Once you take your seat on The Fantarama, and Nora, (if: (history:) contains "Charlie on the Ride" and "Charlie Intro" and "Charlie's Favorite" and "Charlie Vision" and "Charlie's Mission" and "Charlie at the Museum" and "Charlie's Delusion" and "Meeting Nora" and "Charlie End" and "Nora Intro" and "Smudges" and "Grandma's Face" and "Friends and Family" and "Gossip" and "Bryce Intro" and "The Commercial" and "Outside the Park" and "Bryce's Insomnia" and "Constant Drowsiness" and "Pitch Black" and "Years Later" and "Celebrity Profiles" and "Kerry Intro" and "Legal Aliens Revival" and "Meeting Arthur" and "The Bird Man" and "Cheer Up" and "Recurring Condition")[the operator](else-if: (history:) contains "The End")[[[the operator->Nora Intro]]](else:)[[[the operator->Nora Intro]]], buckled you in and rolls her eyes because here you are again for the fifth time today, there’s a moment of heavy stillness. You’re alone on the ride, even though it can hold nineteen more. Before she hits the button, everything is already (if: (history:) contains "Charlie on the Ride" and "Charlie Intro" and "Charlie's Favorite" and "Charlie Vision" and "Charlie's Mission" and "Charlie at the Museum" and "Charlie's Delusion" and "Meeting Nora" and "Charlie End" and "Nora Intro" and "Smudges" and "Grandma's Face" and "Friends and Family" and "Gossip" and "Bryce Intro" and "The Commercial" and "Outside the Park" and "Bryce's Insomnia" and "Constant Drowsiness" and "Pitch Black" and "Years Later" and "Celebrity Profiles" and "Kerry Intro" and "Legal Aliens Revival" and "Meeting Arthur" and "The Bird Man" and "Cheer Up" and "Recurring Condition")[shimmering](else-if: (history:) contains "The End")[[[shimmering->Celebrity Profiles]]](else:)[[[shimmering->Celebrity Profiles]]]. The magic from the track seeps up through the tunnel and overtakes you. Everything feels darker even though the lighting hasn’t changed. You swear you’re riding a horse or maybe a Model-T, but you’re definitely not strapped into a rickety amusement park ride. Twelve staccato notes dance in your ear while the taste of vanilla hangs on your tongue. The ride hasn’t even started yet. You snap back to attention and the music fades to a low drone. You are strapped into a rickety amusement park ride. There’s a (if: (history:) contains "Charlie on the Ride" and "Charlie Intro" and "Charlie's Favorite" and "Charlie Vision" and "Charlie's Mission" and "Charlie at the Museum" and "Charlie's Delusion" and "Meeting Nora" and "Charlie End" and "Nora Intro" and "Smudges" and "Grandma's Face" and "Friends and Family" and "Gossip" and "Bryce Intro" and "The Commercial" and "Outside the Park" and "Bryce's Insomnia" and "Constant Drowsiness" and "Pitch Black" and "Years Later" and "Celebrity Profiles" and "Kerry Intro" and "Legal Aliens Revival" and "Meeting Arthur" and "The Bird Man" and "Cheer Up" and "Recurring Condition")[stoplight](else-if: (history:) contains "The End")[[[stoplight->Charlie on the Ride]]](else:)[[[stoplight->Charlie on the Ride]]] ready to countdown but the red bulb remains lit like a taunt. Three images flicker in your mind—hummingbird, saltshaker, willow tree—and it’s always the same three. The light turns to yellow and everything shimmers like a switch was turned up. Then it turns green. The cart shoots forward down the tunnel, down the slope. Sometimes you resist to see what would happen, but you fail every time, and you’re no longer in your body. You’re untethered, suspended in a pool of (if: (history:) contains "Charlie on the Ride" and "Charlie Intro" and "Charlie's Favorite" and "Charlie Vision" and "Charlie's Mission" and "Charlie at the Museum" and "Charlie's Delusion" and "Meeting Nora" and "Charlie End" and "Nora Intro" and "Smudges" and "Grandma's Face" and "Friends and Family" and "Gossip" and "Bryce Intro" and "The Commercial" and "Outside the Park" and "Bryce's Insomnia" and "Constant Drowsiness" and "Pitch Black" and "Years Later" and "Celebrity Profiles" and "Kerry Intro" and "Legal Aliens Revival" and "Meeting Arthur" and "The Bird Man" and "Cheer Up" and "Recurring Condition")[black](else-if: (history:) contains "The End")[[[black->Bryce Intro]]](else:)[[[black->Bryce Intro]]] water. There’s a faint light shimmering above the surface. And (if: (history:) contains "Charlie on the Ride" and "Charlie Intro" and "Charlie's Favorite" and "Charlie Vision" and "Charlie's Mission" and "Charlie at the Museum" and "Charlie's Delusion" and "Meeting Nora" and "Charlie End" and "Nora Intro" and "Smudges" and "Grandma's Face" and "Friends and Family" and "Gossip" and "Bryce Intro" and "The Commercial" and "Outside the Park" and "Bryce's Insomnia" and "Constant Drowsiness" and "Pitch Black" and "Years Later" and "Celebrity Profiles" and "Kerry Intro" and "Legal Aliens Revival" and "Meeting Arthur" and "The Bird Man" and "Cheer Up" and "Recurring Condition")[[[you can only swim upwards into whatever new reality awaits.->The Long One]]] (else-if: (history:) contains "The End")[[[you can only swim upwards into whatever new reality awaits->The Long One]]](else:)[you can only swim upwards into whatever new reality awaits.]<div class="OldManText">After falling off his horse in 1928 alongside the dirt road through Sharpton, Spencer Hawk hit his head and had the most vivid dream of his life. In his dream, he flew among the stars and past celestial clouds. He skated across planets made of ice and watched stars die and ignite. Spencer was not an imaginative man, and if you asked him for a deep description, he could only give you something barren and minimal. This dream was beyond anything he was capable of imagining. When he awoke, Spencer knew there was something special about this patch of dirt. In that moment he felt nostalgic for his hometown that he’d left a few years before. He thought of his older brother who left to fight in Europe and never returned. And then, suddenly, like a lightning bolt, he felt absolutely nothing like a black hole. He didn’t move. Seconds later, the feeling passed and his brain resumed with sensation. As he rode away on his horse, he could help thinking about a pair of mittens forgotten in a field.
He’d been on The Cyclone over on Coney Island and could only compare the exhilaration from his dream to that of the rollercoaster. So, Spencer came back the next day and started digging. He had no plan, only a primal urge to capture and control whatever magic lay beneath the earth.
The endeavor took him two decades and by then rollercoasters fell out of fashion, but Spencer did it. He completed his grand project, The Fantarama, an underground rollercoaster capable of inducing [[personalized visions->Hub]] upon its riders that illuminated the inner corners of the mind and blurred the lines between reality and imagination.</div>The rumors turned out to be true, The Fantarama was shutting down.
The old wizard-like man who owned the rollercoaster finally died last December. Everyone thought he’d live forever. His only next of kin, a niece on the other side of the country, lacked interest in maintaining the old machine. So, she sold the land to local real estate developers and hired a wrecking crew to knock down the ride and dig up its tunnels. I watched the men pull the steel from earth like predators ripping out the bones of their prey.
The first thing to go was the giant [[silvery structure->Fantarama Intro]], like a metal teardrop, that housed the ride. On a bright day, it looked like an explosion of sunlight in the rural area. Stormy days made it appear like a bomb of water, fallen from the sky, seconds before impacting the earth. Everywhere in town incorporated that metal structure into their branding. You couldn’t find a logo or sign that didn’t reference the attraction until you were way past the county line. Everyone held some pride or reverence toward The Fantarama, except for the wrecking ball that smashed through right it.
