The Pooka Problem
by ROY LeBAY

Chapter 2

On arrival, the first thing I marveled upon were the incredibly realistic animal mascot costumes. They must cost enough to pay for 3 months worth of my rent, each! I saw the expected rides, such as the pony rides, the ferris wheel, & an exquisite antique carousel. I love these old types; they remind me of the old neon-lit movie theatres & Wurlitzer jukeboxes--Loud & Proud.

What the...a Roo-Go-Round & a Squirrel Rocket 'coaster? I needed a closer look. I took a few min. to study these odd rides, but had no interest in trying them. Simply watching the Roo-Go-Round turned my stomach. Nausea is my name whenever I've tried 'coasters & such. Call me a sissy, but I just don't care for it. I wandered off the fairway & behind the tents, as there were no Keep Out signs, only hay bales & traffic cones marked the back road. I was still in sight of the Squirrel Rocket ride when I pulled out my pad. There seemed to be no one here, so I started jotting down a few ideas, safely out of everyone's way. Hmm. Wyly as a (GROAN) carnival barker? Perhaps, but he still needs so much more. I heard a scuffling sound behind me, & turned to discover a woman wearing a gold-trimmed toga with matching sandals with her back to me. The curve of the tent had hidden her, but I could now see her taking notes on a PDA, & simultaneously speaking softly on a phone headset. She was mentioning a leaking hose, & the large resulting mud puddle in front of her. Ah, park maintenance--they certainly stay on top of things around here!

A sharp CRACK! different from the background noise, drew my attention back to the coaster. All of the cars, save one, were returning to the starting platform. As I watched, the last car crested a hill before a small corkscrew loop, & I naturally eyed the rails directly ahead of it. I found the reason for the unexpected sound. One of the track rails had snapped, & at that angle of a corkscrew loop, it would slingshot right towards...I moved! As I leapt out of the way, I had one strange thought. 'I can't die. I haven't finished the character yet!' This thought was only compounded by what happened next. I'm ashamed & embarrassed to admit it, but my only drive was to save myself. I simply leapt blindly out of the way. Luckily, my flying leap turned into a flying tackle of the woman, who landed face first in the mud, PDA and headset sent flying. I landed on my side, just in time to see the airborne car crest a huge stack of hay bales. I turned & pulled the woman halfway out of the mud by her shoulders. She coughed & sputtered in disgust, but otherwise seemed unharmed. I muttered a quick, "I'm really sorry, but I need to check on something" & took off for the roller coaster. A 'raccoon' mascot was accepting tickets from the next potential passengers when I whispered in his ear, "Shut it down. A car just left the track!" His eyes widened in very realistic surprise, & he quickly turned to count the waiting cars. He then turned back to the waiting crowd & said, "I'm sorry folks, but this ride is closed due to a small malfunction. We hope to have it working again soon!" With that, he followed me at a run towards the area I'd seen the car last. Fortunately, the muddy madam was nowhere to be seen. When we finally spotted it, I couldn't see anyone's heads or shoulders--perhaps it was an empty car?As we approached, I noted that it had flown about 35', & there was something in the car. Looking inside, I found--airbags?And what looked like 2 flying squirrels?! After a stunned second, I relaxed. This car must be a gimmick for the ride, & the 2 figures were animatronics. The raccoon, however, on the other side of the car asked, "Are you two all right?" "That was great!" exclaimed one of the figures, still breathing heavily. "Was that supposed to happen?" asked the other, a slightly worried expression creasing it's tiny face. At this point, I decided DENIAL IS GOOD, but I still felt like I had to say *something*! I shrugged my shoulders, rolled my eyes, & decided to play along with the fiction. I leaned forward, & took a deep breath.

"Of course!" I said w/ a smile. "It wouldn't be the Squirrel Rocket Roller Coaster if a car didn't actually leave the tracks every once in a while. You 2 are lucky. The mechanism only works after 100 cars have crossed over it, so the flying rocket car only happens 2-3 times a day." I leaned in & released their harnesses. "Enjoy your stay folks!" I glanced at the raccoon, who was staring at me w/ a dumbfounded expression, his mouth hanging wide open. "Anything else?" I asked. He grinned, shook his head, & helped the squirrels down from the car. I patted the car & asked, "Your folks will take care of this?" He nodded & waved his hand dismissively, already bringing out his radio to call for assistance. Right! Can you say 'Optometrist' boys & girls? I wandered away, wondering if my vision, or my last meal had gotten the better of me. Ignoring this disturbing line of thought, I pulled the pad out again, & tried to work these odd developments into the new outline. A carnival had definite possibilities. The atmosphere was thick with a feast of emotions: humor, screams of fear & exhilaration, impatience, hunger, anticipation, etc. A quote from George Burns floated into my thoughts. "At my age, it's very hard for me to stand up for an hour. But if you walk out on stage & the audience loves you, it gives you a lot of energy. If the audience likes it, I give a great performance. If they hate it, I still give a great performance!" If Wyly could gain power (magic) through attention, imagine if he could feed on the emotions directed towards him as well! He would have to change his appearance to better appeal to a variety of audiences, so perhaps shapeshifting was in order--a close cousin in the spirit of the Trickster, Coyote. The images of Wyly as a carnival barker, a salesman, &/or a prankster led me to consider a wide variety of possibilities. I would have kept daydreaming if I hadn't heard a shrill "Do it, do it..!" from the tent I was starting to pass.

