|Posted by Vladimir Mortsgna on September 30, 2017 at 5:45 PM|
Ackroyd’s first actual day on the actual site was clear and fine, which he considered a good portent. Certainly, he hadn’t been spoiled by the weather in Iraq, but Ackroyd harbored theories about how weather influenced the cooperation and industry he could expect from others. He stood next to his jeep in the employee parking lot, and looking in the sky in the direction of the park he saw nothing but two clouds, way up high and white as a napkin. It was not humid and the temperature was appropriate to a much more northern clime. An electric car pulled up in the next row of spots and a girl (he presumed) emerged in full Snow White regalia. Ackroyd wondered if that was also an omen and also pondered his impression that the actors weren’t supposed to be seen outside the borders in costume. Not his problem though. To have heard Tuttle describe it, the site of Ackroyd’s labors was so remote within the park that he wouldn’t know if he was in Disney or Dortmund.
He showed his ID to the guard but the guard couldn’t tell him much about Elmertown or Briden, but just gestured further up the path. The first sign of activity up the path was a large open-sided tent where some employees were picking up costumes, signing them out from an apple-shaped lady of maybe sixty years who wore an eyeshade even though they were all under canvas. Her T-shirt advertised Sea World, which as far as Ackroyd knew, did not belong to Disney.
“Hey sport,” said the woman to Ackroyd. “Aren’t you a little old to be a cartoon character?” She eyed him salaciously. She had about ten years on him and also appeared to be wearing two wedding rings.
“I’m a contractor,” he said. “I’m supposed to meet a guy named Briden.” She regarded him with no change of expression. “We’ll be working on Elmertown. Maybe he’s there.”
“Yeah. For Elmer Fudd, or so I was given to believe, from when Disney was going to buy Looney Tunes. It’s where the new Lion King Land is supposed to go.”
She guffawed with a sound like a rotten branch breaking off a tree. “Oh! That’s not Elmertown.”
He regarded her with a cold glare that worked in the military, though he wasn’t naïve enough to be surprised when it had little effect on her. “So, are you going to tell me what it is?’
“I have no freaking idea,” she responded, fishing out a Mulan costume for a new arrival. “But they were never going to buy Looney Tunes.”
“Then can you tell me where to find someone named Briden?”
She gestured at a guard booth that stood near the intersection of the employee lot and the larger parking area for visitors. “Hey, you know what I can say about anyone who thought Disney was going to buy Looney Tunes?” Ackroyd gave the smallest shrug he could manage. “They must be Looney Tunes!”
He walked away from the cackling. Though it was before the official opening for the day, the park was running some kind of special for families that had paid additional or were staying in the park or otherwise had some kind of privilege, and there was already a grim anaconda of minivans slipping in, and Ackroyd could see families lining up at the two entrances that were operational. A bench sat next to the guard booth and a man sat on the bench.
Briden wore an army surplus jacket that would have served well in December though Ackroyd learned before long that Briden had served no time in the military. The jacket was worn over a flannel shirt which was worn over a sweatshirt. Briden sniffled when he looked up and wiped his nose with a tissue. He was playing some kind of a game on his phone and asked Ackroyd to give him a minute. Ackroyd reminded himself that he was in civilian life now, and waited patiently.
They went to Ackroyd’s jeep and Ackroyd asked Briden if he was familiar with the area before pulling out the map Tuttle had PDFd to him. “There’s nothing marked ‘Elmerland’ on this map but the guy told me it was in this place marked ‘northeast development zone’. Looks like it’s behind Tomorrowland. Ever been there?”
“I only been working here for a month or so. This is a big park. I smoked weed in the swamp behind Fantasyland once but it was bad weed and I think I saw a two-headed alligator.”
“One of those old crones back there tried to tell me it isn’t really called Elmerland – do you know what she was getting at?”
Briden shook his head and apparently this dislodged some additional snot because the tissue came out again. “Like I said, I only worked here a month.”