<div class="TunnelText">A long strip of rail silently lied buried underground until the rollercoaster slammed through the dark tunnel with an eruption of noise before the echoes settled down once more. When it went by, strobe lights flashed at the single rider’s closed eyelids to keep the ride’s magic flowing. He didn’t notice and didn’t care. [[Charlie Adder->Charlie Intro]] was unconscious. When the ride ended, he woke up, and staggered out into the sunlight, for the third time that week, and disappeared among the crowd of people eager to get on the ride.</div><div class="CharlieFishText">Charlie felt like he was hitting a wall, which made him feel worse because of he didn’t know why. He shouldn’t be feeling this way, he told himself. That never helped, despite saying it to himself, like a magic spell, every morning. But Charlie didn’t believe in magic, and he certainly wouldn’t cast a spell to only make himself feel happy. When he saw his friends, people at work, or the couple at the grocery store, he often wondered when he’d start to feel like an actual person. They were people, and the people on TV were people, but Charlie struggled to picture himself that way. He wasn’t a mineral or a weed—he wasn’t crazy, he just didn’t want to feel like he was [[one-degree askew->Charlie at the Museum]] from the rest of the world. Charlie tried everything he could think of to feel more like a person. He joined a local baseball team. He dated. He went to museums. He tried drinking more. Maybe he was just lonely, he thought.
One day he bought an aquarium to house tiny fish that changed color throughout the day. The fish always moved except at night. During the day, they swam in a single-file formation around the tank with a speed that blurred them beyond recognition. In the morning, the fish were a blood red which shifted to a sky blue by noon and closed the day as a shade of yellow that almost glowed—and then they were still, until the sun came up the next morning and their scales were red once more. The aquarium didn’t solve his problem or fill the blank spot in his chest, but Charlie loved his fish, and he thought that might be enough.
The best way Charlie could describe himself was like a puzzle that was missing a different piece every day. Some days he was missing a corner piece or one from the edge. It wasn’t a big deal and most of the time you wouldn’t even notice when you looked at the finished puzzle. But other days, he missed a piece from the center, which was impossible to ignore.</div><div class="StringText">Charlie’s favorite part of The Fantarama was always the beginning. The wait before the cart blasted off [[down the tunnel->Charlie Vision]]. He liked the liminal state where everything was mixed between reality and fantasy. It felt like invisible string gently tugging him—beckoning him—down the tunnel. Charlie never felt [[fear or apprehension->Charlie's Mission]] about what awaited him.</div><div class="CharlieVisionText"><p>Every time Charlie rode The Fantarama his mind was filled with big band music—brass horns blared and the drumbeats reverberated through every patron in the bar. The place was packed with people and joy. Cigarette smoke swirled in the rafters. Everyone danced without care or self-consciousness, an electric feeling burned hot in the room, felt most of all by Charlie. The Fantarama always sent him to 1945, and positioned him as a soldier who had just returned home from the war, a hero.
Everyone he knew hugged him; strangers hugged him. The amount of time he spent untouched since walking into the bar could be counted in seconds on one hand. They all wanted to know about his service in Europe, but Charlie had little desire to speak about it, even to his parents. He didn’t possess the words to tell them about the awful experiences of watching friends die in a storm of bullets or by an explosion that only left a crater where they once stood. The other guys loved to tell their war stories and if people wanted a yarn, Charlie knew who to send them to, but he couldn’t talk about the war without feeling an unbearable sense of plaintiveness with the force of a cannonball shattering his skull. Besides, he needed to find Ellie, his girlfriend. Her letters stopped arriving three months before he returned home. So, Charlie went out with this friends that night not to celebrate the miracle of his survival, but to search for Ellie, who made him want to survive on the days where it felt impossible. But she was gone, [[vanished without a trace->Charlie's Delusion]] and without anyone remembering who she was.</p> <p>“Charlie, no one named Ellie has ever worked here,” said Roy, the bartender and owner. His body was shaped like a square. He had strong arms and always held a serious look on his face, despite his love of musical picture shows.
“C’mon Roy, quit being funny. I’m serious, where is she?” Charlie said.
Roy assumed the kid had been too close to a blast in France and took pity on him. He gave Charlie a free drink and told him to relax, before heading to the other end of the bar to take the orders of other patrons.
The cool October air wasn’t a reprieve, once Charlie walked outside. It was quiet in town, which made him feel uncomfortable. He liked being enveloped by noise. It was like a blanket. Silence was unnerving. Roy was his only lead to finding Ellie, besides her parents, but they never liked Charlie.</p> <p>“Shit,” he mumbled to himself.
He [[followed the street->Charlie's Mission]] to the north side of town, where Ellie lived.
The vision always ended there for him. No matter which direction he walked down the street, it faded to black and Charlie woke up just as The Fantarama train car pulled into the station.
</div><div class="RacerText">Charlie liked having a mission. [[Find Ellie->Charlie's Delusion]]. It’s what drew him to The Fantarama. If his everyday life had a clear objective, something he was always building towards, like a racer approaching a finish line, that would be perfect. And The Fantarama gave him what he wanted. But ride after ride, no matter what he did, he could never find her. He tried talking to other people in the bar. He tried exploring the town. He tried doing nothing just to see if Ellie would show up later in the night. I don’t think Charlie realized she couldn’t be found. That everything reset back to zero [[once the ride was over->Meeting Nora]]. I don’t think he cared either. What he liked the most was the process. If he tried something different—a marginal change—maybe this time, he’d succeed.</div><div class="MuseumText">Charlie arrived at The Fantarama for the first time, alone. Growing up, he had heard the stories, just as I had, about the [[mind-altering->Charlie's Favorite]] rollercoaster, but had little interest in seeing it, at first. Today, he wanted a job.
For a few years, he worked as a docent in a two-room museum, down the street from his apartment, that chronicled local history. World War I uniforms were mounted in glass cases on the walls, a rusty 19th century tractor sat retired in the second room. There were black and white pictures of corn and farms. A small exhibit on the high school’s football team—their 1,000th game was coming up—took up the main room. Very few people came in each week, often leaving Charlie alone to do whatever he pleased in the museum. He swept, often, but mostly he spent his aimless time staring at a painting from a local artist who later gained fame in the art world after her death. It was called “Lady Abbott: A Rhapsody of Black and Bright.” The painting was a portrait of a woman dressed in a gray suit seated by a window. Her black hair was pulled back and her rainbow-colored skin was painted with bright ethereal splashes. She was out of place in the dark murky background of the portrait. Colors wisped off her like and weird shapes and harsh lines cut through the setting but never touched the woman. No matter where you stood you could never make eye contact with her. She looked just past the viewer, at the painter perhaps? Every day [[at work->Meeting Nora]], Charlie marveled at the painting. He wasn’t crazy, he knew she wasn’t real, but he couldn’t help but have a little crush on the woman. He memorized every line and every splotch of paint. If he had the talent, Charlie would be capable of recreating the portrait exactly. Then the painting was sold to an unknown buyer—some octogenarian that visited the museum. They took the painting from Charlie right in front of him.
