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Finding Mary

Written by Hailey Johnson

Edited by Kendall Wack and Emma Munson

When I first got there, I thought they were people. Full of breath, full of blood, people. Randy would have laughed at me. He thought it was funny — how stupid I was.

If it hadn’t been so dark, I would have known they weren’t real. I would have seen the frozen expressions and awkward movements. I would have seen they were all stuck in one place. But with only fake candles lighting the way, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust. I’m sure others have made the same mistake. They never turn the lights on in here.

Lucky for me, less light makes it easier to hide. Noise doesn’t matter as much. There is always music playing and voices repeating themselves. Sometimes I forget and I find myself halting a sob or stifling a laugh. Even when all the workers have gone home. But then I remember, and I let myself laugh. I let myself shake and jump and run and hug my electric friends. Someone must have heard me once, because Noah told me the workers think a ghost lives here. That makes me laugh a little more. Randy was afraid of ghosts. He hated ghosts and witches and tricks, but he loved sneaking around. He loved secrets. He loved blood, at least mine.

I was huddled in a wet mass of myself when Noah found me. Fresh out of the dark water, I had climbed onto the fake sand littered with skeletons. There was a perfect corner behind a large brown rock that I made my hiding place. I don’t know which direction he came from, I just looked up and he was there. A red vest announcing “Staff” framed his thin torso. He didn’t say anything, he just looked at me with that shocked expression he always wore. When it finally broke, he looked over his shoulder before turning back to me. “Are you okay?” he whispered.

I don’t remember saying anything. I just remember Noah nodding his head before turning around and shouting, “Nothing over here!”

A few hours later, he showed up with a blanket and a candy bar. He handed them to me and told me I looked like his sister. He’s brought me a treat every day since.

Sugars 20 g

“Reading again?” Noah asked. Today he brought me a Snickers.

“Did you know this has four grams of protein?” I asked him.

“It also has a shit ton of fat,” he laughed.

I shrugged. Teenagers always cuss so much. “What will you bring tomorrow?” I asked him.

He had to hold his answer because a boat came floating through.

“Mom! Look!” a young girl shouted. Noah and I sat, backs against the barrels. The only thing between us and the boat was the line of animatronic women — some weeping, some waving — at the park guests. We could see them, but they never saw us. They were always too wrapped up in the splendor of fiction.

The boat passed and disappeared beneath the bridge.

“I’m off tomorrow, but I’ll bring something Thursday. Some real food this time,” Noah compromised. “By the way,” he said, standing up, “They’re doing some work here tomorrow. You better stick to the Jailhouse.”

“Okay,” I put the candy wrapper in my pocket.

“I mean it,” Noah looked serious. “They’ve been talking lately. You need to be extra careful.”

I looked back at the weeping ladies and nodded.

“Here,” he tossed me the silver keys to the employee locker room. “Go in after midnight.”

“Okay,” I repeated. He started toward the hidden door behind the plastic barrels. “Noah?” I said. He turned halfway around. “Bring me a Kit Kat,” I smiled, “on Thursday.”

He smiled, nodded and walked out the maintenance door.

That night, I waited until my princess watch from the lost and found said 12 o’clock. I snuck through the door, the same one Noah disappeared through. It led to a hallway with white motion lights. Every few steps, a new one flicked on. My eyes never adjust quickly enough.

I stood in front of the locker room and listened. It was as quiet as it always was after midnight. I placed my palm on the door’s cool surface and slid the key into the lock. I felt like a pro by then, I’d snuck in hundreds of times.

The shower was cold at first. I didn’t mind it. It was the only thing that touched me in here. Not that I was unhappy. I liked the ride. I liked watching the people visit, and watching them leave. I knew what they would see next and what they had seen before. There was just one world to understand and it was all right in front of me.

