This little slice of story has been knocking about in my head for a week or so, ever since @winklesbloke posted this picture of a very creepy traffic calming measure.
She put me in mind of a being from the same dimension as Peter and Jane,* who had somehow crossed over to our world. She wouldn’t get out of my head, so I had to trap her in a story.
* Note for young people and readers outside the UK: The Peter and Jane books referenced in the story are a series of books published by Ladybird from the 1960s onward, that used very simple words to tell stories about the insufferable Peter, Jane, Mummy and Daddy and (the only tolerable character), Pat the dog, with the aim of encouraging children to be able to read it themselves. They were reinvented many times over the following decades, but the core characters stayed essentially the same.
If you were feeling especially procrastinatey, you could find some very creative unofficial interpretations of the Peter and Jane online, and end up browsing those for hours, and never type up your creepy horror-lite short story at all.
Anyway, on with the story…
Peter and Jane
I might’ve been the first person to have ever seen one, come to think of it. They’re pretty sure they first arrived in Lincs, and the one they think is the oldest is right there on my commute. But you don’t really notice that stuff early in the mornings, do you? It startles you for a second, and then your brain filters it out as just street furniture. Or at least, my brain did anyway.
It wasn’t until someone took a photo of one and posted it online that I registered that I had been seeing one for weeks. Just like the one in the photo gaining traction online for being creepy, ours was also next to a speed change sign. It was supposed to be a child – the idea being, I assumed, that drivers would see it and hit their brakes – but it looked like it had been put together by someone who had only ever seen children in the kinds of books parents used to teach children to read, back in the days before phonics and split diagraphs and fronted adverbials.
Here is Peter. Here is Jane. Look at Peter. Look at Jane.
Painted primary yellow hair, and dull red jumper, she stands straight backed and stiff armed, flat accusing stare that somehow seemed to morph imperceptibly into a slight smile as you slowed down, despite them seeming to be nothing more than fairly shoddily made plastic dummies.
The local paper saw the hundreds of comments mounting up on the photo; from those hating the creepiness, to those who thought it was making an artistic statement, those calling it a waste of taxpayer’s money to those arguing hotly that if it saved a child’s life it was money well spent – and decided they’d found an easy way to fill some space between the obituaries and the small ads. They cobbled together some tweets on the subject, decided it was an article, and called the council for a comment.
Imagine that, being the journalist that first raised the alarm about them? But of course they had no idea back then.
The council, as we know, had no idea who had put the statues up, and their main concern was that the public knew it had been done without their knowledge, permission, or the proper permits.
Social media speculation exploded. Were the mysterious statues an art project? What was it trying to say? Was it a clever promotional gimmick that was going to turn out to be advertising a film or a school uniform shop grand opening or something?
The mystery of the schoolkid statues became the meme of the moment. They were photoshopped into every political event, every awards show, major historical events, captioned with movie quotes, slogans from TV shows, relatable moods.
More either started appearing then, or started being noticed for the first time; creepy almost-children fresh out of an I Can Read It Myself book.
See Peter run. See Jane run. Run, Peter, run. Run Jane, run.
Sunshine yellow hair, pink rosy cheeks, bright red uniform, ice blue accusing eyes. They were just there, as if they’d always been there, by the roadside near schools and youth clubs, at the edges of the parks, down little lanes by the woods, everywhere children would congregate.
I suppose the councils didn’t remove them at first because they thought they might be valuable – after all, no one wants to be the fool that removed a Banksy, do they? But then one appeared in an inconvenient place – causing a blind spot for traffic on a busy corner next to an old schoolhouse and opposite the public swimming pool. It was decided that leaving it in place could “cause issues of liability or questions of culpability should someone become injured as a direct consequence of objects being knowingly left in the public sphere without the appropriate risk assessments in place.” and so it was decided: the statue had to go.
There was a petition to save it, doesn’t that sound crazy now? But there was, about five thousand people signed it if I recall correctly. Someone made a twitter account of it, and that had about ten thousand followers too. All of this happened over the course of a week or so, you understand. It was just the distraction of the day.
Then when the council went to remove it, they just…couldn’t. I mean, you never know what actually happened, do you? Their official statement was so vague. I’ve heard folk say when they tried to take them down, the structures were bolted so deep into the ground that they gave up. That doesn’t sit right with me. I mean, why not just cut them off at ground level?
A bloke in the pub once swore blind that he had been one of the workers tasked with removing them. He said as soon as they touched a tool to it, everyone in the room was electrocuted.
“Whole room full of people just dropped dead, just like that.” he’d said.
“But not you, eh?” one of the others in the bar scoffed.
“Nah,” he says, “I was out of the room.”
“Oh just popped out, did ya?”
“I was having a shite!”
Of course he lost the bar then, people laughed and moved on with their night, just an old man looking for attention, but I always wondered.
My mate Kevin, who actually does work at the council, albeit in the social housing support department, told me that a colleague told him, that whenever someone came within arm’s reach of the statue, they burst into tears and said they just couldn’t do it.
“It was like they thought they were real kids,” he told me. “I’m telling you, people can’t go near ’em. They protect ’emselves.”
“But people take selfies with them all the time.” I said, because it was true. People didn’t know to avoid them then, there probably wasn’t a teenager in the country that didn’t have an ironic-not-ironic selfie with one.
“That’s different.” says Kevin. “They know when you mean them harm.”
