The Girl With The Yellow Backpack
Dark souls seem to loom within the dense clouds hanging low over the wrought iron gates that separated hell from the rest of the world. There was a time when these gates, gleaming with manmade finish, would open on a hot summer day, inviting masses of bickering parents, fanny packs strapped around their waists, and excited children, laughing and screaming and intoxicated with the scent of cotton candy and the excitement of an adrenaline filled day coursing through their young bodies. Those summer days were long forgotten. Ivy and dry brush reached in and out of the now rusting gates, tangled in a horror of thorns and dying October leaves. Any person brave enough to climb the gates, ignoring the sign condemning trespassers, would find his or herself strolling down a winding path of cracked pavement and a gloomy forest on either side that threatened to engulf strangers wandering into the unknown.
One cold, October day, a trespasser found herself in the strange wonderland of this frightening unknown. Lost and unsure of where to go next, a young girl walked down the path, away from the gates and safety of the outside world. The girl stood hardly more than four feet tall and her pale blonde hair bounced above each shoulder in a carefully braided plait. To her chest she clutched Mr. Teddy, a blonde teddy bear who wore a blue polka dotted bow tie and felt like silk and assurance beneath the girls cold fingers. The girl walked slowly, gazing her big blue and curious eyes towards the dark sky and the shivering limbs of trees that swayed just beneath the clouds. The girl wore a navy blue peacoat that reached her knees covered by black stockings. A small yellow backpack containing schoolbooks and crayons bobbed up and down on her back as she continued further down the path. The little girl's name was Nora, and she was not scared of much.
Nora walked for a long time in silence and only with Mr. Teddy for company. She hoped that the path would soon end as she was dreadfully bored by all of the walking. She entertained herself by skipping over cracks in the pavement and counting each skip she took. She was distracted from her game when she heard the friendly meow of a cat. The black and white cat looked at the girl with bright green eyes and darted quickly into the trees when she approached it with an outreached hand. Disappointed, the little girl looked up for the first time since her skipping game to see one of the most peculiar sights. Before her, a tall sign that read "Fun Land" stood high above several wooden ticket booths. A smile spread across Nora's face as she began to run towards the park entrance. Blinded with excitement, Nora failed to notice the man who sat in one of the shaded ticket booths, following her with his bloodshot eyes.
Beyond the Fun Land sign, Nora stopped her running and looked around her. She was in an amusement park. Only, something was wrong with this park. The smile slid off of Nora's face as she realized that the park was empty. She listened as the wind groaned and rusty roller coasters that stood colorfully in the distance creaked. She was in the front of the park, where various abandoned game booths stood. The booths were littered with empty popcorn buckets and soda cups. The toys within were dirty and tired looking; bears resembling Mr. teddy were stained with dirt, some of them missing eyes or losing their stuffing through lose stitches. Nora became very sad looking into the booths of abandoned toys and she hugged Mr. Teddy even closer to her chest.
Nora continued hesitantly through the maze of booths. There was once a time when these booths, on a warm July night, glittered and dazzled the eyes of the young with the brightest shades of red and pretty toys that would be loved by children forever. Teenage couples would pass the booths hand in hand and a pretty young girl of seventeen would cast her brown eyes up to her date, who would obligingly pay a dollar or fifty cents to win his girl's heart with an oversized stuffed monkey or a large bag of cotton candy. The girl would happily stroll away with her date tossing her hair back as she laughed and they would kiss before running to the tallest roller coaster they could find, the swirling red lights of the booths trailing after them in the night.
Nora shivered as a cold breeze ruffled the bottom of her small peacoat. She stepped over the large ceramic head of a clown, its red nose was smashed and its blue and yellow eyeshadow was rather grimy. Nora did not like the rolling clown head and wondered where the rest of its body was as it smiled up at her with a welcoming grin that promised fun and jokes. She hurried away from the clown head, leaving it to roll back and forth at the wind's will. Nora was not pleased with the outcome of the park, but thought that if she continued farther into it, she might find a friend and a Ferris wheel. She passed an orange roller coaster and walked towards the coaster car. She jumped as she thought she saw a young girl who looked rather like herself sitting in the front of the car, but on a second glance, Nora saw that the car was empty. She shrugged her shoulders and continued walking, determined to find some company to point her in the right direction.
