By: J.J. Cheesman
This is a story I am going to recount that I never told anyone, but recent events have come to light that have made me feel the need to share it. When I was younger, every couple of Friday’s, my Aunt and Uncle would take my two cousins and I to one of those Chuck-E-Cheese knock off places called, ‘The Fun Factory’. The Fun Factory was your run of the mill entertainment center for children. It had arcade machines, laser tag, and play areas complete with slides and a ball pit. The ball pit was always my favorite area to be in. I still remember the feeling of excitement I got after filling up on pizza and fizzy soda and then rushing to the play area to play to my heart’s content. My cousin Jenny would usually follow, but her brother Sammy would usually end up over at the arcade machines.
Jenny and I spent a lot of time on the many slides and ropes of that place, but we always eventually made our way to the ball pit. The ball pit itself was very big, or at least it was in the minds of us children. It was so big in fact, that we could easily hide under the colored plastic balls, moving within them like sharks in water trying to sneak up on one another. Jenny was always better than I was at this little game of ours. Often I would find myself jumping in surprise as she grabbed me from behind and screamed,
“I got you!” and we would both laugh hysterically as the adrenaline surged through our bodies. I didn’t mind being the one that was always caught, I actually preferred it that way. To me it was more fun being scared than to scare. Jenny and I, for some reason always had the run of that place. Most of the children that came to The Fun Factory opted to spend time at the arcade machines, or be among the ropes and slides of the rest of the play area, and of course there was always a line for laser tag. It didn’t occur to me that most children thought of the ball pit as ‘childish’, but I think it occurred to Jenny, because one of the last Friday’s my Aunt and Uncle took us to The Fun Factory I found myself alone in the ball pit.
It was the usual routine for a Friday, my Aunt and Uncle ordered us three kids pizza and soda which we ate quickly while they read whatever books each of them brought. I turned to Jenny and told her I couldn’t wait to go to the ball pit. Jenny looked to her brother, and Sammy shrugged while munching a slice of pizza. Jenny turned back to me and said,
“Actually Sam and I are going to go play laser tag, you should come with us.”
I remember distinctly a moment of turning and looking into the dark room that was visible from the sitting area, a sign above the room in red lettering read, ‘Lazer’. Within the shadows of the opening, I could see flashing white lights and hear kids screaming. The screams were ones of joy of course, but for some childish reason that is hard for me to explain even as an adult, it frightened me and set me with a feeling of unease. I turned back to my cousins then, seeing their hopeful expressions. They knew of my overwhelming fear of the dark. At Sammy’s birthday party the year before, while we were playing hide and seek, I was accidently locked in Sammy’s closet and I shrieked and shrieked until I was let out by my Uncle, who embraced me in his arms until I stopped crying. I assume that my cousins hoped that I had outgrown that fear. I hadn’t.
“I think I’m just going to play out here” I said, staring down hard into my plate of pizza crust. Jenny shifted, like she was about to say something, but Sammy cut her off.
“That’s okay Adrian! We’ll just play one game and be back out here in no time!” I looked up at Sammy who was smiling at me, he then winked one of he’s brown eyes at me reassuringly. Sammy was always so nice to me… That’s why what happened hurts so bad. I wish I would have just gone with them, maybe then Sammy would still be here.
I smiled back at Sammy, and then he and Jenny got up and ran over to my Uncle to get money to pay for laser tag. I watched from my set as my Uncle doled out the bills and then turned to me, holding up some more cash and winking. I smiled at him and shook my head, then pointed toward the play area. My uncle shrugged and put the money back into his wallet while my cousins ran over to the laser tag desk. I got up from my seat, picked up my paper plate and pitched it into the trash cans located near the dining area, then ran over to the ball pit. As usual, there were no children inside the ball pit. I immediately dove in, excitedly crawling on the floor of the pit under the many colored plastic balls. Even without Jenny there in the pit to sneak up on me, it was fun to crawl within the pit and imagine I was a secret agent crawling within the vents of a top secret complex or a mole digging through the dirt. I would jump up and pop my head out of the ball pit every now and then, staring at the red and rounded walls of the ball pit. Every time I popped my head out, it felt as though the walls of the pit grew father apart, as if the ball pit was growing. At first I just thought it was a part of my imagination but I still crawled on my hands and knees toward the exit. That was when I noticed something very, very wrong. The small hole which served as the entrance and exit to the ball pit, even though I was crawling closer and closer to it, was getting farther away. That was also the moment when I realized that the ball pit was somehow, impossibly, getting deeper.
