A Good Thing is the third-place winner for SNHU’s 2016 Fall Fiction Short Story Competition.
by Megan Parker
“Montgomery, Juneau, Phoenix—”
Ricky slipped through the opening in the chain link fence, waving his flashlight for Meadow to follow. He had brought wire cutters just in case the vandalized links had been repaired since the last time he came out to the island. Lucky for them, cops must’ve gotten fed up with boating all the way out from the mainland just to chase away college kids looking to get their rocks off.
Meadow cradled her arms over her stomach. She looked out at the milk-calm water and said, “What if we get caught? I can’t go to jail. My family would excommunicate me. My grandmother would write me out of her will. Sacramento, Denver, Hartford…”
Meadow always said reciting state capitals made her Catholic guilt feel more manageable. During the fifteen-minute ride on Ricky’s john boat out to the island, she named every capital city. Ten times. Seemed wasteful to Ricky, who would sooner ease his worries with an old-fashioned hand-rolled. Felt more natural.
“We won’t get caught,” Ricky said. He buried a scuttling crab with the toe of his boot. “No one gives a shit if we’re out here.”
They had docked against the remains of Anime Island’s main pier, green and slick with algae. The air bloomed with the smell of salt and fish and decay. Invasive plants had overrun the island years ago. Japanese honeysuckle looming through the fence that encircled the two-mile-wide island. Cogon grass grown in chest-high tufts.
Beyond the rusted ticket kiosks at the park’s entrance, the silhouettes of attractions squatted like ghosts in the night. Lonesome and haunting, full of unanswered questions. Ricky knew the feeling.
The fence rattled as Meadow squeezed through. “This place is creepy.”
“This place is perfect. Where else would you come to watch a meteor shower?”
“Oh, I don’t know,” said Meadow, clicking on her wrist light. “Somewhere elevated? An observatory?”
“An observatory doesn’t have what we want.”
Anime Island, a Japanese animation theme park, had shut down almost a decade ago when the owner’s body was discovered swinging from a branch in the Sprite Forest. There had been a huge legal to-do: the owner’s children crying murder, cops investigating his family, investors trying to cover their asses. In the end, the death was declared accidental, funding dried up, and the park was left to rot off the coast of Washington.
Ricky pulled a plastic baggie from his jeans pocket. “Want some?”
Meadow sniffed. “Absolutely not.”
“You’re such a princess.” He scooped out two shrooms and wedged them between his molars. He grimaced. They tasted like shit. “Do you even know how to have fun?”
“I’m here, aren’t I.”
A light rain began to fall, misting around them like a spell. They both tugged down their knit caps and walked in silence, ducking beneath the curves of plaster sculptures painted to look like a tunnel of tree roots. It was supposed to give visitors the sense of being transported to a magical land straight out of a Hayao Miyazaki movie. Instead, it brought them to a dilapidated marketplace.
The restaurants and shops, once painted in electric hues of reds and pinks and yellows, were crusted in salt and etched in graffiti. Ricky shone his light into the store windows as they walked by. A manga shop sported shelves half-ripped out of plaster walls, and the designer kimono boutique had been reduced to mildewed piles of silk.
Rats squealed and darted between doorways, eyes pin-pricked red in the light’s reflection. They reminded Ricky of the Japanese yōkai demons who could shapeshift. He wondered if they were here to bring good fortune or cause chaos.
In one of the souvenir stores, some kids had taken what remained of the plushies and chibis and noosed them from the ceiling. Exaggerated penises had been spray painted on the dolls’ smooth, androgynous crotches.
“That’s sick,” said Meadow. “That’s really sick.”
“Just kids being pricks,” said Ricky. “Come on. We’re almost there.”
He led her across the Bridge of Wishes, past the life-sized dragon statue and the robot cat arcade. Everything was painted in shadows and bright streaks of moonlight.
“I wanted to talk to you,” said Meadow, touching his elbow.
But Ricky aimed his flashlight and said, “This is it.”