It sounded like a recent T.V. candy ad, but curiosity drove me to check it out anyways. The voices were coming from a flap within 2 folds of the tent's canvas. Looking in, I found the extra slack was folded up within the tent, creating a small room, large enough to hide 2 people in the flap. There was a small tear at the far end of the flap through which light & sound poured. This wasn't the source of the voices, however--the mice were! There were just over 2 dozen of them. They were still chanting, "Do it, do it..!" when one mouse jumped out the far tear. I leaned in slightly to watch. A lion's cage had been placed against the canvas as he waited for his moment to perform. The mouse had leapt into the lion's water bowl, & was climbing back up to join his friends! The lion's face held an expression of bemusement as he watched the little daredevils, occasionally taking a half-hearted swipe at one of the jumpers, but always falling short by at least a foot and a half. A breeze opened one of the folds behind me, briefly letting in more sunlight. As I continued to watch the mice, it happened again, followed by the bark of an official-sounding voice. "HEY! What's going on here?"

I jumped, & the mice scattered--12 through the tear, & 12 straight past me, under my feet. The sudden rush of mice startled the lion, who jumped against the far side of his cage, bending the bars like rubber; & suddenly--the lion was free! I couldn't believe it, but the bars really were rubber! They actually bent back into place as the lion passed over them! The crowd in the tent numbered at least 80 people, & only a quarter of them screamed when the lion escaped. Their screams frightened the lion, who gave a few terrified roars, & scrambled to hide in a corner. The mice, meanwhile, had found the safest place in the tent where they wouldn't be trampled--the railings that surrounded the bleachers. They could, however, be seen by the rest of the audience, which joined the others in their hearty screams! The sheepdog mascot who had startled us saw the fiasco he'd caused, & rushed into the tent to help with damage control.

The mice that had run under my feet were heading towards a restaurant across the way. It was a Szechwan food tent w/ fire-eaters performing in front of it--made sense! I noticed the fire-eaters had patches of what looked like beautiful opalescent scales all over their bodies. They also had stylized dragon tails that dragged behind them. 'The kids must step on those constantly', I thought. Outside the tent were several umbrella-covered tables, where a # of people were relaxing w/ drinks, & a fire-eater had sat down to join them. I took all this in at a moments' glance. By this time, the mice had reached the feet & dress hems of several people. This, of course, led to startled screams; & a stampede to get away. As I had forseen, the mad rush led to the seated fire-eater's tail being stomped, but I had no idea a strap-on tail would cause such a reaction! The fire-eater gave a startled jump, & simultaneously opened his mouth to yelp in surprise, but instead; a huge gout of flame shot out! The flames promptly set 3 umbrellas ablaze, promoting even more, higher quality screams. Fortunately, everyone had moved clear to safety. It's odd, but I didn't see him use a spark stick before the incident, unlike his fellow performers. I shrewdly decided to follow the tail end of the stampede--& just stay away from all attractions all together! on my way out of the area, I passed 10 mascots--carrying both extinguishers, & replacement umbrellas to the scene. Like I said, they're on top of things here.

Strangely enough, I I found that all of this unexpected action & terror had given me an appetite. Thus, I chose a reatively safe-looking outdoor BBQ & buffet, & contemplated the day's bizarre string of events as I waited in line. Talking mice & squirrels, fire breathers, & rubber bars on cages? Had I fallen asleep in the truck without leaving the driveway? I had picked up some chicken, chilled melon balls, & a bottled water when it happened. I had turned away from the buffet, when my shoulder nudged the edge of an umbrella on a table close to the condiment stand. It's likely it was meant for easy handicap & elderly access, although no-one was seated there at the time. Either the ground was uneven, or the table was top-heavy, but my accidental nudge sent it spinning toward the condiment cart. I dropped my tray to make a grab for the table, but the ever-present Greek theme made it impossible. These tables were solid, heavy, & beautifully carved marble; w/ a single fluted column supporting the tabletop.