They took one of the trunk roads outside the perimeter of the public part of the park, occasionally passing other workers and once passing a clique of flamingos that flapped sullenly out of their path to lurk in the foliage a yard away, like a bloodstain. Ackroyd and Briden reached a point where they could see the very top of Space Mountain over some trees on their left, but the map indicated they should find an access road to their right that led to the intended site of the Lion King attraction. The men left the jeep and unhooked a security chain that had only become visible when they were inches away – a vine had grown into some of the links and a gecko darted away from the leaves when the end of the chain sank heavily.
Ackroyd peered down the path ahead and wondered how far the jeep would be able to go. “How are they going to put a ride here? Nobody’s going to be able to walk from the rest of the park.”
Briden grunted a response that was about the same level of helpfulness as his previous contributions and they returned to the jeep. The little access road was better kept than Ackroyd had anticipated, but they eventually reached a point where a deadfall blocked the road and when they got out, they saw a clearing close ahead, and began to walk.
At the entry to the clearing they saw a nonfunctioning security pole with a little rain hood over it. Someone had put a fairly recent pack of cigarettes and a pen underneath this hood, and further out was a surveyor’s tripod in good condition that was recent. Ackroyd figured that these artifacts had been left by the planners who checked the place out before the go-ahead was given to hire him to prepare the site for a new attraction. The existing buildings showed no parallel evidence of recent visits. There seemed to be three, only one of which was a complete structure, and that was a low wooden warehouse, the wood of which was rotting and gapped. That most intact structure had a roof that was part shingled and part covered in a mottled greenish surface like an above-ground pool. A smaller thing to its left had no roof whatsoever but a sign in good condition; the sign read “Antarctic Eats” and showed a cartoon monster resembling a mailbox with a starfish coming out of its head. The third structure, which stood to the right of the largest one connected by a little bridge, had a caved-in roof, and before it, an impressive pile of shattered crates, boxes, and pallets, through which the foliage grew copiously.
Ackroyd crossed to the largest building. The doors were padlocked and it was a poser whether it was quicker to destroy the lock or the hinges. He sent Briden to the jeep to get his cutters and the other man shambled away at an unimpressive speed. Ackroyd used the time of his absence to strategize how to get another man in here with more energy, and wondered if Disney would allow him to bring in a guy he knew from his unit.
Finally Briden returned with the tool and Ackroyd barely settled the lock in the jaws of the cutter when it dissolved into moody rust. “I think I heard rats,” he warned Briden, “So you may want to step back when I kick this door open.”
It turned out to be one rat that dashed out and they could hear a few more scampering into the darkness. The darkness wasn’t absolute – abundant sunlight angled in from numerous holes and gaps in the roof. Ackroyd could see a tumultuous area inside with a chaos of damaged plaster sheets, useless furniture that looked like it came from an office rather than an attraction, twisted metal that may have been from the tracks of a ride that was dismantled. A platform about four feet high occupied most of the interior of the building, and more junk was piled on the platform - Ackroyd recalled a time when he was helping with an evacuation before a flood in North Carolina and saw a truck owned by a hoarder who didn’t want to risk leaving any of his collections behind. He saw nothing at all that looked like any Looney Tunes or Disney, but thought he might confirm with Briden.
Briden shrugged in response to the question.
“I don’t know if I would recognize Disney or Looney Tune characters”, said Ackroyd. “Do you have kids?”
Briden shrugged yet again.
Ackroyd attempted to walk around the platform but couldn’t get very far. He passed one piece of scenery that looked fairly intact and which seemed to depict the witch from Hansel and Gretel but actually eating a boy’s arm like a chicken leg. Further on, he saw a chipped plaster figure that looked like a person with a fish’s head. He was amazed at how an amateurish, broken figure could so convincingly portray total stupidity, as if the figure was based on a real person who had surpassed the dumbest human and the simplest fish in beautiful perfect idiocy.
He walked out again to get some perspective. Briden was standing there, taking in the view, sniffling.
“We’re going to need about a hundred dumpsters,” said Ackroyd.
“Why not just torch it?” asked the other man.
Instantly Ackroyd had a picture of the kind of firebreak and protections he would need to burn down the junkhouse without risking the surrounding vegetation. Sadly, it couldn’t be done.
“Tuttle told me to keep anything valuable,” he said to Briden. “And we’re going to need some help figuring out what something valuable looks like.”
