A FAIR TO REMEMBER

 

An original fanfic

 by Gidget

 

TaleSpin and its characters are the property of Buena Vista Television/Walt Disney Co.  The rest of the characters are created by me, and may not be used without permission.  My deepest gratitude to Bearcat, Beth, Cody, Herodotus, Scarlet, Ted, and Will for their fabulous AND honest feedback and support  (Rated PG for mild coarse language, suggestiveness, and occasional violence.)

 

Note:  I tried to do a 'storyboard' of the coaster sequence in AFTR (Bearcat suggested it).  The cars are numbered to show the seating plan. 

 

 

1 - (front car) Molly (bound but not gagged --- soon to be shaken, not stirred!)

2 - Joanna (right); Kit (left)

3 - Rebecca (right); Baloo (left)

4 - empty car

5 - Handy

6 - Violet (right); Bonnie (left)

7 - (last car) Thursday (right); Archer (left)

 

 

Chapter 15

 

 

As Pearl clutched her stomach, blood seeped out through her fingers.  She tried to scream, but all that came out was a sickening gurgle.  

 

Pearl!  Helen screamed.

 

No!” both Baloo and Rebecca cried out.

 

From their seats in the coaster train, the passengers were riveted by the terrible sight. In the last car, both Thursday and Archer swore, wishing more than anything that they had their weapons.  In front of them, Bonnie gasped, her hands involuntarily flying to her mouth, while Violet sat stock-still, barely breathing.

 

Handy started to mutter something about foxholes, until he heard Violet say quietly, “Keep your head down and your mouth shut, soldier.”

 

Obediently, he hunkered down in the small space and curled up in a fetal position on the seat with his arms crossed over his head.  He was quiet but trembling.

”Mommy!” came a frightened cry from the front car.

 

“It’s okay, baby!  Everything’s all right!” Rebecca choked.  On the edge of hysteria, her mind was whirling like a drunken dancer.  Without thinking, she turned in her seat and threw her arms around Baloo’s neck, burying her face into his chest. 

 

Squeezing his eyes shut, he pulled her close, muttering, “Manomanoman…”

 

Kit was too shocked to do more than say dazedly, “This is definitely not good.” 

 

“Oh no!”  Bonnie cried, covering her eyes and cowering in her seat.

 

Violet stood up and began to climb out.

 

Thursday reached and caught her shoulder.  “Don’t.  He might shoot you too!”

 

“Get your lousy mitts off me!” she snarled.  “I’m not stickin’ around for target practice.”

 

Furious, she shook him off, but suddenly his fingers became steel, again clamping down tight. 

 

“Now you listen to me, lady.”  Although his words were polite, his tone was as hard as iron.  "We’re the professionals here --- the last thing we need is you getting in the way.”

 

Her eyes flashed.  “Getting…in…the…way?”

 

“This isn’t the movies.  Amateurish heroics get people hurt --- or killed.  We need a plan and your cooperation.  Is that clear?”

 

“Yeah,” Archer agreed.  “Do what you’re told, skirt.”

 

Violet said darkly, “I hope he shoots you next.”

 

“Stop it!” Bonnie cried. “What’s wrong with you? She’s dying!

 

Joanna froze.  Her eyes darted wildly, the hollow, pulpy sound of the bullet punching Pearl’s stomach still echoing in her ears.  

 

Oohhhh!  Choking and writhing in agony, Pearl collapsed to the ground. She tried to speak but all that came out was a wet gurgle. It sounded something like: “Hell-meee!


Covington stared at the smoking gun in his hand in open-mouthed amazement.
  ”I-I- didn’t do it!  Sh-she just came at me like… you saw it!” He met the shocked, accusing eyes around him almost pleadingly.  It-it just went off!  What are you looking at me for!  She’s the one who did it --- it’s her fault!”

 

Nobody responded.

 

“Say something!” Covington shouted at her.  “Stop that bleeding and tell them you’re all right!”

 

“Don’t just stand there!” Kit shouted back.  “Somebody help her!”  He started forward, but Covington pointed the gun at him.

 

Don’t move!  Stay where you are!

 

“She needs help now!

 

Without thought for her own safety, Helen leaped to her feet and reached under her skirt; grabbing the hem of her own slip, she tore it with a loud, ragged rrriiiipp.

 

Covington was scandalized.  “H-Helen!  Wh-what are you doing?

 

Ignoring him, she wadded the wide strip of cloth in a ball and pressed it firmly, stanching the pulsating wound.  In seconds the cloth was no longer white, but a dark, soaked red.

 

At the sound of tearing fabric, Joanna stiffened.

 

The nail caught on Judy’s pinafore snapped through the delicate threads.  Marie watched in horrified fascination.

 

“Marie!  Help me!”

 

Helen’s voice was low and steely. “Now look here, ye bloody insect!  I’m tellin’ ye how it’s gonna be --- I’m stayin’ here with her.  Ye think I’m lettin’ her bleed to death?  I ain’t goin’ out that way!  If I die tonight, it’ll be holdin’ this poor girl’s hand!”

 

“Just who do you think you are?” Covington was furious.  “You stupid woman, don’t you know I have to make my getaway?  Take your seat right now!

 

“Me mind’s made up.”

 

Sensing that Helen might be the next casualty, Thursday quickly said, “She’s the only chance you have of reducing a murder charge to involuntary manslaughter, pal.”

 

“Don’t say that!” Helen snapped.  “Ye bloody fool, she can hear ye!”

 

“I didn’t do it,” Covington said stubbornly, refusing to look at the bleeding girl.  “She just attacked me---!”

Shut up!” Helen said savagely.  Her normally placid dark eyes blazed in righteous anger.  “It don’t matter now!  The way ye ripped her apart, ye might as well ‘ave pulled the trigger!” 

 

“H-Helen?  It h-hurts so…bad…” Pearl’s eyes were beginning to glaze. 

 

“Shhh… I know it hurts… try to relax.  I ain’t leavin’ ye, luv.”

 

Covington couldn’t bear to look at Pearl any longer.  All that blood… it was just too dreadful.   He hoped he wouldn’t faint.  His voice was unnaturally shrill as he addressed the others. 

 

“You heard her!  The old woman will stay here as my hostage, so do not try anything.  If something happens to her, it’ll be your fault.”

 

Big Al was a few feet away from the two women, semi-conscious.  He muttered and stirred, swearing softly.

 

Covington glanced at him nervously.  “You! Detectives!  Take him with you.”

 

“Are you out of your mind?” Archer pointed at the supine bear in disbelief.  “That guy’s as big as my wife!

 

Covington looked confused.

 

“She’s expecting,” Thursday explained.

 

Archer lamented, “Betsy’s always complainin’ about her dresses not fitting anymore, as if I’ve got dough to throw away on…”

 

Enough!” the jaguar yelled.  “I don’t care about that!  Just do it!  Young man, help them.  I want you where I can keep an eye on you.”

 

I’d like to help you off a cliff, Kit thought, but did as he was told.

 

With Archer holding the big bear’s arms and Thursday his legs, and Kit the middle, grunting with the effort.  They just couldn’t lift him high enough.

 

Archer groaned.  “Aw, hurry up!  This is killing me!” 

 

Kit gritted his teeth.  As abrasive and obnoxious as Big Al was, no way was the boy going to aid Covington in what he had in mind.  If they put the barker into the roller coaster, he would be helpless to save himself from falling to his death.

 

Deliberately, he allowed Big Al’s bottom to scrape the muddy ground, doubled over with the strain.  “Oooh…” Moaning, he let go. “We’ll never make it…I gotta rest.”  He gave Thursday a slight nod, and the detective returned it.

 

“Forget it,” Thursday told their captor, setting down Big Al’s feet.  “There’s no way we’ll get him over there.”

 

Oooh!  Well…just drag him then!  Leave him on the tracks for all I care!”

 

Kit’s eyes widened. “What! 

