Thursday, March 19, 2015

Short Story Hour: Return of the Peeps

I wrote the short story "House of Peeps" as part of National Writing Date Day this past September. It was based on a writing prompt: make me afraid of the Easter bunny. I decided to work on a sequel to the story just in time for peak Peeps season. It's not particularly Easter-y but then again are sugary marshmallow bunnies and chicks really all that Easter-y?

It was getting harder and harder to avoid the seasonal candy aisle. Stores seemed to put the holiday candy out earlier each year. Of course, Easter was no longer the only holiday for Peeps; every holiday seemed to be in on the game. Margaret wondered how long it would be until there was a groundhog shaped Peep or awkward President shaped Peeps. There wasn't much difference between that and the pumpkins and trees and snowmen. If the added shapes weren't enough there were all the added flavors. It was too much.

Margaret did her best to avoid the holiday candy aisle whenever she went to Target or the grocery. At her local Target she had a route worked out that took her from electronics through toys and fitness to land at the edge of the regular grocery section. She could completely bypass the seasonal section. She employed this route strategy from late September (after back to school sales ended) through the end of April when Easter items gave way to summer. It was the only way she could avoid shelf after shelf of seemingly innocent marshmallow candy. She knew looks where deceiving and that the little bunnies and chicks were more vicious than anyone could imagine.

Two years had passed since the Peeps Murders, as they had been called, rocked her Arlington neighborhood. Of course it had also been the one year she finally decided to enter the annual Peeps diorama contest. Margaret's diorama depicted four famous horror movie villains in iconic scenes from their films. In each of the Peeps Murders, references were made to the movies and Peeps were found smashed at the scene. Margaret was convinced that her diorama was evil and that the marshmallow characters were to blame. She had even found blood on one of the monsters she created. She burned the diorama and the killings stopped. Margaret vowed to never buy a Peep again.

Margaret's thoughts were interrupted by the ping of her cell phone. It was a text from her boyfriend, Sam. He was the only other person that knew about the diorama and its destruction. He had actually helped build part of it. He didn't think the Peeps were to blame (necessarily) but supported a Peeps free lifestyle.

Are you still at Target? I'm leaving now. Should be @ your place in 15."

Margaret quickly responded, Just got in line. You'll probably beat me there. Had to avoid the seasonal aisle. It seems to be growing.

She knew he thought her fear was getting out of hand but he was nice enough to hide that from her most of the time. She loved him more for that and knew she needed to address this problem but Target was not the place for therapy. Sam replied that he'd get dinner started and the movie ready. It was Friday night movie night.

Make sure to check on Arthur's water. I fed him before I left but you know how he is about the water bowl.

Arthur was her/their bulldog. He lived with Margaret but they adopted him together. When they adopted the dog, Sam wasn't ready to move in together but pet parenting was apparently okay. Arthur was a great dog but he tended to stand in his water bowl when full or flip it for no reason. They had tried all the suggestions to get him to stop but he didn't. Now they just let him do it and cleaned up the mess. Recently, they had begun looking at apartments together. Maybe Arthur's water bowl issues would be resolved when they all lived together.

The line was moving fast. The couple in front of her must have children or were planning a massive Easter party. They had everything you could dream of putting in an Easter basket and then some. Margaret didn't recall her childhood Easter baskets including action figures, Legos, and Barbies. Among the chocolate bunnies and jelly beans, she spotted packages of Peeps in every color, shape, and flavor available. She focused on putting her items on the belt. Every bunny reminded her of the mangled marshmallow Freddy Krueger she created. She had to stop this. Peeps were not evil. It had just been a coincidence two years ago. Marshmallows couldn't be possessed.

Later that evening
Sam was snoring lightly as Margaret tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. She was having trouble sleeping. She had woken up two times already after weird dreams involving Peeps chasing her and demanding her soul. Sam and Arthur both slept through it all. She didn't want Sam to know anyway. Earlier in the evening, she told him she was done worrying about the Peeps and avoiding the seasonal candy aisle. He had been proud of her and excited that it was finally done. She couldn't wake him up now. She crept out of bed, heading to the living room for some television.

She flipped through her usual standard channels: comedy shows, Hallmark movies, cooking show, and travel programs. She settled one of those extreme cake baking challenge shows. Of course the featured ingredient was Easter candy with Peeps being a major focal point for most of the competitors. It looked like one had even made some sort of Peep filled city. Margaret had to force herself to watch the show until the end. It would be a first step to her letting go of her Peep fears. The show ended (Peep city did not win) but Margaret felt no more tired than she had when she started and no more at ease with the Peeps. She flipped to one of the movie channels and watched the end of a cheesy romantic comedy before returning her bedroom. Sam threw his arm around her as she settled back into bed. She eventually drifted off into an uneasy, dreamless sleep.

Monday morning
The weekend had gone by too quickly as weekends do. Margaret and Sam spent most of the time looking at new apartments and hanging out at the dog park with Arthur. Their leases were up in June so they had a few months to find something. Margaret was excited about the prospect of a new place and the next phase of her life with Sam. She dropped him at the airport Sunday night with instructions to keep the search going while he was away at a conference. They could look at places when he got back on Friday. She had slept well the rest of the weekend and had lots going on at the museum this week. She was teaching several art classes (mostly painting) and leading a few tours of the collection for school groups. Margaret loved her job and that she was making a living as an artist.

Margaret was startled by a loud thud right outside her apartment. Probably just someone leaving for work in a hurry, she thought. She didn't really know most of her neighbors that well. It was mostly nods and sort of friendly hellos in the elevator. Most people seemed totally fine; youngish professionals or government workers who lived in Arlington and kept to themselves. She knew her next door neighbor a bit and there were a few "eccentric" characters in the building but no one Margaret considered a friend.

She finished her coffee, checked on Arthur, and grabbed her bag. When she opened the door to leave she found the source of the thud. A package, addressed to her, had been tossed at the door. Margaret looked up and down the hall but no one was around. Packages weren't delivered to apartments normally so she was a little surprised it was there. She picked it up and went back inside. Should she open it? Throw it away? There was no return address on the box and nothing extraordinary about the packaging. Maybe one of her neighbors picked it up by accident and didn't think anyone was home so they left it. That had to be it. She decided to open it.

She grabbed kitchen scissors and sliced open the tape. Inside was another box wrapped in bright pink paper. The brightness of the paper immediately made her think of a Peep. It was the exact shade of pink. She hesitated before unwrapping the box.

Margaret screamed and dropped the box on the counter. Arthur started barking and running around her in circles.

Inside the box were four Peeps made up to look exactly like Freddy, Jason, Leatherface, and Michael Myers. They looked eerily similar to the Peeps she had created two years ago. But she had burned them. And then burned the ashes again just to make sure they gone.

A piece of paper fluttered to the floor. The words made Margaret shudder.

One, two Freddy's coming for you...

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