“Do you think my readers will be upset that they had to wait 10 days just for Part Two of this story?” I ask.
“Nah. Avatar: The Last Airbender fans had to wait about three months during a hiatus in season three, and it took years for The Order of the Phoenix to come out. You’re in the clear.”
Beloved closes the safety gate, then presses a button that rises up the elevator with a dull whirring sound.
“And so the Page has turned, and again we tread the treacherous path that leads to the End,” says the Necronomicon.
“Does he always talk like this?” asks Bee (short for Beloved).
“It’s my fault. I try to give all the books character,” I say, picking up the book in my free hand. “Trust me, he’s a lot better than Thesaurus. Always re-iterating, rewording, repeating himself . . .”
“Being redundant?” she added with a smile, and I laughed.
The lift slips into a shaft in the ceiling and for a moment we’re surrounded by darkness, before appearing in some kind of supervisor’s office. The walls were white, with a fan blowing above.
“So, this is where you were controlling the whole operation?”
“Yeah. I was kinda hoping that the decor would be better, but there’s only so much description you can provide with the written word.” She showed off a small purple notebook with blank pages and drawings. “This story, I had to dig through my old USB to find it. So there are a lot of holes that I never filled . . . thirteen-year old arrogance.”
“Well, if you literally wrote the book on this place, then how do we get out of here?”
She opened the book, and shook out a map. How the fit in with the papers, I didn’t know. She uncrumpled it and handed it to me.
“We probably need to take the ferry ride here, to leave the quickest. None of the employees here are homicidal, so we should be safe.”
“Just outside the office.” She stuffed her notebook into a purse that was on the office desk, and beckoned me to follow. We walked outside.
Outside, the door to the office was hidden within a large, faded sign that was advertising theme park food. And across a wide path, there was some kind of lake, covered with reeds and other wetlands-y stuff. And beside a short wooden boardwalk was a paddle steamer. There was a sign saying “Wait to be Called.”
“You know, guilty secret, I loved that Horrorland book, the first one,” Beloved said as we climbed into the boat. “Troy Steele hates it, but at the time I thought that the coffin ride was a fun if creepy idea. Guess R.L. Stine knew what would keep his readers coming back for more.”
“I thought they were fun too, if a bit silly,” I say, joining her aboard the boat. Unlike the rest of the park, it looked quite clean. I couldn’t say the same of the scummy water though; it looked like it needed to be flushed. “But this is an ordinary ferry, right? No coffins?”
“Mostly ordinary,” she said, leading us both to a seat next to the railing. “There’s a fun aspect to it as well, though . . .”
The boat started to move, slowly. Beloved indicated that we could stand and walk, but that there were railings in case we needed to hold onto them.
“I hope you like the scenic route,” she said. “No spiders and no coffins, but lots of water.”
We watched as some bees flitted past the boat. If not for the fact that the water was scummy and we could see zombies operating the food stalls in the distance, then I would’ve thought this was a romantic getaway.
“Is this what it’s like in the part of America, where you live? Sans zombies, of course . . .”
“The Everglades is; where I live, it’s more urban. I hope I can show it to you for real someday,” she said. “You know on the real airboat rides the guides feed marshmallows to the gators, to make them come closer to the boat. It freaked me out the first time I saw it, but alligators aren’t that bad, as long as you don’t get on their bad side.”
“Did you write any alligators into this story?” I ask.
“Only Sandy . . . in fact, here she is now,” Beloved looked over the side of the boat. “She’s in her enclosure.”
There was a small island with a wall surrounding it; within it rested the largest gator I had ever seen. Come to think of it, the only alligator I’d ever seen but nonetheless, it was enormous. It was about ten metres long, and it resembled its dinosaur heritage. The gator was basking in the sun with its jaw open.
“Wait wait wait . . . Sawgrass Sandy is an alligator? I thought she was a little girl. A little, racist girl . . .”
“There probably was a racist girl named Sandy, but the one here is an alligator,” Beloved said, a little darkly.
“In times forgot, the tales we tell rot and details slough off like rancid blubber. What remains is a remnant of the truth, but untrue.” said the Necronomicon, sending a shiver down my spine as the boat slowly drifted past Sandy’s enclosure. She was perfectly still, she almost looked like she was sleeping, but her size was unsettling.
“The trick is to not encroach on her territory,” Beloved said. “As long as no idiot climbs onto her island.”
