Contest Prompt: A scene prompt! One of the scenes in your story ...
Must take place in an abandoned amusement park
Word Count: 2275
Alone. He knelt on the cold ground and rocked back and forth, holding his shoulders with his calloused carpenter’s hands numbed by the autumn cold. The wind tore leaves from the trees and hurled them through the air. Like a shroud, the moon hid behind thick clouds, refusing to share its tempered light. Jim wiped the silent tear from his cheek.
Why did you leave me? his soundless words cried out. Still he rocked.
Rain threatened. The silhouette of the ancient rollercoaster stood like a forgotten monster, reigning over the other dilapidated fun fair rides like a monument to blissful moments past. Bits and pieces of ancient straw mingled with the past summer’s half-brown grass.
His feverish mind looked out from the rollercoaster wagon perched upon the highest point of the red mechanical mammoth. The heat from the burning sun of the late Indian summer drew droplets of sweat from his forehead. With her beautiful brown curls, Elizabeth sat next to him wearing a white sun dress with the yellow daisies, the one she looked so pretty in. Her hands held onto the steel bar so tightly that her knuckles went white. Just behind, Clara, a mere ten years of age, and Susan, only eight, squealed with joy and fright in anticipation of their upcoming rapid descent, sure to leave their cotton-candy-filled stomachs behind for the thrill of it.
A flood of love and pride swelled over him. No one meant more to him than his girls, and he adored spending time with them even if he rarely came straight home from work. After all, a man’s got to be a man.
Laughing at Elizabeth, he raised his two arms in the air, happy that they managed to get the head car. The biggest thrills were always in the first one. Click. Click. Click. The thundering ride whispered as it crept in preparation of its first dive. From the corner of his eye, he could see Elizabeth holding her breath, obviously too scared to scream. With increasing speed, the rollercoaster sprinted to the first loop, then crawled up to the next high point. He could tell that Elizabeth was scared, but it was a good kind of fright. Behind, the girls tried to outscream each other. Accelerating, they made the descent and the last whiplashing curves before slowing to a stop, hearts beating wildly.
Leaving the rollercoaster behind, Clara laughed and held her belly.
“I lost my stomach after the big dive.”
Susan looked up at her mother.
“I wasn’t scared at all, was I Mommy?”
“No dear, you were the bravest.”
Clara pushed her little sister.
“Was not. I was the bravest even if I did lose my stomach.”
After the fun house and a few other rides, together, they strolled over to the candy apple stand where the three wavy-haired girls each ordered a big red one. They had already eaten a full corndog. He had downed three. Instead of a sweet treat, for himself, he ordered a beer. It was only his third, and the sun had just set. The afternoon had been long, and he was thirsty. Elizabeth looked at him. He lifted his drink in response.
“It’s a great night out, isn’t it darling?”
She sighed. “Yes, it is lovely, isn’t it girls?”
Elizabeth didn’t receive an answer because the girls were preoccupied with their treats. “Shall we go to the circus tent? I hear the music, so it must be time for a show.”
The girls petted the pony while he bought the tickets. He tossed his empty plastic cup in the trash as they walked inside.
With red carpet under his feet, a clown stood in the aisle selling hand windmills. Susan tugged on her mother’s skirt.
“Mommy, can I have one?”
“Ask your father, sweetheart,” Elizabeth said.
“Me too,” Clara chimed in.
They found a seat near the front where they would be able to see tigers and the bear, promised by the poster outside, as well as the horses galloping around the ring. The tent smelled of horse and circus animals along with popcorn and hotdogs. The music started and a trio of multicolored clowns with red balls on their noses entered the ring.
“I’ll be back in a minute,” he said.
Before the first act was over, he returned to his seat with a fresh beer. Elizabeth frowned.
“Come on babe, we’re at the fair.”
She stiffened, but a clown rolled over in front of her pulled on a string, squirting her with the water-loaded carnation pinned to his lapel. The girls laughed. The clown cocked his head from one side to the other and then sprayed a jet of water first at Clara and then at Susan. The crowd roared. In consolation, he handed them each a silk flower pulled from his sleeve.
When the show was over, Jim stood. Clara hugged him.
“Thank you, Daddy. This is the best night of my life.”
“Mine too,” Susan said.
She wrapped both her tiny arms around him.
He looked over at Elizabeth. She was beaming. He knew how much it meant to her for her girls to be happy. A deep warmth filled him inside.
“Well, ladies, what shall we do next?”
They looked around, and Susan pointed.
“How about the merry-go-round?”
He pulled a wad of bills from his wallet and handed them to Elizabeth.
“You girls take a spin. I’ll sit this one out.”
Clara and Susan held hands and skipped over to the carousel. Elizabeth pecked him on the cheek before heading off to stand in line for the tickets. He inhaled a deep breath of happiness.
“This deserves a toast,” he said out loud.
Before he could take a step, someone slapped him on the back.
“Hey, Jim, how are ya?”
“Great. The girls are on the ride,” he said and pointed. “Want a beer?”
“No. I’ve got something better than cat piss.”
His friend pulled a brown bag half out of his pocket.
The two men walked over to the shooting gallery and watched people try to win a big stuffed animal. They each took turns taking a swig until Jim looked over and saw the merry-go-round slowing to a stop.
“I gotta get back to the girls. Give my best to the Mrs.”
He almost tripped on a cord used to tie one of the tents down but caught himself just in time. Fighting his way through the crowd of smiling families, he made it back in time to greet his just as they exited the ride.
Susan was beaming.
“Can we go again, Daddy?”
Clara looked at her sister and frowned.
“No, it’s my turn to choose.”
“That sounds fair to me.”
