Part Sixteen submitted by
Sorry for another gap in reporting in, guys. Things have been happening here for the last couple of weeks, but none of them have really had to do with anything. It's more like “stuff happens, when you're alive.” I'll share a couple of them just to get you caught up with me.
Dale found a box in the back of the closet when he was trying to find a pair of workboots, and when he opened it he found out it was mine. Apparently he packed it full of stuff of mine he couldn't bear to throw out and couldn't stand to look at, which means I have a lot of my important stuff back, or, well, the kind of stuff that's important to you when you're twenty years old and broke as hell. Half a dozen band T-shirts, some CDs, my good copy of the Silmarillion, some photos. For starting my life over from a single box, it's a pretty nice little treasure trove.
Leah told me to consider her spare bedroom mine, at least until we can get her turning reversed. I'm still on an air mattress, but with my stuff back—including a couple of Dale's old photography projects on the wall, the ones he couldn't stand and I thought belonged in a damn museum—it feels like having an actual home again, albeit one with a very noticeable missing presence.
I have a scripted line now for girls who want to ask for my phone number while I'm in costume. Caroline and Oliver apparently have the same problem, but I have an advantage they don't, which is that it's completely in character for me to not know what a phone number is, or, for that matter, a phone.
I got a real laptop with my last paycheck. I've been scanning in Dale's park documents—the old blueprints, the purchase orders, everything from the file he gave me. It hasn't really turned up anything, but I can do stuff like laying blueprints overtop of each other to see the park in 3D now.
I ran into a little kid in the park the other day who told me when she grows up she wants to be a ballerina astronaut cowboy princess ninja doctor. Not all of these things at some point, mind you, she wants to be all six at once. I told her when I grow up I want to be a train engineer but instead of a train whistle I'll just stick my head out the window and yell really loud, and she giggled until she fell on her butt, and then just kept giggling from the ground. The kids in this job are a trip and a half. I'm actually kind of glad I didn't end up back in Casablanca at this point, although I'm never going to say so out loud, just in case upper management gets any ideas.
At least three people who've seen Maxine and me in the same spot have asked if we're siblings. We don't even look alike. At this point we're just kind of laughing about it, because what else can you do.
Oliver bet me fifty bucks I wouldn't ride the drop tower in the horror section. It's nowhere near the biggest one in North America, but it's still 175 feet tall, and I'm not afraid of heights but I'm not a huge fan of them, either. Mitchell and Maxine decided to get in on the bet, which ended with me throwing up as soon as I got off and then staggering over to Leah's little corner of horror with a hundred and fifty bucks it only took me about two minutes to earn. We decided to use it to order something incredibly fancy for dinner and ate in her studio that night after park close.
I broke the only-hand-to-hand-contact rule without thinking about it when a kid fell off the hitching rail outside one of the gift shops and busted his face. Dale told me he'd let it go because the kid was covered in blood and I was trying to figure out if he had a head wound. (It turned out to be a tooth he knocked out on the edge of a barrel.) He did tell me he had to give me at least a verbal warning for it because the rule is in place to prevent lawsuits and he had to do the same with me as he would anyone else, and I told him that was fine, but I'd take the warning over watching a kid sit and scream while his mom waited for first aid help to come any day. He told me that was about what he expected.
Six different staff members have asked for my biscuit recipe and only one's gotten close to replicating it. They're all assuming I have some secret family ingredient I don't tell them about. The sad truth is, I actually got the recipe from the Betty Crocker cookbook and it's just that none of them can follow directions.
Anne asked incredibly
shyly if I know how to make ratatouille. I said yes, like a complete liar, because she's adorable, and then I went home and looked up some recipes and I have no idea how I didn't learn this years ago. We had a pre-open lunch with my first shot at it, and Leah and Darius both decided I should be on Masterchef.
I showed up to one of these pre-open lunches and found Maxine sitting on Leah's lap and giggling, and Darius sitting on Maxine's lap and giggling, so I sort of shrugged and sat on Darius' lap, and then Oliver came in and sat on my lap, and then Anne sat on Oliver's lap just as Dale walked in and the whole damned stack of us fell over with our legs around each other, laughing like hell. Dale just said “it's too early for this shit” and walked back out, and we all laughed harder, and then Leah made a crack about what if Dale sat on Anne's lap, and I shouldn't be allowed to speak before food and coffee in the morning because totally without thinking about it I said “he's 250 pounds, I don't feel like being under that today” and in the resulting pandemonium I also said it was too early for this shit and ducked out.
