The Animatronic [6/7]
We found a half-submerged animatronic, dumped in a local pond. My friend thinks it’s alive.
It’s below me. That’s all that I can think. The lone thought that screams like a warning siren through my head.
It’s below me.
I splash and thrash around dangerously, expending far more energy than is necessary to bring my head back above the surface for a gulp of air. I swivel around madly. The whale watches from afar. I twist round. The pontoon boat is small in the distance. I think I can hear Roxy shouting, but that is of little concern to me now. My purpose has been primed and brutally focused. To get out of the water.
To get out of the fucking water, NOW.
I throw forwards an arm, pulling myself through it; throwing forwards the other, kicking desperately and spluttering, choking on the rank of the surrounding floods. The nearest floating object to me, the one I have honed in on, is a pedalo. A paddle-boat. Once fashioned in the likeness of a swan, but parts of it have since peeled and broken away. I power towards it as an underwater groan vibrates up from beneath.
NO! NO NO NO NO!
I slam into the swan and try to clamber up and into it, but the sides are too smooth, they’re too fucking SMOOTH! I lose my grip and crash back down into the murk; the water rushing around my ears.
The groaning beneath becomes louder. I feel almost as if I’m being pushed upwards, as if the water beneath me is rising- forced up by some approaching, ascending leviathan.
I roar incomprehensibly in urgent distress, grabbing hard onto the side of the paddle-boat and attempting to heave myself up one more time.
And as fate would have it, I am successful.
I pull myself up and into the little boat with a grunt of exertion as it rocks and sways under my weight.
Pushing my dripping fringe from my eyes, I swivel, scrambling round, my hands gripping the peddle-boat’s side as I look back down into the water below.
I see something just beneath the surface. Layered, shadowy shapes. Moving and churning, but I only get a glimpse before they roll on underneath me and disappear, sinking back down into the darkness of the deep.
“FUCK!” I shout, adrenaline pumping.
I run my hands through my hair.
I lift my gaze to see the pontoon boat circling back round towards me. After a minute or so it finally approaches, and gets close enough for me to jump back aboard. I’m shaking... fuming, but allow Roxy and John to hug me in relief as Wakka drives the boat a little further on into the park.
“Nice one Wakka you fucking moron”, I call over to him coldly, once I’ve gathered my thoughts.
He shoots an angry look back at me and puts the boat into neutral, allowing it to drift gently and steadily over the water. “Me!?” he says defensively, “maybe you shouldn’t have been leaning over the fucking edge!”
“THERE ARE MONSTERS IN THE WATER, WAKKA!” I shout at him, “I knew it! You shouldn’t have been so careless and I shouldn’t have allowed you to swim for the boat in the first place, John”. Roxy reaches out to me but I shrug her off. “I could have just died, mate. You realise that right? You certainly took your fucking time getting back to me!”
“Yeah well I’ve got news for you, MATE, driving a pontoon boat isn’t actually that easy”. Wakka shouts back, stepping forwards. “So how about you stop playing around on the edge if you don’t want to fall in!”
I shove him away, and he shoves me back.
“Guys!” Roxy calls out, “come on!” and John puts himself between us, pushes us apart.
My anger is redirected. “And you know what, Roxy? What the FUCK is going on here, exactly? We’re just supposed to believe that you have NO idea about ANY of this? A statue of your dad and magical dreams?” I throw my arms out wide, chest rising and falling. “Why the fuck did Stubs have to mess about in the pond in the first place anyway, the stupid prick! WHAT THE HELL IS GOING ON?”
Roxy does not respond, and we all stand there for a moment, tensed, before she slumps down to the floor of the boat and puts her head in her hands. Her shoulders shake, and she starts to softly cry.
I run a hand through my soaking hair and exhale, my resentment dissipating instantly into a cloud of cool guilt.
One by one we all sit down on the deck, backs up against the sides, listening to the quiet sound of the surrounding water sloshing gently against the vessel.
“I’m sorry, guys”, I say eventually, and mean it.
Wakka looks at me. “Yeah… yeah me too. Ollie, I should have been looking where I was going, I didn’t mean for you to fall in”.
“I know mate”, I reply, “I know. It’s just… this place. This place is-”
“My fault”. Roxy cuts in, sniffing. “That’s what it feels like. It feels like it’s my fault. I’m the one that dragged you guys here- we’re going after MY idiot brother… and then I find out that my dad’s the founder, or whatever? What the hell am I supposed to make of that? He died when I was two. I was never told about him designing an amusement park, or… or building animatronics. I just want to find my brother and get the hell out. This is the worst thing that’s ever happened to me”.
