Professor Danielle Hardin really hadn’t expected much of the assignment she gave her students. Just a project on local history, some interesting bit of trivia. What she got however…
One of her students—Lee Anderson—had researched a nearly-forgotten children’s show: Candle Cove. The thesis came bundled with a VHS-format video cassette, which was promptly filed away by Danielle for future grading.
Danielle rushed out soon after class ended in order to keep an appointment with a book appraiser, namely John Smith. Upon investigation, the book was a documentation of a Romani magickal system, including some of the folklore of the Eastern European area. While reading, they found a story of a creature named the Skin Stealer, a name similar to one Danielle recognized from Anderson’s thesis: the Skin Taker.
She returned to her office to recover the project, and noticed a strange man watching on her route. She returned, and saw the same individual watching the store. She entered and Smith locked the door, only to note that the form seemed to be closer without seeming to have moved. Each time they looked away, the figure seemed to materialize closer to the building, much closer than would be possible for a normal human to move in the same amount of time.
Smith called the security company that held contract with his store, and an officer was immediately dispatched. By this point, the form was standing stock still outside the door to the shop, but was only visible in silhouette because of the lights in the parking lot. Smith approached with a flashlight, and revealed that the entity was dressed in an overcoat and fedora, but the face was wholly occupied by an impossibly large, tooth-crammed mouth. The chin drooped down all the way to the base of the thing’s sternum, with massively overcrowded, crooked teeth and a huge, bristly mustache as the only indications of a face.
Moments later the security patrol arrived, with headlights washing out our heroes’ vision. When the lights passed, the creature had vanished, leaving only an empty lot. The security officer made a thorough sweep of the area, but was unable to locate any trace.
They finally worked up the courage to watch the tape, and viewed what seemed like a harmless puppet show, replete with seaside critters and a poorly constructed scalawag with the mundane moniker of Pirate Percy. Percy was having a conversation with a young woman somewhere between the ages of 20-25. The puppet danced on his strings and asked cheerfully “Hey kids, what do you want to learn about today?” John answered, half-joking; “How to survive” and somehow, inexplicably, the young woman, whose name seemed to be Julie Silver, began giving a crash course in island survival and how to build a makeshift lean-to. The lessons devolved somewhat to include lessons ostensibly targeted at a preschool-age audience, ending with a lesson on colors- “Coconuts are brown!”
At this point, Pirate Percy announced in his high, screechy voice that it was “Cartoon Time!!” At the announcement, the camera began to zoom in on the bow of Percy’s ship, named The Laughingstock. The ship had a rather unusual appearance, as the bow was made up in the image of a human face. The ship was permanently tilted to the viewer’s left, as if the ship had been beached at some long-forgotten point in the past. As the camera zoomed in, the ship’s mouth slowly began to creak open. Danielle unnerved, turned the tape off. That is when she and John realized that they’d lost a few hours worth of time, in what had seemed only fifteen or twenty minutes.
John decided to do some research on the Skin Taker, and Danielle took it upon herself to start the tape back up, and to force her way through “Cartoon Time.” He found several versions of the story, the common threads of which involve an immortal creature who steals the bodies of others, appearing completely skeletal in its true form. At the end of each tale, the Skin Taker is entranced by a story to the point that the monster becomes trapped within it. Further research turns up a book of German stories, oddly missing approximately 20 pages.
Meanwhile, Danielle has fallen into a trance, and is pulled into the Laughingstock. Overwhelming colors and images overlaid with a cacophony of sounds assaulted her, and she found herself face-to-face with the overtoothed creature, Horace Horrible. He attempted to pull Danielle “Inside”, but she was able to escape both Horace and the trance. She awakened with a band of finger-shaped bruises on her arm. Focusing her psychic abilities on the cassette, she received a vision of a young girl watching a television set from the 1950’s.
Sporadic internet research unearthed other individuals who had discussed the show, and a meeting was set up with one of them, known only by her screenname- QueenLiz- at a local coffee shop. Lee Anderson was contacted as well, and the pair set off for the shop after catching a couple hours’ sleep.
They met with Anderson first, and found that the tape had been part of his father’s belongings. The father had died when Anderson was very young, so the boy had watched the tape. He became somewhat obsessed with the show, researching as much as he was able. He contacted a small group who had recovered hazy memories of the show from its original airing. The group had collectively assembled enough bits to construct a rough outline of an episode, confirmed by Anderson’s own experience. When John became aggressive with his questioning, Anderson panicked and ran away. John was unable to catch the retreating boy, and was admonished for attempting by the shop’s other patron, QueenLiz.
She revealed that all those who had seen the show in its initial run had grown up sickly, and were slowly dying off. None of the recovered memories group had ever been able to track down any record of the show’s broadcast, official or otherwise. Their research had run up against a dead end, and few of the survivors had the ability to pursue the matter much further. No one outside the Mender’s Reach area had ever heard of the show, and until the tape had surfaced, many of the research group had begun to believe that the incident had been a shared hallucination.
Danielle suggested that she and John return to her office to retrieve the remainder of the books that her father had left her. Upon arrival, she noticed an almost inhuman handprint on the window of her office…