It was time for a change of pace anyways, Charlie thought. Working at a quirky roadside attraction rather than a museum half-made out of rust and dust would be the rejuvenation he needed. He’d get to be outside more. Maybe he’d have to dress as a character. So, he arrived at The Fantarama for an interview. He thought it went well, although he didn’t [[remember->Charlie Vision]] much of the interview afterwards. And how could he when he was given a free pass for one ride after his interview—every applicant that made it this far got one. He wandered around the metal shape with his pass in his hands, like a precious, fragile thing, before mustering the courage to go inside. The sky had an array of clouds and when they sun fell behind them it made the teardrop building look like it had bright cracks of fire cut across it.</div><div class="VictoryMedalText">Charlie had a slow burn delusion since he visited The Fantarama a few days a week. It built up slowly, biding its time, until it unleashed upon him like a dam breaking.
He noticed little changes at first. His t-shirts looked like suits until he wore them and they reverted back to their casual form. Out of the corner of his eye, a jar of pennies looked like a World War II victory medal. It started as tiny things that flitted by. If he gave them attention nothing appeared to be wrong, just a trick of the light. After a few weeks, Charlie realized what was happening to him while he wept over the memory of a fallen comrade from Europe. The feeling passed when he looked up at the empty space of Lady Abbott’s portrait. Why was he crying? It was just a portrait. Wait, he hadn’t been crying over Lady Abbott, he thought, it was because of a dead friend. He could clearly see Victor’s lifeless eyes as blood leaked from his head. Charlie had never served in the military, seen a dead body, or experienced the death of a friend. He could remember his fake life outside of The Fantarama, but inside: he didn’t know anything of his normal world. No museum, no Lady Abbott, no pet fish, no unfulfillment.
So, Charlie made a plan. He’d ride The Fantarama more often and [[let the fantasy take over.->Charlie End]]</div><div class="MittensText">Nora buckled Charlie into the ride for the second time that day. He was [[one of the regulars->Charlie's Delusion]] at The Fantarama. All of the ride’s operators knew him. He appeared at random hours during their shifts. Some days he came in the morning, others late at night just before the ride closed. They made small talk as she completed and walked him through the safety procedures. Normally she gave detailed safety instructions to the passengers, but Charlie was a professional. Do not under any circumstances unbuckle yourself. Do not be afraid when you wake up, the ride only lasts ninety seconds—even if it feels much longer. There will be an intense feeling of nostalgia at the end followed by a sudden intense emotional numbness—it will only last one and a half seconds; please remain on the ride until the feeling passes. There will be an image in your mind of a pair of mittens abandoned in a field on a golden autumn morning as the sun rises, two minutes after the completion of your ride. No, we do not know why this occurs, but it is normal and you should not be concerned, it’s actually quite pleasant.
Nora wanted to ask Charlie why he came so often to The Fantarama. And Charlie always felt like he should explain himself to the ride’s operators. Neither of them ever broached the topic though. They knew each other’s names and made small talk but it never went further than that. He tried once. Charlie rambled a clumsy string of words to Nora that she didn’t quite understand, but there were other passengers to attend to, so she moved on and continued her [[usual routine.->Charlie Vision]]</div><div class="TicketText">As faithful as ever, Charlie was officially the last person to ride The Fantarama. I watched Nora stamp his ticket—the last one sold—and let him on the ride. I shadowed her shift on the last day of the ride’s operation, but I couldn’t stay around the place much longer. After my first ride on The Fantarama, a creeping sense of dread boiled in my stomach whenever I spent too much time near it. I stayed as long as I could to watch people on the ride’s last day and I had to get out of there. But Nora ignored my protests and dragged me back inside The Fantarama. The site of the ride still struck fear in me. I actually almost fought her, but I held back. She led me through the queue and up to the rollercoaster train. Sitting there, alone, was Charlie, blissed and ready to go. The ride’s magic poured up from the tunnel. I saw tiny branches grow out of the walls, but no more than that. He gave Nora a signal that he was buckled in and turned forward, gazing down the tunnel with longing, ready to go just [[one last time.->Hub]]</div><div class="PeacockText"><p>Nora’s apartment door looked like a garden gate. The day before, it was a hatch for a submarine. She opened it without a second thought; it closed behind her with a little clang. A peacock strutted out of the kitchen and roosted on her bed. Nora paid little attention to the bird—it was probably [[her cat->Grandma's Face]], Walnut. Her apartment walls were covered in switches and lights. Each one blinked and beeped to notify her that something needed to be done like the inside of a spacecraft. Leaning against the wall, she took two deep breaths and waited. The peacock (or Walnut) stared at her. A rainbow wisp floated past her like a cloud. Then, the room shifted and morphed into a standard apartment. The switches and knobs receded into the walls. The garden gate behind her stretched back into a door. The peacock shrunk, its bright colors desaturating into the smudgy gray of her cat. The rainbow dissipated into the air. Everything [[returned to normal.->Smudges]]</p></div><div class="SmudgesText">Smudges in reality came up in Nora’s interview for the [[job->Gossip]]. She didn’t ask, Spencer brought it up himself. In his old age, his hair had disappeared into a shiny head and his eyes grew just far apart enough that you didn’t where to look when speaking to him.
“Changes in reality and perception are a common [[side effect->Grandma's Face]] of the job. Will that be a problem for you?”
“No,” she said to his right eye. Nora’s first day at the park was uneventful. She strapped people into The Fantarama and sent them on their way to fight dragons, kiss lovers, and command pirate ships. Meanwhile, she remained behind in the dark cavernous loading bay of the ride. One trip on the ride lasted ninety seconds, which gave her some idle time to stare down the tunnel and wonder what she would see [[if she got on The Fantarama herself->Friends and Family]]. The ride’s magic simmered like heat on a stretch of road, but nothing changed for Nora that day—she thought the old man was exaggerating.</div><div class="GrandmaFaceText">Her grandmother’s face looked like a rodent’s. Nora didn’t quite expect this. Things at work and at her apartment were starting to [[look different->Smudges]] in the last week. The levers and knobs for The Fantarama resembled lollipops or ice cream cones, depending on the time of day, and sometimes her car was a chariot. Nora loved the new peculiarities that resulted from her job. She never knew how were day would turn out thanks to them; she was never bored. Everything was spiced up. Still, she never told anyone—her friends or family—about them. Her parents would scream and yell, not at her but at the universe, at Spencer Hawk, the local legend himself, for harming their child. Doctors, specialists would be called, anyone who could explain what was going on. She didn’t think she could tell anyone. Her friends would think it was a longform joke or a grab for attention. But it never occurred to Nora that people could lose their form too.
“What’s the matter, sweetie?” her grandmother mewed. This was new. With a glance out the window, Nora saw the normal people on the streets in their suits, jeans, and dresses were replaced by astronauts, gladiators, vampires, and cowboys. For half the street, the buildings were old sea shacks like on the coast of Nova Scotia, the other half were rainbow colored palaces. Maybe she had [[permanent damage->Friends and Family]], Nora thought. It might be like this forever. And she smiled at the thought. Then, to her disappointment, with the speed of a blink, everything reverted back to normal. The men and women were men and women going to work and running errands. The sea shacks and palaces were storefronts and offices. And her grandmother’s face was no longer that of a gray furry house pet. She was just herself. “Nothing, everything’s fine.” “Alright,” her grandmother said. “Tell me about the [[new job->Gossip]].”</div><div class="CelloSongText">Friends and family begged Nora to give them discounts. Everyone enjoyed going to The Fantarama like a Friday night at the movies. After months of working at the ride, her little remixes of reality persisted. Nora never felt the exposure to The Fantarama impeded her life. They never impaired her at work and for the most part she could follow along in conversations without being distracted—in fact, nobody noticed when she’d space out and stare at the oddities around her—and most of the time, everything could correct itself before too long. It was like a [[constant head cold->Nora Intro]], nothing she couldn’t manage. But she still lied to everyone and said couldn’t get them a deal (the employee discounts were actually quite generous). Nora never went on the ride herself. She saw the addicts and obsessives every day, and was afraid of anyone she knew ending up like them. They arrived with frowns on their faces and short shuffling footsteps. They were always sad; you could see it in their eyes—a faraway look like a dog staring at the horizon. When they left, they were smiling and charged with vigor. There was one guy, Charlie, in his early twenties who came several times a week, occasionally twice in a day. But he was different from the others. He had the same yearning as the other riders but, after the ride, he looked the same, like he hadn’t found exactly what he was looking for yet, but he knew he was close. If he tried just one more time, he’d find it. Whatever it is.
