Friday, January 2, 2015

To Be It by Amanda Thompson

School bully Dewey McDoogal challenges Marshall to re-enact a dangerous Japanese ritual; by Amanda Thompson.

"Come on, it's just a game," Dewey McDoogal says, a condescending sneer coloring his pudgy face, his nose crinkling slightly and squishing the smattering of freckles that lie there together. He leans a hip on the desk, his two cronies, Dumb and Dumber, boxing me in at the computer. My chair is pushed under the desk so close that the wood is biting into my chest, making it hard for me to breathe.

"Dewey," I say through my teeth, my fingers tightening ever-so-slightly on the white mouse, index finger jabbing the left button as I click on another link about Japanese folklore for my research project. "Please leave me alone, I want to finish my research."

"You're just chicken shit, y'know that?" Dewey says as he reaches over and gives me a shove, knocking me to the side of my chair. His actions receive praise from the two Dumbos, both parroting the chicken line. Dumb gains enough courage to push my head forward with two thick fingers.

"Look, Dewey, I have to finish my project. Go bother someone who isn't using their brain."

"Look, Marshall," he mocks, pushing at the side of my head and knocking my glasses askew, "if you want me to go, prove to me that you're not just chicken shit."

I know that I should just ignore him and that I shouldn't give in. People like Dewey live for the attention. Why do you think he became a bully? He pushed someone into a locker, got reprimanded for it, found out he can get noticed that way, and kept at it. He likes the attention. In the school halls, stay clear from him and his cronies, best advice I can give you. He doesn't just shove you into lockers anymore; he's escalated to egging campaigns and something loosely known throughout the student body as the 'Wedgie Brigade'. Juvenile, right? And yet, I still find myself sighing and saying, "And how would I prove that?"

I chance a glance up at Dewey and what I find there sends a thrill of fear through me. There's a wicked grin stretched across his face so that I can see his crooked front teeth, all jagged and sharp edges and slightly yellow, and a mischievous glint lighting up his eyes. It's the look he gets when he's thinking of something particularly nasty to pull. I saw this look directed at me once in seventh grade, and let's just say that I was picking giant chunks of blue bubblegum out of my hair for weeks afterwards. I've pretty much steered clear of him ever since then. I've got to tell you, seeing it is enough to almost make me back out of the deal. But honestly, that would be the bad run. I'll never hear the end of it if I even try to do that.

He crosses his thick arms over his barrel chest, sausage fingers tapping out a rhythm on his upper arm as he tries to process his thoughts, something I am sure never happens on a regular basis. It's like I can see the wheels turning over in Dewey's head before the light finally shines and he asks, "Y'know that One Man Hide and Go Seek thing you mentioned in class for your research project?"

"Yeah, Hitori Kakurenbo. What -"

"Yeah, that," Dewey interrupts, the smile on his face growing into a downright sneer. "You need to do that to prove that you're not chicken shit. This weekend. Do it and bring the doll thing into school on Monday as proof."

Dumb and Dumber both look impressed by the suggestion. They clap him on the shoulder, and Dewey obliges in high fives. I just shake my head and turn to the computer, clicking onto another link. I try my hardest to phase them out, push them far into the background so that I can't hear their annoying chatter, but Dumb firmly latches onto my shoulder and shakes me so that I can't ignore him, saying, "You gonna cry, chicken shit?"

"No," I say through clenched teeth, "I am not going to cry. Hitori Kakurenbo is just a story. It's not real."

"So, if it's not real, then you're fine doing it," Dewey says, getting further in to my personal space. He leans forward and encloses me in his arms, one hand placed strategically on the back of my chair and the other on the desk. Dumb and Dumber start squawking at me, both flapping their arms, and Dewey smiles again. Oh, how that smile irks me. Without even realizing what I'm doing, the words tumble from my lips, sealing my fate. "Bring it on."



