I am going to tell a very strange story which you may not believe but whether you believe it or not will not affect the truthfulness of it.
It all started on a Thursday afternoon as I was nearing my destination for a night of camping near the little town of Mountain Springs in the United States and the state of Arkansas. The sky was cloudy and there had been a lot of rain but I needed some time alone so I was going to have some solitude in spite of the dismal weather.
Mountain Springs is a typical American small town with friendly folks, a used car lot or two, and a small grocery store with all the amenities of the large ones but easier access. After buying some eggs, bread, coffee and bacon for my next couple of meals, and loading them in the car, I noticed a small flea market in an old building which it shared with a beauty salon. Always on the lookout for a rare book or a piece of art, I was glad to stumble upon and into this quaint little establishment. Though rather small, this was a typical shop with shelves and tables full of knick-knacks, mostly others garage sale items that the proprietor hoped to make a small profit on by reselling here. A good deal for the proprietor and the flea marketer as it is worth my time for them to spend their weekends scouring the yard sales and collect the off-beat items while allowing me a chance to view them in the market setting. This particular outlet had a couple of women and a man, all elderly, sitting and talking to each other, which was good for myself as I could peruse the goods without being 'bothered' by conversation.
Flea Marketing is a bit like diamond hunting but with better odds and smaller payoffs. You gamble the time spent looking with little chance you will find anything of value. Still it is a fun adventure if your schedule permits and if your timing is right a small treasure may be yours for little money. As I glanced over the salt and pepper shakers, old wooden souvenirs, books and standard junk you have to overlook I realized this was not an ordinary antique store. On one bookcase stood reptile cages and terrariums with various animals and insects inside. Beside the turtle, frog and lizard there was a small rattlesnake nestled in a corner of an aquarium along with some unknown variety of snake in the opposite corner. A large Gila monster was devouring a piece of apple and it's collar was fully flexed to reveal quite a menacing look. A four inch ebony black scorpion was in a jar sitting perfectly still and next to that in a thick-wired cage was what appeared to be a horned-toad with two tails. I real;ized this was not a typical setting for such a menagerie of odd creatures and would not be out of place in the San Francisco Zoo or a museum of odd artifacts. The old folks backs were to me and paid no attention to what I was doing and I asked no questions as I was content to explore in peace.
I milled around the place until I came to a spot where there was no organized booth, only a mess of junk and boxes spilled into a pile of old tools, blankets, kitchen utensils and other various bric-a-brac. It was here that I first saw the subject of this narrative. It had an arm missing, worn, small hand-made clothing and a freakish head that jarred the soul, with a huge projection of carved, colored protrusions where the back of the head should be. Upon close inspection, I found it was an ancient puppet, obviously exquisitely made and at one time a very expensive, one-of-a-kind doll. The face was scary and mesmerizing, daring you to look away and yet sad. The whole tale of this puppet spoke of royalty long since lost but pride as the old clothes, sequined and fancily made, had long since become dirty and faded, yet still worn proudly by the wooden King. I surmised this carved decoration to be either a professional puppeteers prized possession or the toy of a wealthy person's child. Long golden arms and hands attached to sticks by wires allowed movement and instead of legs the long flowing garments covered a pole that extended from the bottom of the torso that hid the hand of the puppeteer. These were not of origin of the New America but possibly from South America or Portuguese handiwork, though I was not sure why I thought this.
