“Are we really going to ride this?” I ask, not even attempting to hide the skepticism in my voice as I stare up at the little fish swimming in a mechanical circle above us, lifting and dropping at the will of the steel arms parading them through the sky. The colors are vivid, abrasive against the clear pale blue: green, yellow, orange, purple, red. Their cartoon faces are mockish, almost cruel, as they lazily move about, up and down, occasionally spitting water from their permanently smiling mouths.
It should have been a warning.
“It’s totally not weird,” Lila says, gesturing to the numerous adults crammed into the small bench seats of the flying fish. “There are plenty of grown-ups on this thing.”
“With their children,” her boyfriend clarifies, nudging his glasses further up the bridge of his nose. “They have an excuse. And the fact that you just called them grown-ups…”
“Shut up, Danny.” She pushes blond hair off one shoulder, frowning. “You know what I meant.”
Rupee waves a hand in complete nonchalance. “It’s like the Dumbo ride. A classic. It will take, like, fifteen seconds. Calm down.”
Danny looks doubtful, but we file into the queue anyway.
Our first mistake.
By the time we reach the front of the line, an entire five minutes later, our skepticism has turned into full-on dread.
And why? This is no roller coaster. There are no shaky carts speeding sixty miles per hour down a foreboding curly-q of a track, shooting us one hundred feet into the air just to send us plummeting back down. There are no screaming children or the familiar horror-stricken faces of regret.
In fact, there is laughter and the happy whispers of flashing cameras as parents wave to their children orbiting high above them.
No, our dread stems from something much more devious. An attribute of the ride we had not noted from the other side of the fence.
A sudden vortex of water shoots from the mouth of a purple fish permanently seated high above the moving arms of the ride, nailing one man in the face as his child chortles beside him, only to be splashed by another hose of water, this one seated a little further down, from the mouth of an orange fish with a vixen smirk. By the time the ride slowly spins to an end, the little boy’s hair is plastered to his head, and the man’s white shirt is revealing entirely too much of his premature beer belly.
I can barely hold back the horror in my voice as I say, “This is… A. Water. Ride.”
Danny shoulders his camera bag, the four hundred dollar piece of high-tech equipment that I couldn’t even begin to turn on, let alone take care of, protected only by the sheer cotton cover. Not waterproof. We discovered that on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride back at Disney. It wasn’t supposed to be a water ride. And yet, somehow, the first row of our car managed to get soaked. The camera bag was in the front row. It was a narrow escape, but all of us, including our technological sidekicks, managed to stay operational.
A risk none of us are willing to take again.
“It’s fine, it’s fine,” Danny says quickly, shuffling to the side. “I will just wait out here for you guys. You’re already at the start of the line, anyway.”
“What? And make me ride alone like a loser?” Lila throws up her hands. “At least with you riding we would look like a couple—”
“—we are a couple,” he interjects, but she ignores him and continues.
“If I’m by myself I will definitely look like a loser. No, you’re going on this with me.”
“And what about my bag?”
She shrugs. “I don’t know. Tuck it under your shoulder. Put it in your lap. That should keep it semi-dry, right?”
His eyebrows scrunch together. “Um, okay, but—”
There is no time for buts in a theme park.
The worker dressed in Dr. Seuss hospital scrubs ushers us forward. She looks about as happy as a damp cat, which is how I’m about to feel, I’m sure. A feeling of terror settles in my chest, slowly sinking down toward my stomach until it’s like an indigestible rock. Fabulous. Because who doesn’t love a good stomach rock?
It is only sixty-seven degrees outside. Is that warm? Of course. Way warmer than Michigan. But that doesn’t mean that I want to be walking around Universal with wet, chaffing blue jeans and a frown. Although, come to think of it, the frown is pretty much a standard for me. But, damp jeans: no thanks.
We buckle ourselves into the yellow fish with blue fins and girly eyelashes. Perhaps we chose her because her grin is more of a grimace than anything else. Or because she’s behind Lila and Danny’s fish, which means we can shoot water at their heads. It is up in the air, really, where our true motivation lies.
“Are you ready?” screeches a mechanically happy cartoon voice.
I’m not. I’m not ready. I will never be ready. Make this stop.
“All you have to do is follow my lead! Follow my lead and you will succeed!”
“W-wait.” Rupee turns to me, eyes wide, and I’m not sure if it’s shock or surprise that is mirrored in my own. “Succeed in what?” I don’t have an answer for her.
“Around and around and around you’ll go. Higher than higher then lower than low!”
“What is this?” I snap. “A water ride with a riddle?”
Rupee slaps her hand on the head of the fish in front of us. “Shut up, maybe it will say something important.”