As if to punctuate her sentence, the boat stops with a jolt, and there’s the sound of groaning metal.
“Oh come on,” Beloved said with irritation. “I always try to have OSHA compliance in my fiction!”
“Do you think he’s going to fix . . .” I turn to look at the driver, he’s zombily turning the wheel back and forth, unaware that we’ve stopped. “ . . . never mind.”
I head over to the front of the boat and lean over. The front of the boat has caught on something under the water, and the noise is pointing directly at some kind of wooden barrier in the water. It’s artificially separating our part of the water from some kind of fast-moving rapids. After a few seconds, I see an empty, floating, rubber tyre speed past, and realize it’s some kind of tyre-ride.
“Gah. It caught on the wall,” mutters Beloved, as she takes out her notebook and reads it. “Let me see what’s in here that I can use to unsnag it.”
“Wait, if you wrote this, then can’t you just write us a magic pumpkin coach and whisk us out of here?”
“It has to be plausible, whatever I write, Major. No deus ex machina. Pumpkins aren’t native and would sink in the water.”
“Fine, what about . . . boat-hook ex machina?”
“Boat-hook works.” Beloved started writing until a large boat hook appeared. She winced as it fell on the boat with a hard thud. “That’s going to leave a scratch.”
Beloved picked up the newly-written boat-hook and hands it to me. I reach the hooked end into the water and swish it around till I hit something.
“Ah ha! Just gotta dislodge . . .” I say giving it a pull, but it doesn’t move. I grab tight with both arms and heave . . . CRACK!
The boat jolts, but not forward. I hold up the end of the boat-hook and see a huge nail dangling from the end. I look down and watch as the safety wall starts to splinter.
“Bloody hell,” Beloved said, her voice becoming screechy. “Why did I say nothing would go wrong? Something always goes wrong when you say that!”
The boat charges forward and dips, then splash! We hit the water and the boat shifts and sways into the river rapids ride. I fall over, dropping the boat-hook and grab onto a chair, but look up and see my Beloved holding the railing.
“Are you alright, Bee?” I ask.
“I have a bruised ego and the urge to ramble in panicked fashion, but physically I’m fine,” she replies. “May need to binge on chocolate after this.”
I try to get to my feet, but the boat tips back and I slide across the wooden floor back towards my girlfriend.
“So much for our peaceful river cruise, right?”
“Next time I'm looking up fanfiction fluff when I do a guest blog,” she said, her face flushed with anxiety. “I didn’t mean for things to get messed up this badly.”
As I finally manage to grab ahold of the railing and get to my feet, the boat rocks to the side and nearly throws me overboard
“I have got to learn to write romantic comedies where only slapstick happens,” says Bee as she grabs the back of my shirt. “Careful; don’t get scraped!”
I don’t fall, but as I’m left dangling for a moment, I see the faces of several dozen water-bloated zombies clinging to the side of the boat; they’re trying to climb aboard. The boat rocks the other way and I grab the railing so as not to fall.
“Where’s the boat-hook?!” I call out.
“Why?” asks Beloved as she passes me the wooden pole.
“I need a weapon or something, there are zombies trying to climb aboard.
“Gah!” says Beloved with a frown, not letting go of the hook. “They aren't going to hurt you! They’re only doing their jobs! Don’t hurt my characters, help them!”
Feeling a bit sheepish, I take the boat-hook and lean over the side of the boat.
“Here! Grab on!” I call down. One of the zombies grabs it, and starts to climb. Beside me, my girlfriend appears with a ladder she must have written with the notebook and helps more of the zombies to climb up. She gets two on board, but the boat-hook is really slippery, and my zombie looks up at me with two paled, scared eyes and opens its gummy mouth as if to groan for help. It holds out a reaching, skeletal hand. I cringe at first at the idea of touching the dead flesh, but I can see a swell ahead of the boat, it would throw the zombie into the water. I clench my teeth, reach out and grab the hand. In my hand, the bones and old skin feels like a bag of marbles and nails, but I pull, lifting the zombie up to grab the railing. It struggles to climb over sideways, so after taking a deep breath, I grab the shoulder in one hand and the hip in the other and help it to roll over onto the floor. On its back, it looks up at me and smiles toothlessly.
“Rraahhk uh,” it grunts.
