‘Ahh! Fuck sake!!’
‘What’s the matter with you?!’
‘What’s the matter with me!?’ snaps Louise, ‘Thorn bushes, jaggy nettles, sharp branches catching on and ripping my tights! Take your pick!’
‘Oh chill out…’
‘Don’t tell me to…arghh!!!’ a stray branch, crookedly reaching out of another seemingly strategically-placed thorn bush, stabs into her leg, ‘don’t tell me to fucking CHILL OUT! Ok!’
‘Ok, ok.’ Ian raises his hands in a conciliatory, point-taken gesture.
‘Why the bloody hell are we… traipsing through the woods… in the pitch dark anyway!?’ Louise spits the sentence out between winces as she forcefully rips a scattering of thorns out of her leg.
‘I told you, you’ll see. Just wait, you’ll see’ answers Ian in an infuriatingly smug manner.
‘How did we get here in the first place anyway? And where the hell are the other two!?’
‘I’m not sure, they’re probably just…’
‘Ripped tights, blood dripping down my leg, my Uggs are caked in mud, I’m soaking wet, freezing. Whatever the hell this is can’t be worth it, surely!’
‘There they are. Look – beyond that tree…’
‘Where?’ she kicks through a large pile of frail, browning leaves, slipping slightly on a concealed, sodden, log beneath. She reaches out to balance herself, her brittle palms fiercely grabbing hold of an obliging branch. ‘Fuck sake’ she utters under her breath.
‘And, look, we’re here…’ announces Ian as he pushes aside a collection of huddled branches, stepping out into a wide clearing.
Louise trudges forward slowly with her head down, taking care to avoid any further hidden pitfalls lurking beneath the withered foliage, whilst at the same time trying to ignore the fresh scraping pain on her trembling palm. She hears Andy and Michelle’s voices before she lifts her head. She stops in her tracks as she looks up. Awestruck, confused, even slightly aghast at the sight before her.
‘What the hell is this!?’
‘Brilliant isn’t it!’ smiles Ian looking back at her. ‘I mean, just look at it!’
Andy and Michelle stare over briefly, almost unconcerned with the sight before them. The latter turning her attention to the clinking bag of alcohol at her feet, the former to pulling a suspiciously over-stocked Rizla packet from his jacket pocket. Louise glances at them, appealing for some kind of moral, or even sane, support or encouragement. Their attentions diverted she turns back to the sight before her. A huge looping, swirling, plunging rollercoaster juts out of the darkness, shooting towards the sky above the opening. A pale moon, mostly obscured by cloud cover, provides the only glint of light above the mass of steel. Rustic, forgotten steel she decides as the dilapidated condition of the ride further crystallises in her vision. A plethora of rides surround the rollercoaster. Chain swings creaking cantankerously in the breeze. A water attraction, its log-shaped cars now gathering a myriad of leaves and rainwater. Wooden benches and tables cower beneath the cold; drenched, wayward umbrellas thrusting out of a handful of the benches. A host of other rides and attractions lurk mysteriously in the shadows. All forgotten, neglected. All scarred, infected even, by patches of rust. Relics of another time.
‘An abandoned theme park!? That’s where you’ve taken us? An abandoned bloody theme park!?’
‘Yep,’ smiles Ian, ‘an abandoned theme park. Cool eh!’
‘Are we in a fucking episode of Scooby Doo or something!?’ scoffs Louise in return. She turns to the other two. ‘I mean seriously, come on guys? You’re honestly fine with this?!’
Andy and Michelle both shrug their shoulders in unison, each almost frighteningly in time with the other.
‘I’m easy like’ exhales Andy, a puff of smoke accompanying his words as he gently pulls the roll-up from his mouth, a can of Fosters clutched in his other hand, ‘as long as we’ve got our supplies with us I’m happy any way.’
Michelle nods her head in agreement, accepting the roll-up from Andy and taking a prolonged drag of it. ‘Plus…’ she says, clenching her eyes shut painfully before exhaling, ‘…the pubs back home are shite.’
