Estimated reading time — 11 minutes
Early in the summer a few years ago, I started dating this girl whose mother worked at the local flea market. The girl – let’s call her Tiffany – and I had been dating for a few months when she asked me if I would like to come help her work with her mom. I certainly didn’t want to sacrifice one of my precious Saturday mornings to go work all day at a dusty flea market, but I really liked this girl and, to be perfectly honest, wanted to get into her pants, so I decided to go.
That’s how I found myself on my way to the craphole flea market at seven thirty in the morning on a Saturday morning that I really wish I had slept in on. We opened her mom’s store at eight, waited around for customers for a while, but when it got close to ten and only one woman had shown a passing interest in the handmade ashtrays her mom was trying to sell, she told Tiffany and I we could go take a look around the rest of the place.
Tiffany and I walked around for a while, but we didn’t find anything of interest. There was a movie store that had pretty much every movie you could think of, but so did I at home, so no help there. Both of the book stores were a bust, finding nothing interesting but some old Stephen King novels that I already owned and a crotchety old man who watched us like a hawk – probably because we were some “damn teenagers” who, of course, would go out of our way to steal an old dusty book barely held together with spit and glue. We had meandered our way through most of the building when we happened upon a small shop that was selling EXCLUSIVE! RARE! HARD-TO-FIND TV PROPS! according to the very loud banner stretched across the top. “Want to go in?” I asked Tiffany.
“Nah, I have to go use the bathroom. You can go in though.”
“Oh, fine, make me go into the shady store by myself!” I joked.
“You’ll be fine. Go!”
“Do I have to?”
“Yes. You have to go inside. I’ll be right back.” She gave me a playful slap and walked away.
As I walked into the dingy booth, the owner gave me a grim nod without a smile. I didn’t really see anything of interest at first. They really did have some obscure stuff, such as old plush dolls from Rocko’s Modern Life and Ren & Stimpy. There were also some old Pokémon playing cards – not sure if that counted as “rare TV props” but it was still cool – and even some of the old Nickelodeon themed board games. I had several nice hits of nostalgia, but nothing really stuck out at me enough to make me want to buy it. I was about to walk out when the owner said “got some more stuff here behind the counter.”
He pulled out a box of assorted dolls and junk and dropped it carelessly on the counter. “Ain’t had a chance to put them away yet, but you can look.”
I half heartedly picked through the box out of politeness, but I really just wanted to get out of there. I pulled out a couple of old Rugrats dolls and a Squidward doll that had an odd red stain on its head, and was about to just say “no thanks” and put them back and get out of there when I saw something that hit me with such an intense blast of nostalgia that I almost fell over.
A dirty white skull stared at me from the bottom of the box, his huge, black glass eyes that were entirely too large for his head – just as I remembered. I reached down and picked him up, almost forgetting the entire world around me as I looked over the thing I had completely forgotten about until this moment. The tan top hat and cape, made of some of the roughest leather I’ve ever felt, was sewn up in the same crazy patterns I remembered so vividly from my childhood. As I rubbed some of the dirt off of his body, noting the feeling of a rough little bump on his hat and the leathery stitches holding together his clothing, I noticed that his jaw didn’t open all the way. Instead, it barely opened just a bit and slid sideways, from left to right, making an almost unpleasant grinding noise. Every detail was exactly as I remembered.
I jerked out of my stupor with a start. Looking stupidly at the owner, I used every ounce of intelligence I possess to come up with a brilliant reply. “Uh. What?”
“I said, are you gonna buy it or just stand there all day molesting it? Come on kid, I wanna go on lunch.”
“Uh… yeah. I’ll take it.” There was no way I was letting this go. “Would you happen to know if this is… like, actually from the show?”
“Kid,” (I really wished he would stop calling me kid. Just because he was probably in his late fifties doesn’t mean he can address me, at 26 years of age, as a kid) “I don’t even know what show that’s from. All this crap is my brother’s. He would tell you that it’s all the real deal. But I just wanna get rid of it.”
“Well, I hate to be a bother, but is there anyway I could get in contact with him? This show doesn’t even… well, I just need to know if this is actually from the show.”
“Can’t. Dead. Three months now. And the doll is ten bucks. Take it or leave it.”
I handed the rude owner the cash and left the shop with the doll, deep in thought. There was no way this doll should even exist. That show didn’t exist. There was no way it did. I had dreamt it all, hadn’t I? All that screaming…
I was so lost in my thoughts that I didn’t even see Tiffany until she was almost right in my face. “Oh, hi.”