Later, when he reported back to Tuttle, Ackroyd did not make any negative comment about Briden but Tuttle had no problem with Ackroyd’s bringing in another man. “What is going to slow us down is your instruction to avoid damaging anything valuable. We saw nothing of value there in our first look.”
“There has to be something,” said Tuttle. “They sank some money into it before dropping it. Has to be something we can salvage. Maybe just something historical, we could have a little side display.”
“Are you sure it was supposed to be a cartoon attraction? We didn’t see anything that looked like Bugs Bunny.”
Tuttle shrugged and glanced over at the spreadsheet Ackroyd’s visit had interrupted. “That is what I always heard.”
“The only thing depicted over there that I could recognize was some fairy tale witch, but it looked like the witch had won and was eating the little kids.”
The supervisor snorted. “That sounds right. I think part of it was this concept of, the real fairy tales. How the stories really came out before they were cleaned up for kids.”
“Sounds like a winner. I have to say, Sir, it is hard to know what might have some salvage value without a clearer picture of what it was supposed to be. Are there any plans or maps?”
“Not that I’ve ever seen,” said Tuttle. “The designer was this old fart named MacCready. He was supposedly a genius before my time. No one can point to anything still in the park that he built – I guess his genius was so genius it was beyond us all. He never wrote anything down until he was almost done, and they dropped this project before we reached that stage. And now he’s dead.”
“And you’re sure it was supposed to be called Elmerland? We haven’t found a single thing in the ruins there that says ‘Elmerland.’ We did find something that was labelled ‘Elderland’ – it said ‘Parking for Elderland contractors only.’”
“’Elderland?’” Tuttle repeated derisively. “That doesn’t mean anything. People can’t spell.”
Tuttle was surprised when Ackroyd asked for information for MacCready’s next of kin, but he thought his secretary’s contact over in corporate might have a lead on it. But he urged Ackroyd not to wait before starting to get rid of stuff.
The guy from Ackroyd’s unit was named Corson and he arrived two days later, a day when it rained like a son of a bitch. The third day, the three of them filled up the first dumpster with rotting picnic tables and some of the metal tracks – the sun had dried up the rain of the day before like it never happened. Corson was just as full of pep as Martin remembered and even Briden seemed to work faster under his influence. The supposed contact number for MacCready’s grandson came through that night.
Ackroyd took a day off on Sunday and offered to babysit his nephew. They watched Looney Tunes for three hours, for research. Ackroyd asked judicious questions and felt quite expert in that particular cartoon universe by the time they were done. He saw no characters that looked like anything he had seen in Elmerland, if that was really the name the attraction was supposed to have. He asked his nephew about some of the weird figures that had appeared on the trash in that area; the boy did not recognize these creatures and asked his uncle to stop talking about them because he didn’t want nightmares.
Ackroyd and his team enjoyed excellent weather for the next three days and filled up a dump truck for each one. There was not much that strongly resembled any cartoon characters or looked worth salvaging for practical or historical reasons. They hacked apart and removed rotten pallets, powdery concrete, freak furniture, three nonfunctioning jitney-type vehicles that were mostly rust, useless poles, twisted frames, picnic tables diseased with moss. There were many, many tires. There was a foul-looking bicycle that Corson insisted on taking home because he thought it could be fixed. The men also encountered countless wasps’ nests and one snake’s nest.
The middle day, Ackroyd found some blueprints that were in decent shape; he thought Tuttle could use them for the supposed historical section. The blueprints were not dated; they depicted a kind of funhouse to be called the “Wacky Tomb”, with sliding floors, tilted stairs, and ramps that were made to look like they were heading down but were really heading up. There seemed to be an ice theme to the design, and fake stalagmites were depicted.
That night, finally, Ackroyd had time to call the contact number and reached MacCready’s grandson. To his surprise, the grandson reported that MacCready was still alive, and in an old age home about an hour away from Disney. The grandson indicated that MacCready was “not all there.”
The next day that they had rain, Ackroyd took the opportunity to pay a visit to the home in question, which turned out to be the kind for old people who needed a lot of help, not for the ones who were semi-independent. Ackroyd tried to do the math of how old MacCready must be but it didn’t seem to work out unless MacCready had left Disney’s employ well before a typical retirement age. He made a mental note to ask Tuttle about that.
