The Patchwork Monkey is a scary story for kids by Beverly Butler. It’s about a girl who is jealous of her younger brother when he receives a present of an old stuffed monkey named “patches”. This story appeared in an old children’s book called “Baleful Beasts and Eerie Creatures” (1976). A lot of people remember it as one of the most terrifying stories they read when they were young.
Molly might not have been so angry if it hadn’t been raining, but it seemed like the height of unfairness for her mother to drag her away from her favorite television program and send her out in the rotten weather to fetch Jason home from his tea party with Mrs. Welles. Just because her little brother was too dumb to know when it was suppertime, and Mrs. Welles was too old-fashioned to have a telephone, Molly had to suffer.
“It’s not raining that hard,” her mother said, handing her a slicker and a pair of rain boots. “And the fresh air will be better for you than that witch show. I don’t like all this interest of yours in magic and witchcraft, anyway. The first thing you know, you’ll start believing all that nonsense is true.”
“I could believe Mrs. Welles is a witch,” Molly said. “She’s probably fattening Jason up for the kill, like in ‘Hansel and Gretel.’ Why else would an old lady like that as invite a seven-year-old in for chocolate and cookies?”
“Now that’s enough of that talk. Mrs. Welles has had a lot of tragedy in her life, and if Jason reminds her of one of her youngsters who died so long ago, there’s no harm in letting him help her relive her memories. I want you to be respectful toward her.”
Molly yanked the plastic rain boots over her shoes. “I hardly ever even see her. She never gave me even a stick of stale gum. It’s Jason who gets all the favors.”
“She is odd,” her mother conceded, “but you have to remember that she’s very old, too. She probably doesn’t realize you’d care about candy and gum and comics at your age. You look pretty grown up for twelve, you know.”
That wasn’t true, and Molly knew it. She was small for her age and had more than once been mistaken for younger than she was. Anyway, it wasn’t the candy and gum and cookies she cared so much about — it was the unfairness. She and Jason were the only children on this road. According to the real estate man, there had been no children in the neighborhood for some twenty years. So it wasn’t as if Mrs. Welles had singled Jason out from among dozens to be her pet. Besides, it was Jason who got all the favors from everyone. And Molly was always expected to act her age and not care and go sloshing out in the rain on errands nobody else wanted to do. It wasn’t fair.
She ran most of the short distance to Mrs. Wales’s house, her head bent against the rain and her fists clenched in her pockets. Jason let her in, acting as if he lived there. “Don’t come on the carpet all wet,” he told her. “Stay on the mat.”
Molly stuck her tongue out at him and raised her eyes in swift innocence as Mrs. Welles appeared from the kitchen. From the top shelf of the bookcase a plump rag figure grinned down on her with a mouth of red yarn. Molly’s interest was captured at once. “Is that a doll? Or a monkey? Or what?”
Mrs. Welles turned. “Oh, that’s Patches. He started out as an ordinary toy monkey, but he wore out so fast that I finally had to make him a new skin out of pieces from the clothes of all the children who ever played with him.”
She lifted the creature from the shelf and brought it to Molly for examination. It really was a monkey made of patches. One paw was red, the other a pink candy stripe, and its tail was a long tube of faded denim. Tufts of brown yarn stood out around a face that looked like it might once have been a white stocking. The eyes above the red grin were round black buttons, and a collar of little brass bells jingled around its neck.
“He’s taken care of quite a few children in his time,” Mrs. Welles said, smoothing a triangle of blue gingham that formed the monkey’s left shoulder. “The children come and the children go, don’t they, Patches? That’s what keeps us young.”
Molly touched a flower-sprigged hind foot. “What a lot of different cloth. I’d sit and look at him all day if I had him.” She wasn’t sure herself if she were wishing or hinting.
“I wouldn’t,” Jason said. He slid both hands around the monkey’s middle, ignoring the fact that Molly was holding it. “I’d play with him.”
“Jason,” Molly protested, tightening her grip. She glanced up at Mrs. Welles for confirmation that he had been given no permission to take possession.
“Would you, dear?” Mrs. Welles’s blue-veined fingers removed the monkey from both children and held hint up at a tantalizing height. She tilted her head to smile into the white stocking face, and the reflected light of a lamp shot sparks of fire from her spectacles. “He’d like you, I’m sure. It would freshen him up a lot to go home with you.”
