thought I knew what I wanted
from Uncle Elliot.
weren’t many people who
could afford a backyard the size of a football field. The color was
the most impressive part of his property. Green. Bright green.
greenery in a Nevada desert. The joke in our small town was that the
and trees a neighborhood had, the better off the people were because
of nature didn’t have much water. It had to be funneled in. I grew up
front lawns of rocks and dirt. If you fell, it hurt and you learned.
my parents and Uncle Elliot grew up too.
year, he blessed the town
with dozens of roller coasters and carnival games, all kept in his
the leftover space between the rides, thousands of people waited in
the other kids seemed rowdier than usual, fueled by the funnel cakes
corndogs. They ran faster, fell harder, and laughed louder because, for
a year, Uncle Elliot let everyone into his property that overruled
of the town seemed to know him. The patriarch of the wealthy Kidd
extravagant Kidd family. The good Kidd family.
was not from that side of the family, but just walking beside Uncle
me feel like I could be. When some people saw his tall, wiry frame,
to us and tried to talk to him, but Uncle Elliot had one goal in mind:
me at the basketball booth. I had been practicing for weeks by watching
tutorials and stretching my wrist to flick the ball just right. Playing
anything with my uncle was dangerous — you never knew what you might
he won, he got anything of yours and if you won, you got anything of
Elliot once took my favorite toy as a kid, only for me to start
reluctantly gave it back. Right then, though, thirteen-year-old me was
to lose anything.
basketball booth, with its big, digital timer and walls lined with
animals, was right next to his favorite piece of property: the
metal monkey statue. It was of an orangutan scratching its back, with
beams jutting out from the bottom. Everything but its face was
abstract. If you
squinted you could see the wrinkles on its face, almost the individual
and then all that detail morphs into coils forming the rough shape of a
and what looked like a car bumper in one leg. The steel hairs of the
were inches away from the back of the basketball booth.
every person that tried to talk to my uncle, two slunk back, trying to
invisible. This was especially noticeable in the line we cut, many of
parents staring at us as unforgiving as the sun, while a few kids
turn,” he said to the booth person, who stopped the people playing and
one of the bigger prizes at them. I didn’t care if it was through fear
— that was the kind of power I wanted, to be given everything just by
“Let’s see who's better: a fat kid or an old man.”
attendant laughed a bit too
loudly. He must’ve known that Elliot Kidd’s first taste of fame came
a high school star, then a college basketball prospect, and almost
into the NBA. I looked more like a ball than an athlete.
timer started. We had two minutes to score as many of the little
possible. Uncle Elliot swished his first two.
your favorite NBA player?” I asked. I already knew the answer, but I
Garnett,” he said, missing
his first basket. “He spent a decade losing on the Timberwolves. The
goes to Boston, boom, he’s a champion.” It was one of the stories he
every basketball game. “Chances make men, Wheeler. Not hard work.”
wants to work nowadays.”
A lot of the adults around me had been saying that.
one ever wanted to work. They did it because they had to. You ever
would never.” I was leading 17 to 16 now.
Do you like using the bathroom?”
you still do. Why?”
he said. His fingers were jittery, swishing one out of every five.
built around not shitting our pants.”
more he talked, the more
focused I got. His voice wasn’t soothing like a lullaby or empowering
pep talk. It was more like being entranced by a Rube Golberg machine,
hitting dominos until they knock into a marble that, somehow, turns on
— all perfectly lined up but you’re not sure how.
ranted about how his staff quit and then their replacements and their
replacement’s replacement, how everything was costing more, even paper, “fucking
paper,” so he could barely blame
people for quitting, for taking care of themselves.
what’s best for yourself, Wheeler, and maybe your family while you're
up!” the attendant yelled.