The conversation started with Ackroyd identifying himself as working for Disney, and then MacCready asking Ackroyd how he was, meaning Disney. Ackroyd had found MacCready in a rocking chair in some kind of a sun room that no other people in the home seemed to like. His face hadn’t been shaved in a while but his head was bald except for stubble the color of a pencil lead. The carpet below the rocking chair had two deep tracks below the runners. During the conversation, MacCready mostly stared at a television mounted in a corner that was damaged; the screen was striped with overlapping pink and green bands of varying thickness, ghostly shadows flickering behind.
“They treat you well, Mr MacCready?” Ackroyd asked, making conversation.
“Not often. Not often. Not soon. Mostly leave me alone.”
“I’m sorry to bother you, Mr MacCready, but…”
“Then don’t. Or do, but don’t be sorry. I get enough of that. Were you in the service?”
“Yes I was, Mr MacCready.”
“Did you know Jim Leonard? Came from Philadelphia?”
“No, sir, I don’t recall serving with anyone of that name. I wanted to ask you about a project you were working on when you were at Disney.”
“Disney? I did a lot for them. Not that they ever thanked me. I made them what they are. Thorough. Behind the scenes.”
“This was a project called Elmerland?”
The old man’s eyes stared at something in the air a foot in front of him, and his jaws worked silently. Finally, he said there was no Elmerland.
“Mr Tuttle said it was a special project, something you designed.” Ackroyd gave him the technical specifications for the location.
“Tuttle? I don’t know any Tuttle. I took orders from Disney himself. The real one.”
“No, I’m sure he came after you left. That doesn’t matter.”
MacCready suddenly laughed – the laugh was so explosive that a tooth flew out of his mouth. “Elderland. My project was called Elderland. For the Elder gods.”
“Is that a cartoon?”
“This goes back. Horror movies were getting popular again. Slasher movies. Kids getting killed, slashed, guts.” MacCready took a deep breath. “The brass, the suits. Blood. Guts. They wanted me to design something scarier, keep up with the times. I ask you? What is scarier than Elder gods.”
Ackroyd told him he didn’t know what Elder gods were.
“The brass, the suits. Them. Wanted usual Disney fake crap. Plastic walls molded to look like wood, with graffiti stamped in and plastic rot. No way. Not my style, not my vision. Real is scary.” A series of coughs ensued that almost knocked MacCready out of his chair.
When he was able to speak again, MacCready continued. “I had a team, 15 guys or so. All around the world, looking for real stuff. Brought back great stuff. Of course, what’s in the tank was the best, and cost as much as everything else. Put together. But lots of good stuff. Literally more stuff than we could show. Not everything went together – still needed organization. Cthulhu doesn’t really belong in the Mountains of Madness, you know?” He took a deep breath. “The brass - idiots. Every design I showed them - turned down. Cold feet. They wanted scary but they didn’t want real scary.”
After the coughing spasm, MacCready was wheezing like a dying saw failing to get through a branch.
“You said Walt Disney gave you these orders?”
MacCready stared ahead silently for more than a minute. “I might be confusing two things. The old man, that might have been after Psycho. The movie. Authorized me to make a ride that was really terrifying, not fake shit. When he died, nobody believed me and they ignored me. Later, when they decided again they wanted something really scary, they thought of me. But they didn’t have his vision.”
Ackroyd wanted to know about the plans. “So corporate headquarters should have blueprints of your plans? Did you say there were multiple plans?”
“More than ten.” His mind went to a distant place and returned. “More than twenty. Doubt they kept any. Some were even stolen, by people who got wind of what we were doing. Can’t have fifteen guys searching the world for Elder gods stuff and keep it secret, know what I mean? Some thought it was unclean. Some – opposite. Thought it was disrespectful to Elder gods.”
“Some of Corporate, you mean?”
The old man burped. “Never chocolate. Been here years. Never chocolate. It’s deliberate. Revenge.”
Ackroyd sensed he was losing MacCready. “Can you think of anyone who would still have a copy of the plans? Did you keep any?”
