So a while ago, I won a mini-contest on Jeff Vandermeer’s blog, with a story about a surreal little side-trip a couple of years ago. It’s been brought up a couple of times in the last several days, so I thought I’d re-post the story here.

So, then: Santa’s Land.

I don’t know if this qualifies as weird or not, but it was certainly surreal to me. Last summer two of my friends took their families on vacation together to the mountains, whereupon one of said friends promptly went into labor, three or four months prematurely (with twins, no less). That story turned out fine in the end, but it precipitated me taking a night off work and going to the mountains, unscheduled, to help my other friend with the herd of kids, while K’s husband spent most of his time at the hospital with her.

One of the pre-scheduled items on the itinerary was a day trip to a theme park called Santa’s Land. Oh goody, I thought. The kids’ll enjoy it and it’ll wear them out and they will sleep tonight and all will be well.

Oh, I was wrong. I couldn’t have been much more wrong.

This theme park: if Clive Barker and Tim Burton had got together to design a theme park based on the Freddy movies and with a Christmas theme, this would have been it. Word limitations prevent me giving the full details (and I’m still working through them with my therapist) but I will share one example of the horror:

On the map that one receives, on the back of the brochure, is marked “The Elves’ Bunkhouse”. We visited the Elves’ Bunkhouse. It is a small building, perhaps the size of the average kitchen. It has a sign on it, telling anyone who cares to know that it is, in fact, the Elves’ Bunkhouse; come and see a slice of life for Santa’s Elves!

As one enters, one faces a v. short hallway, perhaps four or five feet in length, with a door leading off to the left, and a plasterboard figure against the wall facing the door. It’s a cutout of an elf holding up a sign. The sign welcomes visitors to the Elves’ Bunkhouse. The elf is smiling. It is not a reassuring smile. It just gets worse as one steps into the exhibit. The first indication that all is not well is the fact that it is unlit. Visitors stand in a short hallway. Before them and to the right is the actual exhibit, in an L shape, behind plate glass. And it is /horrifying/.

To the right: the bedroom. There are two beds, in the bedroom. In the beds are elves, one to each bed. The elf on the left is freakish. It’s huge. It’s easily two and a half times the size of the rest of the elves in the exhibit, and it looks hydrocephalic. It’s either sleeping or in a coma, and it’s breathing. It is sucking in huge breaths, and letting them out again with a mechanical regularity that speaks of nothing organic. The elf in the bed on the right is the same size as the rest of the elves in the exhibit. It’s lying in bed, unmoving. Not breathing. It’s pale and pasty and did I mention it’s not moving?

The thing is dead. It has to be.

On the floor in front of that bed, facing onlookers, is a small rocking chair. It’s a cute little rocking chair. In the cute little rocking chair is a cute little teddy bear. It’s rocking. Back. And forth. And back. And forth. Very. Very. Slowly. I do not know why. But rocking. Watching us. Watching it.

That is the elves’ bedroom. The elves’ kitchen is equally terrifying.

In the back of the kitchen, perched on the sideboard, an elf sits pumping water from an old-fashioned hand pump. It is doing this at the same speed as the teddy bear is rocking in the other room, which is to say: far too slowly to actually pump water, but just the right speed to appall anyone who is watching. It is staring into the middle distance with an expression that is probably intended to be cheerful but is instead only vaguely horrified.

At the table sit two more elves. They are, I believe, intended to appear grandparent-y, but they do not. Noooo, they do not. The grandmotherly elf is grinning cheerfully through the plate glass at visitors, and she looks ready to either go for someone’s throat or stab herself in the head. The grandfatherly elf wears the same expression.

On the table in front of them rests what is, I suspect, meant to be a ham. It is not a ham. It is nothing like a ham. It looks like someone took a corpse from a Halloween haunted house show and cut the limbs off and left it on the table in front of these elves.

Stuck in the ham is a cleaver.

Grandpa elf’s hand is moving up and down in front of the cleaver as though he is meant to be slicing the meat. The cleaver does not move. There is nothing in his hand. I have never cut ham with a cleaver, but then, I am not a deranged plastic elf.

The final touch to all of this freak show: the exhibit is painted in the most excitingly bright colours: vivid, neon pinks and greens and oranges and blues and lots and lots of black, and was then illuminated by blacklight. It looks like someone bought the thing at auction from a defunct Halloween show and dropped it wholesale in this park, pausing only to cut the limbs off the ham and stick Christmas hats on the mass murderers-cum-elves.

It was delightful, for all the wrong reasons, and the whole park was like that: just a carnival of gorgeous, magical wrongness. It was probably a very nice theme park when the brochure was printed, which looks to be at a guess somewhere around 1987.

Now I just want to go back with a news crew.