 

Thursday squinted at their captor.  “Just like you did with that poor Weasel slob last spring?  Left him unconscious in the street until someone accidentally ran him over?  Whatever works, right?

 

“But he tried to rob me!” Covington said indignantly.  He couldn’t stop himself --- the damning words came spilling out.  “And it’s not my fault that stupid driver didn’t stop the car!”

 

“You know what you are, pal?  You’re a coward.  If you’d just admitted that you knowingly, deliberately and with malice of forethought caused that man’s death, I might have respected you --- just a little.  Not for killing him, but for facing the consequences like a man.”

 

Covington’s mouth fell open. “Are you implying that this is somehow my fault?”

 

Thursday was disgusted. “The lady’s right.  You are an insect.” 

 

“Don’t you dare lecture me, Detective.  Do you honestly think I’d allow myself to be captured by some scruffy, small-time… flatfoots?  I deserve a worthy adversary.  When I take rightful possession of the Key of Comixia, I shall begin life anew in a civilized place far from here, away from all the smells and vulgarity!  I shall rebuild my fortune and will go down in history as the world’s greatest criminal mind.”

 

“You must’ve been vaccinated with a gramophone needle as a kid.”

 

“Just put the oaf on the tracks!” Covington snarled.

 

“All right, all right!”  Thursday paused.  “Give us a minute then.”

 

“At least hold up your end --- I’m doing all the work,” his partner muttered.  He glared at Kit.  “You weren’t even trying.”

 

Kit spread his hands helplessly.  “Sorry.  He’s a big boy.” 

 

“Button it, Lou,” Thursday said curtly.  He lifted Big Al’s legs again, making a face.  “We need more manpower.  Now you know why I worked so hard to get transferred from the drunk tank.  Big guys like this were hell on my back.”

 

“What are you complaining about?  I might as well… do this…myself for all…” Archer blinked as Thursday shot him a look.  Mouthing oh, he allowed his arms to go slack, dropped the big bear with a small splash.  “Oh, darn.”

 

Thursday grunted, keeping up the pretense.  Finally, he just dropped the bear’s legs into the mud.  “Forget it.  Just leave him here, okay? Look at him --- he can’t do anything.  Just leave him be.”

 

Covington considered shooting Big Al in the knee to make sure, but decided to conserve his bullets.  He gave Thursday a curt nod and indicated the roller coaster.

 

“Let’s go, people,” Thursday said wearily.  “At least the big guy’s got a chance.”

 

 

* * *

 

“Helen?” Joanna tried to catch Helen’s eye, but the older woman looked away, focusing her attention on Pearl.  With a sinking feeling, Joanna knew she had gone too far.  Helen's love had always seemed unconditional, but now it appeared that it did have its limits.  Coming from the one person who genuinely cared about her, Helen might as well have slapped her across the face.

 

Don’t hate me.  I did what I had to do.

 

“Ladies…gentlemen…I bid you adieu,” Covington said, and made a mocking bow. Then he grasped the lever that would set the ride in motion.

 

He was shivering, soaking wet, and a few remaining hairs straggled crazily all over his shiny scalp.  Thin ribbons of blood from Pearl’s nails still ran down his cheek.  He was a pathetic, yet frightening sight. With the gun in one trembling hand and the lever in the other, he finally gave it a yank.  With a metallic groan, the train began to move forward.

 

“Uh-oh, we’re movin’!”  Baloo said, not caring that he was stating the obvious.  Almost absently, he rested his arm behind Rebecca’s trembling shoulders and gripped the other side of the car.  “Sit tight, Becky.”

 

At the sound of the motor, Handy raised his head and automatically sat up.  Joanna drew in a sharp intake of breath, as if she’d pricked her finger on a needle.   Her fingers tightened on the bar and she held herself stiffly upright, despite the fact that she was tipping back, back, back…  Like a flashbulb, something snapped, and an unbidden picture of Pearl appeared before her eyes, making her dizzy.

 

Pearl --- she’s dying and I didn’t even do it on purpose!

 

“Helen, I’m sorry about what I did. Please…” Joanna continued to plead, her eyes widening in horror as the roller coaster picked up speed and the tracks began to blur together.  The unrelenting rain and the metal wheels struck slats, drowning out her voice. “Helen!”

 

Jump!  her mind cried.  Before it’s too late!  But it was too late. She was still looking back toward the wooden platform when she noticed the ground was now moving away, like it was being stretched.   They chugged forward with agonizing slowness, then gained momentum. One by one, each car tilted backward, forcing everyone else to lie flat on their backs as they ascended.

 

“Joanna! Sit down and hang on,” Baloo ordered, trying to hold on to the sides of the car and keep his dinner down at the same time.  Man, why’d I have ta eat all that pizza?

 

“Knock it off!”  Rebecca shouted at her. 

 

“Joey, ya gotta keep calm.  I know you’re scared…heck, we all are.  But ya gotta…” 

 

“Helen will stop the ride.” Joanna said, almost to herself, falling back in her seat as the floor tipped under her feet.  “As soon as he’s gone, she can just run over and turn it off.  Wait and see… it’ll be okay.” 

 

“That’d be great, but no, she can’t,” Kit’s grim voice startled her.  She hadn’t realized that she had spoken out loud. “I've seen wounds like that before. She has to stay with Pearl every minute.  She could die.”


What!” she exploded.  Her eyes were wild. “That’s stupid.  It would only take a few lousy seconds!”

 

“A few lousy precious seconds,” Rebecca retorted.  “What would you have her do, let that girl bleed to death just to throw a switch?”

 

Why not?” she shouted.  Then she looked up, shuddering. “Oh... I can’t do this.  I can’t do this.” 

 

“Come on, Joey,” Baloo tried to pat her shoulder comfortingly, but couldn’t reach. “We’ll help ya through it. It’ll be all right.”

 

“Helen!”  Joanna tried to stand up again, but couldn’t.  “You know what to do, right?  Just stop up the blood with a sock, anything!  Stuff your slip into it!  It just takes a few seconds…!”

 

Kit clapped a hand over her mouth and yanked her back in her seat.  “Sit…ouch!

 

Without thinking, Joanna bit his hand and snarled, “Don’t ever do that to me!”

 

Damn!  Glancing down, he noticed that she had drawn blood.  Rubbing it, he thought sourly, I suppose I’ll have to get shots!

 

He glared back at her. “Then will you please shut up? You have to keep your head!”

 

Joanna ignored him.  “Just a few seconds…” she pleaded, almost sobbing.  “Helen, I’m sorry about what I did to Pearl!  Come on…”

 

Kit wondered if he’d have to slap her. 

 

“Helen!  Stop this thing!” Joanna shrieked.   

 

Helen looked down at Pearl, then up at the roller coaster; finally, she briefly met Joanna’s eyes and shook her head helplessly. There was nothing she could do.

 

Defeated, Joanna sank back.  In a blind panic and on the verge of hyperventilating, images leaked into her head unabated --- images she did not want to remember.  Kit was now too busy hanging on to the sides of the cars to notice.  She was haggard; her eyes were wide with terror. When Kit finally turned his head, Joanna was slowly rocking on her side of the car; she was beginning to mumble but it wasn't audible. Only the words played in her mind.

 

Please… not now!

 

“Marie, hurry up.”

 

“Okay, okay!”  Firmly gripping the branch, she confidently made her way to the trunk, hand-over-hand until her feet dangled over a heavier branch.

 

Judy leaned out, her blonde curls brushing her cheeks. “I’ll tell Mother.”

 

“Go ahead.  She punishes me for breathing.”

 

Suddenly, Judy’s voice sounded near tears. “Please let me come?  She never lets me do anything!”

 

“Aw, let her,” Patty said. “It’s better than having her tattle on us.”

 

 

She wrapped her arms around the bar, almost as if she was climbing a tree.

 

“Joanna, what’s wrong with you?”  Baloo yelled at her.

