|The Transformation Story Archive||Strange Things and other Changes|
Part I - The Introduction
"There it is. It's hard to believe that it's ten years old." The father beamed with pride. He was about to take his son on the tallest, fastest, and steepest roller coaster ever built.
"Billy, you are about to experience a miracle. In ten years, no one has figured out how to make a better roller coaster than Demon's Revenge."
Billy's excitement was obvious. His sparkling blue eyes were nearly popping out of his head. He had admired the coaster for years, but now he was finally tall enough to ride it. "Dad, is it true that you were the first person on it?"
"You got it, Scooter! The man who made Demon's Revenge was a good friend of mine for many years." The father knew that statement would thrill Billy, since he was hoping to design roller coasters himself some day.
"Really, Dad? Can I meet him?"
"I'm afraid not, son. He gave everything he had to make Demon's Revenge." A look of sorrow spread over Billy's face. "Cheer up, son. The coaster designer is happier now than he had ever been before. Demon's Revenge was his masterpiece. It delights him that it entertains so many riders every year."
Now Billy was really puzzled. "Uh, Dad, if he's no longer around, how do you know that he's so happy?"
"Billy, I knew him well, and, in a way, I still do know him. As long as this ride remains as the world's greatest, he will never really be gone. Some people even claim that his spirit lives in the ride. However, only I know the true story."
"Will you tell it to me, Dad?"
"Sure Billy. We've got a while to wait in line."
Part II - Mark's Narrative
His name was Jeff. We met way back when we were in junior high school. Even then, he was obsessed with the entertainment industry.
He told me he first indicated his interest when he was merely three years old. He was visiting an amusement park, and proclaimed to his parents, "Someday, I'm going to build the greatest roller coaster on Earth!"
He started designing rides at an early age. Shortly after we met, he pulled out some old drawings of a variety of rides he had designed while he was still in elementary school. "See this, Mark? I called it 'The Triple Ferris Wheel.' I drew it four years ago. Now, this year, someone else built that exact ride, only they call it 'The Troika.'" Jeff was convinced that he had designed the ride first, obtaining inspiration from a double Ferris wheel he had seen at an amusement park.
Throughout junior high and high school, he kept drawing new and unique rides. He even built working models of some of them. I remember one model he built. He called it "Suspended Animation." It was a roller coaster that hung under the track, with the cars swinging as they moved. About two years later, the world's first suspended roller coaster was built. I had never seen Jeff look so dejected. "Why can't I be just fifteen years older, so I can make my designs a reality before someone else thinks them up?" Nonetheless, he kept on designing new rides.
He went to college to become an engineer. He figured he would need a good education in engineering if anyone were to take him seriously as a ride designer.
I have never seen anyone study so hard. During the school year, he hadabsolutely no social life. One time, I wanted to visit him, but he said no. "Look, Mark, you're a good friend, and I'd like to see you, but if I'm going to make my dreams come true, I've got to study!"
Each summer, when classes were out, he worked at an amusement park. He hoped to make contacts in the industry. I did get a chance to visit him at the park. He looked like he was truly in his element. He belonged on the midway.
He did meet many amusement industry executives while working at the park, but they never seemed to take his design ideas seriously. Jeff was confused by their attitude. "I don't know if they think I'm too young, they think I'm just in this for fun, or if my ideas are just too radical for them. All I know is that they just don't seem all that interested in talking to me about my designs. I sure hope that'll change when I finish my degree."
Ultimately, Jeff obtained a Master's Degree in engineering. Despite being one of the top performers in his class, he was still having trouble getting a job with an entertainment design firm. As a result, he took a job as a software engineer. For him, designing software was easy. He'd been doing it since the fifth grade. He figured doing something so simple would give him extra time to work on his ride designs.
Every waking moment, when he was not at work, he was designing rides. About a year after his graduation, he called me, urgently asking me to pay him a visit. Jeff didn't have many friends since he was always working towards his dreams. He said he had to show someone his latest design, and it had to be someone he felt he could trust.
