When the first kid disappeared nobody panicked. Nobody even thought twice about it at first, because it was a ball pit and a ball pit is a place for children to hide.
I, myself, remember always wanting nothing more than to burrow into that glorious vat of plastic spheres and let them muffle the voices of the screaming throng of kids around me. Of course, this all took place when I was 7. I haven’t even been near a ball pit after what happened that day.
It was my cousin’s birthday. Sal’s Pizza Arcade was his favorite place on earth and this particular year his parents had made enough money to rent out the “birthday room.” The “birthday room” was a giant space, behind the arcade where the soda flowed freely, the pizza never ran out and the wallpaper made the walls look like those of a stone castle.
When I think about it now, I can’t keep myself from the idea that if we had just stayed in that room, none of it ever would have happened. And those 12 kids would today be fully functioning adults, like me.
There were 20 of us. We had exploded into the arcade proper after a half of an hour of gorging ourselves on sugar, cheese, and ice cream.
When the lights and sounds of video entertainment entered our brain stems it sent us flying into a frenzy of rapturous glee. We scattered to the wind and most of us had spent our tokens within minutes. So when we heard “Joshua’s Birthday Party! Please report to the ball pit,” we all stopped what we were doing and raced over there. All except for Kai.
Kai was in the middle of an epic game of Plants Vs. Zombies. He got off the easiest of all because, although he still lost many friends that day, he never saw the images that have been burned into the rest of us survivor’s brains for all eternity.
The first kid missing was Sam Stone. We only knew this because Richie Sherman was standing next to him when the arcade employee told us that 20 gold coins were buried in the balls and he immediately turned to challenge Sam to a race for the first coin.
But Sam, who had been there mere moments before, was nowhere to be found. Richie looked around in the balls, assuming Sam had already jumped in and buried himself. He heard Sam’s parents calling his name most likely after they were unable to see him themselves.
Richie called out “He’s here,” and pointed into the balls. Sam’s parents gave the OK sign and sat back down. But then Richie started to hear it. And then something else, almost at the same time. There was a low grumbling coming from below their feet and a cacophony starting amongst the adults. “Jill!” “Addi!” “My God, what is happening!?”
What was happening was a massacre. Or a feeding frenzy. One by one, kids were getting sucked into the balls and the only evidence that remained of their existence was the spout of blood that would soon follow.
Richie was frozen to the spot for about 10 seconds, enough time to see Christian Addler, Karl Dawson and Imogen Jones disappear. It took a shot of warm blood to his face to snap him to. Once that happened, he was awake and clamoring for the edge. He grabbed my arm I think by chance and we made it halfway to the edge when he felt something grab his ankle.
Assuming it was whatever godforsaken creature was eating the children, he kicked at it wildly. He finally connected with it hard enough to make it let go. But to his horror, it wasn’t the creature at all, It was his friend Jenny Stevens.
He had kicked her in the face and the monster did the rest. I pulled him out before he could go in after her. Years later, in the mental institution, Richie will still find it impossible to erase from his mind the look of betrayal that was on her face just before she was gone forever.
Myself, Richie, Ryan Peters and my cousin, Geoff Livingston made it out of the pit along with 3 others. And then, of course, there was Kai. But 12 children lost their lives that day. They lost their lives to the creature that lived below the balls.