Estimated reading time — 31 minutes
Our town wasn’t always like this, deserted and barren. At one point it was actually considered to be flourishing, with a steady stream of income for people of all ages and multiple venues of entertainment which seemed to have a little bit of something for everyone. The heart of our town however, was the theme park that had been erected since the town’s birth in 1969, Sparky’s Adventure Land. On the surface it presented itself much like any other theme park across the country. But underneath its safe facade lay a rotting, mutating darkness that we as a collective were blind to.
The real start of the decay of our town was the summer of 1993, during one of the most intense heat waves our small town had ever seen. The days were long and miserable, with most of us relying on small bottles of water we carried almost everywhere we went. These bottles were especially present inside of Sparky’s, with them being sold at every vendor within the park, which provided a large increase in the park’s income.
That’s where I come in. I was 16 and desperately in need of a job. My mother had practically shoved me out of the door at the first mention of a job opportunity. Our family for a while had been struggling to make ends meet, so I knew that most of my income would go towards helping with the family’s expenses. I didn’t mind. After all, I didn’t really have much that I needed to or even wanted to buy. Plus, after what happened to Sam only a few months ago, I needed a distraction. So that weekend I reluctantly dragged myself out of bed and drove myself across town to the park.
The interview itself took place inside of the main office at the front of the park. Inside the atmosphere was musty. The carpet was torn and stained in various different places. The walls themselves were even in disrepair, with some corners of the office having sustained water damages. That’s not even to mention the discolored ceiling which had seen years of neglect. I sat down in a chair opposite from the little old lady who was giving me my interview.
She was a small woman. Her short gray hair curled in various different directions. Her eyes were like two small, gray stones, staring into mine. After a lengthy and tedious interview, I was hired on the spot. I had aced the interview, just like had known I would. If I had known right then and there just where this job would have taken me, I never would have signed those damn papers.
The next day I arrived at 8:30 sharp. My tiny Volkswagen was parked at the front of the employees only lot, surrounded by the other staff members’ cars. The collar of my shirt felt as if it was choking me, and even though the day was still young I was already sweating profusely. I couldn’t tell if it was the nerves of the sheer blazing heat, but I knew that I had to find a way to cool myself down.
I walked through the side entrance into the break room where immediately I was greeted by an overly ecstatic woman. She appeared to be around my age and judging by her red collared shirt, I could tell she also was a ride attendant.
“Hello!” she said “You must be Justin!”. She was short, her deep hazel eyes kept perfect contact with mine as she offered her hand. I grabbed her hand and shook it as I introduced myself.
“Guilty.” I replied “And you are?”.
“Lilith, Most of my friends just call me Lily though.” She responded happily.
“Well it’s nice to meet you Lily.” I said as I eyed the room. “Where is everyone else?”
“Oh they’re already at their rides. I was asked to stay back and help you find where you’re supposed to go.” She informed me. I was fixated on her. Her brunette hair sat just on her shoulders, which perfectly complimented her dark complexion.
“Well then” I sighed, after a long pause “Where am I supposed to go?”. She grabbed my hand and pulled me along to the other side of the claustrophobic room. I hadn’t noticed it at first but this room just like the office was in a bad state of disrepair. For a company with seemingly a lot of money, the place was sure falling apart. Lily picked up a piece of paper, right beside a lone coffee maker and pointed to a list. I stood behind her, peering over her shoulder at the list. On the list was my name, and beside it were the words ‘Fun House’.
“You’re starting today at the Fun House.” Lily said as she turned back to me. “That ones a doozy, but you’ll manage. Every half hour another ride attendant will come to rotate you and they will inform you where to go next. Lunch breaks start at 12 but it just depends on where you’re stationed at the time.” It was a lot to take in but I tried to make mental notes as I made my way to the Fun House.
Once there I had about an hour to do the mandatory inspection for the day. It wasn’t much, I just had to walk through the house and make sure that everything was nice and neat and that everything was working fine. I didn’t mind, after all I had once run down these very halls with my friends when I was a kid. I felt a huge rush of nostalgia that I could hardly contain. It was as if the magic of this place had come back and fully enveloped me in its clutches. My favorite part had always been the actor inside who would be wearing a full Sparky the Clown costume. Sparky would wave to the kids, and show them amazing spectacles as they traveled through the attraction.
The first time I had ever been through the Fun House, I had seen Sparky standing in his usual spot. I couldn’t have been older than eight, and just the sight of the clown had horrified me. Something about his painted smile and glossy black eyes had terrified me. Unlike most clowns that usually involved a lot of makeup, the park had instead made an entire mask for the character. It was the same as you might find in a place like Chuck E’ Cheese or Disney World with their various character costumes. Over time however I had grown accustomed to that expressionless face and even purchased a small plushie of Sparky which at one point had sat on my bed, now discarded somewhere in the depths of my closet.
Finally I managed to contain my giddy excitement to be back in the core of my childhood, and I managed to complete the inspection. I never saw Sparky, I just assumed that he would show up at some point during the day, whenever the mascot arrived.