I let the water run down me and wake up my skin. The creamy soap slid off my body and I combed my fingers through my hair. That’s when I always felt it — the ridge behind my ear. It was so tiny now, with the stitches gone and my hair all around it. The doctor had told us it would heal nicely and she was right, it did. I could still see Randy smiling at her, so grateful she had sewn up his foolish wife. Then he turned to me and made a joke about being more careful. With a short chuckle, he erased the monster from himself. It was like he never drew blood — as if a man’s knuckles couldn’t break flesh.

Once I dried off, I looped around the corner and grabbed a handful of tampons from the dispenser. I’d been caught by surprise in the ride once before and I was not planning to let that happen again.

Clothes on, air dried, I locked the door and crept back down the hallway, into the room with the women. I remembered what Noah had said, but the Saloon was my favorite. I couldn’t sleep anywhere else. I would be awake before the workers came anyway, with time to sneak to the Jailhouse.

I curled up in my favorite corner, pulled the blanket Noah gave me to my shoulders, and drifted away.

I didn’t dream much in the ride. My mind just shut off when I went to sleep — just a blank slate waiting to wake up.

But tonight was different; I dreamt it was Christmas Eve. It was just me and Randy and a tree. We hung our ornaments and sipped our coffee. I handed him a red and green box. I don’t know what was in it, but it made him angry. He came toward me and my heart beat faster. Then there was a thump and I opened my eyes.

“Just put it over there,” a deep voice instructed. My entire body tensed.

I checked my watch, it was only 2 o’clock. They shouldn’t have been there yet.

“Mike,” the same voice rang out, “you got the coffee?” Another voice laughed. It sounded closer than the first.

I lifted my head to see over the barrels. Not ten feet away was a short, young man with a tool belt. Across the water were two more men, each taller than the last.

“When you’re done over there we can use a hand,” the tallest man said to the shortest.

I pushed myself up to my hands and knees, and began inching toward the door. It was only five mannequins away. The shortest man was messing with something in his hands, completely distracted. I crawled closer to the door. I was one mannequin away. I could hear my watch ticking. A voice broke the silence.

“You got that Phillips?” the tall man yelled across the water.

“Yeah,” the man on my side shouted back. I could reach the handle now.

The short man bent over his toolbox and stuck his hand in it. I reached for the doorknob and his head turned. Our eyes locked. I froze. He opened his mouth and I didn’t wait to hear what he would say. I yanked the door open and ran.

His “Hey!” was cut off as the door slammed shut.

The motion lights flicked on as I ran down the hall. I could hear footsteps behind me. I turned the corner and there was nothing but an emergency exit and a gray door on my right. The footsteps grew louder. I swung the gray door open and stepped through. A gunshot went off. I ducked to the ground, covering my head. As if my arms could stop a bullet. Another shot went off and I shook. Then another. I realized there was music playing. I looked up and saw more electric friends. The gun scene.

It had been so long, I forgot there was anything past the Jailhouse. I stayed down for a moment, looking up at the drunk figure straddling a barrel. Then on all fours, I crawled to the darkest corner by the door. I pulled my knees to my chest and looked up — I was under a stone arch. Then I let out a breath and closed my eyes. Noah would be so mad.


My eyes shot open. Opposite me was a man in a green jacket. I thought he must be a new mannequin. Maybe he had motion sensors in his eyes. I didn’t move.

“Are you looking for something?” he asked. He blinked so quickly — the others didn’t do that. And his skin wasn’t shiny. It looked soft.

“Are you...real?” I asked.

The man laughed. He put a hand to his chest and looked down. “Yes, I think so.” He nodded. “Are you?”

“Yes,” I said with a scowl.

“Well excuse me, but you came running into my corner. Not the other way around.” Beside him was a bundled up blanket and a plastic water bottle. “I’m Sam, by the way.”

“Do you…” I began, looking at his belongings.

He raised his eyebrows, “Live here?” I nodded. “Just tonight. I usually prefer the Gold Room.”

“The what?”

