We use amusement parks to escape our boring or unpleasant lives for a short while. What if someone created a park for his or her own unique entertainment? Welcome to Darkspire Park, a place where that escape can last a lifetime.
Crash! A shower of milky colored glass rained down on the vinyl floor.
Larry's stepfather, Lou, immediately came storming out of the adjacent room, a large vein bulging like an angry red lightning bolt down his forehead. "You stupid sonuvabitch! You ain't got the brains God gave a goat. You know that?"
"But I..." was all Larry was able to get out.
"Don't give me any of your 'buts'," came the quick cutoff. "Can't you do something as simple as putting away the dishes without screwing it up?"
"Ha, ha. You're gonna get it now Larry," Rob, his stepbrother, snickered from over in the corner.
"Rob. You go on into the living room and watch TV with your Mom. Larry will be cleaning up this mess and finishing up the rest of the kitchen by himself."
"I didn't drop the plate," he tried to get his side in while Lou was talking to Rob. "Rob broke it because he didn't want to have to clean the kitchen."
"You can't pass this off on your brother! He was over by the sink and you're the one standing right by this mess," Lou snapped back.
"And you don't think he could have headed over there as soon as he heard you coming this way?" Larry braced himself as soon as the words cleared his lips.
The force of the impact sent Larry flying across vinyl and up against the cabinets. Through a haze of dancing stars he could make out Lou's bulk coming across the floor at him. He tried to get up, but couldn't seem to get his balance.
Suddenly he was up on the air, feet dangling at least six inches off the floor, as Lou lifted him by his shirt. "You should know better that to smart off to me when I'm talking to you."
"Lou! Put him down!" his mother's frantic voice screamed out from the doorway.
"You shut up too. You treat this kid too damn soft. I'm just trying to make a man outta him," but Lou dropped the teen to the floor before turning to face Larry's mother who had continued through the door and was rushing toward the pair.
Larry could see Lou's fingers curling into a fist. He watched his stepfather's biceps twitch in anticipation of the action to come. Larry jumped up and grabbed Lou's arm before he could begin his swing. "Lou, I'll clean up the mess! Why don't you grab yourself another beer and go on into the other room? Wrestling should be coming on any minute now," Larry said trying to defuse the situation before his Mom got hurt.
Effortlessly shaking off the boy, Lou walked over to the refrigerator and pulled out a beer. As he left the room he grabbed Larry's Mom's arm and dragged her back into the other room with him. "How did you put up with that pansy kid before I came along?" he asked as they passed through the doorway.
Larry wanted to tell him that they had been fine before Lou and Rob had come along. Larry had a problem paying attention sometimes, but had always been there to help his Mom. Then "The Dirty Duo" had moved in and now he spent so much time cleaning up after them and trying to help his mother that he was always tired, Larry grumbled to himself as he cleaned the glass off the floor and started working on the dishes in the sink.
Lou had fooled them both. When he was dating her, Lou was kind, helpful and clean. It wasn't until they had actually tied the knot that he began to show his true colors. First he informed them that he had a son who would be living with them in Larry's mom's small two-bedroom house. Then, once Rob had moved in, Lou quit his job and started sitting in front of the television all day watching the sports channels. He remained in a drunken stupor most of the time and became abusive toward Larry and his Mom.
Rob was even lazier than Lou and expected Larry or Larry's Mom to cater to his every whim. When they tried to get him to help, he would complain to Lou that they were trying to get him to do "women's work" and Lou would get him out of it. Rob was a straight F student, but was still passed along because his teachers considered him too much trouble to keep back. He was two years younger than Larry, but stood a good six inches taller.
Larry considered Rob to be a two hundred eighty-pound pain in the behind. His huge bulk and Gestapo attitude toward anyone who wasn't a jock had driven off all of Larry's friends. He had even made such a fuss that Larry was now relegated to sleeping on the couch and Rob had the bedroom to himself.