The day was long and boring. The hours seemed to crawl by as I perished in the blazing heat of the Florida sun. Children of all ages screamed as they went on the various rides I had been stationed at. Each rotation seemed to get slower and slower and by the time twelve o’clock came around I was more than ready to get away from the hordes of customers that paraded every pathway.
During my lunch break I had spied a staircase out of the corner of my eye. I asked Lily what it was and she responded that it was one of many entrances to an elaborate and expansive underground tunnel system which linked every ride and attraction together so that character actors and maintenance workers could quickly and easily navigate the park without having to disrupt the large crowds above ground.
“Unless you’re one of those two.” She said “The tunnels are off limits, even I’ve never been in them.”
“Oh, that makes sense.” I replied.
“Yeah, it’s not like the tunnels are anything special, they’re just tan bricked walls and damp floors.” Lily replied and with that our lunch break ended. I headed back to the Twincoaster, and as I left I could hear the doors to the tunnels open from the echo that carried itself through the now empty room. I didn’t have time to turn around and look, but looking back now I wish that I had.
It didn’t take long for the abnormalities of the park to start to reveal themselves. The first thing was that no matter where I was stationed, or how many staff parties I attended I never met any of the costume actors. The presence of the management, or rather lack thereof, was minuscule. In fact, I think the only management I saw had been the little old lady that had conducted my interview. Other than that there was no trace of management to be found.
Then finally it happened, the moment that looking back on it now was the very moment that the lingering darkness finally took hold of the park. I was once again stationed at the Fun House. It was around 1:30 or so as I had just come off my lunch break and was covering for Lily while she took her break.
“Hello! Excuse me sir! Hello!” A small voice cried out. I turned around to see a small boy, no older than 10 rushing towards me flailing his arms in the blazing heat. His eyes were frantic, and his red curly hair was a mess, with multiple long strands of hair curling like snakes around his eyes.
“Yes, what is it?” I asked him. I could tell he was panicking. His entire body seemed to be shaking as if he had just witnessed a horrific tragedy. A long silence hung in the air as the boy desperately regained his breath.
“My brother” He finally said out of breath. “It’s my brother, I can’t find him.”
“Okay, slow down.” I tried calming him down. “Where did you last see your brother?”.
“Inside the Fun House, we went in together but we took different paths in the hall of mirrors. Some kids at school said that both directions led to the exit so we wanted to test it and see if it was true. On the other side though I kept waiting and waiting but he never came out. I figured he must’ve just came out before me so I ran through the ball pit to the exit, but when I got out I didn’t see him.”
“Is it possible that he might’ve already gone back to your parents?” I said, trying to reason with him and keep him calm.”
“No, Lucas would never leave me alone in the Fun House, he knows how much I hate it there.” The boy was on the verge of tears now.
“Okay, go back to your parents and tell them to go to the ticket booth and report your brother as missing. After that I’ll shut the attraction down and go in and look for your brother. He probably just got lost inside of the hall of mirrors. We’ll find your brother for you, I promise you.” even as I said those words they didn’t feel right. The hall of mirrors wasn’t designed to be tricky. It had a total of one dead end, all the other paths led right into the central tunnel that led directly to the exit. I must’ve memorized that hall a dozen times over as a kid.
The boy took off in the direction of what I could only hope to be his parents. His faded gray sweatshirt tied to his waist flapped carelessly in the wind. I looked back at the shrinking line of patrons, eager to get inside, and waited for management to call over the walkie-talkie and tell me to shut the attraction down. That announcement to my surprise, never came.
At the end of the day I decided to go in myself and have a quick look around to see if I could find the missing boy. I started at the entrance and made my way down a twisting hall of red and white that was there only to disorientate the victim. I nearly stumbled over a dozen times, only catching myself luckily each time by quickly grabbing onto the small child sized hand holds on the sides of the walls. Next was a dark room, filled with large bean bags of different colors and sizes that hung from the ceiling like rainbow colored cocoons of caterpillars, waiting to be reborn into beautiful monarchs.
“Lucas!” I called the boy’s name, remembering it from when the boy had told me earlier. My voice bounced off the empty walls and yielded no response. I kept calling his name as I made my way from room to room, turning over every prop and set piece I could find. I made my way into Sparky’s room and scanned it closely. I hadn’t ever seen it so deserted. It was like the joy that normally filled this room had been vanquished and sputtered out. It was dead now, an eerie silence poisoned the air as every footstep echoed a thousand times off of the painted walls.
I climbed onto the stage on the far wall of the room and looked around, saying the child’s name loudly enough so that if Lucas was hiding somewhere behind the curtains he would hear me. I drew back the large navy curtain. The stage was clear of all props, the only attribute that caught my eye was the large metal door located just off to the side. Curious I tried it. The door didn’t budge, even as I pushed with all my weight the door remained resilient. I pounded it and yelled Lucas’ name, not knowing if somehow he had gotten trapped behind it. Silence was the only response I got. Defeated, I made my way into the hall of mirrors in a last attempt to find the missing boy.