The umbrella made it to the condiments first, & incredibly managed to support the weight of the table as the whole mess rolled along the edge of the cart, picking up speed. Condiments were flying out of the way, & the straws were hit w/ such force that several were harpooned into a woman's luxurious red hair. I watched as the ketchup & mustard squeeze bottles were knocked to the ground, & rolled a few feet. The now collapsed umbrella had completed its' sweep of the condiment cart, & the table edge finally hit the ground--on top of the mustard & ketchup, with an enthusiastic SPLUT! The entire event had only taken about 8 seconds. I shot a quick glance in the direction of the ket. & must. streams. Yes, my new-found 'luck' was holding up nicely. The same redheaded woman *had* been wearing a pristine white toga, but no longer. She now resembled a huge art montage. A perfect head bust with black nails (straws) driven through--representing migranes, & finishing up w/ a red & yellow Jackson Pollock-patterned smock from the shoulders, down. General laughter followed, & a couple wise-asses actually applauded. My blush nearly matching her own, I carefully approached her. I asked if she was all right, & offered to pay for the cleaning as well. She smiled & said she was fine, & not to worry about the cleaning fees, as she knew it had been an accident. At close range, her smile was actually a grimace making a heroic contortionists' attempt to be a smile. It just wasn't pretty. By the time I had turned back to help w/ the table, it had been righted, & the condiments replaced as well. The park staff moved fast in their costumes, but why were these women without such costumes? Were they park supervisors? I couldn't even feel safe eating now, as I was entertaining the paranoia that park staff were waiting for me around every corner. I paid for the food I'd dropped, plus a corndog to go, & made my way towards the exit.

I was almost to the exit when I spotted the gift shop, & my waning curiosity led me in to inspect their wares. After all, w/ the odd rides, & the unique Greek theme, there should be some unique merchandise. As I stepped inside, a polar bear mascot rounded the corner, obviously in a hurry. I could just barely hear his radio, "...Brown hair, emerald green shirt & blue jeans..." which was an apt description of yours truely. As he passed, I heard one last word raised for emphasis, "TROUBLE!"

Yes, that was my cue, & as soon as I 'd looked in the gift shop, I'd leave. I might as well save them the trouble of throwing me out by my shirt & pants. Once inside, the all-encompassing animal motif nearly overwhelmed me. The T-shirts (some proudly proclaiming BODY BY CIRCE) & stuffed animals were to be expected, eventhe animal-ear head pieces. The hats, however, had a Harveyesque quality to them, w/ slots where animal ears would be. Hmm. Not a bad way to sell the animal-ear head pieces. The majority of their stock seemed to be animal motif jewelry, buckles, bolos, etc. There didn't seem to be anyone running the shop at the moment, plus I was the only browser in the place. I made my way over to a convienient card catalog, on which a sign had been posted, 'Feel free to inspect our selection of animal totem merchandise here!' Someone had left the W tray open, so I closed it, & started in on the A tray. I was halfway through the Bs when a woman w/ raven black hair, wearing a white toga stepped through the tent flap. She smiled. "Hello! I hope I haven't you waiting, but there was a small problem that most of the staff was required for." I did my best not to sweat, & put on a pleasant poker face. "No problem, I just got here myself. I caught a glimpse of a fire earlier. Was anyone hurt?" "No, just a little canvas was singed, but such things only happen once in a blue moon here." She took a step towards me, trying to avoid the blinding sunlight streaming through the tent flap. She may have been trying to identify me, but as she took the step, her leg shot out from underneath her. I heard something bounce across the floor as I made a grab for her arm. I'd caught her arm, but her left side's momentum slammed her into a table full of shelves, causing a domino effect that spilled totem jewelry halfway around the shop. She righted herself, thanked me, & turned to survey the damage."You slipped on something--I imagine it happens often around here." "Actually, this is the first time for me. I would've been beter off if I'd missed the table & just fallen on my ass. Returning all of this to its' proper place will be a bigger pain than the fall itself!" I started righting the shelves, although she protested, I said it was no problem. While I was cleaning up, I noticed what looked like a loosely piled pair of slacks & a white dress shirt under the table I'd been standing by. Next to it was a partially opened briefcase, w/ what looked like...a weasel tail twitching inside? I was about to say something to the woman, when I realized I'd seen something like this at gift shops before. It must be one of those battery-powered balls w/ a tail attatched. It was kind of cute, & nothing sells quite like a working floor model!

I looked up from the briefcase in time to see another staff member walk through the flap. It was another woman in a toga--a gold trimmed toga. She took a moment to study the damage in the shop, then turned & scrutinized my face. Her own face, of a truly classic beauty, suddenly took on a horrifying transformation! Her eyes narrowed & burned in recognition. Her lips thinned & her jaw tightened. Her smooth, creaseless forehead & perfect nose threatened to shatter from the furrows of fury that had suddenly broken through. "YOU!" It was the same woman I'd tackled into the mud.

Onward to Chapter 3

Return to "The Funhouse - As Seen By Others"