Little Boys Love To Play, but This Child Wants Something More
“Do you have any questions about your son’s prescriptions for Chlorpromazine or Prozac?” asked the pharmacist.
“No, his psychiatrist explained to me what I needed to know,” the well-dressed woman replied without even a glance at the teenager by her side, “Theodore will take them as prescribed.”
Theodore looked at his mother as she paid for the drugs. He knew the pills wouldn’t make any difference. Darius wasn’t in his imagination.
The drive home was even duller than the appointment with the head shrink.
“I don’t want to take those drugs,” stated the teen, as much to himself as to the woman driving the overpriced station wagon with the ostentatious hood ornament.
“Doesn’t matter, you need them,” rebuked Mother, “You’re a teenager now, and it’s past time to be done with imaginary friends.”
“I don’t have imaginary friends. Darius is real.”
“That’s enough of this conversation. If you can’t be rational, at least be quiet.”
Theodore watched as the mature oak and maple trees zipped past in a blur, partially obscuring the stone and timber houses set behind iron fences in his neighborhood. He wondered how many of the other homes contained someone like Darius hiding in their dark spaces.
Mother punched the code into the keypad, and the iron gate creaked loudly on its hinges as their vehicle idled in the long driveway. Theodore sighed knowing that it was nothing more than false security for a home filled with insecurity and danger. She parked the car on the curved path sweeping its way to the front door. Theodore opened the car’s backdoor and stepped into the dreary mist that clung damply to everything that it touched.
“I’ll be back before bedtime,” his mother said expecting and receiving no response, “take one of each of those pills when you get inside.” She drove away, leaving Theodore shivering by himself at the front door.
While adults always proclaimed their admiration whenever they first stepped into the house, Theodore didn’t share their feelings about the structure. It was big and old with its own dark, lonely personality. The stairs creaked, even without someone stepping on them. The antique paintings watched everything with eyes devoid of emotion. Cold air brushed across your face and slid down your shirt, even while standing in front of the great room’s gigantic, roaring fireplace.
Theodore closed the heavy oak door aggressively behind himself, and the ornate brass knocker clanked against its strike plate outside.
“I’m home,” he shouted into the dimly light entryway, knowing that he was the only living soul in the house. The silence screamed back, but he ignored its endless empty reply.
He walked to the back of the house and kicked his shoes into the mudroom by the backdoor. Glancing back at the way he came, he saw the wet, dirty tracks of each of his steps on the polished wood floor.
“Shit,” he said, realizing he should have taken the shoes off before he came through the house, “Oh well, she’ll be pissed no matter what I do.”
The pills slid down his throat easily as he gulped the last bit of milk in the jug. Rummaging through the refrigerator, he found some lunch meat and cheese for a sandwich.
“Another glorious family dinner,” he announced as he sat alone at the long dining room table. He left the plate to remind the empty house that once again he ate alone, even though he knew it didn’t care. The only thing that really paid him any attention here was Darius.
The cloudy sunset cast an orange tint on the well-manicured backyard and lake stretching behind their property. Theodore stood barefoot on the old bricks in the sunroom. They felt warm on his feet after the sun heated the red blocks of clay during the day. With so many cold things in this house, the momentary heat warmed his feet, but he knew that it wouldn’t last.
His eyes followed the path of lights around the lake to 842 Oakstead Drive, Mr. Charles Patterson’s estate on the far side of the lake. His mansion was even more pretentious than Theodore’s family’s extravagant house.
He knew that in that mansion is where his mother would be — pretending that the other parts of her life didn’t exist. Father would stay at his apartment in the city, blindly assuming that mother would care for the child.
They both excelled only at caring for themselves.
Darius told him once that his loneliness called the boy out from the darkness, but Theodore believed that his anger called Darius too. Darius never refuted his supposition. He simply smiled with a coldness that only death itself can paint.
“Pills?” giggled Darius nefariously as the sun succumbed to the shroud of the night. Its blackness wrapping the world in secrecy and shadows.
Theodore held his gaze on the ripples of light reflecting on the lake from the stubby light posts tracing their way in an endless circle around the water.