One look at the face, the artistic carving and the detailed dressings and I knew I was onto a rare opportunity. I made a glance toward the store workers and then purveyed the piece quickly as I did not want to show my excitement. I looked for a tag marking the price and there was not one, always bad for the buyer as he is then forced to ask one and show his hand, so to speak. I grimaced and quickly interrupted their conversation and asked the price of the broken doll. I was looking into the eyes of the lady sitting behind the old register but in the corner of my eye, I was sure I saw the old man give off a smile that spoke of hope and freedom. I assumed from that expression that a big number was about to quoted, ending the whole affair, but instead she answered that there were two of them and they were really old. She did not give the price so I asked again this time looking at the man's face and he could not help but repeat the same expression this time with twice the convicton that there was hope something good might befall him. She answered this time with a price, "ten dollars but you have to buy the pair, there was a third one but I don't know where it is." Keeping cool, I did not answer but I knew I had stumbled onto a good thing and it was hard to keep from showing it. I asked where the other was and the old man got up and took a key ring from the woman. He then walked over to the large cage with the two-tailed toad in it and lifted it with the scorpion in tow on top and set them on the floor to the left of the box they were on. This box was draped over with an old Indian blanket which he removed to reveal a small lock keeping the contents of it somewhat safe. A small key on the chain opened it and he pulled out an old brown paper sack which he handed to me. Inside was the second puppet, obviously a mate, the Queen perhaps, to the male puppet I had already seen. A weirder sight I have rare viewed than those two puppets side by side and a split-second repulsion went through my body as if to say 'leave it alone' but I paid no attention to it and pulled out two five dollar bills and handed to the lady. I noticed an arm was missing off of the male doll and some loose wires indicated other missing parts and the fellow told me they had them around somewhere and when he found them he would hold them for me. I thanked them and exited the old building then deposited the two relics into my trunk eager for a closer inspection in a more suitable setting.
As the day was late and I still had to set up camp I hurried down the road to my camp site. Arriving at my camp site I hurriedly set up my kitchen and tent and prepared my meal with just enough light left when I finished to clean the dishes and pour one last glass of beverage before climbing into my teardrop camper for a bit of reading and a movie on the small screen.
Before I retired to my portable cabin I opened the trunk and considered removing the puppets for closer inspection but decided the hour was too late and the light too dim, so I chose to save that pleasure for the next morning. I closed and locked the trunk and climbed into the camper for the night. I relaxed in the camper for two to three hours and finally went to sleep around midnight after quite a relaxing evening. The night was almost uneventful but I was awoken once by some slight noises outside the camper which I took to be wild animals scrounging for scraps that I had thrown into the woods beside my camping spot. I awoke the next morn to a nippy chill and dressed and put on a jacket then proceeded to light the stove and cook sausage, eggs and toast all to be washed down with some percolated coffee. The sky was blue and the sun was beginning its' daily ascent and I was glad I had come out here as the peace had done my inner self some good. My plan was to head back home this morning, which was only an hour away, but I was in no hurry and after breakfast I took walk into nature and then began to slowly break camp and pack up.
Here is where the first odd thing happened, though at the time, I had no idea where it would lead to. Upon unlocking and opening the trunk I saw a bag of potato chips had been opened and a soda can was on its side and showed leakage from a hole poked into its shell. It was also obvious the dolls had been moved to a different position than I had left them in. I studied this scene and decided that the can must have been punctured on my trip down here and I just missed it and maybe a mouse somehow found its way into the trunk and opened and scattered the chips. The dolls seemed to be too large for a mouse to move yet I knew there was no access from trunk for anything larger though I really did not know how a mouse could have gotten in. Still, the explanation seemed the only logical one and as nothing of much value was damaged I cleaned up the small mess and afterwards finished packing and headed home.
I arrived home about one in the afternoon and after putting away my camping gear I unloaded my treasures, placing them on the kitchen bar and turning on the overhead flourescent light. I got a magnifing glass from the library and sat on the stool for a study of these strange wooden objects that I considered to be rare hand-carved and painted works of art. The painted colors were bold and strong and the artisan was skilful as his hand had whittled striking features into the wood. The back of the head was so garrish and freakish as to be repulsive and attractive at the same time. The clothes were also meticulously made with details in stitching and design that required talent and time to complete. The sticks for manipulating the puppet were painted in gold which showed signs of fading as did the garments, but the colorful paints on the head remained vibrant, thought soiled and scratched from use and abuse. However the most striking features of this pair were the outlandish, queer, evil faces, and it seemed surely the creator was in touch with a dark side of his psyche when he fashioned them.
Unfortunately there were no marks to show authorship but I did find hidden behind the dress an old price tag on the King listing the item for $115. I wondered when I saw this why the old woman sold them both for the small sum of ten dollars and I remembered the odd look of hope on the man's face when I purchased them. I also thought about the locked box under the mutated horned-toad and why the second doll was kept there. I had no idea what lie ahead of me but was just beginning to get the notion that something was strange here. That night I did some internet research and learned that marionettes something like these were from the early twentieth century and used in Gothic devil-worship seances. The information was rather cryptic and there were no identifying pictures but the descriptions seem to fit what I had found. No valuation could be found and some of the posts were rather confusing with odd stories thay did not make sense... at the time.