When Rob had moved in, he went straight into Larry's bedroom and tore down all of Larry's pictures. His collection of models and pewter figures were smashed and then tossed in the trash. When Larry tried to stop him, Lou stepped in and told Larry he "needed to get rid of all that fantasy crap anyway".
Larry felt a lump in his throat as the image of Rob gleefully smashing his prized possessions flashed through his mind. He could visualize the sparkling gold and white plastic of his favorite model shatter and fall to the floor. Forcing his mind back before that day, to the memory of his father helping him with the detailing on that model, helped. He remembered how his Dad had showed him tricks to help get the scales to look like they had depth and how to add shadowing to the wings. Then Larry remembered that it was the last time he had seen his Dad before the crash, before the long months in the hospital watching him waste away, before they unplugged the machines.
Putting the dishes back into the cabinet, Larry saw the coffee cup his Mom had been drinking from when she told him that she was going to marry Lou, how it had been three years and she needed someone to fill that empty part of her heart. All Larry wanted was for his Mom to be happy, so he said it would be great. They couldn't have known what the future held, couldn't have imagined the nightmare that their lives would become.
Pulling out his books, Larry sat down at the kitchen table and started his physics homework. He used to do it at the desk in his room, but Rob had buried the antique roll-top under mounds of Playboy, Guns and Ammo, and Field and Stream magazines.
After a couple of hours, his Mom walked in and gave him a kiss on the forehead. "It is getting late. You better get some sleep."
"Mom, I got something in the mail today. I didn't want to mention it while Lou and Rob were around. It's a pass to an amusement park." Larry pulled out the envelope he had hidden in his physics book. He knew that it was one thing that Rob wouldn't touch.
His Mom pulled out the letter and read:
Darkspire Park is the most amazing new concept in theme parks since the creation of that place in California. At Darkspire you will find an amazing variety of rides that are guaranteed to change the way you look at amusement parks. We have Broadway style shows with actors, singers, dancers, and don't be surprised if you find yourself up on stage along with them. There are many shops to cater to all your souvenir tastes. Our cornucopia of restaurants, vendor carts and new automated vending systems will satisfy even the most diverse palates.
You have been selected to be a test rider for our newest attraction, the Dragon's Breath. The enclosed pass entitles you and your family to free admission to Darkspire Park. When you arrive, stop at Special Services and badges will be provided giving you free food and drinks as well as exclusive seating for the most amazing experience of your life.
Just follow the directions on the back of the brochure to a new world of adventure. When you arrive at the gate take this letter to the Special Services window and they will ensure that you and your family receive everything that we have promised and a few additional surprises as well.
"And this was addressed to you?" she asked putting the letter down on the table.
"Yes. Can we go? You're off this weekend and I have nearly sixty dollars I've been saving for something like this. We can use my money to pay for the gas and maybe even get a souvenir or two."
"I don't know. Lou was planning to watch the football game on Saturday," she said quietly.
"I didn't mean with them. I meant just the two of us. Like we used to do before you married him."
"So, you just want to leave me and Rob sitting here while the two of you have a blast for free?" came a voice from the doorway.
Both Larry and his Mom spun to find Lou standing there, leaning against the jam, and finishing off his beer. Lou stood there quietly for a few moments as he waited for his stepfather to explode again. Instead the man tilted the can back and finished off the beer. "You're right, I guess you and your Mom could use a little time together without Rob and me getting in the way," he said looking down at the now empty can. "I know, I get carried away and do some stupid things sometimes, but I know when to back off."
Larry could feel his excitement build. He and his Mom would get a day away from this nightmare. He knew that if he could get her away from Lou for a while she might build up enough courage to stay away. She had done it once before. If Lou hadn't tracked them down, hadn't nearly put her in the hospital, they would still be doing well.
Lou started to turn away, then stopped and turned back around. "You know, something like this might be a good time for us to have fun as a family. I know there are some tensions between the boys. Maybe having a good time together at an amusement park would help them to get along better?"