‘So, that’s all you need is it? A place to drink and smoke weed? No matter how cold and wet it is or no matter how derelict, and lets be honest, creepy-as-fuck the place is? Is that what you’re saying?’
‘Basically, aye’ smiles Andy lazily, taking a swig of his lager. ‘Here…’ he thrusts a can towards her which she begrudgingly accepts without thanks. She opens it, allowing the uncaged froth to simmer down, before taking a drink.
‘Right, now that your little mood swing is done let’s go and discover this place aye…I’m joking, I’m joking, I’m only joking…’ shouts Ian as he sprints away from the onrushing shower of Fosters pouring towards him from Louise’s can.
‘I never even knew Ayrshire had a theme park.’ mulls Louise wistfully as she slowly rocks back and forth on the creaking, straining swing. Her eyes slightly glazed over, victim to the copious supplies of alcohol and herb swilling about in her system.
‘Aye, man’ Ian mumbles in response. ‘Must have closed five, ten years ago or something. I mind coming here as a kid. Looks far better these days mind.’
The two conjoin in a sludgy, exaggerated laughter.
‘What possessed you to take us here anyway? When folk go for a drive it’s not generally to seek out an abandoned, rusting theme park.’
‘I don’t know, it just came to me half a mile or so down that road. I don’t know.’
‘I’m pished, man. Fucking pished.’ announces Andy a few chairs down, tipping the embers of his roll-up into an empty can of lager.
‘Not as bad as your missus, Andrew, sir’ Ian smirks and nods towards the slumped, dozing figure of Michelle, defying the laws of gravity, luck and sense by somehow clinging to her equally as creaking swing.
‘Aye, she was half-cut before she got out the house. She found a Prosecco gift box or bag that her folks had stashed away for Christmas or something like. Demolished the thing. You’ve hardly been sober most of the night either though, let’s be fair.’
Ian laughs and puts his arm around Louise, attempting to pull her closer only for her swing to loudly creak back to whence it came. She barely registers, gazing up at the heights of the rollercoaster towering above them instead.
‘It’s weird isn’t it’ Louise declares.
‘This place. It was so full of life once. I would imagine anyway. Screaming children, screaming parents, colour, fun. And now look at it. Derelict. Neglected. Hidden away almost. Like buried fossils or…or something. I don’t know.’
‘Jesus, man’ interrupts Andy, ‘your bird doesn’t half get philosophical when she’s baked does she, Ian. Philosophical being another word for ‘talks complete shite’ by the way Louise.’ He punctuates his comment with a laugh.
‘Oh piss off Andy. I just mean…I don’t know, I just mean…I mean it could be creepy, this kind of place, but there’s something…something beautiful about it. Especially beneath that moon.’ She nods skyward.
‘Aye, you’re right Lou…the piles of empty cans and bird, and whatever else, shite around the place really brings out the beauty in the place doesn’t it.’
‘You never take anything bloody seriously do you Andy. Ian, help me out here. Ian? IAN!’
‘What?…sorry what?’ comes the distracted reply as he turns to face them, his expression settled somewhere between confusion and worry.
‘Na nothing, I just…well, I’m sure…’
‘You’re sure what?’
‘Well I’m sure I just saw a man’s shadow over there, at the benches. Like…with a…with a top hat on or something. It’s probably nothing. Doesn’t matter.’
‘I said fuck off!’
‘Why am I to fuck off!?’
‘You always do this. You always try to put the frighteners up me. That castle a few months ago. The Vaults in Edinburgh. Nearly every time I stay at your big draughty hole of a house. Always. I told you, I’m not creeped out here. Just drop it.’
‘I wasn’t trying to…look, I…never mind’ Ian concedes the point, turning his attention back to the spot beside the benches.