 

Kit grabbed her shoulders. “Sit still!”  To his surprise, she stopped resisting.  The terror disappeared from her expression, but something else replaced it.  She looked petulant and…annoyed. 

 

Joanna sighed and addressed the air.  “Fine.  But if you can’t keep up, we’re leaving you behind.”  Her voice was suddenly higher, younger…almost childlike.

 

The boy gaped at her. “Whaa--?

 

Joanna scowled at him. “Well, poo-poo head?  You comin’ or not?

 

Uneasily, Kit edged away from her.  “Um, guys… we’ve got a problem!”

 

 

* * *

Back on the ground, the situation was equally perilous as Pearl struggled for life. Helen was hovering over her crumpled body, trying to give her whatever first aid she could. Pearl mumbled something, but Helen could barely hear her over the pelting rain.  It struck the mud with dull pok-pok-pok sounds. 

 

The koala leaned closer to Pearl.  "What was that, luv?"

 

“I… hate…you…” Pearl whispered, louder this time, staring up at Covington with loathing.  “W-wish I never laid eyes on you…”

 

He stared back coldly, careful to fix his gaze just over her head.  “That goes double for me.”

 

“You… coward!  You can’t even look me in the eye…” She began to cough, gasping for air.  Helen’s eyes widened in alarm.

 

“Shh… don’t talk, luv.  Save yer strength,” she crooned.  Gently, she turned Pearl’s head to the side, so the rain wouldn’t hit her full in the face. Then she looked up at Covington and hissed,  “Why don’t ye just go? Or is yer ugly mug gonna be the last thing she sees?”

 

"How dare you call me ugly!" He stamped his foot, but it only made a wet squelching sound in the mud, spoiling the effect. "I won the beautiful child contest at Gerber’s ten years in a row!”

 

“Ye should’ve been drowned at birth, ye dirty bugger!”  Helen shot back.  Her usual tight gray curls were now plastered to her skull, making her look like a flood victim.

 

A muscle twitched in Covington’s scratched cheek as he stood over them, almost mesmerized.  Pearl lay in a heap, her head cushioned in Helen’s soft lap as the old koala continued to press her wadded slip onto the wound.

 

“Make him… go…away…”

 

“Well?” Helen spat, startling him out of his stupor.  “Get off with ye!”

 

Covington found that he could not look at her, and turned away. 

 

Before he left, he flung at Helen, “You’d better not let her die!  I won’t have my life ruined because of her!”

 

“Don’t worry. I won’t,” she answered, her voice heavy with loathing. “She’ll live to spit on yer grave if I have my way. Now get outta my sight!”

 

With a last, futile glance in search of his ruined toupee, he quickly hurried  --- or rather, sloshed away toward the trailer park, intent on finding the key that would make his fortune.

 

Someday this will be nothing but a bad dream.  I shall live in a villa in Franz, with servants…surrounded by works of art… cultured people and if any brats try to spoil it --- I’ll release the hounds!


No longer watching him go, Helen’s set jaw softened as she looked down at Pearl, wondering how to keep the shivering girl warm. They were soaked to the skin and nowhere near the nurse’s tent.  If she were to leave Pearl to fetch a blanket, she ran the risk of letting her bleed to death.

 

Her friends and employees were trapped on a runaway roller coaster, with Molly tied up and unable to help herself.  Big Al lay on the muddy ground, barely conscious.  And Joanna was lost, so lost…

 

Absently, she touched her bruised temple where Covington had struck her.  Tender, but no blood, thank goodness. She wondered if one of the bullets had hit her Nicholas, if he was dead or dying. 

 

She shut her eyes tightly, unwilling to see the terrible picture even in her mind’s eye, but she could see him --- all too clearly.  Poor Nicky, I loved ye like a son and all it brought ye was misery and pain.  I’m so sorry…

 

Then there was Joanna, who cringed when anyone got too close and kept them at bay with her sharp tongue.  Helen could not forget her casual cruelty, holding Pearl hostage, taunting their tormentor and gambling with their lives.  Her lips thinned until they were practically invisible.

 

Yet who was the one who helped her off the boat upon their arrival in Cape Suzette and tended her when she was seasick?  The girl who willingly kept her company and was fiercely loyal to the point of assaulting a young purse snatcher?  Helen, who rarely swore, did so under her breath.  “Bloody ‘ell!”

 

A few minutes ago, nothing --- not even being held at gunpoint --- could stop Joanna from threatening to snap Pearl’s neck.  Her face had been animated, her eyes glowing with diabolical glee.

 

“If ye take her life, Joanna, I can’t forgive you.”

 

“Helen…”  

 

She could still hear her name, whispered like a prayer.

 

Joanna’s --- frightened, enraged at being thwarted --- and something else that Helen couldn’t quite decipher.  She had released Pearl… but why?

 

“If ye take her life, Joanna, I can’t forgive you.”

 

Then Helen knew --- a gun couldn’t move Joanna, yet a few simple words… did.

 

She shook herself and said loudly, “Please, God.  Tell me what to do!”

 

Pearl’s weak voice interrupted her thoughts.  “Matilda…he killed Matilda…”

 

“Shh, it’ll be all right, sweetheart,” Helen murmured, concealing the fear growing within her.  “Stay with us, Pearl.”

 

“I’m cold…” Pearl mumbled.  “So cold…”

 

Laying her hand upon the girl’s forehead, Helen was alarmed to discover that it was cool and clammy.  It could not be blamed on the rain. 

 

Pearl was deathly pale; her breathing was rapid and shallow.  Suddenly she vomited.  Luckily Helen had already turned the girl’s head to the side, so it mostly missed her lap.

 

With a mewling whimper, Pearl’s eyes rolled back into her head.

 

“Pearl!” Helen snapped.  She slapped her lightly.  “Wake up! You must stay awake!”

 

“Noooooooo….go ‘way…”

 

Dear Lord, she’s going into shock!

 

* * *

 

 

Baloo smacked his forehead,  “Aw man.  She’s goin’ loony on us…just like…that first time I took her flyin’!”

 

“And on the elevator!” Kit swallowed. Aw swell!

 

The train continued to climb --- they were almost at the top.  Kit glanced over at Joanna, whose eyes were glazed over, seeing something the rest of them could not.  

 

A faraway rumble of thunder in the distance interrupted them.  Then another, louder this time, making the tracks vibrate.

 

Baloo’s mouth went dry. “Uh-oh.  Hope that doesn’t mean…”

 

Krrrrrrack! 

 

Lightning flashed across the night sky, briefly illuminating their faces.  Kit saw Joanna’s pupils dilate.

 

Rebecca cried, “Baloo, if it hits the tracks…!”

 

The rest of her words were drowned in screams and the roar of the coaster as it dipped into a sharp drop, sending them hurtling downward at a sickening speed.  The wind blew hard in their faces, blasting Archer’s fedora from his head.  He was too busy shrieking to notice.  

 

Joanna screamed, “Judy, don’t!”

 

 

* * *

 

An eternity seemed to pass as Covington stumbled blindly toward Joanna and Violet’s trailer.  The rain dripped into his collar, spreading its icy stain across his neck.  His whole body ached, and his lungs felt about ready to explode. 

 

“No more,” he gasped.  “Have to… rest…” Then he sneezed.

 

Blast!  Now I’m getting a cold.  Oh, why can’t Mother be here! 

 

Removing Joanna’s key from his pocket, he tried to open the door; but his hands shook so badly that he dropped it twice.  Then it wouldn’t fit in the keyhole!

 

“What is this, the key to her bloody diary?” he fumed.  “It’s just like her to do this to me!”

 

Then, it gave way and he suddenly fell forward, finding himself sprawled on the floor.  He got up, limping and hastily locked it again.  No sense in taking chances.

 

Then, a stern voice in his head said, Just a little more to go, Covie, old bean.  She keeps it in that shabby blue case of hers. Now to grab it and go!