“…It’s the best thing that’s ever happened to me”. John says quietly, and we all turn to look at him.
“Not about losing Stubs, I mean, obviously; but this… this whole adventure… it’s the most exciting thing that’s ever happened in my life. We’ve been given a clear purpose, a noble mission- save Stubs”.
He smiles sadly. “Save Stubs”.
We remain quiet, and he continues. “I used to daydream about there being a war, you know. A massive one. Third World War, maybe. I still do, actually. For real. About being drafted. About being given an objective. Good vs Bad. Something I can actually do with my life. A cause to fight for”. He sighs and rubs his forehead. “I’m just so tired, you know? …I’m tired of feeling… empty”.
The water laps softly at the sides of the boat.
“…I’ll help you find a cause, John”, I say to him after a moment of reflection. “When we get out of here. I’ll help you find something to fight for”. The others murmur their agreement and John chuckles good-naturedly.
“You guys are alright”, he says, and we laugh. It feels nice; it feels warming.
Wakka eases himself back up to his feet and returns to the controls, and we rise too, settling into the seats as he begins to drive us onwards.
“So… what are we looking for, exactly?” he asks.
We turn to Roxy, but she shrugs, wiping her face. “My guess is as good as yours. A hint of some kind? A sign that he might have been by?”
What sort of clue might Stubs have left us…?
The place is just so utterly ruined, it’s hard to tell if any of the multitude of disturbances were caused recently, or long ago. And all around us is more of that worrying graffiti. Scrawled over signs and broken billboards:
‘HE SEALED US AWAY’
‘SALVATION LIES BENEATH’
‘THE DREAMER WILL RETURN’ one sign boasts in bold red, but ‘TRAITOR’ has been scribbled over the phrase numerous times in a multitude of colours.
Roxy shakes her head. “I can’t believe I let this happen. I should have stopped him. I should have kept him out of the pond. I’m far too lenient, that’s my problem… maybe it’s because he’s a little older and I think he knows best… but he doesn’t. He never has. I was there the night he cut off his finger. I could have stopped him then too… but I didn’t”. She chews her tongue as she looks out over the surrounding desolation. “Things will have to change, going forwards. I’ll make sure of it”.
“Guys… guys look over there”, Wakka says with an edge in his voice. We turn to look, our senses sharpened at once, the tension returned. A bright but tattered flag adorning a tall, narrow pole ripples gently in the breeze.
“What is it?” I ask.
“The FLAG”. Wakka says, what’s wrong with the flag?
And of course, after he says it, it’s obvious.
There is no breeze.
The air is dead still, and yet the flag blows all the same, with a renewed and secret energy above the wreckage of its park.
“Something’s happening….” Roxy whispers, and yet I can feel it too. An electricity crackling through the air; a brief, but nonetheless discernible change in pressure.
And an alien voice bursts from unseen speakers, scattered around in the ruin.
It begins as a terrible hiss, but quickly, as if accommodating itself to my eardrums, it becomes comprehensible.
“KRRRZZZZCOLLEAGUES!” the voice crackles and roars, rapidly and eagerly; “a final OPPORTUNITY has presented itself! To those who have given up… to those who have CONSIGNED themselves to the DEPTHS… I say to all there IS A WAY BACK. WE HAVE THE SON OF THE DREAMER, AND THERE IS NOW A WAY BACK”.
A shiver of primal fear courses through me at these words. I am overcome with the realisation that in this moment, I am as good as an enemy, lost in a hostile land.
Or, adrift, in hostile waters.
I return my gaze to the flag, and I follow its pole all the way down. Our boat sails past the top-half of a fake, snow-covered mountain of steel and concrete, and the flagpole’s base becomes clear.
And there, strung up like a sacrifice above the water beneath, wrists bound and head lolled to the side, is Stubs.
A mechanical monster, grey and rusted, half-man, half-toad stands on a floating platform below him. I watch, eyes wide and pulse racing as the machine’s jaw clanks awkwardly open, and the secret, surrounding speakers blare out once more:
“THE UNRAVELLING OF THE ROUTE IS A FABLE NO LONGER!” the voice cries with impassioned determination. “GATHER YOURSELVES COLLEAGUES, O YE LEFT BEHIND, FOR THIS DAY IN THE DEEP IS OUR LAST!
“WE WILL RETURN!”
Written by Darkly Gathers