No one at Sunny Wonders Amusement Park was more downtrodden about owner Barry Victor’s death than the twenty-seven mannequins of his likeness that stood like sentries across the sweltering, dilapidated grounds of his life’s work. “Have you seen them?” Missy asked on her fifth smoke break, taking advantage of the chaos to squeeze moments away from the brutal end-summer heat of the lemonade stand. “They look fuckin’ sad.”
She wasn’t the only one to notice the unpleasant energy of the Barrys. Some, like the Barry nestled inside the front nook of the gift shop, looked distracted, glassy eyes gazing into the horizon. The Barry on Memory Lane (the “Old Americana reenactment display” visitors only cut through to get to the bumper cars) was despondent, almost funerary in his bowler hat and three-piece suit. He was still waving his sun-faded newspaper at passerby, less a hearty salutation than an act of overwhelming grief, his stiff arm holding the news of Barry’s death aloft for the world to see.
Not everyone had noticed. Most visitors (especially locals) did their best to not look directly at the Barrys as they trudged across the park grounds.
“What’s that man doing?” a child asks, pointing at one before being shushed away, innocent to the uptick of fear in their parent’s hearts. Decades ago, during the height of Barry’s “cocaine summers”, he would at random swap spots with a doppelganger, dress in its clothes, and hold its frozen stance, only to burst to life and dash at passing youth. In the heady days of the ‘80s and early ‘90s, parents loved watching their kids be traumatized. Barry’s office door was plastered in shots of him beside crying, terrified minors, a generational legacy of unease. Like crows, those children taught their own to keep a healthy distance.
“Nobody wants to see that creepy shit anymore, I would say,” said Jamal, who worked the log flume.
It was mainly the people who worked there, the veterans, who noticed the change in the mannequins. They had lost something, a flicker of that uncanny valley. The conductor Barry who stood bug-eyed at the split on the old wooden roller coaster, the mess hall Barry nude save a chef hat and apron, the parachute pilot Barry forever stuck in a tree, all were lost somewhere inside their hollow minds.
They had to know the writing on the wall. With Barry gone, the fate of the park and the fifty-four acres it stood on were in limbo. Barry’s son, Hugo Victor, shared little of his father’s obsessions, and everyone knew how damaging a careful OSHA audit of the park could be. The scuttlebutt was that this was the last or second-to-last summer Sunny Wonders would stay open.
Kiera didn’t mind. She was a teacher for the rest of the year at Glendale Middle School, so all it meant was she’d need to find some other way to spend her summers. For just over a decade now, since she was 16 years old, she’d been one of the park’s Helping Handys, a Barry-named position “entrusted with diligent care of the facilities and any spontaneous and unforeseen issues that may arise wherein.” In practice, it was a gift gig to Barry’s hand-picked favorites. It meant they could go wherever, do whatever, with none of the supervision or expectations the minimum-wage and lower management positions required. It was, in essence, a load of bullshit, but out of guilt and camaraderie Kiera tried to be useful where she could, checking in with friends, pitching in during heavy rushes. Things like that.
She wasn’t doing anything of the sort when Hugo found her, sitting by the tide pool in a sun hat, reading a tawdry romance novel & chuckling to herself.
“Kiera,” he muttered, silhouetted by the shimmer. She looked up over her heart-shaped plastic sunglasses and smiled.
“Afternoon, Huey. What’s the news?” she deadpanned.
He’d always hated that nickname. “The news? You wanna know the news?”
Kiera looked up over her book and unsuredly nodded.
Hugo’s voice picked up. “News is I’m your boss now!” He shrugged. “Also, my dad is dead. ”
“Oh my god, right.”
She stood up awkwardly, closing her book and taking off her sunglasses. “This is going to sound horrible, but it’s honestly hard to remember he was your dad.”
“For you, him and everyone else besides me, yeah.”
She sighed. “I shouldn’t have picked on you today, I’m sorry.”
“I’m in charge now, Kiera. Our history aside, you can’t talk to me like that around the other employees! They’d never respect me again.”
Our history aside. Kiera stifled a chuckle. They’d dated for one summer, making out in dark corners of the park and doing hand stuff until she broke it off for good. The puppy dog appeal wore off & Huey just didn’t have the fire she craved in a partner. He’d had a chip on his shoulder ever since, skulking around her orbit when their paths crossed, but they had stayed a strange & unexamined kind of friend.
