Authors: Richard Laymon
Tags: #Fiction - Horror
“Joan, I’m not going on that thing.”
She stepped into line. “Hold this,” she said, and handed the cotton candy to him. “Try it, you’ll like it.” He looked warily at the confection. He shook his head. Joan took the wallet out of her shoulder bag and removed a ten-dollar bill.
“If you think you’re going to get me onto that death-trap contraption…”
“My friend, everyone is afraid of heights.”
“This from the lady who scaled the Hurricane.”
“I was scared shitless. But I did it anyway, because it had to be done. And you’re going to ride the Ferris wheel for the same reason.”
“It does not have to be done.”
“Oh, yes it does.” She bought ten tickets and received five dollars in change.
Harold followed her to the line for the Ferris wheel. He had a nervous smile on his face as he handed the cotton candy to her. “You don’t honestly expect me to go through with this?”
“You’ll like it. I promise.”
“I won’t like it, because I won’t do it.”
“I’ve already bought the tickets.”
“You may ride it twice. I’ll stay right here, safe on the ground, and wait patiently.”
She looked him in the eye. “I want you to go on it with me, Harold. Just the Ferris wheel. I won’t ask you to try the Hurricane or the parachute drop or anything else. Just this one ride. It won’t kill you.”
“That’s because I won’t be on it.”
Now the nervous smile was gone. Replaced by a frown of annoyance. “I don’t understand why you insist on being so adamant about this. For heaven’s sake, it’s just a carnival ride. It’s hardly worth bickering about. It won’t make one whit of difference, in the scheme of things, whether or not I go on the stupid thing.”
“It makes a big difference to me,” Joan said.
“Oh, I have to prove I’m a man, is that it? Is this some kind of a test?”
“It didn’t start out that way,” Joan told him.
“I’ll ride the damn thing if it’ll make you happy.”
“Good,” she muttered. She turned away from him. She took a bite of the cotton candy and it melted away in her mouth and she felt like crying.
The Ferris wheel was still going full speed, its lighted spokes spinning, cars rocking, riders squealing as they were swept down from the staggering height. Some of them, she saw, were embracing. She tossed her cotton candy into a trash bin.
“I said I’ll do it.” He sounded petulant.
“I heard you.”
“So what are you pouting about?” he asked.
“This was supposed to be fun.”
“I’m sorry.” He didn’t sound sorry at all. “I guess I’m just not a very fun guy. Maybe you should’ve come here with one of your macho cop friends. I’m sure
would be delighted to ride the goddamn Ferris wheel.”
“He wouldn’t whine about it.”
“Now I’m a whiner. Isn’t that wonderful.”
“You’ve never touched me, Harold.”
His mouth fell open.
“Joan, for Christsake.” He glanced around as if fearful that someone might be listening. But the others waiting in line were talking among themselves. The air was thick with laughter and screams, the spiels of pitchmen, the crackle of gunfire from the shooting gallery, hurdy-gurdy music from the Ferris wheel.
He didn’t need to worry about eavesdroppers.
“Is it me?” Joan asked. “Is something wrong with
“No, of course not.”
“Then what is it? We’ve been going together for weeks. We hold hands and kiss good night—
good night. And that’s it.”
“I thought you preferred it that way.”
“Then you don’t know much about—”
“Move it along, folks.”
Joan saw that the line had moved forward, that their turn had come to board the Ferris wheel.
“We don’t have to do it,” she said.
But he shook his head and went through the gate. The man took the tickets from Joan. They stepped onto a platform and climbed into the waiting gondola of the Ferris wheel. It rocked gently as they sat down. The man swung a metal safety bar across the front and latched it secure.
With a jerk that made the basket tip, the wheel carried them upward. It stopped, and the next passengers boarded.
Harold was clutching the safety bar with both hands.
Joan put a hand on his thigh. He looked at her. He gasped as they were suddenly lifted higher.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Joan said. “The Ferris wheel’s safe. So am I.”
