There is a man inside the machine. I am sure of it. Regardless of the eleven years spent in and out of eleven more psychiatrists' offices, my final conclusion has been damned irreversibly etched into my mind. It is only after my age now approaches its twenty-third year that I have steeled myself with certain chemical courages that I find myself attempting to revisit, through this writing, the story of the New Haven incident.
The town of New Haven had been my home for nine years, and by all accounts up until the end of that summer had been a very bland, if not safe, place to call one's home. I have few distinctive memories of what life had been like before that summer. I was an above-average student early on, surprising to consider my current high school drop out status.
The New Haven Mall had been built the previous year and finally opened, not a day too early for the kids, mind you, in that early summer. Most children were enthralled by the food court trainyard and coin fueled rides, their mothers and guardians enthralled with gossip, clothing, and shiny new goods to lust for like such pagan ferretts. The most enthralling and influential place in that mall was, by far, the arcade.
I do remember my first impression of that arcade, its two halls of glowing machines illuminating an empty darkness with a near awe inspiring mystic quality. The prerequisite sounds of a few dozen video game cabinets, titles now referred to only as 'classics' mixed in with the more organic thumps and fading allure of the pinball tables. There were two skeeball machines, one foosball table, a terrible variation of the whack-a-mole game replacing said moles with snakes, and the fortune telling machine. I would love to be able to site a manufacturer or specific catchy name, but the only thing written on that machine was on the crude wooden sign hanging from the black drapes that wrapped the machine—Fortune Telling Machine.
The fortune telling machine was older than the rest of the arcade's entertainment, its coin operation slots were nearly hanging out the front, the bare bit of wood you could see from underneath the drapes looked weather beat and ancient. Inside the machine, faced front, was a large glass case with a slightly smaller than life size animatronic dummy of a fortune teller. This crude joke of a fortune teller resembled at best a western interpretation of a Saudi mystic, at worst a drunken shriner. Its operation was simple, you inserted your coin, pushed a big yellow button on the front and waited.
The fortune dummy would move its head up and down, open its mouth as if saying something, its eyes sometimes wandering what seemed to be exactly towards your face, but would say nothing. Usually after a few seconds, although sometimes within a few anxious minutes, you would hear the sound of some typeset and wala! your fortune would be presented to you out of the right side of the machine. Each 'fortune' was printed on a small slip of paper not unlike those found in Chinese fortune cookies. It was, as I have said, a crude and simple machine. That is what we all had thought in the beginning, that hazy late summer.
It is no wonder the fortune telling machine did not catch the interest of more of my peers, thankfully. Most of them had already made up their mind when it came to such 'entertainment'. There were countless users of the 8-Ball toy, the girl favored and folded paper 'cootie catcher', and even a few brave and curious children that would mention a Ouija board with either enthusiastic joking or strange reverence. It was, to them and the grown members of society, all fake. None of these devices, in the end, had the same effect on the future of the child in question as that damned fortune telling machine. I know, as I was one of them.
The first fortune I, as well as anyone else I was lead to believe, ever received was general and seemingly vague... "YOU HAVE SO MUCH TO LOOK FORWARD TO."
I was not impressed, although for some strange reason I kept that slip of paper. I moved on to a star fighter simulation game, slumping into the awkward hard plastic chair, dumped four times as much coin inside and tried not to think about the fortune telling machine. When my star fighter was finally shot down, however, I found myself wishing that I had spent those coins on more fortunes.
A week passed, my mother oblivious to my after school requests to visit that mall. She would only spend money on 'frivolous' things on a Friday or Saturday. It was not that she had a high moral standard, we were just sort of poor. My father, what little I remember of him, was an electrician, part-time handyman, part-time drunk, and even more part-time husband. Most of the time, he was just not around the house. I never knew if it was work or adultery that kept him away, although our financial state would have leaned more to the latter. As for my mother... as I said, she did not have a high moral standard. My father's absence was apparently too much, and she soon was entertaining visitors she would only refer to as 'friends of your father'. During those few hours I was sent outwards, always encouraged to go and find 'other children to play with'.
These other children of the neighborhood were of little concern to me, they had not seen or did not care about the fortune telling machine. It took me a few days, but I finally found someone who did. His name was Jacob, he lived only a few streets away, and his mother was a habitual mall shopper. Therefore Jacob was an experienced mall denizen, what you might call a mall rat. Jacob was 3 years older than myself, just entering puberty and eager to share his experiences. Especially those concerning the naked female form, which he had only seen in magazines, and the fortune telling machine.
"That machine is weird", he told me the first day we met, "You won't believe me, but I heard a voice inside of it." I did not disbelieve him, I had seen the dummy move its mouth as if speaking, but had figured that it was broke. Someone must have fixed the machine, I told him, as if my one experience with it gave me rights of analysis. "No, you don't understand..", he went on, "the puppet in the front don't talk... it's the thing in the back that writes your fortune. I heard it talk, it kind of whispered a few times." I asked him, of course, what the machine had said to him. "I don't really want to tell ya, it's dumb and crazy. But I'm not lying, and my friend Charlie said he heard it too." With that, I was sold, and in my guts developed more of a need than a want to visit the arcade again. "I'm going back there tonight! Just come with us, my mom's taking me there in an hour. You won't believe what that machine can tell you."
I went home and told my mother about Jacob, the machine, even letting a bit slip out about the girls in his magazines. When I finally got around to asking my mother if I could go with them, the look on her face told me the answer before her lips could. Jacob was a bad influence, and a liar at that, she explained to me. I felt hurt, but she consoled me with promises of a trip to the mall in the next day's afternoon. That night I slept so little, my mind wrapping tight around the mystery of the machine, and slipping away further from the cold logic of my mother.
