I told them to go ahead. I told my husband I needed a cigarette.
In truth, the place terrified me.
The courtyard housed a variety of garden knickknacks: imps, gnomes, little green frogs with smiling faces. The head of a cherub, so child-like and innocent in appearance, sat before an opened cage.
I wonder what animal lives there? I thought.
I stood frozen at the threshold, staring numbly at the sign before me: Puppet Theater.
I put out my cigarette and took a deep breath, mustering my courage, before walking swiftly through the courtyard.
Rust-colored slabs of stone adorned the path, intermixed with yellow shards of mosaic glass. In one direction, the dark rocks were shaped like a set of footsteps, leading the way to the entrance.
A jingle rang through the air as I opened the door, and I was glad to be rid of the courtyard. My happiness was momentary, a darkened room and a musty smell greeting me. I gave my eyes a moment to adjust, and then scanned across rows upon rows of marionettes.
Thousands of eyes stared back at me; a court jester that looked more like a hunchback, a dragon bearing sharp fangs, a gypsy with a wide-spread grin.
A ripple of laughter echoed through the room, startling me from my trance. I followed the source of the sound into another room, this one housing a small stage. Dozens of children sat huddled on the floor, hypnotized by the show.
"I wish I could have a child of my own," a wooden Geppetto was saying.
My eyes scanned the crowd, searching for the flaming red that was my son's hair. When I didn't see Michael among the other children, I looked for my husband.
"Where's Mikey?" I asked as I took a seat.
"He got to go backstage," my husband answered in a proud voice.
When the show was over, the lights came on. In the brightness of the room, I felt foolish for being afraid earlier. My husband and I waited by the stage, but Mikey never came out.
Finally, I approached a woman at the sales counter.
"Excuse me. I'm looking for..."
"I know," she replied, her eyes lighting up as they met my gaze.
She brought a marionette out from underneath the counter. I took one look at it and fell in love. A patch of flaming red atop the wooden boy's head intoxicated me, although it did seem odd and out of place. Suddenly, I couldn't remember what it was that I had been looking for.
"Pinocchio," I whispered.
As my husband and I walked to our car, I felt like I was missing something. I stared at my marionette for a moment.
"You know, he kinda reminds me of someone."
The Harrow: Original Works of Fantasy and Horror. ISSN: 1528-4271
The Harrow is published by THE HARROW PRESSSM