After school, I walk my happy ass the four blocks to the local general store instead of going two in the opposite direction to get home, the list of things I need heavy in my pocket. I don't even know why I wrote the stuff down. I know it by heart after berating myself for my stupidity in agreeing to do this: stuffed animal, all limbs specifically as required, uncooked rice, and red yarn. All of these items are completely insignificant and harmless on their own, but if this legend is true, together they are conduits to a demon spirit. Blah blah blah. Whatever. It's just a story told in Japanese folklore to scare little children at night, nothing more.

My footsteps are quick, angry sounding against the sidewalk as I stalk around the corner, the general store's fa├žade coming into view. I pull the little scrap of notebook paper out of my pocket anyway, walking through the automatic doors and into the store, and I head straight to the toy aisle. Since it's just a general store, it's not anything like Wal-Mart. There aren't fifty bazillion toy aisles filled to the brim with creepy dolls, pink Furbys, which are Satan just by themselves, and superhero toys out the wazoo. No, here there are just the novelty seasonal items; the giant bears with large hearts emblazoned with ridiculous Valentine's Day propaganda stitched to their hands, the tiny dogs with heart patches stitched to their chests that bark if you squeeze their paws.

I push through the ridiculously overdone toys, staying away from the bears with the hearts, until I find it. It's a tiny white bear, a heart patched on its chest. 'I Wuv Hugs' is written there, the words tiny and carefully stitched so that they fall in the center of the small pink outline. That's it. There isn't any added lace or hidden 'press here' patches, just its childishly written love of hugs and the sweetly stitched smile on its muzzle. It's perfect.

I find and gather the rest of my items and I walk to the last checkout aisle. An air of boredom surrounds the pimply faced attendant, her eyes on the wall clock behind her as I start to put my items down on the counter. She noisily pops her gum, eyes rolling from the white clock's face to mine as she grabs the scanner and begins her work. I rock back and forth on the balls of my feet, fidgeting as I wait for her to give me the amount due, when I see a tiny bouquet of flowers nearby. I grab them and toss them onto the counter. Might as well buy my mom something nice while I'm here.



When I get home, I find my mom in a bathrobe bustling about the house with rollers in her hair. I raise an eyebrow as she runs by me and into the kitchen, chasing after the smell of smoke. I step around the corner to find her fanning the open oven with a hand towel, black smoke pouring around her.

"I'm so sorry, Marshall," she says, turning to look over her shoulder at me. "I burned your dinner. I was in the middle of doing my hair." She goes back to frantically fanning the smoke away, hoping to keep the smoke detectors from going off even though the both of us know that it's futile. The smoke detectors in this house are touchy, and sure enough, the shrill chirping begins moments later, my mom's scream of "damn it" nearly lost in the noise. I just shake my head, put my bag of ritual onto the countertop, and grab a kitchen chair to stand on so that I can reach the detector to take its battery out.

"Thank you, sweetie," Mom says. I just shrug my shoulders and step down from the chair, pushing it back under the table. This is something I've done before millions of times, but I still get the same response. And just like always, she puts down the towel and gives me a kiss on the cheek, squeezing my shoulders tight in a hug.

"Mom," I say as I squirm and break from her hold. She looks at me, smile fading from its radiant glow to something lackluster so that I can't help but feel guilty. I sigh and go over to dig through my grocery bag to retrieve her flowers, trying hard to hide what else is in the bag. It really isn't much, just a tiny bouquet of four flowers, two red carnations and two light pink ones. The petals are a little flattened from traveling with the rice, but it's the thought that counts, right? I straighten out the petals as best as I can, turning to my mom with a smile on my face. "Happy Valentine's Day."

She lets out a squeal, 100 watt smile back on her face as she gathers me in another hug. I just grin and bear it, arms pinned to my sides and flowers held out at an odd angle so they won't get completely mangled. It's like she's an anaconda squeezing the life out of its prey as she holds me tight, telling me how much she appreciates the thought and that I didn't have to do anything special for her. I just nod my head and bring my arms up to try and complete the hug, patting her lower back. After she releases me and I can take a breath, and with the flowers now in her hands instead of mine, she tells me of her plans tonight, a date with neighbor Tom that may last into the early morning.

