After a harrowing journey north, Bonnie and Debbie finally arrive at Christmas Land. Will it live up to their expectations?
Bonnie and Debbie climbed off as the train’s doors opened. They found themselves standing on a platform lacking even a ticket office. As the train pulled away, chugging across the marsh and then vanishing back into the forest, they looked at each other, both shrugging.
‘Well, we’re here,’ Bonnie said.
‘What an awesome place. Like, how long do we have to wait for the next train back?’
‘There’s a road over there, through the trees. And a sign. Look.’
Carrying their suitcases, they climbed down a set of steps and made their way across the clearing to where a forest trail led into the trees. A faded wooden sign with an arrow said CHRISTMAS LAND THIS WAY.
They headed down the trail, the trees closing in to block out the sky overhead. Debbie clutched Bonnie’s arm, squeezing so tightly that Bonnie had to repeatedly prise her fingers free in order to allow the blood to resume flowing.
The trail kept up a winding meander which didn’t allow them to see too far ahead, as though holding back its secrets until the last moment. Bonnie was fully expecting to turn a corner and find a sign telling them they’d been duped, when Debbie jerked to a stop, pulling Bonnie with her.
‘Can’t you hear it?’
Bonnie listened. Debbie was right. A faint tinkle of music came through the trees. It was too indistinct to make out any kind of a tune, but she felt sure it was familiar.
‘I don’t believe it,’ Debbie said. ‘Jingle Bells. Don’t they know it’s November?’
They started walking again. As they closed on the source of the music, Bonnie was able to pick up the tune. Jingle Bells, played on a loop.
‘It’s so weird,’ Bonnie said. ‘Standing in a pine forest in November, hearing the most famous Christmas Song of all played over a speaker.’
‘Look,’ Debbie said. ‘Here it is.’
They stepped out from behind a large pine leaning across the path and found Christmas Land standing in front of them.
Huge ornate gates held a sign.
WELCOME TO CHRISTMAS LAND
WHERE THE MAGIC OF CHRISTMAS NEVER ENDS
On either side, gatehouse towers rose, all fake stonework and plastic snow. Electric candles flickered in windows, illuminating the silhouettes of reindeer and elves.
One gate stood open. As they approached, Bonnie saw how it was now open forever, the upper hinge broken off, leaving the front corner buried in the ground. Bushes had grown up to claim it, the roots of saplings rooting it into the earth.
Inside the gates were lines of pretty chalets and a visitor centre. The roofs were loaded with pine needles and she could see even from this distance that several windows had plywood boards where glass should have been. A Ferris wheel standing in the centre of a main square had a sycamore growing eight feet high through the window of the closest car to the ground, clearly indicating that it hadn’t turned in some years.
‘It’s derelict,’ Debbie said. ‘Abandoned. Wow, this is way more awesome than I was expecting. Man, if only I had a metal band, this would be amazing for some press photos. An abandoned Christmas theme park in the middle of the forest—’
‘We prefer to simply say neglected,’ came a voice from inside one of the gatehouse towers, and a lower window opened to reveal a ruddy-cheeked man wearing a top hat and a green suit. Large sideburns made Bonnie immediately think of the bankers in Mary Poppins.
‘While it might look in a little disrepair, I can assure you that there is still plenty of fun to be had in Christmas Land, three hundred and sixty-five days of the year. Do you have a reservation? If not, don’t worry. We have plenty of chalets available.’ Then, breaking kayfabe for the first time, he looked down at the red gloves covering his hands and grimaced. ‘Most of them, actually.’