The next day after lunchtime, Jacob found me on the playground, he had skipped gym class and was wandering outside the fence. He was disappointed I had not joined him the previous afternoon for the mall venture. I explained to him my mother's view, but assured him I did not share in it. His overall demeanor had changed over night, this Jacob looked worried and paranoid. I told him of my plans to visit the arcade that night, to see for myself if what he had told me was true. "I heard the thing in the machine again last night," he stuttered out, "and it said your name. It said your name man, and I don't know how it knows." Jacob was now welling up with tears, and as he turned to flee he dropped what he had been clutching in his hands. It was one of the fortune machine's slips, and it read -- "DON'T TELL ANYONE."
That night my mother drove like a bat out of hell to the mall. It appeared that to an equal degree we both wanted something; she wanted to gossip with the other bags over their bags and their husband's downfalls, and I wanted to dump a few bucks into that damned fortune telling machine. There were no needs for words when we entered the mall, I immediately took off towards the arcade. There were still four hours before closing time, at least.
Inside there were scarce other children around, which was ideal for a good investigation. I exchanged my dollars for coins, and asked the man behind the plastic prize filled counter if he had ever heard the voice of the fortune telling machine. He shrugged and never looked up from his Heavy Metal magazine, but told me the machine was probably still broke so NO, no sound from it. I felt relieved, although then slowly becoming paranoid of Jacob's possible deceptions.
The fortune telling machine was located in the very back end of the second hall, the games next to it either always unplugged or in disrepair. Easier it would be to hear the machine, I thought. In the first coin went and I nearly slammed that yellow button in. I waited yet heard no sounds at all, there was no movement in the dummy, no voice, and no cookie-less fortune. I'm not sure how long I waited, but frustration eventually took hold and I kicked the machine hard, aiming right at its coin slot.
The dummy sprang to life, rocking its head like a doll meant to educate kids on the combined threat of epilepsy and autism. I stepped back from the machine when one of its eyes started rolling around, switching from clockwise to counter-clockwise rotations with no
set interval. Its mouth was hanging wide open, its bottom jaw raising only when the whole head stammered up and down. Then it suddenly stopped, and I heard the typeset begin. Stepping to the side of the machine, I watched as the slip of paper slowly emerged. "ANOTHER COIN PLEASE."
I was bewildered by this, and ever more angry with the machine, with Jacob, with thinking there was something unnatural about this. All it wanted was money, and there were no voices, the machine was obviously broke. My spirits were deflated, and to take out my
frustration over the whole situation out I went back to the star fighter. After about three games of this I found my mind wandering back to the fortune telling machine, I looked back towards it and to my surprise there was another kid there at the side, holding a fortune.
I nearly shot across the arcade hall and approached him, telling him how the machine must be broke. He just laughed, told me the machine worked great, and that his name was Charlie. I scoffed and asked to see his fortune, telling him about mine. This really seemed to unnerve Charlie, and he refused to show me his fortune. In fact, he turned and headed away from me, as he passed stopping to say plainly "you weren't supposed to tell anyone."
I watched Charlie march briskly outside the arcade, and then I quickly put another coin into the fortune machine. Within a few seconds the dummy sprang to life, this time moving in a 'normal' fashion as it had the very first encounter. No sound came from its mimed actions, and I heard the typeset begin. I walked around the side to collect the fortune, when I finally heard it. There was a voice, like that of a man but so low of a whisper it could have been a woman, or a child... like a radio from a car driving outside your house, so brief can you be sure what you even heard? I am fairly sure this time I heard it say "DON'T LIE."
I was weirded out more than a little, but pressed my ear to the machine, straining to hear anything else, trying to find WHERE the voice had originated. There was nothing but silence now. With a scoff I picked up my fortune, my eyes widening as I read it. "YOU TOLD, DIDN'T YOU?"
My paranoia sent me into a near manic state then. I kicked the front and side several times, and even yelled at the machine - "how would you know, you dumb machine, your just fucking broke." I regained my composure, looking around me to find that I had gained some attention. A pack of older kids sitting around the pinball machines, pointing, even laughing. I felt stupid for my outburst, for letting the machine get to me, so I left to find my mother in the food court. Only she was not there. Sitting alone close to the bathrooms though, was Charlie.
He tried to ignore me when I first approached him, simply acting like I was not even there. I questioned him about the fortune machine's voice, and what it had told him. He blankly stared at the table, his hands folded inside his hoodie. I got irate and shoved my last fortune slip at him. This broke his act, he started to take it from my hand, but then retreated back into the hoodie. "I don't even want to know, don't you understand your not supposed to tell anyone the fortune!" He finally looked up at me as he said this. "That's a stupid rule, why would you follow orders from a machine," I told him, "what the hell do you think is in the fortune telling machine?"
As if that question were just too much, Charlie abruptly stood up and headed into the bathroom. "Don't you dare follow me in here" were his only words to me, his facial expression both scared and struggling with the act of indifference. Realizing how awkward it would be to continue any inquiry with Charlie, I turned to leave the food court. I had been unaware it turned out, of the older kids from the arcade standing right behind me. There were five of them, and they all smiled a near identical malicious smile. The one in the very front grabbed me by my shirt collar, pulled me close to look in my eyes... then just laughed and shoved me hard backward. My feet gave out before my back could find a wall, I fell back and attempted to catch myself on a chair, only managing to knock it over as well. More seemingly mirthless laughs from the group, they encircled me then, all reaching into their pockets at the same time, all finding a small slip of paper... all of them pulling out one of the fortune machine's slips. There is no more laughter as they all drop their paper over top of me, sending the fortunes tumbling in the air around me still seated on the floor. I thought for sure from the look in their eyes, that the next thing to happen would be violent, that this would not be over quickly. Instead they all just turned away, heading into the bathroom themselves. My nerves were bad then, but even worse when I found all their fortune slips, all of them said exactly the same thing -- "DON'T EVER TELL, OR ELSE."
My nerves had became so bad at this point, that it seems I just blacked out. When I came back to consciousness my mother was standing with a paramedic over me, they explained I had fell and bumped my head. I remembered the five older kids then, and how I fell back when pushed. Maybe I imagined our encounter after that, the fact that none of their fortune slips were around me making this seem much more plausible. I must have knocked myself silly, but why were there so many paramedics on the scene now, and why were people crying around me? My mom hugged me tight to her and told me that I was "lucky to be safe and sound."
