Ceto Wonderworld: Wailing Winder
Despite the rain pushing the smell down, the revolting stench of rotting viscera hit Artemis like a physical blow, staggering her back.
Black chunks continued to dribble out of the creature, splattering against the ground in glistening piles. Some distant part of her brain made note to check with Gaige to make sure she had the right definition of animatronic, cause this wasn’t what she’d been imagining.
The rest of her mind was seizing up in a silent scream, which might’ve been a good thing cause the stench was so bad that she felt bile crawling up her throat. She desperately tried to get her throat working again so she could swallow it back down.
To make things worse, right then a massive chain of lightning ripped the sky open, illuminating the scene clearly for a few seconds, allowing her to see into the torn open cavity in the creature’s chest.
She could see the last bits of the intestines, still connected within, dangling and dancing in the wind.
She could see the gleaming bone of the rib cage.
See the way the metal was woven into and through it, the way it was welded and bolted together.
She could see the rotting muscles, the way they’d been pushed aside so that the wires and cables could run through them.
She could see that the creature was slightly smaller than the one she’d knocked over the side.
The way its fur was slightly more colorful.
The fact that it didn’t have any holes rotted through it.
Then, mercifully, the lightning ended, leaving her blind for a few seconds.
The thunder hit them like a hammer, nearly driving Artemis to her knees as the entire ride shook with the force of it.
She didn’t know if she’d screamed, nor did she care, but she dropped to her knees which wound up saving her because the creature took that moment to lunge at her. She felt it’s arms whip past her hair as they passed close by.
Giving up on fighting these monstrosities for the moment, she leaned out and fired the flare gun she was still holding past the torn open horror she was fighting.
She saw the burning projectile hit one of the creatures near the front of the pack and start smoldering. Not wasting any time, she slashed forward, slicing through the leg of the thing in front of her. Jumping up she let out an unconscious whimper as she grabbed the railing and slammed her feet into its chest, trying to hit it on either side of the gaping wound.
She felt her right foot slip off of something, but her left one contacted solidly, throwing the monstrosity backwards into the burning mascot and causing the entire hoard to fall backwards.
Panicking for a second, she thought the fire had gone out for a moment, but then she saw a flash of orange and the glow intensified as the burning mascot started to melt and spread the fire to the rest of them.
Abandoning escaping that way, she tucked the flare gun away and swung herself over the side. Finding what she’d thought she’d find, or rather hoped, she gripped the built-in ladder and started descending as fast as she could, making sure to keep herself against the outer edge of the rungs.
That turned out to be a good move since a few of the rungs welds gave out as she slammed into them without much care for their stability.
In the gloom she nearly missed the ground coming up and staggered slightly when she went for the next rung, only to find concrete instead.
Glancing around, she spotted a short path and rushing down it came to another walkway sloping downward. Realizing that it was the exit to the ride, she jumped the fence and rushed the rest of the way, hoping she didn’t encounter any more of those things on the way.
Staggering into the clearing where they’d been attacked, she doubled over for a second, desperately trying to catch her breath, but she knew that she didn’t have any time to spare, so long before she was ready, she was rushing over to where she’d last seen Gaige, praying that she was alright.
Dashing towards where the lantern was still glowing, she sidestepped the charred husk that had once been one of the mascots and slid up to the stall.
“Gaige?” She called out, feeling the panic rising. She didn’t know what she’d do if something happened to the other girl. She’d been trying not to think about it ever since they’d been attacked, but now it was all that occupied her mind.
What if the other girl was dead, or injured? What if she was scarred? What if something terrible had happened to her? It would all be Artemis’s fault. Just because she’d wanted to pretend she was a human for one brief moment, something awful might have happened to the one person who she cared about.
She should never have allowed that, no matter what Gaige said, she should’ve said no, pushed her away and ran as far as she could, at least then she’d be safe.
“Gaige?” She called out again, voice trembling “Answer me!”
“I’m here.” Came a voice to her side.
Feeling a wave of relief hit, her legs nearly went out from under her. “Jeez, if you’re that close just answer the first time. Now come on, we’ve gotta get out of here.”