Faded purple letters arched over the entrance above them: Ponyo & Sosuke’s Big Adventure. The building itself curved toward the sky like a bemouth jellyfish rising to the ocean’s surface. It had been a water coaster ride like Splash Mountain at Disney World. You rode in these fish-shaped cars through different rooms with animatronic characters from the movie that sang and danced. Fish turned into girls turned back into fish, or explosions of gold glitter, or prehistoric beasts made of water. There was a big drop at the end where everyone would get soaked, including people watching from the Bridge of Wishes. Now, the track was dry and empty, except for dirty puddles of rain and sludge and cigarette butts.
A cut-out of a little girl with orange hair and a red dress stood propped against the entrance with an arm raised in their direction, as if beckoning them inside. Someone had scratched out her saucer-sized eyes.
Meadow gripped Ricky’s hand. “Maybe we should forget it. Just watch the meteors from the boat or something.”
Ricky squeezed her hand. “You’ll love it. I promise.”
Years of vandalism had left most of the locks broken, so Ricky had no trouble navigating them through the Employee Only hallways.
“Dover, Washington, Tallahassee,” Meadow whispered. “Atlanta, Honolulu, Boise…”
Some of the doors stood ajar. The fish-shaped cars had been pushed off their track and defaced. Most of the robots were missing. Broken glass—from beer bottles or pipes, Ricky couldn’t tell—littered the floor. It smelled like an ashtray in a port-o-potty.
He swung open the last door.
“Oh,” said Meadow, exhaling. “Oh.”
They had been transported to the bottom of an animated sea. Fifty-foot high walls undulated in waves of cerulean, power blue, and navy that swirled up from a black, sand-blasted floor. The glass ceiling domed above them, perfect for watching the meteor shower.
But that’s not why Ricky wanted to come.
This room had been constructed as an add-on to the ride before the park went under. The track hadn’t even been installed. As Ricky stared at the whorls of ocean blue, he felt a sudden surge of euphoria that stretched as smooth and long as the paint. This must have been how Moses felt, he thought, splitting the sea like a brain.
He watched as grayish bubbles began to drift along the waves, rising in lazy zig-zags. Bulbous eyeballs rolled around inside them, whizzing about until they spotted him. He poked one, and it burst open like a watery firework. He giggled.
“God in heaven,” Meadow groaned. “You’re wrecked.”
“I feel amaaaaazing,” said Ricky, stretching out his arms. “Grace. Amazing Grace. As-mazing-as-Grace. Amen!”
“Christ, help me. And here I was hoping to talk to you about something important.”
Ricky grabbed Meadow around the waist and yanked her to the grimy floor. “Who needs words?” he said.
Meadow wriggled out of his grip. “Cut it out, Ricky. This is serious.”
Propping himself on his elbows, Ricky rearranged his features into what he hoped was a solemn expression. Which was challenging, since the bubbles chose that moment to float behind Meadow and cross their eyes.
“Okay,” he said. “Shoot.”
“I wanted to tell you…to tell you—” Meadow bit her lip. She pulled out the rosary from beneath her neckline and began rubbing it. She took a deep breath. “I’m not pregnant.”
His lips twitched. “Were you supposed to be?”
“Don’t be a jerk. You know I took a test.” She began to worry the silver crucifix with her thumb. “And now I’m not. I thought you should know.”
“That’s a good thing,” said Ricky. “That was the right choice.”
“Is it, though? A good thing, I mean.”
“There’s no gooder thing than that, babe.”
She blinked, eyes glazed as marbles. She asked, “Will you ever want to be a dad?”
He said, “Don’t ruin the moment.”
Suddenly, a dot of light shot across the dome above them. A second. Third. Tenth.
Meadow tucked her knees beneath her chin. “Do you love me?”
Ricky popped another bubble. It turned into a jellyfish and floated away.
“I do now.”
He didn’t notice when Meadow left. He lay back, watched the meteors rain above him. Watched them turn into big-eyed anime fish. Watched them swim across the inky sea-sky. Their little mouths gaped open and closed, open and closed. They looked right at him as they fell. Right at him. He wondered if drowning felt like this.
“Providence,” he said. “Indianapolis. Nashville. Topeka…”
Category: Competition, Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing, SNHU Student