Tuckersville, Pa.- Nine-year-old roller coaster enthusiast Elliot Karstens has set off a firestorm among the residents of his rural Pennsylvania town by overcoming steep odds and defeating a rare form of lung cancer.
A little more than a year ago, Elliot was diagnosed with Pleural Mesothelioma and given a 10%-15% chance of survival. At a special town hall meeting, the idea was conceived to build a roller coaster in Elliot's back yard so the boy could revel in high spirits for the remainder of his days.
"He was a very upbeat child, very happy," Cindy Jenkins, his third grade teacher, said. "Obviously, the news was devastating to all of us. We really wanted him to get the most out of what little life he had left."
The largely blue-collar residents of Tuckersville rolled-up their sleeves to earn extra pay where they could, many working overtime and weekends to contribute to the "Elliot Dream Coaster Foundation." Over a period of several months, enough funds were collected, and an outside contractor was hired to erect the nearly quarter mile of track in Elliot's back yard.
"We all worked so hard and put in so many extra hours to make sure the coaster was built. You can imagine how proud and excited we were for poor Elliot when the final flag was put on the peak of the incline," said volunteer fireman Fred Aiken.
The grand opening for Elliot's Dream Coaster was attended by nearly every resident of Tuckersville. Some were moved to tears when the elated child departed in his single-seat buggy for the first time.
Miraculously, with each holler of excitement from Elliot as he accelerated to 55-mph in under two seconds, the previously relentless lung cancer weakened its grip a bit more. Eventually, Elliot's cancer had regressed almost fully. Doctors were baffled, prompting one highly regarded physician to say, "It'd say it's nearly a miracle. I don't know if it's the Chemotherapy or not, but I'm almost inclined to believe his recovery was the result of the special gift from his neighbors, and the overwhelming joy in his heart."
The good news was relayed to the unsuspecting residents at another hastily called town hall meeting. That's when the spit hit the fan at roller coaster like speed. The disgruntled murmurings gradually became venomous hollering as the shocking diagnosis became fully realized.
"What the (expletive)? I put in 15 overtime hours every week for five months. I my own son's whole little league season," yelled one angry man. "I can't believe that kid ain't gonna' die now. What a sham!"
"I'm sick myself now because of that little jerk. I'm pretty sure it's due to exhaustion from working too much to buy that (expletive) coaster," hollered another woman.
"Basically, he got a free roller coaster, and his whole life to enjoy it. I can barely get anyone to throw a nickel at me," growled the town hobo. The man in the tattered suit coat expressed further bitterness because the coaster was slated to be sold for scrap metal once Elliot died, with all proceeds going to various charities to aide the homeless.
Even Elliot's classmates were unsympathetic. "I had Chicken Pox last week. Where's my spaceship?" growled one boy.
The Tuckersville police force, many of whom were attending the meeting as off-duty citizens, had to call for reinforcements from a nearby town to help quell the impromptu mob scene. Elliot was led to safety by one of the officers.
"I only helped him escape through the back because it's my job. Don't think I didn't have a strong urge to introduce him to the business end of my nightstick," Tuckersville Chief Officer Burt Stevens said.
After a series of negotiations conducted by Major Hertz, a compromise between Elliot and the residents of the embattled town was reached-Elliot would work off the cost of his dream coaster while those who worked so hard to erect the structure would have unrestricted access to it.
"We agreed that he'd be doing general labor type work such as trimming hedges, mowing lawns, fixing loose shingles, stuff like that. He was supposed to dig out the rotting root of my old hemlock tree next week," the major said.
Sadly, Major Hertz's root continues to rot in his front yard as it has for years. Elliot Karstens, once diagnosed with a horrible illness that he defeated thanks to the heartfelt contributions of his neighborhoods, succumbed to an unwieldy dump truck that hopped the curb and crumpled him just seconds before he was to prime his first garage.
"It's a shame. He hadn't worked off one penny of his debt to us," said a local shop keeper. "But he's dead now, so I guess it's just one big wash."
The funeral will be held at 1pm on Saturday at Bryant's Funeral Home. The family has asked that you not bring flowers