"I hope you don't mind, sweetie," she says, flitting around the kitchen in search of a vase.

"No, it's fine. He seems cool." I know it should bother me that she's going to spend the whole night with Tom, but the words are true. Tom is a good guy and he's really taken care of my mom after my dad died a year and a half ago. Their courtship started with casseroles and taco salads, eventually turning into late night talks on the back patio, and now frequent dates to the movies and local diners. He's really brought her out of her shell, out of the armor she threw up around herself to keep the hurt from the tragic loss of my dad at bay. It's only fitting that they go out tonight. I want her to be happy again. Plus, it gets her out of the house for me to play Hitori Kakurenbo and avoid any unwanted questions as to why I'm planning on torturing a small stuffed bear.

"I'm so glad you like him, it means a lot to me," Mom says. She's found a vase and fills it up with water. She takes a moment, playing with one of the pink petals as she stares out the kitchen window into our limited back yard. She has that look again, the look that means she's thinking about Dad, the look I got so accustomed to over the past couple months. The look that makes my chest tight with the knowledge that I can't do anything to help. If Tom can take that look away from her, then more power to him. In her fit of worry, she plucks a petal off the carnation, which is what makes her unfreeze and come back to herself. There was a moment where I was worried she was going to see the bag and ask me why I have it and who the bear is for, but she overlooks it and puts the flowers in the vase and the vase up on the sill, centering it just right on the tarnished wood. She turns to me and tucks a loose strand of hair behind her ear, giving me a sheepish look. "I'm sorry. I just -"

I don't let her continue; I walk over to her and give her the real hug she needs. Mom worries too much and it drives her insane. So, I do what I can. I hug her and I clean up, doing whatever's necessary to make her life somewhat easier. I reassure her again that Tom is cool and that I'm happy she's going on a date tonight. "I don't know what I did to deserve a son like you, Marshall." She kisses my cheek again before heading down the hall, calling over her shoulder as she goes, "I'm leaving as soon as I'm ready. Take care of Mr. Tinkles for me! And don't stay up late!"

Ah, Mr. Tinkles, I think, ignoring her order to not stay up late. That poor old fat cat. He had had the misfortune of being named by my mom. I'm lucky enough that I got the name Marshall, testament to the fact that my mom has at least one good name choice in her. The aforementioned cat struts into the room just then, yowling at me for food. His nose is scrunched in and eyes are set wide apart, giving him a pug-like expression, and he is extremely white, his fur fluffing out like he's suffering from chronic static cling. I shake my head and scratch behind his ears before going to get him his cat food. Between me and him and the stupid game, this is going to be a long night.



Mom leaves just as it's getting dark outside. I wait just long enough to hear the car back out of the driveway before going to get the things I'll need for the ritual. I grab a needle from her sewing kit, a sharp pair of scissors, nail clippers, the bear, and the thread, and take my seat at the table, everything spread out on the wooden surface in front of me. First things first, time to open up the bear.

It's messy and annoying, the bear's not tearing along the seams like I would like it to. I mangle its side wide enough for me to get my fingers in and start pulling out its fluff. The bear deflates pinch by pinch as I pull out fuzzy little bits of innards and discard them, its face now like a balloon with no air, comically flat and wide smile creepily large. Soulless black, button eyes stare up at me, questioning why I'm tearing it apart. "I'm sorry," I find myself muttering, "It says I have to fill you with rice instead."

And that's what I do. When the bear is finally empty, its once rotund body now pressed flat against the maple as if a steam roller has just ran it over, I begin the tedious and messy process of filling it up with uncooked rice. Apparently, this is because rice is said to attract spirits, but don't ask me. From what I can tell, Japanese rituals never make any sense.

I wish I could have done without this part because within five minutes, the table is littered with tiny little beads of rice, the chorus of them pitter pattering off to the linoleum floor. In my annoyance, I wonder why I'm even doing this. I'm 100% positive that this ritual is a hoax, and I could easily just outfit the bear to look like I've gone through the steps without actually doing them. Maybe it's because I'm a sadist and find tearing bears apart fun, or maybe it's because I'm bored and have nothing better to do. In all actuality, I'm full with a morbid curiosity. Once the bear is full enough, I clip a thumb nail and shove it inside, giving the supposed spirit something of myself to connect to, before filling it fully with rice until it is close to bursting.