Nora didn’t want anyone [[to end->Hub]] up like that.</div><div class="AstronautText">I met Nora at a concert for a local band. The show was put on in an old decaying barn up on a hill that had been long abandoned and semi-renovated into a venue. When the bass player really hit their notes, the whole building trembled and dust drizzled down from the ceiling. Parts of the barn’s walls were missing. The place didn’t have a strict entrance rather than many entry points. All of the small bands in the area played there at least once. I was doing my best to stay out of the way. The place was packed and I’d already spilled my drink on a woman dancing in front of me. After I got a new one from the bar, I moved to the back corner so I wouldn’t stumble into anyone else. That’s where I saw Nora.
She was a bit of a local celebrity. All of The Fantarama’s operators had some minor renown to everyone in Sharpton. I’d never spoken to her before but obviously I knew of her. The newspaper wrote a feature every time Spencer brought on someone new to operate the ride. I recognized her from the photo. She was staring at me. It was kind of uncomfortable. Her eyes wouldn’t move or look anywhere else. I assumed that some of my spilled drink was on my shirt but I was dry (all of it ended up on the woman in the crowd). Unsure what to do, I gave a half-hearted wave. She motioned for me to follow her and then ducked out through an opening in the wall into the spring night.
I followed her down the hill to a small pond. Fireflies hovered at the edge of the water and the band’s music had blurred into one sound. I finished my drink on the walk down and was stuck holding my empty cup. She had her hands on her hips and her stare didn’t let up.
“What do you think of the band?” she said.
“They’re alright, I guess.” She looked surprised. “Is everything okay?”
“Sorry, [[I thought you were someone else->Grandma's Face]],” she said. “Do I know you?”
“I’m not sure how to answer that. I don’t think so?”
Her eyes squinted a little. She was thinking. I asked her about this conversation a few years later, but she told me she didn’t remember it at all. She claimed we first met about three months after the concert at a party thrown by my friend Bryce. I was staring at a tree, studying it, she said.
I thought about leaving right then, and I think my body language showed it. I looked at the empty cup in my hand and planned on using it as an excuse to go back up to the barn. But then she told me why we were outside. I was the only person in the barn she couldn’t see. Everyone else inside appeared as themselves but not me.
“Well, what do I look like?”
“Like an astronaut, but the helmet is filled with water,” she said. “Sometimes fish swim by doing laps around your head.”
Whenever I think about this moment, it’s always a punch to the gut just as hard as the one I felt as it happened. Because I can recall exactly the way she looked and sounded that night with ease—her white shorts, her black t-shirt, her dyed brown hair in a ponytail, the way her voice sounded like summer. I can remember the whole night.
But for her, I wouldn't appear as myself until much later.
Nora explained to me the side effects of operating The Fantarama. I figured that’s what it was. Sometimes I had mirages from my own rides on The Fantarama. And there were rumors around town about the ride’s operators. Once I head a story about an employee who experienced the same thing as Nora—the little changes. He also had an attitude similar to her—it didn’t bother him too much and his brain fixed itself after a little bit. Until he woke up one morning and found himself not in his bedroom but laying in a straw pile at a circus. In his vision, he panicked and ran through the circus tent. He [[tore a hole->Friends and Family]] in it using the force of his body. His girlfriend didn’t know what to do when she saw him walk through their bedroom wall as if he was through tree branches.
Several months later, after I met Nora again, on our first date, I asked her why she stayed at The Fantarama (when she explained to me the side effects to me for the second time). The side effects were mild and hadn’t harmed her, but wasn’t she afraid of ending up like the guy who tore through a wall?
She said she wasn’t.
“There’s a thrill to it. Like just maybe, if I’m lucky, this will be my life forever,” she said.</div><div class="BryceIntro">Every night, Bryce lay awake hoping to fall asleep. He tried medication. He tried running seven miles in the evenings. He tried meditation. He tried closing [[his eyes->Constant Drowsiness]] and counting backwards from five thousand. Instead, he memorized the grooves and paint patterns on the ceiling above him and learned the exact way shadows move across the room when a car drove by outside. Just before dawn is when he’d finally lose himself and feel everything [[turn off->The Commercial]]. It lasted three seconds before his alarm screeched along with the birds in the morning.</div><div class="CommercialText">Bryce saw the cheap ad for The Fantarama during a late-night TV binge of Legal Aliens. It was the famous episode where Kerry Clearwater took hold of the show’s reins before it was canceled. He felt particularly wired—most nights he could feel sleep skirting around the edges of his eyes and whispering to him like a [[tiny coil of smoke->Bryce's Insomnia]] caught in his ear. But this night, he was wide awake and his body needed to move. He threw the TV on to a random channel as he paced back and forth in his living room—seven steps one way, seven steps back. It didn’t matter what was on the screen, Bryce just needed something to make his home less lonely.
The sound and light from the television poured into the room like guests for a party. After an hour of pacing, and Bryce’s feet felt flat, the commercial came on. The television screen cut to black before slowly fading in on an image of the cosmos. Clouds of ice and dust breezed by the screen until, suddenly, the image was sucked into a tiny point of light like water in a funnel. The light grew larger and illuminated the area around it. It’s not space, it’s a tunnel! The camera pushed through to reveal the shiny tear drop shape of The Fantarama’s house. A woman’s voice narrated the commercial. She promised a grand personalized adventure for anyone who rode The Fantarama. There could be pirates, bank robberies, space battles, anything your mind could dream up. All in ninety seconds of unconscious.
Ninety seconds of pitch-black guaranteed unconsciousness might as well have been water in a desert for Bryce. He bought his [[ticket->Outside the Park]] five minutes later.</div><div class="SiegeText">Everyone jockeyed their bodies into The Fantarama’s entrance. Those who weren’t slick enough to get inside stretched out into the hard heat rising off the park’s asphalt sidewalks. Bryce was the first to arrive that morning. He didn’t have to swipe seat from his eyebrows to keep it from dripping and stinging his vision. After being awake all not, not for lack of trying, he decided to head over to the park early. He sat in his idling car for a while, watching the daily protestors assemble to proclaim the park’s [[heresy->Pitch Black]]. Their scribbled signs and poorly written chants didn’t frighten him. At first, the protestors formed up like a wall in front of the park gate, until a security guard came trudged over, coffee in hand, and shooed them away. This was a daily ritual for protestors and security alike—and neither side failed to complete their part. The sight of the guard gave Bryce relief. Nothing would stop him from getting inside the park. When he saw the protestors, he thought he’d have to break through them like a [[siege weapon->Years Later]]. But there was no resistance, beyond some shouts and cajoling, and he walked right in through the gate, ticket in hand.</div><div class="InsomniaText">Bryce stopped sleeping when we were in high school.
