As the children cheered their brightly colored neon pigs to the finish line and eternal glory, David Banister kept glancing over his shoulder at his son, Nicky, waving a green flag and yelling as loudly as the rest of them. Would Mr. Green Jeans win the race and bring victory to Team Green? The Rec Center full of Vacation Bible School kids would soon find out. David, on the other hand, might miss the photo finish. Mrs. Simmons, the VBS instructor, motioned him off to the side. This couldn’t be good. A sweet, older woman who had become involved in VBS when her grandchildren moved a thousand miles away was the leader of Team Green. She wouldn’t miss the finish of the race except to tell him there had been a problem. Had Nicky done something to get himself into trouble? Only five years old, he had never been left alone without either mom or dad around. Had something scared him? David’s wife, Emily, had argued that Nicky was still too young. “I have some exciting news for you,” Mrs. Simmons said as she pulled him back from the cheering crowd. She didn’t sound all that excited, though. She held out her hands to reveal a folded piece of paper in the shape of a barn in her palm. The theme of VBS that summer was “God’s Farm.” He reached out for the origami barn. Excitement radiated from it. “Today, during share time, Nicky said that he was born again! We have been talking about letting Jesus into our hearts all week and what that means, but today, being the last day and all, we asked the children if they wanted Jesus in their hearts too. Nicky was one of the few that raised his hand.” Mrs. Simmons lowered her head in seeming disappointment. “We had hoped more would take this step, but we couldn’t be more excited for Nicky.” David opened the folded paper barn to see Nicky’s name at the top. It was just a template with blanks where the child’s name would go and another for the date. Near the bottom was a series of boxes that were checked off. And finally, on the bottom where the paper animals would enter the paper barn for the night was a place where Mrs. Simmons had signed her name, complete with a little smiley face. David smiled slightly and put the note in his breast pocket. “That’s great news. I cannot wait to go home and tell Emily. What is the next step? What do we need to do?” “Yes, share this great news with your wife, and then you should schedule a time to speak to the pastor. He will want to talk to Nicky about his decision.” “Okay. I sure will,” David said as he watched the finish of the race. The Green Team had a slight lead, and he wanted to watch them finish. He was tired and wanted to scoop up Nicky and beat the crowd out of the parking lot before it became a scene from “Mad Max.” “Oh, Mr. Banister, there is something else.” Even though she was the coach for Green Team, she wasn’t watching the race. There was a twinge to her voice, a hint of concern hidden somewhere in the back of her throat. This was the part when the sweet, gentle Mrs. Simmons would politely share that his son Nicky was the VBS bully, or was being bullied, or was not being asked back next year because she didn’t feel that he was “ready” to be in the classroom yet. His mind jumped the rail and headed into the worst of possibilities in his own personal House of Horrors. David hated this. He automatically went to the worst-case scenarios instead of waiting to hear what was said. He had done his fair share of praying about it and asking God to give him faith that things were going to work out. David took a deep breath and turned back to Mrs. Simmons politely. “There was something that Nicky told the class during ‘share time’ that bothered me and made the rest of the class laugh.” Mrs. Simmons’s expression grew more serious. “Nicky claimed that he was once a farmer. He shared with everyone in class that a long time ago, he was a farmer, but he wasn’t one anymore. When asked what he meant by ‘a long time ago,’ he said it was before he was born again.” Despite the hooting and hollering around him, David felt a crypt-like silence. He knew that Nicky had a fantastic imagination. He had seen his son in the backyard hundreds of times playing by himself. Sometimes he would be with his Matchbox cars in what David could only imagine was a child-like version of five o’clock traffic; sometimes, it would be with the plastic green army men from the Dollar Store. It was not too surprising that there might have been a time or two when Nicky had pretended that the backyard dirt pile was a farm. So why would Mrs. Simmons be so worried about a five-year-old pretending that he was a farmer? “I can tell by your face that you are not quite getting it. Nicky didn’t say that he was a farmer, like working the land and raising animals. One of the other children said that her grandpa was a farmer and that she loved going out to the country during the summer to spend time with him and Grandma Jo. Nicky got really upset with that little girl and was insistent that that was NOT what he meant. He never really explained himself, but I was able to calm him down.” What was Mrs. Simmons trying to say? What did Nicky mean? Was he pretending to be a farmer and had never even been to a