Saturday, January 25, 2014

The Mister Ganks And Captain Peanut Show

I
’ve started to remember things. It started when I got into a fight with my girlfriend. Alright, it wasn’t a fight… more like I freaked out and trashed her kitchen.

We were over at her place getting ready to have lunch. It had been a good day of just hanging around being lazy, and we were going to watch a movie or something later. Lori talked about the courses she was taking at the local university, and how when her mom went there they didn’t have half the facilities they do now, blah blah blah… it was just a normal, boring day.

Then for some reason, when the food was ready and we were setting the table, Lori said something about passing her a knife… and suddenly I was hysterical. My heart was pounding in my chest, tears were rolling down my face, and I started running around knocking things over screaming “no no no” and “it isn’t time yet, it isn’t time” and… I don’t know what else.

My mind was mush. All I could feel was terror at some unseen thing that was somehow all around me. My brain was fixating on random things: the table, the kitchen knives, and stupid memories like that TV we had in the basement when I was a kid. Totally random…

When I finally calmed down I curled up in a ball on the kitchen floor crying like a baby. Super manly of me, I know. Lori was understanding and rubbed my back, saying: “It’s alright Tim, it’s alright, it’s over now.” She kept this up until I came out of my mania. Honestly I don’t know how she could remain so calm; I must have acted pretty scary.

I was still pretty shaky when I tried to stand, and she had to help me get up and walk on quivering legs over to a chair. The table had been flipped, the dishes got smashed, and I dumped a few drawers out onto the floor looking for… something. What a mess.

Her parents came in a few minutes later, somehow not having heard any of the commotion. They looked surprised at first but, true to their usual patterns, they were more amused than anything. Her mom actually made a joke of it: “Is that the way kids behave these days?” she said, waving a finger at me and giggling.

Her dad said nothing. He never did. For as long as I had dated Lori, I had never heard the man speak. He just smiled and looked at me as if… I don’t know. There was a sparkle in his eye, as if we were sharing a private joke.

Lori’s mom looked a lot like her: slim build, smooth brown hair, and sharp eyes that caught every detail. She quickly moved around cleaning up while I apologized. They tried to brush it off, but I was really worried. What the hell had gotten into me?

In the next few days I went over it again and again in my mind. Nothing that happened that day really stood out, and I couldn't think of anything that had set me off. Lori had just said: "Tim, pass me the knife," and I had freaked.

The only odd thing was the memory of that old TV we used to have in the basement. My mom used to rent out a basement apartment to some student, but when they left I got the whole basement to myself as my bedroom and play area. I also got the TV they left behind. It was a really old black and white thing with big dials on the side, but having it meant I could watch cartoons any time I wanted.

Only, the more I thought about it, the less I remember actually watching cartoons. In fact, I think it only played static. Why did I like that thing so much?

Something about that memory felt wrong, and I pushed it down. This was not something I was supposed to think about.

Instead, I called my mom looking for answers. I made the mistake of telling her about my freak-out session, which of course scared her and had her begging me to see a doctor. I told her I would (I lied), and asked if we had any family history of mental illness. She couldn’t think of any.

Then, before I could stop the words, I found myself blurting out: “Hey do you remember that old TV we used to have in the basement?” A cold chill went up my spine as I asked, and even though I was alone in my room, I still looked around reflexively to see if someone was there with me. I suddenly felt watched.

“Oh that old thing, yes you're right, that was odd! You used to sit for hours and hours in the dark staring at it, static blaring out of the speakers. I'd try to get you to do something else but you insisted.”

“What? Why did I do that?”

“I don’t know, you kept saying you were watching your show. Your father and I were pretty worried but then one day, out of the blue, you just put it out on the curb.”

“I did?”

“Yes, I remember because when I asked you about it you just said ‘show’s over mom’. I guess we should have known then that something was wrong, but you seemed back to normal then.”

“Weird. So... I just threw it in the garbage?”

