It’s not a ride; It’s an attraction. Those people aren’t customers; They’re guests, and if they are disabled, the disability never defines them. This is theme park terminology according to Kelsey Pearson, even though she didn’t write the handbook. She just recites it like substitute scripture, because she really sucks at being Catholic. That’s why she likes working at a theme park. It’s her place of worship. She practices patience weekly with the most insufferable people -sorry- guests. Everyday is a another chance to bet on how many times she saves someone else’s kid from getting bitten by a duck.
“Look at Mommy, Dodge! Dodge, look at Mommy!” The kid tries to feed a mallard some mushed up piece of what looks like a chicken nugget. How despicable, feeding a duck the guts of a distant cousin. The parents probably ordered that from the kids menu at the Indian food quick service bar, because Dodge can’t handle falafel. Kelsey measures heights at her attraction’s entrance, so it’s Alex who has to tell the parents not to let Dodge feed the fowl.
“Hey bud, be careful, they can bite,” Alex says. He parks strollers near the storage lockers. The parents don’t listen, because they’re too busy livestreaming Dodge for Facebook. It’s fun to watch. Alex doesn’t really care, because it’s not his kid. The mallard doesn’t give a shit either. He waddles away, disgusted by Dodge’s efforts to feed him one of his own. And of course Dodge follows and trips with his face inches from the duck’s tail. Kelsey calls this particular mallard Walter. He’s been around long enough to know which kids to intimidate. Dodge isn’t worth his time.
Walter loves the rain, and around Kelsey’s place of worship, rain is coveted above almost anything else. By state law (and practicality), rafting rides can operate in the rain, just not in thunder and lightening. Even rain by itself is nice too, and it showers routinely around three in the afternoon. Downpours are especially fantastic, because they wash away the guests. That’s when the crazy people ride, the ones who basically say, “Fuck it. It’s raining. Let’s get even more wet.” And don’t get Kelsey or any of her coworkers started on how many times Guests pull a “That’s what she said.”
“Tut tut,” Kelsey greets the humid break room. “Looks like rain.”
“Yeah.” Annie’s her friend and has a crush on their gay coordinator. “Did you bring your rain gear?”
“Yep. Learned from last time.” Kelsey grabs her Fiber One bar and Diet Coke. Annie’s scrolling through Facebook. They hunch over one of the round tables, talking but not looking at each other. Kelsey takes out her phone too to see if that one guy texted back. “How are you,” she asks Annie. It’s not a question anymore.
“Alright. A Guest yelled at me because her bag got wet.”
“Did she miss the lockers?”
“Yeah, and when I told her there were lockers out by the entrance, she bitched and said someone should’ve said something.”
“I was at Greeter, and I did say something.”
“Whatever. People are stupid.”
“Yep.” The guy responded. Annie sees Kelsey’s smile.
“Josh?” They exchange eyebrow raises and try not to giggle too loud. He might walk in and see them.
“What did he say?” Kelsey shows her the message. “Oh my gosh, he’s so into you.”
“You think so?” Kelsey doesn’t know, and neither does Annie. They’re twenty-something and uber virgin-y. “He’s five years older. Is that bad?”
“Hell no.” Annie checks her phone for the time. “Please God give me burnzone.” She logs into the computer to get her next assignment.
“C’mon CDS gods.” Kelsey still has thirteen minutes left of her break. “Wait, what should I say?”
Annie is assigned a rotation. “Nooo fucking Load 2.” She grabs her rain gear from the employee cubbies. “Uh, what time does he get off?”
“They extended him ‘till five. Aaron told me we’re understaffed. I’m here till close.”
Annie grins at the mention of Aaron. “Um, just say, ‘I’ll be around,’ or something then add a winky face.”
Kelsey actually likes the idea and adds in her own touch of, “If you need anything, just let me know. Winky face.”
She looks up. “Ok done, thanks. Stay dry.”
Annie heads out with her resting bitch face. “Do you need a hug?” Kelsey tries to be positive. They all consistently put up with wet bags and angry moms.
“Not unless your name’s Aaron Leroy Tucker.”
Kelsey snorts up her Diet Coke. Annie shakes her head. “Thanks though. Let me know what he says.” Kelsey salutes her exit, still laughing. “10-4. Turn Aaron straight.”
Her mood shifts from aggravated happiness to mushy-girl-crush mode. It’s her turn to get an assignment. Praise be, she got Burnzone. She thanks karma and grabs her rain gear, thrilled to be taking a break from Guests and their duck-abusing offspring. The only thing that can bother you in Burnzone are the bees, and the rain already took care of them.
