For Fandango’s Flash Fiction Challenge #128, where we write about the image below, from the Google Photo Frame.
The Saturn Orbiter. Standing at 126ft, it’s gantry painted in a striking explosion of colour, a rocket blasting off. A unique track of four 360° loops, each coming directly after the last. A drop of 77ft and a top speed on the descent of 78mph. The world’s tallest rollercoaster. Opened only three years ago, the thrill-seeker Toby knew all the numbers.
And Toby was going to ride it. An unexpected gift from his parents, for his thirteenth birthday. Presented to him the day before as the climax of the family’s vacation-of-a-lifetime in sunny California. An advance on Toby’s thirteenth birthday next week, parents Simon and Jessica had surprised Toby with the visit, planned for the next day, the last day of their vacation. Park tickets, ride tickets, priority admission, an allocated time slot, gold standard. For a moment, Toby forgot that he was very nearly a teenager. The perfect ending, he thought.
And now, the day had arrived. Rising excitedly at 6 AM, even the greyness outside could not dampen Toby’s enthusiasm, as he showered, then Impatiently roused his eight-year-old brother Henry. He made just enough noise to ensure his parents woke, and even readied the coffee filter at the Airbnb, hoping that that seductive aroma would wisp its magic throughout the apartment.
And, in the grand scheme of things, they did not do badly. Out of their accommodation only shortly later than planned, despite Henry’s distinctly qualified interest in the whole expedition – he had already discovered that all the good rides came with a height restriction, and that he still needed to gain four inches. Dad wanted one last photo op of the ocean at San Clemente – a place which he had visited four times since their initial sunset visit last week. Thereon, north up the interstate for an hour, until they reached the park on the outskirts of LA. What could possibly go wrong?
Simon squeezed back into the driver’s seat, grasping his latest Canon SLR camera with pride. “I think I got some good ones there”, he remarked to Jessica with satisfaction, patting it as he did so. “Oh, good”, she replied. “You certainly took lots, maybe we can get one printed up for the lounge when we get home?” Jessica feigned interest in Simon money-pit of a passion, adding “Come on, we’d better get going if we want to get Toby to that ride on time”.
Setting the camera into Jessica’s lap, Simon then fumbled with his iPhone. The latest device, released just three months ago, Simon had very little idea how it worked, but he had developed a rudimentary knowledge of the navigation program he had bought specially for this trip. After several minutes, the electronic voice warned of delays on its route. Inconvenient, there seemed to be roadworks everywhere here, but the projected delay was small. Setting his phone into its cradle, he started up the sleek, black rental SUV as the phone instructed him to turn right at the end of the street. Simon was still unfamiliar with these American highways, however, and drove with some trepidation. Furthermore, at heart he had no understanding, and therefore no trust of all this new-fangled technology, and decided to ignore it, in favour of the signposted route, when the program suggested he leave the interstate at the next exit. “Better the devil you know”, he muttered under his breath.
Simon’s decision backfired within a mile, however, as the family found themselves stuck in a stationary queue of traffic. Instinctively, he banged the wheel and looked at his watch. He huffed and turned to the back seats.
“Don’t worry, son, we’re in plenty of time to get to the park.”
On the back seat, Toby also looked at his watch and nodded. He was less sure, however, when the car had not moved for thirty minutes.
“Bloody Americans”, cursed Simon, “Why can’t they get their bloody roads sorted?”. As he banged the wheel once more. “But it’s just the same at home, love”, soothed Jessica. She stopped when she saw Simon’s glare. In any case, as if the gods had heard him, the traffic began to inch forward. Toby dared to look at his wrist once more, dared to hope. The queue, however, moved less than a hundred yards before settling to a halt again. As the aircon blasted the heat away, the car grew hotter.
“Oh, for fuck’s sake…”, started Simon. Jessica intervened again. “Steady on, dear.” She patted Simon’s arm. “Remember what the doctor said.”
Simon grabbed her arm and flung it away, letting out a burst of expletives. “Fuck the fucking doctor. She hasn’t got to sit in this fucking endless queue, has she?”
And so, the cycle continued for the next hour. The vehicle crawled, the temperature rose, the father reddened.
When the car eventually broke free of the queue, Simon put his foot down. “See, what did I tell you?”, turning toward the rear seats, and feigning reassurance to nobody in particular. “Don’t worry, lad. It’ll be a close thing, but we’ll get there for you. I just need to speed us up, that’s all, and we can claw back some time.” Simon fiddled with the unfamiliar controls, willing the car more horses.
Simon was driving at twenty miles over the limit when he saw the sign. An unusually large intersection, there must have been eight options leading to twenty destinations. Simon let out a triumphant “yesss”. This was what he had been waiting for. Just this junction, and they were on the home strait.
“This is it, you lot. The Park is just 5 miles on the other side of this. Keep your eyes peeled for the signs. We’ll get you there, son. Let me just get past this truck.” As Simon put his foot down once mote, the car hit ninety.
Simon’s optimistic voice betrayed his own anxiety. In the rear of the car, Toby looked worriedly at his watch. Maybe this could actually happen? The world’s tallest ‘coaster?
The exit ramps started arriving. “Keep your eyes peeled”, came the command from the front. The truck Simon was intent on passing, however, kept pace with the SUV.
Too late, they saw the sign. “There!”, gasped Toby. “Let’s just get into the lane. I wish this wanker would get out of my way, so I can see where I’m going”, Simon complained, gesturing at the truck. An instant later, and the exit was gone.
“Don’t worry, son, we’ll double back. We still have some time”. Simon was desperate now, as the car headed north towards Burbank, blissfully unaware of its occupants’ frustration.
On the back seat, Toby glanced at his watch one more time, and started to cry.