“She thinks that pills will whisk me away?” laughed Darius coldly from someplace behind Theodore, “You can’t hope me away. You can’t think me away.”
“I know,” replied Theodore. He turned and looked around the room. The glass windows covering three walls reflected Theodore’s image and all of the furniture and decorations of the room, but nothing else revealed itself in the dark panes.
• • •
The baseball bashed into the back of Theodore’s head.
“Play ball,” announced Darius as Theodore scanned for signs of where Darius might be hiding.
“Not tonight. I have too much on my mind.”
“Are you hoping that the pills will make me go away?”
“I know they won’t,” replied Theodore crassly, “Nothing makes you go away.”
The boy’s callous laughter disappeared down the hallway towards the kitchen. Theodore followed the sound into the long room featuring a wide, open fireplace for cooking. The room begged for a redesign but only suffered the misplacement of modern appliances.
“Goddamnit, Darius,” cursed Theodore as he began replacing the scattered orange pills and green capsules into their bottles, “What the hell do you want?”
“To play,” replied Darius, “You’re my only friend, and I want to play.”
“Maybe later,” said Theodore to the empty space where the boy’s voice emanated.
When all the pills were back in their bottles, Theodore padded his way up two flights of stairs, walked solemnly down the hallway, and opened the door to another staircase. Moonlight streamed in through the windows wrapping the large office situated higher than any other part of the house.
Father’s big telescope hogged the space in front of the windows facing the lake. Theodore pointed the large tube toward the back of 842 Oakstead Drive.
“She’s there again, isn’t she?” asked Darius.
“Of course,” retorted Theodore, “She’d rather be with him than her family.”
“You know the solution.”
“Fuck off, Darius,” snapped the annoyed teenager as he looked around the room, hoping to catch a glimpse of the boy who tormented him every night.
“I want to play,” demanded the boy with anger swelling in his tone, “I want to play, now. I don’t want to wait until later.”
“Okay, stop,” snapped Theodore as he felt the sharp pressure on his arm, “I’ll check the traps. Just give me a fucking minute, you little bastard.”
Theodore’s toes mushed into the wet mulch of the garden. The heavy mist turned to rain as his flashlight beam revealed the hissing rat trapped in the cage behind the evergreen bush. The rodent screeched obscenities as its wire prison cell was roughly carried into the house.
Even before Theodore opened the door to go back into the mudroom, he could hear Darius’ menacing giggle bouncing off the wainscoted walls.
Theodore set the trap on the floor in the mudroom, opened the pest’s cage, and the rat charged out. The rodent ran less than five paces before its head and neck smashed against the floor. The small creature snarled and hissed as its floated upward in the air with its neck and torso smushed as if someone was gripping it tightly.
The crunch of bone followed by sucking and slurping sounds signaled that Darius’ meal met with his satisfaction.
Theodore watched as the blood left the rodent and appeared to float in the air while the dying sacrificial offering deflated like a helium balloon after too many days. Another chomp and sloppy gulping sound followed as Darius’ greedy face appeared with his teeth clamped hard on the rat’s neck and shoulder. His eyes ablaze and flushed red with blood.
Theodore watched in horrific, mesmerized silence. Each greedy draw of the rat’s blood into Darius’ mouth flowed away from his pointy teeth, filling in more parts of the child’s body. No matter how many times he witnessed the ghost child take human form, Theodore shuddered at the thought of what the little hell-spawned boy really wanted.
“Thank you, big brother,” piped Darius as his arms wrapped around Theodore, hugging him tightly, “You’re the best.”
Theodore studied the boy’s hair against his chest. Every dark strand perfectly combed. The boy’s black suit, white shirt, and dark red tie remained neatly pressed. Night after night, the boy’s attire looked exactly as it had while the child rested in the open coffin that his parents presented in the great room to mourning family and grandiloquent guests.
But the Darius that Theodore remembered didn’t have this pale skin that shimmered with a ghostly radiance. Its translucence glowed of its own accord, even in the absence of light. While the boy’s skin was disquieting, the child’s glowing red eyes pressed any sympathy for his brother to the back corners of Theodore’s mind.