Caroline promised me brownies if I came back. To her credit, she did actually bring brownies the next day. I don't think they came out of a box, either. It's been four days and Anne still can't look at me without cracking up, but Oliver's stopped wolf-whistling at me, so there's that. I also still don't know what the tower of lap-sitting was for, by the way, just if you're wondering.
Oliver found out somewhere I thought he was hot, and I kind of panicked and tried to apologize, and he just gave me the most confused look I've ever seen and said something that kind of caught me off-guard: “You're allowed to be a human being, you know.” Then we spent five or ten minutes going back and forth over whether I was out of line, and he finally called an end to it by telling me he didn't care if I was gay, he'd care if I was a creep, and there's nothing inherently creepy about having eyeballs. I'm starting to get my head around the idea that “gay people are people” happened while I was gone, but “and straight people don't care” is still blowing my mind.
Also I get the impression he kind of wants to punch my dad now, but a lot of people want to punch my dad, so that's nothing new.
And that brings us up to today. Like I said, all random life-happens-while-you're-alive stuff.
Today, though, I cornered Oliver while he was letting the Diva out and said “hey, wanna come spend some unsupervised time in an abandoned bunker?”
I don't think human beings can actually perk their ears the way dogs can, but he sort of gave the impression of doing that anyway. “Are there bodies?”
“Not that I know of?”
“Is there actual light in there?”
“I brought flashlights. With wrist straps.”
“Are we gonna get attacked by random shit again?”
We got to the Twin Vale cellar by ten-thirty, and when I handed Oliver his flashlight and headed down the steps he peeked his head in and shook it before following me.
We shined our flashlights around, and I filled him in on how I'd first found the place. The cellar is small, maybe six feet by eight feet, with regular concrete walls and a few of those aluminum industrial shelving units around. Oliver pinned one of the shelving units with his flashlight.
“Listen.” He walked up to it and knocked on one of the shelves. I was expecting a metallic clank.
Instead I heard a solid and distinctly wooden thunk.
“Why paint it to blend in? Why not just leave it alone? Nobody's going to care about mismatched shelves in a storage space.” He stared at it a minute longer, then peered between the shelves before reaching back to knock on the wall.
It wasn't wall. It was a shelf-back, painted to look like concrete, and it sounded hollow.
“There's something back here.”
Oliver nodded me up to the painted shelf, and between us we pulled it forward enough to see a black, door-shaped hole behind. We looked at each other.
“Are we going in there?” Oliver looked uneasy. I didn't know if I looked it, but I sure felt it. Neither the cellar, nor any empty space attached to it, appeared on the park blueprints. Any of them.
“Stick something between the shelf and the wall so we can get back out.”
Oliver looked around, then pulled out his car keys and set them on the ground. He glanced up at me.
“I put an iron ingot on there after what happened this winter.”
“Good idea.” I wanted to point out his car keys wouldn't help much if something, or someone, decided to take a more traditional approach and just blockade the shelf, but we had enough problems without adding to them.
The hole turned out to be a hallway. A manmade one, too—still floored and walled with concrete, with wooden beams for weight balance. I was about to ask Oliver why not steel?
when the concrete abruptly ended, and the hallway turned into an open alcove walled with dirt, and I thought I might pass out.
In all these years, it never occurred to me to wonder where Warin's enclosure was, until I was standing in it.
The alcove had to be set right below Twin Vale's main plaza. There was a dark pool of water on one side I wouldn't have taken a drink from if I was dying of thirst—it smelled stale,
and dangerous in a way I'm not sure I could describe if you gave me a lifetime to do it. The room was lit—albeit dimly—by these weird tendrils I thought might be bioluminescent plants, although how any kind of plant could survive here was beyond me. Some kind of moss or lichen living on the wooden support posts, maybe. Or maybe something from the Underground.
And all around the walls, pictures.
Hundreds of them.
Some were black and white, and odd sizes that became more understandable when I saw them up close—a woman with light, probably-gray hair, wearing a long-sleeved and long-skirted dress, looking adoringly at a tall, spare man in glasses, sitting at a piano. The same couple on a stage. A newspaper clipping, showing them on the steps of the Bijou Theatre.
Grace and Robert.
There were two or three of a young woman who looked remarkably like Leah, but her hairstyle and clothing made it clear she was someone else, from long ago. There were angry X's drawn over her photographs.
