One Too Many

by Natalie L. Sin

Woon woke up with a nasty backache. The reason became apparent when he tried to sit up, only to fall off the carousel horse he had impossibly been sleeping on. Then again all things were possible with enough alcohol. He couldn’t remember leaving the party, much less sneaking into the amusement park. A quick look around told him it was the Shijingshan Amusement park: Beijing’s answer to Disney Land.

Unfortunately, Disney noticed and sued a few years back. Woon forgot how the matter was resolved. Personally, he never understood what the big deal was. Amusement parks all pretty much looked the same anyway.

He had been to Shijingshan a couple times when he was much younger, usually on trips to the mainland to visit his grandmother in Beijing. Admission was free for senior citizens, making it one of the few indulgences his grandmother could provide. The thought of asking her daughter, Woon’s mother, for money always gave her indigestion. Not that it stopped his mother from trying to force money on her. Even as a kid, he knew there was nothing friendly about it.

It occurred to Woon that those trips with his grandmother were probably the motivation for his drunken sojourn: That summer would mark the first year since she had died. No doubt being in Beijing had stirred up all kinds of nostalgia, an emotion that would have only been exaggerated by the drinking. Woon grabbed the rump of the horse to pull himself up only to jerk his hand away. He could have sworn he felt real hair on the tail, but a closer look indicated only an overactive imagination.

“Fuck,” he proclaimed to no horse in particular. “How much did I drink?”

It wasn’t unusual for him to drink to excess. He was still young and healthy, after all. Responsible habits could wait right along with settling down and providing grandchildren for his overly interested mother. She already had plenty, Woon had three older sisters, but as the last bearer of the family name there was a lot of pressure on Woon’s seed.

He peered over the edge, impressed that he had made it all the way to the second tier of the carousel. It provided a great view of one of the park’s five roller coasters. The name escaped him, but Woon was pretty sure it was the kind where the seats were suspended from the tracks overhead. He remembered how his grandmother always tried to talk him out of getting on those kinds of rides.

“Too fast,” she would tell him earnestly. “You go up there, you die from broken neck!”

The fact that scores of visitors took the ride and got off with spinal chords intact didn’t faze her. The way his grandmother’s logic went, someone she loved was infinitely more likely to die in a freak accident than some stranger. Because of this, Woon had taken a lot of rides on the carousel as a kid. Just never on the second level: He could fall over the edge, crack his skull. Life was full of peril. Truth be told, Woon had never felt more loved in his life.

On his way to the stairs, Woon noticed a bottle of rum resting against the hoof of a perpetually prancing horse. Apparently he hadn’t been traveling alone. Woon picked up the bottle and smiled to see that it was over half full. He unscrewed the cap and took a long swig.

“Well my friend, I think it’s time to go.”

Rum firmly in hand, Woon carefully made his way down the stairs separating the carousel’s two levels. He still didn’t feel completely sober, nor did he intend to stay that way. The park was miles from the club and Woon knew he would get lost if he tried to find his way back. Better to find someplace to sleep it off. He could stay hidden until the park opened and then blend in with the crowd. If any of his friends asked what happened to him, he would lie and say he went home with a woman.

Since he would be spending the night anyway, Woon took his time looking for a place to sleep. The park was a queer place at night: Unnaturally silent and lonely. It felt like being the last person on earth, if earth was paved with cobbled streets flanked by houses shaped like ice-cream cones and thickly frosted cupcakes. It would all be charming when the sun was out. For now it was several shades of wrong, like an overprotective mother exploded. Everything was too forcefully cute: a contrived celebration of eternal childhood.

Woon was down to the last few inches of the bottle when he came across the worm. The mascot for the Worm Ride, the dazzling green invertebrate greeted everyone too short to get on the real roller coasters. A ticket window winked dully between the worm’s widely spaced, over sized teeth. It was grinning widely, it’s eyes closed from the force of it and cheeks ready to pop. The worm was either absurdly happy or suffering a stroke.

“Excuse me mister,” Woon asked with exaggerated politeness. “Do you know where I can get something to eat?”

The worm gave a shoulder-less shrug.

“Having never eaten, I couldn’t say.”

Woon was about to scream when his brain helpfully suggested that he must have been drugged. It would explain the complete blackout, not to mention the weird feeling hanging over him ever since hallucinating the horse’s tail. A talking worm was just icing on the cake.

The worm’s black ball of a nose wiggled and its faded white eyelids peeled back to reveal warm brown eyes.

“Do you mind if I have a sip?” it asked shyly.

