A man visits a town on business and gets caught up in its dark traditions.
The Toymaker's End
The rain was falling heavily and there was the odd rumble of thunder as the mob worked their way along the country lanes. Some carried burning torches to light the way and others were armed with pitchforks and hoes, prepared to fight.
They got closer to the large building which was their destination. The place where they wanted to vent their fury.
Thunder flashed, lighting up the towers and reflecting from the windows, making a few members of the mob scream in fright. Those behind the screamers gave them a shove, pushing them and having a word to re-establish their confidence.
Rain began to fall heavier on the mob, but the torches continued to burn as they approached the building.
The mob seemed to slow the closer they got to the toymaker's house. It was as though their hand made boots were slowing them down in the mud. Most of them wore hand made clothes, except for the rich folks, who for once were united with the peasant mob in their hatred and anger.
One of the richer folks was armed with a musket, the only gun of any sorts in sight. Another of the rich folk was armed with a sword, obviously a war sword he had used in defence of his country. Now it was time to defend the village.
They reached the house and outside the front door was a horse and carriage.
The musket was fired, flashing in the dark and breaking the silence that occurred between rolls of thunder. The BANG echoed into the night and then came another thunderous crash from the sky, accompanied by a flash of lightening.
The horse fell to the ground, its head held up by the reigns attached to its neck from the carriage.
There was a loud crack as the door was forced inwards and the mob began to close on the house, their flaming torches lighting it up in the darkness and the reflections of the orange flames flickered in the windows.
Somebody tried to escape into the darkness of the fields from a window at the rear of the house. Members of the mob followed the figure, running through the rain and the wet grassland and caught him. He was stabbed multiple times with a pitchfork and set on fire with one of the torches. His screams echoed across the fields, but the rest of the mob didn't stop their attack on the toymaker's house.
Soon, the burning torches where tossed into the building, setting fire to the wooden floors and furniture. The fire began to spread through the house room by room.
The mob waited outside in the lightening and rain, smoke bringing tears to many eyes as they looked on. They could hear screams from inside, but none of them went to rescue the Toymaker or his family, but they watched and made sure that nobody escaped.
As daylight began to break and the house was nothing but burning ashes, the mob began to disperse and soon there was nobody there. Nobody remained.
In the ashes of the burning house, a single eye looked out from behind a half burned roof joist. Beneath the hot ash, the body was charred, but the eye still moved.
The town was a far cry from the farming village it once was. It had grown and modernised, but it hadn't lost its country feel. No matter where you walked, there were reminders of the town's farming industry.
Most prominent though was the abattoir, a massive house of slaughter right on the edge of the main through road. Kelvin was in town to do business there and he hated it. Negotiating prices for major city supermarkets was not what he had dreamed of doing. It was good pay though, he couldn't deny it.
He was sitting in an office, a room which gave no indication of where it was. It was a room that could have been conducting business in any industry in any town or city he had ever visited. Nothing except the framed certificate on the desk in front of him, reminding him he was at a master butcher's desk, gave indication to the fact he was in a slaughterhouse.
The door to the room slammed closed and a small skinny man in glasses hurried over to the desk. He sat down, dropped a pile of papers onto his desk and loosened his tie. After pushing the pile of papers into what seemed to Kelvin to be an overly obsessional neat little spot on the desk, the little man put on a pair of reading glasses and picked up the top page.
"Says here that we can't discuss anything yet, our meetings with the farmers start tomorrow." He brushed a small bead of sweat from his brow. "That won't be a problem will it?"
Kelvin was six foot five and although overweight, his height balanced him out. His size though made every chair in every office feel like a child's seat. He shuffled a little to get himself comfortable, the edge of the seat was digging into his ass cheek and he couldn't sit like this much longer.
The office was hot and Kelvin's tie was already loose and his top shirt button was open. He had an urge to run his hand through his thinning dark hair, but he resisted. His widow's peak felt as though there was a bead of sweat on the tip, but he decided it was an itch and resisted that also.
Kelvin smiled. His face wasn't made for smiling; it made him look slightly insane when his tombstone teeth showed from behind his lips. This, coming from a man his size, sometimes scared people, but the little man just looked at him, he wasn't intimidated.
