Please report to the nearest cable input to have your brain chip recalibrated. We are aware that you are under the impression that you do not have a brain chip implant. That is symptomatic of the transmission-surge that caused damage to its datacore. Neural feedback caused your memory of the chip to be wiped. You will be at risk of making your own choices until the chip is recalibrated. REPORT IMMEDIATELY to…
[a lost story by john shirley]
Maybe he was too old for roller coasters. Standing at the top of the line, waiting for the next train of roller coaster cars on the Big Shebang, Simon wasn’t sure. They heaved you around and they G-forced your joints till they clacked and he already had arthritis and his bones had gotten brittle lately. But he wanted to relive a few things, while he had time. And it was the kind of early-summer day he remembered from childhood, at the boardwalk; the smell of the sea wafting from one side, the smell of popcorn a salty counterpoint to the cloy of cotton candy and caramel apples; shading his eyes against the sun, he could see the linked cars rippling their way to him, the riders still smiling from the ride as it grated to a stop.
He thought he felt someone looking at him—he was usually right about that—and looking up he saw a security camera swiveling on the roof of the roller coaster controller’s booth. It stopped swiveling and fixed on him. Through the windows of the booth he could see a man glancing at a row of TV monitors. There were other cameras, on the roller coaster, on those slender arches you passed under, at the peaks and valleys of the ride. For your safety and security, said a little sign.
Then the ticket taker was opening the gate, taking Simon’s ticket, ushering him onto a seat. Riding all but alone, a few kids in the cars behind him. Off he went with a lurch, and grabbing the rail that clasped him in place. Up, up, along a plateau, down, a short plunge…
He saw himself as a boy. Getting in and out of fights. Arguing with his father. Kicked out of school, punished. . .
Back up again. Climbing…
Back in school, doing better, more confident, making friends with teachers, good grades. Girls. Doing pretty well with them.
A plunge. Sickeningly steep…a valley, a climb…
Discovering drugs, grades sinking. Girls—but one getting pregnant. An abortion. Wondering what the kid would’ve been like. Giving up drugs…college. Doing pretty well…
Another roller coaster pinnacle. They were grinding slowly up. That camera on the arch they passed under, looking at him…The camera somehow taking part in his life. Simon knew his image was on a monitor in that booth. Up and up, the chains on the cars groaning.
Career in journalism. Hard to make it work. Harder than he’d thought. Laid off. Another job. Years of tedium. Not liking it. Quitting for a position at a news magazine that doesn’t pay as well but somehow it has possibilities. This one clicking, getting a journalism award, a raise, better assignments, marriage, the kids…Divorce. Drinking. Feeling tired of the whole thing. They wouldn’t let him write what he wanted. More drinking…The kids having problems. One of them doing a short stint in juvenile hall.
The cars plunged down the other side, the kids in the roller coaster cars behind him shrieking. A long long slide down…Then back up to the final plateau.
Giving up drinking, writing a book, getting married again. A better marriage. Not happy in it but better. The kids finding their way. The troubled son seems to like the Navy, the girl marries well.
Wife dies….Kids gone. No more inspiration. No reason not to drink. Feeling old. It had all passed so quickly. It was over. Missed chances—so many.
They were plunging down the farther side…past another camera…Feeling like he was in that booth seeing himself caught by the camera, a grainy figure on the monitor sliding past…They were coming to the last plateau, the glide to the end of the ride…
Retirement. Mostly not drinking…His doctor wanted him to get that pacemaker but he resisted. “I mean, what for, doc?”
The cars were rolling up to the ticket booth, Simon’s heart was pounding from the unusual adrenaline…Getting out…looking up, right at the camera and into it…Suddenly feeling dizzy, and so heavy, like a giant pair of fingers was squeezing his chest the way you’d roll up an ant…staring up at that camera as his legs stopped working and he collapsed.
Going black. Sliding upward through the top of his head out of his body. Just a hovering point of view. Can’t quite remember his name. That was when he had a past. There’s no past, no future, just now. Not knowing where else to go he found himself somehow entering the camera. Seeing, then, with its electronic eye: the people gathered around the collapsed old man on the top of the roller coaster. Bending over him, murmuring, calling 911 on their cellphones. Then he feels constricted here, frightened, so he turns, switched the angle of his point of view within the camera, turned toward the digital guts of the device, was aware of the electricity running through it, round and around through the machine, the electricity connecting to the current that flowed into the device from the wires powering the roller coaster, the lights at the boardwalk amusement park; the current in the wires coming from the power station…connecting to the rest of the city, the rest of the world….a part of all electrical current everywhere and the world’s electromagnetic field, humming, vibrating, reacting to solar input, the sun beating down on the boardwalk…
Riding the current round and round and round…up and down, the ride never ending…And watching, through the cameras as, the next day, people went, once more, riding the roller coaster at the boardwalk.