He’s a sensible bloke, is Kevin. Sensible boots and a sensible furrow in his brow. The kind of man who keeps the manuals to every electrical item he owns, in a neatly alphabetised boxfile, and spends time at the weekend voluntarily organising his immaculate toolshed. I should’ve observed his genuinely haunted expression, taken him seriously. Instead, to my eternal shame, I laughed at him. He laughed too, brittle and forced, and changed the subject, talking about the local missing lad that had been in the papers instead. We agreed that it was a bad business, terribly sad, and that it happened too often, nowadays. Then we went our separate ways.
People forget so quickly, don’t they? I often wonder if that’s why there are so many of them now. A new meme bubbles up. In this case, people’s heads were turned when an MP stumbled over his words during a heated televised debate and yelled “Noncery!” at his opponent instead of – as his PR team scrambled to clarify- yelling “nonsense” as he actually intended. People are fickle, attentions wander. Hard as it is to believe now, people essentially forgot all about them.
So, more started to pop up, and each new one would cause a flurry of attention on them again. They appeared in ever more strange places. on the roundabout on the high street. Outside the doctor’s surgery. Inside that woman’s shed, do you remember? She was on the news talking about how she nearly had a heart attack. More and more of them appeared, looking happier now though, less accusing.
Peter likes to play. Jane likes to play. Play with Peter. Play with Jane.
They weren’t just appearing at the places the children used to play anymore, though it could be argued that was because they’d already filled and colonised the children’s spaces already. All the parks and beaches and even the kid’s libraries are full of them.
They fill school fields now, standing in neat little rows, where just mere weeks ago there were only one or two, and a couple months ago they hadn’t even been heard of. There’s even a few in the local swimming pool.
We were slow to make the connection, but honestly, why would we? Why would mysterious statues have any connection to missing kids? I mean, maybe if they’d all vanished one day, when the statues first showed up, but they didn’t. They left as the statues arrived; in dribs and drabs. One or two missing kids here, one or two there. A slight swell in national statistics maybe, but kids go missing all the time, don’t they? It’s a cruel world we’ve built, anything can happen. Life isn’t primary colours and safe little bubbles like in Peter and Jane. Children get lost, or taken, or hit by cars, or neglected to death. We didn’t even notice – the general public I mean – until the children of big names started to go missing.
The eight year old daughter of a local news anchor was first, I think. Went missing from her bed inside a locked house. Then it was the five year old twins of Angelique Monstara, one of the biggest film stars in the world, seemingly snatched from right under the noses of their two nannies and four security guards, from inside their house. Then there was that one caught on tape, kinda. Amelie Wynters, do you remember her? Vanished from her spot in the county choir, while live on a dress rehearsal that was being streamed to parents online.
“I just don’t understand it” the teacher had sobbed on the news. “She was right there for her solo. Right there.”
The tape clearly showed her there, singing her solo, joining in with the chorus, but when the second verse started the video buffered for a second, and then she was gone.
Even then not everyone made a connection with the statues. Some people deny it even now. Everyone has a theory about where all the kids have gone. But we all saw the statue that appeared at the palace. Three days before the queen’s grandkids go missing? That can’t be a coincidence. You can say they never found any evidence in the cases of the other kids because of police incompetence, or even some kind of cover up, but I guarantee the heirs to the throne would have the full might of every power possible looking for them. Yet they never even found a particle of evidence about what happened to any of them.
Some parents made the connection fairly quickly though. They were dismissed as cranks and conspiracy theorists of course. There’s a lot of that about these days. Some tried dressing their kids up as the statues, putting make up on them, teaching them to stand very still. They thought the statues would overlook them I suppose, and their kids would be safe. I met a woman in the market that swore it worked for some kids, that they’re out there now, pretending to be statues, and they’re just really good at it. She had an eight month old go missing, you can tell she blames her husband for not trying it. I’m not really sure how a baby would pretend to be a statue though, even if it did work, which I doubt.
I know one couple who had a statue turn up in their garden. Freaked them right out. They gave it gifts, draped clothes and floral garlands and stuff around it, piled toys and sweets and cakes around it, hoping if they could placate it, it would keep their kids safe. Didn’t work, obviously. But they still do it, quite a few people do, even now. They think if they can please the statues, they’ll get their kids back. Or maybe some of them think their kids are sort of inside the statues now? I dunno. Whatever it takes for them to cope, eh? None of us have a manual for dealing with this. We craft a narrative and tell ourselves a story that will get us through it. Shield us from the hurt and pain.
I can’t remember the last time I saw a child now, can you? A real one I mean, all mess and noise and laughing and misbehaving. I don’t think there’s any left. I think the stories about the village up north where there are babies are just that – stories. Wishful thinking that we need to keep ourselves going.
People like to tell each other stories. It’s one of the ways we cope with life, always has been. Stories make the world seem a bit brighter, a bit safer, a bit lighter. Makes the world more bearable, more primary coloured.
Peter is happy. Jane is happy. We are all happy.
Disclaimer: I’m sure the real Peter and Jane books are not intended as sinister at all, and Peter and Jane are definitely not going to rip into our dimension and steal our children. Probably.
If you enjoyed this short story, you can find loads more similarly offbeat fiction in my books! Check out my latest release, Once Upon A Twisted Fairytale. It’s a collection of modern fairytale retellings, each with an unexpected twist.
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