I woke up in a state of confusion. The sun was punishing my eyes and I couldn’t seem to remember where I was.
I sat up and put on my sunglasses. That helped with the sun, and as my eyes adjusted I made out the rollercoaster in the distance. It all came flooding back: the phone call, the job, the theme park. Right. Everything’s under control.
I had a hard time standing up for some reason. After a moment I steadied myself and started walking, but I felt unusual. Almost as if…
I’ll say that again in case you missed it: The track ended abruptly, in midair. It didn’t start again until about a hundred yards ahead and twenty yards below, as if we were meant to fly through the air and pick up the track again on the other side.
I wasn’t afraid, though. No, I was terrified. My heart turned inside-out and the screaming around me reached a deafening crescendo as we leapt off the tracks and started flying.
Or at least that was what it felt like. In my rational mind I was sure that we were still on a track that had somehow been erased from visual reality—I mean, no one would build a rollercoaster that flies through the air, would they? That’s insane. But my eyes were telling a different story, and maybe it was just the power of suggestion, but I certainly felt like we were gliding frictionless through the air.
Near where I came out of the ferris wheel thingie there was a sign that said “WARNING: MOVING WALKWAY.” As people passed it they started gliding away at a steady rate, just like at the airport. What was odd was that the ground beneath them didn’t appear to be moving; it looked like an ordinary field of grass. This aroused my inner technophobe, who likes to feel that he has at least some idea of how things work. In this case the illusion was so seamless that I felt like a superstitious native suddenly confronted with a 747.
I decided to go in another direction, so I found a path that led off through a canopy of trees. Birds were singing overhead and the air was cool and loamy; within 50 yards I might just have well have been in a park somewhere, so cut off was I from the surrounding environment. But a minute later I emerged from the trees and in front of me a towering rollercoaster gleamed orange in the sun.
It was a short walk from the park to the local tavern. We ordered whiskeys and I tried to get Lee to tell me where he’d been for the last three years. He was evasive. He’d been around the world, he said. Spent some time at sea. Been to Africa and the Arctic. Now he was working a high-powered job for an aeronautics company down south.
Which was an odd thing for him to be doing. But by the time we got to that part of the story, I was two drinks to the good and not in the mood for an interrogation. I was happy just to see him, and we soon got into one of our usual conversations about aliens, the nature of existence, and Jimi Hendrix. We kept on drinking till closing time, then wandered off into the cool, surprisingly starry night. There was no teary goodbye, just a handshake and a manly half-hug. I turned to walk home, and Lee strode off in the opposite direction.
Then Lee began to change. Toward the end of the year, he gave up all of his bad habits, gifting me with an assortment of drug paraphernalia and a big bag of mushrooms he’d squirreled away under his bed. He stopped going to class and began disappearing altogether for longer and longer periods of time. One day during finals week, I saw him for the first time in ten days and asked him what was going on. There was a fire in his eyes I’d never seen before. It scared me a little.
“I have to leave this place, Hector,” he said. (His speech got pretty biblical-sounding sometimes.)
“Why?” I asked.