Elliot looked at the score and finally seemed to register that he lost.
me that monkey,” I said. I had loved it ever since I was a kid and I
put it in front of my home and charge people a dollar to take a photo
I could never understand why my uncle commissioned such an amazing
to show it to the world one day a year.
scowled really hard, the angles of his face making him look like a
“You’re not getting that. Besides, I would’ve won if I wasn’t out of
me how. How are you going to get that out of here? Huh? You’re 13 and
drives a Subaru. Pick something else, you dumb kid.”
hadn’t planned that far ahead.
My mom, his sister, could barely get her car to work each morning. I
for a moment. What was the best thing I could do for myself? I looked
all the rides, the people whipping around in the air. I also saw how
everyone looked in those long, still lines that wrapped around the
could I skip those like Elliot Kidd?
I said. We shook hands.
smiled. “Never take the first offer, kid. Could've asked for two or
things. Too late now though. What do you want?”
you have an old driver’s license or something on you?” I asked.
a weird kid, you know that, Wheeler?” Regardless, he pulled out his
ridiculously big thing, and fished through the card slots. He handed me
college ID. “I’m already sick of this whole carnival. Next year has to
better, but me and you will have a rematch before then.”
could derail Uncle Elliot
on a creative bender, not even his own plans. Just like that, he was
long strides making him vanish into the rides and lines. He was rarely
his own events. I always figured his disappearances were from him
some sect of the town. Fame, even if it is just small-town fame, means
people want your time. I’d be lucky to talk to Elliot Kidd again this
let alone today.
I had gotten what I wanted,
but I was still
disappointed. I looked around and noticed I was still blocking the line
I said. I moved to the side.
on graduating, Jaden,” the attendant said.
not his son. I’m Wheeler,” I said.
face immediately dropped.
“Oh, well, tell your Mom thanks for giving me that discount the other
would’ve been one thing if
Elliot Kidd eclipsed my side of the family. I probably would’ve liked
anonymity most days and a spotlight for vacations. But if Elliot Kidd
face of our small Nevada town, then my parents were the backbone. If
groceries here in the past 25 years, you probably talked to my mother,
remembers everyone. My father had been laid off a year before from his
job and now was doing Uber, often driving around his former classmates.
school, my friends talked
about them. “Your Dad drove me and my Dad to Las Vegas the other week,”
had told me. She had not said it in a mean way, just making
the kids in my private school had started gossiping. They were the sons
daughters of lawyers, doctors, and entrepreneurs who chose to live here
less taxes, less traffic, and less stress. They thought that people
the child of a cashier and an Uber driver who both had to work extra
send me to a good private school, were odd.
now, I had something none of
them had. I weaved through the crowds. Each year, my uncle’s events got
and stranger. He said he started these to celebrate his hometown, but I
like it was really to show people his extravagance. The first one was a
Burning Man with giant structures towering over everyone, which is
where he got
the idea for the metal monkey statue. Another was a huge medium
paid them all to give half-off readings all day and even built an
though my mother had talked to the sound people for the event. Hidden
planted throughout the entrances and seats. If a family talked about
grandfather died while they waited, the sound people would hear and
“mediums,” who would pretend to hear the voice of their dead loved one.
year, I think because of
Jaden’s graduation, he aimed it more at teens and children. There
hint of a plan, with barely a trashcan in sight and electrical wires
everywhere. The rides and booths weren’t even in rows, so there was no
know where you were other than landmarks in this mad city.
looked for a smallish line to test out my plan. I hated lines because I
in so many. My mom would take me shopping with her everywhere, often to
stores she got coupons for. It was a game to her, enjoyable, and she
coworkers talked about sales the same way my dad and his friends talked
fantasy football. Every year, I watched her buy my Christmas gifts,
didn’t know was weird until Jaden made fun of me for it.
got farther from the center
and the monkey, the rides and crowds thinned, until I found a big slide
upper left of the festival by the trees outlining the property. Maybe a
young kids and their parents stood in line and I felt bad for walking
attendant was around five
years older than me, sweating and obviously sick of working.
