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 Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story

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Gatsby
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PostSubject: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Thu Apr 14, 2011 6:19 am

EDIT: (Scroll down for the updated revision)

EDIT 2: I made it to the Creepypasta Wikia you guys!

EDIT 3: There are updates on the revision post below; so take a look at that.

10/11/98

It’s been almost 30 years since I left for Long Island, after retreating from the small uhf studio in Ashland, KY and the life I once knew. Leaving only with a small suitcase and the clothes on my back, I ran and didn’t look back from a childhood paradise that slowly evolved into a traumatizing nightmare. It was then and there, I was a young adult; down on my luck and barely making enough to pay the monthly rent for the apartment a friend and I shared. I was barely making minimum wage at my first job, where I would flip burgers for nine hours a day in the heat. The small eatery was beside a long stretch of highway, which my superstitious boss used to call ‘Ghost Road’, a place where the ghostly hitchhikers would hail rides from unknown passersby’s. I switched my apron in for a fluorescent vest, to start pulling in shopping carts into the local grocery store and mopping floors for twelve hours a day, for five days of the week; again—barely making minimum wage. I quit only after four weeks of working, to look for a better higher paying job; after receiving a notice that I was going to be evicted.

It was while reading the morning paper, three days later that I found an answer. Perhaps this would be the answer to my problem. The small article in the want ads, called for pairs of helping hands to build set pieces for kid shows at the small, nearby uhf studio; which was about thirty minutes away. I got excited, and ran for my red sedan; hoping to get there before somebody else could. Something told me this would be my day, and I was hoping it would. After driving for what felt like forty minutes, I pulled into the nearly abandoned parking lot and looked for an unlocked door, or at the very least; somebody to unlock said door. At last, I found a door that would open and was hit by a blast of cool air; by the air conditioners on near full blast.

I was about to approach the front desk, asking for more information about the job offering; but was stopped by an older gentlemen in a khaki pants and a blue polo; with neatly combed back brown hair and green eyes. When he asked if I was here for the job position, he smiled from ear to ear when I said yes. He gripped my hand like a python and shook it. He seemed overly excited or forgot to take some medication that morning, or was on caffeine high. I wasn’t sure which. Maybe both, I couldn’t tell you honestly.

“The name is a Bob Fields.” He said, still shaking my hand “Or just Boss. I’m so happy that somebody saw the article. Times have been really tough because of the recent tax cuts and stage hands walking off. Please, follow me. ”

When he finally let go, my hand was red and numb. I followed him through the halls to the set, trying to shake it off. Mr. Fields was a strange person, but could you blame him? He loved his work and seemed to love the people there, like a second family. Arriving onto the set, there were about a dozen of people in different parts of the large room; which made me think that they shot different shows in one room at the same time. He showed me around the room; and explaining the different shows they were working on. It didn’t take an expert to take one look at the set pieces, to realize how cheap and awful they were—making it loud and clear how seriously low budget they were. I knew times were tough, but not this tough. The first show that he introduced me to was called “Jumbo’s Circus”, an educational kids show that showed kids how to count, tell time, identify colors, shapes and other things. It was a very basic show, for the pre-k demographic. After meeting the director and cast, I declined. It was nothing against them, but it was my extreme coulrophobia which haunted me since I was a child.

Fields then showed me another show. This one tried to be educational; in the sense it tried to teach kids moral lessons in each episode. Unlike ‘Jumbo’s Circus’ where it was mostly live-action, which people making up most of the cast, this one had a cast consisting of only puppets of different shapes, sizes, textures and colors. The show was called “Sunshine City”, which followed a group of puppet kids, who would deal with real world problems that most kids never heard of or experienced. Common morals were those such as “stealing is wrong”, “treat others the way you’d want to be treated” and “respect authority”. But some of the episode themes were rather serious, especially for a kids show. One of the episodes was about one character, Lucas, who was bullied by another puppet; Peter—because his felt skin was an abnormal color, and the only one of all the puppets on the show. According to somebody who was one of the puppeteers, who I spoke to shortly before I moved; told me about the darkest episode the show did. It was shown only once, because of the content; resulting in the immediate cancellation of the show. In it, the sad, orange puppet; Ron was more upset than usual. He did his usual ‘woe is me’ speech, then left; not returning until the last two minutes of the episode. In the short time, Ron can be seen sitting by on a rock by the train tracks, staring at the cardboard sunset horizon. Sounds of a train could be heard, getting louder and louder with each second. Ron sighs and stands up. As the train speeds forward, Ron jumps out in front of it and the scene cuts to black. The last shot is a fade in, showing Ron’s dismembered puppet arm lying beside the tracks. Cotton is coming out of the limb, and the train chugs onward into the sunset. The final scene and the credits roll in silence.

