Daniel was a good kid. He’d just finished school for the summer and wanted to earn a little cash to help out his parents, so he started working here at Terrorland, a struggling little amusement park in the Kent countryside.
Years ago, they built the park in a tiny village with a strange history. The original village was built across miles of Saxon graves, and now, the park rests upon the restless souls. It was basically on top of the village, with only the old manor house left standing.
Villagers were more than happy to sell their homes and land to the developers, but the developers kept the manor house standing, because it already belonged to the future owner of the park, Jonathan Frank.
The manor house had been empty for decades. It was built in the 1800’s, and was passed down through the Frank family until it reached Jonathan. He would give the same speech to all the new recruits, about how the house had always terrified him as a kid, so when it finally became his, he turned it into a horror themed amusement park. We never knew if it was true or not, but I suppose it didn’t matter to us at the time.
The manor house had nothing in it, apart from the sound system. It was at the centre of the park, so you could see it from the whole park, and it was rigged up to make weird noises, howling, screaming, gargling and so on, to freak out the customers. Jonathan would stand outside it and just glare at it some days, and I could never work out whether it really scared him, or whether it was all part of the act.
I suppose it’s smart to profit from your childhood phobias, and it gave me a job, so I didn’t think much of it, but the park had a lot of problems. We were hard for the public to reach, so getting customers was a challenge and even when we had customers, there were only a few rides really.
There were the teacups, the waltzers, the big slide, a very disappointing rollercoaster and, of course, the ghost train, all splashed with tacky, supposedly spooky decor. There wasn’t much for the customers to do so they didn’t tend to stay very long.
Jonathan would try his best. He’d wander the park, telling bored guests about the village’s history, all about the graveyards and the many villagers who had convinced themselves that they’d been haunted. It didn’t help much, but he tried, I guess.
We also had high staff turnover, for a number of reasons. The wages weren’t good, Jonathan was a pain to work for, and some of the staff would buy into his silly stories, so they’d only last a few months before they left.
Sometimes, I’d hear weird noises when nobody else was around, or I’d see a shadow out of the corner of my eye, and it would freak me out for a second, before I calmed myself down and realised that ghosts, ghouls and monsters weren’t real. Some of my colleagues hadn’t managed to get to that point, but I’d gotten used to the weird atmosphere of the park. That was all it was after all, a weird atmosphere.
I’d been at the park for about a year before Daniel arrived, and I was allocated to him as a mentor. I didn’t mind, because, like I said, he was a good kid. He was eager to learn and he cared about giving the customers a great day out, so I was happy to work with him.
I showed him around the park, and even though I shouldn’t have, I let him have a look inside the Manor House. When I’d given him the tour, I bought him lunch and we sat on the steps of the manor with chips and milkshakes, watching the park fill with guests.
He was a little freaked out by the guy in the window, on the top floor, but I reassured him that it was just a cutout, or some kind of hologram.
I’d never been sure of how Jonathan actually did it, but he had never paid me enough to wonder.
At first, we were paired together at the refreshments kiosk. It was pretty easy work, frying up chips, preparing ice creams, pouring drinks and keeping the guests fed and watered when they weren’t on the rides, so I had no complaints.
We’d chat about life outside of work, movies, tv shows and stuff like that, and it was fine, as long as we didn’t get too busy. It was a hot summer’s day, and an unusually busy day in the park when things changed. I suppose that I didn’t know at the time what was about to happen, nobody did, but both of our lives were about to change, forever.
Jonathan approached the kiosk, pushing past the long line of customers who were impatiently waiting to order ice cream and poked his head through the counter.
“Sophie’s just quit, so I need someone to cover the ghost train.” He turned to Daniel and gestured behind him, towards the entrance of the ghost train. “You’re up newbie.” Daniel smiled enthusiastically, removing his apron and heading for the door of the kiosk. “You’re alright here on your own, right Chloe?” I nodded as Daniel left the kiosk, with a jolly little wave, and ran excitedly towards the ghost train.
I’d worked on the ghost train before, but I’d never been on it myself. As brave as I often pretended to be, it had always freaked me out a little. Every few trips, the worker needs to inspect it, and as crazy as it sounds, I could swear to you, I saw somebody or something in there. It was right at the end of the ride, on the edge of the track, just a shadow up ahead of me, not saying a word, not moving, just… staring.
Maybe it was just my imagination, maybe it was one of the animatronics, but whatever it was, it always seemed to be there. It wasn’t on the schematics of the ride, and nobody else had ever mentioned it, so I just tried to tell myself it was a shadow, or something.
With each inspection, I dreaded reaching the final room before the exit and seeing the strange shadow. As time went on, it seemed to get clearer. Maybe it was just my eyes adjusting to the darkness, but whatever it was seemed like it wanted me to see it.
Its skin was grey and covered mostly by black robes, and it’s thin, spindly fingers were clutched around a lever. Thick, long black hair covered it’s face, but beneath a few strands was a smile, beaming and bright.
I know that it’s cowardly, but in the end, I stopped going as far into the ride to check it. As boring as the rides were, they were well made, so the inspections felt a little redundant. There hadn’t been many issues, so I didn’t feel too bad about my choice, in the end.
