This story is by E.C. Sullivan and was part of our 2021 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
If my father had paid attention to the many red flags that warned his children would be pure trouble—dark little psychos—he could have avoided ending up in the belly of a whale. Geppetto got what was coming to him. I mean, what did he think would happen?
It was he who carved us from dead, hollowed driftwood. With leathery hands and rusted tools, he screwed our scratchy limbs to the coarsest of string—strings meant to be jerked and yanked—all for a few cheap, slapstick laughs.
And it was to the low, sad hum of cryptic pirate hymns learned from his youth at sea that he slapped us with shoddy, chipping paint, leaving my mismatched blue eyes distant and beady.
Then, on the coldest night hour, without care or thought for our missing heart space and with deep-rooted bitterness in his own, he wished upon a most peculiar wishing star. His cursed wish manifested somewhat to life, a nightmarish trap—dangling us between a child’s consciousness and a splintered purpose—a fate worse than death.
But here is the funny thing about fate. It does not care about your plans, and neither do I.
“Penny, be a good girl and stay put,” said Geppetto as he hurried Pinocchio to school.
When the chores were done, the shelf was where I sat. For my father had only ever wanted a real boy.
Tales rarely tell about the practice fodder, the control group, the test gone wrong in a mad scientist’s experiment. That’s me—the forgotten parts and neglected pieces that went rightfully, delightfully, bad. The sister.
“Pinocchio, go straight to school,” my father warned.
“I promise, father,” my brother lied.
When brainless and the geezer finally left the shop, I was free. I crawled down from my shelf, made coffee, black, and pulled out my faithful flask. I sipped from my hot, spiced cup and browsed a stolen copy of the Daily Fable.
“FREAKSHOW IN TOWN: MUSIC, ENTERTAINMENT, MAN EATING WHALE, AND FRIED FOOD! BRING CASH!” the ad read.
Bingo. Sitting ducks, I mused.
Like a giddy toddler hunting for golden Easter eggs, I skimmed to find the latest criminal highlights. Oh, how I craved to live the dream, to be the offender, the bamboozler, the felon!
“CLYDE AND SWEETHEART BONNIE STRIKE AGAIN!” the next headline read.
I puffed my cigar and let my think-wheels churn. My thoughts picked up speed, and, with each turn, I sat a little straighter, and my painted smirk grew wider. That’s it! I needed a partner in crime.
With a Clyde at my side, I would be unstoppable. Our first hit would be to rob the distracted dopes, sluggish on sugar, with pockets full of coin, at the Freakshow. It would be epic, wickedly scandalous. We’d hide out, drink martinis, swap vile daydreams, and cackle from deep within our guts with our heads flung back—maybe even tongue kiss if I liked it.
Unfortunately, you will not find anything in the paper about my great escape from that pitiful woodcarver’s workshop. It was lackluster as Pinocchio ran off to Pleasure Island and Geppetto set out indefinitely to retrieve him. I simply dropped my machete and walked out the door.
I met the kid in an alley. I was drawn to the shadowy corner that smelled of urine and seedy crime. Perhaps, it was where one would find a Clyde, I reckoned.
The kid was peering into stinky bins, placing treasures into an oversized coat. “Who’s there?” she asked, turning at the sound of my impatient, tapping wooden shoe.
“Your worst nightmare,” I answered sinisterly.
Unphased, with no survival instincts whatsoever, and oblivious to the many warning signs—LIKE A TALKING BADASS PUPPET GIRL—she smiled at me. Savage, I thought.
She hopped off the crate. “No, really, who are you?” she asked again.
And that is when I saw him. He was heart-shatteringly handsome and peeking out from the kid’s pocket. Made of leftover leather scraps, his right button eye glinted under the streetlight as if to wink. He wore white pajamas, and his glorious sand-stuffed muscles were crooked-stitched with the thickest purple yarn. His pencil and sticker tattoos made it clear that this was a bad, very bad boy. I bit my lip.
“He’s a ninja,” she said proudly. “And I am Mabel.”
Clyde said nothing through his perfect, sutured mouth. Just my type. Quiet. I had to have him.
Now, I could hardly tell this bright-eyed creature the truth: that I would most certainly rob her of him. He is a blackbelt, so there will be violence, eventually a kidnapping, and crying, followed by torture and brainwashing.
