I knew it as we were in line, and I just as surely knew it while we were being strapped in.
It was a frenzied, whirling dervish of a ride, with multiple two-seat pods that twirled round and round; flashing multi-colored lights added to the confusion.
My 15-year-old cousin who isn’t really 15 was with me, but we weren’t in the same pod. We sat by strangers, and I could see the fury, frustration and fear in his eyes as they caught mine.
I should have known better. I did know better.
My cousin has autism. Despite his lanky frame and peach fuzz, his heart and mind resembled those of a person almost half his age. And he despised these sort of demented rides.
But I forced him anyway, cajoling him the entire time we waited in line. I figured we’d be fine, that perhaps he’d enjoy himself and thank me after the two minutes were over.
As we began to rise into the air, I took a peek at him. He was struggling to stay calm. I could tell he hoped that I would come to my senses and yell for the operator to stop the ride. It wasn’t going to happen.
When the spinning started, so too his screaming. I couldn’t stifle my laughter. I was laughing because his distress was silly, and I was laughing for the pure joy of the fierce whirling.
And then a loud crack exploded into the air; we were no longer spinning in a tight, controlled orbit. I heard his scream intensify, and suddenly I realized a dozen other voices had joined him in a terrifying chorus. It was only for a brief moment that I realized I was squealing along with them.
I felt my pod being flung into space; I felt the sudden free-fall sensation. And then I felt nothing.
There was only darkness until I grew aware of an itch on the inside of my elbow, but try as I might, I couldn’t alleviate it. Something was blocking my fingers.
I opened my eyes to find myself in a hospital room, surrounded by my family. They all seemed immensely relieved that I had opened my eyes. A cast covered my entire right arm.
My confusion was momentary. The sounds of the ride and the screams returned, and in a panic born mostly out of guilt, I implored them to tell me about my cousin. My aunt looked away, and my other cousin, the older brother, told me that they didn’t know where he was.
No one would tell me any more than that, and so I grew irritated and ordered them to leave me alone. Except for my cousin. He helped me pack my things when the doctor discharged me, and he drove me to my grandpa’s house.
It was easy to fall asleep that first night, but I woke with a sudden start. My cousin was in the room, and he was trying to talk to me. We went out onto the driveway, and he began to pace furiously.
“It’s fucking bullshit that no one else is trying to find Josh,” he said.
I asked him why no one had called the police, and apparently, the adults were keeping him in the dark about the entire situation.
He pulled out his phone and called the local police station. After a terse conversation with whoever was on the other end, my cousin hung up.
“They told me that every person on that ride was accounted for, and that no one has filed a missing persons report,” he said. “Where the fuck is my brother?”
Nothing was adding up, and there was only silence from all those around us. My cousin had started pacing again, and it seemed as though the blood in my veins was beating with his rhythm.
My guilt by now was threatening to swallow me whole, but I wasn’t going to allow myself this luxury.
We would find Josh and discover what happened to him.
And that’s where my dream ended. It was unsettling in its veracity, and I almost wanted to call my cousin when I woke up. But eh, it was just a dream. I can’t yet figure out how to explain this one though.