Next comes the thread to help bind the "spirit" to the bear. I cut a lengthy piece and thread the needle. I play doctor and stitch the bear back together, closing up its wound and continuing on so that there's horrible red stitching going up its side and around its head. As I get to its other shoulder, a name pops into my head. It's a name that I know, a name that I loathe. But it's also a name, that if given, will break the most cardinal rule of this ritual. Hitori Kakurenbo explicitly states to not name the bear after a real person because doing so can cause the spirit to attach to that specific somebody. But I still find myself nodding my head with the knowledge of the rightness of this name.

"I dub thee Dewey, Mr. Bear," I say, touching the needle to its shoulder in a semblance of ceremony before piercing it through and continuing on my way. Once I'm back to where I began, I wrap the bear in the rest of the thread, winding it around its middle and covering up the heart, 'I Wuv Hugs' just barely legible through the red webbing.

"And now, Dewey, we wait for three in the AM," I mutter as I push the bear into the center of the table and leave the kitchen for my room, Mr. Tinkles winding his way around my feet as I go.



Staying awake until 3:00 AM is more difficult than I thought. I found myself dozing once or twice around midnight, fingers loose around the TV remote, almost letting it dangle off the edge of my bed, before I would shake myself awake and catch it. But now, the time is nigh. The perfect time for conjuring a demon spirit in a bear and playing an innocent game of hide and seek.

I make my way from my room to the kitchen, going through the process of turning off every light in the house except for the bathroom light on the way. I turn on the living room television and adjust the volume so that it's at a low hum, keeping it as background noise to orient where the bear is if this whole thing takes. Mr. Tinkles makes his presence known by yowling at me, so I meow obnoxiously back and sweep him up into my arms, carrying his fat ass into the laundry room where I lock him away for safety purposes.

As soon as the house is dark and there's a line of salt, a mineral said to be so pure that it repels demons, in front of the laundry room door, I go on to continue the rest of the ritual. I fill a glass with salt water and place it in my closet, which is now going to serve the purpose of hiding place for the next hour or so, and I run the bath water until the tub is full. As soon as that's done, I take the bear and a knife into the bathroom. I hesitate for a moment, staring down at this little bear covered in red. Bear Dewey probably is questioning me again on my intentions, on why I'm contemplating drowning him first and then stabbing a knife through him, and I honestly can't give him a reason. Well, maybe I can. It's so tiny, and possibly a little fucked up, but by naming this bear Dewey, I feel like I can finally take out some frustration and anger at the real Dewey. He's been dogging on me for years and I'm fucking tired of it. I just want some semblance of retribution, even if it is a bear I'm destroying instead of the actual, real life annoyance that has been my shadow since middle school. So I toss him into the water and say what starts it all, "Marshall is first it, Marshall is first it, Marshall is first it."

Taking the knife with me, I make the long trip back to my room, stand in the closet for ten seconds, and then return to the bathroom, part two of the ritual already on its way to being completed. I pick up Bear Dewey, now waterlogged and dripping all over the floor, say "I found you, Dewey," and plunge the knife through its heart up to the handle. The sound of the blade slicing through the fabric is more rewarding than it should be, but I just shrug my shoulders and toss the bear back into the tub. I sigh, staring at the poor bear, body tilted up so that it stares back at me with those black eyes. They seem to wink at me in the ill light, but I pass it off to my imagination, muttering thrice, "Dewey is now it."

The directions say to run back to my hiding place, so I walk at a lazy pace. As soon as I'm in my closet, I close the door and scrunch down into the corner, silent in the darkness. This is stupid, I think, resting my hands over my knees as I wait for nothing to happen.