As much as he wanted to be repulsed and push the child away, he hugged Darius back as he grappled with the guilt of not protecting his little brother better. He could feel the bump and disconnected vertebrae in the boy’s back where the boy landed against the table when Father threw him in anger.
Darius stepped back from Theodore and announced, “It’s time to play.”
The brothers launched into the same nightly ritual that many siblings share. A ball tossed back and forth. Cars racing down long hallways. Wrestling and laughing without another care in the world.
“Darius, I have to go bed soon,” said Theodore when a recess in their antics gave him pause him to glance at the clock.
“When will you finally help me?” inquired the boy.
“I don’t know,” replied Theodore, “Soon, maybe, I don’t know.”
The red tint in Darius’ eyes glowed brighter and darker as he listened to his brother’s response. The car in the boy’s hand flew across the room, smashing into a thousand pieces against the wall.
“I see the gash across your face,” screamed the angry child, “She hit you again; she’s making you take those pills. How long do you have, brother, before you join me?”
Theodore ran the tips of his fingers across the long wound on his cheek. Mother’s ring dug a trench that morning when she struck him as he lay in bed.
“But Darius did it!” he’d protested at her as he felt the warm blood oozing through his fingers while pressing them hard against his face.
“Not another word from you,” she’d yelled angrily at the teen as he tried to get out of bed, “Put every one of these fucking toys and clothes back where they belong!”
Theodore’s eyes pleaded with his little brother to find a different solution, to map a variant outcome, but Darius glared back at Theodore. As much as he didn’t want to, he accepted that the little dead boy understood the adult occupants of this house as well as anyone.
“Join me or bring her to me,” stated the angry child, “I need someone to play with me.”
Theodore stared at his ghostly little brother. The knot in his stomach grew tighter and tighter. Anger, pity, and confusion slushed through his gut. He knew in his heart that the demon child was right. One day he would join the boy if he didn’t help the child soon.
“Okay,” Theodore said, relinquished, “But how do you know that she’ll come?”
“Do what I told you to do, I promise that the little girl at 842 Oakstead Drive wants to have a friend as badly as I do,” said Darius, the angry red tint in his eyes moderating. The little boy looked at his feet for a moment and then stared back at his older brother, “It’s lonely here and I just, I just want a friend to play with me.”
• • •
Theodore counted out a handful of white sleeping tablets from the bottle in Mother’s medicine cabinet and walked back to the kitchen. After grinding them into a fine powder with the mortar and pedestal from the pantry, he carefully poured the dust into the half-empty bottle of wine in the refrigerator. He spun the bottle by the neck until he couldn’t see any remains or residue floating in the dark liquid.
Theodore and Darius hid when they heard the door to the mudroom open.
“Goddamn, that child,” barked Mother as she slammed the door closed and began marching toward the kitchen, “Another bloody mess in the mudroom, tracks on my wood floor, and plates left on my dining room kitchen. Why did I ever bother having children?”
The pair watched the refrigerator open and close from the shadows. Darius stifled a giggle as Mother passed near them on her way upstairs with a wine glass in her hand, the burgundy liquid reaching nearly to the brim.
“Mother?” inquired Theodore loudly into the moon-lit master bedroom after some time had passed. The pace of her quiet snoring notched up and faded back down as the only response she could give.
In the kitchen, Darius handed the phone receiver to Theodore. “He won’t answer,” stated the little boy flatly, “Just leave a message.”
Theodore rotated the finger wheel repeatedly and waited. The tell-tell click of an answering machine answered with Father’s recorded voice.
“Father! This is Theodore. Come home quick! It’s terrible! You have to get here fast!” exclaimed the teen into the phone, quickly hanging it up.
Darius snickered and punched his brother’s arm.
“Okay, Darius,” exhaled Theodore, “I guess there’s no turning back now.”
Theodore walked quickly in the cold night air, following the path illuminated by the stubby light posts wrapping themselves around the dark lake.
Moss caked the old stones sinking into the ground, protecting the open stairway leading down to the cellar entrance at 842 Oakstead Drive.
Theodore pushed his finger along the top of the bottom row of stones, finding a wide groove filled with dirt. Using his fingernail, he clawed out the little opening, and a key clattered as bounced onto the landing in front of the cellar door.
