Have you ever felt your whole existence pivot around a single idea? An idea that starts as nothing, a mere passing thought, one of thousands experienced every day. An idea that returns to your stream of consciousness with increasing frequency. You think it’ll fade with time, as everything eventually does. But this one doesn’t. It festers. Grows. It becomes ever present in your mind, slowly chipping away at your priorities, your passions, your life until it is the only remaining thing you care about. There is nothing else left, only this single idea, and there’s one thing you can do about it.
I don’t remember when I first saw the image. I don’t remember where it came from either. This should bother me after everything that has happened, but it doesn’t. I think it was a long time ago, but honestly, I’m not totally sure. Everything has become so clouded and distant since then. My sense of time has been warped and I haven’t been lucid for quite some time. I remember how it made me feel though. An intoxicating sense of nostalgia and familiarity crossed with dread and mystery. A feeling that further seduced my mind each time I saw it.
The image was grainy, in a dark area where most of the illumination seemed to be product of the camera flash. A wall loomed of chlorine-stained tiles in a baby blue and dull turquoise checkerboard pattern. Below was a white pit with rough edges, the bottom of which was not visible in the photograph. Two circular tubes protruded from the wall, with the bottom lip jutting out over the pit. At one point in time, they were the end of bright orange and blue waterslides, launching visitors into the water below. Now they were faded. Dull shadows of what they once were, clearly untouched by water for many seasons.
They looked alien, designed for a singular purpose, and without that purpose they lost all meaning for existence. It me feel like I was there before, perhaps in a dream, or a long-lost childhood memory. Perhaps in another life, another existence. It was intoxicating, but only mildly at first. I would find myself sitting, gazing into nothing, and daydreaming about that place. About what it looked like in its prime, about what the rest of the waterpark might look like, about where the picture may have been taken. At first only occasionally, but like with many addictions, the frequency in which this image invaded my thought grew quickly. First a curiosity, then it was a hobby. I know it sounds weird for an image to be a hobby, but it was what it was. I would spend my spare time staring this singular photograph or thinking about it.
I had other priorities. Priorities that I think I once cared a lot about. But they all melted away, one after the other. It wasn’t hard to let go of them, at least I don’t remember it being hard, they were just gone one day, their place in my mind replaced by the two waterslides. I can no longer say what, or who those priorities were. They’re just too distant, a mere dream of a dream. My mind was on one thing and one thing only. The two waterslides were calling to me, and I wanted to find them.
I remember the day I decided to leave. I packed what I could into a small suitcase and just left. I left everything behind and didn’t look back. Initially I had some notion of returning, once I found my goal and freed my mind, but after a while it became clear that I wouldn’t know where to return to. My journey was long. I didn’t have any information to go off of other than the image itself. I didn’t even know if I was looking for a place in my own country. But I had a car, some money, and all the time and dedication in the world.
I started with a very extensive list of potential candidates in the US. In my singular devotion to this task, I had researched dozens of abandoned waterparks in tourist ghost towns. Places that were once frequent attractions in the 80’s and 90’s that soon fell off in the 21st century. I also had added many places which weren’t abandoned, but rather just looked unrenovated and decrepit. Unfortunately, resorts that had gone defunct before the 2000’s often had little online record, and it was clear my list was not comprehensive. I had to start somewhere though.
One by one my list got shorter. Most places I knew were wrong as soon as I arrived. I knew those slides more than I knew anything in the world, and waterslides are almost always visible from the outside of the building. Shooting out the side of the building, snaking, and looping in wild turns, and then returning inside at a lower elevation. If my intuition told me a place was wrong, I trusted it and moved on. If I didn’t see a faded orange and blue waterslide returning inside in tandem, I would move on without looking back.
Other places were less obvious though, and I quickly became skilled in the art of breaking and entering abandoned sites. I would scope out the site during the day and plan my entrance, then returning under the cover of nightfall.
Most times it was quick and easy. Often the only thing protecting these places from the outside world was a simple padlock or two which are easy to pick with practice. On a few occasions I had to bust a window, but usually these places were abandoned long enough that the job was already done for me. I had the occasional close call with a security guard or cop, but I was never arrested. I was too careful and always fast, in and out as soon as I saw what I needed to see. Besides, I couldn’t get arrested, I had a purpose to fulfil.