That night I carried one of the puppets to bed and left the other on the kitchen bar. I held it in the bed lamp's light and gave it one more thorough inspection thinking about the artist taking a raw piece of wood and caring this macabre head, then painting life into the eyes, ears and mouth, then stripping some branches for arms and hands and adding the wires and poles to maneuver it, possibly ove a hundred years ago. Then another artist would cut and sew the delicate attire to be applied to finish the effect. I set the puppet on my night stand and drifted off to sleep. I am as sure about this asI am that I am writing this now. However the next morning the doll was gone! I awoke, rubbed may eyes and looked to my nightstand and immediately noticed the King was gone. I looked on the floor by the nightstand..nothing there. I live alone so there was noone else who would have access to do this. I went straight to the kitchen and there on the bar were the pair of dolls lying beside each other, each, I imagined with a mischeivious look on their faces. It was here I should have realized something was amiss. However I surmised that somehow in the night I awoke and without realizing it, returned the King by the Queen on the bar. It was the only explanation that made sense. I then turned from the bar and noticed two dead mice, partially eaten, on the floor. I had a cat but he had never been fond of anything other than his cat chow, even when I offered him beef or chicken from my meal, and he was three years old. Still, I assumed he must have had an opportuntity and taken it. I was not prepared for what was to follow.
The next night, still unaware of the situation, I left both puppets on the bar unsure of whether I would try to resell them or keep them for some sort of odd display. I was enchanted by their history and had grown fond of their freakish look, and I thought they would be fun to have behind a glass shelf to show to visitors to my home. I thought I might write up the small amount of history I had gleaned from my online researching and print a small placard to put in the case with them. I went to bed that night only to awaken to a weird surprise the next morning.
I arose as usual, shaved, dressed and brushed, then left the bedroom to prepare breakfast. Upon the kitchen floor, in a puddle of blood, lay my cat, dead, with the throat showing a small puncture wound. A small amount of his lower legs had sme muscle and tendon missing as if he had been chewed on by some carnivore from the wild. I sank in a feeling of pity wondering how my poor feline coud have befallen such a fate. For three years, my cat was my closest companion who I spoke too and many evenings sat with as I read or watched television. He was very friendly and followed me as I went about my daily and evening activities. He would be missed, but what could have happened in my own kitchen for him to meet such a violent fate. Then I glanced at the bar and as unbelievable as it might seem, the little puppets had traces of red around their painted lips! What was going on here! This made no sense at all. I went to my couch and sat in reflection on these events.
I thought back to the open canned drink and chips in my trunk, the night the King was no longer by my nightstand, and the dead mice. What was happening and who could I call about this strange sequence of events. What should I do. To tell someone that I thought these puppets where coming to life seemed preposterous. I decided the best thing to do was nothing but wait and see if something else happened. I really felt as it I had no choice. To lock the puppets up in some container seemed insane, as if I was giving in to my own common sense. I would put the dolls on a shelf and regain my composure. This was the only logical thing to do. That day I buried my cat in my backyard and vowed to stay away from replacing him for a year or so. I rethought all that had happened and while I could not come up with a plausible explanantion, I realized it was foolish to think that the King and Queen had anything to do with it. So I simply wrote it off as a mystery and climbed into bed again that night.
But not before I placed the dolls in a trunk that was located in my storage room. It was an old trunk that I had gotten from my mother and I had some old photo albums and trinkets my from youth inside. I thought I would place the puppets inside and then if anything odd happened it would prove that my crazy thoughts about them were ill-founded. I went to bed sad about my cat but over any notion that there was anything supernatural at work. This was the 21st century and science had long since proven that things like puppets coming to life and doing evil deeds were superstition. I slept soundly and awoke at seven a.m. feeling quite refreshed and prepared to return for another week at work. I manicured myself, dressed, dined on breakfast and had all but forgotten the curious events until I was about to walk out the door and realized my pet was not there to bid me adieu. After a second of sad reflection I opened the door and left in my car for a normal day at work after such an odd weekend.
