Mr. Toad's Wild Ride

I step out of the back of the police van, sunlight assaulting my eyes as they look around, gaining their bearings. …Disneyland? The higher-ups had mentioned something about positive reinforcement therapy, but I didn't think this was what they meant. I line up alongside my prisonmates before my mind wanders to what other 'positive reinforcement' my captors may have planned.

"Alright, scum, listen up. The chief of our prison believes strongly in rehabilitation over retribution, so she's paid for you guys to use the park today, though of course, it's a maintenance day as well, so there won't be civilians around, just Disney staff. Personally, I think you lot are beyond saving, but it isn't my problem to marinate on. Oh, and before any of you try anything funny, we've got police swarming this place. They will find you, catch you, and hold you down until the chief herself walks over and beats your ass. And that's only if I don't get to you first." The warden smiles and straightens his glasses. "Now then, let's do roll call, after which you're free to enjoy yourselves."

The warden begins calling out names. I yawn. Truth be told, I don't care too much for theme parks. I'm far too jaded from my years in prison to try and escape either, notwithstanding what I know will happen to me if I try.

"Mist E. Towed?"

"Here," I voice.

"Heh," the warden smirks. "Mist. Interesting name." I suppose it is.

After a while, we are dismissed, and, not having anything better to do, I begin to walk the streets of the happiest place on Earth. I start crossing roads and making turns without even realizing it, almost as if my instincts are guiding me. No, it couldn't be my instincts, I've never been to this park before. It was almost as if I was being pulled, beckoned by some invisible force. My danger sense silently suggests I not heed my own directions, but I ignore the feeling. I stop at what appears to be one of the many rides, and look up.

"Mr. Toad's Wild Ride. Huh." I glance inside. There is no line, nor does there seem to be a ride operator. Maybe the carts are remotely controlled? A nagging sense of curiosity causes me to sit down in one of the carts. Instantly the system springs to life, and the cart begins moving towards a large door that no doubt encases the main segment of the ride. Startled, I was, but I make no motion to leave.

I let myself lean back into my chair as I take in the sights presented to me. Several toad puppet machines dance around as my cart wreaks perceived havoc on everything from a library to a dining hall. Many human cutouts dive out of the way to avoid being pulverized by my rampaging cart. I think one of them was a policeman. I chuckle. Lights flash and mock explosions ensue as the cart muscles onward. Toads and – are those weasels? – continue dancing around me in a jarring, asymmetric fashion. I then enter what appears to be a juryless courtroom, with a furious man on a podium overhead, presumably the judge.

"GUILTY!" He makes his proclamation just seconds before a holographic train hits me and the place turns dark. I shift in my seat uncomfortably. The scenario is bringing back memories I'd rather not think about. I suddenly feel a strong desire to finish up this 'wild ride' and exit the building. My danger sense agrees with me rather readily.

I start feeling warmer as I enter the next section. My self-inquiry as to why is answered when I am presented with a veritable visual copy of hell. Devils of all shape and size, snickering, leering down at me as I pass them by. One of them looked suspiciously like the judge who had only recently condemned me. I start sweating. Was the place supposed to get this hot? I didn't think so. A dragon's head appears to the side and breathes a fire of sorts at me, as the temperature momentarily spikes to near intolerable levels. What the hell kind of ride is this, anyway?

Just as I give a thought to exiting the slow moving cart and finding my own way out, the entire room goes lightless and soundless, save for one bulb, flickering valiantly. Suddenly overwhelmed by a sense of foreboding, I slowly look down onto what the light is shining upon. A life-size statue of, presumably, Mr. Toad himself. His arms beckon for me to come closer, and his eyes, while unfocused, feel as though they are staring right through me. I inch closer to the statue, despite half of my common sense screaming at me to stay away, and the other half asking what there was to be so afraid of in the first place.

Now only a foot away from the toad to crown all toads, which felt disturbingly larger from up close than from further back, I reach out my hand to touch the thing, hoping vainly that I might come to the realization of what it is and why it is here.

Instantly, the statue dematerializes into sand particles that fall to the floor. I take several steps back, suppressing a yell. That actually happened. I could tell. There were zero effects involved in what just transpired, and zero explanations as to how. Out of my peripheral vision, I spot a large, ornate door not unlike the one that I had first entered. The exit. Half panicked, half relieved, I run towards it, ignoring the several questions that rack me. I need to get out of here; this place is messing with my head. I pry open the door.

Barreling straight towards me is a train. And it looks all too real. Forty long years of my life pass me by in a mere second before a crushing pain unlike any other envelops me.

I convulse, and open my eyes. I'm back in the cart, at the start of the ride. This time, I can't stop myself. I scream and let loose profanity after obscenity, pleading all the while that someone get me out. The dancing toads, taking wind of my unsightly outburst, simultaneously smile widely. I close my eyes.

