This story comes courtesy of my latest meetup with Write It Up! Burbank, with such prompts as “sci-fi,” “Yogi Bear,” and “jumping off a cliff.” Somehow, my brain constructed this zany dark narrative.
Playtime’s Over, Ranger Smith, by Alexander Paul Willging
Word Count: 589
I never in all my years imagined that my life would end this way.
Picture this: a young, well-built, and dare I say handsome park ranger, hanging from the end of a waterslide over a chasm full of sharp, jagged rocks. And as I’m struggling to keep my grip, as the servos in my prosthetic right arm whir and squeal, I can’t help but wonder how I got into this position.
It all started six weeks ago. I’d been hired to handle the night shift at Walton’s Virtual Reality Playground. It had been converted from an apple orchard in the heart of New England, with moving sidewalks, holographic theaters, and a thousand other colorful attractions for all ages.
The night shift wasn’t too bad—at first. But then I’d start hearing kids laughing when the park was supposed to be closed. I’d spot something darting past a security camera, but when I went to investigate, nothing was there.
Or so I’d thought.
The worst part was dealing with the cartoon characters. Every theater used an artificial intelligence program to recreate talking, walking holograms of everyone’s favorite toons, from Bugs Bunny to Goofy and Pluto. It wasn’t just their voices or their gaudy color schemes that got to me, night after night.
At night, the toons came out to play. Pulling pranks whenever they got the chance. A tripped wire here and there, followed by a cream pie outside my door—if not thrown directly in my face. I appealed to my manager, but he waved me off as being overly dramatic.
“Besides, Rick,” he’d say, clapping my shoulder, “it’s just harmless fun. Who’s gonna get hurt?”
Cut to me, pulling a Tuesday night shift at 11:31 p.m. I leave my post to investigate a noise somewhere out on the Eastern Pavilion. I shine my flashlight at a mysterious lump on the ground. It’s making eating noises over a torn-up picnic basket.
“Hey!” I call out.
“Uh oh!” a low, goofy voice answers.
I catch a glimpse of brown fur and giant, lambent eyes before I hear the sound of scurrying feet and watch as a six-foot-tall cartoon bear scampers off into the nearet service corridor.
When I give chase, I reach for my phone to call the incident in. But all I get is static.
Growling, I rush around the next corridor—except the floor gives out from underneath me. I plunge through a trapdoor that I’m certain wasn’t there before, straight into a fast-moving deluge of freshwater.
Of course, I realize too late.
These toons, with their AI interfaces, are infiltrating every inch of the park. I can’t do anything about it except sputter and fight for balance as the water carries me down a long tunnel with no light.
When I break out into open air, I have just enough time to grab onto the edge of the waterslide. The water continues to pour out into a murky chasm, somewhere far from the park grounds.
Above the slide, I hear a chuckle. That same goofy voice calls down, “Quite a ride, huh?”
I look up at my assailant. Like I said, he’s a six-foot-tall bear with brown fur and big eyes, as well as a hat, and a bow tie. He gives me that cheeky grin that Hanna-Barbera patented years ago.
“You’re…” I struggle to keep up my strength, but the water continues to push me down. “You’re insane!”
Before he turns to leave, Yogi Bear laughs.
“Naw,” he says, “I’m just smarter than the average bear…”
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