By Jamella Chesney
“The window rattled madly in the wind,
and she p-p-pulled the qu-quilt close about her. Cu-cur-curled up on one…” I
could hear the muffled chuckles coming from the back of the class. I was too
afraid to look up at the mocking eyes that were planted on my trembling hands
and sweaty upper lip.
“…of her p-pillows a grey fluff of
kit-kit.” Swallow. Breathe.
“…ki-kitten yawned, showing its p-p-pi…”
“Okay, that’s enough David,”
interrupted Mr. Cole. “You may have your seat now. Uh, Sarah, can you pick up
where David left off.”
Mr. Cole was my level
4 English teacher. He had a beard and boobs. He made me read, from whatever
book we were analysing, a sentence or two long enough so he may sanction that
he lets the ‘vocally challenged’ child participate in class and short enough so
he doesn’t have to suffer through the painful readings. As if they were only painful for him.
was a chilly spring afternoon. I usually walked home after school. I didn’t
have many friends so I left almost immediately after the dismissal bell rang.
My mum and I lived in a small house a few streets from primary school. I
usually ducked through a hole in the perimeter fence and walked through the
woods on a narrow track which passed a shallow creek. I knew the way by heart.
Halfway home, I heard a rustling to
my right. There was a figure hunched over, upturning soil with a shovel, muttering
some kind of gibberish.
“Can you swim? Don’t
let him get you. He’s coming. He’s coming now.”
“Hi Mary.” I waved.
Everyone avoided her because she was dirty, and lived under a tent in the
middle of the woods, and only wore black capes like a witch would, and said
things that didn’t make any sense. Mother begged me to avoid this trail so I
wouldn’t get hurt but Mary wouldn’t hurt anyone at all. Most days she walks me
home and we talk about things. Some days she goes off and I pretend it is
normal just like she pretends my stuttering is normal too.
“Paddle. Paddle. He’s
coming now. Coming for the last of you.” She confronted the wet soil with her
boot. I never understood what she meant on her off days but I knew when to
leave her alone.
My mum and I lived in a flat, brick
house. The front door was red like a target and contrasted with the pale walls.
I lifted some wood from the diminishing pile in the yard and dropped it into
the fireplace in the living room – which was also a dining room and kitchen
combined. The floors were wooden, there were two small bedrooms sandwiching a
bathroom. It was a cosy cottage even though the old furniture frowned. I don’t
know why mother moved us all the way out here years ago but one modern amenity
she was adamant about keeping was our television. It was set on the news
channel most of the time.
“How was school?” Mum was cooking,
and when she wasn’t stirring a pot of steaming cabbage soup, she was placing
groceries in their respective habitats in the kitchen.
“Fine.” I continued my homework.
Bright red letters flashed across the TV screen. Breaking News. We lived in the small, quiet town of Sunnycreek so
anything called breaking news here was a typical day in your world.
evening. I am Ashley Yensehc and this is WBC news at 5. A patient of Saint Matthew’s
Mental Institution located 5 miles from Sunnycreek has reportedly escaped the
facility as of 4am this morning. Jacob Allemaj was charged, five years ago,
with second degree murder of a child whose body was never recovered. He is said
to be mentally unstable and dangerous. If anyone sees this man (sketch appears
on screen) please contact your local police at…”
was a loud clatter from the kitchen. Mother had dropped her ladle and stared at
the television screen. She froze. Tears were welling up in her eyes and her
bottom lip quivered. I ran to her side and touched her arm.
she jumped out of her trance.
you okay?” I glanced back at the television and the news had changed to
She dragged her eyelids
across her shoulder, kissed my forehead and then hung her apron. I sat there
for some time watching her closed bedroom door and listening to the clock’s
morning welcomed me with chores and sunbeams. Chopping wood was never really my
strong suit but I embraced any reason to be outside. I could hear the faint
cracking sound of linens mum was hanging to dry around the other side of the
house. The sunlight kissed the back of my arms as I lifted the axe.
was crunch in the bushes behind me. The momentum from the lift carried my body
around until the axe landed in the dirt two inches from my toes. Obviously,
there was a full head of brown hair and two big eyes peering straight at me
from inside the bushes. I cocked my head to the left then gingerly stepped
towards the visitor.
d-don’t have to be afraid. I won’t hurt you.” It was a boy, around my age,
maybe nine. He wore a blue and white striped t-shirt even though it was windy,
his round spectacles framed the top half of his face, and his hair was wet. I
extended my right arm reflexively and coaxed the figure with the bending of my
Ash.” He said as he tentatively stepped out of the thorns and foliage. We were
the same height.
Why were you hi-hiding back th-, back there?” I scanned the ground for
distractions hoping my stutter went unnoticed.
don’t know.” He shrugged. “Hey, wanna go skip rocks on the creek back there?”
