Amusements

Where things begin, they sometimes end…

Enjoy this short tale of kidnap and an abandoned amusement park.

“I’m here.”

Tom Hagen stood at the edge of the abandoned amusement park; a mobile phone pressed to his ear.

“Nobody followed?” the kidnapper asked.

“No.”

“You’re sure?”

Tom checked the empty, moon-silvered fields behind him.

“I’m sure.”

“You told the police what I told you to say?”

“I did.”

“Repeat.”

Tom stared into the shadowed land before him. A thick layer of rust had settled like snow across the abandoned rides, and in the distance the broken skeleton of a Big Dipper rose from the black tar night. Somewhere, in amongst the rot and ruin, the bastard had hidden Caroline.

“Please, just tell me where she is.”

“Repeat.”

“I did what you said. Isn’t that enough?”

“Repeat.”

An hour earlier, he’d told a gathering of police in his living room that he needed a cigarette, just like the kidnapper had told him. He didn’t smoke, that was Caroline’s habit, but a pack of cigarettes waited for him in the stone palm of a garden Buddha with a note inside:

FIND HER WHERE THE DIPS ARE BIG.

YOU HAVE UNTIL DAWN.

“Did the police ask any questions?” the kidnapper asked, bringing Tom back from his memory.

“No,” he said.

“Good. Do you have a question for me, Tom?”

“Only one,” he said.

“Where is she?”

“Yes.”

The kidnapper sniggered. He had the harsh laugh of a man with a twenty a day habit. “You’ll find her where love begins.”

“What?”

“You’ll find her where love begins.”

Tom’s fist clenched around the phone. “What do you mean?”

“Swirl, Tom. Swirl.”

The phone died, and Tom stared at it like an open grave.

Swirl?

🎡

Swirl?

He walked through the graveyard of amusements for ten long minutes before he found the chipped tea set ride sat on an oversized mechanical plate, the words SWIRL-A-GOG painted on the side of each cup.

A memory accompanied the discovery. They’d ridden the cups on their first date. Losing themselves inside a double spin, once from the ride, the second from new love.

The spin now was fear as he approached.

Inside the cup, the kidnapper had left a Polaroid. A picture Tom thought was pinned in an album back at the house.

He peeled it away and stared at the faded past.

Their younger selves smiled through time. Not two pennies to rub together, but it hadn’t mattered back then. Now? He had more pennies than he could count, but the smiles had faded faster than the photograph.

He turned the past over.

FISHES SWIM, BUT NEVER GET TOO FAR.

Tom trawled the past and hooked another memory.

They’d rushed from one ride to the next, one amusement to another that first night. He’d swung a hammer and reached only halfway up the thermometer of strength. He’d proven himself a good friend to tin ducks with a pellet gun. But the ring toss was his game.

“Three rings for a quid! Get three around their necks and win yourself a prize!”  The words carried on the wind from the past to the present.

On the shelves at the rear of the ring-toss stall, oversized teddy bears, sad Russian dolls, and not-so gold fish in plastic pouches waited as prizes. Before them, a rogue’s gallery of painted wooden bottles showed their necks to the punters: masked burglars, arrowed convicts, and dapper gangsters in pin-striped suits with pin thin moustaches. Each ring was a painted handcuff.

He’d forgotten his terrible aim and his weakness with the hammer as he tossed those rings.

First a burglar, then a convict, followed by a wooden gangster, all ringed on his first throw. The stall worker stared at him with one good eye, the other good eye hidden beneath a fancy-dress eyepatch.

“Winner! Winner! Pick your prize, sir!”

He’d looked to Caroline to make the choice. Without hesitation, she chose one of the fish suspended in its plastic pouch of water.

The prizes were gone now, but a single plastic pouch filled with water sat on the dusty shelf behind the stall.

Tom felt fear push with cold hands front to back.

He stepped forward.

A new fish bobbed inside the pouch water, pink and wrinkled. A gold wedding band ringed its middle.