“Sure,” he muttered.
The wheel abruptly lifted them once more. Harold squeezed his eyes shut. He sat there gripping the bar, feet planted on the floor panel, back rigid, eyes tightly shut, teeth gritted.
Joan patted his thigh. “Loosen up, would you? You’re making
“I’m sorry.” He managed to say it without moving his jaw.
“Hey, you’re not going to capsize us if you open your mouth.”
He sucked in a quick breath as the wheel moved again. When it stopped, they were near the top.
They were damn high.
Joan felt as if her insides had been left at the previous level.
“Jesus,” she muttered.
The boardwalk was
If this damn thing tips over…
“I’m not the kind of man,” Harold said, “who
a woman like you.”
“Self-fulfilling prof…Uh!” She grabbed the safety bar with both hands.
When the wheel stopped, they were at the very top. Their gondola swayed back and forth.
She realized that this position, though higher than the previous one, was considerably less unnerving.
Because, at the pinnacle of the Ferris wheel, the ground was out of sight. She could see the distant wooded hills of the coastline range, and the headlights of cars on the highway, but nothing of the boardwalk.
Nothing directly below.
Nothing of what she would land on if the contraption fell apart or tipped over.
Not without leaning forward or sideways and peering down.
They started down and she could see the boardwalk again. To avoid the view, she turned her head and looked at Harold. He still sat rigid with his eyes shut.
The man, she thought, is a coward.
I’m scared too, she reminded herself.
But not like that.
And she realized that she had learned nothing new here tonight. She had confirmed her suspicions, nothing more. Maybe that was why she had brought him here—to take him out of his safe academic world and…put him on trial. Not a conscious plan, certainly. But maybe in the back of her mind that was why she’d insisted they skip the film and come to Funland.
The Ferris wheel moved, dropping them lower. This time it didn’t stop after a few feet. It swept them down close to the ground and lifted them toward the heights, and Joan’s fear slipped away. They flew over the crest and swung downward.
This is all right, she thought. Just takes some getting used to.
just take some getting used to.
Get him into bed just once, he’ll be fine.
Right. Fine. That little piece of him will be fine, the little piece that’s scared of me. But what about the rest of him?
She knew that she would never be able to count on him, lean on him, be comforted by his strength. She would have to be the strong one, the leader.
More like his mother than his lover.
I don’t need that.
Soon the Ferris wheel stopped. They were gradually lowered toward the ground. Not until the attendant stepped up to their gondola did Harold release his grip on the safety bar. They climbed down.
On the boardwalk, Joan said, “You can take me home now.”
“You’re upset with me,” he said.
“No. It’s all right.”
“I rode the damn ride.”
“I know. That was very brave.”
“About the other thing…”
“That’s all right,” Joan said. “I understand.”
She took his hand. They walked out of Funland and into the parking lot, and he opened the door of his car for her. She leaned across the seat and unlocked the driver’s door. He climbed in without looking at her.
He drove out of the parking lot.
“I knew we should’ve gone to
Joan said nothing.
“Would you like to stop someplace for a nightcap?”
“No, thanks. I don’t think so. I’m not feeling very well. Just take me home.”
“We really should discuss…”
“Some other time, okay?”
When he reached her house, he swung to the curb and killed the engine and turned to her. “I’ll go in with you,” he said. In the dim light from the streetlamps, she saw a nervous smile on his face.
“Not tonight,” she said. “I really don’t feel very well.”
“I’ll give you a call.” She patted his knee, sensed that he was about to reach for her wrist, and quickly pulled her hand back. She swung the door open.
“Don’t be this way. Please.”
“It’s all right,” she told him. “I’ll give you a call.”
She climbed from the car, shut the door, and hurried up the walkway to her house.
Robin woke up, and couldn’t believe that the movie was over. She had come into the theater a little late and missed the start of the new James Bond, so after watching the film, she had waited through the intermission and looked at the opening. She’d planned to leave when it came to a familiar scene.
