24 Dec Mr. Otter
“Mr. Otter”Written by Ryan Peacock Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available
⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 11 minutes
You know when I was a kid, I used to love indoor playgrounds. I’m sure I’m not the only one.
You go to some unsuspecting building in the middle of some strip mall and inside is no mere store or restaurant. It’s a kingdom that’s only for kids! Inside that building, adventure awaits. There are new friends to be made, games to play, prizes to be won and you wish you could stay there forever! It’s a rush of pure dopamine from the moment you walk in until the moment your parents share the tragic news.
It’s time to go… and it will feel like an eternity until you can go back to that paradise again.
I don’t suppose you need me to tell you how popular indoor playgrounds are for kids’ birthday parties. It’s a pretty easy way to ensure everyone has a good time. Let the kids loose in the playground for a few hours, add in some shitty pizza, a variety of chips a few pitchers of soda and you’ve got yourself a party that no one will forget!
You really can’t go wrong, can you?
I’m not completely sure just how old I was when I went to Brandon Clark’s birthday party. Probably around 6 or 7. I remember that in the weeks leading up to it though, I was stoked. The local indoor playground was dinosaur themed and had a tacky name like Playasaurus. The place has been closed for at least ten years now but back in its heyday, it was the place to be!
My memories of it are a little bit hazy. I only vaguely recall the specifics of the layout but I remember that there was a large structure with tubes, ropes and slides that seemed absolutely massive to six-year-old me. One of the slides went straight into a massive ball pit.
The place was about as close to paradise as my child mind could comprehend. A mixture of sugar, things to climb, tunnels to explore and games to play. Any birthday party there was bound to be good and Brandon’s wasn’t the first one I’d been to that was held at Playasaurus. I’d been to others and even hosted one of my own there.
When the date of the party actually came, I can’t tell you just how excited I was. My parents dressed me in reasonably nice clothes that I could still play in. I got pop tarts for breakfast and I was in the middle of a delightful sugar rush by the time we’d driven over to the party.
I wasn’t the first one there, but Brandon greeted me as if I was his best friend. I remember that he had a narrow head, pasty skin and a wide gap-toothed smile. He was a good kid, even if I always did think of him as a bit of a crybaby.
Brandon and about six other kids had already been unleashed upon the playground and it wasn’t long before I joined them.
We crawled through the tubes, climbed up the ropes and slid down the slides into that massive, wonderful ball pit. The hours melted away as our imaginations ran wild. We were spies, adventurers and superheroes who only broke from their adventures to wolf down bad pizza and cheap soda.
It was a truly wonderful day right up until I met the man in the tubes.
I’d just gotten some pizza and was going back into the playground. I saw Brandon and a few other kids in the ball pit and I was going to follow them down. I climbed the rope ladder that led up to the slide and crawled through the plastic tube leading to it. I vividly remember the sound of other kids running around and screaming in the moment before I entered the tube, but when I actually got inside, the sound seemed to fade away.
Suddenly the playground seemed too quiet but I wasn’t all that bothered. The slide was just up ahead and I was going to get there at any cost.
However just ahead of me, right in the entrance of the slide was a massive black shape.
At first, I thought it was just another kid hogging the entrance to the slide but it looked too big to just be a kid. This was a full-grown adult.
They were dressed in all black and stared down the slide as if they were going to go. I considered pushing them but my Mom had told me not to push people, and so I thought better of it.
Instead, I waited patiently behind them. But whoever they were, they didn’t slide.
The figure in front of me turned slowly. As they did, I caught sight of their face… or at least what covered their face.
Whoever they were, they wore a colorful otter mask that engulfed their entire head. Through the eye holes, I couldn’t see anything but darkness but I was sure that they were looking at me.
Something about their gaze created an anxious pit in my stomach. On instinct, I crawled back away from them.
The Otter Man shifted his body to look at me, studying me carefully before he spoke.
“Don’t go,” he said. His voice was light and upbeat, like a cartoon character. It gave me pause for a moment.
“I’m so sorry! Was I blocking your way? I meant no harm! I just like watching children play.”
That didn’t set off the red flags in my head that it should have and I stopped my retreat for the moment. I studied the Otter Man carefully and he did the same to me.
“Who are you?” I finally asked.
“I’m Mr. Otter! I live in the slide. It’s a bad place to live but a good place to hide.”
“Hide? What are you hiding from?”
“I’m sorry to say, but I’m incredibly shy. I just love to play, of that, I won’t lie. But being out there, makes me want to cry.”
As he spoke, he traced teardrops down the cheeks of his mask with his fingers. I caught myself giggling at him.
“I’d much rather someone stay with me to play, and maybe together we’d make the most of today,” Mr. Otter said. His head tilted slightly.
