It was one surreal visual after another.
The rust and decay had infected the amusement park, too. Streaks of red and orange crept up against the metal construction of the rides and attractions, eating at them, then growing to consume more. It had taken over like a parasite. There was nothing amusing to be found, here.
But, it wasn’t just that, it wasn’t just the rust. At least that was natural, an expected outcome after years of neglect and abandonment. There was the unnatural, as well. The uncanny. Rust and decay made it a husk, but that only gave room for something else to be filled in.
Shrouds, hanging from different parts of the main path of the park, lined up in even intervals, like elaborate decorations. Mostly white, but blots of red and black seeped through the material, giving them a soddened look. A slight sway in the light breeze, dangled by rope tied around one end.
Bundles of blankets. And by how they rested or fell into place, they looked like bodies.
Just the smell alone was enough to confirm it. Stale, but sweet.
They’re literally stringing people up.
There was more here, too, more ugliness, but I wasn’t exactly given the luxury to take my time and peruse around.
I was immediately shot at when I stepped into the amusement park.
Bullets whizzed past my head as I went to find cover. I only managed to get a quick scan of my surroundings before I had to move, taking in as much detail as possible. So striking, it burned deep into my mind’s eyes from just a small look. I didn’t see the RV, though. It had gone elsewhere, probably deeper into the park.
I pushed my shoulder into the side of a ticket booth, staying low, using it for cover. The shots kept coming.
Breathing was hard.
Running and jumping, the loud sounds and the fact I was being shot at, it all added to make me want to feel rattled and shaken. Taken aback. It was hard to keep that feeling at bay and keep myself in check. I hated it all, really. Being here, having to do this, grabbing all the pieces I could while everything started to fall apart. Because I knew I wouldn’t be able to get all of those pieces back. I wouldn’t be able to save everyone.
But I had priorities. And I could not lose that. Them.
I had to save Sarah and Isabella. Tone. And as many of the other people in that trailer as possible.
It fucking killed me that I wouldn’t be able to save them all. Olivia and her father.
The shots kept coming, and my hands were shaking.
I wanted to call D. I couldn’t do this by myself. I could feel myself being tugged in so many different directions, threatening to tear me apart.
The seeds of doubt were only digging deeper roots.
And even just catching a glimpse of the spiraling, surreal visuals drove the point deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper-
A bullet bounced by a corner of the booth, by my head, and I screamed. Like I was admitting it to the world.
I was doing so well before. Why was I starting to fall apart now?
Couldn’t stay here, I couldn’t stay down. I’d have to get on the offensive, or move myself into a position where I could. The queen, who was able to take any square and maneuver in any way they pleased, no matter who was in their way. I had to emulate that, I had to be that.
I was that.
The shots began to peter off, then they stopped entirely. Were they out of ammo? Or were they just assessing the damage, wondering if they had gotten me at all.
I don’t even know who these people are.
Didn’t matter. They were in my way, and I needed to take them out. No matter what.
It was my turn to move.
Jumping to my feet, I ran across my side of the ticket booth, going around so I was heading in the direction of the nearest ride, instead of going straight, towards all the people with the guns. I didn’t let the silence stretch, I’d take my turn, my chance, and see if I could wrestle an advantage out of this.
Some shots tried to follow me, but they missed. It was easier to keep myself calm, in check, when I was running, forcing my mind and body to move. A distraction, in a way, though I was just really trying to stay diligent.
I ducked underneath a tent. It was small, the ride itself being small. Being so close to the entrance, it was probably designed for younger kids, something that wouldn’t make the longest of lines while being an option for those who couldn’t handle the more intense rides that were probably deeper in the park. I hopped over velvet rope that guided the lines, and hopped out of the way of ropes that came down from the underside of the tent, tide. More bodies.
They couldn’t have done these to all of my people. Not enough time.
These bodies had been here.
I ignored the ugly realization and pressed forward. Pushed it out of my mind.
I made it past all the ropes, then ducking and diving under and over the coiling metal that made up the kiddie ride. It wasn’t the most elaborate of constructions, and I made it out of the tangle and was back out in the open, but I was alone this time. I was out of sight of the mob I had pushed back into the park.
