A Traveller Family Mystery

by Lint Hatcher

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Chapter 5
"I Found the Lost World"

They never got around to Max's Destination Report. For the rest of the drive -- across middle Georgia to Savannah, then down the East Coast to St. Augustine -- they never stopped talking, or silently thinking, about Willy Leonard's possible return. Everyone's mind was caught up in the idea that maybe he would reveal himself while they were vacationing there. Perhaps, in the giant, cosmic scheme of things, they were "special" -- maybe even "special" enough for such a thing to happen to them. Maybe Willy Leonard would stand up out of the palm fronds with a big hello just as they were sitting down to eat an ice cream cone. Maybe his head would suddenly poke out of the mouth of a Tyrannosaurus Rex just as they stepped up for a closer look at the Tyrant Lizard. Maybe, at the mere sight of them, he would cry out in an ecstatic voice, "Finally, I can reveal myself! Finally, I have found someone who is worthy to share in my triumphant return!"

Anyhow, that's what they all focused on and Max didn't mind his report being overlooked in the excitement. He didn't exactly want to push his Destination Report on anyone -- since he didn't exactly want to read it anyway.

"There is nothing more indicative of management's lack of real understanding toward their theme park," Mr. Traveller was saying, "than bad t-shirts."

They were now on the outermost rim of the Lost World theme park, waiting in line in the lobby of the Lost World Days Inn, watching the t-shirts go by. A freckle-faced, overweight kid with an expression of profound seriousness had just run past them. Mr. Traveller's comment had been prompted by the t-shirt the kid was wearing. It said, "I Found the Lost World" and sported a less than impressive cartoon of a Tyrannosaurus Rex.

"Well, maybe they passed the responsibility on to a person who's in charge of t-shirts and he's the one who doesn't really get it," Max offered. He was enjoying the spaciousness of the lobby after the long trip in the car.

"That's very kind of you, Max," said Mr. Traveller. "And it shows that you have the right attitude toward the theme park experience. You have to give theme parks some slack right off the bat and just decide you aren't going to make any quick judgements about them. You have to let them do what they are trying to do, not do what you thought they were going to do. A lot of people go into a theme park like Disney World and are actually disappointed, believe it or not. They thought there was going to be a lot of gonzo thrillrides like rollercoasters and... well... more rollercoasters. But that's not what the Disney experience is about. The same is true about other theme parks like The Lost World. You have to tap into the dream that the creator of the theme park had in mind the heart of what he wanted the guests to feel while they were in his park. It may take hours to catch his vision; it may take days. However, so far as t-shirts are concerned, your patient tolerance is wrong. Completely wrong. Do you know why it's wrong?"

"Mr. Traveller," Max said with something of a smirk, "if I knew it was wrong and why it was wrong, I wouldn't have said it in the first place." He was feeling pretty happy to be there. Somehow, just being with the Travellers for a few hours in the car had assured him, as it usually did, that he didn't have to be afraid to speak his mind with them.

"Look," Mr. Traveller said and the line moved ahead by one person. "What is the one form of advertising that people will pay to look at?"

"Coming attractions trailers for movies?" Dabney suggested.

Mr. Traveller frowned. "Okay. Strike that. I'm not so sure that people feel they are paying to see the coming attractions as well as the feature attraction, but we'll rephrase our question anyway. Okay. What is the one form of advertising in which people will actually give you money so they will be allowed to promote your product?"

"T-shirts," Max said with a hint of impatience. "And people who buy movie posters."

"T-shirts. Exactly!" Mr. Traveller was deliberately becoming a little comically boisterous about the argument. His voice had risen just high enough to make Max, Abbey and Dabney start to glance around with apologetic looks on their faces. "Now," Mr. Traveller continued. "If you knew that you could have a hundred thousand little billboards for your product parading around in schools, malls, homes, and city streets and if you knew that there was an obviously satisfied customer wearing each and every one of those little billboards, wouldn't you try hard to make that a darn good billboard? One that really captured the essence of your product? When I say 'little billboard,' I'm talking about the t-shirts, you see... and... "

"But Daddy, it's only a t-shirt," Abbey said then.

"Only a t-shirt?" Mr. Traveller turned to face the heretic. "Are you my daughter?" He took her head in his hands and began searching her face and scalp with a silly expression of consternation. "Are you some sort of imposter, some kind of podperson from outer space?"

"Get your credit card out," Abbey said, laughing.

