Note: If you are reading this manual, I’m dead. Trust me, nothing other than death would’ve ever separated me from King George. I hope these few words that I put together “just in case” help guide you to many memorable years with the one who is—was, I guess—my best bud.

Be good to him! -Ritchie

His Name:

The thing you’ll be asked about the most is his name. It seems like just about all of the visitors at the amusement farm ask why the resident pond monster’s name is King George. The truth is, I named him after my dad. His name was George.

Dad and I were tight. I guess most kids are close with their dads when they are seven, but me and my dad, we were different. We were best friends. Always hanging out. Playing. Gaming. You name it, we were having a good time doing it. But Dad fell asleep at the wheel and ran off into the river on his way home from the factory one morning and got himself killed.

After he was gone, I wished all the time that he had been a king because I believed, for some reason, that kings lived forever. Stupid, I know, but that’s what I thought as a little kid. If Dad had to die, I wanted to give my new best friend a chance at eternal life. Something that would keep me from losing him, too. So, I named him King George.

But don’t tell the farm’s visitors all that. Just tell them we call him King George because he’s the biggest pond monster in all the world. That’ll do.


His Arrival, the Simple Answer:

“Where did he come from?” “How did he get here?” “Was he born in that pond?”

A form of one of these questions is what’ll follow the whole name thing. It’s up to you in how you choose to approach it.

If you want to pretend like I never existed, that’s fine. Make up your own backstory for him. Maybe he was a tadpole in that very pond at which you’ll be standing. Maybe he fell from the clouds. I don’t know.

Or you can say that he came from the local pet store, Four-Legged Friends. Although hard to believe, that’s actually the truth.


His Arrival, the Extended Answer:

After Dad died and Mom still didn’t want to be in the picture, Gran and Gramps took me in.

My grandparents worried about me because they caught me crying in bed a lot. Like a whole lot. Their worrying got worse when they saw my notebook of drawings of me and Dad out in the river.

I heard Gran up at night talking to Gramps about me. He didn’t say anything, as usual. But his agreement grunts hummed under Gran’s words, so I wasn’t surprised when she told me that I had to see a counselor.

When those visits didn’t do much good, Gran and Gramps took me to group meetings with other kids who had recently-dead parents.

I went to those groups for a few months, but I missed Dad too much for them to help.

I just wanted to be by myself. I could remember him better when other people weren’t talking to me or getting in the way.

Gran and Gramps eventually began to understand me a little, but they still thought I needed someone to talk to.

They more than thought it; they demanded it. “Oh, you are getting a friend, Ritchie,” Gran started to say daily—to me and to the walls both. “Oh, yes, you are.”

She and Gramps took me to the pet store on my birthday and told me to pick one out.

“Anything you want. A friend,” Gran said as the three of us walked inside the automatic doors.

I didn’t need to look long. Honestly, he was right there. First aquarium. At the edge of the very first aisle. All alone in his glass enclosure. Swimming. He was actually swimming, like me and Dad used to do. A new kind of hybrid iguana-bullfrog species, staring at me—staring at me and swimming.

After we took him home, he stayed quiet the first couple of nights. It kind of freaked Gran and Gramps out that he didn’t make any noise. I think they were afraid that he’d die, too, and that I’d well—you know, off myself or something.

But soon he started talking—croaking. Anytime I went away, he started bellowing. Deep, gurling bellowing. Honest to the gods, anytime I left his side, which was rare, he croaked and croaked.

Gran and Gramps thought it was great. They still stayed on me about the kids at school, but, truthfully, I couldn’t care less about the kids at school. Not then. Not ever. They are mean to me. Always have been, even before Dad died. “Freak” and “weirdo” were what they called me in the early days because they said I didn’t talk enough, but after Dad died, they turned to whispering behind my back—or walking on the far side of the hallway as far from me as they could get, like if they brushed up against me, they, too, might catch a case of sudden, accidental death. Honestly, Gran and Gramps could fuss to me about the kids at school all they wanted. At least I didn’t hear them up at night anymore talking.

They could see the bond I had with King George. Even as a little, tiny thing, King George loved me, and I loved him, too. It was that true being loved feeling that I hadn’t felt since Dad had been around.

When King George called, I, of course, answered.

I brought him whatever he needed. Food mainly. At first it was flies and then beetles. Next, he needed mice and worked his way up to chickens. Lots of chickens.