She takes a large swig of her can of Fosters, swilling the warm, flat dregs of the nectar in her mouth before letting it dribble out in disgust. Her intention of giving a scathing review of the lager is curbed as she hears a large thump, followed by a wrenching creak, to her right. She turns quickly and sees Michelle sprawled on the floor. The battle between gravity and luck obviously declaring the former the winner. Andy doubles over in laughter, only barely managing to struggle through the convulsions to lend his girlfriend a helping hand. Louise turns to Ian, naturally in that way that most couples do regardless of the situation, checking for his reaction. His attention is still fixed on the area near the benches, his brow furrowed.
‘Just stop it Ian!’ she snaps.
He turns, taking a few seconds to register her words, as if emerging from a fog of some kind once again.
‘Eh? Stop what? I’m not doing fuck all!’ his chummy, smirking demeanour from earlier now having firmly left the scene.
‘You know exactly what you’re doing! Just stop it! It’s not funny!’ She turns to Ian and Michelle, the latter now propped on her boyfriend’s knee, curled lazily around his frame. ‘He’s always at it.’
‘I’m not at anything! I’m telling you, there’s something over there!’
‘I don’t know, man, he could be onto something’ interjects Andy with all the modest, wistful qualities of an amateur sage.
‘What are you on about?’ Louise fails to mask the scorn etched across her face.
‘Well,’ says Andy, adjusting his legs, propping a half-conscious Michelle up further, ‘there’s that story about the man that went missing here isn’t there. A few years back?’
‘How would you know?’ he laughs, ‘you’d never even heard about this place.’
‘It’s nonsense because you two are at it! Trying to wind up tightly-wound Louise aye? Reckon I’m thick? Just because I wasn’t brought up around here? Well it won’t work so just piss off and drop it!’
‘Na I’m serious, man. Some dude went missing her a few years ago. Well, he was last seen here anyway. In the area. Near the ruined castle just through those trees. There was a big search party, it was in the papers, the local news, the lot. Never found.’
Louise starts to feel her chest tighten, suddenly aware of an unstoppable wave of sobriety flooding through her.
‘You never know’ continues Andy, ‘he could be having a Call Of The Wild, Jack London kind of experience going on. Living in the woods there, eating what he can find, using nature as his kitchen, his toilet. That’d explain the shite stains scattered everywhere anyway.’
He laughs once more, a tad of disappointment edging into his smile as the others fail to join him.
‘Well, that last part is nonsense obviously, but the first part is true. Isn’t it Ian?’
‘Eh?’ again Ian takes a moment to return from whatever alternative realm his mind was momentarily lodged in, ‘eh aye…look, it’s nothing, let’s just forget about it.’
He picks out a can from the carrier bag, shaking it briefly. It responds with a hollow, tinny sound. He casts it aside, delving back into the bag for a more fruitful outcome.
‘Ghost stories. Seriously.’ Louise shakes her head, pulling herself up off the swing.
‘Aye,’ a croaky voice escapes from Michelle, her eyes remaining shut, ‘we’re a bit too old for ghost stories are we not. Bit childish, no? Anyway, I’m freezing, or at least I should be given it’s October. And I need my bed so let’s get going. We’ve been here ages.’
‘Oh aye,’ smirks Andy, nudging his girlfriend conspiratorially, ‘I could be doing with my bed aswell. An ‘early night’ sounds good…hehe’
‘No chance’ Michelle answers flatly as she unravels herself from him, ending up in a standing position. A flicker of a ‘worth a shot’ expression darts across Andy’s face.
‘Yeah, we’ve finished all the bevvy anyway so we may aswell get going’ agrees Ian, throwing the carrier bag beneath the swings. He stands up and reaches out to take Louise’s arm but he’s met with rigidity, her back turned.
‘Did you hear that…?’ she whispers.
‘Eh? Hear what?’ answers Ian, moving himself into a position to see her face. She seemed to be trembling, colour dripping away from her. ‘Here, Louise, what is it?’
‘Did you not hear it? That creaking sound?’
‘Oh fuck sake,’ laughs Andy, overhearing ‘now she’s trying to turn the tables on us. Nice try hen, but we’re leaving.’
‘I’m not joking!’ she snaps in retort. ‘There was a big creaking sound, like something starting up. Something mechanic.’