“Hi! Did you actually find something in the shady store?”
“Uh… yeah.” I told her about the doll. She didn’t recognize it, but I didn’t really expect her to. Our conversation quickly turned to other things, such as the creepy old lady she had encountered in the bathroom who had taken up fifteen minutes of her time asking too many personal questions.
We finished out the day, her mom thanked us for our help, and we spent the day together. For those who are curious, I did not succeed in getting in her pants, but that’s inconsequential to the story.
Anyway, that night when I got back to my apartment, I pulled out the doll, something I’d been dying to do all day but had avoided so I didn’t seem like a freak, and gave it a closer look. I couldn’t get over how genuine the cape felt. I loved the feeling of running my fingers over it, enjoying the smooth, yet rough, texture of the stitches. The top hat was removable, and the glass eyes were indeed made of really thick glass. It was all as I had remembered. I was in utter shock, even still. How did this exist?
I sat on my couch and began thinking about the show. Candle Cove. God, I hadn’t thought about that show in easily fifteen, maybe even twenty years. I couldn’t have been older than six or seven when it ran. I only remember it being on for a couple of months before it got cancelled. I remember greatly enjoying it at the time. I would come home from school, always so excited and always making my mom turn the TV channel 58 to watch it. I remembered sitting on the floor, way too close to the TV, watching her turn the dial with the finger that had a mole on it, always the same way every time. Yeah, I’m old enough that the TVs of my childhood still had manual dials instead of a remote, so sue me. I chuckled to myself. I hadn’t thought about any of that for so long. I missed my mom, thinking back on it now. She had passed away about five years ago from skin cancer, and it had hit me hard. She had always been such a big influence in my life. She would always tell me about what an imagination I had, and how she just knew it would take me far. I wish she had lived long enough to see me graduate college and land a job at a small, independent film company where I edited movies. It certainly didn’t make me famous or anything, but it paid very well and I was responsible for some of the better editing in many different films. Some of which I knew she would have loved to watch. I missed her terribly. I missed how when I was sad she would pretend to draw on my face, and I would always watch the mole on her finger as it traced my face because I thought her “freckle mountain,” as I called it, was pretty cool. I missed the way she would chuckle and shake her head at me as I watched the show, remarking on what a big imagination I had “with my little pirate show.” I had always wondered exactly what she meant, but the older I got, the more I realized it must have all been my imagination. The whole thing. The entire show must have been me just thinking too much or something because there was no way that they could have aired that episode. The one with all the screaming… All the characters, screaming bloody murder and jumping and flailing. I remembered vividly the horrible feelings I got from that episode, and even as a child I thought it was strange. Things like that don’t even get aired today, much less all the way back in ‘71.
I must have been rubbing my finger over the doll’s face again, and hadn’t noticed what I was doing until I felt a strong pinch. I gasped and looked down, and quickly pulled my finger out of the doll’s mouth. What the fuck? Why did that hurt so bad? The teeth weren’t sharp or anything. I hadn’t even realized I had put my finger in there. I must have bumped his jaw or something and pinched myself. I sighed and shook my head at my own foolishness, and went back to looking at the doll that was responsible for so many of my childhood nightmares.
As I examined the doll’s mouth, I found myself wondering why it only moved side to side. In fact, the more I thought about it, the more the memories came flooding back. The Laughingstock… Jesus. That old piece of shit pirate ship that was always so close to falling apart. The Ed Wynn voice it had, telling the pirates they had to go inside some place and face the danger – usually the Skin-Taker, whose image I held in my very hand. I remember Janice, the little girl from the show, asking the Skin-Taker why his mouth moved like that. God… What was it he had said? I strained the muscles of my memory until I suddenly got goosebumps when the phrase drifted through my mind, leaving icy trails of fear running down my back.
“To grind your skin…”
It was such a cheesy thing to say, but there was nothing cheesy about the way he had glared so silently into the camera with his evil, black eyes, almost challenging someone to defy him.
