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Summers in Los Angeles were notoriously hot. It’s the desert, you know, people don’t realize that behind the glitz and glamour of the Hollywood elite there is just bone dry sand and dust settling under the paved roads and suburban parks. People think that LA is a superficial city, with no depth behind its artificial glimmer, but the truth is so much worse. I know this now, in part because of the events I am about to unfold to you all.

The year was 1989, the month was June. I was seven years old and fresh out of school, ready to take on three months of uninterrupted decadence and bliss. In those days the streets were still considered safe and us kids would take to them by storm, assaulting the parks and parking lots with unprecedented vigor. We’d start the day right, playing baseball or four-square with boundless energy, and then idle down to lazy games of Horse or hide-and-seek as the sun bobbed its head and dipped beneath the Pacific. Of course, we always took a break when the ice cream man came by.

The ice cream man. Oh how I can still remember his jingle. That sweet crescendo of notes lighting upon our delighted ears, and the subsequent scramble to his dinky white truck for chocolate éclairs and Mickey Mouse bars. As kids we barely paid attention to the man himself, so fixated we were on the sugary treats, but I recall he was an older gentleman, always quick to flash us a smile though not overly friendly either. It didn’t matter – inhaling gobs of gooey treats was all we ever cared about when he came by. Every day at 1 PM, as reliable as a clock tower, the ice cream man would turn lazily down our neighborhood and herald that yes, today was another hot, sticky, glorious summer day.

Our band of miscreants fluctuated day by day, though there were a few constants. Jenny, our leader, big for a girl her age and therefore by default a giant in our midst. She was a bully but she looked out for all of us in her own weird way. Artie, the Jewish kid. His dad worked for someone who worked for someone important and he liked to tell us that in his snot-nosed uppity voice. Laike, who I secretly thought wasn’t so bad, for a girl. Mike, John, a couple of others. Me. I was the chubby one, the one whom the others liked to rag on. Ever since I could remember I was softer than the others, rounder somehow. I didn’t think that was fair seeing as I wasn’t really that different from the others. But you can understand my reticence whenever the ice cream man came by. After all, what seven year old wouldn’t laugh at the little fat kid pumping his sausage legs towards his daily dose of sugar?

When I think about it now, I can’t help but wonder what would have happened if I was born a little thinner, or perhaps had a little thicker skin. If I didn’t always hang back, waiting until the others had collected their treats before ashamedly stepping up and pushing a dollar into the old man’s hand. But of course, ruminating on such matters is useless. I can only relate what happened.

On a particularly hot day that June, I was walking home from the playground with Laike and John. We were chatting about something or other, alternating between distractedly switching topics and running around, as kids are apt to do. We were turning the corner when we saw it. The ice cream truck, parked in the shadow of a copse of palm trees. We skidded to a halt like three little pigs, jaws agape. Immediately Laike shrieked “Ice cream!” and took off for the truck. John and I hung back, both puzzled – the ice cream man usually came to us; it was strange to come across his truck like this. We watched Laike as she approached, stalking the truck like a puppy after a dragonfly. She peered up and got a disgruntled look on her face. Turning back, she shook her head. “Nah, no one’s there,” she called. We shrugged and resumed walking, immediately losing interest. Laike skipped ahead while John and I argued over the logistics of a battle between Optimus Prime and Shredder. We had nearly completed the block when Laike glanced back and waved.

It wasn’t at us.

The ice cream truck had come to life. It inched forward slowly, impeccably down the street towards us. Laike made to run back but something in me made me stick my hand out at her. I shook my head silently.

“Whaaat?” Laike pouted.

“Listen.” We did. Like a heavy miasma, the air hung thick and absent of the jingle. “He’s probably not open,” I said. Laike shrugged in acquiesce and we resumed walking. The truck’s low rumble creeped up behind us. Maybe we all sensed it, but none of us felt like talking. It was like something descended down the three of us, smothering our carefree play. We walked in uncharacteristic silence, ears straining to hear the truck. Its motor was rapidly growing loudly, a rumbling beast stalking its prey. I dared not look back but instead quickened my pace. Laike and John didn’t protest but followed suit. The truck approached, steadfast and implacable. There were no chimes. Where were the chimes?

I finally looked back. The truck was idling again in front of another house. This time I looked carefully at its exterior, the scratched white paint, the colorful images of creamsicles and sundaes adorning the surface. I could see pits in the pictures, where the plastered on images eroded away. It wasn’t the usual truck, the one the old man drove. This one had an eye on it, carved sloppily into the steel. The eye was wide and bare and there was a black hole right where the pupil should be. Inside that hole there was only darkness. I tried to peer inside through another means but the windows were tinted black. Were they always that dark? I craned my neck, trying to see who the driver was.

