Story One…or two. I can’t remember if this one or Hide and Seek was my first story. Anyway. The end bit of this story was taken from a childhood memory of my own, when my babysitter did to me what she does to our protagonist.

Led to the same confusion. Actually, same confusion to this day. Very odd.

There’s a split in the story where I tried to weave 2 stories together and didn’t quite carry it off.



Thomas showed Andrew the scars in the dark. The rise and fall of the cicada choir accompanied the blackness that had settled into the room. The two boys sat on opposite twin beds, legs sticking off the edges, heels absently kicking the quilts.

“Lemme see,” Andrew whispered.

Thomas’s white T-shirt started to come up so that he could point out the brand-new inch long scar on his right chest. A creak came from the blackness. Thomas froze. Andrew dove under his covers, cowering in the comfort of the warmth. Thomas melted and investigated the sound, oblivious to the dark. He spoke from the far corner, “Just a cricket.”

Andrew obstinately refused to move from his haven, “You sure?” he asked, voice muffled.

“Yup.”

“I’m going to sleep anyways. G’night.”

The fact that Andrew didn’t come out from under his covers didn’t escape Thomas as he clambered into his own bed. He stared up at the ceiling, watching the shadows slip in from the recesses of the room and form shapes before his enraptured eyes. He loved this game. Andrew hated it. One eye peeked out from the shadowed quilt, “Did you see that?”

“See what?”

“Nevermind,” and with that, Andrew clamped the quilt down with finality.

Thomas had seen what Andrew had and tried to ignore it, concentrating on the droning cicadas outside and the chirping cricket inside. Having grown unbearably warm, he threw off his covers. Panic started to rise in his throat as the shadow both he and Andrew had seen coalesced into an arm that reached out from behind his headboard for him. In a flurry of action, Thomas leaped out of bed, at the same time knocking heads with a similarly jumping Andrew. Never looking back, the boys bolted from the black room and into the darker living room, careering right into a lamp. Dazed, the boys sat on the floor, rubbing identical sore spots on their skulls, desperately ignoring the broken lamp. In the silence, the cicadas sang.

Andrew broke the silence and determinedly punched Thomas in the arm, “You saw it too, you jerk,” he grumbled.

Shrugging, Thomas merely investigated the new bruise and tossed off an empty, “Sorry.”

Placated by his own outburst, Andrew pushed himself off the carpet and looked over the damage. Glass crunched under small socked feet as he made circles around the destruction, assessing whether super glue was necessary or could even be applied. Stumped, he scratched his tousled brown haired head. Since it was Thomas’s house, Andrew looked over at who would bear the punishment if the lamp couldn’t be fixed, “So?”

“What?”

“How are we going to fix it?”

To Andrew surprise, Thomas giggled in reply. Andrew looked at Thomas like he had a head growing out of his stomach and started to back away, asking, “Are you sure that arm didn’t get you?”

“Yes,” Thomas answered, sounding testy, “We won’t do anything, and Mom and Dad’ll think the dog did it.”

“The dog,” Andrew said unbelieving, glancing over where the lazy furball slept, thinking that the mutt wouldn’t get up for food, much less knock over an expensive lamp.

“The dog,” Thomas assured and to punctuate his statement, he went back towards the bedroom. In horror, Andrew watched as the other boy sauntered back to where the shadow lay in wait. From the depths of the bedroom Thomas stage whispered, “Hurry up. If you’re out there, it’ll never work.”

With a long sigh, Andrew resigned himself to a night of terror and tiptoed toward the room. At the door, he paused.

“Come on,” came the more insistent whisper.

Sucking in a long breath, Andrew leapt from the doorway to his bed and under the covers, where he remained until morning, safe from under the bed.

The glass was gone by morning. Thomas’s mother was a quiet woman, only growing loud when she was irritated. “Who broke the lamp, boys?” she asked.

The boys grew very interested in the intricate construction of their cereal bowls. They had made the pact last night, Andrew from under his covers and Thomas from his perch on his bed, deciding that they would claim to know nothing and to have slept through the night like logs. First and foremost, however, was the contemplative silence that comes before every carefully crafted lie.

“Well?” she asked.

Thomas spoke first, “I don’t know, Mom.”

