Congratulations to Ellen Denten of Afton, Wyoming, the recipient of the November Penn Cove Literary Arts Award.
Ferris Wheel of Fortune
By Ellen Denton
This can’t be really happening. Not happening. Oh God in heaven, please help
Cara Murry would later learn from a Google search that the odds of someone
being seriously injured or killed from an amusement park Ferris wheel ride
were 1 in 9 million, that most such incidents occurred due to riders not
following posted rules for safety, that mechanical mishaps and breakdowns
mainly occurred in traveling carnivals where the ride was repeatedly taken
apart and reassembled, that someone was more likely to be killed in an auto
accident driving to an amusement park than on a Ferris wheel.
None of these statistics mattered though at the moment. Nauseas with
paralyzing terror, she hung over a beam, its metal cutting into her
stomach, her hands frozen in claw-like grips on two bars to the side of
her. The car she had just been dumped out of swung and scraped above her.
There was a surrealness to it, to the smallness of the people gesturing and
gaping from the ground so far below, to the jolting snap and lurching
backward tilt of the enclosed six-person gondola moments ago, the weight of
the bodies crashing through the back window glass before she was dropped
here and the other five people to their death on the ground below. Even from this distance she could see tiny blotches of red below the motionless forms on the ground. Things like this only happened to others, were only dispassionate journalistic reports, heard or read in the news, about strangers, far from the realm of her own experience, forgotten with the turn of a newspaper page.
I can’t stand another second of this – it feels like the metal is cutting
through my stomach – my family what will they tell my kids I’m only
twenty-six the vacation we planned for next month Cindy’s school play -
There was a distant wail of sirens and she could see people in the crowd
turning in that direction.
Is that for here? Oh God! Hurry, hurry, hurry!
The crowd parted to make way for two fire trucks, ambulances, police cars.
Barricades were set up and the onlookers ushered behind them. First
responders kneeled beside the fallen bodies. Four were covered over with
something, the fifth, looking like a tiny, motionless doll in the distance,
was loaded into an ambulance. One of the fire trucks maneuvered as close as
possible to the stopped Ferris wheel. Firemen and whatever police were not
busy controlling the crowd or taking statements from spectators, were
looking up at her.
Hurry. I feel sick. Hurry! I’m cold. I’m hot! It hurts!
She had up till now been looking straight or down to the right or left, but
now looked at the gondola directly below her. She could see the people in it looking up at her through its glass roof. A teenage girl was talking on a cell phone and crying. A woman clutched a young boy in an embrace and rocked back and forth, clearly terrified for his and her own safety.
She again had the feeling that she was in some kind of not-really-happening
dream. The air around her seemed to shrink and press in close to her, making her head hurt, her throat hurt, even the bile taste in her mouth seemed unreal.
Then she had a shattering thought that snapped and slapped her into the
What if they start it up again? What if they think they can get me down by
starting it up again and having it come around? My arms will be torn off or
I’ll be flipped forward over this bar when the wheel turns forward. Do they
know? Can they see me well enough. PLEASE KNOW! PLEASE LET THEM SEE. DONT
LET THEM START IT UP AGAIN.
A minute later, which felt like an eternity to her, a ladder started rising
from the fire truck closest to the Ferris wheel, with a bucket-like
attachment at the top. There were two firemen in it.
Like a bird alighting on an invisible branch, it stopped directly below her. The firemen were behind her at the height of her dangling legs and now held up their arms to her. She turned her head to look at them. Her heart made a tinny bang-bang terror sound in her own ears when she again saw how far the ground below her was.
They both placed their hands on the lower part of her body, as though to
assure her they were really there.
Ma’am, it’s going to be okay we’ll have you down and safe in no time.
Just push backwards from that bar. We’ve got you.
I’m afraid! I don’t want to fall!
You won’t ma’am. I promise. The only place you could fall right now is into
this basket, but we’ll have a hold of you before even that happens. Just let
go of those bars and we’ll pull you down.
With a choking sob, and feeling like a life-long trapeze artist executing
the final move of the final performance of her career, she did, and before
she could even blink her eyes or form another thought, was on her back in
the arms of the firemen, who gently lowered her to a sitting position.