The cleverest, most evil way to steal Clyde was to use my extraordinary smarts to trick her.
“My name is Penny, and I am your conscience,” I said.
She looked at me skeptically. “My conscience?”
“Ugh…Your fairy godmother sent me,” I replied, slightly rolling my eyes.
And it was that easy. The kid shrieked with delight.
For every night “since forever,” she had wished the very same wish, for her best friend to come to life. “I made him myself,” she said proudly.
The kid’s got skills, I thought. “Chill. You probably don’t even have the chops to pass the test.”
“Oh, I have chops,” she sassily boasted in a dramatic karate pose, causing me to fall over in a fit of giggles and greasy tears.
“Listen here, conscience, I will prove that I am brave, unselfish, and truthful,” she pleaded.
“Ha! This is not some old fairy tale,” I mocked, composing myself and wiping my eyes. “No, stupid. You must show me that you are reckless, selfish, and dishonest.”
The kid paused, then mustered up her best glare-face. “Prepare to be amazed by my darkness!” she warned.
“Alright, let’s get this over with then,” I said with a sigh and shrug. And with my perfect plot in evil motion, the three of us set off.
The Freakshow did not disappoint. It spread wide and wacky along the fisherman’s boardwalk. We scoped out our turf, passing a breakdancing bear and acrobat monkeys. Visitors took rides on balloons or ogled the twirling-mustached-maidens. A symphony of neverland new-wave beats and happy screams pulsed and roared, and the kid ate pink spun sugar.
“Do we have to pillage? Can we just have fun?” she asked.
“Chops,” I reminded. “Put these on.”
We put on our five-finger-discount sunglasses and went to work. And boy, did we hit the jackpot! I blended in with the freaks, schmoozing and swindling the crowd, and the kid’s fingers, still sticky, made excellent pickpocketers. Admittedly, Clyde was a bit of deadweight, taking up pocket space with no evildoer ideas.
Stuffed with all the fortune we could carry, we skipped toward the neon exit sign.
“Gotcha!” said a towering, broad-bellied man with licorice-like legs as he snatched the kid hard by the shoulder. In the tussle, the kid dropped Clyde.
“Penny, help me!” she cried as the angry man dragged her away.
I picked up Clyde and dusted off his beautiful bald head. “Alone, at last, my love.”
After shoving a clown, we ended the perfect date day with a romantic hot-air-balloon ride over the boardwalk. With the full moon behind us, I leaned in for our naughty first kiss.
“What do we do with dirty thieves?” blasted the man over the megaphone.
“Fish bait!” yelled the crowd repeatedly.
Overcome by a tingle, likely indigestion, I thought of the kid and our good times. Clyde slouched. He’s quite lazy, I noticed.
It was then that my vengeful senses kicked in. I fired up the balloon and sped toward the fish tank, where the blindfolded kid was force-walking the plank.
The hunger-starved whale circled below, thrashing in its glass prison. Mabel took a final step, falling like a sack of potatoes in the wind, before I heroically and epically swoosh-rescued her. She landed in the balloon basket with a thud.
In a tantrum fit, the whale bashed the walls until they cracked and buckled under brute force, unleashing a tidal spill of destruction. It escaped into the great sea, straight toward Pleasure Island. “Be free, beast!” I cheered.
“My wish!” Mabel squealed, throwing her arms around me.
“I lied, Mabel. I’m not your conscience.”
“I know, Penny. You’re my best friend—brave, unselfish, and truthful.”
“Gross,” I complained, as a glowing, glittering, periwinkle light engulfed me. It whimsically whittled away my old deadwood frame, leaving me with a new twisted fate—the life of a real girl.
I picked up Clyde, who remained unchanged. “You can have him,” Mabel offered.
“Nah, I want a real man. You keep him.”
A week later, I took a long slurp of margarita and browsed the latest headlines.
“GIRLS UNLEASH LEGENDARY DESTRUCTION AT FREAKSHOW!”
“MAN AND SON SURVIVE BELLY OF WHALE!”
“Ha! How delightfully terrible!” I chuckled.
“What do we do next?” asked Mabel.
“ROBIN HOOD AND LITTLE JOHN STEAL FROM RICH AND GIVE TO POOR!”
I pondered, puffed my cigar, and grinned. “Something so good, it’s wicked.”