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“Oh my God, I think I’m going to throw up!”
Pamela rubbed her daughter’s back, hoping it was an exaggeration. It usually was, but you never knew when the exception would be, when you would suddenly end up with puke all over you. “Take deep breaths, honey. Do you want to sit down?”
Eight-year-old Natalie shook her head, blonde pigtails flapping against her shoulders. “No, Mum. I want to go on again.”
“Me too,” said Nathan, tugging at his mother’s sleeve.
Pamela glanced back over her shoulder. Then up at the Thresher. The rollercoaster had seemed okay at first, considering it didn’t go upside down, but that first steep drop had sent her stomach into her mouth and it was yet to descend.
The twins had loved it though.
Could she really say no to them? They’d been through so much recently, and none of it their fault.
“Let Mummy have a rest and we’ll go on again,” she said, breathing in through her nose and out through her mouth. It was the same tactic she used when she saw or smelt something particularly stomach-churning on her ward. Even after fourteen years as a nurse, she still got nauseated by some of the things people came in with. Just last week, an elderly man came in so filthy with fungal infections that his entire groin had appeared ready to slough away in a miasma of blood and pus.
“Can’t we ride it on our own?” Nathan asked in a whiny voice. His hair was getting long, delicate golden threads rising on the breeze. Pamela raised a hand to her own hair – mousy brown unlike her children’s – and realised they were all overdue a cut. When had she become so unorganised?
She knew exactly when.
“They won’t let you on the ride without an adult, honey,” Pamela told her son. “Let’s go on something else, okay, and we’ll come back later.”
Both children pulled a face, but she didn’t make a habit of lying to them. They trusted her word and allowed themselves to be led away, but she had to battle with them again when they passed a candyfloss stall. “Nope! Not until I see you eat some real food. Anyway, we’re doing rides at the moment. What would you like to go on next?”
“I wanna go on the rapids,” said Nathan.
Natalie nudged her brother and scowled. “We already got wet on the log flume. I want to go on the Devil Spinner.”
Pamela’s stomach sloshed at the mere name of it. With a groan, she asked, “Which one is that?”
Natalie pointed her tiny index finger, making the pink fairy ribbons tied around her wrist dance in the breeze. The ride she pointed to resembled a traditional fairground waltzer, but its spinning carts were mounted on a large whirling disc that travelled back and forth on a banana-shaped track. Rides were a lot more complicated nowadays, it seemed.
So that’s two counts of spinning and one count of swinging back and forth. I thought the rollercoaster was bad.
“Can we do something with less spinning, please, angel? I don’t think Mummy’s stomach can handle any more right now.”
Natalie pulled a face, but then brightened as she seemingly had another thought. Her sly smile was the same mischievous smirk she got whenever she snuck a chocolate bar out of the fridge without asking. Slowly and deliberately, she said, “I want to go on Frenzy.”
“Okay, which one is Frenzy?”
“It’s the new one,” said Nathan, leaning against a pair of giant shields that made up part of the theming for one of the park’s eateries – a large wooden cabin with a painted sign: the Great Hunt. “There’ll be a massive queue for it.”
A queue? Pamela sighed. A queue means rest.
She probed further. “What kind of ride is it? And stop leaning against that, please, Nathan. You’ll get told off!”
Nathan moved away from the shields and folded his arms grumpily.
“It’s like a ghost train,” Natalie explained, seemingly knowing that the word ghost would count against her, so quickly glossing over it. “But it’s not scary, Mum, I swear. Rebecca went on it the day it opened and said it’s brilliant. Please, Mum, can we go on it? Dad would let us.”
That stung Pamela, but she knew she shouldn’t take it personally. She couldn’t get upset every time the twins mentioned their father – or used him to blackmail her. They didn’t know what a bastard he was, and while she would love to tell them, she never would. Couldn’t.
Pamela thought she knew all the rides at Saxon Hills – the place had been running since she was a kid herself – but she hadn’t heard of this one. It didn’t sound age-appropriate, but the twins had been forced to grow up fast with the divorce. Should she give them some leeway?
“Point the ride out to me,” she said, “and I’ll have a look. If the line isn’t too long, and if it doesn’t look too scary, we can go on, okay?”
Natalie hopped and cheered. Nathan rolled his eyes, but smiled too. He’d probably only objected initially out of a habit of arguing with his sister. They argued more and more lately, but they both loved rides. Had loved them ever since going on a junior carousel at the fair. They had been just two years old. Pamela still remembered the day well. They had all been together. A family unit of four instead of a fractured three in two separate configurations.
Natalie took off, leading them through the park. Pamela wondered how she’d missed all the posters featuring this new Frenzy ride. As the latest amusement ride, it was seemingly advertised all over the park. One poster, pasted against the side of King Alfred’s Hog Roast, stated in sinister lettering: Woden’s Frenzy: Escape the fury of the elder god.
It didn’t sound suitable for eight-year-olds, but…
She should at least check it out. They would only complain to their father if she was too strict, and he, of course, would take their side – be their buddy. Any more of her soon-to-be ex-husband playing the ‘good guy’ and she might lose her mind. It was easy being the fun parent when you only saw the kids twice a week, but she, of course, had to take care of the homework, hygiene, and hollering. Anything that put a frown on the twin’s faces was her responsibility, while junk food and video games were their father’s remit. And didn’t he just love it.
