“The hottest day of the year,” Wes said. “And, of course, the A/C decides to give out. I swear, by the end of the day, we won’t have a museum – we’ll have a giant pool of wax. I don’t want to be the one who has to clean that up.”
“Neither do I,” Jake replied drolly. “Did you ever hear back from that college you applied to?”
“WE applied to, and, yes, I’ve got the envelope in my bag…I can open it now. I’m sensing good news.”
“Let’s hope so.”
“‘Dear applicant,’” he began as Jake cringed. “Must be one of those ‘form letters’ I keep hearing about… ‘Thank you for your interest in our school. We re…gret t-to in…form you that…’”
“It’s okay,” Jake said putting his hand on his fiancé’s shoulder reassuringly.
“No,” he said rebuffing said hand. “It’s not. We were supposed to go t-together, and now… and now, we can’t. Just go. Check the galleries, make s-sure nothings melted yet…”
Jake Norway went through the galleries (normally Wes’ job) straightening wigs and repositioning dummies. He knew his fiancé would tell him they “looked sad” for some reason, but he’s been working there long enough to know that was usually the result of either a slid wig, misaligned eye…or the viewer’s imagination (like Wes with his silly paranormal “reality” shows).
As he was evaluating the Appalachia scene (the one directly behind Rodney’s), he heard the restroom door slam loudly. Fine, nothing strange about that, he’d be out in a minute or so…but he wasn’t. However, he did hear an unfamiliar voice shout his name from that general area – despite the fact that the museum hadn’t actually opened yet. Spooky, but more than likely just his imagination…
He got into the gallery where Daniel was and heard his name called again, but in a much louder, more urgent voice. He then, having finished his tour, checked the restroom next to the curator’s office to see an unconscious Wes sprawled on the floor holding a pocket knife in his hands as blood spurted from his wrists…
Oh right, he pulled his cell phone out and frantically dialed 9-11, hoping it wasn’t too late…
While the doctors were still treating Wes, Jake returned to work the next day to find that his replacements had set up a bunch of fans in the museum (even though fans do not actually “cool” air, they just move it around). There was a large, relatively new oscillating fan in the lobby and several older, smaller fans set up in the individual galleries plugged in the loose, aging outlets.
“Idiots,” he said seeing the ragged extension cords (that looked like the rats had been chewing on them) duct taped to the floor. This was an obvious fire hazard, but he couldn’t leave to replace them as he was the only one working there that day. He probably didn’t want to see the job they did cleaning up the restroom.
He continued his inspection, noting that he thought some of the figures in the first room seemed worried. “Happy,” “sad,” or “angry” were common interpretations, but “worry” was new to him. Bah, he was probably just projecting his own feelings on some lifeless pile of wax.
He goes back to the lobby and checks his e-mail to find an ominous looking message from the park owner…
Wes woke up sometime later to find himself standing rigid and immobile on a small platform in the museum lobby across from where Jacob and some other dude was sitting. Was that Kenny from the go-kart track or Brice from the putt-putt course or…it didn’t matter, he was probably dead anyway.
Then he realized, the reason he was awake now – the ring on his left hand was gone, and he just saw the smug little shit (no older than Rodney or Sara) leave the museum with his mom. That bastard was definitely going to pay for that, and as much as the others tried to dissuade him, he decided to follow him around the 3rd rate park – making damn sure the punk thief saw him.
Finally around 11pm, as said thief was playing an online game, his system suddenly shuts off and he could see the reflection of a certain red-haired boy lying on his bed in the black monitor holding the power cord in his left hand.
“You know what I want. You may as well give it to me – call it an even exchange.”
“Absolutely not,” the boy shouted. “This PC cost my parents $8500, this ring will pawn for less than $200.”
“It’s not about money, my fiancé saved up for months on a part-time minimum wage to buy this ring for me. Frankly, you can’t put a price on love.”
“I don’t care about you and your gay, faggot ass lover.”
“Damned straight…err, not straight. Augh, it doesn’t matter, boy knows a good thing when he sees it.”
“I don’t care about you. I want my power cord back. NOW!”
“Phillip Ryan Thatcher,” his mother said sharply as she entered the room. “What the hell are you carrying on about? Your father and I are trying to sleep. Now go to bed before I bring your father in here.”
“Go on, tell her. It’ll be fun.”
“No,” Phillip said (to Wes).
“Don’t talk back to me, young man. You do not want your father up here.”
Suddenly, there was a noise of loud footsteps on the stairs.
“That’s it,” she continued. “You’re really in trouble now…”
The footsteps stop a few feet from the boy’s door, but neither of him nor his mother saw anyone come in leaving both vaguely unsettled.
“Who are you,” Wes asked cocking his head slightly.
“George,” Phillip’s mom blurted as he (unbeknownst to her) stepped into the doorway.
“Dang it,” the fair skinned boy with shaggy brown hair and a dirty grey uniform shouted in his thick Southern accent. “For the last time, my name isn’t… you can see me?
“Um, yeah, and your little thief here can see me so you may as well tell me.”
“I am not a thief.”
“What was that,” his mom asked sharply.
“My name isn’t ‘George.’ It’s Jonah.”
“George? Jonah? They are kinda close.”
“Jonah,” Phillip asked. “I like it.”
“We were half-right,” his mother added.
“Not the point, the point is your antics woke everyone up.”
“HIS antics,” Wes said pointing to his left. “He’s the one who stole my engagement ring off my finger. Wants to pawn it for $200.”
“I did not ‘steal’ anything. He’s a fucking mannequin. What the fuck does he need an ‘engagement ring’ for anyway?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Jonah said. “You can bet that if someone stole one of my possessions that I’d be mad too.”
“You’d better not have!”
“Three against one. Better hope your dad doesn’t come in here.”