The nature of the show was weird to me, and made me feel uneasy. I again, declined the offer. Fields sighed, and showed me the third show they were working on. It was another puppet show, which was about pirates. The title of the show on the script was called ‘Pirate Place’, but seemed to be crossed out faintly in pencil, with the new name written beside it; ‘Candle Cove’. Fields explained the plot of the show, which was about a girl named Janice, who would go on adventures with a pirate named Percy; who wasn’t a really good pirate, because he got scared real easily. The more he spoke about it, the more interested I became. He told me about a boat what the director said in a dream, had an Ed Wynn like voice. He conjured up images of a smiling boat, with big eyes that seemed to swallow the sea and sing. I could faintly hear calliope music playing as the waves would crash against the boat. He explained two other characters, the villains. They were two strange puppets, Horace Horrible; who had tall teeth, a handlebar mustache and a monocle. The Skin Taker was a skeleton on strings, which had glass eyes and a cape and top hat. The character of Janice reminded me of myself as a kid, dreaming about going on adventures and looking for hidden treasure on the seven seas. I signed up for the project, and Fields smiled. He introduced me to the director of my childhood dream, Emerson Grimes. Grimes seemed like an okay guy. He was wearing hiking boots, blue jeans and a Hawaiian shirt. He was wearing a trucker hat, perhaps hiding possibly thinning hair. He took me to a rec room, where the rest of the small crew was drinking Tab and playing darts. At the time, they only had three voice actors: Todd Smith (Pirate Percy), Michael Colon (The Skin Taker) and Leonard Lloyd (The Laughingstock). They were still looking for somebody who was the embodiment of Horace Horrible, and they were sending out the casting director and a crew member; to find somebody to play Janice.

A week later, they found somebody to voice Horace Horrible. Grimes found comfort in Jeremy Kirby, who had recently finished working on another kids show for the studio, “Fisherman Fred” and would have went on to do backstage work for another strange kids show, “Peppermint Park”. Around the same time, they found somebody to play Janice. She was a kindergarten student from a nearby school, Jodie Silver. She was quiet and adorable. She didn’t complain much, unlike most kids who auditioned. All you needed to keep Jodie happy was an apple juice box, a peanut butter and banana sandwich and a coloring book—and she was good to go. To help get the ball rolling faster for us, I had gone to local craft stores and flea markets with crew members to get props to build the puppets and the sets. The most tedious must have been building the Laughing Stock, which took us about two weeks to do. Production started about five weeks after I got signed on.

Production had been very rough and was becoming a challenge. Jodie would often come down with fevers and become overheated, because of intensity of the flood lights, always beaming down on her. (It was becoming taxing for the stage hands, since Pirate Percy’s head had to be remodeled twice; after the prolonged heat melted his head.) We became very concerned about her health, and opted to find a body double; so both can be switched out for each other. It was a common trick that many shows did, and we were about to do the same. But Grimes refused, and said that it would be fixed and she’ll adjust to it. In three weeks time, Walter Shay; one of the gaffers, was injured on the set in a freak accident, resulting in a broken leg—leaving him on crutches for the entire show’s run. Much of the crew and I considered abandoning the project, because of Grimes’ incompetence. But, like everybody else who had it tough; we just bit our tongues and hoped for the best.
After Shay was replaced, things seemed to go back to normal; and we were on a normal schedule. Things seemed to be going up for us, until episode seven was in production. One of the writers, Abbey Levi, revealed to me during a lunch break, that Emerson had been destroying scripts, and replacing entire stories. I didn’t notice it, until she brought it up.

Evidence of his tampering was obvious, especially prior to episode seven; which was where it was extremely clear what was going on. (Jodie, who knew her script like the back of her hand, would often be confused by stage positions and what she was supposed to do. She would often ask Kirby before takes, what she had to do again. Her parents would go over the script with her every morning and night, so the changes confused her.)Originally in episode seven, Percy takes a scroll from Horace Horrible; that explains where to go for the next hidden treasure. It was initially replaced by something of the macabre. It started off as being another episode, with Janice and Percy talking outside a cave; then somehow focused on the Skin Taker, revealing the dark origins of his hat and cape. Grimes told the cast to just go along with it, despite the eyebrows they raised. Michael Colon was the most uncomfortable with the episode; because of both the script and how Grimes wanted him to present the dialogue. It was chilling, but he went along with it anyways. They didn’t show anything explicit or violent, only delivering some lines which were subtle, but still unsettling.

The most infamous scene that most remembered, was Janice asking why the Skin Taker’s mouth moves the way it does. He didn’t say it to her, but to the camera ‘to grind your skin’. It was this episode where I and the others started to question Grimes’ sanity. I wanted to believe he was just this way because of the long hours he’d work. But the others were trying to show me that it’s not the case. He was a madman, and something had to be done. The episode resulted in lots of mail from viewers, asking what the hell we were doing and what was going on. It also resulted in our first warning from the studio, if we got two more—then the show was going to be cancelled; just like the future, ‘Sunshine City’.

I remember spending long hours in the rec room, working with the writers and crew to jot down ideas and brain storm. Somebody suggest a more comical episode, involving Horace and a record player, and an awkward episode involving Janice’s and the Skin Taker’s birthdays; plus the introduction to a new character, Nathan. Nathan was written as Janice’s next-door neighbor and friend. The ideas were pitched, sent to the studio and approved by Mr. Fields and were aired a few days later. After only one episode, Nathan was gone. Viewers wrote us letters, asking where he went and if he’s coming back. From websites I examined, Nathan’s disappearance was a big topic and had many theories. Some fans claimed that he was kidnapped by the Skin Taker; having his skin made into a coat. Other believed he went back to the real world, or that he got lost at sea. Those with even darker minds believe that Nathan was murdered on the set. We had finished making episode eleven, and we were set to air it the following Tuesday. Mr. Fields approached us, saying that the ratings and views had been rocky. We had one more chance to prove ourselves. If the next one wasn’t good, then the show would be cancelled. If we could make an episode that would knock their socks off, then we’d be in good hands. Fields took the finished product and we went back to brain storming for ideas.