Kidd said I could skip the lines,” I said.
attendant blinked a lot.
gave me this.” I pulled up his old college ID. I only half expected
work. Elliot Kidd’s name could get me anywhere, but I doubted that I
the lie off.
nodded. I lost count of how
many times I went down the slides, the rollercoasters, and the teacups.
first, I ran to each one, expecting there to be a time limit to my
luck, but no
attendant batted an eye after my first time on their ride. My screams
the carnival for at least an hour.
little roller coaster would
loop and turn within itself, barely room for the metal and tracks to
so, for one section, we all screeched, expecting our heads to be lopped
For once I was glad I wasn’t Uncle Elliot — that ride was the one place
six-foot-seven of him would be a curse. Most rides had that jaggedness.
design, the Zipper tilting to make stomachs swirl. This made the Ferris
just behind the mansion a beacon for older people like my parents. They
later that they rode it five times, soaking in the view of the town,
went on the swinging ships three times in a row before it felt like my
going to slip off the earth.
stopped and almost fell over. I turned and saw my cousin Jaden striding
with a friend. I'm okay with teachers or strangers using that name,
don’t know me, but Jaden has always said it with a bite.
smiled. Even if he was a bit of a jerk, I wanted Elliot Kidd’s son to
are they letting you cut the lines?” he asked.
pulled out the college ID. “Your dad said I could.”
a bit of hurt on his face that I didn't know he was capable of. He
cover it up. “I’ll give you twenty bucks to use it.”
thought of making money
hadn't occurred to me. Don’t
take the first
offer. “Twenty-one bucks.”
his friend paid and then
more people came up. One person would go on a ride, come back, and the
person would go. Jaden eventually took command, even of the adults.
what’s best for yourself and your family.
I slipped a twenty-dollar bill into his pocket and he nodded at me. I
too giddy then. I liked how naturally we had worked together like maybe
meant to be brothers instead of first cousins.
I was thinking about what
trees and giant
metal statues I would buy for my own mansion when I felt a poke at my
my little cousin
Allison said. I say little but she was always bigger than me, the tall,
basketball-playing genes of the Kidd family fully displayed on her.
“Can I try
twenty-five bucks, now,” I
looked down. “I already spent
uncle was the exception of the
Kidd family. We had no pioneering ancestors that gave some branches of
family tree a boon of wealth. We were miners and farmers at best.
though we only shared a great-grandparent or something, grew up the
same way I
did: with food and clothes all bought in the clearance aisle.
what’s best for yourself and your family. “Don’t
worry about it. Pay me when you’re older.” That was one of my proudest
as a teenager, but what I said next was one of the dumbest. “Ride as
as you want.”
face beamed and I felt my mistake, learning in real time how literal
because when the next person came back, Allison snatched the license
hand and ran straight to the big, metal slide by the trees. She bounded
stairs, and rocketed down the slide, then again and again, so many
my new clients were asking when it was their turn.
get her, dude!” Jaden said.
I was the dude in question and all my clientele’s eyes were on me. “You
her,” I said. “You’re a closer relative than I am.”
I am not!” Jaden yelled. His friend laughed at him. I am sure we made a
sight — an athletic, soon-to-be college student arguing with a pudgy,
soon-to-be eighth grader. “Whatever. Just do something, Jon.”
stared at him.
still didn’t want to, but Uncle Elliot would’ve used the opportunity to
his whole company why he was in charge. Chances
walked to the bottom of the
slide. Allison was at the top, red-faced, but she barely looked worn
held up a finger. “One more,” I mouthed.
likes a broken promise. I
don’t think that changes as we get older. Allison’s face scrunched.
