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Authors: Jennifer Hillier

Wonderland

BOOK: Wonderland
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For Maddox John

and

for Kobe

(who’s a little neglected these days, but no less loved)

Recipient(s): All Wonderland Staff

Sender: Nick Bishop

Subject: Welcome to Wonderland!

Dear Wonder Worker,

Welcome to Wonderland! We are most pleased to have you on board with us this summer. It will be quite the ride! We pride ourselves on being in the Top 100 Places to Work for Young People in the Pacific Northwest, which is why so many of our Wonder Workers are excited to come back again, summer after summer.

Working at Wonderland will provide you with opportunities to work in customer service, food preparation, electronics, mechanics, ground maintenance, landscaping, theater and performance, ticket sales, and management. Many of our Wonder Workers have gone on to careers in sales, accounting, teaching, and even entertainment. With Wonderland on your résumé, there’s no telling where you can go in the world. The sky’s the limit!

I heartily welcome you into our team of dynamic young professionals. I have no doubt you will have the best summer of your life! That’s the Wonderland way!

Yours sincerely,

Nick Bishop

Owner, Wonderland Amusement Park, Inc.

ONE

T
he sky was just beginning to change from night to day as Blake Dozier snuck into Wonderland. It was pretty easy to do, as long as you were willing to cut through the densely wooded forest that bordered Wonderland’s south end, which could be kind of spooky if you were easily spooked. At 5 a.m., the only person scheduled to be at the park was Glenn Hovey, a creepy security guard of questionable intelligence who was likely watching porn instead of the monitors inside the office. Security at Wonderland was a joke. Most of the cameras didn’t work, and the ones that did fed crappy footage to the computers. Nevertheless, Blake kept out of sight as best he could, just in case “Lovey Hovey,” as the Wonder Workers had nicknamed him, was watching.

Wonderland didn’t open for another five hours, but Blake was on a mission. He’d been thinking about it for weeks, and if he pulled this off, he’d be able to leave the park knowing he’d accomplished at least one cool thing. Today was his last day at Wonderland. In fact, he’d already quit—he just hadn’t told anybody yet.

But soon, everybody would know.

He’d decided at the last minute that his Wonder Worker uniform would be appropriate for this morning’s undertaking. The signature purple golf shirt and khaki shorts, ugly and universally despised by every employee forced to wear them, would be the ultimate fuck-you. Especially if the picture went viral. Which he expected it would. Because that was the point.

He made his way down the Avenue, the name for the main path that ran the length of the park. Wonderland felt like a completely different place with nobody around. Other than the Wonder Wheel, which always stayed lit, it was dim and quiet. No excited kids, no tired parents. Nobody in a purple shirt making cotton candy or hot dogs at the various food carts dotted throughout the park. No whooshing from the Legion of Doom roller coaster, no whirring from the Giant Octopus ride. The Spinning Sombrero, which played “Living la Vida Loca” and “Bamboleo” at full volume during business hours, was eerily silent, its swings drooping listlessly from the giant steel Mexican hat to which they were attached. The electronic dog outside the Hot Diggity hot dog stand wasn’t barking. The dancing neon cat on top of the Tiny Tom Donuts hut wasn’t doing the twist.

The park, normally a sea of moving bodies and noise and energy, was totally inanimate. It felt . . . dead.

Blake figured he had at least an hour before Lovey Hovey would be out in his golf cart checking for trespassers, assuming the security guard even would. He debated whether to take a shortcut through Elm Street, where all the scary attractions were, then decided against it. Too spooky.

Blake had only been inside the Clown Museum once, but once had been enough. The attraction, one of the originals from when the park opened back in the 1980s, was creepy as fuck. It featured more than just wax clowns; the Clown Museum also showcased wax movie stars, wax cartoon characters, and, in a separate room called the Dollhouse, an extensive collection of antique porcelain dolls.