The next episode was going to be the most jam packed and longest yet. There was going to be one last showdown between Percy and the villains, to be King of the Sea. Along the way, Percy would gain mass amounts of courage, and by the end; become a brave sea captain. In the end, Nathan will sail in on a wooden raft with a group of buccaneers; to help Percy and Janice defeat Horace Horrible and the Skin Taker (who would both end up lost at sea, never to return). Janice ends up leaving the world of pirates, to return to the real world; while Nathan would go on quests with Percy and the Laughingstock. She would only show up on occasions to help them, when they get scared the most. It was an idea approved by much of the crew and the cast. After hours of typing scripts, we sent a copy off to Fields and Grimes, hoping to save the show. Fields was out of town, but called us saying it was amazing. Grimes on the other hand, upon receiving the script, had locked himself in one of the editing rooms for several hours. Production for the last episode was in late October, on a calm quiet night in 1971. It was the most terrifying night of my life.

I arrived to the set around 6:30, where the cast and crew for the other shows left, leaving us on the set alone. A storm was picking up outside, causing the wind to pound against the structure of the building and the lights to flicker. Smith and Levi returned with coffee and donuts (juice for Jodie) and we waited in the rec room until we were expected to get on the set. A few of us were playing cards, while Colon would play checkers and old maid with Jodie. Shay, the injured gaffer was keeping an eye on the news and the weather. It was around 8:15, later than usual when Grimes opened the door, telling us to get ready in five minutes. In the few seconds he had his head in the door, I saw a change in him. His eyes were darker, hollower and slightly bloodshot. His skin was much paler and his hair seemed to be falling out. Jodie grabbed onto Colon’s arm and seemed buried herself in his side. You could hear him faintly whisper to her “its okay” repeatedly. At 8:20, we were on the set, getting ready to go. We all had our scripts and went to skim them. Grimes walked over to us and took them, throwing them in the garbage.

“There’s a change in plans.” He said

“Changes?” Smith asked, raising a brow “What kind of changes?”

“It’s only something minor.” Grimes said “Don’t you worry.”

Grimes turned around, walking for a folder on his chair, still repeating “don’t you worry” to himself. Coming back, he had a few pieces of paper, each for all of us. I choked, and I could see terror in the eyes of the cast; and the stage hands that were looking over their shoulders. One word was written on the paper, over and over again, taking up the page. In bold, cap lock letters: SCREAM.

“Wilson.” Grimes said, calling a stage hand. “Take Jodie to the play room. Don’t forget to give her the new script.”

Tom Wilson looked at it, with his eyes beginning to widen. Jodie looked concerned, it was as if he seen a ghost or something. Tom sighed, taking Jodie by the hand to the play room; where the young kids on the set would usually go to cut loose on their breaks. Grimes took the rest of the actors and some of the other crew members into a sound room; almost by the force of his disturbance. I remember how he would scream and shout like a lunatic, telling them to scream and cry and shout in the sound booth. I swear that the front desk secretary could hear it. I bet people would have thought the making of a snuff movie was going on if they just walked in the building. I was standing by Grimes, watching in terror as Abbey was crying in the corner, and Shay was doing what he could to comfort her.

The fear that Colon had in the infamous Skin Taker episode was coming back. He looked legitimately frightened. He put his hand around his throat, and backed up into the wall. His face was pale and his eyes were watering. He fell down onto the floor, still gripping his neck in terror; staring at the caged microphone, which dangled above his head. Smith and Lloyd were shouting weird almost inaudible phrases. Kirby’s screams sounded like cries for help, as if they were his last words, before he’d have his throat cut open, like a cow waiting at the slaughterhouse. The stage hands that were beside me, and one of the writers, Jennifer Hess could only watch in fear. Hess could be heard faintly saying “What is this? Oh my God.” one of the few things we said that could be heard on in the episode. I shut my eyes and prayed it would stop. But it was only made worse, giving my imagination fuel and the thought I was making a snuff film.

“Louder!” Grimes demanded, with insanity in his eyes and voice “LOUDER! I want your throats to be bleeding by the end of the take! LOUDER! HARDER!”

Grimes went towards the set to give the other puppeteers directions. To shake them and flail them around violently on the wooden and cardboard stage. Throw them. Beat them. Anything you wish. One of the puppeteers, Sandra Letting; would have went on to describe the night and the episode making as a puppet snuff film. The screams and cries of the actors, combined with the abuse of the set pieces just made it a nightmare.

“I’m surprised Grimes didn’t request that we pour blood out of the Laughingstock’s mouth or have Percy sacrificed to a sea demon, or even have Janice be made into a sweater on camera.” – Sandra Letting

The cameraman probably endured the worst of it. Not only having to record the abuse of the pieces we spent so much time working on, but also the death like wails from behind it all too surreal. He wasn’t sure if he was recording this disaster, to distract him from Grimes murdering the actors. After being gone twenty minutes, Wilson came back with Jodie. Her face and eyes were red. Wilson’s were too. I’m not sure who cried more, him or her. Wilson refused to talk about it. I’m only lead to believe he’s deeply upset for having to put Janice through this hell. But it was a hell she should be happy with, since seeing the death of all the puppets she worked with being destroyed would have broke her heart. The Skin-Taker’s jaw was hanging off a hinge. The strings on Percy were broken, as were some of his parts from him being thrown about. The strings that operated The Laughingstock were snapped, and his foam jaw was on the floor in a pool of saw dust. Horace Horrible seemed to be the only one to come out okay.