I could hear the rumble of the engines, the nondescript shoutings. They were pulling back even more into the park, but that didn’t necessarily mean anything good. I remembered the other half of the mob. They had retreated enough to regroup and get their bearings again, because I knew for a fact that they weren’t expecting me when I ambushed their ambush. For them, their whole plan had been thrown out the window.
But, they wouldn’t be gone forever. I’d have to deal with them, too. Worst case scenario, they’d come up from behind and I’d end up being sandwiched between two hostile groups.
I breathed, heavy. I ran harder.
Thinking about that second group made me think about Olivia, too. For whatever reason, assuming the worst gave me a wound that cut deep. Harder to heal from stuff like that than anything physical.
I ran even harder. Diligence.
A small path had been formed between booths and attractions. It was safe to move straight down, here. I kept an ear out for those up ahead and anyone who might be coming up from the back, and I used that to gauge where I should position myself.
The path began to wind, and I had to take a turn to go around another tent.
I had a moment’s pause. I hesitated.
More obstacles. People, but not anyone alive.
Rotting or had rotted under the sun. It wasn’t summer, it wasn’t even spring, but bodies exposed for a long enough time outside would eventually look all the same. Open sores, bloated stomachs, slumped postures, gaping holes and missing things. The ones here weren’t shrouded up, but I wished they were.
The idea that anyone from the trailer could meet that fate. Sarah… Isabella…
Had to force myself to take another step and keep moving. I stepped over the bodies and limbs. Blood had seeped into the tents and dirt, adding to the rust and decay of everything. Meat festered and juice had been caked and dried. Flies zipped between the different bodies, occasionally buzzing in my ear and making my skin crawl.
The scene was so sour, but the smell was so sweet. The contrast disgusted me, that I both needed to get moving and pretend that the gore wasn’t there, and that I wanted to stop and smell the roses. I was getting tired, sleepy even, and taking even the smallest of breaks felt like the furthest of dreams, now.
Keep moving, keep moving.
I had to keep moving.
Another turn, and another turn, and the path finally opened up. I saw the front of booths, for concession stands and games. Every one of them had been emptied out, though, no food to be seen, and any prizes left behind had been propped up to create a new, ugly scene.
Huge stuffed animals were standing inside some of the booths, posed as if they were waiting to help a customer. Arms splayed, leaned over, inviting, but the bloodstained, matted fur would have kept anyone away.
What the hell was this place? It really was a fucking nightmare.
Heavy drops of sweat rolled down my neck as I continued, sprinting. Running helped, it had helped, but the constant, escalating barrage of freakish sights drilled into my head, seemingly chipping my sanity away. The realization made my heart drop, that I wouldn’t be able to hold up forever. I was getting more tired, more exhausted, drained, thirsty. I couldn’t keep this up for much longer.
Faster faster faster faster faster–
An engine roared as the path began to snake around, and I could sense that it would be coming right for me.
I landed on the top of a booth, crouched over, inching forward on my hands and feet. I had a glimpse on the scene.
Either the mob was smaller than I had thought, or it had split up again and I was only seeing just a fourth of them. There was one biker, riding on a dirt bike, speeding ahead as the rest of the group followed on foot. Not all of them were armed with guns, but they all had something in hand. One person had a bat with barbed wire around it – because of course – and another had a crowbar. Along with the biker, the third person on foot was holding a gun. A pistol and rifle, respectively.
Four people in total.
The surreal and morbidly real. Death being the common theme that seemed to connect everything here.
I stood, above everything.
I had to time it so the biker was the first to hit the ground. My feet crashed into the side of his helmet, and he was down, just like that.
The remaining three were farther away, giving them time to react to my presence. The two with blunt weapons ran off on either side of the path, into some more booths, leaving me alone with the last remaining gunman.
He immediately fired.
I lifted my shield, another ping off the metal. It left a dent. My shield could only take so much, it wasn’t even really a shield to begin with. It was starting to become more like a cheese grater than anything else. A few more shots would render it completely useless.
Moving my shield away, I-
A burst of heat surged through my body. Like I had been set on fire.
