A serialised collection of short horror stories in the Tales from the Crypt tradition. One new story every Sunday.

You might think you know me.

You perhaps know this physical shell. A mouse. But no mouse ever looked like this.

What sort of fevered imagination would conceive of such a thing? And why do millions of children adore it? When they see it physically manifested full-size by a person in a costume, they do not run in terror — they run to embrace it.

And so here I sit, in this machine. A prison of coloured lights, mirrors and polished glass. I sit on a shelf, above the eye-level of most of the patrons of this place. I am the thing they desire. Alongside me sit other deities in this strange pantheon, but unlike me they are just what they appear to be. Toys.

I am different. The young girl that called me into this form, abused by her hated stepfather and by the foreman at the factory where I was made. As she held me, as she had held countless hundreds of toys just like me before, a tear rolled across her bruised and swollen cheek and fell into my lidless embroidered eye. As she uttered the curse — a curse she had secretly overheard from her grandmother — I became. I am Yao Guai. And for aeons I search and practice the ancient magic. I will escape hell. I will approach the gates of the Jade Emperor and claim my rightful place in the retinue of the gods.

The first victim, as my spirit mother desired, was the foreman. He died slowly. I collapsed a stack of boxes on top of him one evening between shifts. His cries for help, as he slowly crushed, fighting for every breath, were never heard. When they found him the next morning the rats had already eaten his eyes. I liked that touch most of all. Forever to stagger blind between worlds. It seemed just.

But do not be fooled by my motive. I have no concern over justice or revenge, these things just add spice to the lives I consume. They change the flavour, nothing more. My second victim was the girl herself. Was that just? Was she not the victim? But she was also the possessor of an ancient power that she did not realise nor could even begin to control. And in her one act of hatred and defiance, she unleashed me on your world. Was she not deserving of death?

How did she die, you ask? That is a story for another time.

The priests of the old country, of the time I was first born as human, they would understand the pernicious nature of this machine, my current home and prison. On the outside, it names itself proudly Everyone a winner! But of course, this is a lie. I and my brethren, sitting on the shelf, are well out of the range of the metal claw that the customers manipulate. Below my yellow-booted feet, hundreds of toys lie piled like the dead on a battlefield. Some of them were made in the same factory as I — but all of them are slightly… wrong. Through the glass and under the bright lights, they look like us. But we are the only ones with the official hologram, proof that we are what we claim to be. We cost many times more than the toys in the pit. We are the the bait, the lure. But we are also, quite safe.

Most of them will never be claimed either — the game is rigged. The claw is expertly and carefully guided by the wide-eyed young faces who peer through the glass — but the claw will not close with enough force to liberate their target. At least, it wouldn’t without my intervention.

Some of the soft corpses have money strapped to their bodies, like the hell money my human parents pushed into my burial shroud. But it is for show. That money was useless to me when the demons ate my feet and threw me into the fire to become one of them. And if by some chance anyone managed to get one of those toys into the chute, they would find that ‘money’ just as useless.

Now — look! Another willing victim approaches, readying the coins in her hand. She has played these games before; she thinks that to have any chance she will need more than one coin.

But today is her lucky day.

Author, photographer and trade union activist. Lived in Japan for 5 years, now working at Cambridge University. Written for Big Finish/BBC Enterprises - Doctor Who and Robin Hood. Two books currently available on Amazon - see my non-fiction on Medium. All content ©Michael Abberton 2020

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