"Of course it won't be a problem." Kelvin's smile never faltered. "As long as you find me accommodation and do the relevant paperwork to keep me in town and still get me paid, it's fine."
As he spoke, the noise of the air conditioning kicking in filled both men with relief. It was uncomfortably hot and finally, the maintenance men had done their job.
"Consider it done," the little man said, standing once again and walking around the desk to shake Kelvin's hand.
"If you wait a few minutes in the reception, the secretary will be out and give you details of where you can stay. We'll arrange the rest after that." He let go of Kelvin's hand and scurried to the door and left the room without anymore acknowledgement of the huge man.
The automatic door looked out of place on the front of the old hotel. The stone and wood exterior was more in fitting with the surrounding buildings of the small town centre. Kelvin entered the hotel foyer and his feet squeaked on the polished wooden floor of the reception as he crossed towards the check in desk.
Stag's heads decorated the walls around the reception, which also doubled as a bar. The bottles all lined up behind the old spectacled woman who sat behind the desk were the giveaway.
"Can I help you?" The old lady asked the large man.
He gave his name and the lady let out a sigh of acknowledgement.
"From the abattoir?" She asked him, she looked at her notes and then added, "ahhh there you are."
She gave him a form to fill in and passed him a key. Without telling him any information about where his room was, she sat back own and continued whatever it was she was doing behind the desk. Kelvin presumed she was knitting.
He looked at his key and the room number on the key-ring read 103.
First floor, room three was the usual way of things, so he looked around for a staircase. He seen found the door to the stairs in a dimly lit corner near to the automatic doors at the entrance, which incidentally still looked out of place from the inside of the building, and headed in that direction.
There was a push button behind the door that turned on the lights in the stairwell. When Kelvin pushed this, he noticed an old framed newspaper cutting on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. The story spoke about a fire at a toymaker's house back in the eighteen hundreds. After reading one or two lines of the story, he found himself losing interest and carried his somewhat considerable weight up the stairs to the first floor.
The hallway on the first floor smelt dusty. The floor-boards creaked as the stairs had on his way up and he made his way past two doors opposite each other marked 101 and 102. At the end of the hall was a window which looked out onto an old brick wall. Before the window were two doors marked 103 and 104. Kelvin took out his key and entered room 103 and pushed the door closed behind him.
The room was as basic as hotel rooms come in the modern era. There was an old portable TV with an aerial on the top of it in the corner next to the window which, unlike the window outside the room, looked out across the industrial estate on the edge of town.
There was an en suite bathroom which didn't have a bath. It contained only a sink and mirror, a shower cubicle and a toilet. The light bulb flickered as he looked into the room and Kelvin, being tall enough, flicked the light bulb to see if it would work better. There was no improvement and the light in the room continued to blink on and off.
He sat his considerable frame on the single bed and switched on his TV. A snowy picture appeared on the screen, but as it was a news channel he didn't need to be able to see to know what the reports were about. He pulled out his laptop and sent an email to his employers letting them know the situation and that he would be in touch as soon as he had been to the meeting at the abattoir.
Evening came and Kelvin headed downstairs to get some dinner. The same old lady was working at the reception/bar and Kelvin asked her for a good place to grab a bite to eat. She recommended the hotel's very own bar food and Kelvin decided that he would follow her advice.
He ate until he was full and as the woman had said, the food was very good. Steak from the town's very own abattoir, fresh as fresh can be and it could be tasted.
After drinking an after dinner coffee, Kelvin asked the old lady for the bill. Service was very fast as he was the only person in the place being served and the old woman couldn't do enough for him.
She charged the bill to his room and Kelvin asked if there was a place for him to go for a drink close to the hotel.
"You can drink the best there is to drink right here." She told him.
"I'd like to get out for a while, fresh air, new faces... Y'know?"
"I understand, I do," She replied sincerely, "But tonight won't be very lively anywhere you go in town.
Kelvin smiled at the woman, "I see it's heaving in here."
"Oh, it's only for tonight... a kind of town celebration." She shook her head, "No, not celebration, not really. More of a memorial."
