's 2014 Horror Write-off:

"  Planter Park "

Submitted by   Rahkshasarani

  Let's get this straight right off the bat: Planter Park began, lived, and ended as a terrible fucking idea. Who builds an amusement park on a swamp? Everywhere you put your foot would be a little dent in the ooze, slowly filling in with water. The rides were half-assed and the food could give you a colorful range of diarrhea. That's what people mean when they talk about the experience of Planter Park. When they talk about the horrors of Planter Park they move away from concrete facts and towards hearsay. Yes, everyone's eyes stung from the water in the rafting ride, but they couldn't decide whether it was illegal amounts of chlorine or a secret government chemical dump. Everyone had a second cousin who went missing in Long John's Lagoon, and a friend of a friend of a friend was there to see a bony hand rise out of the water to pull them in. Bullshit, of course. No pirate would set foot near this place.

Aside from the park, this town was pretty boring. I guess that's why it stood as long as it did. A bigger city would never have let the owners get away with hiring drunk teenagers, or skimping on the construction budget. Timbers were always rotting, the bottom would get all soggy and soft and break off at the ground level with no warning. That's how that big spill on the power slide happened. Nine people. Thirty broken bones, one miscarriage. I have no idea how they stayed open after that one, but they did. It wasn't even the worst spill. No, that one was the Ferris wheel.

Everyone got all nostalgic after the park closed. Bullshit, of course. The same people getting all misty-eyed about fairway dogs used to complain about the shitty service and the shoddy maintenance. I remember because I was there. I was working the summer the Ferris went down, but I was home sick that day, nursing some skin burns. My friend Andie was working when she heard the screech. Her first thought was 'oh god, someone threw up in the pool again.' But it wasn't a human voice, it was the screech of five tons of steel suddenly giving way. You know on cartoons when a Ferris wheel slips its bolts and rolls away like a tire? This one didn't. One of the struts slid and it toppled. It fell on the go-kart track, which was thankfully closed for the season. Total casualties: 43 park visitors, 9 staff. The park had already been going downhill, this was just the capper. The owners just slapped a big “private property” sticker on the gates and left, presumably for fairer pastures.

Over the years, the swamp has slowly been absorbing everything. The biggest landmark used to be the zipline tower, that toppled five years after the park closure. The weird part is that it's going to shit all on its own. Nobody brags about vandalizing that place. Nobody goes there if they can help it. I think I can tell you why:

I worked there for one-and-a-half summers, so I was a veteran by town standards. It was a local rite of passage, getting a summer job at skin-rash ranch. We called it that because you got this flaky, peeling skin condition the longer you worked there. Most people thought it was due to being moist all the time, no amount of baby powder could keep you dry.

I didn't run any rides single-handed, those they left to the college dropouts. But occasionally one would take a break to huff so I would screw around with a few cool kids. It was maddening, that kind of power. On slow days we were like lord of the flies, sniping at each other from the go-karts, fencing with the oars. They never fired us because they knew they couldn't get better. Experienced workers would have blown the whistle long before.

Did I mention the pineapple smell? You got to know it real well when you worked there. It started off almost pleasant, but if got acrid after a while. Some of us would swipe vaporub under our noses like coroners performing an autopsy. And that summer it was really hot. If you weren't sweating you were greasy, if you weren't greasy you were wet. So hot, humid, and stinking like pineapples. There's the setting.

Cody had the bright idea. His family lived a few streets down from me, we biked to school together a couple of times. He was nice but kinda dumb, kinda too sure of himself. He told us about the swimmin' hole, one of the tweakers who ran the spin ride told him about it. There was a rope swing and a perfect circle of deep water. Just the thing stupid teens drunk on power need.

So it was me, Cody, Scott who managed the waffle stand with Jill, and Kirstie, Cody's sometimes-girlfriend. We packed Coors because it was the only beer we could get, Scott's creepy uncle always kept his fridge full of them. So a bunch of teenagers, a bunch of beers, and a rowboat. Great.

We almost didn't go, because we had never actually been in a boat before. But after a lot of trial and error and some drunken laughter, we set out.

So, the park is on the only semi-solid ground in the area. Step too far away from the grounds, you might sink up to your shin. What you see as mossy green land is actually just a flimsy raft made of fallen sticks covered with weeds. It can get really insidious, sometimes little trees will be growing on the surface, or some lightweight animal perches on a little island. Maybe it would hold your weight for a minute before giving way, dumping you into the murky water and closing over your head. We kept each other awake by telling scary tales of what was down there. Snapping turtles, alligators, crocodiles, water moccasins, zombies of the pirates that never came here. Cody steered. He was as drunk as any of us, I have no idea how we got there, but we did.

The day hadn't gone yet when we tied off on a fallen tree. We climbed out on the branches and trunks of the swamp trees, came close to falling not a few times. The hole was real, it was conical and you lost the depth in shadow before too long. We took turns guessing how deep it was. Cody threw a bottle, which rippled the water so we couldn't see where it went. The sides of the hole had all these roots sticking out, the weird thing was that no algae grew on them, they were soap white like they had just been stripped of bark.

The swing wasn't a rope, it was a piece of vine. We were all kind of wary about trusting our weight to it, so Cody clambered out of the boat saying it was his trip, he'd try it. He climbed way too high up in the tree, waved drunkenly at us, and let go. He overshot the hole and hit the far side, the mossy green bank.

Kirstie was looking away before, to check her camera, and Jill looked away after because of the scream. But I was watching the whole time and I swear to this day that hole opened up before he hit the moss. Barely even a splash. And then the waves started, like someone was thrashing just beneath the surface. We didn't dive in right after him, give us some credit. Me and Scott monkeyed down there fast, and Scott reached in to fish him out. He fell back a little as Cody came to the surface, probably because there was less of Cody than we expected. His left arm was gone, and you could see the bones on his right. I couldn't see his lower torso, but I knew there had to be more missing there, too. Cody's face was...well, there's no better word for it, he was melting. His teeth showed through half his mouth, and his eyes were all cloudy. I think he was blind. He was out of it. In a totally spaced voice he asked, “Man, could you check my watch? I think I dinged it.”

That was when Scott let go and Cody sank again. That was when Jill screamed.

We rowed out of there in a hurry, meaning we bumped into each other more than we hit the water, creating more fuss than movement. As we agitated the water, the green islands rolled too, like everything was unstable as we were. Even the roots in the hole seemed to sway excitedly. Eventually we left by stabbing our paddles into the floating moss and levering our way out.

They fished and fished, but they didn't find Cody. Scott had to be treated for severe chemical burns on his arms. When we kicked up a stink, they pointed to our open beers as proof that we were hallucinating. I was a little raw from where Scott splashed me, but I didn't need a doctor. Trouble was, I started smelling things. I told you about that kind of pineapple smell? I smelled it at work, here and there. It drove me crazy. It would just hit me in the middle of a task, and I would want to hurl. Did sometimes. I smelled it strong and chemical when we lost Cody. My burn smelled like it.

That park sits out there, slowly collapsing in on itself. Sometimes someone grumbles about eyesores and civic planning and turning it into a park...but not too loud. They talk about spiders in the bathrooms and hypodermic needles in the swimming pool, because they don't want to look for answers. Good, I say. Answers don't make you feel better, finding out sometimes just makes everything worse.

Take me. I looked, I found out. And my days are haunted by that moment when I looked behind us, behind out little boat struggling in the middle of a vast green, and saw that vine slither up out of sight.