Chapter 3: Subterranean Fairgrounds

Let's Hear It
Chapter 3: Subterranean Fairgrounds
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We find out what happens to The Traveling Wilburys after they fell into a stuffed animal basement, what the groupies are up to, and how Eddie Money figures into all of this.

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Story transcript

Chapter 3

“Nah, man, that’s not a killer clown or a stuffed lion.” Said Tom Petty. “I’d know that face anywhere. That’s my old nemesis, Eddie Money!”

The whole band sighed with relief. Eddie was a generation younger than most of the band, and while he plied a glossier music than the group, he could still hang. As for being Tom’s nemesis, they weren’t worried. Tom was notorious for racking up countless beefs across the music industry – Brian May, Steve Perry, a teenage Mariah Carey – so another nemesis was pretty unremarkable. George smiled and patted Eddie on the back.

“Thank My Sweet Lord it’s you, Eddie. We thought you were a killer stuffed animal clown.”

The band laughed, except for Tom, who glowered, and Eddie, who remained deadly serious.

“Drugs are no laughing matter, guys,” croaked Eddie, “You really have to be careful with that stuff, especially blow. One bad line and you’re in serious trouble. Trust me, I would know,” he finished, limping towards the band.

Tom Petty had already heard just about enough out of his nemesis as he could take, and it was all that he could do to stop himself from yelling at him. In fact, it was less than he could do, since he didn’t stop himself and started yelling.

“You’re one to get on your high horse and lecture about drugs. You overdosed on a line of bad cocaine, damaging your sciatic nerve, and now you walk with a limp!”

Eddie nodded soberly.

“That’s exactly what I was referring to. Boy, did I learn my lesson. Drugs are really dangerous. Just promise me to always make sure your supply is clean before you snort up.”

The band nodded in agreement with Eddie’s sage advice. Tom, deflated by Eddie’s non-antagonism, stamped huffily to a corner, re-lit his joint, took a drag, kicked a stuffed animal, activating it’s speech box.

“Be like me, Happy Horse, and love everybody!”

“Shut up, drugs! You’re supposed to tell me what I want to hear.”

“Should we be worried about him?” Asked Eddie Money.

“Nah, he’ll snap out of it soon enough,” replied George Harrison. “What are you doing here, anyway?”

“And where is here?” chimed in Jeff Lynn.

“It all started when I played a gig at the stadium upstairs last year. After the show, I naturally made a bee-line for the Zamboni locker. Like most people, my primary way to relax, is smoothing ice rinks. I was going to have the staff freeze the stadium, as if for a hockey game, get an Olympic figure skating team to use it a bunch to scuff it up, and then let me ride a Zamboni over it to sweet, smooth, pristine ice perfection. But I had barely gotten to the Zamboni locker door when the floor dropped out and I ended up here.”

“The same exact thing happened to us!” Exclaimed Jeff Lynn. “Minus all the stuff about smoothing ice rinks.”

Eddie’s brow furrowed in genuine concern.

“You guys aren’t part of Nice Ice Nation? Hold on, I have some pamphlets…”

“*********,” interjected Bob Dylan, gracefully maneuvering the topic elsewhere without hurting Eddie’s feelings. Jeff Lynn capitalized on the moment.

“How have you survived down here for a whole year? All I see is stuffed animals.”

Eddie closed his eyes, nodded slightly, as if patiently dealing with ignorant minds.

“Yes, there are many stuffed animals in this place, but that is only the surface. There are things beyond. Open your eyes, Wilburys. If you look past the stuffed animals, you will also see…this door.”

A plain gun-metal gray door sat undisguised along the far wall, next to Tom Petty. The band murmured their admiration for Eddie’s mystical sight.

“There’s an entire sunken fairground down here,” said Eddie, throwing open the door.

Pale neon light flooded in through the opening.

“Follow me, gentlemen,” said Eddie Money, beckoning through the door.

Before anyone could move, Tom Petty turned on Eddie Money.

“No way, man! I’m not following you, not here, there, or anywhere! Not after I followed you back in ’77 at the Pantages!”