real farm? “I’m not sure I follow.” “I am not too sure I follow either. Nicky said that he was born again, but then he followed it up with this insistence on being a farmer a long time ago.” She paused for what seemed like forever. “And then he told the class a crazy story about flying in planes and being with his best friend, Hugo. He said he had flown a plane in France, and that is where he lost his friend. But then he turned around and said that he still talked to him. It was confusing and disruptive to the class and to the parent volunteers. To tell you the truth, Mr. Banister, I don’t know what to think.” She looked and sounded as if a weight had been lifted. She sighed deeply, and her shoulders caved. Now the burden was no longer hers, and Nicky’s father would have to deal with it. “Thank you for telling me all of this. You are doing a wonderful job here. It takes a special calling to be a VBS teacher. I appreciate all you have done with Nicky. My wife and I will talk to the pastor as soon as I can.” He patted his pocket with the barnyard note. “I can’t wait to share this with Emily. We will also be discussing what you just shared. I am sure that it is nothing more than just his imagination running wild, but he still needs to learn the difference between imaginary and real.” The cheers and yelling had wound down. Green Team had won, but neither he nor Mrs. Simmons got much joy from the victory. The familiar song, “Digging Up Disciples for God,” brought the week-long chaos and festivities to a close. The halls and the parking lots were full of parents bracing themselves against the stampede of kids singing, running, and waving arts and crafts. So much for David beating the crowd. “Thank you, Mr. Banister. Nicky is a wonderful and bright little boy. I do apologize for saying that his story was crazy. That is not what I meant at all. It was just some of the things he said were upsetting. The details….” Her voice trailed off as she sank deep into her own thoughts. “Thank you, Mrs. Simmons.” Nicky was making a beeline to him. In his hands were coloring pages, popsicle-stick art, and half a dozen little cut-out animals. Around Nicky’s neck was a necklace made of “corn;” on his chest was a first-place sticker in the shape of a pig. *** David turned down the radio on the drive home so that he could talk to Nicky. The only sounds from the front were the steady humming of the tires and the gentle blowing of the car’s air-conditioning. The back of the car was a different story. “And that is when Mr. Green Jeans ran even faster! The pastor said that the louder we yelled, the faster our pig would run. He was right! That’s how I got this sticker.” Nicky pulled out the top of his striped shirt to show his dad in the rear-view mirror. “Everyone thought he was gonna lose, but not me.” David smiled and listened to Nicky tell the story of how the pigs were a little scared at first to come out and race, but through cheers and shouting from the VBS crowd, they gathered all their piggy courage and won. Nicky then told him all about the farm songs that they had sung during the week and did his best to share all the movements that went with it. David chuckled as Nicky tried to do the moves while restrained in his car seat. The whole time Nicky recapped the weekly events, the information that Mrs. Simmons had shared scratched at the back of David’s mind like a spider trying to get through the terrarium glass. The thoughts itched when he tried to remember the details. What bothered him the most was the fear in her voice and the relief when she was able to set it all free. “But they didn’t believe me,” Nicky said. The phrase kicked David’s attention back to his son. “What was that? What did they not believe?” “I told the kids in my group that I was born again, but they didn’t believe me. Even when I told them my name and all about flying in the plane. They just laughed.” Nicky’s voice faded to sadness. “Well, I believe you, and I can’t wait until we get home so we can tell your mom all about it.” When they reached the house, Nicky unbuckled himself and scrambled to gather his papers. David, on the other hand, scrambled to think of what he was going to tell Emily. He was the one who had pushed for VBS. Would she be mad? On the one hand, he was excited to tell her about how Nicky had learned about Jesus; on the other hand, he would have to tell her about Nicky’s imagination and how the class had reacted to him. As David lagged behind, Nicky raced inside, kicking off his shoes and yelling up the stairs for his mother. David decided to wait until Nicky was in bed to talk to Emily.
Jason Bond is a Corpus Christi native and teaches fourth grade. He lives with his beautiful wife, Rose. When not taking care of his cat and dog, Jason loves to read and write. His hope and dream is that someone else enjoys his imagination.
Brian watched Timmy reach as far as he could under his bed. Imagining his chubby fingers tiptoeing like spider legs over dust-bunny covered Cheetos or long-lost Lego pieces or whatever else might be under there.
“Got it!” Timmy whispered and pulled the tattered shoebox out into the light of the flashlight he had resting on his lap.