I came home from work early, about two in the afternoon as things were slow, grabbed my mail and entered my house, and the absence of my cat greeting me reminded me of the pair of wooden people I had stored in the trunk. I knew it was silly but I thought I would go check on them. Upon entering the storage room I looked at the chest on the floor and immediately saw the latches were undone and the locking hasp was hanging down and open. I grabbed the lid and pulled it open to find the puppets gone. A quick search of the house revealed nothing until I came to the back door which was slightly ajar. I had not left it this way and either someone had entered or left by this exit, I did not know which. I searched the house again but the puppets were not to be found. My mind raced as all the events of the past few days bounced in my brain.
I thought of only one thing, the smile of hope on the old man's face as I purchased the two dolls. I grabbed my car keys and jumped in my car. An hour later I was in Mountain Springs and five minutes later I pulled up to the building that housed the beauty salon and .... a for lease sign on the flea market door. I saw the salon was still open so I opened the door and found the stylist busy with a late customer. I introduced myself and politely asked about the folks next door or at least who used to be next door. She seemed a little hesitant but when I told her I was looking for some items I had purchased from them she told me they left suddenly on Thursday night. Thursday was the day I had been there and purchased the dolls. The stylist said she had heard a lot of noise when she was closing up that evening and looked out to see them hurriedly emptying the contents of the flea market into a truck, at least the few valauble items they had. The rest was piled on the roadside for the garbage men to haul off. She said she spoke to them to find out why they were leaving but they refused to talk. Then she sternly told me that was all she knew and would I please leave her shop. I tried to ask her if anything odd had happened while they shared the building but she only opened the door and gestured me out.
As I stood outside the sad, old building I pondered what to make of all these things. I walked over to the flea market door entrance and looked in the window and saw the place was bare. I shook my head and then grabbed the door knob to find it unlocked. I turned the knob and pushed the door open and slowly entered what was now a dark, quiet, eerie setting. The placed had been emptied and the floors swept and I could not find one clue anywhere as to the identities of the proprietors. I ambled about the place and ended up by the back door which I opened to view a small backyard with a few plants and other shrubbery behind which were trees into a forest. I walked out into the lawn searching for snything that might lead to an answer. The grass was recently mowed and as I looked around some of the bushes I noticed by the trees, hiding behind an old flowerbed there was a spot where the earth was brown and raised in a small heap. I went over for a closer look and there in the fresh dirt was the arm of my puppet, the King. The hand had some of the clay soiling on it and I picked it up while mey heart rate sped up. I brushed it clean and stuck it in my jacket as I looked around for anything else. A small shovel rested against the water spigot at the rear of the building and I got it and began digging in the loose dirt wondering what I would find. The shovel quickly hit something solid and after scooping some dirt out I could see bright colors emanating from the hole. A piece of cloth, a wire, a large wooden torso, and then another freakish wooden puppet head all appeared to have been buried here. After a complete exhumation, I had the broken of pieces of another one of the odd marionettes. This one appeared to be a child and seemed to come to a violent end with splintered pieces and torn doll clothing amidst the wreckage. After a minute of solemn thought, I dumped the pieces back into the grave and reburied them trying to make the sight look as I had found it. I wanted no reminders of this devilish incident to haunt me.
I was ready for this mystery in my life to be over. I drove home, quite tired by this time and entered my house. I removed my jacket and as I set it on the counter I heard a small clink from the pocket. I reached in to see what it was and pulled from the pocket the arm I had found at the grave.
There is no dramatic conclusion to this story, just the odd facts presented above, which surely sound like a lunatics story.
That is the tale I tell of the flea market marionettes. The golden arm is locked in a small black box in my cupboard. Occasionally I remove it and as I look at it I wonder on these things. If you are ever a guest, only ask and I will open the box so you can examine for yourself the severed arm of the King puppet.
I did use my cell phone to take two pictures of these puppets of the devil which you can scroll down too. If you ever see a pair like this in a flea market, I advise you to leave as fast as you can.
SCROLL OVER THE PICTURE WITH YOUR MOUSE CURSOR