I spotted a row of promo pictures, an unimpressed blonde in a revealing nurse's costume circled in each. Half a dozen of the photos were Polaroids, taken from weird angles, the lighting patchy, like someone was learning how to use a camera. I'd seen another shot exactly like them in Dale's files—Laila, taking her first and only set of park photographs.
There were a whole slew of them that pissed me off to the point of rage, and you probably know exactly who was in them, but the reason I saw red and felt my hands shake had nothing to do—well, almost nothing—with my face on Warin's walls.
It was the composition—weird angles, but more confident, the kind of thing a reviewer would probably call “a unique perspective.” And a certain kind of intangible thing anybody who's a photo expert could probably tell you about—the thing where you can just look at a photo and say “I know who took this.” That, and a memory: Fucking asshole isn't even supposed to be outside Twin Vale. Nate, did you grab my camera bag?
These weren't just photos of me. They were stolen
photos of me. Dale never did find his bag, and he was way more upset about it than his dad could understand, given that his Nikon was in his hand when the bag came up missing. But I knew why: there was an entire roll of film in there he'd just finished, and our entire first day at the park together—before I worked here, before Dale was even the manager—was on that roll. The two of us on the carousel, me trying (and miserably failing) to win something at the Twin Vale shooting gallery, a mini-tripod shot in an offbeat corner with the park just visible behind us and Dale's signature framing separating us from it.
I pulled a couple of the photos down before Oliver could see them. Dale hadn't exactly spent the entire roll at the park, if you get my drift.
“There's a whole wall of Leah in here.”
“I'm not surprised.” One of them was a newspaper clipping from the park centennial. Leah was near the front of the shot, laughing at the camera. Like Laila before her, she was circled in every group shot. Oliver looked between her photos and Laila's, and then at the wall I was standing in front of, still furious but also kind of shocked just how many of the photos hadn't
been taken by Dale. One was in a frame, and I recognized it at once—he and I both had a copy, and he'd kept his on his desk. His dad had taken it, the two of us sitting on the bench under the weeping willow by the front office and laughing at each other.
It was the one Leah mentioned in her blog, and I yanked it off the wooden post it'd been attached to. The asshole didn't have a right, not to any of us, but splashing the most private parts of our life together across his room like some kind of torture porn really
tore it for me.
Oliver frowned. “Hey Nathan?”
“Yeah?” I was trying to sound calm, and kind of being grateful Warin was dead, because if he wasn't I would've killed him, and that really
wouldn't have gone over well with upper management.
“Why's everybody circled in group pictures, but when it's just you and Dale together there aren't any circles?”
Oliver was right.
When Grace was pictured with a second person who wasn't Robert, she was circled. When Robert was shown next to her in a picture with what I assumed to be the rest of the family, they were circled. Leah and Laila were both in group pictures, and circled. There was a photo of me as part of a formal lineup at Casablanca, and I was circled.
But the shot of Dale and me on the carousel—no circle.
The one in the little odd corner—no circle.
The only time any of us pretenders weren't circled was when we were alone in the picture, or standing with another pretender and only
Leah's blog about Dale's scars, his name scrawled desperately all over himself with a knife, slammed back into my head. He just barely got out.
For some reason, Warin decided not to take both of us. Maybe because he thought it'd be more fun to watch Dale suffer. Or maybe because he planned to take both of us at separate times, and Dale got one step ahead of him by making himself literally unforgettable.
Part of me wanted to yank all the photos off the walls and run out with them. Another part recognized how wildly impractical that would be, but most of me was just . . . spinning. In shock, I guess. Oliver touched my shoulder, and I jumped.
“We'd better get back out of here,” he said. “We know what it is now. It'll still be here after park close if you want to, you know . . . ”
We left it, but I still didn't want to. I was clothed in the photos I left up, but somehow I felt more naked leaving them there. I handed Oliver the framed photo.
“Do me a favor, would you? Do you have time to run this to Dale before you have to get dressed?”
“Probably not, but I have to cut through Candyland and I can give it to Madeleine.”
I watched him head off before I went to get changed. I wasn't able to go back after park close—I mean, I could have, in theory, but after ten hours running around with kids all I wanted to do was check on Leah and go home.
But I want to go back. I want my damned pictures.
And I want to find out who the girl is in the crossed-out photos. Part Eighteen
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