by John J.
steered the motorcycle off the interstate onto the exit ramp, headlight
sweeping the dark, narrow road and trees ahead in silver gray. He braked down
from seventy to forty as he
reached the end, then gunned past the stop sign and onto the country road. For
fifteen minutes he soared along the familiar
route, hitting close to ninety, feeling the autumn wind on his face, the angular
hard shell helmet gripping his head, even the empty wallet in the back pocket
of his jeans. The wallet soon to be filled
Finally, he spotted the billboard, "Crystal
Lake Amusement Park--Come Scream With Us!!". He banked off the highway onto
road into the roundabout lined with the heavy red oaks so common in upstate New
York. Leaning left into the curve, he
rode it around at high speed, then with dead perfect timing threw his weight right
and shot out onto the straight one-way that brought him up to the park’s main gate.
He skidded to a stop at the chain link
fence and saw the shapes of the deserted midway in shadows beyond the wire. He
took a long look.
With his leather-gloved finger he pressed
the button on the speaker box. An electronic
voice gargled: "That you, Loren?"
Mr. Nock. Payday."
shuddered and ground open on squeaky
wheels until Loren could slip through. He
thought about popping a celebration wheelie straight down empty Crystal Lake Lane
but decided he'd rather drink it all in slowly.
It was, after all, his last visit till next season. He rolled past the
dark, boarded-up food
kiosks, shooting galleries, beanbag and ball throws, funhouse, the Las Vegas
Roulette Wheel, the Malavoom House of Horrors--all lined up like the flimsy
props of some exhausted stage play. Next
the scare rides slid into view, the Hammer, the Tilt-A-Whirl, the Swinging Axe,
the Super Saucer, the Whipsaw, prime attractions during the summer for the surrounding
area's families, college kids, farmers.
Then the Sphere of Fear loomed into
view and Loren felt his stomach leap.
He stopped and with a surge of pride
and accomplishment, swung the headlight across the twenty-two-foot high globe
of steel bands bent and welded together to form a gigantic cage.
For sixteen years, three shows a
night, six nights a week from Memorial to Labor days plus all the backbreaking
practice sessions, Roarin' Loren had been Master of the Sphere. Roarin' Loren,
delivering cardiac arrest thrills
to all as he swooped around in a precise fifty-four mph centrifugal trajectory
while three other drivers shrieked in and out of his orbit like a swarm of synchronized
chainsaws. At every performance he maneuvered
through the buzzing machines, missing collisions by millimeters and
microseconds, dodged death and dismemberment at high velocity, upside down,
rightside up, sideways and all other angles, then ended his impossible acrobatics
with arms and helmet held triumphantly in the air to the cheers of the crowd. There
was no one like him. Roarin' Loren, stunt driver from heaven.
Now the summer's revenue was all in, and
it was bonus day and the end of another year.
Rest and travel through the off season beckoned, this time to exotic Uruguay
and its rabid motorcycle culture, a place where he’d undoubtedly be idolized as
an American celebrity. Foreign adventures,
side business opportunities, romance on the hot Atlantic beaches awaited. Then,
next spring, he'd strike back to
Crystal Lake where practice for his seventeenth season would begin. And next
year, old man Nock had better finally
make him a stakeholder. Or else.
tore himself from the Sphere and headed to the one-story cinder block admin building
secluded at the rear of the park, down by the lakeshore. He pulled up to the
steel door, cut the
engine, snapped the chrome kickstand open with his booted heel. Under a dirty
lightbulb he removed his helmet
and dismounted, taking in the night. Nock
had already clicked him through.
Inside the hallway he marched under sputtering
ceiling fluorescents to the back office.
Man Nock was sitting behind a desk staring at his computer, arms and shoulders
thin and frail but eyes as intense as a foundation specialist searching for
cracks in the concrete.
"Evening, Mr. Nock," Loren said.
kept his attention on the screen. "Loren,
my man," he said distantly. "Have
a seat. Dog and beer?"
offer irritated Loren, the way Nock barely acknowledged his number one
performer. Loren itched to head south,
where he'd be treated like the royalty he was.
But for now, this last task remained.
"A beer sounds stellar," he said, sitting, helmet in lap, knowing
it was smarter to indulge the owner, stay calm and respectful.
reached behind him into a fridge jammed with eats, grabbed a can, slid it
across the desk. "Let's talk, my
Loren heard Nock's voice coming out of
his mouth and didn't like the sudden, serious direction. A talk? What the hell did that mean? This meeting was supposed to
be a handshake and
a trumpet blare, with significant remuneration.
Loren felt as if he were sailing around inside the Sphere, the edges of
his vision starting to redden as g-forces squeezed his head, face, lungs. With
a silent effort he pushed back against
the advancing red, kept his wits. "Sure,
Mr. Nock," he said, snapping the tab.