“Don’t need no plans, right? Isn’t it all there, what I built? The tank and the rides?”
“It’s been a while, sir. Much of it seems to have fallen apart. My team and I are going through there looking for valuable, historical material. But what we have found so far is just materials put into piles. I’m sorry to say that it doesn’t look like it was very carefully dismantled.”
MacCready’s eyebrows raised. “Dismantled, you say?”
“Yes, I’m sorry to say. But you said you never finished it.”
“They wouldn’t let me, I tell you! Between. I’m not afraid of any Elder gods, mind you. Don’t get me wrong. But the squid isn’t going to be happy.”
“Did you happen to keep any of the plans yourself?”
The old man raised his eyebrows again and spoke a series of adverbs and conjunctions mixed with a few curses. Then he seemed to notice Ackroyd again and said, “I can draw it for you. The site. How it was supposed to look. Remember, they never let me finish it.”
Ackroyd handed him the notebook he carried with him, but MacCready wanted something bigger and said his eyes weren’t good enough for the small pad. Ackroyd wasted fifteen minutes getting a legal pad from a nurse, and brought it back to the room. MacCready toiled over his diagram for another twenty minutes, his shaky paw lighting here and there on the pad like a dazed bumblebee. At times his tongue protruded from his lips with concentration.
Ackroyd engaged in some meditation exercises to avoid thinking about the time being wasted. When MacCready proudly handed him back the pad, it was covered with meaningless lines, shaky and indistinct, a dream map of nonsense.
The next day, in the ruins, they found a corpse.
It was in excellent condition, and it was not a real corpse, but a rubber dummy depicting someone in a white parka whose head had been severed in some violent manner. Ackroyd wondered if it was animatronic but could not see any mechanism or controls and wasn’t positive that this proved anything one way or another. Not surprisingly, Tuttle, when consulted, did not know why on earth fake corpses were needed in Elderland, and did not seem to be much concerned.
The next day was another clear hot one, so there was no temptation toward any more investigation. Ackroyd came back from a routine meeting with Tuttle to find Briden and Corson carefully tugging on a giant rhombus of sheetrock, moldy as a slice of bread. Briden was talking more than Ackroyd had ever heard him before.
“I actually hate the Lion King,” Briden was saying to Corson. “I saw it with my kid. Do you have any kids?” Corson answered in the negative, giving his corner of the sheetrock a yank. “I have one, not that my bitch of an ex ever lets me see her any more.”
“So what’s wrong with the Lion King?” asked Corson. “Everybody seems to love it. You don’t like Elton John?”
They dragged the sheetrock to a patch of grass and started dividing it so it could be thrown in the dumpster. “The whole message of that cartoon is this: Know your Place. What kind of a frickin message is that? Sure, you’re supposed to follow the kid lion who is born to be king and root for him.” The tools they were using were long hoes, and they jabbed at the concrete abstractly like a stubborn prey. “But why shouldn’t the other animals want to be king? Why can’t the warthog be king or that rat or mongoose or whatever it was? Why can’t a hyena be king or the baboon? But they’re all rooting for the kid lion because he was born to be king and they weren’t. Even with the lions, we’re supposed to hate the uncle. But what does the uncle do that we should hate him for? He becomes king. Oh, but you see, he wasn’t born to be king so that’s the difference.”
“Didn’t the uncle kill the kid lion’s mother or something?”
“It was his father, but lions really do that. That’s the law of the jungle. Does that really belong in a cartoon?”
Corson nodded but seemed unable to keep the conversation going. He turned to Ackroyd and asked if he had succeeded at finding MacCready.
“I did but I don’t think he remembers anything. He wasn’t making any sense.”
“So he didn’t know about anything worth saving?”
Ackroyd wiped his brow. “He mentioned a tank a couple of times. It seemed like that was supposed to be valuable – something in the tank was worth everything else put together. Have we seen anything like a tank?”
“Like a Sherman tank or a oil tank?”
“I guess an oil tank because it was something in it that was supposed to be valuable.”