“Tom, I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about,” said Eddie.

“Forked-tongue lies,” shouted Tom, crushing his joint in anger.

“You know exactly what you did, mister Edward Joseph Mahoney, if that is your real name.”

“Yeah, it is,” replied Eddie, confused.

“Edward Joseph Mahoney is my birth name, Eddie Money is my stage name.”

“Ah ha, so you admit it!” Crowed Tom, triumphantly.

“Enough!” Shouted George Harrison.

“Tom, I know you’re famous for your beefs, but I think I speak for everyone when I say, we all want to see the sunken fairground, and your tirade is holding us all up. Now, I can’t tell you how to feel, only Krishna can do that, but you’ve got to bring it down a notch, alright mate?”

Tom scowled.

“Alright, fine,” he said in simmering defeat, whipping his crushed joint into the stuffed animals.

Not wanting to accidentally say something that would set Tom off, Eddie motioned to the door, and the group stepped through.

Meanwhile, far above, Connie, Belinda, and Yuna, stood in shocked silence. Before them, the door to the Zamboni locker hung ajar, revealing a totally empty room. Not even a Zamboni, which you’d think would be a give in. Also, no Traveling Wilburys.

“Okay, is my prescription off, or did all the Traveling Wilburys vanish?” Asked Yuna.

Connie looked at Yuna in surprise.

“Prescription? I didn’t know you wore contacts.”

“I don’t, the prescription is for my hyperthyroidism, and one of the side effects is ‘occasional non-perception of persons’.”

“Far out,” said Belinda.

Yuna screamed.

“How did you get there?”

Connie shook her head.

“But you’re right, Yuna; the Wilburys did vanish.”

Belinda licked her lips, nervously.

“Do you think the clown got them?”

Connie shook her head again.

“Nah, there’d be more of a mess.”

Belinda wasn’t convinced.

“But what if that clown is more than human…or less. What if he’s an evil spirit, like the legend says, and he snatched the band off to the netherworld?”

Connie rolled her eyes.

“Oh come on, Belinda, keep your feet on the ground. I bet this is a rich rock star trick; they must have figured out some new way to get out of dodge instantly. They’re using it get out of their promise! Now which one seems more likely?”

Yuna nodded, her hoop earrings swinging back and forth.

“Yes, as much as the supernatural is always in play, how many times has one of these big shots ghosted you?”

Belinda drooped.

“Literally every time.”

Connie gave Belinda a squeeze.

“Same. Boy this riles me up. Almost makes me want to run around with Guns n’ Roses. Almost.”

Yuna joined the hug.

“I guess we’re on our own finding Dixie.”

Connie broke the hug, clearing her throat, resolve calcifying.

“Right. The stadium is big, but if we stick together, keep our eyes peeled, and take it step by step, we’ll find our friend.”

Distracted, Yuna stooped and picked up a small plastic figurine.

“Hello, what’s this?”

The figure was roughly made, the seams where the mold was used clearly visible. The face was partially melted, as if it had been held too close to an open flame. Otherwise, it looked like a non-descript Caucasian man.

Belinda wiped her eyes.

“Wow, you’re pretty perceptive for someone who occasionally can’t perceive people.”

Yuna frowned with concentration.

“This is a facsimile of a person, not an actual person; the medication can tell the difference. I wonder what it means…”

Connie shrugged.

“It means some kid lost their toy.”

Belinda grimaced.

“What kind of weird kid would have this toy?”

While they pondered this, far below, The Traveling Wilburys entered the sunken fairground.

What they saw took their breath away.

Or maybe it was the smell that did that. The place reeked of fossilized soft serve, permanently damp rubber, impossibly stale popcorn, oxidized iron, and swamp gas. The fairgrounds stretched out before them, rusted and crumbling, a duct-taped money patch away from collapse, which seemed remarkably intact for an abandoned, underground amusement park.

Untouched by the sun, the grounds were illuminated by light from somehow still powered neon signs, advertising games, rides, and refreshments, casting their subjects in ghostly, multi-colored hues. The skitter and squeak of small, unseen animals blended with an automated voice box, occasionally triggered, imploring the empty grounds to “Step right up,” it’s pitch slowed to demonic tones. Large cement pylons faded away into darkness above, along with a large, creaking ferris wheel.

