by Eric DeLee
An amusement park's day filled with terror rather than glee
|The Carousel’s Occupant
A soft gust of wind scatters the dry leaves across the pavement, each scratching the blacktop surface in their wake. A large drift of leaves congregate against the faded green wooden panel of a concession booth. On its side, you could still make out the words ‘Frog Bog’. Plastic toy-like lily pads are arraigned in a circle within a large metal tub meant for water. From the looks of things, there has not been any water in there for years (rust has long since made itself a new home), not that it could hold any now, not with the hole in its side, that is.
To the left of the concession stand was a building that used to be the Penny Arcade. Now, it was little more than a building hauntingly staring out at you with its glassless windows. You used to be able to play an assortment of video games within its walls. Games like Galga, PacMan, and even Space Invaders were among the crowd favorites. Now, there are no longer any crowds, and the inside is dark and stripped bare. Outside, the Penny Arcade marquee lay on the blacktop in pieces and covered partially by a grave of a few seasons worth of leaves. Directly across the Midway, looking past the Frog Bog, was the Cotton Candy stand. What remains of a screened window floats in the wind. The Cotton Candy stand has been a favorite for flies and wasps for the past few years. You can even see a layer of sun-dried flies on the weathered counter top from across the Midway.
The scene is the same all up and down the Midway. Desolate and quite. Eerie. Why would a carnival sit comatose with all of its lights dark, and with no kids running up and down the Midway? There is a chill in the air, but that is normal for late August in West Virginia. Surely, that would not be the reason. Then again, why would the place be in such a disjointment? Surely a caretaker would have fixed the screen to the Cotton Candy stand, or perhaps fixed the tub within the Frog Bog booth. Instead, everything was out of place. The ticket booth up the ways is laying on its side--sunlight reflects from bits and pieces of glass sprinkled on the blacktop around it. Next to it, and spookier than ever, is the Haunted House ride.
The Haunted House was made up to look cartoony spooky. The wood used on the outside has a weathered, unkempt look to it. In all, it was a cliché to your normal haunted house showcased on any given Scooby Doo episode. There were paintings of ghosts and ghouls all over the house. The paintings fascinated and at times even spooked the kids, but they were mainly there for the fun of things. Now, well, now the paintings have taken on yet a different look to them. They no longer held sharp edges nor their color for that matter. With the years of rain and snow, the paintings had a watercolor effect to them. You could still make out the shape of a ghost carrying a chain, but with its soft edges and the way they blended into the wood, it was as if the picture of a ghost was anything but. It was as though it were right there... but if you looked at it again you may find yourself wondering if the ghost’s arm had moved slightly. Even if it hadn’t, wouldn’t it be better if you were standing on the opposite side of the Midway. You know, put something between you and it. Feels kind of like you are reverting into childhood once again, eh? A monster cannot grab your ankle if you are on your bed and have a blanket over you. You would do best just to remember such silliness! Especially here, at the century old Camden Park.
What you see before you, now that is worth crying over. Yes, it was a roller coaster, a classic one at that. It was one of the only decent wooden roller coasters around. Certainly, the best that snuggled within the Appalachian Mountain range. Now, well, it is a pile of worthless lumber. A good portion of the coaster still stood. To be a little more accurate, I guess you should say that the upright portion swayed from side to side. In a few more years, gravity should take hold and finish what the evil man could not. Wait a second! I seem to be getting ahead of myself. Let us go back to the roller coaster, shall we?
Its guts are a jumbled mess. It looks as if someone had grabbed one of the tracks, stretched it out towards the sky (as though it were a rubber band) and then just let go of it, letting it snap back to the ground. Back when it was operational, there was only one train of cars that zipped around the corners and whooshed through the coaster’s many hills. It had broken in half during whatever mishap occurred in the past. A portion of it lay battered and bent at the bottom of the pile of lumber and rusting, bent tracks. The other portion had kept true to its route, although the tracks were no longer underneath it. It ended up crashing into the side of the tunnel that had enveloped thrill seekers in total darkness for the last quarter of the ride.
