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Mr. Martin was a very quirky man, and he would always put on a puppet show every week. Whenever we saw him on stage, he was dressed in a striped shirt, black pants, and suspenders. Looking back on it, I don’t remember ever seeing him sad; he always wore a big smile. I think this is one of the reasons children were so drawn to the old man’s shows. Even my friends, who normally were not interested in plays or reading, would always love to go see it. Unlike other shows put on there, it was free to see. So every Saturday, I would get my chores done early, meet up with my friends, and head to the theater to see his shows.
The shows themselves were always very upbeat and fun. I remember how Mr. Martin would always get a new puppet every couple of weeks. This kept the show fresh, and new characters meant new stories. The puppets themselves were pretty large for marionette puppets, but because he was on a stage and there were some kids farther in the back, this helped them see the show better. The shows were always very comedic, with slapstick humor galore. I don’t remember not laughing at any of his shows; he was always so cheerful and comedic.
Mr. Martin would be off stage for the marionette segments, operating the puppets of course, but would always come on to do a ventriloquist routine. This was the part of the show that everyone always loved the most. He would always get into ridiculous arguments with his puppets, usually about stupid stuff. I don’t know why, but for some reason, even though I loved his shows, I always felt uneasy watching this part. It’s not that it was scary or anything, but I think ventriloquist puppets always freaked me out a bit. Their mouths with the slit sides that only moved up and down, and their eyes that looked like they were watching you always gave me the creeps. Still, this didn't stop me from laughing at the hilarious jokes he would tell.
There was one event in particular that I will always remember. One day in January I remember having my friend Rob over. It was winter break. We used to hang out all the time, and even though I was more of an introverted reader as a child, I still enjoyed his company every once and a while. We were both huge fans of “Mr. Martin’s Puppet Show”, and we were planning on going to see it that day. As we talked though, my mother came into the room and abruptly told us that she did not want us going to see the puppet show that day. Rob and I were immediately disappointed. When I asked her why, she gave the typical “Because I said so that’s why” talk to me.
Now, when you are a child, if you are told you cannot do something, you immediately want to do it. Rob and I had this exact same feeling; we wanted to know why we couldn't go. After all, we had always gone to see the show, why would today be different? Our young minds began coming up with crazy ideas. Maybe there was some secret that Mr. Martin would give away about how adults have the power to know everything, and our mom didn't want us to go for that reason. Thinking of these things only made us want to go see the show even more. Unfortunately, under the ever watchful eyes of my mother, we could not make it to the show. We had to miss one of his spectacular performances.
The next weekend, the same thing happened. My mother did not want me to see the show. Actually, looking back, she didn't want me going anywhere that winter break. But now things were really starting to get strange. She was never against me seeing the shows, in fact, she was glad that I got out of the house. Figuring I couldn't talk her out of it, I stayed home and continued reading The Swiss Family Robinson. As I read my book though, all I could think of was getting to the theater to see what secret was preventing me from seeing the performance. I began to formulate a plan, and by the end of the day, I was ready to make my move.
That night, after I was tucked into bed, I slowly crept down the stairs. With the way my house was designed, with the stairway leading to the front door, I was always able to leave my house sneakily. Once I got to the bottom of the stairs though, I stopped dead in my tracks. In the kitchen, my parents were having a conversation about a recent string of missing children. I began to feel anxiety boil up in side of me. Was this for real? At first, this made me reluctant to go outside. But then, my young mind began to come up with its own rational explanation. Obviously my parents were trying to keep me from going to the theater. But I wasn't about to let them trick me, I knew better. I slipped on my shoes and jacket, and slowly opened the door. The cool wind immediately hit my face, and I realized I needed to get out before my parents noticed the draft. I stepped outside and headed out into the night.
Normally I would always walk to see the show during the day, as it was a small town and the theater wasn't very far away. I could walk to the theater with my eyes closed I had been so many times. Thankfully, it seemed like that skill would come in handy, as it was extremely dark and there was a snowstorm that night. Thankfully, I was prepared, wearing my pajamas and winter coat. I also kept a flashlight with me, which didn't help much, but it was something to give me some bearing of where I was going.