I got to his home the next day to find him working on a large model. I could hardly believe my eyes. He built a one-quarter scale rotary ride in his basement. The ride was so unique, I don't even know how to describe it. The seats were spinning every which way. It made me dizzy just looking at it!
I saw that familiar look of pride in Jeff's eye as he described it. "I call it, 'The Mind Warp.' It is quite possibly the wildest rotary ride ever designed."
His enthusiasm was admirable, but I was a bit confused. "Why did you build a rotary ride? I thought you were more interested in roller coasters."
"I am, but I need to get my start somewhere. Rotary rides are a much less expensive investment, so more parks can afford them. If I can sell this ride, I've got a chance to gain credibility in the industry." Much like on his new ride, I could see that his wheels were really turning.
He asked me to take my vacation at the same time as his. He wanted to pack up The Mind Warp and present it to several amusement parks. He was hoping I'd help. "Of course I'll help! I wouldn't miss this for the world!"
We took two weeks in August to make this trip. Jeff wasn't leaving anything to chance. He contacted eight different amusement parks, arranging to meet with their top executives.
Our first meeting was at a park in Pennsylvania. The owner, Mr. Johnson, was about six and a half feet tall, with a very stern look on his face. He was definitely not the type of person I would expect to see trying to amuse people. Actually, I would find it easier to believe that Mr. Johnson would have a career breaking kneecaps rather than running roller coasters. Jeff would not be intimidated, however.
We set up the model for Mr. Johnson, and Jeff gave his presentation. The presentation was so convincing, I wanted to buy the ride. He talked about the safety features, the thrill factor, the expected low maintenance, and the costs to run the ride. He had clearly done his homework.
Mr. Johnson only had one question. "How many of these rides are currently operating?"
Jeff didn't hesitate for a second. "That's the beauty of this design. You have the opportunity to have the world's first Mind Warp installed at your park."
I just knew Jeff's heart had to be breaking when Mr. Johnson replied, "Look, kid, it's an interesting design, but it's unproven. When you've got some other rides running, come back and talk to me. Until then, I'm not interested."
Jeff received similar responses at every park. No one wanted to be the first to install an untested ride by an untested ride designer. Jeff was devastated. He poured his heart into this ride and his presentation, only to be brutally shot down at every turn.
"Maybe I should just give up. No one is going to give me a chance. All I wanted to do was give people a good time, and I have utterly failed." This had to be the lowest Jeff had ever felt. For as long as I had known him, he always had a sparkle of optimism in his eye. With his latest defeat, that sparkle was gone. He was sure he had a winning design, yet he still couldn't get anyone to take him seriously.
Five months later, Jeff mysteriously disappeared. Not even his family knew where to find him. I knew he had all but given up hope, and was afraid that he had done something drastic.
A whole week went by before he returned. When I heard he was back, I rushed right over to his house to talk to him. "Jeff, for crying out loud, where have you been? Everyone was worried about you."
"Mark, don't act so much like a nagging mother. As you can see, I'm fine. I just needed some time to get away."
It was obvious that Jeff didn't want to discuss his trip, but I kept prying. "If you can't tell your best friend, who can you tell?"
That did it. Jeff always did have a strong sense of loyalty. "O.K. I'll tell you, but you have to promise to keep it to yourself. I want you to be the only one who knows."
He went on to explain that he connected up to a bulletin board system with his computer. The World Wide Web was still a few years away, but Jeff was already using his computer to connect with the world. Well, this particular bulletin board covered topics relating to sorcery and witchcraft. Jeff didn't really believe in that sort of thing, but he was always curious. It seems that one particular ad caught his eye.
It read, "Visit me discretely, and I'll make your greatest dream come true."
Jeff thought, "Hey, what have I got to lose? My dream is in critical condition. Maybe she can help me bring it back to health. Besides, I could use a few days off." He hopped in his car and drove over five hundred miles to visit this person. I believe he said her name was Madame Demonia. He arrived at her home, and was greeted by an open door, even though he had not called to tell her he was coming.
