My entry for the www.terribleminds.com Flash Fiction Challenge. Enjoy!
Jim stood in line with his son at the Screamin’ Demon for over thirty minutes. The sun was nearly peeling the skin off of his forehead, the one place that he had neglected to apply sunscreen, as he shuffled along behind the train of exhausted people waiting for their turn on the ride. Even though he didn’t want to get on this death mobile, a screeching, creaking hunk of metal that defied all laws of gravity, Ian insisted. It was his vacation. This was his fun. And since he was only nine years old, he couldn’t very well go by himself – or at least that’s what his wife said as she strolled off to the funnel cake stand.
Ian was nearly jumping out of his shorts in anticipation, while Jim looked up to the sky, the shadow of the roller coaster giving him some reprieve from the sun’s rays. He thought that he would see someone drop from one of the cars, some freak accident that would shut the whole operation down. He certainly didn’t want anyone to die, but a broken arm wasn’t too much to ask.
It all made Jim feel nauseated- the bright colors, the throngs of people, everything moving all the time, upside down, sideways, round and round. Nothing in this place was still, not even for a moment. That, in combination with the stale grease smell that seemed to permanently set up camp in his nostrils, was enough to make his stomach turn. He didn’t need a roller coaster for that.
The line inched forward, creeping at a pace that would try a turtle’s patience, and Jim began to wonder if it really was a good idea to appease his son on this vacation. He began to question the notion that a child should get his way when it came to fun things. They could have chosen to do something that Jim wanted to do with his week off, like, for instance, watch porn. He always enjoyed that, and who did it hurt? Nobody, he thought, not like this heaping scrap of loose bolts and faulty wires. Carnies assembled these contraptions overnight. There was certainly a large margin for error.
“Dad.” Ian’s voice hadn’t registered. It was only the accompanying tug at Jim’s shirt that made him acknowledge his only child. “We can get some cotton candy after, right?”
Jim scanned the crowd, a sea of sweat-stained, blue collar mongrels wolfing down fried goods at an alarming rate. “Sure, son,” was all he said. Tonya was nowhere to be found. He wondered if she was taking her time, like all the others, shoveling deep-fried cake down her gullet, licking the powdered sugar off her greasy fingers. He wiped the sweat from his brow before it dripped into his eyes.
When he turned around to, once again, stare at the back of the morbidly obese woman in front of him in line, he focused on the intricate tattoo that spanned the wide, damp canvas, partially hidden behind the straps of a child’s tank top. He wondered if she could make the eagle’s wings flap by raising and lowering her arms, a tidal wave of fat ebbing and flowing across her buried shoulder blades. Jim shook the visual away, letting his eyes drift anywhere else, and it was then that he saw the kid.
A punk, probably sixteen or so, wearing a Nirvana t-shirt and a knit cap, ducked under the velvet rope that contained their line and nestled himself ever so discreetly in front of the obese woman. Jim stood there for a minute, waiting, wishing for the Hell’s Angel matriarch to put him in his place, take him by the scruff of his grungy neck and throw him on his ass. She didn’t do a thing.
Jim shifted from one foot to the other, wondering who the hell wears a knit hat when it’s eighty-five degrees. He usually kept his mouth shut, so it was just as much a surprise to him when words fell out of it.
“Hey,” he yelled. A few uninterested patrons turned around, but the kid acted like he didn’t hear. “Hey,” Jim said again, this time loud enough that the matriarch turned to give him a menacing stare. “Not you,” he said, “Him.” He pointed to the punk in front of her, and she reluctantly poked the kid in the back until he turned around.
She said to him, in the least interested voice she could muster, “He wants you,” pointing with her thumb in Jim’s direction.
The kid’s half-lidded gaze made its way over to Jim. He could have been stoned. He could have been brain damaged. It was hard to tell. When he realized that he had no idea who Jim was, he grunted, “What?”
“Did you just get in line?” Jim said.
“Yeah,” Nirvana boy answered with a “what’s it to ya” sneer.
“The end of the line is,” and Jim turned and pointed just for dramatic effect, “back THERE.”
“I was here,” the kid shot back, like he had proven some kind of point.
“You were here?” Jim said, his volume starting to draw the attention of the slack-jaws that were meandering past. “Because I’ve been waiting in line this whole time, and this is the first time that I’ve seen you.” The kid just shrugged and turned back around, as if ignoring him would make him go away. Jim felt the fire crawling up his back, his neck, all the way up to his face, but this time, it wasn’t the sun burning his skin.
“Dad.” Ian tugged at his shirt again, but Jim didn’t listen.
He barreled past the motorcycle chick and grabbed the kid’s shoulder. “Listen,” Jim was in the punk’s face now. “You will go to the end of the line, like everyone else.”
“Chill, man,” he said, looking at him like he had just taken a big whiff of some spoiled milk.
“There are rules,” Jim said. “What if everyone disregarded them like you, huh? Chaos, that’s what. Nothing but chaos.”
The kid turned to the person standing in front of him, who had looked back when Jim started yelling, and said, “This old dude’s off his rocker.”
Jim punched him.
The kid fell back, arms flailing, on the velvet ropes. He dragged the pillars to the pavement, the crash echoing like a pile-up on the interstate. When he hit the ground, his cap flew off his head and landed on the asphalt a few feet away. He just sat there, screaming like a girl, holding his nose in both hands as the blood seeped out from between his fingers.
Jim was, at once, radioactive, dangerous, and the people in his vicinity tried to get out of it. He looked back to see his son’s face, an expression of surprise mixed with horror, and he realized what he had done, that it was a horrible thing. He bowed his head, and his eyes fell to his hands, still shaking from the adrenaline, the boy’s blood on his knuckles. He offered to help the boy off the ground, but it was a security guard who took Jim’s hand and jerked him out of the line.
The Nirvana kid just kept screaming, “This maniac just punched me!” He still sat on the ground and refused to take his hands from his face, so it sounded more like, “Dit menic jut punt me.” If there weren’t a visual, it would have been hard to figure out what he was saying, but it was pretty clear to the amusement park police what had happened.
As two burly officers dragged him out of the park, Ian trailing behind begging them to wait, Jim saw Tonya slowly walking towards him. She stopped mid-step, wide-eyed, as Jim was escorted past her, arms secured on both sides by men in uniform. She held a piece of funnel cake just an inch from her face, the picture that Jim had imagined there in front of him, frozen in time. But instead of her shoving the deep-fried cake into her mouth, she dropped it back onto the paper plate, leaving the stray powdered sugar to linger on her fingertips.