Parts of my shield were chipped away, but those tiny chips of metal were being sent flying away from me, from the front of my body.
I collapsed. I fell forward.
Bullets through my body. Passing from my back through the front. I felt one pass between ribs. A shallow, weak exhale passed between my lips before it tasted dirt.
I had been shot from behind.
Shot. Again. Oh god.
I felt my mind being scrambled and my heart pounding so hard it would end up tearing itself apart. My entire body convulsed. Shaken, shaking.
Loud, ringing, singing. Louder and louder until I couldn’t hear anything anymore. I couldn’t focus on anything else. It was just a blank, white noise that buzzed and made my vision fuzzy.
No. I could feel the ground melt away and turn cold.
No. Turning into cold tile.
No. The ringing echoing until it distorted itself until it sounded more human.
No no no no no no no–
Do my best to keep it together.
For her for her for him for them-
I could feel my body mending itself together. Skin to muscle to bone to muscle to skin again. I was healing.
Every inch of my body was screaming with pain, stinging and burning with an intensity like acid. I had no way of knowing how many bullets tore through me, exactly. Even with the soothing warmth that became more pronounced throughout different parts of my upper and lower back, chest and stomach, I still wouldn’t have been able to gather an accurate count. Still rattled, still shaken.
I was just grateful that a bullet hadn’t passed through my skull.
A more solid, deeper exhale. My body was reconstituting itself, and my mind could finally start to do the same.
Testing myself, I clenched my fist, and found that I could.
Then, I pushed myself, in every meaning of the phrase.
On my feet, focusing on what was behind me. Who had shot me.
Still in the dirt, but he had crawled over to grab for his rifle. He was fumbling with it, reaching around him, his fingers digging into soil and rock, frantic.
Looking for another clip?
I wasn’t too familiar with gun types or models… but did he empty out a full clip, or whatever he had left? The latter still meant a lot of bullets. Under any other circumstances, if I had been anyone else, the biker would have struck home and taken out someone forever… never to get up again.
I got up anyways.
I leapt again, my feet slamming into the front part of the biker’s helmet. His head snapped back, and his shoulders were driving into the dirt. Moving with momentum, I picked up his bike and set it on top of him, kicking the rifle away for good measure.
Now he was officially out of the picture.
I really need to pay attention to my rear.
I turned back to the other gunman in the distance.
He was aiming right at me, and I had my shield raised right before he fired.
It pierced through, but it hit my leg, right in the upper thigh. I buckled. Down on one knee.
This wasn’t going to work.
I slipped my arm out of the handles, only keeping one hand on the door itself. I half-turned, that arm extended all the way out.
The door flew out of my hand, spinning until it was a blurry, flat line, perpendicular to the ground.
The guy tried diving out of the way, but he didn’t have my strength, or my reaction speed. The end result was partial.
The door passed through him, but it wasn’t a clean cut. It collided with his hip, intercepting him and his path. The man himself spun in the air, and he crashed down, awkward, with the door still in him.
He howled in pain. It raised the hairs on the back of my neck.
I would have bisected him if the door didn’t get stuck in him like that.
Well, he wasn’t getting back up, at least. And I had technically done far worse to bad guys, whenever I stabbed limbs or other non-lethal parts of the body in order to keep them down and out. This was just that, though, a little more unconventional, which raised the shock factor up by just a little bit.
But I had to put my attention on other things. Sarah and Isabella. The others. The guy with the bat and the guy with the crowbar.
They had ran off in different directions, but I had the feeling that they wouldn’t be any trouble, at least for the time being. If they were, they would have shown themselves by now, make a move. But I was able to catch my breath for some considerable amount of time without anything else happening to me.
A very brief moment for some respite.
I felt better, now, but it went back to that metaphor from earlier. I had caught most of the pieces, but some slipped through my fingers, the cracks. I wasn’t able to save all of it. I managed to regain some composure, but I could feel the exhaustion, the wear and tear, start to affect me. Mentally and physically.
Eyes darting, scared that I might see someone in the corner of my eye, scared that I kept thinking that a mote of dust was someone. Body sore, warm from all the healing, my throat drier than it had ever been in a long time.
