Puppet Show

The following short story is another work-in-progress that I originally started writing on my Twitch channel for a contest with a highly restrictive word count. The story took on a life of its own and exceeded the word count. Until I get around to revising, here it is in its original form, warts and all. Enjoy.

*          *          *

1

Ya know, I’m sitting here, trying really hard to find the right words to explain what it is I saw without sounding completely batshit. And I don’t think I can. I mean, look at me. You can tell I ain’t all right, can’t ya?

It’s crazy, ain’t it? The way the whole world can just turn sideways—justlikethat. I mean, it’s not like you leave your house expecting crazy shit to happen, ya know. You wake up, you step outside and get in your car, and you just go, right? You just assume that you’ll come home in one piece. Like, no matter what happens it’ll all be okay just as long as you can get back home and crawl into your bed.

2

My little girl, Audrey, she really digs puppets. Always has. And she’d been begging me to take her to see this puppet show down at the library all week. She must’ve seen a poster for it somewhere, I guess. Maybe someone gave her mother one and she showed it to Audrey–I really don’t know. Anyway, she tells me she wants to see this show. And I don’t get to spend much time with her or my son—I’m working all the time these days and I can’t seem to get home before they’re in bed most nights, right? So I figure, why not? But I tell her, Sammy’s got to be cool with it? That’s my son’s name, Sammy. He’s a little bit younger than her and he’s not really into this puppet shit like she is. But she just runs off and I can hear her shouting at him from across our house, asking him if he wants to see the puppet show. And I don’t think he gets a word in before she starts shouting at me, telling me how Sammy says it’s all cool.

That’s just the way Audrey is, ya know. Always doing stuff like that, thinking she can get one over on me. And I guess I let her think that too. I used to think maybe that sort of thing made me a better father. That it was better than the sort of hands-off hardass my old man was. Guess I was wrong, huh?

Anyway, we get down to the library and the librarian just smiles and thanks us for coming and all that. And she waves us in to this little room there in the back. Audrey and Sammy run off and get a seat there on the floor with the rest of the kids. And I just take my time and sit in the back with the rest of the parents, ya know. They’re texting on their phones, or whatever. There’s maybe one or two of them who are actually interested in all this. I know I’m not, but my kids are happy. They’re sitting there with their legs crossed, waiting on this hippie looking guy to get things started. He looks like he just woke up in the back of his van, ya know? But he’s got this nice little set up, little cardboard castle and curtains. He’s no Mr. Rogers, but it looks good. Or at least the kids think it’s good enough.

By the time things finally get started, I’m already fidgeting in my seat. My back is killing me and my sciatica is flaring up something awful. But I don’t want to be rude or anything, so I’m trying to pay attention to whatever the Hell it is this story is supposed to be. Something about a lake and two suns. And some guy who wears a mask but really isn’t? It didn’t really make too much sense to tell the truth. But this guy is getting really into it, using a new voice for every character and acting his little heart out. And all the kids are loving it. Audrey’s right there and she’s stiff as a board. I know she’s in love with these puppets and the whole thing. And I’m already thinking to myself how she’s going to beg me the whole ride home to make her something like this setup.

But the strangest thing was how Sammy was sitting there real quiet. Audrey’s a lot like her mother, real smart-ass when she wants something bad and a complete angel when she finds herself in the middle of something she loves. But Sammy’s like me. He can’t sit still for the life of him. Can’t take him to the movies without him needing to use the toilet. He doesn’t really have to go, ya know. He just wants to get up and move. It’s a waste of a ticket those few times we do get to go, but whatever. That’s kids for you, I guess.

But the point is I’m sitting there wishing I could get up and go. Audrey’s loving every minutes of this shit. And Sammy’s just sitting there, probably fell asleep. I’m hoping that’s the case. Last thing that guy on stage probably wants is my kid crying about how he’s bored and needs to take a piss. But that doesn’t happen.

And then my phone rings. Thank God, right? I got it on silent, but it’s buzzing like a bee in my pocket. So I take it out, see it’s the kids’ mom, and I just get up and go. The kids don’t notice me. The hippie guy probably sees me but says nothing. And the other parents are just looking at me like I’m just about the luckiest sonnovabitch in the whole world.

3

So I step outside—all the way out, because it’s a library and the librarian’s already looking at me like I whipped it out and started pissing all over the rug, right? And my wife and I get to talking. She wants to know how things are going. I tell her the kids are fine, that Sammy’s having just as much fun as Audrey. My wife’s happy to hear this. And that’s about as far as we got before I heard all the screaming.

