Someone's gonna die tonight.
It might be me, Ronnie Tate. Or it might not. Shrug. It doesn't matter anymore since my sister... she's gone? Can you be gone if you're still around, but changed?
Look. Either way, this isn't gonna end pretty, and I'm gonna have to clear out for a while... so here I am. Typing. I don't even like computers, but this note is because Mom and Dad aren't around, still searching the harbour, and they deserve to know why. Like, either why am I gonna be splashed all over every front page, "Teenaged Delinquent Arrested for Geriatric Murder", or why they're gonna find me floating face down off the pier, right by Jolly Jack's Arcade, getting my face being pulled apart by all the ring billed gulls and eels? Unless... unless that man does the same to me what he did to... no! No-no-no! I'm not going to go the gross way my sister went, or maybe went! I don't even know if that last Snapchat she sent me was even her, and not some sick prank by that guy!
But maybe... if the message was true... if the sister I love has been changed...
Ok, back up, here's how it is.
I'm not your average nineteen year old guy. Never have been. And my family is hardly a normal family either; it's all because of Monique, my little sister and favourite human. She... she's unique; with her super long bright orange pigtails and that sailor outfit she loves, she sees the world very, very differently from any other fifteen year old, through those big hazel eyes. We've pretty much had to stay at home and make sure her uniqueness doesn't land her in some kinda trouble. Her state of mind... hah... she can get pretty excitable sometimes. It's a handful. I've always stayed at home to help out with her, and it's usually so much fun! Or, it was.
She was such a cute quirk of nature, until two days ago.
God, has it really only been two days? Was it really only two days ago that I still had to go and check on her every hour? Was it that recently that she'd run into my room while I slept and jump on my stomach, squealing that the big cargo ships were coming in, and we had to go and see them now-now-now? And could it really only be then that she last stole my computer and forced me to watch all that nautical anime she's obsessed with and I pretend to hate, our special quality time? Ok, that was our special time together except for every Saturday; that's when, if her mental state was ok, we'd go play corny games at that arcade, Jolly Jack's.
Folks have been saying Monique must've fallen off the pier by the arcade, especially if she got out of the house unsupervised. She's obsessed with the sea and sailors and gulls and all that stuff; like, she wore that sailor outfit for how long? And folks keep telling me how the tides get super strong at this time of month, like I don't know that already; if Monique fell in, she wouldn't stand a chance. But, like, this is a fishing town; someone should've trawled up a body by now, right?
Ok, to be fair, those folks are almost right. Almost. They're on the right track with the pier, and the arcade. But ninety percent of them haven't set foot in that hellhole in years, not since they were kids, and my God does it show! That place has survived way, way longer than it should've; surely me and Monique's Saturday tradition wasn't enough to keep it running? Surely that leathery old guy who works the front desk and props himself up against the automatons needs a few more customers than just us?
I never liked how that guy stared at us.
The thing is, Monique loved those pinball machines and the flashing lights and the smell of way too much stale popcorn almost as much as she loves her anime... but there was this thing about the arcade, a centrepiece if you like, that... well... she was obsessed with it; "obsession" is the only word for this. She would tug me right past all the machines, first thing, and just go straight towards this big wooden cabinet of once lurid colours, where this stubby little slouched figure leered lopsidedly at us from behind the murky glass. Ugh! Those glassy blue eyes! That yawning leather maw! Those slightly-too-rosy cheeks with the paint cracking off!
I'll never get why Monique was so freaking obsessed with that Laughing Sailor automaton.
She fed penny after penny into the little coin-slot, and when she ran out of pennies she'd fight me for my wallet, shoving me away and running off. And even though she'd giggle and clap her hands all the while, you'd never hear it over the automaton's racket. The Laughing Sailor... I honestly couldn't look or listen to it anymore, after a while; the way the little figure sat still, but his torso was jerked and swung around by all that laughter, those screams of mirth, like he was some kind of madman dying of hallucinations right before our eyes... I couldn't stand it, but it made Monique so, so happy for some reason. So what was I meant to do about it, huh? Even that leathery owner-guy smiled when she watched that accursed thing laughing and laughing and never, ever blinking those gross blue eyes.
The Laughing Sailor broke down two days ago.
