Steel Venom

VenomEvery summer my wife tries to get me on an amusement park ride called Steel Venom.

She loves the contraption – about as much as I hate it.

Last summer was no exception and one afternoon we found ourselves bickering in the shadow of a half roller-coaster, half catapult.

“You’re chicken,” she taunted.

“Not at all,” I said.

Overhead, the ride flexed and moaned as a trolley corkscrewed its way up a high tower. When it reached the summit, it paused for one heart-thumping moment before plunging into a wild spiral that ended only inches from the ground.

As the riders flashed by howling in terror, I thought for an instant that I recognized an old friend among them.

Without the slightest hesitation or remorse, the trolley shot up a companion tower then repeated the process over and over – until everyone, rider and observer alike, was nauseous.

“Don’t look like much fun to me,” I observed.

“Chicken,” she repeated.

Believe me, I was not chicken, because Steel Venom simply did not frighten me.

I’ve dodged bullets, survived a car wreck and endured an audit by the IRS and not one of those things even quickened my pulse – because nothing, absolutely nothing, will ever come close to the ride I took on a Radio Flyer wagon when I was six years old.


At first, I simply put things into my wagon and towed them around the lawn. But I soon discovered it was more fun to hop in the wagon and roll down our backyard hill.

If rolling down the hill was fun, I reasoned, the most fun could be had by rolling down the steepest hill possible and we had such a hill nearby, an old cobblestone street that plunged off a Mississippi River bluff.

To say the street was steep was to understate steepness. It was one of those hills where everything going over the crest disappears and only reappears at the bottom a long time later. Technically speaking, the grade was close to vertical.

And everything on the hillside: trees, fences and houses, clung desperately to the slope because at its base ran the busiest street in town where four lanes of traffic sawed past each other – eager for something to let go.

Without a moment of reflection, I towed my wagon to the crest of the hill and hopped in, surrendering myself to the magic of gravity.

I may have had time to reconsider my rash decision – but I doubt it. Things happened too quickly.

The tires chattered against the cobblestones as the wheels wobbled frantically. A cotter-key popped off an axle and pinged into the gutter. A parked car whizzed by. A woman screamed and dropped her groceries onto the sidewalk. A dog gave chase but couldn’t keep up…

It is then I realized that gravity was not the only force at work. The other was raw fear.

Like most kids growing up, I had a monster living under my bed.

He had green oily skin, yellow iridescent eyes and long claws that he loved to rake across the floorboards whenever I approached my bed. If I wasn’t quick enough or didn’t leap from far enough away, he’d snatch at my ankles to drag me down into the horrors that lay under the bed.

As I rocketed down the hill, suddenly there he was sitting on my legs and glaring into my eyes.

“Remember me?” he said.

I nodded that I did.

“Well…, I finally gotchya.”

I nodded again.

“Now,” he said rather whimsically, “what do I do with you?”

I was too scared to answer.

About then we hit a pothole and went airborne. I had never flown before and apparently neither had my monster – because it scared the crap out of him.

We landed so hard it rattled his eyeballs.


Then another pothole launched us again.


We hung in the air for the longest of moments – before the ground rushed up to meet us.


My monster turned to me in desperation. “Make it stop,” he bawled.

I felt sorry for him – I couldn’t save myself, much less any other creature.

Another pothole sent us spiraling.

The sky and ground swapped places and then upside down, I watched as a high flying cloud streaked across a cobalt sky – and there among the clouds stood a man on a road above the sky – frantically waving his arms to stop the traffic.

He and the earth slowly righted themselves as the wagon gently touched down and skipped between the walls of traffic held back by my modern-day Moses.

The wagon, the monster and I skidded to a stop a half-block later.

People bubbled out of cars and flowed off porches, washing toward us. My monster, always shy, managed a half-hearted “later” and vanished under the remains of the wagon.


“C’mon, be a sport,” my wife begged, “I don’t want to ride Steel Venom alone.”

As the trolley flashed by again, I recognized the familiar face. He sat upfront, facing the shrieking riders, grinning his reptilian grin.

“Oh, don’t worry,” I said, “you won’t be alone.”

Author: Almost Iowa

73 thoughts on “Steel Venom”

  1. What fantastic story! I especially like the monster under the bed. We should all spend more time frightening our monsters (I say, while trying not to think too loudly about the stupid things I did as a kid, just in case anyone is listening).

    1. In many ways, “frightening our monsters” is what we do when we watch scary movies and go on insane amusement park rides and each time we do it, our monsters are a little less frightening.

  2. What a GREAT story! One of the best reads I have had in a while. Thank you, and I look forward to more on your blog.

  3. When someone calls you chicken, the correct answer is, “You bet your ass I am.” If at all possible, look like you’re bragging when you say it. Smile.

    And I had a monster under my bed too. I wonder if they knew each other. Or if–I’m older than you–mine moved to the Midwest when I got too old to notice it.

      1. “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom” (Psalm 110:10) AKA “Discretion is the better part of valor.”

  4. Very funny…those wagons were crazy. I used to make go carts with old carriage wheels and planks of wood. Steering and braking were always sketchy but coming down the hills were such an adrenaline rush though I had no idea what adren was as a kid. Now that was fun. No modern fancy ride would equal that rush.😊

    1. We used to call those carts, “chugs” and no baby buggy was safe in our neighborhood. Remember using curtain rods for axles? We would take an old apple crate (remember those) and mount it on the front and nail two tin can tops to the front as headlights. Gosh, those were fun days!

