3LBE #1
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Toyland

by H. Turnip Smith

 

Robert preferred the daytime. You got on your Pacman, did your walkie talkie, watched Slinky bounce, shot your Space Pistol and everything was very nice. Very nice that is until Patty Risley, the teenage girl in the next block, was found chained to a tree in a nearby woods. Her tongue had been hacked off, and her body was riddled with mysterious puncture wounds, including her eyelids and eyeballs. The neighborhood reeled. The police said it was the work of a sexual sadist. Robert was terribly frightened to think such a madman was loose in the neighborhood. Meanwhile the investigation continued.

About that time Robert found it difficult to sleep at night for fear of the murderer. Daytime was safe and predictable, but night time meant closing your eyes and when the eyes went shut, the brain swung out of control. Dead men walked. Camels flew. Airplanes crashed. Doors talked, and sometimes a misshapen head with one huge watery eye rocked back and forth on a spring like a jack in the box, whispering things in your ears or chasing you with a chainsaw. Robert always awoke exhausted in a puddle of sweat.

“I hate sleeping,” he told his mother.

“Nonsense, stupid. Sleep is a necessity. Without sleep your head will ache and temples pound like mine,” his mother said. She had huge pasty gobs of suet hanging from her arms and her eyes burrowed down in her puffy, pasta face like squirreled acorns.

“Well I'd rather never sleep,” Robert said. “I'd sooner just always play with my toys.”

“If you play with your toys too much, you’ll never grow up,” his mother said.

“And if you never grow up, you’ll be weak. And if you’re weak, you’ll be like your father. You’ve got to learn that life is serious. Look at how I’ve suffered with my life. You think my life has been spent playing with toys?”

Robert didn’t know the answer to that. All he knew was that at his home there was a certain word no one ever dared use. However, because Christmas was coming, he could not get toys out of his head. He loved toys and made long wish lists, including fire engines and video games and Chatty Cathies and air rifles and Big Wheels and erector sets.

“There’s not any money for such foolishness, dummy,” his mother said. “You’ll probably get a Slinky. Your father was a lousy provider and we’re his victims.”

“But I want so much more than a Slinky,” Robert said. “I want an electric train, a Gumby, a remote control car, and something else, but I can’t figure out what.”

“Just like you! Someone would have to go to an imaginary toy factory to get all that crap you think you need,” his mother said. “Money don’t grow on trees you know.”

And then Christmas came. There was only a single candy cane and no lights on the tree and a lone present for Robert. It was a medium-sized present shoddily wrapped in dirty newspaper with no box. Robert eagerly tore open the wrapping. It was a gleaming purple remote-control roadster with an air-scoop engine.

“Oh, oh, this is wonderful,” Robert said, running his fingers along the shimmering metal of the car’s engine, thinking that maybe his mother possibly did after all.

“Well it’s more than you deserve,” she said, lighting another cigarette, her graying hair flying out in wicked clumps.

“It’s the most wonderful present in the world,” Robert said. For a few days after Christmas, he slept well enough. The weather was bitterly cold; snow barricaded the streets; windows frosted up from the inside; and Robert anticipated the glorious moment when he would run his car on the driveway. On the 28th the police announced they had arrested a vagrant in connection with the slaying of the Risley girl and a warm front hit so that the streets were wet and free of snow.

“OK, take that damn car outside now that it’s safe, Robert, and don’t let it get down in the sewer,” his mother said.

With rising excitement Robert carried the remote-control box and the purple car to the driveway. There was a wonderful feeling of power as the car surged this way and that at the touch of a finger. Robert had never had such a wonderful toy until a bad thing happened. The Donnelly boy down the street walked by and said something.

“You’re a four-eyed, knock-kneed, shit-eating piece of cancer,” the Donnelly boy, who played football and had girlfriends, shouted as he came up the street. He had pounded Robert before, and the threat of his voice distracted Robert long enough that the purple roadster shot the end of the driveway and jumped into the open sewer mouth on the opposite side of the street.

“Good,” the Donnelly boy shouted when he saw Robert’s car disappear. “Big baby. You’re too damn old to play with toys.”

Robert kneeled forlornly by the mouth of the sewer, knowing the Donnelly boy was wrong. Robert could hear dangerous water running below and he knew his car was being swept away.

“Hey, Danny Donnelly,” he cried. “Help me pry the lid off the sewer so I can rescue my car.”

Reluctantly Danny Donnelly boy lent a hand. “If you’re dumb enough to chase a car down a sewer in the middle of winter, I’ll be glad to help, you bozo,” Donnelly said. “I hope they find you drowned.”

The sewer lid popped free with a little tugging, revealing an opening just large enough for a boy to fit down. Below a river of melted snow careened along nastily at the floor of a huge sewer pipe. Robert’s car was not visible.

“You’re nuts, you go down in there,” Donnelly said, lighting up a joint.

“I'm going, “ Robert cried.

