I don’t remember much before Teddy, but I do remember the laced leggings I found in the backseat of dad’s Buick. They weren’t mom’s. She was already sick by that time. Sick and dying. But, he was out sticking his piece in someone else…
He stuck his piece in me, too. That was the day Teddy came into my life. He wasn’t just my faded brown bear anymore. He was Teddy. He understood the pain of watching mom die; he understood the hate growing in me after daddy stuck his piece in me. He helped it grow.
Even before mom died, Teddy told me daddy didn’t deserve to live. At her funeral, he cried. The fake! Those tears attracted someone else, who he stuck his piece in later that night.
After mom died, I only had Teddy. He has never spoken in the way a person does. But, he does talk. His voice is constantly in my head. The bear just sits. And when I look into his eyes, I see blood. Lots of it. Blood and pain. I fill with tingles. Teddy says that’s as normal as the hatred I still feel for daddy. Sometimes I question it, though. And sometimes, Teddy gives me horrible nosebleeds, where my eyes feel ready to pop.
Teddy told me to come to Payne, North Dakota, and park across the street from the elementary school. He hasn’t given me the name of the next child yet. But, he will. He always does. My identity is what Teddy tells me to be. When I question it, he makes the blood I see in my head come out of me. He told me to kill daddy. With mom gone, there was no one else. It was just Teddy. Daddy didn’t even say a word to me anymore. He was gone most of the time. And when he was home, he scared me.
Teddy promised me that it would help. I listened. He was only protecting me. Teddy told me when to kill him, and what to use. There was blood. Lots of it.
God is good. It is the only truth I need. It has kept me afloat through my wife’s second miscarriage in three years. But, pain is still pain. It’s only been a week since she lost the baby.
Sometimes I wonder how Job felt when everything was taken from him. He made it through and came out a better person. The Lord uses pain to mold us—
I worry about my wife. The light has left her eyes. She used to profess her faith. Now it seems like she is drowning, and no matter how much scripture I read, the light doesn’t return. I am the pillar of this house. The Lord gave me that job, and I will stand even as everything else crumbles around me.
The devil has filled my head with thoughts of suicide. He tries to convince me that the razors from her shaver will be the death of her. He tells me to leave the bathroom door open when she showers, just in case. And I do, just in case. There is weakness in me. I’m not afraid of the enemy. My victory is through Jesus Christ. But, sometimes I fear her death is in His plan. Anyone who tries to tell me He would never allow that, I refer them to Job. The Lord takes away, sometimes for reasons we can’t understand.
My bible is out; the highlighter has already run across a few Proverbs, and a comforting piece in John. I have found quite a few verses that reassure me of my place in Him. I believe I have two sons in heaven.
I cling onto my Marcy. She is eight and a bundle of silly and sweet. I feed her the Lord daily. And His light shines from her in every way. I love her more than I thought possible. She is my little princess, and I try my hardest to make her feel that way, especially now that Janet has shut down…
Something is stirring tonight. I can feel fear trying to slip into my house. It’s trying to claw up the back of me, and enter through the front. I have a job to do tonight. My bible is highlighted on mostly every page. If a battle is coming, then I will win, because greater is He that is in me, than he that is in the world. I am the pillar, and I can feel the pieces beginning to crumble. Help me stand tall, Lord. Help me stand tall.
It’s cold outside, cold, like the shed when daddy stuck me with his piece. It was all I could see when I grabbed the hunting rifle from his office. As I loaded the gun, I felt cold. Teddy wouldn’t let me forget the shed. When I thought about stopping, I only heard mom’s unanswered cries. She needed him, but he wasn’t there. I needed him, but he wasn’t there.
There was no hesitance anymore, just the tingle of Teddy coursing through me. I wanted to kill him. And I did, with two bullets to the back of him. He collapsed at the top of the stairs, and his blood ran like water.