Artemis froze. Her first thought was that it was finally happening, that she was being abandoned. But a second later she realized that this was an odd place for Gaige to have had enough, had it been the hoard of mascots that had made her realize that she shouldn’t be with her?
Steeling herself, she asked “Why not?”
“DON’T LOOK!” Gaige shrieked as Artemis started to lean over the side of the stall, causing her to yank back, but not before she’d seen the other girl curled up, crouching on the ground and the open swath of her bare back.
“So, uh, we still need to get going and, uh…”
“I’m not leaving, not like this.”
“So, what, you want me to find something for you to use as a top before you’ll leave?”
“Yes. I’m not about to go, er, changing this place into an R rated theme park.”
“Uh, er…” Artemis struggled to articulate anything, so she closed her eyes, took a deep breath and swallowed. She knew they needed to get out of there, she hadn’t taken out all of the mascots that had chased her and there was no telling when more would arrive, so she needed to move fast. That meant this was no time to be stumbling over herself. “What happened to it? Your top I mean?”
“What do you think happened to it? One of those pervy robots took it. I mean, when they tried to grab me one of them got tangled with the strap and yanked it off of me. Luckily I was on my way over this wall when it happened or I might’ve died of embarrassment.”
Artemis nodded and suddenly felt cold. Looking down at the still smoldering remains of the mascot she’d flared she prayed that it hadn’t been holding the bikini when it had gone up. A quick investigation of its hands revealed nothing, so she decided to move on.
Grabbing the lantern she dashed around the area, trying desperately to find something, anything that she could use to make a top out of, but she found nothing. All of the buildings were locked up and that was just the ones she could get access to the doors of.
Just as she was considering taking her bag over and slicing it up, she heard a gurgling noise through the rain and following it, spotted a drain.
Gaige crouched, curled up into as tight a ball as she could. Part of her wished she was out in the rain, cause at least then the scorching heat in her cheeks might have been lessened. She couldn’t remember a time she’d been more embarrassed in her life. Disgusted with herself, sure, but not straight up embarrassed. To make matters worse, she was forcing her girlfriend to find her something to wear, admitting to her what had happened. Deep down she wondered if this wasn’t some kind of punishment, some kind of cosmic retribution for not being happy with what they had. Not like Artemis was always going on about, but Gaige not being able to admit that she’d been bored back at the beach.
She knew this was all her fault, if she hadn’t wanted to go out fishing, none of this would’ve ever happened. She knew it was a little late for regrets, but that didn’t change anything.
She sighed and squeezed herself tighter, wincing in pain as she did. Her side hurt. Rather badly. She knew it wasn’t lacerated, only bruised where her top’s strap had yanked against her. She didn’t know how bad it really was, whether it was just a bruise or if she had a friction burn, but she wasn’t going to waste an Insti-health on something that minor. She needed to save them for life-threatening instances. She’d just have to suck it up and deal with this.
Noticing that it was suddenly getting lighter, she hoped that it was Artemis returning with something. She wondered what she’d find, maybe she’d cut a fur bikini out of one of the animatronics. A smile played on Gaige’s lips at the thought.
“Here.” Came the unceremonious voice as soon as Artemis got back.
“Well turn ar…” Gaige cut off, seeing the other girls back as she extended an arm backwards over the stall’s wall. In her hand was a familiar black and white bikini top.
Snatching it, Gaige started slipping it on, extremely self-conscious of the other girl only a few feet away.
Unable to take the silence, she ventured a question as she tried to slip the top on without removing one arm from her chest. “So, where’d you find it?”
“Caught in the drain.” After a moment, Artemis shrugged slightly and continued “There was a drain over there, which is why we’re not knee deep in water and it had caught on the grating, which was lucky, cause there’s nothing else around here to use. Now are you ready? Can we get the heck out of here?”
“Almost. What’s got you so antsy anyway?”
Artemis paused, which Gaige knew meant she was struggling to find the words she needed to convey what she was thinking. Figuring she could do two things at once, Gaige interrupted “While you’re thinking about it, can you give me a hand?”
She stood up with her back to the other girl and when Artemis turned, she saw the strings to the top were dangling, waiting to be tied.
