Mystery of the Brightville Vanishing:Part Five
The tunnel was rather standard, as far as tunnels went. Dark, musty, and cold, Orlitz’s flashlight roamed along its earthen walls. Aside from a few wooden support beams (which looked very old and not at all up to code), the passageway was bare. There was no use turning back—the entrance had closed behind her—so the Cloud cybunny pressed on.
Sheltered from the wind outside, the tunnels were still remarkably chilly, and Orlitz shrunk into her sweater. Her steps echoed throughout the cavernous space. As the plaza was a few blocks east of Brightville, she concluded that she would have to walk for a short while before finding herself underneath the amusement park. Luckily, the cybunny did not have to guess when she had reached her destination, because the earthen walls and path gradually became paved stone. Dusty wall lamps soon lined the sides of the tunnel. Switching off her flashlight, the cybunny wondered why the lamps were on: after all, it was the dead of night, and no soul should have been traipsing around underneath the park (Orlitz being the exception). A feeling of dread tingled in the back of her neck. Was she alone? She pushed this thought away.
Eventually, Orlitz approached a hallway, narrower than the tunnels she had just walked through, with a well-lit sign nailed above it. It said: “AUTHORIZED PARK PERSONNEL BEYOND THIS POINT ONLY!” She deduced, perceptively, that she was now underneath Brightville. The cybunny removed Lou’s pamphlet from her bag. Unfolding it revealed a simple map of the tunnels, placing Orlitz right at the edge of the underground park passageways.
Walking forward, Orlitz quickly determined that she would not need the crude map after all. As the pathway branched, signs on the walls indicated directions for each attraction. She wanted to investigate where Erin had supposedly been kidnapped: the slip of notebook paper wedged in between the welcome center dressing room floorboards was her only lead, and so it was there the cybunny would begin her search. Keeping her eyes open for markings on the whereabouts of the dressing rooms, she passed signs denoting the ticket booths, the Brightvale Carousel, the Oakthrills Dipper, the Palace of Terror, Hagan’s Grove, Brynn’s Storybook Ride, and—
“The welcome center!” exclaimed Orlitz, walking beneath the sign.
Following the directions, the cybunny stumbled upon a dead end, with a simple wooden step ladder leading up to a trapdoor. Erin’s notebook paper was still wedged in place. Orlitz searched the walls for a latch or a switch—anything to trigger the door to open. In no time, she discovered a lever at the bottom of the steps, evidently for this exact purpose. Pulling this lever released an internal mechanism, and the trapdoor above her slid open. But when the cybunny released the handle, it fell back to its initial position, and the door slid shut.
“The door can’t be operated without two people,” the cybunny muttered. Someone had to hold the lever in place in order for a partner to enter and exit at leisure. Luckily, she could improvise: Orlitz rummaged through her bag, looking for something heavy enough to keep the lever from moving. She found her camera, expensive and on loan from the Neopian Times. Once again, she lowered the lever and pushed the camera against the handle to prevent it from moving. It slid forward a few millimeters, but the lever stayed put. “This will have to do,” she said with a nod.
Opening the trapdoor fully had released the leaf of paper, and it fluttered to the ground at Orlitz’s feet. She swept up the floral-print sheet, finally able to garner a proper look at what the acara had written: “palace.” The single word had been hastily scrawled in cursive.
“Palace?” Orlitz echoed. Where had she seen that word before? The cybunny opened her brochure again, studying the map. She had quickly scribbled down the locations of signs onto the map in her search for the dressing rooms. Her eyes fell on a pathway a few turns away: on it, she had written “palace of terror.” Deciding that this is what Erin must have meant, Orlitz snatched her camera and turned on her feet.
Fighting sleep, the cybunny maneuvered through the tunnels, eventually approaching the sign to the haunted house attraction. Could Erin’s captors have taken her here? Again, Orlitz approached a wooden staircase and a lever at its base, and again she positioned her camera against the latch to keep the trapdoor in place. The cybunny ascended the stairs and cautiously entered a vast hall. To her right was a control panel, meant to operate the ride. A guiding track stretched across the room, and disappeared into the ride’s entrance. On the track, a handful of glossy, black vehicles in the shape of clamshells were parked. Tombstone and skeleton props lined the back of the hall. The chamber was truly dark, save for the glowing red lights emitting from the operations booth and the beam of Orlitz’s flashlight.
