So, I started this short story in response to a writing prompt that I found. For reasons that will become obvious later, I put the prompt at the bottom of the page.
Today, I didn’t get fired. I’m thankful for that. It means I had a good day. Since it’s Friday, that means I had a good week. To reward myself for another week employed, I spent the evening relaxing. I ordered in a pepperoni pizza, read a few chapters of the Bible, and watched the Giants game on ESPN.
As I get ready for bed, I wander through the house, following the echoes.
In the bathroom, I stare in the mirror. In the corner of my eyes I see the overhead light shine off my wife’s long dark curls. She helps our son, Silas, brush his teeth. He is big enough to do it on his own but you have to cherish the times when they ask for your help. If you don’t savor every moment, you long for them after their gone. The last diaper, the last bedtime story, the last walk in a stroller. I brush my own teeth and make my way downstairs.
I have a nightly ritual for checking the doors and windows. You have to make sure everything’s locked up in the city. I flip off the television as I pass through the living room and hear the echoes of cartoons and lullabies. In the kitchen, I lock the back door flip off the outside light. My eyes adjust to the dark but if I stare hard enough I can see the pile of leaves in the backyard. It’s a perfect jumping pile. As I look up to find the Big Dipper, I hear the laughter. Squeals and giggles and heartfelt belly laughs. Silas was having fun.
I move on to close and lock the dining room windows and flip the light on and off quickly in the laundry room. There’s no window in there, but my nightly walk includes all the rooms in the house. I scowl at myself as I pass by the coat closet on my way back to the stairs. There’s no window in the coat closet and there’s really no reason to check it for intruders. It’s not big enough to consider a room. Plus, I hung my coat in there only a few hours ago when I got home from work.
My counselor says that challenging myself to deviate from my routines will eventually help me overcome some of my obsessive behaviors. The temptation to run back down the stairs, start all over, and this time include the closet nearly overwhelms me. But I trudge onward through the upstairs hall.
Silas’ room is a yellow, green, and orange safari adventure. Soft light filters out of the elephant nightlight. Overall the room is tidy, except for the unkempt bed where my son slept. A waist-high bookshelf full of bedtime stories and early chapter books doubles as a night stand with a humidifier for Silas’ breathing. I sit gently on the bed for a moment, staring into that nightlight. My son’s soft wheezing fills my heart with love until I’m ready to leave. I check his window with a quick glance out into the yard below. Nothing unusual lingers or lurks in our backyard. The picnic table and pile of leaves look the same from up here as they did from the kitchen.
I shut the door softly and move on to my wife’s home office. The lemony smell of Becca’s favorite candle dances around the room but I check and see that the flame is no longer lit. Her desk is messy but I resist the desire to organize and clean it up. The window is already locked so I move on.
Finally, I am back in our bedroom and I lock the door. I squeeze my eyes shut tight and wait for silence to take over the house. It always does eventually: the creaking, the footsteps, and the soft whispers disappear. Tonight is different though. Instead of fading away, the voices, clomping of feet up the stairs, and the eery lullaby melody grow louder. Clearer.
The strange singing in the kitchen is from a woman. The feet stomping up the stairs belong to a child. I jump in confusion when a knock sounds on my door. Silas’ voice calls out.
“Daddy, let me in. Mom’s got that scary look again, the one where she starts singing that creepy song. Daddy, please let me in!”
I stand up but hesitate in moving towards the door.
“Daddy, please, you promised you wouldn’t let her hurt me again!”
I rush forward and open the door. Silas bolts through the door and practically plows me over to get the chair from my desk. As he slams it under the doorknob I drop to my knees and yank him around to look at his face. He has pale blue eyes and high cheekbones. I can barely see him through the tears forming in my eyes, but when I sweep his bangs away from his forehead, I know he is not my son. He is not Silas. The woman singing downstairs is not my Becca.
Silas and Becca have been dead for five years. A tragic accident at an amusement park took them from me while I was working overtime to pay off student loans. But I always hear their echoes. The way I figure it, when you love your wife and son, they dig themselves deep into your heart. Death can’t take their sounds, their smells away from you. It can’t take their laughter or singing. Their bedtime prayers. Their echoes and memories strewn about the house are as much a part of my ritual as the door locking and window checking.
I don’t get the time to wonder further though, as the boy runs to the desk and scoops my phone up. I hardly know what to say or do as he dials 911. A loud bang on the door reminds me that, according to the boy, there’s an armed and dangerous woman outside that door. I drag my chifferobe and dresser up to the door without dislodging the chair. Instead of eery singing, the woman is now snarling, spitting obscenities, calling the little boy vile names and making death threats.
I turn back to look at the boy but he’s already hanging up the phone. I blink in confusion and he stares back at me. As the door starts making little cracking noises, he rushes over to the window. My bedroom window leads to the roof above the kitchen.
“We can go out this way,” he says. “Come on, she’ll kill you if you stay here.”
I follow the boy out the window and onto the roof. The wind is chilly but the recent drought has kept the roof tiles dry. I lead the boy over to the side nearest the detached garage. If we need to make a grand escape, I’d rather go by car than on foot. I help the boy slide to the edge of the roof and lay down on my stomach to lower him to the ground. After he hits the ground safely with a dull thump, I drop myself quickly and start running towards the car.
The boy follows me and I struggle to get my spare key from underneath a loose cobblestone in the path alongside the garage. We rush inside, shut and lock the door. That won’t stop whoever she is for long, if she realizes we’re out here. Now, I have to throw myself on the garage floor to find the spare car key in it’s magnetic box under my bumper. We get in the car and I press the automatic door opener. Scared that the crazy lady is already onto us, I lock the car doors and start creeping towards the garage door as it slowly lifts off the ground. As soon as I can, I slip the car underneath the door and peel out.