Silence. That's all I hear for the first ten minutes. There is nothing but the sound of the TV in the living room to keep me entertained as I fidget and squirm. Something funny happens because I hear a laugh track before it is abruptly cut off. Voices change from comedic to tragic as a new conversation starts. There's the unmistakable sound of static as the channel switches again, the volume becoming blaringly loud so that the voices are shouting at random intervals and I'm nearly peeing myself from shock. "What WAS THE SIGNIficance of the... kcchh... but nOW I TAKE TWICE DAILY Herpexia to... kcchh... OH, WHO LIVES In a pineap... " And then nothing, there's just static again.

Moments later, there's tiny footsteps that run along the linoleum floor in the kitchen, drawers banging and closing at random. Laughter. I hear laughter. It's a child's laugh almost, soft and cheery, like they're giggling at something only they find funny. I back farther into the closet, wedging myself in the corner, salt water close at hand as the laughter continues. It's not a child's laugh anymore, it's more sinister, more twisted, like someone has tweaked a radio track and slowed it down, warping it. Something else bangs into a wall, hard, and then there's more silence.

I wait with bated breath, hand closed over my mouth to quiet my too-loud breathing as I wait for what's next. The walls are closing in on me, I have to get out, but I can't. Even though it's been quiet for what feels like hours, I'm sure it's waiting out there for me. Is it just me, or is it getting cold in here? I shiver and wrap my arms around myself, trying my best to ignore the sensation of spiders crawling across my skin. Something clicks in my room. Tiny footsteps and then BAM, something slams into the closet door. I bite down on my lip; my hand back over my mouth to help keep me silent. It laughs again and the television in my room switches on, switching through the channels rapidly before falling on static, the volume fluctuating until it's too quiet to hear.

Again, there's a long period of silence. It'd been in the kitchen again, tramping through the silverware and tossing the forks and knives about the room. But now it's just quiet, eerily so. I take the salt water and put some in my mouth, cringing at the bitterness on my tongue. Now's the time to try and find the damn bear and end this all. I'm tired of sitting here in the cramped space and wondering what's going to happen. Plus, I'm sure that if I don't go now, I never will and Dewey, the hug 'wuving' bear, will definitely find me and shank me with that butcher knife.

I try to open the door, but there's something against it. I pinch my eyes closed and say a silent prayer in my head, throwing my shoulder against the door to get it to budge. When it does move, I hesitantly peek out into my room. There's nothing there. Everything is just where I left it except for my computer chair which is wedging my closet door closed, its wheels still spinning in the air. I swish the salt water in my mouth and take a step into the open, half full cup of water still held firmly in one hand.

Never will I play stupid Japanese games again, I think as I creep from my room into the hall, heart pounding in my chest. I search the long hallway, wishing that I'd left all the doors shut so that they're not greeting me with large open pits of darkness where a demon bear could easily be hiding. When I deem it's safe enough, I take a step out into the hall and make my way to the bathroom, praying that the bear is somehow still in the tub and that this was all a delusion.

If it wasn't for the mouthful of salt water, I probably would have screamed. The bear is most definitely still not in the tub. I close my eyes and gather myself, turning away from the light of the bathroom and stepping back into the blackness. I search for movement, but what I find is so much worse. The house is a wreck, a kitchen chair is on its side in the living room, and there's silverware littering the floor everywhere. My mom's prized Tiffany lamp is upside down on the end table, hopefully unbroken, and an easy chair is flipped over on its back. A few butter knives stick out from the walls like thorns, leading the way to the laundry room.

The laundry room, shit. I pinch my eyes closed and breathe through my nose, trying to will what I had just seen to be different. The door to the laundry room is open a crack, the salt line broken in front. I slowly make my way to where I'm sure Mr. Tinkles is dead. I can see it in my head, my imagination brutally vivid so that in my mind's eye I see the walls painted in dripping crimson, his body hanging from the coat hook just inside the door. But that simply isn't the case; the laundry room is empty when I fling open the door, Mr. Tinkles nowhere to be found. Some of the tension eases out of my body when is see the utter normality of the room's appearance, and I back out to begin my search for bear Dewey anew. But before I can take two steps backwards, I hear the pitter pat of tiny feet behind me and a quiet giggle.