Aside from an icy breeze blowing through the ride’s tunnel, The Palace of Terror was completely desolate, having not been operated in weeks. Yet… no, it couldn’t be. From the corner of her eye, Orlitz swore she saw a shadow move between the clamshell cars. She froze, waiting. But everything remained still.
Shivering, the cybunny moved carefully towards the control panel, afraid to look behind her. Something shiny on the floor caught the beam of her light, and she approached it with caution. It was a keyring, depicting the Tyrannia Altador Cup symbol.
Orlitz frowned: could this keyring belong to the culprit?
Before she could blink, the room was suddenly plunged in the glow of blacklight, and the mechanics of the clamshell cars sprang to life. Dissonant organ music roared through the hall, fake skeletons rattled, and shrieks echoed from the ride’s tunnels. Orlitz stumbled blindly towards the trapdoor, but found that it had been sealed shut. She clawed at the door, finding no catch to pry it open with. Frightened, she turned to flee, but a blunt force struck the back of her head, and the cybunny fell to the ground. Her vision turned white. She felt the keyring slip out from her grasp.
* * * * *
Iskeen awoke with a start. Partly because Orlitz’s Gruslen, Sparta, was yowling into her ear, but mostly because she had nearly inhaled a slip of paper sitting on her pillow. The ixi coughed in her makeshift bed of quilts and pillows, and blinked the sleep out of her eyes. Noting the dim color of the sky from the window, Iskeen concluded that it was still much too early to be awake, and rolled over, mostly to ignore the Gruslen. Only, when she sank into her pillow and it crinkled beneath her cheek, her eyes shot open. Begrudgingly, the ixi sat up, searching for the source of the disturbance. Indeed, on her pillow was a small, slightly wrinkled, scrap of paper. She read it:
“Iskeen, can’t sleep, going to Roberta’s Plaza. Fountain = tunnel entrance? Be back soon. - O.” Of course. Of course, Orlitz would see fit to go on an adventure at—Iskeen glanced at the bedside clock—five in the morning, of course! She kicked off her blankets and stood up. Orlitz’s ambitions would not normally have worried Iskeen, but it was five in the morning. When had the cybunny left? Why hadn’t she woken her up?
Throwing a sweater over her doughnutfruit-print pajamas, she marched towards the bedroom door, but hesitated a moment. Sparta was still yowling. Sighing, Iskeen scooped the petpet into her arms and left the house.
The ixi arrived at the plaza just as the first rays of sunlight were peeking over the horizon. It was a beautiful yet desolate morning, shrouded in a blanket of mist that veiled the world in a ghastly white light. A gentle rain freshened the air, drizzling through the trees. In the plaza, the air smelled earthy and water gurgled in the fountain underneath a pale sky. Iskeen breathed this all in. Mornings in Brightvale were, quite simply, serene. The trouble was, Roberta’s Plaza was devoid of any Cloud cybunnies on Iskeen’s arrival. She briefly bumped into a Plushie kougra on the outskirts of the square, but only learned that a cybunny had been in the plaza around three in the morning. Worried, Iskeen slumped into a stone bench, dreading the unthinkable.
* * * * *
Orlitz awoke to the sound of ghoulish laughter. She was slumped over in one of the clamshell cars, and it was moving. The cybunny shot up, but winced at the immediate agonizing throbbing in the back of her head. Blinking through the pain, she attempted to gain her bearings. She was on the haunted house ride: this much was clear. Her car was maneuvering through the haunted house, hence the shrieking ghosts. She must have been knocked out for no more than a couple minutes, as the vehicle was only just entering the first section of the attraction. In her seat, she could see that her bag was at her side, and that her hands were tied to the vehicle’s safety bar. She struggled, but the binding was so secure, she could not move her arms. Just then, a plastic wraith lunged at her.