Teddy told me that if I followed his direction, nobody would ever look for his body. The first thing he had me do was take his pack of cigarettes from the bedroom. I did. Then he told me to call 911. I asked him why. He didn’t answer. He said to leave the body where it was, and wait for the cops to see it. I didn’t want to. He said to trust him. I did. The cops came. Teddy told me to tell them what I did. I trusted him. Their eyes became wide and disgusted. They stepped into the house, and saw the body.
“Why’d you do it, John?” they asked quietly.
Teddy told me to touch any part of them. I touched their arms. And immediately, their eyes of disgust became blank, wiped clean of whatever there had been. Without saying another word, they left the house. They never returned.
“I have power, John.” Teddy said in the softest whisper, as I turned his eyes toward mine.
I was twelve at the time. My steps were directed of him—they have been ever since. Teddy assures me that people can only see me when he wants me to be seen. But, if I were to lose Teddy, I’d lose my cover. He has promised that.
I stole the Buick I’m sitting in, from someplace in South Dakota. It’s old and blue. But, to any outside eyes, it looks empty. It’s why I haven’t gotten caught. Teddy’s covering is strong.
I’ve taken fourteen children from all across the country. I kill them. Teddy tells me to. He makes me hate the light I see in their eyes. But, I have never once touched them with my piece. I never will.
Teddy tells me about their lives before I take them. And I know it’s the truth. It’s why they come to the car to begin with, because I know about them: I’m not a stranger. I’m a family friend. It’s a lie Teddy says will work every time. And it does. He gives me the information with images. When he wants to show me something, he closes my eyes. He shows me small pieces of their lives, things I shouldn’t know. It’s nothing in depth, but it gives me enough to lure them in.
It’s three a.m. Three cars have passed by us. I don’t like this town. If I didn’t have unwavering faith in the power Teddy has, I would go someplace different. I’m afraid people will know what I have done. Sometimes, it feels like Teddy’s covering is being cut into. What is more powerful than Teddy?
I feel watched. The fear trying to claw up me is somewhere behind me in my living room.
“I rebuke you, Satan! Get under my foot in the name of Jesus Christ!” I command.
What always comes after a good hour of feeding my spirit with the Word is quiet. The Lord likes to speak in quiet. He has told me so many things. But, lately he has remained quiet. It’s not a surprise to me though. After Janet miscarried our first baby He didn’t say anything to me for three weeks. Maybe it was because part of me didn’t want to hear what He had to say. This time I crave it. With everything falling apart around me, I need strength. This is the fifth consecutive night that I have been up past three a.m. The quiet of the house causes my mind to wander into places I don’t want it to go.
Tonight I see blood. Flashes of it. Drippings of it on the wall. Hints of it on my fingers. The taste of it in my mouth. It’s a vision I think. Or maybe I’m already dreaming. I’m still sitting at the table. The cap is on the highlighter and my bible is closed. The clock’s ticking is the loudest it’s ever been.
I hear a cry. At first it’s distant, and then it grows. It’s Marcy. Janet doesn’t wake up and run to her call. I imagine she is just lying in bed, eyes wide, counting the spots on our ceiling. I imagine tears are still present in her eyes. Marcy knows it will be daddy and not mommy that will take care of her. She has noticed mommy’s sadness. She has asked me about it often. I tell her the truth, that her baby brother is back in heaven, and mommy is sad because of it. Marcy understands I think, at least to a certain extent.
I say a prayer in a fast heavenly tongue. I close my eyes. Blood. It’s now flowing freely. I open them again. I can feel the fear follow behind me.
“You have no power, devil!” I repeat. “Get out of my house in the name of Jesus!”
For some reason the Lord seems completely absent from here tonight. I feel exposed. I feel vulnerable. I feel scared. He never leaves me. It’s what the Word promises. Why does it feel like He’s left me?
I open Marcy’s door. Her tummy hurts. I can see it in her eyes. The pale streaks of sickness mark her face. I walk over to her. Her eyes light up the best they can. Just seeing me helps. She has been getting almost nightly tummy aches since her brother bled out of Janet a little less than a week ago. Maybe she understands much more than I realize.
