Tewksbury, Massachusetts in the mid-90's was a great place to be a kid. Main Street alone was chock-full of kid-friendly activities. There was an enormous outside go-kart track with a huge arcade full of the best games from the 80's and 90's. I remember spending hours playing the alligator version of whack-a-mole. I loved the sound they made when you hit them! Then, just down the street, was Tune Town. It wasn’t anything special, just a typical 90's music store, but they had that cute little dog with the bandana who showed up in every commercial. Though I’ve long since forgotten the little guy’s name, he was really cute, and whenever I’d go in to buy a new cassette tape, he’d be there to greet me at the door.
Out of all the places I went to as a kid, Funland was by far the greatest. They had their own go-kart track, a small one for little kids and a larger one for bigger kids. It wasn’t as big or as fancy as the one down the street, but it was still fun. There were batting cages too; lots of them. It even had a small arcade, mostly filled with Pinball machines, Pac-Man and the always popular Simpsons Arcade Game. You could never go wrong with that! But the best thing about Funland was the mini-golf course. It was the only one in the area at the time, and in the eyes of a ten-year-old kid, the place was HUGE. The iconic spaceship with the Funland logo sat in the center of the park. You could see it from the street, along with the giant giraffe statue that stared into the parking lot, smiling down at you as you entered.
There were other memorable statues too, including a pink elephant, and a large dollhouse that sat in the back corner. But the greatest part of the entire park was the 18th hole. On the outside, it just looked like a silly outhouse, but if you got a hole-in-one, not only did you get a free game, but the outhouse door would swing open, and you could hear the sound of a toilet flushing, along with the hiss of the hydraulics that moved the animatronic inside. It was a funny looking dog wearing overalls, with one strap hanging down off his shoulder, as if he’d just pulled them up. His eyes would blink, his jaw would move, and his arm would rise as he scolded you for disturbing him. “Hey! Whaddaya think yer doin’? Get outta here!” Then the door would close, and you and your friends would have a good laugh before you left. Every time I went there, I couldn’t wait to see that dog.
Like all things from childhood, the fun of Main Street slowly faded away. I think the go-kart track and arcade were the first to go, sitting abandoned for years before being turned into a Day Care Center. They kept the track, though; I don’t know why. So it just sat there in the back with one or two remaining go-karts frozen in time. Then Tune Town went out of business, unable to keep up with bigger music chains like Newbury Comics and F.Y.E.. I imagine that cute little dog has to be dead by now. Last to go, of course, was Funland. It was painful to see it start to rot and decay in its last few years of life.
The paint on the animal statues faded, the eyes of the giraffe looking sadly out into the emptying parking lot as less and less visitors came to see it. When the park officially closed, I was heartbroken. I used to drive by on my way to work, watching it slowly rot away. The elephant eventually tipped over onto its side, the chain around its huge stump of a foot that had been keeping it latched on the ground now visible and exposed. The doors and windows of the dollhouse were broken and shattered as if it were a real abandoned house. The outhouse door remained closed, the wood cracking with age. I could only imagine what the poor animatronic dog inside looked like.
Eventually, nature reclaimed the once thriving park, and I could no longer see into it. All that remained visible was the head of the giraffe, peeking over the rusted fence. Curiosity got the best of me, so I gathered my two friends, Kevin and Zack, one night, and we decided to break in and reminisce about our childhood. As we walked up to the high, barbed wire topped fence, I looked up at the giraffe. It was the first time I noticed just how creepy it looked. Its yellow coat of paint had almost completely faded, leaving only its brown spots and huge, almond shaped black eyes.
Continuing on, we snuck into the back of the park, near the batting cages. Zack had brought a pair of garden shears, and he cut the fence open, just enough for us to squeeze through. As I entered the park for the first time in what must have been over a decade, I looked around in complete awe. I was so excited! Everything was just how I remembered it. The go-karts were still on the tracks, the batting cages still had balls in them… but the arcade was all boarded up, and the mini-golf course was covered with trees, and was damp with overflow from the nearby swamp. I sighed, saddened by the sight of what was once a happy and magical place from my childhood. But seeing it all again made my body shiver in excitement. So did the creepy feeling the old abandoned park gave off at night. I never really noticed it until then.