 

But which side was hers?  Last time he’d broken into her spartan living space, it had been ridiculously easy to spot her side of the room.   It had been plain, almost anonymous --- as if she didn’t want any trace of her existence to be found.   Pearl’s side had been cluttered with clothing, cosmetics, movie magazines --- all kinds of claptrap --- and that infernal doll. Then he spotted the dark blue duffle bag at the end of one of the beds.  But where was the smaller bag --- the Key just had to be inside. The way she’d taunted him with it when he’d helped Pearl move her frivolous belongings into Bonnie’s trailer --- she’d known all along how badly he wanted it.

 

What she didn’t know was just how willing he’d been to kill for it.

 

He began to search the drawers of a small bureau.  All were empty.  Frustrated, he tried to think.  Finally, on a hunch, he looked under the bed and saw the small navy blue case.

 

After dragging it out, he opened it, turned it over, and unceremoniously dumped the contents.  Just souvenir spoons --- silver-plated, brass and pewter spoons --- all worthless. 

 

Then he saw a flash of gold.  Eagerly he reached for it, only to realize that it was just another spoon.  He was about to toss it aside when he noticed that it was heavier than the others --- real gold with a tiny opal map of Oztralia engraved on the top.  He started to put it back, thinking, a mere trinket, but it should fetch a pretty penny from the right collector… wait!  What’s that?  Eureka!  Wedged in the side against the case’s lining was the Key!

 

Darling, how I have missed you!

 

Triumphantly he snatched it up; immediately it began to tingle in his hand. 

 

Strange…

 

He vaguely remembered the lady archaeologist at the museum where he’d worked a giving a lecture about the Key, describing its great value.  Something about a curse, although he hadn’t paid much attention after that.  But the Key was composed of a mixture of strange alloys… perhaps he was allergic.  He resolved to wear gloves next time.  For the time being, he quickly dropped it into the case with the gold spoon and fastened it shut.

 

Unable to contain his glee, he hopped up and jumped on the bed, mud spattering everywhere.  He bounced up and down, taking savage pleasure in desecrating Joanna’s belongings.  Too bad she’d never come here and see his handiwork.  Wouldn’t it be wonderful to see her expression? As he bounced, he caught sight of himself in a small cheap mirror on the wall. 

 

He let out a squeak. “My face… my beautiful face!”

 

It was like something out of a horror film.  Three deep gashes were carved into his left cheek, thanks to Pearl. The blood ran down his neck and stained his shirt.  Filthy.  Bald, with a few pathetic baby-fine hairs sticking out every which way.  And he smelled.

 

“Oh no… I’m—I’m ugly!  He began to cry.

 

He could still taste the mud that Kit had shoved into his mouth and his nasal passage was blocked with the slime as well.  In vain he searched his pockets for a handkerchief.  Coughing, he wrenched Joanna’s duffle bag open, grabbed a blouse and blew his nose.  Then he tried to tear it in half. “There! Serves you right!”    

 

That was only the beginning.  Feverishly, he dumped the rest out onto the floor.  A small sewing kit, a makeup bag, a mystery novel and a deck of cards were among the items kept in one of the side pockets of the bag.  He opened the deck of cards and ripped most of them in half, tossing the pieces aside.  From the makeup bag, he grabbed a bright red lipstick and scribbled on the walls.  Underwear, stockings and clothes --- mostly all black and several shades of blue --- these he tried to rip to shreds, but he was too weak to do much more than stretch them.  So he cut them up with a pair of sewing scissors; then he balled them up and threw against the wall.   

 

“You nasty little tramp!  I’ll teach you to cross Covington Alistair Donahue the Third!”

 

Shrieking, he stomped on the scattered spoons; with the scissor blades he ripped the stuffing out of the mattress.   As he stabbed, he muttered feverishly, “Joanna, you rotten… how I despise you!  I’ll get you!  I’ll get you! All those months of insults… greasy food… manure… stole my… cufflinks!”

 

Cufflinks!  Mother gave me those!  I cannot leave without them!

 

I’m the victim here!  But not for long. Oh, but you’ll pay --- you’ll pay for everything!  Where are they? 

 

Panting, he tore the place apart. Jerking Violet’s clothing out of the drawers and he dumped the contents --- wiped his feet on the clothes, tore up the letters --- all of which looked surprisingly identical --- dumped black ink all over everything.  He tore her vendor’s apron from a hook on the bathroom door and felt inside the pockets, finding nothing but a book of matches that she used to light the grill.  Disgusted, he was about to toss it aside but paused.

 

It was time to leave, cufflinks or no. Very well.  At least I have the Key.  But he just couldn’t let it go.  That monstrous little minx has my cufflinks!

 

Thoroughly enraged, he flipped open the matchbook, selected a match and struck it with a loud hissss.  Then he dropped it on Joanna’s discarded clothing, where it slowly spread.  Giggling madly, he quickly struck the rest, dropping the little orange bombs onto Violet’s belongings --- then he snatched up the blue spoon case.

 

“There!  Now there’ll be nothing left of you!”  he yelled.

 

The acrid smell of smoke, fabric and other noxious materials reached his nose.  Uh-oh! Time to run, Covie, old chap!

 

As he turned to leave, he spied movement, a blur of white ducking under the window and his heart quickened with fear.  The doorknob rattled, making him jump as though it were a snake.  His eyes bulged. Someone’s at the door!

 

Impossible!  They’re all trapped on that roller coaster.  There’s no way anyone could know I’m here!  Then who…?

 

Jerking the smoking curtains aside, he peered out the window.  Strummer, grinning in foolish triumph, waved to him, then ran away.

 

The trailer rapidly filled with smoke.  Coughing and wheezing for air, he raced to the door and tried to jerk it open, but realized with horror that it was jammed.  That freak locked me in! 

 

By then, the trailer was completely in flames.

 

Nooooooo!

 

* * *

 

“Al!”  Helen bellowed.  “Wake up, ye lummox!” Big Al was their only hope for stopping that thing before…

 

“Huh?”

 

“I can’t leave her!  Go over there --- go turn it off!  Oh no!"  She noticed that the roller coaster had almost reached the first loop. 

 

“Keep your shirt on.  I’m comin’, I’m comin’…” Big Al stumbled to his feet and scowled in Helen’s general direction, obviously unable to focus on anything. Then, weaving like a drunk, he turned and shambled off in the opposite direction of the controls.

 

“Wait!  Al!” she shouted at his back.  “Yer goin’ the wrong way!  Come back!” 

 

“Nag, nag, nag!”  He ignored her, clutching his head, only interested in getting out of the rain.

 

Somewhere dry and warm…with some dancin’ girls feedin’ me grapes…

 

Helen groaned and turned her attention to the tracks, where the train was careening wildly towards the loop.  As it snaked in a figure eight, the passengers were slammed hard against the sides.

 

In the back car, Thursday and Archer knocked their heads together.  Archer’s hard skull had the impact of a baseball, making his partner curse and rub his head; then he remembered where he was and quickly grabbed the bar support.

 

“Ow!  Damn it!” Violet yelled. She shoved Bonnie away.  “Get off me!”

 

Bonnie shoved her back. “No!  You get off me!

 

Handy lay down across the seat and braced himself by planting his feet against the opposite wall, holding onto the bar.  On the other side, his head banged hard against the wood.  Ow!”

 

Baloo and Rebecca, of course, didn’t have that problem.  The pilot was simply too well padded.  For once, she was grateful for that.  The combination of wind and danger was strangely intoxicating. With his arm around her and his thigh brushed up against hers, she felt…strange.  Alarmed, she tried to pull away, but there was no room.

 

He mistook her actions for panic, and tried to calm her.  “Easy, Becky!  Quit squirmin’ --- we ain’t goin’ anywhere.”

 

He began to sweat.  Man, I wish she wouldn’t move around like that! 

 

“I know that, you idiot!” she yelled at him.  “Don’t you dare try to ‘manage’ me.  I’m not some hysterical female you can patronize!  I can’t move!”