"And the point is... ?" Dabney requested.

Mr. Traveller was still interrogating Abbey. "I'll just ignore your silly, practical-minded focus on getting ready to get a room, young lady. The point is," said Mr. Traveller. "The point is that that t-shirt over there should have said 'I DISCOVERED THE LOST WORLD!' not 'I Found the Lost World.' That's like saying, 'I Happened To Stumble Across The Lost World In My Spare Time.' And it should have had a gorgeous Frank Frazetta watercolor painting on it. Not an oil painting necessarily, because you want that bright, vivid sharpness you get with pen & ink and watercolor. Yeah, a Frank Frazetta pen & ink watercolor of this group of kids with pith helmets on their heads and six-shooters and spears, facing off with this gargantuan, drooling Tyrannosaurus Rex, with an erupting volcano gushing out purple smoke and red glowing lava, and maybe one of those Frazetta barbarian girls -- toned down, of course... and then a... "

"Excuse me? May I help you, Sir?" said the clerk.

By the time everyone had lugged their suitcases to the elevators and made their way up to their fourth floor room, sunset had erupted and settled into smoldering swirls of purple, red, and orange. Mr. Traveller and the kids caught a glimpse of this vast, colorful cloudscape through a set of sliding glass doors, half obscured by thick curtains, as they twisted the room key in the lock and pushed open the door. The contrast between the grand horizon outside and the small, unambitious, rather mundane room felt appropriate, as though they had set up a small tent in a wide wilderness. The hotel room greeted them with that familiar smell -- antiseptic, yet not quite institutional. There were two king-sized beds -- firm, yet bouncy -- one for Abbey and Dabney, one for Mr. Traveller. Max, as usual, had brought along his inflatable air mattress and sleeping bag, insisting, for the fourth year in a row, that he would be completely comfortable. Actually, the only alternative was sleeping in the same bed with Mr. Traveller and Max just didn't like sleeping so crowded. Besides, Mr. Traveller tended to talk in his sleep and hearing him from across the room was much better than lying right next to him.

"Why in the world did you ask for this room -- on the fourth floor?" Abbey asked as they entered the room.

"Just trust me," was Mr. Traveller's reply.

Once the suitcases were dumped on the beds, Dabney immediately began foraging for a free local TV entertainment guide. Given thirty minutes or so, Dabney would have a complete mental directory of every science-fiction, fantasy, and horror film showing on local TV or free cable channels for the entire length of their stay using a glowing mental highlite marker to mark films he had not yet seen. At the moment, his Holy Grail was a Fifties science-fiction rarity called The Venus People.

While Dabney surveyed the local airwaves, Max and Abbey followed Mr. Traveller to the set of huge, thick, yellow and brown curtains that, at the moment, only revealed a small slice of the view outside. The curtains looked as though they were made more of rubber than of cloth.

Mr. Traveller walked to the right-hand side of the sliding glass doors and began pulling on the curtain strings as though he was hoisting a sail. The curtains fell away in both directions and Abbey and Max were both illuminated by the lurid glow of sunset.

"Allllllright!" Abbey cried. "We've got a balcony!"

"If you're gonna do it, do it right. That's what I say." Mr. Traveller grinned while Abbey bounced up and down.

A tiny terrace waited for them. Max was speechless with delight as they slid a glass door open and stepped outside to lean on the concrete balcony wall and stare out at the world around them. A balmy, faintly salty breeze was blowing past them from the direction of the nearby Atlantic Ocean. Abbey's pony-tail had been coming apart gradually all day and now pulled out the beret and shook her hair free, letting it drift about her face. The sunset bathed all three of them in a red, brassy effulgence that made every detail in their view seem singular and strange. The palm trees in the parking lot below slowly twisted and turned in the breeze. They, and the cars beneath them, seemed new or at least newly discovered as they reflected the red and yellow of the sunset with a pristine clarity. And there, on the other side of the street below, then behind another line of carefully cultivated palm trees, then beyond a set of low, motor lodge style motels, then a couple of miles beyond a thick patch of woods, was The Lost World.

Earlier, Max had wondered why Mr. Traveller carefully avoided parking on this side of the hotel. Now, he knew: they might have glimpsed The Lost World from the parking lot and Mr. Traveller wanted their first sight of The Lost World to be from this high and perfect bird's eye view.

"Wow," Max said.