This reply was the conundrum of every family that ever existed. Parents always asked their children a question and because the child has truly no idea why he did what he did, he’ll give the standard reply of “I don’t know.” The problem is, parents hated this truthful answer, because their question isn’t definitively answered. So the children are forced to make something up to make Mom and Dad happy so that they’ll leave little whomever to his play. This is what the boys had planned on, so lying wouldn’t technically be their fault.

“I want the real answer,” she said.

Exactly as planned, Thomas said, “Really. We were sleeping all night. Andrew even hid under the covers.”

Andrew face burned and he glared at Thomas. He wasn’t supposed to mention that.

“Really?” she said. Petrified, the boys nodded, breakfast forgotten. Pointing, she said, “Eat your breakfast. Then I’ll bring Andrew home.”

When Andrew was packing his bag, they got the truth from Thomas.

He was sent home as Thomas’s parents decided what to do with their lying son. Andrew still didn’t feel any better about what they had done. His father quizzed him of course, and Andrew still wouldn’t admit what had happened. He was sent to bed, his father unaware of what had transpired. He didn’t sleep that night. He laid on his mattress, staring at the ceiling, as he had done at Thomas’s house. The frightening black shapes were there again, haunting him as he tossed fitfully. He was sweating, knowing that if his father found out that he had lied, he would receive the worst punishment in his life. All that was left for him was guilt. A soft yellow shaft of light hit the twin bed and his mother tiptoed into his room. Andrew quickly closed his eyes, faking slumber. Gently, she woke him up anyway.

“Andrew,” she whispered, “Tell me what happened.”

Through a mask of tears, he told his mother exactly what happened the day before at Thomas’s. When he reached the part where he tread over the broken glass, sans shoes, but with socks, his mother stopped him and checked his feet for cuts. There were none. “Go on, “she said, satisfied with his health. He continued, then ended.

For five minutes, maybe longer, she just stared at him, her son. Patting him on the head, as if unwilling to show love, she said, “We’ll straighten this out,” and she went back to her room.

Andrew felt a little better having confessed, although he now felt trepidation about what his parents had in store for him, wishing they would be merciful. He tried to fall asleep, snuggling into his covers, watching the ceiling again. The guilt still ate at him, chewing away at his insides. What if they hadn’t found out? Then he wouldn’t feel so bad. He heard the chant of the cicadas swell.

Within the week, he had forgotten, but his parents hadn’t. They got Mrs. Peters.

The offense failed to offer itself for recollection. The dimness of the room surrounded them, dust clung to every surface. The soothing voice of the nice lady next door turned harsh and angry, chasing away the sunlight that might’ve peeked into the window. He didn’t understand what she expected of him, much less what he had done. Her shrill voice seemed to carry into the recesses of his brain, manifesting itself into guilt that welled up in his eyes as tears, threatening to fall down his six-year-old cheeks and betray his feelings.

He sat at the kitchen table, the old brown one carted with them every time the family moved, staring down at the fake brown swirls that represented wood. His feet, unable to touch the floor due to short legs, which in turn was due to age, kicked aimlessly under the table. His hands searched for something to occupy themselves with, nervously tapping silently on the tabletop. His ears burned with unrecognized shame, his mind kept searching for the cause of this new situation. In vain he tried to remember, but all he could see were the spiderwebs that he found every morning attached between the television and rocking chair, the clock and the wall. Gossamer translucent strings that confused him because he thought that spiders made webs, that’s why they were called spiderwebs and why did they appear at night? Mom had said that it was only dust but that didn’t make sense, so there must have been spiders in the house, but only at night, and only he could see them. He hated spiders and all bugs in general. His stare into the whorls of wood grew more intense.

“Pay attention!” the nice lady snapped, except she wasn’t a nice lady anymore, she was mad at him for something and he couldn’t figure out what.

“Sorry,” Andrew replied. He remembered the sunlight that reflected off the webs while he struggled to remember what he did so wrong.

While he struggled, she had pulled a picture out of her handbag. She gently, almost reverently, placed it upon the table that stood between them: the confused freckled, brown-haired child and the determined, raven-haired adult. Mrs. Peters continued her interrogation of the faltering child.

“Do you know who this is?” she asked.

He watched her eyes before he looked down at the picture, to see what kind of reply she wanted. He realized that he’d better know. So he looked at the picture, an old picture of a young man. It wasn’t a photograph, it was a painting of some sort, obviously created with the same reverence with which it was placed in front of him. It was a young man with long brown hair and a short beard, the background a fuzzy grey: so it was a picture of some sort. The corners were soft and the edges a little ragged: the picture was well-loved. Andrew deduced all of this from the picture that he had never seen before, he, a six-year-old who had never really tested his cognitive skills, figured that much out, but he still had no idea what mistake he had made or who this man was. He said so.