We went through the course in order, starting at the 1st hole. There was nothing special, just the usual challenging mounds of fake grass, now moist with rain; the swamp hadn’t reached that far yet. As we continued, we walked past the pink elephant, now a shade of ghostly white. He lay on his side, eyes staring vacantly out into the park, as if he had just expired. I ran my fingers over his massive head before moving on. The dollhouse was the next memorable thing we came across. It looked like a miniature haunted house. I half expected the broken doors and windows to be boarded up like the arcade was. But you could still see inside; the little pieces of furniture were all toppled over and spilled out on the ground. This was the part of the park where the swamp had begun to creep in. The smell wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be; I grew up in Tewksbury, which was covered with swamps, but we couldn’t reach the entire back section, unless we wanted to wade through the disgusting water. Our only choice was to head straight to the 18th hole.
Finally, the part of the park I wanted to see the most! More than anything, I wanted to see that dog again. It was half nostalgia and half an excited sort of fear of what it would look like. Was it even still there? Was it in good condition, preserved by the outhouse? Or was it like everything else in the park, sad and neglected after all this time? I couldn’t wait to find out.
“Did you bring it?” I asked Kevin.
He nodded and handed me one of his dad’s golf balls. I held it in my hand, sighing deeply as I ran my thumb over the grooves. I stepped up to the outhouse and peered underneath, where I knew the hole would be. There was a sudden flash of light, temporarily blinding me.
“What the fuck, Zack?” I yelled, blinking away the white-yellow spots in my eyes.
“I was just trying to help,” he replied moodily. “Let’s just hurry up and get out of here.”
“Yeah,” added Kevin, “This place is giving me the creeps.”
“Not until I see him,” I snapped.
I’m sure I must have sounded crazy. I was talking about the dog as if it were a person. To me, he was more than just some sideshow attraction to be gawked at; he was a part of my childhood. It was like I was about to meet an old friend whom I hadn’t seen in ages.
My friends didn’t reply. Zack simply kept his flashlight pointed beneath the outhouse and Kevin sighed in annoyance, tapping his foot impatiently. But now we could all see it: the hole. The white tube in the ground that brought the golf balls back into the little hut outside the arcade. It was barely visible over the mound created by the fake turf, but it was still there and I had a clear shot. I placed the ball on the ground, and aiming carefully, rolled it towards the hole. We could hear the ball enter the pipe, the sound of it swirling down into the ground echoing in the silent park. Zack and I stepped back beside Kevin, the light now shining on the outhouse itself. I clenched my fist in anticipation, wishing with all my heart that it would somehow still work, that the door would open and the dog would still be there. And he would scold me like he always did…
… It was a stupid wish…
We all jumped at the sudden sound of the once familiar flushing noise, now slightly distorted. Then the doors began to open and the loud hiss of the hydraulics resonated through the night. We stood there breathless and silent. It worked! We actually made it work! After all these years, I’d finally get to see him again. I was so happy that I could feel the sides of my mouth curl up into a magnificent smile, as if I were a child opening a present. …But the present wasn’t what I had been expecting at all. There he stood, my once familiar friend, my reward for getting a hole-in-one… but I could hardly recognize him. The fur that covered his metal frame was matted and wet, and his overalls hung loose around him, like they would on someone who had lost a great deal of weight. My breath caught in my throat, which was now suddenly dry. I swallowed softly, eyes widening as they traveled up to the dog’s face. It was a horrible, hideous sight. The fake fur on half of his head had torn away, exposing the wires and joint mechanism in his mechanical jaw. I didn’t remember him having teeth. On the same side, his plastic eye had sprung from its socket and now remained dangling by his torn cheek.
…Then he blinked, the mechanism on the broken eye shuddering around the exposed wire, releasing small sparks. More sparks flew as his arm shot up with a clang and the hinge of his jaw creaked as his mouth flopped open. He spoke…
“What do you think you’re doing?”