Then the truck roared to life. The three of us startled and jumped back as it whizzed by us, tearing down the street at a frightening speed. I know what I saw then, though the other two denied it. But the side window wasn’t tinted, and the driver inside wasn’t that friendly old man. He looked heavyset, and dressed in a colorful motley. I wiped my eyes from the exhaust and looked at my friends. The three of us stared at each other for a moment, and then dissolved into hysterics. The moment had passed, whatever it was, and we could resume our journey home safely.

Evening came all too quick, and our games took on a frantic pace as we tried to squeeze every last drop of that summer glow from the day. Laike, John, and a whole bunch of us were gathered at the park by Laike’s house, where the parents could keep an eye on us. We could see them in the distance, stalwart figures keeping keen eyes on their progeny. To us though, they were the timekeepers, all too ready and eager to set into motion and drag us from our idyllic bliss. The day’s events had long since passed from my mind, and we were engaged in a deadly game of dodgeball. I hooked the ball to Laike, and then laughed as it bounced from her hands. “Butterfingers!” I crowed, thankful that it wasn’t me this time who messed up the game. But Laike didn’t care. Her eyes were only for the ice cream truck that had suddenly appeared in the distance.

‘Look!” she pointed. Heads whipped around in a frenzy.

“Ice cream!” one boy shouted.

“He came! He came!” shrieked a girl, oblivious to the fact that yes, the ice cream man always came. But usually he came earlier, when the sun reached its zenith and customers were piling up. He never came this hour, when the light hit the trees at that angle where the world burned. We didn’t care. We knew what the truck meant. As usual I hung back and watched my thinner, faster peers flock the truck. I could see parents moving forward too, as oblivious to this anomaly as the rest of us. I slowly walked up to the truck, then froze in my tracks.

It was the same truck as before. That eye peered out in the midst of the plastered images and this time I could see that there was a second eye next to it. How did I miss it before? And those images below, those weren’t pictures of ice cream. What I thought were chocolate bars were holes. The vanilla cakes were the color of bone and adorned a broken smile, which was lapped with rich ruby red. Nestled in the midst of the colorful treats was a horror to look at – a wide, grinning skull with bleeding lips turned up in a rictus. Nobody could see it but me.

The children paid and were hastily unwrapping their bars. Looking back, I think I knew even then what was about to happen. In my imagination I surged forward, slapped hands away from the ice cream, screamed loud and long. But instead I just waited, and watched.

The first girl bit into her bar. She chewed with bliss, and then her eyes popped wide. I watched her little body go stiff, and her breathing increase. I watched her chest rise and fall, rise and fall, spasming as she doubled over choking. By then the others were choking too, each fed their own special poison, handpicked by the ice cream man. It didn’t take long. By the time the last one started choking, the first girl was frothing on the ground, feebly batting away the bubbles from her mouth. Parents were screaming, rushing by me. One knocked me to the ground and I felt my head hit the grass. I closed my eyes, wondering if this is what my friends were feeling. There was a roar of the engine, and then more screaming. I propped myself up, ignoring the writhing figures about, and watched the ice cream truck drive away.

In the end, eleven children died that day. I was supposed to be number twelve, but I was chubby for my age, reluctant to join my friends in their frenzy, always hanging back and always watching. They never caught the guy, you know. Some of you might wonder who he was, or why he did what he did. It really doesn’t matter to me. As he was back then, he remains an irreconcilable force, something that should not have been there on that summer day, yet was so very much there. You might think there is no depth to this city, but you are wrong. It’s only that beneath the surface of it all there is but howling, black, purposeless madness.

Twenty one years later, my life remains defined by that day. The media loves me, so do the psychologists. I let them drink their fill. I smile and nod and tell them sure, maybe someday I’ll write a book, though first I thought to share my story with all you good people. Life seems dull somehow, fogged by a gray I cannot shake. My mom tells me I should meet a nice woman, but all I can remember is that little girl’s spasming body. Was it Laike who I watched in her final moments, or someone else? I really can’t recall any of their faces now, and that’s the saddest part.

Laike, John, Jenny, everyone. I’m sorry I couldn’t take the plunge with you all. I’m sorry I was so scared, so self-conscious of my fat little body. I know he’s still out there, watching and waiting for his next move. I hope he knows he forgot to serve one kid. Lately I’ve been taking long walks by myself, hoping to turn that corner and find waiting for me my redemption, that little bit of peace that can only come from someone as beloved as the ice cream man.

( From r/nosleep, by kitsune623 )


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