“You’re welcome,” I say. I hold out a hand and help it to its feet. That’s when we hit the swell. The tip of the boat snaps sharply upwards, then - as though we were on a rolling boat ride - we roll entirely forwards and over the hump and the front of the boat slaps the water sending spray over every man, woman and zombie aboard. It seems like we’re finally on still water.
The three zombies on the main deck slowly, yet frantically scramble to the railing and try to help the other zombies in the water which manages to cling on. I hand my boat-hook to Gummy and he helps drag a female zombie with an exposed ribcage out of the water and the two Beloved saved use her notebook to conjure up a net, to save another three.
“Thank you for staying calm through this.” says Beloved, giving me a hug. “I honestly don’t know how you put up with me.”
We’re both wet from the water, but I hug her back anyway.
“It’s fine, I think I’m getting used to zombies,” I say.
“Rargh-uh-Rarr!” screams Ribs, as she points past the front of the boat.
“What does that mean?” I ask.
“Waterfall,” translates the Necronomicon.
“Nice to see he can be succinct,” my girlfriend mutters
“Wait, you can speak zombie? . . . also, Waterfall?!” I scream, then my girlfriend and I run to the bow of the ship. About thirty metres down-stream, the water disappears from sight due to the top of a sawgrass and weed-edged waterfall.
“That’s not a real waterfall; all water rides have them,” Beloved scolds. “The only problem is that we don’t have safety bars and everyone’s usually in tires . . .”
“Well, we need a way to get out of here” I say. “Is a magic pumpkin really out of the question?”
“Yes, a magic pumpkin is out of the question. But I have a better idea . . . ‘zombie-chain’.” says Beloved.
She walks over to one of the zombies which is missing his eyeballs and talks to zombies in a hushed voice, for the purposes of dramatic tension. Then she walks back, grinning.
“One day I’m going to write a story about zombie mechanics in the Caribbean. But this will do for now.”
She turns and we watch as the zombies head for the right side of the boat, with some effort, and holding each other for support, they all climb on top of the railing. The eight zombies then link arms at the elbow and Blinky, the blind one, grabs tightly onto the railing while Gummy at the other end of the line is holding onto the boat-hook.
Then, on the count of ‘Arrrgh’ Gummy jumps off and the rest follow in a kind of undead Mexican wave until Blinky jumps off, still holding the railing. I run to the edge to see Gummy stab the boat-hook into the ground, then all the zombies hold tight, some of them even locking their legs together at the knee. After a few seconds, the zombie-chain grows taught, and the pull starts to turn the boat.
Blinky yells out in pain, so Bee and I run over and grab his arm and leg, so that he doesn’t dislocate any joints and lose his grip on the boat. The boat veers towards the shore, but as we get within a few metres, I hear pops, cracks and snapping bones as the zombies decayed, bloated bodies start to give way.
“It’s a cliché, but we have to jump,” says Beloved, climbing onto the railing. I follow suit and then, not wasting time, we both jump onto the brown grass. The ground is slightly muddy, cushioning us slightly, but it still sends shocks of pain up my ankles.
“You can let go now!” Bee calls to the zombies. They let go and the chain drops into the water, then starts climbing onto land as the boat sails lazily onward, then drops off the edge of the waterfall. Three seconds later, there’s a loud, wet crumpling sound.
“Well, we got a bit lost on the ferry,” I say, taking the map from my pocket and unfolding it, “we took a detour through the rapids ride; but are we close to the exit?”
“Actually, yeah; but now, we just need to cross through the golf course. No one’s on it, zombie or monster, so we should be in the clear.”
“Are you sure, this time? The last ride had hidden zombies and waterfalls.”
“I'm pretty sure,” she said, biting her lip.
With almost comedic timing, an enormous alligator bursts out of the water and snaps up one of the zombies in her jaws.
“Sandy!” I scream. “RUN!!”
“This universe hates me!” Beloved shouted as we started to run.
“Why’s she so angry?! I scream panting as I run. “She looked asleep in her enclosure!”
“She must’ve laid eggs on the golf course. Alligators are only that angry when protecting their nests!”
“But how did she escape in the first place?!” I ask, incredulous.
“Because TYRANNY OF THE NARRATIVE dictates that a romantic stroll through a golf course wasn't scary enough for a Halloween Special!” screams Beloved.
Sandy stops attacking our innocent zombie-friends and scrambles after us with astounding speed.