The black and yellow box was covered in sunflowers. Although all of that was almost impossible to see through the layers of Scotch tape and endless yards of twine that Timmy had placed around it. Brian, unfortunately, had to help his mom wrap Christmas presents last year and knew all about how much tape to use and where to hold his finger so his mom could tie the bow. But Timmy’s box looked nothing like that.
“It’s in here. I had to wrap it up pretty tight. I didn’t want it getting out. I mean, what if it can get through the cracks somehow, or worse, pop itself open like a Jack-in-the-Box.” Timmy’s voice sounded excited and out of breath even though the two of them were just sitting there quietly on their sleeping bags.
Timmy clutched it tight. Little beads of sweat were making their way down the side of his cheeks. Brian wanted to reach out and grab it out of Timmy’s hands and rip it open to see its contents. Another part of him wanted to either hide under the folds of his sleeping bag and zip it up like a human pupa, or run out of the bedroom and not stop until he was safe across the street and back in his own bed. Finally, after sucking up as much courage as his seven-year-old body could contain, he reached out and asked to hold it.
“Hold on. Let me tell you about how I got it first, and if you still want to hold it, I will let you. But you have to promise me that if you do hold it, you will hold it like it’s a bomb or something like your life depends on it.” Timmy said seriously. His eyes stared at Brian, never blinking.
“Ok then. I was out behind my house, you know where they are putting in all those new apartments. And I was just looking around for stuff. You never know what you might find when they start digging things up. Well, I was hoping to find an arrowhead or maybe some like cool animal bones, when I hear a voice coming from one of the buildings. The walls were barely up, and you could see all of the wires and pipes like the intestines of a huge robot. My dad would tan my behind if he caught me snooping around there, and I was about to high-tail it back home, but there was something in that voice that I just couldn’t walk away from.”
Brian didn’t say a word. He was no longer looking at the box in Timmy’s hands but instead staring into the frightened look on his best friend’s face. The dim light of the flashlight teased the shadows and turned the cozy bedroom into an endless labyrinth of shadows. Brian could hear the air conditioning and the steady rhythmic squeak of the ceiling fan overhead, but other than that, the house was dead silent.
Timmy continued, “I had seen where the workers had been earlier in the day. The place was littered with cigarette butts and Styrofoam cups. That was when I heard the voice of a girl about our age. Sounded like she was playing by herself around the corner. Her voice changed the closer I got to it. Brian, I ain’t kidding. The closer I got to her, and the deeper I walked into the back end of that building, the older the little girl seemed to get. And another thing, it wasn’t getting louder. Before I knew it, I had walked beyond the middle of all that wood and nails and stuff, and still, instead of her voice getting louder and clearer, it was the same faint sound coming from just beyond wherever I was turning.”
Brian now wished that he had gone with his second option and just ran home when he had the chance. It was too late now. He was in deep. Timmy had been his best friend since kindergarten, and he had never seen him like this. The whole time he shared his story, Timmy’s voice was never above a whisper, but Brian didn’t think that it had anything to do with Timmy’s parents downstairs. The fact was that he had never seen his friend scared.
“The old lady, that’s what the voice sounded like at the end, wasn’t talking to me.” Timmy looked down at his box but still told his story to Brian, “It was talking about this. ‘Keep it safe. Keep it safe. Keep it hidden.’ It just repeated those words over and over again.”
Timmy held out the box to show Brian the patch-work taping job that he had done. In barely a whisper, he said, “There is another box inside this one.” He looked around the room cautiously as if someone or something might be trying to listen in to their conversation.
“Wh-wh-what d-d-oes it l-l-look like?” Brian stuttered. The shoebox seemed to shake in Timmy’s hands, and Brian couldn’t tell if it was it was because his friend was scared or whatever it was inside was trying to get out.
“When I turned the corner around a huge stack of lumber, I found the shoebox. The old lady’s voice was whispering about it until the very end, I mean right until the second I saw her. I ain’t kidding Brian. I think I saw her. She was just a mist. She was like the opposite of a shadow. For the life of me, I couldn’t breathe, and my legs wouldn’t move. I was paralyzed, and I could feel my heart beating. I could hear it too. That was when she moved.” His body had become a little ball. He had curled into himself, trying to be as small as he could.