Everybody left the sound booth in silence. Grimes took the recorded audio and locked himself in the same editing room like he did before. The camera men for the ‘puppet death theater’ and ‘Janice’s meltdown’ cracked the door open to give Grimes the footage.His pale arm reached through, snatching the reels before slamming the door and locking it. It was the last time we ever saw him. Smith, with a sore throat took Janice home; before the storm could get any worse. The rest of us left as quickly as we could, and hoped that Fields or somebody would pack the props up. I went back to my apartment, to pack everything I had up and drove for Long Island. I needed to separate myself from Ashland as quickly as possible. But I learned not too long later that you can’t run from your problems. The rumored curse that plagued the set came back shortly after the final episode aired, and it bit hard.

Grimes disappeared the night the episode aired. Nobody from the studio remembers seeing him leave, nor did anyone in his neighborhood or his wife. His car was still in the parking lot, but every trace of him was gone. The only thing that was left on our side of the set, were the discarded scripts as well as some teeth and large clump of hair that scattered about the floor—later being proven to match Grimes’ DNA. He was presumed dead in December ‘79, after several years of looking failed. Shay was injured in a car accident six months after the final episode was aired, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down. Lloyd nearly drowned on a kayaking trip in ‘73. Jennifer Hess, one of our writers, suffered third degree burns in a house fire in the same year. Smith committed suicide in ’78, after being rumored to have lost lots of money in the stock market or losing a winning lottery number that would have made him a multimillionaire. Colon’s son, Trevor, was murdered in the fall of ’81, ten years after the infamous Skin Taker episode was aired. His killer remains at large. And both Wilson and Fields both died from massive heart attacks in ’87 and ‘94.

It’s been nearly 30 years since the night, and I’m still too afraid to go back to the city, let alone watch the an episode again. I’ve been e-mailed on different occasions by people, claiming to have information about where to find the episode and the missing set pieces. I just end up deleting them. Nobody’s sure why Grimes did this. I don’t want to say he was just an artist gone mad, because I don’t feel like I can. If you ever find one of us, please. I beg you, don’t bring up the show. We want to leave the past where it is, and try to forget about it. I still get occasional nightmares and flashbacks to the day and the ones building up to it. When they happen, it makes sleeping and eating almost impossible. To those claiming that they have a set piece, that’s not likely; because nearly all the props and footage were incinerated in 1983, when the studio was destroyed in a freak fire. If anything survived the blaze, the location of them is unknown and I’d rather not know where they are. And if anyone who remembers seeing the show was hurt in any way by it,I apologize deeply. But the nightmares you have because of it, will never compare to the ones I've had and still do.


Last edited by Gatsby on Mon May 21, 2012 10:59 pm; edited 5 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Fri Apr 15, 2011 2:23 am

Holy crap! This is fantastic! Did you write this yourself, or was it on another website?
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Fri Apr 15, 2011 3:31 am

It's a re-draft of something I was working on months ago. I didn't notice it was still in my documents,so I decided to dust it off and work on it again.
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Fri Apr 15, 2011 8:18 am

Gatsby wrote:
The Skin-Taker’s jaw was hanging off a hinge.
YOU ARE A GENIUS OH GOD JUST THAT LINE ALONE WAS SO SMART AND IT BLEW MY MIND OH GOD NOW THE FINAL EPISODE FOOTAGE MAKES PERFECT SENSE

Seriously, this is great, just great. Tasty pasta! You get a high five!
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Fri Apr 15, 2011 11:41 pm

Awesome,thanks Smile
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:33 am

no, thank YOU
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Sat Apr 16, 2011 4:11 am

pirat
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Mon Jun 20, 2011 11:46 pm

Wow, that's amazing! Very Happy
Candle Cove was one of the first pastas I ever read. Great job!
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Tue Jun 21, 2011 5:06 am

Thanks Very Happy

And welcome to the Pastabowl, new comer!
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Tue Jun 21, 2011 1:17 pm

You're welcome x)

And thanks!
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Wed Jun 22, 2011 7:40 am

Woot woot.
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Fri Sep 30, 2011 5:26 am

Being that I'm never 100% content with my writing, I'll probably revise the revision.
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PostSubject: Re: Memoirs of a Set Designer: A Candle Cove Story   Thu Feb 16, 2012 11:30 am

This is a revision I've had sitting around. It's up for editing since there's probably a ton of grammatical errors I've missed.

Edit - May 21 2012: I'm currently aware that CC takes place in W.Virgina and not Kentucky; according to Kris. I think it's something one can gloss over if they aren't entirely aware like I was. Carry onward.

Other things:

- One thing I saw on the CP were those confused in regards to the Skin Taker. One can suggest that the Skin Taker's name was never coined until Episode seven and the "grinding your skin" bit was a sick joke on Emerson's part or sarcasm on that of the Skin Taker's.
- Something I thought about earlier were the two different styles of the writing. Looking things over, the first may be a revision by the police, used as a document that could have been most likely dug up by the main investigator or reporter in TALES. Though both are journal or diary enteries, the second feels more like one in a sense.
- I went on quite a bit about TALES on other sites and how I had tears of joy when I saw readings of it. I posted on one of my blogs the possibility of working with the writer of TALES to do other projects. As of now, nothing is official as I'm unable to get in touch with him. Until he contacts me, this will remain as it is now -- a dream that I'm okay with.