Obviously, he outgrew aquarium after aquarium, and, just a few weeks before my ninth birthday, there was nowhere else to put him other than out in the enormous pond behind the house.

I worried about him leaving the pond since there wasn’t a fence. Him crawling out of the water and going to the next pond. Or a lake. Or a river. Or the river. The one only a couple of miles down the road. The one Dad died in. But deep down I knew he wouldn’t ever choose to leave me.

When visitors ask me about how King George came to live in the pond, I say it’s because of me.

I took him down to the pond, and I put him there in the water.

Makes me feel big like him to tell it. I bet it will you, too, if you want to give it a try.


Hours and Admission:

I’ll include the boring but still necessary stuff about the farm in this section just to get it out of the way. We open on Memorial Day, and we close on Labor Day. Rain or shine, we are open every single day in this timeframe. This is clearly only a summer gig. I hope Gran remembered to tell you. On weekdays, the first tour starts at nine o’clock sharp, and they continue at the top of each hour until the last one sets out from the barn at five. On weekends, we start an hour earlier and go an hour later. Twenty dollars per person. Kids under the age of five get in free. Veterans get a dollar discount. All guests stay on the trailer the entire time. You MUST strictly enforce that rule at the pond because King George doesn’t really like a lot of people getting too close to him. I’m sure you read in the newspaper about the little kid he snapped at. It wasn’t that big of a deal, but still. He is a pond monster, after all. Guests can take pictures. To be safe, we say no flash photography (just in case the light upsets King George), but it doesn’t really matter. The flash has never bothered him before. The maximum number of guests per trailer is twelve. If more people are waiting, tell them they’ll just have to wait until the next tour. People don’t mind. They know what they’re about to see.


The Amusement Farm:

I can’t imagine anyone being interested in such a position as the one I’ve apparently left vacant without actually visiting the farm first, so I’m guessing you’ve been on one of the tours we offer.

As much of a basic familiarity as you might have, you still need a little history to get a better understanding of the place.

It’ll come in handy. I promise.

The idea for the whole thing popped into Gran’s head a few months after I’d had to put King George out in the pond. He was croaking louder and louder by the day because I was in school. And people around town were talking. They wanted to know what was going on.

When me, Gran, and Gramps were selling corn and tomatoes at the local farmer’s market one Saturday morning, which they always made me do with them because they thought it was good for my “social and emotional development,” people kept on asking them about the constant racket coming from our place. Gran and Gramps brushed off all of the nosiness. “It’s just our grandson’s pet. A harmless, sweet, huge thing. Honestly, he’s like a great big teddy bear,” Gran said.

But I couldn’t take it anymore. I straight up lost it. “It’s not a pet! It’s my best friend if you must know!” I yelled. “He loves me, and he misses me. Badly!”

It shocked them both when I spoke up, but I’d had it.

After my outburst, those people raised their eyebrows all confused-like and walked away from our stand. They knew about my situation, so they tried to be nice to me.

But one lady who I didn’t recognize didn’t budge. She looked me dead in my eyes and said, “I’ll pay you twenty dollars to go see this ‘best friend’ right now.”

She was glaring at me, but she was actually making the proposal to Gran.

Gran started choking at the woman’s offer.

Twenty dollars was a lot of money for us back then. My grandparents were living off of their social security checks and what little money they made selling their fruits and vegetables. They hadn’t planned on my arrival, my counseling sessions, or all the food King George was eating, so they were struggling. A woman offering free money wasn’t something she could really turn down. So, after telling Gramps that was how it was going to be, Gran took the money, and the woman came to see King George. To be fair, there wasn’t a lot of seeing involved. With just a glance at him—seeing he actually existed, she took off screaming and crying. I didn’t think much more about her really. Not until the next weekend, at least.

That very next Saturday morning, she was back at our stand by the time we arrived to set up, and she had a couple of friends with her.

They weren’t in the mood for what we were selling either. They just wanted to see King George.

Gran asked for another twenty dollars each, and we took them out to the farm.

The woman didn’t run this time. Neither did her friends. They stood there and watched my buddy carrying on in the pond. He wasn’t all that big then, basically a grossly exaggerated gator. Imagine a dozen midnight blue industrial sized refrigerators wrapped together with a bungee cable. An oblong head at one end. A pointy tail at the other. Two wobbly baby legs and a set of bulging arms hanging off a saggy belly that, when full, tried its best to skirt against the pond’s dirty bottom. That was him.

He showed out good, though. Belly flops, spinning, and splashing.