For one delightful moment Molly thought Mrs. Welles was about to give the monkey to her. She put it instead into is Jason’s hands.
I don’t care, Molly told herself fiercely. She said it aloud to Jason when they got outside and Mrs. Welles’s door was shut behind them. “I don’t care. I saw him first, and she showed him to me first, so he ought to be mine if I want him. But I don’t.”
“Yes you do.” Jason patted the bulge where the monkey was zipped inside his jacket and pranced ahead of her through a puddle. “But you can’t have him because she gave him to me. She’s my friend.”
“She’s not a friend. She’s a witch. A mean, spiteful, two-faced old witch. She hates children, but she needs fresh blood from them every once in a while to keep alive,” Molly said, stretching her stride to catch up with him.
“You shut up,” Jason yelled at her. “You’re a witch.”
“No, I’m not, but I can tell one when I see one.” Molly was inventing easily now, almost as if she were telling a story she had always known. “And that monkey’s not a monkey, either. He’s her creature that she sends out to gobble up children for her. Every patch on his body is from the clothes of a child he has gotten rid of for her, starting with her own. Just you wait. Tonight at midnight—”
Jason broke into a run. “You shut up, I said. I’ll tell Mama and Daddy what you’re saying, and you’ll be sorry. You shut up.”
Molly ran after him. “You’ll be sorry when he bites you.”
Jason dashed into their yard and slammed the gate shut before she reached it. “If he bites me, he’ll bite you, too. Then you’ll really be sorry.”
But Molly wasn’t sorry. She knew that by the time she got the gate unlatched and could follow him, Jason would be in the house, telling how she had spoiled his monkey for him. So what? That would not unspoil it for him — or for Mrs. Welles. She glanced back up the road to where Mrs. Welles’s front windows were staring out into the dark is like two unwinking yellow eyes — watching her.
A queer prickle down her spine sent her hurrying in-doors. Jason was already eating his supper, and Molly’s was waiting on the table. She had forgotten that their parents were going out this evening and that she and Jason were going to be alone for a few hours. “And I want no more talk of witches and evil spells while Daddy and I are gone. Understand?” her mother said, stopping Molly as she was about to sit down. “You’ll be scaring yourselves to the point where you don’t know what’s real and what isn’t. Anything can happen after that.”
Again Molly felt her skin prickle under her shirt. For a second she almost wished her parents were going out another night, not this one. How could her mother be so certain what was real and what wasn’t? Molly had given witches scarcely a thought until she moved here where she passed Mrs. Welles’s house every day on the way to and from school, but now they were on her mind all the time. Maybe Mrs. Welles actually was some sort of evil creature sending out vibrations for Molly to pick up.
Molly thought about that while she ate, and decided not to think of it anymore until her parents were home again. It was not that she was scared exactly. She didn’t think Jason was very scared, either, the way he danced around the living mom in his yellow pajamas, waving the patchwork monkey at her after their parents left, chanting, “Nya, nya, he’s mine.”
“So take him to bed with you and be quiet,” Molly said when he had to pause for breath. “Nobody’s going to fight you for him. He’s too ugly.”
And the monkey truly was ugly. She was surprised she hadn’t noticed it before. The red yarn mouth was so long and so thin that it looked as much like a snarl as a smile. And the unblinking button eyes seemed to stare right at you no matter where you were in the room.
“I WILL take him to bed with me,” Jason said. “If I go. But I’m not going. Not until you do.”
He could be stubborn when he wanted to be. Molly chased him into his bedroom five times before she finally got him to scramble under the covers and stay there. She waited outside his door for a while, ready to catch him if he tried getting up again. When all had been quiet for about ten minutes, she peeked inside. The light from the hall showed him sound asleep, his cheek nestled in the pillow, and the old monkey tucked under his chin.
Molly admitted to herself that he was a cute little boy when he was asleep, and she could understand why an old lady like Mrs. Welles could like giving him things. But that didn’t give Mrs. Welles any excuse for taking him over as if he were her own, and it was no excuse for being so unfair.
Molly tiptoed downstairs. She was on the bottom step when Jason yelled. Her anger at him came back in a flood. She spun around on the step and shouted up at him. “You shut your mouth, Jason, and go to sleep this instant.”
