ROLLING THUNDER | fiction by John Chrostek

CW: very light child violence, bullying

(cw: very light child violence, bullying)

           The air inside the Rolling Thunder Roller Rink was always a unique and inscrutable pressure, but most of all on Wednesdays in the golden thick of summer when it took on a soft slow weight that would haunt bare skin for hours. It was the day of the week the local summer recreation program came and booked the whole skate floor, a welcome respite for the kids from Tuesday’s sweltering park days and Thursday’s violent pool hours. In the fluorescent carpeted dark of the roller rink, Goose felt safe in becoming more of a blur than the twelve-year old boy he was the rest of the week.
           He had two reliable friends in summer rcc. One was Salvador, or Sal for short. He had ruddy red cheeks and an obsession with bugs, in holding them in his coiling hands for hours to give them agency while keeping them close to his chest. Then there was Eddie with the rat tail who smuggled a zip-loc bag of coffee beans to chew on everywhere he went. He was a military brat, fourth of seven, who once got detention for blasting Mrs. Clemens with a kamehameha wave at full power, screaming loud enough to get the principal’s attention two halls down. They were good guys. Unlike everybody else, they never seemed to mind that Goose was trapped inside his head.
           Eddie was the first in the rink today, sneaking by the aids and scoping out the Simpsons arcade machine. Gary Barker and Kev Allister always hogged it and Eddie had decided it wasn’t going down that way today.  It was best not to pick a fight with the two of them directly as they were Boy Scouts (junior pyromaniacs) and held on to grudges longer than anyone. The strategy was to attack quick and quiet, long before their minds were set on any one thing. Sal said it was like David and Goliath, one of the only stories he dug from Sunday School, which he only kept going to in order to trade holographic Pokemon cards with the rich kids uptown. “Strike when it’s right!” Sal would often say with a karate chop, always at a hundred.
           By the time Goose got in Eddie had stolen three stools from the shoe bar and ordered two large pizzas for the boys. Standard protocol was the boys would rock-paper-scissors to see who got to play first. Sal and Goose knew Eddie got Player One after scouting out the cabinet, so it came down to them. Sal’s eyes were sparkling with confidence as they got into position.
           One. Two. Three. Scissors!
           One. Two. Three. Paper! “Weird,” Sal laughed.
           One. Two. Three. “Rock wins! Oh yeah!!”
           Goose smiled. He didn’t really want to play today anyway. He wasn’t fully here.
           Eddie and Sal got to playing as Bart and Marge respectively, leaving Goose behind in lesser reality to keep an eye out for the pizza. Goose watched the flow of students, one after the other, trade in their shoes, buckle up their training wheels and rollerblades and head out to the skate floor. In the gel-colored lamplights they looked like ghosts, their voices wafting on the dust, bundling in the heavy corners of the skate room, blurring into a whirling churn of pure sensation.
           Goose didn’t feel himself get off the stool. Sal and Eddie didn’t seem to notice either. He was like this more than he intended, drifting around on the errant breeze, unaware of space and time. Something in him, some quiet engine kicked in and he’d fall back into an electric cloud, floating in the orbital pull of his body. The music felt like tremors on his skin suggested from afar, the fog machine going heavy with static near the floor.
           That’s when he noticed her, gliding without friction through the crowd, hair bobbing and flowing like red leaves in the autumn wind. Goose didn’t know her name, hadn’t ever really met her before. He’d only heard her once, on the rec bus just one seat ahead, reading a book out loud to herself in a soft voice about the life and times of Cleopatra, pulling herself gleefully into abandon in a way that seemed to Goose like magic.
           “Did you want to skate?” came a voice from behind. Goose snapped back, turned to realize his proximity to the shoe bar. The worker, an older goth, tried to hide her wry smile. Goose timidly nodded.
           He exchanged his shoes in silence under the benevolent black-rimmed gaze of the goth. As he put his socked feet into the stiff leather of the rental skates, he remembered he’d actually only ever skated once before, earlier this summer. It hadn’t ended well. He’d tripped and scuffed his face in the crosshatch shape of Australia on his forehead. Gary and Kev had jumped over him for sport, Kev tripping on Goose’s back and falling himself, blaming the sprawled out Goose and kicking him stiff in the ribs as punishment. For whatever reason, Kev’s fall wasn’t considered as embarrassing.