“Erk, uh, d-didn’t you get this on yourself earlier?” She managed to sputter out.
“Yeah, but it’s a little different now, so hurry up.”
Artemis choked slightly, but eventually got her hands moving. With shaking fingers, she managed to grab the strings without touching the other girl’s sides and started bringing them back, when she noticed the slight twitch from Gaige.
“Nothing, it’s just, be a little gentle is all.”
Confused, Artemis shifted the lantern slightly and spotted the angry red line across Gaige’s ribs.
Realizing she’d been found out, Gaige sighed and explained what had happened as quickly as possible, but Artemis didn’t move, instead she asked “Then shouldn’t you change the other knot? I mean, give it either a little more or less slack so these land somewhere different?”
“Doesn’t work that way, if we lengthen them, it won’t have enough tension to keep things in place, no matter how tight the lower part is and if we shorten them, then, uh, things might, um, pop out if things get hectic and that would be the worst time for it, trust me.”
“Oh, I, uh, I’ll take your word for it, but we’re going to need to look at this and soon. I knew I should’ve packed a med kit.”
“You packed enough, seriously. Now get that knot tied so we can get outta here.” Gaige smiled over her shoulder, trying to pacify the other girl’s innate self-doubt. As much as she would’ve liked to bop the girl over the head, this wasn’t the right time for it and not just cause she was holding the strings to Gaige’s top.
Trying to distract them from the job at hand and in an attempt to lighten the mood, Gaige stated “Oh yeah, as glad as I am that you found my top, I almost expected you to come back with a bikini made out of one of these mascots.”
Her smile died a bit when there was no immediate reply. Glancing behind her she found Artemis with an odd look on her face prompting Gaige to ask “What?”
“Nothing, it’s just, well, I wouldn’t want you wearing anything made from one of those…things.”
“I mean, I get that some of them are a bit, well, rotty, but they’re not all that bad.”
“Wait, you’d wear one, you’re not kidding, you’d actually wear one, considering what they are?”
“Yeah. Wait, why? And why do I feel like we’re talking about the same thing, but not?”
“I, uh, I guess it’s what I wanted to say earlier, it’s just, well, how do I put this? I guess they weren’t what I always thought they were, that’s all.”
“What’d you think they were?”
“Promise not to laugh?”
“Yeah, well, as long as it’s not something completely ridiculous.”
Artemis paused and stared at the string in her hand, deciding to finish the knot before continuing.
“Nope, gotta be tighter than that. Little more. OW! No, no, it’s fine, but that’s good, right there. Now, you were saying?”
“Well, um, I” Artemis sighed and braced herself “I always thought they were like, some kind of robot or something, just covered in a stupid outside. That’s not quite it, but close enough.”
“That’s what they are. Why do you think they’re something else?”
“Uh, you mean there’s no one inside? Or at least there’s not supposed to be?”
“No. Wait, you mean some of these things are ■■■■■■■■ in suits? I’m gonna kill them. Then I’m gonna find out why they’re doin this, then I’m gonna kill them again.”
“No. They’re, uh, already dead, I think. At least the one I found was.”
“I cut one open, while I was fighting and there was a person inside. Well, really a corpse. So that’s not normal?”
“Hell no. That would’ve been a cyborg or a nightmare.”
“Then it was the latter.”
“You sure you saw what you think you saw? I mean, you didn’t have a light with you, remember? So, you might’ve mistaken the endoskeleton for ribs or something, couldn’t you?”
“That might’ve fooled my eyes, but that stench wasn’t my imagination.”
Gaige nodded and hopped over the side of the stall. Landing carefully in the water, she moved over to the scorched remains of the mascot and poked it with her pipe. “See, only metal here.”
“This was a different kind.”
“You mean like the lizard I fought?”
“You fought a lizard?”
“Yeah, back, um, outside the Vault Experience place.”
“Oh, that. No, I mean this looked like a Ramaloo but was smaller than this one.” She nudged the burned mascot. “You don’t believe me.”
“No, I believe you, I just don’t get it. I mean you say it was a person inside? How well did you see it?”
“Well, there was a huge chain of lightning right after I cut it open.”
“Nice timing, very horror movie.”