 

“Hey, don’t get so excited, Becky!”

 

Her cheeks turned pink as she shouted over the wind. “Baloo, being wedged with you isn’t quite enough to get me excited!”

 

“Sorry, lady.  We don’t have time for nothin’ else!”

 

“Oh!  You conceited oaf!  Can’t you do anything to get us out of here instead of being a bone-head!”

 

“Don’t go bustin’ my chops, lady!” he grunted, trying to shift his weight.  “I’m a little tied up right now!”

Tied up?

 

Grunting, Baloo wriggled until he barely managed to pull himself up, gripping the upraised lap bar for support.  Beside him, his employer grunted as his hip grazed her cheek.  He tried to make himself heard over the combined bedlam of screaming and wheels striking the rails. “Everybody --- listen to me!” he panted.  “I’ve got a plan!”

 

But nobody was listening.  The din of the coaster wheels striking the tracks made everyone belligerent as they shouted the others down, escalating to panic.

 

“The ponies --- my babies!  Misty!  Bluebelle!” whimpered Bonnie.  “If anything happens to me, th-they’ll be orphans! 

 

At this, Violet rolled her eyes.  “You’re a lioness, you dumb Dora!”

 

Grunting with the effort, Molly strained against her bonds.  Since her arms were tied to her sides, the child could not grab onto the bar and her feet couldn’t even gain traction. The floor was slick from rain.  She kicked the sides with frustration.

 

The coaster continued to hurtle forward --- it wouldn’t be long before the first loop turned them upside-down.  Rebecca forgot about being angry and shrieked, “We’re turning over!  She’ll fall out!”

 

“Oh man!” Baloo yelled. “Guys, listen to me ---!”  But he couldn’t make himself heard over their voices.

 

The wheels rattling over the tracks increased in rhythm.  Tick-tick-tick-tick…

 

As the train clamored uphill, all the seats rocked backwards, vibrating so hard that it throttled the occupants violently from side to side.

 

“We’re going to fall!” Bonnie yelled. 

 

“So hang on,” Violet retorted.  Gritting her teeth, she thrust out her claws, embedding them deep into the wood in front of her.  She yelped in pain as splinters burrowed their way under her claws  Ow! This is gonna be hell on my manicure.” 

 

Next to her, the horse trainer tried to do the same thing.  Shorter, but equally sharp claws shot through the black riding gloves.  Unfortunately, they were too short and when she tried to hold on, she only managed to peel a few curly shavings.  Augh! I can’t do it!”

 

“You don’t have the tools.” Violet rolled her eyes in disbelief.  “Hold the bar then!”  Luckily, Bonnie’s gloved hands had some traction, so she was able to grip the bar.  She planted her booted feet on the floor and braced herself.

 

Sweating, Archer suddenly, almost girlishly, clutched Thursday’s arm.  “Sam, I hate these big rides!”

 

Thursday tried to shake him off, but it was like trying to dislodge a leech.  “Lou, you idiot, cut it out!”

 

“But I’m too young to die!”

 

Two cars ahead of them, Handy hollered, “I’m too old!”

 

Archer wailed, “Well I’m—I’m… too good-lookin’!”

 

“No, you’re not!” Violet yelled at them both.  “You’re both expendable!”

 

“Let… go!” Thursday growled, trying to pry Archer’s fingers off his arm. 

 

“You don’t get it, Sam!”  Archer whined.  “You ain’t married --- it’s not like you’re leaving anyone behind.  I’ve got a wife and kid on the way!  They need me!   Doncha see---I gotta live!

 

"Yeah, right!"  Thursday’s tone was full of sarcasm.  "Now, let go of my arm before I knock your block off!" 

 

Archer moaned, “I’m gonna die!”

 

"Hey!"  Violet snapped.  "If you don't shut up I'll push you off this thing myself!"

 

Bonnie tossed her head, not unlike one of her hoofed charges, trying to move errant wet strands of hair out of her eyes.  “What about my babies!”

 

“Hey, I’ve got an idea---!” Baloo tried again, but could not compete with the clamoring hysteria around him. 

 

Molly continued to kick the slats of her slippery prison, and found herself tipped backward in an increasingly vertical angle.  She stretched her legs as far as she could --- and managed to touch the front bar with her toes.

 

Maybe, she thought.  Maybe!

 

“Molly!”  Rebecca shouted.  “Can you hear me?”

 

The little girl ignored the yelling, which she couldn’t understand anyway over the dull roar of the machine.  She stretched again, grunting with the effort, now too desperate, too focused on her goal to listen to anything but the bullying voice in her head.

 

Go on, Danger Woman!  Do it!  Ol’ Creepface won’t get rid of me that easy!

 

“Move over ta the side, Li’l Britches.  I’m gonna try ta get over there.  Pass Molly to me.” 

 

Rebecca couldn’t help saying, "Baloo, no --- you'll never make it!  Louie told me you got sick just riding this thing!"

 

"I'll be sick later, Beckers,” Baloo said roughly.  “Right now I'm too busy!" 

 

The tracks arched until the train was almost completely vertical.  Baloo was flung backwards, landing hard in his seat  Oof!

 

“Mommy, I can’t hang on!”

 

“Molly!” Rebecca shrieked, struggling to stand up.   Gravity sucked her back into her seat again.  “She’s rolling out!”

 

Indeed she was.  With her arms tied to her sides, the child could not grab anything.  A few more inches and Molly would fall between the cars --- or be hurled to her death.

 

“Molly!”  Baloo bellowed.  “Try ta wrap your legs ‘round the handlebar!”

 

Again, she tried to stretch her legs to do so, but fell back, gasping, “I can’t!”

 

“Let me up!” Rebecca raised her hips and tried to wriggle free.

 

The pilot gaped at her.  “Rebecca, what are ya doin’?”

 

“I have to get to Molly!  Kit, grab my hand and pull me into your car and Baloo, suck in that gut, will you!  I have to…ugh!

 

Grunting, he inhaled.  It helped a bit, but not much.

 

“Here, Becky!  Lemme give ya a hand!”  Baloo promptly slid his fingers under her backside, planted both paws on and pushed upward.  “Up ya go!”

 

“Ooh! Baloo!”

 

The tracks rose into sweeping arc as the cars began another climb. The track was taking them to an even greater height. Beyond they could see the silhouette of the loop backlit by the occasional lightning strike.

 

“Oh, man!” Baloo yelled.  “We-we’re gonna flip like a flapjack!  Wait! Becky, don’t get out yet!”

 

Kit shouted, trying to raise his voice above the din. “Baloo! See my airfoil? When I threw it at Covington it hit you in the head! It must be on the floor somewhere!”

 

The big bear cupped his paw around his ear.  Wha-aaat?

 

The boy decided that short, crucial phrases were best for now.  “Airfoil!  Floor! Check!”  as Kit gestured toward Baloo's feet.

 

Baloo grunted, jostling Rebecca in his attempt to see.  “Kid, I can’t even see my own feet!”

 

“What a surprise!”  Rebecca snapped.  “Move over!”

 

Where?  You’re takin’ up the whole seat, lady!”

 

I’m taking up the whole seat?”

 

“Would you two just find it already!” Kit yelled at them.

 

Rebecca glanced down at the floor and felt around with her toe, her foot stepping none-too-gently on Baloo’s big foot.

 

“Becky, this ain’t no time ta play footsies!”

 

“Don’t flatter yourself.  There isn’t an inch of space where I can avoid touching you!” 

 

Suddenly she felt it at the far end, leaning crookedly against the side.  “Kit, I found your airfoil!”

 

There was a sudden jerk as the cars finished the curve and hooked onto the chain for the lethal climb toward the loop. Kit looked at the hill and then the loop. He turned back toward Rebecca and Baloo.

 

“Give it here---quick!”

 

“Ugh!  I can’t!  Baloo, lean over and get it!”