It was Brian who was now paralyzed. His friend’s words hung in the air like a noose, and Brian was afraid that if he did manage to screw up enough courage to look to his left or his right and into the darkness, then whatever was hiding just beyond would reach out, and he would disappear forever.
“Then she turned to look at me. She looked right into my eyes. ‘Never open it. Keep it safe. Keep it hidden,’ she told me in her creepy old lady voice. Then, she just wasn’t there anymore. It was like the wind just blew her away. Not really away, more like apart.”
“So, what’s inside?” Brian asked.
“A smaller box, only it’s not made out of wood. I don’t know what it’s made out of. It’s like it’s made out of like some kind of white stone or rock or something. It was dirty, and it had like this wax seal over the opening. I didn’t know what to do. It was getting late, and I knew that my mom was going to be calling me in for dinner pretty soon, so I just grabbed it and started running. I didn’t stop running until I was inside and upstairs. Mom yelled something to me about running in the house and slamming the door, but I wasn’t listening. I just ran to my room and put the box on my bed.”
Timmy’s posture relaxed a bit, and he leaned back letting a few rays of the flashlight’s beams come between him and his friend.
Brian relaxed too. “So why did you wrap it up like this if it was already sealed up?”
“That’s the thing. The ivory, or bone, or whatever it is made from is cracked all over the place. I was staring at it on my bed, and all I could think about was what if it cracked, or I dropped it? So that is when I came up with this.” Timmy said and held up the box.
Brian didn’t know what was hidden in the white box that was held in the taped and mangled shoebox, and after Timmy’s story he was quite sure that he didn’t want to know, that was until it started to whisper to him in the dark. It had taken what Brian had thought were hours before he was able to fall asleep. He could hear Timmy’s slow and steady breathing from the sleeping bag not too far away and knew that his friend was sound asleep. This was Brian’s first sleepover, and he was so excited that his mom and dad had said yes. His mom thought that he was too young, but his dad had convinced her that he was getting old enough to sleep across the street without the world coming to an end. As Brian lay there sleepless in the dark, he was pretty sure that his mom may have been right.
“Please help me.” the mysterious voice pleaded. Brian sat up straight with the sleeping bag still zipped up tightly around him. To him, it sounded like a child. He couldn’t have been more than three or four. “Let me out.” the toddler’s voice pleaded. Timmy’s light snoring was unaffected by the tiny whisper of a voice coming from the deep corner under his bed. Brian, on the other hand, was wide awake now. The little boy’s voice continued to talk to him.
“Brian, your friend was so nice to bring me home. Please let me out. I’m so scared in here all alone.” His faint words floated like a cloud. No, like a mist.
Brian slowly unzipped his sleeping bag. He should have been more afraid. In fact, he should have shaken his best friend like a cup of Yahtzee dice so they could both have gotten the hell out of there, but instead, he crawled toward the sound. His knees made a shuffling sound across the dark blue nylon of his bag, and he stopped just short of the edge of Timmy’s bed.
“I just want to be free and go home. I miss my mommy and daddy so much. Please, Brian, let me out.” His voice sounded older now. Not louder or stronger, but now he sounded like a boy that could have sat next to him in Mrs. Nelson’s class.
Brian now understood why Timmy had been drawn to the voices that he had heard in the empty construction site. The curiosity drove him forward. No matter how logical it might have been to just run away or wake his friend, the only thing Brian wanted was to get to that box. Luckily, his arms were much longer than his friend’s, so he had no trouble reaching under the bedding and into darkness. Brian looped his index finger around the loose twine and pulled the shoebox to him.
“Timmy lied to you. He opened the box. He just didn’t tell you what was inside, because he didn’t want to share it. He wanted to scare you away from it, so you wouldn’t even try to open it.” The voice became the voice of a teenager. “It’s filled with gold coins. That’s right! It’s filled with gold coins that Billy the Kid himself stole off a stagecoach. It’s worth a fortune.”
Brian had no choice. He had to open the shoebox. He wanted to see what was inside for himself. He wanted his half of the treasure that his so-called best friend was hiding from him. He began to pull and tug on the string that was knotted and bent in around the sunken cardboard. Once he pulled so hard that his elbow hit the corner of the bedpost, and his funny bone screamed back in anger. Brian was afraid that the noise was going to wake Timmy, and his friend would angrily grab all of the coins for himself. When Brian had removed all of the string and had tossed it behind him, he started to work his way around the edges of the box to where Timmy had layered the tape. The tape bunched and tightened as he pulled, but before too long he could see the tiniest of slivers inside revealing the corner of the alabaster container.
