NaNoWriMo: Day 20

He yanked me back over the fence, tugging hard on my arm. I yelped like a kicked puppy. It hurt so bad I thought he was going to dislocate it. He lifted me up and over the fence, only using one arm. Then he lowered me enough so that my feet touched the ground, and dragged me back through the yard, every so often jerking the hand that held onto my arm to yank me forward.

This. Is what. You get,” he said, emphasizing each inflection with another well-timed tug.  “You don’t. Run. From your family.”

I was barely keeping up with him, and my feet were lifted up for a couple of steps every time I slowed down. Mostly, they dragged across the dirt, kicking up grass. My uncle walked me up to the back door, opened it, and shoved me inside.

My mother was there in the kitchen, looking worried and concerned. Her eyes were wide with fear when she looked at me, and I could tell that, underneath, she was still there inside her own mind, watching this all happen and being horrified by it.  

The door slammed shut behind my uncle. He was standing with one hand resting on the table, glaring down at me with a face of pure hate, mixed, surprisingly, with doubt and worry. His double chin quaked and rippled. He looked like a disappointed parent, fraught with fury and concern.

“Listen,” he said, in a voice that was steady, and calm. “I know you may not be in love with some of the new changes that have been going on. I know I can’t replace your father. But he was my brother. It’s not like I don’t miss him too.” His voice shook slightly, as if he was a mere moment away from tears himself. “but I’m trying to put this family back together, so that we can all be happy again, and move on. Can you at least give me a little help with that?”

“No,” I said. “There’s nothing you can say or do to make me believe a word you say to me.” I didn’t know why he was acting like this. If he wanted to, he could throw me in my room again, and starve me a whole day, until I came crawling out to apologize. It wasn’t for my mother’s benefit either, I was sure. He could make her do whatever he wanted with the snap of his fingers. Why would he be putting on an act like this?

The hand on the table clenched slowly into a fist. “You need to learn your manners. Proper respect and discipline. Until that day comes, you are grounded. You will not leave this house.  You will not have any friends over. First thing tomorrow morning, I’m going to the hardware store and buying locks for all of the doors. You will stay here with your mother, and do anything and everything that she asks of you. Are we understood?”

I looked down at the floor, and didn’t answer.

“I said,” my uncle stepped forward, and grabbed ahold of my arm again, twisting it slightly. A miniature indian burn. “Are we understood?”

I winced, and nodded my head.

My uncle’s hand twitched. “Tell me. Yes, I understand.”

“Yes. I understand.”

He let me go. “Go to your room for the rest of the night, and think about what you did today.”

I turned, and walked out of the kitchen, down the hall, and into my room. What was going on? I had been sure that as soon as my doppleganger uncle came into our home, he would destroy me and my mother both, sucking up our souls, or feasting on our flesh, or whatever it was that boggarts were supposed to do. I wasn’t entirely sure. I hadn’t expected this; this infiltration of our lives, or of him trying to become a part of our family. It had to be some kind of trick, so that I would lower my guard.

But, what was it that he had said to me, just the other day? I am going to stay here now. This is my new home. What if he really meant that, all of it, in every way? What if the only thing that he wanted was to stay in my uncle’s body, and marry my mother, and try to be my new dad? I nearly gagged at the idea of that. I knew that he was still the crafty raven, attempting to lure me again into some trap, and I was sure that the next one would be far worse than a bite on the hand.

I sat on my bed, and looked at the digital clock on my nightstand. It was nine o’clock. I wasn’t tired at all. Running through the yard had pumped my body full of adrenaline, and my heart was pounding away. I still hadn’t caught my breath from the chase.

There was no way I could fall asleep just then. But still, I changed into my pajamas, and went through my nightly routine. I kept my bedside light on and opened The Hobbit back up. Bilbo and the dwarves were making their way through Mirkwood forest. They had just crossed the enchanted river, which Bombur, the fat dwarf, had fallen into, and then slipped into a deep sleep. The forest was dark, and full of mystery and magic. I was jealous of the dangers that Thorin and Company had faced so far. Their monsters were all shaped like monsters, and none of them played any tricks, or lied, it seemed.

I heard raised voices, and footsteps in the hall. I quickly pulled the cord on my lamp, and shut it off. I wasn’t supposed to still be up. It was a quarter to ten now. I set my bookmark in place, and my book on the ground. Then, I laid on my back and stared at the ceiling.

I wondered if this is what my life would be like, from now on. I couldn’t do anything about my uncle forcing his way into my life. Ms. Cleary couldn’t help me. She had tried, but there was nothing that she could do. Clara couldn’t help either. And how could she? She was just a little girl, younger than me. How could she possibly help in a world that was run by adults? My mother was brainwashed and my father was dead. I wished that I was not an only child, that I had an older brother, or sister, who could help me, and be there for me. Someone who would let me know that everything would in fact be alright, and then take care of all my problems for me, because I didn’t know what to do.

Moonlight was streaming in through my open window. I had cracked it open to feel the breeze in the hot summer night. I started thinking about the other night, and the dream that I had had, when Clara came and took me out from my body and into the sky. Something so impossible and wonderful had to be a dream. Those things happened only in books and stories so that kids like me could dream about them, and wish them real. But they weren’t. They were lies. Wonderful, amazing, imaginative lies, but lies just the same. The only thing that was real, was that tomorrow, my uncle would be putting locks on all of the doors, and I would be trapped here for good.

