Incident at Dark Acres
by Kristi Petersen Schoonover
The first day I worked at Dark Acres, the other
ride operators warned me about lost shoes.
They said, “Morella,”—that’s
our boss—“Morella’s gonna tell ya to ‘go add these to the collection at the lost and found and don’t
worry about it.’ So you don’t hassle her buzz, you just do it, and you get back to your job.”
Now I didn’t see any big deal with that.
It seemed easy enough. Listen, I figured, lots of kids could lose their shoes on these rides. Especially in the summer. Because
they take them off, right? It’s like a hundred degrees outside and these kids, they’re in one of these dark rides—it
could be any one of ’em, Dark Acres has got seventeen if you count Jungle Terrors and the Donner Party Dip ’n’
Spin, which aren’t even open to the public
yet—and it’s nice and air conditioned.
And there’s water on the outside of the boat so when you go down the slides you get splashed. Seven Voyages of Sacrifice
is the longest ride in the park, so for a whole twelve minutes and change it’s nice and comfortable. So it’s perfectly
reasonable to think these kids chill out, take off their shoes, and forget ’em in the boat.
But that’s not what happened. I swear.
They pay me ten bucks an hour to make sure that
people don’t leap out of the boats and run around on the sets. Because people are stupid, you know. They always think
they can ignore the warnings. Like all those signs that say DO NOT EXIT BOAT or DANGER, PLEASE REMAIN SEATED or WARNING: ELECTRICITY
AND WATER. DO NOT ENTER are somehow not meant for them. That they’re invincible and those warnings are for someone else.
That’s how accidents always happen. Because people are stupid and ignore the signs. And then the park gets blamed. So
their solution now is my job—they have at least one staff member stationed in each of the rooms in each of the rides.
We can’t afford those pressure-pad intrusion alarm things like, you know, Disney has in the Haunted Mansion. And so
we just kinda hide out behind like the big glowing palm fronds or the trees—you know there’s fake trees in the
back of every setting at Seven Voyages, just like in Wreck of the Hesperus there’s fake storm clouds—so, generally,
that’s where we hide, and if we see anyone get out of the boat we stop the ride. We just have to go hit the switches,
back in the evacuation stairs.
I got up this morning and my jacket had a cotton
candy stain on it. (You know, these light pink vests, they just show all the stains.) I had to hit it with one of those stain
sticks, and by the time I got to work and punched in I was fourteen minutes late. The park opens at 11, but all the employees
have to be to work by eight so we can walk through and make sure everything’s turned on and working. So I got to Seven
Voyages of Sacrifice way later than I should have.
Morella came to me and said, “We gotta do
I said, “I gotta get coffee first in the break
room.” That’s totally cool with Morella. She knows some of us really need coffee before we can even move our pinky
toes. But it wasn’t that I needed the coffee, it’s that I wanted to prepare myself, because I never know what
I’m gonna find. The walk-throughs, they’ve been making me feel scared about my job security. The ride has been
looking really run-down, especially in the last few weeks. There’s layers of dust everyplace, there’s broken eyelids
on the mannequins. In one place, there’s this massive electrical wire thrusting up out of the water. But every time
I mention it to Morella, you know, like I say, “I really don’t think the ride should be running today,”
or, “We need to call maintenance and have someone fix that before we let people ride this thing,” she just kinda
gives me this weird little smile and marks an ‘X’ on her pink clipboard.
“Management has already taken care of it,”
she always says.
morning I was irritated with that answer so I asked her, “Then why we doin’ this walk through if you don’t
She just kept puttin’ checks on her clipboard
and didn’t even look at me, but she said, “Because it is part of how we…monitor our progress. Your job is
to tell me what you see, and make me aware. Commentary on how or when or if it will be fixed—or your opinion of any
I wanted to ask “progress toward what,”
you know, but I didn’t. Then we turned on all the moving scenes, but we turned on the work lights so we could see what
we needed to see. Not that it matters—the damn ride is creepy whether the lights are off or on. Ever ridden it? Well,
trust me. It’s creepy.
We checked the load area, and we’re hearing
the boats roll off the submerged wooden platform and there didn’t seem to be anything out of whack—until I looked
at the dioramas. On either side of the platform there’s these pirate ship dioramas with a maiden on the edge of the
plank, and below her, there’s these mechanical sharks and I think it’s every fourteen seconds one of them comes
up out of the fake water and bares its teeth. That’s where I noticed a problem. One of the sharks was coming up late,
you know, and I could hear this really loud creaking noise, a whining, and then a whole bunch of sparks sprayed everyplace.