“Well, you know, you put it on the curb. Someone came by and snatched it up days before the garbage truck came. This city is full of garbage pickers. Why just the other day...”

I didn’t remember throwing out the TV at all, but I was starting to remember sitting in the dark staring at the static on the screen. I could even remember the first time I did it… I was bored, and when I found the old TV on a back shelf I had pulled it out, put it on the table, and plugged it in and…

The fear returned, and I flinched away from the memory. It didn’t matter about the TV. Time to put all of this behind me and just do my best to not freak out again. That was the only way forward here.

Still, Lori wouldn’t let it go. She was fascinated when I mentioned the old TV, and kept pestering me with questions about it. I guess I couldn’t blame her, and I decided to answer mostly out of guilt for acting so scary earlier and trashing the kitchen. Still, talking about it made me feel uneasy. It was almost like every time I touched those memories, I could feel something evil watching me.

“So what were you thinking when you were watching it? Were you just blank or were you imagining things?” Lori was leaning forward on the couch as she asked me, her sharp eyes wide with curiosity, searching my face for something.

“Well it was… yeah I did, I imagined a show. Oh wow I had completely forgotten: it was a puppet show with these two lame puppets. One was a clown on a stick and the other was a sock puppet. Wow, you’d think I’d dream up something with bigger production values!”

I made the joke to diffuse the tension, but the truth was I was getting more and more nervous. It was all coming back to me now, and I couldn't stop it. The clown on a stick was called Mister Ganks and the sock puppet was Captain Peanut. Mister Ganks had a woman’s voice and made lame knock-knock jokes, and Captain Peanut would make animal noises and groan a lot. I used to think it was hilarious I guess…

Except no, no I didn’t. I used to find it terrifying. Why was that so scary? I was just sitting around in the dark, staring at static on a television, imagining a puppet show for hours at a time.

Only... no, that's not right either. I'd sit there and wait for hours at a time. I'd wait for the show to start, and it would play at some random time, and then I'd crawl into bed and cry myself to sleep. Wow, did I really forget crying myself to sleep over and over for... how long?

This was too weird. Why would I wait in the dark for hours, staring into the static, dreading the start of a show that was just in my imagination? Why did I feel this creeping terror, like something profoundly horrible was about to happen?

“Tea?” asked Lori. I gave a little yelp, completely startled. I had been staring off into space with the memories, not even realizing that she had left the room to get the cup of tea she was offering me. When I took it I noticed my hands were shaking badly, and I had to use both hands to keep from spilling all over myself.

Lori pretended not to notice in order to avoid embarrassing me. She had always been so sweet to me, ever since the day we had met randomly at the grocery store. No matter what lame thing came out of my mouth she was always kind and patient.

Seeing that I wasn’t in a very conversational mood she grabbed the remote and flipped on the TV. “Oh,” she said, “looks like they haven’t started. Guess it’s commercial time!”

I gasped, my eyes wide as saucers, and spilled my tea. Later I found out that I had scalded my legs pretty badly, but I didn’t even notice at the time. Something she said brought back another memory… something horrible…

Every night Mister Ganks and Captain Peanut would gasp a big, exaggerated gasp, and stop their normal animated jumping around to freeze and just stare at me. They’d sit like that for what seemed like ages before Mister Ganks would say: “Uh oh children! It’s… commercial time!”

Dread would fill me then, and I’d curl my fingers around the seat of my chair, holding on to it as if my life depended on it. Mister Ganks would stare at me with painted clown eyes. Captain Peanut would stare with his glued-on googly eyes.

Then, the actors would just stand up and drop the puppets to the floor. The lady that was working Mister Ganks usually wore a hoody or a sweater. The man that worked Captain Peanut almost always wore a work shirt. He’d do something and the camera would zoom out so that I could see them properly.