Woon decided to roll with whatever fantasy the drugs had tricked his brain into believing. Whatever he had been slipped, he didn’t want it to turn into a bad trip.

“I thought you didn’t eat?”

“No one ever offers me anything. They don’t give me anything to drink, either.” The worm sighed. “It’s not that I need it, but it would still be nice, you know?”

Woon walked up to the worm and offered the bottle. He wasn’t sure where to put it. The worm didn’t have arms.

“Just put it into my mouth.”

Woon saw that the window to the booth was gone, replaced by the illusion of a mouth. He stuck the bottle between the worm’s lips and waited to hear it crash to the ground. Instead, the worm clamped down firmly and tilted its head back. After taking several generous gulps, it brought its head back and gestured for Woon to reclaim the bottle.

“Thank you,” the worm said. “The last time I had anything to drink was when someone spilled juice on me. Most of it got on my skin and attracted ants. It was very tickly.”

“Oh.”

Woon wasn’t sure what else to say. The worm sounded so genuine and Woon usually didn’t have much of an imagination. Of course he had never taken a hallucinogen before.

“Do you have a name?” the worm inquired.

“Leung Tak-Woon. You can call me Woon, if you want.”

“That’s a nice name,” the worm complimented. “No one ever gives me a name, they just call me worm.”

Real or not, Woon was starting to feel bad for the worm. He wondered if this was all a reflection of latent poor self-esteem that his brain had buried.

“Can’t you name yourself?”

The worm shook his head. “That seems like cheating. How did you get your name?”

“My parents.”

Woon immediately felt like an ass for bringing them up. Giant fiberglass worms probably didn’t have parents.

“So you have to be born? Too bad.” The worm visibly sagged.

“Tell you what,” Woon offered. “I’ll share my name with you.”

“Oh I couldn’t, it’s too much!”

Woon waved away the worm’s protests. “It’s fine. I’m not the only Woon in Hong Kong, anyway.”

“Well thank you, brother Woon.”

The worm bowed. Not knowing what else to do, Woon bowed back.

“You’re a nice person Woon, and I enjoy talking to you. But you really should get going. It’s too dangerous to sleep in the park.”

“You sound like my grandmother.”

“Then she’s smart. You don’t understand Woon, things happen at night. Not everything in the park accepts its purpose.”

Woon could only stare blankly back, which the worm took as a cue to explain.

“Sometimes when enough people believe you’re real, you start to believe it yourself. That’s how I happened, and I’m not the only one. My purpose is to make people want to ride the roller coaster, and I accept that.”

Things were getting too weird for Woon. A talking worm was fun at first, but enough was enough. Woon had never wanted to be sober so much in his life.

“I guess I’ll get going.”

“Good. Go straight out and don’t slow down for anything. If the others find you, you won’t make it out alive.”

The worm’s eyes were wide and worried.

“They blame the humans for their suffering. Please Woon, don’t let them see you.”

“All right.” Woon humored his new imaginary friend. “I’ll be really careful.”

#

Woon decided to listen to the worm, just at his own pace. In his condition, it didn’t seem wise to be racing around. If possible, he wanted to wear out the drug before he got out of the park. He was back on the cupcake road when he started to hear things. At first it was an almost inaudible rustling, like early autumn leaves. When it grew to a heavy shuffling, Woon started to look over his shoulder. He wondered what kind of animal was following him and if it was big enough to constitute a threat. It could be a stray dog, like the ones back where he grew up. In general they were harmless, but Woon had heard of people coming across dogs that were diseased or insane from malnutrition.

A sharp snorting caught Woon’s attention. It was coming from behind a concession stand and didn’t seem like a sound any dog would make. Woon gripped the neck of the bottle tightly, thinking he could smash it and use the jagged end as a weapon if he was attacked. He found himself thinking back to what the worm said, and immediately hated himself for being a baby. The worm was pretend, after all, meaning that whatever it said came from Woon’s own head. In essence, he was scaring himself. The best thing to do keep walking out of the park and see if he could get a taxi this late at night.

When something round and short shuffled out from behind the concession stand, Woon knew that he was still tripping balls: One of the cars from the elephant ride was out for a stroll. As it got closer, Woon’s stomach clenched. Fashioned to look like baby elephants, the Elephant Ride carts were supposed to be pink, yellow, or blue, all of them pleasingly plump. The one in front of Woon was a swollen and diseased, it’s skin a patchwork of bruises and scabs in varying stages of healing. There was an open wound in its stomach from where a metal beam would normally attach the cart to the rest of the ride. It stretched with each step the elephant took, releasing a growing mixture of intestines and wads of fat that dragged along the ground.