           Whatever. Goose was always embarrassed, always ashamed to be himself, but he knew better than to let that stop him from moving. He wasn’t really sure what he wanted here. To impress this girl he’d never met? He didn’t think that was possible. To go over and say hi? The idea made his skin get clammy. He stopped and thought about it for a minute on the steps outside the rink, watching her dart and weave, a cool smile on her lips.
           From here, she was whirling the smoke and the air, more in control of the elements than anyone he’d ever seen. He realized all he wanted was to follow in her wake, to be a part of the group, her group, though no one seemed to realize she was their leader. It didn’t matter. She didn’t seem to need that or want it, only to be the one to slice the air, to claim the divine forward as her own domain.
           “Fuck it,” he mumbled. With a shuddering tilt, he rolled out onto the rink and towards the flow of other kids. The DJ had switched to “Linger” by the Cranberries, Dolores O’Riordan’s voice floating like sugar dew above the room. Goose tried to keep pace with the others, but his unassured, slow footwork made him an instant obstacle. Most skated around but a few purposefully crashed into him, clipped him with their shoulders to haze the obvious newbie. He did everything he could to stay up, flailing to keep balance, only making himself a bigger target until a solid push from Gary sent him to his knees. 
           Goose did his best to ignore the laughter, to focus on moving his body. Getting back up was hard on skates, getting both feet upright without something to lean on. That’s when the hand appeared, right in front of his face. He looked up. It was hers, coupled with that soft, detached smile. Not knowing what to say or do, he took it. Her hand was cool and soft like moonlight.
           Goose didn’t experience getting off the floor. All he could feel in that moment was her hand. She stayed close by him, leading by example as his footwork grew more assured (still stilted), his stance wider and looser. Everyone else seemed to melt away into the carpet walls, becoming water, or this was all water, all of life and suddenly Goose truly knew what breathing was. He had been piloting this body his entire life and now, with the touch of a hand, the terms had changed. He could feel her signature in the static between them, her spirit, and through his fingers it spread inside his veins like a painless ice and he was so much less alone.
           And I’m in so deep, you know I’m such a fool for you…
           Years later, the song ended. She asked him if he wanted to grab a soda. He said okay.
           Her name was Victoria. Her parents called her Vicky but she only liked V. V liked grape soda, how it didn’t taste anything like grape. She wondered if one day they’d invent a grape soda grape to sell at stores. She’d like it if they did but it might ruin the magic of grape soda and it might not taste as great in fruit form anyway. 
           She asked him what his name was and he said Goose. She laughed and asked him if he was born a Goose. That made him blush. He told her his real name was Hector, that when he was in kindergarten a goose bit him and he bit it back. Didn’t remember why he thought that was a good idea, but Sal had been there and thought it was so funny that Goose just stuck. 
           “Why does nobody really like the names they were given?” she asked, her eyes scanning all the gaudy posters left hanging in memory of long gone summers just like this one, a museum of the ephemeral middle tier of youth culture, as if the building itself was assured of its own inevitable fate of abandon and decay.
           He didn’t know. He didn’t really mind Hector as a name, but he hadn’t picked it or Goose. Both were just identities and traits given to him by others, out of his control.
           V felt differently. She didn’t want to be Victoria like the old dead British queen, and Vicky rhymes with Icky. “All I want is to like who I am deep down, to pick that for myself and be happy with it, you know? Don’t you want that? I mean you’re nicer and smarter than a Goose, it doesn’t fit you.” 
           Goose was thankful the rink was dark so she couldn’t see how red his face had become.