Demonia was a stunningly beautiful woman, with long, black hair, and hypnotic eyes. As Jeff walked up to the door, she said, "Greetings, Jeff. I have been expecting you."
Jeff felt a sudden chill run down his back, but he couldn't turn away. How did she know his name? How could she possibly be expecting him? Despite his apprehension, he had to go inside Madame Demonia's domain.
The front room looked very much like a fortune teller's booth at a carnival. There was a crystal ball sitting on a round table. Strands of beads were hanging on every wall. Jeff couldn't see it, but he could smell burning incense.
"Do not pay much attention to this room. It is merely for show. To find what you seek, you must follow me."
Although he was very nervous, Jeff did as he was commanded. He simply could not resist the power he felt in those beautiful eyes. She led him into what appeared to be just an ordinary kitchen, which clearly had not been remodeled since the seventies. Jeff thought to himself, "I can't believe it. I go seeking the path to my dreams, and I wind up in the Brady Bunch's kitchen."
Apparently sensing his thoughts, Demonia said, "Perhaps the style is a bit outdated, but it serves my needs. Here, drink this." She handed him a glass containing a fluid that looked just like chocolate milk, but smelled more like turpentine. Jeff shrugged, then gulped it down, figuring he really didn't have anything to lose.
Demonia then instructed him to wait in the next room. As Jeff entered, she slammed the door behind him. There was no handle on the inside. In addition, the room did not have any other doors, nor did it have any windows. Jeff was trapped.
He looked around, hoping to find some way out. At that moment, it occurred to him that he didn't see a light source, yet the room was filled with light. That light must be coming from somewhere. If he could only find it, he may just find his escape.
He didn't have much of a chance to find the light, however. After just a few minutes, he could no longer keep his eyes opened. He was certain that he had been drugged. He remained calm, apparently accepting his fate, but he was very disappointed. This was not the way he wanted to die. He always figured he would take his last breath while riding a roller coaster.
The next thing he knew, he was lying in the middle of a large field. He enjoyed the experiences that were filling all of his senses. The sun felt warm and soothing. The grass was lush and smelled of spring. The view was spectacular, with the white snow-capped mountains looming on the horizon, stretching up into that purple sky, highlighted further by the three moons.
For the first time, Jeff realized that something was amiss. "Purple sky? Three moons? While the sun is out? Odd. This really isn't what I pictured for the afterlife. Shouldn't there be harps playing and people flying around with halos on their heads? Well, I prefer a big band sound over harp music, anyway, so perhaps the lack of music is for the best."
He wasn't truly certain about what had happened to him, but Jeff did feel the need to start moving. As he started walking towards the mountains, he looked up to the sky. Hovering above was an enormous bird, far larger than any creature he had seen before. Jeff's heart started to race. He frantically looked for shelter, but the only possible protection he could see was at the mountain range, which had to have been at least a hundred miles away. Not knowing what else to do, he started running just as fast as his legs would carry him. He really didn't want to become lunch for this raptor.
The giant bird swooped down, as if eyeing its prey before the attack. Then, to Jeff's surprise, it landed about twenty feet in front of him. Jeff stopped running. The fear that was driving him was suddenly gone.
The bird looked at Jeff, apparently expecting a particular action. Jeff didn't know what to do. "Well, what do you want from me?"
The bird apparently understood, and responded by pointing its beak at its own back.
"Are you telling me that you want me to get on?"
The raptor nodded.
"You have got to be kidding me. How on Earth am I supposed to get up there?"
In answer to this question, the bird lowered its wing, providing a convenient ramp. Jeff climbed on, and soon found he was in flight, headed towards the mountains.
From the air, it looked as though this world ended just after the mountain range. Was this bird going to fly off into space? The raptor stopped short of the edge of the world, landing on the peak of the tallest mountain, then motioned for Jeff to get off. As he did, the bird flew away, leaving him stranded on a snow-covered plateau.