She spoke in disbelief, “You don’t know who this is?”

He was surprised himself and a bit indignant, as if he would lie about a simple question that…oh. He remembered his grave error. He’d lied to his mother and Thomas’s mother and now his parents had asked Mrs. Peters to step in and fix the problem. “It’s the Christian thing to do,” they’d said.

Not wanting to speak aloud, he merely nodded. His revelation had renewed his shame, along with the fact that he didn’t know who the man was and he should have known.

Her brown eyes flashed with frustration and she stabbed her finger at the head of the man and said, “This man is our Savior, Jesus Christ.”

“Oh,” was all he could say, properly chastised.

More sarcasm exuded from her voice as she said, “You still don’t know do you?” with her fingers grasping the very edge of the picture, yet she never covered the face of the Savior.

Andrew ducked his head and lowered his eyes to the tabletop in submission, “No.”

She launched into the liturgy of her religion as she explained the life, death and mystery of Jesus Christ to the boy. She ended, “I want you to apologize to him for what you did and then I will give you this picture.”

His head snapped up, attentive because of his now complete confusion, “What?” was all he could say.

“Tell Jesus that you are sorry.”

He searched her face for a hint of humor, for a sign that she had already forgiven him and now was kidding around, but all he saw was determination, deadly seriousness that he should apologize to this man that he had never met, much less done anything to. There had to be a reason why she was so intent on wrenching this apology from him. So he asked, “Why?”

She sighed in an effort to control her rapidly increasing temper, “Because you have sinned by lying to your mother you must tell Him that you are sorry for what you have done,” she said, sounding perfectly logical to herself but muddying things up even more for Andrew.

He bit his bottom lip in his own determination, that he would not apologize to this man because he saw no need to, that he did not want the picture anyway. He wasn’t sorry, he knew that. His guilt was the guilt of getting caught. He stared at the picture. Mrs. Peters stared at him.

In an effort to escape from her accusing eyes, his thoughts wandered again to the webs of the night. Maybe they were a part the shadows under his bed, the arm-like shape that reared up from behind the headboard every night to frighten him into hiding under the covers. They were what he understood when his mother asked if he did. This time he didn’t feign knowledge and he had found out what happened. Maybe they were connected to this Jesus that he never met but really wanted to meet now because he was in trouble for wronging him, for committing this new act: a sin.

He jumped when she asked, “Well?”

He redoubled his efforts to be quiet and look as he felt her eyes bore into his skull. The bottom of his foot began to itch and he tried to scratch it without taking off his red sneaker. Unfortunately, he moved the table.

“Quit wiggling,” came the scold.

He continued suffering in now still silence.

She broke it, “Decide now. Tell him you’re sorry and you can have Him.”

She didn’t understand that he didn’t know that he should want Him. Andrew scratched the top of his head, deciding, “I can’t,” his voice quivering in anticipation of her next statement.

“Please, tell Him,” she pleaded now, her voice had gone back to the nice lady, her own eyes glistening.

He couldn’t see the nice lady anymore. His eyes could only see Mrs. Peters, the Inquisitor who had sat before him and flayed open his soul.

“I can’t,” he whispered, his hands trembling, “I just can’t.”

She let go of the portrait; both watched as it fluttered back to the tabletop. “Then I’m sorry,” she whispered back, her voice cracking. Then she picked up the picture, propped it on a nearby counter, and went through the door to her own apartment downstairs, her eyes betraying her feelings all the while, leaving Andrew alone.

He still didn’t get it and dropped his face into his arms and was surprised to find his face wet. She had known all along. He cried anyway, wishing for the moment back. He wiped his nose and eyes on his sleeve and noticed one of those little webs in the corner. He remembered his mom telling him they were cobwebs, even though the word meant nothing to him, he acted as if he understood. She never knew that they were still spiderwebs to him. Suddenly he desperately wanted to run down to Mrs. Peters’ apartment and say, “Sorry,” and have her be the nice lady next door again. Yet even at the moment he thought of this, he knew he wouldn’t follow through and he bit his lip in his determination to keep his tears from falling all over again.

End.