Odd Pete (part 3)
I finally managed to get something to eat. A cold, disgusting tuna sandwich from 7–11. This would be enough for me to keep going, if it weren’t for the fact that I got the shit beaten on the way back home. This is what happened. After I bought the sandwich, I came across a kid playing with a windup toy on the sidewalk. It was a miniature clown that would take four wobbly steps, stop, and then giggle. The boy, probably no more than eight years old, was entranced by the toy. And he’d wind it up again and watched it as it wobbled away. Its laughter echoed through the street.
All the fear and terror from that night at Pete’s house came rushing in, and I just tensed up. I asked the kid where he got the toy. He said a boy gave it to him. What boy? I asked. I looked around but saw no other boy but him. He then described a boy that exactly matched Pete’s. It had to be a sign, like a cryptic message for me. Pete and his family still watched me. I’m sure they were hiding somewhere near enough, laughing as they teased me with this repulsive little trinket.
I told the kid that he shouldn’t play with toys from strangers. Then I stomped on the clown and broke it into fucking pieces. The kid teared up and started shrieking. It was at that moment that I felt something as hard as a brick smashing into my face. The kid’s teen brother swooped in and swung his fist at me. My nose was bloodied and swollen, but not broken. At least I don’t think it is. I’m not one to usually fight back. I just took it.
Thank God the bleeding has stopped. I guess I am ready now. Finally, I can finish this story.
Andy and I went from room to room. We kept on moving when the lights flicked on and hid in the darkness — under a bed, in a closet, behind marble statues of Greek gods. We heard the screams of the others as they came face to face with the Catchers. We had no idea what time it was, and we had no way of knowing whether or not the night was almost over. The antique clocks weren’t any help; they all pointed to various times. And the windows showed nothing but pitch darkness, not a single star in the sky nor a shed of moonlight. We were trapped in an alternate dimension.
We decided to try to find our way back to the living room on the first floor. Andy remembered seeing a cordless phone on a table. If we could get to it, we’d call the police. It sounded like a solid plan, but the tricky part was finding our way through the maze-like mansion.
We came across what appeared to be George’s toy workshop. Wooden bodies and blocks of wood molded into the shapes of children’s heads were scattered about the shelves. Wooden figures stared at me from every corner: a gathering of rocking horses, snakes, elephants with wheels for legs, and disembodied heads and limbs seemed to beckon us to come closer.
At a workbench, George chiseled away at a block of wood, shaping it into the perfect shape of a child’s head. He set his tools down and swerved around.
“Ah, you’ve found my workshop,” he said. “Don’t worry, I’m not a Catcher. In fact, you’re safe here.”
“I want to call my mom,” I demanded.
“We want to go home!” Andy cried.
George frowned. “Are you not enjoying yourselves, boys?”
“This game has gone on for too long,” I said. “We’re really tired. Let us go home.”
“Oh, but Pete’s having such a ball! It’s his first birthday, you know.”
“You mean, you don’t usually throw birthday parties for him?”
“No, it’s been exactly one year since I created him. I never thought of becoming a father, but being alone in this world for so long, you do get a bit bored from time to time. So, I thought — Why not? Why not create a perfect family of my own? First was Pete. But a boy needs a mother, right? Then, came Wendy.”
He turned his attention back to the wooden head he was chiseling and sanding down with sandpaper. “I’m thinking of making a sister for Pete,” he continued as painted two green eyes, small pink lips, and rosy cheeks. “I want her to have the heart of an angel and an innocent nature. Like you, boys.”
He screwed the head onto a wooden body of a young girl. Then, with the snap of his fingers, the doll jolted to life. As she hopped off the workbench, she fell forward on her face, before clumsily getting back onto her feet. With arms outstretched, she stumbled forward to me and clasped her hands around my throat.
Surprisingly, I felt no pain. My muscles relaxed. The more I drifted into peace and tranquility, the more vibrant she became — rosier cheeks, glossier eyes, and warmer and softer hands. But something sharp sliced through the air and splintered her wooden head. She staggered backward and slumped against the wall, lifeless.
Holding an axe in his hands, Andy stood between me and George, who chuckled and clapped his hands. At once, every wooden toy and doll in the shop stirred to life! Andy swung the axe, hacking them into pieces. He grabbed my arm and pulled me towards the door. My legs were like jelly, and I struggled to keep up with his pace.