🎡

Tom’s phone rang before he had chance to lose his mind.

The kidnapper laughed by way of reintroduction.

“Bastard,” Tom mumbled.

“What was that?”

“Nothing.”

“I think it was something. Repeat.”

“Doesn’t matter.”

“I’ll be the judge of that. Repeat.”

Tom turned a dizzying circle, wondering where Caroline might be.

Had the bastard hidden her high up on the Big Dipper? Or was she in amongst the bumper cars? Maybe he liked the irony and he’d chosen the Tunnel of Love?

“I said, ‘bastard’.”

“Such foul language from such an upstanding member of the business community.”

“What do you want from me? You never mentioned a ransom. How much do I have to pay?”

“You’ll pay. Have no doubt about that.”

“How much?”

The kidnapper whistled. “That much.”

“Just tell me what you want me to do, for Christ’s sake!”

“You already know. You’ve always known.”

“What’s that supposed to mean?”

“Love begins, and love ends. You’ll find her where it ends. Let the finger point the way.”

Tom’s eyes fixed on the pink fish bobbing in the pouch. His gut bubbled.

“Just tell me, please.”

“Please, is it? Oh, if you’d only been so polite in the past, Tom, none of this might be happening.”

“What?”

“Follow the finger, because you never followed your heart.”

“What?”

The phone died.

Tom held the pouch up and watched as the finger swung left and right like a compass needle.

Follow the finger? He couldn’t mean—

The bastard is messing with me. He’ll have me collecting bits of her all night long like I’m on an Easter egg hunt.

She’s dead.

The thought chilled him. A new thought followed.

Would it be such a bad thing?

Tom hated to think it, but he couldn’t help himself.

If she was dead then the divorce wouldn’t go through. She wouldn’t be able to take him for half of his money.

If she was alive…?

If…

Tom shook the thought away as he hoisted the pouch up to the light of the moon. The silver light illuminated a word tattooed on the flesh: ghosts.

Ghosts?

Where would you find ghosts in an abandoned—

The Haunted House!

🎡

A witch greeted him by the door; her rubber face peeled back to the mechanical grin beneath. Black silhouetted cats sat behind the cobweb curtains in the windows. A vampire bat with a single wing dangled listlessly from the roof.

Tom opened the door, and it creaked with age not with purpose. Ten years of rot crept up inside his nostrils as he stepped inside.

He reeled at the stench and covered his face.

They’d visited this place last on that first night. He’d held her close as plastic skeletons jumped from closets, rubber hands crawled out from mice-holes in the skirting boards, and the mannequin dead rose from their—

Coffins!

On the final stop of the tour they’d visited the basement where a coffin waited. Inside was a puppet vampire re-animated by strings in the lid.

Tom descended into the basement, the light from his phone revealing the strangest of sights.

Where a single coffin once provided amusement for the patrons, now stood the shadows of a dozen, more.

Tom swept the darkness with the phone’s light, and stopped as it started to ring in his hand.

“Eenie-meenie-minie-moe,” the kidnapper sang.

“Which one is she in?”

“Take a guess.”

“I don’t know. Just tell me she’s alive.”

“Do you care, Tom?”

I don’t know, he thought.

If she’s dead then…then…

“Of course, I do,” he said.

“Did you care that night when she found you with Samantha?”

“How did—”

“It wasn’t the first night, or the last, was it, Tom? Three times you broke your promises afterwards. Three different women, but they were all in the same bed. The one you shared with Caroline. Three’s the harm.”

“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“You do. Now it’s time to pay.”

“What—”

A door slammed shut at the top of the stairs. A lock clunked into place.

“Choose wisely. One body holds the key to the door I just locked. Three mistakes and you’re gone.”

“I—”

The lights blinked on in the basement. The coffins, shedding darkness, showed themselves to be hollow plastic shells. In each coffin was a man made from white explosive bricks, dressed up in Sunday best.