“Wait wait . . . serpentine!” I yell out. “Zig-zag! They run in straight lines, they can’t turn fast!”
“They also tire out easily!” Beloved yelled back. “Keep running! I hope you have good cardio!”
Side by side, we turn then run a few metres before turning sharply the other way, running around golf-holes and sand traps. But Sandy is smarter than the average gator, and seems to make a bee-line through our zig-zagging.
“Why do I write stories with so much running?!” I whine. “But, if it makes you feel any better, I think this is still kind of romantic! I mean, we’re literally running away together . . .”
Beloved made a sound that was between a groan and a grunt as she clutched her side.
“Still less stressful than exercise with my brothers,” she admitted between breaths.
Sandy was barrelling towards us, closing the gap inch by inch every second. I can see the wooden fence and front gate to the park just a few dozen metres ahead, but I feel weak.
“I can’t keep this up, I’ll run out of wind before Sandy does” I wheeze. “I’m meant for writing, not running . . . can’t we write our way out of this?”
Still running, Beloved takes the notebook from her pocket and quickly scribbles something on the first blank page she can find. Suddenly, a pumpkin carriage with ornate wheels carved from pumpkin slices and a chassis made of vines pops into existence and falls on top of the alligator with a smoosh, cracking and spilling juice and seeds all over the place.
Beloved and I stop running and I lean over panting heavily as she points at the odd scene, Sandy wiggling beneath the heavy pumpkin-y mess.
“Pumpkins when ripe aren’t that durable,” she pointed out, wheezing a bit. She wrote a bite more until two metal bottles with gushing cold water appeared.
“You made a pumpkin carriage?” I say, panting as I stand up tall and take a swig of water.
“Well, you’ve been talking about them for this entire story, it was the first thing on my mind," says Bee, taking a sip. "At least pumpkins fit in with the Halloween theme, and it served a useful purpose.”
We walk towards the front gate and I finally find myself standing before it, the way out.
“Now what? Do we just walk through?” I ask.
“Not we, just you,” says Beloved. “You’re the main character, you have to get to the end and get back home; but I’m the writer. I’m already home, and when this story ends, I’ll be back in my room in America again, trying to get to bed and failing miserably because of my terrible sleeping habits.”
“I wish you could come with me,” I say.
“Believe me, so do I. I have a rocking Halloween costume but nowhere to wear it.”
I smile and give her a kiss.
“Goodbye, sweetheart. I’ll meet you for real, one day; non-fiction. But until then, this was a lot of fun.”
“It was. I better get going; have that ten AM class tomorrow.”
I force myself to let go of her hand, then I walk out the front entrance to the park. At first, everything looks normal. But then, the horizon starts to blur, and everything begins to fade until it all slips into blackness and my body goes numb.
I open my eyes and find myself staring at the ceiling, where the fan is whirring, to cool the room down. I sit up, and the book that was lying open on my chest falls onto my lap. I see that it’s open on the last page of the story, it reads:
I close the book and look at the Necronomicon in my hands.Sandy wiped the pumpkin gunk from her dress with a sweet, Southern smile.“Looks like that Dag-nabb'ed Dandy and his Aunt Jemima got away this time,” said Sandy, “But so long as I’ve got Mama’s prize, painted gator eggs, I can finally save all the souls in this hoodoo’d hell-park.”Sandy picked up the wicker basket from the sand and started skipping home.“But if I ever find those two ag’in, I’d be showin’ them God’s love, that’s for darn-tootin’!”The End
“I guess the story’s over, Necro,” I say, a little sadly. “I kind of wish I didn’t have to leave her behind . . .”
“Two hearts, cleaved in half, still beat and bleed separately across the vast, black ocean. Even if you ran, screaming, from your fate, they are doomed to collide in a Gordian knot of inter-twined destiny.” grumbles the book.
“Huh . . . that almost sounds sweet, if a little morbid,” I say, putting the book back on the shelf. Then I turn towards my computer, it makes a little *ding* noise as the chat program receives a message. It’s from my girlfriend:
GF: Hey there, my winter rogue. Hope that you enjoyed that taste of South Floridian madness. Have a safe, exciting Halloween, and I wish your constant readers the same. I know that you hate Stephen King, but I will quote the last line from Misery here, to leave with you and your readers in lieu of your usual signature:
Now my tale is told.