Look, I’ve heard screaming. You’ve heard screaming. We all have. Kids hollering at each other. People getting mad. Husbands and wives saying the worst shit they can think of to one another in public. All pretty normal, right? Except this ain’t that sort of screaming. This is something I ain’t ever heard before.

A few years ago, we let Audrey watch that movie, An American Tail—the one with the singing mice who come to America from Russia. Well, there’s this scene where the mice make this giant, evil looking mouse filled with fireworks to scare off all the cats, right? Scares the piss out of Audrey, like literally causes her to wet the bed because she’s having nightmares of this thing. She still can’t watch that movie anymore she was so scared. And I remember her waking up that first night, screaming and crying and waking me and my wife up. You’d think someone was hacking her to pieces, but she’s mostly fine. Just lost her mind is all because of the nightmares.

Well, this was sort of like that. But it wasn’t just Audrey this time, it was mostly everyone.

So, I hear all this and I just hang up on my wife right there without another word and run inside. And the librarian is just looking over at me like I’m supposed to know what to do. She’s barking at me that the children are screaming, over and over as I’m running to that back room. And before I even step in, I can see them all there.

On the floor, the kids are screaming and howling. Some of them are even talking in what sounds like Spanish, but it’s no Spanish I’ve ever heard before. Others are crying on about some man in yellow, which is just about the only English I do hear. And all of them are seizing on the floor, twitching and writhing—the kids and their parents. Foaming at the mouth, eyes rolling back in their heads. A few of them are bleeding from the mouth, probably because they bit off their tongues.

And that hippie guy who was running the whole show? He’s there on the stage, clawing out his own eyes. Just digging his fingers in there, screaming about how he doesn’t want to see this anymore. And I don’t know if he’s talking about all these kids there on the floor or something else.

Remember how I said you never leave your house on any given day thinking something bad is going to happen? That was me right there. These kids are just bleeding out from their faces and twitching all over the floor. This guy is knuckles deep in his own eye sockets, shrieking and laughing about how he can’t see them anymore, whoever or whatever “them” might be. And I’m just thinking how glad I am my kids aren’t doing this shit. I know they’re in the room. I know this shit is going on. But it’s not really registering, ya know? Not until I see this woman—I think she was the one texting on her phone before I stepped outside. She’s saddled on top of Sammy, like you see bullies do to the smaller kids in school? She’s there on top of him, her hands wrapped around his throat and bashing the living shit out of his skull against the floor. There’s just shit coming out of the back of his head and his ears and just everywhere. I see all this but all I can hear in my head is the woman screaming at Sammy, “Stop hitting yourself.” Next thing I know, I’m doing the same to her. I don’t think I say a word. I watch myself grab her off my son and then bash the bitch’s head into the carpet. And I do this again and again and again until she’s twitching like the rest of them. And then I just keep going until she stops moving all together.

And I sit there for a minute. All the light bulbs that should’ve lit up over my head the second I stepped in there are finally doing that, right? And I get up off my knees and walk around, looking for Audrey. And I see her there on the floor. Her face looks the same as it did that night she woke up from her nightmare, like a giant mouse had just come running at her in the dark, shrieking and burning with all the fire of Hell. And she’s wet her pants again. She looks at me, right, and I know she knows she’s wet herself. And I tell her it’s okay, that I won’t tell Mommy. That I’ll get her cleaned up. And she just shakes her head. She’s not even looking at me. She’s just looking up and out like none of us, none of this shit is going on around her. Like I’m not covered in blood and some bitch’s brains. Like her little brother ain’t dead. And she just cries. She says it’s dark, it’s all just so dark, Daddy. They’re waiting for her, the people in the shadows. They want to pull her down and away from the light, because the light is worse than the shadows. The things in the light–that man in yellow who isn’t really a man but something else—they want to taste what her soul is made of.

4

So here I am. My son is dead, his head cracked open like a fucking egg. I held my daughter while she’s pissing herself and barely alive and talking all sorts of nonsense. And all I can think to do is to crawl back into my bed and pretend everything is going to be okay.

I just wanted to spend some time with my kids, ya know? It was just supposed to be a fucking puppet show, man.

Steve Arviso
A former professional hugger, Steve Arviso is now a semi-pro writer with a love for pop culture and a face made for radio. He often spends what money he does have on penny whistles and moonpies.
Elsewhere
Monster
Queen Bee