The book doesn’t look particularly creepy. There are no ominous images on the cover. No words of foreboding. There is only a plain red canvas with gold letters that read: “The Tale of Roly Poly.”
I never saw the book until Ginny pulled it from her collection on the shelf. It may have been left by the previous owners. We had only moved to this neighborhood a month ago.
Ginny was already snuggled under the covers when I opened the book. At six, she was starting to read and never needed to be coaxed to bed if I promised her a story. Well, almost never. Princesses were her new obsession and we’d covered most of the classics like “Sleeping Beauty” and “Cinderella”. “The Tale of Roly Poly” was a departure from the usual set list.
“Are you sure you want this one, pumpkin?”
I shrugged and began to read:
There were two boys,
Two children like you,
One was called Jack,
The other was Hugh.
The boys sat in their room,
For there was nothing to do,
They were so bored,
A common bugaboo.
The book contained a simple illustration of two boys in a bedroom decorated with baseball-themed wallpaper.
They thought and they thought,
They huffed and they puffed,
Until Hugh said, “Phew!”
“Enough is enough!”
“Let’s play a game!”
“We’ll upend this loose end,”
“I know!” said Jack,
“I’ll call on my friend.”
I groaned internally and hoped that Ginny would fall asleep soon. This wasn’t exactly Dr. Seuss.
Jack took the book,
And said the words written down,
“Come out, come out,”
“You silly old clown.”
With a whish and a whoosh,
And fizzle and pop,
Roly Poly arrived,
With a great big plop.
There was an enormous figure that dwarfed the two boys next to him. The man was dressed as a traditional pantomime clown, complete with a ruff, white make-up and garish red lips.
“How do?” said the clown, “I’ve come to play,”
“You?” said Hugh, “Oh dear, holy moley!”
“Don’t be scared,” declared Jack,
“It’s just Roly Poly.”
“What shall we do?” said Hugh, all a flutter,
As he pulled out his toys from the bedroom clutter.
There were many games of various names,
All wires and megawatts,
A singing machine, a trampoline,
There were even two robots.
“Oh no!” said the clown,
“This will not do!”
“Let’s play some real games,”
“Ditch this techno voodoo.”
“Come with me and you’ll see”
“My home is quite grand”,
“You’ll have all that you need”,
“In Topsy-Turvy Land.”
The two boys nodded,
Their hearts filled with glee,
They took the clown’s hand,
And counted three Mississippi!
Hugh and Jack closed their eyes,
As the world twirled and twirled,
They whooped with joy,
As a new land was unfurled.
The clown’s home was quite splendid,
Full of candies and treats, the fun never ended,
No parents, no chores, no bedtime or rules,
No horrible homework from boring old schools.
The boys played and played and all three were glad,
Until one fateful day when the clown became sad.
“What’s wrong, Roly Poly?”
“Is there something we can do?”
The boys asked and asked,
But their worry still grew.
“Oh dear,” the clown mumbled,
“My apologies, most humbled,”
“I’m just very hungry,”
As his large tummy rumbled.
“Would you like chocolate or chips or gooey cream cake?”
“We have hot dogs and ice-cream and every milkshake.”
But the clown shook his head,
For his belly did ache,
Then he grabbed little Hugh,
“A fine meal you will make!”
My stomach flipped when I saw the contents of the next page. I shut the book immediately.
“Let’s call it a night, princess.”
Ginny tried to protest, but her eyelids were heavy with sleep.
“What happened to the boy, Daddy?”
“I’ll tell you tomorrow.”
I kissed Ginny on the forehead and turned out the light.
I went downstairs and poured a large glass of wine before reopening the book. The page that I'd closed contained an illustration of a gruesome scene. The clown held one of the boys above his head and had bitten into the child's left side. His teeth tore away chunks of pink flesh as blood trickled down his ruby-stained lips. The boy’s eyes were shut, his tear-streaked face frozen in an agonized expression. Spurred on by morbid curiosity, I continued to read:
Roly Poly grabbed the boy and held him aloft,
He took a big bite—sweet Hugh was so soft.
He gnashed and he gnawed, he chewed and he slurped,
And when nothing was left, the clown loudly burped.
He looked around; there was no Jack to be found.
The boy had run; the chase had begun.
Jack ducked and he darted, he ran and he ran,
Roly Poly just chuckled: “Come back here, young man!”
“This place is large; indeed, it does sprawl!”
“There is no way out; no way at all.”
The clown was quite right, for try as he might,
Jack rushed to escape, but there was no exit in sight.
The boy grew tired, his breath became weary,
Roly Poly caught up, sounding quite cheery:
“You’re tougher than most— you, I will cook.”
And he hung the boy up on an old meat hook.
The child screamed and he shouted, “You great fat liar!”
The clown licked his lips as he stoked the big fire.
I turned to the last page. The boy dangled from a hook over a gaping fire pit. Parts of his skin were cracked and blackened as the flames licked his small frame. The clown prodded the fire with a stick in one hand. The other hand waved to the reader as a maniacal smile revealed two rows of long, sharp teeth.
The clown was so happy, this sweet meat was a treat,
Hail to the chef—Bon appétit!
I woke up early the next morning and took the paper lying on the doorstep. It was Sunday, but I never liked to sleep in. I put on a pot of coffee and glanced at the headline on the countertop. My heart froze:
“Fifth Anniversary of Local Boys’ Disappearance”
"Hundreds have taken part in a remembrance rally to mark the fifth anniversary of the disappearance of brothers Hugh and Jack Healy."
"The brothers, aged eight and six, were abducted from their home on January 07, 2012. Police have issued a fresh appeal for information this weekend [story continued on page 3].”
I ran outside and removed the cover of the trash can. Perhaps whoever wrote that book knew something about the boys’ disappearance? At the very least, I needed to report this sick material to the police. My stomach lurched as I regarded the contents of the can. The book was gone.
A primal panic rose in my chest as I dashed upstairs to Ginny’s bedroom. A single piece of paper lay atop the crumpled sheets of her empty bed:
Ginny picked a good book,
A true tale to excite,
But Dad did not like it,
He thought it was trite.
He stopped the story at the moment of glory,
“Oh no, not for you! This part is unfit!”
The clown did not like that,
Not one little bit.
So Roly Poly told Ginny,
Who was ever so skinny:
“Let’s have some fun!”
“We'll show that old ninny.”
And now Ginny plays,
In the land Topsy-Turvy,
Full of sugar and spice,
And all things that are girly.
While the princess holds court,
In dresses of satin,
The clown simply smiles,
“She’ll do, she’ll fatten.”
It’s been one week since Ginny went missing. I’ve given the page to the cops but they’re as baffled as I am. Every hellish verse of that awful book is seared into my skull. I can’t sleep. I can’t eat. I’m typing this as both an appeal and a warning. If you find this book, don’t open it, don’t read it. Call the police. A child’s life may depend on it.