"Oh, that's just great. Now what do I do?" Just as he asked that question, a strange golden glow caught the corner of his eye. He tried looking towards it, but, as he did, it disappeared. As he turned away, he once again saw the glow. Every time he turned back to look at it, it was gone. "This is just too weird. Rod Serling must be around here somewhere."
Jeff was determined to find the source of the glow. He wasn't sure why, but he felt that his dream rested on finding it. Looking out of the corner of his eye, he slowly shuffled towards the light. After moving a few feet, he felt something against his toe. He bent down, brushed away the snow, and discovered a golden amulet attached to a chain.
The amulet did not appear to be particularly unusual. It was just a round piece of metal with the inscription, "Dreams do come true·"
Well, if nothing else, Jeff figured that the amulet would be a good source of some positive thinking, something he could definitely use. To ensure that he wouldn't lose it, Jeff slipped the chain over his head. As soon as he did so, the amulet glowed brighter than the sun. Jeff felt an incredible warmth in his chest as the amulet slowly merged into him. When the glowing stopped, the amulet was gone, and Jeff found himself back in the room where his whole adventure began.
"I trust you found what you were seeking." Madame Demonia had a devilish gleam in those powerful eyes as she addressed Jeff, who was still lying on the floor. "I was beginning to wonder if you were going to return."
Still a bit dazed, Jeff struggled to his feet. He had just had an experience that he felt was better suited to The Outer Limits than to real life. His dream felt much too real for his comfort. He was certain he did not want to go through this experience again, so he determined it would be best to attempt to escape from Demonia's presence. "Uh, I really must be going. It was certainly an interesting experience, but I really need to get back home."
Much to Jeff's surprise, Demonia did not put up any resistance. As Jeff hurried out the door, she managed to startle him by saying, "Remember, dreams do come true." Was her statement coincidence, or did she somehow know about the amulet in his dream?
Jeff jumped back in his car, making an effort to get away from this eerie woman just as fast as he could. After all, he was an engineer. Engineers are not used to dealing with the unexplainable, only the impossible. Jeff started his car and tore out of the driveway as fast as he could. It was time to get back to a world where physics made sense.
After driving for a while, Jeff stopped at a roadside diner to get a bite to eat. He was amazed at just how hungry he was, since he had eaten just before going to Demonia's. While he was inhaling his second hamburger, the evening news came on the diner's television. He couldn't hear the sound, but he definitely recognized the picture. They were showing his driver's license photo with the word "Missing" as the caption.
Two questions entered his mind. First, couldn't they have shown a picture that didn't resemble a deer staring at the headlights of an oncoming car? More importantly, how could he be listed as missing? He had only been gone for two days. He picked up a nearby newspaper to see if he could find an explanation. Once again, that awful picture was staring him in the face. The paper stated, "The engineer was reported missing by his family just yesterday. No one has heard from him in nearly a week. His mother was quoted as saying, 'It's just not like him to disappear without telling anyone. Something must have happened.' Anyone with any information about his location should contact their local authorities."
Jeff thought, "Dreams do come true, eh? Well, oversleeping by nearly a week in the house of a very spooky woman is more my idea of a nightmare. How will I explain my absence? No one in their right mind would believe my story. Heck, I don't believe it, and I experienced it."
As far as I know, I am the only person he ever told about Madame Demonia. He told everyone else that the stress was getting to him, and he just had to get away for a couple of days. He apologized for causing so much concern, indicating that he must have lost track of time.
Just two days after his return, it looked as though Jeff would finally get his big break. A development company called after seeing his advertisement in an amusement industry trade journal. They were interested in building a new amusement park, and they were looking for designers with original ideas. Jeff scheduled a meeting with Vince Rothwell, the president of the company, at the development site. Once again, I accompanied Jeff to provide moral support and business advice.
We met with Rothwell for the full day, wandering around the site as we talked. Jeff's eyes were filled with passion and hope as he surveyed the landscape. I could see that his mind was working overtime. Knowing him, he probably had an entire amusement park layout already cooking in his head.
"Vince, I could do wonders with this land. If you leave it to me, I will give you a park that is second to none." Jeff then proceeded to present some of his thoughts on how the land could be developed.