Now I know it wasn’t that way yesterday. I pointed it out to Morella, you know, and I said, “We should turn off
the things because those sparks, somebody’s gonna get fried.”
“We’ve talked about this, Jarrod,”
she said to me. And she made another big friggin’ ‘X’ on the clipboard, I could see it, on the little picture
of the Pirate Ship Room. “The damage has been noted. Let’s move on.”
Things didn’t look that much better in the
Bible Room. The animator lights make it look like there’s a flame burning in the wall sconces, and those flames are
supposed to put light on the temple walls and the sand. One of the big things I look for is if those animators are still going,
and they were. But they were lookin’ really dim. It could have been my eyes, but I don’t think so.
The rest of the scene seemed fine. There’s
a scrim at the back with these shadow-figures of angry Israelites trying to storm King Moab’s palace, and all their
loud battle-crying was playing. King Moab is kneeling at this stone slab altar and his eyes are closed, and he’s murmuring
prayers in Hebrew as he’s got his hand over his baby son’s stomach. Behind him, a big fire is burning—he’s
going to offer his son to God as a burnt offering to make the storming Israelites go away. All that stuff seemed to be working
And then a little down the way, on the other side
of the scene, there’s a woman greeting her father at the door. When she pulls away from him, the father says, “Then
it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of
Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Ha! I should know exactly what
it says. It repeats itself every sixty seconds, and I get put in there at least one shift a week. But I noticed that like
half the speech wasn’t playing, there was like drop-outs so you couldn’t hear all the words, and the girl seemed
to have some kind of scrape on her cheek. I could see right down to the plastic.
The Egyptian Room also looked pretty good—well,
at first. The pharaoh sits on his throne, giving his decree in whatever language it’s supposed to be. He’s waving
his arm across his father’s body, which is being mummified, and there’s these bare-chested soldiers sitting on
the floor, drinking poison out of these golden bowls so they could die and be buried with the King. In the scene there’s
one guy who looks like he’s having second thoughts about drinking, and he looks this way and that, over and over again,
and tips the bowl into the sand. I noticed the bowl wasn’t tipping. It was like it was stuck. And I wanted to say something
to Morella right then but she was already ahead of me, in the Roman Coliseum Room.
This room’s my favorite even though the effects
are a little cheesy. You definitely get the sense of height there, because of what they did with that … forced perspective,
I think it’s called. Or something like that. There’s cheering crowds and there’s two gladiators. One gladiator
is screaming in Latin and he’s swinging a weapon at the other one, who has closed his eyes, clenched his fists, and
is just waiting for the blow to rip his head off. Then on the other side there’s a general—he is the winner in
the battle—and he takes the enemy’s general and strangles him under this big statue of Mars, the war God. The
statue of Mars they made with these glowing red eyes, and it makes this freaky grunting sound. But when we got in there I
knew we were in trouble because everything just looked so dull, and gray-like, and when I looked closer I realized it was
all coated with dust. The day before, it was all sparkling and bright with colors and reds just like it usually is, and now
it looked like…I mean, there were cobwebs draped on Mars’ shoulder. So I went up to the statue and I brushed the
cobwebs away, you know, because I thought maybe a little cleaning wouldn’t hurt.
Morella, though, she starts yelling at me from across
the room. “Dammit, Jarrod, how many times do I have to repeat myself? Do not comment, do not touch, do not fix, just
And I told her, “I like Mars.”
But she just yelled back, “You need to leave
stuff the way it is.”
In the Chinese Room there’s these two guys
holding this woman’s head down in a river, drowning her. The water lights weren’t working in there. And then we
took the stairs—on the ride, your boat’s going up an incline, but for us there’s stairs—but we can’t
smell the burning of the next scene, which is like this Wicker Man thing? There’s usually smoke and fire and heat, and
this is the coolest effect in the entire ride, that burning, because you’re in this forest in England and I swear to
God it’s like you can’t breathe. And there’s a giant Wicker Man on fire, and animals and people inside the
Wicker Man while these druids in like white robes are dancing around it, singing. On the other side of the platform there’s
Vikings on a freezing beach, and a woman kneels over the body of her dead husband, all in furs and leather, and she’s
plunging a knife into her chest. Only this morning the arm was really cock-eyed, like someone twisted it the wrong way, so
it looked like she was stabbing herself in the cheek. There’s these other Vikings behind her getting this boat ready
to burn, obviously, because that’s what they’re gonna do, pack the bodies into the boat and burn it, but their
animator torches weren’t working.