The hall was just as I had remembered it as a boy. I could almost picture myself running around through these very halls, laughing and screaming with my best friends. That was a long time ago now. I was older, and perhaps I had grown up too fast. I once again pushed my childhood nostalgia to the side and focused on the mission at hand. My reflection mirrored my every move, sometimes distorted and sometimes a clear copy of myself. I shouted the boy’s name more and more as I raced through the paths that were stained in my memory. I checked every passageway twice, but to no avail. Each time I was met at a dead end, with the same distorted face staring back at me. I felt crushed, and held onto hope that they had already found the kid, and I was just being paranoid. I made my way through the ball pit, kicking aside multi colored balls until finally I reached the exit. Lily was waiting for me outside.
“Where the hell have you been, we closed an hour ago?”
“I was looking for a boy.” I responded vacantly.
“What boy were you looking for?” She questioned me. Her eyes never left mine, I could tell by her expression that there had been no widespread mention of the missing boy.
“Two brothers went into the Fun House and only one came out.” I told her. “No one ever came by to check for him so I figured I’d do a sweep of the place before we closed down for the night.”
“Any sign of him?” Lily asked
“No, I didn’t see him anywhere, no lost shoe, no broken glasses. It’s like the boy simply disappeared. What if he got lost in those damn tunnels that we’re not allowed in? Or what if someone took him there.” I was throwing out every theory I could think of, and at the time most of them I will admit, sounded completely ridiculous.
“Justin,” Lily said slowly. “Calm down, I’m sure he just slipped past your radar and the parents found him. Besides, who would’ve taken him there anyways? Sparky? What reason would an actor have to do that.”
“That’s fair enough.” I sighed and I walked back with Lily to the break room and gathered my belongings to head out. Lily waved goodbye as I went out the same pale painted door that I entered and left every day. The door closed behind me and I started my car and headed home. Something about all of it didn’t feel right to me. I’m a curious person, once I latch myself onto a mystery or question I rarely am able to let it go unsolved and this time was no different.
A week passed and there was still no mention of Lucas, found or missing. So, on my lunch break I decided to call management about it, using one of the dial phones inside of the break room. They gave me the same static reply that I had assumed they would. That they had no information about any child going missing on the premises. And that if they ever found anything out that I would be the first to know.
“How the hell do they not hear about a missing kid?” I yelled, slamming the phone down and turning to meet Lily’s eyes.
“Justin, like I said last week, the parents probably found the kid before even making it up to the ticket booth so they didn’t bother to report it, it’s a cold case, just let it go.” Lily said, with that same logical tone that made me realize just how ridiculous of a notion I was truly pressing.
“You’re right.” I conceded “I should probably just stick to running roller coasters for the time being huh?”
“As brilliant of a mind as you have, I think it’s for the best.” Lily said as she stood up from the table she had been eating at and placed a warm hand on my shoulder. “That kid is okay, everything is okay.” and with that the conversation was over. I pushed aside my conspiracies and tried to stay focused on the job at hand.
Another week passed and nothing really happened. It was another hot day, and I stood in line waiting to go on the Tidal Mountain ride. I was in line with Lily, as we were both looking for a way to cool off during our break. The line wound up the large mountain that started the ride, and just as we managed to make our way to the front of the line, everything turned into a panic. A mother came barreling through the customers, screaming. I moved closer, to see what exactly was going on.
“My baby girl!” She wailed. “I can’t find my baby girl!. The woman’s frizzy blonde hair was a complete mess and her eyes were red with tears. Her voice cracked with each word as she tried to grab onto the ride attendant, Mark, with shaking hands.
“Calm down ma’am.” Mark started “Its going to be alright, we’ll find your daughter. Where did you last see her?”
“By that damn Fun House, Sparky said he wanted to show her a magic trick inside but they never came back!” The woman was in tears. In that instant my mind began racing. The Fun House had to be connected in some way, it was the only thing that linked both disappearances. Mark’s eyes met mine as he asked his next question.
“Did they ever go into the Fun House?” He asked.
“No, he was outside, wandering around and offered to show her a magic trick. I tried to go with him, but he insisted it was for children only and that adults would ruin the magic. He said it wouldn’t take long. His voice… it was low and deep, it was trustworthy yet mysterious. I shouldn’t have let Gracie go off on her own, but I thought the park was better than that! Who the hell is running around in those suits taking away little kids! They went behind a couple of buildings. There was a graffitied crown I believe on the wall of the building. I checked around back but there was no trace of her anywhere.“ The woman completely lost it and broke down, holding onto the thin fabric of Mark’s shirt. Mark redirected her to the ticket booth and had me cover while he took her. I was already moving pieces around in my mind, and I could tell by Lily’s expression on her shock ridden face, that she was too.