He looked me up and
down, squinting because he was facing the sun. His fingertips played with the
hem of his lopsided shirt. I searched for any signs of my mum and heard the
kettle whistling in the kitchen. I figured she was too busy to notice me gone
anyway so I dropped my gloves and went off with Ash to skip rocks.
Ash and I spent almost every
afternoon playing together. He found me on my way home from school and we’d
talk about everything. He never commented on my stuttering and I was glad
because I hated feeling different. I never commented on the blue and white
striped t-shirt he always wore or his wet hair. Maybe he sweats a lot. He likes to sing and collected stamps from
all over the world. I showed him my comic book collection (I wasn’t allowed to
have friends over so I carried my possessions in a haversack) and we skipped
rocks in the creek by the bottom of the hill when the currents were mild. I
even introduced him to Mary but she never really paid attention to him. She
just tended to her garden, shovelling soil and muttering away. Whenever she was
herself again the three of us would sit and talk until the sun dozed off then
I’d have to run home and lie that I had band rehearsal even though I don’t play
A few weeks had passed and it was
raining every day. There was a flood warning and my school had been closed
until the weather eased. It was a gloomy afternoon and I was bored indoors.
Mother was napping so I pulled on my black boots, a poncho and tip-toed out the
front door. I made my way down the trail out of earshot distance from the house
and called out for Ash to see if he was hanging around. The mud ‘smushed’ under
my feet and I extended my arms to maintain balance and keep from sliding into
“Aaaash!” I stopped and looked
around. The woods were paralyzed. The mist glided over my cheeks and danced
about the air like tiny crystals. I picked up a couple stones anticipating we’d
go skip rocks over the creek. There was a stir. Ten feet away the bushes
rustled. Ash loved to play pranks and jump scares but his clumsiness worked to
“Come on Ash. I know it’s you.” I
started towards the bush, a self-assured smirk on my face.
It wasn’t Ash. It was
a man… a tall man. He grabbed at the branches of the shrub for leverage and
dragged his body up the steep hill. His brown hair was long and dirty. His
hands were bloody and his clothes, once white, were embellished with mud. I
stopped in my tracks as he levelled himself. We were looking at each other. The one who escaped!
I inched backwards as he stumbled
forwards like his feet were heavy from miles of walking. He looked bewildered
and relieved at the same time; his arms began to extend as if welcoming me into
a red embrace. I could feel my heart beating in my throat. I tried to scream
but fate stole my voice. The rock in my hand fused with my palm. He’s the man from the news.
“Dad?” Ash gasped when he appeared
beside me. He was wet all over even though it hadn’t rained since the night
before. Ash walked towards the man whose eyes were fixed on me. Why me?
“Ash, who is this man?” my voice broke.
Ash cocked his head to the right, incredulously.
the man held his arms out towards me, completely ignoring Ash. “I’ve come back
for you, D-David. It’s your turn now, son.” He smiled. I threw the stone at him
as hard as I could but I missed. My hands were shaking.
turned and ran as fast as I could. I did not know where I was going but I ran
for my life. The man was chasing after me. I jumped over stumps and ducked
under branches, and kept running. The air was burning my eyes and my mouth was
David. Let’s g-go skip rocks by the creek. I wo-won’t hurt you!” he stuttered
after me but I wouldn’t dare stop now. I could see my house some kilometres
away. I could feel the man’s fingertips reaching for my collar. His breath was
raging and his steps were heavy.
“Stop running away!
You’re upsetting me. Don’t upset me like your brother did.”
there was a whoosh and a sharp thud. A face and a shovel embraced each other. I
saw, out of the corner of my eye, a black curtain appear as I collapsed over a
pile of stones and rusty watering cans. Mary.
Mary swept the man’s face with the back of the shovel. He folded onto the
ground, neatly, motionlessly. His face and chest were facing opposite
directions. A stream of blood crawled out his mouth and christened the ground
beneath his shattered skull.
“He came for the last of you but I
stopped him. Guess Jacob can’t swim either.” Mary studied the slump. She looked
over at me with an inquisitive expression. I’m
Mum picks me up from school now. I’ve
become really famous. Teachers wave hi to me and other kids ask me to eat with
them at lunch. I don’t usually like attention but being recognised made me feel
warm inside. The police came that night and took my statement. They
interrogated my mum but I didn’t tell them about Mary or else they would have
taken her. I told them I hid from the man then caught him off guard with the
shovel. I never saw Ash again and neither did Mary. Sometimes I sit on the
porch to see if he’ll jump out of the bushes like he always did but days passed
and he never showed. For old times’ sake, I went to the creek one Saturday
afternoon to skip rocks. Cautiously, I walked down the steep hill to the edge
of the water and picked up a shiny, round pebble. Looking up, there was
something unusual floating in the water; a blue and white striped t-shirt…