If you have questions in regards to Memoirs, send me a message. I'll gladly confirm or explain any unanswered questions or confusion, as I'm aware there is quite a bit of it. As for other CC lore, I can look into it for you.
~ Gatsby / MrGatsby

-----------------------------------------

10/11/98

I’m writing this at the strangest of hours. It’s an hour during the evening where the only thing on television would be infomercials or some odd shows on public access. Here I sit, sipping some lukewarm tea, pondering over old entries in a journal I found in a box in my attic; in an effort to find old knick-knacks and other oddities I wanted to get rid of. Out with the old, in with the new is what my mother always told me.

I’m writing this at the strangest of hours out of the bittersweet taste of a cruel irony. For years, I’ve had reoccurring nightmares about my childhood town of Ashland, Kentucky. It was about a two hour drive from Ironton, where my grandparents lived. It wasn’t the town exactly, but a place in the town. This place it was about ten miles from my apartment, where I lived with my childhood friend, Allen Douglas. The place was one I didn’t know existed until the want ads of a local newspaper called me, like a song of many great winds in a storm. It was the summer of 1970 when I was drawn to that section of the paper. I left numerous odd jobs because of low pay, and at the time; I was struggling to find a way get enough money to save Allen and I from eviction.

The ad in the paper asked for a pair of helping hands, to help build set props for a number of kid shows at a nearby uhf studio. Upon seeing the ad, I took off for my red sedan and tried to find my way, finding it rather difficult because of the odd address. The parking lot of the studio was nearly abandoned, but I assumed that was of the norm, especially at 9 in the morning. Walking around the building, I finally found the front door, and saw a woman sitting at a desk, with a fan and a can of Tab by her side. Opening the door, I was quickly hit by a blast of cold air. It shook me up a bit, and I felt like a cat stepping in a puddle. I came to a few seconds later. I approached the front desk, asking about the ad in the paper. Before she could get a word out, a taller gentleman came out, smiling ear to ear. He was rather big around the middle, and he was wearing brown slacks, black shoes and a blue shirt. His cheeks were a light shade of red, and his hair appeared to be thinning. His personality was quite dynamic. I don’t think I’ve ever met someone as cheerful or upbeat as he.

“You’re here for the job, eh?” he asked

“Yes sir.” I smiled

“The name is Bob Fields. But you can just call me Bob, or Captain; whichever you prefer.” He smiled with a slight laugh at the end, shaking my hand with the strength of a python. “Now, come with me sonny and I’ll show you the ropes.”

Shaking the numbness out of my hand, I proceeded to follow Bob down the left hallway, and into the main part of the studio, where all the builds and some of the editing and recording occurred. In one corner, I could see someone building some puppets. In another, an empty station with paints and cardboard. When people say that these public broadcast shows were insanely cheap, they weren’t lying. The cameras that I saw at one or two different stations looked like old news cameras and were probably older than the building itself. Taking me down the stairs, he introduced me to some of the different build crews, writers and directors of the shows. There were a few shows that were scheduled to air soon, and they need all the help they can get.

The first show was called “Jumbo’s Circus”; a show that was very much like any generic kids show. Teaching kids the alphabet, counting, colors, shapes and trying to show other things like how to be a good friend and other stuff. The only difference was instead of the monsters at 123 Sesame Street doing this; it was a group of circus performers. Jugglers, acrobats, clowns and others. It was very colorful and bright, and should keep the attention of any child. I turned down working on the project, due to a case of coulrophobia that I’ve had since I was a child.

Bob then showed me to another show, just two stations over. It was called “Sunshine City”. It was an unusual concept for a kid’s show. It was more about morals than education, trying to brand things such as “respect authority”, “treat others the way you want to be treated” and “stealing is wrong” into the minds of kids. It sounds okay on the surface, but looking over a script and hearing more from the director, it was quite different. The show dealt with rather serious issues for a kid’s show, such as bullying, divorce and racism among other things. Only a few episodes stick to my memory. One involved Lucas being made fun of by Peter, because his felt puppet “skin” was a different color from all the others, and happened to be the only blue puppet on the show. Another episode I wasn’t aware of until the show’s cancellation sometime in 1973 by a friend I made at the studio.

He told me about the episode that got the show cancelled faster than a blink of an eye. The episode started out like any other. The “Sunshine City” theme fades out and we see Ron, an orange puppet with matted green hair have his typical “woe is me” speech, before running off to the park, where he’d stay for the remainder of the episode. This time, it was much different. As the episode comes to a close, we see Ron sitting on a rock beside the train tracks, staring out at the obviously fake cardboard purple, pink and orange sunset. In the distance, the sound of a train starts to chug. Ron’s eyes shut as he stands up, trying to keep his balance. As the sound of the train grows louder, you can hear Ron’s heart being to pound faster. It cuts from Ron in profile to the train every few seconds, then every other second. Then every second, and faster again. As the scene begins to climax, we get a view of Ron’s feet. We see him jump; then the scene cuts to black. The last shot is a fade in. We see Ron’s dismembered limb resting on the track. Stuffing is coming out of the limb, and we just see the train...chug on into the sunset, not missing a beat.