‘Don’t be daft Louise, it doesn’t suit you. It’ll just be these swings, look at them. They’re fucking caked in rust, it’s a wonder how they managed to support us. And they’ve been creaking since we got here.’
‘It’s just the swings’ agrees Ian, still visibly struggling to shake the uneasiness garnered a few minutes previously.
‘Aye, come on Lou’ chimes Michelle.
Louise hesitates for a moment, doubting her senses, doubting her hearing. She looks at Ian, allowing him to put his arm around her, searching his expression for any kind of reassurance. None to be found, she thinks. And she can’t help but feel he’s searching hers for exactly the same as she notices the uncertainty draped across his gaze. The four move away from the swings, setting off for the wilds of the forest once more. When suddenly a deafening, screeching, sparking, clunking, mechanical whirring sound rips into the silence of the night air. They all, as one, freeze in terror.
The four of them turn slowly, staring at each other, glancing from one to the other to the next and back again. Gripped in fear. Paralysed in expectation. Of what they can’t tell. A ride collapsing? Someone hunting them? Something taunting them?
A loud metallically twisted click judders, resounds, against their skulls. A slow, meandering, echoing click. And then another. And another. Slow. Methodical. As if something was ascending slowly, painfully. And then a jolt, a rush of steel, a mass of object accompanies the clicks. Ian starts to turn slowly. Louise, gripping his hand forcefully, replicates and starts to pivot. Andy and Michelle, their drug and sleep-induced comas respectively vanished, also begin to turn. All four unsure, anxious, riddled with trepidation. They all turn. Their eyes widen.
Ahead of them, above them, the empty rollercoaster car climbs. One industrial sized mechanical clunk at a time. Ascending. Climbing. Reaching. Creeping in the darkness, slowly up to the peak of the ride, a plunging descent lurking on the other side. The four stare awestruck, unable to comprehend, to react. The car reaches the top of the ascent and halts. Pausing, seemingly, for dramatic effect. The others stare at each other once again. Wordless. Pleading. A click. The car nudges forward slightly. Inches. Centimetres. Millimetres even. They hold their breath. Again, without reason, without logic. Mere watchers. Onlookers. Another click. And the car plummets.
Speeding, rattling, careering down the track. Unrestrained, bulleting towards the ground. As it does so the theme park bursts into light around them. Colour, sound, images. Vibrancy. Surrounding them. The swings rattling, creaking, spinning round at high velocity. The water ride splashing through the water, making its own climb before plummeting into the filthy rainwater below. Fluorescent lights bounding up and down the helter skelter, the arcades, the entrance signs. Bells ding-ding-dinging, announcing winners, trumpets wah-wah-wahing, commiserating losers. Late 90s, early noughties pop and dance music stuttering out of the leaf-strewn speakers, serenading the rides as they continue to rattle along their tracks. Voices; shouting, calling, hawking. Roll ups and step-right-ups bellowed out across the park from stall owners, ticket-sellers, carnies practised in their craft. Some dressed in modern-ish clothing, others bedecked in outfits clearly more suited to the Victorian era. And, in amongst it all, the gangly frame carousing the park, weaving in and out. His top hat towering above him. Stalked, every step of the way, by that shadow. A shiver shoots down Ian’s spine, his hold on Louise’s hand tightening to a crush. She fails to notice, gripped in horror by the visions before her. The gangly figure with the top hat stops suddenly beneath the arch of one of the larger rollercoaster drops. And turns. Looking directly towards the four of them. A smile, more satisfied than sinister, flutters across his mouth. He begins to walk towards them. The four frantically turn and look at each other once again. Their faces twisted in a variety of fearful poses and trembles. As one they all look back towards the advancing figure one last time.
And then they run.
‘Right you can all settle down now, that’s us done.’
The gangly gentleman clicks his fingers above his head, almost theatrically, and completely extinguishes the lights, the sounds, the movements, the rides. It basks the theme park in a darkness and silence once more. He removes the top hat from his head, gently dusting the top of it with care, a touch of pride perhaps, and no lack of vanity.