“There’s a bird hopping around my foot,” he told me one day during lunch. I looked down but only saw his white sneakers next to some grimy food left behind by whoever sat at the table before us. He was known for his jokes, so I didn’t believe him when he mentioned these [[tiny hallucinations->Outside the Park]].
Over the years, Bryce staggered in and out of waking dreams. Sometimes it was comical, to be honest, other times, it was concerning. We were walking down the hall in between classes when he sprinted away and dove, smashed into a trash can. Garbage scattered across the floor, and Bryce looked like a kid who spilled spaghetti on their self. He swore he heard the blaring horn and thundering charge of a train right behind us. He was inches from death before his Hail Mary dive.
His insomnia started on a November night, a week after his mother died. She had a long fight with stomach cancer. I was always uncomfortable talking to Bryce about it, and I’d actually go out of my way not to talk about his mom. You could feel it when he wanted to say something, an aura would rise like steam from him. Whenever I could sense that, I’d change the subject or dig in hard to whatever we already doing or talking about. Other times I’d just leave with a made-up excuse, “There’s somewhere I needed to be that I just remembered, and I’m so sorry. I don’t know how I forgot.”
I can’t say I noticed any changes in his behavior when he stopped sleeping. I wasn’t [[a great friend->Years Later]]—and it wasn’t uncommon for Bryce to stay up late, whether it was finishing homework or just watching TV. Or grieving.</div><div class="GlassText">Most days for Bryce felt a constant drowsiness pressing against the back of his eyes. He’d gown used to knocking things over when reaching and stumbling into coffee tables and door frames. He removed the glassware from his home—plastic sufficed. Every few of weeks he’d [[collapse->Bryce's Insomnia]] and sleep through the night. The next morning, his body was always filled with manic energy. He sped through his home, errands, and work. Episodes like these powered him for about three days before he felt the creeping ache in his skull return. He could push the feeling away for another two days—just enough to last the work week—but at the end of the fifth, day he’d find himself [[drowsy->The Commercial]], out of sorts, and slow, like always.</div><div class="PitchBlackText">He settled into his seat on The Fantarama. Bryce was the first one to get on the ride. He beat everyone there with enough time to go around twice before other visitors could join him. Nora gave him the safety instructions. “Keep your hands and feet in the ride at all times. Your head probably feels a little fuzzy. That’s normal.”
Bryce didn’t pay much attention to the rest of her practiced protocols. His head didn’t feel fuzzy like she described, he felt the same. He kept his hands close and gripped the bar in front of him. The rollercoaster launched down the tunnel and before he could wonder what he’d see, the ride slowed to a stop, having returned from the tunnels to the beginning. Bryce didn’t see anything except for pitch black darkness on The Fantarama. No vision, no fantasy, just nothingness like when he closes his eyes before the sun inches over the horizon. He barely noticed the ride happened at all. But it was the best sleep of his life; he felt like he could run a marathon right after he got out of his seat. He felt rested. Leaping over to him, Nora guided him back down into the ride.
“Excuse me sir, you need to remain in the ride for a little bit upon your return.” She explained to him that riders often experience an intense feeling of nostalgia and a swift emotional numbness after the ride. And don’t panic, she said, imagining a pair of mittens left behind in a field is normal. Everyone pictures that after their ride. Except for Bryce. He didn’t feel anything except for the new power in his blood that purged the mucky exhaustion from his muscles. He wanted to tell her how great the ride made him feel but he decided to stay put and say nothing. This was one of his most treasured moments and he wanted to keep to himself for a little bit.
Bryce immediately bought an all-access pass so he could ride The Fantarama every five days. The [[rejuvenation->Years Later]] from the ride made him feel better than any collapse into sleep ever had. It wasn’t a sudden crash or peter out from exhaustion, it was just sleep. Is this what he’d been missing for years, he thought, is this what everyone else feels? Every time he got off the ride he felt like the grand finale of a fireworks display.</div><div class="YearsText">Years later, Nora showed me a list she had kept of The Fantarama’s regulars. I shadowed her for a few shifts before the ride closed so she could point them out to me when they came by. And on the last day The Fantarama was open, there was Bryce, my friend. I knew he came to The Fantarama often but I didn’t realize how much he relied on it at the time. I kept my distance at first, just to watch him. Still clutching his ticket to get into the park, he shambled up and sat into the rollercoaster with a resigned sigh, like the effort to only take a seat took everything out of him. And my god, his eyes. The gray [[circles->Constant Drowsiness]] around them had the same prominence you’d see in a cartoon. With the sound of a jet plane firing up, the rollercoaster shot down the tunnel and whisked Bryce away.
While I waited, I could feel the hum of The Fantarama around me. It was more something you could feel in your bones and heart rather than a sound. I’d been on the ride a few times before—and, frankly, didn’t want to get on again. My experience was built with panic and dread. Standing by the control panel was close enough for the ride’s magic to rise a little from the tunnel, crawl through my eyes, mouth, and nose, and give me a small hit. Scattered blades of grass pushed up through the concrete floor, vines and flowers descended from the ceiling. And then, the low snarling growl of a monster [[echoed from the tunnel->Pitch Black]]. Even though I knew none of it was real, I wanted to leave right then and there. However, the rollercoaster cart came speeding back to us. As it rolled to a stop, it pushed away the fear that was climbing up my spine right back down the tunnel.
When Bryce got out of the rollercoaster, he was a new man. He walked out of the attraction smiling and with purpose—no longer sluggish or like a walking corpse. I’d never seen such confidence and resolve in someone’s stride. From the exit, his footsteps echoed back to me like someone on their way [[to victory.->Hub]]</div><div class="CelebrityText">Far beyond Spencer, Kerry Clearwater was the biggest name to ever come from Sharpton. She built a career out of minor and [[supporting roles->Kerry Intro]] in television shows and movies. Though in recent years her work become much more varied as she released a trilogy of hit country-gospel albums and dipped into video performance art—her most well-known piece, “Purple,” features her naked and standing against a white background as painters coat her body with different shades of purple.
When Kerry’s career took off shortly after a starring episode on an old TV show, The Sharpton Historical Society scurried together items from her childhood for an exhibit in the town’s tiny two-room museum. Over the years, objects were replaced and new ones added as her career continued. The dress she wore on her first screen appearance is framed next to the splotches of paint from the background of “Purple.” A collection of photos, donated by her family, detailed her growing up in Sharpton and gave glimpses of parts of Kerry’s life normally unseen. And the one that caught my eye, while looking through the photo archives, is of her posing next to the one and only Spencer Hawk.</div><div class="LegalAliensText">Kerry started as a child actor, playing the kid neighbor in Legal Aliens, a short-lived sci-fi sitcom with a cult following about the first family of aliens trying to live in the suburbs after humanity makes first contact and participates in an extraterrestrial exchange program.
The show’s budget was nearly nonexistent; the actors often had one take, and one take only, to get their lines right. If they screwed up, it went in the final show. If they forgot their line, too bad. Time is money, and the show didn’t have much of either. And the show’s producers were not about to waste any of their limited resources to give anyone a redo. “Get it right the first time!” Chuckie Sherando, the network executive in charge of the show, famously said in an interview. That was the show’s guiding philosophy and ultimately its downfall. Legal Aliens was [[cancelled->Legal Aliens Revival]] after a season. All of the actors were never seen on a screen again, except for Kerry Clearwater.
