“Uh,Earth to James, did you hear what I said?”

I struggled to keep my face from showing what my body was desperate to reveal.

It’s okay. Calm down. What are you so afraid of?

I leant back from the coffee table and placed my hands firmly on my legs to keep both appendages from trembling.

“James, you dork. I said did you want to see the video?”

Max shifted his chair closer towards me.

I hadn’t seen the guy in over two years but somehow it was as if we were both 12 years old again.

“It’s the one with the montage of all the TV shows we used to watch as kids. I’m telling you it’s nostalgia town, man.”

I grit my teeth.

For Christ’s sake, get a hold of yourself! It’s just a stupid kid’s show.

Max looked at me with those eyes that held all my childhood memories behind their emerald hue.

I gripped my legs harder.

I don’t like those things, dude. They always go for way too long.”

I looked at his face to see if he’d noticed the break in my voice at the end of sentence.

He didn’t.

“Oh no, trust me. This one is short and sweet. It’s got all our favourites in it too.”

He pushed play.

“Wait! Wait!”

I heard the first few notes of “Barney and Friends” and felt a lurch of relief in my chest.

He paused it.

“What’s up?’

“Uh, have you watched the whole video?”

“Yeah, it’s so good, man. You’ll love it.”

“Does it...does it have, um...”

Why are the words so damn hard to say?

“...Cupboard Critters?”

The name felt both foreign and horribly familiar in my mouth.

“Cupboard Critters? Which one was that again?”

I cursed the heavens above for my friend’s goldfish memory.

I didn’t want to have to explain it.

“You know, the one with the...playdough-looking creatures.”

Please don’t make me say any more than that.

“Oh yeah! That creepy one, right? Yeah, it’s in here.”

I felt my stomach shift uncomfortably like the lunch I’d just eaten wanted to make a re-appearance.

“I hated that one,” I muttered.

Max laughed and punched me lightly on the arm.

“Aww, still scared of Dusty, old chap?”


I saw the grotesque creature call Dusty in my head.

His mouth always turned up at the corners with the large white eyes and pinprick pupils that never matched the extremity of his smile.

I exhaled and loosened my grip on my legs.

“No,” I said. “I’m not still scared.” Time to get over it.

“Just checking,” Max grinned.

He pressed play.

The first few snippets were familiar.

Max animatedly spoke of the times we’d watched them together in my living room.

I could almost smell mum’s homemade pumpkin soup wafting from the kitchen as we both sat cross legged in front of the TV eagerly counting down until “Tim’s Toon Time” when all our favourite shows would play back-to-back.

I laughed with Max and enjoyed reminiscing.

Until the single low D note was struck on what sounded like a broken xylophone.

The hairs on the back of my neck immediately stood to attention.

I fought the urge to close my eyes.

Max was eagerly waiting for my reaction like a puppy waiting for a treat.

I cleared my throat and kept watching.

The D note was struck again. 

The red cupboard appeared.

The D note was struck three times and the camera jolted closer to the cupboard doors each time.

There were unintelligible whispers.

The D notes got more incessant and disturbing.

A playdough boy got out of bed and walked with the movement of an astronaut past a window with playdough rain running down the glass like tiny wriggling blue slugs.

His playdough hand knocked on the cupboard door.

It swung open.

There was nothing but darkness.

And then there was an arm.

Yes, an arm.

It was orange and long and the hand on the end of it beckoned from the darkness.

The disproportionate long finger curled unnaturally upwards and downwards so that it looks like it was almost detached from the hand itself.

Then the boy entered the darkness and was transported into Critter Jitters.

“The place where boys and girls will never be alone again.” 

I jumped as Max clapped me on the back with his large hand.

“You remembered it!”

Did I say those words out loud?

“It still gives me the heebie jeebies that one. You?”

I nodded.

I watched the rest of the video montage without truly seeing it.

All I could see was Dusty and his horrifying friends.

Their toothless mouths that never quite matched what they were saying. 

Their faces melting and morphing and never quite staying the same.

Their tricks and traps and how Critter Jitters was never a place you would want to stay.

“How awesome was that?”

Max was smiling and he looked momentarily like one of them, his mouth upturned at the corners but not quite reaching his eyes.

“It was awesome,” I whispered.

When Max frowned at my lack of enthusiasm, I nodded to add some credibility to the lie.

“Good times, right?”

“Good times.”

“Remember when we tried to find Critter Jitters in your mum’s cupboard that time?”

I inhaled sharply.

Wait, I thought that had been a nightmare?

“...We did?”

“Yeah and we found it, right?” He winked and I was suddenly overcome with the urge to go home.

I stood up and announced that I’d forgotten that I’d left a window open and it looked like it was going to rain outside. 

Max offered to drive me home given the approaching storm clouds.

I declined.

Mainly because his face made the D notes play in my head over and over again and I couldn’t stand it any longer.

We parted ways with the silent knowledge that we likely wouldn’t see each other again for another few years.

Or maybe never again.

When I got home to my tiny apartment, I immediately grabbed a towel and dried my wet hair.

I’d gotten caught in the downpour within a few yards of my doorstep.

I peeled my wet clothes off my body and went to lie down on my bed. 

I’m a nutcase. It’s just a kid’s show.

I pulled the covers up and reached for my phone.

A text message from Max.

“Good to see you again, buddy. Take care.”

I lowered the phone and stared at the cupboard ahead of me.

Perhaps I was paranoid but I could have sworn in that moment that it was a shade of deep crimson red.

I blinked hard but it stayed the same.

A trick of the light?

I glanced at the window to my right.

Raindrops were falling down.

Like tiny slithering slugs.

I pulled the covers up tighter to my chin.

And then I heard it.

A single D note.

It came from my phone.

My heart hammered a deathly beat as I picked it up.

It was Max again.

“P.S. Dusty says come and play. :)”

April 24, 2020 06:50

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