We’re pleased to present our first excerpt from Sockhops & Seances – an exclusive look at Kara Dennison’s “Son of the Wolf.” The ghost of a roller coaster haunts the amusement park which tore it down. Can twin sisters, one of whom predicted this doom, lay it to rest?
Think back, if you will, to the Werewolf. The centerpiece of Shoreside Amusements, a wooden coaster that has been experienced by parents, children, and eventually those children’s children. A staple of Port Buckroe’s summer life. Tacky, but beloved nonetheless. A thrill ride that’s more giggle than scream, from the fading painted maw of the mascot to the signs declaring You survived the Werewolf’s bite! as you exit the ride.
If you asked visitors how highly they rated the Werewolf, it might receive a good-natured shrug at best. It was like asking what they thought of the restrooms or the hot dog stand. It was there, of course. What’s there to think?
Year after year, that was the way of it: an unspoken, passive approval of the old coaster, ridden regularly but not enthusiastically. A first “big kids’ ride” for children, something a little less threatening when the grandparents were in town. But certainly nothing special.
Of course, you know the tried-and-true way to make people care about something: replace it.
“The wolf will roar in agony when the final support is placed. His spirit will be released to ravage the town unchecked, no longer fed by the screams of his prey.”
Lily squinted her eyes shut. “They’re building a new roller coaster, Heck, not digging up a graveyard. Don’t turn this into one of your things.”
Lily’s twin sister was well past it being “one of her things,” apparently.
“The fall of the Werewolf and the rise of the interloper will bring seven centuries of suffering to Port Buckroe. Our only hope is scrapping the replacement and destroying the parts.”
“The screams of the victims will ring out for…what?”
“Why seven?” Lily repeated. “Is that symbolic, or did it come to you in a dream?”
Heck tensed her shoulders; Lily could imagine her sour face. “The ways of the spirits are not to be questioned.”
“Ah. Of course they’re not.”
Lily knew the real reason for the outbursts, which she’d spouted to anyone in earshot as soon as the ride closed: Heck was attached, but didn’t want to admit to being sixteen and in love with a “kiddie ride.”
“The screams will not be of delight, mark my words.” Heck peered in their shared vanity mirror, attempting to straighten out her eyeliner. So far she’d only managed to thicken both eyes’ worth significantly. In one or two more rounds, it would go from vampy to comical.
“Don’t let dad hear you talking like that. He’s already nervous about the opening.”
Heck frowned at her reflection. “And well he should be. To think, one of my own flesh and blood would be the one to bring such ruin upon my hometown.”
This had, unfortunately for Lily, been Heck’s mood ever since their father landed the new coaster project. He’d built a few carnival rides before and presented some hypothetical designs to liven up the park, but nothing had taken until Mel Bloom got bold and said the S word: “steel.”
There had been a steel kiddie coaster running successfully in Ohio since ‘52, and rumor had it California was aiming to have one up and running before 1960. If Shoreside could squeak theirs in before then, it would be one for the record books: the world’s first tubular steel roller coaster, right in unassuming little Port Buckroe.
The good news was the park wanted it. The bad news was there was only so much space, and they couldn’t afford to buy out enough land for Bloom’s design and actually build it. Something had to go. There was one obvious choice, of course: out with the old coaster, in with the new.
As soon as he heard, he immediately began reworking the ride, knowing that his new creation might be seen as an interloper or even a “Werewolf-Killer.” Sure enough, that was the name the daily papers gave it. To appease them, Shoreside named the new attraction Son of the Wolf, pitching it as a “worthy successor” to the original. For extra goodwill, Bloom even invited the Werewolf’s original designer to collaborate with him on the redesign.
But despite all the goodwill, all the hand-shaking, and all the promises that Son of the Wolf would be every bit as good as the mainstay whose patch it was invading, the locals were cross. And none was crosser than Helen Bloom, one of the designer’s own daughters.
Lily, on the other hand, was fine with the whole thing. If anything, she was excited. She’d never been a fan of amusement park rides, but her father’s work on the new coaster had gone some way to changing her mind. Seeing the calculations and blueprints laid out on the kitchen table were soothing in a way. There was something nice, something reassuring, about knowing that the thrills were actually controlled by checked and double-checked numbers. As amusements, they bored her; as perfectly functioning machines, she was slowly becoming enamored.
