Before I go on with the story, I wanted to mention that I finally got around to checking my text messages. I shouldn’t be surprised that all of them were furious. I don’t blame them. I’m still distraught about the whole situation. I pretty lost all of my friends in one day; all because I thought that a little boy’s doll would come to life and… well…Just, listen to me. I know that all of this will sound insane. But everything I am about to tell you happened before. I feel like I can’t bring myself to even think of the moment, let alone tell you, but I need to press on. It is time that you understand the moment that everything changed forever—Pete’s 11th birthday party.
What happened on that day plays over and over again in my mind. It doesn’t matter that 30 years have passed. Not a night goes by where I am wrenched from my beleaguered sleep and find myself gasping for air in a pool of my own sweat. Years of broken sleep will get to a person over time. And so, I grew agitated and depressed. I was on and off on medication, and in and out of therapy.
Now, I don’t always freak out when I see them in pictures or on display in a shop’s front window. If I keep my distance and they keep theirs, I am fine. I mean, my breathing would quicken, and my heart would pump hard, but the moment would pass, and I’d come back to some level of normalcy. I’ve got my own way to deal with such a situation. I’d close my eyes and count from 100 to zero, deeply breathing in through my nose and out through my mouth, before slowly turning and walking away.
Oh, right. I guess you want to hear what happened.
Pete and his family lived in a massive two-story house with an acre of forestry within their property line. The house was miles outside of town. It was cozy but isolating.
I carpooled with Andy and his parents. We met up with Mark and his dad in the house. Our jaws dropped at how beautiful the house and their property were; none of us had ever been to such a fancy place.
Andy’s mom mentioned in the car that what she heard from the other moms was that Pete’s dad, George, worked as an inventor and toymaker for a company that no one had heard of, and his mom, Wendy, was a stay-at-home mom. She had tried to invite her out for coffee with the other moms. In the end she decided not to. Wendy’s presence was just too off-putting.
“She wouldn’t stop smiling,” Andy’s mom recalled, “and she’d just nod her head without saying anything. Not a word. And she moved in this very odd, kind of funny way, too. Like she didn’t know how to use her arms or legs.”
Kind of like how Pete was on his first day of class.
The family greeted the guests in the foyer with excited eyes and gaping smiles. They were the picture perfect of a 1950s TV sitcom family. Pete had on a blue and yellow checkered suit with a yellow bowtie. George also wore the same style of suit but with a blue tie. His outfit was topped with a tobacco pipe hanging at the side of his mouth. Wendy had on a yellow dress with a blue ribbon tied around her waist, and her flaming red hair rolled up in a bouffant hairstyle.
There were a couple of dozens of us that showed up to the party. Most of the parents came along, too. My mom couldn’t come; she was stuck at the restaurant picking up someone else’s shift. That was to say nothing of her continued fear and suspicion about the whole kidnapper situation. She believed they were still out there, and that the cops had gotten the wrong person.
Everyone was led into a banquet hall where a great feast waited for us. We stuffed ourselves until the buttons on our pants threatened to burst. Fat roasted turkey thighs, mince pies, green bean casserole, mashed potatoes smothered in gravy, a mountain of steaming sweet biscuits. The choices were endless. And the moms and dads enjoyed themselves, drinking the wine that Wendy, smiling emptily and silently, served.
George went around telling stories to anyone who’d be willing to listen. He was incredibly intelligent with a wide breadth of knowledge on world history. He spoke about historical events as if he’d been there himself, describing in such vivid detail of the event’s atmosphere like how the heaviness of grief weighed in the air at Alexander the Great’s funeral procession, and how frigid cold the Russian winter was in 1812 when Napoleon Bonaparte’s army marched towards Moscow.
He showed us a room filled with his collection of ancient artifacts, even an American Civil War-era musket rifle with a Minie ball still lodged inside. But what caught my attention and raised the hairs on my body were three mummies behind a glass case. They were about my height and, judging by the smallness of their faces, they had died as children.
“Why do you have those?” I asked.
George grinned. “Well, why not?”
“Where’d you get them from?” asked Andy.
“Far and near…”
Squinting, Mark stepped up closer to the glass. “Are they real?”
“What do your eyes tell you?”
Together, we pressed our noses to the glass, staring hard at these mummies. Their skin was withered brown, and parts of their yellowed bone was exposed. They stared back at us with dark empty sockets and twisted mouths as though they’d come face to face with something more terrifying and terrible than death. None of the adults with us thought it weird that this family had such a collection. The moms and dads were starting to act a bit giddy and silly; it was the generous amount of wine they’d drunk, probably.
After a tour of George’s mini-home museum, we were led into an adjacent room filled with toys, clowns, dolls, and a bizarre collection of crossbred animals. A full train set wound about the length of the room and over our heads. This was Pete’s playroom, and George had designed every toy. This massive room with all the toys and games was more than what a child could dream of.
Unable to control ourselves, we got our hands on everything; we were a bunch of 10-year-olds after all. We played with the toys and shrieked with laughter. The moms and dads watched us as they drank the wine Wendy was serving them. Before we knew it, time flew by, and the sun had long since gone down. The grandfather clock struck 9 o’clock. But we weren’t tired; we wanted to play some more. So, we were thrilled when the grown-ups nodded and agreed to let us go on.