The funny Southern drawl of his voice was completely gone, replaced by something raspy and angry, and although I could hear the chilling distortion in his voice box, he sounded more human than I ever remembered.
Kevin ran. He didn’t even look back. Zack dropped his phone and slowly backed away, screaming as he stared into the dog’s one good eye, which seemed to turn on him at the disturbance. Then, somehow, the dog moved forward. He wasn’t programmed to walk. As far as I knew, the hydraulics attached to his back only sat him up. He wasn’t supposed to walk, but by God, I saw that once funny animatronic dog from my childhood step out of that old, withered outhouse towards us. I stood there, frozen in fear, staring at it.
“F-Fuck this!” I heard Zack utter before he, too, left me.
Now I was alone. With “him”.
I had spent so many years thinking about this very moment. I wasted countless hours thinking about this dog and wanting to see him one last time. But I knew then I should never have stepped foot into that old park. My childhood was dead, as broken as the wires and metal rods that barely held the dog together.
He seemed to watch Zack go, his good eye turning with a cracking sound as he watched my friend disappear into the darkness. Then the eye turned on me.
“Get. Out,” he commanded, his arm still pointing, now in the direction of the parking lot, where the headlights of Zack’s car had just turned on.
I didn’t move. I could only stare. Was this some sick nightmare? Some bizarre fantasy my brain thought up to get my mind off a time I could no longer return to?
The… the THING stepped closer, its disfigured face mere inches from my own. The smell of wet dog seemed to invade my nostrils.
“GET OUT OF HERE!” it boomed, the voice box short circuiting as if it had exploded before slowly fading out. It sounded like multiple voices had spoken, all deep and aggressive; almost demonic.
This time I listened, and ran as fast as I could through the park, which was dimly lit by the headlights of the car. My eyes darted around; the once familiar area now seemed foreign and strange. I couldn’t tell where I was going. I heard the sound of children laughing, the trumpeting call of an elephant… and the clanging and grinding of metal gears.
When I finally reached the fence, I tried sliding through the hole we came through, but I got stuck on something. I looked down to see if my jacket was caught, but it wasn’t. Then I looked back. Staring right into my eyes was one white plastic eyeball with a painted-on black pupil. My eyes widened, staring back into that black spot as if it were a hole, ready to swallow me alive. Then I discovered the reason I was stuck… the hand of the animatronic dog was gripping the back of my collar. I remember thinking that the hand was supposed to be stuck in a pointing position; it didn’t have any mechanical function to actually open and close. But then again… the dog wasn’t supposed to be walking anyway.
“You shouldn’t have come back,” I heard it whisper, sending a chill up my spine.
Then it released me with a shove and I fell through the opening in the fence. Scrambling to my feet, I ran to Zack’s car, not once looking back as he sped off down Main Street.
It’s been five years since that night. I don’t talk to Kevin or Zack much anymore and we have never once spoken of the incident, not even on the car ride home. I never drove down that stretch of Main Street, either… until today.
It was late and the road I usually take had a detour which led me right to it. What harm would driving by do, anyway? I thought. But I should have known…
I tried not to look. I really did. But I just couldn’t help sneaking a peek. I couldn’t see much through all the rain, but I noticed the large "For Lease" sign that now hung on the fence. The giraffe was gone, or perhaps it had fallen over and was hidden under the thick brush. With a sigh, I continued on, trying to push the memories of that night out of my mind and replace them with happy ones from my childhood. My windshield began to fog up from the indecisive New England weather, so I put my defroster on. Then I noticed something… Instead of clearing from the bottom up like it normally would, my windshield began to clear in patterns. It had formed words. I stared at them, hoping with all hope that it was just a fluke or a fragment of my imagination. But the message was clear.
“DON’T COME BACK.”
When the police asked what caused me to crash into the pole just outside the abandoned park, all I could do was wrap the blanket they gave me tightly around myself as I stared back towards the bushes and trees that concealed the location of the 18th hole. “…Dog,” was all I could tell them, “It was that dog…”