by MD Maurice
a rough draft of a short piece in which a scary ride frees much more than screaming
|The building was hard to miss, towering high above the colorful landscape of Disney’s MGM theme park. Even if you managed to overlook the nearly electric pink paint or the cleverly constructed façade, you would be hard pressed to ignore the screaming. Even thirteen terrific stories above the ground, the screams emanating from the Tower of Terror seemed somehow amplified in the gloomy Florida mid-afternoon rain. I glanced up warily following yet another chorus of manic shrieking. “Jenn…that doesn’t look like too much fun to me.” My friend tugged my arm at the elbow. “No, its great! You’ll love it,” she assured me with enthusiasm. Jenn, aside being a very close friend for years, was also something of a Disney connoisseur. If I couldn’t trust her, then who? We pressed on, taking the paved walkway that would take us to the attraction’s doorstep.
After a few moments, we reached the summit of a short hill on which stood the gate to the Tower of Terror. Designed to appear as a time-ravaged 1930's hotel, it was so obviously not the Pooh Corner ride. The screaming was oddly muffled here, but from this new vantage point, I could clearly make out the large, gaping holes in the side of the building. It was through these holes that I caught glimpses of dozens of horrified faces as they, apparently, hurtled straight down, thirteen stories in a dark freefall.
“Jenn…” I started, but she cut me off.
“It goes so fast, you hardly feel what’s happening. You will LOVE it,” she insisted.
Before I could protest, the line surged forward and we were inside. I tried to distract myself from the growing pit of fear in my stomach by studying the surroundings. The staging was remarkable. The details, the dusty front desk bell and abandoned messages in the guest boxes, the faded upholstery and discarded eyeglasses, really made the atmosphere authentic. The line of excited riders weaved around until we were neatly divided into six groups of 12 and deposited behind a white line in front of what appeared to be a massive elevator door. I stared for a long, long time at the “last chance to wimp out” exit ramp to my immediate right. A few steps in that direction and I’d be back on the outside, safely watching from the ground. Jenn, in all her wisdom, must have anticipated my move.
Jenn then reminded me what I was here for. I was celebrating freedom. I was celebrating life. It was all about the experience wasn’t it? Doing something I never did before, facing fears, embracing life? That was the reason I was waiting to board a ride that would probably scare me senseless and probably make me vomit, apparently. Freedom came in packages that looked and felt like abject terror? I was starting to waffle.
“It's not going to be a horrible as you imagine,” Jenn assured me and before I could have another conscious thought, the doors opened and we were ushered inside.
My knees were already shaking as I belted myself in. There were four or five rows of riders, twelve or thirteen in all perhaps. The details are a bit foggy. I do remember turning to Jenn before we started moving and issuing some kind of threat on her life. She was still laughing when we started to move. We rolled forward into a hallway, with open rooms, with even more impressive staging. We lurched forward, passing scenes with a narration piped in over our heads, telling the story of the hotel…yada yada yada. I knew I was in trouble when the voice stopped and the carriage began to shake. Then the lights when out.
Pitch black was an expression I had used. Until that moment however, I do not think the meaning had ever been pressed upon me with such clarity. There was nothing in front of my eyes except an expanse of black so deep and thick, if I didn’t know better I think someone had blindfolded me with velvet. I think I must have mumbled something, a prayer, a last ditch attempt at salvation, before there was this brief sensation of being suspended. Then we fell. It seemed like forever until our careening stopped. The carriage came briefly to rest in front of one of those gaping holes. I caught a glimpse of a blue sky, a few passing birds, before we plunged again. I could feel the unforgiving displacement of my internal organs as we dropped. Here was an unwelcome surprise, this time our rapid decent was interrupted for mere seconds before becoming an equally harrowing ascent, at what had to be several floors per second.
Amid the terrified screams of my co-riders, I recognized my own. I think I must have been ranting, raving in terror though the speed at which we were now being dropped, stopped, shot upward and dropped again, made it difficult to catch my breath let alone recharge my vocals. It would move so fast I would hardly know what was happening. No. I knew. My body and what was worse, my mind, knew every fraction of gravity we cheated, faked and fumbled. Every movement in our jagged and horrific progression registered in painful, conscious vibrations across my heart, my stomach, my knotted intestines and tortured brain. Each time we came to rest, my chest fluttered with hope that this horror trek was finally over, until we jerked into movement again. The relief faded as quickly as the light.
It took my body a few seconds more to catch up with my mind’s realization that we were finally stopped. It was over. How long had it lasted? Ten minutes? Twenty? I had no time. I had no voice. My throat felt raw and my tongue seemed stuck to the roof of my mouth for a few seconds. The hands that undid my belt were not shaking, but my legs had begun to convulse. I think most likely, they’d been shaking all along but with the speed, the movement must have been mute. Now that I was still, I could not control it. Jenn waited patiently while I composed myself well enough to rise unstably. “That was the worst thing I’ve ever done.” I croaked.
“Seriously? You hated it?” I marveled at the utter surprise in her voice.
I started to retaliate but we were already on the move, being herded out through the exit gates and directed, of course, through the gift shop. I glided through the racks of teeshirts, pins and hats with their colorful script proclaiming victory over the infamous Tower of Terror without so much as I glance. How could I wear something on my chest that said, “I survived the Tower of Terror” when I obviously hadn’t? I was completely convinced that I had been deprived of something, left some small, virtually insignificant organ back there on the carriage that had been shaken, shocked and forced lose.
On the wall, just before we exited the building, we filtered past a bank of television screens, each displaying a digital pic taken at a specific point in the ride. It took a few seconds, but I found our section of the carriage in a few of them. We both broke into wild peals of laughter. In every single shot, I am not locked strait into my seat with my eyes screwed tight in fear. Rather, I am pivoted toward Jenn, facing her, with my eyes open and my mouth curled around cruel words intended just for her. I didn’t look terrified. I looked terribly pissed off. The camera flash had illuminated my features, my cheeks were flushed and my eyes so bright, they seemed to spark in the darkness that surrounded me. I was entirely animated. I looked really angry. I looked, I realized with a sudden rush of gratitude for my friend, alive. As we walked away, the sun came out and the screaming faded to a distant roar on the wind.
“Ready for the Aerosmith’s Rock and Roller Coaster now?” Jenn asked, a little warily.
The stream of choice curse words I had planned to hurl at her died on my tongue. “I’m gonna need a few minutes.” I said instead.
Epilogue: A few weeks later, I spent some time looking at the pictures from our trip. I held one up, from the streets of Disney MGM with the Tower of Terror in the background. I knew two things with absolute certainty; I would NEVER go on that ride again EVER for any reason known to God or man. And most importantly, I would never treasure something more than those few minutes when everything I had sought to free myself from, fell away. I had surrendered complete control and gave into the fear and the freedom of freefall. I had lived for only myself for the first time in a very long time. For the first time in a long time my heart had ached from sheer rush of adrenaline rather than the pain of heartbreak. I tucked the picture back inside its envelope thinking, there really was some kind of magic in Mouseland after all.