Fiendish Father’s Day Honorable Mention
Carl woke, showered, dressed, and cooked breakfast for Max, his four-year-old son, with the tired, robotic precision of a man three years widower.
Something nagged at him. As he drove his son to daycare in his safe and economical hatchback, he asked him, “Maxy, you’re a big boy now. Why do you still come and sleep in Daddy’s bed every morning?”
From the back seat, his son said, “For protection.”
“From the dark corner in my room.”
Carl thought. The house they shared was small and Max’s room doubled as the laundry room. Closet doors could be closed to hide the appliances, but because Carl was always behind, he left them open. “You mean, the closet with the washer and dryer?”
“Is it scary?”
“What about your Friends?” This was the family name for Max’s stuffed animals. “Don’t they protect you?”
“No. They get scared too.”
Carl tried to lighten the tone. “What’s so scary about a silly old closet?”
“It’s dark. A man lives in the dark. He has big horns.”
“Yes, and sharp spikes on his back.”
“And on his arms. And he has really big mean claws.”
“Uh-huh. And big sharp teeth. And do you know what he eats for breakfast?”
“Little kids. And do you know what he eats for Lunch?”
“Big kids. And do you know what he eats for dinner?”
“Grown-ups. He eats grown-ups for dinner.”
Carl drove on, his palms wet on the steering wheel. He worked his shoulders loose when he realized they were tense. Max had never talked this way before.
“That’s why I come sleep in your bed.”
Carl pulled into his son’s daycare, a white building with a red roof like an old fashioned schoolhouse. He turned to his son, secure in his car seat. He set his jaw. “Well, I’m just gonna have to do something about that guy.”
“Don’t worry, Maxy. Daddies know how to deal with these things.”
Carl didn’t have the first idea. Still, he gave the boy a roguish grin.
“It’s called Daddy Magic. You’ll learn it when you become a daddy. Don’t you worry.”
“Okay. Thanks Daddy. I love you.”
“Love you too.”
Max unstrapped his car seat harness like a big boy and Carl came around and opened his door. He held his son’s hand all the way into his classroom today, then kissed his cheek goodbye.
* * *
That evening, as his son watched TV, Carl moved with purpose throughout the house, performing the hundreds of tasks necessary to parent a child alone. Without thinking, he arrived quite suddenly in Max’s room. The floor lay strewn with toys: airplanes, fire trucks, action figures. The blankets on his toddler-bed twisted around his Friends, leaving fluffy paws askew, stuffed bellies exposed, plastic eyes peeking. The washer and dryer loomed like a fortress of responsibility, towering over the
carefree kingdom of childhood. A heap of laundry, conspicuous in its assortment of light and dark, threatened to avalanche over the sides of the basket. Cool dusk shown through the window. Carl automatically stepped over the toys and pulled the blinds.
He opened the dryer, then stopped short, remembering the conversation in the car that morning. He squinted, trying to pierce the darkness at the back of the closet. There was nothing to see back there, he knew. Even
if he switched on the closet light, there would still be nothing to see.
Still, he felt taunted, like the darkness was leering at him, issuing a challenge.
“Look.” He addressed the closet, fists clenching. “My child has been through enough. All he has left is me. So help me, if anyone or anything wants to harm him, they will have to go through me first.”
On impulse, Carl grabbed a spray bottle of stain remover from a high shelf and aimed it toward the back of the closet. “You know what this is? This is monster spray. This stuff kills monsters dead. Understand?”
Carl misted the darkness at the back of the closet. After a moment, he let out a deep breath. The room smelled fresh and the darkness cowered.
Returning to the laundry, he stopped and examined Max’s bed again. He traced a line from the pillow to the lightless closet and back again. He imagined his son lying awake, long after bedtime, terrified, unable to pull the covers over his head.
Carl dropped the dirty clothes and knelt beside Max’s bed. He ripped off the sheets and remade it so that the head and foot were reversed.
E. Michael Lewis studied creative writing at the University of Puget Sound. He is a lifelong native of the Pacific Northwest whose ghost stories appear in Flight or Fright (Cemetery Dance Publications), Savage Beasts (Grey Matter Press), Exotic Gothic 4 (PS Publishing). He’s on the
web (www.emichaellewis.com), Facebook and Twitter.