The Animatronic [5/7]
We found a half-submerged animatronic, dumped in a local pond. My friend thinks it’s alive.
I look back up to the statue’s face. He twinkles in the curious light of the sun.
This statue, this man… it’s Roxy and Stubs’ father.
He stands tall, straight-backed, though from the front the patina looks much worse. The green-rot has crept up to the lapels of his bronze suit. A sizeable chunk is missing from one of his legs, and shattered shards and pieces of the statue litter the pedestal beneath amongst chunks of rock.
‘Traitor’ has been scrawled across his torso in white paint, long-faded.
“Roxy…” I begin, but she interrupts.
“I don’t know”, she says in a wavering voice. “I promise you, I really, genuinely don’t understand. I don’t really have any memories of him, but I’ve seen pictures. And I do know that this is definitely him”. She runs a hand through her hair. “I don’t get it… my mum just told me he was an engineer…” she trails off.
I glance back down to the inscription in the pedestal.
“Did he… build this place?” I ask to no-one in particular, turning to look at the wrecked and abandoned amusement park in the valley below us.
“I wonder what happened here”, Wakka murmurs.
John clasps his hands together. “Only one way to find out. You guys ready?” And he sets out down the side of the hill in long, careful strides. Wakka follows.
I turn to Roxy, still gazing up at the statue, and I squeeze her shoulder. “Are you okay, Rox?” I ask her. She does not reply, but she nods, and I squeeze her a little tighter. We set off down the hill after the others.
As we descend the hill we approach the bank of the floodwater. Grey, grimy. A layer of green, mossy pondscum drifts disjointedly across the surface. The ‘entrance’ to the park just ahead is half-submerged beneath, and the tops of turnstiles and ticket machines are only slightly visible below the waterline.
I look up and across the water.
The world is silent.
No birds, no breeze.
A low and distant mechanical groan ripples towards us from far away. A noise that is faint, but still more than enough to set me on edge. Who knows how far down the water goes at its deepest points. Who knows what malevolence lies beneath?
Where are you, Stubs?
“We could go around the outside?” John suggests. “See if there’s an easier way in?” And without any better suggestions we do so. Tramping and stumbling through the wet grass of the fields and the low hills round the edge of the flooded valley, slowly navigating its perimeter in search of a way inside.
We get a decent look into the park on our route around. The place is a complete wreck. Not just decayed from age, left to rot in disrepair, but actively vandalised, smashed up. And the graffiti… scrawled in clumsy letters on the roofs or walls of kiosks and sections of building that still lie above the floods… the messages are angry, full of resentful rage.
‘he has forsaken us!’
‘We Are The Forgotten’
‘FEAR THE AIR’
‘Peddler of Dreams’ one message reads in red, though ‘Dreams’ has been crossed out and replaced with ‘Nightmares’.
The wording is sloppy, as if they were drawn or painted hastily, or in shaking hands. I clench my jaw.
We pass a fountain, too. Broken now of course, but right on the edge of the park, so only partially submerged. It’s full of little animatronic frogs. The same kind that I found at the entrance to the pipe. Most of them lie still, but one of them pops up at me with a wet clank and sprays me with a squirt of water.
Under other circumstances it might have been funny.
I watch it warily as it gurgles and sinks back below the surface.
Eventually, a potential means of entering the amusement park presents itself to us… but it’s not particularly convenient.
We have come to a stop at the edge of a wide lake, and when I say ‘lake’, I mean that this area of water gives the impression that it actually used to BE a lake… though now it sits bloated, long having burst its banks and risen to these extraordinary levels.
‘RAINFOREST RIVER CRUISE’ a sign just above the surface of the water proclaims proudly. The tops of palm trees and other such jungle flora poke up from the water all around at varying heights. I’m not sure how they’re still alive. Maybe they’re made of plastic. But what has caught our attention is a little pontoon boat, ten or so metres out into the water and resting against an entrance to another ride, a roller-coaster of some kind that disappears into a cave.
“Do we think it even still works?” Roxy asks.
“No idea”. Wakka replies. “Fuel goes bad, doesn’t it?”
“True”, I say, “but nothing I’ve seen this evening has actually MADE any real sense, so I’m willing to give it a go”.
“Alright, so how are we going to get it?”
“Who’s the best swimmer?” John asks, and we turn to stare at him. “It’s me, I should think”.
“John mate, you can’t be serious?” I exclaim, “remember what happened to Stubs! You can’t go in there!”
The others voice their protests too, but John just calmly sits down on the grass and begins taking off his shoes. “Looks to be about ten metres to me”, he says, “ten metres is nothing. That’s less than half the length of a pool. You’ve seen me swim, Ollie. Am I fast?”
“…Yeah”, I reply, hesitantly. “You are”.
“Can you see anything in the water?” he asks.
We all step a little closer to the edge. The green pondscum is not so bad here, and we can see a little ways down into the depths. But again, we cannot see far, and we have no way of knowing how deep down it really goes. I peer into it closely, carefully scanning the route to the boat, but I see nothing. No submerged shapes or grinding gears. Just dark water.
“No”, I reply. “…but John, are you sure about this? You really don’t have to get in there you know. We could keep walking, maybe find another way in?”
