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The man had been plagued by his son for over a year ...ever since the boy hit fifty-four inches and could meet theheight requirements for the Cyclone. But Astroland inBrooklyn was over an hour away on the subway and therewas always something depressing about Coney Island. Itssense of despair was as heavy as the cloying smell of funnelcakes and undercooked hot dogs. Time had passed the placeby, but it struggled bravely on. The rusty steel framework ofthe defunct Parachute Jump stood guard over a park thatincluded carousel horses too tired to do anything but dreamof their past glory years. Coney Island ... once a fabledname to amusement seekers, now just a place where big kidswent to buy drugs and little kids went to make their boneson the Cyclone, the one thing left on the strip that mattered.
You had to be fifty-four inches to ride the Cyclone becausea kid that tall is supposed to have a strong enough grip towithstand the forces the Cyclone imposed. Since 1927 it hadbeen tossing celebrities, politicians, criminals, and innocentsaround like so many sacks of flour. Charles Lindbergh oncesaid that the thrill of the Cyclone even beat the thrill of flying.Its initial climb was almost nine stories high and thenthe track dropped at sixty degrees, pushing the cars at anincredible sixty miles an hour. For one minute and fifty secondsyour heart stopped as your body slammed over threethousand feet of track, through six fan turns and nine shudderingdrops. And then it was over and you could go back toschool and tell your friends you had done the Cyclone. Ithadn't changed in over seventy years, and now the kiddesperatelywanted it.
The man had promised in a moment of weakness, whenhis son was maybe forty-eight inches, and now it came backto haunt him. Haunt him, because even at fifty-four incheshe wasn't going to let his firstborn climb into that thunderingtrain by himself. And a gut wrenching was not his idea ofadult entertainment either. But a promise was a promise, andso on that fine morning the man and his son found themselveson line for an experience for which his son had beenwaiting years.
It was the kind of day that inspires family outings. Maybeseventy people were in line, all jabbering with excited anticipation.The boy too, looking up above him at the miles ofwooden framing that creaked and groaned as the Cyclone'scars rushed by, made silly comments to relieve his nervousness.The man was thinking only about how long it wouldtake and telling himself never again to be so foolish with hispromises.
The line moved fairly quickly, and it soon came to be theirturn. But for the last seat in the train. This had been hotlydiscussed by the boy on the subway out.
"Not the last seat," he had insisted, "everyone's ahead ofyou. The best seat is the first one. If we could get that ..."
And now it was a possibility. To be in the first seat was tobe on your own magic carpet, swooping by yourself, danglingdangerously alone over every drop.
"We'll wait," the man said to the attendant.
The gatekeeper nodded and asked the people behindthem in line but they were a family of four and wanted tostay together. So he just closed the gate, locked the safetybars, and released the brake.
The train slowly rolled down the slight incline and thencaught on the lift chain that pulled the car up the eighty-five-footincline. The man and his son watched it slowly rise,waiting for the next train to pull up for them. They couldhear the metallic clanking of the chain dogs as they scrapedover the safety ratchets, the sound of the connecting jointsbetween the cars as the alignments shifted, the anticipatoryscreams of the people about to be Cycloned. Their train nowpulled up and the man and boy excitedly slid into the firstseat. The boy's eyes said it all: heaven. They watched as thetrain ahead of them continued to rise. And then they heard anoise unlike any other, a tearing sound, and then a loud bang.It was too loud for a shot, more like a steel beam collapsing.
Other people had heard the sound too and were looking inthe direction from which it had come. Up the track, wherethe car ahead of them was now approaching the crest of thehill. Except now it wasn't moving forward; it was doing acrazy little dance maybe six feet from the top. For a secondor two it would slowly slide backward, down toward the waitingcar with the man and boy until something underneathcaught and started bringing it back up. And then after a fewfeet the metallic tearing noise would screech again andanother loud report would ring out and the car would slidebackward again. The screams from the cars were now for realbecause there was no mistaking what was happening. Somethinghorribly wrong was taking place underneath the train.The cable was still operating, but it was not finding much tohook onto.
The man recognized in an instant the danger they were inand pushed his son toward the platform. At that moment thetrain above them started rolling backward and kept going.Slowly at first, then faster as the angle increased, it made itsway in reverse. The man pushed, then shoved, and finallyjust lifted and threw his son out of the car. He dived afterhim as the other people behind him tried to get out also.
When the damaged train was halfway down something didgrab underneath for less than a second, only long enough tobe sheared off in another frightful ripping sound. But for aninstant it slowed the falling train to a near standstill. In thatbrief moment when the safety ratchet had held, a man fromone of the cars jumped, flailing frantically at the woodenguardrail alongside the slanting track. But he couldn't holdhis grip and tumbled down the wooden structure, keepingpace with the now plummeting train.
The attendant at the gate acted quickly. He released thebrake and once again, the waiting train at the station slidslowly toward the lift cable. There were still three or fourstruggling people in it, but his thought was to have the crashaway from the platform with its milling throngs. The twotrains headed toward each other, one going slowly for thebottom of the cable and the other doing maybe fifty miles anhour in reverse. When they hit, the noise was deafening. Theman took one look and just threw his arms around his son,hugging him tight. The compartment they had been sittingin no longer existed. It was pushed like a tight accordion intothe three behind it in a space no bigger than a room divider.They would find out later that two people had died and severalhad been hospitalized, but for the moment, in theirnumbness, all they could do was hold each other.
Dr. Samuel Garvey was at his desk in the research facility atthe Angelus Corporation's Park in Freemont, Texas. Hewas in the middle of a G-force calculation for the Jumper'sblue section fifth drop when the call came in. The first fourdrops were within the acceptable range of under six Gs butdrop number five had such a tight radius that Garvey knew itwould be a problem. He was just about to plug in the weightfactor when Jason Roper appeared over his screen andpointed to the phone.
"Sounds official. You better take it."
Garvey raised an eyebrow. "Official?"
Excerpted from JUMPER by Richard Barth. Copyright © 2000 by Richard Barth. Excerpted by permission. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Posted December 9, 2008
When Coney Island¿s Cyclone roller coaster crashed killing two and injuring several others, the National Transportation Safety Board (NTSB) led the accident investigation. An expert on plane and train disasters, the NTSB Agent Rachel White asks Dr. Samuel Garvey, the recognized expert on roller coasters, to assist her with the inquiry. Sam flies from Texas to NYC to look at the crash site. He concludes someone deliberately caused the Cyclone crash and that individual is an expert. Rachel shows him the note left behind by Periclymenus. <P>Sam and Rachel review recent roller coaster accidents. They realize a serial killer is at large. More deadly incidents soon follow with Sam being a prime suspect. Still, Sam completes his masterpiece, Jumper even as he wonders how Periclymenus will try to sabotage his beautiful baby. Sam knows this is where the ride will end for the killer or him. <P> JUMPER is an exciting thriller that reads just like the roller coaster rides that co-star with Sam and Rachel. The exhilarating story line is filled with non-stop action. The lead protagonists are an interesting duo and Sam¿s daughter humanizes the hero. Though the villains¿ motives seem weak, Richard Barth¿s novel is well worth the ride. <P>Harriet Klausner
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Posted March 27, 2013
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