I slept in my car whenever I could. I needed to conserve money; my savings were only getting smaller. However, I was sparing and able to make it last. My only expenses were gas, food (mostly canned), my cell phone plan, and the occasional motel room when the weather was too cold or severe to spend the night in my sedan. I spend my nights scouring the internet, tuning my list, and deciding where to check next. I don’t know how long this routine lasted, like I said time doesn’t really hold a whole lot of meaning for me anymore. I do remember seasons passing. I think there were multiple winters, but I couldn’t say for sure.
The beginning of the end came when I was driving through the winding roads of smoky mountains after my most recent dead end. My list of likely candidates was running out, and soon I would have to expand my search internationally. I was prepared and willing to do this, but it would be far more of a challenge. I had enough money left for maybe a handful of plane tickets, but there was no way I could afford to rent a car abroad long term. I had researched of dozens of possible candidates in Europe, China, and Vietnam, but I couldn’t lie to myself about the complications of traveling abroad. Regardless, I would do what I needed to do when the time came. But for now, I needed to find somewhere to stop and rest for the night. It was past midnight and the next destination on my list was still a day’s drive away.
I took the next exit and began surveying the area for a place to park my car for the night undisturbed. It wasn’t going to be a difficult task; I was in the middle of nowhere. The dim light of an indistinct gas station a fair distance down the road loomed in the distant. A tattered aluminum sign with a handful of bullet holes indicated there was a town a few miles off the exit, the name of which I no longer recall. The road was gravel, and given a few years undisturbed, looked like it would have been overtaken by the surrounding wilderness.
I pulled into the gas station to refuel and use the facilities if they were available. At one point it had been a Shell, but the dimly glowing sign was so faded you wouldn’t know it unless you really looked. The structure was more of a gas hut than a building, dull and dilapidated. The roof was flat and had begun caving in on itself. Once a place of business, now fading away into the grips of time and neglect.
There were pumps, all illuminated by dim fluorescent lights. Three of them were missing the hose and nozzle and had neon yellow tape in a large X covering the front of the pump. I pulled up to the fourth one and stepped out of my car. Hanging over the keypad was a small, laminated sign with the phrase “cash only, pay inside”. I thought I was out of luck since the parking lot was empty, but when I glanced at the gas hut again, I noticed the dim silhouette of a person inside. I remember this frightening me, as I could’ve sworn that the building itself looked dark when I first pulled in. However, I then observed a small motorcycle propped up against the side of the hut which was previously masked by the shadow of the surrounding forest.
I felt a good deal of uncharacteristic apprehension about going inside. Normally I had nothing but full dedication to my singular purpose, acting without doubt or hesitation. But here, something inside of me was pulling in the opposite direction. Something instinctual that told me not to continue forward. That I could turn around and leave, forget about the waterslide, forget about my purpose, and start new. This was the first time I felt this way since I set off on my quest. It was also the last time.
I almost listened to my instinct. I remember getting back into my car. I remember pulling out of the parking lot and driving away in the opposite direction as fast as I possibly could. I remember the dimly lit sign getting smaller and smaller in my rearview window. But after that all I can remember opening the doors of the gas hut and walking in. The gravity of the call would not be resisted.
The gas hut seemed even smaller on the inside than it was on the outside. There was a small cooler with various beverage in it, all obscure off-brand ones which I had never heard of before. Beside it was shelf with a dozen or so bags of chips and a few candy bars, all equally as generic as the drinks. Behind the front counter was a moderate selection of cigarettes and a rack of colorful brochures.
There was a man behind the counter, but he had absolutely no distinguishing features whatsoever. I seriously cannot recall a single detail about his physical appearance. He never spoke a word to me either. I just handed him $40, and he completed the transaction, silent and avoiding all eye contact. He grabbed my receipt followed by a brochure from the rack and handed them to me.
“What’s this?”, I asked, slightly startling myself with my own voice which was so rarely used.
He had no reaction to my question. Didn’t even meet my eyes. Just kept his head down and stared blankly into the counter. I took a more careful look at the front of the brochure and my heart stopped. It was for an indoor waterpark called Aqua River Rapids. Many slides and amenities were plastered across the front in a mosaic of blurry photos. And on the bottom were those two waterslides which I would recognize before anything else in the world.
