This week’s Free Fiction Friday story from UnWrecked Press is “Tiny Disaster.” (I know it’s a Monday, but I wanted to get this story out there in time for State Fair season!)
This story was a finalist for the 2004 Brenda L. Smart Award for Short Fiction, and it was first published in The Raleigh News & Observer’s Book Pages, September 2007.
This is what I think after I hit the ground, when the bodies begin to bounce off of me: Two thousand years ago, all of the people crowding around me now would have thrown rocks at me then until I was dead.
You may think, judging by my size, that many rocks and stones would be needed for this task, but I must tell you that even though I am large, far larger than you and your closest friend combined, I still feel pain and I still bleed. I simply feel it in more places, and I bleed from more wounds. Not only is there more of me to love, as my aunt has always declared, there’s also more of me to hurt. A whole lot more.
Pain is not the only feeling I have at this moment, as I lay face-up on the dirty concrete with pieces of metal pipe and limb-waving bodies raining down onto me. I also feel cheated—from life—and humiliated—at my inability to move, to simply crawl away from this tiny disaster I have caused.
They said the ride could not fail.
They continued to say this even as the man with three teeth missing and a junkie tremor in his tattooed arms locked me into place with a very nervous teenage girl on either side of me. His onion-and-beer breath covered me as he wrapped three safety belts around me.
The two girls were too frightened and disgusted by my bulk to even giggle long-distance to one another around me. The boat began to start its first slow swing backwards. As I leaned against my safety restraints, my belly wrapped around the metal bar in front of me and touched itself like a pair of kissing lips.
And then we swung forward.
The wind lifted the hair from my face, and for a moment, a blessed moment, I was weightless.
By the end of the first swing, though, the first screw had fallen onto the plate of metal under my shoes. Still I waved at my trio of friends below us as we swung past them. Three large, fat-waddled hands lifted to bid me luck as the shuddering, creaking ride picked up speed. My friends—my “eating buddies”—and I had chowed our way through the stands of barbecue, butter-dipped corn, funnel cakes, cotton candy, and oh so much more. After all that, high on an overstuffed rush of too much food, I wanted to ride one ride.
Talking with that tight-throatedness that all big people get, my pal Arnie warned me not to climb aboard this beached ship.
“You got to read the warnings, man,” he reminded me. “Even if they ain’t posted any.”
Marcia agreed, nodding and creating a fourth chin for a few moments.
“Just look at that shoddy workmanship. They just bolted this thing together last night, and you know they cut corners doing that so they’d have a faster breakdown when the fair’s over.”
Paul just shook his pumpkin-shaped head and bit into his sugar-dusted, batter-fried Twinkie on a stick.
Tell me not to do something, and you’ve just encouraged me to do it. Tell me not to do it three times and you may as well have helped me up over that first step and strapped me into the seat. Drop the bar down and get the ride going, folks, because this 6XL man is going for a ride on the Schooner of Fear!
The crowd around me continues to grow, all of them staring upward.
I pray for the rocks to strike my head first and take this fat suit that has become my body and my life away from me at last. Instead, the bodies continue to fall after fingers lose their purchase on the ruined remnants of the ride. I didn’t have time to grab onto anything; I simply fell.
I never went on rides as a kid. Even if I’d been allowed to do so, I was too big back then, a fat baby and a fat youth, obesely afraid of a heart attack at the age of thirteen. But I never even made it to the fair.
What kept me away from the fair was the food, and my aunt’s deathly fear of it. “A breeding ground for disease,” she’d whisper, creating for me all the horror stories I’d ever need in time for Halloween. “Nobody at the fair washes their hands. Not to mention the maggots in the corn, the weevils in the funnel cake batter, and the dead dogs and cats they grind into the so-called meat of the corn dogs. Go to the fair and you go to die, I tell you.”
Instead of the State Fair in Raleigh every fall, we went to the mountains and watched the brown and gold and red leaves falling.
Falling like the screws which trickled down from the plastic-and-metal ship that would soon be giving up its passengers to the unforgiving pavements below faster than the Titanic unleashed its riders into the ice-choked sea.
Falling like the gum from opened mouths at the top of the ride’s final arc.
Falling like the caps and sunglasses and hearing aids dislodged from the riders held in the un-space and un-time between up and down, before the final, fatal fall.
Falling like the human bombs of my fellow passengers, in the instant after the supports for every seat on my half of the ride pulled free and disintegrated from the weight being applied to them.
I was the first to fall, with my fellow riders dropping soon after.
As I dropped I turned a slow, slow flip, watching the world rotate with the amazed wonder of a child denied such thrills—the Earth is up, the sky is down, now here comes the Earth again.
I landed on the ground back-first. The air rushed out of my lungs in a monstrous belch.
Before I could draw breath, the bodies hit me. The first people that my bulk saved from the unforgiving pavement were the pair of girls who’d been stuck into the seat on either side of me. They bounced, and then they twitched away and began to scream.
More bodies landed on me, as if aiming my way as punishment for attempting this ride with all my collected mass and inexorable weight. They hit with the deadening force of a lifetime of overfed guilt and starved desires.
My emptied lungs burned for air as the last piece of the ride and the last person landed on top of me, then rebounded off me onto the ground.
The crowd is almost upon me now, and I know my time is short. I feel a deadness below my waist and a growing dagger of pain twisting in my back. I see the rocks clenched in the hands of the men and women inching toward me.
This was all my fault. I never should have come to this fair and boarded this ride.
Aim for my head, I want to say, but my lungs remain empty.
“He’s still alive!” someone shouts, and that brings the stones up. My fat friends will never get here in time to save me. And what would they do? Drape themselves over me and smother me with their own immenseness while trying to save me?
But the rocks never drop. A siren blots out all other sound, and the fallen bodies scattered around me like fistfuls of broken dice reach toward me. The people huddled over me aren’t holding rocks, after all. In their hands are wrappers filled with half-eaten food.
“They’re still alive!” another voice cries, this time with unadulterated joy, and I am able to inhale at last.
I lift shaking arms to touch my aching, swollen body, feeling the tingles of pain creep into my legs at last, and lift my head.
I did this one thing right, I realize, looking at the two teenage girls pushing themselves up on skinned elbows. I broke their fall and prevented true horror in this tiny disaster I created.
I think my aunt would’ve been proud. In her memory, I could eat every last filthy, bug-ridden piece of food in this fair. And I may just have a little bit more room…
But no. The food can wait. I think I’ll stay right here and look up at the sky instead, and wait to see if anything else rains down on me before I stand up again.