"Really?" Kelvin was slightly interested in what this memorial could be. Only slightly. "What's it for?"
"Tonight is the night of the Toymaker's End. A long time ago....."
Kelvin cut her off, the newspaper cutting in the stairwell came to mind. "The toymaker's house was burnt down by the people here in town."
"You know the story?" She raised an eyebrow from behind her wire framed glasses.
"I read a bit of the newspaper by the stairs."
She smiled at him again, this time a knowing look crossed her face. "Tell you what, you stay in and don't go out. I'll keep you company and tell you the full story. I'll be the only company you'll find in any bar tonight anyway"
This was an offer Kelvin couldn't refuse.
Kelvin sat in the reception that doubled as a bar and trebled as a restaurant. The old woman, Melinda, she told him her name was, brought a bottle of single malt whiskey to the table and a couple of glasses. She also brought a couple of bottles of Budweiser, just in case he wanted something a little lighter to drink.
He opened a bottle of lager and took a large gulp. It was always refreshing to have a beer at the end of a hot day and today was no different, in a quiet bar or not. Melinda sat opposite and poured herself a glass of whiskey and sipped it without ice.
Kelvin grinned at her across the table showing his tombstone teeth, "well, this is cosy, isn't it?"
The old woman smiled back with extra wrinkles appearing in her cheeks, "Drinks, good looking company... what more could an old lay ask for?"
"A full hotel?"
The woman laughed. "Oh, I've been busy in the past and I'll be busy again in the future. I'd usually be closed tonight, but I owe Mr. Spencer from the abattoir a favour and, well, you're the favour."
"Thanks," Kelvin replied, and he genuinely meant it. He couldn't remember seeing another hotel anywhere near he town on his drive here and was truly grateful not to have to make the journey again the following morning.
"You're very welcome." She winked at Kelvin and he smiled back at her then took another swig from his bottle.
They sat in silence for a moment and Kelvin found his eyes scanning the room and lingering on a couple of the stag's heads that decorated the walls. He noticed another newspaper cutting in a frame and, although it was too far away from him, he presumed it was the same story as the cutting in at the bottom of the staircase.
"If I remember properly, you owe me a story."
"Of course I do. Give me a moment." She rose from the table and headed to a door behind the reception desk and disappeared into whatever rooms lay beyond.
On the other side of the room from the reception, the out of place automatic doors slid open and closed again. Kelvin looked across to see who had come in, there was nobody there. He presumed the old woman had set the security lock or something from the back room she had disappeared into.
He turned back to take another sip of his beer and opposite sitting in the chair, was a young woman. Her skin was pale, no not pale, her skin was white as snow. Her lips were red as though stained with cherry juice or blood, but it may have been the whiteness of her skin that made them stand out.
She was pretty despite the strange paleness of her skin. Her long black hair framed her face, the contrast between the black of her hair and the white of her skin was somehow startling, but beautiful.
Kelvin was about to speak to her, to ask her who she was, but she raised a finger to her lips.
"Shhhh.... Don't speak. Get out of here now." She whispered.
"Who....." Kelvin was cut off again.
"SHHHH... GO! NOW!" It was still a whisper, but it was a lot more urgent in tone. Her eyes focused on his own and he could see sadness in them as well as rage.
There was a noise from the reception area and Kelvin looked across and seen Melinda coming through the door carrying a pile of papers.
He looked back at the girl, but she wasn't there. He was looking at an empty space where she had been sitting.
Melinda sat at the table and let out a sigh. "Heavier and heavier these things are, every time I carry them."
"You tell this story often then?" Kelvin asked.
"Only to people who are interested," She replied not taking her eyes from the papers she was sifting through.
"Here we are," she said, pulling an old newspaper out from one of the folders. It was in a plastic sleeve but it was readable. She handed it to Kelvin.
'Three disappear at harvest festival.' the headline read.
"It's how it started," Melinda said, answering a question that Kelvin hadn't yet asked. "The kids in town started disappearing over each holiday we had. Christmas, Easter, the harvest festival... name the holiday, there were reports of missing kids."
