With sinister skulls on their black Metallica and Megadeth T-shirts, the teenagers who snaked alongside me in the queue to ride the Screamin’ Eagle roller coaster at Six Flags in St. Louis, Missouri, looked like diplomats of death to my twelve-year-old self. Only line dividers separated us as we waited in a series of sheltered areas, each one connected to the next by a flight of stairs that led the amusement park’s patrons ever closer to exhilaration—and perhaps death.
In first grade, I went to Worlds of Fun in Kansas City with my friend Jon, who told me about a roller coaster on the premises that had been shut down because one of the seating harnesses had failed, causing a rider to plummet to her doom. Fact or fiction, I thought about that every time I waited in line to ride a roller coaster.
I usually enjoyed the rides despite my dread, but the jaundiced skulls on those teenagers’ shirts only made Jon’s story seem more credible. Some skulls smiled, with canine teeth like vampires. Others had eyeballs that somehow managed to resist decay. They stared out of bony sockets at the living, leering and lidless. The skulls projected something manic and menacing all at once, as if they knew something in death the living could never know. [Read more…]