  5. Ahhh Greg this is hilarious! On a related note, I recently heard that Stephen King’s Pennywise (“It”) will be making a repeat appearance in a few months. I think he might benefit from one of your Radio Flyer tours…

    1. I bet my monster could be beat up Pennywise with one hand tied behind his back! (Gosh, doesn’t that take you back to your childhood?) 🙂 🙂

  6. Great story! I’m going to have a picture of a little kid careening down an impossibly steep hill in a wagon in my mind for quite some time, it was that real.
    And it answered a question I have been puzzled by for a long time: what, exactly, is the attraction of those crazy roller coasters? And now I realize, it is facing down and (seemingly) conquering our fears. I suppose it works, but personally, I wouldn’t know because I don’t ride the wretched things. The “scrambler” has always been excitement enough for me.

    1. You can almost imagine Calvin screaming down a steep hill in his wagon with Hobbs riding behind him.

      It is about facing down fears but it is also about suspending our disbelief. Just as we get frightened by a scary movie, knowing full well that the monster is an actor, so we ignore the fact that engineers and lawyers have poured over every aspect of roller-coaster development.

      It is all about being scared in safety.

      1. Good point! It’s scary, but at the same time, it is not real. Not as if our car went off the road and plunged down a steep cliff.
        And until you mentioned it, I didn’t realize the connection to the Calvin and Hobbes comics! Sometimes I can be a bit slow….

    1. You have to wonder how we survived. I routinely did things as a kid that give the adult me a panic attack just by thinking about them. Like hopping speeding trains in third grande.

    1. It could be. The green oily scales fit. The yellow iridescent eyes are familiar but it is the long claws that they rake across their spreadsheets that confirm it.

  7. I had a hill like that in Chippewa Falls. It didn’t have 4 lanes of traffic at the bottom, though…it had a rather sharp dog-leg if you wanted to continue on the pavement…or a good half-acre of trees if you couldn’t make the turn.

    I used to go down it on my bike with my younger brother. The first one to touch the brakes ‘lost.’

    Unless you wrapped the front tire around a tree…

    1. Ah, Chippewa Falls, one of my favorite places. It is where my grandparents were from and a couple of great-aunts lived there for years.

      I have done what you describe on a mountain bike… with the same result.

  8. Didn’t see that twist at the end coming–“Gotchya!” indeed!

    I think I know that hill–we used to sled on the hills just off the road, when I was a kid. So, I’ve got one question…ARE YOU CRAZY!?! 😉

    1. The hill was Ramsey hill. If you don’t know where that is, it is in Saint Paul where Summit swings west. Aren’t all six year old crazy?

  9. What a gift you have! I was right there with you. My heart was racing and breathing ceased at moments. The monster is always with us. Currently, mine lives in the crawl space under my house. When anyone calls me chicken I begin to cluck and flap my arms like wings. I admit it. Funny thing is that I work in an amusement park – in a store. I walk right past those roller coasters without glancing their way. Why would I look where the monster is lurking?

    1. Crawl space monsters are particularly vicious. They have to be meaner than all the other creepy crawlers down there. Ooooo, working in an amusement park sounds like fun…but I bet you pack your lunch. They are expensive.

  10. Grew up along the Mississippi good sledding hills all around, thank goodness the monsters stayed home under the bed, or I never would have gone sledding as a kid.

    1. Don’t you just love those hills where you stand on the top and can’t see most of the hill? They are great for tobogganing…if you like to fly.

  11. Ah, those were the days. I had no hills on the prairie to undertake such perilous risks. Rather my siblings and I built ramps from boards and cement blocks from which we launched our bikes. We were, so we thought, Evil Knievel jumping the Grand Canyon. There was no traffic either.

    My memories are different, yet the same.

    As always, a colorful story laced with strong verbs and decidedly excellent writing that takes me right there, into your wagon. Well done. Again.

    1. As always, a colorful story laced with strong verbs and decidedly excellent writing that takes me right there, into your wagon.

      My monster was looking over my shoulder as I read your comment.

      “Hey,” he said, “she didn’t say anything about me. I told you I should have had a bigger role,”

        1. Very wise, Audrey.

          We must take care to stay on the good side of our monsters – but never by feeding them. One should never feed a monster.

  12. My monster lived in the basement rather than under the bed, but he didn’t show up until I was in seventh grade and we moved into a new house. I suspect the contractors disturbed him when they dug the basement.

    We had relatives who lived in assorted towns along the Mississippi, so I have a grasp of those hills. I can’t even imagine… But you described it well! What do you suppose the heart rate of those adults might have been?

    1. Basement monsters are a nasty lot. I have dealt with them well into my adulthood. Even now they periodically return to visit as bumps in the night and expensive grinding sounds in my furnace.

      I couldn’t imagine what the adults went through during my youth…but then again, they let us run and run we did. It was glorious.

  13. That’s a great story, nice twist and fond memories of Radio Flyer days. Your parents would probably be arrested and lose custody of you today. Those things didn’t kill (many of) us, and I think they helped develop skills that were important later in life.

    1. We didn’t have a television until I was twelve. Most of the other kids in the neighborhood didn’t either and I swear every family on the block had at least 10 kids. On any given day in the summer, there were three baseball games going in the street and still kids had to sit on the bench (curb).

      In the winter there was pickup hockey in backyard rinks, sleding and snowball fights.

      And then there were fist fights… at least three a day of those too. I will not glorify that aspect of our lives but the first time a kid gets a bloody nose is transformative. Stan once made a note of this, he said, “You don’t think it is odd how many of the kids we grew up with became soldiers, cops and lawyers?”

      1. We had a tv but controlled by adults, so I was outside too. Baseball, wiffleball, primitive (by today’s standards) skateboards and riding my bike everywhere. Not that many kids, but lots of good old fashion dangerous fun.

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