Jen Hoffman had turned sixteen a week ago and she was skipping class for the first time in her life. The class, Anthropology 101, was a blow-off anyway, according to Lauren and Gale, her partners and instigators in crime. They were both several years older than Jen, in their third year of college, while Jen was only taking a couple of summer classes to put toward her college education and a career in archaeology.
In the car, Jen had been able to forget her misgivings, laughing and joking with the two other girls, but in the parking lot of the park, doubts filled her again. She spoke without thinking, "Lauren, are you sure this is okay? I mean, missing class like this?" Lauren gave her a withering look, and Gale laughed, "For Chrissake, Jen, if you're going to be a child about it, we can take you home to Momma right now."
"Oh...no, I was just kidding," Jen forced a laugh.
"Okay then, let's go. The amusements are waiting!" Lauren started off, looking sophisticated to Jen's eyes, in her khakis and white cotton shirt. Lauren's red hair swept across her back as she walked. Gale squeezed Jen's shoulder, then grabbed her arm, and said, "Don't mind her! As long as we're here, we might as well have a good time, hey?" Gale looked at Jen. They ran to catch up with Lauren.
At the gate, they paid for their entrance, and Jen sighed a bit at the extravagance of so much money for a day of fun. Twelve dollars! Jen had a brand-new checking account opened for her by her father on her birthday, and this was only the second time she'd dared to open the new leather checkbook. The account was for college. She planned on putting three-fourths of her paycheck in it every two weeks. Jen was a junior secretary at her brother's office. The job, like the checkbook, was new, and Jen had already decided that working her way through college was going to be a bore.
"I want cotton candy first thing," announced Gale with a giggle. Lauren rolled her eyes, but Gale pushed her in the direction of the nearest booth. Jen trailed behind, looking up at the sky.
It was one of those tricky June days, which delight in fooling people into staying home instead of going to amusement parks. The day had started out with dark clouds and bursts of rain, but by eleven o'clock it had cleared enough to show the promise of a gorgeous afternoon. Jen could see the Ferris Wheel off to the right and directly ahead were the entrances to two of the park's four rollercoasters. She shivered. She'd never been much of a rollercoaster person, always waiting with Mom by the exit while the boys went through the line two or three times. She hoped, that as long as there were three of them, she could bow out of the rides with no problem, and no scornful looks from Lauren.
"I'll never miss class again," she thought, looking heavenwards, "Just don't let Lauren make me go on those rides." She had stopped while thinking this, and was startled by Lauren's poke in her side. "C'mon daydreamer, you and I are partners for The Demon."
"What?" Jen stared at her. Lauren pointed at Gale who was standing at the refreshment stand, talking with two tan young men. She showed no intention of ever leaving. The entrance to The Demon, straight ahead, suddenly loomed. Gale would have understood her fears, but Lauren, never. Lauren didn't notice her expression and started toward the ride. With an accusing glance at the sky, Jen followed. There was no line and they got right on.
Eight minutes later, Jen was dragging Lauren onto the ride for a second go-round. "I can't believe what I've been missing all my life!" she said. Lauren rolled her eyes again, but this time it didn't bother Jen. For the next two and a half hours she and Lauren covered the length of the park, trying every rollercoaster and potentially exciting ride. They went on the water ride and Jen loved it, but as Lauren didn't like getting her hair wet, they only went once. They were nearing the end of the park, and the last few rides, when they ran into Gale, arm in arm with one of the tan young men. They were headed for the same ride. Gale introduced him as Dan and he smiled a set of perfect white teeth in their direction, but Jen noticed his eyes didn't leave Gale's animated face.
The last ride was called The Devil's Pit, and its entrance was painted with red and orange flames. Jen thought the red of the flames looked like blood. The ride consisted of a large cylinder set in the ground with stairs leading down to a door in its side. Once inside, they stood against the carpeted wall. There was a small gap between the floor and wall and Jen, looking down, could just make out some grey machinery. What happened next, according to Lauren, was that the cylinder spun around and the centrifugal force from the spinning pushed you against the wall. Then the floor dropped about two feet, leaving you dangling on the wall. Jen wasn't too sure if she liked the sound of it, but in light of her recent conversion to the ranks of rollercoaster enthusiasts, she figured it would be exciting as well. Gale and the Perfect White Teeth followed. As the attendant closed the door and began telling them the rules over the microphone, Jen looked at the other occupants of the cylinder.
There was another couple, wearing matching jogging suits and running shoes. They were holding hands and gazing at each other. The only other person, standing next to Jen, was a young boy. He looked to be about twelve years old, but Jen couldn't be sure. He was wearing a Chicago Cubs t-shirt, a Chicago White Sox baseball cap, and ratty black Converse sneakers. He was holding a brightly colored stuffed parrot, won at one of the rifle shooting booths. Three shots for a dollar.
He saw Jen looking at him and grinned. She looked away quickly. Just then the cylinder lurched and began to turn slowly. The boy scrambled around, and then stood on his hands, supporting himself with the wall, the parrot still clenched in one hand.
Jen watched him, her head turned to the right. The cylinder was spinning faster and Jen could feel her body being pressed against the wall. Faster, faster, until she couldn't move her head, and she continued to watch the boy. His baseball cap had fallen off his head, and lay a few feet in front of him. As Jen watched, his arm slowly moved up and over, holding the parrot, and he put the parrot against the wall, where it stuck. For some reason, this struck Jen as extremely funny and she began to laugh silently, shaking with effort of keeping it in. Beside her, Lauren rolled her eyes.
Abruptly, with a loud clanging noise, the floor dropped, and Jen almost screamed, a thrill of fear went through her as her body slid sightly. She felt very flat and very heavy, stuck there on the wall with her feet dangling. At the thought of how she must look, the giggles began again. She could hear Gale and Lauren laughing and screaming the little amusement-park-screams that mean you're having a great time and just pretending to be terrified. She laughed again, and the boy grinned at her, upside down. The parrot, like bright splattered paint, still hung unmoving on the carpeted wall.
Then, still spinning fast enough to keep them on the wall, the cylinder began to slow and the floor began to move upwards. Jen and the boy were still laughing. She could feel the force keeping her head to the right starting to lessen. The boy was looking at Jen when the floor suddenly snapped up the last foot of space and his hands were caught in the gap between it and the wall. He screamed, his mouth twisting horribly, and Jen saw the blood on his wrists and the floor. She heard someone retching and realized it was herself. It seemed to take forever for the cylinder to stop spinning, and Jen stood there with her feet pressed against the floor, as the ride attendants rushed in and around the boy who had crumpled over his trapped, half-severed hands. The others had escaped through the door the attendants had opened, and Jen didn't hear Lauren call her because she was looking at the parrot. It had fallen from the wall with the loss of support and now lay on the floor near the baseball cap, looking up at her, its bright colors soaked with blood.