Woon wanted to run but thought better of it. Whatever the elephant was might be encouraged if he fled. Woon didn’t want some stray dog biting him on the ass. It would be better to go slowly and hope that it lost interest.

“Now,” he whispered to himself.

He turned away, careful to not make any sudden movements, and found himself facing three more rotting elephants. Beyond them, he could see several more by the Ferris wheel trudging along to join their siblings. Every so often one would stop and emit a pathetic squeaking sound from its trunk.

“Stop it,” Woon commanded his pounding heart. “They aren’t real. I could walk through them if I wanted to.”

He had no intention of testing that theory. Instead, he decided to take the path of least resistance and walk around the single elephant behind him. None of them were moving very fast, which made Woon optimistic.

The elephant’s eyes followed him as he walked past. Out of the corner of his eye, Woon saw the elephant leer at him, its mouth twisted to reveal a seeping black maw scattered with spiked teeth. Before he knew what was happening, the trunk flashed out and wrapped around his waist. It whipped Woon around viciously before hurling him down onto road. As he gasped for air the elephant loomed overhead, one foot raised over Woon’s face. Remembering his earlier strategy, Woon smashed the bottle and slashed desperately until he felt the glass snag flesh. The elephant shrieked and stumbled back, giving Woon time to get up and run.

The sound of thundering feet and nasal howling told him that the elephants were done strolling. Within seconds another trunk caught him by the foot. Luckily he was able to twist his leg away and the beast was left with only a shoe. It was harder to run after that, but Woon didn’t dare stop to discard the other sneaker. Either way, he was too slow. A broad head smashed him in the back and Woon went flying. He hit the ground shoulder first and felt the skin rip away as he skidded against the stones. He turned onto his back and saw that there were at least ten of them now. The elephant’s eyes were sickly yellow and gleaming as their trunks writhed in the air like epileptic snakes.

It was real. The worm was right and had tried to warn him, but what sane person would have believed their eyes or ears? Even if he had never touched a drink in his life, Woon would have only assumed he was going mad. As the monsters advanced, he wondered if they would leave enough of him for someone to find. He supposed it didn’t matter, dead was dead. At least his grandmother would be waiting for him on the other side.

The elephants were touching him now, their cold trunks poking and winding about his flesh. They left wet smears wherever they touched and Woon felt bile press at the back of his throat. The ground rumbled beneath him and he nearly wept.

“Just kill me!” he screamed at them. “You want to share me with your fucking friends?”

The elephants backed away and reared on their legs. They were going to smash him to pulp, or else tear him apart like chunks of meat. Instead, they started to run in frantic circles. A few bumped into each other and fell to the ground where they writhed like engorged ticks. Suddenly the ground exploded and Woon tumbled backwards.  There was one last fleeting glimpse of sky before his head hit something hard. A sharp crack lanced his brain, then there was nothing.

#

“What are you doing in there?”

The voice was shrill and annoyed, worse than any alarm clock. Woon opened his eyes and squinted at the sunlight filtering in behind the head peering down at him through a tiny window.

“Lousy drunk, get out of the worm! Don’t make me drag you out!”

Woon rose to his feet on shaky legs. The old man scowled at him through the ticket window. Woon saw that he was wearing a brightly colored shirt proclaiming “Come Ride the Worm!” in gold letters.

“How do I get out?” Woon asked.

He was eager to end the interaction. Waking up in a strange place with a hangover was disconcerting. What the hell was he doing in an amusement park?

The man frowned. “Are you still drunk? The door is right there.” He disappeared from the window, followed by a dismayed shout.

“How did you get the padlock back on the door from inside?”  he demanded. “Your friends put you in here?”

Woon decided it was as good a story as any.

The man cursed and spat on the ground. “Some friends. Did you make them mad or something?”

Woon concurred. The man muttered angrily.

“Come on, I need to get the ride ready.” He unlocked the door and hurried Woon out. “You tell your friends that they must respect private property. Next time, I call the police and get you all arrested.”

“I’ll tell them.”

Woon looked down and saw he was minus a shoe. He debated whether to look for it at the park’s lost and found, but decided if anyone found it they would have probably thrown it away.

“Shit! Someone cracked the worm!”

Woon turned around and saw the front left tooth of the ticket booth was split nearly in two. For some reason, it made him incredibly sad. Off in the distance, the music for the elephant ride started. Woon heard it and felt as if something cold and slimy had run its hand up his spine. Ignoring the pain in his foot, he hurried out of the park. He wanted to be far away when he remembered what he was so afraid of.

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