Good afternoon Water World guests. We have an important call waiting for a guest by the name of—and she says my name—Please come to any guest services.
The kiosk is staffed by teenagers. I have a message?
The kid hands me the receiver of an actual red phone:
Congratulations! You’ve just been chosen to star on our Water World reality show, Escape from Water World! The way the game works is you have 60 minutes to find the key to your locker and leave the park. If you don’t find the key in time, the contents of your locker will be forfeited.
But my purse and my Diamond card and keys are in there.
Yes! And you have 60 minutes to find them and—here a studio audience chimes in—Escape! From! Water! World! Cheering in the background. Are you ready for your first clue?
I don’t want to play this game, actually—
Don’t hang up—we’re already filming.
The guest services kid gives me a thumbs-up.
Your first clue is: The woman in the pink has gotten too much sun. Find her and find Clue #1. And…begin! 60 minutes on the clock starting now!
This is ridiculous! I yell but he’s already gone. I hang up and walk straight to my locker, where the wristband that should open it no longer works, buzzing angry with each failed try.
The teenager in the raft rental booth yells, “You can do it!”
There are probably 5,000 people at Water World. There is absolutely no way I’m going to play this stupid game. I need to find an adult employee, any adult at all. There’s an old man sweeping up around the picnic areas.
Excuse me, can you help me?
He smiles knowingly. If you want a clue to the pink woman, she might be on the Ancient Journey to the Pharaohs ride?
That’s not the kind of help I wanted!
The concrete is atomic hot as I hop from patch of shade to patch of shade. People on beach loungers grin or whisper and give me the thumbs up, past the Dip-n-Dots and the deep-fried Twinkie sundae funnel cake booth, past the wave pool in motion, where a kid on a raft yells, “I believe in you!” and onto the AstroTurf beach towards the Pharaohs ride.
Now I’m in line with all the wet people and their bad tattoos —the US Constitution inked across a chest, a portrait of Matthew McConaughey distorted into cleavage, actual “guns” tattooed on both biceps—and at the front of the line I’m put into a raft with a family who needs a single rider.
The ride heads into the pyramid. The mom asks: Any luck?
You know she winks. She has a terrible sunburn all over her body. The family all looks like they are about to burst.
Are you the “pink” lady?
Your last clue is this she says, cutting me off: The man with the gospel on his back will show you where the key is at!
This is so fucked up I yell as the kids blush, and as soon as the ride is over I stomp across hot concrete back to the guest services kiosk and yell at the kid—who’s a different kid now:
Look. I don’t want to play this game! Just open my locker!
He looks sympathetic and hands me the phone again:
Ooh! A buzzer sounds loudly in my ear. Darn! says the voice. You didn’t beat the clock. Well, you’re still going home with some nice parting gifts. Jonny: can you tell us what they are?
I hang up. The kid hands me a red bag with Escape from Water World written on the side. In the bag are tubes of sunscreen, a bright green sun visor and a sippy bottle with the Water World logo.
You also have salmonella he says, handing me the bag.
I walk back to my towel and see my locker door standing open, locker empty.
Nancy Stohlman’s books include Going Short: An Invitation to Flash Fiction (forthcoming), Madam Velvet’s Cabaret of Oddities (finalist for a 2019 Colorado Book Award), The Vixen Scream and Other Bible Stories, the flash novels The Monster Opera and Searching for Suzi, and three anthologies of flash fiction including Fast Forward: The Mix Tape. She is the creator of The Fbomb Flash Fiction Reading Series, the creator of FlashNano in November, and her fiction has been included in the W.W. Norton anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fiction and the 2019 Best Small Fictions. She lives in Denver and teaches at the University of Colorado Boulder. Find out more at www.nancystohlman.com