24: Coasting on the Thunder Bolt

24: Coasting on the Thunder Bolt

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Teens Talk Middle School

Coasting on the Thunder Bolt

If you are never scared, embarrassed or hurt, it means you never take chances.

~Julia Soul

“Whatever you do, absolutely do not ride the roller coaster!”

Like a screeching broken record, my mother’s words repeated in my head as I stood in line with the rest of the seventh graders waiting to climb aboard the death defying “Thunder Bolt” on our class picnic.

My best friend, Marybeth, was a roller coaster fanatic. No roller coaster on earth was too high, too long, too fast or too berserk for Marybeth. She lived for the sole purpose of feeling her stomach take a flying leap to the back of her throat by way of one roller coaster after another.

Staunch as Marine recruits, Marybeth and I inched toward that rickety wooden death trap. To the naked eye, “brave” was my middle name. The naked nose however, is nobody’s fool. As anyone with a lick of sense will tell you, socks sopping with unchecked terror, tucked into a pair of sneakers purchased from the bargain bin, create an unfortunate, unpleasant, undeniable stink bomb. Marybeth stood downwind and turned her face in the other direction even when she was talking to me.

Once on the platform, the ride operator pried the damp and shriveled ticket from my hand. His bulging stomach jiggled while a brass happy face belt buckle played peek-a-boo from underneath his overflowing belly. Even the buckle sneered at me as I stepped over the threshold of defying my mother. Having surrendered our tickets, Marybeth grabbed my cold clammy hand, and dragged me to our seat while my stinky sneakers squished clear across the platform. Frank, the ticket taker, pulled the safety rail toward us and locked it into place. Then Frank gave his partner the go ahead to start the ride.

Marybeth and I sat in the second car. Our teacher, Miss Murphy, in an unprecedented display of courage, braved the front seat. In a moment, the car lurched forward and stopped abruptly, prompting me to gnash my teeth and clench the guardrail with a knuckle-whitening grip. We started chugging forward again; then all of a sudden we jerked to the right and I slammed into Marybeth. “Isn’t this fun?” she shrieked.

“Oh, yes. It’s a blast!” The words were hardly out of my mouth when Mount Everest loomed in front of me and I felt our car hook into the climb. Miss Murphy looked back at us and asked, “Are you girls going to scream when we go over the top?”

Marybeth threw her head back and squealed, “Sure we are!!!” I threw my head back and gasped for air.

Chug. Chug. Chug. We teetered at the top for only a second—then whoosh! Over we went going Lord knows how fast. Our coaster car formed a ninety-degree angle with the earth and I found myself promising God everything from my firstborn child to my first paycheck in return for getting me through this alive.

Faster and faster we raced, while I imagined Mom’s disgruntled face leaning over my bruised and battered body as I lay unconscious in the emergency room:

I told her not to ride the roller coaster, Doctor.
Did she listen? No!

I told you Annie.
Didn’t I say you were going to break your neck?

Just then, something huge and hairy landed on my face and thunder bolted me straight from my hallucination into total darkness. I shook my head but it refused to let go.

At the same time, my classmates roared out of control while the sound coming from Miss Murphy in the front car sounded more like whimpering and sniffling. We careened up and down the track making wild turns, but the enormous fur ball on my face never budged.

By now, Miss Murphy’s whimpering had grown into full-blown sobs, and the roar of the crowd fell to a hush. In fact, about the only thing I could hear was Miss Murphy downright bawling.

What if... what if the fur ball actually killed me and, because I had denied my mother, the wrath of God now descended upon me? Is this what hell is like? Surely God had a better sense of humor than that! Maybe so, since at last we were back on flat track and as the pull of the brake slowed us down, the furry “critter” slid slowly down my face.

Panic subsided until I got a look at Miss Murphy who now looked as if she was getting ready to rob a liquor store. A stocking cap contraption was pulled way down over her head, and the only sound that pierced the air was Miss Murphy’s wailing. In disbelief, I bowed my head and there in my lap sat Miss Murphy’s wig perched upon my knees like some kind of obtuse afghan. No wonder she was hysterical.

As we slowed down, Miss Murphy reached back, grabbed the wig, and slammed it on her head, cocked to the side like an ill-fitting French beret. By now, the nylon stocking head holder thing had shimmied down her forehead like a bathing cap, sandwiched between her head and the hairy French beret. When the car came to a complete stop, she jumped out faster than a... thunder bolt, and tore down the steps to the ladies’ room. Marybeth and I felt sorry for Miss Murphy. Unfortunately, all the sympathy we could muster did not quell our collective compulsion to laugh like crazy over Egg-Head Murphy and the “beast” that ate my face.

Once home, Mom asked if I’d had a good time, and of course I answered “yes,” not mentioning the entire fiasco.

I survived unscathed so it seems, but the mantle of guilt lingers on. Since that day, I haven’t ridden a roller coaster—or worn a wig. For that matter, I don’t think Miss Murphy has either. In fact, the whole experience leaves me wondering whether or not Miss Murphy herself defied her mother that day too.

~Annmarie B. Tait

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