I remained standing in front of the counter gawking at the piece of paper in front of me for what felt like minutes. This was also the first time seeing a photo of the slides where they didn’t look abandoned. They were rapidly flowing with water and the pit below was a pool filled to the brim. It took hold of my very being and shocked me to my core. It had been my singular purpose for so long and never had a single lead before paid off. Waterpark after waterpark, failure after failure and now this. This was it, there was not a single doubt in my mind. They were calling to me. They were finally ready to let me in.
I flipped the brochure to its back side and on it was nothing but a single sentence in bold black text.
YOU ARE ALREADY HERE
In that moment the world around me began to fall away. As if reality itself was a thin sheet of tissue paper struck by an array of sparks. Slowly at first, small pieces of my surroundings were being consumed by an invisible flame. It steadily accelerated in speed as the holes grew larger and larger. Soon enough, the man behind the counter began to disappear, and the remainder of hut was quickly swallowed into nothingness. Within moments the gas pumps and parking lot followed, then the surrounding forest and road, and then the mountains and sky. I closed my eyes and waited for death to take me.
Death didn’t come though. I remained, standing upright and alone in the void. I took a breath, taking care to feel the muscles in my chest expand and contract. I felt air flowing through my nostrils. I took a few more breaths. The air felt normal, breathable. There was a subtly dank and familiar smell around me. Then I heard the unmistakable howl of gusting wind.
I opened my eyes. I was in … a parking garage? That was my immediate thought at least, but it wasn’t quite right. There weren’t any cars, nor any lines on the ground to indicate parking spaces. Thick concrete pillars characteristic of parking garages were everywhere, but they were scattered about in seemingly randomly. There was no pattern or discernable reason for their placement. In front of me were two large ramps, one going down to the level below and one to the level above. They were incredibly steep at what looked to be a 45-degree angle, likely impossible for most cars to climb.
I started walking towards the nearest edge so I could see the surrounding outside environment. I approached the edge, leaned over it, and peered downward. Immediately I was struck with a sensation of extreme vertigo. This parking garage was impossibly tall. I mean no hyperbole. This structure was so tall that there was no way it could physically exist. Below was level after level after level of parking garage at infinitum. The ground was just barely in sight, only visible due to the complete and uncanny lack of fog or visible atmosphere. I spun myself around and gazed upward. The parking garage continued into the sky with no end in sight. The surrounding area was almost completely empty. Not a single elevation change nor natural landform. Only bright green grass and dozens, no, hundreds of empty roads stretching out aimlessly in every direction to the horizon.
There was no sense or purpose to any of it. Each individual piece of it was of human design, but none of it fit together in any coherent way. Like a dream but with all the vivid details and lucidity that a dream normally lacks. And it was all so empty. There was not a single object in sight that was separable from the ground or the architecture of the “parking” structure.
I begin walking along the ledge of the parking garage, looking out into the distance for any sign of life or meaning. It was incredibly windy by the edge and my instincts told me to take a few steps back, but I simply couldn’t. I was transfixed by the scale of it all. I hit the corner and turned left, now with a view of a different direction. A new, larger, and far more magnificent building came into view. It was directly adjacent, and clearly connected to the parking garage view a thin walkway. The building was rectangular and beige in color and had no windows. But jutting out of the sides were faded neon tubes stretching out in every possible direction.
These were unmistakably waterslides. A piece of human architecture that when attached to a building can mean one thing and one thing only. They shot outward from the building to impossibly far distances, making wide turns followed by tight loops. They would intersect and wrap around each other in knots and spirals. Red and yellow, pink and purple, … blue and orange. It was like this all the way up and down the building, with far too many to comprehend much less count. None of them had any sort of structural support, they were only connected to the building in two places. Where the tube comes out and where it goes back in.
Some of them were semi-cylindrical, where the top was open, and the rider would be exposed to the elements. As I got closer to this building it became clear that these slides did not have any water in them, but they were stained and faded in such a way that it obvious they once did. There are no words to I can write which can fully describe the magnitude, the beauty, the horror of it all. I didn’t understand it. I didn’t understand how it could be possible. I didn’t understand why anyone, or anything would create such a place. But I did understand I had reached my destination. It had been calling me, and I had finally arrived.
