Murderland Excerpt

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murderland

Chapter 1

He was doing the math in his head. $52.95 for each adult to get in. That included Joey. Since when was a twelve year old an adult? That was almost $160. Add in the twins at thirty bucks each, the usual and customary tourist taxes, and Jim was already out a cool $240. And that was just to walk in the gate.

Per day.

Of course once you’re in, you have to do things. There are the rides, sure. If you can endure the hour-plus wait for each one. But there are a million other little things that get hawked everywhere you turn. Countless street vendors and plastic-smiling guest service representatives, all with their hands out. And you can’t turn them down, not with the kids begging, pleading. Please, Daddy? Pleeeeease? After all, you’re on vacation. So you purchase the bonus backstage tours that don’t really show you anything and family photos to commemorate the day and ridiculous hats you will never wear in public again and incredibly cheap souvenirs that get lost or broken before you even get on the plane to go home. And don’t forget the milkshakes, sodas, hamburgers, cotton candy, and WilberBars. Plus the hotel and the airfare and the rental car. And the nighttime movies and the restaurant dinners. And the tolls. Jesus, you can’t cross the street in Orlando without handing some joker a quarter.

Jim figured that a week spent in the happiest place on earth was costing him upwards of ten grand. He was utterly miserable.

“Daddy. Daddy, I’m hungry.”

Jim looked down at his daughter Stefanie. Or was it Gwen? Damn, why did Claire insist on dressing them exactly the same? It wasn’t cute anymore. It was just confusing. “Hungry? You just ate.”

“But I want a WilberBar.”

“But you just ate.”

Claire shot him a reproachful look. “Jim,” she said.

“Jesus, Claire. She just ate like…” Jim looked at his watch. “…like fifteen minutes ago. I spent seven bucks on her hamburger, which, may I remind you, she did not finish because she was full.”

“Don’t be such a tightwad,” said Claire.

“She was full!”

“Daddy. Daddy, I want a WilberBar, too.” This time it was Gwen.

“Me too,” said Joey.

Jim closed his eyes.

“Y’know, I could go for something sweet myself,” said Claire.

Shoulders slumped, Jim walked over towards the ice cream stand where some guy dressed like a cowboy was selling WilberBars. As Jim walked, he tried to calculate how much time in minutes he would have to spend at work to pay for these ice creams. He ordered four WilberBars and a cup of water for himself. He paid for them with a VISA card. As he signed his name he winced. The thought of needing a credit card to buy four ice creams was almost too much. It worked out to just over thirty-two minutes of work time.

He sat on a bench sipping his water while his kids climbed on the life-size Corral Pal figures at the edge of Prairie Park. Twenty-one hours until he was on a plane back to Illinois. Claire sat next to him, surveying the park map.

“We haven’t been on Prospector Mountain yet,” she said. “And, according to Frommer’s, the early afternoon is the best time to avoid lines. The big Roundup Rodeo is in ten minutes and almost two thousand people fit in that stadium. That means fewer people in lines. Since we saw the Rodeo on Tuesday, I think we should cut through Lonesome Pass here–”

Claire stopped suddenly when she heard Stefanie scream. Jim got up and hurried over to where Stefanie stood next to a life-sized statue of Wilberforce the Wilberhorse. An audio recording was broadcasting in a continuous loop from a speaker in the statue’s mouth. Wiberforce’s familiar baritone sounded incessantly: “Huh-Howdy, Pardners! Are yuh itchin’ fer some fun?”

“What’s wrong, Stef?” asked Jim. “What happened? Is Joey picking on you again?”

Stefanie, now crying, pointed at the sugary sand at her feet. Jim looked down and saw the remains of a half-eaten WilberBar lying on the ground. He quickly calculated the cost of the wasted ice cream. Then he added in the inevitable replacement.

He reached down and grabbed the ice cream stick so he could toss it in a nearby trashcan. But when his hand touched the sand, he felt something odd. It was soft and rubbery. He moved the ice cream bar aside and recoiled, actually stumbling over onto his backside. He saw why Stefanie had screamed.

“Kids – go sit with your mother. Now!” he barked.

Claire looked over. “Jim, what is it?”

“Claire, call park security. And the cops.”

“What is it?” Claire said, the concern in her voice growing.

“Oh, man…” said Jim. There, buried in the playground sand of Orlando’s third-largest theme park, was the face of a human corpse.

Copyright © 2005 by Thomas B. Cavanagh. All rights reserved.

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