The sky felt smoky blue at the beginning of twilight. Just before closing, lingering visitors were clambering up the helter-skelters and tube rides for a last go. A long glimmering ribbon of headlights wound up from the car park, and two ride attendants were lighting up cigarettes to mark the end of their shift. As they bent over the flickering lighter, he moved behind them and jogged down a sloping path marked with wooden handrails.
The boy had seen the sun-bleached barn throughout the day, and watched as the shadows moved across its rippling iron roof. He’d made a beeline for the newer, more brightly coloured slides that morning, yet kept glancing back at the disheveled ride. Now in front of him, the barn loomed tall and dark, save for the high narrow windows that lit the inside. Even the sign looked shabby; its letters precisely picked out in red gloss paint above the doorway. Slide Away, it said. For a moment he hesitated, thinking about the telling off he’d get for being late. Then with more enthusiasm than he felt he stepped through the door.
Inside it was dark, save for a slight orange glow above him, lighting a steep staircase. His hand brushed against something rough, and startled, he knocked a dusty grain sack off an iron peg jutting from the wall. A faded red arrow labelled don’t forget your mat pointed up the stairs, and scooping up the sack he moved towards the light. Rounding a corner he came out on to a rough boarded balcony, with the wall cut out at the end. More sacks lay on the ground, and peering around the end of the wall he saw the large, empty barn space, and below him a vertical slide that swooped off in to the shadows. His stomach dropped at the height. There were no railings or padded surfaces anywhere to be seen, just a flat ledge and then empty space. He was about to sit down when he saw another arrow pointing backwards.
Why not go for the big one… With eyes adjusting to the gloom, he saw another flight of stairs leading upwards, and more sacks in crumpled heaps on the stairs. After another tentative peer he turned to the steps and began to climb, curious to see what was next. With relief he found himself on another balcony, but more brightly lit than the last one. He could see pink and orange clouds through the roof windows, and the air moved more freely up in the eaves. Yet one glance along the wall made his stomach roll again. It was worse than below, for the wall was far shorter and the drop gaped before him. The boy dropped to his knees and felt along the floorboards, worn smooth by countless feet and shuffling sacks. The smooth wooden slide plummeted straight downward, with wooden struts hiding the floor as it swooped off in to the barn.
The unmistakable slam of the door below made him cower from the edge. Ears pricked, he heard the metal scrape of a bolt, and what could only be the click of a padlock snapping in to place. Though he tried to shout out, his mouth and throat were dry, and he only managed a feeble croak. Gripping the mat to him in a panic, he felt a braided handle on one side, and a twine-sowed flap beneath it felt heavy in his hands. Only the thought of having to spend the night there made him lay down the mat and slide his feet in to the sack, the thick material pressing reassuringly against his toes.
With the handles firmly in his grasp he shuffled forwards, lowering his legs over the edge. Taut with fear, he felt a sickening lightness under his thighs and at the back of his neck. He couldn’t move further. Peering downwards past the sack, the wall seemed to curve backwards beneath him, forming a horrible overhang. Something very cold settled on to his shoulders, and two strong hands jolted him off the edge, in to nothingness.
Copyright Tom Tide 2018