The group stood next to a corroded water gun game, the room they had just exited presumably being the prize store room. Eddie shook his head, still amazed, even after being trapped down there for a year.

“Incredible, isn’t it? It sunk into the Meadowlands after Carmine Sanzari, the land developer, shut the place down because he kept losing at the games. It must have broke through to a natural cavern, and they just built the stadium right on top.”

“How did you survive down here all this time?” asked Jeff Lynn, who was already regretting having thrown more food at the wall than he ate.

“Living down here can be tough, but once you get used to it, it’s not half bad.”

Eddie walked to a smoking trash can, opened the lid to reveal a low fire and a makeshift grill rack inside. He extracted a foul-smelling skewer spearing two small bats, half a large mole, several phosphorescent mushrooms, and a wad of cotton candy.

“Who knew cotton candy doesn’t expire?” Laughed Eddie.

“Anyone hungry?”

No one was. Eddie shrugged.

“More for me. Well, Ozzy’s up.”

Eddie toasted the air with his skewer, made the heavy metal sign with his fingers, and bit the head off one of the bats, chewing thoughtfully as he gazed around the fairgrounds.

“What a crazy place. Amazing. You know, in it’s own way, it’s kind of beautiful.”

The demoniacally slow voice said “Step right up” again, and Jeff Lynn shivered.

“I don’t like this place; it gives me the creeps. Come on fellas, let’s get out of here.”

“That’s just the problem, Jeff,” replied Eddie, sliding the remainder of the bat off the end of the skewer, crunching into it with heavy, practiced bites.

“We can’t leave. There’s no way out.”

“Ah ha, another lie!” Cried Tom, pointing accusingly at Eddie.

“Oh come on Tom, give it a rest,” said George, exasperated.

“No man, listen! There’s got to be a way back, because that killer clown has been here. Look!”

Tom pointed to some curly green strands of hair stuck in the door jam.

“That creep fits right in down here,” he said, looking pointedly at Eddie, who shifted uncomfortably.

“Yeah, that’s right,” whined Jeff Lynn, looking around furtively.

“Yuna said the clown was a vengeful spirit of the fair, so maybe he can move around with his ghost powers, but we’re s-s-s-stuck!”

“Calm down, you scardy cat,” admonished George.

“With the six of us together, I’m sure we’ll be able to find a way out of here. But first we need to find that clown.”

“Forget the clown!” Cried Jeff, like a major wuss.

“Let’s just focus on getting outta here!”

The band nodded in wussy agreement.

“I can’t believe what I’m hearing, lads,” said George, pained.

“What is the Traveling Wilburys code?”

After a moment’s pause, Tom Petty reluctantly piped up.

“Back to basics roots rock n’ roll,” he said.

“Of course, that’s number one,” said George, “And?”

“*********,” Added Bob Dylan.

“Always,” confirmed George, “Everyone would do well to remember that one. And?”

“Oh, Pretty Woman,” said Roy, softly.

“Absolutely, can’t forget that,” said George. “And?”

Jeff Lynn sighed.

“And we always follow a case to the end, no matter what,” he said, glumly.

“That’s right. Glad that’s settled. Now Eddie, over the year you’ve been stuck down here, have you seen a creepy looking clown with a green curly wig that looks like he would attack a groupie?”

Eddie stroked his chin, squinting, as if he was trying to excavate his memories with the crease of his brow.

“It’s not ringing a bell,” he replied.

“Have you seen anyone while you were trapped down here?” asked George.

“No, not at all,” replied Eddie immediately.

“Why did you have to think about having seen a clown when you knew you didn’t see anyone?” screamed Tom Petty.

“Something fishy is going on here. I’m watching you, Eddie.”

“Alright Tom, you’ll get your wish,” said George.