She pulled out a few more plastic sleeves containing newspaper cut outs to confirm what she was saying. Each one contained a sketched picture of the missing child and a small story telling when they were last seen and what they were wearing.
"It kept happening over the course of about five years. They were disappearing not just one by one, but by the bucket load. Every holiday two or three would disappear, never to be seen again."
She pulled out more newspaper cuttings, these seemed newer and fresher. One was dated from the previous year.
"It's still happening?" Kelvin asked the woman.
"Oh, of course it is. Things like this just don't stop overnight."
The sliding doors to the reception glided open and two men strode in from the darkness outside. Both wore long black coats and their eyes were covered by dark shades. Both Melinda and Kelvin looked towards the men and the men looked back from behind their dark glassed and then began to walk towards the table.
Kelvin swore he saw the pale skinned girl behind the bar, near to the door where Melinda had disappeared earlier and her voice rang in his head. Her warning to him was now clear; these men were not here to make friends with him.
They reached the table and stood over him and the old woman. Neither of the men spoke, just stood there, staring from their hidden eyes.
They were both large men. Not quite as large as Kelvin was, but large nonetheless. They seemed muscled, whereas, Kelvin's size was made mainly of excess fat.
"Gentlemen." Kelvin greeted and was about to stand, hand extended.
One of the men reached out, put his hand on Kelvin's shoulder and pushed him back into his chair.
"RUN!" The pale girls voice rang out in his head, so he attempted to stand up again. As soon as he did so, he was shoved once again into his seat.
"As you may have noticed," Melinda spoke as though nothing untoward was happening in the room, "the ages of those that disappeared got older. It stopped being children once the toymaker was dead."
Kelvin didn't like this situation at all and tried to stand up yet again. This time however, when the hand reached out to push him back into his seat he forced it away. It was useless, the second man was immediately behind him, helping the first man push him back into his chair. The second man remained behind him after this with his hands on Kelvin's shoulders, ready to push him back down should he struggle.
"You see, the villagers tried to kill the Toymaker and his family, but they failed. Well they succeeded and failed at the same time." Melinda carried on speaking as though nothing was wrong in the hotel reception and everything was just as it should be.
"What's going on here?" Kelvin asked none of the people in particular.
"I'm telling you Kelvin. If you listen, you will understand." The old woman pushed her glasses up on her nose as she reached for another paper in the folder. "See, for the last fifty years, nobody under the age of thirty five has disappeared around here. It just means that what we are doing must be the right thing."
"What the hell are you talking about... this is nothing but crazy stuff now." He attempted to push back against the man behind him, but his attempt at releasing himself failed. He also received a stinging smack across the cheek for his efforts.
He tried to raise his fist to throw a punch, his arm was grabbed and then his other was pulled behind his back. In a flash, he was bound to the chair with no chance of escape.
"Really Kelvin. If only you would just listen to me and not struggle." Melinda smirked now. Even in the situation he was in, he found that the woman looked friendly. She reminded him of a grandmother who had just lovingly baked a cake for her family.
He struggled against his constraints and was met once again with a blow to the back of the head.
The woman pulled out another newspaper cutting and showed it to Kelvin and continued to speak as though Kelvin was listening with intent and not struggling to get out of his chair. Kelvin was used to his size and weight getting him out of situations of violence before they happened and he was getting frustrated that this time he was trapped and not able to get away.
"GET OFF ME!" His shout and attempted stand was greeted by another clout to the face which made him fall back into his chair.
"You see Kelvin, we used to use the young to appease his anger, but it never seemed enough. It seems now that it's the adults he wants. It was the adults that killed his family and destroyed him... Killed him in a way."
"This is crazy," Kelvin butted in. "You're mad woman, absolutely mad. You guys aren't any better."
He took another hit, this time it was directly into his face and there was a crunch as his nose broke. Kelvin could immediately feel blood running down onto his lips from his nostrils and instinctively stuck out his tongue to taste it. As he did so, his chin was met with an upper cut making his teeth smack together through the fleshy muscle in his mouth.
A flash of pain went through his head and then the shock of what just happened hit him. He felt his stomach turn as he spat out the chewy thing in his mouth, realizing what it was as it hit the floor. He wanted to shout out at the men and the woman, but all that came out was a gurgling sound. He received another smack directly in the mouth for his efforts and felt some of his teeth smash.