Trapped. The very walls in my room seemed to shrink then, close all around me. I was stuck here, locked in a dungeon with no key or compass. The thought of small spaces frightened me, and my room felt very small just then. The sheets seemed restricting, and tight, and I kicked the covers loose, from where they were tucked in at the ends.

I wanted to escape from the confines of my home, to fly and soar once again through the night sky. I closed my eyes tight, and tried to remember the feeling of leaving my body. I knew that it had been a dream, but there was some small, childish part of me still, that hoped and held out for otherwise. Maybe I could trick myself into having the same dream, if only I thought long and hard about it.

It had all started with Clara, coming to my window in a haze of blurry light, so I thought of her. I pictured her in my mind: blue overalls, and brown hair tied up in a ponytail, sitting on the branch of the tree next door and popping a bubble of pink gum over her lips. Clara, I thought. Come and take me away from here again. Please. They’re going to lock me away forever.

I opened my eyes, and looked up expectantly at the window. There was nothing there. No soft hazy light. No Clara. I couldn’t help but be disappointed, but I had done it to myself. Gotten my hopes up only to let them down again.

I closed my eyes again, and this time planned on not opening them until I woke the next morning. There was nothing to do except face the next, awful day, and keep a faint hope that somehow, it would get better.

My breathing slowed, and I was so close to sleep, could feel myself drifting in and out of consciousness, when I heard a whisper in my ear.


I opened my eyes again, and this time, Clara was there.


NaNoWriMo: Day 15. Livin’ on a Prayer!

I blinked. My uncle casually tossed the two halves of the silver coin on the floor. Then he left my room without another word, and closed the door behind him.

That night, for dinner, my uncle asked my mother to bake a ham. She did, and we ate it with buttered mashed potatoes, crescent rolls, and french-cut green beans. My uncle had his plate piled high with food: a thick chunk of ham in the center, – he had cut for himself nearly half – a mountain of potatoes, with gravy dripping over the sides of the plate, and four rolls smeared with butter. We did not say grace that night, as we usually did, and he just dug into his food, tearing at everything all at once.

My mother’s eyes had a glazed-over quality to them throughout the meal. She watched my uncle smack and gnash his teeth, and lick the grease and gravy from his lips, and seemed to not be offended one bit by his complete lack of table manners. Usually, if I were to so much as let out a small burp, she would snap at me for it, and deny me any and all desserts for the night. This wasn’t like her at all. Instead, she was completely inert, and only moved to mechanically shovel up a forkful of mashed potatoes, and deposit it into her waiting mouth. I wondered what could be wrong with her. She had seemed normal when she got home, and even seeing her angry at me was better than this.

A bottle of wine was out on the table, and I did not remember how it had gotten there, or where it had come from. My mother and uncle each had a glass, but I had only seen my uncle drinking any. My mother’s glass remained untouched, and the bloodred substance looked thick and solid.

There was no conversation at the dinner table that night. Nothing was said, no questions asked. Just the regular scraping sounds of individual forks and spoons and knives, and the occasional quiet thud of a glass of milk being set back down. My uncle was the loudest one at the table, with his smacking jaws and satisfied groans and belches. When he was done he sat back in his chair, and patted his swollen belly. He reached for his wine glass, and tipped his head back, draining it.

“Ah,” he sighed. “That was one terrific meal, I must say. Don’t you all think so?”

He looked to each of us in turn. My mother nodded, and I heard her say, in a flat, dead voice, “It was lovely. We must do that again soon.”

I said nothing, and stared at my plate. I had eaten of course, had still been hungry, but throughout the whole meal I had been constantly expecting something horrible to happen, and would not have been in the least surprised if my uncle had jumped up with a knife, and stabbed me or my mother with it. I could feel his eyes on me, knew he was expecting me to say something, or try and stand up to him, so that he could have me get in trouble with my mother again. I was sure that, if he wanted, he could have her shouting at me and grounding me in a heartbeat. So I just nodded too, and asked if I could be excused.

“Why yes, you may be excused,” he said to me. “You may be excused from the table, and to the sink to wash the dishes. Your mother has worked so hard for you recently, and you owe it to her.” He was looking at my mother as he spoke, and she smiled.

“Yes,” she said. “That would be very nice of you, dear.”

As I got up from the table, and took my plate to the sink, my uncle filled his glass with more wine.

“Drink up,” he told my mother, and she did.

I cleared the table as they both sat there and went through the whole bottle of wine. Then my uncle produced another, and refilled my mother’s glass. I put the stopper in the sink and ran the hot water, filling it up and adding the dish soap so that the suds bubbled and frothed on the surface.

As I scrubbed my plate with a brillo pad, I could hear them talking. They were talking and swapping stories back and forth, about trivial things first, such as work, or menial daily life. But as they moved on to the second bottle of wine, they began talking about my father, and what a great man he had been, and how it was such a shame what happened to him, and how my uncle wished that he had known him better, and us all, for that matter, and he vowed that he would hold onto us as family, through these hard times.

My mother sniffled and sobbed at my uncle’s sentiment, and when I glanced over at the table, her head was leaned up against my uncle’s chest, and he was stroking her hair, and shushing her. He looked up, saw me watching and caught my eye, and he smiled a crooked grin.

