The New Playground
Also, a blog is probably not the best place to post 7-page fiction. Does anybody know of anyplace where people come and post that kind of stuff and read each other's? writing contests, maybe? If you guys know of anyplace like that, please let me know.
It was the last day before Christmas break. The kids, already in anticipation of their winter break, buzzed all over the school building happily. In everybody's bookbags, there were chocolates and iced cookies prepared the night before for today's classroom parties.
I had just dropped off my son Mikey at his elementary school and was trying to navigate my way through the throngs of excited kids. Finally I managed to reach the school office, the gift bag in my hands magically intact after fighting through the crowd.
"Hi, can you give this to Miss Earlson please? I brought her this gift, but she's not here today".
"Sure, give it to me, I'll drop it in her mailbox."
"And here's something for you guys. Merry Christmas." Digging into my purse, I produced a box of chocolates. Suddenly the office fell quiet. I felt a strange chill over my shoulder, like an ominous creature was hovering above it, waiting for me to breathe my last so it could finally feast on my dead flesh. I turned around. Sure enough, the school principal was standing next to me.
I never did like Mrs. Barber. Call it irrational - the woman was never anything but sweet. Granted, sometimes too sweet, but that's not a crime, is it now? My dislike was somewhat confirmed when Mrs. Barber told me in front of a group of teachers that my oldest, Davey, would grow up to be a killer. Davey had drawn some violent pictures in school of M-16s and stealth bombers, and I had been called in for a meeting. That was a couple of years ago. Needless to say, I didn't have a Christmas gift for Mrs. Barber. Would she be mad? Standing next to me, Mrs. Barber just stared, not speaking or moving, like a plastic doll.
"Merry Christmas," I squeaked in her direction.
Not saying a word, Mrs. Barber handed me a note.
"On December 15th, Mikey G. has told his classmate he hated him," the note read. The word "hate" was banned on school grounds. I signed the note, like I was supposed to. Still not speaking, Mrs. Barber took the note back from me, made an about-face, and disappeared into her office.
"Whew, that was odd," I thought to myself as I was walking to my car. "Oh well, it's over now. I won't see her again till next year."
But, even though I didn't, in fact, see Mrs. Barber over the winter break, I heard from her nonetheless. Two days after Christmas, we got a letter in the mail.
"ATTENTION! ATTENTION! FUNDRASIER" - the letter announced.
She can't even spell it right, I snickered to myself as I turned the page.
After I read to the end of the letter, I was no longer laughing.
The school was raising money to build a new playground. This struck me as odd, as the current playground was only two years old. To raise the money, every child in school had to sell a box of chocolates, sixty dollars worth. I felt relieved that Davey was in middle school already. All I had to do was sell one box for Mikey. I really hated fundraisers, though, and tried to avoid them at any cost. Come on, how serious can they be? I have to sell a box of chocolates, or else what? And I threw the letter in the trash.
Within a week, the next letter arrived, a copy of the first. And then another. And then another.
Then started the phone calls.
"Hi, is Mike home?" - a little boy's voice would ask.
As soon as Mike was on the phone, the voice would change. It didn't sound anything human anymore, and had a distant quality to it, as if it was coming from the center of the earth.
"Listen carefully, Mikey. All your friends have already sold the candy. You know Andrew, the one whose parents are on welfare? He sold five boxes! Yes, they'll have to go without food for a while, until they get the money back from all the people they sold the candy to, but that's not much of a sacrifice for the school. It's the school playground, Mike. Think about it! Don't you know, if we don't raise enough money for the new playground, everyone in school is gonna hate you?! Yes, that's right! And no one, yes no one will sit with you at lunch! Not even Andrew! Yes, he's your best friend now, but he won't be anymore once he finds out you didn't sell any candy!! Go tell your parents, tell them now! NOW, I said!! Oh wait, did you know that every kid who sells a box of candy, gets a slice of pizza? Pepperoni pizza, Mikey! With extra cheese! Now what are you doing still on the phone, you little brat? Go talk to your parents! Go talk - " - and the conversation cut off just as abruptly as it had began.
I didn't know what was going on at first, but Mike seemed so upset after each phone call that I finally listened in on one of the conversations.
"Who are you?" - I interrupted in my iciest voice. - "And what's going on here?"
