Ben & the Puppet.

Julia was intelligent, fun, and beautiful. One day she was here; the next she was gone, vanished, nada. The police wouldn’t even look into it for awhile, and when they did, they decided my best friend had simply skipped town. Alright, I’ll give them this: it certainly didn’t seem like anything criminal had happened to her. Her apartment appeared completely unbothered, and no one, not even Julia, had tried withdrawing any money from her bank account. And it was weird that her car never turned up….

But this explanation was so unlike her. She was kind and thoughtful and painfully meticulous with every plan she organized, from a trip to the grocery store to a vacation at the beach. Why now would she become spontaneous enough to simply disappear? Her mother’s bipolar, so her father even toyed with the idea that Julia had somehow acquired the same illness later in life, causing her to impulsively run away. The “she skipped town” theory never sounded right to me.

Months after her disappearance, a phone call came. It was Gary from the U-Store-It storage facility. This wasn’t the same facility Julia’s father had placed the contents of her apartment in after her disappearance. Apparently, Julia herself had rented a space there and had paid for an entire year in advance. They were going out of business, he said, and he’d tried in vain to contact the renter of the space. My name and number were also on the contact list; he’d hate to rummage through and discard a stranger’s possessions. I’d come and collect her things, I told him.

I was a little shocked when I saw a sleeping bag spread out on the unforgiving floor of the storage space. Gary asked no questions about it; he slunk away to give me privacy.

“Julia, what was going on with you? And why didn’t you tell me?” I sighed. “Where are you?” I whispered, my voice cracking.

I’d borrowed my brother’s truck, since I’d been unsure of the amount of stuff that occupied Julia’s unit. It was pretty cramped in the dusty space, and I regretted not taking Evan up on his offer to help. I crouched down and peeled the top of the sleeping bag back. There, underneath its top layer, was a book with a blank cover. It looked like a journal. My heart skipped a beat.

With shaking hands, I lifted the book from its hiding place. My thumb grazed its numerous pages as I anxiously pondered on what I was about to read. Would it provide answers? Should I bring the cops to this space, given that I felt fairly certain that something very weird was going on? I decided I’d read the journal first, and then call the cops, if I felt it was necessary.

I opened the leather book, expecting its pages to shriek secrets at me. Instead of Julia’s handwriting, I was faced with blank pages. “No,” I mumbled in disappointment as I frantically pawed through page after blank page. Nothing. Hope can be a tool of survival, but, sometimes, hope is a cruel monster.

Heart heavy, I tossed the book to the floor and began loading the boxes into Evan’s truck. Hours later, I was in my living room, kneeling beside another of Julia’s unpacked boxes. So far, I’d discovered nothing suspicious in her possessions. The wine I was drinking as I worked made my limbs feel warm and fuzzy. Frustrated, I snatched another box out of the stacks that littered my living room and lifted the flaps.

There was nothing inside except for a dusty Ouija board and a couple candles. I blew the dust off the top of the Ouija board and freed it from its cardboard home. I almost hate to say it because of how corny and cliché it sounds, but the second I unfolded the Ouija board, a sensation hit me like a ton of bricks: I didn’t just feel like I was being watched, I knew I was. Goosebumps tightened the skin on my arms.

I chastised myself for being so paranoid as I set the candles up on my coffee table and lit them with a match, switching the overhead light off. The warm candlelight cast an eerie glow over the familiar room. That feeling of unease wouldn’t release me, but I did my best to ignore it as I picked up the planchette and placed it on the board.

It’s not like it hadn’t occurred to me many times before, that Julia was probably dead. My only goal now was to find her, no matter what or where she was, and gain some closure. I’ve never been a believer in the supernatural, even though it can be fun to pretend that ghosts exist. I don’t know what made me decide to try and talk to my best friend through the Ouija board, except maybe desperation and a merlot buzz.

“Julia,” I started.

I sipped more wine.

“I miss you.”

Tears pricked my eyes.

“This is stupid, I know….I feel really silly. I don’t care, though.” Her hands had been on this planchette before. She was gone now, but at one time, she had played around with this same board.

