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By Tabitha Gonia

They told stories about it.  

I remember sitting around a campfire, my friend’s face backlit as he regaled us with the tale of the spookiest creature he knew of — the WWIAFTM. No one knows what its name means, he said. Some say it’s a relic of an ancient language long passed. Some say it’s just nonsense. But everyone knows it’s always in all caps.  

You probably know the domesticated version of the WWIAFTM, he said. You see them outside of car dealerships, used car dealerships, and even gas stations, dancing sporadically and spontaneously, arms flailing everywhere. These types of WWIAFTM, he told us, are still dangerous, but they’ve learned to tolerate humans. They don’t mind being used as a beacon for sales at great prices.  

But if you’re ever alone in the woods… Here he shook his head, chuckling under his breath. Well, you better be on high alert. You can’t quite hear them coming, because there’s no way for them to rustle the leaves or step on a twig. Your best bet is listening closely for the sound of inflatable plastic, but even that’s not good enough — because by the time you’re close enough to hear them, it’ll already be too late.  

You’re not getting out alive.  

The WWIAFTM, he told us, voice pitched down low, is a deadly predator. They stand at least fifteen feet tall and can move quick as a flash, before you can even think of escaping. If you do manage to run, their limbs will work as a shield in a pinch, though they work better as weapons. And the worst part — we leaned in close, feeling the sparks lick at our chins — the worst part is that they never stop smiling. 

The more I recall of his story, the more nervous I get as I tread through the dark woods. I can barely see the trees ten feet away from me, it’s so dark. The moon is far from full tonight, with only a waning crescent lighting my path. I don’t even know which way my path is. I tried to use the north star to find my way out, but then I realized that I didn’t know which direction was out, so now I’m just walking with no end in sight, hoping against hope that the WWIAFTM won’t catch me.  

I know what to look for: bright colors, glow-in-the-dark eyes, a cartoonish grimace. But the night is so dark that I can barely make out colors. I walk for a few more minutes undisturbed, feeling my heartbeat in my fingertips.  


I look down. A broken twig sits under my foot. Uneasily, I look up, afraid that the sound may have alerted them to my presence. I scan the trees around me.  

My eyes catch on two glowing points right in front of me. I feel my adrenaline spike and my heart beat faster. The WWIAFTM. It found me.  

Slowly, it creeps out from the trees, unfolding from under the leaves as it moves. It stands level with the tree’s branches, some leaves getting caught in its hair. It would almost be funny if I weren’t so scared. Under the light of the moon, I can just make out its bright pink skin and the multicolored neon strips on top of its head and at the ends of its arms. Its bright, cartoonish eyes fixate on me. I try to back away, but I don’t get very far before — crack!  

Its hand whips out to curl around my wrist. Its touch is cool, the creature’s plastic skin deceivingly fragile. I almost feel like one puncture would deflate it completely, maybe even give me enough time to get away… 

But before I can reach for my Swiss army knife, the WWIAFTM grabs my other hand, almost as if it could tell I was about to make a move. Without a sound, it starts reeling me in closer and closer, heedless of my struggles. All I can do is stare at its perpetual grin and dead eyes, emotionless even in their cheerfulness. Soon it’s pulled me right up next to it, and then it just stops and waits.  

I can’t wait for it to decide what to do with me. I body-slam it and twist out of its deceptively strong hold — if I can get my knife and stab it, then I at least have a chance. I manage to get a second of freedom before I’m back in its grip, but that’s all I need. I position my hand right by its abdomen and flick my knife open.  

Immediately, the WWIAFTM lets out a loud squeal, like releasing the air out of a balloon, and loses its grip on me as it tries to stop itself from deflating. I grin shakily and step away, running in the first clear direction I see. For minutes, all I hear is my own erratic breathing and my footsteps crunching over dead leaves as I run as fast as my legs will let me, only slowing down when I'm sure that I wasn’t followed. Relieved, I lean against a tree and heave in gulps of air. I stay there for a minute or two, coming down from the adrenaline high, before I start walking again. This time the north star is useful, if only to make sure I don’t walk back the same way I came.  

I walk for a while — probably less than an hour — before I hear it again: the squeaky sound of plastic. I turn around just in time to dodge the WWIAFTM, deflated and all the more terrifying for it, as it attempts to grab me. It’s shorter than me now, and its smile has truly turned into a grimace. It can’t really convey emotion in its eyes but I can tell all the same that it’s not happy with me. I might be the first person to ever deflate it. Does that make me its mortal enemy? I don’t have time to ponder the question as the WWIAFTM engages me in a full-on battle, still utilizing its lightning-fast reflexes even though it’s substantially weaker. Its arm shoots out to smack me, bending in a strange way that bones and joints can't, and I parry it with a cut from my knife. One of the creature’s fingers flutters to the ground and I smirk at it, satisfied at my victory. It lunges at me again, even more infuriated, but I have a knife and I’ve realized that all it is is plastic and air. This WWIAFTM is no match for me.  

In a scant few minutes, I’ve reduced the WWIAFTM down to a few strips of fabric and a painted-on face. Pink plastic scatters across the ground like leaves. I deal the killing blow by ripping my knife down the center of its face, slicing its smile in half. It falls apart, leaving behind a gust of air. I find that there really is nothing behind the eyes.  

I gather up the pieces of plastic, feeling bad for littering — the WWIAFTM is not a natural creature, after all, and it will not decompose. As I’m putting all the scraps in my backpack, I notice something written on one of the pieces. Wacky Waving Inflatable Arms Flailing Tube Man, it says. © Made in China.  

…Huh. So that’s what WWIAFTM stands for. It’s a little underwhelming, but now I am the keeper of the WWIAFTM secret. Now that I’ve defeated one, I can tell all the stories I want and no one can prove me wrong.  

I leave its mangled face on the ground — as a warning or as proof, I’m not sure. I’m not sure it matters. 

I close my backpack and start walking. I’m not scared of anything in these woods anymore. 

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