Caleb sat on his front porch with slumped shoulders and nerves spiking from electrified energy inside him. This moment should be one of celebration, but instead his fear cast its dark shadow over the golden light of joy.
"Hey man, what's wrong?"
Startled from his thoughts, Caleb jumped. Then his brown eyes, sparkling with a wall of barely held back tears, glanced up at his older brother. "I got that job."
"What? That's great news! Why so glum?" Andy ruffled Caleb's curly hair and then dropped next to him on the porch stairs.
"It's on island Z4"
"Yeah...and?" Andy grabbed Caleb’s soda and chugged what remained.
"That means I need to learn to drive."
"Driving's the best. You'll love it!"
"I'm scared," Caleb whispered.
"Well how fast people go for one."
"Kind of need speed to make it around the loops"
"That's another thing. Loops." Caleb stared at the double loop he could see from where he sat. The twin loops stood as high as a mountain, and he didn’t understand how cars could stay connected to them. How could a car go upside down like that and not fall?
“Look, people do it every day─”
“People also crash every day.”
His brother shook his head like he found this whole conversation ridiculous. “It’s actually pretty safe. I’ve been reading this dystopian science fiction book. In it the roads are just flat and go across the ground.”
“That sounds amazing.”
“It’s boring. It leads to tons of accidents. People get sleepy, text, or switch through radio channels. They don’t pay attention. Then bam! Crash. Oh, and there’s like slowdowns from old people driving. We’ve got it so much better. Our roads are fun, and no slow grannies are risking those loops.”
“I can’t wait until I can ride the senior ferry.”
“What? They dance and drink. It’s like a party. They don’t have to worry about not gaining enough speed to make a massive…I don’t get how cars even stick to those. Don’t you fall?”
“No, man. Never. Once you try it, you’ll get it. You’ll love it.”
“They’re so tall.”
“It’s over in a second. If not, you aren’t goin’ fast enough,” He chuckled. “Trust me. It’s a blast.”
Although Caleb trusted his brother about most things, this wasn’t one of them. They were different. Andy liked speed, thrill seeking, and adventure. Caleb felt like a constantly swirling tornado of worry. Each time he looked at those loops, he wanted to throw up. Sure, this job had been a dream of his for as long as he could remember, but maybe it wasn’t worth the stress of facing that road each day. It might be better to continue working at the food stand up the road instead. It wouldn’t be enough money to survive on, but he’d be safe. He also wouldn't be the first to discover an exciting new species of reptiles. Okay, the job was worth it.
The glossy orange loops caught a ray of sun and bounced it into Caleb’s eyes momentarily blinding him. A warning he thought.
The day of Caleb’s first drive started with him hurling into the toilet. His head hurt, probably from dehydration, and his stomach ached from being emptied of everything, even bile. Sweat soaked his forehead. In fact, he felt so hot, he checked to see if he had a fever. Driving seemed like the most dangerous thing a person could do, and yet there had been so little training. Well, they told him all his years of playing the car racing video game was training and he didn’t even know it. The Mayor of Island 45B thought it best to start young, but apparently also keep the purpose a weird secret for no reason. Or maybe Caleb missed something all the other kids seemed to pick up on instinctively. He did that often.
He sat in the car and strapped himself into the spiderweb of seatbelts. At least this system reassured he wouldn’t slip out when upside down. Sucking in several deep breaths, he pressed the button to turn on the car. Then he started the narrow, winding one way streets that lead to the ocean. The car picked up speed as he glided through each berm, maneuvering the turns like the race car driver he had unintentionally trained to be.
Turquoise water stretched out before him and the car dipped into a tunnel. The glass construction of the tunnel caused an overflow of anxiety to spill from his strained heart, but the sight of bright colored fish swimming around cast a spell of awe on his mind. If only he could park and take in the mesmerizing sight. Then again, he couldn’t stop thinking of the glass breaking and him drowning trapped in the tunnel. What if a car couldn’t stop and rammed into it?
A sharp climb upward, through swirling neon lights, spit him back out to the robin’s egg blue sky of the afternoon. A sign warned him to pick up speed. He gasped desperately for air realizing he couldn’t breathe. The loops towered before him now. His heart beat so fast he felt sure it would explode and splatter across the windshield. Blinding panic blurred the world around him. His foot slammed on the gas pedal as if added force would make a difference.
The car rode up and up to impossible heights. Caleb wished he brought another pair of pants in case he peed the ones he currently wore. He had never been so high in his life. No one could survive a fall like that. The car slowed. The top was close but it felt like an exhaustingly long crawl. He didn’t have enough speed. He’d never make it. This was it. He pushed the steering wheel like his body could propel the car forward. Then squeezed his eyes tight waiting for the free fall. He sucked in a deep breath and held it. Would his lungs collapse? Then the car dropped rapidly. His heart fell to the sea below him to be consumed by sharks.
His eyes popped open and he realized the car was racing down the other side of the loop. Then it soared like a rocket up the side of the other loop. The speed didn’t slow at the top. Caleb vomited. How could his stomach even find more contents to toss? Nothing remained. Flecks of bile spilled across the windshield and slapped onto his face. Realizing his hands had left the steering wheel, he forced them back onto it and clung so tightly his knuckles went white.
A straight stretch of road ran across the last bit of ocean. Once Caleb got to the other side, he pulled over, leapt out of the car, and jumped into the ocean. The gentle waves slowed his racing heart. His breaths steadied again.
He returned to shore and checked his cellphone.
Andy: Did you do it?
Andy: How was it?
Andy: Lol. It’s a rite of passage, man. I’m proud of you
Caleb wondered if he felt proud of himself. He didn’t feel anything but delusionally sleepy. Caleb turned to look at the sea and saw the senior ferry. A small white boat filled with older people drinking tea, laughing and chatting. A woman in a hot pink, wide brimmed hat waved to him. After a long life of suffering through this, they deserved every second. Caleb sighed. “Fuck this. I’m just gonna make a boat.”