It feels like time has stopped, like I'm frozen with the bear on this precipice, dangling there on the edge and swaying in the wind. But it's not; time is still moving, and I'm turning on my heels in time to catch sight of Dewey, black eyes glinting in the light from the television. A thick, roiling shadow encompasses it, dwarfs it and me as it writhes and reaches for the ceiling. Red orbs that I assume to be eyes burn into my soul as I look on dumbstruck, my eyes shifting between the bear and the spirit attached. The bear seems to smile at me as it raises the blade, bringing it down in an arc. At the same time in a moment of blind courage, I'm bringing up my foot to kick it in the face. I remember to throw the salt water and spit out what's in my mouth onto its tiny body just when the knife goes into the bottom of my foot, the tip digging in and I'm screaming. Pain licks fire up my nerve endings. My shouts turn into words, and I'm half screaming, half sobbing, "I win, I win, I win!"

That's all it takes. Dewey loses all animation and collapses to the floor. It's splayed out, staring up at the ceiling, the thick mass of shadows roiling and yowling as the salt burns through it. I slide down the wall into a sitting position and bang the back of my head against plaster. I look up to the ceiling, trying to gain the courage to pull the knife from my foot. On the count of three, I grip the handle, bite my lip, and pull it free. I muscle through the pain, trying to keep myself from throwing up, or worse, fainting, and take the knife to the doll, cutting the thread that still binds its body with the spirit.

And then, the shadow breaks free. It lets out a long low growl, kind of like the noise Mr. Tinkles makes at me when I rub his stomach when he wants to be alone, before rushing at me, and I'm covering my head with my arms, tensed for this thing to tear me apart. It seems to go through me, through the wall, and the darkness around me becomes thicker, the room disappearing as I'm overtaken. But it's all over in a second, the shadow lifts and disappears without a trace, a lightness returning to both the atmosphere and to my home.

When it's all said and done with, I collapse back into the wall, knife clattering to the linoleum floor. I let out a laugh, my head rolling forward, eyes slipping shut as I focus on breathing. Something brushes against me and I nearly scream, my brain whiting out for a second in fear, before I realize there's fur tickling my side and not a knife. Mr. Tinkles meows at me, dissolving into purrs as he nuzzles my side. I let out a laugh that half turns into a sob, petting the top of his head. "It's over, Mr. Tinkles. It's done. I won."

My triumph only lasts for a few seconds before the pain in my foot becomes unbearable. I sit there in the darkness, my hands clenched at my sides as I try to contemplate what to do. If the cut isn't that bad, then I can definitely take care of it myself. I am fairly certain that mom keeps some gauze around here somewhere, her overall klutziness requiring an overstuffed first aid kit. Problem is, I just have to find it.

I push myself up from the wall, Mr. Tinkles yowling at being displaced from my lap, and I sway on my one good foot. If I were a first aid kit, where would I be? The kitchen, naturally, where all the cooking accidents happen. I close my eyes and bite my lip as I go to take my first step on my injured limb. I'm smart enough to keep myself from stepping on the back of my foot as I walk, but the stretching of the wound is killer and nearly has me back on the ground. Still I hobble into the kitchen, searching for the friendly white box with its large red cross.

When I find it, I let out a breath of relief that surprisingly sounds like a sob. I've never been so happy to see this box in all my life. With the box and a wet kitchen towel in hand, I stagger back to the kitchen table. It's when I plop down in the seat that I notice just how badly I'm bleeding. There's a trail of blood going across the floor to the kitchen sink and then to the table. It's smeared in areas where I stumbled and, in areas where I had to put my foot down, there's an almost perfect print of my heel. The kitchen is a mess. Once my foot is cleaned and bandaged, I make my way to the laundry room to find a towel to begin Operation Clean Up.