This time it was the voice of a man, a voice that reminded Brian of his father. “That’s it, son. You are almost there. I am so very proud of you. You are so brave. Don’t stop now.”
The whispered sounds of the man filled the dead silent bedroom. Brian thought for sure that it would wake Timmy from his deep slumber, but his friend lay there corpse-like. If it wasn’t for the steady movement of his chest, Brian wouldn’t have been too sure. He tossed the mangled black and yellow shoebox on the bed triumphantly and held the cracked treasure in his hands. “What am I doing?” Brian whispered to himself. For the first time since he had been awakened by the eerie voice of a small boy tempting to help him, he realized what he was truly doing. He was just about to toss the box across the room having it shatter and splinter into thousands of minuscule pieces when the spirit spoke to him again.
“Not just gold, but a secret,” the elderly voice crackled. “That’s what this box contains. Don’t turn chicken on me now, boy. Just break the seal, and all will be yours and yours alone.”
Brian had never been good at keeping secrets, and more so, he hated to be called a chicken. He no longer cared about the misty figure that had shown his friend the box and the warning that it had whispered to him. He no longer cared about making too much noise and waking Timmy up as he slept soundly just two feet away. All Brian DID care about was getting to the golden treasure and the secret that he now held in his hands. In fact, the more he thought about it, the more upset he got knowing that Timmy was trying to keep it all to himself. So much for his so-called best friend.
When Brian broke the seal, immediately the ivory box began to glow, first a wonderful golden yellow, and then a bright white. “It’s the gold!” Brian thought. The once dark room filled with radiance. “It’s beautiful.” And then the box began to feel warm, not just warm, but hot. The wax seal began to melt and drip like a candle onto Brian’s sleeping bag. Finally, Brian couldn’t take the searing heat any longer and dropped the box at his knees. That was when he noticed the thin white mist that seemed to slowly swirl and circle. It originated from the bright white rectangle and like a ghostly tornado quickened and swirled clockwise to the ceiling.
“Yessssss! Freeeeee!” the entity hissed.
The objects on the shelf behind Brian began to shake slowly and then more rapidly and then after teetering back and forth, fall off the edge. T-ball trophies and books crashed to the floor. The lamp on Timmy’s desk rattled and then fell onto the carpet. The specter wailed and spun around the room. It seemed to float through certain objects and smash into others. The tail end would turn to a fine mist and pass through the bedding, while other parts would throw clothes and toys like projectiles toward the bedroom walls.
“What did you do?” screamed Timmy. Now wide awake, his eyes were transfixed on the ghost that filled the room. “What did you do?”
“I-I-I wanted the gold coins. You w-w-weren’t going to share.” Brian mumbled.
“What are you talking about? Brian, what did you do? I was supposed to keep it safe.” Timmy was yelling and tears streamed down his reddened cheeks.
The spirit seemed to solidify the more and more it flew around Timmy’s bedroom. The blue and white striped sheets on the bed were caught up in the swirl of mist. The room became a roaring echoing tornado of debris. There was a frantic pounding on the bedroom door as Timmy’s mother and father tried to get inside to protect their little boy, but it was too late. Their muffled screams coming from the hall seemed miles away. Timmy’s parents were helpless.
Brian picked up the open box at his knees and held it up to the sky as if the creature would have somehow changed its mind and returned to its prison. Although the sides of the box burned his hands and begged him to let go, Brian held fast and determined. At the same time, Timmy stood at the door in his pajamas turning and twisting the doorknob in every direction hoping against hope that it would open as tears blurred his vision.
“I’m sorry! I didn’t know!” Brian yelled to Timmy from across the bedroom.
Everything seemed to happen at once. The ghostly spirit shattered the window causing shards of glass to shoot around the room almost blinding Brian. He screamed at the entity and managed to cover his eyes with the sleeve of rocket ship pajamas. The bedroom door burst open as Timmy’s mother and father fell into the room almost crushing Timmy underneath them. Timmy thankfully had his soaking wet hands slip off the knob causing him to fall on his tailbone into the soft padding of his sleeping bag.