“So I take it you won’t be going to the test ride tonight?”
Heck whipped her head around, glaring at her sister through over-lined eyes. “I will, actually. But I won’t be riding, naturally.”
“Really. I…assumed you’d be protesting via your absence.” Lily barely stopped herself from saying she’d hoped.
“Well, I shall be protesting via my presence. Someone should be on hand when the dam breaks. And if no one else is willing to see the truth of this catastrophe, then I will have to be on hand to make that truth known.”
Lily winced. “Please don’t.”
Heck went back to her makeup, leaving Lily with a mental image of her sister crashing the gathering late that night, swishing and wailing like some movie mystic. Fortunately, the two were to a point where no one who knew them well confused them, so the antics of one would rarely reflect on the other in any permanent way.
Still. This was about their dad.
She put the thought aside for the rest of the day, eventually walking to Shoreside in the afternoon.
The beach was only a few blocks from their house, and the scorch of summer wouldn’t set in for another few weeks. Neither would the Shoreside tourists: most visitors could only stare curiously at the fence around the park as they drove past, as the gates wouldn’t open until a good two weeks from then. They could, however, wonder at the two metal hills that poked above the fence, more like a latticework sea-monster than a werewolf. Where the massive, intricate criss-cross of wood beams had once stood, there was a streamlined curve of steel, supported with just more than the bare minimum of supports for safety.
Lily stopped a block from the beach to stare across at the Son of the Wolf—the top bits of it, anyway—with vicarious pride. She remembered the early stages, the sudden alterations, the sleepless nights sitting up at the kitchen table watching her dad attempt to wrangle numbers into working order. And there it was now, a hair’s breadth from its world premiere.
“I don’t care what anyone says, I like it.”
The voice by Lily’s ear surprised her. She flinched, but caught herself when she saw the speaker. It was Brian Callahan from her history class. Not someone she knew particularly well, but vocal enough that she’d learned his name.
“Mm. Me, too.” She beamed, looking back at the coaster.
“I mean, sure. Hendricks built some of the most iconic rides on the East Coast, but everything has its time, you know?”
Lily peered at Brian out the corner of her eye. She genuinely couldn’t tell if he was being sarcastic or not. His expression remained impassive.
“Yeah, you know. Carl Hendricks. Built the Werewolf. And the Skull-Rattler in Jersey.”
“He did the Beachside Specter down in Florida, too. Both of those are still up and running just fine.” Brian sniffed. “I don’t know about this whole steel thing. It’s fine for the kiddie rides, but what’s it gonna feel like to actually ride? You won’t get the same sounds, neither.”
Lily smiled awkwardly. “Well, you know. We don’t know yet, do we?”
“I’ll know soon, anyway.” He jerked a thumb toward the park. “I’m working there this summer, so I get a free test ride today.”
Brian grinned. “Say, I’ll bet I could get you a ride, too. We’ll just say you’re with me.”
Lily put a hand to her chest. “Oh, no, I wouldn’t want to take advantage of your position.”
“Nah, not at all. Come on, I was just on my way there.”
“If you’re sure…”
Brian darted across the street without looking, and Lily followed at a slightly more conservative pace. A guard was positioned by the gate, which hung an inch or two ajar as he pondered what was left of his cigarette.
“Hey, pal. I’m here for the test ride.”
The guard peered at Brian as Lily caught up. “What was that?”
“Um. I work here. I’m here to ride the new coaster.”
“Training starts tomorrow, kid. Go home and study.”
Brian looked back at Lily, his face a rigid mask of embarrassment. She pushed past him. “How’s it going, Lou?”
The guard looked at Lily, preparing for another round of scolding, but lit up when he saw her. “Hey, it’s you! Uh…Shoot, which one are you again?”
“Lily,” she sighed, holding her smile. “Helen’s coming later. What do you think, mind if I sneak a look around before things get started?”
“It’s your dad’s work, I don’t see why not.” Lou kicked the gate open with the flat of his shoe.
Brian looked from the guard to Lily, blinking. Lily giggled and put a hand on his shoulder.
“He’s with me.”