Despite the time, talent, and technical restraints, Kerry nailed every single one of her lines. Her presence was electric. Legal Aliens reruns are on TV all the time late at night. I’ve spent many nights awake unwilling to go to bed with the television on watching the show, and every time she entered the scene, she brought a flood of energy with her. You could see it in the other actors too—I swear they were all pale and gray until Kerry came into a scene and then their skin filled with color and life. Their performances were stronger, they didn’t trip over their lines. They were actually funny now; they thrived off her presence. The show’s producers only figured it out before it was too late. In the final episode, Kerry’s character takes center stage and assumes the role of the protagonist after the secret agents successfully kidnap her alien neighbors.
You’d never expect a TV show to strike lightning by ignoring its own conceit. That episode was the highest rated of the show’s run and launched Kerry’s [[career.->Meeting Arthur]]</div><div class="RevivalText">During the two decades Legal Aliens was off the air, a die-hard fan struck gold in the tech scene. She knew every line of the show by heart, had posters and photos taped to her walls, and secured the autograph of every main actor from a series of convention appearances. She loved Legal Aliens. And once she developed and sold a messaging app for two billion dollars, she knew exactly what she was going to do with the money—relaunch her favorite television show. Almost the entire cast signed back on. Most of them hadn’t worked since the show went off the air, and Jamie offered the largest sum of money any of them had seen for their talent. Everyone [[planned to return->Meeting Arthur]], except for Kerry.</div><div class="ArthurText">Hidden in a small forest, Kerry lived in a sleek boxy thing just outside of town. She was notoriously private and had structured the land around her home was an embodiment of her desire to be unknown. A long and winding road cut through a thick forest—that kept the property hidden away from any impolite trespassers—to the house. A wild garden filled with yellow flowers covered the windows and walls to act as another shield around the home, just in case the long driveway and trees weren’t enough. The lawn had a clean cut, and every plant was kept in a neat and proper order.
Kerry hid further away from public life after the announcement of the Legal Aliens revival. Appearances outside her home were scarce and noteworthy. The only person who regularly saw her was an older man with long gray hair pulled into a tight ponytail. He was small and thin, with the [[posture of a bird->The Bird Man]]. He looked like he could take one step and ride the wind wherever he wanted.</div><div class="BirdmanText">Arthur, the bird man, met Kerry a couple of years ago, when she was shooting a soap commercial. He was part of the lighting department. He told me that whenever he thinks of Kerry, the first image to come to mind is her surrounded by the pastel pink set with bubbles floating around her head. The two of them bonded when Arthur made a wise crack about one of the props. She laughed and shot one of her own back at him. They’d been inseparable ever since. Now, they remain together, even though Kerry resides in spare bedroom on the second floor of the home.
At first, Arthur thought her new reclusion was another performance art stunt. After a night out at The Fantarama, Kerry ignored him the next morning—and ignored is a strong word; she was completely oblivious to his presence. She mumbled random words and scribbled indecipherable script on a piece of paper as she walked in a tiny circle. It was some sort of rehearsal. Just the same line over and over again, each time with a different tone and [[emotional thrust->Cheer Up]]. Arthur waited for a punchline or a gotcha but one never came.</div>
<div class="CheerUpText">Despite the popularity boost she gave Legal Aliens [[at the end->Legal Aliens Revival]] of its first run, Kerry was not slated to be the lead of the revival. Once again, she was in the background. The show’s new financier hated the finale—because it was the final episode, because it broke the show’s formula, because of the cliffhanger ending, because she always hated Kerry’s character. She was probably the only person who felt that way about the Legal Aliens finale, but she paid for everything now and used her new power to force a return to the show’s status quo. Kerry’s character would not be leading the charge to rescue the alien family, in fact the show’s first new episode ignored the plotline, opting to keep the events from the intervening decades a mystery. Arthur wanted to cheer Kerry up. She took the rejection hard—she stopped working on performance art and stopped leaving the house completely. Few people knew how grateful Kerry was for the Legal Aliens finale, how she loved the limelight and opportunity the finale granted her. Arthur decided a night out at The Fantarama would be fun. It’d be a guaranteed escape for Kerry. They enjoyed their time, but when they got off the ride, Kerry was quiet. She didn’t talk much until they arrived home. Then the babbling started. He’s not exactly sure what she saw on the ride, but I think I do.
There were some small cannisters of film next to the photos of Kerry at her exhibit in the museum. I convinced Charlie, the docent, to let me look at one after rumors of Kerry’s agoraphobia circulated the town. Once the wrecking ball destroyed The Fantarama, I wanted to record this piece of Sharpton’s history. I didn’t have the opportunity to talk to Spencer himself so I was scavenged what I could from around town. Everyone thought Kerry’s film cannisters were from her film and television projects, but they weren’t. The strips of film were part of a failed scheme of Spencer’s to record the visions from The Fantarama. Spencer always wanted to make The Fantarama bigger, to export the visions somehow. He discovered that if someone stared through a viewfinder at a strip of film like a kinetoscope, he could print their vision. The service wasn’t popular as most people in Sharpton didn’t own film projectors and Spencer found the visions only printed on film.
I had Kerry Clearwater’s dreams in my hands.
Kerry found herself in front of a house in the woods, much like her own, whenever she got on The Fantarama. The building was painted with a purple only found in the sky. It was an old Victorian home with vines climbing up one of the sides. No one had lived in it for years. The windows were cracked and the wood was rotting off one of the walls. She entered the house. It looked like something called to her. The film doesn’t have a soundtrack so I can only guess based on what I see. The house lacked furniture. Every room was empty except for dust. As she walked around, there were footprints left behind as if she was walking in snow. There’s a hallway in the house that extends forever. It must have millions of doors on either side. She walks down the hall and opens a door, and then the film deteriorates.
I watched several different strips of film and in each one, she opens open a different door before it ends.
Arthur showed me what Kerry scribbles and rehearses. It’s a play, or at least it’s supposed to be one. The writing is fragmented but she’s trying to get something down on paper about her vision from The Fantarama. My guess is that the vision was the inspiration for most of her work. But now her muse is [[all-consuming and unmoving.->Recurring Condition]]
</div><div class="VikingText">Kerry’s experience with The Fantarama is something I learned to be a recurring condition among some people. There’s a sect of riders who have the fantasy persist when they get off the ride. The vision keeps going at the edges of their mind. Kerry lived in this halfway world most of her life and expressed it through her art. Some people are [[lucky->Legal Aliens Revival]] and only experience minor distortions like seeing a horse instead of a car, but others have it take over everything like a tidal wave. Their friends and family told me how their loved ones morphed into different people before their eyes. One guy’s girlfriend—a docile woman who was cheery and kind to everyone she met—turned into a blood thirsty Viking. She was too far gone and no one knew what caused her to change, at the time. She’d only been on the ride once. Her boyfriend told me that she’s lives in a hut out in the woods going about the daily rituals of Norse life. He visits her occasionally, but he can tell from the way she looks at him that he’s [[a stranger->Hub]], and he always will be.</div><div class="ForestText">I’ve ridden The Fantarama myself. I don’t want you to think I’d write this whole thing without getting on too.
When I’m on the ride, the experience is tinged with folksy fantasy. In it I live among some villagers that discover a forest consumed the land around our tiny home overnight. The visions come with new memories that feel just as real, and that I can recall as easily, as anything else I’ve experienced. It was like a dream except I could remember everything exactly as it had happened.
I was sixteen the first time I got on The Fantarama and the first thing I remember after the rollercoaster went down the tunnel is the cold. I shivered and wrapped myself tighter in my coat. Winter skirted its way a little closer to our village every day, but today it arrived like a roar from the mountains to the north. Snow covered the ground like a sprinkling of powdered sugar on a cake. But the cold season would be the least of our problems.