That thing... it was dirt old, just so you know; I think it was from the fifties or something? But hey, I'm not complaining; I'd always hoped this would happen sometime! Anything to break Monique's unhealthy love! But then... ok, I was relieved, but also really sad for Monique; she was crying and stomping her feet and banging over and over on the glass, begging the sailor man to be happy again, please, just one more time? She screamed that he was the one and only happiest person she'd ever known, that no one else didn't think of her as a chore.
I was about to take her back home, because this quickly becoming another of her attacks, when the owner appeared right behind us; I'd barely ever seen him walking before, and his body was gnarled and warped from the harbours' damp. Here's the thing; he was literally dressed in black, in mourning! I mean, he always propped himself up on those animatronic fiends, but really?
He mordantly noted that my sister was usually happy here. I didn't know what to say; I hated talking to that guy... though that's only a fraction of the hatred I hold for him now.
He totally ignored my silence, hobbling straight to Monique, resting those jittering hands on her shoulders.
If nothing had happened, I'd probably have forgotten what he told her; I'd just shrug it off, punch his creepy face and drag Monique the hell out of there. Like, he's definitely a creepy old man. But nope. What he said to her... the things he said, and the photo Monique just sent me...
The old guy said, "he just needs a little love and maintenance, little lady. He just needs... well... he could use a happy heart and mind like yours to..."
That's when I barged in; "hey, cut it out!" I whacked his hands off her shoulders.
You'd better believe that we bolted the hell outta that arcade.
Something about the way that guy had touched her and talked to her... it made me want to bolt every door and window in the house the second we stumbled through the door. Hell. I'd probably have carried a gun around, if I had one. I wanted to pace the hallways all night, always watching, in case... well... it was ridiculous to think that an old cripple like that guy would be able to get up the hill to our house.
Maybe I should've worried more about what Monique would do.
She was super quiet that night at dinner; like, she just stared at the untouched plate of her favourite dinner, not so much sad anymore as deeply thoughtful. Mom and Dad asked her over and over if she was ok and how her day had gone and all that, but she wouldn't answer except for rocking back and forth. I stepped in there; I said she should probably have an early night, because yeah. I made up some kind of excuse; something about that creepy Laughing Sailor just seemed unspeakable, ok?
I tried not to think about it too much as I tucked Monique in; even though she's fifteen, she adores that I still do that for her. I always have... and I never will again. The last thing we talked about was how to make the sailor man happy again.
That night, she left the house on her own.
Like I said earlier, I fully get that no one knows where she's gone, and that they probably never will. I also understand how thankful I should be for the hundreds of people who are still joining Mom and Dad in wandering the piers and warehouses and wharfs, calling her name. I never joined in because I was... I was shattered. I loved Monique. I protected Monique. I was her best friend; not just a brother. I mean, I gave up most of my life to help her out, and fate still tore her away from me? How could I not be kinda catatonic?
The thing that jerked me out of this... it was a Snapchat message that came through this evening, an actual message from dear, dear Monique! I... I was almost sick with excitement and worry and, like, everything. But then... then I looked at what she'd sent. I say "she", but it couldn't be her! It couldn't, because when I looked closer at that grainy, grainy image... I dropped my phone. I fell to my knees. I wretched, disgusted, appalled.
This photo was either the sickest of all pranks, or a sign, a sign that the leathery arcade owner must die as soon as possible. That's just how it is now; it's gonna be me or him. He must be stopped! He has to die before that Laughing Sailor of his breaks down again; he cannot replace that thing again!
Look, just so you know, I'm gonna deal in hypotheticals now, though even hypothetically the facts just seem totally insane; sick and insane. I don't wanna believe it; I really don't. But the photo... if it's real...
The photo showed that hideously jolly face, contorted with that disturbing laughter... the Laughing Sailor. Ugh. What the Hell? The room reflected in the glass looked very, very like Jolly Jack's arcade, but this Sailor was somehow different from the one me and my sister knew so well. Something was wrong, really wrong... the face was a different shape, a finer shape, almost like...
And that's when my heart lurched up into my mouth.
The eyes... the Laughing Sailor's glassy blue eyes... they were gone, but he wasn't eyeless; nothing so logical as that! Instead... oh God...
His eyes were now big, bright and hazel.
I barely even absorbed that one little two word message typed out onto the photo.