“You shoulda just told me you’re Mel Bloom’s kid.” Brian kicked at a stray bit of paper on the ground. “Save me the embarrassment.”
“And miss that look on your face? Perish the thought.” Lily swept in to pick up the paper, balling it up and throwing it in a nearby bin. “We’ve met, by the way. We’re in Mr. Langdon’s history class together.”
“Ohhhhh.” Recognition dawned on Brian’s face. “Okay. I figured I’d seen you somewhere. You’ve got the weird sister.”
“We call it ‘imaginative.’”
“Hey.” Brian shrugged awkwardly. “Sorry about insulting your dad earlier. If I’d known…”
Lily shook her head. “It’s your honest opinion. Trust me, it’s a lot of people’s honest opinions. My imaginative sister’s, too.” She looked up at the Son of the Wolf looming over them. “I guess we find out tonight who’s right.”
It was, in fact, sooner than that night. Lily was offered the inaugural ride of the day on the Son of the Wolf. She brought Brian along for good measure, and to make up at least a little for the laugh at his expense earlier.
Seeing it in person was a completely different affair from seeing it on paper. There had been sketches, sure, and a man who came around to design the new sign, but nothing so concrete. The tracks were smooth and silver, rising up above them like a giant sculpture. Midway through, it plunged into a tunnel designed to look like a wooden covered bridge, then snaked downward again.
A little train of cars, red and grey with black wolf silhouettes along the side of each, waited patiently at the start. And in front of it all, the new sign: a werewolf’s face in fresh paint, this one less lupine and more designed to evoke the furry-faced humans of the silver screen. It was unsettling, and Lily had to admit she wasn’t sure whether it was the face itself or how unfamiliar it was.
It was…interesting. Lily was unaccustomed to roller coasters, so she had little to judge against. She’d ridden the Werewolf and a handful of others on vacation, so she wasn’t completely unfamiliar with the rickety-rackety feel of the standard wooden ride. This was oddly smooth, less like a park ride and more like a train with ambitions.
She didn’t dislike it, though. It felt like a journey. Down the first hill, banking around a curve, into the dark tunnel, then back out into the bright sunlight for a few more tricks. She especially liked the tunnel, even though there was nothing to see in it. She imagined it as a dark fairy tale forest, with her car fleeing through it as monsters snapped at their heels.
Brian, on the other hand, had Thoughts. Overall he liked it, he told her as they sat and watched the small amount of park staff start to set things up for the evening, but it was missing “spirit.” He treaded carefully around every criticism, glancing nervously at Lily whenever he threw one out.
She listened. She wasn’t sure what else to do. It was uncomfortable, being handed a critique of something she’d watched her father pull his hair out over for hours at a time. At the same time, she felt it would be better to let Brian run out of steam than attempt to explain to him that the talk was somewhat on the awkward side.
He did eventually. And when he did, he seemed to realize his impromptu review hadn’t been welcome. “Sorry.”
“I don’t know.” Lily shrugged. “I just think it’s interesting that you don’t like it.”
“I didn’t say I don’t—”
“Seeing as this Carl Hendricks guy worked on it.” At Brian’s surprised expression, she leaned forward. “I thought the name sounded familiar. Turns out when locals got upset the Werewolf was being taken away, dad invited him to help with the new ride as a sort of goodwill thing. And I guess to take the sting out of it.”
Brian looked up at the Son of the Wolf pensively. “That would explain why the cars looked so familiar.”
“I don’t remember the old ones well enough. Are they the same?”
“Yeah. Well, no. They’re built the same, but they feel sturdier. They probably have to be, for the new track.” He looked at Lily again and trailed off. Then he took in a quick breath, but Lily cut him off.
“Honestly, don’t apologize. Really. It’s a point of contention in our own house, even. There are people who hate this—and dad—just because it’s not the thing that was here before. Everyone’s entitled to their opinion. The most I can hope is that an actual ride will make people a little less angry.”
The conversation fell off.
A few of the summer employees—mostly fellow schoolkids looking to make a dollar or two on the weekends but convince themselves it was fun because it was at the beach—trickled in soon after. Rides happened here and there, with most riders reluctantly admitting that yes, it was one they’d go on again. A man from the local newspaper was quickly sketching down comments from riders as they came off, but Lily noticed he seemed in no hurry to give it a try himself.
