Canto 4 – The Marionettes
Shandra was waiting for him with a paper bag full of peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches. She was running away from home. There was no other choice about it. They were never gonna beat her ass again like that, whether she deserved it or not. And she was eight now. She could damn well take care of her own self.
But Mark mattered. She was gonna need him to run away too. Through all the darkest times in first grade, Mark sitting next to her in Miss Immelmann’s class was the only reason she was still alive. You don’t let go of somebody like that once you find them. And he claimed he liked her too, didn’t he? Enough that when she asked him, he showed her his little pink mushroom cap of a dick. And he didn’t ask to see her little black coochie in return. That was like love or something from a white man. Even if he was just a little boy. And when she asked him about running away together after school got out, he said yes, didn’t he?
But where the hell was he? School was over three hours ago. And still no sign.
And then he was there, pedaling up on his shiny silver bicycle. He was wearing that blue jacket of his. And a baseball cap covered his wavy blond hair. That beautiful blond hair. Shandra loved how it felt when he let her comb it with her hand. And he smiled at her as he used his bike chain to secure his bike to the lamp post on Mockingbird Lane.
“What took ya so long?”
“Mom asked too many questions. I had a bad time sneaking out. I didn’t tell her about you or the plan or anything.”
“That was smart of you.”
“You aren’t mad are you, Shandra?”
“Well, sure I am! I worked hard making all these sandwiches to bribe you with. I used all Poppa Dark’s peanut butter, so he’ll kill me if the cops catch us and take me home.”
“You didn’t have to bribe me. I said I’d follow you anywhere, and I meant it.”
“Well, we are gonna need food on this journey. We ain’t never coming back home again if we can help it.”
“Where are we going to run away to?”
“Well, I ain’t figured that out yet.”
“Let’s go in that toy store and look around while we think about it.”
“That’s the Haunted Toy Store, Mark! Nobody goes in Aunt Phillia’s Toy Emporium unless they want to disappear from the face of the earth.”
“Well, we are running away to Europe or Mexico or somewhere… Maybe it’s a good place to start laying low so the cops don’t know where we are.”
“Yeah, they would never think of finding a kid in a toy store.” She frowned at him and let that last statement sink into his little, thick head.
“…But, a haunted toy store.”
“Good point. Let’s go.”
She took him by the hand and, carrying the bag of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches in the other hand, she led him into the store.
The spooky old guy at the counter grinned at them and blinked his owl eyes.
“We’ve been expecting you.”
“What?” said Mark, sounding shocked.
“How did you know we were coming here?” Shandra said sharply.
“A little mouse told me.”
“Oh, yeah? Did he say why we were coming here?”
“He said you were trying to escape from a bad situation, and he knew this shop specializes in helping out in such situations.”
Shandra was a bit stunned by that.
“You know what marionettes are?” said the creepy guy.
“Puppets,” said Mark.
“Puppets controlled by strings. Some people are like that… controlled by strings, I mean.”
“Yeah, so?” challenged Shandra.
“So, go see the marionettes. That will be of help to you.”
Shandra led Mark by the hand around the corner to where the marionettes hung on their strings. It was a wall full of creepy, round-headed people with big, round eyes. They were staring down at Shandra and Mark. There were kings and queens, goofy-looking idiots with buck teeth, spindly men with bushy beards and what were probably soldier’s uniforms, ballerinas, clowns, flowers in flower pots with leafy arms and big-eyed faces on their blossoms, lots of ridiculous things like that.
“They are telling us to look at the big trunk there on the floor,” said Mark.
“I didn’t hear them say anything,” said Shandra.
“They want us to get into the trunk.”
“They say they will help us find a new home.”
Shandra didn’t want to believe a word of it at first. She didn’t hear the wooden heads say anything at all. This weren’t no fantasy movie with magic and junk in it.
“They say it’s the only way,” Mark pleaded.
So, only because they were desperate to escape the city… And Mark seemed to think it was a good idea.
The trunk was big enough for both of them to sit in it if she faced Mark and put her legs over his legs. They both leaned towards each other, and the lid came down by itself. The lock clicked as if someone had turned a key.
“Uh-oh,” said Shandra, “We’re screwed!”
Then the lock clicked again.
“So, Mr. Mephisto, how about these?” said the creepy guy who ran the store.
“Ah, perfect!” said Mr. Mephisto, lifting the two puppets, Mark and Shandra, out of the trunk by their strings.