Warning – at quick glance this may appear to be a kid’s story but it isn’t and it is not suitable for children.
Jan looked up from her newspaper to see Jeff, struggling as usual with a giant old-fashioned suitcase, slightly too big to go through the revolving doors. She noticed he looked more tired than normal; make up would have a job to do this morning.
“Morning Jeff” Jan called out as he made it eventually successfully through the doors.
Jeff nodded half-heartedly in reply. Definitely not feeling his usual bubbly self then, thought Jan.
“Have you seen these headlines?” Jan waved the newspaper at Jeff.
Jeff paused on his way through the lobby. “No, no, I haven’t Jan. Barely got the energy to get myself here this morning, let alone stop and buy a newspaper.”
Jeff continued walking; carrying the suitcase like it had the weight of the world in it.
“Suit yourself then” muttered Jan under her breath.
Jan spotted Steve making his way through the door, escorting what looked like a junior brass band. An assorted variety of trumpets, trombones and tubas squeezed through the revolving doors. Each young musician and his or her associated instrument was counted once in the lobby, once satisfied they were all there, they were presented at the front desk.
“Hey Jan, can I sign these lot in for Playdate?” asked Steve.
“Certainly Steve” replied Jan with a cheesy smile as she pushed a clipboard with the required paperwork towards him. “You seen the newspaper today Steve?”
“No, anything juicy?”
“More of those alien space ship sightings! You know they reckon the army is going to admit they’ve seen them now. They’re predicting an official statement any day now!”
“Ooh lets have a look at those pictures then!”
Jeff eventually made it to his dressing room, cursing that the lift was broken again. He threw the suitcase down in relief; he could not remember his old puppet being quite this heavy. Before he even had a chance to sit down there was a knock on the still open door.
“Morning Jeff . . . ooh dear, look at you, night on the tiles? I’m going to have my work cut out on you this morning aren’t I? Now chop chop, to the make up room you go.”
Jeff followed makeup back down the corridor to the makeup room and flopped in the nearest available makeup chair. Suzy was already occupying the chair next to him, discussing audience figures with Steve the producer as she had her hair immaculately groomed into two bouncy pigtails.
“So Steve” Suzy shot an evil glance in Jeff’s direction “You’re sure even with the sudden replacement of Banana, audience figures haven’t gone down? It’s getting to panto negotiation time and I need those audience figures up behind me so that I get a really good gig this Christmas.”
“So what you’re saying Suzy” chipped in Jeff, as the stylist changed his faded greying shirt for a trendy sloganed T-shirt “is that you’re worried that the kids were really tuning in to see Banana, not you.”
“Rubbish” sniped Suzy back “it’s just the kids, they’re little, they don’t like change, any change. I still don’t get what happened to Banana. Come on, I have trouble believing spontaneous combustion even exists in humans, but puppets? And just before we were going to do a recording. Convenient wasn’t it that that Mango turned up?”
“Well it’s a good thing Jeff had Mango up his sleeve then isn’t or should I say his sleeve up Mango, huh huh huh” said Steve trying to diffuse the tense situation between two presenters renowned backstage for their dislike of each other, whilst the stylist and the makeup guy politely laughed at their producer’s attempt at a gag.
Suzy determined to ignore Steve’s peacemaking efforts continued her assault “Don’t even like that thing, it’s ugly with those googly eyes, I’d swear that thing was watching me and thinking thoughts“.
“Ooh Suzy” giggled the makeup artist “you’re such a drama queen!”
Jeff, made up as best as makeup and the stylist could do; an attempt to prolong the career of an aging children’s presenter, made his way back to his dressing room, a few minutes to spare before filming started. As he pushed open his dressing room door, he stopped with a start in the doorway. Sitting on a chair, facing the door, was Mango. Jeff could swear that he had left the thing in its case. Jeff shook his head dismissively; one of the assistants must have got Mango out of his case for him, some sort of idea of help. Still, the sight of Mango sitting there, still spooked him. Much as he would hate to admit that the bimbo was right, but there was something about Mango’s ‘googly’ eyes. With its short bristly muddy green fur, pointed muzzle hiding sharp pointed teeth and the aforementioned ‘googly eyes’, Mango certainly was not anything much to look at.
Jeff would readily admit to himself, if it had not been for the untimely and rapid demise of Banana, he certainly would not have turned to Mango. Yet, that day, just a week ago, when Jeff had been left, behind camera, staring at the pile of ashes that had been Banana, when that courier arrived, carrying that suitcase, it was like someone somewhere had been thinking of him. Filming was on such a tight schedule, it was Mango or nothing. Even with such a short time to get used to the puppet, even Jeff had surprised himself how easily Mango’s unique personality had come to him, it was like all he had to do was put the puppet on his arm and Mango did the rest.