The sun eventually set, twilight bringing with it the rest of the early riders. Among them, scowling furiously and wearing more eye makeup than Lily even knew existed in their house, was Heck. She cast a melodramatic eye around the small park, glared up at the Son of the Wolf, then caught her twin’s eye and flounced over.
At first, thanks to the gathering dark, Lily hadn’t seen just how far her sister had gone. But at close range, she got a good view of Heck’s “protest” ensemble: a black dress she hadn’t worn since their Aunt Becky’s funeral, covered over with layers of black scarves and what looked like a navy-blue knitted afghan.
“Do tell,” Lily muttered.
“I’m in mourning.” Heck clasped her hands to her chest. “Tonight marks the end of an era. If we live to see the dawn, it will be through our own tears.”
“Maybe you shouldn’t talk like that when there’s a reporter around.”
Brian leaned over to Lily, who shrugged helplessly. “It’s. Heck. This is normal for her.”
“Heck? Is that short for something?”
Heck pulled the afghan tighter around her shoulders. “My full title is Hecate the Unbelieved. My name…and my curse.”
Lily nudged Brian. “It’s short for Helen. When we were little we called each other Lil and Hel, and one of our teachers said ‘Hell’ was a bad word and we should say ‘Heck’ instead.”
Heck cast Lily a sour look, but didn’t contradict her. Instead, she turned her head toward the front gate. “Father is here. I suppose he’s come to see the fruits of his labor.”
“You leave him alone tonight, all right? Remember, there’s a reporter here. They’re going to be talking to him. The last thing we need is you running around spouting doom behind him.”
“Sister, I am offended.” Heck sat down, squeezing herself between Lily and Brian unceremoniously. “Though it is my burden to speak the truth, I would never bring disgrace upon our family.”
“Good for you.”
“Besides, when the end times come, I do not wish to be associated with the family that brought about our demise.”
Lily forced a smile. “Trust me, the feeling is mutual.”
The final ride of the evening was preceded by the couple who owned Shoreside Amusements: a shortish man and a tallish lady, both of whom looked as though they had a sideline coaching boxers. The girls had met them a few times in the months during construction. Lily didn’t know much about them, save that her dad complained about their obsession with newspaper horoscopes when it came to business plans. Apparently his status as a Taurus had been an issue during construction, but no one had ever bothered to find out why.
Lily and Heck’s father got a moment of recognition amongst the tight-knit group of employees and family, along with a tall, pale man at his side. Carl Hendricks, Lily assumed. He smiled anxiously, waving once or twice and hunching over a bit as though to mask his height. It was an oddly formal affair for what was essentially a staff gathering, likely influenced by the appearance of the reporter.
Finally, the last few riders hopped on. Lily didn’t recognize any of them, but apparently they were long-term local employees. They would be the “faces” for the newspaper article. She was relieved to see that they all actually looked quite eager to ride, grinning and strapping in. One even hopped around in his seat like a child who’s been promised an ice cream.
The car finally set off, and Lily watched its silhouette course darkly across the twilight sky. She watched in silence, wondering why she’d never witnessed a view like this before. The answer was obvious, of course: Shoreside almost never stayed open after sunset, both to save on electricity and because beach-goers were ready to go home and fall asleep as soon as the sun started going down. That, and the employees almost always had second jobs or family responsibilities waiting on the other side of sunrise, so no one could afford to stay late.
Before long, the disappeared into the tunnel…
And the roller coaster screamed.
It was the only way Lily could describe it. Somewhere from within the depths of the tunnel came an animalistic howl. A blast of sickly green light poured out from both ends of the tunnel, and through the very joins of the tunnel’s walls, as though threatening to burst them outward with some unearthly energy. The car, however, did not come out the other side.
Heck leaped to her feat, turning to Lily and Brian, her eyes wide and bright. She laughed, but Lily could tell it was a laugh of fear.
“You see? You see? I was right! The Werewolf will not sleep! It has risen again! And it will destroy us all for killing it!”
What is the secret of the werewolf?
Can the ghost of a roller coaster really haunt you?