Shaking off my childish fears, I tossed the doll on my coffee table and went to go take a shower. I needed to clear my head, but the entire time in the shower my thoughts only wandered more and more. I started remembering more about the final episode that had aired, and the way all the puppets and Janice had screamed and thrashed and shook so violently… there hadn’t even been a plot or anything. The entire episode had consisted of nothing but all the characters screaming and crying and it was all so chaotic and traumatic. I remembered how I had started to cry and my mom had run in from the other room, asking me what was wrong, and I had told her through my tears how Janice was crying and no one was helping her and my mom had turned off the TV and picked me up and made me feel better. Then she went and put me to bed, tracing my face with the finger until I fell asleep and had terrible nightmares all night long about the Skin-Taker chasing me and screaming incessantly… all these thoughts ran through my mind and even though my shower water was pretty hot, I still had chills all over my body.
It didn’t help that when I turned off the water, I could hear my TV was on.
I froze. I knew I hadn’t left my TV on. I hadn’t even turned it on since I got home. I had simply walked through the door and sat on my couch and looked at the doll, and I knew I had never even touched the remote to the TV. I slowly got out of the shower and dried off, listening carefully to the sounds coming from my living room. I couldn’t believe my ears.
The last set of memories came with a refreshing course of nostalgia. My mother’s finger, the one with the mole that had always comforted me so, turning the dial to the station with all the static. The station always had static, I remembered that. Until 4:00, when Candle Cove came on, there was never anything but static, but when Candle Cove came on the calliope music, ridiculously happy, would start to bleed through the static, slow and distorted at first but speeding up and being more bouncy as the picture cleared and Pirate Percy and his friends greeted Janice to a new day full of adventures. Now I suspected that it had always been static even when the show was on… maybe that was why my mother had shaken her head and laughed at me. But, if it had always been static, where did the doll come from? How did it even exist if the show did not? I was so confused, and the stupid, catchy music coming from my living room was not only making me more confused but was creeping me out a bit too. Shaking off my thoughts, I opened the door and heard the tail end of a sentence spoken in a voice that sounded remarkably like Ed Wynn…
“…GO INSIDE!” it was saying.
I stepped out and slowly walked into the living room. My hallway was ridiculously long and it only served to increase my tension, but just as I rounded the corner, the TV turned to static.
As the only light in the room was the whiteness from the static on the TV, I got really creeped out. I rushed to the lamp and flicked it on, and saw that the doll was exactly where I had left it – right on top of the remote.
I sighed in relief and shook my head in embarrassment. It all made sense now. I had simply thrown the doll on the remote and the force of his impact had turned on the TV. I simply hadn’t noticed because my TV takes forever to turn on and by the time it had, I was in the bathroom. It had been static-y the entire time, and it was simply my confused, slightly disturbed thoughts and emotions that had projected the noises I heard into my brain. I really needed to get some sleep. I knew it wasn’t a good idea to wake up at the crack of dawn to go to the flea market. I could have slept in all day and avoided this whole mess. There would be no questions about where the doll came from or if the stupid fucking show even existed or what all my disjointed, confused memories were trying to tell me… everything would have been alright if I had just slept in. Sound advice for life. Always sleep in.
This is all stuff I tried to tell myself to relieve the creepy feelings I had. And it almost worked. It had almost worked, and my heartbeat had finally slowed, and my blood pressure was normal, and the goosebumpbs had finally gone away, and all the things I told myself had made me feel better. My justifications and explanations had almost… ALMOST made me feel better. Until I picked up the doll and started absentmindedly started running my fingers over it again. I started playing with the funny little bump that was on the top hat again and I remember being extremely comforted. All the bad feelings suddenly went away and I felt so much better. All was well. The show probably had simply existed in another format, and since I was so young my confused mind had simply combined my memories with something else and projected them over the show, giving me all theses confused feelings. I would simply get dressed, get on my computer, look up the show, and put all this crap to rest. Maybe I would even throw away the doll. It would be for the best. I shouldn’t have even bought it, but now that I had, $10 was not too much of a price to pay for some peace of mind. I got up to put the doll in the trash, but the towel wrapped around my waist started to unravel so I reached to grab it and dropped the doll. Tonight was just not my night.
I bent down to pick up the doll and his top hat, which had fallen off. It was then that I got a good look at the hat, when it was separate from the menacing black eyes that demanded all my attention before. I had been playing with the funny little bump on the hat, and I had felt an intense sense of comfort as I did so. When I looked at the top hat, I realized, with a sudden blast of recognition and fear, what my memories had been trying to tell me. I realized what it was about the funny little bump that had given me comfort. It was the same bump that I had stared at for endless hours as a child, in times of happiness, sadness, pain and fear.
The funny little bump… was my mother’s mole.
Credit To – saqua23