The park was some distance away and his eyes were trying to adjust. Things were moving in the park in the sultry colors of sunset. There were dark green and purple swayings, light red and orange dapples and glistenings. Gradually, his mind made sense of the information and he saw in the cool subtleties of dusk that he was staring at a wide, gigantic, man-made volcano partly covered by dense growths of palm trees and thick, leafy plants -- some green as treefrog, others purple as a pomegranate. Here and there on the man-made mountain were awesome craters left from some ancient eruption, now filled with water and extravagant ripples and splashes that caught the brighter colors of the sunset and tossed them glistening back at the sky.

"Wow," Abbey cried. "Those are pools and people are still swimming in them at dusk! That'll be great. Parks are always so much better at night." She paused. "That's really pretty."

"I think they'll have to turn on some lights pretty soon, unfortunately," said Mr. Traveller. "With safety codes and lawsuits to consider."

As if on cue, lights began to fizzle and flicker into life all over the volcano and all through the jungles that surrounded it. Some of the romance of approaching nighttime disappeared at the intrusion of crass electrical light. But then other things were illuminated by the lights and offered their own distinct charms. It was plain to see now that crowds of people were hollering and splashing in prehistoric pools of water surrounded by cooled lava. Palm fronds tossed in a slight breeze, catching the shimmer of the electric light, and revealed mysterious trails winding around the mountain. One trail appeared to lead into a cave mouth somehow lit with a faint inner glow. And there... No, there... the glistening of a watchful eye. The pearly luminescence of a long, sharp tooth. An allosaurus peering from behind a tree with a stealthy, nocturnal leer. A grey-green hided triceratops dappled by shadows, keeping watch over her young. And there! A red-eyed, razor-toothed pteranodon with wide, leathery, bat-like wings...

Max leaned forward and squinted. The pteranodon was perched on a jutting rock and... if Max was seeing correctly... it was glowering down at a group of tourists whooshing past in a rushing, gushing stone-age water flume!

"Geez Louise!" Max said. "That's really neat. It's better than I expected."

Abbey was leaning precariously against the railing, trying to see where the narrow course of the water flume led after it seemed to go into the volcano...

"Isn't it? Why don't you lean back a little this way, Abbey," Mr. Traveller said, his eyes sparkling with unrestrained glee. "And we could go in tonight -- though I doubt anyone is up to it after that long drive."

Max's mind immediately leapt at the chance, but his body voiced a real hesitation. "I'd like to," he said. "But I'm kind of hungry."

"Yeah. Me, too," Abbey said, placing her feet back on the balcony floor. "It was a long drive. Since we made so many tourist stops along the way." She eyed her father slyly.

Mr. Traveller was obviously a little disappointed; he was biting down very hard on his pipe, for one thing. But then he straightened up and calmed down apparently at the urging of some fatherly instinct. "Okay. I guess we do need to get organized and fed and have a good night's sleep tonight and all that sort of thing. Dabney probably feels the same way. Plus, after we get the room set up, we can make tomorrow's exploration plans while we eat. After all, this is only Saturday and we've got till next Saturday. A whole week. Right?"

Max and Abbey both looked at each other and nodded.

"Okay then. Let's see what Dabney is up to."

Dabney was carefully balancing a giraffe-necked plastic Brachiosaurus on top of the television set. In a short amount of time, he had unloaded about a dozen dinosaurs and arranged them at strategic points about the room. On the night table between the two beds, the age-old battle continued between Triceratops and Tyrannosaurus Rex. A shell-backed Ankylosaurus and two sail-finned Dimetrodons seemed to be grazing atop the chest-of-drawers. Meanwhile, a glimpse around the doorway to the sink adjoining the bathroom revealed several Duckbilled Dinosaurs waddling through the washcloths.

At the moment, Dabney was pinning something up on the wall.

"Uh, be careful there, Dabney. They probably have rules about that sort of thing," said Mr. Traveller.

"Don't worry," Dabney answered in a flat, lucid tone. "They're just tiny pin holes. If the holes look too big when we take everything down, you can fill them with a flavor of toothpaste that matches the wallpaper."

Dabney purposefully was blocking everyone's view until the fourth and final pushpin was in place in just the correct spot. "There," he said. Then he stepped back and nonchalantly sat down on the bed as though he had never been concealing anything from them at all.

"Wow," Mr. Traveller said. "Where did you get that... ?"

"At one of my used bookstores I go to."