Then the room went silent. The cool night breeze from outside blew the curtains inward and chilled the sweat on Brian’s brow. Timmy’s father helped Timmy to his feet, and they all stood to stare at the broken window. His mother bent down to pick up the alabaster box with the broken wax seal.
“Keep it safe,” Timmy said, but his voice trembled, like he knew it was too late.
Oh, he’s real alright!
It must have been about five years ago this Christmas Eve when I saw him. I was just a little kid back then, but I had this crazy plan to drink as much water as I could stomach and then in a few hours after the house was dark and everyone was asleep, I would have to pee and then I would catch him dropping off the presents and filling up the stockings.
Sure enough, it was well past midnight, and the house was so quiet you could hear elf fart. I got up to take a leak. That was when I heard him in the living room. He was hunched over and sniffing at all the gifts that mom had put under the tree. My eyes widened as I hid behind the door and watched his claw-like hands slowly bring each gift to his hooked nose.
“He sees you when you’re sleeping. He knows when you’re awake,” the figure sang to himself and chuckled. The glow of the green and red twinkling lights of our tree cast his thin silhouette against the wall. “He knows if you’ve been bad or good,” he continued as he took one of the packages and stuffed it into his sack.
Wait, isn’t Santa supposed to be fat? Every picture that I had ever seen of him, he had always been fat. But I was just a kid back then, so I didn’t dare say a word, instead I kept watching him. Plus, didn’t mom say that he started the night skinny, and it was all the milk and cookies that made him fat by the end of the night. But wasn’t Santa supposed to put presents under the tree, not take them?
The figure shuffled in the dark toward the stocking that were hung by the fire that had long turned to ashen coals. His red and white hat tilted on his head to the point I did everything I could to not run up to him and straighten it for him. But even if my life depended on it, my legs were paralyzed and frozen to the wooden planks of the hallway floorboards. That’s when I saw it.
Santa pulled a long candy cane out of my baby brother’s stocking and slowly and carefully peeled the cellophane wrapped back. Then St. Nick took one long drag of the cane and let the pink spittle run down the center of his gray beard. He laughed so hard when he saw the sharpened point that his whole body shook like a bowl full of jelly.
I guess he could hear me breathing or something, because the next thing I knew was that he was staring right at me. His eyes went from focusing on the point of the candy cane to me. The thing that I remember was that his eyes were black, not just the center, but the whole thing. He held the sharp end of the candy up to show me the point and then began to grin.
“Get down, boy!” I heard from behind me. My grandfather held a shot gun in his hand and pointed it at Santa Claus! Santa quickly reacted with a hiss. My grandpa is not a big man, but when you are holding a shot gun you don’t need to be big. The gun does all the growing for you. Well. he didn’t have to tell me twice. I hit the ground and covered my head. All the while grandpa was shouting and cursing at Santa. When I was finally brave enough to look up, Santa was baring his yellow teeth (I guess there aren’t many dentists at the North Pole) and cursing back.
BAM! The shotgun missed Santa and shattered the window to his right. Well, that was all it took. Santa Claus grabbed his sack and jumped out of the window and into the snow. You could hear his cackling as he opened his red fur robe and let it take him up like wings. Seconds later, Santa Claus was gone. Grandpa and I ran to the cold hole in our wall and looked up to see if we could catch a glimpse of his sleigh, but it was too late. Santa was gone.
Now, I have told this story to pretty much anyone who would listen, but all of them have that same look on their face that you do right now. You think that I am crazy, or that I am making the whole thing up. All I know is you may say there is no such thing as Santa, but as for me and grandpa we believe.
“I guess that’s it,” remarked Officer Gallagher. He stared at the body slumped over the kitchen table. Silence enveloped the room. The small red iridescent clock on the microwave read 8:31 A.M.
Officer Ortiz walked to the table carefully and approached the scene. He grabbed the shoulder of the corpse with his rubber glove covered hand. He pulled the slumped bloated figure back slowly. The body went from being hunched over itself in some obscene prayer to now leaning slouched against the wooden back of the chair. “Oh, yeah! Look at that smile.” he replied disgustedly, annoyed.
The widened smile on the pale white body was an image of pure happiness. The skin was translucent. There underneath the ashen skin was a roadmap of blueish veins across the poor man’s face. If it were not for the fact that the body was dead, Ortiz would have sworn that the corpse had just won the lottery or something.