It didn't take me long to get to the theater. After about fifteen minutes of walking I reached the small building. Thankfully, it wasn't locked, though at that time I don’t think we ever worried about burglars. It was a small town, and we never had any issues with break-ins. I opened up the large wooden doors and stepped inside. I heard a deafening thud behind me as the doors slammed shut. I was now in the lobby of the theater. I looked around until I found a sign on a door that said “Theater One”. I opened the door and went inside. I looked into the theater, and began to make my way to the stage. The floorboards creaked and groaned as I stepped, and the wind outside buffeted against the walls of the old place. As I looked upon the dimly lit stage, I felt very paranoid. I had never been out this late alone without my parents, and I was pretty nervous. I ignored this feeling and moved on; I needed to know what secrets were hidden from me.
I began to make my way up an aisle of seats. I slowly walked closer and closer to the stage. Every once and a while, I would turn around out of paranoia to make sure no one was there. I quickened my pace to the stage, but it seemed like an eternity to get to it. It was almost pitch black, save for a few stage lights that gave the area a slight amount of ambient light. I looked up around a bit. My mind was racing now. I had an urge to run, but now it was too late to turn back. I was alone in a dark theater, and the silence only made the area seem creepier.
Finally, I reached the stage. Right as I did however, I heard the all too familiar thud of the theater doors open. I froze dead in my tracks, and soon began to panic. I needed to get onto the stage to hide; I was in the open here.
I looked around, and noticed that there were no stairs leading onto the stage from where I was. I desperately looked around for a way onto the stage, and soon I found a door that lead backstage. After a few seconds, I found a door that looked like it would lead me to the backstage area. Meanwhile, I heard very loud footsteps coming from the lobby of the theater.
In a desperate attempt to hide, I ran up to the door that led backstage. I turned the doorknob, but to my dismay it was locked. I looked around for another way backstage, but it seemed like the only other way to get onstage was to climb up. I ran up to the stage, and quickly tried to hoist myself up; however, the height of it caused me to fall once I tried to lift my leg onto it. I landed with a loud bang. Then, the footsteps in the lobby stopped. Whoever was here had heard me. I sat silently where I had landed. The only noise I could hear was the soft buffeting of the wind against the theater.
Then the footsteps continued, and this time they were headed in my direction. I heard them getting closer to the door that lead to theater one, but I couldn't move. I was so shocked and terrified, I needed to get out of there, but my own body could not bring itself to move. Right as the footsteps reached the door though, I came to my senses. I quickly stood up and made a run for the stage. The doors to the theater were beginning to open now, but because of how heavy they were, it gave me some time to escape. I jumped at the stage and hoisted my whole body up, and quickly ran into the darkness that waited behind the curtains. Right as I got inside and was safe, the man had entered the theater.
I stayed silent, I needed to get out of here, but I wasn't about to leave without some kind of clue as to why my parents were not letting me see the shows. I turned on my flashlight. I cursed myself when I did though, because as soon I did, it made a click, which I was sure whoever was in the theater would be able to hear.
And I was right. Shortly after I had turned on my flashlight, I heard the familiar voice of Mr. Martin call out.
I stood where I was. As much as I wasn't afraid of the old man, something about the hello was rather, sinister. Maybe it was because I was alone in a dark theater at night but, no. There was definitely something evil in his voice that night. As if that hello really meant something dark. I looked around for a room backstage to hide. I opened the first door I could find, and entered it. Right as I opened the door, I once again heard the voice of Mr. Martin.
I froze. This time it wasn't a question. It was a greeting, and it was much, much darker than the one before. He knew I was in that theater now; there was no doubt about it. This time, it was much closer. He must have been halfway through the theater. I quickly shut the door behind me and locked it. I then examined the room I was in.
Of all the rooms I could have chosen, I had chosen the puppet room. I looked around at the many lifeless faces staring at me. Each one of the marionettes hung from the ceiling by their strings. These wooden corpses swayed back and forth, their glass, empty eyes stared at me. Each one had a large grin, as if they were laughing at my situation. From afar, these puppets didn't bother me. But in a room lit only by an old flashlight, right next to them, they suddenly became far more menacing. I silently made my way to the back of the room, down the long corridor of puppets. I never realized how many puppets Mr. Martin had, and I wondered where he even got them from. My thoughts were abruptly ended as I once again heard a voice call out.