“This is totally not cool,” I was saying,
but Morella acted like she didn’t hear me. She didn’t even seem to notice when we went down the stairs on the
other side—in the boat it’s a flume drop right there—and I said “Wow, this room is a total melt-down
The Mayans are in the middle of these incredible
pyramids, and there’s a King standing over a big hole. He’s got a baby in his hand and a young boy, who’s
naked except for a loin cloth and has his hands tied behind his back, next to him. The water in the hole is supposed to be
lit so it looks green, the baby is supposed to be crying, the King is supposed to be screaming at the heavens and waving his
scepter. You know, none of that was working.
There was about forty layers of dust and cobwebs
in the Hindu Room, where a woman in a sari throws herself on her husband’s funeral pyre. That room’s actually
cool on account they’ve got all these mechanical elephants hanging out in the background, bobbing their heads, and a
couple of crazy-looking tigers and jaguars with spinning eyes and tongues hanging out. The eyes weren’t spinning, the
heads weren’t bobbing.
We got back to the break room and all the other
room monitors are in their pink vests, finishing up their funnel cakes. There was a box of straws on the table. Morella said,
“Today’s the day.” And she grabbed the box of straws and stuffed it in the drawer under the coffee maker.
“We won’t be drawing straws this time around. Jarrod,” she said, “This year Jarrod is going to…be
on watch. It’s two minutes to 11, so we need to get to our posts, people.”
I looked around because I had no idea what she was
talking about. The others were murmuring, and then as we were moving out the door old Alexander patted me on the arm. His
left eye flutters ’cuz he’s got a tick or something and so it always looks like he’s winking at me. “Have
fun in the volcano room,” he said. He was talking about the room where the virgin’s getting pushed into the volcano.
I tried to forget about the straws. Maybe it was
a joke or something—Morella was pretty pissed off at me. So I went out
and started my shift. Just like usual. Except I swear the stuff in this room was looking even worse than it was this morning
on the walk-through. The natives’ faces were dirty, the fire in the volcano was out, and the girl’s clothes were
totally ripped. She was practically naked.
Now here’s where it gets whacky. I was only
gone two minutes. I’m entitled to a break. And anyway I was still, technically, in the ride. I just stepped behind…you
know, I step into the evacuation stairway, and close my eyes, and put in my earplugs. I do this for just a couple of minutes,
a couple of times an hour. I mean, I know it’s not in my contract, I know I’m not supposed to do it…but
you know, it’s state law we’re supposed to get one ˝ hour for every six hours we work and do you think they give
it to us? No way. They just want us standing hidden in that damn ride all day and night. But I’m telling you you’ve
got to take a break. I especially have to take a break when I’m in that volcanic eruption scene. I mean it’s like
forty times every twenty minutes you hear the girl scream just before they throw her in the volcano. Do you know how that
scream gets to me? And then forget about all those drums, in that rhythm. It’s ooka ooka oop oop opp, over and over,
for hours on end. They won’t let you wear the earplugs when you’re on the set because they want you to be totally
attentive. So you see, I was taking my normal little routine sanity break, I like to call it. And when I came out, one of
the boats was stuck on the track. It was empty. And all that was in it was a pair of girl’s shoes.
Okay, I thought, I just do what the employees told
me and get the shoes out and take ’em to the Lost and Found. Somebody up at the loading area—probably Kaitlyn,
she’s kind of a dumb-ass—let the boat cycle through without noticing some girl left her shoes behind.
But then I looked around and the ride was—fixed.
Just completely fine, all fixed up. The girl from the volcano was all re-clothed, the war paint on the mannequins’ faces
was bright and like some gremlins came with magical paint brushes and re-did ’em, the smoke effect burst forth with
such force I thought it was gonna blow a hole in the ceiling. And then I started thinking about the straws, like maybe the
vanishing girl had something to do with that. Maybe they were all playing a joke on me. That’s it, they were just playing
jokes. A mean joke. And that made me real mad, so I bolted right down those evacuation stairs to the break room. Morella was
sitting at her desk smoking a cigarette which isn’t allowed, and I saw her jump out of her chair and chuck the lit butt
in the desk drawer.