“You know, the room with all the treasure? And the skeleton in bed?”’

“Oh,” I remembered. He just stared. “I’m from the Auction,” I pointed behind me, “you know, the lady in the red dress?”

“I’m familiar, yes,” he said, nodding. “I’ve seen you there.”

“What?” I hated the thought of it.

“Sometimes I take the boats,” he explained. “It’s safer than the hallways.”

“Don’t they see you sneak off into the water?”

“Did they see you?”

“No, I —” I stopped myself. “How do you know I went into the water?”

“How else would you get off the ride?”

Sam let me sleep in his corner that night. He had slept all day, so it was more out of convenience than kindness.

When I woke up, he tossed me a granola bar.

“Where did you get this?” I asked him.

“There’s a vending machine in the locker room,” he said midchew.

I peeled the wrapper back. It smelt like cinnamon.

“So,” he chewed, “You never said what brought you to the gunfight.”

I swallowed my first bite, “I was running away.”

He stopped midchew. “What do you mean?”

“I was sleeping and I woke up to three guys — electricians, I think — working on the ride.”

He reached for his bundled blanket, “And they saw you?”

“Yes, but I got away.”

He picked up his belongings. “We have to go.”

He led me out of the stone archway to the right, and through a second, smaller arch on the same wall. There was no door here, only a metal ladder leading to darkness. He wrapped his blanket around his shoulders and stuffed his water bottle in his front pocket. He looked at me and pointed up. Then he started to climb. I had nothing to carry, so the climb was easy for me, but it still felt incredibly long. Soon I couldn’t see the rails in front of me. I looked down to see the shooting pirates half the size as before.

I heard him stop climbing. “Be careful,” he whispered. “There’s a platform here.” I reached up and felt for the metal landing. It was right above me. I climbed a few more rungs, then slid myself onto the platform. It must have been pretty small, because I was right up against Sam. I looked down. I could see the shooting scene, the Fire, the Jailhouse, the Auction, all coated in orange light. The scenes had black spots between them — the ceilings were lower there.

“Nice view, huh?” he said. I nodded my head before I realized he couldn’t see me.

“Do you come up here a lot?”

“No,” he chuckled. “I’m afraid of heights.”

I would have asked more, but I noticed something, “Do you see any boats?”

Sam was silent, then a “No,” came out of the darkness.

That’s when we saw them. Workers moving through the scenes, a pair of them on either side of the water.

“Shit.” I heard myself say. Sam grabbed my hand, telling me to stay silent.

For what felt like an hour, the pairs of workers moved through every room we could see. Then, a flash of light struck and every inch of the water was illuminated in white. I didn’t know they could do that. Then the boats filtered in, each with four workers peering over the edge. His grip on my hand softened and we sat there in silence until the last boat floated away and the water was dark again.

“Let’s go,” he whispered. I looked toward the sound of his voice, but all I could see was the outline of his skull.

When I reached the end of the ladder, I stepped aside and waited for him. He was about to step off when I heard footsteps. I froze and so did he. There was nowhere to go. A shadow crept around the bend and a worried face followed.


It was Noah, standing in the center of the archway.

“Noah, I —”

“They saw you,” he looked like he might cry. “I told you to go to the Jailhouse.”

“I know. I —”

Noah looked at the ladder, “So what’s the plan then? You’re just going to hide up there until everyone forgets?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but someone else spoke for me. “Noah!” a voice yelled. The worry left Noah’s face. It was replaced by something I had never seen him wear before. He held my gaze and reached into his pocket. He pulled out a red object and handed it to me as he yelled, “Nothing back here!” I looked down at what I took from him — a Kit Kat. When I looked up, he was gone.

Sam and I stood paralyzed, neither of us knowing what to do or where to go. It might have been ten minutes before a boat came floating through. This time, it held a family. We ducked down, out of sight.

“Well, I guess they forgot about us,” I said, half joking.