           He tried to ask her where she went to school and all at once she got in the dumps. She said her parents moved around a lot for work so it was always changing and nothing she did could change that. They were moving again in August, so she didn’t try too hard to get to know anybody in rec. “That’s just the way it is. It’s always the same.”
           Goose asked her why she talked to him, then.
           V didn’t really know. “I just wanted to.”
           “I’m really glad you did,” he said through the galeforce tempest of feeling making him dizzy and sweaty.
           V smiled big, her braces gleaming with disco ball-reflected light, her eyes a little wet with tears.
           He asked her if she wanted to skate again, hiding his own eyes’ imitation tears. 
           “Not really,” she said. “Time moves so fast out there and summer’s almost over.” 
           Lightning struck Goose at his core. “Wait right here,” he ordered before limp-skate-walking across the lobby carpet.
           Eddie and Sal were eating an entire large meat lover’s pizza amongst themselves, arguing about the quality of Big Bad Beetleborgs. 
           “Where the heck did you get to, Goose?” Sal asked.
           “You forfeit your pizza, dude. Rules are rules,” Eddie diplomatically explained.
           “I can’t explain,” Goose said, filled with urgency. “I just need a favor.” 
           Goose never asked his friends for anything, not like this. They looked at each other in shock.
           “Keep the aids busy, get their attention. Please, guys. I need your help,” he said, looking them dead in the eye, the shine of his pupils dancing like liquid fire. 
           Sal smiled. “You got it, man.”
           “Sal, punch me in the gut!” Eddie roared, lifting his oversized T-shirt to expose his chest. Sal did. On a dime, Eddie started to gag, his body on instinct all too eager to eject its contents. “Again!” Eddie laughed, so Sal bundled his fists together and swung.
           Goose hadn’t expected them to act so fast. His mistake. He didn’t have time to stick around for the show, so he gave them both a firm thumb’s up and snuck away.
           V was still drinking her soda, playing with the bubbles in her straw like a cat plays with string. “Come on!” he told her. “Eddie’s barfing everywhere. Now’s our chance!”
           “What chance?” she asked. “Who’s barfing?!”
           “Let’s go!” he urged, taking her by the hand. She looked at him and felt his touch and things became clear, the parts she didn’t understand disappearing behind the thrill of what she did.
           As the aides ran over to the arcade, the heavy sound of vomit drew piercing harpy child screams and a frenzied swarm of adult supervision. The spell of the rink was broken and it devolved into a madhouse. In the confusion, Goose and V blew through the front doors, skates still on. The man at the door was sleeping. There wasn’t any time to lose. Goose skated as fast as he could, light on his feet, not sweating a second of feeling off-balance, leaning into it even. How could gravity hurt when you were flying?
           Somehow other kids had noticed and followed their lead, pouring out into the parking lot, escaping with no objective beyond chaos and freedom. V turned back at them, light laughter bubbling up in her chest, the afternoon sunlight shimmering through her dark hair. Goose knew it was a trap to look back long, not if they wanted to truly escape. He held tight to her hand, leading away from the others floating in Rolling Thunder’s orbit as a crescendo of car alarms and shattered glass rang out across the suburban sky.
           They stopped four blocks down behind some hydrangea bushes, catching their breath and keeping watch for errant pursuers, but no one came. For now, it seemed it was the perfect getaway.
           Goose asked her if she knew the neighborhood at all. “No!” she said, eyes wide and electric. “Not at all!”
           “We can go anywhere,” he said, believing it with all his weightless heart. “We can do anything.”

Beeper Peddle is a writer and healer living on the East Coast. She lives with her partner and their beloved soul puppy. Beeper writes about sorrows, lies, and deep loves. When you read her work, you will dip down into her heart and end up in all manner of body parts. Should you find yourself reflected in these words, it is merely coincidence; however, it does not surprise her you share the same heart. Find her at and @beeperpeddle on Twitter and Instagram

John Chrostek (he/him) is a writer. He lives with his partner, Amanda, and their two pets Zadie and Madeline. They hope to one day open a strange and cozy bookshop.