"Would you just listen man!" Melinda said, looking as though she was finally a little irritated by Kelvin. She spoke as a school teacher would speak to a small child.
The man behind Kelvin's chair gripped the dazed salesman's arms tighter behind his back. The black jacketed man reached across and grabbed Kelvin's hair, pulling his head up so he was looking again across the table at the old woman.
"Before he comes tonight, we need to make him a toy. A toy of at least the standards he used to make for himself. He will be here soon so we need to hurry."
Kelvin gurgled on the blood in his mouth in protest. The large man was terrified now and the pain in his mouth was immense. He wanted to shout out for help. He wanted to scream out in pain. All that emerged from his mouth when he tried either was a gurgling sound.
"Fifty years ago, the people in the village began to make larger toys. The ones before hand never seemed to work. They were too small and so more of the young villagers would disappear. You Kelvin, you will be the largest toy we have ever made for the toymaker."
The sliding door opened again. This time Kelvin was unaware, the pain distracted him from his surroundings and the thumping of his pulse in his ears stopped him hearing the whirring sound they made. He continued to gurgle on his own blood as he struggled to shout for help and still felt the pressure on his shoulders as he was held down by one of the men in black jackets, who was stopping him from struggling against his constraints.
Two more men entered the foyer/bar/restaurant, both wearing the same long back coats and shades as the men that had entered earlier. In front of them they pushed a trolley upon which a large charred log lay.
The men rolled the trolley past the table where Kelvin, the old woman and the two men were located, and left it below the largest of the stag's heads that decorated the wall.
Terrified and gurgling, Kelvin looked in the direction of the charred log. His noises increased in volume when he looked directly at the log and seen an eye in the middle of it. The eye moved and looked in his direction.
"We usually keep the toymaker's remains in the abattoir so the animal blood can be soaked up." Melinda said to the large man in the chair. Blood was running down his chest as he struggle to speak, to reply, to scream out for help. Instead of words, bubbles formed at his lips and the sound of a man gargling water after brushing his teeth emerged. He shook in his chair as he pushed and pulled at his constraints, but he was met by blows from the man in black behind him.
"Animal blood, as you have probably guessed by now, just isn't what he wants." She smiled at Kelvin again. "We used to use children for our toys, but they weren't large enough to provide for him. You Kelvin are a big man. You should satisfy the Toymaker for a year. Stop him turning US into HIS toys."
One of the men in black who had arrived with the charred remains of the toymaker, approached the table and pulled out a large knife. The other, who had entered with him followed behind and carried a ball of string.
"When things go wrong around here, people blame the toymaker. Every crime committed... the toymaker gets the blame, he takes control of people as though they are puppets. We have to appease him. Create a puppet for him that would rival any of his own. The villagers killed him for making puppets out of the young in the village. Once the villagers found out what he had been doing, they marched on his house and killed everybody."
Melinda pointed at the charred log beneath the huge stag's head. "Almost killed."
The eye in the log moved and looked toward Melinda and then towards Kelvin.
"Do it." Melinda said to the men in black.
The man with the knife approached Kelvin and raised the knife and pressed it against Kelvin's throat. Kelvin tried to scream, tried to move and used the last actions of his life to blow bubbles of blood from his mouth. His throat was cut and he struggled no more.
A pale faced figure behind the bar, a look of sadness on her face, faded into nothingness as she wiped a ghostly tear from her eye, a short piece of string dangling from her wrist. The toymaker's first victim, his very own daughter, would be back the following year to try and prevent this happening to yet another victim.
In the darkness of the streets, the children laughed and sang in delight. They carried huge sticks, from each of which a piece of string dangled. Each piece of string was attached to one of the limbs of the huge puppet, which was being marched down the street.
Kelvin looked graceful as the children controlled the movements of his body.
The children continued to laugh and to sing their songs as they reached the abattoir. There was the silence of the ceremony as the blood was poured onto the log and then the children of the town continued to party, to enjoy the festival of The Toymaker's End.
The End... For this year