The next day I was at home in my bedroom, trying desperately to figure the few strands that I had, and tie them together to figure it out. It had to be the costume actors, but where were they taking the children, and why? It was a question that was damned from the start. Over the course of the next two weeks two more kids would disappear. Gregory Hawkins and Alice Jensen. That made four missing children, two girls and two boys. All four families told very similar stories. That’s when we started getting complaints.
The families of the missing children decided that they would not go quietly into the night, and each filed a lawsuit against the park. The park was facing extreme legal trouble, and I was stuck in the abysmal storm that had been created by the piling rumors.
As the summer reached its peak, patrons began to complain of foul smells coming from around the park. The pungent aroma was so bad that multiple guests had thrown up after just inhaling the toxic fumes once. The park smelled of death. We all chalked it up to dead animals most likely having found themselves victim to the various machines located in the engine rooms underneath the attractions.
Over the course of just a few days, the complaints went from bad to worse, and the majority of the complaints were coming from the Fun House. The Sparky suit apparently reeked of a putrid smell that caused the park to quarantine the attraction until we could figure out what exactly was wrong with it. The attraction however, never got the chance to re-open.
Lily and I were waiting out the remainder of our lunch break, speculating on what would happen to the park, and if some of us would be let go as the park slowly was drained of its assets. Our answer came when the same short, gray curly haired woman that had hired me came into the break room.
“The park is temporarily closing.” The woman stated. Her face was solemn, but her eyes showed brief flickers of fear. “You are all on unpaid leave until we are able to fight these cases and reopen. As of now the park doesn’t have the financial resources available to continue operation. At the end of the day you will all need to gather your personal affects and clean out your lockers. The park will contact you when we are ready to reopen. We know you understand.” And with that the small old lady turned and left just as quick as she came.
“Well that answers our questions I guess.” Lily laughed as she proposed a toast with her water cup. The rest of our fellow co workers all gathered around and toasted to the idea the unforeseen closing. Sure we would be out of a job, but most of us hated it there anyways and had been looking at other job offers for a while now.
The day seemed to speed by, and at the end Lily and I were alone in the break room. She gave me her home phone number, and promised to keep in touch. We said our goodbyes, and promised to hang out for the rest of the summer. One final hug was all that was shared before we both headed to our cars and left the premises. That should’ve been the last time we ever went there, but it wasn’t.
Two more weeks passed and there were still no updates on the park. It was during the late hours of the night that I sealed my own fate. My mind raced and I was determined to figure out just what had happened to the missing kids. I awoke in the middle of the night, sweating with a clear thought in my head. I had to go back.
I got up and dressed myself. The black denim of my pants slipped easily over my body as I grabbed a plain t-shirt off of my dresser. A black hoodie lay on my doorknob and I grabbed it as well, pulling it quickly over my shirt. The cold steel of the rings on my fingers woke me up as I opened my bedroom door and crept quietly down the hall and grabbed my car keys off of the kitchen table. I slipped outside into the cool midnight air and unlocked my car. I was determined to bring this case to a head, to bring closure for myself and for the families, who hadn’t seen their kids in weeks and were locked in a legal battle with a multi million dollar company that only seeked to profit off their tragedies.
I drove across town to a small house not far from the park itself. It was a happy little home, its vibrant exterior created a sense of familiarity as I found my way up onto the first roof of the building. It was Lily’s house. I peeked in through her window, she was fast asleep. I gently tapped on the thick glass three times until Lily finally awoke. In her groggy daze, she must’ve thought I was an intruder. Immediately she reached for a small knife on the edge of her dark oak dresser and brandished it in fear. After her eyes adjusted, she realized it was me.
“Justin?” Lily said “What the hell are you doing at my house in the middle of the night.”
“I couldn’t sleep.” I said as she opened the window and let me in. She was wearing an oversized t-shirt that I had given her when she had accidentally spilled wine on hers during a party at one of our co workers’ houses. “Lily, we have to go back. No one is there so we aren’t going to get caught, but I need to figure out what happened to those kids.”
“Justin, those kids are long gone, that happened weeks ago. Besides what the hell do you care about a bunch of random kids.” Lily responded as she fell over on her bed. I walked closer to her.
“I don’t know, but if I was missing, I’d want to be found too.” I said and the room went quiet.
“Fine,” She said, “But you’re driving.” She laughed as she punched me playfully on the arm. And with that I stepped outside of the window so that she could change and then we both climbed down off her roof and got into my car and we started our final drive, on the highway that literally would lead to hell.
The car ride there was eerily silent. We parked a few blocks down from the park, so that way if anyone was watching we wouldn’t be caught as easily. We walked the remaining few blocks and finally were face to face with the park. It’s facade was falling apart, the metal of the tall gates was weathered and rusted. Even the large statue of Sparky’s head that loomed over the entrance way that was now striped with neon yellow caution tape was in a state of disrepair. Rust formed around the eyes and the teeth. It seemed as though the park had aged one hundred years since we had been there. It felt like a lifetime ago.