Pamela felt she was losing her children right in front of her, powerless to prevent it. The reason it hurt so much was because she had done nothing wrong.
Except love their father.
Come on! Just enjoy today, Pam. The twins are happy. They are happy with you. He’s not here, so don’t let him ruin this. You’re having fun.
Wow, that’s right. I’m actually having fun. I thought I’d lost the ability.
The three of them jogged across a set of narrow steel tracks belonging to the park’s miniature steam train, then they crossed a bridge over the river rapids. Nathan leapt up and tried to direct a water cannon at one of the passing dinghies, but it was broken. Something he seemed reluctant to accept.
“Just leave it, Nathan,” his sister chided. “You’re wasting ride time.”
Glumly, Nathan peeled himself away from the cannon and hurried to catch them up.
And then they saw it.
Pamela was impressed. But not in a good way.
Frenzy’s entrance was housed inside a massive bronze helmet with wings sprouting from either side. The giant prop was the height of a double-decker bus, and buried in its recesses were two glowing red eyes that seemed to hover in darkness. Now and then the helmet filled with steam, making anyone caught in the blast squeal. Powerful speakers boomed out mocking laughter.
The ride’s signage was made from tree branches and vines, twisted around rocks. F-R-E-N-Z-Y.
“This is so cool,” said Nathan, walking forward with his mouth hanging open. Natalie was equally enthralled, unable to say anything at all. She stared with wide, hungry eyes at the giant staring helmet. A queue of excited people formed beneath it.
Everything Pamela was seeing told her to turn around and find a ride more suitable – maybe even go on the Thresher again – but the needful expressions of her children tugged at her emotions like fish hooks in her skin. She was tired of always being the one to say no. She was tired of being the bad guy.
“I-It looks a bit scary, guys. I don’t want you both getting nightmares.”
Nathan pulled a face. “It’s just a ride, Mum. It’s not real.”
“Yeah,” Natalie agreed. “We won’t get scared, I promise. And you’ll be with us.”
Pamela sighed. If she was honest, the only person who had screamed with any amount of fear today had been her. The twins were having the time of their lives. Should she just let them get on with it?
If the height restriction allows them in, it must be okay, right?
“Okay,” she said after a moment’s thought. “If you’re allowed to go on it then… okay.”
Both her children rushed her, making her instinctively cover up. They collided with her without fear and threw their arms around her waist in a massive embrace. She found herself beaming uncontrollably.
“Love you, Mum.”
“I love you too. Come on, we still have to queue.”
They headed towards that giant leering helmet. To join the queue, they would have to pass beneath it.
Towards that mocking laughter.
Here goes nothing. Oh balls!
The screams didn’t translate at first. They were in a theme park after all, the one place where screams were ordinary. It wasn’t until they joined the tail end of the queue that she realised the screams were different. They were not notes tinged with glee and amusement.
They were the screams of people screaming in terror.
It was difficult to see the front of the queue, but it appeared to end at a square building covered in vines and leaves – like a troll’s cave. The screams seemed to be coming from there.
Suddenly anxious, Pamela grabbed her twins by the slack of their T-shirts, fists full of cotton. Both children complained, not yet realising that something was wrong, and wondering why they were being stopped when the queue was right in front of them.
“Please don’t change your mind,” Natalie begged.
“I haven’t, just hold on a sec.” Pamela stood stock still, keeping her children next to her. She focused on what she was hearing.
Then on what she was smelling.
Smoke. Oh my God, something’s burning.
“I can smell fire,” said Nathan, scrunching up his nose like a bloodhound.
The screams turned from terror to agony as a bloom of dirty black smoke billowed from beyond the huddled mass of queuing people. The ride, hidden beyond the themed entrance, was on fire. Frenzy was burning.
My kids could have been on it! Five minutes earlier and we would have been on it.
A member of staff, wearing a red baseball cap and a red polo shirt, snaked his way through the queue, barging people aside as he sought to make it out of the helmet. It looked like he was going for help.
Please let it arrive soon.
People further along the queue, near the ride building, started moving away. A mother screamed that her son and husband were on the ride, but other people held her back.
Then things got worse.
A figure stumbled out of the ride building and into the shocked crowd. The young man was smouldering, clothes blackened and seared into the bubbling pink flesh of his arms and shoulders. Only a few stray patches of hair remained on his glistening red scalp.
The man fell to his knees and waved a smoking arm, pointing back towards the ride’s building. “T-Trapped,” he said in a strangled voice. “Th-They’re all trapped!”
The man fell forward, exposing the slick, exposed flesh of his back. It looked like raw chicken.
Pamela dragged her children away before they were traumatised forever, then huddled anxiously with them as a stampede erupted.
Natalie looked at her. “Mummy, what’s happening?”
“I don’t know, sweetheart. I don’t know.”
“It’s something bad,” said Nathan, and she couldn’t speak to argue with him.
Something exploded, making the fleeing crowd scream. A massive ball of fire rose from behind the giant bronze helmet and lit up the grey sky.
Those glowing red eyes stared at Pamela. The mocking laughter continued pumping from the speakers. It even seemed to get louder, faster.
“Look away, kids. Please, just look away.”