King George’s first paying audience clapped when he went back into the water to rest, and they gave Gran an extra twenty-dollar bill. “That was awesome,” the once-scared woman said.

At breakfast the next morning, Gran came up with the idea of turning King George into some kind of attraction. She reasoned it all by talking about the money.

She kept on talking about different possibilities with King George that by lunch she’d come up with not just a singular attraction, but the whole amusement farm idea.

When she told Gramps he could drive a tractor all day, hauling folks around from the barn to the pond, he snorted, which is more than you’ll probably ever hear from him.

She told me I could train King George to perfect a few tricks. “Some like they do with the whales at that silly place in Florida,” she said. “Splashy, showy stuff.”

She would work the entrance and handle the accounts.

Right when it seemed like she was finished, she said she’d buy a badger and a couple of exotic birds to put up in different cages along the route to the pond. “For more variety,” she said.

We didn’t counter or offer anything of our own. Three months later, the farm was open for business.

And that’s how it began.



The farm’s guests love trivia. It might be more that they just appreciate some kind of customer interaction. I know I’m not really entitled to criticize Gramps on this subject since I’m the way I am, but unless you count him grunting and tipping the sweaty end of his University of Tennessee ball cap as some kind of greeting, he doesn’t even acknowledge our guests. Ever.

King George gets off on their excitement. You can tell when he’s getting amped because he starts shaking really badly. It’s almost like he’s doing some kind of shoulder shimmy without having the actual shoulders to do the shimmy. Little waves start forming around his head and he just gets to bobbing away. So, to make him happy, I usually offer the guests a little something. I throw out a question that I know will stump them.

I ask them if they know the amusement farm’s actual name.

You should keep this question going.

I promise. The guests eat it up.

Do you know the answer? I’m sure you don’t. Nobody ever does. Everybody thinks it’s just called “The Amusement Farm.” Even on the ads that Gran put in the paper, “The Amusement Farm.” On the radio, back when Gran paid for advertisement there, “The Amusement Farm.”

Anyhow, the farm’s named George’s. It’s actually named after Dad and not the pond monster everybody is so eager to see. I know because Gran let me name it.

There’s even a sign out front that’s off the road displaying a cartoon version of me and Dad acting like we are scared of a monster bubbling beneath the surface of the pond beside us. Dad’s arm is wrapped around my shoulders, and I’m cradled beside him real tight. Tree branches cover most of the sign now, so you probably didn’t even know it was there. But it is. I think about it a lot.


The Daily Schedule During Season:

A good bulleted list is easy on the eyes, so I’ll help you out here:

