Folio

SLCC's Premiere Art & Literary Magazine

Stellar Rose

Kendra Nuttall

"Please keep your arms and feet in the vehicle at all times and remember to secure your belongings in the compartment underneath you. It's been three days since the last egg incident; let's make it four." The ride operator walked by the passengers, checking their seatbelts. He promptly found an unsecured carton of eggs and shoved it into a storage compartment, swearing at the giggling teen who would have let it fall onto the head of an unsuspecting, innocent citizen.

Stella held her breath, sinking as low as possible into her seat as the operator got closer. When he passed, hardly glancing at her, she exhaled a sigh of relief and then braced herself for the impending ride from hell.

"Enjoy your ride!" The operator pressed a button and the roller coaster rocketed upwards, halting at the top of the hill for a moment. Stella crossed her fingers, hoping that this was finally the time she wouldn't vomit. The train suddenly hurtled down the track, rattling around bends, and spiraling around buildings. Stella's nausea grew every second. Just moments before the train reached her neighborhood, she couldn't contain it anymore. She retched into her lap, some of the contents of lunch, unfortunately, hitting the poor victim seated ahead.

"The thrower-upper is here!" Someone shouted, and Stella tried to sink again, wishing she could disappear. Angry faces looked at her from every direction. The woman whom Stella had vomited on was sobbing, attempting to wipe her soiled white pants.

The ride came to an early stop, and the operator grabbed Stella, shoving her onto the road. "I don't want to see you on my coaster ever again. There's no room for sick people like you," he hissed.

The train then took off, swooshing by at top speed, leaving Stella and a cloud of dust behind. She watched as the train dipped below the bridge, disappearing into a tunnel. She blinked dust out of her eyes and started to walk down the empty road.

Two hundred years ago, after the infamous Gridlock of 2120, the world decided it was time to eradicate the plague known as cars once and for all. Over ten million lives were lost that horrific year; the images of weary, starving drivers, trapped in traffic, screaming for help, were forever burned into the minds of the generations that came after.

For years, the world worked together, trying to find an alternative form of transportation. Something quick and efficient, something that would raise the morale of billions of depressed souls, something that would help the world move past the countless tragedies cars had caused. When one young child stepped off an amusement park ride -a roller coaster -she wondered if perhaps she had found the solution the world was looking for. A decade later, the first roller coaster commuter train took off.

Today, the only cars in existence were housed in museums, preserved for their historical value; they served as reminders of the dark and vicious past. Roller coasters were now the main form of transportation, their tracks stretching across the horizons of every city in the world.

Roller coasters had indeed solved the world's problem. They had all of the convenience of cars, without the risks. There was no such thing as a car accident, road rage, or traffic congestion. Even the pollution in the air dramatically decreased, as roller coasters didn't require gasoline to run. Death and depression rates fell, happiness increased. Traveling to work and school was no longer a dangerous chore, but a thrilling event. The world was a better place for all, except for Stella Rose.

Stella was the only person in existence who could not ride roller coasters, for they made her sick. It was thought that humanity had evolved to the point where roller coasters didn't cause any negative reactions, as no one had reported a case of nausea or vomiting in at least the past three generations, yet for whatever reason, Stella did get nauseous. Extremely nauseous. Doctors prescribed medication in order to cure this abnormality, but it was to no avail. Usually, the meds just made Stella feel worse. She saw a therapist who regularly encouraged her to take rides on the mild coasters, the ones specifically designed for the very young and elderly, but even those made her feel ill.

So here Stella was, walking down an abandoned road, surrounded by a sea of coaster tracks. Most roads had been completely erased from the city, covered by buildings and coaster tracks. Only a few remained, perhaps as another reminder of the past.

Stella was a conundrum, a walking anomaly. How could it be that she alone could not handle a roller coaster? The commuter ones were not so different from regular trains of the distant past; they were simply faster. The mild coasters were slow, too slow for most, as even the youngest and oldest citizens were accustomed to lightning quick speeds. Surely, out of the many options available, there was a coaster for Stella, yet she had managed to throw up on every single one. Most ride operators had already banned her, and it was only a matter of time before every coaster operator in the city excluded her.

The world didn't like Stella and Stella wasn't so sure she liked herself. No one wanted to associate with the chronic thrower-upper. She was an embarrassment to society.

There was a humming from across the road, and Stella saw a figure underneath the coaster track, scavenging for lost wallets and other loose articles. Some people just never did listen to ride operators when they said to secure belongings.

Stella started to walk past, but the humming grew louder; the figure was following her. She just wanted to get home, she'd been bullied enough today.

"There ain't no place for people like us here." The figure said.