Nobody could think of anything like an oil tank. They proceeded to a bunch of dilapidated painted boards that were stacked and slanted haphazardly against the low platform in the largest building. Some had paint visible on them, that looked like silhouettes, and some had writing though the letters weren’t in any recognizable order. Many had metal rails on one of the ends that were torn off in a jagged and dangerous fashion. After they had hauled out about a dozen, Ackroyd and Briden took a break while Corson rearranged the panels like he was doing a puzzle. After some work, he found four that could be lined up – when together, they seemed to depict shadows of a queue of people chanting some made-up words.
“It’s just the fence, where people will line up for a ride,” said Ackroyd.
They resumed the hauling and were working on one panel that had been placed on an angle such that one corner broke through the floorboards and was buried in the dirt underneath. Ackroyd shifted to get a better grip and suddenly found himself falling through the floor.
“Are you OK?” Corson yelled down. Ackroyd looked up and saw that his assistant was about seven feet above him – he himself was apparently in a low pit.
Ackroyd walked around a couple of circles. “My ankle hurts but I don’t think it is broken.”
“Boss, look, it’s a booby trap.” Corson gestured at something in the center of the dugout – a few of the floorboards had fallen over it. Ackroyd yanked the wood away and saw a flower of rusty spikes that were planted in a concrete base with an old tire around it.
“That’s not junk, boss,” said Corson. “That’s deliberate. That’s a booby trap. It looks like a booby trap set by someone with no military experience at all.”
“Yeah, well we have to be careful now, there are probably more.” He continued limping around, trying to walk off the pain. Briden had brought a ladder over from the truck and each rung that Martin ascended was a stabbing pain in his ankle.
Ackroyd tried to push through it for five more minutes but soon conceded the need for medical attention. Briden and Corson drove him to an emergency room, where he was seen quickly because of the Disney connection. The doctor told him to stay off the ankle for at least four days. Ackroyd made himself crazy the first three days trying to find something interesting on TV, and occasionally trying to reach MacCready again to find out what he knew about booby traps. There was no reaching the old engineer.
While Ackroyd was away, Briden and Corson found another body, though Corson never realized it. Corson had gridded the area to check systematically for pits, but when they found one, his phone rang. He suggested Briden mark it and cover it more securely and then went off for a long talk with his girlfriend. The pit was dark and Briden felt a strong impulse to get a flashlight; the flashlight showed human bones at the bottom. A coyote or something had gnawed at them and all one could say about the clothing was that some of it had been blue. There were no visible spikes or other sharp objects in this pit and it was not very deep – Briden had no idea what had happened to the dead person or how long ago it had happened. He stared at it for ten minutes.
A voice in Briden’s head seemed to say, He doesn’t need to know about this.
When he heard Corson walking back, he shoveled a little dirt on top of the bones and hauled some boards over the pit.
The fourth day Ackroyd came back against doctor’s orders – his foot felt no worse than many other times in his life. He reached the site to find Corson and Briden already hard at work – the amount of junk left was visibly diminished and they had even dismantled the “Antarctic Eats” shanty.
“Great progress,” he called out as the other two emerged from the largest building to meet him. “Did you find any more booby traps?”
“A couple,” Corson replied. “They are neutralized. How is your foot?”
“Good as new.” He looked from one side of the site to the other. “I feel like I can see the end of the project, for the first time.”
“We want to show you something better than that,” said Corson. “We found the tank!”
He led Ackroyd into the warehouse structure, which was far from empty, but the remaining boards and pallets and junk had all been moved to form a border against the walls. Everything was cleared off the low round platform – Ackroyd could also see a few spots around the perimeter where new boards had been placed over pits, with fresh tan wood gleaming like scars.
Corson was standing next to the platform, beaming proudly. “This is it, boss. This is the tank. The whole thing is the tank.”
Ackroyd tried to take this in. “Are you sure? What is the tank for?”
“I think it’s a ride,” Briden ventured, speaking for the first time in a while.
“Doesn’t sound like what MacCready said was so valuable.”
“One way to find out. We’re pretty sure we found the key.” Corson led Ackroyd over to a tin pail and fished out a greenish object, about eight inches long. It looked to be made of some kind of marble, but when Ackroyd handled it, he found it to have a queasy soapy texture.
“It looks like a squid, and the old guy mentioned a squid, so I think it is probably important.”