"Anything you say."
Nock disengaged himself from the
monitor, turned, unblinking. "Loren,
there's no easy way to say this," he said, his voice loaded with fake
respect that Loren saw through. "We
have to part ways. I'm sorry."
The words failed to register with
Loren. Their general meaning seemed to
make it through into his skull where it implanted itself like a painful shard. But
he wasn't exactly sure what the talking head
in front of him had just said, as if the words were muffled and coming from far
"Come again, Mr. Nock?"
Loren heard himself say.
"I know this is a rotten news,"
Nock said, shaking his head. "But I
have no choice. To me you'll always be
the one and only Roarin' Loren, commander of the Sphere. But I can't risk another
year like this one,
Loren. It's time to hang it up."
Loren was confused. Hang what up? He
took a sip of his beer and it tasted like dry
ice. He stared for a minute, hearing for
the first time an office radio playing some irritating, whiny song. "What do
you mean?" he managed to
say as the red ate its way inward from the edge of his vision.
"That last crackup inside the
Sphere a week ago. You lost the pattern
and threw everyone off. The team went down,
all three of them, left just you standing in front of the crowd. A miracle no
one was seriously hurt and the
guys got up. It could have been much
worse. And there was that pileup in
practice last spring, and other signs, too.
We’re lucky no one’s raised a stink with the cops. I've managed
to keep a lid on this, hoping
you’d pull out of it. But Loren, my
friend, you've lost something. It
happens to everyone. It's time to go out
Loren felt the familiar anger invading
his shoulders, arms, and neck. "What
the hell are you accusing me of? Those
wrecks weren't my fault. The other guys screwed
Nock stifled a nervous laugh, shook
his head and rubbed his hands across his face.
"Loren, no one's screwed up but you. The team's rebelled, said they're
getting into the Sphere with you. They
won't work with you next year. They're
justified, Loren. It's been sixteen
years. You've been around the Sphere too
many times, taken too many spills. It's
gotten to you. There's no shame in
it. Call it a career before it's too
"You're firing me?"
tried to concentrate but his mind was racing.
Had the team really spread all these lies? There’d been hints,
but he hadn’t wanted to
believe. Now he could see the
truth. "I know what you bloodsuckers
are trying to do."
"We're not trying to 'do'
anything except tell it to you straight.
We're begging you, start a new life for yourself. You're still a young
man. You've got many years ahead of you.
Find a girl.
Nock shrugged. "The dependencies.
They're going to end up killing you."
"You weasel, Nock. You’re calling me an addict?”
"You know the truth. Let's just say you're not the stunt cyclist
you once were. Loren, get help before
it’s too late.”
Loren got the picture loud and clear: fire the star so the cheap second-raters
could take over. Loren, the perfect
employee, had come here to celebrate another successful season, have a few
laughs, drinks, collect his bonus, plan for next year. Instead, he was being
betrayed and his
character assassinated. As if everyone
else in the business, Nock included, didn't dose themselves stupid whenever
they wanted. Loren felt a withering resentment
against this man who'd taken the best he could give and was now tossing him
away like a gnawed wing.
"After all these years you’re
dumping me and saying it’s my fault. You’re
gonna burn in hell for this, Nock. Give
me my bonus so I can get the hell out of here.”
Nock used his sleeve to wipe sweat off
his forehead. He gazed at Loren oddly, then
reached into a drawer. An envelope
appeared in his hand and landed on the desktop.
“I’m sorry you feel that way.”
Loren grabbed the envelope and ripped
it open. Inside were a few bills. He
flipped through them in disbelief. "Is this a joke?" he said, barely able
to speak. "Five hundred
Nock took a nervous swallow of
beer. "Loren, believe me, I'm not
trying to cheat you. It was a bad
year. The park had unexpected expenses,
the crowds were off. I'm hurting. Everybody's
taking a hit. Please try to understand."
Loren rose, unable to restrain himself
as he looked down at Nock. "Understand?
I understand you're a thieving liar. What the hell am I supposed to do
"It's the best I can do this
"I should have ten times this,
twenty times, like last year." Loren
gripped his helmet tight and shook it at Nock.
"I bring in thousands of people.
Everyone loves me. I'm the star."
Shaking, he stepped closer and jabbed his
finger at Nock. “You’re stealing my
money,” he said in a tone filled with threat.
Alarm flashed across the old man's face. "Please, you're a son to me. I want to see you get healthy. But
back off, okay?" As he talked, Nock slid open a drawer and the
next thing Loren knew, a revolver was on the desk. Nock stared, and with measured
"I don't want any trouble, Loren. Just
take the money and go."