It is pouring when she leaves the breakroom. She goes to Tower, RACs out, and follows the backstage path through the half-inside-half-outside “Employees Only” door. The Guests are huddled underneath the thin overhang of roof near the bathrooms. Many will leave. Some will see if they can stick it out. Kelsey wonders whatever happened to little Dodge. He’s definitely not near Walter, because Walter is in Burnzone too.
She sits on the bar stool one of the managers (probably Joey) brought in to replace the lawn chair that broke last week. It sits behind some fake rocks, and sometimes the guests can see her. They start asking, “Is that a person?” “No, it’s a prop.” No, it’s a Walter.
The sky is an ominous shade, like it’s holding in a burp of rain. There are eighteen rafts out today, and each one is numbered and named something quirky like “Bloated Bobby” or “Drift-Wood-Pecker.” After about thirty minutes of nonstop rain, every raft is empty. Kelsey sits beneath an umbrella designed to provide shade, not keep people dry. She pulls her hood further over her head and watches “Tsunami Mommy” pass through five times without any passengers. Either no one’s riding or their manager decided to cycle out the attraction. She gets up and shelters the phone with her jacket.
“Tower. This is Josh.”
Shit. For a second, she forgets why she called. “Hey Josh, it’s Kelsey in Burnzone.”
“Oh hey, what’s up? Wet yet?” He’s such a dork, and she feels phantom gropes when he talks.
“Well I won’t need a shower later.” She watches the vacant rafts flow through the flume like an exotic car wash.
“Hey nothing wrong with a shower.”
Don’t laugh, don’t laugh. “Um, did Aaron see lightening?” She tries to sound as un-turned on as possible.
“No, but the rafts are flooding so we cycled out.”
Why didn’t they let her know? “Okay, is maintenance going to inspect them?”
“Not that I know of.” Dammit Josh.
“Who’s the closing manager?”
Kelsey sees Walter waddle near her seat. “10-4, thank you.” She hangs up and checks the time. It’s been forty minutes and still no lightening or thunder to make this baby go 101. She scans the gray horizon for an invisible lightning god. “I know you’re up there.” Thank goodness in Burnzone nobody can hear you talk to yourself, except for Walter.
The roller coaster behind their attraction has stopped. Kelsey can see their backstage area and the water running down the hill near it. In this rain, anything outdoors is a water ride, and it certainly would not be a pleasant 60-mile-an-hour joyride with rain pelting your face. She consults her weather app. For the highest point of the attraction, Burnzone has the worst reception. The loading 2:25 p.m. forecast remains blank. She doesn’t want to call Tower again, so she dials Greeter.
“Greeter. This is Lane.”
“Hey Lane, it’s Kelsey in Burnzone. Is Rocky Mountain 101?”
“Not yet. I mean, technically they’re running, but they’re not loading. Why, did you see something?”
A loud noise like a train hitting a wall smacks Kelsey off the bar stool. Her face and palms and everything hit the ground on the non-fake rocks. She can’t breathe. She can’t think. The phone hangs from its pathetic chord, and the rain soaks the dial. Something’s sore. She’s not even sure if she’s still in her body. Then the sound strikes her again. It hurts now. Where’s Walter? The rain won’t stop. She never knew thunder could roar.
There’s no way in hell she’s staying to fry in Burnzone. She forces her shocked limbs to crawl to the gate that leads to the attraction’s queue. Everything’s blurred, but the path’s there. She grabs the railing down the walkway. Her bones ache, but her brain doesn’t seem to recognize the pain. What it does acknowledge is how scared she is. So she starts to hobble, because her legs won’t run.
The “Employees only” door slams, and she tries to look composed. All the guests already dispersed to the gift shops. Thank God. At least she won’t have to fake-smile or pretend she didn’t just get struck by lightning. Of course there’s always that one family that lingers. Poor Dodge is crying and his parents are dragging him by the arm to the Chinese restaurant next to the attraction. Kelsey limps to the backstage area. She finds the coordinator’s office. It’s locked. She leans against the door, out of the rain, out of breath, and half-conscious.
Tower is right next to the office. Josh leaves to get his next assignment. Walter watches him close the door. The mallard then pokes his boot and lets out a series of quacks. “What the fu-.” Josh sees Kelsey slumped over like a rag doll. She’s 101.
Decatur, Illinois, BFA Writing