‘Is that us finished already then?’ an older man shuffles out from a ticket booth next to the rollercoaster. Immaculately dressed head to toe in tweed, exuberant sideburns straddling his cheeks, a cultivated twang flavours his accent.
‘It is indeed.’
‘And so…erm…come on good man, spill the beans…did you meet them?’
‘No, I saw them but they fled.’
‘Oh for goodness sake!’
‘They all flee at first. Every bloody one of them.’
‘Well, fine. But you saw them yes? What have we got?’
‘They’re fairly young I would say. Late teens to mid-twenties or so perhaps.’
‘Two males, two females.’
‘Okay. Good. Good.’
‘I crept around a bit beforehand. Listened in. The usual. One of the males is clearly a bit of waster, that’s indisputable. The other seems like the adventurous, outgoing, leader type. As for the females; both fine looking girls I must say. One’s fairly ditzy, bit of an airhead. The other, the smarter of the two, seems fairly level headed. Some temper on her though. I’m sure they’ll all have their uses. Even if they are all massive stoners. I tell you though, they couldn’t be more like the bloody Scooby gang if they tried. Not even the laziest, most cliché-loving subpar writer would create a gang of four as bloody obvious as that!’ He laughs mockingly.
‘A…gang of…Scoobs? Sorry, what?’
‘Ah. Well before your time wasn’t it? Never mind. Never mind.’
‘Quite. So what now? What’s the plan?’
‘Plan? Nothing really. They’ll come back. They always do.’
The older man nods distractedly as he glances from side to side in a haze of confusion.
‘Ah’ he exclaims, clearly landing successfully on a memory that threatened to slip from his mind’s grasp. He marches off to the side, walking straight through a stall, and disappears into the enclosed darkness for a brief moment. He emerges, walking back through the stall once again, as he clutches a deer stalker hat. He puts it on. ‘Can’t be forgetting this eh. Can’t return to the castle without now, can I’
‘Ruin of a castle you mean…’ mumbles the gangly man under his breath.
‘Yes, anyway. Better be off. All the others appear to be leaving so I might aswell make my retreat’ he nods to the dozens of figures, adorned in a range of outfits stretching back at least two or three centuries, scuffling and trudging their way away from the theme park. All walking past, over and through the rides and attractions strewn across the derelict landscape.
‘Okay. You’re sure they’ll return though, yes?’
‘Of course they will. They always come back. You know this. They can run, flee, scatter, attempt an escape. But sooner or later everyone around this area returns, they always come back.’
‘Once they realise, yes?’
‘Indeed. Give them a while. They’ll eventually find their way out of the woods. Then they’ll find the car about half a mile down the road. And if they don’t realise it when they see the state of the wreckage then they’ll soon figure it out when they see their lifeless bodies inside. Bloody stupid drink drivers. That or they’ll start realising they can walk through things. After all, it takes a while to kick in. As you obviously know. Either way they’ll soon realise they’re dead.’
‘Yes. Quite. Well, I’ll be off then.’ The older man tips his hat towards the gangly man respectfully.
The older man departs, leaving the latter on his own. He strolls slowly across to the swings, taking in the sight of the discarded cans, roll-ups and plastic bags scattered across the tarmac, sporadic patches of weeds littered around them.
‘Lucky bastards’ he mutters, ‘stoned, pished, dead in seconds. Somewhat different to my agonisingly slow, freezing, starvation-filled death isn’t it. Ah well, not their fault is it. They’ll come back. They always do. They always will. In fact…something tells me they’ll come to their wee realisation any minute now…’
A low, grumbling shudder echoes over head, sending large drops of rain battering to the ground. The drops rapidly develop into a steady downpour, sheets of rain careering down on the scene, slapping off the rustic steel of the rides. He looks up toward the pale moon as it edges out from behind a cloud. He smiles slightly. A faint scream slithers into the night air from a distance. His smile widens.
‘And there it is…’
He calmly places the top hat back on his head and strides purposefully towards the woods.