“Are you here?” I whispered.

I held my breath, waiting for the planchette to do something, anything. Nothing happened.

“Julia? Please, I have to know what happened to you.”

My phone chimed. I frowned as I released the planchette. I leaned over and scooped my phone off the couch—and gasped. I blinked and checked again: the text was still there. Julia: Read

I opened the text thread. “‘Read,'” I repeated the word aloud. Another green bubble appeared: It.

“‘Read it,'” I murmured.

I tapped the phone icon with a shaky finger and waited for the line to ring.

I’m sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has been dis—

No!” I cried.

The phone chimed again.

Read. It.

And again.

READ. IT.

And again.

MEL, READ IT.

I threw the phone onto the coffee table and sobbed into my hands. Was I hallucinating? The sweet sound of violins filled the air—my ringer was going off. I dove for my phone. “Julia” was calling. I slid my thumb over the “answer” icon.

“Julia!” I shouted.

Static filled my ear.

“N-no, please—Julia, are you OK? Where are you? Please, answer me—”

Somewhere in the static was a human sound. The sound of….laughter? Weeping? The line was disconnected. I immediately called her back.

I’m sorry, but the number you are trying to reach has been…

I slammed the phone down and popped up. Her boxes had a lot of books in them. What was she wanting me to read? I turned the light back on and threw books aside as I clawed my way through her collection.

“What do you want me to find, Julia? A little more detail would’ve been nice!” I yelled.

I twirled around, my eyes bouncing from one box to the other, and froze. There was something on the couch that hadn’t been there before: the leather journal. I brushed tears off my cheeks and picked up the blank book.

“What the hell?” I whispered as I opened the book up to the first page.

I flinched: the pages weren’t blank anymore; Julia’s neat handwriting now filled the unlined spaces. The first few pages were normal entries: recipes, pensive paragraphs, personal goals, prayers….on the fifth page, things got strange.


Ben wants me to talk to him everyday. I don’t know how I feel about that. Something seems off. I wish I could tell Mel….I don’t want her to think I’ve finally lost it though, haha. Is this really happening?


Things to ask Ben: who was he? Was he human?


Ben hesitated when he answered the question. I’m not so sure I should keep talking to him. I mean, I’m getting this bad feeling about the whole thing. He hesitated, I felt it through the planchette. I’m certain he lied about being human once. If he was never human, what is he? And why lie?


Ben got angry at me today. He said I have to trust him. It doesn’t matter if I stop talking to him—he’s always here. He can move the planchette on his own now. I’m going to throw it away. Hopefully, this will be over soon.


I threw the board away, but it reappeared, somehow. I’m getting scared. Maybe I should tell Mel? I don’t know….Ben’s pissed off. He told me I can’t get rid of him.


Jesus, I thought I’d been scared before. Not true. Tonight, I learned what feral fear is, how it feels when it collides into you, how you feel like you’re going to burst right out of your body. That horrible thing….I nodded off on the couch. Something was being dragged down the hall, and the noise of it woke me up. I thought someone had fucking broken in! I got down on my hands and knees and peeked around the couch. In the light of the TV, I saw it—fuck, just thinking about it makes me tremble—my grandpa’s horrible clown puppet. It was using its arms to drag itself down the hall. And it noticed me, it fucking noticed me, because it collapsed to the floor when I made eye contact with it! Jesus Christ, I am terrified.


It’s him. It’s fucking him, Ben. He won’t leave me alone. I threw the damned clown into the dumpster outside and found it in my bathtub an hour later.

I even drove over an hour away and chucked it out the window, and STILL the fucker found its way back into my apartment! I don’t know what to do….I’ll be cooking and turn around, and there it is, seated at the kitchen table, watching me….or reading on the couch, and suddenly it will be sitting beside me. The worst is when it watches me get dressed. I don’t think Ben was ever human.


The next line was obviously not written by Julia. The handwriting was shaky and unpracticed.