They wore masks. I could see it clearly now in my mind’s eye. The lady had a kind of burlap sack over her head that was cinched around the neck and flopped back behind her. Sometimes I could make out tiny eye holes. The man always wore a mask that looked like a big plaster ball with a wide slit to see through.

It was always the same. The Mister Ganks lady would rub her hands together and say: “Now, who’s it going to be?”

They would walk around the studio, often just off-camera, saying things like “maybe you” and “oh we’re saving you for later”. Eventually they’d come directly in front of the camera and stare at me.

I knew they could see me then. I knew it wasn’t just a show. I knew it wasn’t just my imagination. This was happening. I knew.

Each time I’d hold on to my chair, my little fingers working as hard as they could. The burlap sack and the plaster ball would stare at me, considering. Then, after I sat there sweating and twitching nervously, they would move on.

Still, I never felt safe because there would be another show, and I had to watch. I had no choice. I don’t know why but I was certain that if I didn't watch, something very bad would happen to mommy and daddy, and then it would happen to me, and whatever it was it would be worse than dying. So I knew I would watch every night no matter what.

Eventually they would say: “Oh, here we are! It’s you!”

This is where the screaming would start. Sometimes I could see Captain Peanut reach out just before the screaming, and then he would have one of the audience members. Sometimes it was a boy, sometimes it was a girl, but they were always my age and too small to get away. He’d walk back to the table where the puppet show was always held while the kid would scream and cry and pull with all their might.

Once he got to the table he’d pick them up and slam them down on the table. Bang! I still remember that sound… the sound of skull hitting wood…

It was different every time from here. Sometimes the kid would pass out and go limp. Other times they would cry and start begging for their lives, twisting and writhing so that Mister Ganks had to tie them down with her big thick rope. Once, one of the kids started choking and coughing up blood.

Then, it was back to the routine. Mister Ganks would say: “Captain Peanut, pass me the knife!” He’d put a big kitchen knife in her hand, and she’d hold it above the kid.

“Okay kids, now count it down with me,” she’d say. “Three!”

“Three,” I’d whisper.

“Two!”

“Two.”

“One!”

As soon as I whispered “one”, the knife would come down. She would keep stabbing and stabbing. All I could do was watch through tear-filled eyes, unable to look away, unable to move from my seat, because I knew if I did they would see. They would know, and then that thing so much worse than dying would happen.

When blood covered everything, and the bits of the kid's face that were left were staring out at me lifelessly, Mister Ganks would finally stop. Then, panting, she would end the show with: “see ya tomorrow kids.”

Sitting in Lori’s living room it was as if I was living the memory again. It was the same terror, the same helplessness, the same knowing that I would be sitting in front of the TV tomorrow, and that even if they didn't pick me, sooner or later all of the audience members were going to be gone except for me.

“Tim? Tim! Are you with us?”

At first I thought it was Mister Ganks’ voice, but when I opened my eyes it was Lori's mom standing over me. I was still on the couch, slumped over, apparently having passed out. Lori was standing off to the side with her dad, looking concerned.

When she saw my eyes start to focus again she asked: “Tim, what happened?”

“I don’t know I was… I was just remembering and… oh god! No I don’t want to! I don’t!”

I covered my mouth to stop from screaming.

“Tim, you have to try to remember. It's how you get healthy. I don’t need you trashing my kitchen again, right?” She smirked at her little joke, but her expression was sympathetic. “If you just talk this stuff out you'll start to feel better. I know it doesn’t feel that way right now, but you have to trust me. Okay?"

I nodded weakly, trying to keep myself together.

"What were you remembering?”

I hesitated, looking over at Lori with pleading eyes. “Go on,” she said. Her dad nodded at me encouragingly.

I shivered and started over from the beginning, hoping to put off talking about the killing for as long as possible. I figured maybe I'd just give her a quick summary of everything, but before I knew it, I found myself going into extreme detail. I talked about finding the TV, how it felt to haul it up onto the table with my little kid muscles, the quivering terror of sitting in the dark for hours staring at static, my imagining of The Mister Ganks And Captain Peanut Show, and the killings.