The lights blinked.
We hurried into a room which turned out to be the banquet hall. Pete was at the head of the long table with Wendy standing by his side, beaming proudly at her boy as he admired the three-tier cake before him. The Catchers were decked out in elaborate costumes — clowns, jesters, mimes, bunnies, lions, and bears. They stood in rows behind their mummified children, who sat eerily still in decadent wooden chairs. The Catchers all clapped and hummed “Happy Birthday” in unison.
But what churned our stomachs and jolted our nerves the most was the sight of our withered classmates, posed delicately around the long table. Among them, I could barely make out the faded resemblance Mark’s face, grey and withered like raisins, and pleading with eyeless despair.
“Oh, you made it in time for the cake!” Pete exclaimed. “I’m a real boy now! I couldn’t have done it without the help of my friends.” He grabbed a fistful of cake and stuffed it into his mouth, moaning with delight.
“Put that axe down, son,” Wendy piped up, suddenly. “It’s not a toy.”
“Don’t be stubborn, boys!”
With a nod from Wendy, the Catchers turned to us and slowly inched forward. Tearfully, Andy struck a Bear in the arm with the axe. He was about to strike again when a Clown threw a handful of jacks pinning him to the wall. Dropping the axe, he tried to wrench himself free, but the more he struggled, the deeper the jacks went into his flesh. The Catchers were closing in.
“Don’t leave me!” Andy screamed.
“I-I’m sorry!” I bolted out of the room with axe in hand.
They were right on my heels. I swerved around and swung it through the chest of the Clown. When I swung the axe again, it struck right into the Jester’s hip.
I screamed in despair as I came to the dead end of a hallway. And the lights went out. With eyes shut and adrenaline coursing through my veins, I waved the weapon around me, feeling it collide with flesh and blood that spattered across my face. When the lights switched back on, a mound of bodies lay before me.
Pete picked up the Jester’s cap ’n’ bells and put it atop his head. He swiped the red nose of the Clown and placed it on his nose. Singing “Happy Birthday”, he danced atop the bodies. He jumped into puddles of blood, kicking and stomping like he was dancing in the rain.
Then, he stopped and stared me right in the eye. “I guess, you won the game,” he said, pointing to something behind me.
A comforting and soothing warmth touched the back of my neck. As I turned to see the sun rising, I collapsed from absolute exhaustion.
Mom had called the cops when I hadn’t come home. They found me wrapped up in a blanket sleeping on the floor in the foyer. No one believed me about what happened at Pete’s birthday party. The cops tested the blood that soaked my clothes, and they came back laughing with the results in hand.
They said there was no record of Pete at the school. As for the house, it had always been abandoned. But no one could explain why more than twenty kids and their parents were missing. And I was the only student left from Ms. Bryant’s 5th grade class. Since then, I dreamt about the house and its labyrinthine hallways. Sometimes I can still hear my friends crying. I can hear Andy’s last words ‘Don’t leave me!’ I’d wake up drenched in sweat, with my blanket soaked in piss.
Finding even so much as a fragment of peace hasn’t been easy. It took decades. What do you do when everyone around you — your friends and family and authorities — tells you that what you experienced never happened? The older I got, the more I realized that I didn’t need to convince people that I was right.
No one needs to believe me because I believe me. I’m the one who’ll never escape those memories. The freedom to forget this nightmare is a far-fetched dream. Pete reminded me of that tonight. As I got ready for bed, I found the Jester’s mask with streaks of dried-up bloodstains on my pillow.
I don’t know how long I stared at the mask. My body just seized up. I was afraid to touch it. Then, I heard the ringing of the cap ’n’ bells outside my door. When I went to check, always expecting the worst, I found a small blue box with a yellow ribbon on the doormat. Something jingled inside when I picked it up. I untied the ribbon and opened the box. Inside was a golden bell.
I looked around to see if the person who left the box was still around. Then, I saw it. Parked by the curb across from my house was the black Lincoln. Its front lights turned on illuminating three familiar figures inside — George, Wendy, and Pete.
Without taking my eyes off them, I carefully stepped back into the house as they drove off into the night.