He was at the door of the puppet room. My heart raced faster as I desperately looked for a place to hide. He slowly began to open the door, and I jumped into the back of the room, where I was hidden by a large group of puppets hanging from the ceiling. Just as I did, he entered the room. His face seemed off for some reason. Granted, he was smiling, but he it wasn't a cheerful smile. No, something in his face gave me the premonition that he wanted to kill me. It was as if his smile said.
“You’re mine now.”
I almost screamed as I heard him whisper those words in the dark. I jumped back farther into the mass of puppets I was hiding in. I watched as the usually cheerful Mr. Martin began to become more and more sinister, as he began to do something I could quite comprehend. He started talking to the puppets. Each and every one of them. He made his way towards the back room, stopping only to talk to one of the puppets.
“Hello Timothy, do you know where the little boy is?”
I half expected a reply from the puppet, but rationally it didn't respond. There was something else off about what he was doing, but I couldn't quite put my finger on it. He was halfway through the room, again continuously talking with each puppet individually, each time though the question was the same.
“Hello Daniel, do you know where the little boy is?” “Hello Anny, do you know where the little boy is?”
He must have been taunting me, I know he was. He knew where I was, he just wanted inflict terror into me before he, did whatever he was going to do to me. He kept getting closer to me; still asking the question that began to seem more and more horrific has he slowly progressed towards me.
“Hello Mary, do you know where the little boy is?”
Then I realized what was so off about what he was saying. He wasn't calling the puppets by their real names. The one he called Mary was always Mrs. Abernathy, the librarian. The one he called timothy was Officer John. Were the names he was calling them now some kind of strange human names he gave to them? It just didn't add up.
“Hello little boy, do you know who my puppets are?”
This time he was staring right at me. Did he know I was here, or was he just trying to draw me out? I wouldn't let this get to me. I needed to stay hidden. I wasn't going to fall for his trick.
“Hello little boy, do you know who my puppets are?”
What the hell did he even mean by that? I knew he was taunting me, but it seemed like he was asking a serious question. I stayed dead silent now, I couldn't let him hear me, my life depended on it. This psychopath was going to kill me if he found me, I knew it. I just needed to wait for him to leave.
“Hello little boy, do you know who my puppets are?”
Once again he asked this question, but as he did, he slowly began to back away. I sighed with relief as he turned towards the door. He was leaving, I was alive. I wanted to jump for joy, but I knew I had to wait. He could easily be tricking me into leaving my hiding spot. I waited as he turned the door and began to leave. Right as he did though, he turned around and once again spoke.
“Little boy, my puppets are your friends.”
I didn't know what he meant by that statement and I didn't care. I just needed to get out. I waited as I heard the doors to the theater slam shut with a thud. He was gone, and I was getting out of there. I bolted out the door of the puppet room and ran to the door of the theater. I ran through the darkness and the blinding snow storm, and snuck back into my house. My parents were asleep and, thankfully had not noticed I had left. I went into my room, and got into bed. I didn't sleep at all that night.
After that night, I never went back to see Mr. Martin’s puppet shows. I remember at this time, my parents had told me that they didn't want me going out because of a string of child kidnappings in the area. I was a little un-nerved by this, but I didn't care. I never wanted to see Mr. Martin again. My life went on as normal.
One day however, my parents sat me down at the kitchen table for a very serious talk. Figuring they were ready to give me education on sex, which I already knew far too much about from my friends, I was prepared for an awkward conversation. Instead, they looked at me with very sad looks in their eyes and gave me terrible news.
“Your friend Rob went missing the other night. Everyone in the town has been trying their best to find him but… but by now we are sure he is just another victim of the kidnappings.”
I took a moment to let this all sink in, and then began to bawl my eyes out. My parents both hugged me, which didn’t really help. At this point, mixed with all the things that happened to me recently, my life was getting really strange. After this event, I only remember some minor details. I remember how more and more children in the town, including some of my friends went missing. I remember how police had arrested Mr. Martin as a suspect to the kidnappings. I remember them dragging out several puppets from the theater.
I remember how one of them looked a lot like Rob.