I started to feel sick then, but couldn’t stop talking. It was as if some outside force had reached inside and was pushing the words out of my mouth, and I gagged on them a little as I recalled every stupid joke Mister Ganks told, every scream and cry every kid made, and even the exact number of times each one of them was stabbed.

Then, there was the last time. The very last time, after a little girl in her nightshirt was stabbed five times in the stomach, three times in the chest, and one last time in the face, Mister Ganks didn’t say “see ya tomorrow kids.” Instead, she walked around the table, and her burlap sack mask got really close to me. I could see her eyes shining behind the little holes as she said: “Well Timothy, it looks like we’ll see you real soon.”

This last memory hit me like a brick, and my head exploded in pain. Panic surged through me, and I clutched the couch gasping for air. My tongue was swelling up making it hard to breathe. What was happening to me?

Lori’s mom just smiled and stood up, walking over to her daughter. They hugged each other tightly.

“Oh Lori, I’m so proud of you! You really did a good job with him, you know that?”

“Oh mom,” she blushed, “you did all the real work. I'm just glad to be here for this part!”

They looked over at me contentedly as I laid on the couch, gagging and struggling to breathe, overwhelmed with pain.

Lori’s mom patted her husband on the shoulder and said: “Bring him downstairs, would you?”

As he picked me up I felt the thing inside of me stir. It was that thing that had been buried in my memories, the thing that made me spill out all of the details about the old TV in my basement. It was this evil thing I had been trying to hold back the whole time. This was why I was so afraid to remember.

It had been growing inside of me since the first time I had seen The Mister Ganks And Captain Peanut Show.

Suddenly I fell completely limp. My breathing slowed, and the adrenaline surging through my body washed away. Mentally, nothing had changed. I was still horrified. Was I paralysed now?

As I watched, my hand lifted in front of my face of its own accord, and my eyes stared as my fingers flexed and curled. They moved like I was trying them on for the first time.

We went downstairs. I had never been in Lori’s basement before. This was where her parents seemed to spend all of their time. I could hear a heavy door open, and we passed into a large well-lit room that had been soundproofed. Lori and her mom entered behind us, smiling.

He put me down on a chair, and I sat there limply. Except I wasn’t relaxed. I was screaming inside, terrified, trying to force my body to get up and run or to ask what the hell was going on. Instead, my body just looked around the room casually.

The far wall was lined with shelves. Three rows of old TVs stared back at me, all showing blinking static. One of the TVs flashed for a moment and a kid’s face appeared. The boy looked like he was sitting in the dark, and had a blank, haunted expression.

My body stood and casually walked over to Lori’s mom, giving it a warm familial hug. She held me at arm’s length then and looked me in the eyes. “It's so good to see you've grown! Now that you’ve broken through, you can have your turn at the show. Are you ready?”

I wanted to scream, to hit her, to run out of here, to stop what I knew was coming. My head just nodded.

“Good boy. Come on, let’s get your mask.”

Lori was standing by a table in the middle of the room, playing with a clown puppet on a stick. She had changed into a hoodie to keep warm in the cool basement. She smiled at me before pulling on the burlap sack mask. My hand reached down and fitted a large plaster mask over my head with a wide slit for the eyes.

The rest of the screens started to fill with the tired, scared faces of different children. It was a fresh set of faces, all set for the new season of The Mister Ganks And Captain Peanut Show. My body reached down and picked up the Captain Peanut sock puppet.

Oh god no! No no no, come on, there has to be a way for me to stop this, come on come on... move... please move...

A deep, silent whisper from the far reaches of my mind came to me then: “I’m free now. Suffer in my hell.”

I screamed, but nobody heard me. It was too late for that. It was showtime.

The new Mister Ganks held her clown puppet up over the table. "Hi kids, you have no idea how glad I am to see you!"

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