“Of course. So, what did you need me for?”
He sighed, his shoulders tensing up as his gaze lowered to the ground. “I…”
“…I need a key to the central office,” he admitted. The two stood in silence, the air thickening with shame. Kiera had known Hugo and Barry hadn’t always been the closest, but to not have a key to the office? Had Barry really not prepared for this at all?
“Sure, boss,” she said, smiling. She grabbed her bag and Helping Handy lanyard. “Let’s get whatever you need.”
He smiled back, always putty in her hands.
They made their way across the slick walkways of Puddletown, Sunny Wonder’s modest water park. Despite only having two water slides, its log flume and three Olympic-size pools side by side attracted crowds who appreciated the accessible and mostly clean waters. In the center of the poolspace, a replica pirate ship peppered by chattering toddlers loomed large. At the foot of the ship, the pirate captain Barry who once stood proudly on the gangplank had been unmoored from his fastenings and dropped face-first onto the dewy tile.
Kiera looked over to see if Hugo had noticed, but he was distracted on his cellphone. He held the screen close up to his face to see past the glare reflecting off the chlorinated water.
“You would not believe the logistical nightmare of inheriting a theme park, Kiera. I don’t know the first thing about accounting and according to Google this shit requires a lot of it.”
She laughed. “Don’t worry too much about the numbers. Last I remember, Barry handed most of the day-to-day expense work over to Kevin.”
Hugo’s eyebrows bristled as a child slid past him before catching up with Kiera. “Kevin the janitor, Kevin?”
“Kevin got an MBA from State a few years back. He’s actually made things run a bit smoother than when Barry was running the books. We’re still definitely in the red, though.”
They passed through Puddletown into the Goat Hills, Sunny Wonder’s former multi-animal petting zoo overrun with goats in the distracted months after 9/11. The animals’ gift for climbing had enabled them to scale their way into the other habitats, and with a few tragic and notable exceptions, they found themselves welcome among the other beasts until finally Barry officially changed the name and printed off commemorative T-shirts.
“Office is right through here.”
“I know where the office is!” Hugo grumbled.
A goat walking among the cages shouted back before chasing down a toddler eating popcorn.
Behind a bamboo garden hid the door to the employee warehouse. Inside, a small group of staff were hunched around a table, clamoring over a game of cards. Kiera bit her tongue and glanced over at Hugo, his face beat red. Before he could explode, she cleared her throat as loudly as she could. The group looked up, unsure what the problem could be, until at last they noticed Hugo and broke into a scramble.
In seconds, all but Missy (gathering up the abandoned bettings fluttering in the air) were gone. “I’m going, I’m going,” she offered.
After Missy shuffled out of view, Hugo exhaled. “No one here respects me. Not even you.”
Kiera groaned. “Come on, that’s not true. This is just what people do here, it’s why they come back to work for peanuts year after year.”
“To steal my father’s money by hiding in the break room playing blackjack? Good for them.”
Kiera walked over to the entrance of the main office by the sunglasses polar bear calendar dangling above a water cooler. “It’s Thursday. You know, he used to play on Thursdays. Always brought a handle of brandy to share.”
She unlocked the dark office and stepped inside, Hugo close behind. Kiera was getting sick of his petulant attitude. She hoped there wasn’t much left he’d need, that he could just grab whatever and leave to go kill the park somewhere she could comfortably ignore. She hit the light switch. Hugo screamed.
Under the wide, harsh incandescent hanging office light, sitting in Barry’s office chair was Barry himself, rendered in incredible detail, body made of fleshy wax. His eyes glimmered with manic lightning just as in life, wrinkled face bent into a performer’s smile. His posture and dress was that of a welcoming king, arms outstretched as if inviting the world in for a hug.
Kiera laughed. “Oh my god, it looks so good!”
Hugo went pale. “What-” he coughed, “…What is this?”
Kiera tried to stop laughing. “The Barry to end all Barrys! I’d completely forgotten he’d ordered this. He said he sat with the Madame Tussaud’s people. Cost him twenty seven thousand dollars. What a madman. It really does look good, though, worth every penny.”
“Twenty seven thousand dollars?! To what end could he possibly have justified this when the park was fucking hemorrhaging money?”