I don't actually get back into my room until six in the morning, my body weary and my eyes heavy. After tossing the now knifeless Dewey onto my dresser and righting my computer chair, I collapse onto the mattress and don't even bother with the covers or taking off my glasses. My foot is a throbbing agony. I probably need stitches, which means I have to tell my mom. All of that cleaning could be for nothing, but I'm proud of what I was able to accomplish in cleaning. I smashed the door handle into the drywall by the laundry room hard enough to cover the evidence of last night with a new, even bigger hole. It's easier to tell my mom that I got angry and smashed the door into the wall than telling her that a demon possessed teddy bear threw around butter knives while trying to find and kill me.

Not even an hour after I fall into the wonderful world of dreamland, my mom comes home. I know this because she storms into my room at precisely 7:15 to yell at me for the damage to the walls. She gets even more frustrated with me when I don't fully turn over to look at her, my head still firmly glued to the plush down of my pillow and my eyes barely open. It's when I hear her take in a ragged breath that I finally move to sit up, my hair standing up on end like a sandy brown halo. I can't really see her because my glasses fell off in the middle of the night and are now lost somewhere in the blankets, but I can definitely tell she is close to crying.

"I don't understand, Marshall," she says as she comes farther into my room to perch on the edge of my bed, her hands clasped in her lap. "Is it because of Tom?"

"No," I say quickly, my voice clogged from sleep. I sigh, scooting further on the bed so that I'm sitting next to her now. My brain is muddled and it's difficult to piece together a plausible story, but I somehow manage it, saying, "I was taking the trash out barefoot - I know, I know, it's dangerous to do so - and I stepped on a huge piece of glass. I was angry. I shouldn't have smashed the door into the wall. I'm sorry; my foot really hurt."

My mom freezes in shock for all of about .2 seconds before going to assess the damage done. She asks which foot I hurt and I hold up the poorly bandaged appendage, wincing when I see that blood has started to color the once perfectly white gauze a haunting red. Hopefully my story of glass going into my foot will hold up just long enough for me to wake up and think of something better to say. It's really hard to come up with convincing lies when you're running on less than two hours of sleep. Without any further questions, she ushers me out of bed and into the car so I can be rushed to Urgent Care for stitches. I get up without much of a fuss and follow her out the door, leaving Dewey forgotten on the dresser, its soulless, black button eyes staring after me as I leave.



Through the rest of Sunday, nothing really happened. I got ten stitches in my foot, sat around my room watching TV and playing computer games, and most definitely not doing homework or paying attention to Dewey the bear. The bear did finally cross my mind this morning, however; before leaving for school. When I went to go grab it, it wasn't where I'd left it. In fact, I don't even think it was in my room. I felt a thrill of fear go through me, but before I could start frantically tearing my room apart to try and find it, my mom started yelling at me to hurry up and not be late for school. She even shouted down the hall that my injury wasn't an excuse and that going to school was a punishment for busting the wall.

So that's why I now find myself hobbling through the school halls on my new crutches utterly bearless. It's always awesome being the school geek with the weird hair that never lays flat and with the thick framed glasses. Adding crutches to the mix does wonders for my already low status on the high school freshman totem pole, and now I have to worry about my inevitable confrontation with the actual Dewey on top of the fact that the bear just mysteriously disappeared sometime while I was sleeping last night. I just know that he won't let my lack of proof go and that he'll probably do something juvenile like kicking out one of my crutches so that I trip and fall flat on my face.

When I actually do spot McDoogal, he's looking at the inside of his locker while Dumb and Dumber stand around him. I freeze in my tracks, afraid that his spidey senses or whatever are going to start tingling and that he'll realize there's fresh meat in the area. It's only after a moment of panic that I realize something is off about him. He's not standing tall like usual, his shoulders hunched forward so that it looks like he's almost disappearing into his locker. Dumb and Dumber also look unnatural, muted concern on their their faces as they talk hurriedly to Dewey in hushed tones, Dumb even going so far as to pat Dewey's shoulder. I'm hesitant at first, but I start forward to get to class. Maybe I can actually get to homeroom without him hassling me, I think as I try to crutch right past him.