I began to struggle within the pit, as the floor became deeper and deeper, I felt as if I was being swallowed by the brightly colored baubles of the pit. The bustling sounds of children within The Fun Factory became silent and soon, my head fell beneath the colored plastic and I screamed out for help. My heart was pounding in my chest as I became panicked, screaming louder and louder as I was completely engulfed in colors of red, blue, and yellow. I felt like I was being suffocated, I could breathe, but it was hot and heavy breathing that rebounded off of plastic and heated my sweating face. Soon, I stopped screaming out of pure exhaustion and tears began to stream from my eyes. Then a sound came that stopped my crying immediately. There was a loud hissing sound, almost like a snake that was hissing into one of those electronic voice changers. Then I heard the shifting sound of plastic on plastic. Right before my eyes the plastic balls parted, and in their place appeared a face that stole the voice right out of my throat.
I tried to scream, but nothing would come. I don’t know if it was out of fear, or if it was something else unexplainable, but I found that I couldn’t speak at all. The face, almost in answer to this realization, smiled at me. The smile revealed yellowing teeth that were broken in places, and its cheeks were rosy and pink, almost like a doll’s. Its face was porcelain white, again like a doll, and it had no hair as far as I could see. Its eyes were the worst part, they were green and the pupils were slit, just like a snake’s. I couldn’t see its neck, if it had once, its face took up all of my vision and I couldn’t seem to look anywhere but its awful green eyes. Then, it spoke.
“Hello child” The voice was female, but it was still hissy and distorted, again it sounded like it was speaking through some sort of electronical means. “I have been watching you for quite some time now, you and your friend.” Her (I assume it was a her) smile became a thoughtful frown as if she was trying to recall something. Then her smile returned.
“Jenny, is that right?”
Somehow, I felt compelled to answer, and found that I could once again speak.
“Yes, she’s my cousin” I said, my voice all the while a shaking mess.
“Ah! Of course! I should of known!” The face let out a throaty mechanical laugh that sent shivers down my spine.
“Well, Adrian, I have something to tell you, and I need you to listen very carefully, can you do that for me?” She spoke softly and although I was still scared out of my mind, I nodded.
“Good, I have been around for a long, long while Adrian, longer than you have been alive, longer than your parents have been alive, and much longer than their parents have been alive.” She laughed then, a hearty and genuine laugh as though she just had told a joke that I didn’t understand. She smiled her wicked broken smile at me and then continued.
“For me to continue living, I need things… people…” She gave me what could be considered a remorseful look then.
“I’m sorry to say Adrian, I need you.”
I hesitated, I truly really didn’t know what to say. “You need to me to do what?” I said these word, although, I had an idea of what the creature was getting at.
“I need you to give me your body, at least a piece of it, mine is so fragile you see, and I need… ‘pieces’ to keep it in working order”
I began to shake then, I wanted to get out, I had a sneaking feeling that if I just moved away from her I would be okay. I don’t know why I felt that way I just did. The creature pressed on with her robotic voice.
“But to take what I need, I need your permission, It’s the rules. I can’t do it unless you say ‘yes’ in here.” The porcelain face before me then smiled an awful knowing smile, as if she knew something I didn’t. I shook my head.
“No! why would I do that?” I screamed. The creature smiled wider.
“Don’t you love Jenny?”