It was a map of The Lost World theme park. An old map of The Lost World. Yellowed and frayed at the edges, it bore the unmistakable marks of authenticity. An elusive, unapologetic cheeriness that is rare and endangered in the last decades of the twentieth century permeated every line. Some personal vision of The Lost World was captured up there on the poster, an idea of the park held dearly by the artist. Each section of the park was captured with meticulous attention to detail and with a faint, fluid buoyancy in the brushwork. Like most maps, it opened into a wide rectangle. Along the bottom, about three fourths of the way toward the right end of the map, a cave opening in a line of mountains led to a trail. Almost immediately, the trail split in two directions. To the right, it led to what appeared to be the grey stone ruins of an ancient city. Traveling to the left, the trail passed a pool full of bathing dinosaurs and eventually led to the great volcano. There appeared to be several smaller attractions along the way.

While Max and Abbey scrambled forward to investigate, Mr. Traveller moved to examine only the bottom right hand corner of the map. He stood up straight after a moment and propped his hands on his waist. "You know what you have here, don't you, Son?"

"I have some idea," Dabney said elliptically.

"This is a true original," Mr. Traveller explained. "Remember The T-Shirt That Ought To Be that we were discussing? Well, this is The Park Map That Ought To Be. And, unlike that ideal t-shirt, this Park Map That Ought To Be actually came to be. It's one of the first maps they made for visitors." He stood there for a minute, smiling at his son's discovery. "You know, it's practically as good as those old souvenir maps Sam McKim did for Disneyland back in the late Fifties and early Sixties. Somehow it really captures the flavor of the park. And the explanation is pretty simple. Down at the bottom of the map there is a little circle -- with the letters 'WL' in it."

"Willy Leonard's initials," Dabney said simply.

Abbey and Max, closely examining separate portions of the large map, suddenly swerved off their present course to examine the bottom right corner. There was an drawing of a tiny scroll, like a pirate map with the top and bottom curled inward toward the scene in the middle. Written on the scroll was, "Welcome to The Lost World, where mystery and adventure await the courageous explorer. Use this map to discover its secrets. But be careful -- here there be monsters! Your pal -- Willy Leonard." Beside the scroll was an illustration of a flat piece of wood covered with strange symbols, presumably the same notice translated into some other tongue, perhaps the language of The Lost World's native tribe. Below these two notices was a faint scribble, the artist's signature. It was indeed a circle surrounding the letters "WL". Beside this was a copyright symbol and the year "1964".

"Wow... Neat!" Abbey exclaimed.

Mr. Traveller nodded. "That's right. Willy Leonard himself drew that map. But they don't use it anymore and it can't be because the park has changed a whole lot, because it hasn't. I'll bet it's just present day management's idea of being 'modern' to ditch the old map and come up with a new one." He sat down beside Dabney. "Old theme parks and attractions often redesign their little complimentary maps and pamphlets. You know, the three-folds that you find at state rest-stops and souvenir shops. They change their first map, their first pamphlet, their first postcards in favor of versions that fit with today's design styles -- which means, ultimately, their promo stuff looks less charming, less human, more self-conscious." He stood up again and stepped closer to the old map. "Unfortunately, they also redesign the park itself. They don't realize that all they have to do is clean up what they already have -- try to make it look like it did the first day it opened back in the Fifties. People are nuts about the look and the feel of the Fifties and Sixties -- so keeping that look is infinitely preferable to tearing things down and replacing them with a Nineties look. I mean can you imagine? What is a Nineties look, anyway? Who wants to go to a post-modern roadside attraction? Post-modern architects have nothing but contempt for tourists like us."

The kids had all turned, painting a look of quiet, suffering patience on their faces to try to let Mr. Traveller realize that he had climbed onto a soapbox again.

"Anyhow, The Lost World theme park itself actually remains much the way it appeared years ago. In a way, the fact that it lost business in the Seventies and Eighties actually helped it meant they couldn't afford to 'modernize.' So it was simply maintained pretty well over the years, rather than remodeled. Unfortunately, though, their promotional materials were redesigned at some point. Which, I suppose, is understandable if you don't want people to think your park is 'the same old thing.' But they lost not only the '50s 'hominess' and guilelessness -- hey, take a look at that little dinosaur there -- but, the crazy thing is, they stopped using the original map of the park: a drawing that Willy Leonard himself had done! Can you believe that?"

"Geez," Max said, stepping back from the map and sitting on a bed. "That's like not using a map Walt Disney drew of Disneyland."

