‘The Dead Kingdom’
One dusk, he was caught on camera. He kneeled at the brink of Jade Falls, in the center of the park, cupped hands into the yellow bell of water into a pool. Bringing the cold chlorine to his mouth he drank deeply. Security came in a minute but he was gone.
No one knew where—not even those who saw him go. The tourists at the railing snapped photos of the gunslinger and then argued: a Quebecois saw him dash over the lip into shady Pioneer Forest. Others claimed he tore off his boots and swam the lagoon’s curry to Lost Children’s Isle. The security men ran fingers through their hair, staring over the surface of churned carotene in the low sun. Excited children clambering on rocks on the island, their screams loud over the water, looked at the white steamboat that whistled. Tiers lit by oil lanterns glistened calmly in a cake of white pine.
Foreign to the tan Californians, the gunslinger was always discerned in the crowd. His raw physiognomy under the sombrero was ruthless. Wind harsher than the breezes here, laden as they were with marine moisture, had aged him prematurely. Incipient cancers specked his face, his eyes kinked at their sides though he could not have been twenty-one.
The first girl vanished from the Triassic Train.
The Junior Astronaut, on a lone voyage in the Sky Ships, parents clapping at the rail, was snatched away in his slow migration to the Emerald Chateau across the sky.
Next two teens.
Their parents left them playing in Babylon while they got lemon ice. The girls did not emerge from the vines when their parents screamed.
The gunslinger stood staring into a mirror pool, light webs menacing him under his sombrero, minutes after the girls descended into the crevices of the ruins.
Initially corporate requested the costumed rustler for questioning, but the sheriffs and gunhands of Lincoln, New Mexico—two zones east of Babylon—did not know the strange man staring with a wistful look into his image, the tourist stream forking around him on the video, ants around a coal.
Rumors of sightings passed among the crews, toy vendors, popcorn men and sugar sculptors. He moved in smooth silence through the visitors, colts and belts burning, jeans dark on the ecstatic color.