“No, I’m sorry, continue.”
“Actually, we need to get out of here, like now.”
“Wha…so we don’t get swarmed when they make it back down here.”
“Oh, yeah, that. ■■■■. Let’s go.”
Gaige turned and started dashing back the way they’d come in. Artemis followed along, hoping they hadn’t wasted too much time talking.
They didn’t encounter anything as they passed the exit to the Vault area and continued on, making their way down the wide lane.
Gaige kept wincing as her bikini strap rubbed her side. It hurt. Not bad enough for her to stop, but it felt like it was being rubbed raw. She wanted to put her hand up, to try and adjust the strap, but she was afraid that if she did that, Artemis would demand they stop so she could examine it or worse, use one of their Insti-health vials, something that Gaige wouldn’t allow for such a minor injury.
Despite that, she worried that it would impede her if they got attacked, that she would twist and it would scream in pain or that she would hesitate and it would cost her or worse, Artemis. She resolved to mention it the next time they found somewhere to stop for a moment, to see if the other girl had anything in her bag that might help and if not that, then they would have to look for a medical station.
There had to be some around the park, she knew it, but she hadn’t seen one yet, not that she’d been looking that hard before. Most of the time, they’d been running, dashing through the entrance to a place and heading deeper inside immediately, so the next time, they needed to take a bit more time, be a bit more cautious. Not just to look for the med-station, but to see if they could find a map.
A short while after she resolved to do that, Artemis spotted an arched gate leading into the attraction to their right.
The wrought iron fence gleamed in the rain and as they got closer, they could make out ‘Lamara’s Haunted Hollow’.
“Do we really want to go into an area declaring it’s haunted?”
“Sure, it’s just fake. Why, you scared?”
“You didn’t see what I did.”
“Yeah, we need to find somewhere for you to finish telling about that.”
“No time now, we’ve got company coming,” Artemis hissed as she shoved the other girl through the gate. She didn’t think the mascots had seen her through the rain, but she wasn’t sure how good their sensors were, or whatever they were using to find them.
Rushing through the gateway, they found themselves surrounded by a cemetery. Withered and gnarled trees loomed out at the path, barely visible through the gloom, giving the place a completely appropriate vibe.
They rushed down the path, feeling the cobblestone under their feet and soon started spotting open graves to the sides, which led Artemis to want to laugh, though she didn’t know why. She worried that she was starting to crack up.
Gaige on the other hand had no problem with what she was seeing, she knew it was all fake, though what Artemis had said worried her. She needed to get the rest of the story out and fast, so she was scanning the area when her eyes spotted the perfect place.
Turning off the path, she jumped up and grabbed the fence that was lining the path, trying to ignore the way the motion ran her bikini strap over her ribs and quickly scaled it. Dropping down on the other side, she caught Artemis landing next to her out of the corner of her eye and motioned for her to follow.
To her surprise, what had seemed like rolling hills was actually a rather steep hill.
Forced perspective she cursed inwardly, hoping that the spot she’d seen was in fact as good a hiding spot as she’d hoped.
It wasn’t, but the mausoleum still provided enough cover that they wouldn’t be spotted from the road, even though they had to cram together a bit more than she’d expected.
Leaning against the back of the building Gaige brought her hand up and felt her ribs, partially amazed that she couldn’t feel blood, but then again, with the rain, she doubted she could’ve even if she had been bleeding.
Next to her Artemis started rooting through her bag, prompting Gaige to let out an exasperated groan and say “I’m not takin one of the Insti-health vials, so don’t even bother trying.”
“You should, but that’s not what I’m looking for. Ah, here we are.” In her hand was the tattered remains of her shirt.
“And what am I supposed to do with that? Wear it under the bikini?”
“No. But that might work. I was going to cut a strip and have you wrap it under the strap. If I can find a long enough strip that is.”
“Oh. Thanks, that might work. Probably be better than nothing.”
“We still should find you a medical kit.”
“Yep. Next on the agenda, right after not getting grabbed by these things and having you finish telling me whatever you were trying to back there. Also, there’s getting my heart rate back under control, but that’s about there.”