The closer I get, I start to catch a few whispered phrases, Dewey's hastily whisper of, "Nothing even happened to me, stop freaking out. It just showed up in the corner of my room and disappeared," catching my attention enough to cause me to stop a foot short of them. I try to listen in more, but Dumb spots me and nudges Dewey in the side before motioning to me with pointed finger. It's when McDoogal turns to face me that I notice he's even paler than usual, his freckles standing out in stark comparison to his already pasty skin and that his eyes look hooded and drawn.

He slowly starts making his way to me and it's like in the movies. Everything slows down and the crowd fades into the background as I wait for him and his cronies to approach. It's just me and him, no one else, in this epic showdown of stares. I start to sweat as I think about what he could do to me. He may look off, but that doesn't mean he isn't still capable of knocking me flat on my ass. Everything finally snaps back into focus just as he's passing me, his head turned away as he keeps walking down the hall.

What? I don't even understand. All this talk of how he'll hound me if I don't come into school with a ritualistic bear, and when I don't have one, he doesn't even say a word to me? What is going on? I'm so confused by this lack of confrontation that I find myself hobbling after him against my own volition. I went through all that hell over the weekend, and he's not even going to ask me about it? I mean, what the hell? And what was he talking about when he said nothing happened to him last night? When he turns around to face me, I keep my ground and wait even though I'm shaking.

"What, Marshall?" he asks abruptly after a moment of me staring at him like a deer in headlights, his arms crossed over his chest.

"Aren't you wondering about Hitori - I mean, One Man Hide and Seek?" I stammer, pushing my glasses up further on the bridge of my nose.

"No," Dewey says firmly before turning away to leave again.

"What do you mean 'no'?" I ask, the words out of my mouth before I can stop them. I immediately straighten up and prepare myself to swivel and hobble away for dear life when I see the way his back straightens.

"No means no, chicken shit," Dumber says just as Dewey opens his mouth to say something. Dewey shoots him a look and punches him on the shoulder, a sign that Dumber should just mind his own business and keep his trap shut.

"It was just a dumb prank," Dewey says as he turns back to me, his arms crossed back across his chest and his shoulders hunched as if he's trying to protect himself. His gaze drops from mine as he looks down to his scuffed Nikes, saying "Anyway, just drop it."

"I don't get it." He snaps his head back up to shoot me a glare, but I still continue on, my hands clenching the bars of my crutches tight. "You harassed me until I gave in, and now you just tell me to drop it? What's the deal? What happened to you last night, what were you talking about?"

He drops his hands to his sides, his shoulders going lax as he looks at me. I can tell that he thinks I'm just an annoying bug that he would like to squash under his heel. I'm so close to dropping the subject and retreating to my homeroom when he finally sighs and drops a bombshell. The world contracts and closes in on me, a bell ringing in my ears that nearly drowns out his next sentence, "Let's just say that I don't 'wuv' hugs."

7 comments:

  1. Well drawn characters, excellent sense of momentum building especially the palpable tension of fear and its effect on Tom. Readers teased by possible horrors e.g. the image of a slaughtered cat - that then proves to be alive, and a sense of just deserts for Dewey and his crew. A compelling tale,
    Thank you,
    Ceinwen

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  2. very nicely written, it really gets the imagination going, I found Marshall a
    very convincing character.
    well done

    Michael McCarthy

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  3. See above: Whoops sorry not 'Tom' - 'Marshall' (the one good name choice his mum had in her!) - many apologies Amanda, the fear obviously addled my brain!
    Best wishes,
    Ceinwen

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  4. Liked your story proud of you aunt janice

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  5. Hi Amanda, to me this is a great story about moral courage from your character, having to daily confront the annoyance of the school bully and the fear the character has to overcome is the basis for this good story. An enjoyable read, James McEwan

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  6. I must be a closet practitioner of Hitori Kakurenbo because I found myself relishing the detail; the soft toy purchase, the upholstering, the plumping, the stitching. There's nothing like well-placed detailed description for creating tension and suspense. I also enjoyed the sounds and rhythm throughout the possession scene. A thoroughly absorbing story!
    Brooke

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  7. I like your style; very engaging and believable thoughts. First-person present-tense doesn't work for everything, but it's perfect here.

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