Ambrose woke to a witch hazel hangover, which meant that everything hurt. It wasn’t a polite “I think I might need a doctor” hurt. It was the savage, wrenching hurt of thousands of stakes raking through every skin layer – piercing him but not killing him.
He screamed a harsh scream, which degenerated into an uneven growl into a moan into a garbled stream of archaic curse words. He curled forward and dug his fingers into his hair, begging for unconsciousness or death to take him.
The pain lasted for two hours.
It left him exhausted and unable to think or feel or move. He lay still as if he were dead.
His senses snapped into sharp focus as a red fox slipped out of the bushes. Hungry… he thought. So hungry…
The fox stopped and stared at the downed man. It funneled its ears forward.
It raised a black-socked leg.
Ambrose scrambled up to his feet and promptly vomited his last meal.
The fox yipped and fled into the bushes.
Ambrose snarled and stumbled after the animal. “You won’t get away from me. I’ll find you. I’ll get you. I’ll bite you and—”
He stopped running and looked down at his wrists. No shackles. No chains. He glanced around. No prison cell. “Why?” He frowned. “Why didn’t she kill me?”
The fox yipped on the other side of a yew bush crowd.
Ambrose thrashed his way through the bushes. His stomach growled wild with hunger. He was ready to bite anything with blood coursing through its veins.
He stepped out of the yews and into a vast clearing.
The tumbled, jumbled ruins of an amusement park laid claim to the clearing as surely as the clearing had laid claim to it. Vines twined the frames for the Tilt-a-Whirl, the Whooshing Gondola of Doom, the Ferris wheel, and the Plop ’em Drop ’em Sop ’em. The rides’ seating arrangements, however, had joined the concession stands as grass and wildflower covered lumps. They looked like burial mounds.
Only the ticket stand remained untouched by nature and time.
The fox jumped up on the ticket stand’s window ledge. It scratched the window with a delicate black paw.
Ambrose bared his fangs and tried to charge forward. He couldn’t move. And he knew why.
He needed an invitation.
“Blast it all to oblivion’s end! It’s an amusement park. An amusement park! It’s a public place.”
The fox quirked an ear in Ambrose’s direction. He stopped his window scratching and jumped off the ledge.
“I shouldn’t need an invitation to enter a public place. Certainly not one that’s in such a ruined state.”
The fox strolled over to Ambrose and stopped a hand’s-reach in front of him.
Even though he knew it would be an exercise in pointlessness, Ambrose tried to move forward.
The fox sat in a cat pose, its bushy tail wrapped around its feet. It watched Ambrose’s struggles and seemed to smile.
Ambrose noticed the animal’s amusement. He launched into a long, colorful list of French profanities.
The fox opened its mouth into a wide smile and transformed into a brunette woman in an elegant red dressing gown. “Hello, Ambrosia.”
“Maria. I thought—Mark…He sent you away. You’re gone.”
“But here I am.” She smiled. “Now, isn’t that a pretty puzzle?”
“Maria. Invite me in. I want to be with you. I want—”
“Oh, my dear Ambrosia. I know what you want.” She turned into Mark Caten, all dressed up in his fine Armani suit.
Ambrose tried to lunge at him, but he still couldn’t move.
Mark smiled. “You poor stupid sap. Maria is gone. She will never come back to you.”
“Invite me in.”
“Oh, don’t worry. I—”
“Rrraaah! Invite me in. NOW!”
“Why? So, you can kill me? I am no one’s fool.”
“That’s what you think. What is this place? What am I doing here? What do you want from me?”
Mark’s smile turned into an odious smirk. “Ah-ah-ahh. That would be telling too many secrets.”
“Let me in.”
“All right. I give you permission to enter this area.”
Ambrose rushed forward, knocked Mark to the ground, and bit his neck. No blood flowed into his mouth.
“Wha?” He released his victim and looked down at him.
Ambrose sat back on his heels. “I don’t understand.”
Mark Caten smiled at the monitor. “Poor foolish Ambrosia.” He turned to face a white-haired man in a black suit and mirrored sunglasses. “So? What do you say?”
“I’m impressed. I think he will be a popular attraction.”
“Oh, I’m sure he will be.”