Daytime things seldom scared Robert, but plunging into the dark sewer pipe, water rushing beneath his feet was terrifying. He fumbled along, crouching, his feet soaked, his eyes unable to adjust to the dark.

“So long, sucker,” the Donnelly boy shouted and with a sinking heart Robert heard the sickening thud of the sewer lid dropped back in place.

“Hey, Donnelly,” he shouted, but there was no answer. Well only one thing to do now… find the car that had been swept from sight. The sewer tunnel plunged along in clammy darkness then suddenly Robert was falling hard, slamming off both sides of the cylinder; at last he hit bottom. He came to his senses a little groggy.

Clearing his eyes, he realized he was in a huge toy showroom seven times the size of anything he'd ever seen at the mall. ATVs, giant screen videos, BMXs with motors, toys by the hundreds leered at him. He hurried along running his fingers across each new treasure. Then he saw the salesman, a strangely familiar looking dwarf in a gray three piece suit with a huge blind watery eye in the middle of his twisted face.

“Who are you?” Robert asked nervously.

“It’s not polite to ask a lot of questions, dope,” the dwarf grumbled. “Do you like it here?”

“Yes, a great deal,” Robert said. “But where is here?”

“Girl-land, boy-land, wonderful lovely Toyland,” Dwarf said. His voice sounded like when you pulled the string on a Mattel talking toy, and a monkey yammered. “Well what do you want this time?” Dwarf added, blowing his nose on his sleeve.

“Have I been here before?” Robert said.

“Don’t be a fool,” the dwarf said. “Of course, you have. Everybody has. ”

“I don’t remember.”

“So what? You were asleep then and now you’re too scared to remember. How do you think the girl died?”

“The girl?”

“Of course the girl, dope. The Risley girl on your next street.”
Robert shrugged.

“God you’re hopeless,” the dwarf said. “Come on stand up straight and decide what you want.”

“OK,” Robert said eagerly, “that giant purple remote control car six times the size of the one I used to have. ”

“Lousy choice. But take it!”

“Free?”

“Too dumb to be real. It’ll cost you Danny Donnelly.”

“What do you mean cost me?”

“Hopeless , aren’t you? Murder, death, off him. That’s what.”

“Me?” Robert said.

“Who else, Eleanor Roosevelt? You did a great job on the Risley girl. Do Donnelly the same way.”

Robert felt uneasy. “I don’t think I should.”

“Think, schmink. You know you don’t have a choice. Remember you take a free toy and then I own you.”

“I can't,” Robert said.

“You’re going to.”

Danny Donnelly was by himself at the hangout where the kids smoked dope in the woods. His eyes were scarlet and he was lying on his back completely gooned. It wasn’t even hard. Robert crept forward with the steel dart with the extended points clutched in his hands, just like with the Risley girl.

Before Donnelly could say “What the?” Robert shoved the dart in Donnelly’s eye. There was a scream and a sucking sound as Robert yanked the dart free and slammed it in to Donnelly’s other eye. The bleeding was minimal; all hemorrhaging was internal as the punctures mounted. After a half hour or so Donnelly looked like a human Parcheesi board and Robert breathed a sigh of satisfaction, knowing he was done.

The new purple car would go sixty mile an hour. Robert would start it in the driveway and it would roar to the dead end of the street, do a 360 on two wheels, and then roar back. Meanwhile police cars were everywhere in the neighborhood. Robert remembered nothing concerning the Donnelly boy only he couldn’t sleep again because of all the other bad things that roared through his mind. It got so bad Robert’s mother made him an appointment with a neurologist. The police came the same day. Robert’s mother met the policeman at the door. She was in her usual mood and was wearing her pink, fuzzy kitten slippers and the tattered gray robe that covered her bulk like bad paint on an old battleship.

“We’re canvassing the neighborhood to see if anyone here has any information about the slaying of the Donnelly boy,” the police officer said.

“We don’t know a damn thing about dead dopers,” Robert’s mother said. “We’re not trash you know.”

“Well we’ve been told that you have a son who didn’t get along with the Donnelly boy. We'd like to talk to him.”

“No way you’re going to bother my boy without a lawyer. he’s very delicate.”

“Wait, Mom, I’ll talk to them,” Robert said, rushing down the stairs.

“You shut up!” his mother said, knocking him back towards the kitchen. “You’re not talking to a bunch of pigs looking for someone to frame like they did OJ.”

“I'm sorry you feel that way, ma'am,” the police officer said. “We’ll have to get a warrant and bring the boy in for questioning.”

“He’ll have representation, you scum do,” Robert’s mother said, slamming the door in the officer’s face. “God that made my migraine explode!” she yelled at Robert.

“What were you trying to do? You’re going to grow up a weakling loser!”

It was that same night that Robert saw the dwarf in his dream. Dwarf said, “I got to talk to you, kid. Use the sewer again.”