That's when I saw the paramedics pull the body out of the bathroom, stretched on the gurney and fresh blood seeping through the white sheets in multiple places. Multiple places all over the body, a small body at that, the size of a child, no, the size of Charlie. I started screaming then, trying to tell my mother everything that happened, that I had met the kid on the stretcher, about the other kids, about the fortune telling machine, about - she slapped me hard across the face. She screams back at me to stop making stories up, she tells me they had already caught the man who did it. He had never even tried to flee the scene, although they had yet to recover the knife.
A policeman had ventured over, he asks my mother some questions then, and they turn from me as to speak without my hearing. There is another officer, a young guy with untrained fright in his eyes, who shows me a photo identification card of a thirty something year old man. I honestly have never seen or noticed this guy, ever, and so I tell the officer. I was about to tell the officer everything that I actually knew, when I see the detectives leave the bathroom crime scene. As the door swings back slowly I stare too long, and there on the wall, written in dark crimson as plain as daylight are the words. "OR ELSE." I didn't care to ask if that was the whole phrase, and then, for the very first time I felt in real danger, I felt REAL paranoia. You don't ever tell anyone, that is what the machine told us. Or else.
The ride home was a silent one. My father must have returned to the house while we were at the mall. My mother started crying a little before we entered. She cried more when she saw my father slumped in a stupor in the corner next to a partially opened fridge. I could smell something like bourbon still in the air. I knew the drill and went straight to my room, turning off the light and pretending to sleep. Pretending not to hear my mother and her tearful tirade of accusations and ridicule, all at my father's expense. My home situation may have seemed terrible, but at that time, in my mind, it was of insignificance. My thoughts were consumed with the possibilities of what was going on concerning the fortune machine.
The next day during school I made sure to check the newspaper in the library, but there was no news of the murder I had been so close to. Even a week later there was no mention of his death, or of the incident at all. No teacher I asked could tell me if they had a Charlie who recently died. I became weary of uncertainty at this time, Jacob had been gone from school for the whole week, and sometimes I would see the face of any one of those five jackals, the older kids from the night Charlie died. At any time between classes they seemed to be looming, mixed into the crowd but certainly standing out. They would just nod if they caught my gaze, although a few times they would stretch a smile across their face in what I would call mockery. They knew what I knew, but oddly enough I never saw them together at all during school. It was if they went out of their way to not be seen together at all....
That weekend there would be no venture to the mall. My mother's stern expression and matter of fact tone also alleging that if I asked again during that weekend, it would be a month before I ever saw the arcade again. In a way, whatever had happened the night Charlie died had scared her more than it had me. Ive always wondered what exactly she talked to the policemen about. In the end I never knew, but I saw one of the police that had been on that scene leaving my house as I arrived from school. I remember vividly because I had heard someone on the bus, someone in the back that I never could see, I had someone say "'Your mother is a whore." She may well have been, as far as I know of it. I don't particularly want or need to know my mother's affairs. Not that I'm saying she was having affairs, mind you. I've drawn my conclusions, and you can draw your own. She never seemed concerned or interested in the real danger anyway.
That next Monday at school Jacob had returned. I saw him in the hallway in between classes and asked if he was alright. "I've been pretty sick." He looked in perfect health, with the exception being the overwhelming paranoid expression on his face. He was trying not to even look me in the face, and he was also looking for someone around us, every few seconds checking for something. Or maybe someone, maybe five of them. I began to tell him about what I saw in the mall when Charlie died, maybe he even knew him, maybe he - then Jacob punched me in the guts before I got too far. Some kids scattered around us, one yelling for a teacher. Before an adult could split us apart
though, as Jacob punched me many more times, he shoved something in my coat pocket. "Just read it, and only talk to me where it says to. Oh yeah, tell them to suspend me for this", were the only things he said to me, ending it with a final fist to the nose before being pulled off and dragged to the principal. I got to take a nice reprieve in the nurses office, which honestly beat the hell out of my math class, bloodied nose or not.
I was expecting to find a fortune slip in the pocket, but it was actually a full sheet crumpled into a ball. I waited until I was alone in the nurses office to read it, while the nurse had gone to inform the principal my side of the story. Which was that I didn't even know Jacob, I had no clue what the fight was about, and to suspend Jacob or my parents would be furious. I made that part up, of course. The paper read as such -- " If they don't suspend me for a long time, don't talk to me during school ever again. Don't talk about the fortune machine during school ever again. You should just stop going to the mall, don't ever use that machine again if you know whats good for you. If you need to talk to me your gonna have to go to the park (our neighborhood park) at one a.m. this Friday night. Take my advice, don't go to the arcade, and don't tell anyone, and we might just make it out alive."
Was this serious? All of Jacob's actions pointed to yes, he was serious. He was in this deeper than I was, and knew more than I did. I had to play by his rules, and he wanted me to play by the machine's rules. Don't tell anyone, ever. The machine had lost control of Jacob though, he had already broken the rule, and so I had as well. Why then the secrecy, why could we not go to the authorities our selves? Frustrated I turned to a copy of the daily paper which I had seen on the nurse's desk. Again there was no obituary for Charlie, no uproar over a child' murder right in the mall bathroom. What I did see in that section stopped me cold. It was just a name, someone I had never known at that. David Archer. He had committed suicide in the county jail just a day earlier. The paper never said what he was in jail for, or how he committed suicide (if he even really did that). The name enough was enough to flash me back to that night and the photo i.d. the cop had shown me. He had put his thumb over the name, but not all of it. I know the man who they arrested that night, well I don't know him, but I know that his last name was indeed Archer.