The statuette didn’t necessarily look like a squid to Ackroyd, though it did seem to have tentacles. But the tentacles were attached to the thing’s face, like a beard. The face belonged to a body that mostly looked like an ape or stooping human, while two of the tentacles seemed to be clutching smaller people or dolls. Ackroyd tossed it back in the bucket.
“It’s disgusting,” he said. “Why do you think it’s a key?”
Corson led him to the edge of the platform, and he walked around the outside edge looking at the sun coming in between a few prison-bar slats in the ruined ceiling. When he was in the right place, he gestured at a well about the size of the bottom of a champagne bottle, protruding from the base of the tank. “I think you drop it in there and it acts as a key. There are drawings on it that seem to show that. But we didn’t want to start without you. Shall we do the honors?”
Ackroyd felt strangely nauseous. “I would guess that if there are booby trap pits all around the outside, that there is at least a chance that this tank is booby-trapped. I think we should X-ray it or at least get a metal detector.”
“Do we want to wait that long?” Briden asked. “That would take a long time. And none of the other booby traps actually worked.”
Ackroyd’s phone rang before he could answer Briden’s question, and he strode out into the sunlight to get enough signal. His ankle starting feeling the effects of his quick return.
He recognized the voice on the other end as MacCready’s grandson.
“Were you trying to reach my grandfather?” the voice asked through a greasy layer of static. When Ackroyd confirmed this, the voice told him that MacCready was in a coma. “Could be a stroke. Doctors have no idea if he will get better. He’s pretty old.”
“I’m sorry,” Ackroyd told him, twice, shouting through the background.
The grandson started to tell him something else and the signal cut out. When it came back, the grandson was in the middle of a sentence. “…too long. Just blow it up. Too dangerous.”
“What did you say? I’m sorry, my phone cut out.”
“I said, my grandfather keeps repeating a message for you, if you are the soldier. I assume you are. A couple of times an hour he will speak while in the coma, and say, pass on a message to the soldier.”
“I didn’t think you could speak in a coma,” said Ackroyd.
“Does it matter?” shouted the grandson, because of the bad signal. “He said, tell the soldier to blow up the squid. It’s been too long. Variations of that, each time. Sometimes he says, Disney never wanted it anyway.”
“That doesn’t make any sense.”
“My grandfather asked me to pass on the message. Not just me, but everyone else. It seems to really bother him. That’s all he says. Except once he said, shouldn’t have bothered the Elder ones.”
“Who shouldn’t have? Me?”
“I think him, but who knows?”
The connection disappeared again. Ackroyd turned the sound way up so he would hear if the grandson called back, and strode back toward the tank. He got as close as six feet and had just shouted “stop what you’re doing” when some straw under his feet collapsed and he was thrown into another booby trap pit. This pit was more sloped than the well-shaped one that had injured his ankle, and he observed another defective spike apparatus as he slid down the side. But at the bottom he was tossed against a millstone-shaped piece of concrete, and he remembered nothing else.
“I thought we cleared all of those,” Corson exclaimed as they ran over to look in the pit.
“He looks fine,” said Briden. “But I think we better try the key before we get him out.”
“Are you nuts?”
“You heard him, he told us to stop. If we wait for him, we’ll never see if it works and what’s inside the tank.”
Corson tried to find the right words.
“I just have this feeling, there’s something important in the tank. Valuable, like the old man said, but more than that. If we are the ones who discover it, we’ll be important too.”
One part of Corson’s brain found this crazy but he felt other impulses that he wasn’t accustomed to. He heard his own voice in his head, the voice he would hear if he was counting to himself, but it felt strange, as though he wasn’t controlling the voice. You’re right, his internal voice was saying. You make a good point. What you’re saying makes sense. Now is the time.
“The boss will be proud of us,” Briden went on, as if sensing Corson’s hesitation. “We didn’t wait to take every step. We took some independent action.”
Corson blinked and he felt a headache coming on. You’re right, the internal voice was continuing. You make a good point. You make a good point. You make a good point. Let’s do it.
“You make a good point,” Corson said out loud. “Let’s do it.”
Briden reached for the pail that held the statuette.