The rest of the night was pretty awful. Robert kept feeling as though he were Danny Donnelly, darts piercing his skin. Blood pooled in the back of Robert’s throat and he vomited red pus on his pillow. He knew he had to visit the sewer.

Toyland was even bigger and shinier than he remembered from last time. Dwarf was clad in a gleaming Captain Kirk costume. He goosestepped up to Robert and removed his helmet.

“Used the sewer again, huh?” Dwarf said. “You are definitely a slow learner, aren’t you? All you have to do to get here is use your mind, just want to. I thought I explained that last time.”

Dwarf looked a little ridiculous in the half-Shatner mask and tight gold shirt. Cheeks burning with shame from the chewing out, Robert still couldn’t help noticing that Dwarf wasn’t even as tall as he.

“I didn’t really want to come,” Robert said.

“You’re such a prig,” Dwarf said. “Evil is really a lot of fun if you let it. Don’t you get it yet?”

“I don’t think so,” Robert said.

“Stand up straight and don’t be such a dunce.”

Suddenly Robert thought, “he’s only little; all I have to do is mash him down and wrestle him.” He made a sudden move to go for Dwarf.

Instantly a phalanx of gloomy toy soldiers, hundreds of Gumbys, a battery of Slinkys, and thousands of teddy bears vaulted between Dwarf and him with a sudden thump. Meanwhile a firing squad of space-ray and bee bee guns took aim at Robert’s face.

“Don’t even think about it,” Dwarf said, peeling a grape and spitting the rind on Robert’s best school shoes. “Everything here moves at my thought. Remember remote control? The golden filament that tethers things is evil. So don’t play goody goody with me. What do you want this time?”

Robert stared transfixed by a waist-high, gray, wooden elephant with a red blanket on its back and a golden saddle. On the elephant’s blanket right near the shoulder were four golden block letters, perfectly neat. Rapturously, Robert spelled out the word in his mind. He'd never seen anything quite like it before.

“That,” he said, nodding towards the elephant.

“Excellent choice,” Dwarf said. “Imported. Well it’s yours, but there’s a job to be done. We’ll rid the world of one more obese, cantankerous slob this time. It’ll be great fun if you let it. I want your mother dead!”

“No, I can't!”

“Don’t pull that choir boy act on me again,” Dwarf said. “Remember Patty Risley? Remember Donnelly? You’re corrupt as hell just like all the rest. Get your ass going!”

“How?”

“You figure it out. You’re no virgin, you know.”

Robert’s mother sat staring at Hard Copy, a bottle of gin and a box of chocolate turtles on the table beside her. She was wearing a pink slip that revealed every corrupt fold of her huge, gross body.

“Stop staring, you little lech, and bring me my robe,” she said, jerking her eyes from the screen momentarily. “Then get me some aspirin. I’ve got a dandy headache. Kids are a pain.”

She hadn’t even noticed Robert was astride the fat, wooden elephant, a glittering toy scimitar in his hand.

“What if I were a murderer, Mother?” he said, his voice sounding much younger than his eleven years.

“Don’t make me laugh. You couldn’t even murder a rabbit,” she said, her eyes transfixed by the screen. “You’re a weakling like your father.”

“Well what if I knew the secret of evil and was powerless to resist then what?”

“You talk too much, blabbermouth.”

“Well suppose I murdered the Risley girl and Danny Donnelly, would you still love me?”

“Shut up and see if you can find me another pack of cigarettes,” his mother said.

Knowing the whole truth now, Robert suddenly screamed. It was a strange scream compounded of all the world’s jungle-squeeze-toys and squawking infant googaws and clacking BMXs with playing card in the spokes. It began low and shrilled through the house, rattling the windows.

“Look at me, Mother. Look at me!” he cried, riding into the middle of the room on the magnificent elephant, glittering sword brandished in the air. The elephant galumphed two strides forward and the scimitar whirled and hissed as Robert plunged it downwards with both hands — under his breastbone and into his own heart.

Mildly upset with the mess in her living room, his mother heaved herself out of the huge chair she spent her days in and waddled to where he lay gasping for life on the carpet,the noble elephant beside him.

“What the hell did you do to yourself now?” she said.

“You didn’t even care, ever,” Robert said.

“I’ll call the emergency squad. I’ll tell you, you’re going to wind up in a detention home you keep on like this.”

“No, it’s too late,” Robert said, and then he gave up.

His mother stood staring at the boy who lay bloodless on the carpet, a scimitar plunged into his breast, beautiful blond curls lank on his flushed forehead, the intrepid elephant kneeling at his side, then she watched as her son’s face slowly metamorphosed into that of the dwarf, the two eyes merging into one huge blind, milky eye that stared at nothing; and she said to herself, “What thee hell! Might as well call 911.”

 

 

H. Turnip Smith continues to vie for the title of Ohio’s most boring vegetable.


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ISSUE #1

April 1999

FICTION

ART