My God! What's this? A short story? Well, kinda. It's for a book and is tacked on the end of an essay I wrote but I thought I would stick it up here for the hell of it.
Jen noticed it first; a slightly strangulated, tinny sound coming from the earth. Like a transistor radio buried in mud. I imagined the dial, like a windscreen in a storm, green digits flickering though the murk. When she put her head against the ground the sound quality improved dramatically.
“It’s Carole King I think……yes, what IS that one? Something Up on The Roof. I thiiiink”.
She is lying flat on the mossy ground, her cheek damp with mud and her ear pressed against the surface of the earth.
“…and if this old world starts a getting you down……” she murmurs.
We are scrabbling through the muddy ground trying to unearth something that is undoubtedly playing Carole KIng.
“…I get away from the hustling crowds…..”
In the mud, below the beautiful one million shades of green mossy stuff that we rip out in chunks like hair from a scalp with alopecia, there is a dark green speaker. Out of it comes the laid back sound of Carole King. We are standing in a mud flat, just inland, about 10 kilometers from Orlando, Florida.
I always loved those horror stories where the hero visits some spooky town and stays in an old inn and the inn burns down and the hero saves someone, a beautiful young girl perhaps, from the flames and struggles out and collapses unconscious and when he wakes up he is in the town. But it looks different and when he asks the way to the inn he’s told that it no longer exists, that it burned down a hundred years ago and that there was only one survivor and that was a beautiful young girl and no one knows how she survived but she did. Well, I’m feeling a bit like that now. I remember going on holiday once to Mexico and arriving in some old town full of geriatric retirees who went there to bask by the beautiful lake in the centre of the town. And I went to check into the hotel and in the lobby were black and white photos of people swimming in the lake, and sitting in cafes under umbrellas on the beach and kids fishing off the stone pier and it all looked just lovely and so I asked the receptionist how far to the beach and she just looked at me like I asked her where the dead bodies were kept. And later, after I dropped my stuff in the little room with the huge fan and the cracked shower, I walked down to the lakefront and saw that one or two of the cafes were still there and the stone pier still stood there imposingly but it led out into a huge field. The lake had dried up and there were cows grazing on its exposed bed and the café’s ringing its former edge looked sad and pointless. I remember being very moved by that, and looking at the lines on the pier of where the water used to be and thinking that where I was standing would have been ten, twelve feet underwater and how weird that was.
This is why we come here, but we have never found anything as good as this before. Last November the Monorail collapsed for good so you could no longer sit in the bullet shaped train in the burnt out seats and pretend you were swooshing magically through the orange groves. Not the twisted tracks and wires are collapsed in the mud. The best bit is the old Utah railway ride. There’s a section you can no longer get in to where it says: Warning – Abandoned Mine Shaft. That always makes me laugh. The whole place is an Abandoned Mine Shaft. There are animatronic crocodiles and giant cups and saucers and half of a Fed-Ex sponsored spaceship and one or two turrets of the castle remaining and lots of other junk that litters the place. The speaker still playing music is the weirdest thing we have ever found though. Up nearer to the interstate one half of a giant pair of black Mickey ears stick slightly up-ended from the ground. It’s like the end of Planet of the Apes when Charlton Heston drops to his feet and roars in horror and the Statue of Liberty is leaning, cock eyed out of the sand. The best end to a film ever really. Nothing can beat it. Not even Mickey’s ears although they are, admittedly, funnier.
But this is good. Music coming from the mud, easy listening classics from beyond the grave. Neither of us can explain it. It shouldn’t be happening. We come here most days and just hang around, looking amongst the ruins for stuff, trying not to be freaked out by the people who live in the remains of It’s A Small World. They have made an enormous sculpture out of bits of old log flume crowned by a pile of plastic flowers and frog’s heads. They’ve painted a big sign saying Free Rides Forever but I don’t think any of the mechanisms work properly so you probably just have to hang out with them listening to their awful music and eating their weird food. Every now and then they have big parties when all their friends turn up on motorbikes and decorated trucks and old school buses and ancient emergency vehicles and they light fires which you can see from miles around. They have this big plastic boat and it sails out across the water to the tip of Splash Mountain and they light an enormous flame held by a fake stone hand and it looks like the lady in the lake. I didn’t realise Florida had any hippies.
I would like to draw a map of this place, try to work out where everything used to be. I might burn the edges like a pirate map. Here be Goofy. There was nothing else to build here. No one else wanted the land. Now it’s a ruin that doesn’t age well. Plastic and fibre-glass made to look old, made to look like weathered stone and timber and rock, lying in the wet soggy grass like giant broken toys. There’s nothing as scary as a discarded, broken toy. Flowers and weeds crawling over bits of fake jungle, a soggy, mouldy animal costume slowly returning to the primordial ooze. Carole King trails off. We cover the speaker up with mud and twigs and muffle the sound so that it is almost inaudible. The ground is murmuring with announcements of the jungle ride being open for business and discounts at the Dolphin hotel. It feels like Walt and the whole crew might be underground, still enjoying the party, still carrying on as normal, still entertaining everyone in their perfect world. We wander home.