Rothwell listened with intense interest. At the end of the day, he said, "I'd like you to draw up a sketch of your visions. Nothing fancy, just provide me with something that will give me a visual representation of what you're thinking. Let's meet back here in two weeks, then you can show me what you've got."
Jeff wasted no time. He arranged to take a leave of absence from work. Everyone at the office knew of his desire to design an amusement park, so they were very accommodating. He returned to his home, and set about his task of drawing his amusement universe. I didn't see anything of him during those two weeks. He simply would not be distracted from developing his designs.
Jeff and I returned to Rothwell's property right on time, but Rothwell had not yet arrived. Despite my urging, Jeff refused to show me the designs in his briefcase. "I want it to be a surprise. I think these are some of my best ideas yet. All I need is for Rothwell to give the thumbs-up."
Jeff's enthusiasm could hardly be contained. On the other hand, I was very concerned. Rothwell was late, which showed his interest might be waning. If he rejected Jeff's designs, I felt it would be a blow from which Jeff would not recover.
Twenty minutes later, Rothwell finally showed up. "I'm sorry I'm late. It turns out that we will be going with a different designer, one with a bit more experience. Thank you for stopping by."
Jeff protested, "But, Vince, you haven't even seen my designs. I took two weeks off work just so I could give you the best I've got."
"Perhaps when we build our next park, we'll give you a call. We appreciate the effort." With that, Rothwell walked away.
Jeff just stared silently into the sky. I knew he had to be hurting. I placed my hand on his shoulder and tried to reassure him. "It's OK, Jeff. You'll get another chance. It just takes patience."
"Right there." Jeff spoke quietly as he pointed at a region of the property. "It was going to be right there."
"What was?" He didn't answer. Instead, he walked despondently over to the spot that he had mentioned.
He stood there for a moment, with his back to me, then he turned around. His face was red with anger. I had seen this face only once before, when Jeff was seriously wronged. It took a lot to get Jeff angry, but when he was mad, he had a definite temper. I could see he was about to blow.
He raised his hands to the skies. He shouted at the top of his lungs, "Why won't anyone give my dreams a chance? All I want is to make the greatest roller coaster in the universe!"
Without warning, the land erupted with a deafening roar. A look of shock crossed Jeff's face as his chest started to glow as bright as the sun. I thought about the dream he had at Madame Demonia's. Was it possible that the amulet was real, and that it was now emerging?
Dust started flying everywhere as I saw Jeff's body start to twist and turn. His legs were burrowing down into the ground, forming what looked like a foundation. His body grew and opened, turning into what appeared to be a loading platform. His arms twisted and stretched, forming a remarkable roller coaster track, easily seven miles long. His hands seemed to split and turn into ten trains. His head opened and formed an entrance cave, with distinct face-like qualities. After about three minutes, the dust settled. Where Jeff stood was now a massive roller coaster, far larger than anything I had ever seen. Obviously, Jeff had not expected this response, as the entrance cave possessed a very startled look.
I could see Rothwell running back this way, gaping with amazement at this incredible coaster. "Where did that come from?" he huffed out while trying to catch his breath.
If I told him the truth, he probably would have had me locked in a padded room somewhere until the next ice age. "Uh, it was a last-ditch effort that Jeff had prepared. He hoped it would change your mind in your decision to use his designs."
Rothwell was stunned. The only question he could ask was, "Does it work?"
As Rothwell asked the question, the trains started to move on their own. Rothwell and I entered the cave, following the path up to the platform. When we got there, a train was waiting for us, with the lap bars raised. After we stepped in, the lap bars lowered automatically, and we started to move.
To call this a ride would be a severe understatement. This was an experience. I won't spoil the surprise by telling you about it, since you'll be on it soon enough.
After we got off, Rothwell said, "This ride is the work of sheer genius! Where is the designer? We have contracts to sign!"
