CW: Reference to gun
"Of course, they started as ghost boat rides, you know."
I want to punch him in the face. Instead, I breathe in slowly, count to four, hold for four, breath out, hold. Square breaths Ana calls them. She does yoga. Dad’s never met Ana. I don’t think they’d get on.
I grip the sweat-slickened handle of my gun as the train rumbles into the darkness.
For the first couple of yards, it is brutal, unforgiving blackness, broken only by the monotonous sound of his voice.
"Ghost trains, of course, used to be far more intricate, far more thrilling. Capitalism killed the ghost train, Byron. The need for a quick build and fast cash."
The sound of my name makes me wince. I've managed to convince my friends to use my middle one, but Dad refuses to, blissfully unaware that more people connect Byron to a burger chain than his beloved poet. As far as I can work out (based on what is, to be honest, minimal research) Lord Byron was a self-absorbed, drug-addled twat.
Maybe that's why Dad loves him. I generally tell people that my parents had their first date at the burger place and hope they don't care enough to notice the dates don’t match up.
Restless, I shuffle in my seat. The rolled-up letter, the reason I’ve brought him here, digs into my thigh and so I’m unprepared when we catapult into the first chamber, the harsh glare of fluorescent tubes a cold-water slap to the senses.
With a popping noise, ghosts appear, badly painted cardboard cut-outs of ghouls and demons from films long forgotten and I allow myself to get lost in the game, firing off lasers, headshot after perfect headshot, before we are wheeled back into darkness. I check the glowing digits on my gun: 456. Not bad for the first round. Glancing over to my left, I clock his score: 663. He spots me looking, holds the gun up proudly before pretending to blow smoke from the barrel. It’s all I can do to restrain myself from knocking it out of his pudgy fist.
Chamber two is the 'Paranormal Zone'. They've gone all out on this one with strobe lighting and a chiller unit. The passengers behind us are loving it: whooping and screaming and really getting into the swing of things. I stay focused, silent, eyes locked on target. This is my chance to even the score. Maybe if I beat him, he’ll respect me enough to listen to my news without interrupting, maybe he’ll even be excited for me
The Paranormal Zone is pretty impressive if you are able to suspend your disbelief. They've even hired actors to blow on you and grab at your clothes. The girl behind me screeches so piercingly when they touch her that I lose all hearing in my right ear. Dad is completely, typically unperturbed, chuntering on like a gentleman detective from the 1800s.
"Take that you blighters! You'll not take me alive, no sir!"
Even though I know no-one can see a thing, I feel myself slide down in my seat, cheeks burning. The letter in my pocket soothes me.
Two months, I think. Two months and then I’m out of here.
One minute and forty seconds later, we roll into the ‘Classic Zone’, Scaredy-Pants still whimpering through raggedy breaths behind me. This is where the guns switch to 'Ectoplasm mode'. I know...I know. But I’m brilliant at this level; I’ve doubled Ana’s score every single time we’ve been. The UV lighting is cheap and unreliable, and I’m not sure who they think they are fooling with the low-flying cobwebs, but I give it my all, spinning in my seat, hitting every target dead centre, racking up a personal best. I tell myself that this is about sticking it to Dad - a final hurrah - I’m not enjoying myself, not really.
As we shunt haltingly back into open air, I hold up my gun, confident that for once, just for once, I've beaten him. Four thousand and sixty-four. My best yet. He holds up his own weapon: Three thousand and ninety-eight. I've done it! Flicking the hair out of my eyes in a careful display of casual indifference, I reach into my pocket and grab the letter, ready for the big reveal, the flash of the letterhead still sparking bubbles of excitement in my stomach.
As I unravel it to show him, certain that he can’t fail to be impressed, to be proud that I’ve made it onto this course, at the very University he regards as the pinnacle of the educational hierarchy, I hear his throaty chuckle. He’s turned to the couple behind us (who really could not be less interested, focused as they were on trying to de-snot Scaredy-Pants’s face and salvage her eye makeup. Spoiler: not possible).
I hear him say,
"Poor lads got to take the wins where he can. Didn't pick up the sporting genes if you know what I mean."
And then he actually winks.
Silently, I fold the letter into four, unlatch the rickety door and step onto the path. Shoving the paper deep into my pocket, eyes fixed on my shoelaces, I march forward into the crowds, elbows out, barging through, not caring who I hurt (I obviously picked up some of those genes.) It doesn’t take long for his shouts to fade into the distance, even if the sting of his words will throb for days.
Two months, I think. In two months, I’m out of here. Then he’ll find out - there's more than one kind of ghost.
Abi lives in Brighton and spends her time teaching, walking by the sea and making up stories. Her work has popped up in various places, including Splonk, Free Flash Fiction, Molotov Cocktail and Ellipsis Zine. She tweets @abihennig