“Yes, I’m sure the mechanical talking fish holds nothing but wisdom.”
She’s about to respond, a comeback even snappier than mine, I’m sure, but the overly happy ride-voice cuts her off, and I lean back, satisfied at the argument I didn’t quite win but almost.
“All you have to do is solve all my clues. When I say purple you go up, up, up, and when I say red you go down, down, down. Keep alert and don’t be scared. I can take you anywhere!”
Rupee shifts to the side, eyeing the spouts of water at the center of the ride. “I don’t like this. I don’t trust that fish. I’m steering.”
I don’t say anything and she takes my silence as acceptance of her proposal, which is fine with me. I don’t want that kind of responsibility. “Isn’t ‘anywhere’ a bit of a hyperbole,” I start, and Rupee rolls her eyes. “We can only go up and down.”
“Whatever, just listen to the stupid fish and tell me what she says.”
The ride begins to move and the first ten seconds are relatively peaceful. No mechanical voices, just the screeching laughs of little kids and the soft sighs of parents who are sacrificing their pride in the hopes that this may force their child into a state of slumber long enough for them to eat lunch.
But ten seconds really isn’t that long in the span of a theme park ride. “Purple is first, you know what that means. Follow my lead and you shall succeed!” The cartoon music begins to play once more and it feels like a death sentence. Up we go, just to dodge the stream of water that comes sprouting to life half a foot below us. Rupee sighs, and I glance back. The car behind us, a middle-aged mother and her son, didn’t make it in time. Glancing down at her water-splattered gray shirt, Mama Bear looks anything but happy. Her son, on the other hand, giggles to himself, his small, pasty hand latched tightly to the control stick which his mother immediately takes over control of, and he frowns.
“It’s time for red, now listen well, choose a direction, or you’re in for a spell!”
“No you are!” Rupee shouts, though I can’t help but believe our insults fall on uncaring ears. I don’t even think the ride operator is on our side for this one. In fact, she’s probably hoping we will be hit in the face by a vicious spout of water. It would make her job far more amusing, that’s for sure. No, we are alone.
“Red means down,” I say quickly and we manage to dodge the second assault with only minimal damage to our prides. My sock takes most of the attack and I can feel the squishiness beginning to my great chagrin.
We are getting close now to the end of the ride now. Somehow we’ve managed to dodge the toughest obstacles. And then I hear the voice say: “Now it gets tough, it’s time for reverse! What you once knew is no longer true! What is up and what is down? Pick a direction and you will find out!”
Rupee leans forward, bitterness and mild anxiety coursing through her expression, though I’m sure my face is no different. “That was a forced rhyme,” she mumbles and I nod. “Does this mean we are in a free for all? What direction? What direction?!”
“Up,” I say quickly, only hoping I have picked the best option. “Go UP!”
She jerks the control stick upward and we go shooting toward the sky, avoiding a stream of water as we go. But before we can reach the safety of a water-free zone, a purple fish above us begins spitting at us and we jerk back down again. This pattern repeats another three times, with us dodging in and out of the paths of projectile water-vomit from cruelly smiling plastic fish, before the ride jolts and then begins to slow.
“Now wasn’t that fun? We’ve had a good time! But now, I’m afraid, we must say good-bye! Stay seated for now, till the ride fully stops, then proceed to be careful as you promptly get off!”
We both sigh in relief, and I can see Lila and Danny doing the same in front of us. We’ve managed to escape without many injuries. Aside from my damp sock and a few minor splatters on my jeans, there is nothing to prove that we were even here. Good riddance.
We meet Lila and Danny on the other side of the exit gate, and they look to be in about the same state as we are. Danny has some water marks on his shoulder, but other than that, he looks relatively unscarred.
“We still have some time before we have to meet Aunt Jane and Uncle Ron. We can dry off on the merry-go-round!” Lila suggests, laughing, and we all nod. Sounds good to me.
As we walk away, Danny shrugging his surprisingly dry camera bag on his shoulder, he glances back at Once Fish, Two Fish, grumbling to himself. “These things really should be well-marked.”
Hey everyone, thanks for making it to the end! I thought I would write this post as a story, like the very first posts I wrote for this blog :)
To the real Lila and Danny (you know who you are): my blog is anonymous, but I like to give everyone a choice of their names. If you would like a different name, or if you have something else in mind, let me know. I’m more than willing to change them to whatever you’d like! I just kind of went with the first things that popped into my head.
If you read my last post, you know that I didn’t keep very well to the Monday schedule I was hoping for. Yeah, turns out Mondays are a really bad day to try to post, so I think I am going to revert back to Sundays like I did in the past and see how that goes. Which means I guess I will be talking to you soon!