We quickly scaled the fence under the cover of the glowing moonlight. It was a full moon that night, fitting for what was to come. The ticket booth looked long abandoned and grossly decayed. The once barely sturdy walls now were collapsing underneath their own weight. Nature had already begun to take back what was once theirs. Something wasn’t right, the decay had begun way too fast.
We didn’t let the aberrations of the place slow us down however. We walked slowly on the cracked pavement. Flowers and other forms of vegetation sprouted at our feet. The air was full of uncertainty as we made our way deeper into the park.
We must’ve passed a dozen attractions in complete silence, both of us ever observant of the warped atmosphere around us. Then Lily spotted something.
“There’s the manager’s office.” She said, pointing to a rusted door that sat just behind a few knocked over pinball machines. “Maybe there’s an entrance to the tunnels in there.” I stepped closer to the door and noticed that it was chained shut. A large metal chain wrapped itself around the ancient door and kept it locked in place with a large padlock keeping the chain from separating. I gave it a sturdy kick, but to no avail. Instead the chains rattled aggressively and then fell silent once again.
“Well shit.” I said dumbfounded. “There’s no way in hell that we’re gonna get that chain off without some sort of cutters.”
“Or.” Lily said as she bent down to grab an object near a toppled arcade game. “We could use this.” In her hand was a baseball sized rock with a sharp edge that jutted out. I let out a laugh and took the rock from her hand. It took only a few strikes with the rock before the chain gave away and fell to the ground leaving the door exposed. I pressed it opened, and the hinges screeched as if the door hadn’t been moved in decades.
The office inside was the same one that I had been interviewed in what seemed like forever ago. The water damage on the walls and the roof were now almost twice as bad. The room was dank and the air was musty. I nearly choked as I looked around. Overturned desks, chairs and strewn files polluted the already filthy room. In the corner was an overturned filing cabinet, most of its contents had already been ravaged. Most likely they had been taken by the executives, but why I wondered.
“Well.” Lily said “what exactly are we looking for? Because I highly doubt that if your crazy ideas about this place are true that they would leave the evidence behind.”
“We’re looking for anything to give us a clue as to what happened. We’re close to something I can feel it.” I replied, scanning the room as I approached the fallen file cabinet.
“I hope so, you better not have wasted my night by dragging me out to the abandoned hell hole Justin.” Lily teased as she began to search on the opposite side of the room from me.
I opened each of the filing cabinet’s drawers and began to leaf through the papers inside. Nothing at first really caught my eye. Most of the papers were just boring paperwork that had been filed for employees or for renovations. That’s when one paper caught my eye. Hidden at the back of the seemingly innocuous stack of papers was one part of the answer to a mystery larger than we could even imagine.
“Lily.” I said shocked as I read the words on the paper. She immediately stopped leafing through another set of papers at the other end of the room. She sat them down carefully and came over to me.
“What did you find?” She asked.
“It’s a letter from the town hall approving the creation of multiple tunnels under the park.” I said as I looked up to meet her eyes.
“Okay, it’s probably the mascot tunnels.” She said, confused.
“That’s where it gets interesting.” I said as I reached for a map of the park’s tunnels that was lying on the floor. “These blueprints from the letter and the official map of the tunnels don’t match up. Sure they have the same base, but these blueprints show that there are more tunnels than what is on the official map. Secret tunnels deep within the already existing tunnels. All the hidden tunnels seem to link up here.” I pointed to the map. There was a small room on the new blueprints, one in which every new tunnel led to.
“This is so much bigger than we thought Lily.” I said as I stood up. My hands were shaking as the rings on my middle and ring finger clinked together. “They knew about the kids, they had to. That’s why they left so damn fast after the shutdown. Because they didn’t want their operation to be exposed. If we want our answers then we’re going to have to go to the heart of it.”
“We should enter the tunnels from the Fun House, it’s the closest. I don’t want to be down there any longer than we have to.” Lily said as she read the map carefully “Justin are you sure you want to do this?”
“Yes, I need answers.” I said as I tried my best to mentally prepare myself for what I may find in the deep underbelly of the park.
“But why do you need answers? You have no relationship to any of the victims, hell you didn’t even know these kids. So why do you care so much about figuring out what happened to them?” Lily questioned me as she crossed her arms and waited for me to respond.
I stared vacantly at her, lost in my thoughts for just a moment before my brain finally brought itself back to reality.
“You didn’t see the look on that kid’s face whenever he told me he lost his brother. He was scared, Lily. Like the internally freaking out kind of scared, and I guess I feel responsible for it. The kid went into the attraction I was operating. The one that I was supposed to keep safe. I mean I practically ushered that kid to his death, or worse.” I croaked as I fought to keep my tear ducts closed. “It’s the same thing that happened with my little brother, Sam. I was supposed to be watching him but I went to a stupid party. I brought Sam with me and let him go off on his own while I went to drink with my friends. I don’t remember much of that night, but I remember having a deep gut-wrenching feeling that something horrible had happened. It’s the same feeling I felt when that kid told me his brother was missing. The next morning mom came to pick me up because she had heard from the neighbors where I had been spotted getting picked up along with my little brother. She asked me where he was and screamed at me when I told her I didn’t know. The next week they found Sam in a ditch on the far side of town, mutilated. I mean they tore his fucking throat out and left a broken beer bottle in its place. He was only 10 years old, it would’ve been his birthday next weekend.”
