By ‘Hard Luck’ Lou Zerr
Staff Schlub Writer
Shadow City is where evil lurks, and you’re invited to join in the lurking. So get out of the clean country, the happy suburbs and the ritzy metropolis. First thing to do when you get to Shadow City is get that soapy bath water off your body and cover yourself with the dirt and grime of these seedy streets.
Hardboiled monsters, down-on-their-luck beasts, nuclear zombie thugs, disfigured femme fatales, vampire palookas and mafia mutants all stake their claim here in Shadow City. This lousy town thinks you’re gonna knuckle over, and in the end you will. No one’s ever gonna regret not doing right by you — you’re never gonna make a name for yourself, ya bum.
So take a lungful — the air is thick, wet and steamy here. It’s enough to stifle your breathing and stain that powder blue suit with dark blue shirt, decorative tie and display handkerchief.
Then make your lofty goals. Have faith you’ll be a success, believe you’ve got an edge that’ll pay off in short time, count on others to help you and guide you . . . Bet big! But be warned: There are no winners in Shadow City. In this town we’re all in a Mexican standoff — everyone’s at each other’s throat. And we all lose. The sooner you know that, the sooner you’ll be able to enjoy your stay.
I didn’t hear you say “Huh?” but you wanted to. Go ahead, start at Gore Gardens, the amusement park where the guests get as gory as the zombies that operate the attractions do. You got the guts to go?
That’s not the tunnel of love, Romeo. Juliet’s an evil serpent in these waters waiting to hack into your face with her teeth and claws. Even a game of “Whack a Mole” has its beatings. Burrowing animals in Shadow City want your skull sucked dry for their protection against the other wicked critters in this dog-eat-dog district.
Check out the roller coasters next. The higher up they go the harder riders fall to their graves. And don’t expect those emergency exit doors in the House of Mirrors to open. Guess what? There’s no other way out, either.
The best you can do is take a breather, have a snack. Get some souvenirs.
Oh, you think you get a break? Gore Gardens is full of vendors selling toxic chow and hazardous toys that have the same type of “grave” effects as the rides. Spend your hard-earned dough, feel entitled to a good time, think and grow rich. Wow, maybe you can overcome Shadow City’s misfortunes.
Except you can’t. Nothing you do matters. I said it once, I said it a hundred times: You’re gettin’ hosed no matter what. In fact, the more you repeat the “success mantra” in your head, the more you set yourself up for a glorious trouncing. You gotta expect the pain, welcome it and revel in it.
Try that state of mind out in the Scaregrounds at the far end of Gore Gardens. Don’t worry — it’s not the clean, friendly family park you read about in those fancy pulp novels. This is a high-class place — grimy, unsafe and full of unsavory types. But as they say, all that doesn’t glitter isn’t always gold.
Carny Corner, the Freaky Funhouse, the Killer Clowns at the Evil Big Top — it all sounds like ghoulish fun, right? Wrong. Don’t let your friends build you up into thinking you can escape with your life. You’re feeling too confident, and that’s a no-no. The minute you get to thinkin’ you’ve got an unbeatable arsenal of expertise, you explode on impact.
Don’t you remember? All those losers busting their humps, puttin’ in their time — you’re one of ‘em. And it’s gonna stay that way. But don’t take my word for it. At the Evil Big Top near Sideshow Row, you’ll see signs to Fortune Teller Town. Follow those signs. Then go see Zoltar, Esmeralda, the Swami, Madame Cassandra or any of the other many fortune-telling machines there and plop in the desired coins for the answers.
Are you destined for financial success? Will you find successful relationships? How ‘bout a nice home?
Any of those machines will tell you (by voice or by fortune card) that you’ll be broke with no relationships in a skid’s row, and that you’ll own no home, but you’ll have monster’s best friend at your feet, treating your best shoes like juicy meat on a bone.
This is Shadow City, dummy. There’s only one thing to learn here: This is a loser’s paradise. Even the idiots at Dummy and Doll Hall in downtown Shadow City know that. Do yourself a favor — get out of Gore Gardens. That place is for quick thrills only. The real, slow pain is in the heart of the town.
Hard Luck Lane in the downtown area will teach you how to fail royally and love every miserable moment of it. There’s an art to the hard luck loser, and the Shriekeasy is where it all begins.
It’s late, the bartender is serving all night, the band is tired of playing music no one’s listening to and you just met the woman of your dreams, although I wouldn’t bank on it — she’s one of the city’s disfigured femme fatales, and she’ll rip your heart out and use it in her salad the following day (she’s got that mutilated figure to keep). But order drinks for the two of you anyway. Hey, you’re in Shadow City — this place is built on shattered lives like yours.
This story (actually by Michael Picarella) also appeared in Jack-o’-Lantern Press, a monster blog for monsters only, from Michael Picarella, his brother, Tom Picarella, and Michael’s son, Robert Picarella. JLP posts monster news and entertainment weekdays between the months of August and October, and occasionally throughout the year. The online publication is currently running travel stories like this one from the 13 districts of Transyl-vein-ia.