THE CARPET MEN
by Paul Childs
“What do you mean you don’t like The Muppets?”
“Please,” Eddie buried his face in his armpit, “put something else on.”
Shaking her head in disbelief, Sharon changed to a cookery program on the next channel. “There. Will that do?”
Eddie peeped out from under his arm. When he was satisfied that Kermit and his friends were gone he slumped back in the sofa and let out a sigh of relief. “I’m sorry. It’s just that they remind me of,” he leaned in, glancing around and whispered “The Carpet Men.”
“Who the hell are The Carpet Men?” Sharon demanded.
Eddie took a deep breath. He’d hoped to avoid dragging this up again. “When I was little, maybe six or seven, I had this nightmare.”
“About The Muppets?” Sharon asked.
“Kind of. But not really.
Where I grew up there was this massive department store called Spooner’s. I was in there with my mum. I wanted to look at the toys but she made me stay with her in the carpet department. I always hated that room, even in real life. It was a gigantic hall with a grey linoleum floor and high ceilings. It backed onto the old Regal cinema so all you could see through the windows was a brick wall. And that made it dark.
Stacked from floor to ceiling were metal racks of carpets on rollers. Maybe it was because I was so small, but the racks seemed to disappear into darkness way over my head. And the way they were laid out made it like a maze.
To examine a carpet mum let go of my hand so I wandered off to see if there was anything more interesting. As I explored, I saw movement in the corner of my eye. Small silhouettes flitting around, like children. I thought it was someone to play with so I strolled over to find them. But there was nothing there, just a dark corner with more carpets.
I turned to walk back out of the dead-end when I heard whispering.
“Psssst. Hey, kid!” I looked around but couldn’t see anything.
“Over here!” came the voice again. I stepped into the gloom, squinting to see. From behind a carpet roll a creature slowly rose up. I smiled when I saw an orange, felt hand-puppet with ping-pong ball eyes. It was similar to the characters I knew from TV, but I didn’t recognise it. I tried to peer behind the roll to see who was controlling it when there was more movement to my right. Another puppet popped up, this time a bright purple one.
“What have we here?” it said, in a deep voice. I spun around when I heard more noise behind me. There must have been twenty or more of them, all varying shapes and colours laughing and chattering amongst the carpets. Suddenly, I didn’t feel so good about being alone in this corner with those things. I told them I really should go back to my mum.
“No!” they cried.
“Don’t you like us?” said a green one.
“Because we like you,” a yellow on replied.
“Yes!” came more replies from the group. “Stay! Play with us!”
“I… I can’t. I’m not allowed to play with strangers.” I said, slowly stepping back out of the aisle.
“Well that is disappointing,” Orange spoke again. “We’re going to have to teach you some manners.” The puppets bowed their heads in unison, “Because, you see…”
When they raised their heads the features of each puppet had subtly changed. The faces seemed almost the same, yet somehow angrier, more sinister. I knew immediately that they intended to harm me.
“You don’t say ‘No’ to The Carpet Men.” When Orange spoke its mouth was full of small pointed teeth. All of the other puppets laughed at this, revealing equally carnivorous mouths. In my haste to get away I tripped and fell back over a roll sticking out behind me. As I clambered to get to my feet, I saw them hopping out from behind the carpets. Nobody was controlling them, and they scurried towards me. They would be on me any second. I covered my face with my hands and screamed, waiting for the pain of sharp teeth sinking in when I felt strong hands grasp me under my arms and raise me to my feet.
“So this is where you’ve been young man!” It was my mum. I looked back into the corner. Nothing. “Come on. We’re going home.”
As she pulled me by the hand towards the exit I looked back once more to see Orange rise up behind its carpet roll. “Your mummy won’t be around to protect you forever Eddie” it whispered before I was dragged out of the room.
And then I woke up screaming,” said Eddie through a hand over his mouth. “I’ve never forgotten it, and that’s why I don’t like The Muppets.”
“I’m not surprised,” said Sharon, slipping her arm around his waist. “But I won’t let those nasty Carpet Men get you.”
“Don’t even joke about it. And don’t say their name, please.”
Shocked at the tremble in his voice, Sharon just said “Okay Eddie, sorry,” and took him by the hand to bed, where she held him a little closer than usual.
Eddie’s mother passed away later that year and he reluctantly returned to his hometown of Badgers Crossing to settle her affairs. After walking through the old revolving door for the first time in over twenty years Eddie was met by a tall man in a suit, who shook his hand firmly, pulling him in for a hug.
“So good to see you again Ed. I’m sorry it’s not in better circumstances. We really should meet up when it’s not for one of our folks’ funerals.”
Eddie nodded. “I’d like that mate,” He sighed. “But’s let’s get this out of the way first, eh?”
Mark held up a clipboard and tapped it with his pen. “Aside from being my best mate’s mum, Sheila was a valuable customer, so I’ll do anything I can to help you fix that house up and sell it.” He led the way, with Eddie trailing behind.
“You’ll need to repaint the woodwork, get some fresh wallpaper up, tile the bathroom,” he checked items off on his pad as they walked “and of course you’ll want new curtains and carpets.”
Eddie froze. “No! No carpets.”
Smiling sympathetically Mark said “Ed, I’ve worked at Spooner’s since we left school and I’ve never seen any… What did you call them?”
“Carpet Men,” Eddie whispered.
“That’s it. Carpet Men!” Hearing the name out loud made Eddie shudder. “Don’t worry. Do you trust me to choose something?” He nodded. “Okay. You stay here then. I’ll be right back.” Eddie sat on a chair outside while Mark entered the carpet department to choose a suitable design.
After ten minutes Mark still hadn’t returned. Eddie started pacing up and down, occasionally glancing in through the glass of the door, but there was no sign of him. After a few more minutes he decided to follow in to find out what was taking so long. The layout of the room was similar, but the atmosphere was much friendlier than in 1981. The lino had been replaced with a green carpet and bright lighting made the high ceiling feel much less imposing.
Eddie smiled. This place was not as terrible as he remembered. He went deeper and deeper into the labyrinthine room calling Mark’s name.
Eddie walked towards the voice, shaking his head in annoyance when he came to a dead end. Before he could backtrack an orange, felt hand-puppet with ping-pong ball eyes rose up from behind a carpet roll.
“I hoped you would come back Eddie…”
Eddie turned to retreat, his heart pounding. The exit was blocked by several brightly coloured puppets who advanced towards him, baring their sharp little teeth.
“Now your mummy isn’t around to protect you.”