Lou's words were just what Larry's Mom wanted to hear. Larry knew that Lou was manipulating her again, but was afraid to say anything about it. He had tried to point out how Lou operated once before. Then Lou had taken him out back while his Mom was at work and warned him to keep his nose out of his business or he might not have a nose.
"C'mon Larry, why don't we make it a family day?" Lou asked. His eyes were still down toward the can. His voice was quiet and plaintive.
His mother bought it, hook, line and sinker. "OK, we all go tomorrow. Lou, I want Rob to put in twenty dollars toward gas. Larry shouldn't have to pay for everything." She smiled and hugged both of them at once. "We can make this work out. Now Larry, you get some sleep, you need to be fresh if you're going to navigate us there tomorrow."
Larry spent the night cursing himself for not watching out for Lou. He had hoped to get his Mom away from all this and now they would be there to ruin the only chance he might have had to enjoy some time with his Mom.
They all rose early the next day, although not without considerable grumbling from Rob; first about being rolled out of bed early on a weekend to go to a Kiddy Park, then because he had to pitch in twenty dollars toward gas. About the latter, he raised such a ruckus that Larry ended up paying for the whole thing anyway.
They piled into the car and hit the highway. Larry watched out the window as the manicured lawns and evergreens of the city gave way to sagebrush, mesquite and scrub oaks. Occasionally he could make out jackrabbits and armadillos as they scurried for cover under a rocky outcropping. Soon the traffic had thinned out and they were the only car on the road. Double-checking his directions, he told his Mom that the next exit should be the one. She took the next exit and stopped at the end of the off ramp.
"Great Dufus, you got us lost out here," Rob complained from the back seat.
"No, I didn't. There's the sign right there. 'Darkspire 16 Km - 10 Miles'."
"Where's the Mickey Fee's, the Taco Hell, or any of the other fast food joints that would kill to get in on the traffic going to a fun park?" Lou asked.
|Darkspire -- 16 km/10 mi|
"It says we get to test a new ride. Maybe they haven't announced the park to the public yet," Larry reasoned.
They made the turn and headed down the two-lane road for about a mile before it made its first turn and dropped down into a valley. From the ridge they could see the park nestled amidst a lush forest of green trees. Coasters, water slides, and other rides were spread out before them as they descended toward the valley floor. In the center of the park was a huge five-sided castle that glistened in the sunlight like it was made of obsidian glass.
They made a final turn and drove into a nearly empty parking lot. The only other vehicles were three beat up old busses at the front gate that were unloading a group of senior citizens. Taking their choice of parking spaces, they headed for the Special Services Window.
"Hi, I received an invitation for my family and me to get free admission." Larry handed the girl at the window his letter.
"Oh yes, Larry. We have been expecting you. I do hope you brought along all of your family. We just can't wait to get your reactions to our Dragon's Breath ride." The bubbly red head quickly stamped some strange symbols on the letter and then handed Larry two sets of badges. "These are for you and your Mom. These two are for your stepfather and stepbrother. Make sure you don't get them mixed up. Have a great time here at Darkspire Park. I am sure we will change the way you look at rides after this."
"Thank you. This is great. Hey, how did you know that he was my step..?" Larry turned back around, but the window was closed and the girl was nowhere to be seen.
He looked at the badges as he walked over to the others. The ones for his Mom and him were gold trimmed, with a big "DB+" printed on the front. The other two were brown trimmed, with "DB-" on the front. He quickly put his on before he got over to the others. Handing the other gold badge to his Mom, Larry held the others out for Lou and Rob to take.
"Hey, I want one of the gold ones," Rob complained as he ignored the proffered badge. Reaching over, he tried to snatch the gold badge off of Larry's shirt.
"OUCH!" Rob pulled his hand back and rubbed the now reddened fingertips. "That thing burned my fingers!"
Larry pulled the badge off and looked at it. "Hmm. Doesn't seem to be burning me. I guess you better take this one," Larry replied tossing the brown badge over to Rob.