“There’s a lot of ground to cover. We only have a few hours before the tour bus leaves, and you know they don’t wait for anyone, so we’ve got to find and apprehend that clown, figure out what happened to Dixie, escape this underground carnival, and be back on the bus before Early-Bird Earl gets behind the wheel. To pull that off, we’re going to have to split up. Me and Roy will check out the ferris wheel. Bob? Jeff? Scope out the mirror maze. Tom and Eddie, you seem like you have a lot to work out, so you guys team up.”

“What!” shouted Tom.

“No ifs ands or whats,” said George.

“It’s a long shot, but I want you both to look around the Rock n’ Roll Super Death Dunk The Clown pavilion.”

“Fine,” muttered Tom angrily. He kicked a rock, which ricochetted off a corrugated steel running board, dinged off the smoldering trash can, whizzed through the top of Bob Dylan’s ’fro, nicked the edge of the door jam, and bounced into the stuffed animals in the store room.

“Be like me, Happy Horse, and love everybody.”

Tom Petty clutched his head.

“Enough with the wholesome family messaging, drugs!”

A short time later, Tom and Eddie walked in awkward silence, Tom hunching his shoulders and glaring at the ground, Eddie closely studying the dilapidated fairgrounds he’d seen hundreds of times already.

Finally, Eddie spoke.

“Tom, if this is about that thing at the Pantages, I really don’t know what you’re talking about. I wasn’t even playing arenas that big in ’77.”

“Oh, really?” said Tom.

“Is that so? Because your memory has been awfully shaky lately.”

“Okay, well, care to enlighten me?”

Tom Petty scoffed.

“You’re telling me you have no memory whatsoever of you doing your show for an extra half hour, because yeah, I had dropped acid and temporarily thought I was a street food vendor in Honduras? But when I came back mentally, and went to get my gear to go on stage, you were taking vengeance on me for being late by peeing on my guitar? And not just the SG, but all of them? And you wouldn’t lend me any of yours, so I had to play the whole show with wee wee instruments? And the entire front row was crinkling their noses and waving their hands in front of their faces? And I kept getting little shocks because the urine was shorting the electric current in my guitar until my hair was standing on end so it stuck out of the sides of my cowboy hat like a half crushed dandelion puff? And then when I got off stage I found you in the green room peeing into my bowl of weed nuggets and flipping me off? And then I almost tackled you and beat you to a pulp, but instead I had a fast-acting acid flashback and I was in Honduras again making Tortas? And then you peed on those? Ringing any bells?”

Eddie blinked.

“No memory of that whatsoever.”

“Oh, wait, I’m thinking of Linda Ronstadt,” said Tom sheepishly.

“Sorry man, no hard feelings?”

Eddie Laughed.

“None at all. People confuse me and Linda all the time,” he lied.

By this point, they had arrived at the Rock n’ Roll Super Death Dunk The Clown pavilion.

“I guess we should have a look around,” said Tom.

“Yeah, about that,” said Eddie, suddenly seeming nervous.

“I hate to do this, but I actually need to go. I forgot I have to…brush my teeth. Yeah. Hygiene, you know, so important. Later!”

Before Tom could react, Eddie was gone, melted away into the tangle of subterranean amusements. Tom scowled, all his anger towards Eddie instantly coming back.

“What’s the big idea running off like that. Seems mighty fishy. I bet he did pee on my gear, even though now I recall clearly that it was Ronstadt. Surprised I managed to forget that image.”

Tom grabbed an ancient bean bag and whipped it at the Dunk The Clown target, but missed by a few feet. The bag plunked sullenly into the murky tank. Petty’s grumbling escalated when he found there was nothing else to throw, so he stalked over to the tank to retrieve the bag so he could re-throw it. As he reached for it, he caught a dim reflection of someone behind him in the mud and algae clouded dunk tank water.

“Eddie, that brush could not have been for the dentist recommended two minutes,” he said, turning, but the words caught in his throat.

Towering over him was not Eddie Money, but the clown. Sallow complexion, sunken eyes, blank expression, and bright green, curly hair. In one hand the clown held a silver record, sharp edges gleaming, but what really stopped Tom’s breath was what he held in the other. It was…