Dolls
, for fuck’s sake. Weren’t dolls just miniature replicas of little girls? And with their white faces and glass eyes, they looked like
dead
little girls. Apparently the mother of the original owner of Wonderland used to collect them and she’d left them all to the park when she died. Blake didn’t get the appeal of any of the horror attractions—the House of Horrors was, in his opinion, genuinely terrifying, and the Cirque de Sang (which was French for “blood circus” and featured a different show each day) wasn’t his cup of tea, either—but Elm Street supposedly did mad business the entire month of October leading up to Halloween.

No, sir, not his thing. Blake continued past Elm Street, staying focused on his destination. The Wonder Wheel was at the very south end of the midway, all fourteen stories of it, sparkling and bright. It was the second-largest Ferris wheel in the Pacific Northwest, and remained largely unchanged over the past three decades. Under the burgeoning orange sky, its silhouette was majestic.

The first time Blake had ever gone on the Wonder Wheel he was seven years old. That was eleven years ago, but the memory was tattooed into his brain, fresh and colorful as if it had happened yesterday. It had been the first time he’d ever been up so high, the first time he’d ever seen Puget Sound from up above, the first time he’d ever felt scared and exhilarated at exactly the same time. The people down below had looked so small, like the figurines his mother collected and displayed in her curio cabinet before she died.

Blake had loved Wonderland ever since then. He’d loved it so much that his widowed, workaholic father had bought him a season pass to the park the year he turned twelve. From June to September, Wonderland was Blake’s second home. It was the one place he was never lonely, never neglected, never sad.

When he was old enough, he applied for a job. Wonderland employed over a thousand Wonder Workers during the busy summer season, and he was exactly the candidate they were looking for—clean cut, enthusiastic, and willing to start at the bottom. Blake’s first summer as a Wonder Worker had been magical. He was earning his own money in the same place he used to pay to spend time in. And he had a plan. First Wonder Worker while in high school, then team leader during college, then manager of his own division after graduation. Someday, maybe, he’d be running the place. Because why not, right? At Wonderland, anything was possible.

Including love.

At least, Blake had thought it was love. Now he wasn’t so sure. What had started last summer as the best sex of his life (okay, the
only
sex of his life) had turned sour a few weeks back. While Bianca had pretended to be supportive of his plans to work his way up at the park, it turned out that she actually hadn’t expected him to stick around. When he’d told her that he’d deferred his acceptance to Puget Sound State University till the following September so he could spend more time with her, their relationship changed. She became cool, distant, uninterested. Seemingly overnight, she’d gone from wanting him all the time—in her office, in the maintenance room,
in the food court public bathroom, for fuck’s sake
—to avoiding eye contact whenever they ran into each other. It had been fun, she said, but it was over. Her feelings had changed, and it was time for them both to move on. She’d said it with no compassion, no sadness, no remorse. She encouraged him to go to college, reminding him that it would be awkward for them to run into each other every day. But he’d already deferred his college acceptance.
For
her
.

He didn’t know what he did or didn’t do. It didn’t matter what he said or didn’t say. It didn’t matter how much he begged. She was finished with him, and there was no changing her mind. She’d used Blake, and while he couldn’t say that it was all bad because the sex had been off-the-hook amazing, it wasn’t fair. Bianca had all the power, because she was the person in charge. He was just the lowly Wonder Worker, and that’s all he would ever be to her.

Seeing her at work every day was excruciating. She barely acknowledged him now. Never mind the sweet things she’d said to him before, never mind the way she had done things to his body he’d only seen in pornos . . . it was like the relationship had never happened. The prime gigs he’d had while in her good graces disappeared, and his assigned tasks were becoming more menial and degrading with every shift. Hell, he’d spent the last week cleaning the toilets inside the very same bathroom where they used to fuck.

She wanted Blake gone from her precious park? Fine, he was gone. But not before this one last thing.

He approached the Wonder Wheel and gazed up at it. Measuring 150 feet high, it was no longer the largest Ferris wheel in the Pacific Northwest (that place of honor belonged to the Great Wheel in downtown Seattle). But it was the oldest, and with its primary-colored gondolas and thirty-year-old sign in circus-themed lettering, it had a certain retro charm that the Great Wheel couldn’t match.

The wheel was locked, as all the rides were right now. And as with all the rides, it required a key to get it moving, which Blake didn’t have. But that didn’t matter, because his plan wasn’t to turn the wheel on and take a ride.