 

Baloo tried.  “I can’t reach!”

 

“Let me try again.  Suck it in, Fly Boy!  Here I come!”  To Baloo’s surprise, Rebecca managed to wriggle enough to half-stand over him, then bend over his knees, arm outstretched to snag the airfoil from the floor.

 

Baloo looked down.  “Gee… this is a real interestin’ situation.”

 

“Try anything and I’ll wring what you have for a neck!

 

“Come on!” Kit shouted.  “I can’t hold on much longer.” He stood up, silently counting the seconds before the next loop.  Keeping a tenacious grip on the bars along the sides, he pulled himself up and carefully balanced himself on his stomach on he edge of the seat’s back.  It was hard, wet and slippery.

 

Rebecca finally came up for air, gasping, “Got it!”  For once she did not object when she felt the strangely reassuring touch of Baloo’s large hands encircling her slender waist; she leaned as far as she dared over the front bar, trying to pass it to the boy.  “Here!”

 

He reached out a hand, but there were still a few inches of empty space between them. 

 

The car jostled them, causing Baloo to lose his grip.  Rebecca nearly went flying headfirst, but he managed to grab her just in time, pulling her back.  She looked down and gasped. “Hey! Watch the hands, buster!”

 

“Gee, excuse me for savin’ your anchovies!”  His face was bright red as he hastily slid his hands down around her waist.

 

“Well, you get your hands off my anchovies right now! 

 

“Guys!”  Kit was in no mood for this. “The airfoil ---remember? Give it to me!”  

 

Baloo had an idea.  “Kit!  Stretch out your leg --- it’s longer.  Becky, put it between his toes.”

 

It worked.  He managed to nab it between his toes and pulled it in.  As he hoisted himself up onto the back of the seat and scrambled back over, he was momentarily a couple of heads higher than everyone else.  Amid the loud rattling of the wheels speeding along the tracks, he thought he heard the passengers behind shout something.

 

Rebecca’s eyes widened as she stared beyond Kit --- he could see her mouth form words --- something urgent.

 

What?  I can’t hear you!”

 

Baloo saw it too and began yelling, frantically waving his arms.  Kit!  Down! Get down!

 

“Whaaat?!”

 

He heard Rebecca scream one word.

 

“Tunnel!

 

* * *

 

Pearl felt herself being drawn out of her body, then floating.  She could see the whole fairground.  She wasn’t frightened, exactly, but too dazed to do more than observe.  Laughing children bought balloons below; they looked up at her and released the balloons into the clear blue sky.

 

Everything’s so tiny, she thought.  All the people got smaller and smaller as she ascended.  She looked up, saw a blinding beam of light  --- she was being pulled toward it at an alarming rate.  She saw an elderly couple standing there, waving to her, smiling.  She started to float toward them, arms outstretched.

 

Grandma? Grandpa? I’ve missed you so much…

 

Pearl looked longingly at her grandparents. She could hear a muffled voice calling her over and over:  Pearl!  Pearl! Pearl!

 

It wasn’t as soothing as Pearl had hoped. “Go away…” she said lazily.  She turned her attention back to the images of her grandparents. They were beckoning her toward the light. Wait a minute, she thought, aren’t you de---?

 

“Pearl!” A woman’s voice cut sharply into her consciousness.  “Stay awake!  I’m not letting you go, y’hear me?  Even if ye are a boy-crazy flibbertigibbet!”

 

“Helen…” she mumbled.

 

“Listen to me.  Are you ye listenin’?”

 

“Ye-yes…” Her eyes opened briefly, then fluttered shut.  “Leave me… alone…”

 

“Open your eyes!  Open them!”

 

She obeyed, startled by the uncharacteristically sharp edge to Helen’s voice.

 

“I’m going to ask you some questions and you must answer them.  You have to stay awake.  Do you hear me?”

 

“I can’t…”

 

“Yes, ye can, luv.  Ye can and ye will.  Tell me your name.”

 

“You know my name!”

 

“Your full name.” Helen was firm.

 

“P-Pearl…Pearl Matilda Clambake… can I sleep now?”

 

“No.  How old are ye?”

 

“T-twenty-three this March.”

 

“Ye had a birthday and never said nothin’?  Stay with me, Pearl, there’s a good girl…”

 

 

* * *

 

“Tunnel!” both Baloo and Rebecca screamed at him.  “Duck, Kit, duck!

 

Kit turned his head and looked up to see one of the overhead makeshift caves rush toward him.  Holy propwash!  I’m hamburger!

 

“Yeow!”  Kit found himself diving into the seat, and felt the air whistle through his hair as his hat blew off.  The top of the tunnel had missed his head by mere inches.  Boy, I don’t need a haircut that bad.  Gingerly, he touched his head, as if checking to see if it was still attached. 

 

Shoot. I liked that hat.

 

“Oh, thank goodness!” Rebecca breathed.

 

“Great footwork, kid!  I thought you were a goner, a solid goner!”

 

“Baloo!  Don’t upset the boy!”

 

“Well, it’s true!”

 

“Guys, I’m all right!” Kit was disgusted.  “Right now I’ve have a bigger problem --- and she’s standing up again!”

 

Joanna moaned. The wind blew a few strands of long hair into her mouth; she spat them out.  With the track more or less level again, she had grabbed her side of the car and pulled herself up.

 

“Easy, Joey,” Baloo begged.  “Don’t go doin’ nothin’ I’ll regret!”

 

Rebecca glared at him. “You mean, more than usual?”

 

“And just what’s that supposed to mean, lady!” Baloo’s voice resonated through the tunnel.

 

Their voices bounced eerily against the walls; everyone could hear their repartee, but Kit was more focused on Joanna. She looked as if…

 

“Joanna, what the heck are you doing!  Don’t!”

 

“Baloo, she’s slipping!”  he heard Rebecca cry out.

 

“Joey, NO!”

 

As the cars cleared the tunnel, Joanna was over the edge, literally.

 

“Hey, Patty, watch this!”  Joanna stood up and climbed over the hand bar, balancing herself on the narrow beam of steel connecting them to Molly’s car.

 

“Joanna! Stop showing off!”  Kit yelled.  He tried to pull her back, but she just laughed, eluding his outstretched hands by inches. 

 

She waved to him, holding onto the back of Molly’s car with the other hand.  “Look, Patty!  One hand!”

 

Kit couldn’t believe this.  “If you don’t kill yourself, I’ll do it for you!”

 

Joanna’s foot on the connecting tow bar caused Molly’s car to rock left, then right --- and the cars were starting to climb again.  Molly was thrown hard against the chair’s back, bashing her shoulder.  She yelped in pain.

 

“Judy, you’re such a baby!” Joanna yelled at her.  “Get back in the house and leave us alone!”

 

Molly was startled to see her crouching over the seat.  The fanatical gleam in her eyes was truly frightening --- like a hawk’s.  “J-Joanna… what’s wrong with you?  I’m Molly!  Don’t hurt me!”

 

The look she got back, was so full of hatred, struck her dumb.  “What are ya gonna do, tell Mother?  Again?

 

The car hiccupped over a small bump.  Joanna yelped and fell backwards into her own car on top of Kit, her legs kicking almost comically in the air.

 

“Hey!  Ugh!  Get off me!” 

 

Joanna struggled to right herself, without success.  Upside-down, she yelled at Kit’s feet, “Judy, look what you made me do!  Poo-poo head!”

 

“Aw, man!  What a time for her ta go loony!”  Baloo groaned.  “Kit, do somethin’ with that gal, will ya!"

 

“Like what? You do something!  And hurry up before I throw her out!”

 

“Baloo… your idea, remember?” Rebecca prompted him.

 

”Oh!  Right! Guys, I got me an idea!” Baloo turned his head and addressed Handy.  “Hey, you --- Buckteeth!  Tell the others---!“

 

The old beaver looked at him blankly, pointed to his ear, and shook his head.

