The beautiful vector art you see bringing this spooky story to life was designed by Marianne Leonardo. You can find more of her work on Instagram.
A crashing noise shifts my attention away from the worn pages of the scrapbook I’m flipping through. He must be at it again. A scream, a yell, and the sound of shattering glass is all I need to know my services are needed. I close the book, make my way down from the attic, and head towards Mikey’s room. There he sits, curled up in an all too familiar ball on the floor at the foot of his bed, tears in his eyes. I put on a brave face before I enter.
It breaks my heart every time I watch this scene unfold. Some small thing sets Arnold off, he goes mad with rage, and before he knows it, Mikey’s quick feet have him fleeing from the scene and into his room, to the same place on the carpet.
“Are you alright?” I ask. There’s no reply as usual. Mikey takes a deep breath and stands, the brown hooded robe he always wears falling down around him. That thing has seen the inside of a washing machine more times than I can count, but he never takes it off. I can even see the seams stretch around his shoulders. He’s getting bigger every day.
He wanders over to the nightstand to the left of his bed and pulls a worn VHS tape from the drawer. Fiddling with the ancient TV that sits on an old table at the foot of his bed, he inserts the tape and hits play. He turns up the volume, sits down on the floor in front of the monitor, and stares up towards the screen.
“A long time ago, in a universe far, far away…” He begins. On cue, he makes trumpeting mouth noises to introduce the title screen of his favorite movie and franchise, Galaxy Battles. I watch as, for the 5th time this week, Mikey acts out each part in the movie. Everything from the extra with one line to the bleeps and bloops of the robots.
I sit, cross legged on the edge of his bed, watching him jump, hide, shoot, and swish that tattered robe of his around the room. He smiles, laughs, and plays like a five year old should. Then comes my part. Just as one of the main characters holds out his hand for his laser sword, I jump from the bed, find Mikey’s replica sword by his closet, and pick it up. I zip it across the room into his outstretched hand and with the smile this trick elicits every time, he continues to fight off invisible bad guys, mirroring the choreography from the scene before him.
He can’t see me. He’s never been able to. But when you live in a home like this, you need small things to keep you from losing it all. I try my best to make sure he has good things to remember alongside the bad. My next moment arrives when the baddies start screaming on screen. Mikey holds out his arm yet again, a snarl on his face. I grab a teddy bear from the floor and bring it over. As mikey closes his fist, I tighten my grasp around the bear’s neck and drop it to the ground. He laughs maniacally with his favorite character, Jake Cloudrunner, thrusting his fists into the air.
Both I and Mikey jump at a sudden, loud thumping that reverberates through his bedroom door.
“Turn that trash down!” Arnold shouts through the wood. As if forgetting what he was upset about in the first place, Mikey scrambles to the TV, mutes it, and curls back up into a sobbing mess on the floor. I’m infuriated. I crouch down before the sobbing heap and softly say
“It’s okay, bud. I’m here for you.” Mikey looks up. For one fleeting moment I think he sees me. I think…I think he heard me. But the door soon rattles again on its hinges and a booming voice shouts
“I SAID TURN IT OFF!” Mikey’s head dives back into the sleeves of his robes and he flips the hood over his shaggy dark mess of hair.
I’ve been haunting the halls of this home for decades and never, I mean never, have I encountered the levels of evil the man who calls himself Mikey’s father possesses. I pass through the door and follow the man, hunched over in anger, towards the living room. I press a cold hand against his neck. He turns around, his face still contorted in a grimace, his eyes directed towards the floor, at about Mikey’s height. His face softens only for a moment once he realizes there’s nothing there.
He continues his grunting parade into the living room and sits down on the sofa, grabs the remote and turns on the flatscreen on the wall. I turn it off. He mumbles, turns it back on and sits back with his hands behind his head. I turn it off.
“God damnit!” He shouts, and tosses the remote across the room. I pick it up, walk it over to him, and place it on the couch. His face has turned three shades lighter, his grimace is gone, revealing only wrinkles worn down by years of rage, and is replaced with fear.
“W-what the hell is going on?” He stammers. “Who-who’s there?”
I stand beside the coffee table, lifting one of the corners just enough to slide a day old pizza box and a few half empty beer bottles onto the floor. Arnold stands on the couch, pressed up against the wall, as if that’s going to help. I remember the sleepless nights through which I held Mikey’s hand, the days he’d come home from school trying to plead with his father to let him stay the night at another kid’s house, the morning his mother left and his father spent the day drinking instead of grieving with his son. It all rushed back at once, I couldn’t stop myself.
I picked up the coffee table in its entirety and threw it into the television. The force of this action shattered the screen, knocked it from the wall, and tossed the remaining items from the table. I didn’t realize until I heard the slight gurgle from his lips, but one of those items was a kitchen knife. It was now lodged in Arnolds gut. All fear, anger, and confusion left his face, all replaced by shock. He looked down at the thing and then up at me. Directly into my eyes. He passed out soon after and blood pooled around him on the couch.
“Daddy?” I hear to my left.
“Mikey, oh my god. I’m so sorry.” He looks towards me, probably through me, at the wall where the TV was, I can’t read his expression.
“Daddy are you okay?” The familiar warble in his voice tells me tears are coming. He walks up to the couch, his robes running through the blood now dripping from the raised wooden frame of the couch. He puts a hand to his father’s face and sniffles a bit.
“Daddy, no!” He cries. I fall to the floor in a heap, crying my own tears, feeling every ounce of the pain and sadness my boy feels. He turns his furious, tear streaked eyes towards me and says
“This is all your fault.”
Last Story: Plaything
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