The dishes kept piling up, and once I had finished washing my own, I was forced to clear the table, wrap up the leftovers and stick them in the fridge, and wash all of the dirty pots and pans. My uncle went to the freezer and brought out a tub of chocolate ice cream, and scooped out big chunks of it into a bowl for my mother, and one for himself. He did not offer any to me, and I did not ask.

Soon enough, they were laughing together. My uncle told my mother jokes, and she laughed loud and bright, and sounded happier than I had heard her since before my father died. She did not laugh much these days. But if I listened closely, there was a strained quality to the laughter, as if it were being ripped out of her throat.

They finished the second bottle of wine with their ice cream, and then my uncle leaned over to whisper something in my mother’s ear. She giggled, and put her finger to her lips, and glanced over her shoulder to look at me. “Shh,” I heard her say. “He’ll hear.”

My uncle stood up then, and helped my mother to her feet. He wrapped a hand around her waist, cradling her hip, and they walked past me and out of the kitchen, my mother giggling and leaning against my uncle. I heard them walk down the hall, open the door to my mother’s bedroom, and shut it again with a click. They left their bowls on the table, and when I went to pick them up, there were brown puddles of melted ice cream sitting on the bottom of them.

I spent the next half hour cleaning all of the dishes, and drying them and putting them away. I did not know what to do with the empty wine bottles, so I washed them and set them on the counter next to the sink. I was tired, and wanted to go to bed. I felt helpless and alone.

After emptying the sink of sudsy water, I went around to all of the lights in the house and shut them off. I maked sure the doors were locked, though I was far more scared of what was in the house than anything that could come in, and went to my bedroom and locked the door. I did not feel like brushing my teeth. The bathroom was right next to my mother’s bedroom, and I did not want to go there.

I changed into my pajamas and sat in my bed with The Hobbit, and read as Bilbo and the dwarves were captured by trolls, arguing and trying to decide how best to kill them all, and I found myself wishing that Ms. Cleary and Clara were more like Gandalf, who showed up when he was needed most, to trick the trolls and save the day.

When I turned out my light and shut my eyes to try and go to sleep, I heard noises in the other room. They were the voices of my uncle and my mother, and they were muttering to one another. Then the muttering stopped, and there was a brief silence. I began to hear low and high-pitched, rhythmic groans. It sounded as if they both had terrible stomach aches from the ice cream, and were laying next to one another on the bed, and clutching their bellies. The groaning and moaning grew louder and faster. Now it sounded like my mother was in pain, and she cried like she did that time she had stubbed her toe. There was a squeaking sound too, the kind my bed made when I jumped on it. I wondered at what was going on in there. I wondered what my uncle was doing to her, and I was afraid for her, and I was afraid for myself, too.

The noises escalated in both volume and speed, and then suddenly, they just stopped, with a great, final low, loud grunt from my uncle. The entire house waited, and my ears were strained to pick up anything from the other room. Any noise or motion that might signal my uncle coming over to my room next.

Then I heard movement, the shuffling of feet. A door opened. A light switch was flicked on. I heard a small splash as something was dropped into the toilet, and then it flushed. Then the creaking floorboards as feet moved again. The light flicked off, and the door creaked open and closed again.

And then there was nothing. Nothing but the beating sound of my own heart, and the tiny screaming inside of my chest, that was the question of what it was that I had just heard.


NaNoWriMo: Day 14

After a while, I heard the sound of the truck coming to life again. It had been a couple hours now since our confrontation, and I had taken to confining myself to my playroom, reading and trying to forget what was outside. It was all I could think to do. Several times the boggart had rattled the door handle. I had heard him at the garage, and backdoor too, and saw the bobbing shadow of his head hover outside the window.

I went out to the living room, and peeked through the blinds. The green truck was backing out of our driveway, and then on down the lane. The growling cough of the engine grew fainter, until it faded out, mingling with the other city sounds in the distance. I let out a sigh of relief. He was gone, for now, at least.

I went to the front door and raised my hand to unlock the deadbolt, then stopped. It seemed almost too good to be true, that he would just leave, and not have some sneaky trick planned, instead. I looked at the clock on the wall. It was just past eleven-thirty. Was he going to get food? I wondered if my uncle still got hungry now, with that thing inside of him. At any rate, I knew that I was, and kept the door locked, went to the kitchen to make a sandwich for  my lunch.

There was peanut butter in the cupboard, and grape jam in the fridge. I spread the peanut butter on both slices of bread, and scooped dollops of jam to fill the middle. I ate it with an apple from the fruit basket on the counter, and a bag of pretzels from the cupboard. Having the boggart just disappear like that made me anxious in a way. When he was here I at least knew where he was, and what he was up to. It still felt like I was trapped in the house, and the moment I tried to leave, he would jump out and nab me.

I washed my dishes in the sink when I was done, and set them to dry in the dish rack next to it. Then I went back into the living room and turned on the television. I was just going to wait, I had decided. I wasn’t going to let him trick me.

Halfway through an episode of the old Batman show, the one with Adam West, I heard the familiar rumble of the green truck coming back. I turned the volume down, and went again to the window, and again peeked through the blinds.