“He bit me,” Jason shouted back. His voice quivered as if he were about to cry. “He bit me. Molly—”
Molly ran upstairs and switched on his bedroom light. “Who bit you? You were having a dream.”
“He did. The monkey.” Jason, sitting on the edge of the bed, fingered his neck. He opened up the yellow collar of his pajamas to let her set a bright spot of blood on his throat.
“That monkey couldn’t bite you. Don’t be silly,” Molly said. “I made that stuff up. That’s not a bite, anyway. It looks more like a scratch.”
She picked up the monkey from the pillow. Funny, he was heavier than she had thought. A little bigger, too. She held him by his stiff, overstuffed arms and felt something scratch her thumb. There in the end of each paw, almost hidden in the seam, was a pin bent like a hook. Some child of years ago must have thought monkeys should have claws and provided this one with them.
“You probably rolled on him in your sleep and got stabbed,” she said, showing the pins to Jason. “Lie down again and forget about it. You’ll live.”
“No!” Jason said as she started to return the monkey to its place on the pillow. “I don’t want him in bed any-more. Put him on the dresser.”
Molly couldn’t blame him. Her own heart was thumping faster than was comfortable, although that was mainly because she had sped upstairs in such a hurry. She sat the monkey down hard on the dresser so that the blue denim tail pointed up against the wall. Ugly thing, she thought. There was a faint jingle from the bells around the monkey’s neck as if in answer, and for just the flicker of an eyelid the button eyes seemed to reflect the light with a yellow gleam.
“I don’t want to stay up here,” Jason said. “I want to come down and watch television for a while.”
Molly considered this. She would be in trouble if he let it slip tomorrow that she allowed him to stay up late to watch television. Still, if she made him stay up here and he scared himself sick because of her stories, she would be in worse trouble. “Okay,” she said.
She left him curled up in their father’s armchair in the living room and went into the kitchen to heat some water for instant cocoa. Maybe that would soothe him enough to send him back to bed.
When she returned to the living room, a marshmallow-topped mug in each hand, she stumbled over something in the doorway. “That’s a dumb place to leave anything,” she said as hot cocoa sloshed over her fingers. “Why’d you bring that thing down, anyway? I thought you didn’t like him.”
She gave the patchwork monkey a kick into the middle of the room. It landed sitting up, facing her.
Jason huddled himself deeper into the corner of the chair. “I didn’t bring him.”
“Well, I didn’t bring him. So how else did he get here?” A little more cocoa spilled as Molly set the dripping mugs in a pair of glass ashtrays. She drew a long breath and added very firmly, “He certainly didn’t come by himself.”
Jason stared at her from wide, dark eyes. “I didn’t bring him.”
Molly stood quite still. The monkey had drooped forward so that its front paws touched the floor between sprawled hind legs. It looked as if it were gathering itself for a clumsy leap. A gust of rain spattered against the windows. The drizzle that had been falling all day was growing into a real storm.
“Maybe he DID come by himself,” Jason whispered.
So that was it. Molly suddenly understood. Jason was trying to get even with her for scaring him. He was out to scare her. “If you’re going to be that silly, I’m shutting him in the hall closet where he can’t get out. I’d shut Mrs. Welles in there, too, if she was here.”
Molly stalked to the monkey, grabbed it by its arms, and marched into the hall. A pain jabbed her fingers. She knew it was from the imitation claws, but it felt like tiny fangs sinking in. It felt, too, as if the monkey were wriggling in her grip, trying to get free, but that, of course, was only the effect of its heavy body swinging from its captive arms. The thing must be stuffed with lead. She needed both hands to thrust it up on the shelf in the closet.
“There.” She slammed the door and heard the latch snap into place. Then she switched on the hall light and another light inside the living room door and a third one on the other side of the room. Not a shadow was left lurking anywhere. Then she twisted the television dial to a channel that filled the screen with dancers in beautiful gowns. Happy party music lilted from the speaker.
“Drink your cocoa,” she told Jason.
“I don’t want it.” Jason was eyeing her fingers. There were streaks of blood on them. “He bit you, too, didn’t he?”
Molly put her hand to her mouth. The punctures were beginning to smart. “Scratched, not bit. That’s a dumb toy to give anybody. It doesn’t have to be alive to kill you.”
“But what if it is?” Jason asked.