I again, didn’t want to work on the project due to how out of place it felt, and how physically uncomfortable I felt reading the script. Bob took me to one of the last stations, where I could see the director sitting on a chair, reading a newspaper. The script beside him in bold text said “Pirate Place”, but it appeared to be faintly crossed out, and replaced with “Candle Cove”. Bob introduced me to the man in the blue Hawaiian shirt and light brown beard, as one Emerson Grimes. Emerson had an idea you see. A radical adventure about a young girl named Janice, who’d go on adventures with a marionette puppet named Pirate Percy. He wasn’t a good pirate, because he was easily frightened and his boat, the Laughingstock took him to the destinations. When he mentioned the Laughingstock, who would swallow the sea and sing, I thought about Ed Wynn singing tunes.

Lost in my imagination, I saw a blond haired girl in blue stare out at the ocean, as the waves crash against the bow of a grand boat with a great sail, and a pirate from the bird’s nest stand, with a sword calling out “land oh!” as they approach a land of unknown treasures. I was knocked out of my daydream by Bob nudging me to see if I was paying attention to the conversation. Along the way, Percy would face evil people like Horace Horrible and the Skin Taker. I loved the concept, and the character of Janice reminded me of myself as a kid; having a love for pirates and great adventures. I shook Emerson’s hand and signed up for the job. Bob smiled and went off to do paper work, while I got to meet the rest of the crew.

I was first introduced to Donna Kay, one of the writers who had a beautiful smile that could light up a room. Others I got to meet were Pierre Kincaid and Joseph Martin, two set designers; Walter Shay, a gaffer who worked on other shows in the studio and Wendy Cates, a boom mic operator. It wouldn’t be until around 2PM that I’d meet George Levin, Leonard Lloyd and Todd Stone; who would do the voices for The Skin Taker, The Laughingstock and Pirate Percy respectively. It would be another four days until we’d find the girl to play Janice. The casting crew found that in five year old Jodie Silver, from the elementary school 40 minutes away. Jodie was such a pleasure to work with. She wasn’t like most of the kids who would scream and shout and pout. All you needed to keep her happy was a juice box, a peanut butter and banana sandwich and a coloring book. She had a knack for memorizing her lines, so much so that she told George that he didn’t have to help her with her lines because her parents made memorizing the lines into a game. It was quite clever.

Emerson soon found comfort in Kirby Hoffman, who did work for another show in the studio called “Fisherman Fred”; and would go on to go unaccredited work for in other shows like “Peppermint Park” to voice Horace Horrible. The crew and I would spend weeks going to craft stores, flea markets and warehouses that had way too much cardboard and other supplies on their hands to build the set pieces. Production would begin sometime in November of that year.

The first three episodes were major successes, and the fan mail was rushing in from all over the county. I was rather surprised by it all. We got a few letters a week, many begging that we release episodes sooner, rather than once every two weeks. The letters from the older kids were a bit amusing; because you could tell they were trying to point out how cheap and awful everything looks; without trying to offend. But, like any show, you’re bound to run into problems. Sometime around the start of episode four, Walter fell and broke his leg on the set; and he was left on crutches.

Janice was also taking some of the heat, quite literally. She was quick to become overheated by the flood lights, and turning them down was rather difficult, and would alter the quality of the footage. We encouraged Emerson to find a double for Janice so they can easily be switched out in the event something happens. He said that she’d get used to it and not to worry. Well, we had to because the intensity of the lights ruined many models we had on the set. Pirate Percy’s head had to be re-modeled twice. Many of us considered walking off the set, but with all the letters we received, we didn’t want to let the potential fanbase that existed to collapse.

After the mishap with the ladder and Jodie’s fevers; things seemed to return back to normal. We had another good streak, until we reached episode seven. It was here when we started to question Emerson’s sanity. Originally, episode 107 revolved around a sea of songs and a music box that Horace Horrible found. The episode was replaced with one of the most infamous of the show. I don’t recall the majority of the episode, with the exception of the one scene that everybody seems to remember and talk about. At an island, Janice and Percy encountered the Skin Taker; who was wearing his typical cape and top hat. He had an odd way of talking. His mouth would move a weird way, but not in a way where it seemed like he was talking out of the side of his mouth. This caught Janice’s attention. When she asked him why his mouth moves like that, the Skin Taker said; looking at the camera with his large glass eyes “to grind your skin”. From obscure television forums I encountered, many theorized that the Skin Taker’s top hat and cape were made out of children’s skin, which is where the name “Skin Taker” originated. It wasn’t implied at all; at least that’s what I think. Or that’s what I want to believe. I spoke to Donna about it on a lunch break when we were filming episode 8; she said that Emerson wrote the script, and told her and the rest of the writing staff “not to worry about this one.”

Due to the controversial episode, Bob gave us a warning to knock it off and start getting back to work. Emerson seemed to listen to this, not wanting his “baby” to get cancelled already. He gave the crew the floor again to write the episodes. George was thrilled about that, thankful to see light hearted laughter filled scripts again, rather than nightmare fuel. The other episodes were simple, but pretty funny. One was a slightly awkward episode involving the Skin Taker’s and Janice’s birthdays, another involved Pirate Percy trying to decipher a map (that was upside-down) to find the next treasure and the introduction of a new character, Nathan.