So much for plans.
Apparently she’d drifted off and slept through the rest of the showing. Now the auditorium lights were on and people were leaving their seats.
She was glad nobody had ripped her off.
One arm was still hooked through the shoulder strap of her pack, a precaution she must’ve taken before dropping off. The banjo case still stood on the floor, propped up between her legs.
She moved the case aside, stood up, and swung the pack onto her back. Lifting the case, she sidestepped across the deserted row to the aisle.
On her way out, she stopped in the rest room. Nobody was around when she left the toilet stall. She took a few minutes to wash her face and brush her teeth.
The lobby was deserted except for a few workers in the process of closing for the night. Teenagers. As she headed for the door, she heard one of the girl’s behind the refreshment counter say, “And he goes, ‘It won’t kill you,’ and I go, ‘No way, Jose.’“ A different girl said, “I should hope not. Total gross-out.”
Robin shouldered open the glass door and stepped outside. The wind was chilly on her bare arms and slipped in through the front of her shirt. Shivering, she hurried up the sidewalk until she came to the recessed entryway of a dark shop. There she opened her pack. She took out a lightweight nylon parka. She put it on and snapped the front. From a side pocket of her pack she removed a sheathed knife. She slid it into a seat pocket of her jeans.
Then she shouldered her pack, picked up her banjo case, and walked into the street. She stopped in the middle. No cars were coming. Only a few remained parked at the curbs. Down near the corner, a man was walking his dog. Otherwise she saw no one. The lights of the theater marquee were dark. All the shops and restaurants appeared to be closed for the night.
She crossed to the other side of the street and headed south toward the boardwalk.
This was obviously a town that rolled up its sidewalks after dark.
It’s a lot later than “after dark,” she told herself.
Still, she thought it strange that a place as touristy as Boleta Bay would be shut down so completely at this hour.
What hour are we talking about here? she wondered. Must be after midnight.
Which means that Funland’s closed too.
She felt a small tug of fear, and didn’t know why. Then she remembered the policeman’s warning about a gang of teenagers.
They try to mess with me, she thought, they’ll bite the knife.
With each stride, she felt its broad flat blade press against her buttock.
It was her father’s hunting knife.
It had saved her many times. Usually, just pulling it was enough to stop trouble.
She’d cut someone only once. That was at the bus depot in San Francisco. A guy came into the rest room while she was washing up, sometime before dawn, and slammed her against the wall and ripped her shirt open and was trying to get her jeans down, and she shoved the knife between his ribs. He said, “Look what you done to me!” and fell to his knees.
Though the parka kept her warm, Robin felt cold and tight inside from remembering that night.
She crossed another street, leaving behind the self-consciously quaint section of downtown. Here the road wasn’t lined with trees. Instead of imitation gaslights, the area was lighted with sodium lamps on metal poles. Gone were the boutiques, tea shops, restaurants, bakeries, and bookstores. A Woolworth’s took up half the block. On the other side of the street stood a gas station, an auto-parts store, and the café where Robin had eaten a cheeseburger, then sipped coffee and worked on song lyrics until she decided to call it quits and go to the movie. All were closed now. Dim lights glowed inside. The auto-parts store had a steel gate across its front.
On the next block, she started seeing bums. One was stretched out on the bench of a bus shelter. Another was curled up inside the dark entryway of a television-repair shop.
Robin switched the banjo case to her left hand, freeing her right hand to go for the knife if they made trouble.
Neither of the bums spoke or moved as she hurried by.
Before reaching the intersection, she heard a tinny rattle and knew it came from a shopping cart. It still sounded distant. She quickened her pace. Hurrying past the corner of a closed liquor store, she glanced to the right and spotted a hunched old woman pushing the cart toward her. The cart’s wire basket was stacked high with junk. Quickly Robin looked away.
She rushed into the street.
“C’mere! Got a sticky treat for ya! Don’ go off!”
Robin didn’t look back.
“Blood on ya, then! Blood on ya!”