The kidnapper laughed and halfway through the chuckle he lost the depth in his voice.

“Eeenie-meenie-minie-moe,” Caroline said.

“Caroline?”

“Yes, Tom?”

“What are you doing?”

“Amusing myself,” she said.

“This isn’t funny. Stop it. You’re wasting the police’s time, you know that? They can arrest you for that.”

She giggled. “Only if they find a body.”

He felt the night touch the back of his neck.

“What?”

“A body, Tom. Without a body there’s no crime. What an amusing thought.”

He paced the ground before the coffins and their explosive corpses.

“You’re not making sense, Caroline.”

“Allow me to. You have three choices, Tom. Three chances to get it right, or wrong. Or—” Her laugh was an explosion.

“But—”

“Eenie-meenie-minie-moe, darling. Choose wisely.”

Tom ran from coffin to coffin, seeing no difference in one dressed-up explosive man or the other. If a clue existed in amongst the doppelgängers, he couldn’t find it.

“I just guess, do I?” Tom said.

“I had to about our marriage, so why not you?”

Tom walked to the foot of the stairs. He stopped there and stared at the solid metal door standing between him and freedom.

He found some courage, but he wasn’t sure where it came from.

“What if I refuse?” he said.

Her laugh sounded like a drill hitting soft wood. “Not your choice, darling. I’ve given you until dawn, though. I think that’s more than generous of me.”

“You’re serious?”

“Eenie-meenie-minie-moe.”

“You’re bluffing.”

“Am I?”

He couldn’t be sure.

“Yes. Definitely. You wouldn’t do this. It’s not in your nature.”

“Do you still have my finger, darling?”

He felt the watery pouch and its strange fish in his jacket pocket.

“I—”

“You have no idea who I am or what I’m capable of, and I most certainly never knew you either. But I do know where love began, and I do know where it will end, one way or the other.”

“Don’t do this, Caroline. We can work something out. I’ll give you seventy-five percent, eighty, whatever you want.”

“Come the dawn, I might get a hundred. Who knows?”

“Please.”

“Repeat.”

“What?”

“Repeat what you said.”

“Please?”

She sighed with satisfaction. “To hear you beg makes this all the sweeter, Tom. You couldn’t know how sweet. You truly couldn’t.”

“Listen, Caroline, I’ll—”

“Goodbye, Tom. It was fun.”

🎡

Dawn’s silent tide lapped at the locked door. It would soon leak under the crack and flood the whole basement.

He heard Caroline’s explosion of laughter in his mind and flinched.

Which coffin held the key?

There was no way to tell, and only one way to find out.

Three ways. Three chances.

Tom rushed from casket to casket.

“Bitch,” he said, through gritted teeth. She could have given me a clue.

But she had. Cigarettes, Polaroid, and finger.

Tom inspected each under the light of his phone.

If there was anything in them that pointed towards the right coffin, he couldn’t make it out right away.

He tore the cigarette packet apart, but found only printed warnings about certain death.

He emptied the water and held the finger up to see if it might point him in the right direction, but it had no magnetism.

Finally, he held the Polaroid up under the light.

Nothing but smiles. Nowhere to hide anything within those grins. Just two young lovers where it all began.

Where it ended, there were no smiles, except…except…

Tom ran to the coffins and swept the phone’s light across the faces of every explosive man until he found the one with a grin.

It wasn’t so much of a grin, as it was the placing of a stick horizontally instead of vertically. A small detail, and easy to miss.

“Bitch,” he said, with some admiration.

Thought you could fool me? Well, I know you better than you think, Caroline. A lot better.

Three chances? I only need one.

Tom opened the coffin door.

🎡

The abandoned amusement park came to life in a bright explosion of light. It looked, for a moment, as if the park was open again. For a moment.

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Bastard son of a typewriter, Paul John Lyon writes in several genres, some of them without embarrassing himself.

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