The nurse walked in and saw me in such a cold sweat and frightened state that she called my mother. Half an hour later I was in the car, riding back to my house, with my mother silent as a lamb with its tongue ripped out. No, because even a wounded lab shows emotion. My mother, as usual for that time, had shut it out. She shut out my beating, my plummeting grades, my talk of a mall conspiracy. I grew angrier with her, more irrational as she ignored everything I said, or at best dismissed it as a lie. I never knew why she acted this way, and it haunts me to this day. Was her failing marriage too much to take, to notice the danger her only son was in? Or was she all too aware of the danger, was the only way to deal with the situation she found herself in to deny it with every fiber of her being? I don't know, and I try not to care. I can't care anyway, because now it is far too late to do anything about it, my mother is long dead.
Jacob got his wish; I would never see him inside the school again. My suggestion of suspension brought a smile to the principal's face, who only wished he could do more. The principal had developed an odd limp, and according to sources both student and teacher alike, his limp developed right after his official 'interrogation' of Jacob. Of course he never said anything publicly about what happened. "Of course I kicked him, I knew he would have to suspend me", Jacob told me later, that Friday night when against all rational thought process I met him in the local park at one in the morning.
The rest of the week leading to that Friday went by like a feverish dream. There was the constant presence in the halls of those five nameless jackals, never together and always watching me. A strange rumor began surfacing at school, regarding my physical appearance following Jacob's planned attack. Nobody at school was talking about Jacob attacking me. They were all talking about how my alcoholic father had beaten me. My father beat me, my mother was a whore. This was what people really believed of me. With so few friends, so few people to believe, was it any surprise I followed Jacob's instructions?
I met him that Friday night, having no difficulty escaping from my house through a screen less window. If I remember correctly my parents were both passed out, my father on the couch reeking of liquor, my mother crying on the phone until she too slept exhausted in the bedroom. I remember running through the night in my pajamas and a fake leather jacket, checking behind my back every few feet for someone to be following me. Frightened, paranoia devouring my sleep, I ran to the park that night.
Jacob was perched on top of the monkey bars, motionless like a statue. I walked nearly right under him before he even acknowledged my presence. "You should get away from this, try to get your parents to leave this town and you can get away with them," he told me, "I know it killed Charlie and I know it will probably kill me. Your not safe either, you know it has other kids watching you. Don't dare use that machine anymore, it only makes terrible things come true. It knows where we live, it knows our names, our mom's names, and it knows what is in your room when you sleep!"
Jacob must have gone insane after Charlie’s death, I thought he must have gone off that deep, deep end. Was it this hard to believe that there was a supernatural force using children like toys, like pawns in a game? I thought about Jacob told me for a long time, finally asking him how I knew I could even trust him, how did I know he wasn't lying about this whole thing. "Fine, I can see you’re not going to give up anyway. It doesn't matter what I do or know anymore, so here." Jacob swung down from the bars and fished a sealed letter from his pocket, handing it to me. "You already know too much, read all those and then get the hell out of this town. I am probably going to have to do something drastic to get my parents to get me out of here, so don't be surprised."
Jacob left abruptly, my mind was still reeling and there would be no goodbyes. He headed off in the direction of his street, staying close to the trees and well into the shadows. I pushed the envelope in my pocket and ran back towards my house, still stopping to look around at intervals, always half expecting one of the jackal children to be right behind me. My heartbeat was pounding in my head when I finally returned back home through the open window. I turned on my desk light, and dumped the contents of Jacob's envelope out onto the desk. There were several dozen slips from the fortune machine, none of which were dated. They told a disturbing and disjointed story, here of which are the most important to the real story.
"There will be a fire tomorrow."
"He did it with your mother again."
"You should stop sleeping with the stuffed bear."
"Why don't you believe me?"
"You told Charlie didn't you?"
"Your mother keeps her jewelry under the bed now."
"You should bring Charlie next time."
"Don't tell anyone, ever."
"You will be with Charlie soon.
That was enough for me; I shoved them back into the envelope and hid it inside my desk drawer. I was still processing everything I had read just then, wondering how the machine could have known all of those things about Jacob. Had there been a fire in Jacob's house? He never said anything about it. There had been a fire alarm go off in school though, two or so weeks earlier to this. I remember hearing that someone set a fire in the boy’s bathroom on the second floor...
My mind was coming up with nothing but more paranoid theories, I decided to call it a night. Creeping to the bathroom I cleaned up, brushing my teeth and finding myself still looking around, watching the mirror behind me. Of course there was nothing there, only my imagination. Back in my room I finally put the screen back inside the window and closed it. In the distance outside I looked too long, and began thinking I could see people moving in the woods line across the street, watching me. But this was just the wind, just a trick of my mind, it had to have been. I shut the blinds quickly, flipped off the lights and got into bed. I tried to sleep restlessly, rolling back and forth, eventually putting both hands under my pillow. That was when I found another fortune slip. How had it gotten under my pillow though, my mind recoiled, I had been at my desk... foolishly I flipped the light switch on so I could read what it said. "DON'T LEAVE YOUR WINDOW OPEN."
Panic enveloped me like a wet blanket. A wet, sticky blanket full of nothing I could see, but nonetheless still smelling and tasting of that most biological bittersweet metallic. I screamed as if I were really bleeding. I was still screaming when my mother finally burst into my room, finding me huddled in the corner, clutching an envelope full of seemingly random and morbid paper slips. I pleaded, I rambled, I begged her to wake my father up, to take us away from New Haven by all means possible. I held onto her as long as I could, crying and swearing it was all true.
She pushed me away, sending me stumbling onto the bed. She started to laugh, stopped and threw the envelope into my lap. She bent down and looked me dead in the eye, making sure I knew she was serious. This was, in her opinion, a very childish attempt to get attention. I had typed the fortune slips myself, or my 'friend Jacob' had helped with it. It was not funny, my father sleeping around was not funny, and suggesting that she was a whore was definitely not going to get any laughs, or any sympathy for that matter.