Rip you apart if you say a word


Last night, I woke up, and Ben was in bed with me. I think—no, I know—he was watching me sleep. Also, it seems like the clown’s lips have stretched out even further, making its smile all the more grotesque. It left me the warning above this paragraph. What if it….tries something, something violent? I’m losing my mind.


It knows about Mel. I accidentally left my phone at home today. When I got home from work, my cell phone was clinched in its hands. Mel’s Facebook page was open. Its smile was even wider. And….and I swear it winked at me.

I just got off the phone with Mel. She apologized for not being able to meet me at my place for lunch today. She obviously has no idea that she wasn’t talking to me, doesn’t know I left my phone at home. IT was texting her! I opened the text thread and, sure enough, there were the messages to prove it—nothing unusual, just very normal conversation….which makes it all the more ominous. What does it WANT?


I haven’t seen it in a couple days. I don’t know what’s worse: knowing where it is or not knowing where it is. Maybe it finally just left?


I’m exhausted. Mentally, emotionally, physically….I don’t know how much more I can take. I woke up to a loud boom coming from my neighbor’s apartment. I ran out into the hallway, thinking to check on her….her front door was ajar, so I walked in.

I found her on her kitchen floor. Her nightgown was pulled up over her face and her underwear were twisted up, like she’d tried to take them off in a rush. The clown was sitting upright by her head. Its smile was so wide, the corners of its lips touched its ears. I don’t know how I’d never noticed before, but it has teeth. Little, tiny, needle-like teeth.

My neighbor had no pulse. I grabbed the clown and heaved it into my apartment before dialing 911. The paramedics suspect she had a heart attack. I’m not so sure.

Maybe I should’ve left the evil thing beside her, let the cops and paramedics deal with it….but I can’t do that, can I? I wouldn’t be able to live with myself, if I knew it was terrorizing someone else.

I have never felt so alone in all my life.


I was in the shower when my ankle started stinging. I peered down and saw it, latched to my lower leg. Tiny streams of watery blood leaked out of the small puncture wounds created by its teeth. I screamed in horror and thrashed my leg around until the puppet went flying into the glass door of the shower.

I can’t live in terror for much longer. The clown is either going to kill me, or I’m going to lose my mind. Oh, and I caught it with my phone again. This time, it had my gallery open to a picture of Mel. What if it goes after her like it did my poor neighbor? It already tried to lure her to it once.


Again, in shaky, unpracticed handwriting:

Mel


That’s it. I have a storage space. I’m going to sleep in it tonight, think about my next move….I can’t afford a hotel, and I can’t let anyone know that anything’s wrong—they’d probably lock me away if I told them any of this. I’ll take a flashlight and leave the clown in my apartment. This is all so insane….I still can’t believe this is happening to me.


That was the last entry. There were a couple of blood droplets on the corner of the page that made my blood run cold. Reading Julia’s passages left me with an upset stomach and sweaty palms. How had I not noticed that my best friend needed me? That something sinister was going on, whether these things she wrote were true or she only perceived them to be true? I had to choose what to do next. Go to the cops? Go to her parents? Look through her stuff again and see if I could find any other clues?

I had other questions, too: did my best friend die in that storage space? How did I receive texts and a call from her number? Why was her journal blank earlier, but later filled with the horrific details of the events leading up to her disappearance? Was I—now or at any time—in danger? Was Julia suffering a mental breakdown, or did these awful things actually happen?

And—I swallowed hard at this—where was her grandpa’s clown puppet now?


The next day, as I dressed for work, someone paid me a visit. I felt its presence before I saw it. It was sitting on the chair I sit in to do my make-up, grinning ear to ear. When my gaze fell upon it, I screeched. My heart thumped wildly against my rib cage as I sidled up to the clown puppet. It was holding something in its fist….

Swiftly, I snatched the scrap of paper out of its hand and backed away, leaving about ten feet between me and it. The paper was covered in what appeared to be old, dried blood. I winced as I scanned the message jotted down on it.

First Julia now Mel

My face wrinkled in distress as I glanced back up at my visitor. I inched closer to it, squinting as I tried to pick out what was wrong with the image before me. It took me a few seconds, but it came to me: there were human teeth in its mouth.

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