"Fine, I wouldn't want something as prissy looking as that any way," Rob fumed as he hooked the brown badge onto his shirt.
Larry eagerly led the way through the gate and into the main promenade of the park. At the entrance was a sculpture of a mermaid made to look like it was suspended on a column of water. Restaurants and shops lined either side of the walk, each decorated in a Victorian style with lots of bric-a-brac and white shutters. The smell of fresh baked cakes and hand mixed fudge mingled in the air as they made their way past the tempting boutiques and eateries.
They rode several of the other attractions before heading for the Dragon's Breath and Rob complained quite loudly when they wouldn't let him ride in the front two seats of the roller coaster. They said the first car is reserved for special guests. Lou also complained for a moment, until they pointed out the badges they were wearing and informed them that they would be getting special treatment on the Dragon's Breath.
One of the other rides did catch Larry's interest as they passed it. Larry watched in amazement when they passed the Fantastic Fountain ride. It was a spire surrounded by an enclosed ring of chairs. A growing fountain of water slowly pushed the ring to the top of the column. At the top it spun around several times with lights flashing inside, then the fountain suddenly cut off and the ring dropped to the bottom very quickly.
As he watched, he realized that all the people he saw getting on the ride were senior citizens and all the people he saw getting off were teenagers. After watching a second set of teens leave the ring after seeing only seniors get on, he tried to point this out to the others, but instead Rob and Lou started complaining about the "Old Farts" slowing down the lines. They were so wrapped up in complaining that no one, not even Larry's Mom, could hear him, so Larry gave up and just continued on toward to Dragon's Breath.
Finally, they reached the Dragon's Breath. The ride consisted of large wide boats that traveled along a canal and then disappeared into the forest beyond. There were a few of the teens he had seen leaving the Fantastic Fountain ride getting on the boat in front of them. Just as he was about to get onto the boat with them the attendant stepped up. "Excuse me sir. I see by your badge that you are one of our special riders. If you wouldn't mind, we would prefer you and your family catch the next boat. We want to make sure you get the full effect of the ride without any interference from other riders."
"Uh, sure," Larry stammered. As he looked at the attendant, he could have sworn that it was the girl from the Special Services booth. The boat, full of energetic teens drifted down the canal and disappeared around the first bend.
Within moments another boat slid up to the loading dock. "Please board the boat. You are free to walk around although seats have been provided for optimum viewing as well. We do ask that you keep your hands, arms and legs inside the boat at all times. We also do not allow flash photography on this ride as the flash has been known to cause unexpected reactions. Please enjoy your ride on the Dragon's Breath. It will open a whole new world to those who brave its fires."
Boarding the boat, Larry and Rob quickly walked up to the front and stood while Lou and Larry's Mom took a seat in the back. As soon as everyone had taken position the boat was released and started drifting down the canal.
"It must be a pretty lame ride if they let you walk around on it while it's moving," Rob taunted.
Lou got up and walked to the front to talk to the boys. "Well Larry at least you got free admission to the park. Too bad the ride they wanted you to test is such a snorefest. Rob, come here. I want to talk to you." Lou pulled Rob over to one side.
Larry strained and could just make out what they were saying. "Look kid, about half way through the ride I want you to make like you slipped on something and fall to the floor. If this place is dumb enough to let us walk around on a moving ride then we're going to take advantage of it. Just scream a lot and when they check you out just show them that bruise on your side you got in that fight yesterday. We ought to be able to get a bundle out of this. Don't say anything to them, especially Larry. That little twit would blow the whistle in a heartbeat."
"Hey, sure thing Dad. I was getting bored anyway."
Larry was boiling now. They had been given free admission to the park and now they were going to try to sue them? Not if he had anything to say about it.
The boat rounded the first turn as Rob and Lou returned to their places. The canal continued through a forest setting and seemed to disappear into a cave up ahead. Beside the cave entrance, several large boulders stood out with strange markings carved on them.