“Damn,” muttered Theodore as he picked up the key and fitted it into the door’s lock, “That little demon bastard was right.”
Carefully closing the door behind him, Theodore paused to turn on his flashlight, its weak battery barely illuminating the space around his feet. The girlish giggle from the shadows stiffened his spine.
“You came for me?” the quiet, young voice whispered from the darkness.
Theodore pointed the light in the direction of the sound, but only found the remnants of long-forgotten junk.
“I guess so,” he replied when his nerves finally began to steel themselves for the task at hand, “I think you’re supposed to follow me.”
Theodore carefully navigated to the stairs and exited the musty confines of the basement to find himself in a hallway that led to the great room. Charles Patterson snored loudly with an arm and a leg hanging off the couch. He hadn’t moved since Theodore spotted him through the telescope in Father’s office. The empty glass on the coffee table butted against the empty bottle of scotch.
He slipped the flashlight into his pocket and wrapped both hands around the baseball bat’s handle. Stepping behind the couch, he yelled, “Patterson, wake up!”
The groggy man snapped upright, baffled by the noise. Before he could react, Theodore swung the wooden bat as hard as he could at the back of the man’s head. The cracking sound bounced off the large floor-to-ceiling windows overlooking the lake, and Mr. Patterson’s body crumbled to the ground like a discarded tissue.
“Oh my, oh my,” the tiny female voice proclaimed, “What on earth have you done?”
The broken bat clattered as Theodore weakly tossed it across the room. Sitting down on the couch, he pressed his hands together in a vain attempt to stop their shaking. He looked away from the body sprawled on the floor and forced his eyes closed. Opening them back up, he knew it wasn’t a nightmare, or at least it wasn’t the type of nightmare that you have while sleeping.
Steadying his breathing, he bent down and pulled Mr. Patterson’s belt off and then wrapped it around both of the man’s ankles, cinching it tightly.
“This is your ride,” Theodore spoke into the darkness, “I don’t know how, but I guess you can get inside him.”
The girlish giggle grew closer and closer, and the man groaned as if he’d been hit by the bat again.
“Girl, are you in there?”
Another strained grunt and moan emanated from Mr. Patterson. Theodore looked closely at the man’s face, and its features were contorted and disfigured.
“I guess you are,” winced Theodore grabbing the belt and pulling the man toward the side door of the mansion. He pocketed the keys to the man’s overpriced German sedan from the hook by the door and pulled the man out into the driveway.
Sweat beaded on his head as he hauled Mr. Patterson’s unconscious body into the back seat of the car. The man groaned with each tug but remained trapped in the forced slumber caused by the blow to his head.
The engine roared to life, and Theodore gripped the leather-wrapped steering wheel, driving up to the gate. He marvelled as it began to open without any action on his part.
The car keys jangled in his pocket as he fumbled to open the garage door back at his house on the other side of the lake. The smell of dirt and fertilizer assaulted his nose when he opened the door. Mother loved a pristine yard more than a protected car, so the gardener had the entire four-car garage at his disposal. Theodore quickly found the dolly and wheeled it to the car.
Mr. Patterson’s head thunked hard on the concrete despite Theodore’s best effort not to drop the body.
“Fuck,” he cursed, “Son of a bitch is heavy.”
The body barely fit on the dolly that the gardener used for moving heavy pots, but Theodore scavenged some rope from the garage and lashed Mr. Patterson tightly to it
Darius stood waiting at the door into the mudroom, dancing a little as Theodore rolled the dolly up the stairs and into the house. When they reached the staircase, Darius helped by pushing the dolly up while Theodore pulled.
Once Mr. Patterson’s knees were snug with Father’s side of the bed, Theodore untied the ropes, and the unconscious man flopped onto the bed next to their snoring Mother.
• • •
The boys heard the door to the mudroom slam, and they hurried into the closet, hiding the dolly, and leaving the door ajar so that they could see.
“What the ever-living fuck?” demanded Father quietly as he looked at the two bodies lying in his bed, “Should have known what that bitch would do.”