Surprisingly I found myself unable to cry. Lily stepped forward and hugged me as she whispered into my ear.
“I’m so sorry.” She kept saying. “Oh my God I’m so sorry.” She let go of me and for a brief moment in the glowing moonlight it seemed that everything was going to be okay.
The park was eerily quiet as we made our way closer and closer to the Fun House. Looking at the decayed attractions I could see my childhood memories now distorted in front of me. I could see the first ride I ever took Sam on. Deep down I finally realized just why I had even taken this job in the first place. It was because of Sam. The Ferris Wheel tilted slightly off of its axis, seeming close to collapse at any second. The pavement at our feet was cracked and slowly being reclaimed by nature. The path forked and we made our way down Clown’s Alley.
The fake city set pieces looked surprisingly convincing in the moonlight. Rows of open shops and carnival games set up along the false street. The street lamps flickered ominously while we shined our flashlight’s beams into the growing darkness. I don’t know what I was looking for, but whatever it was, I didn’t find it. Finally we stopped in front of the same damn red and white entrance tunnel where it had all begun. The clown face of Sparky painted above seemed to smile with a devilish intent as I stepped inside. Lily was close behind me.
The spinning of the tunnel had stopped what seemed to be a lifetime ago now. The colors had faded out, and cobwebs now were hung in almost every crevasse. Insects crawled in the debris at our feet as we stomped our way onward.
Inside the bean bag room immediately I noticed something. All of the hanging bags had been torn open.
“What the hell were they hiding in those.” I wondered aloud as I pushed the once brightly colored bag aside as its rope finally gave way to its own weight and fell at my feet. The bags hadn’t just been torn open, I realized, they had been bitten open. Some creature with sharp and ravenous teeth had come in and ripped through each of the bags in a crude manner.
“Something tells me that it wasn’t the raccoons that came digging around in here.” Lily said, her expression and demeanor seemed to change. She was afraid.
Finally we found ourselves in the main stage room. It seemed to be frozen in time. Not a single prop was out of place. The navy curtain hung elegantly over a now empty stage. Balloons were tied to each of the chairs, all still neatly lined in rows facing the stage. Off to the side of the stage was that same, solid metal door that I had seen during my first time in here.
“Alright.” I said as I turned to face Lily. “Are you ready for this?”
“I’m as ready as I’m ever gonna be.” She replied and with that she stepped forward and twisted the handle. The handle creaked as it turned, and the heavy metal door finally swung open, and revealed the awaiting darkness. There was a silence for a brief moment, until something stepped forward from the darkness. It was a shadowy figure, tall and lanky. Then in an instant the figure was on top of Lily, shrieking as it dragged her away into the darkness of the tunnels. I was paralyzed from fear as I watched motionless, while my friend was dragged away from me. I didn’t even get a good look at it. I should have turned back right then and ran away back to the safety of my home, but I didn’t. Instead I pushed it all aside. My adrenaline got the best of me as I picked up my fallen flashlight and darted into the tunnels after them.
After a while of running I ran out of breath, so I slowed to a walk. The tunnels around me were damp and oxygen was suffocatingly scarce. The flashlight’s timid beam provided my only vision. There wasn’t much to look at however. Large metal pipes lined the top of the tunnel, still gushing with fluids. The map in my hand was my only way of navigating. I kept my breaths quiet, desperate not to attract whatever thing had just taken Lily. I had to think logically if I wanted to keep myself from ending up dead.
My best guess was that the figure had taken Lily to the hidden room, in fact that was where all of the pipes in the tunnels seemed to be leading. If I wanted any chance of finding her alive, that would be where I needed to go. That also meant I would most likely have to come face to face with whatever the hell that figure was again. I didn’t have a plan for that quite yet, and I wasn’t sure if I ever would. Finally after walking for what seemed like hours in foot deep water, I had made it.
A large door stood before me, chained shut. The sign to the side of the door said “Character Costume Room – Employees Only.” I shined the flashlight’s beam around in the dark tunnel, desperately looking for anything to use to break the chains. There was nothing, not a single piece of debris or lonesome stone to be found. I sighed and realized what I had to do. I raised the flashlight overhead and smashed it down into the chains. Three strikes was all it took until the chains finally gave away and fell before my feet. The light in the flashlight flickered one last time then went out, leaving me alone in the darkness.
I felt around until I found the cold steel of the door handle and pushed it open. The door groaned as it opened. I stepped forward into the pitch black, expecting to quickly be pounced on just as Lily had been, but to my surprise, nothing came. I ran my hand along the wall, tracing each crack as I tried to find a light switch. My heart pounded inside my chest as my fingers finally found the switch. I flipped it on and immediately a flickering row of lights came alive.