The trees had grown through the walls and floors of the homes at the edge of town. Ridley, the town blacksmith, who had a tree burst right through the middle of his house, said he didn’t even hear a thing during the night. They were a verdant wall, imprisoning us from whatever lie on the other side.
My sister Fiona and I were among the scouts who rode out in the cardinal directions to investigate the woods. We found nothing. No animals and no plant life, other than the beech trees in every direction. The other scouts reported the same thing from their own expeditions. We rode for three days before returning. Our horses were exhausted and our supplies were running low. We had pushed hard, fueled by the hope of finding an end to the trees.
Our return was marred by our grim discovery. The neighboring villages and farmland were not only swallowed by the forest, but vanished into thin air. Nothing was left behind—houses, bodies, roads—that could prove there was ever life just a few days earlier. We camped alongside the Havelock River, where the town of Havelock had stretched across both sides. It had a beautiful stone bridge that glimmered in the sunlight. I was there only two weeks ago trading the furs of animals I trapped. Fiona made a fire, and we sat silently—the snapping of the burning wood the only sound beside the wind and our breath—thinking about our friends who disappeared.
I wanted to say something, but I didn’t possess the words. Fiona was engaged to a kind tanner in Havelock she had known for years. They planned to wed in the spring after the snow thawed. She was going to move to Havelock. All traces of her fiancé were gone. The trees here were a green ruin of her future home. On our first ride through, we spent a few hours searching the area around the river for signs of the lost town—a broken pot, someone’s sword, anything. I begged her to get back in her saddle before the sun set. On the first night, I saw something in the woods circling our camp. A monster lurked in the trees, I was certain of it. When I slept, I could feel the demon skulking through our camp, sniffing each of us as it decided who would make a better meal. But I always found myself alive in the morning. Another day. But the longer we rode, as the day went on and into the night, my paranoia grew stronger, until it released at dawn. If we stayed any longer in Havelock, I knew whatever was out there would get us. The whole thing was a trap. Of course, the demon—doglike with wild yellow eyes and sharp tentacles pouring out of its back—would attack us if we took a moment to mourn. Finally, Fiona relented. She got back on her horse, and we continued our search for an end to the trees.
Tears clung to my cheeks as the ride ended and the train coasted to a stop. I was still plaintive about the fate of my village and my sister. My hands were shaking. Adrenaline was coursing through me the way electricity ran through metal. A small laugh escaped my mouth because I didn’t have any siblings and being frightened, to a level like this, was all too familiar. Then, I longed to see my mother. I hadn’t been to my childhood home in years and this Christmas seemed like the perfect time to visit. Except why did I want to do that? I could just stay here again, like I did the previous Christmas with my father. She doesn’t call me either so why should I bother?
The operator walked over to me. He looked into my eyes like he was searching for something lost in a well then, he released the straps keeping me in the ride.
“Be careful when you get out,” he said. “Everything is a little funny after your first ride.”
As I walked outside, I [[couldn’t stop thinking->Sudden Doom]] about a pair of mittens left behind in a field. The sun was just cresting the horizon, letting in a flood of warmth, so they weren’t needed anymore, but once the night swoops back in, and brings a chill, surely the owner would want them. </div><div class="BalloonsText">As soon as I got home, I wrote down everything about my experience on the ride. I could already feel it slipping away from my mind. It almost felt faraway enough already that my time in that infinite forest was like a story someone told me about me. I didn’t want to forget a single thing—the trees, the sister, the way the snow covered the forest floor, the bumpy feeling of riding a horse. The one thing I didn’t need to remember was the fear.
As a child, I had an incredible fear of sudden doom. It wasn’t a fear of anything particular; only that something uncontrollably bad would happen without warning. This feeling lurked in the corners of my mind, and when I was alone at night, it prowled closer to the forefront of my thoughts until it leapt at me, its prey. It was like a panther sometimes, clawing at me, gnawing at my flesh down to the bone.
I prayed every night before bed that I wouldn’t die in my sleep. Please, let me wake up in the morning. Please, do not send a monstrous cyclone crashing through the walls of my bedroom in the middle of the night.
When I stared too long and too deep into the sky, I imagined myself becoming lighter, ready to float away like a balloon. As a kid, I put rocks in my shoes as an emergency measure.
Flying into infinite space was my greatest fear. Even today, a tingle will spread from my elbows, travel up my arms, and through my body to create a weightlessness whenever I stare too far upwards wondering what’s up there.
As I grew older, the fear receded. I didn’t need to pray anymore for my survival. But it never went completely away. Sometimes, when I let my guard down, I can still feel it, a cold hand hovering—ready to rest—above my shoulder. And when it touches me, I’m back to how I was as a child, [[scared->Second Ride]] and willing to bargain with whoever will listen to me. </div><div class="ForestText">My second ride on The Fantarama was years later on a date. The girl was new in town and had never been to The Fantarama. She begged me to go with her, and I tried my best to get out of it. Anytime I got near the place, I saw trees sprout up from the ground. I feel the cold mountain wind. My gut told me to stay away, but I finally gave in. Maybe the next time would be different, I thought.
I found myself tightening my coat again when I awoke in my second ride on The Fantarama. The wind cut my cheeks, as I tried to burrow further into my collection of furs and blankets. Once again, the trees had consumed everything around our village, and I was assigned to venture out into the wilderness to look for someone, anyone, who could help us. This time I was tasked with travelling alone. The entire fantasy had reset for my second ride. Any minimal progress that we accomplished the last time was undone. With no memory of my previous journey, I didn’t protest. So, I set off westward.
The results were the same—there’s nothing to be found. The campfire crackled and snapped on my second night out from the village. Then, like a cloud passing over the sun, my paranoia found me. Something cracked in the woods. Was it a tree branch breaking from the weight of ice or was it a demon stalking my campsite? Are those golden lights floating in the distance sparks rising from the fire or are they the creature’s eyes? The flittered away too fast for me to know. I remained awake through the night, resolute, with my hand gripped on my sword—ready in case of any sudden strike. I threw some wood on the fire to refuel it. It was going to be a long night, and I did not plan to let my guard down.
A growl poured out from the trees. There it was, exactly what I feared. A demon. It was wolf-like with armor like an alligator instead of fur. Sharp, blood-soaked fangs peaked out of its lips. I wanted to stand but I couldn’t move. Its hypnotic yellow eyes kept me in place. I pulled my sword from its sheath and readied myself. The campfire chirped as the wood burned. Wind blew snow out of the trees while the monster and I stared each other down. Then it lunged. I pulled my sword to block it and as soon as the beast clashed with the metal, I flinched.
And I [[opened my eyes->Recurring Dream]] just as the rollercoaster pulled back into the station. </div><div class="DreamText">As a child I had a recurring dream of being center stage in an old theater. The walls were gilded and the seats were made of velvet in a semi-circle in the auditorium. Light struck my eyes so I couldn’t see the audience; they were a sea of murky shadows smudged together into one mass. I unfolded a piece of paper that I found in my pocket. Depending on my age when I had this dream, the content of the paper changed. Sometimes it was a poem; other times it was a book report, an article I’d written, or just a drawing to display to the audience. I’d stammer my way through reading whatever it is I’d written or watch my hands shake as I desperately tried to hold the drawing still. My presentation lasted for what felt like hours every time.
The dream always ended the same way. The stage lights turned off and the house lights turned on, revealing not an audience, but an [[empty->Third Ride]] room.