“Daddy,” her voice still sounds sleepy, with both the beginning and ending of the word fading out.
“Yeah, sweets,” I say. The nickname makes her smile. She feels loved; at least I hope she does.
“I can’t find my Freddy the teddy.”
I look for him. He’s wedged under the bed. She doesn’t yet know about the little sheets of scripture I have rolled up and stuffed into his stuffing. The Lord gave me that idea one night. She was afraid, so I wrote 2nd Timothy 1:7 on a small sheet of paper: Jesus has not given me a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and a sound mind. I place him in her arms.
I ask her if she wants something to drink to settle her upset stomach. She shakes her head, and lays back down. I rub her back and tell her that I love her. And I do.
She says it back to me with sleepy continuing to fill her words.
Sometimes when Teddy is quiet, like he is tonight, I sit and ponder. I ask myself why I take children. The only answer I can ever come up with is that Teddy tells me to. I ask myself why I put a plastic bag over their heads, and wait for their muffled screams to become quiet. I get the same answer: Teddy tells me to. And now I ask myself why I am waiting to take another. Fear fills me. I think Teddy is awake. The bear has never moved, but he is always watching me. He is in the seat next to me, as brown and faded as when I was a boy.
“Why do you question this?” he is in my head, awake and angry. I don’t want to look over. I’m terrified. “Everything I’ve done for you. The freedom I have given you! The covering I have provided!”
My eyes hurt. I can feel the wet of a nosebleed running down my lips. I can taste the blood filling the gaps in between my teeth.
My hands are now controlled, brought from my sides to the ten and two of the steering wheel. I can only squeeze until it feels like my fingers are going to break.
“I’m so-sorry.” I say with what little power I have. “For-forgive me.” he does, but not before making me dig my sharp and dirty thumb nail deep into my cheek. I can feel the wet of new blood. He tells me to take a lick. I don’t want to, but do.
And now he becomes quiet again. I ask again. What is more powerful than Teddy?
Marcy is sleeping now. Her cheek is still moist from the long kiss I gave. The streaks of sickness have faded from her face. I might keep her home from school, since she only has a few hours left to sleep. I’ll decide when the time comes.
When I close my eyes, I still see blood. This isn’t a dream. And I have had visions before. This is something different. The stirring has become a presence. I’m the weakest I have been in quite some time, and the attack is strong tonight. The Lord hasn’t forsaken me. There is a reason for me not being able to feel Him. I just don’t know what it is.
I grab the doorknob and turn. The hallway is freezing. My skin grows bumps and I step out into the open hallway. The lights flicker and then die. I search for any words of scripture to bind up this presence. They are lost, as if I know none whatsoever. I can see the outline of the furniture, and something walking past it. It’s small in size, wearing a dress.
“Hello,” I’m able to say, though my voice is shaking.
“Death is not the end, daddy.” the lights come back on. Marcy stands before me, drenched in blood. The blonde of her hair now looks orange. Her face is pale. She is many feet away, and I can’t begin to walk forward.
I try to say, what happened to you? But my words are stuck in my throat. She begins to walk toward the stairs that lead to our entryway. I don’t want her to go. The Lord is absent from this house, and I feel the devil waiting to take her away. I hear him call her in a voice that sends absolute terror toward me. She smiles at me with eyes that are already gone, and then runs toward it.
I scream, and then feel a soft hand rub against my arm. My eyes are open, but I can’t move. Marcy is looking at me, with Freddy the teddy snug in her arms.
“Bad dream, daddy?” she asks.
The sun is slicing through her window. My head is lying on the pink blanket on her bed, and my legs are tucked under my backside on the floor. I must have fallen asleep. I can feel warmth again. The Lord is with me. But, He wasn’t in that dream. There wasn’t a hint of Him. I was completely controlled.
“Feel better, sweets?” I’m able to ask without tremors.
She just smiles at me. Her blue eyes look green with the way the light is in this room. There is no sickness on her. And the image of her covered in blood has begun to fade from my mind.