He was parked at the curb, had gotten out already, and was leaning against the side of the truck with a cheeseburger in one hand. I watched him take a bite out of it, and chew with his mouth open while he watched the house. In his other hand, he held what looked to be a can of soda, it was can-shaped, at least, and wrapped in a brown paper sack that was crinkled and folded over at the top. He took a long drink from this to wash down the burger, tipping his head back, and wiping his mouth with the back of his hand when he was done drinking.

I turned back to my show, and ignored him. We were at a stalemate. A stand still. He knew I would never let him in on my own, and I knew he would not leave. Eventually though, he would win. My mother would come home, and open the door, and invite him inside. There wasn’t anything that I could do to stop that from happening.

I stayed inside for the rest of the day, periodically getting up to check and see if he was still there. He always was, and nearly always had that paper-wrapped can, though I was sure he must have been done with it around the same time that he had finished his burger. He would hold onto it, and take casual sips. His other hand had replaced the burger with a cigarette that he smoked, and when he was finished with one, he would flick it on to the ground, stamp it out, and light another. While all of this was happening, while he waited, I did the same things I usually did when I was stuck inside. I watched television, and played my game, and read books by myself.

I was reading in my room when I heard a car door shut, and then voices outside, and I knew then that my mother had finally come home.

The lock of the front door clicked open. My mother was talking.

“Sure, of course you can come inside,” she said. “I didn’t know you smoked.”

“Oh, I have one or two here and there, occasionally,” said my uncle’s voice. “But I don’t make a habit of it.”

He was inside now. There was no more running. No more hiding safe in my room. I poked my head out from my doorway, saw my mother standing just outside the hall.

“That’s good,” she said. “Are you just getting here? I thought you two were spending the day together.”

The imposter let out his grating laugh. “Well, that’s what I thought too, but when I got here the door was locked. I wasn’t sure if he had left, or…”

My mother was moving then. She turned fast and marched toward my room, and I ducked my head back inside, but she was too late. She had seen me. I retreated to my bed, with my book. My mother stopped in the doorway, and crossed her arms.

“So,” she said, and just let the word hang there. “So.”

I just looked at her. She knew what I had done.

“You don’t have anything to say for yourself?” she said. “I thought we talked about this last night, and then you go and lock your uncle outside? You sir, are grounded.”

My uncle came up behind her and looked in at me, and smiled a triumphant smile. He put a hand on my mother’s shoulder. “Oh, don’t give him such a hard time about it. Kids are kids. I’m sure he didn’t mean it.”

“Oh yes he did,” she said. “And he’s going to be punished for it too.” She walked over to my nightstand and plucked my Gameboy from it. “No more games,” she said. “And no more television. And I’ve got a mind to tell you no more treehouse either.”

“That’s fine,” I said. “I don’t want one anyway. Not if he’s building it.”

My mother gave me an icy glare, and I knew that I was in for it. I had seen her use that look only once before, when I had brought a water balloon inside the house, and threatened to hit her with it unless she let me have cookies and milk for dinner. That was when I had gotten my first and only spanking, and after that, I hadn’t made the mistake of irritating my mother, and grew wary of that look.

Then the thing that was pretending to be my uncle spoke. “I think maybe it would be best if we had a chat together,” he said. He turned to my mother. “Mind if we have a minute alone?”

My mother nodded, giving me one last look before leaving, probably headed to the kitchen, to begin preparing supper.

The boggart stepped inside my room, and closed the door behind him. He spread his hands out in front of him, and smiled again. “Well,” he said. “Here we are. I told you that I would get in. And now you’re in trouble, and I can get you in even more at any time I want.”

I swallowed. There was a hard lump in my throat.

The boggart walked over, and sat next to me on the edge of my bed. I backed away, so that I was sitting up against the walls in the corner, next to my pillows.

“Let me just lay out what’s going to happen from here on,” he said. “So we’re on the same page. I, am going to stay here now. This is my new home. Tonight during dinner, I will ask your mother if I can spend the night, and she will say yes. Then later, when you are asleep, she will invite me into her bed, and I’ll sleep with her. After that, she won’t ever ask me to leave, and everyday I will be here, soaking up the pleasures of this life, and destroying this body one act at a time. Does that sound good to you?” His smile was wide, and terrible.

“No,” I said.

“Oh, well that’s just too bad then,” he told me. “Because you don’t really have a choice here, and you never will. By the time you are old enough to choose things for yourself, your body will belong to me. Then I’ll still be the one choosing, and you won’t at all like what I will do. Your uncle doesn’t. Oh yes,” he said, seeing my widening eyes. “He’s still in here, deep down. I wish you could hear his screams, so pitiful, so human. So weak.”

I grasped at the silver coin around my neck, wishing that it could do more to protect me, but taking comfort in the fact that I at least could not be touched, or so I thought.

The boggart inclined my uncle’s head, and reached at me. I pulled the coin out from under my shirt, and held it out in front of me so that the leather string that held it was taut.

He chuckled rocks in his throat. “Ah yes,” he said. “I was wondering what stopped me before.” And, without any hesitation, he grabbed hold of the coin, and tugged hard. The leather cord broke, and snapped off my neck. He held the coin up to his eye, and inspected it.

Then, he took it in both of his hands, and snapped it in half, as if it were as thin and fragile as glass.


