Theme Parks and Obstacle Courses – A Novel

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Pat found the front door of the hotel locked; he had to ring the doorbell for the night clerk to let him inside. As he climbed the stairs, the sheen of reflected light rendered the windows almost opaque but the features of the cliff-top view were printed underneath, like the lines of a sketch.

He paused at the door and gently slid his key into the lock, feeling each of the tumblers as they bumped along the teeth. Pat turned the knob quietly, pushed the door inward and felt the warmth of the room on his face.

“Just as fucking well,” said Nat, venomously. Her voice came out of the dark like a fist.


The sun had risen by launching tentacles of light amongst the bush to haul itself bodily into the sky. Pat accelerated along a road that was scrawled across the landscape in various shades of umber and orange.

After the next turn, the road disappeared into the trees like a snake into a drainpipe. A steel guard-rail girded the bend ahead, its newness making it seem all the more incongruous with its setting. Just on from that, the shoulder of the road was sandy and broadened into a car park.

Pat veered across and stopped, the bonnet of the car pointing out over the guard-rail towards the ocean. He turned off the headlights and the vaporous ghosts of their beams disappeared abruptly.

“Are we here for the sunrise?” asked Nat.

“Not quite,” said Pat, climbing out and closing the door. Nat shut hers and it swung to with a heavy thud. “Follow me,” he said, and began walking down a sparse, narrow trail that led down the side of the hill.

“The lookout’s the other way, isn’t it?” she asked.

“Different lookout,” he said, and continued walking.

Nat took his hand but found it stiff as a crab, so she released it. The trail leveled into a clearing, almost like a platform cut into the edge of a very steep hill that plunged further and further into heavily-wooded bushland. The sun was around the corner, to their right; this side of the hill retained the last vestiges of darkness.

“This is a special place,” Pat said. Knowing that the worst had found him, he turned to face her. “This is where I killed my brother.”

“Oh,” she said, and lifted a hand. It went to her chin, and then to the top of her head where her sunglasses were balanced.

“We drove down here… he wanted to visit some girl, and we were… I was driving too fast. The car drifted across the road and once the wheels hit the gravel, we went straight over.”

He turned to look up the hill. “That guardrail was put in afterward; that’s why it looks so new.” He pointed up to where the sun leaped off the steel in a magenta flare.

“We flipped over and over and stopped when we hit that great big tree. Upside down, my brother’s side of the car against it. This clearing here, where we’re standing, was cut so emergency services could get down and winch the car back up the hill.”

Nat stayed silent but Pat kept talking, terrified what would happen when the silence caught up with him. It bore down, as relentless as the rising sun.

“How long ago did it happen?” she asked.

“About six months before I left.”

“Why did you wait so long to leave the country?”

“Don’t know. Didn’t know what else to do.” He felt strangely exhilarated. “You know the worst part? I wasn’t even drunk!” Nat took off her sunglasses and folded them.

“I don’t remember hardly any of it. The accident itself, I remember hitting the gravel and feeling the car drift, but that’s about it. I hit my head in the crash and it knocked the whole event all the way out of me.”

“Who told you about it, after?”

“I don’t remember that, either. I don’t remember arriving at the hospital; emergency, anything. What I do remember is coming to one day, everything swimming into focus, and there were my mum and dad, sitting at the end of the bed. And I realized that I knew why they looked so sad.”

“Is this the first time you’ve been here since…”

“One minute my brother was there, beside me, and the next, he was gone from my life entirely,” Pat said, choosing to answer his own question. “I never saw him again, and… I never will.”

His throat constricted around the thought, seemingly of its own volition. “The cemetery is different. There’s a stone and a whole lot of grass, but he isn’t there. Here, I can feel him.”

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