Artemis turned and looked around the side of the mausoleum, squinting to try and see the road from where they were hiding, while simultaneously trying to give Gaige as much privacy as she could so that she could attempt to bandage herself.
After a moment she heard a soft clearing of a throat and asked “You good?”
“No. Sorry, but you’re gonna have to tie this one too.”
Suppressing a groan, she turned and found Gaige’s back facing her. Grabbing the ends of the strip of shirt that were sticking out, she quickly tied them and let Gaige readjust her straps.
“That thing seems to be more pain than it’s worth,” Artemis muttered.
Gaige’s shoulders slumped slightly “They’re supposed to be attractive, but I guess there’s only so much you can do when you’ve got a base like me.”
“That’s not, I mean, why would you think…” Artemis sputtered, feeling her face heat up “I mean, it looks really nice on you.”
“Oh, so it looks nice despite me?”
“I didn’t say that! You, um, it compliments you.”
Gaige gave her a light nudge with her shoulder and smiled “I know what you meant, I was just teasing you a bit, trying to get you to loosen up.”
“Not funny. You shouldn’t try and make me say things like that.”
“Like what? If you like the bikini, say so. If you think I’m attractive, tell me. After all, that’s where we are in our relationship, aren’t we? Or I guess that’s the step we’re working on.”
Artemis turned away, she knew she should call Gaige out, tell her that she shouldn’t say such things, but she didn’t think this was the right time for it, nor the place. After they got somewhere safe, somewhere those animatronic things couldn’t get to, she’d have to tell Gaige that they shouldn’t be together, that she couldn’t keep doing this to her, but right then, she didn’t want to have the fight.
Though if Gaige didn’t back off, she might have to.
Gaige felt the strangeness coming off her girlfriend and couldn’t figure out where it was coming from. Maybe she was starting to feel a bit put off by the fact that they were stuck here or maybe Gaige had been pressing her a bit too hard about them being a couple and she couldn’t figure out how to tell Gaige she wanted them to slow down.
Gaige really didn’t believe it was the latter, after all, they couldn’t really slow down any more than they had. She felt a wave of frustration at the fact that they were the same as they’d been when they’d started a month and a half ago. It wasn’t that Gaige wanted them to jump into bed together, well, in the traditional sense, but she would’ve liked it if Artemis was a little more willing to show that she cared, even if it was something as small as leaning on Gaige when they were like this or holding her hand. She knew anything more than that would be out, but she at least wanted to start moving forward.
But she’d promised Artemis that she’d be in control of how fast they moved, so Gaige was willing to wait a little longer before she said anything.
Trying to get them back on track, she ventured “So, about what you were saying?”
“What was I saying? That you shouldn’t push like that?”
“Push what? What’re you talkin about? I was trying to segue into whatever you were saying before we ran, but now I wanna know what you were meaning?”
“Nothing. Just that, well, you shouldn’t say things like that, about, you know…”
“You mean me teasing you about the bikini? I said I was sorry, didn’t I? Actually, did I? Look, I’m sorry for teasing you. Really.” After a second where Artemis didn’t respond, Gaige continued “Are we good?”
Artemis shrugged, she really wanted to tell Gaige that wasn’t what she’d meant, but she decided to let it slide for the time being.
“Really, are we good?”
“And I guess that’s the best I’m gonna get. So, like I was saying, or meaning, or whatever, what were you saying back there, about the animatronics?”
“I don’t remember.”
“What? You don’t remember?”
“Then what was I talking about?”
“Uh, something about what animatronics were, there being a body in one of them, something like that. So, let’s start there, what’d you mean, there was a body in one?”
“Exactly that, there was a body in one.”
“Give me details, you said they were dead, but were they dead when they were put inside or what?”
“How would I know?”
“I thought you might’ve seen something.”
“In the lightning?”
“Fine, alright, just tell me what you thought you saw.” Gaige wanted to throw her hands up in frustration, but she didn’t want to create any more motion then she had to, not with those mascots looking for them.
Artemis fixed her with a hard look, like she wanted to correct Gaige, to tell her that it wasn’t what she thought, but what she actually saw. Instead, she spoke in a rather flat tone, like she didn’t want to remember what she’d seen and was trying to cut as quick a path from her memory to her mouth as she could.