Clara turned around. In front of them, the tea cups were spinning round and round.
He looked at the ride.
“There is no way you are going to get me on those things,” he said. “Elizabeth, do you want to do that?”
The girls both jumped up and down, clapping their hands.
“Please, Mommy, please.”
Elizabeth’s eyebrows came together.
“My stomach is still going in circles, and you want me to go in the tea cups?”
“Please, Mommy, please.”
He dug in his pocket and pulled out another bill.
“Here. You girls do better on the twirly-a-majigs than I do.”
Each daughter grabbed her mother by the hand and started pulling. In a matter of moments, he was watching them spin around as the ride increased its speed. He glanced back at the shooting gallery. His friend was still there, so he walked over to join him – just for a minute.
“Got a few drops left for your old buddy?” he asked.
Together they finished what remained in the bottle. He knees almost buckled when she hit him, so he grabbed on to his buddy’s shoulder.
“Daddy, that was great,” Susan said.
He wouldn’t take a million dollars for her smile. It was the most beautiful thing he had ever seen. He bent down and kissed her on the forehead. Elizabeth and Clara joined them.
Susan rubbed her eyes.
“Mommy, I’m tired.”
“Me too,” Clara said.
“Jim, I think it’s getting late. We should go home, and don’t forget we have to get up for church in the morning.”
“You’re right, dear.”
He bumped into a man as they turned to head back to the station wagon.
“Oops, excuse me,” he said.
The lights seem to glow with a second areola. He couldn’t remember when he had been happier. He wished that they could go to the fair every weekend.
They left the noise and music behind them along with the lights as they approached the dim parking lot. His foot caught on a root when he walked around a scrawny oak. Before he knew what happened, he tripped and lost his balance, falling to his knees.
“Are you okay?” Elizabeth asked.
The girls waited quietly, hanging on to their mother, worn out by the evening’s fun.
“Sure. I’m fine. I just tripped.”
Wiping his pants off, he stood and smiled.
“Do you want me to drive?” she asked.
“No, darling. You just relax.”
When they reached the car, he unlocked it. The girls crawled into the back seat and lay down. He opened the door for Elizabeth. As soon as he closed it for her, he felt the first icy drop. When he took his seat on the driver’s side, Elizabeth scooted over next to him and laid her head on his shoulder. She fought to keep her eyes open and lifted her head towards his.
“Thank you for such a wonderful evening.”
He turned the key in the ignition. That was five years ago.
Since then, every year he comes back. But this year, he didn’t plan to leave. Darkness fell, and it started to rain.
Still rocking, he opened his eyes. The silent rollercoaster laughed at him. His eyes traveled up to the top, and he remembered how high it was. Calculating, he wondered if he could climb all the way up. He could do it; after all, he was a strong man.
His legs prepared to stand.
He looked around and didn’t see anyone, only shadows of trees and dead attractions. A leaf hit his face.
Determined, he lifted one knee and placed a foot on the ground.
No one answered. He rubbed his eyes with the palms of his hands.
“I must be going crazy.”
With a big push, he was standing.
“Elizabeth? Baby, are you there?”
Quiet. He took a step.
“Where are you? I’ve missed you so much.”
He started walking.
“You can’t do it, Jim.”
“Why? Why can’t I come? Why did you leave me?”
“We didn’t leave you. The car crashed, don’t you remember?”
He stopped and fell to his knees. They hit the ground with a thud, but he didn’t feel the pain. He cupped his head in his calloused hands and sobbed.
“I can’t remember anything.”
He imagined her stroking his cheek, so he lifted his head. She kneeled in front of him.
“Do you remember the beers?”
She looked like an angel. Her dark, wavy hair encircled her head like a halo.
“You’re so beautiful. I want to be with you.”
“You can’t. It’s not your time.”
“But why? You left me. The girls are gone. I don’t want to be alone.”
His big hands started shaking.
“Why can’t I come too?”
“God didn’t call you. There must be a reason.”
He remembered more than just the beers. The whisky. It was the whisky’s fault.
“I promise, Liz. I haven’t touched a drop since that night.”
“There must be a reason that he left you behind. You can’t come until you’ve fulfilled your duty.”
She started to fade.
“Liz. Elizabeth, don’t go.”
He reached for her, but his hands passed right through her.
“Bye Daddy,” he heard Clara say.
She took her mother’s hand. Elizabeth carried her youngest daughter in her arms. Susan twisted around and blew him a kiss. Laying her head against her mother’s, she closed her eyes and reopened them.
The breeze pushed them a few feet away from him. He stood and took a step.
“Don’t leave me. Please, don’t leave me.”
“Bye Daddy.” Clara waved.
Elizabeth blinked. “I miss you too.” And then they were gone.
“No. Come back. I promise to be good. I won’t drink. I’ll be careful when I drive.”
The wind blew, and the trees rustled. The moon came out from behind a cloud. He fell to his knees and held his shoulders in his hands. Keening, he rocked back and forth. After a while, the blood stopped flowing to his feet, so they began to tingle. He fell to his elbows and crawled on the damp ground, sobbing like a baby.
“Why? Why? Why?”
Exhaustion overwhelmed him. When he awoke, he opened his eyes to darkness. A thought meteored across his tormented mind. I can’t bring them back, but maybe I can help others. Maybe I can save someone else’s Elizabeth. Maybe he will be able to walk his Clara down the isle. Maybe he can take pictures at his Susan’s graduation. Is that what Elizabeth meant? It’s my fault, all my fault, but maybe, maybe if I’m good. Maybe if I help others, God will forgive me? Maybe he’ll let me go?
“Elizabeth, please help me.”