His plan was to climb it.

He’d spent a good chunk of his life around this wheel, and he knew he could do it. The Wonder Wheel was made of steel, and there were zigzagging bars between each pair of spokes, turning them into ladders. Climbing a ladder sounded easy in theory, but the bars of the Ferris wheel were five feet apart and tilted, which meant he’d be doing an awkward pull-up in between each one. And then, once he reached the center point of the wheel, he’d have to maneuver his way around it to continue on to the top. But it could be done, sure as shit, though he was pretty sure that nobody had ever tried it before.

But that was the thing about being an urban free climber. Creativity mattered. Blake had been free climbing for the past three years, and he’d climbed all sorts of structures, from apartment buildings to office buildings to construction cranes, posting his accomplishments on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram in order to get the kudos and street cred he deserved.
Pics or it didn’t happen, bro
. The Wonder Wheel would add to his list of accomplishments nicely, and would be a fitting end to his employment at the park. Not to mention, it would horrify
her
that he had dared to climbed her precious fucking wheel. The thought made him smile.

Taking a deep breath, he took a moment to ensure his iPhone was securely in its case, which it was. The case was attached to a lanyard that he’d then clipped to his belt. Slipping the phone into his pocket, he began to climb.

The dampness of the air created a thin film of moisture on the bars of the Ferris wheel, which made it slippery. Taking his time, he focused on each of his movements, doing his best not to look directly at the bright lights dotting each of the spokes. He also made a point not to look down. You never looked down, not until you reached the top and could savor the victory of the climb. Hundreds of hours of both free climbing and traditional climbing had taught him this.

Unlike traditional climbing, however, he was not belayed. There was no harness around his waist, no rope to save him if he slipped. That was what made this endeavor so risky, so crazy, and so totally awesome.

It took him almost thirty minutes to reach the top, but when he finally did, he knew immediately it had all been worth it. Keeping one foot balanced on the bar, he wrapped his other leg around the spoke. Once he was secure and had his balance, he finally allowed himself to gaze down at Wonderland and the Pacific Ocean. From fourteen stories up, he could see everything. Morning had broken and the sun was now over the horizon. Everything looked warm and gold, and with the early rays of sunshine on his face, he felt like Superman. The world was always beautiful if you could just climb high enough.

Reaching for his phone, Blake unclipped the lanyard and hooked it around the bar nearest his head. He shortened it so the phone wouldn’t be swinging around, and then opened the camera app on the phone. It took a moment to angle himself into the right position and figure out where his head and arms needed to be to get the shot he wanted. Turning on the timer, he set it to thirty seconds and got into position.

Keeping one leg planted on the bar and the other wrapped around the spoke, he leaned way back, arms outstretched to show he wasn’t holding on to anything. Then he stuck out his middle finger and smiled right into the camera. It was important to capture the gloriousness of this moment.

He snapped a few selfies in that position, then grabbed the spoke again. Most of the pictures turned out fine, but there was one that was the clear winner. In it, he looked like a free-climbing god. The light was just right on his face, and beneath him was Wonderland, and the Pacific Ocean, sparkling.

A few taps on his phone and the photo was uploaded to all his social media accounts. He even went one step further and made it his profile picture on Facebook. At this time of the morning, it would be awhile before the comments and “likes” started coming in, but he knew the photo was impressive. He could already imagine what his friends would say. He also knew what Wonderland’s management would say, especially about his middle finger, and the thought made him grin.

Because
fuck you
,
Bianca
.

As he was clipping his phone back to his belt, a movement below caught his eye. There was a golf cart gunning through the midway, heading straight for the Wonder Wheel.
Shit
. Lovey Hovey wasn’t rubbing one out in the security office like he should have been, and Blake was about to get caught. He thought he’d left himself enough time to climb back down, but apparently the security guard had decided that today, of all days, he was actually going do his job.

Goddammit
. What was Blake supposed to do now? If word of an arrest got out before people had the chance to see his picture in their social media feeds, it would ruin the impact of what he’d done. And the impact was everything.

BOOK: Wonderland
6.52Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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