And not getting Sarah and Isabella back yet seemed to compound that feeling even more.
My leg heated up, enough so that I cringed, and I looked down.
Where I’d most recently been shot.
I watched my leg as it healed itself, the muscles and meat moving back and forth, as if it was massaging itself, the hole the bullet had made getting less noticeable with time. Right before the hole was about to close completely, the warmth in my leg spiked, and I saw the bullet get spit out of me.
The way the reddened and irritated skin and muscle formed in order to push out the bullet, it really did look like that. Like a mouth spitting out an unwanted piece of junk. Even a tiny, thin layer of tissue flicked out like a tongue to push away the fabric of my pants and guide the bullet out.
Then, the wound closed, and it was like I’d never been shot at all.
I’d never seen my healing work up close like that, spitting out a foreign object, my body seemingly moving and acting of its own accord.
It was… freaky.
There were so many particulars of my powers that I had no awareness of. What, exactly, made me tick? I felt as if I knew the more important parts, but I’d been thrown for so many loops in recent times that I wasn’t sure what to make of anything, anymore. Nothing seemed concrete.
And considering that I always wanted to be in the loop, it was getting harder and harder to try and justify ignoring certain details. Even if they hadn’t been pertinent, even if they hadn’t always been relevant, they were still important.
When I get back to Stephenville, I’m going to that barn with D.
But thinking that far ahead would be dangerous if it meant losing sight on the now. I still hadn’t gotten any progress towards finding Sarah, Isabella, or the rest from the trailer. Every second that passed without me seeing them gave me a certain anxiety that wracked my head and made it pound.
I staggered forward. I didn’t hear anything from behind, so the biker wasn’t up for any questioning, in a very literal sense. So was the other man up in front, but he was still howling and shrieking away.
My feet dragged along the dirt. I wasn’t trying to be metaphorical in the doing, but being forced into healing from so much damage at once had taken a lot out of me. As if I had completed an entire marathon, sprinting.
Needed something to pick me up.
I stumbled my way over, letting myself fall onto my knees, right beside the man with a door lodged deep into his hip. His screaming was lessening in volume and intensity, but it was still so desperate, so sad, so pathetic. He was on his back, but with how the door had hit him and with the door’s size, he was raised one way, leaning into the dirt at a weird angle. Not comfortable in the slightest.
Blood had seeped through his jeans, dripping along the edge of the cold metal door, and into the soil. It wasn’t a fatal amount of blood, but it would be, if he didn’t get some attention soon, and he’d died for sure if I were to pull the door out of him now. Right now, the best thing I could do for him was nothing.
I put one hand on a dry corner of the door, and lifted.
He’d been howling, tapering off to whimpering, and now he was shrieking again.
More blood flowed down that particular side of the door.
I positioned the door so it leaned against my shoulder, leaving my hands free to cup them together, collecting the blood that dripped. It took a minute for me to get anything usable, but I managed to get a decent amount. With care, I brought my hands up and sipped it out of my makeshift cup. Slightly metallic, but saccharine. I rolled my eyes and head back, greedy, trying to catch every drop of juice.
Oh… oh god.
I’d never get used to how fucking good this tasted.
I really, truly, could lose myself in the flavor. Swimming in the sensations, synapses firing to create color, vibrant and bright in their intensity. Floating, in every direction, all at once. A true and pure and real experience.
I opened my eyes.
Checking my hands, they were smeared and streaked with red, and I felt some dripping down one cheek, mixed with a bit of saliva.
Got carried away, there.
I checked on the man again. His skin was pale, clammy. I checked his pulse. It was there, at least. Weak, but stable. He’d live, but he’d really need some legitimate attention soon, and I hadn’t the faintest clue as to where the nearest, functional hospital was, because I knew for a fact that Fuckington didn’t have one.
Where were his friends? I hadn’t seen them since they split off in different directions. Were they actually planning to head somewhere else instead of attempting to get the drop on me? I had let myself be out in the open, staying still as I fed. Anyone could have gotten me good, if they saw me. But nothing happened.
No one around.