“No, not that, “Gallagher pointed to the decorative glass on the table. “that.”
One the kitchen table was what looked like an ornamental glass from what could have held a milkshake straight from a 1950’s soda fountain. Layered inside was white fluffy cream and rich milk chocolate. Smiling between those were layers of fresh ripe raspberries and purple plump blueberries. Officer Gallagher noticed that between the layers of the dessert he could identify, were layers that he could not. There was a thin layer of what first appeared to be caramel and just below the surface was a layer of something sliver and florescent. The colors of the parfait were too bright to be something that was made in this tiny kitchen. The colors seemed to shift and change before Officer Gallagher’s eyes.
“Oh yeah, I guess you are right. Stay away from it until we can get someone in here to bag it up.” Said Ortiz.
Officer Gallagher had heard all about this new dessert that was making its way around the dark web. The recipe was said to have been taken down dozens of times all around the world, but somehow it kept coming back. And yet, now here it was only a few feet away from him. Calling him.
“That body freaking stinks. I’m going to wait outside in the fresh air until the truck gets here.” Officer Ortiz said as he covered his face and walked out of the room.
Soon, Officer Gallagher was alone with the bloated grinning ex-resident of the house. He walked the two steps to take in a closer inspection at the layers of the heavenly dessert. It was rumored to be the most wonderfully created sweet coming from God himself. To taste the parfait was to glimpse heaven. The only side effect was the fact that it was indeed just a glimpse, because one bite brought death. The flavors were also said to be too much for any one person, and the dead body slouching in the kitchen chair beside him was proof.
Officer Gallagher picked up the spoon that was resting on the crumpled napkin. He rhythmically tapped the side of the antique glassware.
The dessert called to him. What was it like to taste heaven? The slowly rotting corpse could no longer share that secret. The bliss that it had once experienced had been taken with him to the grave. Officer Gallagher dipped the spoon into the corner of the glass letting it slide gently down layer after delicious layer.
He picked up the glass and held the dessert up to the sunlight to admire the multi-layered sweetness. The morning light shone through the kitchen window making the glass sparkle like a thousand diamonds.
Officer Gallagher was alone in the silence. He held the spoon up to his lips. “Just a taste.” He thought to himself. He just so slightly stuck out his tongue and licked the white fluffiness. The moment the flavors kissed his lips, Officer Gallagher knew that it had all been true. He gulped the dessert, sticking the spoonful deep in his mouth. Gallagher closed his eyes and let the flavors spread not just in his mouth, but through his soul.
The smell and the death of the kitchen faded away around him.
“The colors, all of the wonderful colors.” Officer Gallagher said as he raised his hands to heaven and began to slowly spin like a child in a field of wildflowers. “Thank you, Father.” Was the last thing he whispered before his dead body fell to the floor with a dull thump.
I was back at the same old Stripes Market trying to find something, anything with a label. Anything at all that I didn’t have to spend thirty minutes prying open just to find out that it was filled with mushy yams or even worse, cranberry sauce that looks like the inside of the can when you shake it out. They used to say to never eat from a dented can because somehow that makes all the dangerous lead or tin or whatever leak out into the food, but now that is all that is left. I didn’t make it through all these months just to die of lead poisoning or tetanus.
She was right outside the window. Sure, the window was filthy, but I could still make out her gentle child-like smile and the way she focused that smile at me before she disappeared. Her raven hair was matted, oily, and thick, but so beautiful in the way that it still managed to blow in her face.
Deep Breath. Everything is going to be okay. I AM NOT GOING CRAZY! I know she is real. She has to be.
After I saw her, I carefully placed the can of “mystery meat” back to the dust-covered shelf and as quickly as I could, made my way to the front entrance. I remember when they would magically open with a swish when you stepped on the mat as if you were a brave knight entering an ancient castle filled with mystery, but there is no more magic and all of the mystery leads you straight to horror. Now as the noon-time slipped quickly into the afternoon, I had to slide myself sideways through the cracks in the shards of long broken glass. I reminded myself that you can’t make too much noise. That’s the way they find you. That’s how you end up one of them. But all that silence was for nothing because she was nowhere to be found. Not even footprints in the dirt of the empty sidewalk. I could have sworn that she pressed her hand against the glass, but not even a fingerprint. How is that even possible?
Read the rest in Corpus Christi Writers 2020