Alright. Get ahold of yourself. You've suffered through much worse than this. Though, you must admit, not anything quite like this. In any case, you will find whoever was responsible, and strangle them. But first, you must get out. Focus on that.

I open my eyes. The toads' grins are now manically malicious, and one could make out sets of teeth in their mouths. I grab a dented metal pole laying near me and jump out of the cart. The heat is slowly starting to pick up again.

I run clumsily at one of the toads and swing at it. The pole goes right through its head. An apparition? Surprised and unable to correct my momentum, I stumble through the ghost toad. A chilling wave sweeps over me as my eyes start experiencing epileptic flashes.

*FLASH*

A scene begins painting itself in my mind. A silhouette on the ground, using a knife to repeatedly stab at its shadow. Stab. Stab. Blood flows. I feel something embrace my cold, bare feet. I look down. A river of blood flows past me. It is red in color. A toad, Mr. Toad, stands off in the distance. Unmoving, silently observing.

*FLASH*

A crying man. He is crying, not in pain, but in loss. He has lost something he can never regain. Minutes turn into hours. He continues to wail. I want so badly to comfort him, to tell him everything will turn out okay. I reach out to him. Mr. Toad is watching… he watches robotically, pragmatically, with no visible interest. I find myself being pulled away, unable to touch the man. A vortex sucks me in, slowly but surely, until-

I open my eyes. Sweat drenches my entire body. I won't last long in this heat. Shaking the flashbacks out of my head I soldier on, weaving my way past toad after toad, in between weasel after weasel. They follow me, like zombies. It occurs to me that they now lack eyes, yet they know my exact position. Their soulless optics track my soulless body. I find the large, gilded door marking the exit, and force it open. Instinctively jumping aside, I find that it does not matter. Regardless of which way I run, the train steams forward, intent on delivering a killing blow. It is inescapable. My life does not flash before my eyes this time. I simply feel bone-eviscerating pain when-

I'm in the cart once again, dazed. My throat is parched, and I'm slipping in and out of consciousness. Why? I run blindly. What have I done to deserve this? I trip over the same metal pole I had tried to wield earlier. Well, I already know the answer to that question. I roll to the right to avoid an eyeless devil, pitchfork brandished, from impaling me. In doing so, another devil seizes its opportunity and runs its weapon through me. Another chill assaults my body.

"Mist E. Towed, I declare you guilty!"

"Guilty!"

"Guilty."

Guilty.

A chant etches itself into my brain, playing on repeat. Guilty. Guilty. He is guilty. Guilty. Guilty. He is guilty. I bring my head down to the concrete floor in an effort to silence it. The chant does not stop even as my mind registers the pain. A river of blood spills forth from my forehead. It is dark red in color. Crying, hoping against all hope that someone would come to save me, I soon locate the 'exit' once again. I know that I won't escape, and yet a morbid curiosity compels me to pull the doors open a third time. Or was it the fourth, or fifth time? I really wasn't sure.

This time, Mr. Toad stands before me, emotionless as always. However, his hands and legs seem… human? A hybrid of sorts. I croak in disgust.

I find myself in the cart once more. All around me, illusory lights glow in icy fire. Nothing around me is real anymore, it all seems... painted. There are several mirrors reflecting each other into infinity. Paint drips from their edges, as if they were only recently imprinted onto a canvas, and given no time to dry. The heat does not seem to be bothering me at the moment.

I somehow summon the strength to stand. Around me, instead of toads, are kids. They have no mouths. Tears drip from their eye sockets mechanically, almost algorithmically. I crane my neck upward. Hanging from the chandeliers, rather than weasels, are more kids. Each unique in appearance, though all with no mouth. Strangely, none of them seem familiar.

They begin to throw rocks at me. From where they procured the stones, I do not know. I stand, accepting of my fate. Stone after stone hits my now naked form bruising it.

"Mörder," they say. "Mörder."

"Mörder, Mörder, Mörder!" They are not wrong.

My bruises turn to gashes, and a river of blood spills forth. It is black in color.

The children vanish, replaced by a lifelike statue of… me.

But why does it seem so alien? I wonder…

I reach out to caress it. The statue promptly disintegrates into sand.

I jolt awake, yet again sprawled across my cart. I stand, suddenly full of life. I examine my hands. They are green and smooth, shaped like a toad's. I examine my face. Ah. I've become a toad. Wait. Not just any toad. I've become-

That's it. I understand now. What I am, and what I must do. I was a criminal, and thus I was punished. However, there are other criminals, and they must be punished as well. Such is simply the order of things.

I smile a light, hollow smile.

And what better way to punish someone than to give them a wild ride?