I went down to the amusement park with a group of friends. We walked there on foot. As we rounded a corner, the park loomed before us like some grand metropolis of whimsy. There were bells and lights and freshly painted airplanes, ice cream towers and huge spinning pinwheels. The most prominent sight was a ride called “The Zeus”, a roller coaster that wound around a bronze statue of the Greek god that was a few hundred feet tall. He stood at the center of the coaster, scowling and gripping a lightening bolt in his fist. I pointed at the statue and told my friends, “A thousand years ago, it would have taken them centuries to build something like that. The project would span generations. They would have ended up beating half the workers to death for stealing morsels of bread before the thing was done. Now, they probably just flew a few helicopters over the site and squeezed the whole thing out of a giant tube.”
Inside the park, we somehow all got separated from one another. I explored the place on my own. To my surprise, there weren’t really separate rides with people standing in long lines. It was more like a playground of interconnected oddities. I climbed a ladder down a blue metal tube, feeling like I was descending into the bowels of a submarine, and I found myself among a choir rehearsing in the stands of a baseball game. I navigated a hall of mirrors and ended up behind a circus tent where I peaked under the canvas and saw an acrobat doing tricks and handstands on the head of an elephant before a breathless audience. There were truly amusements at every turn.
At one point, I came to a dead end. The path that I had followed led me to a round courtyard that was closed on all sides, except for the way that I had come. I turned and followed the path back to a library of dusty story books that I had just passed through. There was a man in a black top hat behind the desk, and he lifted his head as I approached. He pulled his face into a long, exaggerated frown and said, “Excuse me, young man! You simply cannot come through this way!” From the exaggerated expression and the way that he was drawing out his words, I could tell that he was trying to do a very crude impression of a stuffy librarian. Still, he was serious and steadfast in his refusal to let me pass. I would have to find another way.
So I took another path. This one took me through a sort of grotesque parody of a hair salon with warped, distorting mirrors and hairdressers with giant scissors. As I got to the back of the shop where a bunch of women were sitting under the hair dryers reading magazines, one of the women, wearing what was clearly a very fake curly blonde wig, lifted her head and started shrieking at me. I recognized the face of the man in the top hat. In fact, he pulled away the wig and replaced it with the hat as stomped his way towards me, shaking his finger and saying, “No! No! No! Not this way.” I stumbled backwards and ran back out of the shop.
Down every path, I eventually met with the man in the top hat. He was wearing a monocle as he conducted an orchestra. He twisted the ends of a fake mustache into sharp points as he baked a cake for a cooking show. He blew a whistle dressed as a referee, kicking dirt at me and driving me back. I had no other way to go. I kept ending up back at the round courtyard. I had only one more way I could try. It seemed normal enough. It was an abandoned office building, filled with dismantled cubicles and wires hanging down in places where the ceiling tiles had been removed, like someone had been working on the electrical system. The prosaic nature of the place gave me hope. I thought that maybe this was some neglected part of the park’s administration, rather than part of the park itself. Maybe this could be my way out
But already I was on guard when I saw a maintenance man in blue coveralls standing on a ladder, working on one of the light fixtures with a screwdriver. I tried to creep by him, but just as I was about to slip by, he yelled, “Hey!” My heart caught in my throat. But then he just said, “Can you hand me that five sixteenths wrench?” Slowly, carefully, I handed it up to him, my fingers trembling. He took it without looking back at me. He just said, “Thanks” and started loosening a bolt on the light fixture. I took a long breath. But as I started to walk away, I could hear him laughing softly under his breath. I stopped in mid-step when he said, “Not a chance buddy,” and I knew it was him. I knew it was the man in the top hat.
I backed away and the man’s laughter got louder and louder. I shook my head. There was no way out. The top hat appeared from no where and the man slipped it onto his head as he climbed down from the ladder, turning back to me and literally grinning from ear to ear, his teeth gleaming and his mouth opened to cartoonish proportions. He stomped towards me, pounding each foot down for exaggerated and menacing effect. I back away, still shaking my head, until I butted against a wall. There was a window beside me. It was open to air the room. It was the only path I had left to take.
I closed my eyes and hurled myself from the window. I felt myself falling free out into the air, my stomach gripping with nausea as I dropped. I saw the concrete ground rushing up at me. But just as I braced myself, a giant umbrella suddenly popped open below me. It spread wide, spinning with blue and yellow stripes, and it caught me as I fell. I landed with a bounce, and then I slid off the side of the umbrella and landed feet first on the ground. I found that I was near the entrance to the park. There was a gift shop there, and I saw my friends inside, browsing the racks of souvenirs. I wanted to go in there and see them, find out what had happened to them and how we had all gotten lost. But I just stood there shaking, the light glinting off of every surface, the crowds flowing past, everything, everything spinning around me.