Shining with happiness, Pete announced that we were to play a special game, even the grown-ups would be involved.
“This game is called Catch the Souls!” he said. “The rules are quite simple. There are two types of players: souls and catchers. The game will be played both in the dark and in the light. Souls are safe in the light and the catchers won’t be able to move. But when the lights are off, souls better find a place to hide for the catchers will hunt you down and bring you to the king—me!”
“Then, how do we know if we’ve won?” I asked.
His eyes darkened as the pupils enlarged. “Well, when you see the sun rise, then you know.”
My stomach sank.
Were we really going to play all night?
I looked at the others to see if they also thought this was a ridiculous idea. Much to my surprised, the others buzzed with excitement, even the adults were eager to play. No one wanted to go home just yet. They wanted to play more. And, surprisingly, I wasn’t at all that tired or sleepy either. George ordered for the moms and dads to follow him into another room; they were to put on their “catcher” costumes.
Mark, Andy, and I decided to stick together. We figured that if we could find a good spot to hide out in, we could wait there until the game was over. At the beginning of the game, all the lights were on in every room and hallway, and Pete counted backwards from 100.
My friends and I bolted. We didn’t realize how huge the house was. It was like a never-ending labyrinth. One door would lead to nowhere except a brick wall, or a sudden drop into what looked like a bottomless pit. Andy had nearly fallen into one and was only saved when Mark and I caught him by the arms as he fell and clung desperately to the doorknob.
The hallways echoed with giggles of excitement. But once the lights began to flicker, the whole house plunged into darkness. We hurried into another room. I hid behind a desk, Mark behind a big tapestry, and Andy in the corner of the room squatting behind a tall vase.
We held our breaths.
A hair-raising scream erupted in another room. Followed by another, then another. Three in succession.
“What was that?” I heard Mark ask, shakily.
“What are you doing?” Andy cried.
Peeking around the corner of the desk, I spotted Mark out from his hiding spot and poking his head out the door. He quickly shut the door and scrambled back behind the tapestry. Before I could ask him what he saw, the door opened. My body instantly went rigid. I was terrified that if I were to move or breathe, I’d get caught. I certainly didn’t want to find out what Pete would do to me.
A tall, shadowy figure with two long pointed ears entered the room. It was a Catcher. It hopped slowly around the room like a rabbit, playing with the leaves of the plants in the tall vase and sniffing around the tapestry. Then turned its attention to the desk. I scooted back underneath the desk and slapped my hand over my mouth, desperate not to make a sound. I heard it hop into the air before its feet landed gently on the floor right next to the desk. It took a step closer to the spot where I lay in a fetal position. I hoped that I was small enough that it wouldn’t notice me.
Light swept throughout the room. And I let out a breath of relief. We were safe when the lights were on. That was the rule of the game, I reminded myself. I crawled out from underneath the desk and froze as I came face to face with a giant pink bunny. I knew that inside the costume was a classmate’s parent. But there was something off about it, like it had no good intentions.
It stared back with large black orbs for eyes. Its large buck teeth dripped droplets of red on the white carpet. Dark red chunks like mushed up beets fell from its mouth.
“Benjie! Don’t just stand there!” Mark pulled me out of the trance, and I ran out with them. At the end of the hallway, we saw another Catcher dressed in a court blue and yellow jester suit and mask.
The lights flickered; one minute warning for us to find another hiding spot. Without looking back, we ran and tried getting into another room. With utter mortification I learned that most of the doors were locked. Not only that, but others only led to dead ends. We went through one door that led to another hallway that stretched on endlessly with rows of doors on either side of us.
Behind us, the bells jingled on the dangling sleeves of the Jester’s cap ‘n’ bells. It got closer and closer. Of course, I stupidly looked back. One by one the wall lights went out, and the laughing Jester twirled and leapt its way to us.
We came to a door at the end of the hallway, but it wouldn’t budge. Andy banged on it and twisted the knob as hard as he could.
“I want to stop playing this game,” Mark sobbed. He backed into the corner, trembling and crying. A dark wet spot appeared in front of his pants. I also felt something wet and warm trickling down my pants.
The Jester was approaching, inching closer and closer by the second. And then, it stopped. It squatted in the dark with its hands under its chin, gazing at us with its harrowing black eyes. The only thing keeping it from capturing us was that were shielded in light by a single wall lamp.
Sniffling and wiping his tears away, Mark squeaked, “Dad?” He took a step forward with an outreached hand seeking a sliver of comfort.
“I don’t think he’s your dad,” I said, but my words didn’t reach him. The Jester gestured with a single finger for him to come closer.
“I got it! Come on, guys!” Andy cried, happily, as the door finally swung inward with a hard kick revealing a lighted room. I grabbed hold of Mark’s arm, but he shook me off. And I watched in horror as he tugged on the Jester’s mask and pulled it off.
It was Mark’s dad behind the mask. His smile was split so wide, I could see his gums bleed and the skin at the corners of his lips had torn. He was foaming heavily at the mouth like a rabid dog.
“Dad…” Mark uttered.
The wall light went out. And that was the last I saw of him.
I’ll have to continue with my story later. I need to eat something. I can’t remember the last time I did. The hunger is gnawing my stomach. There’s nothing in the fridge. I didn’t even get leftovers from my friend’s birthday party. It’s okay. All I need now is to feed this body.Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in