The sudden presence of the gun
triggered a burst of hatred toward this backstabbing thief who now dared to
threaten him on top of everything else. He
leaped onto the desk and
his helmet into Nock's head, snapping it sideways, grabbed with his free hand for
the gun but missed as Nock beat him to it.
Nock struggled to sit up straight, fumbled the weapon, met with another
blow that knocked him half over into a defensive huddled position and sent the
Loren lost count of how many times he swung
the helmet. When he finally stopped, he
was breathing hard, looking down at a motionless Nock and what had been his face.
He slid off the desk, the cratered helmet
smeared red in his hand. Gradually his
head stopped pounding and he was able to think.
Idiot Nock, pulling a gun. He'd
left Loren no choice but to defend himself. If Loren hadn't acted, he'd be dead. It had been clear self-defense. Loren
Loren’s mind spun. Self defense, yes, but the cops might not see
it that way. Over the years he’d seen how
those arrogant bastards worked, always looking for a way to twist the situation
against you just for the sport of it. He
had to keep himself out of this mess. Playing
the good citizen, turning himself in would be suicide. He needed to get out,
leave this losing hand behind.
From his jacket came mirrored
sunglasses which he held to Nock's crushed mouth. No breath.
He searched through the desk drawers, found more than a dozen envelopes
of cash amounting to several thousand dollars.
His well-deserved bonus fit neatly into his pockets. The hell with the
other lying losers. And the cops would love the robbery gone
He located an ancient security camera hard
drive system in a cupboard and spent ten minutes with a found hammer converting
the delicate hardware into a smoking heap of scrap metal.
the revolver on the floor, he left the building carrying his helmet, careful it
didn't touch his clothes.
Outside in the night, he walked around
back, down to the lakeshore where he washed his gloves and helmet. He'd have
no trouble later tonight digging anonymous
graves in the forest miles from here for the helmet and clothes.
Returning to his cycle he strapped the
helmet onto a rack and climbed on, fired up the engine and drove, cool and calm
now, toward the park's entrance. Uruguay.
In a week he'd be thousands of miles away
with loaded pockets. A new identity
would come shortly after.
As he passed the Sphere of Fear he
stopped, turned his headlight onto the enormous metal globe, bringing it out of
the shadows. Struts and girders hummed faintly
in the night's breeze. Calling?
He looked up at the structure and felt
exhilarated, as he always did when he stood before it. The plan would work. He had money, maybe not as much as he'd hoped
for, but enough. Soon he'd be gone from
the face of the earth like most seasonal workers. He'd stay away and start over,
in another culture teeming with people. Good
bye, Nock. Too bad you asked for
But it was difficult to break himself
away from the magnetic attraction of the Sphere. What was another minute or
two? He would probably never see it again.
The Sphere of Fear, the role it had played in
his life, demanded fealty.
In fact, he felt he even had the time
to open its gate and drive up inside the airy, cathedral-like interior and pay regards
to something that had given him so much.
He could rev his engine up to
speed and take flight for three or four loop the loops, a fitting
farewell. And with no amateur drivers to
contend with, the effort would be minimal and danger-free, just his speeding around
in energizing, comforting circles alone, a final winning set that would last him
for the rest of his life. He crept forward,
imagining the crowd, the engines, the noise.
Roarin' Loren and the Sphere of Fear.
One last performance.
But no, it would be insane and he forced
an end to the ridiculous fantasy. Time
was running out; he'd been given the gift of a safe escape and couldn't
squander it. He didn't have a minute to
spare. He had to hit the road.
He ripped himself from the Sphere’s
pull and headed for the main gate and out of the park for good.
Later, when the police were trying to determine
why a fleeing murderer would sabotage his own escape by zooming around the park’s
entrance roundabout hundreds of times, judging from all the tire marks, until
he'd skidded off the road to slam into the red oaks, killing himself in a
twisted heap of metal and wood, all they could do was shake their heads, point
at their temples, and twirl their index fingers.
John J. Dillon has worked
many years in the computer software industry and his most interesting job was
at an atom smasher laboratory. Over the years he’s had several
publishing credits, one of his earliest being as co-author of a hardcover spy
thriller published by Cliffhanger Press titled The Druze Document. He
lives in Dallas, Texas but loves snowboarding in Utah beyond all reason.
Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions which tell you a tale long after first glimpses
have teased your peepers. With early influence from America's Norman Rockwell to show life
as life, Blanch has branched out mere art form to impact multi-dimensions of color
and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking their greater glory. Visual illusions
expanding the ways and means of any story.
Digital arts mastery provides
what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how their own minds are moved. His
evocative stylistics are an ongoing process which sync intrinsically to the expression
of the nearby written or implied word he has been called upon to render.
View the vivid
energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA, Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio, DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma and launching in 2019, as Art Director for suspense author / intrigue promoter
Kate Pilarcik's line of books and publishing promotion - SeaHaven Intrigue