I screamed at her then, I slapped her in the face. I ran into the living room and tried to pull my father out of his alcoholic slumber, only to have him roll over in ignorant bliss. My mother grabbed me from behind, twisted me hard and slapped me across the jaw. She pulled me screaming into the hallway, back into my bedroom, back into the unknown. She would listen to nothing I could say, each promise of an intruder in our house was met with another stinging slap to the face. By the end I could not be sure if my tears were from terror or physical pain, or still yet the cold crushing reality that I had no friends in the world, not even a mother to believe in or believe in me.
She took the envelope from me, tore it from my hands, making wild threats and promises she would never be able to keep. She took the envelope to the bathroom, dumping all the slips into the shallow waters of the commode. I watched as Jacob's fortunes, his story, his evidence of the truth was gone forever. If I disturbed her again that night, another promise she made, I would be grounded for a month. All I could do was mumble some complacent words and inwardly laugh with a feeling more of tragedy than comedy. My mask had turned on me, there was not a damn thing funny about this situation. I waited at the door, listening for her to return to the bedroom. What I heard were muffled arguments from the living room, more terrible accusations towards my father. I heard the front door open and his truck start, but it was far too early for work. I wanted to cry then, but there was nothing left.
Finally I heard her return to the bedroom. I made a clean sweep of my room, checking the closet, under the bed, any place one could conceivably hide. There was nothing of course, this was a scare tactic. Or was it, what if whoever left the last message was hiding in my house. It may seem selfish, it may make you think that I had no love for my mother, but I locked my door and pushed a chair under the knob. Nothing was in my room, and nothing would get in.
I finally passed out with the sunlight just beginning to shine through my blinds, the hours leading to my slumber filled with nothing but unraveling psychosis and multitudes of paranoid delusions concerning just what the hell was going on. Was my mother in on it, why had she not cared? Why did she not wake my father, why the hell wouldn't she believe me? These were some of the many fruitless thoughts I was forced to examine in those early hours.
I would be awarded with what could only be a few minutes of sleep, perhaps an hour at most before a knocking at the window awoke me. I slowly and carefully looked out through the blinds, praying that it was Jacob, or anyone but someone with ties to that fortune machine. I was relieved to see there was nobody on the other side of the glass, it must have been my imagination. It would have been all my imagination, save for the slip of paper taped to the other side of my window.
The paper read - "THAT WAS A BAD IDEA."
I opened the window and grabbed the fortune slip from it, checking all around for any sign of Jacob or any of the jackal kids, of course which there would be none. I yelled outside, no I screamed for them to stop. For anyone to stop, it was not funny, it never was. I screamed at them until I was hoarse, until I was sure my mother would be banging on the door and furious. But the house was silent, I was the only one disturbing anything.
I pushed the chair from under the door and unlocked it, exiting my room on tiptoes and riding my fear. What had been a 'bad idea'? When I talked to Jacob, leaving the window open, trying to get my mother to listen to me? I did not know what the slip really meant then, I don't really understand what it meant now. The only thing to understand was the blood covered hand prints on the walls, the smudging and pulling and dragging of someone from the bedroom into the kitchen. Here I fully understood what had happened, the knife drawer was pulled completely out and numerous glistening wet and red blades adorned the floor, some piled into the sink.
I wandered the house, looking in each room and closet and even under the couch. I knew that she was dead, and deep inside I had known she would be dead. I had tried to warn her, I had tried to make her believe what I did, what Jacob did. This was all Jacob's fault. My fear became anger, became something else after that. I grabbed the phone and called my father's work place, all I would ever hear was the answering machine. I returned to my room, put anything important in my backpack and got the hell out of the house. There would have been no tears at all during my escape, but on the steps outside there were three more slips of paper, taped down one for each step.
"WE MISS YOU."
"YOU SHOULD SEE."
"WHAT SHE LOOKS LIKE NOW."
I ran from my house, the only home I had ever really known, as unstable as it may have been. I had no place to go, panic struck and alone, more alone than I had ever felt in my life. The only thing guiding me then was a vivid want of the truth. Alas, as many have said before, sometimes the truth can be too hard to handle. Instinctively I headed towards Jacob's house.
The morning air was thick, the sky was darkened with thick clouds strangling out the sun. It was impossible to have a sense of time, it was the early morning and my mother was dead, or at worse she was still dying somewhere. My mind would rewind with every few feet I took back to those damn fortune slips on the steps. There were sirens in the distance, maybe only a few streets away. Maybe they were at my house already... but I had never dialed 9-11. Maybe my father had returned, had slept his drunk off in a parking lot just as he had in early mornings before. I could only imagine his expression when he would discover all that blood.
I was close to Jacob's now, the sirens becoming further and further off. The sky had become darker, as if the gray clouds were being created at a rapid pace. I was thinking over just how I would confront Jacob, how to gain entrance into his house, when I noticed the front door was already jarred open. I pushed it inwards and nearly fell over. Blood everywhere, all chaos, no patterns or directional marks like I had seen at my own house. I yelled for Jacob, for anybody, and there was no return. I heard no movement anywhere in the house, so I looked around.
I found Jacob's room on the second floor, door open and nearly every item dismantled and strewn about as if a small tornado had formed right there. A vortex of chaos, broken television and VCR boxes, splintered remains of a chair, and scattered among it all more fortune slips. I read only a few of them, or maybe I can only remember that few. It was such a long time ago, and that day would have made anyone try to forget. What I read in Jacob's room was madness, the slips of paper made no sense. Many of them had names of other kid's, their mothers, with certain dates and times. There were many slips with Charlies name mentioned, and then I found my name. And my mother's name, my father's name. And on these slips were more times, more dates. I should have took as many of those slips as I could, but who was I to know what insane events the next few hours would bring.
