Illustration by Idiots’Books
Death Waits was living the dream. He took people’s money and directed them to the ride’s entrance, making them feel welcome, talking ride trivia. Some of his pals spotted him at the desk and enviously demanded to know how he came to be sitting on the other side of the wicket, and he told them the incredible story of the fatkins who’d simply handed over the reins.
This, this was how you ran a ride. None of that artificial gloopy sweetness that defined the Disney experience: instead, you got a personal, informal, human-scale experience. Chat people up, find out their hopes and dreams, make admiring noises at the artifacts they’d brought to add to the ride, kibbitz about where they might place them….
Around him, the bark of the vendors. One of them, an old lady in a blinding white sun-dress, came by to ask him if he wanted anything from the coffee-cart.
There had been a time, those first days when they’d rebuilt Fantasyland, when he’d really felt like he was part of the magic. No, The Magic, with capital letters. Something about the shared experience of going to a place with people and having an experience with them, that was special. It must be why people went to church. Not that Disney had been a religion for him, exactly. But when he watched the park he’d grown up attending take on the trappings that adorned his favorite clubs, his favorite movies and games—man, it had been a piece of magic.
And to be a part of it. To be an altar boy, if not a priest, in that magical cathedral they’d all built together in Orlando!
But it hadn’t been real. He could see that now.
At Disney, Death Waits had been a customer, and then an employee (“castmember”— he corrected himself reflexively). What he wanted, though, was to be a citizen. A citizen of The Magic— which wasn’t a Magic Kingdom, since kingdoms didn’t have citizens, they had subjects.
He started to worry about whether he was going to get a lunch break by about two, and by three he was starving. Luckily that’s when Lester came back. He thanked Death profusely, which was nice, but he didn’t ask Death to come back the next day.
“Um, when can I come back and do this some more?”
“You want to do this?”
“I told you that this morning—I love it. I’m good at it, too.”
Lester appeared to think it over. “I don’t know, man. I kind of put you in the hot-seat today, but I don’t really have the authority to do it. I could get into trouble—”
Death waved him off. “Don’t sweat it, then,” he said with as much chirp as he could muster, which was precious fucking little. He felt like his heart was breaking. It was worse than when he’d finally asked out a co-worker who’d worked the Pinocchio Village Haus and she had looked so horrified that he’d made a joke out of it, worried about a sexual harassment complaint.
Lester clearly caught some of that, for he thought some more and then waved his hands. “Screw her anyway. Meet me here at ten tomorrow. You’re in.”
Death wasn’t sure he’d heard him right. “You’re kidding.”
“No man, you want it, you got it. You’re good at it, like you said.”
“Holy—thanks. Thank you so much. I mean it. Thank you!” He made himself stop blithering. “Nice to meet you,” he said finally. “Have a great evening!” Yowch. He was speaking castmemberese. Nice one, Darren.
He’d saved enough out of his wages from his first year at Disney to buy a little Shell electric two-seater, and then he’d gone way into debt buying kits to mod it to look like a Big Daddy Roth coffin-dragster. The car sat alone at the edge of the lot. Around him, a slow procession of stall-operators, with their arms full, headed for the freeway and across to the shantytown.
Meanwhile, he nursed his embarrassment and tried to take comfort in the attention that his gleaming, modded car evinced. He loved the decorative spoilers, the huge rear tires, the shining muffler-pipes running alongside the bulging running-boards. He stepped in and gripped the bat-shaped gearshift, adjusted the headstone-shaped headrest, and got rolling. It was a long drive back home to Melbourne, and he was reeling from the day’s events. He wished he’d gotten someone to snap a pic of him at the counter. Shit.
He pulled off at a filling station after a couple hours. He needed a piss and something with guarana if he was going to make it the rest of the way home. It was all shut down, but the automat was still open. He stood before the giant, wall-sized glassed-in refrigerator and dithered over the energy-drinks. There were chocolate ones, salty ones, colas and cream sodas, but a friend had texted him a picture of a semi-legal yogurt smoothie with taurine and modafinil that sounded really good.
He spotted it and reached to tap on the glass and order it just as the fat guy came up beside him. Fat guys were rare in the era of fatkins, it was practically a fashion-statement to be chunky, but this guy wasn’t fashionable. He had onion-breath that Death could smell even before he opened his mouth, and he was wearing a greasy windbreaker and baggy jeans. He had a comb-over and needed a shave.
“What the hell are you supposed to be?”
“I’m not anything,” Death Waits said. He was used to shit-kickers and tourists gawping at his shock of black hair with its viridian green highlights, his white face-paint and eyeliner, his contact lenses that made his whole eyes into zombie-white cue-balls. You just had to ignore them.
“You don’t look like nothing to me. You look like something. Something you’d dress up a six year old as for Halloween. I mean, what the fuck?” He was talking quietly and without rancor, but he had a vibe like a basher. He must have arrived at the deserted rest-stop while Death Waits was having a piss.
Death Waits looked around for a security cam. These rest-stops always had a license-plate cam at the entrance and a couple of anti-stickup cams around the cashier. He spotted the camera. Someone had hung a baseball hat over its lens.
He felt his balls draw up toward his abdomen and his breathing quicken. This guy was going to fucking mug him. Shit shit shit. Maybe take his car.