“Is what?” A flash of lightning beyond the windows dimmed the lights for an instant.
“Is alive.” Jason gave a strange giggle. He was rubbing the scratch on his neck again. “What if everything you said is really true?”
“That’s crazy. And you’re crazy to believe it.” Molly wished she had closed the drapes, but she didn’t feel, somehow, like walking to the end of the room to do it. “The monkey belonged to Mrs. Welles’s own children. She wouldn’t give an evil thing to her own children.”
“Those weren’t her own children. She was their step-mother, and they didn’t like each other when she first came to their house,” Jason said. “She told me so.”
And those children had all died as children. How they had died no one remembered anymore; it had happened such a long time ago. Molly had heard Mrs. Stark, the organist at church, telling her mother the old story just yesterday. One child had died from falling downstairs in a fit, Mrs. Stark thought. But nobody was still living who really knew, except Mrs. Welles, and she seemed to go on from generation to generation, never growing any older or getting any younger. Were the patches on the monkey from those stepchildren’s clothes? Their clothes and no others?
“Anyway,” Molly said a little too loudly, “the monkey’s shut away. He can’t—”
A roll of thunder stopped her. It started as a rumble that grew and grew until the house trembled. In the midst of it there was a click in the hall. Molly’s neck muscles went stiff. She couldn’t turn her head to look. But she didn’t have to. She knew that the closet door had jarred open.
“It’s true,” Jason whispered into the silence that followed the thunder. “True, what you said.”
“No!” Molly cried. “Don’t believe it. Don’t.” But they both heard the thud of something falling — or jumping — to the floor from the closet shelf. They both heard the jingle of brass bells.
Molly shot a glance at the living room door. It was still empty. “Run,” she said, and she hurled herself toward the opening just as the lights flickered and went out.
Something bumped into her and knocked her down. “Jason!” she yelled.
“Molly! Molly, help!”
He was behind her somewhere, lost in the dark. There were scuffling noises and a crash. He kept crying to her, but his voice seemed to come from first one direction and then another.
Molly was lost, too. A wall met her reaching hand, where the doorway should have been. She turned to the right and stumbled against the armchair. Jason was no longer in it. The chair arm and the cushion were warm with a sticky wetness. In the corner of the chair, her fingers slid across a glass ashtray like the ones she had set the cocoa mugs in.
“Jason,” she called. “Where are you?”
This time there was no answer, no sound anywhere except the lashing of rain against the window.
A flare of lightning showed her the living room doorway. She ran for it and into the blackness of the hall. The edge of the closet door struck her head full force as though someone had pushed it. She went down in a heap on the floor.
When her spinning wits cleared and she could bear to lift her aching head, all the lights were on again. A woman on television was talking cheerily about toilet bowl cleaners. Neither Jason nor the patchwork monkey were anywhere to be seen.
“Jason?” she tried waveringly.
“Up here. In my room.” The voice was muffled a bit, but it was Jason’s sure enough, and he wasn’t crying.
He came out of his bedroom fully dressed as Molly gained the top of the stairs. His eyes were round and black in a very white face, but he was smiling.
“Where are your pajamas?” she asked.
He ducked his head, avoiding her eyes as he tucked his shin inside his faded blue denim jeans. “I changed them. They got—messed up.”
His rumpled hair stood up like tufts of brown yarn. The shirt he had on was the patchwork one their grandmother had given him for his birthday. Molly hadn’t ever noticed before that one of the patches was a triangle of blue gingham on the left shoulder. Or that at the throat there was a square of yellow the exact same shade as Jason’s pajamas.
“What happened to you? How did you get up here?” She was groping behind her for the stair rail, but she couldn’t find it.
“Don’t you know?” Jason stretched out a hand still half-covered in a pink candy-striped cuff. “Come on. I’ll show you.”
“No.” Molly raised her arm to ward him off. “Stay there. Stop it. Stop fooling.”
He started toward her, his smile growing wider and thinner until it was a red line of yarn across his flat face. He laughed in a silly falsetto that wasn’t Jason’s laugh at all. “I’m not fooling,” the monkey said.
Molly shrank away from the blazing yellow of his eyes. The bells around his neck jingled as he moved closer. “No,” she cried once more. “I don’t believe you. You’re not real.”
And she stepped backward off the stairstep — into space….