"Has the place changed a lot since your time?" the bovine asked as she drove.
Eric looked away from the businesses and at her. "Annie, you do realize that I wasn't even eighteen the last time I came to Harland, right?"
"But that was over sixty years ago, things have to have changed in that time."
"That was over a decade ago for me, I don't remember that much about the place." He looked outside again. "Although I don't remember Harland ever being this glitzy. Is there some powered around making everything look beautiful?"
Anita laughed. "This is the Tefton street, it's where all the stars shop, or so the stories go. Lots of money exchange hands here so they keep the place looking good."
"It's not just that look at the people, look at how they're dressed, how their hair or fur's styled. That kid over there, the gray and brown wolf, someone had to spend hundreds to get his fur to shine like that."
"He's probably an actor, it isn't just the stars that shop here. Most people living in Harland have dreams of being in the movies, so they dress to attract the attention of talent scouts."
"And it works? They're found doing their shopping and turned into stars?"
She chuckled. "Not really, but it only takes one for everyone to start dreaming. You know of Mackie Hamil?"
Eric shook his head.
"He was an electrician, twenty or so years ago." She paused to make a turn. "The story goes that he was called in to fix something on a movie set and someone mixed him up with one of the actors and handed him an updated script. Then he was pulled on stage and he played the part. He thought it was funny, but then he was called back to take over the role."
Eric looked at her again. "And it's true?"
"This is Harland, where the magic happens. So who knows? But it's stories like that which fuel the hopes and dreams."
Eric nodded. He'd never dreamed of being in a movie, everyone knew that kids from the Swamp didn't grow up to be actors, they became criminals or dead.
The stores became smaller, dirtier, as they drove away from the main street, then it was houses for a few blocks, normal looking. He could be in Strongburg, or at the edge of Great Oaks.
He noticed Anita grinning.
"We're almost there," she said, before he could ask. Seconds later she pulled into a large parking lot half filled with cars. Once the car stopped Eric got out and looked around. Houses and a few shops the way they came, and-
Anita grabbed his hand and pulled him along as she ran. "Come on!"
Eric laughed. "Slow down Annie. What's the hurry, we have all day." They'd left the parking lot and were running through a growing crowd.
"There's an artist I want to see. If we don't get there early, she'll be booked for the day."
With another laugh, Eric put his legs under him and caught up to her. Families, couples and obvious tourists glanced in their directions before going back to the jugglers, musicians, comedians and magicians; real magicians, not Powered or Teckers hiding their abilities behind illusions and sleight of hand.
Eric couldn't believe how much Imagination Park had grown in the years he'd been away. He'd come through it, on his way to enlist, and it had been a fraction of this size, with only one path, mostly trees and a few entertainers along it.
Now? It spread further than he could see. Buildings had been removed to enlarge it the few building he could see were coffee shops or restaurants. A strip mall had been gutted, leaving only the roof to create a space where entertainers could perform outside of the rain.
It was unoccupied at the moment, the weather was comfortably cool and dry. The sun was shining strong with barely a cloud in the sky. If the forecast was right, it would be like this all day.
They ran past a small amphitheater with a stage at the bottom where a small group was performing. On the stone benches sat people watching them. He noticed a plaque and only caught that was where the original park had stood before Anita pulled him away.
"When did all this happen?" Eric asked. "It's a lot bigger than I remember."
"In the thirties," she replied, looking around, searching. "Before my time. There should have been a plaque by the amphitheater talking about it. The Tear Jerker destroyed the original Imagination Park."
"Tear Jerker? You're kidding, right?"
"Yeah, stupid name, but he fed off sadness. Happy thought weakened him, so you can imagine how little he liked the park. Even when he was smaller, it was a place that made people happy. Mind Blank defeated him."
"Mind Blank? Did they all get together and decide to go for stupid names? In my days, most sounded more dignified. Mister Unstoppable, Lady Shadow, The Great Creator."
"Isn't The Slime, from that time too?"
Eric winced, he'd forgotten about that one. "Well, I did say most."
"When it came time to rebuild, Harland was already Tiranis' entertainment district. Tefton was where everyone shopped, so the park took over the neighborhood. It expanded a few times since then as it became its own thing, rather than a place people walked through on their way to another entertainment."
"I'd love to know how they made the transition from 'entertainment' to entertainment."
Anita glanced at him.
"Back when I was a kid, Harland was primarily known as where adult movies were filmed, and shown. Most theaters were the kind where you didn't take a kid with you. Not unless you were a pervert." He shuddered at the memory of some of the news stories that had come out of Harland back then.
"So, this is where you came to see your first naked girl?" Anita asked, dodging an ice cream vendor.