Finding nothing of use in Jacob's room I headed downstairs to leave the house. There on the inside of the front door was another slip of paper taped, perhaps the clue that had pulled me back to Jacob's with such fierce gravity. "MOM SAYS HI. ME AND JACOB ARE AT THE ARCADE." I felt all rage sweep up through my torso, I ripped the paper from the door and tore it apart right there. Inside I was bending, my mind was warping under the weight of the unanswered questions I had found myself buried under. What would I do now? Would I really go straight into the mouth of the beast, having seen its blood lust and hunger first hand? There were pieces of Jacob's family all over the floor, glimpses of mutilated genitalia confirming both mother and father were no more. Could Jacob have helped? Was he behind this madness, was Jacob in fact fucking with me?
Before heading back out into the streets I made sure to arm myself. I found the biggest knife in the kitchen, a thick butcher's blade nearly the size of half my arm. Driven by a new sense of power and paranoia, I wrapped the sharp end of the knife in a towel and concealed it under my pants leg inside the sock. Walking would feel funny, but at least now I would feel safer. I left Jacob's house and never looked back.
Outside it had gotten oddly darker, the gray clouds seemed to be encompassing the whole sky. It only took a few minutes before I smelled them. They were not clouds at all, but smoke. Smoke billowing from what seemed to be multiple locations, which could be much easier located by following the sounds of emergency vehicles. The danger and tragedy that day were never mine or Jacob's alone, that was for sure.
I marched onwards, out of one street and into another, trying to remember what direction the mall was even in. Everything was getting confusing, the smoke getting thicker in the air, the sirens becoming closer and closer. All around me I could hear panic. People were screaming to each other, I could never quite see them through the haze. There were fires all over the town, the hospital, the elementary school, even the veterinary clinic had been set ablaze. Was this really a spontaneous act of multiple arson, or was it simply a distraction.....
I found myself walking on the main highway, heading towards the school and still aimed towards the mall. Behind me the sound of sirens, a legion of them it seemed, quickly approached. I moved from the road and sat in the ditch by roadside, soon after the smog revealed a whole fleet of fire trucks, police vehicles of several sizes and speeding ambulances. Not a single one was a New Haven vehicle, they were all from two different adjoined towns. This was crazy, this was like the apocalypse without warning, there would be no horns, vials, angels or seals. I was back on the road and thinking about the meteor wormwood when it hit me. Not wormwood of course, but a stray cop car.
When I came to I was in the back seat of the cruiser, locked tightly. My backpack was gone, but I still felt the knife secure by my ankle. I yelled at the man up front, who appeared to be crying his eyes out. He was holding the envelope Jacob gave me, shaking his head as if arguing with himself about something. He looked back in the rear view mirror and wiped the tears away before beginning to talk. "I'm sorry... I really am. But this has gone too far, I need my son back. I need my family back, its not fair what he did. YOU KNOW WHAT HE DID!" At this the man twisted his face back to see me, and I read nothing but pain and hate. Over the radio someone asked him where he was, what was his location and demanding he go to the school where the fire was out of hand. He turned it off and chuckled right as we passed the burning school and the army of cops and firemen. I screamed at him, why wasn't he helping them, just where were we going?
He slammed on the brakes, turned and punched the shatterproof glass so hard I saw the blood from his knuckles. "YOU STUPID FUCKING BRAT! I'M TAKING YOU TO YOUR FAVORITE PLACE! YOU SHOULD BE THANKING ME, YOU GET TO GO HOME TO MOMMY AND DADDY!" But the next exit was definitely not anywhere near my address, instead we were going straight where I suddenly feared the most, straight to the mall, straight to an unknown hell.
The mall parking lot was vacant as far as the eye could see when the officer pulled in to park by the food court entrance way. I knew it was a Saturday, and the mall would open later than usual, but shit, there should have at least been custodians there. Instead there was just a lone child waiting outside. One of those five jackal children. The officer nearly threw me out of the back seat, dragging me towards the entrance to meet the other kid. I remember thinking it was raining, but it was really the officer's tears, he cried with a sense of joy as he approached the child, most assuredly his child.
He threw me to the ground in a corner by the doors, and embraced his son. He wept, he cried, he told him everything was alright, all was forgiven, all would be well. This is when the kid pulled the officer's gun from the holster, and shot him right in the face. My eyes widened as I heard the blast, which seemed to echo in a twin sound effect. It may have been the music of physics, of entrance and exit wounds, it may have been my imagination, either way the man's pink and gray matter lay on the cement before his body finally slumped into rest.
The kid showed no remorse in killing his father, in fact he seemed to relish the act. He bent down to look into his father's shattered face and whispered to him. "It's OK to die, you were never my real dad anyway..." Then he started to laugh, no, to fucking cackle like a hyena hooked to a nitrous canister. Which is when I pulled my ace in the hole, the butchers knife from my sock. He was too bust laughing at his father to notice, well that is until the sharp point slipped into the back of his neck like a spoon into jello. His reflexes went wild, he dropped the gun and spun around to face me. Which was a horrible decision, as he did the blade cutting through the side of his neck meat and exiting right under the Adam’s apple. I had meant to cut his throat, I will not lie. But this was something much more horrible, not a clean kill by any means....
He bled out in a matter of what seemed to be seconds, his consciousness fading forever, a look of pure shock and wild ignorance becoming his death mask. I felt nothing for either father or son, I wiped my knife off on a pants leg, returned it to its hiding place and picked up the officer's hand gun. I thought momentarily about running away then, using the cop's radio to get help. Part of me wanted this, but the other part had went too far had seen too much. Nothing to do but see it through until the end, so to speak.