“Think he said he wanted it up on a throne at the entrance, to ‘welcome everyone into his kingdom’. Don’t think he ever ordered the throne, though…”
Hugo snapped. With feral grunts, he started rampaging across the room, dead-arming papers to the ground, pulling out filing cabinets in thrusts, kicking the front of the desk. Kiera backed up into the corner, watching the Tussaud’s Barry shake in his seat as echoes of force rattled his chair. He seemed to be laughing at Hugo, egging him on. Without realizing it, Kiera’s shaking hands had bundled into fists.
Hugo gripped the desk and shook it, screaming blood-throat into the ever-smiling visage of his dead father. He held the visceral cry for twenty seconds until at last he had no wind left and dropped to his knees, mumbling breathlessly. Kiera did not move from her spot in the corner.
“…He never cared,” picked up his raw cat scratch of a returning voice, “Couldn’t spare a thought to what he would leave me to do. He didn’t… teach me anything, how to run this, how to ‘like it’. All that rotting fucker wanted to do was get his rocks off and put his face where everyone could see.”
Kiera said nothing.
“Now I get to be the shitty son who closes his dad’s hellhole theme park. I get to be the one who lays people off because he let the park go to shit. I get to be the miserable sequel because I couldn’t be as big as he was.”
The air in the room was hot and stale. Kiera wanted to leave.
Hugo crawled towards Kiera on his knees in jerky spurts.
“I can’t do this, Kiera.” He took her hands in his, moist and soft like dolphin skin.
Kiera shook her head in disapproval.
“I know! I could… I-I could make you head of park operations! You know so much about it, more than I ever could. People listen to you!”
She started to escape the corner, but Hugo gripped her tighter.
“Please! He’s left me so alone, Kiera, I need you! I need someone to help me!”
Kiera instinctually kicked Hugo in the face, rending him off her arm and back into the front of the desk. Red blood spurted across the room like the Puddletown fountain on Halloween. Wax Barry shook, harsh shadows dancing on his face, Polaroids of crying children raining to the ground.
Hugo, howling as he gripped his leaking face, continued scurrying towards her like a stomped roach. “Do you really want to be a teacher?! A theme park Helping Handy? Don’t you want something bigger? I’m offering it to you, Kiera! Am I really that terrible?”
“Close the park or don’t,” Kiera bellowed, “I don’t care. But don’t you ever insult me or the life I’ve chosen for myself again. You know, maybe your dad didn’t teach you how to run Sunny Wonders because he thought you didn’t want to! Because you walked around your whole childhood like it was a fucking burden to be around happy families, to hire good people for stupid summer job bullshit and let them have a few pathetic comforts, too.”
Hugo was immobilized under the heavy spotlight. Kiera sighed, anger catalyzing into a pitiless chill. “Barry knew what he wanted out of life, Huey. So do I. Figure it out for yourself and leave me the hell out of it.”
The door slammed behind her. Hugo lay twitching on the floor, eyes fixated on the hanging light, how it swayed overhead. His nose was still funneling blood between his fingers (from the kick? the screaming? God, how embarrassing it all was.) After what felt like half an hour, Hugo picked himself up off the floor, sleeves and hands stained muddy brown. He left the office hunched over himself, passing through the vacant warehouse and out into the thoroughway. The sun had begun to set, the sky all sherbert and cream. The sound of pleasant screams and rolling clacks of the old-time coaster came sailing over the breeze.
Do I have it in me to kill this place?
Just outside the 3-D Dino Theatre, a kid vomited at an upright obtuse angle, arcing out an evening shadow. Hugo watched as the family poured out water bottles on the bile, hoping no one had seen them. They rubbed the child’s back, ushering her back into the cool of the gift shop, a velociraptor statue jutting out from nearby foliage. Interesting, Hugo thought. Dino Cowboy Barry isn’t riding it today.
Hugo had a sudden craving for Storyland. He went through the Witches’ Hut three times, staying upright in the spinning house interior. “Not so easy keeping on your feet, is it, my pretty?” Hugo said along with the recording. He walked through Memory Lane to Freedom’s Hymn, Barry’s patriotic diorama of American heroes. “Remember the Alamo! The lumberjacks! The Rough Riders! Remember the mothers, the little boys and girls who will make this country a dream on Earth, unlike the Dutch or the Chinese!”
