excerpt from The Dragon Under the Mountain

The Dragon Under the Mountain

Chapter One

The attendant handed Emma the 3-D glasses just before he pushed the restraining bar into her lap and the empty seat beside her. She hated going on rides by herself.

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Every time she came to Wonderland with an odd-numbered group of people, she was always the one who had to ride alone. Just because she was the oldest, why did everyone expect her to be so brave? Once they slid into their seats on the car – four riders to a car, with each pair sitting back to back – Emma turned around and made a face at the back of her little sister’s head. At least Macy and Kass were in the same car with her. It would have really sucked if they had gotten in the same car as Matt and Dash, leaving her really alone.

Emma knew her brother Matt wouldn’t have minded if he was on by himself.  The Guardian was his favourite ride.  Along with the basic roller coaster excitement with fast speeds and stomach churning drops, the riders navigated through a 4-D medieval world and got to show off their gaming skills in the heat of battle as they attempted to enter the dragon’s lair in the core of the mountain.

Matt was twelve and was happy as long as he could shoot something; add in a quest with a pretend medieval warrior to find a dragon while riding in cars in the dark to the bottom of a mountain and he was in heaven. It was Matt and his friend Dash’s favourite ride.

Every time he was there, Matt studied each of the descriptions of the characters sent to aid in the quest more thoroughly than if he was studying for a test at school. Images of each would flash on screens while riders waited in the lineup inside the mountain for their turn. There was the Warrior, sent to defeat the Guardian and the dragon; the Wizard who was the leader of the band; the Oracle who predicted the future and gave helpful hints about how to deal with what was the come; the Faerie with her magical powers; and finally Archer, the small dwarf-like guide sent to help them find their way.

Emma could hear Matt and Dash loudly debating their favourite characters until the loudspeaker interrupted, giving instructions for the ride.

Arms and legs in the ride at all time. Put on the 3-D glasses. Hold the laser gun attached to the seat. Emma had been on the rides in the park enough times she could recite the instructions in her sleep.

Another voice boomed through the loudspeaker. “Park is closing. Last ride of the night!”

That was something she had never heard before. Emma felt a tight knot of apprehension in her stomach when she thought of what they were going to do after the ride was over.

“Are we staying?” Macy said loudly from behind.

“Quiet,” Kass shushed her. Kass was Dash’s sister, and thirteen like Emma. The two families were so close, Kass often acted like Macy’s older sister, to Macy’s dismay.

Later, they would say it was Matt who made the suggestion, but he would argue it was only because Emma and Kass had been obsessed with the video they had seen online showing a group of kids hiding out at some Six Flags amusement park in the States.

“Why don’t we stay at Wonderland after it closes?” Matt had suggested earlier in the day as they waited in line for the Fly ride. One thing led to another; plans were made. “We can make a video, post it as a vine; it’ll blow up, go viral. We’ll be famous.”

Emma thought she knew the reasoning behind Matt’s suggestion; an online video would undoubtedly impress Hailey. Even though Matt had never admitted it, Emma knew her brother well enough to know when he liked someone. He was great at talking to her friends Chrissy and Delly when they hung out at the house, but when he was interested in a girl, when he thought about her more than baseball or his video games, he had a tendency to clam up and act like a dork.

A derp, Matt would call himself.

It was too bad he couldn’t be himself around Hailey, because even with all his brotherly faults, deep down Emma thought her little brother was pretty cool.

The usual cheers began as the car slowly started and Emma felt like they were cheering her on as she debated about their plan to hide out in Wonderland.  None of them could admit it was good idea, but it would be exciting and cool and fun. An adventure.

Emma thought it was time she had a few adventures.

But not having anyone to sit with was an adventure she wasn’t looking forward to. She was in the very first car; something else she didn’t really enjoy. Her car was the first to climb the hill, the first to speed down it. Being the first always made that fluttery, tingling sensation in the pit of her tummy worse.

One last ride of the night. She could get through it.

The car slid outside, the track curving around the mountain slightly to climb higher before plunging back into the darkness for the descent to the bottom. Emma tucked the 3-D glasses into the collar of her shirt. Unlike her brother, shooting the images on the screens wasn’t one of her strong points and the glasses only made her aim worse.  Her attention was grabbed by the moon – big and bright and impossibly full, hanging low in the sky, tempting her to reach out a hand because it seemed close enough to touch.

And then the darkness surrounded her as they re-entered the mountain.

But then – Emma saw a set of eyes peering at her from the darkness.

It must have the brightness of the moon; her eyes playing tricks on her. The noise of the ride quieted as the car slowed to make the corner.

But then – a scraping noise, as if a shoe skidded along a path. The sound of panting, right there in the car beside her. Emma stared straight ahead, frozen into her seat because she could swear someone had just sat down in the empty seat next to her.

The car rounded a corner and dipped down, and the screens before Emma came to life with the images of fish-like creature swimming towards her. Emma, like the others on the ride, held her gun ready, but because she wasn’t wearing her glasses, the images were blurry. Instead of shooting the fish with her lasers, she sat staring ahead, willing herself to glance over to see who – what – was beside her.

They had finished with the fish; the birds were next, the cries of the kids in the cars once again increasing in volume as they faced more images. Emma finally dared to glance out of the corner of her eye at the seat next to her. It seemed empty…

…but when Emma turned her head, she cried out in surprise.

Seated next to her was a…the only thing she could think of was a dwarf. Or an elf. Matt, with all of the hours spent watching Lord of the Rings, would know the difference.

“What…?” she gasped.

There was enough light from the screen so Emma could see that it – he – was grinning at her. He was tiny; shorter than even nine-year old Macy and his legs dangled over the seat. His face was cheerful with a wide, curious smile. Emma didn’t think she was in danger, especially from someone wearing such a funny looking hat.

“Watch out for the drop,” he said, hanging on to his hat with one hand.

They had reached the Chamber of the Guardian, the point in the ride where shooters had to hit as many of the targets as they could to deactivate the booby traps laid by the Guardian. Emma had been on the ride enough times that she knew the best spots to hit, but she still sat holding her gun, fingers frozen on the trigger, staring at the creature beside her.

“Are you supposed to be Archer?” Emma finally whispered, recognizing the character’s red cloak. Matt had read the description to her like he always did, pointing out the sword the dwarf carried. Looking down, Emma saw the same sword pointing at her. She slid over as far as she could go on the molded plastic seat.

“Hang on,” he said again, but Emma stared at Archer, too distracted to pay attention to what was happening with the ride.

Was it a costume? Halloween was months away and she’d never seen a costume for any of the Guardian characters.  It was a cool idea, not something that she would ever do, but maybe Dash…  “How…?”

The image of the dragon suddenly roared, a flash of heat blasting her face and Emma let out a little scream as she clutched her seat as the car dropped several feet into pitch blackness. Her little sister screamed loudly behind her.  Archer, or whoever he was, giggled softly.

“I like the drop,” he said as the cars began the uphill climb to the end of the ride. “You’re in my seat.”

“Sorry?” a bewildered Emma told him.

“I like that side better.”

“What does it matter what side you’re on?”

“More spots to hide on that side. You’re not supposed to see me,” the creature told her, leaning closer so she could hear him over the cries of the riders behind her. “You should put your glasses on.”

“I never…”

And then he was gone.