 

“I said---!”

 

“It’s no use!” Kit shouted at him.  “They can’t hear you!”

 

“No, but they’ll hear me!” Rebecca took a deep breath, drawing on every ounce of lungpower she had.  She bellowed, “Will you idiots be quiet! 

 

Stunned silence fell on the cars as Rebecca's voice boomed over the roar and clang of the coaster's wheels. Baloo stared in shock. "Wow…I'm impressed, Boss Lady."

 

"It's all in the delivery, Baloo. Now get us out of this!"

 

Another hill loomed ahead of them.  It was steeper than the others --- the highest point on the ride.

 

“I’m gonna be sick…” Archer moaned.  “Quick,Sam --- gimme me your hat!”

 

Thursday pushed him away roughly.  “Do it over the side, not on me!”  Then, while the other detective retched, he muttered, “I hate my life.”

 

“Well, what’s the plan?” Rebecca demanded.  “Hurry!”

 

“Everyone!  Belts, coats, stockings, anything --- tie ‘em all together.  We gotta make a rope!”

 

That’s your plan?  Look, buster, if you think I’m taking off my clothes again---!” 

 

“Here!” Thursday shouted, removing his belt.  Because Lou’s bulk filled most of the seat, they stayed put.  He rebuckled it into the first hole, so that the loop resembled a noose.  “Damn! It’s not long enough.  Give me your belt, Lou.  Hurry up.”

 

“But my pants---!”

 

“Come on, your belly’ll hold your pants up anyway.  Just do it!”

 

Too terrified to argue, his partner obeyed.  Thursday promptly looped and buckled it to the first one, creating a sort of leather daisy chain.

 

Watching him, Violet snapped at her former roommate, “Bonnie!  Give me your belt.”

 

“I can’t!  How can I hang on if I’m fiddling with my belt?  I need both hands!”

 

“Fine!” Violet unhooked one hand, withdrawing her claws from the wood.  I’ll do it.”  Using one claw, she unlooped her belt first, then Bonnie’s, accidentally poking the lioness in the stomach.

 

“Ow!  Watch it with those things!”

 

“Suck it in, then.”  Using her teeth and one hand, she was able to copy Thursday’s loop.  She shouted to him, “Okay!  Pass it down!”

 

“Hurry!”  Rebecca cried.  “They can’t hold on much longer!”

 

Violet scowled.  “Don’t bug me, lady.  Keep your shirt on.”

 

Rebecca was indignant.  “I intend to!”

 

“Here!”  Thursday snapped at Handy.  “Pass these over.  You got a belt?”

 

“No!  I can’t let go!  I-I’m not wearing a belt anyway!”

 

Thursday gritted his teeth.  “Do… you… have… anything?

 

“Come on, guys!”  Baloo yelled.  “What about your ties?  Pass ‘em down, knot ‘em together!  Anythin’ ya got!”

 

In seconds, they had a knotted makeshift rope comprised of various belts and ties and managed to pass it, hand-to-hand until it reached Baloo.  “Bee-yoo-ti-ful!  Now that’s what I call a clothesline!

 

At last these things are good for somethin’! he thought distractedly.  He hated ties.

 

“Tie it good and tight, Baloo,” Rebecca said anxiously.

 

Baloo looked at her as though she were insane.

 

“Oh, for heaven’s sakes!”  She grabbed the tie section of the ‘rope’ and began holding it up to the rain, soaking and stretching it.  “Get it wet --- the rain’ll make it tight and keep them from coming apart.”

 

“Oh… now I get it!”  He followed her example, grimacing as his muscles strained against the fabric.

 

“Hurry up and throw it already!” Kit yelled at them.  “I can’t use the airfoil without it!”

 

The coaster made a sudden jerk, which caused both Kit and Joanna to lose their balance and thump back against the seats.  She managed to get upright again, and crawled back on the seat, rubbing her head.  “Ow.”

 

Molly was worse off.  She no longer had any sense of direction.  It seemed that wherever she rolled, there was a hard wall.  As the train ascended, she found herself lying across the seat, pressed against the back.  Gravity wouldn’t allow her to raise her head. Tick-tick-tick-tick-tick went the wheels as they rattled up the tracks.   She remained cupped against the seat.  With her arms bound to her sides, she knew she had to stay inside the car --- somehow. 

 

The car reached its peak, she felt it level out and straighten.  In a second she would be thrown into the air as the train turned upside down. Young as she was, Molly wondered if it would hurt much when she died.

 

Her heart constricted with fear --- then inspiration.  As she felt the car start to shift and point downward, she made up her mind.  Mentally bracing herself, she went limp and deliberately rolled off the seat, as it hurtled down the hill.  A shock of pain flashed through her body as she hit the floor.  There was a small space under the seat --- a dubious shelter, but it would have to do.   She felt herself being battered back and forth as the train made a hard and fast figure eight, then began its ascension --- again.

  

Baloo swung the rope above his head like a lasso.  Kit --- catch! 

 

Kit’s arms windmilled backwards as he snatched at it, but he grabbed only air.  Missed!

 

Baloo threw it two more times, fighting the wind as it blew it back at him again.  But the proverbial third time, as they say, was the charm.

 

”Got it!”  This time the boy caught the end of the belt and quickly buckled it tightly around the front holding bar.

 

“It’s on!  Now throw me the other end!”  If the last item of the ‘clothesline’ was a tie, he thought of tying it around his wrist; luckily, it was a sturdy leather belt.  He slipped his fingers through the thick metal buckle, and clamped on tightly.  As he did so, he managed to slip the board under his feet, and was soon airborne, the train dragging him above Joanna’s kicking feet and behind Molly’s car.  He shifted his feet on the airfoil, trying to control his course, but wind resistance and the disorientation from the rain made it almost impossible.  The makeshift rope was pulled taut --- and he had no choice but to hang on for dear life.

 

“Hang on, Kit!” Rebecca shouted.  “Save my daughter!”

 

Joanna felt her stomach lurch; she stumbled to her feet again, arms outstretched.  Her long hair blew back like a banner. Rain struck her grimy face like a thousand bullets, stinging her, blinding her until she was forced to close her eyes.

 

 

“Hang on, Judy!”  Marie felt her lungs burn as she tried not to look down. 

 

The child shifted her weight, then heard a tearing sound.  “Oh no!” The lacy trim of her pinafore had caught on a bent nail.  She managed to detangle herself and carefully inched her way out onto the limb.

 

Marie held her breath as the branch bent slightly under the child’s weight.  “Judy, I changed my mind.  Go back.  It won’t hold us both.”  

 

Judy stared at her like she was out of her mind.  “I can’t!”

 

“Yes, you can --- just crawl backwards.”

Gingerly, she moved one knee back, then the other, doing a sort of shuffle.

”That’s it…nice and slow...” Patty encouraged.

 

“Marie, I'm slipping!”  Judy cried.

 

“Don’t move!”

 

 

“Joanna!” Kit pleaded.  “What are you doing, for Pete’s sake?  Can’t you see I hafta save Mo--- aw, the heck with it! Gimme me your hand!”

 

Facing the opposite direction, Joanna continued to reach, stare straight ahead, unseeing. “Take my hand.”

“Watch your head!” he shouted.  She didn’t answer but stubbornly continued to cling with one hand to the loose safety bar.

 

Molly began to roll further under the seat, turning almost upside-down.  Arms restrained to her sides, she wriggled her fingers, trying to gain purchase of the seat’s edge.  She couldn’t hold anything!

 

“I'm slipping!”  Molly cried as she began to roll back out from under the seat.

 

"Molly!"  Rebecca tried to reach out to her, as if she could save her through force of will alone.

 

"Don't move!" Joanna, with no apparent care for her own safety, wrapped her arms around the safety bar above her as if she had done it a thousand times before.  “I’ll come get you!”

 

“Hold on!” she yelled at Molly.  “Don’t look down.  I’m coming!  I’m coming!  Here!”  She reached for her hand.