A revving engine.
I had thought too soon.
I checked the man one last time. His eyes were drooped, low, his breathing shallow. It was only a matter of time, now. He didn’t look like he was able to speak, much less utter a letter. Couldn’t get answers out of him.
Standing up, I went back on the move. With how the pathways of the amusement park were situated, the man would be found by whoever was coming this way. The engine was getting louder. The other half of the mob from before?
I wasn’t about to waste my time with them. The RV was somewhere in the park, and I’d have to scour the whole place to find them. I could go and take out the rest of the mob, but I’d rather avoid the risk of slipping up and catching a bullet that I couldn’t come back from, or I’d take too long and alert more of the mob to come to my position, delaying me even more.
For now, I’d have to sneak around.
I took myself off the path, towards another, leading to a long stretch of the larger rides. Legit roller coasters.
I was running like I had gotten a second wind, because I did. It was only a small, improvised cup of juice, but it really did wonders. I was still feeling the lack of any real rest, but I was perceptive, again, my brain firing off as if I had taken a shot of espresso.
The roller coasters were huge, hulking beasts of machinery, metal rails and tight angles and high peaks and low dips that made me think that it was a shame that I’d never get to ride these during their heyday. With the rest of the Death For Amusement Park and Fuckington, these magnificent, constructed creatures were but mere corpses now, parts of the track and railroad having been rotted away, missing. More rust, more decay, mold even. Trash and litter drifted in the light breeze, a piece of plastic catching on my foot, and I had to stop to shake it off before I could keep going. There was so much that it stacked, and I’d have to hop over longer and longer distances in order to get anywhere.
No one around, which was both good and bad. The good was that there were no shrouds or bikers or gunman or creepy stuffed animals here. But, aside from the occasional engine revving in the distance, with a twinge of an echo, the silence here was eerie. It had been like this when I was out searching the rest of Fuckington. No sounds of anyone or anything. No people, cars, not even a bird for ambient noise. Just a vast emptiness that seemed to amplify anything that would dare make a sound and make it loud.
So fucking loud. Every flap of my hood against my ears or the crunch on loose paper or soil under my feet was as worrying as a blast from a gun. That everyone could hear me from just my heartbeat. Every sound or noise scooped my ears and filled it. Like I had an entire sense compromised. I wasn’t deaf, but rather the extreme opposite. Any sound kicked all tension in my body up to a clipping red.
Where were they, and how hard was it to find one RV?
Another sound shot through and it felt as though my head was splitting.
I spun around.
It had come from somewhere, but it wasn’t far. Not in the direction of the booths, though. Another direction.
From the back of one of the roller coasters.
I didn’t like what I had heard. A shrill, high-pitched scream. It sounded like a girl, it sounded like it came from someone young.
It sounded like-
No. There was no way.
But I had to check. No stone unturned.
I changed course.
I found the ride, a roller coaster with what looked like the biggest drop of the whole park. It was so tall that I had to crane my neck and then some to take in the entire height.
No one in line, of course, it was easy to get to the front. There was a line of cars on the coaster’s track, but they were empty, broken, disconnected from one another. Some even looked like they had mold on them.
A small hop took me over to the side side, where park employees had access to the back parts of the place, like maintenance or other facilities that were usually off-limits to regular people.
A lock on a door tried to keep me out from that area. A kick made its efforts in vain. The lock banged against the perforated metal door, clanging more as it hit concrete.
Fuck, but some haste was necessary for the only potential lead I had. I pushed the door open and ran out to the back part of the amusement park.
I almost stopped, I almost didn’t believe what I saw. That it was here.
The one Tone had been driving. It was here. Facing me, parked. We were in an open lot in the back of the park, wide and expansive for carts to drive around to offload workers and supplies. There were some of those carts here, but the amount they had degraded was to be expected, by this point. They wouldn’t work now.
I ran even faster, panting, straining.
My foot kicked against something, and I did stop this time. I wouldn’t have if I didn’t recognize what it was.
A teddy bear.
It was on the ground, flat, on its side. I’d seen the other stuffed animals here, and this was in a debatably better condition, but I still froze and felt a chilling fear creep through me and had me seized up.