A huge wave of flame spread across the boat engulfing the four riders. Rob and Lou screamed as the world disappeared in a sea of flame. Larry felt panicked for a moment but was then infused with a feeling of total calm. The flame effect was just barely warm to the touch and didn't even ignite the piece of paper sticking out of his pocket. It was an incredible special effect.
He looked back and saw a red dragon standing behind one of the boulders they had passed. It still had smoke drifting out of its nostrils and it looked like it winked at him before turning to prepare for the next boat.
"My God! That could have killed us!" Lou was up out of his seat and looking for burns.
"Oh, don't be silly. It's just a ride." Larry's Mom reassured him and pulled him back down onto the seat.
Rob looked a little pale as the boat eased into the cave. As it drifted, Larry felt an itching on the back of his hand and started to scratch. A chamber opened up just beyond the short tunnel entrance. As they entered the chamber they could see what looked like the melted remains of armor and bones scattered around the entrance and toward the back was a waterfall coming out of a cave on the left.
Waves of ghostly flame filled the boat again. This time a silver dragon had thrust its head out from under the waterfall and caught them off guard.
Larry laughed as Rob dove to the floor and covered his head. "I thought you said this was a lame ride Rob?" he said, offering his hand to the boy on the floor.
Rob grabbed the rail and picked himself up making it a point not to take Larry's offered hand. "Yeah, well I don't like fire. You happy now?"
"What did you think they would have on a ride called 'Dragon's Breath'?"
"Bad smells. You know -- dragon breath, bad breath."
Larry was about to laugh when he noticed the back of his hand. There were now golden scales where he had been scratching a few moments before. Looking more carefully, he could see that the scales seemed to be spreading across the top of his hand. Slowly, scale-by-scale, the patch of gold was replacing his skin. He felt a tingling in his fingertips and turned them over to see his nails curl and twist into small talons.
The boat drifted into the next cavern. This one looked like a rookery; large eggs of every color were scattered about the chamber. Larry looked around and could see that several of them had hatched. He quickly scanned the walls looking for the next dragon to pop out and blast them with fire.
Flame covered the boat once more. This time a small dragon popped its head up out of the water in front of the boat then a larger one popped up in back. Both blasted the passengers and Rob and Lou were in a panic again. Lou was yelling something about suing the park for everything it had while Rob was just down on the floor whimpering.
Larry looked at his hand again and was amazed to see that it was now completely covered in golden scales. The muscles had rearranged themselves and the claws had grown even larger. It was then that he noticed the ripping noise as claws forced their way through the fronts of his shoes; claws attached to shiny gold-covered toes now peaked out of the remnants of his Reeboks.
Looking at his stepbrother cowering on the floor, Larry realized that Rob must be changing also. Rob was staring at his hands, only his fingers had merged together with the nails spreading and hardening into a hoof. Where golden scales were now spreading up Larry's arms, brown hair was crawling up Rob's.
Larry tried to reason it out. The first blast had caused his hand to start itching. After the second round of flame he could see the scales spreading slowly over his hand. Now this third encounter and the scales were covering him even more quickly. Somehow the flames were not only causing the transformation, but also accelerating it. Larry started to look back to see how his Mom was doing only to realize that they had entered yet another chamber.
Spinning back to the front, Larry saw a line of four dragons on either side of the canal next to the cave exit; a multicolored honor guard clad in shining scales stood at watch over the only way back out into the wooded area. He looked at his arms, both now covered from talon to shoulder with golden scales. He could feel the strange crawling sensation of the scales now spreading down across his chest.
They reached the first pair of dragons and flames danced across the deck. Small whorls formed and encircled each boy. Larry watched his clothes vaporize as the flames whipped around him. The golden flesh now began to race across his body. Within seconds there wasn't any part of him that wasn't covered in scales.
