He hadn’t meant to visit the waterpark. It had appeared on the horizon as he’d traversed the flat plains, watching the golden fields of wheat blur together as he sped along. The sun beat down and gave everything a nice glow, though it made it harder to see the road and he had to strain his eyes. The windows were rolled down in the dusty midday haze, cooling the old pickup slightly, but the heat still made it hard to breathe. As he’d pulled into the packed parking lot, he’d convinced himself that he would just stop for a moment and use the park’s washroom.
As a younger man, he may have simply driven by and waited until he reached the nearest town. He could remember the simpler times of his childhood, though, and he couldn’t resist the pull of the past, the memories of old friends and family. He thought he would have loved this place as a boy.
Now, he stood just inside the park’s air-conditioned entrance building. The décor was eccentric, even for a tacky tourist attraction. There were large windows facing the parking lot, but the wall facing the direction of the waterpark was painted charcoal grey. Cardboard stand-ups of waves in deep purple were situated around the small building. Wouldn’t blue be the obvious colour scheme to go with? He thought to himself.
“Excuse me?” he called to an employee working at the admissions desk, “Sorry to bother you, but do you have a restroom that I could use?”
The employee looked at him, bored, and raised one of her perfectly sculpted eyebrows. “There’s a bathroom inside, but you’ll have to pay.”
He grimaced as he glanced at the line of people waiting to get into the waterpark. “Right… thanks.”
He weighed his options. If he was going to go into the park anyway, he might as well enjoy himself. Swimsuit rentals were offered, so he rented a pair of trunks for a reasonable price and stepped into line.
There were a number of strange-looking people waiting in front of him. One group in particular was especially odd, including a rather striking young woman dressed all in bright scarlet and a man whose hands were adorned with large silver gauntlets. He stared for a moment, wondering if maybe they’d come from some kind of costume party.
Finally, he reached the front of the line, watching the woman’s party pass through the large steel doors leading to the various attractions that awaited him inside. He stepped up to the admissions desk.
“That’ll be $10.85, sir,” the employee from earlier drawled.
He quickly paid in cash and stuffed the change into a pocket. “Where would that bathroom be?”
She sighed in a way that made it clear that she thought he was wasting her time. “The nearest one is in the change rooms.” She paused and sighed again. “There are signs.”
“Thanks,” he muttered and hurried through the steel doors, feeling uncomfortable under her scrutiny.
After using the washrooms and changing into the swim trunks, he pulled a t-shirt over his head, thinking that he would just wander around the park for a little while. Maybe something would catch his eye.
For a while, he did exactly that, weaving through the network of walking paths and taking in the unique attractions. The rides were just as strange as the entrance building, if not more so. One morbid ride, he noticed, required people to lie down in a sealable box and allow themselves to be tossed into a deep pool, only to be reeled in by an employee. He could only guess that it might be a rendition of a burial at sea. He opted not to try that one out.
He was about give up on finding a ride that was even a little bit appealing when he saw a tall, blue water slide that was in contrast with the dark colour scheme of the rest of the park. He smiled in relief. Maybe he hadn’t wasted his money after all. Besides that, the heat was unbearable and he was desperate for a way to cool down.
He frowned when he noticed a well-worn wooden sign staked into the dirt beside the path. It read, Make It Right Again. He thought that the message was ominous, though he couldn’t figure out exactly why.
He approached the water slide. There didn’t appear to be anyone operating the ride, but he guessed that a simple slide didn’t require it. Nevertheless, he found it strange that there weren’t any employees around to ensure that safety regulations were upheld. It seemed okay to ascend the stairs to the top of the slide though, since he could see people standing on the railed platform at the top.
When he reached the platform, he saw that the slide was divided into individual chutes so that many people could use the slide at once. Almost as soon as he’d stepped up to observe this, people started to call to one another that the ride was starting and sat down in their places. He was confused as to how they knew this, but brushed it off. The slide’s functions were probably timed.
He sat down at the top of one of the chutes. From there, he could see that there were small pipes to shoot water down the slide that weren’t turned on yet. Yes, that made sense. They were waiting for the waterslide to turn on.
The woman he had noticed earlier, the one all in red, sat down beside him. She now wore a bikini in the same shade of red as her other clothing.
She turned to him, smirking, “You nervous?”
He blinked at her confusedly. “Nervous? Nervous for what?”
“You know what I mean,” she replied coyly, nodding toward the descent.
He tilted his head. “Why would I be nervous?”
She stared with slightly widened eyes. “You must know.”
“Well, I don’t. What are you talking about?” He began to feel uneasy. Not for the first time, he regretted stopping his car at this place for a bathroom break.
Suddenly, water shot down the slide and people around him pushed off, shrieking in delight. Legs and arms flailed about all down the slide, but a mist now obscured the bottom.
He turned back to ask the woman what she meant once again, but she was already gone.
With some apprehension, he pushed himself down the slide. Immediately, he shot off, the wind whipping his face. Up to that point, he hadn’t realized the steepness of the slide and the shock of it caused him to let out a yell. Just as he was getting used to the sharp decline, he slowed and the slide seemed to level out a bit, though he could see that he was nowhere near the bottom.
As he descended more slowly, he realized that the water here was colder. He started to shiver, now aware of his wet t-shirt and trunks sticking to his body, chilling him even more.
The cold brought on a memory. Black eyes, burning flesh, ice packs for the pain, it all rushed back to him. He screwed his eyes shut tight as the memory of a bucket of ice water and his own coarse hand at the back of another’s neck flashed in his mind. Never again, he thought.
He tried to slow his quickened breath, reminding himself that his little brother was gone, dead. That was all in the past and there was nothing to do now. There never would be.
He opened his eyes again just as the slide dipped again, his stomach jumping into his throat. All he could see above him was thick mist and he couldn’t help that his heart beat a little quicker. He wanted off.
When would it end?
He slowed again and came to a stop.
Looking around, he noticed that the woman from earlier sat beside him. She was nervously drumming her fingers on the slick plastic.
“This is it, huh?” She quivered with either excitement or anxiety. “Are you scared?”
“Scared of what?” He looked up to see two silver wisps rising up from the drain in front of them, at the very end of the slide. They rose like clouds, but with a purpose, slowly taking shape.
His horror grew as a face formed, the face of his nightmares, the face that had haunted him, the only face that could make him scream in the middle of the night when he was alone.
A face appeared in the mist for the woman too, a kindly, loving face. The woman got to her feet and approached the mist. As the woman padded barefoot toward the end of the slide, that dreadful and inevitable end, she tilted her head back toward him as he lay there, cowering. She hadn’t answered his question.
“To make it right again.”