We went on a ride. The paddleboat reminded me of something like the Tunnel of Love that you see in movies but I don’t think ever existed. Why we were taking this ride together I don’t know because we normally don’t like things like this. It’s easy enough beforehand to tell yourself that nothing can harm you. That you’ll keep your eyes open for the scary parts because all you’re doing is sitting in a place that someone intended to be comfortable.
The boat stared slow and we bumped against the sides a few time. We entered a dark tunnel, and everything stayed black. Occasionally we’d look behind us to see the fading gray of the sky as the last pinhole of light vanished.
A dull roar like some large concealed motor grew in volume. We couldn’t tell when it started. The walls around us came to life. A tunnel of woven flesh. Something squealed and then there was a person. Or rather, a human figure with some kind of lizard head walking in front of us. Slightly to the side, clearly on the screen. The creature’s head fell backward, effectively ripping out of its chest and it felt the bloody muscle walls and became absorbed by them, squealing all the while.
We held hands. My hand was on top and something touched me. I didn’t dare move. The slimy claw rubbed back and forth around my knuckles before retreating into the water beside us. After its retreat, human hands grew out of the fleshy walls, writhing like creatures just birthed, a thin film breaking between their fingers. It’s a gimmick I’m sure everyone’s seen in haunted house movies and I started to think this ride was getting derivative already.
The hands would occasionally part to show us passing by rooms with more monsters in them. Human creatures with animal/alien heads, torturing themselves. A spinning saw through a lizard tongue, and slicing the head in half. Crossed arms being pulled in separate directions by chains, hanging the body over a pile of glowing ants who crawled ever upward. Then we came to the weird part.
All the walls around us went black but I didn’t notice when it happened. Too busy contemplating the torture of monsters. The boat didn’t feel like it was moving. In front of us, panels of a comic strip flashed like advertisements at a movie.
The dialogue was hard to read and the panels stayed too briefly to take everything in, but it told the story of a mouse with a gambling problem. The story took place along a dark and old-timey wharf. After each panel, the background lighting became more and more red, which implied to me that the mouse came to a bad end after continually pleading for mercy from a series of shadowy gangsters, species indeterminate. Eventually, the red covered up everything, and a short animation was shown.
It took place in the same location, but this portrayed a donkey standing up and masturbating. As he furiously climaxed making sounds like a trampled bicycle horn, he ejaculated a pair of rabbit ears which swam around his body before slithering onto his head and the donkey was now a rabbit. It was followed by a few shorter ones of animals metamorphosing. A frog turned into a sloth, and a zebra became an ape, but retained its stripes.
Once the cartoons ended, darkness returned along with that dull roar and the boat continued through the darkness. At this point, I didn’t want to see much more so I closed my eyes, then felt foolish, like somehow the ride operators could see me and are laughing and I opened them again and things seemed brighter.
We moved through a projected tunnel of flame which slowly ripped itself apart. Behind it was the vacuum of space. The stars and nebulae became more prominent, informing me that this is what really lies behind everything. The backdrop to all our earthly achievements is this unknowable darkness.
As my gaze lost itself among the stars, the boat thumped to a stop and I realized that the stars were actually reflections of disco-style studio lights. The front of the boat gave way. We were in a TV studio and there were lots of us. Other people on the ride, I assume.
The lights came up and the announcer at the front, a young lady with a team of others beside her, recited the rules and prizes for the upcoming dance competition. Then they announced the winner which was me, but she talked so fast and I didn’t want to be singled out in this way that I pretended not to hear it and at first succeed in convincing myself that she must have said something else. The logistics of this are impossible, I told myself. How could this ride be arranged that everyone gets their own unique ending? It’s nonsense.
The lights got brighter and I was terrified for a moment that a spotlight was going to land on me but it didn’t, thus easing my fears. Of course, we all had to dance so that isn’t great either. Music started, and I looked at everyone dancing and it seemed that what they were doing wasn’t so hard and I fell into the pattern pretty easily. I didn’t even feel that stupid.
One of the producers came up to me and told me to come to the front of the stage because they called my name earlier and my heart sank. I took my partner’s hand and we headed down and the producers explained something to me but I wasn’t listening because all I understood is that I’ll never see my loved ones again. Even my partner didn’t get this despite my emphasis in explanations and I said goodbye like I meant it but it didn’t register.
The producers ushered me into a circular glass tube. It closed and another frosty layer slid on top of it, obliterating the transparency. Everything outside turned blue. I’m not claustrophobic but I worried that I might become so if left in here long enough. What they’re doing is kind of fucked up and in my anger I pushed on the glass, even knowing that I was supposed to wait.
It lifted over me quite easily and I was in the same TV studio but now empty. Daylight came in through some upper windows. I heard sounds of typing and other office activity coming from two doors in back of the soundstage. I looked the closer one and its floor was covered in fans nested in tangles of cords. Each fan had a few streamers of gray confetti on its grill. Maybe cooling off motors. I felt like behind-the-scenes somewhat. Somewhere I shouldn’t be. I couldn’t enter this room because of the fans everywhere so I went to the other one.
Rows of desks with people in medical smocks working at them. Some of them wore masks. No one paid attention to me and I looked through some cabinets, feeling somewhat like a video game character exploring and no one will acknowledge me until completing a certain assignment.
I walked down the lane between desks to the back of the room where the man who designed the ride sat. I’ve seen him on TV before. In interviews he thanks the various teams of actors, designers and psychologists he worked with to create this experience.