For the month of February, each writer’s post will begin with the same line, which we’ve borrowed from Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five.
All this happened, more or less.
In my afternoon with wizards and troll farts, I collected electronic sparkles, almost broke my neck, and unknowingly imprisoned myself and my younger brother for the “privilege” of an extra seventy-five minutes.
Digitally interactive theme-park experiences. What joy.
As I was growing up, my parents were never really into timeshares. I did, however, have relatives who were very into timeshares. Maybe you know the type, and if you don’t, there’s a big reason why I stress the very here. A partially paid-for, up-for-grabs vacation possibility? Count ‘em up. Feeding frenzy. Purely stressful, hotly contested, take-it-or-leave-it relaxation. And when said family members can’t take advantage of those timeshares? Sign up the extended beneficiaries. Winner, winner, chicken dinner.
Ever heard of the Wisconsin Dells?
I hadn’t either.
Apparently the greatest getaway you’ve (n)ever heard of, the Dells boast a scenic tourist trap of rocky views via river tour and a downtown setting full of the glamorous kitsch that even Mackinac Island could only dream of.
It’s a real parental dream trip. A trip my own folks took full advantage of in order to tour the shops that the Dells’ main street had to offer. And what’s a worse hindrance to have in tow that two moody teenagers? That’s right. Dump ‘em as soon as you can.
Enter Wizard Quest.
Shortly into our stroll down the touristy street, we come across a curiously decorated, gaudy, largely-reminiscent-stop that’s straight out of the Zoltar Speaks gag from Tom Hanks’s Big. Picture the full get-up of crystal balls, mythical creatures, plastic-made humanoids a la the Uncanny Valley adorning every square inch of the entry way.
“What about this, guys?” Mom asks us.
“And, look, it’s fifteen bucks each for a seventy-five minute adventure,” Dad says, ever privy to the fine-print. Definitely trying to sell us on the adventure potential waiting to swallow us whole.
Time to strike.
The greeters waiting at the door sense a fish on the line. The plainclothes saleswoman smiles and asks if we have any questions.
I have none. I know I’m doomed—hook, line, and sinker.
Her fellow employee is adorned in full Gandalf garb. He’s either drawn the short end of the stick or he really loves his job.
Gandalf chimes in.
“What else are you gonna do? Play video games all afternoon? Unless it’s Halo, it’s a waste of time,” he says.
Playing to the times. Halo, of all things. Has the name-dropping of this hot new game dated me yet?
My brother is sold.
I give in.
Thirty bucks later, and with my folks escaping into the daylight of vacation shtick and gimmicks, my brother and I hold our breath as we are ushered into a darkly lit room.
The electronic candles brighten.
An unnoticed screen lights up. We hear the rules and expectations of the game. And the disclaimers. And then the ubiquitous sales pitch: “Wizard Quest is the cutting edge fusion of a story driven computer game and a 13,000 square foot magical wonderland. It is packed with secret passageways, physical obstacles, endearing illusions and over the top artistry. Wizard Quest is a one of a kind experience that brings visitors back again and again.”
And the doors open.
What once was a seemingly quiet room was clearly sound-proofed.
A roar of far younger children’s gleeful screams pierced our ears, and we realized we’d been duped. Here my younger brother and I were, both in our young teens, and we’re met with grade-school cheers. Oh, yeah, we’re closed in here for seventy-five minutes.
We figure we better make the most of it. We head down the tiered ladder platforms, and less than thirty seconds in to our “one giant leap for mankind,” I realize I’ve placed my hand on a landing that does not exist. I fall and, here we go, I almost break my neck. Ever miss a step on a stairway? Ever do that headfirst? Yeah.
Welcome to Wizard Quest.
From then on, my brother and I spend the next seventy-five minutes collecting faux-sparkles (digitally collected, of course) as we explored the thousand-square-foot arena we were sure would be our ad hoc burial scene.
We made our way through obstacle courses and the primo ball pits. We climbed rope ladders into plastic treetops and slunk through sunken caves. We stumbled upon hidden but no-less-glittery secret spots where fairies dwell. We spent considerable time at a clearing with a pronounced stump that, of course, released the aforementioned troll farts—chemically derived and potently concentrated.
All the while, we collect the digitally registered sparkles that track our score.
All the while, we count down the time until we can escape.
A last ditch effort, boredom be damned: we crawl through various tunnels and exert the last ditch of effort we can muster. Surely no kindergartener would be expected to do the same? (That’s how they get ya.)
We crawl through a final fake-cobwebbed fallen trunk and enter into a large room.
Have we won? Can we get out early?
“Congratulations!” we hear. “You’ve found the RARE BONUS TIME!!!! Only one in twenty Wizard Questers ever find this RARE ACHIEVEMENT!!! As a result, you’ve been MAGICALLY granted and extra SEVENTY-FIVE MINUTES to complete your MAGICAL Wizard Quest!!! CONTINUE NOW!!! TIME IS OF THE ESSENCE!!!”
… but we only had five minutes left on our time…
…what did we do?
We did, of course, make it out of there.
We did, of course, give our parents an earful when they came to claim us like a collect call.
We did, of course, vow to remember Wizard Quest for the rest of our lives.
Jacob Schepers (Calvin ’12) is the author of A Bundle of Careful Compromises (2014), a winner of the 2013 Outriders Poetry Project competition. His poetry has appeared in Verse, The Common, PANK, The Destroyer, and others. He lives in South Bend, IN, with his wife, Charis, and two sons, Liam and Oliver. He is both an MFA student and doctoral candidate in English at the University of Notre Dame.