I pushed through the food court doors, gun drawn and expecting, well I was expecting what might be called the worst. What was inside those doors, however, was a few fathoms past my definition of the worst. The smell of gasoline and kerosene mingled to greet me as I passed through, not just a trail but what looked like the aftermath of a flammable rainstorm. The food court tables had been piled into the center of the place, creating a grand platform for an even grander monstrosity. Piled one on another like savage bloody bricks, nothing but women, nothing but mothers. My mother, she adorned the top of the pile, slumped lifeless like a fucking necrotic Christmas angel, the sparkling dead star on the tree that was never there,
I fell back in astonishment, in a yet still unformed horror. I felt myself about to black out again. Only the sudden movement from the bathroom raised me, raised my arm and my aim. Jackal children, smiling and oblivious. Only now there were more than the original five. There were as many as there were dead mothers on the tables, perhaps more. My vision was blurred, my blood boiling, the mental image of my mutilated mother cutting through like a bad migraine. I had never fired a gun before, but then again I had never killed anyone until a few minutes before that. I waved the firearm back and forth at them, threatening them to stop their approach. This had no effect, and although I had never fired a gun I knew there would never be enough bullets for all of them.
Instead I pointed the gun right towards my own cranium. The jackals stopped dead in their tracks. I laughed, I gasped in disbelief at this absurdity. Could I have really been the center of this absurd madness? Was I the lynchpin holding this blood soaked universe together after all? Of course not, a long hand from behind and above me suddenly grabbed the gun away. I spun around to see my own father. Not just him, a whole troop of fathers. The heroes had arrived at last. Or not.
Over half of them dropped to their knees when they saw the food court centerpiece. Some managed to crawl weeping towards the pile of wives, others ran and tried in vain to sort through the bodies. The jackal children rose in a chorus of laughter, of pure (or impure) delight at the weakness of their fathers. Then they parted like an adolescent red sea, and Jacob appeared. They pushed him to the front, shaking and crying like a baby, until he was down on his knees holding the longest fortune machine slip I had ever seen. He started to speak, and even the grief-stricken grown men stopped to listen.
"You have all failed your wives, failed your children. You are all guilty of adultery, of abandoning your families, of abandoning your wives, your children and your god... you will all die today, you will all die soon, you will all die in pain and anguish and sorrow in the fires of hell. You are all damned, you are all fools who tried to make your on fortune, and you will all -"
I was sure Jacob would continue, but instead half of his face just blew off. In fact I think I saw the damage done before I heard the gunshot, my father aiming the pistol right over my head. He did not stop pulling the trigger until there were hollow clicks, and the front line of the jackal children had fallen into final sleep. And then, there was nothing but chaos.
The jackal children screamed and drew their mother's blood soaked knives, lunging forwards at their fathers. My father, it turned out, was not the only on with a gun. I threw myself across the floor and rolled as far as I could until I smacked into a wall, or maybe my father pushed me. The clash ensued, the slitting of muscle, confetti of exploding flesh, the scraps of adult and child alike adorning the floor. And in the middle, I clearly saw my father, he looked at me and smiled. Then he aimed at the floor and fired.
The flames started there, sweeping all around the food court, finally traveling back to ignite the pile of our mothers. Unspeakable cries and screams rose from both sides as I scrambled for cover, running straight into the men's bathroom. I grabbed the trashcan and pushed it against the door, then slid underneath the sink counter, trying to buy some time and think my way out of the surreal chaotic nightmare it surely felt like I had dreamt myself into. I stared at that door, listening to the cacophony of generations clashing outside for what seemed to be eons. Gunshots, one after another, getting closer and closer.
Then there was a break of silence. My heart was about to burst through my chest, my nerves no longer connected to my brain. And then it burst through the door, shoving my cheap barricade away like the trash receptacle it was. He was still on fire, half of his body covered in an unknown degree of burns as he awkwardly pointed the revolver at me. I panicked, slid and rolled as low as I could, feeling the pieces of bathroom tile shatter close to me as he fired. Once, twice and then a click. My hand moved without my own accord then, some deep genetic survival instinct overtaking me, flashing back to days of unequivocal violence, back when men took their women and killed other men's children. I found my knife, and I cut that useless gun out of the jackal's hand.
I can remember a brief fight, and a warm storm of crimson, and of laughter, so much laughter. Then I blacked out, only to awake in an ambulance who knows how much later. When I was better the police tried to get me to explain what had happened, but even I don't really know. They showed me pictures, the burnt mass of female corpses, the men collapsed arm and arm with their sons, dead and dead alike. They showed me the child found in the bathroom with me, my knife stuck so far into his chest cavity they had to cut it out. Of course I lied to them, what would you do?
After that they hid me away, never telling me a god damn thing. At one time they let me stay with my grandparents, but something I did to the dog made them send me back. Then something I did to my room mate made them send me away again, to another place... I assure you though, it was his fault, he should have never talked about my mother..... they wrapped me in a fucking jacket with long, long arms and tried to keep me quiet.. I played good and eventually they let me out of the jacket, they tried to do something bad to me with a needle, but I was too quick. I did something worse to them, and now I’m out. I am going back to New Haven, I am going back home.
So much has changed in my old home town. The burnt buildings have all been renovated, most of the homes that were set ablaze have been long bulldozed and whole new families occupy them. The sky is not full of smoke anymore, even though I keep looking up, thinking it will be. I went to the library and tried to find anything relating to those events, they did not keep newspapers on hand going back to that date. They did have many boxes of unlabelled micro fiche however, but could guarantee nothing about the contents.
It took me nearly seven hours of searching, but I found the articles I came for. The first was right on the front page, accompanied by a picture of fire fighters working together to douse the hospital inferno. I could hardly believe what I read, I had no idea the scope of death the fortune machine had unleashed on New Haven that fateful morning. There had been eighty one confirmed deaths, of that number twenty seven had been children. Some of the bodies were burnt and mutilated so badly, identification had not been possible. The next article I found was the announcement that the mall had been finally reopened to the public, and the city had erected a memorial on the site for those who perished on that day. This would be my next stop, I knew what I had to do. I had to make sure that the fortune machine was not there, and if it was, I would have to destroy it.
I stopped by a hardware store and purchased the tools I might need. A hatchet, a sledge hammer, a crowbar, two flash lights, batteries, and a roll of duct tape. Outside the store I used the hatchet to chop half of the sledgehammer's handle off. wrapping the jagged end with duct tape for a secure grip. Now all my items fit neatly inside my backpack, I walked to the main road and started my march towards the mall. As the day slowly faded away, an overwhelming sense of deja vu swept over me. Even though I knew nothing was burning this time, I still looked towards the sky for smoke, I still checked behind me every few steps for the cop car to hit me.