The cybunny fumed with irritation at her current situation. She was losing precious time trapped on this infernal ride, to say nothing of the fact that she may very well have a concussion. The car rounded another corner, entering a chamber themed like a Meridell dungeon. Rattling skeletons of skeiths and draiks sprang out from between the bars of their cells. Orlitz glared at them. If she could only untie her hands, perhaps she could jump off this ride and find the nearest exit. The cybunny dreaded returning to the loading platform; what if her assailants were waiting for her there?
Gingerly, so as not to worsen the headache, Orlitz leaned towards her bag and grabbed it with her teeth. She shook its contents onto her lap: everything, including her pen, spilled out. Then, careful so as not to lose her only means of escape, she eased the pen in between her knees, such that it stood upright. She picked it up with her teeth, and worked it into the knot of rope binding her wrists, gradually loosening its hold of her hands. An exit door was fast approaching, hidden behind a bubbling cauldron. Orlitz frantically dropped the pen and bit into the rope, pulling it loose. It came undone, and Orlitz freed her sore arms. Trying to ignore the pain in her wrists and in her head, she hurriedly tossed the items back into her bag and slipped her legs over the safety bar. She leapt off the ride and hurried out the door.
* * * * *
Brightville at this hour was tranquil. Orlitz sat on a bench underneath a massive oak tree, its dense foliage shielding her from the rain. A river, stretching all throughout the entirety of the park, snaked around where she sat. After escaping from the Palace of Terror, she had hurried to a seating area several attractions away. Now, she was catching her breath.
What to do? The cybunny was officially locked out and locked in. With no means to reenter the tunnels, and no way past the closed entrance gate, she was effectively trapped in the amusement park. Brightville staff would certainly not unlock the gates for another hour. Orlitz let out a lengthy sigh: she was very tired. She turned her attention to the envelope sitting on her lap. It had slipped out from her bag earlier, but it did not belong to her. The cybunny held the suspicion that, much like the keyring she had dropped while being knocked unconscious, her attackers had deliberately left it for her. She had an inkling to its contents.
And so she let out an even lengthier sigh when she opened the envelope and removed the note from within. The text practically jumped out at her, screaming, “ONE DAY TO SAVE THE PARK, OR YOU WILL NEVER SEE YOUR FRIEND AGAIN.” It was identical to the first note, the message assembled in a collage of cut out letters. The cybunny’s fingers traced absently along the page.
“The culprits wanted to scare me,” she studied the message, “and the note was meant for me.” Her assailants, she mused, had lead her to the haunted house from Erin’s note. They knew she would have found a way into the tunnels, that she would have found her way back to the welcome center. Had they forced Erin to write “palace” on a page of her notebook and leave it behind? Several suspects knew that Orlitz had a vested interest in the Brightville tunnels: Reba the handyman, Sophia the owner, and Lou the protester, had all presented Orlitz with information on them.
Moreover, whoever attacked Orlitz had gone above and beyond to make the assault as memorable as possible. Could it be they were growing desperate? They had wanted her to escape—why else would they have returned her bag—without any items missing, no less! Keen on writing her thoughts down, the cybunny rummaged through her things in search of her notebook, but her hand brushed a silver chain. It was the keyring.
Orlitz rubbed the back of her head, where she’d been struck. A bump was already blooming. If everything else had been staged, then it was possible that the assailants had also planted this keyring where she would find it. But why? Needless to say, if Orlitz could discover the owner of this trinket, then the culprit might not be far behind.
* * * * *
If someone had told Iskeen that she would be breaking into an amusement park at six in the morning, she would not have believed them. Yet here she was, standing before those tall metallic gates, cuddly Gruslen underarm, hair frizzy from the rain. A clock from somewhere inside Brightville chimed the new hour.
Iskeen had only wandered around Roberta’s Plaza for a short while before deciding that Orlitz was not there. Assuming the clever cybunny had, indeed, uncovered the entrance to those tunnels, Iskeen had marched with conviction to Brightville. Now, the Island ixi eyed the entrance.