NaNoWriMo: Day 13

Chapter 8

Morning came all too soon, and with it, a heavy weight on my chest, that pressed down on me as I laid on my back with my eyes open, staring at the blank ceiling. I felt like I couldn’t move, and didn’t want to. It was so similar to that Sunday-night-feeling during the school year, when you know what’s coming the next day, dread every second of it, and time passes all the more quickly for it.

I drifted off to sleep again, trying to avoid and ignore the morning, and hoping that it would simply change its mind, and it would be night again so that I could continue sleeping. This tactic only worked for so long, however, until I woke up again, with a gnawing grumble from my tummy. It was time to get up, and make some breakfast.

I turned my whole mind to the present moment, concentrating hard on everything. My barefeet were cold on the linoleum floor of the kitchen. I opened the door of the refrigerator and leaned on it, trying to decide what it was that I wanted to eat. Not bagels or toast, and I did not know how to cook eggs or bacon. Cold cereal it was. Again. The box of sweetened oats was reaching its end, and along with the tinkling sound they made as they hit the ceramic bowl, came the sliding, shifting sound of the crumbs and dust from the bottom of the box.

I ate my cereal and opened up a new book. It was called The Hobbit, and I read through the whole first chapter while munching on my cereal, until there was nothing left but sweetened milk, with swirling spirals of cereal residue floating on the top. I sympathized with poor Bilbo. Here he was, just trying to have a regular, nice morning, when all of a sudden he’s interrupted by a gang of rude and unruly dwarves. I wasn’t sure where the book was going, but my grandfather had given it to my on my seventh birthday, and it was as good of a time as any to start.

I was so engrossed in reading, that I scarcely heard the rumbling sound of my uncle’s green pickup rolling down the lane. It wasn’t until I heard the loud thunk of a door slamming that I snapped my head up, immediately realized what was happening, and bolted to the door to lock the handle and the deadbolt. He wasn’t getting in. It wasn’t getting anywhere near me.

The blinds of the windows were shut, and I saw the bulging silhouette of my uncle’s body move slowly to the door. The door handle jiggled, then the wood reverberated with a loud knock.

“Hey buddy,” a voice said. “Let’s get that treehouse started. I’ve got some two-by-fours that I picked up. Want me to show you how to hammer a nail?”

I ran around to the back door of the house, and locked that too. Then I made a lap, making sure that the garage door was locked, and all of the windows as well. Then I went to my bedroom window. I could see the porch from there. I lifted up the glass pane, and spoke through the thin screen.

“You’re not getting in,” I said. “I know what you are.”

My uncle turned toward the sound of my voice, saw me, and smiled. “Hey there,” he said. “Why don’t you come around and unlock the door? Let’s have some fun today.”

He didn’t look any different, still looked just like my uncle, except there was no blood streaming down his face, and his eyes were alive and alert. He wore the same clothes that he had on yesterday. His shirt was dirty and covered in dust, and there were grass stains on his khaki slacks.

“What did you do with my uncle?”

He laughed then, a dry, raucous noise, like sandpaper sliding over gravel. “Hey bud, it’s me,” he said. He stepped off of the porch, and walked over to stand right under the window, so his face was inches away from mine. “Now let me in,” he said, and there was steel in his voice now, a hardness to it, drastically different from the lighthearted tone he had been using just seconds ago.

“No,” I said. “I know the rules. You can’t come in unless I say so. And I don’t, and I never will. So there.”

His eyes flashed, changing for a split second from their normal, caramel brown color to a pitch black, that lowered, like eyelids, but his eyes were still open. They covered everything, whites and all. It was there, I saw it. And then it was gone and his eyes were back to normal, perky and bright and smiling.

“That won’t matter much longer,” he whispered in a smooth voice, like water poured over silk. “Soon your sweet mommy will be home, and she’ll let me in. I can wait. Waiting is something that I am very good at.”

A chill went down my spine, as if someone was holding an ice cube to it, and dragging it slowly down my back. I knew that he was right. I could not keep him out forever. But I could keep him out long enough. And when my mother got home, she would not let him hurt me. She could almost always tell when I was lying. She would not be fooled.

“She’ll see right through you,” I said. “And you’ll have to go away again, and leave us all alone.”

“Oh little boy, little boy, you don’t know what you’re talking about. You’re so afraid, I can feel it. I promise there’s nothing to be scared of. All you have to do is open the door and let me in, and you’ll never need to be afraid of anything again.”

As he spoke, I could feel his words hanging in the air around me. They were material, and had substance, and moved toward me through the screen, to cling around my head, foggy and heavy. They made it more difficult to think and reason. His words turned my thoughts around, steering them in dark and frightful directions. As they floated around me and hovered, they made me realize just how scared I really was, with this thing so close he could touch me, were it not for the screen.

Then the silver coin around my neck grew hot, jolting me out of the trance-like state. I grasped for it, held it, concentrated on the warmth that spread from it to my fingers. It was like a gust of strong wind had blown away a layer of thundercloud, sending their rain elsewhere, and opening up the sky for the sun to shine down again.

The thing that was controlling my uncle’s face, the boggart, or raven, or whatever it was, convulsed then, as if it had been struck, and snarled and sneered angrily.

“I told you,” I said. “You might as well leave now. You’ll never be able to hurt me.”