He sat down in the musty cart for Prince’s Journey, a ride in dire need of repairs. It told the story of a Prince who had gotten lost in a forest after his carriage crashed and now lived in a giant mushroom. His best friend was an animatronic frog who licked up his tears from a distance like it was hunting flies. “I don’t know if I’ll ever find my way home,” cried the blonde prince, bouncing up and down to express sadness. “It’s perfectly fine, little Prince,” the frog would say, one eye still blinking with light. “You can make a happy home in the woods with me, and I’ll eat up all your tasty tears!” The boy would giggle like that was all he needed.
It was getting late. Hugo watched the working streetlights guide the patrons towards the exits from a nearby bench. He looked up at the sky’s sweeping purple, its inlaid stars and planelights. It was all so ugly and meaningless, but people passing smiled regardless.
Hugo realized little in this world had ever made him happy. Since he’d become a man, he’d made his way through various degrees, joylessly accumulating credentials for an end-game he could no longer see. No career would give him what he wanted. And love?
She had never seen him in that way (Had he really even seen her, too?)
He started to cry. He had searched his whole life for an appetite, for something to bring him satisfaction. Now, at life’s turning, he was called upon to choose his own path and again, Grand Nothing sat before his door.
He laid down on the bench and looked up, dizzy and light-headed. If nothing made him happy, why not run the park? Why not keep this blighted relic going as long as he could?
He could see the staff all gathered in the stuffy warehouse, expecting the end. Hugo would come in in a suit and Converse shoes, blaring Huey Lewis, embracing the big joke of his life. “Have you heard the news? I’m keeping this place open with the Power of Love!” They’d be so surprised, they might even cheer. He’d be one of them, another grunt in his slot keeping the merry-go-round spinning. They’d laugh and dance and he might even dance too, no matter what empty room sat inside his heart.
Hugo woke to a goat tongue in his ear. He swatted it away, crying out in shock. It was deep in the night and few lights still illuminated the park. The goat bleated indignantly, its affection scorned, before clopping away deep into the night.
Hugo looked down, realizing he had continued to bleed out for hours, staining most of his shirt. Had anyone seen him on the bench? Was he in any danger from the blood loss? He felt like he’d spent the night in Witches’ Hut. It was time to go to the hospital or home.
He checked his pockets for his wallet and keys. They were gone. Did someone take them? Had he lost them on a ride? Hugo clutched his stomach, panicking.
The golf carts. He could take one of the company carts home. After all, he owned the place, it wouldn’t count as stealing. He remembered the cart keys were kept in the employee warehouse and set off stumbling in the dark.
Without the presence of the sun, Sunny Wonders had a wholly alien energy Hugo had never felt before. He could make out the silhouettes of railways, buildings, and trees, guided by the few lights left on by careless workers. He couldn’t remember if there were surveillance cameras set up around the park, but the feeling of being watched was as pervasive as the silence. It was all right there, on him, around him, the horrible absence of heat and sound.
He did his best to imagine the hand-drawn park map and follow it to the warehouse. He caught a chill as he passed through PuddleTown, the low churn of the water playing on his neck hairs. From there, the sound of goats led him onwards, until at last, he could make out a light behind bamboo: the warehouse.
The warehouse was thankfully unlocked. The regular warehouse floor was not lit but the main office was, casting an ambient glow strong enough to make his way around. He walked over to the wall and grabbed the cart keys before a thought dawned upon him: Had he lost his wallet and keys in the office during his rampage? It was a sensible theory. He figured it would be worth it to check.
As he grew closer to the door, he felt a growing unease. Through the opaque glass of the office door, it looked as though there were several figures standing inside. His blood ran cold. Was this a robbery? Another employee secret, searching for anything valuable in the office to steal before the park closed down?
Hugo inched his ear close to the door and held it there, listening for signs of life. Minutes passed, and no sounds or movement came from beyond the door. Hugo sighed uneasily. It was almost impossible for there to be no sign of activity after this long. It was simply an illusion of the light and nothing further.
He opened the door.
The office was full of Barrys. Every Barry mannequin in the park, twenty-seven strong, stood around hands on hips, sitting on the floor, holding their themed hats in their hands, pantomiming weeping. None of them faced the door, frozen expressions angled towards the desk, where, still seated at the desk was the Barry to End All Barrys, his wax face melted under the headlights. His lidless eyes and warped, toothy smile stuck out of the thick drip of skin, the hand-inserted hairs drooping in clumps down each sloping side of his head.
Hugo let out a groan and all the Barrys turned at once to face him.