John pulls off his shirt, clasping me on the shoulder, and he slowly eases himself into the lake. I grit my teeth in second-hand discomfort and watch as he carries himself through the flood, quickly gaining in speed with careful technique, trying to minimise his disturbance of the water. In a matter of seconds he is already halfway there, but it feels a lot slower. A hell of a lot slower. In my mind’s eye I see monsters beneath him, hiding in the darkness, looking up at his kicking legs through fibreglass eyes, churning and rattling through their waterlogged gears as they jolt dangerously up to meet him. I scan my eyes across the water. Looking for a fin. For an opening jaw. For the spines of some silicone reptilian beast.
But I see nothing.
The water shimmers softly in John’s wake and he throws an arm up onto the side of the pontoon boat, hoisting himself aboard, and I realise I’ve been holding my breath. I release, and take in a welcome lungful of air as he brushes himself down, as he begins to look around the battered old boat.
“Looks like the keys are still in!” he calls over across the water, then he turns back to the deck and starts fiddling with the control. It’s hard to tell from back here, but it looks like he turns it a few times.
“Nothing’s happening!” he calls again, and Wakka shouts back, suggesting he push the throttle forwards before he tries the key.
It seems to work, or something works, at least. The boat makes an ungodly clanking sound, one that gives John pause for a moment, then he tries again. The boat grinds and whirrs.
He tries again.The boat makes another uncomfortable noise, then starts to rattle. There is no accompanying sound of an engine starting, but the motor at the back begins to shudder nonetheless. John looks over to us and shrugs, toying with the throttle, and the boat lurches suddenly into life. He falls to the ground of the boat with a loud smack as it starts to push itself across the surface, churning up water into a froth behind it.
I suck in a mouthful of air through my teeth, putting my hands to the sides of my head and following the path of the boat with my eyes. John clambers unsteadily to his feet, stumbling, and takes hold of the wheel, spinning it round in a narrow circle and tipping the vessel dangerously to the side.
“Fuck’s sake John”, I mutter, but he regains control, bringing the boat steadily, if rather awkwardly up to the bank where we stand. It bumps into the side of the hill and John stumbles again, then leans over the side to help us all up.
“You know, John”, Wakka says, “I’ve actually driven one of these before. Or at least, something similar. I could… take over if you want?”
John gestures to the controls and, to my secret relief, Wakka steps up, easing the boat round in a careful arc. He cautiously drives it onwards, navigating the curious, potentially-plastic outcrops of jungle trees and the other floating debris of the theme park.
It’s so eerily quiet.
This is a place that should be bustling, bursting with life.
But instead it lies in ruin.
“Fuck”, Wakka mutters, and the boat turns. It shudders suddenly, bashing into something sticking out of the water, and we stumble. “Sorry”, he calls back.
We look out over the side to see what it is, and it looks to me like a kind of old speaker. I move to the end of the boat, holding onto the rail and crouching down for a better look. The speaker seems heavily damaged, and despite being undoubtedly water-logged to the extreme, it crackles unsettling into life.It warbles out a message, distorted, but plenty loud in the relative quiet:
“...CH-CH-Challenging times lie ahead, comrades. Krrrrzzzz -But we are the Dream-makers of Dreamworld. Remain at your posts, and do your duty! Dreamworld salutes you!”
I swallow with a dry throat and watch the battered speaker drift lazily past.
Something beyond it in the near-distance catches my eye.
The water seems to be shifting; it’s being displaced, as if something massive is pushing up from beneath…
“…Guys”, I begin anxiously, my heart starting to pound in my chest.
And a colossal shape breaches the surface. The largest so far. All the little hairs on my neck and forearms stand on end as what looks like a gigantic, decaying whale rises from beneath the water. It’s enormous; there’s no telling how many levers and gears work on hidden tracks below to keep it operational. Water blasts from its spout and its jaw cranks slowly open, failing to move in time with the groan that echoes from inside it
I don’t know what colour it might have been originally, but it now wears a coat of chipped and dank yellowing-grey. Yellow-grey except for its eye. Only one is visible from my position on the pontoon boat, but it has somehow retained a brilliant shade of watery white. It’s larger than the eye of an actual whale, I’m sure of it, and a tiny, pitch black pupil in its centre gives the whale an impression of lunacy; of fierce, contagious madness.
“Oh my God!” Roxy shouts. I turn to her, but she isn't looking at the whale. She is looking at something else. Wakka, who like me has been watching in horror the rise of the decaying behemoth, jerks his head back around and swears, spinning the wheel and grabbing the throttle in panicked, simultaneous movements.
And from my position, crouched at the end of the boat by the rail, I stumble, and I slip.
There isn't even time for me to cry out.
I fall off the edge, and crash down into the water.
I hit the surface hard and headfirst, and for a brief moment I am almost completely submerged. I can hear the motor of the pontoon boat churning and disappearing away, leaving me behind, and I open my eyes.
Through the murk I can see the pale shapes of my arms and hands, flailing. I see my legs, kicking. And below me is darkness.
Curious shapes drift in the deep far below, and the largest suddenly rotates, as if turning on its side, and a stream of bubbles rises up towards me.
The last thing I see, deep, deep down below in the depths, is a long, hungry row of gristly, rotted teeth, and then I am lost to the blindness of my panic.
Written by Darkly Gathers