The room illuminated as I looked around. It took my eyes a moment to adjust to the light. “Maybe I was wrong” I thought to myself as I stared in disbelief. Inside the room was nothing out of the ordinary. Shelves lined the walls with various character heads and costumes stockpiled on them. Each character from the park was there. Sparky, Pandemonium, hell even the unnamed jester costume was down here. I walked over to one of the Sparky masks on the shelf. It’s eyes were still covered with a thin layer of black cloth to cover the wearer’s eyes. The same demonic painted smile was duplicated along the dozens of masks. This one however was the only one that was tilted. I picked up the head to examine it, flipping it over as I grabbed it.
I took a look inside, and what I saw made my blood run cold. Ginger strands of curly hair were poking out of the mask. I immediately dropped the mask. It hit the ground with a hard thud, and as it did the head of a small boy with curly red hair rolled out onto the floor in front of me. I stared in disbelief.
“Lucas” my voice broke as I backed up away from the fallen mask. The boy’s eyes were vacant, with nothing but the white of them still showing. His face was turning a sick pale green. I could tell that rigor mortis had already begun to set in. I wanted to scream but my mouth couldn’t make noise. I wanted to throw up but instead I just gagged. Then I saw one of the suits in the corner move. It was only a twitch, and instinctively I ran towards it, hoping that my suspicion of who was under the suit wasn’t right.
The suit was a jester’s costume, the vibrant colors of the soft material seemed to dull in the flickering light. The mask was white, other than it’s hat which had long tendrils sprouting from it with bells tied securely on the end of each one. I removed the mask only to once again be frozen in horror. It was Lily, barely alive, blood dripping from her mouth. Her eyes met mine and she coughed, sending blood onto my jacket.
“I’m going to get you out of here, just hold on Lily.” I said as I desperately tried to find the zipper of the suit. My mind was frantic as I searched.
“No…. point.” She groaned as she extended her arm towards me. I grabbed the soft material and looked at her.
“No, no, no don’t say that Lily. I got you into this mess. I’m not going to let you die in here.” I said
“Justin…behind you.” She muttered as she stared into my eyes, and suddenly I could tell her eyes were no longer seeing. They were blank, and her head slumped over to the side.
“No, dammit!” I yelled as I slammed my fist into a shelf. Mascot heads rolled off onto the already cluttered floor. “Wait, behind me?” I realized and I turned around. There in front of me stood a hollow suit, towering over me. It was a Sparky costume. It’s same painted smile I had become so accustomed to over the summer was now staring blankly into my eyes. The multicolored suit it wore was faded and torn. Then the suit began to talk.
“Hello, Justin,” the suit said, “ Do you want to see a magic trick?” The suit took a step closer and extended out its hand to me. Claws had begun to sprout from the fingers of the gloves it was wearing. Suddenly the creature lunged forward and reached for Lily’s lifeless body, still trapped inside of the suit.
“I’m going to make her head come off.” The creature’s terrible, raspy voice echoed in the small room. A horrible ripping sound tore through the air followed by the gushing on blood. Sparky stood staring at me, Lily’s head in his hands as the blood dripped silently on the ground, forming a puddle of blood.
Staring at the decrepit suit I could tell that whatever was inside that suit wasn’t human. Sparky lunged at me, screaming as he slashed at my torso. Blood leaked from the fresh wound as I grabbed my side to stop the bleeding and ran. I kicked the door open and the rusted metal finally gave away as it fell to the ground with a thud. My feet carried me as I raced through the pitch black tunnels, as I powered on Lily’s flashlight I had picked up in the costume room. The light flickered on and I tried desperately in my head to remember the tunnel’s patterns.
I could hear the creature behind me, the soft yet heavy thud of the costumes feet echoed close behind me. Water splashed onto my jeans and shirt leaving me soaked. I turned down a side tunnel and kept sprinting, but my stamina was decreasing fast. I could feel myself losing speed, the costumes footsteps growing louder and louder by the second. I killed the light on the flashlight and ducked in between two pipes off to the side of the wall. I wedged myself in between them and closed my eyes as I counted the seconds. I had never been a very religious person, but I prayed to God that somehow the creature wouldn’t find me here. I could hear its staggered breathing as I held my breath to keep silent. It walked directly past me, and I could smell a foul rotting smell as it passed.
I waited a few minutes before standing up and booking it the opposite direction of Sparky. My chest burned as my lungs screamed for oxygen. The fading light of my flashlight illuminated the dark tunnel. My legs ached as I made the final stretch towards the exit door. I crashed into it and fell to the ground as I slammed my fists against the door.
Suddenly I could hear the pounding of the mascot’s footsteps again as I began kicking with every ounce of strength in my body. Finally the door busted open, and the chain that locked it from the outside had broken and fallen. I made it out and immediately closed the door behind me, sticking a piece of rebar in the handle to hold it in place. I was by the Sky Screamer ride. Thank God I knew the place as well as I did, if I hadn’t I may not have been able to escape. I immediately located the nearest exit gate and booked it, hearing the door behind me finally give way to the superhuman strength of whatever was inside that suit.