Again the grinding sandstone chuckle. “Oh, you don’t understand at all, do you?” He said. “I won’t hurt you. I’ll never hurt you anymore than that little nip I gave you. I’ve got a body now, and that’s all I wanted, and now I’m here to stay.” He took a deep breath in through his nostrils, and exhaled loudly. “This world is a delight. All of the feelings and sensations to experience, free for the taking. I’m going to have them all, with this body as my vessel. And when I’m all done and there’s nothing left of him, I’ll move on to you.”

My heart was racing, and it took all I had left in me to not slam the window down in his face, and crawl beneath my blankets and hide. But still, he hadn’t tried to reach through the window, or break through the screen, so I knew that, for the moment at least, I was still safe.

I spoke up, and could hear my voice shaking as I did, “Just leave me alone!” I shouted. And then I really did slam the window on him. I was done talking. All he would do is try and trick me into letting him inside, and I knew he would not stop. I closed the blinds and went into my playroom, and collapsed on my beanbag, deflated.

I heard him laughing outside, and then the laughing faded, as he walked away. A door creaked open, and slammed, as he climbed back into the truck. But I never heard the rumbling sound of the engine, and knew he was still out there, waiting.

I thought about calling my mother, but I didn’t know her work number– had never needed to, as there had never been a pressing problem such as this, and she never thought to leave it for me in case of emergencies.

The beanbag was soft and cushy, and I sunk way down into it. I wished that it would suck me up, and lead like a gateway into Narnia, or another magical fantasy world, where the monsters were scary, but there were also heroes, too. Right now there was a scary monster outside my door, and I didn’t feel a thing like any of the heroes I had read about. I felt helpless and weak, and I wanted Ms. Cleary, or Clara or my mother to come and save me. I wanted my father back. But most of all, I wanted to be the one who could stand up to the scary monster, and be my own hero, and save the day for myself. But I didn’t know how to. And there was no one there to show me.


NaNoWriMo: Day 11

Chapter 7:

I sat back in my chair, and couldn’t think of anything to say. The thing in Ms. Cleary’s jar looked like a normal glass marble, completely clear, completely harmless.

“So,” I managed, “so that, thing, was in my hand this whole time?”

Ms. Cleary nodded. “It’s a heartstone, a remnant from his world. He imbued it with a piece of his spirit, and transferred it to you when he bit you. If I hadn’t given you that charm, you’d be in the same pickle your uncle is in right now. Clever devil. It was the only way he could bypass the normal rules.”

“What do you mean, rules?” I asked.

“Everything has rules,” she said with a small shrug. “And this is no different. He couldn’t touch you outside the ring, so when he bit you he bought himself a contingency plan as well. With a part of himself already inside you, he could have nabbed you too. Your uncle was just unlucky.”

“So am I safe now?”

Ms. Cleary frowned. “Probably. Possibly. If you stay in your house, you’ll be safe from harm, at least. He won’t be able to just waltz right in and start causing a ruckus. He’ll have to be invited inside. So make sure you don’t do that. But it’ll be up to you to recognize him, and keep him from coming in. I can’t do that for you from here.” She took a sip of her tea.

Clara hadn’t spoken up nearly the whole time. She was silent, watchful and observant, eyes focused, and yet still, somehow distant, as if she were paying complete attention, and also fully in her own head. She narrowed her eyes at me. “Is there something you haven’t told us yet?” she said. “Something that you’re still afraid of?”

I took my ceramic mug in both my hands. It was very warm to the touch, but not quite burning, and I drank the hot, herbal tea, and tasted mint and raspberry. “Well,” I said, still holding onto the mug, “I did have a bad dream last night. One where there was a black cloud coming down on my family, and you, and it had a wolf’s mouth, and my dad was there too. You were all tied up and screaming.” Then, “That’s not going to happen, is it?”

Clara smiled at me, and reached over for my hand. “No,” she said. “It isn’t. That was the raven trying to scare you, get in your head and muck about. Boggarts thrive on fear, and that was what it was trying to do, make you afraid. That won’t happen anymore. You don’t need to be afraid.”

“Good,” I said. “But, why can’t I just stay here with you?”

“There are rules on this side too,” Ms. Cleary said. “If we kept you here, eventually your mother would come and find you, and take you back home, where you belong. We can’t keep a child away from his mother. Speaking of which, we ought to get you off and home soon. It’s about time. Your mother will be home any minute now.”

I hadn’t realized just how much time had passed since lunch. Things had seemed so much simpler then, merely a few hours ago, when my uncle and I were eating cheeseburgers, and planning the revival of my treehouse. It seemed so distant, and removed from my current experience, like a half-forgotten dream, a snapshot memory, from the time when my biggest concern had been whether or not my uncle was lying to me about giving me something. I felt foolish and stupid for thinking that those counted as real problems now.

“And, speaking of her,” Ms. Cleary continued, “best not to mention what happened today to your mother. She’ll only accuse you of telling a fib, and think worse of you for it.”

Ms. Cleary led me to the door after I had finished my tea. I walked slowly, not wanting to return to my empty house alone, and not wanting to spend anymore time with my mother when she got back. I knew she would still be mad with me from the other day, and I did not want to yell, or be yelled at. I was tired, and wanted this whole business with the new house to be over. I had had nothing but problems since we arrived. But I did what I was told. I let Ms. Cleary usher me out of the too-big house, and wish me luck, as I walked back around the hedge, and over and into my house.