It would not be long before park employees arrived, so she needed to hurry. The space in between the bars was too narrow for Iskeen to slip through, but it did accommodate the size of a little Gruslen. She let him cross the barrier, and he sat on the other side of the gate, mewling.
The iron gates were about eight feet tall—several heads taller than she was. Luckily, the ixi prided herself in her athleticism. She jumped and grabbed the top of the gate. The metal was slippery, and it took all of her arm strength to haul herself up, but she managed to swing her legs over the top and swing down, landing on her feet. This feat was so impressive, Iskeen almost wished someone else had been there to witness it. But there was only Sparta, and he didn’t seem very interested.
The victory was short lived, however. The sound of approaching voices impelled Iskeen to grab the petpet and dive behind a massive tree. From her vantage point, she could see a Shadow chomby, and behind her, a flash of blue feathers.
“Nora Sparks,” mouthed Iskeen. Sophia Grigsby and the reporter were discussing something, but the ixi could not make out what. “Why are they here this early?” she wondered. The chomby unlocked the gate (something which inexplicably peeved Iskeen), and the two entered the park. She trailed them from a distance, unable to hear their conversation. They vanished inside the ticket booth.
* * * * *
Finding nothing else to do but wait for the park to open, Orlitz wandered amidst the attractions. As the sun had risen considerably, green light filtered in through the dense trees and hidden Wibreths squawked in their branches. The cybunny aimlessly followed one walkway to the next, until she encountered a stage in the center of a clearing; only, it wasn’t exactly a stage. The structure now used as the Brightville Concert Hall was actually an enormous tree stump, measuring 20 feet in diameter. A Spotted gelert walked amidst the music instruments littering the stage.
“Rey?” Orlitz offered hesitantly. The gelert looked up from his task. His eyes widened in recognition:
“Hey, you’re that cybunny that pushed me over yesterday!”
The cybunny winced. In her haste to find help after Erin had vanished, she had collided into the stunned gelert and promptly left the scene.
“I’m really sorry about that,” she said wistfully. He looked at her very quizzically then, likely pondering why this very discheveled-looking cybunny was strolling around Brightville at this early hour. Orlitz marched up to him before he could reach any conclusions, notebook already in hand.
“I was wondering if I could ask you some questions?”
“Is this about your missing friend?”
This is how Orlitz learned that Rey Wilde was a musician. He had performed for Brightville for years: the amusement park, his most successful endeavor.
“Don’t think this is some kind of motive or nothin’, but if I’m honest, I’m really worried for my future,” he told her, “I don’t know if I’ll be able to find work elsewhere. I wish it didn’t have to be this way—that the park wasn’t closing…”But Orlitz took note of this motive anyway: Rey was yet another suspect who might do whatever it took to rescue the park—and his job. Even if it came down to kidnapping. As Rey returned to his work, the cybunny quickly asked him if the keyring she had found was his. It wasn’t.
Just then, a gnorbu appeared in the corner of Orlitz’s vision. It was Reba, pushing a janitor cart some distance away. It was time she finally interviewed this gnorbu. The cybunny excused herself to the gelert (making certain not to push him to the ground this time), and hurried after the handyman. Reba weaved in between empty souvenir stalls, churro stands, and carnival booths. Orlitz tried to catch up, but the gnorbu was surprisingly quick. Eventually, she lost her somewhere in the forested paths.
The cybunny sighed, squinting through the trees. Reba was gone! “So much for an interview,” she muttered. Orlitz looked around: she had followed the gnorbu to the far end of Brightville. Aside from the queue entrance to a rollercoaster and a little lost-and-found shack, there was nothing else to see here. The only movement was the wind rustling in the trees and compelling some hidden wind chimes to sing.
Orlitz was debating whether to return to Rey when a resounding yell echoed nearby. She hurried to the source of the sound, the lost-and-found hut, and looked in through its glass door. The cybunny let out a gasp. Inside, tied to a chair, was a Pink acara.
To be continued…