“Ye…” I began, but stopped, understanding immediately the grave mistake I almost nearly made. ‘Unless you say yes in here’ she had said. Instead of looking angry, the creature almost seemed even more pleased.
“Well, if you DO love Jenny and want to protect her, you will let me take you, because if you don’t I will harass Jenny until she tells me yes, and I will take her” My head was beginning to buzz with the threat of an oncoming headache, the metallic scratching of the thing’s voice was making it hard to think straight, but one clear thought rang in my mind. Get out, tell Jenny, never come back. That was my plan. I stared at the creature, who wore a patient smile on her face.
“Well, what do you say Adrian? I promise it will be quick”
“NO!” I screamed, I turned then and began to crawl in the other direction out of pure instinct. I didn’t know if it would work, I just knew I had to get away. I crawled as fast as I could in the other direction, banging my hands and knees hard on the plastic floor of the ball pit. All the while I crawled I could hear the mechanical voice behind me wailing in frustration.
“YOU STUPID CHILD, COME BACK HERE, YOU’RE MINE, DO YOU HEAR ME?!” I didn’t look back, and all I could see were balls of yellow, blue, and red as I went through the pit, but that didn’t stop me. I just kept crawling on and on, the only thing telling me I was making any progress was the voice getting farther and farther away.
“JENNY WILL DIE! DO YOU UNDERSTAND? I WILL GUT THAT LITTLE BITCH AND TEAR HER EYES FROM HER SOCKETS! I SWEAR…”
All of a sudden, the metallic wails of the creature could not be heard. The sounds of children playing and laughing soon filled my ears as my head rose above the ball pit. As soon as I gained my footing I ran out of the hole that was the exit of the pit and I didn’t stop running until I found my Aunt and Uncle still reading in their usual spot at the benches near The Fun Factory entrance. My Uncle dropped his book when he saw me running towards him, and I began to cry. He stood and scooped me up in his arms to hold me in a tight embrace. My Aunt dropped her book as well and stood, asking me what was wrong. I said nothing, all I could do was bury my head into my Uncle’s shoulder and sob. I don’t know how long I was crying and being held by my Uncle, but at some point I heard Jenny’s voice behind me.
“What’s wrong with Adrian?” Jenny said. “We don’t know, where’s your brother?” My Uncle said, patting my back.
“Sam went to the ball pit; he went looking for Adrian there” Jenny replied. I lifted my head and looked back at Jenny, shocked and not sure what to say.
“What?” Jenny said, a sounded a little worried but mostly annoyed. That’s when I pushed off of my Uncle, he let me go a little surprised, and when my feet hit the floor I ran back toward the ball pit. My Aunt and Uncle called after me but I ignored them, I had to stop Sam from going into that ball pit. When I reached the play area, there were kids swinging on the ropes and sliding on the slides but from what I could see of the ball pit, no one was in there. I approached the entrance cautiously, and peered over the lip of the hole into ball pit. I froze then with absolute terror.
The porcelain face from before stared up at me from the pit, the rest of its body obscured by the colorful balls. It smiled at me with its broken yellow teeth and rosy cheeks, but something was different. It’s eyes that were once a putrid green, were now a soft brown color. Somewhere in the back of my mind I knew what this meant, but I didn’t want to believe it. The thing then laughed its awful mechanical laugh, and it descended below the ball pit until it disappeared within the colors. Then the balls began to move where the creature once was, and I braced myself to see its awful smile wants more. But it wasn’t the creature that came from the pit this time.
The balls shifted apart, and from below emerged Sammy. Poor Sammy, who had come to the pit to come get me so I didn’t feel left out. Poor Sammy, who was always so nice to me. Poor Sammy, who now stared up at me with two empty sockets where his eyes should be.
I’m sorry… I can’t continue on. the memory is too painful. I can hardly type now because the tears are blurring my vision. I’ll finish this another time, because I have so much more to tell.
In the meantime, please, just pay close attention to your children.