When I got inside, I locked the door, and walked over to lay on the couch. I did not want to think or move or do anything. I just wanted to lay there, on the soft, corduroy material, and feel the minutes move past me, one second at a time.  With my eyes closed and face pressed into the armrest of the couch, I concentrated on the sound of the seconds, ticking away with each swing of the pendulum clock on the wall. The sound matched the pounding of my blood, pumping through the veins in my ears.

I wanted that moment to last forever, sitting on that couch like that, with nothing going wrong, and no one telling me what to do, or getting mad at me. But, as I knew even by then, these moments never seemed to last as long as the breadth of a single minute could, or the length of a heartbeat, when you were really concentrating hard on them, and, in what seemed like no time at all, I could hear my mother coming up the drive. I heard her walking up to the house, keys jingling, unlocking the door, and then opening it, and then she was home, and the moment was over.

“Hey sweetie,” she said. “How was your day?”

“Fine,” I lied. I knew Ms. Cleary was right. My mother wouldn’t listen to anything I had to say. She wasn’t one to believe in ridiculous stories, and was skeptical of the unknown. As a result, growing up I had never attended a church. My mother had sat me down one day, when I had asked about it. I had some friends at school who went to church. She had told me that she simply didn’t buy any of it. And in the same conversation, she told me that Santa Clause and the Easter Bunny weren’t real, and that magic and fairies were only the stuff of dreams and imaginings, and that stories in books were only stories, and nothing more.

My mother came over to sit next to me on the couch. “I’m sorry about the other day,” she said. “I was wrong to yell at you like I did. I heard the most dreadful news today. My friend Susan, at work, told me about her cousin, whose daughter went to get ice cream from the ice cream truck, and never came back home, and she’s missing. Her mother is worried sick.” She hugged me close, and kissed my forehead. “I’m just so glad I have you. Did you have a good lunch with your uncle? Where did you two go?”

“McDonald’s,” I said. I didn’t want to tell another lie, and I doubted that it would come back to hurt my uncle anymore than he already was, now.

She didn’t say anything for a while. Then, “Well, I hope you had a good time, but you know how I feel about that junk food. Next time, just try and pick a healthier choice, or stay in and make a sandwich and some carrots.”

I nodded my head, the automatic response.

My mother was unusually nice to me that night. For dinner, we ordered in pizza from my favorite place, and ate it with a veggie plate my mother made for the two of us. She even let me eat dinner in the living room with her, on the couch, while we watched game shows on the television.

At one point, while we were watching, the phone rang, and my mother got up and answered it. “Hello?” she said. “I’m good, how was your day?” She walked around the corner to the kitchen, the coiled telephone cord hugging the wall. I could hear her murmuring, and pausing, then laughing. “No, no,” she said loudly, “that’ll be fine. I’m sure he’ll love it.”

When she came back into the room, after hanging up the phone, my mother was beaming, and her face carried a slight tinge of pink in the cheeks.

“Your uncle was just talking to me,” she said. “He said he had a great time with you today, and that he wants to help you build your treehouse this week. He’s even taking off time from work, isn’t that nice? He’ll be by again tomorrow to spend the day with you. I’m glad you two are getting along now. Family’s got to stick together, after all.”

My stomach dropped down into nothing, and the inside of my chest was a hollow cave. I thought of the last time I had seen my uncle that day, that final glimpse as I was turning away.

His eyes had been blank and staring,  and full of nothing. And he was coming to spend the day tomorrow.


NaNoWriMo: Day 8

Chapter 5

The next day when I woke, the dream from the night before seemed so foggy and distant, and I felt foolish for how scared I had been. It was only a dream, after all. The sunlight splashed in through my open window and against the mustard-yellow walls of my bedroom, pushing away all of the shadows and fears of the night back to the corners and under the bed, where they belonged.

The AA batteries in my Gameboy had died during the night, and the screen was a dark, dead gray. I had no doubt lost most of the progress I had made last night, and, when I replaced the batteries, would have to start back at my last save point, but that was fine. I did not mind playing through those sections again, the details of which were still fuzzy, from playing them while I was half-asleep.

It was nine o’clock, and my mother had already gone, left for work hours before. I wanted to take a shower, but did not want to risk wetting the gauze and having it fall off, so instead I put on some clean clothes, and went to the kitchen to make myself a bowl of cereal.

My right hand, the injured one, was stiff and uncooperative, and hurt when I tried to grip the box of cereal. I set it down to hang uselessly by my side, and put my left hand to work by itself. I had never had to do anything without the full use of both of my hands before, and I did not like the challenge. It was hard, and frustrating, and little ‘o’s of oats spilled everywhere on the counter. I did not care one bit about being ambidextrous. I wanted my good hand back.

As I ate my cereal I thought about going next door to Ms. Cleary’s house so that she could take another look at my hand, and fix what damage my mother had caused. I was sure it was her fault: the return of the pain, added stiffness, and discoloration of the skin, and that if she had just left the leaf wrapper on to begin with, it would already have healed by now. I did not know this so much as I assumed and believed it.