Father walked to the dresser and opened the bottom drawer, removing his revolver and a box of bullets. He glared at the bed, his breathing coming in angry snorts as he chambered six bullets. The click of the cylinder elicited a faint moan from Mother.
Theodore watched, unable to think as Father stood at the foot of the bed pointing the gun at each of them, seemingly indecisive about who would feel the wrath of his anger first. The barrel stopped moving as he lined it up with Mr. Patterson’s chest. His wife bolted upright screaming as two quickly fired shots ripped into the unconscious man’s chest.
Mother screamed as Father swung the weapon, pointing it at her.
The projectile bore a hole through her forehead, and blood splattered against the wall behind her. Mother fell back, her eyes looking toward the heaven she didn’t deserve to see.
The boys watched as Father stood staring at the dead bodies. Despite his overwhelming desire to vomit and run, Theodore held his brother’s arm to ensure that the child didn’t rashly bolt into the room.
Father tossed the gun into the bottom drawer and turned back around to spew obscenities at the adulterous couple in his bed.
“And now, what the hell am I supposed to do with that other worthless child that you bore?” inquired Father as his rage diminished, “Two pathetic offspring, neither worth a stinking pile of shit.”
Darius ripped his arm from Theodore’s grip and quickly tiptoed to the dresser, removing the gun from where it landed.
“Hello, Father,” said Darius leveling the revolver at the man, “did you miss me?”
“No, No, No! What the fuck?” stammered Father, spinning around with his face painted with fear upon seeing the apparition of his dead son, “You can’t be real. What the hell is going on here?”
Theodore stepped out of the closet and looked at the confused and terrified man standing at the foot of the bed. Father’s face reflected his inability to comprehend how the vision of the child that he’d killed stood before him. Sympathy might be warranted, but Theodore couldn’t find anything but disappointment and resentment.
“Hehehehe, I’m free!” giggled a young girl’s voice as the lamp on Father’s nightstand crashed to the floor, “Darius, I’m finally here!”
Father’s head spun around, scanning the room to locate another child, but he could only see two boys. The man’s jaw clenched tightly, and he snorted at the boys, “What game are you little monsters playing?”
Darius tilted his head toward his older brother, his eyes red with fury and face erupting in a villainous smile. Theodore nodded affirmatively to the ghastly little boy holding the revolver.
Father buckled to the ground as the bullet smashed through his kneecap. His fall and scream shook the room, “you fucking nightmares!”
Darius walked closer to Father as the infuriated man attempted to push himself towards the bathroom and away from the demonic creature holding the gun. The boy pointed the revolver’s barrel directly at Father’s head, “my nightmare started when you killed me, yours will start today.”
“No, no, no, please don’t,” begged Father, his tone changing with the realization of the danger that he was in, “Have mercy, I beg you.”
A cruel grin spread across Darius’ lips, and he giggled while he responded, “Okay Father, but now it’s time to play.”
Theodore watched the bite marks appear on Father’s neck and the blood spurting out into the materializing mouth of the little girl. He sighed heavily, leaving the gruesome scene and heading down the stairs.
Huge raindrops poured down fiercely, beating against everything in waves outside the house. The water felt clean, pelting against his head when he stepped out of his home for the very last time.
“Theodore,” came the little boy’s voice from behind him.
“Yes, Darius?” he replied, turning around and letting the water drip down his face rather than return to the house.
“Thank you,” said the little boy sheepishly, “You’re the best brother ever.”
For a moment, the boy’s eyes seemed to turn green and morph back to the innocent eyes of a child. Theodore looked into those eyes, hoping to see the Darius that he loved and remembered so well.
A nearby strike of lightning lit up the sky, electrifying the air, and Theodore flinched, clamping his eyes closed in fright. When he looked back towards the door, Darius’ eyes blazed deep red, and a malevolent smile dominated his face.
“Goodbye, Darius,” Theodore said with a hint of sadness. It was his brother, but it wasn’t his brother.
The engine of the German sedan roared to life again, and Theodore drove to the end of the driveway. He looked back into the house through the large bay window, shrugging and sighing as two small children jumped on the sofa in the front room.
“Have fun playing with your new friend,” he said out loud, turning out of the driveway and accelerating as quickly as the car would go.
• • •
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