Sam looked at me like I punched him.

“We have to leave,” he said.

“The arch?”

“The ride,” he replied.

I laughed, “I can’t do that.”

“Why not?” he frowned.

“I can’t —” I began, but the words got stuck.

“What?” he whispered.

“It’s not safe out there.”

He held my gaze for a moment before he said, “We either leave or we get caught.”

“We won’t get caught.”

“Mary…” he said softly.

I turned away from him, “I’ll be fine.”

Sam took a deep breath, “The exit is right after this room. Hop on a boat from over there,” he gestured toward the wooden bridge at the entrance to the scene. “It’ll take you straight out.”

He pushed himself up and left me alone in the small archway. I convinced myself he was wrong. I was still safe. I huddled into a ball, right next to the metal ladder. The music and gunshots played all night. Maybe they were trying to scare me out, but the noise only kept me safe. No one could hear me cry.

I wondered if Sam had made it out. If they caught him, maybe I would be safe. Who would think there were two of us?

By the time I gave up on sleeping, the boats had stopped. I crawled away from the ladder, passed the barrels and the shooting mannequin, and slid into the arch I came in through. Part of me expected to see his blanket in the corner, but it was only cold brick.

I flinched at the sound of the next gunshot. It was so much louder than before. I checked my watch. 3 o’clock. I stood trembling for a moment before I opened the door to the hallway. The motion lights were on. My eyes stung as I stepped into the fluorescent glow. I had never noticed how loud my footsteps were on the linoleum floor, but now I heard every step echo down the hall. I came around the bend and retraced my steps back to my room. The ladies would let me sleep.

I passed the locker room, came to the door of the Auction, and turned the handle. It didn’t open. I tried again. I shook the handle, but it was locked. I stood there staring for a moment before I heard another door open. It must have been around the corner, because I didn’t see anyone. I didn’t wait around for them to find me. I flew to the locker room. I ran straight to the shower and closed the curtain. I was only in there a second before the door opened.

“Yeah,” a woman’s voice came through. I held my breath. “Apparently they found some tampons by the mannequin in the red dress.”

“No way, so it’s a girl ghost?” another voice said with a laugh. The faucets turned on.

“Spooky. I guess that’s why they couldn’t find her.”

“Well, ghost or not, I hope she gets out of here. I don’t want to do these checks every day.”

The door opened again and their voices disappeared. I got light-headed before I remembered to breathe. If there was no way back to my ladies, I would have to hide in the gun scene. Or else stay in the shower for the rest of my life.

I pulled the curtain back and stepped onto the bathroom floor. I saw something out of the corner of my eye and turned my head to see my own brown eyes staring back at me.

I nodded at my reflection. Then I turned to the door and stepped back onto my fluorescent stage. I walked slowly down the hall, around the corner, right to the gray gun scene door. The door might have been locked, but I didn’t check. I stepped toward the emergency exit.

Drenched in the green light of the neon sign, I pulled the door open. My eyes were slapped with sunlight. I rubbed them and checked my watch. It must have been wrong the whole time.

I made my way through the concrete alleyways, past the old pieces of park rides and old mascot heads. Soon, I found myself surrounded by Christmas decorations. The air got heavier. I couldn’t breathe and my eyes went foggy. I heard music playing and children laughing. A man’s voice broke through the cloud of sounds.

On the other side of that fence was the world I left. I jumped from its bow when I had the chance to escape and made a home in a world of dark waters and black skies. I wanted to turn around and go back to it — to the ride that kept me safe. I wanted to laugh at the drunk pirates and cry behind the red lady’s dress. But that was all gone now.

I took a step forward and crossed through the doorway in the fence. In a sea of delighted faces, I saw a flicker of green.

And there it all was, waiting for me.

Hailey is a Master of Fine Arts candidate at San Francisco State University in the Creative Writing, Fiction track. Her creative work focuses on women's trauma and magical realism.

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