“OK,” Death said, “nice talking to you.” He tried to step around the guy, but he side-stepped to block Death’s path, then put a hand on Death’s shoulder— it was strong. Death had been mugged once before, but the guy hadn’t touched him; he’d just told him, fast and mean, to hand over his wallet and phone and then had split.
“I’m not done,” the guy said.
“Look, take my wallet, I don’t want any trouble.” Apart from two glorious sucker-punches at Sammy, Death had never thrown a punch, not since he’d flunked out of karate lessons at the local strip-mall when he was twelve. He liked to dance and he could run a couple miles without getting winded, but he’d seen enough real fights to know that it was better to get away than to try to strike out if you didn’t know what you were doing.
“You don’t want any trouble, huh?”
Death held out his wallet. He could cancel the cards. Losing the cash would hurt now that he didn’t have a day-job, but it was better than losing his teeth.
The guy smiled. His onion breath was terrible.
“I want trouble.” Without any pre-amble or wind-up, the guy took hold of the earring that Death wore in his tragus, the little knob of cartilage on the inside of his ear, and briskly tore it out of Death’s head.
It was so sudden, the pain didn’t come at once. What came first was a numb feeling, the blood draining out of his cheeks and the color draining out of the world, and his brain double- and triple-checking what had just happened. Did someone just tear a piece out of my ear? Tear? Ear?
Then the pain roared in, all of his senses leaping to keen awareness before maxing out completely. He heard a crashing sound like the surf, smelled something burning, a light appeared before his eyes, an acrid taste flooded his mouth and his ear felt like there was a hot coal nestled in it, charring the flesh.
With pain came the plan: get the fuck out of there. He took a step back and turned to run, but there was something tangled in his feet—the guy had bridged the distance between them quickly, very quickly, and had hooked a foot around his ankle. He was going to fall over. He landed in a runner’s crouch and tried to start running, but a boot caught him in the butt, like an old-timey comedy moment, and he went sprawling, his chin smacking into the pavement, his teeth clacking together with a sound that echoed in his head.
“Get the fuck up,” the guy said. He was panting a little, sounding excited. That sound was the scariest thing so far. This guy wanted to kill him. He could hear that. He was some kind of truck-stop murderer.
Death’s fingers were encrusted in heavy silver rings—stylized skulls, a staring eyeball, a coffin-shaped poisoner’s ring that he sometimes kept artificial sweetener in, an ankh, an alien head with insectile eyes— and he balled his hands into fists, thinking of everything he’d ever read about throwing a punch without breaking your knuckles. Get close. Keep your fist tight, thumb outside. Don’t wind up or he’ll see it coming.
He slowly turned over. The guy’s eyes were in shadow. His belly heaved with each excited pant. From this angle, Death could see the guy had a gigantic boner. The thought of what that might bode sent him into overdrive. He couldn’t afford to let this guy beat him up.
He backed up to the rail that lined the walkway and pulled himself upright. He cowered in on himself as much as he could, hoping that the guy would close with him, so he could get in one good punch. He muttered indistinctly, softly, hoping to make the man lean in. His ring-encrusted hands gripped the railings.
The guy took a step toward him. His lips were wet, his eyes shone. He had a hand in his pocket and Death realized that getting his attacker close in wouldn’t be smart if he had a knife.
The hand came out. It was pudgy and stub-fingered, and the fingernails were all gnawed down to the quick. Death looked at it. Spray-can. Pepper-spray? Mace? He didn’t wait to find out. He launched himself off the railing at the fat man, going for his wet, whistling cave of a mouth.
The man nodded as he came for him and let him paste one on him. Death’s rings drew blood on the fat cheek and rocked the guy’s head back a bit. The man stepped back and armed away the blood with his sleeve. Death was running for his car, hand digging into his pocket for his phone. He managed to get the phone out and his hand on the door handle before the fat man caught up, breathing heavily, air whistling through his nose.
He punched Death in the mouth in a vastly superior rendition of Death’s sole brave blow, a punch so hard Death’s neck made a crackling sound as his head rocked away, slamming off the car’s frame, ringing like a gong. Death began to slide down the car’s door, and only managed to turn his face slightly when the man sprayed him with his little aerosol can.
Mace. Death’s breath stopped in his lungs and his face felt as if he’d plunged it into boiling oil. His eyes felt worse, like dirty fingers were sandpapering over his eyeballs. He choked and fell over and heard the man laugh.
Then a boot caught him in the stomach and while he was doubled over, it came down again on his skinny shin. The sound of the bone breaking was loud enough to be heard over the roaring of the blood in his ears. He managed to suck in a lungful of air and scream it out, and the boot connected with his mouth, kicking him hard and making him bite his tongue. Blood filled his mouth.
A rough hand seized him by the hair and the rasping breath was in his ears.
“You should just shut the fuck up about Disney on the fucking Internet, you know that, kid?”
The man slammed his head against the pavement.
“Just. Shut. The. Fuck. Up.” Bang, bang, bang. Death thought he’d lose consciousness soon—he’d had no idea that pain could be this intense. But he didn’t lose consciousness for a long, long time. And the pain could be a lot more intense, as it turned out.
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As part of the ongoing project of crafting Tor.com’s electronic edition of Makers, the author would like for readers to chime in with their favorite booksellers and stories about them in the comments sections for each piece of Makers, for consideration as a possible addition to a future edition of the novel.