"Exactly," said Mr. Traveller. "I will never understand why people do things like that. But then I don't understand why people don't go to the drive-in anymore, either."

Mr. Traveller turned from the map to look at Dabney. "But to make a long story short, Dabney, this map right here on the wall is that original map that they used. People visiting The Lost World would each receive a copy of a map drawn by Willy Leonard himself." Mr. Traveller sat down next to Max, landing heavily enough to make the bed bounce.

"Did they lose the map he drew?" Abbey said.

Mr. Traveller shrugged, leaning backward and propping himself up on his elbows. "I don't have any idea. All I know is that this map here is the same one I used when I first came here as a teenager. It's the map Willy Leonard drew of his dream come true. And so it is without a doubt the map Willy intended 'explorers' to use. As you probably know, he insisted on calling guests 'explorers' rather than 'tourists' or 'customers.'"

"Well, actually we don't know that," Abbey replied. "We haven't heard Max's report on Willy Leonard yet... "

Mr. Traveller grinned sheepishly. "Ooops. Sorry."

"I'm not in any hurry," Max said.

Dabney reached down beside the bed and pulled out a folded pamphlet of some kind. "Well, that map on the wall is a million times better than this new map," he said, holding up a shiny new example of Lost World cartography. He unfolded it on his bed. "This new map isn't nearly as big as that one, for one thing, and it looks real shabby. Like the artist rushed through it."

Everyone gathered round Dabney's bed and began looking back and forth between the new map and Willy Leonard's original. The new map was printed on slick paper and was very colorful, but the art looked barely acceptable, too simplistic -- like drawings in a coloring book.

Max sighed and stared at Dabney. "Should I even bother to ask how you got hold of a new map before we even set foot in The Lost World?"

Dabney raised his eyebrows as though it was a silly question. "They're right downstairs in the lobby."

"Oh," Max said.

"You're right. There is a big difference," Abbey remarked in a thoughtful voice. "I mean, it doesn't have nearly as much stuff on it."

"Well, it has to have all the same rides on it," Dabney said, sneering at his sister. "What I mean is, it isn't drawn nearly as well as the other map. But at least it still has the old border all the way round with all the weird native symbols in it... "

"That's the alphabet of the tribe that lives in The Lost World," Mr. Traveller broke in.

"Huh, neat," Dabney said.

"Well, I don't think it does have all the same rides," Abbey objected. "Look there at that section on the new map. There's nothing much there. I mean, it's not a very big area at all, but there's all kind of stuff there on the old map."

"No, there isn't... " Dabney said with a smirk. Then, he blinked. "Huh. I didn't see that." He looked back to the old map and then down at the new one again. "Weird. Something, some kind of cave with spiders on it, is missing. And some kind of playground... "

"Let me see that," Mr. Traveller said.

Abbey frowned. "Why would they discontinue a playground, for crying out loud?"

"Hmmmmm," Mr. Traveller said with a sparkle in his eyes. "This is getting very interesting. There may be something else that is in The Lost World but that doesn't show up on this map -- or even on the old one, for that matter. You know how people think Walt Disney had secret rooms built all through Disneyland and Disney World -- like his own private apartment somewhere in Cinderella's castle?" Mr. Traveller stared round at the kids. "Well, they say that Willy Leonard had a special treasure room built. And kids who stumbled across it could meet him and hang out with him for hours. And they would walk out holding a shiny, gold coin made just for the people who found that room."

"Wow!" Abbey and Dabney cried simultaneously.

"See if it's on there!" Abbey shouted.

"Well, I don't think he would put it on the map," Dabney murmured, but he looked anyway.

"When I was a kid, everybody knew about the treasure room and wished they could get in there somehow. All the kids I knew did, anyway. But I'm sure it's not on the map," said Mr. Traveller, even as he stared hard to see if it was on the map.

Max leaned in a little to see if he could get a look, but Mr. Traveller was hovering over the map and in the way again. Shrugging, Max turned away to stare again at the view beyond the open sliding glass doors and the balcony. He discovered that all the reds and yellows were gone from the sky. A nighttime blue was setting in, gradually becoming deeper, more mysterious. A warm, strong Florida breeze washed over Max and moved the heavy curtains back and forth. "Curiouser and curiouser," he said aloud to no one in particular, while stars began to wink into life above The Lost World.

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The next chapters of The Whole World is Haunted will appear in our Winter 2000 issue.

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