had a “You can’t tell me what to do” smirk. She burst out the gates,
like Mario, coming down hard on her feet and somehow staying upright
for a step
or two. I thought she might make it down in one piece, but I don’t even
Uncle Elliot ever had the athleticism to keep his balance running down
thirty-foot slide. Allison leaned to the right, over to the other lanes
slide, then overcorrected and fell right off. Her legs scrambled in the
instinct and she stuck her left arm down to brace herself. Even my
wasn’t enough to cushion her fall. This is my fault, I thought, because
taught her how to skip lines, but didn’t teach her how to fall. Her
sounded like everyone else’s at the carnival, only the other screams
and down, matching the rhythm of the rides. Allison’s cries had no end,
left forearm breaking so badly that it looked like she had two elbows.
attendant didn’t know how to
work his walkie-talkie, so someone sprinted to another ride, and two
argued about whether to hold her down as the rest of us did our best
impressions, but at least there was one mom who kept the kids back, all
while Allison kept howling, her lanky body twisting on the ground and
arm flopping around. Two people with walkie-talkies ran over, saying
girl was by the slide,
fucking slide,” but the person on the other end didn’t seem to know
are three slides here,” I
told them. I knew because I had been on each one many times. “We are at
the EMTs arrived and
somehow got the stretcher through the crowd. They got Allison to stop
but couldn’t quiet her, and plopped her onto the stretcher. As her
faded, I could hear the insects in the trees behind us. Everyone just
people started to walk away, a few rushing to some of the newly open
others headed for the mansion. A little part of me wanted to go inside,
the mini alley, or watch whatever was playing in the theater. The
of me wanted to find my parents, tell them to take me away, away from
too-green grass and back to our rocks.
grabbed my shoulders from
behind and walked me toward the center of the carnival. He had a
his steps like he knew the exact patch of lawn we were on. Which made
me, because we were in his backyard. A lot of people were looking at us
now, but not slinking back like they were with his father. I guess no
feared Jaden yet.
we were underneath the monkey. It was nice and shady under there, with
and metal beams everywhere. A few kids were playing tag, using the
dodge each other. There was a long, wide rectangular pillar in the
which I guessed supported most of the monkey’s weight. It stood out
rest, a good 10 feet by feet, with squares all over it.
alright, stupid?” he asked.
nodded even though I wasn’t alright or stupid.
not gonna tell my parents that I was a part of this, right?”
I hadn’t thought that far ahead. A punishment felt right to me. If
broke a bone, it was only fair I got what was coming to me. “I wasn’t
to,” I said.
He looked at his friend, who pointed upwards. Jaden nodded. “Alright,
Now, go on some rides or something. And don’t run down any slides.”
both looked at me, these young adults who obviously didn’t want to
middle schooler. I understood that, but I had a weird feeling about how
were acting, so I walked away and hid behind the first group I saw.
about five minutes of them talking, they huddled around the big,
pillar. Jaden squatted down and did something, then part of the metal
swiveled open like a door. He disappeared into the pillar, his friend
following, and the door closed.
sprinted after them. It was the
most Elliot Kidd thing I had ever heard: a secret passage inside the
felt around the area Jaden had been touching. I noticed the outline of
one you would never notice if you weren’t looking for it. I pressed on
the squares until I felt one go in like a button. The door flipped
revealing a room the size of a small closet with a ladder. I closed the
behind me and immediately regretted it because it became very dark,
with only a
few small holes in the walls letting in light. I felt around the hot,
walls until my hand found a rung of the ladder. I was already sweating,
could only imagine how bad it got at the peak of the summer.
voices echoed above me.
was your dad this
whole time?" his friend asked.
never know,” Jaden said.
I supposed to know? The
second he gets an idea, he always leaves. Always.” Then he laughed.
that person screaming.”
dared to go up a rung when
they got loud.
who I am, guess who I am,” Jaden said. There was a pause and I stopped.
heart was beating faster than it was on the rides. Then there was a
bang and a
roar of laughter. I got to the top and felt a latch. I could feel their
footsteps above me. The space above couldn’t have had that much space,
they were in the head of the monkey, but they seemed like they were
whole family is so fat,
even the baby. Like, how much do you think they all eat?” his friend
like two sticks of
butter a day,” Jaden said. “It looks like their clothes are from the
part of Goodwill, too.”
like your little cousin.