I made it to the mall this time on my own two feet, with an hour to spare before closing. The memorial statue stood near the front entrance, in what seemed to me to be a horrible mockery of the real events that day. Sculpted or coated in bronze was a full size man holding what was most likely his son by the shoulders, as if guiding him in front to safety. I guess it made someone feel better, someone who hadn't been a part of what happened that day. I stepped inside the mall and barely recognized it. There were all new stores everywhere, all new floors, all new ceiling tiles, and an all new food court. I sighed something like relief, of course the arcade would have been destroyed as well then. I found the map of the mall, and to my dismay the arcade was still located in the same place. I had made it this far, there would be no turning back now.
I entered the arcade and smiled, the machines were all new ones. The arcade machine had gotten bigger, flashier, some of them you could actually step on and dance with. I wandered further back and into the second hall, amazed at this new technology. I only made it a few feet in before my nerves gave out, I wobbled and dropped to one knee, a kid playing some 3d fighter stopping to help me back up. "Are you OK mister?" I shoved him away sending him sprawling back to his machine... I had found mine again at last. Still posted in the very back, where it had always been, was the fortune machine. I ran to it and started shoving coins in, slamming down the yellow button, hardly being able to wait for what it would tell me. But the machine was dead silent, this time it really was broke. The kid had followed me and said from behind, "Mister that game has never worked, don't waste that money," as he eyed my coins.
So I made a deal with him, for all my coins he would go distract the man at the counter, get him to chase outside of the arcade. Only for a few minutes, but long enough for me to climb on an arcade box, dislodge the ceiling panel and hide myself inside. I couldn't have anyone stopping me from what I was about to do. I waited for what seemed to be a small eternity up in the ceiling, until finally I head the entrance gate slammed and locked tight. After a few more minutes I dislodged the panel again and climbed back down. I turned on my flashlight and scouted the place one last time to make sure I was all alone. Just me and whatever was in that fortune telling machine, just me and the truth now.
At first I tried to simply slide the machine off the wall, but it was going nowhere. Next I tried to pry it free of the wall using the crowbar, and still there was no budging it. The crowbar barely slipped behind the wooden frame before hitting something hard and ungiving... I would have to take the direct way then. I picked up my hatchet and swung downwards, smiling as the wood frame shattered - then I hit something much sturdier, and the reverberation knocked the hatchet from my grip. Shaking I pulled the rest of the wooden sideboard off, to reveal a concrete structure built right into the wall. No wonder I nobody had been able to move the damn machine. It was a good thing I brought the sledgehammer.
Within a few minutes I had caved in a large enough whole to crawl through, I grabbed a flashlight and pointed it inside. I could see what clearly was a typewriter on the opposite side of the concrete box, right next to the fortune slot. Strangely enough there were no wires no connection at all between the antiquated typing device and the rest of the machine. I slid inside, shining the light at the front expecting to see a circuit board for the fortune puppet. Instead there were strings and wooden handles, the type of thing you would expect during marionette shows of the 19th century. There was no coin box to collect anything from the front, the coins just simply dumped out onto the floor... It seemed this whole thing, the whole fortune telling machine was all of analog control.
Which meant someone had orchestrated this terrible thing, a real person at some point. I turned around to face what should have been the back wall of the arcade, but instead there was an entrance way to a downward set of stairs. It was a good thing I was not claustrophobic, the space was getting increasingly tight, there was no possible way the booth and the stairway could have been constructed for use than more than one person. There was a sharp turn at the bottom of the stairs leading into a larger room than the fortune booth.
With a firm grip on the flashlight I walked inside to what looked like a prison cell. There was a long concrete shelf running along the sides, with notebooks, journals, and everywhere dust covered fortune slips. I walked inside and picked up a journal, dusting the front off to read. Inside were accounts of adultery, of secret love shared between married men and women, but there was no love in the way it was written. He took great pride in seducing these women by getting them to believe that their own husbands were just as untrustworthy as he was. It was a sick game he had played with both adult and child. The man who wrote this took every opportunity to document what he found in every room of each house, where the valuables were, where their weapons were kept, and of course what their children looked like. There were photographs of each child. I stopped looking in that journal, because I remembered all of their faces.
Curiosity was too much to control, so I moved on to other notebooks on the shelves. There were maps of the town, older than when I was born. An incredibly detailed blueprint of the original sewer system, one that ran right under the mall. I found another blueprint after that, this time the schematics and instruction for building a whole new fortune telling machine, with a whole other notebook dedicated to how to bait children with it. I stopped looking, it was like an information overload. I turned to head back upstairs, but screamed in shock when I saw what was sitting in the corner.
A skeleton of a man, most of his skull missing, and a shotgun beside him, one skeletal finger still loosely touching the long pulled trigger. He was the madman behind all those dead, he was the man who split apart all those families. And he was wearing exactly what my father had been wearing the last day I saw him. It all suddenly made sense. Why he was gone so often, how he had gained such easy entrance into everyone's lives, and why he was always so secretive. He was an excellent handyman, a builder, an electrician, and by god I remember that he was part of the contractors who built this damn mall!
I slowly made my way over to his corpse and what I saw nearly blacked me out, but I am older now and stronger in my nerves. A final slip of fortune paper, yellowed with age or perhaps his own flesh as it decayed, sitting in his skeletal clutch. "ITS YOUR TURN NOW, SON."
I put all of my father's books and notes into the backpack, retrieved my sledgehammer and found my way out into the old sewer system. It will take more research of course, I will have to visit many of the old towns in this country, but I know that I will find a place to make my own fortunes.
I made my own fortune telling machine based on these events, I never released them. Jacob and i have our own kids and we K.I.T.
I will never forget these events, Never,
I will always remember killing Charlie.