Nathan was supposed to be Janice’s friend from daycare, who would help Janice and Percy out. He didn’t have many lines, none that were memorable or anything. He made a few jokes, but that’s about it. After one episode, Nathan was gone with no explanation as to why. Also seen on the forums I came across, many theorized that Nathan got lost at sea or he was taken hostage by Horace Horrible and the Skin Taker. The more morbid suggested that Nathan drowned at sea or he was killed to be a new coat for the Skin Taker. One lunatic thought we killed him. So many fans wrote in wanting to know, and we didn’t know what to tell them.

When episode 112 arrived, we were excited to know that season one was almost done, and we planned on making the episode longer than usual to fit in lots of material. The episode was that Pirate Percy steals a scroll from Horace Horrible, showing where the biggest treasure they’ve ever imagined is located. Along the way, they encounter other pirates and sea ninjas who work for Horace Horrible and the Skin Taker; who want to reclaim the scroll. Percy gains more courage than ever and takes on his deepest fear on their mission. The ending is a big climatic battle between Percy, Janice, other pirates and Nathan; who sails to the big island with a group of buccaneers on a raft. Horace Horrible and the Skin Taker get lost at sea and Percy becomes the great pirate he always wanted to be. Janice leaves the land of pirates to return home, leaving Nathan to continue where she left off on other adventures with Percy. It’s implied that with something Janice leaves behind that she’d return or she’d appear in spirit to guide Nathan and Percy on quests when they get scared. We were very excited about the idea, and spent three weeks planning before we’d film the episode, leaving fans hungry for the season finale.

The day had arrived; it was about 5PM on November the 15th. The sun set rather early thanks to daylight savings time. It was quite cold, but with winter around the corner, I shouldn’t have been surprise. Entering the rec room by the sound booth, I saw three of the writers, Todd and one of our puppeteers, Ronald Billingsly, playing cards. Walter was on the couch, checking the weather channel and George was playing Old Maid on the carpet with Jodie. Leonard and Donna were returning from the nearby donut shop with coffee and donuts (orange juice and a peanut stick for Janice). When they entered, we all gathered around to get the goods, then went back to our activities; waiting for Emerson to arrive.

A call that would come in moments later would inform us that Emerson was having car trouble and would be a little late arriving to the set, but to not worry. Around 7PM, we were all about to call it a day and return home; hoping tomorrow would be a better day. As I was about to aid Walter to my car, Emerson stuck his head through the door; giving us our five minute call. In the few seconds he had his head in the door, I saw a different side of him. His eyes were darker and hollower. His skin was much paler than I remember and his hair looked like it was falling out. Jodie was uneasy and hid behind George who was putting the cards away.

At 7:05 or so, we were out on the set. We were the last crew there, with the exception of someone from the “Mary Martin Friendship Club”, who was putting paint away, and gathering papers. I leaned by the sound booth, waiting for Dorothy Higgins, who played Ellen on “Jumbo’s Circus”. She was supposed to come by to help with a bit of the set work, and was given a small role as one of the pirates in the finale. We would only shoot a few scenes that day, then go back to filming after the long Thanksgiving break we had coming. George was talking to Todd over some coffee, cracking some jokes and talking about family life. I could overhear him talking about his son Jason’s birthday that was coming up. He was turning seven.

At last, Emerson was ready. He gave us the fresh copies of the scripts. They still felt warm. Upon receiving them, Emerson turned to Michael Fitzgerald, a camera man. He asked him to take Jodie into the PlayTime room, to go over the script. Michael’s face went pale upon seeing it. He choked a bit, and Jodie was confused. You could tell he felt uncomfortable, but took her there anyways. While that was going on, Emerson “escorted” the voice actors as well as Donna and Wendy into the sound booth, tossing their scripts into the booth.

“Now, from the top.” He said

Peering over Pierre’s shoulder, I could only make out one word in the gibberish that just looked like someone smashing keys on a typewriter, scream. I was puzzled. Where did our script go? We gave them to him to send to Bob and one of the executives. At last, it dawned upon stupid me. Emerson finally lost it and forgot that he wasn’t allowed to be within 10 feet of a typewriter. Todd, Kirby, Leonard and George just looked confused, not sure what to even do. Emerson grabbed a microphone and just screamed at the top of his lungs. I felt like my ears were bleeding. I feared the lady at the front desk would have heard and taken a massive heart attack. The rest…the rest is such a massive blur.

Before I knew it, Emerson was in the sound booth, screaming. His screams and the way he moved around frightened the others, causing them to scream. George had another relapse and huddled up into a ball in the corner. He had the same look of terror in his eyes he had when he recorded episode 107. Wendy and Leonard were trying to comfort him. Todd and Kirby did what they were told, screaming inaudible phrases. In their screams, there was pain…fear. If you only heard the audio track, you’d think they were held at gun point or being tortured.

While the cries continued, Emerson stepped out to instruct the puppeteers to get started. Emerson pulled the secondary camera operator, John Ulrich, over to start filming, while Ronald and three other puppeteers (Aaron Quincy, Jacob Keats and Ann Marie Gaul) went to their places. Emerson told them to make them “dance”. When Jacob wasn’t doing it “correctly”, Emerson bolted to his place and made Pirate Percy dance spastically around the stage. Eventually, the strings snapped; as did one of Percy’s cheap legs.