Daniel seemed to really enjoy it. He came over to the kiosk during his lunch break to tell me how much fun he’d been having while I slaved away behind the kiosk, and I couldn’t help but smile, happy to see him getting on so well. I didn’t see him as often after that, but we were still friendly. I’d watch the guests go in and out of the ghost train as I worked, and sometimes I’d wonder what it was that made their faces so pale when they got off the ride. I didn’t know then, but I would find out the truth sooner, rather than later.
Daniel had been working on the ghost train for about a week when he came to me, his eyes wide, and his face pale, just like the guests. I’d only just arrived for my shift, but he’d been working a few hours.
“They disappeared!” He cried, grabbing my arm and pulling me along after him, in the direction of the ghost train. “I talked to Jonathan and he doesn’t believe me, but they’re gone!” We came to a stop just outside the ghost train, and Daniel leant against the walls of the control cubicle, breathless. “All of them Chloe, every single one of them vanished.”
I stared at him blankly, looking around at the park. It wasn’t busy, but it was hardly empty.
“Who vanished Daniel?” He didn’t answer, reaching through the window of the control cubicle and pulling out a teddy bear. “Who do you mean?”
He pressed the small bear into my hands as he got his breath back.
“I put the guests on the train, they all went in…” His voice dimmed to a hushed whisper as he placed his hands on my shoulders and stared intently into my eyes. “When the ride was done, all the carriages came out empty.” I stared back, before glancing over his shoulder at the ghost train, empty and still. “The only thing I found inside was this bear. Everyone was gone.”
It didn’t make sense, but he seemed sure.
“That’s impossible, they couldn’t get to the inspection entrance without the key, and…” He shrugged, grabbing my hand and pulling me towards the inspection entrance. “Oh no! Daniel no!” He ignored my protests and began unlocking the door. “I’m not going in there!” He turned towards me, his face fixed with a puzzled frown. “I just… don’t like it.” He rolled his eyes, throwing the inspection door open and yanked me through it.
The inside of the ride was quiet and still. Darkness stretched across the tracks as we wandered the trail that the ride took, and I tried not to think too much about how uncomfortable I was.
“They must be in here somewhere.” Daniel grumbled, striding ahead of me and peeking behind each animatronic and jump scare mechanism as we went. “Did anything like this happen while you were on the train?” I shook my head, clutching the teddy bear close to my chest. “Chloe?” It suddenly occurred to me that we were in the dark, so he likely hadn’t seen my nod.
“Oh… no, nothing like this.” We were beginning to reach the end of the track, and I dug my nails into the bear and shuffled nervously behind him.
“Did you ever see something at the end of the ride?” I stopped, the bear crushed against my chest as I stared at the door up ahead that led to the last section of the ride. “Like a weird smiling guy?” I didn’t know how to respond, but at the very least, I knew that I hadn’t imagined it. Daniel turned back to me, a nervous look on his face. “What happens if you pull the lever?” I wasn’t sure, as I never had, but Daniel looked like he really needed an answer, so I tried to think of something to reassure him.
“I’m sure it will be fine, mate.” I did my best to seem calm, putting my hand on his shoulder and smiling up at him, but he still looked anxious, and if I was being honest, I felt how he looked. “I mean, it’s probably just something to spook the guests, so, I wouldn’t…”
The door behind us suddenly flew open, the lights around us burst into life, flashing manically as the air filled with howls and screams. We both stared around us, horrified as the ride seemingly activated.
“Chloe! Move!” Daniel yelled, shoving me from the track, as a carriage headed our way. It just missed us and sped past, down through the next door. We sat on the floor by the edge of the track, breathless and confused. “We’ll need to head back and turn it off.” I nodded, not sure how it had been turned on in the first place, when we had the keys. “It must be malfunctioning, or something.” I nodded again, getting to my feet and offering him my hand to help him up.
“We should get Jonathan, something weird is going on.” I whispered, pulling him from the floor. “The guests might have stolen the spare keys to mess around with.” We began walking back towards the inspection door when I heard keys jangling behind me.
“I keep both sets on me, to make sure they don’t get pinched.” I turned back to Daniel, watching him dangle both sets of keys with a confused expression. “So how did they…” Over his shoulder was a smile, hidden behind thick, long black hair, I looked up, my heart pounding as I saw the creature from the end of the ride, one of his skeletal hands landing softly on Daniel’s shoulder. He jumped letting out a panicked yelp. I tried to grab his hand, but felt my own being pulled away.
The lights began flickering again as a crowd of pale, skeletal soldiers descended on me, their armour clinked as they marched towards me, pulling me back from the track as Daniel struggled helplessly against the creature.
“Daniel!” I called out to him but it was no use. The door behind us opened and a carriage burst through. The creature bundled Daniel into it, and they set off through the next door. The cloaked figures dashed after them, and slipped through the door before it slammed shut.
Daniel’s helpless screams faded as the carriage got further away, and I scratched and clawed at the door, desperately trying to get it open but heartbroken as I realised it wasn’t possible.
I wandered back through the rest of the ride, tears in my eyes, jumping at every sound and shadow until I reached the entrance, crawling through the door and falling down onto the ground, exhausted and terrified.
I thought I’d never see Daniel again, but as I looked up from the floor, to the windows of the manor, I saw a crowd of people pounding against the glass, silent screams across their faces, and in the middle, reaching out a hand to me with a frightened stare was Daniel.