The flames dissipated and Larry looked himself over once again. He reached up and felt the smooth scales on his head, then slowly slid his taloned hand down to scales on his chest. Hearing a mewling sound, Larry looked over to see that Rob was now naked as well. Brown fur covered his back with white fur down his belly. Both his hands and feet had formed into hooves and Rob was lying on his side trying to figure out how to stand.
The next pair of dragons cut loose and they were lost in swirling columns of flame once more. Larry felt the scales on his chest begin to merge into plates. Then his muscles began to quiver and shift on their own. His bones popped and slid as they were pulled into a new configuration. His hips shifted and the shoulders moved up as his body became longer. The legs compensated by becoming shorter and more massive. The scene shifted as his neck grew longer, then the world spun as his nose and mouth surged outward. His vision blurred and seemed to split for a second as his eyes moved to the sides of his head. At last the flames stopped. No sign of his human shape was left.
Larry looked up at the dragons before him and had no doubt that he was becoming one of them. He realized that more had changed than what he could see. He could feel motions of the boat that he hadn't before, see into the dark corners like it was full daylight and hear his own heart beating. He could also smell something he didn't know had a smell before -- fear.
Following the scent with his nose, he realized it was Rob. There on the floor was a half formed young buck. Rob lay there on the deck panting, tears running down its muzzle.
The next round of flame embraced them and Larry welcomed it this time. He felt something pushing out at the base of his spine until that something touched the floor. Another wave of sensation and something pulled loose from his back and grew larger. As he watched, horns and plates formed ridges along his legs and arms and more growths pushed out from his head, neck, and back.
Quiet once more as the flames faded, Larry leaned over the front of the boat and saw his reflection in the water of the canal. He saw a dragon's head crested with golden ridges and horns. Two golden wings spread out behind him. He looked back into the boat, saw his tail and marveled at it with its golden ridges running down to the tip and ending in a spike.
Larry looked at Rob and could see that he too had completed the transformation -- into a buck. From head to hoof he looked and smelled like a buck. He wasn't sure how he knew what a buck smelled like, but he was sure that was the smell.
The last pair of dragons blasted them as they passed out of the cave and into the woodland. The flames curled around Larry and he could feel them pulling him outward. He felt himself growing. Ten feet, fifteen, twenty, Larry continued to grow. Twenty-five, thirty, thirty-five; just as he was starting to wonder if it wouldn't stop, it did. The flames subsided and he now towered over the deck. He spread his wings and could touch the trees on either side of the canal with the tips. He looked down at Rob and what he saw confused him. Instead of the full-grown buck he expected to see, he found a fawn barely standing on wobbly legs.
Larry bent his head down to examine the situation more closely. As he did, he sniffed and smelled the fawn, smelled its fear. He could feel a new hunger building inside him and found himself salivating. "Wait! That is -- used to be -- Rob. I can't eat him!" he thought to himself as he quickly pulled his head back. Larry tried to think, to get his new senses and sensations under control.
The boat stopped next to a clearing and the wobbly fawn scrambled out of the boat as quickly as it could. Larry watched as a large doe leapt out of the back of the boat and walked up next to the fawn. He quickly looked back to see what had happened to his Mom and saw another golden dragon standing there. She was twice his height and beautiful. He knew instantly that it was a female and that it was his Mom.
On shore, the doe stood nervously while the fawn nursed at its teat. Larry could feel a new hunger growing inside of him again. He felt something on his shoulder; it was his Mom standing beside him watching the two on shore.
"We'll let them go today. Let the little one grow to a size where she can breed." Larry heard his mother's voice in his head.
"You're right. I can get my payback another time," he thought back to her. "This time I think the payback will be especially tasty." With both of them chuckling in their minds, two sleek golden bodies rose out of the boat as it started to drift toward the next cave.
They soared over the wide green valley before them. As their shadows passed over the doe and its fawn, they took off running for cover. What remained of their human minds knew that they were now on the dinner menu and would forever live in fear for their lives.