Thursday, 30 June 2011

Short excerpt from 'The Dare Ring' by Titus Powell

(Contains swearing and irresponsible behaviour.)

By the time we’re near the front of the queue, we know exactly what we’re going to do. The timing for this has to be exact. There are eleven seconds from the time they check the harnesses to the time the cars round the first bend. Can we cut through both straps in that time, while restrained by them? I don’t know. I feel like Houdini back stage before a new escape act. Will it work?

I watch the attendants, zombies in red shirts. They’re on autopilot, going through the same pattern each time a car pulls up, a minute and a half apart. They usher people into the newly empty seats, strap them in, give each strap a tug, and move on.

It’s our turn next. We’re the next batch of four. I finger the knife lovingly through my shirt.

Don’t do it, my common sense tells me. It’s a bad idea. Bad bad bad.

The train of cars slams into place ahead of us beyond the barrier. The electronic release mechanism on the harnesses release them all at once, and four excited teenagers pull off the straps and vacate what will soon be our front row seats. As they skitter off, clutching at each other and enthusing about their safe little ride, the row of empty seats beckons like a lighthouse above the rocks.

“Party time!” Owen says.

“You okay, Sébastien?” I ask, grinning.

“No,” Sébastien says. I look at him and he manages a smile.

The spotty teenage attendant opens the gate with a bored look on his face. I lead the way through, and climb into the furthest seat. Sébastien sits next to me, then Lorelei, then Owen.

“Remember guys,” Owen hisses from the opposite end of the seats, “we’re going to have to run as soon as it’s over. Just split up and make your own way back to the car. Make sure no one follows you.”

We all nod, grin, whoop.

I get my first chance to examine the harness, which has not yet been fastened. The material is reassuringly like a car seat belt, and arranged in an ‘X’ just as Sébastien and Lorelei described. We never got to practice on anything in the end, but after visualising it carefully, I reckon I will be able to cut through each strap in under four seconds.

Bad idea, my mind says again.

“This is a great idea,” I say out loud, to counter it.

“Damn right,” Owen says. “Everyone ready?”

The attendant passes in front of us, just as we anticipated. He plugs in Owen’s harness, tugs it, and moves on to do Lorelei’s, Sébastien’s and mine. As soon as he has locked and checked mine, he moves out of sight to the car behind us. This is it.

“Go!” I say, and grab the knife out from under my shirt. I flick out the blade and start sawing through the harness. It is tougher than I expected, but the knife is sharp and I am making progress. A couple of seconds later, the top strap gives way, sending shivers through my body. I go to work on the lower one. As I’d anticipated, the angle makes it harder to apply pressure. But it’s still possible. I cut upwards, which is more difficult, but I don’t want to accidentally plunge the blade into my thigh. I clench my teeth and focus intently on the sawing motion and the ever widening slit.

I finish cutting the second strap just as the cars jolt into motion. Our roller coaster shudders around a corner and starts to climb towards the first big peak. My strap flops open and the central disc swings down behind my left elbow. I am free, loose in the seat sans safety harness. With relief, I retract the blade and push it into my jeans front pocket. The half twist I have to do to get it in gives me a minor rush as I feel my bum slide free on the seat.

I’m not strapped in! I tell myself, to maximise the effect. We’re moving and I’m not strapped in!

“Finished!” shouts Sébastien in the seat next to me. He turns to look at me and waggles the longer half of one of his severed straps. I jiggle two ends of my ruined harness back at him, grinning stupidly and kicking my feet in the air. I look past Sébastien to the others. Lorelei is still sawing on the lower strap, the concentration on her face almost comical. Owen has already cut both of his, and is holding his hands up in the air with his eyes shut, a tranquil look on his face. I smile to myself. This is what it’s all about.

Fuck!” Lorelei shouts. I look, in time to see her knife twisting down through the air. It clatters to the overgrown gravel far below. “Quick,” she cries as we climb higher, “give me a knife!”

Sébastien scrabbles to retrieve his from his shirt pocket, and in the rush almost slips from his seat. He finds it, slides out the blade and thrusts it handle-first at Lorelei. It’s too late; the first big drop is moments away.

Lorelei bellows in frustration that she’s not going to be able to do it in time, and hurls the knife away with a snarl.

I feel for her, but I can see over the drop now and everything else goes right out of my head. Still reminding myself that I’m not strapped in, I try to drink in the out-of-control feeling as much as possible. As we go over the peak and start to accelerate down, I let my arms raise up, and for a moment I’m weightless. Then the G-force is pinning me back in the seat as the wind rushes in my face and we plummet down. I hear the screams of all the punters behind us, the punters who all have safety harnesses holding them in.

We slam down in an arc and then whip up and around to the right. Is this dangerous? I wonder, body rattling. I don’t know. That’s what makes it good.


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