at running?”
“Yeah. Did Track ‘n Field in high school.”
“Cool. I didn’t.”
“You don’t have to beat me, you have to beat Ted.”
Matt gulped. He was 5’5” with a back aching from a month’s worth of work in three days and Ted was built like a grizzly bear, which to Matt’s knowledge can reach a top speed of 35 miles per hour. He considered what it might be like to dig his way out though the dirt.
“Ok, we just turn around then.”
“Maybe not,” Luis replied, gingerly pointing to a line of men clad in red starting to march through the garden. They didn’t have much of an option left.
“I have an idea that’s kind of stupid.”
“I’ll take it.”
Luis shoved both bags in Matt’s hands, put on his headphones, and scooped him up so he was sitting on his shoulders.
“Ted’ll just have to outrun me then.”
As Luis straightened up, security took notice. He hollered over the sound of the thrash metal playing in his headphones and sprinted for the chain-link fence across the concrete lot like it was the last 500 meters of the 5k and he was gunning for top three.
Matt then realized that every roller coaster he’d ever been on was a tame, safe, borderline boring experience compared to whatever the hell this was. He tilted the bags to compensate for Luis’s wildly shifting center of gravity, tucking his head in as the fence came closer and closer. He dared not look back, but could hear the pounding footsteps of security behind them.
“Throw! Throw!! THROW!!!” Luis screamed as the fence approached at lightning speed. Matt strained his burning muscles and tossed the bags forward, watching in slow motion as they arced through the air. Luis’s cleared it, his caught the top and tore, sending the contents spilling forth like cloth guts. They collided with the fence, Matt slumping over the top, wire stabbing into his stomach. He fell over on the other side, seeing Luis still trapped on the other end, with Ted gaining fast.
Luis scrambled up the chain link fence, Matt matching him, grabbing Luis’s hands at the top, freezing cold from the blood in his body surely having more important things to do than warm up his hands at the moment. Ted grabbed Luis’s legs in turn, attempting to pull him from the fence. Matt strained and pulled, fighting the grip of Ted, face as red as his beard and uniform as he growled. He grabbed for Luis’s chest, but before he could get a secure grip, Luis sloughed off the top half of the jumpsuit, having wiggled his arms through the sleeves. Matt felt a muscle in his back tear as he pulled Luis over the fence. Ted, still gripping Luis’s jumpsuit, flipped backwards as Luis cleared the top of the fence and kicked him in the nose. The two of them slammed into the ground, groaning in pain. Matt shook off the dust and pulled his torn up bag from the foot of the fence, Luis doing the same before they ran into the empty expanse of desert.
They ran and ran and ran, collapsing at the crest of a hill overlooking the park, beside an empty, dust-covered road. Luis groaned and laid on the ground, orange dirt staining the white tank top that was once underneath the jumpsuit. Matt turned around, watching the sun set over the Gordian Knot of rollercoasters. He pulled the map of the park from his ruined bag, looking at the picture of it, then the real deal. New tracks of roller coaster had manifested, grown into the dirt like the roots of a tree, encroaching beyond the surrounding fence. Matt squinted, watching distant red specks struggle against the chain link fence. He turned his head back to the road, seeing a bus amble down the asphalt, kicking up clouds of dirt and dust. Matt stuck out his thumb and Luis leaned up from the ground, smiling.
“I think that counts as putting in my two weeks right?”
“Maybe,” Matt said, smiling back, “let’s wait ‘til we’re home for sure.”
“Nothing like knocking off early.”