They’re Coming For You – A Novelette (Part 6)
The next morning I found my eight-year-old son sitting at our breakfast table, making himself a bowl of Cheerios. They came crashing into his bowl, forming a large mound of O’s. A few sprinkled off the sides when he poured the milk. For a moment, I thought he might drop the large gallon of milk all over the table. He held firm.
“Morning, Alex,” I said.
“Oh, hi, Dad!” he said cheerfully.
I made myself some coffee and leaned against the counter, looking at him. “You’re up early. You sick or something?”
“No. I feel fine. Just woke up is all.” He dug into his cereal and shoveled a large scoop into his mouth, milk dripping down his lips and chin. His eyes were fixed on the back fo the cereal box.
After I went out to get the local newspaper, I sat down in front of Alex and opened it. A part of me hoped a story about Tom would appear. It seemed so bizarre no one would write about such a story. House fires usually didn’t make the news but a house fire that wouldn’t go out seemed like a perfectly good exception in my book. After scanning the pages, I found nothing. Not even a hint that it existed. A kidnapped child was on the front page along with rabble about a politician lying about taxes. Nothing about Tom.
“Dad?” Alex said.
I put the paper down. “Yes, son?”
“I need to tell you something.” He looked on me with big shame filled eyes.
“So, Hudson Gregor and I went over to the Houtkooper’s house the other day. I didn’t want to but he kept pestering me about it, calling me a baby, and a sissy, and a wimp. He kept saying, ‘You’re such a sissy. You won’t do anything exciting. You just want to play with your stupid toys.’ He just kept bugging me about it until I would give in so I did to make him shut up. I told him, I said, ‘I’ll go but we’re going down there and then we’re coming right back. We aren’t hanging around.’ He promised, Dad. We spit on it and shook and everything. But Hudson’s not great at keeping promises. After we snuck out of his mom’s house, we rode down to the Houtkooper’s house on our bikes and I said, ‘Okay, we saw it, now we can go.’ But, all of sudden, he pulled out of his backpack some marshmallows and picked up a large stick. He went right up to the fire and started roasting his marshmallow, laughing and looking back at me while he was doing it.”
An awful sinking feeling came over me, then, not only because my little boy saw the fire but also because his friend was a little monster.
“Thank you for telling me, son,” I said. “I don’t want you hanging around that Gregor kid anymore.” I said it in a final way, concluding the talk, not wanting to hear anymore of my son’s friend’s mischief, but that wasn’t the end.
“Dad,” he said, like a cold chill came out of his mouth. “There’s more.” When he saw I wasn’t going to interject, he took a second to clear his throat and slightly grimaced. “While Hudson laughed, the a fiery hand came bursting out of the flames and grabbed the marshmallow and stick. The whole thing burst into flames and traveled up to Hudson’s arm. Of course, he screamed like the dickens. I’d never heard a boy scream so high and so loud. He ran left and right, but didn’t do what the fireman said. You know, stop, drop, and roll. So, I raced after him, tackled, him, and forced him to roll around. He was yelling, Dad, screaming and hollering like you wouldn’t believe. When I finally got the fire out, he breathed heavy, panicked and scared, tears coming down his eyes. His arm was fine, though. No burn marks. He said he didn’t even feel much pain. I looked up at the Houtkooper’s house and then Hudson said, ‘Let’s get out of here!’ So, we rode back to his mom’s house. But, I felt guilty the whole time. I just kept wondering, what if Hudson was badly hurt?”
The room went silent. I didn’t like his story. Not one bit. He could have been hurt. My son. I thought of his charred body underneath a casket and felt sick. I didn’t want Alex knowing about what happened to the Houtkooper’s, much less see it for himself. He’d been friend’s with Tom’s boy, Quentin, and I’m sure he felt confused and nervous about what happened to him. I actually expected Alex to ask about it then, but he didn’t. He was probably too afraid, I guess. Afraid of what I might say. I wanted to reassure him about Quentin but part of me didn’t really know myself.
“Quentin’s safe. You know that, right?” I said, looking at him.
He nodded, avoiding eye contact with me.
“Is his daddy dead?” he asked.
Memories of Tom smiling and laughing came to the forefront of my mind. I remember him chasing after our boys at Quentin’s 5th birthday party. They screamed and giggled and ran as Tom went after them, growling and laughing. Now he’s dead, stuck in an unforgiving pyre. I held back the tears and cleared the lump in my throat.
“Yes,” I said. “But I don’t want you going down to that house. It’s not safe and it’s not respectful burning marshmallows on the fire. That Hudson boy should be ashamed.”
“Well, I didn’t stick around. I started crying and rode my bike back to his house.”
“Where is Quentin?”
“He’s someplace safe. That’s all I know.”
“I miss him. I keep thinking he must be awfully sad somewhere, missing his Daddy.”
“Yes, I’m sure he is.”
“I kept thinking, what if that was me? Or what if you died? Or what if I burned in that fire? I don’t like it. I don’t like it at all.”
“I don’t like it either, son.”
“You wouldn’t let those bad people get us, right?”
“I won’t let anything happen to you, Alex.”
I rose from my chair and went over to give him a hug. He wrapped his arms around my waist and squeezed. “Please don’t die, Daddy,” he said muffled with his face pressed against my stomach.
I put my hand on his long, sandy-brown hair and told him everything was going to be okay.
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