Growing up in a very large city, you would think that I wouldn’t have much access to the cursed locations so prevalent in small towns. But my life, eh, finds a way.
Between the ages of eight and ten years old, my father and brother and I (and once a small birthday party of children) would visit such a cursed place a few times a year. I do not remember my first visit and I do not remember the last. My brother and I rarely discuss it, as discussing it feels more like talking about an episode of The Twilight Zone or a shared fever dream than a childhood memory. This was the world of Funtastic Fun.
Funtastic Fun was in one of the seedier parts of town, just outside of the main city on the far south of a street called Broadway (which you couldn’t and shouldn’t really go down or get to without a car or taxi.) It had been open in some incarnation or another since the 1980s and was a chronically failing indoor children’s amusement park and arcade. My dad liked it because it was like Chuck E. Cheese’s without the high cost; we liked it because it was never crowded.
The place was a Bosch painting of a carnival, set onto moldy carpet rather than asphalt. In one corner lived the food court and arcade, which my brother and I never visited, but everywhere else there were the rides. Set behind low vaguely threatening gates, they were the reason we came here.
The Bounce House
Set in the furthest corner of the park, the bounce house was flanked by two giant inflatable clown heads on pikes rather than a simple doorway, and, like everything in Funtastic Fun, was coated in grime. It was overinflated, enormous, and completely unsupervised- the only rule was that you had to take your shoes off (and leave the rest of your clothes on.)
The Ball Pit
The one place that never tempted me as a kid. I was against ball pits on principle to begin with, they’re basically holes with visible germ spheres, but the Funntastic Fun ball pit was less about ‘gross, some kid probably peed in here’ and more about ‘I think a child was murdered in here in 1994 and they never bothered to fish the body out.’ It was weirdly shallow but you could still never find the bottom. The one time I was in there I grabbed at something coming out that was either rotting food or black mold.
The middle of the ‘park’ was a kind of no-man’s land where toddlers would usually chose to have tantrums. There was a slide, and one of those oversized barrels made for running/crawling in that was somehow both tacky and slippery (watching kids play in it was like watching feral hamsters.) The most terrifying was an enormous teddy bear that was probably infested with things still unknown to science. You could climb up into its lap and take a picture, but it was sort of like reliving the awful experience of a Mall Santa except now with an elder god. The bear smelled like a mummy.
The Ferris Wheel
The ferris wheel was probably the only thing luring kids and their parents into this place, as you could see it peeking through the one spot of plexiglass in the institution-like building (it was unpainted concrete but hastily decorated with brightly striped banners and window paint; the kid’s version of a neon sign for a strip club.) The cars of the ferris wheel were shaped like hot air balloons, and they would travel in a lazy arc for a little over five minutes. The whole thing was surprisingly fit to safety codes, probably because it was so popular, but that didn’t exempt the inside of the cars from being coated in gum and the carved initials of the odd teenager that had wandered into the hellscape. The most striking thing was the poorly painted mural of forests and clouds behind it, making it feel like trap that was trying to lull kids into a false sense of wonder.
The park had all sorts of more normal rides- teacups, a miniature train, and a carousel being the most popular- but an absolute favorite was the park’s resident safety hazard. The Whip is actually a fairly common fair and park ride (albeit usually with a less threatening name that isn’t hastily scrawled on a hand-drawn sign), it’s a short track with carts on it that ‘whips’ you around in a circle. This thing was exactly that, but ‘built for kids’ with much smaller carts painted like ladybugs and race cars… plus the fact that the track and carts were perpetually rusted. This made it so that the ride would run fairly slowly to begin with but with everything shaking at incredible speed, until you were taking the corners of the circle hard enough for a neck injury.
Without a doubt my favorite place in this G-rated Carnival of Souls; for all the wrong reasons. If the rest of the park was a bit creepy, the wall of shadows was downright horrifying. It was kind of hidden in the back of the whole thing near some funhouse mirrors. It was very quiet, very musty, and very dark, which was a nice relief for my sensory disorder but also felt like being inside of a stranger’s closet. An entire wall of this alcove was coated in a plastic substance the color of the ‘minty’ walls of a hospital or the sick of Regan in The Exorcist. You would stand against it for a few seconds and then step back and see your shadow stuck to it. My brother and I invested far too much of our time with it, begging to visit the wall ‘for one last go’ before each visit was over. I remember my dad didn’t much care for it, and I didn’t have the words or the emotional range to tell him that I didn’t like it either, so much as I was fascinated by it.
That moment you would unstick yourself from the wall to look at your shadow is something that is probably the strongest tactile memory of my childhood. It was cold like any plastic, but would warm up the longer you stood there, and when you peeled yourself away it was sticky like flypaper. Like all the grime of that place was trying to take you with it. Looking at your shadow was even worse, not euphoric but disquieting. It was you, but, not. I once read an article in a local magazine that mentioned that the wall looked like pictures of the aftereffects of the A-bomb, and given that thinking about the whole experience as an adult the author that comes to mind is Ray Bradbury (and That One Scene in There Will Come Soft Rains) I can’t help but to agree.
Although a related location opened the next town over that used some of the old equipment, the original Funtastic Fun shut down in 2011. I remember driving by it in high school and seeing the shell of the building, and my brother and I both exclaiming in alarm. My dad snorted at us, ‘guys, Funtastic Fun was gross. You were the ones that told me that when we stopped going.’
‘Yeah, we know.’ We both murmured, but neither of us blinked until it rounded the corner.