“Say there my friend, tell me your name. Seeing as I have already told you the same.”
“Oh, well, I’m Benny. Benny Duran.”
“Benny, you say? What a wonderful name. Perhaps you might stay and we can play games.”
Mr. Otter’s dark eyes remained fixated on me. I realized that as he’d spoken, he’d been inching closer to me.
“Why don’t we go and play with my friends?” I offered. “They’re just outside.”
“Your friends? How grand. Do you think they would play? Why don’t we slide down the slide and see what they say…”
With that, Mr. Otter shifted out of my way in a manner that should not have been physically possible. This was a grown man in a little plastic tube that he barely fit into… and yet his body seemed to shrink away, granting me access to the slide.
Slowly, I drew nearer. I should have been able to see the ball pit at the bottom of the slide but instead, I saw nothing.
The slide just seemed to keep going and going and going forever. Without the visible promise of a ball pit at the bottom, I suddenly found it harder to make myself go down.
I remained rooted to the spot before looking over at Mr. Otter. He just watched me from behind the blank eyes of his surreal mask.
Even as a child, I could tell that something wasn’t right. In the low light of the tube, I looked at his body and it seemed… wrong… I could make out no features of him beside a dark, vaguely humanoid shape. The otter mask was the only thing that made him distinct and even then, despite his playful rhymes I found myself trusting it less and less.
Maybe with a bit of coaxing, I might have gone down the slide but in that moment, I had doubts. I retreated back a step and Mr. Otter didn’t move.
“Where are you going, Benny Ben Ben? Aren’t we going to play with all of your friends?”
“I… I need to talk to them first…” I said, desperately trying to think up a lie as I retreated from the dark shape that loomed ahead of me. Mr. Otter took up his position in the middle of the tube again.
“Can you not talk at the end of the slide? If you’ve a reason, my friend, oh please tell me why.”
“I-I don’t want to go down the slide…” I finally managed to say as Mr. Otter skulked closer to me. He moved like some sort of ape, dragging his knuckles on the ground. His body seemed larger than it had before. He towered over me now.
“Why not, my friend? Sliding is fun! If you’re afraid now, you won’t be when it’s done.”
His voice seemed deeper now as he lurched towards me. Out of the corner of my eye, I spotted the rope ladder I’d climbed in through and I ran for it. I swear I felt claws brush the back of my shirt as I leapt out the ladder and fell to the ground below.
The first thing I heard was the crack of my own arm breaking as I hit the ground hard. The second thing I heard was the sound of kids chatting and playing. Everything sounded like it should.
The pain made me scream and start to cry. I clutched at my now broken arm as I tried desperately to crawl away from the ladder. I only glanced back briefly but when I looked up, I saw nothing waiting for me at the top. As far as I could tell, there was nothing in the tube anymore.
I didn’t get that good of a look, though. My pained screaming drew one of the other parents in a matter of seconds and they picked me up to look at my arm.
As they took me away, I remember seeing Brandon standing just outside the ball pit. He and two other kids watched me go before one of them coaxed Brandon up with them. The last I saw of him, he vanished into the tube I’d just been in to take the slide again.
I ended up having to leave Playasaurus early to go to the hospital that day, but my broken arm wasn’t the only tragedy that occurred.
I don’t suppose I need to tell you that three children ‘disappeared’ at Brandon’s party, including Brandon himself.
I recall telling my parents about Mr. Otter, but obviously, they didn’t believe me. The more official story was that one of the employees had taken Brandon and the other two kids and in time, I believed that story, too…
In time, I convinced myself that Mr. Otter was nothing but a scary figment of my imagination. A strange coping mechanism I made up to deal with the fact that three kids went missing at a party I was in. That was it.
My daughter, Amy is 5 years old now and she is the light of my life. I didn’t think I could love anything as much as I loved her but I do. Playasaurus is now closed, I’m sure in no small part due to the three children who went missing almost thirty years ago.
I’d long since forgotten about Mr. Otter and had moved on with my life when Amy got invited to a birthday party at a place called ‘Kidzone’. I thought little of it at the time. Just because I’d had a notably bad experience at an indoor playground didn’t mean that my experiences should taint Amys. I’d just take a few extra safety precautions… I told her never to talk to strange adults unless I was with her, I gave her a cell phone just in case we got separated and showed her how to call me and I resolved to watch her like a hawk at the party. These were all just the actions of a paranoid Father, I know. But they eased any doubts I had about letting my little girl loose in an indoor playground. Besides, I’m of a mind that you can never be too attentive to your children.
The party was going well when I got there. It was a little bit surreal to be the parent at one of these birthday parties now but I got along with the other parents just fine. We ate the awful pizza, drank the cheap soda, and shot the shit while the kids had their fun.
