Her favorites are the animal figures, molded in bright plastic, stamped souvenirs of museums or zoos. They line the back window of her car, traded out periodically when the summer sun blurs their edges.
Velma found one of these machines the first time she took a road trip alone, just her in the front seat. The machine is shoved into a dark corner of the reptile house, dimly promising a custom souvenir for $3. There is a card reader twisted into a place that once only took quarters and split metal molds pinned under glass. A terrarium of retrofuturism.
Curious, Velma swipes her card and watches the machine heave to life, rattling old bones. She smells the metal first, then the waxy curl of liquid plastic. Candle-lit mansions and the hiss of her fearful breath in her ears. A portrait with a gaze too direct ahead in the dim light. The memories hardening like hot wax on her shaking fingers. When she stumbles, her hand catches the corner of the machine, and the haunted hallway fades.
Across the open space, a yellow-spotted monitor flickers its head to look at her.
The machine scrapes off her prize with a thunk and Velma turns back.
Wait one minute, reads a plaque on the front of the machine. Hold upside down until cool.
Velma breathes in one-two-three-four and out five-six-seven-eight until she hits sixty. She reaches in, retrieving an Apatosaurus the color of a lagoon. There’s a valley in the tail, a paper-thin stretch of plastic the only connection.
“That happens sometimes,” a stranger says, smiling. “The molds not working right. Part of the fun.”
Velma smiles back. “I’ve never seen one of these before.”
“Oh, there’s another one near the elephants. Maybe you’ll have more luck the second time.”
Velma thanks the stranger and heads outside. The Apatosaurus burns her fingertips and candlewax memories begin to peel.
Emily Capettini is a queer fiction writer from the Midwest who loves a good ghost story. Her work has most recently appeared or is upcoming in Dream Pop Journal, Up North Lit, and Lammergeier. Her chapbook, Girl Detectives, is forthcoming from Porkbelly Press. Find out more about her at emilycapettini.com.