We both watched as the ball rolled in to his yard. That big yard of that strange old man. That sick feeling filled our gut. We walked over to the edge of the dead grass and we tossed each other an unsure glance.

” He makes little boys in there, you know?”, I said to Timmy, as if he hadn’t heard it a million times.

We both sat, at the edge of his gnarled fence, gazing at our countless past failures strewn about the yard, tossed out and forgotten.

There were footballs and a Frisbee and way too many baseballs to count. But it all sat there for a reason.

Newcomers to the neighborhood thought the house abandoned, but those of us who lived here long enough knew better.

The house loomed at the end of the street like some sort of castle  you would imagine would be filled with lepers.  Kids would go on the weekends and throw rocks at the house. but we knew better than that. We just kept our distance, even when our stuff would roll into his yard.

Geppetto, they called him, and everything about the guy was creepy.

For the few who have actually seen him, some say rather than MAKE puppets, he IS a puppet, come to life.

His house looked like something a kid would explain from his nightmares, stuttering to get the words out. Some windows had curtains, and some were broken and blackened out. A few of  the holes he had for windows would reveal the flickering lights of candles flames if you walked by well past midnight. The candle flames would cast mad shadows on the inside walls that would only feed our childish imaginations.

I saw him, only once, but I don’t talk about it. I won’t. I just remember the pale expressionless face, staring back through one of the windows. Some people describe him using the cliche of “mad scientist”, but that description was much to vague, attributing to his age and nothing more. What lived in this house was something very different from just an old man. People walking by the house, looking at his yard could see that.

Little girls would go to bed with their dolls at night, wake up with them missing, only to find them hanging from a tree in Geppetto’s yard a few days later.

The house had an energy all its own. A menagerie of lost toys, balls and playthings that where left uncollected by their frightful child owners, littered the unkempt property, giving it the appearance of a graveyard. Tall grass, dead and hanging in clumps like the hair of a dying man filled his massive yard. It was obvious the owner of the home  stopped caring about appearances years ago.

Strewn about the yard, along with the abandoned neighbor hood toys, were corpses of his  failed experiments.  Little wooden boys carved with an old man’s shaky hand.

Little boys that were somehow imperfect.

Whittled from wood.

Perhaps one had an arm just a bit too long.  Another with a leg shorter than the other. He used to put the mistakes in his shed, hidden in the back yard of his house, but that filled up a decade ago.

More dolls appear everyday, but whenever police search the house, it is inexplicably empty.

The dolls fill this yard. Looking like a marionette re-enactment of the invasion of D-day, with little, wooden corpses everywhere.

Some with broken limbs or a neck facing backwards.

So imagine, as a child, seeing your kickball roll in to a yard and come to a stop right next to a dead-eyed doll that you swear was your little sister’s a few years earlier? Yeah, those images a kid finds pretty hard to shake.

Would YOU go after that ball? I never had the courage to.

“Favorite” kickball or not, I am NOT going anywhere near that thing.

The other thing that made it all so much scarier to us was the fact that all the “boy” dolls looked the exact same. Dressed the same. The same wide open, painted-on eyes, staring lifelessly.

What made these particular dolls so imperfect to him?

Why were they all dressed in those creepy red shorts with that silly hat with the single feather?

What was he REALLY trying to do in there?

The nose was always the most disturbing part to us, parents and kids alike.

We would imagine him sitting behind the walls of his decrepit house, alone and insane, building boys, one at a time, until he gets it right.

There were unconfirmed rumors when he was much younger he lost his son and wife to a tragedy at sea. Could have been another part of his urban legend. Thing is, if that did happen, all this made sense, and it went from being creepy to being tragic and sad.

If it was a loss that preceded the doll making, then it does make more sense.

Those legends, tragic or creepy, just seemed to surround the guy. The guy none of us were ever sure we saw. I swear I did once, and I can’t even tell you what he was.

Perhaps we all dreamt up the family he never had. A way for the public to justify his actions, to feel less collectively afraid of him, I guess. But the real question we always wondered as we got older was: Who was Geppetto, and did he ever really exist?

Either way, back then he was real to me, and I still get chills when I think about him and that discarded wooden family he splayed around his yard.

You don’t ever forget stuff like this.

Anyway, back to THAT day. I stood there, not even letting the grass touch my foot, fiddling with my baseball glove. We could see his shadow on the first floor, for certain, that afternoon. He was hunched over something.

Was never hard to imagine what it must have been. Another one of his “boys, trying so hard to get him just right. Even our parents would tell us ” You stay away from that Geppetto ” and when we would ask them why, they would never tell us, they kept it their big secret. Or perhaps, in hindsight, their biggest collective lie since Santa Claus, but even now, we don’t know for sure.

They would just say he went through some tough times and wasn’t quite right in the head any more. And that just made us kids more curious.

Thing is,

He was THAT house in the neighborhood.

Every neighborhood has one.

It’s not so much the outside being scary as what COULD be going on inside that terrifies the mind.

It’s big and unwelcoming and surrounded by all these urban legends and the proprietor of the house is never fully seen but is known to be eccentric and mysterious, and for that reason, no one ever approached him or finds out the truth.

Perhaps he was unwelcoming, but perhaps he is just misunderstood.

Either way, as we stood there, Timmy and I, looking into the yard at our ball nestled between two eerily similar looking creepy wooden kids with wide, staring eyes, that we realized we didn’t like that ball much anyway, and we walked away, leaving it there like so many we had before.

I always “flashback” in black and white.

I still think about him, and so many questions come up. Who stole all those little girl’s dolls? Why were we so afraid of him? Hell, did he even exist or did our parents make the whole thing up to keep us all in line? I never get a solid answer, but my favorite thought is that, perhaps, we are just leaving toys for his little wooden army of dead children to play with after the rest of the world goes to sleep at night.

I’ll never know, and I am OK with that.