You two look so alike!”
must’ve pushed his friend,
hard, because I heard a thud and the whole thing shook, almost making
my grip. I really wanted to pop up and join them. Getting closer to
getting closer to my uncle, closer to the near royalty people expected
they heard my last name, and further from the disappointment in their
they realized I wasn't a “good” Kidd.
his friend said. “At least you’re smarter than your other cousin.”
right I am,” Jaden said.
isn’t hard to do. You’re a little bit quieter too.”
couldn’t yell as loud as the dumb bitch if I tried.”
understood that they made fun
of me. There was a lot to joke about. I was a good 30 pounds overweight
time and I did not wear it well, but it wasn’t fair to Allison. I was
who told her to go on as many rides as possible. It wasn’t her fault
listened to me. They had seen Allison fall and heard her screams as
well as I
had. I still wonder how long it took them to find it funny. Was it when
got up there? I feel like Jaden stifled his laughs as Allison was still
on his grass.
back down, unable to care
if they heard me. I kicked the door open and I think I left it open
I didn’t know where exactly I was going. The maze of the carnival
before me and I found my legs taking me past the basketball booth and
Ferris wheel. My parents were probably at the top of that, timed their
the minute so they could have a full view of our town’s desert mountain
a beauty so natural that it looked fake. Then my legs took me through
entrance, to the end of the mansion with its needlessly large windows,
towards their front yard. Tons of cars were parked in the front yard in
disarray as the carnival and I pitied the landscaper who had to fix all
the front steps, there was Uncle
Elliot, doodling something in a notebook. Of course, he was already
next project. He seemed like a kid more interested in his imagination
anything reality could give him.
voice startled him. “Wheeler!
Come see this Siren I’m gonna commission.” It was mainly dashes,
pen, but I could see the outline of a young girl, wailing.
looks cool,” I said. “When
will it be finished?”
can’t show off your wealth
every day. People get annoyed. So I’ll wait a bit. Maybe I can do a
next year, for this unveiling. At least I got some inspiration out of
doubted any of the workers or people
standing in the static lines would say this day went well, though none
would say that to Elliot Kidd. “A waterpark with more safety stuff.”
you know… Allison.”
filled his voice.
“Obviously I know Allison. The tourists in Las Vegas could hear her.
Who do you
think the Siren is gonna be modeled after?” I looked closer at the
Siren he was
drawing. It was crying, obviously in pain, with the long limbs of the
family. “You can’t stop a child from hurting themselves. Especially a
didn’t like this version of him, his chaotic speeches veering into
Basketball was a safer topic and he definitely wanted to talk about his
statue but I needed to know about Allison.
you gonna make sure Allison’s okay?” I asked. I didn’t know how much
medical bills would be, but they were probably cheaper than the statue
drawing. In the notebook, it looked taller than his rough sketch of the
mansion, with many sections marked with secret rooms. It was money my
or Allison’s couldn’t spare, at least not on a whim like Uncle Kidd. Do what’s best for yourself and
give you a little lesson so you aren’t a cashier when you’re 40 like
mother,” he said. “Don’t try to fix other people’s messes. Allison’s
shouldn't have raised an idiot.”
felt like slapping the book out of his hands but I guess I was too
argue. Instead, I watched the pinks and oranges of the sky until
clever came to my head.
you want to have our rematch?” I asked. “You can have two things of
Kidd smiled and I could see the possibilities racing behind his eyes.
make me walk lopsided for the day by taking a shoe and a sock, or he
demand two of my wisdom teeth when they get taken out. He could have it
could have my last name, my bones, everything. But not before I took as
away from him as I could.
Nick Danlag is a short story writer from Mount Laurel, New Jersey. He currently lives in Las Vegas, Nevada and graduated with a Bachelors of Fine Arts from Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida.
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