As the sky grew darker, the wandering little girl came upon a carousel. Her eyes lit up at the intricate purple and gold designs that decorated the top half of the carousel, but she was most disappointed when she saw that the rabbits and horses upon which she could have seated herself were decaying and lifeless. Nora was suddenly overwhelmed by this big empty park and not knowing how to find her way out. She sat on the ground and hugged her little bear close to her. Nora was a strange little girl and although she never cried, she longed deeply for the soothing voice of her mother. She held Mr. Teddy between her hands and looked down at him. She thought of home and of her other toys and hoped that she would find her way home before her mother made dinner. As Nora had this thought, she heard an odd noise. It sounded like an electrical sort of buzzing, like something was being start up. She looked up at the carousel and hopped onto her feet when she realized it had begun to move. The purple and gold pattern was lit up by the white lights that came to life all around the carousel. A pretty french tune began to serenade the empty and darkening park, filling little Nora with Joy. She watched in amazement as the carousel slowly spun around and gave life to all of the pretty animals. The carousel spun around and Nora began to sway to the music, hypnotized by the only beautiful thing she had seen today.
Then, riding on a tall white horse, Nora saw the first person she had seen in Fun Land. As the horse bobbed up and down and came closer to Nora's sight, she looked at the strange man atop of it. His long face was smeared in thin, cracked paint. Small blotches of red stained the mans cheeks and three black lines stemmed from beneath each of his red eyes. His black hair, sticking out in all directions, was curly and wiry. He watched Nora and did not take his eyes off of her. The horse disappeared to the other side of the carousel and Nora waited for it to come back around again. When it came back around, Nora saw that he was a tall man with very long, thin legs that were dressed in purple pinstripes. Despite his thin legs and close fitting pants, his black shoes were quite clunky looking. Perhaps his mother doesn't know what size shoe he wears, Nora thought. His jacket was purple as well, though torn and ragged and sporting dark stains. Right as the man was passing in front of Nora, the music stopped and all of the pretty carousel lights disappeared. The man hopped off his horse and hopped off of the carousel, striding right up to little Nora and taking a very dramatic bow, so low that his nose almost touched the ground.
"Mademoiselle," the strange man said. "Welcome!"
Nora said nothing. She felt suddenly afraid.
"I am afraid that Fun Land has not seen a visitor as charming as your young self in quite some time," the man said. Nora took a step back. The man's breath reeked of alcohol. "What's your name, Miss?" His voice dripped with faux pleasantries.
"Nora," she said quietly.
The man took a sharp inhale and stood very straight, a sly and untrustworthy smile widening across his face. "Miss Nora," he exhaled, emphasizing the "s" like a snake and drawing out the vowels in her name. "I am most delighted. Call me...hmm. You may call me Mr. Fun." He smiled again. "After all, I am the only clown here!" He exclaimed, stretching his long arms out.
The clown's smile quickly faded as he saw that Nora was not amused. She was holding Mr. Teddy close and her eyes were very wide.
"Do you not like clowns, mon petite cheri?" He said softly, crouching down to her level. Nora said nothing.
From his jacket, the clown pulled a wilting rose. He offered it to the little girl. Nora didn't like his long, knobbly fingers. She took the rose anyway.
"Mr. Clown," she said, twirling the dead flower, "Do you know how to get home from here?"
"You do not want to stay?" He said. "It is very lonely here, and we could keep each other company, you know."
Again, Nora said nothing. She expected the clown to tell her which way home was. The clown looked very sad and his red eyes seemed to swell up as he looked at her.
"I think we are very similar," he said. "You and I are lonely souls, wandering through this abandoned place with not one friend to be had." He came closer and Nora jumped back. His face was very close to her ear. "We could ride the roller coasters, you know. Make face paintings and balloon animals! Won't you be my friend, little Nora?"
Nora nodded her head, eager to get the clown face away from her own. Perhaps if she became his friend, he would lead her home, she thought.
The clown's grin reappeared on his dirty face. "Excellent," he said. The clown reached out for Nora's little hand with his own and she took it. The two began to stroll through the amusement park into the darkening night.
According to legend, anyone brave enough to enter Fun Land may never return. But, the few survivors there have been have claimed to see awful things. The once gleaming Ferris wheel is still spinning around in circles on it's own, screeching like the screams of children into the cold and silent air. One poor soul even claimed to have seen a girl wearing a yellow backpack seated in the Ferris wheel, a most despondent and sad look upon her face and a teddy bear in her arms.
Some claim to have seen a man dressed in a purple suit spinning around on a carousel or riding around the debris of the park on a unicycle, grinning at passerby and offering stale cotton candy or wilted flowers. As for those who did not make it out alive, they were never seen again. Some say that those lost children have joined the clown man and the little girl with the yellow backpack, doomed to roam the desolate Fun Land forever.