Not Screaming on a Rollercoaster

It was a dark time in history. Maybe that’s why people wanted to forget it so quickly. Even while it was happening. Being that the Japanese had the British beat on the old “stiff upper lip” mentality, it wasn’t in their DNA to let something as paltry as a novel virus stop them from having their fun. Even if the “fun” was to be quite literally muted, and strictly controlled. For one of the main contingencies of reopening the theme parks was the faith placed in patrons to shut their fucking traps while riding the rides, particularly rollercoasters. Those entities that made people scream the most—certainly more than they ever did whilst in bed with their far less satisfying lovers.

Tokyo Disneyland was just one example of a major amusement park that had decided to take the gamble on trusting the public to obey the newly-implemented rules for the sake of recouping some of the profits lost in early 2020. But summer was the time to lure in the hordes again, even if using “compromised” customer service to do so. For Haruko Mori, that compromise came with practically suffocating inside the haunted house she worked in scaring children and adults alike. A job that used to bring her a vague sadistic joy, until masking mandates came along. But that’s what was demanded by the coalition known as the East and West Japan Theme Park Associations, which included what some might view as the offensively named Oriental Land Company. Itself consisting of Tokyo Disneyland and Universal Studios Japan. Haruko worked at the former, though it wasn’t feeling much like “the happiest place on Earth” these days, so much as a dystopian hellscape in the spirit of what Banksy predicted with Dismaland in 2015. But a girl has to pay her bills (barring when a man does it for her). So Haruko soldiered on despite her own fears about contracting the virus without a vaccine yet available to mitigate the effects. Existing in this society is nothing if not constant risk to one’s health (mental and physical), after all.

She had hoped, at the very least, that being around others again would help remind her of something like “camaraderie” and “connection.” In contrast, working among so many people didn’t do much to make her feel less lonely than she had in the months since this entire “affair” began, for everyone was effectively forbidden from speaking. From “making sounds” that might give life to this increasingly dismal world. Still, management tried to comfort workers and patrons alike with assurances about how “smiley eyes” and “hand gestures” were expected to substitute the communication people once relied on through their slack-jawed mouths. The haunted house was subjected to far more stringency in all regards because of its confined spaces putting the patrons at further risk. Thus, the smothering ask of employees like Haruko to wear a mask in addition to whatever costume head they had to put on felt especially cruel. And also as though it should warrant some extra pay. But, of course, nothing ever warranted extra pay when one was an “essential” worker. Which, apparently, Haruko had become in recent summer weeks, after fun had all but disappeared from society in favor of lockdowns and somber news reports counting the death toll. Yes, now fun was essential. So long as it was strictly monitored. One could never say that “those in control” didn’t have an ironic sense of humor.

On her fifteen-minute break (pretty much all she was allowed during her shift), Haruko would sit at a table where she could gaze at the rollercoasters within her visual range, whipping around their courses in total silence, as though she had entered some warped dimension. There was even one day, as she pecked disinterestedly at her tamago sando, when Katy Perry’s “Chained to the Rhythm” played while she watched the “non-screamers.” Clearly, there was no awareness on the “DJ’s” part that the music video takes place in a twistedly “normal” theme park where everyone retreats to blithely ignore reality. One of the “rides” in the video is a glorified hamster wheel that people can run on until they stumble and fall off. A foreshadowing of how the hamster-humans of the world would be forced to cease running on their own little wheels while the world stopped to accommodate the need for a sudden mass quarantine. And yet, it didn’t seem to want to stop long enough to truly “take stock” and reassess priorities. The corporations and their shills could hardly wait to return to “doing business as usual.” But things would never really be usual again, not if anyone was being honest with themselves. Then again, no one was—hence, this ability to pretend that it was all fine, “just as before.” Even as they clamped their mouths shut to keep from screaming. Though they all wanted nothing more than to do just that. To let out that suppressed, internal scream they had all been holding in for years as adults forced to endure the rigmarole of an existence where everything and everyone is treated as capital. Even after seeing the collective health-damaging effects it caused as never before.

Yet it was as though observing the aftermath of this way of life somehow antithetically confirmed people’s commitment to “staying the course” with it. Even Haruko couldn’t be one to judge, for here she was, participating in the same system all over again with little resistance. She felt like she had no will of her own. That she was just a prisoner to a system that couldn’t be avoided unless you were so destitute as to be totally irrelevant, like refugees or starving children in Africa. Sure, everyone knew they existed, but they remained invisible within the system that kept them out of it because they couldn’t pay to play. Sometimes Haruko liked the fact that she only had a fifteen-minute break. It gave her less time to think too deeply before reentering the haunted house, abandoning her visions of the silent “non-screamers”—even if they still haunted her nightmares with far more efficacy than she could ever haunt the fake mansion she was paid poorly to inhabit for four to six hours a day.


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