Stella turned, looking at a young boy standing in the shadow of a coaster beam. He was disheveled and dirty, covered in grime, wearing clothing far too large for his skinny frame. "Excuse me?" Stella said, not quite sure whether this kid was real or if she had taken one too many Dramamines.

"We don't fit. Me and you," the boy said, now directly in front of her. His height barely reached Stella's waist. "The name's Bo." He stuffed a stolen wallet into his pocket and then extended a hand.

Stella gingerly shook it, wishing she had some hand sanitizer. "Stella Rose," she said.

"Stellar Rose," Bo said.

"No -it's Stella, not Stellar."

Bo ignored her. "They tried to fix you, right, Stellar? With lots of meds and stuff? Acted like something was wrong with you? I've seen your face on signs. They don't want you to even try to ride anymore. You're a lost cause."

"Yeah, thanks for reminding me," Stella said sarcastically.

"But ain't no one ever got a hold of me," Bo laughed. "I ran away before anyone could tell me I was a problem." There was an unsettling, slightly insane look in his eyes. "We ain't meant to be around. Not here in this time. We need to go back, to the Gridlock, to a time when the only option wasn't those damn coasters."

Stella started to walk away. This kid was obviously tripping on something. She was the only person who got sick on coasters, he was probably just mocking her like so many people did. "I'll see you around, Bo."

"Listen to me, Stellar Rose! We can go back in time! We can fit in; don't you want that?"

Of course, Stella wanted that. She was tired of being kicked off coasters, tired of being sick, and tired of not fitting in. But to go back to before the Gridlock, well that was unthinkable, wasn't it? The world had been an awful place back then. At its worst, traffic had slowed to a complete standstill, lasting days, sometimes weeks. Cars were packed together so tightly, that people weren't able to escape the road. The Gridlock was a part of history that no one wanted to relive.

Besides, time travel was impossible.

"You're crazy," Stella said to Bo, now turning away from him, taking a step backward.

Bo grasped her hand desperately. "But we belong there. Think about it. Cars are so slow that we couldn't possibly get sick. They're even slower than the mild coasters."

"They were only slow because there were too many cars on the roads at the same time. It doesn't make any sense to go there, Bo. We would end up walking anyway, just to stay alive, because we know what happened on those roads. We'd walk to avoid dying, just like we walk to avoid getting sick now."

"I didn't run away," Bo suddenly said. "My mama kicked me out, told me there was no place for someone who couldn't ride a damn coaster."

Stella stared at him. He couldn't be more than twelve years old.

"I've been working on a time machine. It ain't working, so I thought you could help me make it work." Bo said, "even if you don't wanna go to the Gridlock with me."

How could a mother kick her son out of the house over something so stupid? This was just a little kid. How ashamed and alone must he have felt? How scared had he been?

"I'll help you with your time machine," Stella said. She couldn't leave this kid to fend for himself; he wasn't crazy, he just needed someone to treat him like a normal person for once. Stella knew better than anyone what it was like to not feel normal.

Bo smiled, and the insane look in his eyes began to settle down. "Follow me, Stellar Rose."

When they reached Bo's time machine, a cardboard box lying on the side of the road, Bo knelt down and began to tell Stella all about his time machine. "It's got these little electric circuits..."

"You know what I think you need, Bo?" Stella asked after listening for a while.

He shook his head.

"A friend."

"Are you my friend, Stellar Rose?"

"I am."

Suddenly, Bo began to laugh, the crazy glint in his eyes quickly returning. "I don't need no friend," he spat. "You really think my mama kicked me out because I couldn't ride coasters? What a dumb story! I been riding coasters since the day I was born!" He stood up. "This here machine is gonna take me to the Gridlock, so I can bring cars back. I wanted to get you here to help me, because the machine needs two people to power it." Bo frowned. "I shoulda read the label so I could have bought the one-person machine."

"Why on earth would you want to bring cars back?" Stella asked.

"Cause' I'll be able to control people, duh, Stellar Rose. If I threaten to put cars back into every city, people will do whatever I want." Bo shook his head. "Obviously."

So Bo was insane after all. "Time travel doesn't exist; your machine isn't going to work whether it's powered by the two of us or not," Stella said flatly.

Bo gently shoved her, causing one of her feet to touch the cardboard. Before she could move her foot away, Bo stepped into the box, waggled his fingers, and said, "Sayonara, Stellar Rose. You've been pretty stellar, helping me out and all. I'll bring back a Ferrari for you, to thank you!"

The box disappeared with Bo in it, leaving a very confused Stella behind. She never saw Bo again, though she did hear a young boy was found dead in the river, locked in a Toyota.