"Ooooh, Mikey's mom," - the infernal voice said. "Here, listen. If your kid doesn't sell the candy by tomorrow, we're obligated by law to call the Social Services on you. Because this is nothing other than neglect. How can you not let your kid sell the candy when everybody else in class already has? How can you even send your son to school with unsold candy? It's like sending him to school with a broken arm! Or leg!! What kind of mother are you??"
The mention of Social Services did the trick. The very next day, I bought a box of candy for sixty bucks. Technically, we were expected to sell the candy at our offices, but I wasn't planning to unleash it on my poor coworkers - I felt that they just didn't deserve to be milked for cash like that. We gave some to our friends and relatives and ate the rest ourselves.
Two days later, Andrew's mom told me she hadn't sold any candy yet, but was getting phone calls daily. Two weeks ago, she said, the voice on the phone had started telling her that Mike had sold ten boxes of candy and was planning to sell more. The voice threatened to report her for welfare fraud if she didn't buy any candy from the school immediately. She didn't know who the voice belonged to, either. It didn't sound like any of the teachers she knew.
Spring came, and with it, more fundraisers - for new slides, monkey bars, and rainbow-colored mulch for the playground. We had to attend dinners (or send a check), buy pencils with the school logo and other things we did not need or have money for. Somehow, no matter how much we raised, it was never enough. Our bank accounts were all but empty, but we were too afraid to stop. Anytime any parent would as much as think about not giving any more, he or she would get a phone call on the same day.
Finally, it came. The last day of school. Mike was going to start middle school in the fall, so we wouldn't have to deal with Mrs. Barber again. What a relief. As usual, the school hosted a picnic, and a lot of the parents came. Many parents came with their pets; I, too, brought our dog, Brian. Brian was a little furry doggy that had never hurt a flea, so it was perfectly safe to let him run around. He had done it before, and had never bothered any of the kids or done any harm.
I was sitting on a picnic blanket with Mikey and munching peacefully on a pickle spear, when I realized that Brian had gone missing.
"Brian, Brian, come here, doggy," - we called, but he did not come.
Alarmed, we ran towards the playground. Sure enough, there was our Brian, on the far side of the playground, digging earnestly under Mrs. Barber's favorite pink slide! Oh the horrors!
"Brian, cut it OUT!" - I hollered. - "Come here NOW!!"
No reply. Brian kept digging as if a winning lottery ticket was buried in there. (Assuming that dogs know what a winning lottery ticket even is!)
"Come here, you bad dog," - I raced across the playground towards Brian, but it was too late. Mrs. Barber had already seen him. The usual sticky-sweet smile left her face.
"Why, you…" - and she started running for the dog too. Her upper lip was drawn back, showing her teeth. Her eyes burned darkly. Suddenly, I was afraid for my dog's life. I ran as fast as I could, but to my surprise was unable to outrun Mrs. Barber in her lavender suit and high heels.
She was far ahead of me.
I had given my doggy up for dead, but kept running anyway.
Suddenly, Mrs. Barber tripped on a tree root and fell. With a yelp no one had expected from so refined a woman, she sprawled on the ground, her designer shoes flying off her feet and landing to the left of her, her arm making an arc in the air and landing to her right.
Mrs. Barber's arm was on the ground, ten feet away from the rest of her.
How the heck did that happen?
All the kids and parents came running. Mrs. Barber sat up, her eyes glossed over. The guidance counselor, Miss Herring, ran up to her and offered a hand, but Mrs. Barber continued to sit on the ground, not moving. Brian, in the meantime, disappeared in the hole he had dug.
Wait, he disappeared? What was going on? How can a little dog dig a hole that big in just over twenty minutes? We all stood there with our mouths open, too puzzled to move. Brian emerged from the hole, carrying a strange creature in his mouth. The creature was smaller than Brian, yet looked like a miniature human. Its thick skin was reddish-brown. It was not wearing any clothes. And it was screaming angrily in a strange language.
Mr. Phillips, the science teacher, was the first to speak.
"All right, what the hell is all this?"
And he looked straight at Miss Herring.
Miss Herring was a large, loud, and intimidating woman, but now, for the first time ever, I saw her turn white and shake in terror. She opened and closed her mouth, but no words came.
"Come on," Mr. Phillips insisted. "Tell us. Tell us already!"
Miss Herring opened her mouth again and burst into tears.