 

“I can’t see you!”  the little girl cried.

 

 

The rough bark of the branch bit into Marie’s palms as she struggled to hold on. She heard the brittle wood crack and watched in mute horror as the chasm rapidly widened towards them…

 

 

Molly screamed in terror. “Don’t let me fall!”

 

Judy screamed, “Don’t let me fall!”

 

“Don’t look down.  I’m coming!  I’m coming!”

 

 

The child was tossed back and forth, feeling a new bruise each time she rolled across the floor of the car, into a wall.  As the car whipped up the hill, she rolled hard under the seat again --- the extreme angle prevented her from turning over, no matter how she tried.  Then she heard the clack-clack-clack of the car as it crawled, and finally reached the top.  Then she had an idea --- and braced her feet against the bottom of the seat.

 

There was a tremor, suddenly she felt herself being flipped --- it took all the strength in her legs to keep her position --- but miraculously, she did not fall out!

 

I did it!  she thought.  I did it!

 

Then she lost her foothold and began rolling across the floor.

 

* * *

 

Meanwhile, the whole train sped down the tracks; wind blasted their faces, filled their screaming mouths with rain. 

 

They survived the first loop. The next one was looming ahead of them. Then the train of coaster cars began to shake violently again upon hitting a rough stretch of track.

 

Violet cursed. “Dammit! They were supposed to have fixed this!”

 

Then it hairpinned sharply, causing the bar to swing --- hitting Handy squarely in the teeth.  He howled in pain and in reflex started to put his hand to his mouth --- but quickly snatched at the bar again, moaning.   

 

The loop was ahead of them. 

 

Archer screamed, “Sam, we’re gonna die!”

 

“Everybody hang on,” Baloo bellowed.  “Here we go!”

 

Suddenly they were flipped upside-down. The big pilot’s bulk again saved them from falling out, but his flight hat went spiraling somewhere under the tracks.

 

“Aw man!  I liked that hat!”

 

“Honestly, Baloo, how can you --- MOLLY! “

 

Then they both saw a blonde head and a flash of blue ribbon.

 

"Molly!  Noooooooo!” they shrieked as the girl was unceremoniously dumped out of the car.

 

 

* * *

“Molllllllyyyyyyy!”  Rebecca’s wail penetrated Joanna’s brain.  At the sound, Judy’s face seemed to contort and fold in on itself, like a balloon.  Deaf to the shouts of her fellow captives, she stood up, swaying, gripping the bar to maintain her balance.   Slowly, almost dreamily, with a grace she never before possessed, the woman straddled the front bar and mentally counted.

One…two…three!

 

“I’m coming…” she called, her voice higher, almost childlike.

 

She caught Molly in mid-drop, but it was a brief victory. Their hands were slick with rain --- and the child was slipping.  

 

Joanna’s eyes were shut tightly, trapping her in her own personal hell.   She wailed aloud like a maddened creature.

 

“Oh, Lord!”  Helen breathed.  “Joanna, hold on!

 

By this time Kit had seen the astonishing feat of acrobatics and was flying as fast as his board would allow toward Joanna and Molly.  “Joanna! Grab on!”

 

One outstretched hand reached for Kit. “I’m coming, Judy!”  In less than half a second Kit caught them both. Joanna was now awkwardly tucked under Kit’s left arm as she clung to the little girl.

 

Unfortunately, the airfoil was built to carry one rider.  Two…barely, if she was as small as Molly.  But three was too much. Joanna’s adult weight knocked them off-balance and Kit had to struggle to keep it upright, his right hand gripping the rope and his left arm wrapped around her waist as she held Molly awkwardly, like a small sack of potatoes. 

 

“Aw, no!”  Baloo watched them helplessly.  “That thing won’t hold ‘em!  It’s too small!”

 

For one terrible second, Kit could have sworn he’d seen something in her face --- the feral glitter in her eyes --- that somehow told him this wasn’t Joanna.  This one was terrified out of her wits, her cheeks streaked with dirt and tears.

 

Like a little girl. 

 

“Judy!” she panted, still speaking in that strange childish voice, “grab my hand --- hurry!”

 

Judy…Judy…why does she keep saying that?  She said something at Miz Cunningham’s…  There wasn’t time to remember now.   A hard curve ahead was coming up… enough to jar his ‘passengers’ from his arms… 

 

 

“Hold me!”  Judy shrieked, snatching at the air.  In her panic, she clawed at Marie’s face and clothes, her nails tangling in the fabric. She managed to wrap her arms around the older girl’s neck, dragging her while Marie struggled to retain purchase of the tree limb.

 

“Hold her!”  a woman screamed.

 

She gasped for air, fighting Judy’s grip.  Black dots danced in front of her eyes, making her vision swim.  Judy would not let go.  She wanted to scream.  They were sliding. Any minute both would fall.

 

 

“Don’t let me fall --- don’t let me fall --- Judy let go of me!  Let go!  Joanna shrieked.  She started swinging her arms, batting him away.

 

He put a hand up to protect his face, barely managing to maintain his grip around her waist. She continued to squirm, and his temper snapped.  “Hey! What are you doing?”

 

The next loop was approaching. Kit was running out of gliding space. If he couldn’t get them both back to the cars, where the others could catch them, he’d be dragging them around again. He knew he couldn’t hold them both through that next turn.

 

“Joanna!  Stop fighting him!”  Rebecca shouted.  She was already dangling over the side, her face inches from the track. She arched, trying to reach Molly, as Kit struggled to get closer.  “Give me my daughter!  Please!”

 

They were approaching another loop and the track banked sharply.  The sudden change in position caused her to lose her balance—and slip.  “Baloooooo!”

 

“Nooooooo!  Rebecca!”  Baloo’s howl of anguish had exploded through time, shattering the barriers.   Something behind Joanna’s eyes flickered.

 

His left arm gripping the car’s railing like a vice, Baloo lunged toward Rebecca and grabbed her by the arm.

 

“Gotcha!”

 

“Oh Baloo, when we get home I’m going to give you a huge raise!”

 

“I’m gonna hold ya to that, lady!” he said through clenched teeth.

 

As the train whipped round the loop, all five fell back, kite-like, toward the cars behind them, close to Thursday and a very green Archer. Joanna veered too close to Violet’s side and the hard wood glanced off her shoulder.  She screamed, the pain shocking her back into the present. Her eyes came back into focus and darted around in bewilderment.  Ever so slightly, her grip on Molly loosened as she tried to regain her bearings.  A kaleidoscope of spinning tracks and icy sheets of rain made her dizzy.  “Who-where am I?  Oh no!  I’m still here!”

 

Then Joanna saw the supports holding up the coaster whizzing past her face. “Oh God, oh God, oh God!”

 

Baloo was so startled that he almost dropped Rebecca. 

 

Who do I save?  My girl… or Becky?

 

He had only a split second to decide.  Without thinking, he caught Rebecca around the waist; holding her under his meaty right arm, he gripped the front bar with his left.  Now he was in the same position as Kit --- the boy was struggling to hold onto the belt rope and keep three people, himself included, from plummeting to their deaths.

 

For a moment, it occurred to the big bear that if they all lived through this, he might have to explain to Joanna why he chose to save his boss instead of her.  He almost hoped… well, it wasn’t a conversation he was looking forward to. 

 

Suddenly, something shifted in her expression…something intangibly adult and infinitely sad.  Her dark eyes lost their feral glitter and became dull… resigned.   To his surprise, she loosened her frantic grip around Kit’s neck and with a grunt, managed to push Molly into his arms.

 

“What---“ he began, but she wasn’t listening.

 

When she smiled at him, his heart stopped cold.  It was the smile of a madwoman --- bright and unreal.  Joanna was beyond fear now.  “Hold her, Baloo.”

 

Then she let go.  She did not hear the screams, least of all Helen’s.

 


End of Chapter 15

 

 

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