I spent more time watching little Amy than focusing on the conversation, but even then I still enjoyed myself.
Everything seemed to be going fine.
Seemed to be.
Kidzone was different than Playasaurus had been. It was newer and had a cute sci-fi gimmick to it. There was a playset that looked like a rocketship, moons, comets and aliens drawn on the walls and the like. It was no less tacky than Playasaurus had been but I suppose it had its charm as well.
I watched as Amy followed three other kids up into the rocket ship. There was a small spike of anxiety in my chest as I watched through the domed plastic windows of the ship for any sign of her. Occasionally I saw her pass by on her way up to the slide and that anxiety I felt quickly faded away when I saw her appear at the bottom of the slide, in the ball pit. Amy’s new friends followed her and they quickly ran to the next activity.
From the corner of my eye, I thought I caught some movement behind one of the plastic windows of the rocket ship and I idly looked up towards it. The kid in me wished I’d had something that cool to explore back during the days when I could fit in it.
Then in an instant, all of my thoughts went blank.
Looking up through the window, I saw a face that had been buried deep in my memories. A face I was so sure I’d made up… A face I could now no longer deny was real.
A familiar otter mask watched me from the plastic windows. Its dark eyes were unblinking and though there were no pupils I knew they were looking at me.
In an instant, nearly thirty years of my life were stripped away. I became that same scared little boy staring down a slide leading towards infinite darkness as Mr. Otter coaxed me onwards.
I could feel my pulse spiking. My breathing got heavier as my hands began to shake.
Mr. Otter just watched me, his mask betraying no expression, and yet I was sure that I saw a sadistic glee in him.
“Ben?” one of the other parents asked, “Ben are you alright? You look pale!”
I didn’t answer at first. I just stared up at the rocket ship. My focus had only lapsed for a moment but now Mr. Otter was gone.
I could see a few more kids running towards the rocket ship. Amy wasn’t amongst them and my throat was too dry to speak.
“Ben?” one of the other mothers put her hand on my shoulder. I flinched.
“I… I’m fine…” I lied. “Actually, I think I’m feeling a bit sick. I’m sorry… Maybe I should go.”
“Before cake? Are you sure?”
With a shaking head, I nodded.
“Y-yeah… I think I should go. Might’ve been something in the pizza. It just hit me really hard.”
I forced a fake smile that I don’t think anyone bought.
“I’m going to go find Amy. This has been great. It really has.”
“Oh, well, Ben, if you wanted, I could drop Amy off after…”
“I appreciate the offer, but no thanks,” I said hastily. “I really need to head out. I’m sorry.”
With that, I took off. Amy wasn’t far. She was in one of the ball pits and I took her by the hand immediately.
“Sorry, sweetie, but we’ve got to go. Daddy isn’t feeling too well.”
She had her protests of course but I had the final say. I couldn’t have gotten out of Kidzone fast enough and even as I left I felt a heavy stare on me. I barely made it outside before I vomited in a nearby bush. My body felt light. I felt as if I was ready to pass out but somehow I kept myself standing and conscious long enough to get to the car.
After that, it took a few moments before I was ready to drive home.
I heard the news the next day. A child had gone missing at Kidzone. No one from the birthday party, thank God… But that was only a small comfort.
Naturally, the police were involved and technically I told them the truth. I hadn’t seen anything. My account of Mr. Otter probably wouldn’t be something they’d buy into and I didn’t want to push my luck.
I also didn’t want to stand by and do nothing either.
When the police finished their investigation and Kidzone reopened, I returned there one night with a can of gasoline. I broke the glass doors and entered the indoor playground. Devoid of children and life, it was an eerie, unsettling place.
My every instinct told me that I did not belong there but I wasn’t inclined to listen to instinct at this point. I made myself set to work, generously dousing the rocket ship playset in gasoline to make sure that it burned.
The stink of gasoline was almost overwhelming and I retreat from it before taking out my lighter. I half expected to see an Otter mask in the window or hear a rhyming voice but there was no such sound. If Mr. Otter was present, he didn’t make himself known to me.
Even when I lit the flames and the rocket ship started to burn, there was no sound save for the roar of the flames. No guarantee that I’d even harmed the creature that had taken Brandon all those years ago…
I torched the remains of Playasaurus the next night and going forward, I’ll keep an eye out for reports of kids going missing at indoor playgrounds.
I doubt that my actions have affected the creature that’s out there yet… But if I keep attacking, maybe I’ll get lucky.
In the meanwhile, I keep Amy away from playgrounds. My little girl will not become another missing child and if I have anything to say about it, he will never take another child, period! I don’t care if I have to burn down every single playground in the country! I don’t care if I spend the rest of my life in prison for the arsons.
He will not have my Amy.
He will not have anyone else.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableRyan Peacock Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A