I really wasn't sure what to say, so I stumbled through the situation as best I could. "This ride was contained in revolutionary new storage modules. Jeff hadn't worked out all the details of releasing the ride. He knew that pressing the button would result in being swallowed up as the ride expanded. This ride meant everything to Jeff, and he felt it was worth the sacrifice. He left his briefcase with me, hoping that you would consider using his other designs, as well."
We opened his briefcase. On top was a design for Demon's Revenge, exactly as it was standing before us. It turns out he could have built this ride without changing into it. Apparently, he really was a brilliant amusement designer.
Jeff's briefcase contained drawings of many other rides, and a park layout. Rothwell looked them over, thrilled with what he saw. "These drawings are fabulous! Everything fits perfectly around Demon's Revenge. This is the park I want to build, and it shall certainly be dedicated to the memory of a thrill-ride genius."
Looking back at the entrance cave, I could see that the startled appearance from a few minutes before had changed into a proud smile. It may not have happened quite as he had expected, but Jeff's dream was finally coming true, just as the amulet promised.
Part III - The Ride
Mark finished telling the story just as he and Billy reached the loading platform. "That's it. What do you think?"
"It's a cool story, Dad, but I don't believe it. Things like that just don't happen."
Hearing that comment, an animated figure of a frightened dog momentarily stopped its usual routine, turned directly towards Mark, and gave a knowing wink and a smile before returning to its normal automated tasks.
"Well, Billy, it's our turn to ride. Climb aboard, and strap yourself in for the ride of your life!"
The train left the platform and headed towards the tunnel. At the entrance to the tunnel stood an animated figure of an old man. The man looked like a prospector who had been digging for gold for too many years. He had a long, gray beard, tattered clothes, and a cane that he used for support. His back was bent from all his years of digging. He raised his cane in the air, waved it around, and warned, "Don't ye be goin' in thar. It's the home of the Demon. No one who's entered has ever come out, far as I've ever seen. Turn back now, if you know what's good fer ya!"
The train plunged into the darkness of the tunnel. Common sense indicated that the train must be going up the first lift hill, but the movement of the walls provided an overpowering illusion that the train was descending into the depths of the Earth.
Growls and groans echoed through the tunnel as the temperature continued to rise. A fog started to fill the air, getting thicker as the train progressed.
After what seemed like an eternity, the train came to a stop. Directly ahead, an eerie red glow could be seen piercing through the fog. From this glow, a hideous figure of a demon emerged, shaking his scepter, his eyes burning with a red flame. A sinister voice growled, "So, you did not heed my warning. Now you shall face my revenge!" The demon let out a devilish laugh, sending a chill down the spines of the riders. Even Mark was unnerved, even though he had seen this performance dozens of times before.
With a wave of the demon's hand, the train resumed its motion. The ride started to drop, emerging from the fog and darkness into the sunlight, where it proceeded to plunge on a vertical descent straight towards the ground.
The train continued to gain speed as it plummeted towards the Earth. At ground level, the track appeared to come to an abrupt end. All the riders were screaming as the train dove through the Earth back into the darkness of an underground tunnel. The train turned upward, jumping back into the sunlight. It twisted and turned in a dizzying array of spirals and loops, never allowing a single slow moment where the riders could catch their breath.
Finally, the ride seemed to be slowing down as it coasted along a level stretch of track. Before they could really relax, however, the riders saw another train on the same track, heading straight for them. To the sounds of the riders' screams, the train dipped rapidly, narrowly avoiding a collision by travelling under the approaching train. The riders could actually look up and see the wheels of the train they had just missed.
The ride continued to dip and swerve, providing a full five minutes of non-stop action before it coasted back to the loading platform. The riders hooted and cheered, showing their unanimous approval of their experience on Demon's Revenge.
Mark and Billy exited back through the ride's entrance cave, which still maintained that proud smile Mark had noticed ten years earlier.
"So, son, how did you like it?"
"That was awesome! Can we go again, Dad? Please?!"
Mark looked back at the cave entrance. "Well, Jeff, you are still the greatest."
With that, the cave's smile grew just a little bit bigger.
Demon's Revenge copyright 1997 by Jeffrey G. Harper.
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