The children’s brass band finished playing its tuneless tune, the shipped in studio audience burst into a spattering of polite applause and Suzy virtually leapt onto camera, her usual smile plastered broadly on her face. Jeff and Mango followed less enthusiastically behind.
“Wow Jeff, wasn’t that just fantastic! I just could not help but dance!”
Suzy looked at Jeff, expecting his scripted reply but Jeff just stood there, his face greying underneath the studio lights. The band shifted nervously on its feet, waiting for its cue to leave the set.
Behind camera, Steve exchanged worried glances with his director. The director motioned to Suzy to try to move the piece along.
“Well, Jeff here has just been astounded at how good the music was, so we’ll just leave Jeff and Mango here to just think about the music for a while and why don’t we in the meanwhile make our way to the story corner.”
But before Suzy and the cameras could make their way to the story corner, Mango spoke “I’m sorry Suzy but I’d like to point out you were wrong.”
Suzy stopped and turned back towards Jeff and Mango, her smile becoming faker by the minute “Really Mango, you’re a cheeky so and so!”
“That was the biggest load of claptrap I’ve heard since I’ve come to this planet,” continued Mango.
“Mango, are you playing a game?” cheesy smile becoming more strained. “You know you come from the swamp” and through gritted teeth “Remember?”
Mango turned to address the audience “Well boys and girls, I know that I’ve only been with you for just a short short week and those lovely people at the toy factory haven’t had a chance to make you all a Mango of your very own yet. But now there’s no need!” The smile on Mango’s muzzle curled upwards to reveal his sharpened teeth. “Coming to your very door, any day now will be your very own living, breathing Mango!”
Suzy jumped in with her very best fake laugh “Really Mango, that would be just great wouldn’t it boys and girls. You’ve got such an imagination.”
Suzy, trying desperately to rescue this very strange off script situation, went to affectionately pat Mango on his furry head. Just as her hand was about to make contact, Mango growled, his head whipping upwards, grasping hold of Suzy’s wrist, his sharp teeth puncturing her skin, her blood quickly dripping down onto his green fur.
Suzy understandably screamed. Steve, all thoughts of filming forgotten, just a desperate urge to protect his programme from scandal rushed up onto the set. “Let go of her Jeff! This has gone too far!”
But Jeff just stood there, a tired, drained pallor upon his face, as stock still as a statue, despite Mango’s tussling with Suzy’s wrist, his teeth digging deeper, Suzy now kneeling on the floor begging to be let go. The assistants were trying to clear the audience out of the studio, but it was taking too long and too many children were watching, screaming.
Steve tried to push Jeff away, but he could not move him. Part of Steve, the small part that was not panicking about the imminent end of his career, thought this was odd, Jeff was almost twice Steve’s age and certainly did not go to the gym as often as Steve did, yet he could not move him. Steve tried to move Mango away from Suzy, but he could almost feel the flesh in Suzy’s arm ripping as he did so, Mango was not going to let go. Whilst Jeff’s eyes stared ahead, glazed and vacant, Mango’s eyes flashed with a vicious pleasure.
“Someone help me!” yelled Steve over Suzy’s whimpers.
A cameraman who had been fixed, rooted to the spot, not sure what to do, came to life with his boss’s pleas. He rushed to help, but still could not release Suzy from Mango’s grip. Steve looked round the studio, desperate for something to help and his eyes fell on the abandoned brass instruments, left by the band as they fled. Without really thinking, he picked up a trombone and wielding it like a club began to hit Mango on his head, hoping to release Jeff’s grip through the puppet. Steve struck and struck in desperation at Mango’s head, Mango’s head becoming misshapen but still Mango clung on to Suzy’s wrist, clamping tighter and tighter, piercing deep into the bone.
“She’s going to loose her hand, you madman!” yelled the cameraman and he appeared behind Jeff; a tuba raised above him and then brought down heavily onto the puppeteer’s head.
Jeff and Mango crumpled onto the floor, releasing Suzy. She collapsed sobbing, clutching her wrist, the studio assistants rushing to her aid.
“Christ, what happened there? Jeff just lost it!” said Steve as he bent over Jeff and Mango. “Oh Christ, I don’t think he’s breathing!”
Two ambulances were hurriedly called for.
“Let’s get this bloody thing off him, he hasn’t been the same since he’s been using this puppet” said Steve as he took hold of Mango and tried to pull it off Jeff’s arm.
Steve pulled and pulled, but the puppet would not shift. The cameraman tried to help, but still no luck.
“It must be strapped on somehow,” said Steve as he bent over to look at where the puppet joined Jeff’s arm. Steve moved Mango so that he could see its back, where Jeff had placed his arm. Steve gasped in horror. Mango and Jeff were fused as one. Where Jeff’s arm ended at his elbow, the green fur of Mango began, there was no join, whatever Mango was, he was not a puppet.