Conrad and Victor spent the morning in the shade of a sycamore tree sipping stolen soda, scratching mosquito bites, and scheming. It was the first day that the roller coaster at Wonderland amusement park had been re-opened since the gruesome decapitation of a seven-foot tall basketball star. Conrad, a roller coaster virgin, was restless with anticipation. While looking in his mother’s full-length mirror, he had felt sure the sudden growth spurt that had shrunk all his jeans would be his ticket onto the infamous Wooden Whiplash.
“ So, it will go like this,” said Victor between spurts of soda that he squirted through the gummy void of his missing front tooth. “You tell your mom that you’re spending the night at my house. We bum around over there until my mom takes her afternoon sedative, then we split. Got it?” There was a glimmer in Victor’s eyes that made the hairs on Conrad’s neck prickle with a devious combination of delight and apprehension.
Conrad found his mother on the front patio furiously stirring sugar into a tall glass of iced tea with the telephone precariously tucked between her heavily blushed cheek and protruding shoulder. She was engaged in another heated conversation with her divorce lawyer. Conrad hastily decided to make the most of the situation, and crept quietly behind her back through the screen door to pack a bag for his excursion. He gathered his green windbreaker, several candy-bars, a few comic books, and a selection of fireworks from the arsenal his father had given him as a parting gift before moving to Arizona with his new wife Cindy the Airline Stewardess.
Conrad noticed an unattractive vein pulsing in his mothers neck, and he hastily accepted her irritated wave of hand, as if she were swatting at flies in the air, as his green light to Wonderland.
He met Victor back at the sycamore tree that grew in the abandoned lot next to Victor’s house. The amusement park was less than ten blocks away, but their anticipation, and the midday heat made the walk unbearably slow. While waiting to cross the avenue, Victor spotted two bicycles leaning unat tended against the back wall of a convenience store across the street. He stated that if the owners didn’t appear by the time they crossed, then they were free for the taking. Conrad tried to bury his anxiety, but it swirled in his belly.
The boys made fast friends with the bicycles. Conrad comforted his conscience with the fact that the bikes were both old and rusty. Victor took the ten-speed with handle breaks, leaving Conrad to man a questionable Frankenstein dirt bike that had been assembled from pieces and parts of several other bikes. They peddled hard, sweating through their t-shirts in the heat, laughing and shouting as they raced towards Wonderland. In the gravel parking lot, they skidded to a stop, ditching the bikes behind a reeking cluster of dumpsters. Waiting in line at the ticket window, they were intoxicated by the sounds emanating from beyond the gates. Victor gave Conrad the pleasure of paying for both their admissions, and he traded the crumpled wad of bills in his pocket for two coveted unlimited-ride wristbands.
Victor insisted that the Whiplash Death Coaster should be saved for last. The boys spent the afternoon happily rear-ending pigtailed girls and parental escorts on the bumper-cars, and relishing their nausea on the teacups. They watched the sky turn red with dusk as they flipped and spun through the air on the Hammers. Enclosed in a pill-shaped capsule, they hurled upside down towards the ground, slamming against each other with each arc. Victor’s house keys, on a chain around his neck, dislodged from beneath his shirt and clipped Conrad in the mouth. The metallic taste of blood tingled on his tongue. As an apology, Victor announced that it was finally time. The sun had set, and the park was illuminated by the glitzy glow of the rides. Standing in the long line for the Whiplash, Conrad noticed beads of sweat glistening on Victor’s dirty forehead, and he flashed him a bloody-gummed smile. As they wound through the maze of bars, they pretended they were captured soldiers awaiting their execution, and they speculated about what the basketball player’s head looked like as it lobbed through the air.
A low set beam on an underpass of the coaster had claimed the head where, following a series of steep hills, the track turns in, cutting through the internal structure. It was an unfortunate combination of the bar being too low, and the player being too tall. The structure had been immediately altered so that so other heads would not be lost.
In the front of the line the operator looked warily at Conrad and commanded him to stand in front of the board that marked the minimum height requirement. Straightening his back and lifting his chin he looked anxiously at the attendant with begging eyes. After an eternity, the operator gave him a nod, and they ran for the front car. A faint smell of vomit hung in the air. The new safety bars locked down pressing into the their abdomens. As the coaster jerked to life Conrad felt Victor’s sticky palm grasp his knee. Jerking in their seats as the coaster lashed along the rickety tracks they screamed, and shrieked, and flinched at every underpass, as they imagined their heads being torn from their necks.