The little boy knew he was in trouble the second the bedroom door slammed behind him. The sound reverberated through the house and awakened the monster from her slumber. His sister sat on the floor, in the middle of a pretend tea party with her favorite orange-haired doll, staring at him with wide eyes that looked just like his own. She knew.
His feet were rooted to the floor in terror; he couldn’t decide what to do. Hide in the closet? Crawl under the bed? Climb out the window?
The sound of heavy feet pounding across the floor grew louder outside the door. His heart jackrabbited in his chest and an involuntary eek sound escaped him.
The bedroom door flew open so hard and fast that the doorknob punched a hole in the wall. The monster stood there in her tattered bathrobe, panting, mousy brown hair hanging in greasy clumps around her pale face. She held a large kitchen knife in her right hand. The big brown eyes that she had passed on to her children were wide and wild, and they fell on him. “Did you slam the door?” she asked him in a calm voice that was utterly at odds with her appearance. He nodded slowly, mute. He knew better than to speak.
“Even though I told you I was taking a nap?” Her voice was still calm, but her eyes brimmed with barely-restrained madness.
His entire body began to shake. He nodded again.
“Do you know what happens to naughty children who don’t listen? They get punished.” She held the knife up and stepped into the room.
Sheer panic dropped over the little boy like a heavy curtain. “No!” he screeched. He finally found his feet and ran, quickly squeezing between his mother’s legs and the door frame. He was halfway up the attic stairs before the monster could react.
“Get back here!” she roared.
He scrambled across the attic to the small door that opened to the long, slanted crawlspace where he and his sister liked to play. It was the best hiding place he could think of. He wrenched the door open and crawled in, closing it quietly behind him.
The monster prowled around downstairs, opening and closing doors and cabinets. He could hear her muffled voice through the floor. “Oh, you want to play hide and seek?” She grunted, and something slid back and forth across the wood floor in the living room. “Okay, we’ll play hide and seek.”
The boy leaned his shoulder against the wall next to the door and pulled his knees up to his face. He stared at the small metal doorknob and listened to the monster below him.
“Come on out, buddy,” her muffled voice crooned from somewhere below him. He heard the distinct creak of the front door opening below him. “You want some ice cream? I’ll take you to the Dairy Queen.” The front door creaked and thumped closed.
“How about some candy?” This was much softer, as if she’d moved to the back of the house. “I got some M&Ms, I know those are your favorite.” A couple moments of silence; he thought she might be searching for him in the basement. The attic would be the next logical place for her to look; his trembling turned to violent shakes as he thought about all the bad things she might do to him if she found him. Tears snaked down his cheeks.
“I know!” she said, her voice deceptively cheery. He knew she was standing in the kitchen again. “I’ll take you to see your daddy. Wouldn’t you like to see your daddy?”
He did want to see his daddy. More than anything. Life was good when Daddy was here, and it had been bad since he left.
But she always said that daddy went to heaven. He was only four years old, but he was pretty sure that meant he could never see his daddy again. Fresh tears coursed down his face.
“You can’t hide forever!” she shouted. “Come on out, buddy. We’ll just talk. I know you’re sorry.”
“Leave him alone, Mama!” His sister’s voice floated to his ears from below him, and a small, grateful sob escaped him. She always was the brave one.
“Shut UP!” He was startled by a loud smack, and his sister cried out. “This has nothing to do with you, you little bitch.”
“He didn’t mean to wake you up, Mama!” The little girl wailed. “Don’t hurt him, please, don’t be a bad mama!”
The silence from below him was deafening. Then he heard the monster’s footsteps move from the kitchen to the dining room. To his relief, the knife clattered on the table and something else slid across its surface. Probably her medicine, he thought. The kind in the square bottle with that guy’s face on it.
It seemed she had lost interest in hunting him. “Get out of my sight.” Her muffled voice was soft again. “Or you’ll take the punishment that he’s got coming.”
His sister ran from the kitchen to their bedroom, and the house below him was quiet – save for the occasional thunk sound the monster’s bottle of medicine made when she set it back on the table.
He didn’t feel safe leaving the crawlspace yet. He suddenly found himself unable to keep his eyes open; they fluttered closed and before he knew it, he was no longer stuck in the dark and cramped crawlspace. He was riding the red tricycle he shared with his sister along the sidewalk outside his house, free as a bird. The sun shone, the birds chirped, and his little legs pumped as hard as he could make them. He could even feel the breeze ruffle his hair.
“Atta boy, champ!” Was – was that Daddy’s voice?
I miss you, Daddy.
The squeak of the crawlspace door opening jerked him out of his dream; he scrambled away from the door in a semi-conscious panic. A hand appeared and he couldn’t help but cry out; in his terror he was absolutely convinced that hand clutched a large kitchen knife.
His sister’s blonde head appeared and he cried out again – this time in relief.
“You can come downstairs now,” she said. She clutched Dolly in one hand. “Mama had too much medicine again and she’s sleepin on her bed.” He noticed that one of her cheeks was turning black and blue.
“Okay,” he said. They crawled out and made their way downstairs hand-in-hand, as twins often do.
Soon there would only be one.