I finished making my way to the edge adjacent to the waterpark. The water was maybe about a quarter mile or so away from the parking garage. Down maybe 20 or so levels from where I stood was a lone, thin, concrete walkway enclosed in glass. This was the only visible connection between the two buildings.
So, I proceeded with the only path forward. I made my way downward, one level at a time. This was a slow process as the ramps were steep and difficult to traverse without losing my footing. But I was invigorated by being so close to the finish line, so close to achieving my final purpose, and before I knew it I had reached the level of the walkway.
A faded sign hung at the top of the walkway which had the name Aqua River Rapids in big bubble letters. The tunnel was square with the bottom half being made of the same style concrete as the parking garage and the top being crystal clear glass. A faint but distinct hum was emitting from deep inside. With little hesitation, I began my walk through the tunnel. The howl of the wind began to die off as the faint hum slow grew into a low roar. By the time I reached the entrance of the waterpark it had become a bellow.
The bellow wasn’t loud in the traditional, deafening manner, but rather in a way that vibrated insides. It was as if it was piercing its way into my very being. With every step I took the pull to keep moving forward grew stronger. The memories, the meaning, the logic of the world I left behind grew distant. My stream of consciousness became drowned out, suffocated by the call which had found me so long ago.
The inside of the building was equally as stunning outside. There were not multiple floors to this waterpark, rather one massive open area. There were balconies hugging the side of the wall up and down the mega-structure on all sides. Each balcony held the entrance or ending for one or more slides. Balconies were connected by thin staircases, but these connections were wild and random. Some staircases connected two balconies close to each other, others would connect balconies incredibly far apart, and yet others didn’t seem to be connected to anything at all.
It was clear now that the bellow from down below, and I knew that this was the direction I needed to head. It would be a long journey to the bottom, but there was no longer any doubt in my mind that I would make it there. I let the call reach even further inside of me than it had before, taking control of me, the movements I made were no longer being fully my own. I started with walking down one set of stairs, followed by another, and another, and another, and another. The paths down were branching, but I which paths I needed to take.
In several instances I would reach a dead-end of stairs, the only way forward would be through the slides. There was no water in any of them, so it was an uncomfortable and arduous process traversing through them. They would go on for what felt like miles, winding, and looping with stiff drops and steep climbs. Most of them were pitch black and I felt like I was crawling through the darkness for hours on end.
I did not grow tired, with each step downwards the bellow would grow stronger and my resolve to make it to the bottom grew stronger with it. I do not know how long this journey took. Perhaps hours, perhaps days, perhaps longer. I was no longer restrained by the bounds the previous world held my body to. Feelings of hunger or fatigue were only memories at this point, becoming more and more distant with each passing step. With my consciousness fully surrendered to the call, this was when time lost all meaning. The only thought in my mind was that I must descend downward until there is nowhere else to descend to.
I reached bottom. The walls at the bottom were covered with chorine-stained tiles in a baby blue and dull turquoise checkerboard pattern. There was a pit which had once been a pool extended across most of the floor. Feeding into the pit were two waterslides. One orange. One blue. They were faded. Dull shadows of what they once were, clearly untouched by water for many seasons.
But something was still flowing out of those slides. Not water, but a bellow, a roar, a call. A call which was now singing harmoniously with every cell of my body. A call that was so powerful it broke through the walls of reality and into my mind. And I am not the only one here.
The ground of the pool is not visible. Not because it was too deep, but rather because it was covered with bodies. Hundreds of people, all sitting perfectly still, cross legged, staring up into the slides. The people are of all ethnicities, some are mere children while others are elderly. I do not know if they are alive or dead. I do not know if I am alive or dead. I suspect the answer lies somewhere in between.
So now I am here at the end of my quest, purpose fulfilled. I have joined others now. I will rest with peace and contentment without regret. The call had brought me here without compromise and now there is nowhere else left for me to go. I will become one small piece of a much greater being.
As I sit here and reflect on my journey, I can feel my thoughts transcending from my physical form. I believe the call is strengthened through us who sit here. We are conduits to the old world, the other reality, reaching into the minds of those who will accept us. And if my story reaches anyone out there, anyone left behind in a world full of sorrow and pain, I implore you to please, heed the call of the two waterslides!
Credit: Cursed Comstock
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