The last car still hung from the tunnel. It dangled there, its shiny red paint glaring against the white background of the support beams and the wall of a building behind the roller coaster. There must have been a small fire after the train cars had punched through the wall. The paint around the hole was a smudge color of smoke. Look at that last car again, the one that amazingly has been dangling there for the past odd number of years. You have to concentrate on it but once you see it, it is hard to miss. Dangling from the rear of the car is a tennis shoe. A young child’s tennis shoe. Its shoestring had caught on something and now has a destiny of twirling in the wind until it is able to free itself or until the inevitable day comes when the car crashes to the ground. Your eyes are not playing tricks on you either. The shoe is red. Now let us move along before you speculate further upon that.
Last, but surely not least on the Midway, is the carousel. As it turns out, it also appears to be the only thing that looks to be in working condition. Paint? Is that fresh paint on the side? Maybe there is a caretaker after all. The carousel’s horses and poles are hidden from view. In the off-season, most carousels are broken down to a certain degree. Most carnie owners will have the horses removed, and then stored away for safekeeping. Instead of the normal beauty of seemingly smiling horses with long, wavy manes, you are left with numerous naked poles wearing oil and dark grease spots where the horses normally are. To protect the numerous mirrors and the assortment of colorful bulbs from the elements, most owners enclose the carousel with walls made of colorful plywood. That way, even in the off-season, when people drive by the park they will see a rainbow of colors and a cheery atmosphere. It looks odd here among the ruins of the rest of the park.
The wind brings a new sound with it. It sounds like the clickity clacks of a person wearing boots. Past the Frog Bog, further down the Midway, standing next to the Dodgem Cars, was a man in a black overcoat. He was wearing a hat that threw a shadow onto his face. It almost looked as though he had not a single feature on his face... but I suppose you could say it is just the mind playing tricks on you. What type of human being doesn’t have a face? Suppose... No! It cannot be! Suppose that is the man responsible for that night so many years ago. As if that was the man’s queue, he picked up the walking stick that he had leaning against a railing near the Dodgem Cars, and took a step in the direction of the carousel. He favored his left leg considerably. Every time he took a step forward with his right foot, he would lean on his cane and drag his left foot on the ground. Clickity clack! Scrape!
Then from behind, there is the beat of calliope music from the carousel. Soft at first, so hauntingly soft and delicate. With each step the man in the trench coat takes, the beat gets louder and louder.
It was a typical summer evening at Camden Park. The sky had just begun to darken, and the amusement park seemed to come to life! The Ferris Wheel was the first ride to turn on its lights. It was an unwritten tradition at Camden Park. The fluorescents buzzed with excitement, sprung to life, and then shone fierce yellow and vibrant white light. The entire area illuminated in its glare.
Once the Ferris Wheel’s lights came on, it signaled to every operator to turn on their lights. If you were to stand on the highway, looking down at the park, you would see a wave of light starting at the Ferris wheel and going all the way down to the Log Ride. People enjoyed the atmosphere more during the early evening hours. At 8 o’clock, the Roller Rink would close, and all of its occupants usually spilled out onto the Midway for a few games of Skeet Ball or Frog Bog. The Spider usually had the longest lines during the evenings. Its many lights always attracted large crowds. Some even hanged around just to see who would get sick from the constant spinning and dropping. Even the operators looked as though they were trying to get people to throw-up. In other words, it was just another day of fun.
In the police reports, the man running the Ski Lift had said that he saw the guy in a black overcoat getting off his ride. He was in a seat that was tagged for ‘No Riders’ due to a missing safety bar. He seemed embarrassed to mention that part to the police, but for the life of him, he was unable to remember letting that guy on. He was going to question him, but just as he was going to, a younger kid was having a hard time getting in the seat that was just getting ready to leave. He had said that he pushed the emergency stop button and helped the kid along his way. When he looked for the man that had just stepped away, he was already gone. He had also told the police that the first big explosion came at the same time. Soon after, the cable for the Ski Lift snapped, sending the riders falling to the concrete below.