“You need to take a deep breath and relax,
Jarrod,” she said, but not only was I really mad, it was kinda hard to do that when I could smell that cigarette probably
burning up a bunch of papers and shit in the drawer. “I told you management would take care of it.”
I was just kinda spitting at this point. “I
don’t know what’s going on here but—”
Morella was laughing. Like the kind of laugh a villain
makes when he thinks he’s
beaten the good guy. “Do you want to keep
I just blinked at her.
“Then stop hassling my buzz and take the damn
shoes to Lost and Found,” she said. Then she opened the office drawer and fanned all around it, trying to dissipate
But I just stood there. I totally wasn’t satisfied
with the answer. I just knew something was up.
She dumped a few half-burnt papers into her trash
can and then looked up at me. “I thought we were done, Jarrod.”
Look. Have you ever heard of cursed property?”
I shrugged. “In stories, sure.”
And she said, “well, this property’s
cursed. There’s evil spirits that wouldn’t let us have a park here unless we gave them what we wanted. But if
we did, they would keep the place afloat. All that stuff in the ride, all those complicated figurines and mannequins. Do you
think they stay running perfectly all the time by themselves? You think the place stays all brand-new painted-looking and
dust-free by itself? You know how much money it costs to keep a ride in even safe shape, let alone mint? See, when things
start to break down like that, that’s when we know the ghost is coming to claim its yearly prize. As long as we look
the other way and let it have a kid, things run smoothly, and it saves the park a lot of money, and the evil spirits won’t
let the place go to ruin. The place is maintenance-free.”
I just laughed, because the whole thing was sounding
just completely ridiculous. “Okay, I get it. The joke’s over now. It was a good one, though.”
But she went into her pack of cigarettes and lit
up another one, and for her to, like, violate all the rules in front of me it kinda told me she wasn’t playin’
“You saw it with your own eyes, didn’t
you?” She took a drag and blew out a long column of smoke. “Your job now is just to go get those shoes out of
the ride vehicle and bring them to the lost and found and don’t say anything, keep your mouth shut.”
Okay, then there was this big pit in my stomach
because I figured out what they’re doing here. They’re, like…well, sacrificing kids to these demons. The
shoes belong to the kid that they give to the thing. And Morella said, “Well?”
I moved my mouth but no sound was coming out. Nothin’
at all. This was not, like, a joke, and it wasn’t a friggin’ episode of the Twilight Zone. This was real. This
was my life.
I was totally freaking out. I didn’t want
to touch those shoes. I mean, I don’t wanna be working in a ride where they’re feeding little kids to demons or
whatever. So I said, “I want a transfer. To another ride.”
And she was looking at me and her mouth was
all prissy. Then she made this weird little snort hmmmph noise, and the corner of her mouth went up in this mean smile. She
handed me a slip and told me to go give it to Roger over at Dante’s Inferno.
When I got over to Dante’s, I found Roger
in the back room. I gave him my slip. He read it and then he just raised an eyebrow. He said, “Done with the ritualistic
murders thing, huh?”
“Okay,” he said, all matter-of-fact.
“You can share one of the bigger rooms with Darryl, that room could use two spotters. But first, I need you to run an
errand for me.”
Then no kidding, he opened a locker and pulled out
a pair of sneakers. These ones were boys’ shoes, you know? They had to be. They had those karate turtles on them. I
was ready to run right out that door because then I did know. It wasn’t just Seven Voyages. It was the whole damn park.
I just stood there with my mouth hanging open.
Roger didn’t seem to notice. “Just run
these over to the lost and found and don’t say anything, will you?”
Kristi Petersen Schoonover’s fiction appears in Carpe
Articulum Literary Review, Barbaric Yawp, Morpheus Tales, New Witch Magazine, Spilt Milk, Toasted Cheese, and a host
of others. Her collection of ghost stories—Skeletons in the Swimmin’ Hole: Tales from Haunted Disney World—was published in
October 2010. She holds an MFA in Creative Writing from Goddard College; she’s also the recipient of a Norman Mailer
Writers Colony Winter 2010 Residency. She hosts the paranormal fiction segment on The Ghostman & Demon Hunter Show broadcast,
www.ghostanddemon.com. She serves as an editor for Read Short Fiction.