“Like I care what some 60-year-old thinks.”
“Six-TEEN!! I’m SIXTEEN not 60. Stop making me older than I am.”
“TEEN,” Wes said. “He’s three years older than you are.”
“He’s sixteen? I thought he was supposed to be some grizzled old vet.”
“Don’t you dare mock his service.”
“I did not ‘mock’ his service.”
“His uniform is grey, but his hair is dark brown. Give it a good cutting, and he’d look damned sexy. Don’t worry, kid, as you’ve probably heard by now, I’m already engaged…”
“Who are you talking to,” Phillip’s mother said. “I said nothing about his service. I swear boy, I love you, but you’re starting to worry me here.”
“You mean like this kinda service,” Jonah said closing the boy’s dresser drawer loudly and tossing the ring to Wes who catches it making them both visible for a moment.
“Thanks, Jonah,” he said sliding it onto his finger. He turns to Phillip’s mother, bowed and continued: “Sorry for the interruption, Ma’am. Oh, and Jonah…”
“Hi,” he said waving awkwardly as he realized they could see him, but, for the life – err, afterlife – of him he couldn’t think of a single thing to say after that. Thankfully, he didn’t need to as Wes continued:
“You’re more than welcome to visit me in the park if you need me.”
And with that, Wes disappeared triumphantly followed shortly by a slightly embarrassed Jonah who quietly shut the door behind them passing Phillip’s father on the stairs…
Several days later, Wes stood guard as his former colleagues sat down for their weekly staff meeting. The first item on the docket (which his former fiancé had no interest in entertaining) was “strange occurrences” around the museum/park.
“Well,” Jacob said skeptically. “There’s only one fair way to settle this. We need to bring in fair, impartial outside observers.”
“You mean like those paranormal investigators I saw on TV,” Kenny asked (didn’t he work rides?).
“I was thinking more along the lines of scientific investigators…”
“Oh, come on,” Brice said (the mini golf course wasn’t good enough for him?). “It would create buzz for the park – plus, wasn’t Wes a huge fan of that show?”
“Um, yeah,” Kenny chimed. “It’ll be a fitting tribute. You should totally call them after the meeting.”
“Fine,” Jacob sighed as he looked up and thought he saw Wes’s statue smiling at him cheesily. “Compile a list of anything suspicious or ‘paranormal’ that you think the so-called ‘ghosts’ did around the museum and/or park and I’ll present it to them IF they come.”
As the TAPS team entered the aging amusement park, a young employee with caramel skin handed Dave Tango a map, imploring him to “enjoy his stay.”
“Hey, Dave,” Steve Gonsalves asked. “Who are you talking to back there?”
“The employee over there, the one who gave me this map.”
“What ‘employee,’ the park is closed today?”
He motions to where the young man was standing, “what the..? He was JUST here a moment ago.”
“Your imagination is acting up on you again, Dave.”
“Then where’d I get this map from,” he said showing it him. Steve grabs it from it his hands impatiently.
“Hey, wait, there’s two here,” he said handing the one back to Tango before opening his own to find a large drawing of a spider tucked into the inside of the brochure with the word “Boo” written below it.
“What’s going on back there,” Lead Investigator Jason Hawes asked.
“Good, catch up, we’re trying to find this ‘museum’ place.”
“My map says it should be around the corner to the right.”
“When did you get a map,” Co-founder Grant Wilson asked. “We didn’t get a map. Did we, Jay?”
“Oh come on, I couldn’t possibly be the only person to see him standing there!”
“So, around this way… and to the right,” Jay said ignoring Tango’s outburst. “Looks like some kind of food court and…it should be right…around…THERE! Looks like your map was right, Tango.”
“Um, thanks, Jay.”
“Let’s get inside,” he said opening the door and practically pushing them inside. “You two can go first.”
“Yeah,” Grant agreed half-jokingly. “Keep you two from causing any more trouble.”
“Um, guys,” Tango said peering into the main gallery. “This is him.”
“The kid I saw at the entrance.”
“Oh, yeah,” Jacob said. “That reminds me of something I was going to tell you anyway. He was one of our last arrivals, and I still remember the first thing Wes said when we unboxed him was ‘doesn’t he look like he should be standing at the gate-’”
“‘…Handing out maps,’” Tango continued holding up his for the group to see. None of them noticing the boy in question smiling subtly (…except the cameraman who happened to pan up during the exchange).
“Um, yes,” Jacob said awkwardly. “He then insisted on leaving a pen and notebook in the room while we went out to the floor. When we came back, there was writing in it. No clue how it got there, but it wasn’t any of our handwritings.”
“Interesting…,” Jay said.
“Wait, do you still have this notebook,” Grant asked.
“In the desk drawer, I can get it if you want.”
“Please do,” Jay said. “It would be a great help.”
“Do you mind if we take it with us,” Grant asked.
“Why,” Jacob asked. “It’s only two pages.”
“Still. Anything you could give us would be a big help towards our investigation.”
“Whatever, you can have it. Now, if you follow me, I’ll introduce you to them personally. This is the main gallery, the expansive Virginia Beach scene on the left, the manor house scene on the right and the models from both of these scenes are in the notebook.”
“What about the kid on the raft,” Jay asked of the relatively small endcap.
“Huck here is just a mannequin, but around the corner is our Appalachian scene leading into the Hollywood and Ole’ West dioramas.”
“So, anything reported back here,” Steve asked wondering if his cords would reach this far back.
“Nope, but the next room where our newest model, which was apparently part of some planned robotic display give some visitors ‘weird feelings,’ yet none of the reporters say they were ‘scared’ or ‘intimidated’ by it.”
“So, he’s not bothering anyone,” Jay asked.
“No, but if you follow me,” Jacob said leading them through the archway to the lobby. “I can show you the rest of the park…”