Jim, known as Jimbo to his friends, was watching the train crest over the top of the first big hill. He had run the Big Dipper for nearly ten summers now, and was the seasoned employee of Camden Park. He had word that he may get the office job next summer if Shelly Davis did not work out as planned. He did not like Shelly Davis all that well. She was the daughter of the Skip Davis, the man in charge of the Roller Rink. He believed she was doing a little more than giving the owner a smile in the mornings and he was positive that was how she got the job. He was thinking about all of that, bent over to get a drink from his soda, when he saw white two by fours falling from somewhere towards the center of the roller coaster’s guts. He heard the people in the line gasping and a few of them scream.
“Oh Jesus,” he mouthed with no sound coming out. Then came the explosion. Jim watched in disbelief as boards showered from above. They were tumbling end over end and smacking into other parts of the roller coaster’s foundation. A flailing human, Jim could not tell if it were a male or a female because of the speed, tumbled headfirst and bounced against a main support beam. There was a sickening crunch as bone shattered and ground together. Blood splattered the pristine white boards with a spray of crimson. The body was wedged in between beams and stayed where it was, lifeless and limp. Then there were three cars of the train crashing through another section of the track. Bodies were flying in scattered directions. Jim had seen one woman’s skirt snag on a board and then completely rip away from her body. The same woman, not but seconds later, caught one of the beams the wrong way and her leg went flying in the opposite direction of her body. Jim hoped she would be dead before hitting the ground.
Just as the three cars crashed into the ground, causing a tremble throughout the area, another explosion came from the direction of the tunnel. Jim looked up in time to see a young boy frantically trying to hang-on to a dangling car. His shoe was snagged on the car. He was trying to pull himself up (one of his arms was hanging in an unnatural position), when his foot pulled out of the shoe, sending him to his death.
Jim looked over at the crowd, and tried to yell at them to leave. He saw people stepping on children, boyfriends pushing their sweethearts to the side, all trying to get away from the Big Dipper in case it was about to collapse. Jim’s eyes fixed on those of a little girl lying on the floor. A big man had just walked on her, and he had seen the shape of her head collapse under the man’s weight. Her eyes bulged out at him; her last tears were leaving a shiny path down her bloodstained cheeks. Her head kept a noticeable disfigured shape when his foot departed from it. The he saw the man in the black overcoat.
He was just standing there on the Midway looking directly up in Jim’s direction. He wore a hat that reminded Jim of the ones that all males wore in the 1920s. Jim could not see his face but for some reason he was sure that this man was smiling. Then the man had raised his cane and pointed to a section of the tracks above Jim. The tin roof shook, and Jim heard what could only have been boards crashing into it. He raised his arms to shield his face, but it was no use. When the front section collapsed, Jim was crushed underneath it.
The passengers in the Ferris Wheel were the ones with front row seats. As they watched in horror to the events playing out in front of them, they were unaware of the danger they were in. The operator tried to stop the ride just as soon as the first explosion occurred. He yanked back on the lever used to stop the big wheel, but nothing happened. Last summer, there had been a crack in the lever and it had broke in half while there were a few passengers on it, but it was still fairly easy to stop. He threw his weight on the lever, and still the Ferris Wheel turned in its bore some tracks. It seemed as though the Ferris Wheel had actually sped up rather than slowed down.
The passengers were not even looking at him. They were staring at the roller coaster and other mishaps that were occurring down the Midway. At the Machine Gun Alley booth, the machine guns were floating in the air, shooting pellets out at the crowd. Over near the Spider, a couple was shielding their children, running for the exit when an arm of the Spider broke off and flew on top of them. The little boy escaped from being crushed but scraped his knee badly on the blacktop. Screaming and crying, he reached for his father’s hand and held it, yelling for his Daddy to hurry. The hand convulsed in his son’s grip and then went still. The young boy still pulled at his father’s hand.