  • Be at Gran and Gramp’s house no later than 6:00 a.m.
  • Grab the bucket outside the back door. I never bothered with washing it but once a week, but you’ll have to determine what you can handle on your own. It sure gets to stinking.
  • Take the bucket and head out to Gramps’ barn.
  • Open the big doors and reach your hand over to the right.
  • You’ll find a switch. Flip it on, and go to the freezer, which is pretty much right under the light switch.
  • Open the freezer and fill the bucket with as many dead chickens as you can. Gramps buys these in bulk from somebody, so there’ll never be any problems with not having enough.
  • Close the lid.
  • Turn off the light.
  • Shut the door.
  • Walk down the dirt path to the pond. The sun won’t be up yet, so enjoy the darkness. I’ve always found it comforting.
  • Be out on the northern bank of the pond before the sun rises. Like clockwork, King George will pop his head up from the water when the sun peeks over the trees. That’ll be your cue.
  • Take the chicken carcasses and toss them out into the water. Once you get to know him better, he might eat out of your hands. He always did for me. He might even let you pet him, but that’ll probably take some time.
  • Talk to him. Tell him how important he is to you. How he’s your best friend. How you don’t know what you’d do without him. Sing to him maybe. He enjoys a good song. Mostly lullabies. Turn on the fog machine. The plug is over by the big oak on the eastern side. While this little addition is more for the upcoming audience, I think King George gets a kick out of it. He’s certainly never complained. Hang out with him until you hear the first tour group coming. (Don’t forget that you have extra time during the week, but you probably won’t even notice he’s such good company.) There’s no way to miss the tractor. It’s about forty years old and smokes like crazy. During your first few days, you’ll probably think a fire has struck the barn.
  • Once you see the trailer, it’s time to get King George moving. The guests get excited when they see him for the first time. They start to standing and clapping—and cheering, too, like they are at one of those rivalry football games that Gramp’s likes to watch on the television. Snap your fingers three times and point toward the sun. King George will fly out of the water. When he’s up there, fall down on the dirt. Fast. Basically, collapse. He’ll come down and do a huge belly flop. Most of the water will shoot straight up, but a few drops will hit the audience. A free souvenir, they think, so they never mind. Somehow almost all of the water makes its way back into the pond. Even if it doesn’t, it’s nothing to worry about. The rain is reliable around here.
  • Gramps will pull the trailer there beside you. People will be standing and howling. Do it all again. Have King George raise up, fly, and splash back down right in front of the guests.
  • Once he settles back into the water, start nodding your head kind of slowly and make a circular movement with your fist closed. King George will start making laps, with his head bobbing in and out of the water. His speed will match yours, so get progressively faster. You’ll know when it’s enough by the crowd’s reaction. The trailer will be rocking. Allow him to rest for a couple of minutes. Make sure to give him this time. That episode when he snapped at the stupid little kid was the one time I didn’t give him adequate time. As he recoups, interact with the farm’s visitors. The easiest way to do this is to ask the trivia question. Allow them to ask a question or two. I’ve already supplied you with those answers above.
  • Step away and tell them to make sure to get their cameras ready. That you’ll give them one more belly flop.
  • Wait until they’ve stopped cheering and have their phones out.
  • Run back down to the bank and point your finger upward, this time stretching as far as you can to the sky. Like you yourself might fly off the ground. King George will give it all he has if you do. Then, collapse. When King George makes his big splash, Gramps will get the trailer going on its way.
  • Have King George do another few laps as the trailer disappears back down the path from which it came.
  • Sit down on the bank and relax. You might need some cold compresses for those first few days until your body gets used to all the falling. Talk to King George until the next group comes. Then, do it all over again.
  • Repeat this same process until your shift is done.
  • Once the day is over, hang out with King George for as long as you want. I usually stay until close to midnight. I tell him about Dad and all the fun we used to have. How we swam together. How I miss him. I tell King George that I hope he’ll never leave me.
  • Head back to the barn and put everything where it goes. Doing so will make the next morning easier.


Dress Code:

I always wear my unofficial uniform. If we are the same size, I’m sure Gran and Gramps will let you have my things. If my clothes don’t fit you, buy the following items: Rubber mud boots, a long sleeve shirt to keep the sun off of you, jeans, and a wide-brim straw hat.


Breaks and Lunch:

There are no scheduled breaks or lunches. Figure that part out on your own. Gramps brings me water sometimes, but honestly, I get so carried away on most days with talking to King George that I don’t even think about eating.


The Daily Schedule During Off-Season:

You have more flexibility in the off-season. I, for example, like to sleep out on the banks beside him most nights and not even bother with going to my room since I have to leave him for school for a big chunk of the day. Well, when I actually go to school. I skip most of the time and tell Gran and Gramps my stomach hurts. My teachers know about my past, so they don’t ever argue. I just hang out with King George all day every day. He seems happy, and I know I am, watching him. Being with him.



I’ve saved the most important information for the end. You have to be safe. You have to be. If something happens to you, King George might not be able to handle it. I know if I lost him after I already lost Dad, I would’ve gone crazy.

My suggestion regarding safety is to trust what you think is best. I haven’t told you this quite yet, but I swim with King George. I jump on him. I howl and splash the dirty algae water at him. We play.

Gran tells me all the time how I need to stop getting in the pond with King George. She says I’m risking my life and the farm’s life, too. She says King George might get so down in the dumps if something happens to me that he won’t “show out” anymore for the farm’s visitors.

To make her feel better, I told her I’d write this manual for whomever might replace me. She fussed, but she agreed it was best.

Deep down, she knows that she’ll never be able to keep me from going out in the water with him.

She doesn’t know why I keep doing it, but I’ll tell you.

On the weekend before Dad’s accident, we were swimming at a random creek somewhere off a little road in the middle of nowhere. I was on his back, and I thought I was on top of the world. It’s my favorite memory. Of my whole entire life, that very one is it.

I just want to experience that feeling again. I have to.


About the Author

Bradley Sides is the author of Those Fantastic Lives: And Other Strange Stories. His recent fiction appears at BULL, Ghost Parachute, Psychopomp, and Superstition Review. He lives in Huntsville, Alabama, with his wife. On most days, he can be found teaching writing at Calhoun Community College. For more, visit


Photo by Lee Soo hyun on Unsplash