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  Table of contents Issue Twenty PINKY PROMISE

by
JOSHUA S. PATTERSON
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T

hey’re just games. Playing, like I do when I’m out with my friends. That’s what my mother tells me. Except, I’m allowed to talk about baseball and tag, or going over to Richie’s and setting up a game of Monopoly. It was these games, the ones upstairs, that I wasn’t allowed to talk about. She had made me pinky promise, standing me in front of the narrow door in the kitchen, the one with the tall wooden steps that lead up a slim passageway to the dark attic.



“Promise me Joshie,” she smiled, “or they’ll know you told.”



Her eyes had darkened since we moved into the house on Beverly Drive. The image of my mother, my kind and attentive mother -- who bandaged up my knee after my foot had slipped off of the pedal of my first big boy bike, who took my temperature every 20 minutes when the flu season began -- had shifted. It happened almost overnight. The first night we spent away from my father.



I remember crawling into bed with her after I heard the noises in the attic. After I had made what I thought would be the longest walk of my life, from my room to hers (which was right across the hall). My feet did no more than shuffle under my stiff body across the unfamiliar floorboards, eyes stinging and cheeks burning red with fright. Her room had been more than dark, it was a shapeless black hole with no clear beginning or end. The curtains, I remember thinking, they must have been closed because the moon didn’t cast the faintest glow. I navigated my way through the void, found her bed, and quickly worked my way under the covers. I felt for her, and in the pitch black, I could see her eyes. White rings in the night, and then there was a low growl as she opened her mouth and screamed –



GET OUT



Even her smell had changed. The flowery scent that reminded me of the rose gardens we visited the previous summer had turned to the musty, rotten smell of dying earth. What looked like fingernail scratches ran the course of her arms, and the pink of her lips had turned into a perpetual blister.



“Promise me Joshie, or they’ll get you.”



The skin around her fingers had shriveled, and the gentleness of her touch had turned to stone as she wrapped her finger so tightly around my own that I thought I would cry out.



“I promise mommy.”



The long daylight hours of summer faded, conceding to the darkness where the games grew more troublesome. They were louder now, and more aggressive. From across the hall, I could hear my mother laughing along to the hammering thuds and tortured cries from the attic. They’re just games, Joshie. Fun and games.



I jumped awake, almost forgetting where I was. Richie leaped off of the shale slab where I was resting and was now trudging through the shallow water of the Masonville Creek to the pile of broken glass on the other side of the bank. He lined up three Coke bottles, dug his hand into the lazy water and pulled out a handful of rounded stones.



“How did you do?” I asked.



“Two out of three,” he said, handing me the slingshot and the pile of rocks. “You would have seen that if you could stay awake for more than five minutes.”



“Do you think we can have a sleepover tonight?”



Richie sighed and looked down at his shoes, sopping wet and covered with a mossy green film from the creek.



“My mother,” he said, “doesn’t think we should have any more sleepovers for awhile.”



A wave of hurt washed over me. The thought of Mrs. Keen and Richie talking about me when I wasn’t around felt foreign and painful. This feeling, however, was quickly replaced by fear. Richie’s was warm and kind. Richie’s was safe. If they only knew, if I could only...



They’ll know you told.



My head drooped to the reflection in the creek, where a sick looking boy stared back at me. His face was weathered, and behind him, the sun was dipping into the trees. I handed Richie the slingshot, stood up and wiped myself off.



“Are you mad?” he asked.



They’ll get you, Joshie.



“No,” I choked out, trying hard to swallow my promise. “I just have to get home before it’s dark.”



Under the covers, a desk chair shoved snuggly under the handle of my door, I wait for the games to begin. The flashlight and blanket are my last line of defense, and it makes my eyes swell. I miss my mother, and with that, I hear the rusted springs of her mattress expand. Her footfalls slap gracelessly across the hardwood floor and halt at the threshold of my room.



Silence. Somehow worse than the usual eruption of torture that rages from the attic, as if the whole house is taking a deep, malevolent breath. A quiet so pure that if it lingers any longer I might go insane.



A sudden chill breaks through the warm tent of the comforter. Had the attic door been cracked when I got home?



Jooooshiiieeee, the impostor's voice hums from just outside of my room.



The slow creak of the narrow kitchen door works its way around the hinges, but the terror of that sound is quickly replaced by my own heartbeat bouncing off the walls of the blanket fort. A damp, sour odor diffuses through the quilted barricade, and a pallid gray worm inches its way under the stronghold. It weakly curls itself into a knot, twisting tighter and tighter until the discolored band near its head bulges and...



POP



Green blood splatters the interior of my safe haven, and an acrid, bitter drip pools at the crease of my lips. I quickly throw back the covers, a mixture of disgust and fear, and there she is. Mother standing over me.



TIME TO PLAY JOSHIE!



   
   

 

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Joshua Patterson is the Head Writer for a media and advertising company in Oregon, and has recently been published in The Molotov Cocktail for his short story "Beyond the Briars."



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