Almost closing time, the park's nearly empty. Parents amble by, spent from a day of screaming kids. I'm at my ride, the Magic Mirror, itching for a smoke, when a kid walks up. I can see he's disappointed. From the outside, the Magic Mirror looks like a beat-up roller coaster poking out from an old building of chipping blue paint.
“Just me," he says.
I nod, letting him walk past.
I've seen whole groups head into the Mirror together. None of them look the same when they get out. A lot of them look confused. Some are laughing. Some are crying, not always out of happiness.
The anomaly's been here just shy of forever. It pops up in legends, in fables. Some people write books trying to explain it. The Tree of Knowledge. A rip in space-time. A trick of smoke and mirrors. Forty years ago, New World Amusements came in and bought the island. Built the Magic Mirror, the ride that carries you just past the edge of the anomaly and back again. Then, they built the rest of the park. Set up the ferry from the mainland and started selling tickets. You're only ever allowed to visit the park and the Mirror once. I don't know how they keep track, but they do.
The kid climbs into the front row. I fire up the ride. Gears clanking, the car inches up, into the darkness, and whatever waits at the top.
I don't know what he'll see. I've never been inside. The one rule of the park is no employees on the Mirror.
Almost a year ago, Jill wandered out of the Mirror, late at night. She worked the archery booth, dressed up like Robin Hood, red ponytail trailing down her back. She was straight out of college, with a freckled nose, and green eyes that flashed, wild, when she laughed. I was eight years older than her. Stagnating. Living alone in a one-room apartment on the island that the company rents out to employees. Kissing her in the dunes made me feel like I was a kid, sneaking in quietly through her window, so her parents wouldn't hear.
We'd walk the shore at night, stepping through thick reeds, telling each other stories. “I left home to find myself," Jill said. She grinned, rolling her eyes. “I know, I know."
Normally, I would've made a dumb joke. Have you tried looking in your back pocket? But I just wanted her to keep looking at me, eyes laughing. I'm here because this is where my dad used to work. A less romantic story. Jill didn't care. She dropped my hand. Then, she slipped out of her clothes. I don't believe in anything, but seeing the curve of her bare hip against the water made me want to thank God.
I told her I loved her when we both were lying in the sand, skin-chilled from the water. She said so, too. I tasted the ocean on her neck. We struggled into our clothes and walked off the beach, through the empty park. When we passed the Mirror, I caught a glint in her eye.
“Let's go inside, “she said.
“No way," I said. “They'll find out."
“Oh, come on."
“Besides. Someone's gotta work the ride."
Her eyes fell, defeated. I wanted to make her happy. Mostly, I never wanted her to stop kissing me the way she was kissing me. So I told her, “You should go." Laughing, she climbed into the car. I hit the lever and watched her creep upwards. Gears clanked too loudly in still air. When she got off the Mirror, she glowed. She looked lighter--spun of air. I didn't care if I got canned, I was just happy that she felt so good.
“What'd you see?"
She shook her head. “I can't really say."
I guess I was hurt that she didn't want to share. We didn't talk much the rest of the night.
Days later, I was still waiting to get fired. Nothing. So, we ended up back at the Mirror two more nights, after Jill begged. Each time she walked out of the ride, she looked faded. Tired. I stopped running it for her. Soon, she'd ride the Mirror on her lunch breaks, cutting lines, squishing into cars with visitors. Other employees whispered. But no one stopped her.
I watched Jill become a ghost. Squinting, like the sunlight hurt her eyes, shivering even in the heat. “If it's that bad, why do you keep going back?" I asked her this on a walk one night after work. We barely walked together anymore.
“No, you don't get it," she said. Her voice was a gust of sand. “The Mirror's beautiful. It's everything else that hurts too much."
She left the next morning, the first ferry off the island. I guess staying here is my punishment. For sending her through the first time. For being less than whatever flash, whatever hazy dream she saw.
The kid that I sent alone into the Mirror walks out now, laughing. I'm glad he's happy. Soon, the park closes. I'm home, alone.
Six months later, the Mirror breaks down mid-ride. Halfway to the top, the cars stop, then, jerk forward a few times. I jam buttons, but nothing happens. In the darkness, the passengers are quiet. Then, I hear thin wails. Maybe laughing, too. A car must've crossed over.
Maintenance brings in ladders and helps people down. Two are missing. Some are crying. I'm not sure why.
The company closes the Magic Mirror after that. Then, the whole park a few weeks later. I'm the one to pull the lever one last time, leaving the cars at their top height, so no one else can ride the Mirror again.
I feel empty, like the passenger-less cars waiting on the incline. At night, I take the last ferry off the island. I start looking for a girl with green eyes, with skin that once tasted like the sea.