Of all the songs that accompany theme-park attractions, which is the most insidiously catchy, the most precious, can't-get-it-out-of-your head annoying? "It's a Small World" from the ride of the same name at Walt Disney World, perhaps? Or "My Home Is Your Home" from the not dissimilar Global Village Cruise at Dreamworld?
Up until about three seconds ago, before she heard the thunder of footsteps on the concrete staircase behind her drowning out the distant festival of theme-park noise from above, before she felt hands on the back of her furry costume pushing her through a doorway, before she heard the door slam and struggled to see who was behind her and felt an arm snake around her and plunge something sharp into her thorax, Lisa Schaeffer would have loved to have debated the matter at length.
Lisa Schaeffer liked that kind of discussion very much. There were few things she enjoyed more than getting some friends round, cracking open a nice cold microbrew, firing up a Camel Light, and talking about theme parks or seventies Saturday-morning cartoons, or seeing who could come up with the most outlandish idea for a new Fox "real TV" special. "When Buildings Collapse" was her best effort, she felt, and although she'd always had a sneaking concern that it may originally have been a gag she'd heard on The Simpsons, to date no one had topped it. In fact, since her recent relocation to Orlando, no one had challenged her on anything at all. When it came to gloriously pointless riffs on pop culture, she was way ahead of everyone else and she loved it.
In Los Angeles, for instance, everyone she knew had already worked out his or her porn name (combine the name of your first pet plus the street where you grew up -- Lisa's was Fluffy Mulholland) and had spent many a jocular soiree trying to remember the difference between the theme tunes to Superman, Star Wars, and E.T. Here in central Florida, however, Lisa's new friends had received these games with glee and delight, and Lisa had felt sure that once she headed back to the West Coast, she'd eternally be remembered as just about the most riveting raconteur ever to grace the Orlando social scene. But it had taken only seconds for everything in Lisa's world to change. "It's a Small World" versus "My Home Is Your Home." Which sugary paean to the spirit of global community is the most contagious? The salient answer, at this moment, was that for the first time in her life, Lisa Schaeffer didn't give a damn. Because right now, as "My Home Is Your Home" piped on distantly through the speakers somewhere overhead, she had to contend with the possibility that it might be the last piece of music -- and for that matter, the last earthly sound -- that she would ever hear.
Even for a worshiper of kitsch, it was not an entertaining notion. No, no, no. Surely life -- her life -- was more sacrosanct?
Besides this thought and the other, more obvious ones -- the fascination with the things that looked like free-floating balls of mercury that danced before her eyes as unconsciousness encroached, the nasty awareness of the warm wetness of blood as it pulsed out of her and soaked into her costume, the horror at the hideous, rasping, rhythmic noise of air passing in and out of her punctured lung and pleural cavity -- the only other notion that stood out from the crowded clamor of confusion in Lisa Schaeffer's mind was mild surprise at the lack of pain in the area of trauma itself.
Inside the large, plastic full-head mask she wore, the moist heat, now acrid and cloying with the smell of gastric fluid and fear on her breath, was unbearable. But the darkness the mask provided was in some way merciful, as it allowed Lisa to tell herself that the creeping blackness she saw was not internal -- was not her mind shutting down. It was just the same cimmerian shade she always saw when she wore the Kit-E-Cat costume. It had to be...didn't it?
When Lisa started to doubt her own reassurances, she struggled to pivot her head in such a way that she might get a glimpse of the world outside the mask, to find out if she could still see. She gasped for breath, gagging on the salty, metallic taste in her mouth as she struggled to find the mesh eyeholes hidden beneath the chin of the cat face. She tried to pretend that she was seeking these vantage points on the outside world just as she had while on duty only minutes ago. Just as she had done every day for the last three months, when she needed to know whether the person approaching her was a child seeking an autograph, or a confused pubescent boy hoping to pull her tail, or a family who wanted to pose for a photograph, or a toddler who would come and snuggle into the soft fur of her costume and play with her rubber whiskers and plant a kiss on her plastic nose.
When she had started the job, she'd regarded every one of them with a certain coldly bemused detachment, like a lab technician watching baby rats trying to suckle from a hot-water bottle. Why the star treatment for a person in a furry suit? As a kid, Lisa had visited Universal Studios and Knotts Berry Farm and Disneyland in Anaheim plenty of times, and she had always been rather unmoved by the wandering characters. But now, in her final moments, the raw humanity of these innocent strangers who lived in her memories and whom she would soon be leaving behind put a lump in Lisa's throat that she knew wasn't bile or gore.
Just as the waves of sudden altruism and self-pity threatened to engulf her, Lisa's desperately searching gaze found one of the mesh eyeholes, and the shock of what she saw through it made the waves shrink as abruptly as they had crested.
Her lips moved silently and the rasping from her gaping chest quickened and echoed even more loudly in the confines of the suit as Lisa involuntarily blurted out Leon LeGalley's name.
She said it again, deliberately this time, and she also asked, "Why?" And this time some sound came out, although it sounded slow and low and hollow and broken, like a busted tape machine or something from the pits of hell.
Leon LeGalley's face was grotesquely distorted as he stared alternately up at the cat head and down at the front of the suit, and the big cat paws that clutched it. Lisa guessed that it must look pretty horrific -- all that arterial blood, twinkling crimson on the stark white fun-fur.
As her knees finally buckled and she fell to the ground, Lisa heard the fibrous crunch of flesh being pierced -- once, twice, three times. Not hers, she was sure. Then whose? It was followed by a revolting visceral slithering sound and a thud on the floor beside her. Then came Leon LeGalley's voice calling her name over and over, a voice racked with torment and accompanied by a peculiar bubbling, reminding Lisa of both a bad novelty record by Ringo Starr and the times when she used to try to amuse her little brother in the bathtub by trying to talk with her mouth partly submerged.
From her prone position, and the way her head lay, she now had a better view through the mesh, and although the blackness was for real now, and closing in fast, she caught a glimpse of the body beside her. Lisa looked on impassively, watching Leon LeGalley's hands fluttering ineffectually at the hilt of something buried in the lumpy red mess that was his stomach, until finally her field of vision began to recede.
Darkness bloomed at the corners and spread inward, ringing the diminishing port hole of white light that was Lisa's final window on the world. The central circle shrank smaller and smaller as the darkness around it grew, until it was gone, just like the hole in which Porky Pig would appear at the end of a Looney Tunes cartoon to pronounce, "Th-th-th-that's all, folks!"
It was an irony that Lisa Schaeffer might have appreciated.
Copyright © 2000 by Jane Goldman