"I didn't do anything, I swear, I didn't do a thing, it was all her! I warned her, I warned her not to do it, I warned her not to build this tunnel, but no, they promised her a Ken doll, she said. Once-in-a-lifetime chance, she said! Long overdue! I tried to talk her out of it, I really tried. They are evil, I told her. They eat people, for God's sake! But she was, What do I care, I'm not human! I'm just a freaky, overgrown Barbie doll. What do I care if they eat humans, she said. They won't eat me!"
"Calm down, Miss Herring. Who do you say is not human?"
"Heeer!" - and Miss Herring pointed to the principal.
Miss Barber turned pale.
"How dare you!"
She reached over, snatched her plastic arm and snapped it back in its place.
"So I wear a prosthetic arm. How do you dare twist it to mean I am not human? Ahem" - she seemed to have a new idea. - "You seem stressed, Miss Herring. Can I offer that you need professional help? And a vacation, how about a vacation? We will give you a year off, or two. Without pay, of course."
Miss Herring sniffled.
"Oh yeah?! I'm crazy now? How do you explain this?" - she pointed to the creature Brian was still holding in his mouth.
"I will not dignify this with a response," coldly replied Mrs. Barber.
"That's OK, 'cause I will!" The perspective of a two-year unpaid leave seemed to give Miss Herring new strength. "This… thing comes from the center of the Earth. There are millions of them down there. They've been living on synthetic fruit and vegetables, but what they really want to eat is human flesh. That's right! They had been planning to come out, seize all humans and eat them and take over the Earth for themselves. They said they were going to save the fattest humans for the meat farms. And this " - she pointed towards the hole in the earth by the pink slide - "is one of the tunnels they'd dug in their preparations. And she " - here Miss. Herring's voice raised dangerously - " was helping them! This whole playground was just an excuse. Why do you think it cost so much? Did you really believe a slide can cost ten thousand dollars, or a swingset fifteen? Oh please! There's dozens of tunnels under here!"
I stood frozen to my spot, not believing what was happening around me.
The parents and teachers started speaking all at once.
"Why didn't you say something? Why didn't you tell anyone?"
"You knew you were gonna be eaten?"
"They promised me - " Miss Herring's voice broke again. - "They promised to send me to a meat farm if I didn't say a thing to anybody. They said they weren't going to eat me; they were going to breed me. I wanted to live. And… and I wanted to be bred. I haven't had a man in… " - she could not finish.
Mr. Phillips' voice rose over the commotion.
"You said Mrs. Barber is not human. What does it mean?"
"She's a, she's a Barbie doll. Many years ago, the kid that owned her spilled some liquid growth hormone on her that caused her to grow overnight. She also became able to talk and walk. The kid was sleeping, so she just snuck out the window, named herself Mrs. Barber, and lived the rest of her life as a human. The creatures promised to put her in charge of all remaining humans and give her a life-size Ken doll after they took over."
"Is that true, Mrs. Barber?" - Mr. Phillips calmly asked.
Mrs. Barber's head turned 180 degrees. Blue plastic eyes stared at Mr. Phillips over the principal's back.
"Damn you all, humans!" the doll croaked. "Damn you all to hell!"
The head turned another 180 and came back to where it had been.
"And I will kill this dog! Where's the dog?"
Barbie jumped to her feet and lunged after Brian, plastic arms outstretched. But the humans closed in before her, shielding the puppy.
"Don't you dare touch the dog!" said Mr. Phillips. "You stay here!"
Barbie turned to run, but found all exits blocked. A human circle was around her. The gym teacher brought a volleyball net, and a few men from the crowd wrapped the struggling, kicking doll in it. The picnic was over.
"You saved the Earth, Brian!" Mikey exclaimed. "Good doggy!"
It goes without saying that Brian had an extra treat or two for dinner that day.
The rest of the story is short. The teachers took Barbie to a shrink, who shrank her back to her original size and the teachers then took her to the vintage toy store on Coventry, where she remains to this day. The playground was razed and cemented, and a basketball court was built over it. The builders that put in the court also poured explosives down the tunnels to make sure none of them could be used. The school got a new principal. Miss Herring married Mr. Phillips, and they lived happily ever after. Mikey went to middle school where he became a straight-A student and forgot all that ever happened during the school picnic.