I wanted so much to go to Ms. Cleary’s house then, but there was still a part of me that was afraid to disobey my mother. I was certain that she would know that I had been there, even if I kept on the gauze bandage, and did not change it. There was something intuitive and psychic about the minds of mothers, I knew. They could always tell when you were lying, and seemed to have some sense or notion of where you were and what you were doing at all times. I was frightened of that all-knowingness of my mother, and that was what kept me from walking over to see Ms. Cleary and Clara.

Instead, I ate my cereal, making careful bites with my left hand, so as not to spill any milk, and wondered where in the house my mother would have placed the AA batteries. She had grown wise, and kept them hidden from me so that she could monitor my gametime. There were, however, still several cardboard boxes laying in the garage that I knew of, that had yet to be unpacked since the move, and where my precious batteries may be hiding.

I set my dishes in the sink and crossed the kitchen to the side door, that connected the house to the garage. When I opened the door and went into the garage, it was like stepping into a dungeon room in Zelda, full of cardboard treasure chests, waiting to be opened and emptied of valuable items, essential for me to complete my quest.

The concrete floor was pleasantly cool on my barefeet, and I walked toward the pile of a dozen or so boxes. There was little else in the garage yet. We had thrown out most of the contents of our old garage, which had been used mainly for storage.

My father’s red toolbox sat on a shelf, next to my baseball bat, glove, and mitt. There were other balls too: a football, soccer ball, and basketball. My father had been big into sports, and encouraged me to try out as many as he could, convinced that I would find a fulfilling and fun one; one that spoke to the universal desire to be physically active, and the joys of teamwork. I never did.  It wasn’t that I didn’t enjoy exercise, or running or playing. I did, but somehow when you added other kids also running around, trying to take the ball away from you on one side, while the others yelled at you for not playing the game right, the fun was lost. I did not enjoy competing with others, and I was told that it was because I was just bad, which I supposed must be true. I enjoyed games like tag, where there was really no winner or loser, everyone just played. My father tried to hide his disappointment when I told him this, but I could tell that I was not being quite the son he wanted, or expected.

When I opened up the first box, it was filled with last year’s winter clothes: mittens and hats and scarves, and big, marshmallowy coats that took up most of the space. Another box had in it several picture albums and old photos. I flipped through these for awhile, saw pictures of my father with a mustache, and a younger, thinner version of my mother, before setting them aside and continuing with my search.

I found the pack of AA batteries in a box with other miscellaneous things. It was nestled on top of an electric blanket, in between some unused candles and books. I opened the pack, grabbed two, which was all I needed, and closed the box back up.

The old batteries I threw away, wishing that my mother bought the rechargeable kind, so that I would not have to go searching for new ones every time I needed them.

The rest of the morning was spent in quiet isolation. I sat on the comfy gray couch in the living room, and played my Zelda game until I had reached the place where I had ended the night before. My hand still gave me some trouble, but I could move my thumb up and down, which was all I needed. I saved my progress and turned off my Gameboy. Then I went to my spare room to build with my legos.

Every year, for Christmas and my birthday, I would get a new box of legos. They would always have a theme to them, soccer, or cowboys and indians, or policemen or astronauts. I collected them indiscriminately, except for the few targeted to girls. I would first put them together the way they were supposed to go, following the paper instructions included to the letter, but eventually would grow tired of them, and take them apart again, to be combined with other sets. I had cowboys in space, flying on spaceships constructed from police cars and soccer fields, and forts and castles built from firetrucks and satellites. It was the best way to play, and I felt like a god, creating and destroying at will, and soon became lost in the world that I had built.

The rumbling of a diesel-engine truck brought me back to reality. I heard it faintly at first, then gradually louder as it came down the lane. I looked out the window of my playroom, and saw a green truck pull up to the curb. It was my uncle, here for lunch and who knew how much longer after that.

He wore a hat that covered his balding head, and walked up through the lawn in a red tie, and white collared shirt tucked into khaki slacks. When he knocked on the door it was loud, but not pounding.

My heart sunk. Reluctantly, I abandoned my legos and walked slowly to the door, taking my time, but making sure to reach it in enough time that he would not need to knock again. I didn’t need him to watch me. I was fine by myself, and unless he planned on offering to help me build a new treehouse in the backyard, I did not think we would get along.

When I opened the door he smiled at me, a big smile on his round, smooth face.

“Hey kiddo,” he said.


“Hungry? I’m starved. Your pick. I’m buying.” He looked relaxed, and kept his hands in his pockets. I made no move to invite him inside, and he seemed perfectly content to stay where he was.

I shrugged. “McDonald’s?” I said. I wanted to make him a liar again, and didn’t think he would say yes. My mother never took me out to eat, and only had awful things to say about fast food chains, which made me all the more eager for a greasy cheeseburger.

“Sounds great,” he said, and took a step back from the porch. “Come on then, let’s get a move on.”

I was surprised and impressed. Maybe he wasn’t as bad as I had originally thought. He at least got some points for an unauthorized McDonald’s trip. I put on my shoes and walked out with my Uncle Martin through the lawn and to his big green truck. He let me sit in the front, there was nowhere else to sit, and when my uncle stuck the key in the ignition the truck came to life with a great roar. It was a stick shift, and, as my uncle turned it around in our driveway and drove down and out of the lane to McDonald’s, it rumbled and jolted with the changing gears.