I don’t see anyone in my rear-view mirror or side mirrors. Hopefully, the maniac was still trying to barge her way into my bedroom. I glance over at the boy who got me into this mess and finally declare, “How the heck did you get into my house? Who are you? Why is there a nut-job breaking down my bedroom door? How did she get into my house!?”
“I’m sorry,” he says. “I was hiding in the coat closet. I snuck in earlier today when I ran away from her. I wasn’t gonna steal anything, I swear. I just wanted to borrow a phone but you don’t have a landline and I couldn’t find a cellphone. When I heard you coming into the house I hid in one of the bedrooms. Your son’s bedroom, I guess.”
I’m still lost. Before I can point out that he really hasn’t answered any of my questions, he continues.
“I didn’t think she’d actually come looking for me. I thought I could wait until you fell asleep, borrow your phone to call the police, then sneak out and find some place to meet the cops.”
Finally, I get a word in. “But who are you? Who is she? I mean I can see why you’re running from her but…” I taper off.
“Oh, right, my name’s Jack. Sorry, it’s been a long time since I’ve talked to anyone. I live across the street. Well, not really. The lady who lives across the street from you kidnapped me years ago. I’ve been in her basement. I can see your house from my window. I never had anything to do so when I watched out that window I would pretend to be friends with all the people I could see.” He glances over at me to gauge my reaction and continues. “I kind of pretended you were my Dad.”
When I look over at him, his face is red and I notice he has freckles like Silas used to have. He’s about ten, the age Silas would be today. Even in my shock and confusion, I feel bad for the boy. I can’t even imagine someone stealing my son and hiding him away in a basement. It was hard enough to lose a son to a known end, let alone never knowing where he is. If he’s even alive. “Your parents must be crazy with worry.”
“Yea, my Mom’s probably pulled all her hair out by now.”
“What about your Dad?” I wonder aloud.
“He died before I was born,” Jack answers. “Sorry I caused you all this trouble. I don’t even know your name and here I go breaking into your house and getting you nearly killed by Nadine. That’s her name, by the way. She made me call he Mother but her name is Nadine something.”
“Seth, that’s my name, and I’m glad you broke in. I wish I had known you were down there, I would have called the cops.” I give him a small smile to show him I’m not mad at him. “How did she get in my house, though?”
“I don’t know. I guess maybe she snuck in before you got to locking all the doors and stuff. When she gets that glassy look in her eyes, she can be very sneaky.
We finally pull into the police parking lot. If any cars had been dispatched to my house, I had not seen them go by us. With how many different roads and routes that could be taken in the city, it’s not overly surprising that we missed whoever was headed out to check out Jack’s call. When we go in though, it’s all paperwork and questions for hours. I’m interviewed by the police; at one point, they go so far as to accuse me of kidnapping Jack. Apparently, the state of my house, which they searched, Jack’s statement, and my own statement finally leads them to believe me though. I’m walking out of the interrogation room and heading back to my car, when I see Jack waiting in a chair in the large outer reception area. I walk over and sit down nearby.
“My Mom’s on the way. There’s going to be all this stuff going on: doctors, news people, cops. But the only thing I can think about is what I’m going to say to my Mom. They said I’ve been gone for over a year. Do you think she’ll remember me? What if she married some guy and had a new son by now?”
We both pause and look up for a moment as Nadine is dragged by in handcuffs. The cop with her looks like he had a rough time subduing her. Bloody lip, black eye. I’m glad I didn’t have to fight her off.
“Jack, hey look at me,” I wait for him to comply. “Your Mom has never forgotten you. I’m sure that some things have changed while you were gone but your Mom loves you and that could not have changed no matter how long you were in that basement.”
While I was talking, I didn’t notice the young woman come and stand a few feet behind me. “Jack!” She cried. “It really is you!” As she scooped her son into her arms like he was just a toddler, I watched them both burst out in tears and nervous laughter.
I tried to quietly sneak away. While I was happy God had allowed me to play a part in this happy reunion, I wanted to minimize my intrusion into the life and privacy of what are essentially two strangers.
“Seth, wait!” Jack cried out.
I turned and tilted my head as I often do when confused. Before I could figure out what was happening, Jack had ran up and jumped into my arms. He hugged me hard and I couldn’t help but hug him back. He had been through quite the ordeal and he reminded me a lot of my own little boy.
“I heard what you told him back there, about how I would never forget him. I can’t thank you enough for helping my son escape from that woman. I’m Sarah.”
While I don’t know what exactly to say, because I didn’t do anything all that special, Jack’s Mom asks me to sit with them for a minute. We chat about anything and everything. I find out they are local and that Jack will be going to school at a nearby private school. Sarah hadn’t remarried or had any other children. Her baggage of a missing son, like my own baggage, had kept her from the dating scene. While we talked over police station coffee, Jack repeatedly kept looking over at me and giving my a mischievous, knowing grin. Until finally, he came over and whispered in my ear.
“You should ask my Mom out on a date.”
“Maybe we should be friends for awhile first, OK, bud?” I stammered.
Sarah’s sweet smile and following laughter reminds me that no one knows a child better than their parents.
Today’s writing prompt: As you climb into your bed late at night, someone hurriedly knocks on the bedroom door. “Dad, let me in! Mom’s coming, and she’s armed! Please, dad! You promised!” You are single without children.
Prompt Source: From the depths of pinterest, unsure of origin