The head was removed, the stuffing having spilled out at the base of the neck, the head not that much farther away.
A teddy bear. Isabella’s teddy bear.
It had to be hers. I recognized the fur, the size of it, and it simply looked too new compared to everything else I’d seen at the park, especially the other stuffed animals. There was no one else it could have belonged to.
I picked both pieces up, fitting as much of the stuffing as I could. No blood, or any other sign of violence around where I’d found the bear. Nothing smelled sweet.
I hoped that was a good sign.
I moved again, to the truck, around to the door on the driver’s side. It had been opened.
Tone wasn’t in the driver’s seat. No one was in the driver’s seat. It was empty, nothing but his walkie-talkie. I grabbed it. It was still on.
Something tickled my nose, and my stomach did a flip. I looked in the direction of the trailer.
I followed the trail, my nose leading the way.
Please no, god, please.
The walk was agonizing, slow, painful with every step taken.
Please no please no please no please no please no please no please no please no–
I got to the back of the trailer. The door was open.
Who opened it?
No time to guess.
I hopped inside and looked.
I saw Isabella.
She had her backpack with her. She was standing. Her back was to me, her face staring at me head on-
It was the first word out of my mouth in a very long time.
Isabella turned and faced me. The look of relief on her face… I wanted to fall and cry, too.
“Wendy?” she asked.
“It’s me,” I said, stepping forward. “I’m getting us out of here.”
Isabella didn’t hesitate to move. She picked up her backpack, and met me at the opening of the trailer.
Her hands were holding on to the straps of her backpack. I thought she’d want to hug me after seeing me, or something, but if she needed some space right now, I wouldn’t deny her that.
Isabella did say, though, “Thank god you’re here, I was so scared.”
“What happened? Who the fuck did this?”
She shook her head. “They came so suddenly, it was an ambush. They forced us into the amusement park, and Sarah tried to drive through to see if she could find an exit. We ended up having to ditch the RV and escape on foot. We got split up, and I got lost, so I kept going around until I found the trailer. There wasn’t anyone inside, so I used it as a hiding place until you came by.”
I was so relieved to see Isabella, and to see that she was okay, but it was only half of a feeling. I still needed to get Tone and Sarah and over ninety others.
“So you don’t know where the rest are?” I asked.
Again, Isabella shook her head. I wouldn’t blame or berate her for not knowing. She was as rattled as I had been.
“We’ll find them,” I said, saying it like it was a matter of fact. Easier to believe, that way. “Here’s your bear, by the way.”
I handed it to Isabella, but she dropped it back down, at her feet.
“It’s broken, now,” she said. “Useless.”
I frowned, but there wasn’t anything I could do about that. I didn’t have a way to fix it, and if she didn’t want it, then she didn’t want it.
I spoke, “Then let’s go and start-”
A buzz from a device.
“Two- gree- est. -outh.”
It was a distorted, almost robotic voice, but it was a voice. Not Isabella’s, though.
Too faint and fuzzed out to properly discern the meaning.
I checked the walkie-talkie.
It continued to buzz. Isabella stared too.
“You hear that?” I questioned, just to make sure. Just so I wasn’t hearing things.
The walkie-talkie continued to spout out the broken message, until it had continued long enough that I realized that the message was being repeated. Parts of it faded in and out, some parts were missing in one loop but present in the next, so it took a few more listens to get everything pieced together.
Isabella and I came to the same conclusion.
“Coordinates,” I said.
Sudden and weird, to be getting coordinates now, from an unknown source, my suspicions raised. My concerns were, too, because I hadn’t heard anything from Tone or Sarah.
The timing wasn’t bad, but it didn’t make me feel very good.
“Let’s keep moving,” I said, “I’ll call D, get her up to speed, and have her check whatever these coordinates mean.”
Isabella nodded, her hands still holding tight at her backpack straps. Knuckles white.
I wished I had gotten here sooner, so she wouldn’t be like this, but I had her now. And that was all that really mattered.
Tone and Sarah, and all of you. You’re all up next.
I left the trailer and crossed the lot, and Isabella followed.