No one believed Austin the first time he told the story, and as the years went by, everyone became more and more concerned at his steadfast conviction in its veracity.
Austin was seven years old when his mother took him to the ice rink. She said it was time for him to learn to skate. This somewhat confused the boy, as she hadn't told him she wanted him to learn to skate before that day. She dropped him off at the indoor ice rink and left him with a couple and their five boys. The boys were all older than Austin and didn't seem interested in skating with him. Their mother showed him how to put on his states and tie the laces, but he was a beginner, and couldn't keep up with the five boys who were all experienced skaters.
It was maybe an hour or two later when Austin realized the family had left the rink. He had been pathetically hugging the wall of the rink attempting to stay upright while skating when the familiar feeling of absence hit him. It wasn't the first time this had happened. Austin was used to being left behind and forgotten about. Like at the fishing day camp, where he spent the whole time fumbling with his kiddie pole while the two instructors focused on helping the kids who actually had a chance of catching something. Or at the Renaissance Fair when he was left with another family of strangers who in turn left him at an acrobatics and juggling show and came back for him several hours later, by which point he had watched the whole show a dozen times. At least then he had gotten to spend some time talking with one of the fair performers.
Austin was now cold and sore from falling down, and wanted to get off the rink. He didn't think his mom would mind if he took a break. It took some struggling but he managed to get back to the rink entrance and take his skates off on the bleachers. There was a small video arcade nearby, and his mother had given him money to use for food and games. Occasionally, other kids and sometimes their parents would drift in and out of the arcade, but for the most part Austin was alone. There was a hockey arcade game, and he found this much more enjoyable than actually skating himself. As he played the game, he thought about what his mother had told him when he voiced his fears about ice skating.
Austin was perpetually afraid that he would fall through the ice and drown. That he would just fall through, or that there would be too many people on the rink and the ice wouldn't support all their weight, resulting in the ice breaking and them all falling through into the water. His mother assured him that such a thing would not happen, that modern indoor ice rinks simply didn't work that way, that it was just two inches of ice on a concrete floor that was kept frozen and polished and replenished every hour or so by that big machine. There was no possibility of "falling through the ice", the rink was perfectly safe.
Well, it didn't feel perfectly safe. Even if there was no water under the ice, he had seen people get hurt on the crowded rink, and had nearly been run over several times by bigger skaters. He could sense even at his age that the rink was too crowded and that something might happen. There were too many people jostling about, too many sharp blades, and staff from the rec center seemed to be nowhere in sight. Plus, while skating, he could swear he felt the rink tremble once or twice.
Austin was relatively successful with the game. Side distractions were one of the few things he could consider himself actually good at due to the amount of time he spent on them at all the places his mother took him. But now he was bored, so he quit the game and went to the rec center lobby.
The lobby was empty. Even the receptionist and the person renting skates were nowhere in sight. On the rink, there was now just a mother and her two children. They looked happy, even with their inexperience and falls.
Austin looked at a bulletin board near the lobby entrance. Behind a glass covering were several fliers. Though he was just learning to read, Austin could tell they were for various community events. Hiking trips, workshops, music and dance classes, workout programs.
He thought back to the last place his mother had dropped him off at, a day camp with arts and crafts and the like. He kept thinking about what two camp counselors had been saying to each other when they thought he was out of earshot, while they were waiting for his mom to pick him up. It was late evening, and all the other kids had already gone home. Austin didn't know why their words kept echoing in his head, but he kept thinking about them as he stood alone in the empty community center lobby.
"...kid's mom barely slowed the car down enough for him to jump out. Drove right off without even..."
"...yeah, she's not picking up the phone. This is typical sometimes. The boy obviously doesn't know what he's doing here. I bet if you asked him he'd say he's been to a lot of..."
As Austin pondered over this memory, he heard a sudden rumbling coming from the ice rink. He turned his gaze to the glass partition in the lobby. The mother and her two kids were in the center of the ice. They looked confused and unsure, no longer skating.
There was a second rumble. The three people on the ice looked about frantically. Then the rink started moving. It slowly started turning, counter-clockwise, rumbling and scraping as the perimeter appeared to widen around it. The mother frantically grabbed her children's hands and attempted to skate with them off the rink, but they fell down and were unable to right themselves as the rink kept spinning faster and faster. The bleachers all folded up and the space between the ice and the wall kept growing wider, revealing a pitch black chasm. That's when Austin realized that while the rink was spinning, it was also sinking. He watched as the helpless family was lowered into the abyss, until they disappeared. There was a final terrible rumble, and they were gone.
A few moments later, the bleachers unfolded, and the rink, no longer spinning, rose back up, the wall closing back in around it. Within seconds it sat undisturbed as though nothing had happened, apart from the fact that the ice appeared to have been newly polished.
Austin was still staring in dumbfounded shock three hours later, when the police arrived to look into the disappearance of the mother and two children. Austin didn't tell them what happened until his own mother arrived, hugging him and crying about how worried she had been when she pulled up and saw all the police.
Naturally, the cops assumed the boy had seen something traumatic that caused his mind to fabricate such a story out of shock. There was just one thing though. Austin wasn't the only one who had seen it. There was another boy, a little older than Austin, who had been left at the rink by his parents and was sitting alone in the small party room overlooking the rink.
There was never any indication that the two boys knew each other or had even met, yet their stories were identical and each told it through panicked tears. The detectives also found small cracks in the glass, as if harsh vibrations had reverberated through it, and one noticed that the ceiling of the rink appeared to have been splattered with water.
In any case, that was the last time Austin's mom ever left him alone at a public place.