Staring into the sound booth, Kirby and Todd were quick to get back to screaming. I’m not sure what was going through John’s head. He could only see the death of the puppets through the view of the camera, but the screams going on from behind him might have made him thing they were making a puppet equivalent of a snuff film. Hell, any persons who might have still been here would probably think that. Soon, after over 15 minutes of this needless agony, Emerson came out and told John to cut the camera. Emerson just clapped.

“Bravo.” He said “Viddy good show.”

He snagged the reel of film from John and retreated for one of the editing rooms. A moment later, Michael returned with Jodie. Both of their faces and eyes were red, but I’m not sure who cried more ultimately. Jodie just looked crushed to see her puppet friends ‘dead’. Percy was broken, the Skin Taker’s jaw was hanging off a hinge, and one of his glass eyes had popped out of his skull. The Laughingstock’s foam mouth was in a pool of saw dust and the mechanisms used to operate his eyes were jammed, causing one eye to look lazy. Horace Horrible seemed to be the only one to survive it all. Michael was able to hand Emerson the last reel before we headed home. Without thinking, I fled the studio; not even remembering I had to drive Walter to his house. I didn’t even bother to collect my items. I just ran for the parking lot and drove off to my apartment, only to have Allen question why I was in a sweat and on edge. I just went to my room and didn’t bother to explain myself. None of us, at least to my knowledge, saw Emerson again.

Over the next few days, I heavily considered leaving Ashland and moving away somewhere. Long Island, a place I visited when I was 11 called me; and I desperately wanted to go back. The decision was final on the 28th of November. I was flipping through channels around 4PM, looking for something to keep me occupied and to keep my mind off how sick I was feeling for the past few days. Eventually, I stopped on channel 58, public access. “The Mary Martin Friendship Club” ended and I could hear the Candle Cove theme begin, with its calliope music and all. After the screen faded in from black, the haunting screams returned. I fell back out of my chair and hid behind the sofa. Everything seemed to grow louder. Faster and faster everything seemed to move. The screams got to the point where the speakers were nearly blown. The episode ended abruptly, turning to static—then to a plain black screen with piano music, which brought me back to an unusual show in the late 60s and its abrupt cancellation. The last frame I was able to make out before the static kicked in, was that of someone in a bear like mask. When Allen got back, I told him about it and he was deeply disturbed. Before I left, I called Bob and told him I needed my check; because I was relocating. I didn’t have to tell him why, because he had an idea why.

Like I said, none of us heard from Emerson from what I’ve heard. The night I left for Long Island, I stopped at a motel somewhere outside Lexington for the night, after suddenly becoming very drowsy. Once in my room, I decided to unwind with some TV. I was too tired to bother with anything, so I decided to watch whatever left on by the last room owner. It was the local news. Not much was going on for the first 20 minutes. At 10:30, they had news in from Ashland. There was talk about a recent murder that happened. An older woman and two other people were dead. All from multiple stab wounds, with the exception of one who appeared to be bludgeoned with something heavy, like a hammer or a pipe. Their names weren’t released until later that night, when they were identified as Henry, Karen and Margaret Grimes. Everything around me seemed to stop. Emerson was all I could think about. When police went to find him for questioning, they couldn’t. Even at the studio, nobody saw him leave. His car was still in the parking lot though, which isn’t even the odd part. What’s odd is that the only trace of him was what appeared to be clumps of hair and extracted teeth found in the editing room.

To this day, nobody has seen him turn up; which lead to police declaring him legally dead in 1979. That was one of the last times I ever got in touch with the others, with the one exception in 1991 when we attended the funerals of both Michael in early April and seven and a half months later for Bob; both died from sudden fatal heart attacks. It was weird seeing them again. Walter was in a wheelchair after a car accident threw him through the car windshield in ’88 and many weren’t talking; due to the traumas of others affecting them. I wasn’t aware of a few of them, because my contact information was ever-changing. Leonard was in a near fatal kayaking accident a few weeks prior to the funerals. George tragically lost his son, Jason, I think four or so years after the final episode was released. I had been informed before the funeral to not talk to George, because he was still very upset about what happened. When I asked what happened, I was informed that his son had gone missing for a few days, only to be found dead in a ditch a few miles from his school. His killer has yet to be found or identified.

I had also been informed about the death of one of the writers, who died in a freak house fire. One nobody would tell me happened a week before we gathered for Bob’s funeral. When I asked Donna where Todd was, she told me in private that he had financial problems he didn’t tell anyone about. He developed a gambling addiction after the show’s run, which made things much worse. A rumor was floating around that he bought a lottery ticket one day, and accidentally dropped it on the subway. The ticket would have made him a millionaire and save him from debt. He took his life. During Bob’s funeral, something Todd told me once came back to my mind. When we were out getting lunch for the others, we somehow started talking about religion. I told him I was a Buddhist, and he told me he was a Scientologist. I question to this day if his faith had anything to do with his untimely passing.

No wonder why people thought the show was cursed.

I’m writing this at a quite bizarre hour in the night, wanting to get my thoughts on the keys, before my memory strips me of them. To keep these recordings for the next generation of seekers and those who question what happened that dreadful night. I’m writing this nearing my 54th year and not sure how many I have left. As I bring this to a close, I wish to apologize. To the fans who adored the show, thank you for your love and support. To those who were terrified and left traumatized, I apologize deeply. Truly I do. If I could take away your nightmares, I gladly would. But understand this, and it’s that the amount of nightmares you’ve had, will never compare to or amount to the ones I’ve had and still do.

-Robert Christopher Yates
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