Over at the Penny Arcade, a man came screaming out onto the Midway. His white t-shirt was soaked in blood and he was running wildly, until he tripped over the counter at the Frog Bog. Just moments before he was playing BattleTank in the arcade room. BattleTank is an arcade game where you have to look into a pair of binoculars to play the game. Not knowing anything that is happening outside, he continues to play his game, stretching the last quarter he had for every minute he could. That is when the machine blew up, spraying glass into his face and piercing his eyes.
Meanwhile, back at the Ferris Wheel, the operator was still leaning all of his weight onto the lever, trying his damnest to get the machine to stop. It seemed the harder he tried, the faster the Ferris Wheel turned. Most of the passengers noticed the increased speed by now and sensed something amiss. The operator did not see the man in the black overcoat walk away from the Big Dipper and approach his ride. He did not see the man raise his cane and point it towards him. In an instant, the operator flew backwards, into the path of the Ferris Wheel. A chair knocked him to the side, where his body bounced off the main supports and back into the path of the speeding chairs, where it snagged against an occupied chair. The operator’s body rode to the crest of the wheel and then dropped like a sack of wet clay. It bounced off chairs and hit the ground with a splat. Another chair came around and hit his body once again, sending it into the gearbox.
The man in the black overcoat watched the entire thing. He pointed his cane at the ride once more and this time you could hear the sound of metal twisting and shear bolts snapping. The wheel left its foundation and rolled into the side of the Big Dipper, crushing many of its passengers that came along for the ride.
When all was said and done, nearly 60 people had died. One witness stated that he saw a man walk over to the carousel and simply just disappear. He had thought that the man was rather strange, and even described the said person’s wardrobe to the police. The police searched the mechanical room of the carousel, just to be on the safe side. But of course, no one found him. They may as well have been searching for a ghost.
Rumors have it that Arthur McCallister may have been the man that numerous witnesses claim to have seen on that summer evening. Arthur was a veteran from World War II. He had been burnt badly in the chest and face area by an allied flamethrower. A terrible mishap, indeed. He had also suffered a serious wound to his left leg and was forced to walk with a cane. If anyone had seen the figure struggling to walk up the Midway, they would have all agreed that this was the man that caused the terrible events at Camden Park. If it is so, and if Arthur was the one that had come back as a spirit, he had good reason to do so.
Twenty years after the war, Arthur had gone to Camden Park to enjoy the carnival atmosphere. He had ridden many rides and was waiting until it was dark to ride the Big Dipper before he left for the evening. During his ride, his lap bar jarred open and he was sent flying through the air. He landed towards the rear of the roller coaster, broken but alive. He tried calling for help, but was unable to speak or move except for his right hand. He had wrapped his fist around a small metal rod and banged it against a piece of metal and spare parts. It made a distinctive sound: Clickity clack!
The only thing he could see, lying in the position he was in, was the carousel. Its lights were beautiful and bright, like a peaceful homecoming. Its music, the beat of calliope, filled his mind. He began to hum with it, until he died there, choking in his own blood. They had not found his body until the smell led a maintenance man to it over two weeks later.
As the man in the black overcoat makes his way to the carousel, you could hear him humming along with the music. He walks up to the enclosure walls, and then disappears through them with a bright flash of light. The carousel’s music stops and the park is still. If you listen closely, you may be able to hear a soft humming still. Possibly, even the sound of a metal rod banging against spare parts under what was left of the roller coaster. If you look now, the Midway is falling within the shadows. Night is quickly falling on Camden Park, but the park’s darkest of nights happened so many years ago. A soft gust of wind scatters the dry leaves across the pavement, each scratching the blacktop surface in their wake.
This is an older piece of mine, but I feel as though it should find a good place here on the internet. It was published at one time and it is even mentioned in the wikipedia for the Amusement Park it was loosely based upon. Check that place out sometime, after 100 years, it is still survining in the hills of West Virginia. Camden Park.