</div><div class="ForestText">Once Charlie finished his ride on The Fantarama and left, it was just me and Nora. By the time his ride was over, the tiny branches that I saw growing out of the walls had become full grown trees. My feet were standing on grass instead of concrete. I could hear birds singing above my head. The entire station was a woodland paradise.
Nora punched in something at the ride’s controls.
“One last ride?” she said.
“Don’t you think Charlie deserves it? He’s here just about every day.”
“He got the last official one. Besides, I’ve never down there,” she said pointing at the tunnel.
I wanted to protest. I wanted to stay right where I was like a statue. Nora knew about my two experiences on The Fantarama and how I have a panic attack just looking at the place. Several years later, I still see trees growing out of walls and at night I can hear the demon prowling outside my window. Wasn’t it enough of an accomplishment for me to be here at all?
Before I could say anything, she strapped herself into the front seat of the rollercoaster.
“You have ten seconds,” she said. “It’s on a timer.”
And I made it just in time. The buckle clicked and I looked at Nora next to me. She smiled. The rollercoaster launched down the tunnel before she could say what I knew she’d say.
The speed forced my eyes shut. When I opened them, I was back in the same village. It was cold so I tightened my jacket against my body. Like the weather, the trees were there too. The forest stretched into infinity. The demon must have been out there too, but this time, I didn’t see it or feel its presence.
This time, Nora was in the village too. I don’t know if it was actually her or just something conjured by my brain. I’m not sure it really matters.
We stayed in the village, along with everyone else. No scouts were sent out this time. A large bonfire was built in the center of the village. It burned all through the night with everyone gathered around it telling stories, singing songs, and dancing. I had one eye on the edge of the town, just in case the demon came. But it never did. So, I took Nora’s hand and joined everyone at the party.
We weren’t resigned to our fate. Sure, danger lurked in the woods, but [[if we stayed united together->Like a Ghost]], we could weather out whatever misfortune headed our way.</div>Houses went up where The Fantarama once stood.
Nora and I bought one as we settled into our fully adult lives. She started reporting for the local newspaper while I taught math at the high school. Our living room is right on the spot where the control panel used to be.
The neighborhood is quiet. You would have no idea what once stood here by just looking at it. Some of our neighbors moved in from a few states away, and I try to explain The Fantarama to them, they don’t seem to understand. I try to tell them about the grand metal shape that protected the rollercoaster from the elements. How one guy built the whole thing over the course of decades.
Sharpton moved on though. The teardrop symbol that used to be everywhere got replaced by logo of the clocktower in the town square. If you didn’t know, you’d think I made the whole thing up.
But some nights, after everyone has turned off their lights, I’ll sit outside and wait. Maybe a tree will sprout from the earth. Maybe I’ll see the demon charging down the street, fangs bared. But it never comes. So I go back inside and lay down in my bed. And when I fall [[asleep…->The End]]<div class="EndText">I dream of an endless forest lit by the first light of spring.</div><h1><i>Goodbye, Fantarama!</i></h1>
<h4 class="AuthorName">by Jeffrey Cullen Dean</h4>
<li class="white" id="start">[[Start->Rumors]]</li>
<li class="white">[[Image Credits->Credits]]</li>
</div><h3>About the text</h3>
<p><i>Goodbye, Fantarama!</i> is a work of interactive fiction developed with Twine for Jeffrey Cullen Dean's master's capstone project. To navigate the story, you will click on hyperlinks to move between passages. Some pages will require you to scroll. Because of the digital form, the story is told nonlinearly and branches in many directions. There are opportunities to circle back within the narrative to read every page. The end of the story is signaled by a lack of links in the text. If you would like to return to the title page at any time, there is a home icon on the bottom left of every screen that will bring you back when clicked.</p>
<h3>About the author</h3>
<p>Jeffrey Cullen Dean is the author of <i>Goodbye, Fantarama!</i> He is a designer and journalist. He writes for the Newnan Times-Herald newspaper as a staff writer covering local government, public safety, and other goings-on in the community. His writing has been recognized by the Georgia Press Association and redistributed by the Associated Press. More of his work can be found <a class="portfolio" href="http://www.jeffreycullendean.com" target="_blank">here.</a></p>
<p>[[Return to title page->Title]]</p>[[Return to title page->Title]]
The images in <i>Goodbye, Fantarama!</i> were obtained from Wikimedia Commons and made available via the public domain and Creative Commons licenses, before being manipulated in Adobe Illustrator and Photoshop. The titles of the images and the authors' names are written as they appeared on Wikimedia Commons.
"Peacock spotted at Parambikulam" by Sivahari
"bye bye Balloon" by Daniel Novta
"Hist Museum Oslo IMG 2916 female viking helmet" by Bjoertvedt
"Beech forest in Ma'tra in Winter" by Susulyka
"Finnish Mittens" by Petri Tapola
"Astronaut John M. Grunsfeld" by Astronaut John M. Grunsfeld
"Cosmic fairy lights" from ESA/Hubble & NASA
"Gluehlampe 01 KMJ" by KMJ
"Harmony in Pink and Grey" by James Abbot McNeill Whistler
"Tylenolss" by Damian Finol
"Grundig Colour TV" by BxHxTxCx
"Potw1629a" from ESA/Hubble & NASA
"Brown rock chat (Oenanthe fusca)" by Charles J. Sharp
"Handprint Family" by RootOfAllLight
"Dew kissed mustard flower" by Satdeep Gill
"Richard in an empty theater" by Beatrice Murch
"Old Moelwyn tunnel 1961 (2)" by jeffowenphotos
"Palisades Amusement Park Ride Ticket" by Mhymowitz
"Dream On" by Cassandra Miller
"Clare de Lune" by Cassandra Miller
"The Cello Song" by Cassandra Miller
Dietmar Rabich / Wikimedia Commons / “Bredevoort (NL), Kanone an der kleinen Gracht -- 2016 -- 4149” / CC BY-SA 4.0
"Broken Glass" by Rodrigo Paredes
"Eye orbit anatomy anterior2" by Patrick J. Lynch, medical illustrator
"A Soap bubble 1980" by Sérgio Valle Duarte
"Goff House" by MisterBadmoon
"Forest (191)" by Paul Hudson
"Kurt the fish" by Madeleine Horrell
"Louie the fish" by Madeleine Horrell
Additional photography by Jeffrey Cullen Dean[[<img class="footer" src="http://www.fantarama.com/StoryImages/home.png">->Title]]If you didn’t know, you’d think The Fantarama was a generic roadside attraction. It was often confused for the world’s largest raindrop sculpture. But housed inside was a brutal concrete station with a single rollercoaster train that fit up to twenty people. In its prime, the attraction had hours-long waits that slithered outside and coiled around the building. Word of The Fantarama took off with the advent of the Internet. People travelled from all over the country—the world—to ride it. They wanted to experience their [[unique fantasy->The Old Man]] gifted from the ride—everyone sees something different. I once met a guy from Australia who took a big detour on his trip of the United States just to come to our little dusty town and see the ride, all for opportunity for to slip out of his skin, for just a moment.
It was always a party at The Fantarama. Sometimes people came out just to be near the place. Spencer had musicians of all kinds put on shows for the folks waiting in line. People danced while they stuck outside waiting for their turn, and once it was dark out, the large lit-up sign out front to attract drivers travelling through—THE FANTARAMA!—bathed everyone and everything with comforting light until it was their turn to get on the ride. By the time The Fantarama was torn down, most of the letters on the marquee had blown away and many of the lights on the big road sign had flickered out. T e Fant ma it read, in dull bulbs fogged with dust and disinterest.