“What I saw was black, rotting intestines spilling out to splatter the ground in front of it, the stench of which told me that the person had been dead for a while, though it was hard to tell exactly how long since there were other factors involved.
“When the lightning struck, I got a clear look at it for a few seconds, which was a few too many. I could see the remains of its intestines swinging in the wind, all glossy and black and”
“Stop!” Gaige held up her hand, obviously trying not to get sick “Don’t need that level of detail, just what you saw. The basics relevant to what I need to know.”
“And I regret it.”
“Fine. Let’s see. I could see its ribs. Now that I think about it, I don’t think I was the one that exposed them, must’ve happened when it was…turned…built into that? Whatever. Anyway, I could see its ribcage and the muscles were torn, but not recently, like when the wires and stuff were added. The wires went through the muscles in some cases and kinda through things. Oh, and there was metal welded to the bones.”
“Welded to the bone?”
“Yeah, not like it was glued or bolted.”
“Jeez, I hope they were dead when that happened.”
“I don’t think they were.”
“Oh jeez, spare me the gory details, but how do you know that?”
“It was the way the muscles were torn, like they’d still been moving after the cables and wires had gone through them. Plus, the way the bones looked around the weld, like they’d been trying to heal.”
“And you saw all of that in a second? Not that I’m doubting you, but that’s a lot of detail for a glance that short.”
“It kinda seared into my brain, I’ll be lucky if I can get it outta there before I try and sleep again.”
“■■■■, I won’t blame you if you get nightmares. Speakin of which, what kind of nightmare sleeper are you? I mean, do you wake up screaming or thrash about or what? I just wanna know so that I can be prepared, I’m gonna be next to you after all.”
“Don’t really know. I think I’m just the kind that wakes up with a start.”
“Yeah, same. I mean, I’ve never known anyone that wakes up screaming like they always do in the movies. Then again, I haven’t exactly spent the night with…forget it. Moving on. Anything else you wanna tell me?”
“About your sleep habits, what do’ya think I’m talkin about? These…whatevers. The mascots, animatronics, things.”
“Really? You were mentioning something else back there, different kinds or something.”
“Oh yeah. There were two different kinds of them.”
“I’ve seen like six so far.”
“Yeah, there’s the usual one, the Ramaloo. Then there’s the lizard and let’s see, there was the psycho and the Skag, and”
“No, no. Those are different types, granted, but I’m talking about something different.”
“You’re gonna have to explain.”
“I’m trying to.”
Gaige motioned for her to continue rather rudely, but Artemis chose to ignore it “Like I was saying, there’s two kinds of them. One of them, the first kind I fought, is slightly taller and generally worse looking, more rotted and decayed. The second kind, which is what this one was, are shorter, by varying amounts, but usually a couple of inches or so and usually have better fur. I mean newer. Less rotted.”
“Yeah, I have no idea what it means and was hoping you’d have an idea.”
“Hmm, you said earlier that it was hard to tell how long the person inside was there for.”
Gaige rolled her eyes and motioned for her to continue.
“Now you want details? Fine. It depends on a lot of factors. Where they were located before they came after us, like inside or out, how air and water tight they are, things like that all greatly affect the rate of decomposition. But judging by the temperature and humidity around here, plus some other factors, I’d say between six months to a year, with the year being more likely. Why?”
“In other words, significantly less time than the park’s been closed for.”
“Well, since I don’t know how long that’s been, no idea.”
“Trust me, judging by the amount of deterioration around here, it’s been a while.”
“I’ll take your word for it. But that would mean that the…whatever, isn’t that old.”
“So, where’d it come from?”
“If I had to guess, one of those boats we saw out there.” Catching Artemis’s look, she continued “They probably got here like we did, or something similar and then, well, that part I don’t know.”
“That might be what the others were grabbing at us for.”
“That’s what I’m afraid of.”
Gaige leaned back against the back of the mausoleum and tilted her head back, letting the warm rain pound on it before muttering “Jeez, was this place built on some kind of ancient native burial ground?”
“How would I know?”
“The question was rhetorical.”