I made it to the fence and began to climb, the creature still pursuing me closely. Just as I was about to swing my second foot over the fence I felt a cold hand clamp my ankle. I looked down and looked into the suit’s hollow eyes. There was something inside, two glowing white lights, small and faint in the eye sockets. I could see the outline of the creature’s skull, matte black and hideously deformed. I kicked desperately as the creature tugged at my leg and clamped its jaw around my foot. Pain shot through me as I lifted the flashlight and shined it directly into the creature’s eyes. The light seemed to blind it and it lost its grip, falling hard onto the pavement.
I fell onto the other side, finally free from the park and struggled to pick myself up. I limped with my bleeding foot, trying my best to get the hell away from the creature. It stood there, frozen in time trapped within the confines of the amusement park, staring. Its hollow eyes never left mine as I struggled to get away. With each step I took, pain rocketed through my body but I knew if I stopped it would catch me.
Finally I made it to my car and unlocked it. It was a miracle that my keys had stayed in my pocket the entire time. I drove home in silence trying to process the hell that I had just been through. I had led Lily to her death, the guilt was festering inside me, eating me alive. To this day, I still don’t think I’m over it. That’s the kind of thing that stays with you for the rest of your life.
Inside my room I kept reliving the night’s events. None of it made sense. I had to expose the park, but I had to do so in a way that didn’t incriminate myself. The police surely wouldn’t believe the truth. That truth being that some form of creature had been using the park as its own personal hunting grounds. And the fact that the company had known about it, and had let it feed on the youth of our town.
I knew that when the police searched it, the only DNA that would be found inside those damn tunnels would be my own, incriminating me as the killer. Unfortunately for me, I had no time to prepare a cover story. Within two days, Lily was officially declared a missing person. Search parties began looking for her, but I couldn’t bear to join them. The guilt was still there, eating me alive as I tried to think of a way to fix the nightmare that I was still trapped in.
After a week of listening to the search efforts, I decided that I didn’t want Lily to die in vain. I wanted her family to have closure. So I joined the search party and told them that Lily had mentioned something about needing to go back to retrieve some personal effects she had forgotten in the park. The police decided that they would have to investigate this lead alone as it was private property. Without any of the company’s members being anywhere to be seen, there was no resistance when they arrived. They swept the entire place, finding the tunnels only at the last minute.
After the raid the officers seemed vacant as they came out. They refused to answer questions and immediately went back to the station to report their findings. The only thing they released to the public was that the bodies had been found, and that the families had been notified of the details. Every family of the missing packed up and moved almost instantly, leaving the town in a panic. No one knew what was in that police file, and looking back I think it would’ve been better if it would’ve remained confidential.
I couldn’t rest however, so during the late hours of the night, only a week after the investigation I found myself standing outside of the police station with a crowbar in my hand. It only took a few swings to bust the lock off of the wooden door so that I could make my way inside. I was quick as I scanned through hundreds of different case files all lined alphabetically in the cabinet. It only took me a brief moment to find a file with the label “Sparky’s Massacre”. I looked inside only to find Polaroid photos of the missing children, mutilated. It was even worse than I had seen in the costume room. Two of the children, Alice and Gregory, were so badly bludgeoned that their faces were unrecognizable to the photos that had been in the newspaper.
I stumbled back in shock. A photo of Lily’s severed head laying in a puddle of blood was the last photo in the file. I nearly vomited at the sight of my deceased friend. I raised my camera and took photos of the Polaroids and the written document. It was a stupid decision but I reasoned that everyone should know the truth, as the newspaper had never clarified a cause of death. I left the police station in a hurry as I sprinted my way down the block to the newspaper office. I left my photos in the drop box and left in a hurry, making sure not to be seen.
I guess the editor at the paper found my photos, as the next day those photos were on every tabloid in town. The townspeople grew angry, angry at the corruption that had claimed the lives of so many innocent people. The mayor was forced to step down, but no matter who would take the mantle, it was clear that the damage done was irreversible. Our town’s image had been forever stained by the atrocities committed.
That was almost ten years ago now. I came back to visit my parents, and I’m currently staying in my childhood. To be honest I had almost forgotten about everything, until I found that damn plushie at the back of my closet. It was still in perfect condition, not a single tear to be seen. But when I inspected it closer the next day, that’s when I noticed the changes. The plushie reeked of death, and I swear it winked at me. I tried throwing it away but it keeps coming back. Then today the plushie was holding a watch. The face slowly counting down the hours until midnight tonight. I know that when the countdown hits zero, I won’t have much longer to live. That’s why I’m writing this now on my father’s typewriter while listening to the monotone clicking of the watch. It still remembers who I am, and it won’t rest until it kills me.
Credit : WillFable
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