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FROM THEIR SEATS on the thick green grass so perfect it could almost be fake, Joe and Leanne took in the Haunted Fernden view stretching below before them. Off to the side, a bright green tent was pitched. Hers.
“It’s beautiful,” Joe said. In the distance could be heard mad howls of glee as the train picked up speed and went through the trees. Leanne leaned back on an elbow.
“What should we do for dinner?” she said.
“That’s a good question. I think they have some places to eat in the middle of town. There used to be real restaurants down there. I can barely remember—I guess I was about two or three—my mom and dad thought it was a pretty big deal when the town got bought up for Redwoodland.”
“Big deal in a good way?”
“No, big deal in a bad way.”
“Well, I hate to change the subject but it’s five-thirty now. What do you say we head over and find something? I’m starving.”
“I don’t suppose we need to take our stuff with us?”
“I’m just taking my card. I’m not worried about leaving my pack in the tent. Everything’s on camera. Besides, I haven’t really seen anybody else around.”
“I saw one couple walking through town.”
It sounded to Leanne like Joe nearly said another couple. He almost did, and it almost spoiled something magical and dream-like by being manifest and rushed. Neither was attached. Both felt relaxed. They knew everything about each other and nothing at all, and when Joe realized how uncharacteristically quickly the clicking was going for him—as indeed it was for her—there came to his mind rich with resonance and sounding just like Taj Mahal an inner voice which said, “Everybody’s got to change sometime.”
It was the off season. Also, people were having to save more and more longer and longer to finally get to go in the summer when the cool clean air of the tall green trees was a strange safe haven, and if people weren’t spending their lives saving for summer then it was winter they were saving for at Redwoodland instead. The park was far from empty. Still, the colorful homes and shops of the stately Victorian town, simultaneously possessed of quaintness and majesty, frozen spotless in bygone time, today all ran for Joe and Leanne.
They reached a restaurant. A menu placed in an ornate window with white and blue trim was available for perusal. Both agreed it looked good, but were surprised to find inside that the sounds of cups and utensils clinking in a low hum of chatter belonged to the animatronic guests, activated when Joe and Leanne broke an invisible beam not far outside the door.
Off in a corner played a player piano. Joe and Leanne grabbed a couple of trays and examined the foods displayed in windows to be unlocked by swiped cards. Joe got the Zesty Herb Chicken Supreme dinner plate, a chocolate mousse and a Guinness. Leanne went with the Dungeoness Delight dinner plate, a chocolate mousse and a glass of chardonnay. In each case, the removed selection was immediately replaced by another exactly like it from behind.
Upstairs at a balcony table the lighting was low, just a few tables lit with what appeared to be candlelight dimmed by the tinted glass of small round candle holders glowing on the middle of each table. Joe and Leanne sat down next to an animatronic family.
A turtleneck-wearing man sporting sideburns and a perm sat opposite a woman with feathered hair and a large open collar. The kids, a boy and a girl, were hanging on the ornate wooden railing, swinging their lifted knees and hanging with the rail under their arms. The couple seemed to have just recently received their drinks.
“By the way dear,” said the woman, “did you watch ‘The Bob Newhart Show?’”
“No dear,” said the man. “I watched ‘Starsky and Hutch.’”
“I can’t wait to watch ‘The Brady Bunch,’” proclaimed the beaming animatronic boy. “I can’t wait to watch ‘Scooby-Doo,’” announced the smiling animatronic girl.
After dinner Joe and Leanne took in the theater. Every step of the way, the necessary sights and sounds were activated, effects tripped by unseen beams broken by the strolling pair.
While they watched the Fernden Theater production of “Camelot”—the animatronic cast all convincingly local—the only thing Joe could think about was whether he would be seeing any action that night. He hated to reduce the magic down to bare terms, but he really did want to know. It seemed like she was putting off some heavy signals in that direction, but then again, perhaps she was merely feeling comfortable and friendly, and totally capable of setting him straight in a firm and unmistakable manner at any given moment should he take any liberties and instigate the need to define clear boundaries. Which would suck to have to hear.
“It says here in the playbill we’re welcome to explore the theater,” said Leanne. “Want to?”
“Sounds excellent,” said Joe. “Let’s explore.”
Backstage in the wardrobe area, upstairs in the costume department, then back onstage with the animatronic cast singing about how there used to be a really great place and time seemed strangely depressing to Joe, mostly just from still not knowing, but he brightened up heading back to the cemetery when Leanne crooked an arm through his and walked with him that way all the way to the top of the graveyard’s biggest crypt.
It was night, though due to the lights not especially dark, and had been a big day, but Redwoodland never closed and Joe and Leanne were hardly tired at all. The crypt was made of some sort of stone, flat on top with a raised lip running the circumference on which they sat. Except for a large faux two-handled concrete urn at each corner, the top of the crypt was bare.
“So are you going to sleep in the tent with me tonight or what?” Leanne said.
“Well, I kind of figured.”
“That’s true. Do you…want to head on over?”
“What is wrong with you? You have to say the one thing that ruins the entire evening?” Leanne laughed. “Look at those stars.”
The stars were not as bright as they used to look. Redwoodland never closed.
“Okay,” she said. “I guess we might as well head on over.” She took him by the hand. “Did you just hear that sound?”
“Sounds like one of the effects in there must be broken.”
“They have scary robot things in the crypts?”
“Well, I guess so. Sure, why not?”
Whatever it was, it certainly sounded odd. They stepped from the top of the crypt to a low wall near some stone stairs and went around to the front where they tried to peer in through the bars of an iron door.
“I can’t see anything,” she said. Now the noise had stopped.
“Me either,” he agreed. They gave it another moment.
“All right.” She took him by the hand again. “We may as well go get the damn thing over with. But remember, clothes on, no touching . . . .”
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