“Do you want me to keep you home from school?” I ask, more than willing. After that dream, I want to keep her home.
But, she says no. She says that she can’t get a perfect record if I keep her home. My little A student. I’m proud of her, but worried. The dream’s images are fading, but the impact is growing. Death is not the end, daddy? Who said it was, sweetie?
Most of the trees are bare, but some still have leaves of changed color. The sun is hitting the town just right that it looks like something out of a picture. The children will soon empty out of their homes, and run to this small elementary school. I doubt any age older than eleven or twelve attends here. This town has a thousand people at the most—lots of children for Teddy to choose from. He’s already given me something. M. M is her nickname. It’s all I have so far. Once I see her, I’ll know. Teddy will tell me.
The mark on my cheek has dried. And the blood in my mouth has stained against my teeth. My hygiene is only existent when by rest stops on the highway. I swipe a toothbrush, toothpaste, and a small bottle of shampoo from a gas station. I cut my own hair from time to time. Right now it is long strands of grease hanging across my scarred forehead. It’s black, as is the hair growing over my lip and under my chin.
I am ugly. Teddy says this in other words. He talks about my disproportionate face, the Indian corn that my teeth have become, and the smell that surrounds me. I only have three outfits in my wardrobe. They are bunched up in the back seat, in a plastic bag alongside a new teddy bear. The new bear is a darker brown than Teddy. And its eyes are blue.
I am dressed in faded blue jeans and a thrift store trench coat. It’s layered and warm, but I am still cold. The Buick is off for now. My breath looks like smoke. The blood that came from my nose has now crusted inside of it. I hate the cold. My ears are sure to be as red as my cheeks by now. Teddy looks cold, too. The tips of his fur are now frosted.
My head still aches from the nosebleed Teddy gave me. It feels like pounding behind both eyes, and somewhere deep inside my brain. My thoughts aren’t deep, but they are covered with worry. I’m just waiting for the kids to arrive. This is the quietest Teddy has been in some time. It almost feels like he isn’t here at all.
“Matthew is the name of her father.” Teddy is speaking again. “He supervises the factory in the town. Tell her you are an employee. She’ll listen to that. Call her M. Everyone close to her calls her M, except her father. He likes the name Marcy.”
Teddy quiets. My eyes close. I can’t open them. This is familiar. The pounding in my head has become swirling. It feels like the beginning of a dream, though it’s still different. I see only an image, instead of a scene. She is small in size, with blonde hair tied into unbraided pigtails by two little blue bows. Her eyes are blue too. Light sits in them. Teddy hates the light. He especially hates the kids that have it. She does, more so than anyone before her. It must be why he chose her. It must be.
Marcy is bathing. I used my finger to test the temperature. She likes it hot, just like me.
I am standing at the top of the stairs that lead down to the entryway. Words of scripture are filling my head, and I say them in a tone of command. This is my house. But, ten minutes ago, it wasn’t. Ten minutes ago this was a house controlled by the devil, with God completely absent. I know it was a dream, but it continues to feel stronger than that. I am not able to look down at the entryway without thinking about the voice that called for my Marcy. I’m not able to close my eyes without seeing hers already gone. And that almost gleeful smile that she gave before she ran down to the devil’s call has turned my skin cold.
A thought has come to me. 2nd Timothy 1:7. It’s the verse I pray over Marcy. The Lord is telling me to use it over myself. As I say it, the fear begins to dissipate. I’m told to say it again. I do. This time it’s louder. The soft tremble in my hand has stopped. My cold skin has begun to warm. I don’t feel watched, as I did. But, I still feel a hint of fear.
The clock in the kitchen is almost as loud as it was last night. I can hear Marcy splashing, while humming happily. I think it is Jesus Loves Me, but I can’t be sure. My feet feel heavy. I walk past the closed bathroom door and towards our bedroom.
Anoint Marcy, the thought has just come to me. Grab the bottle from your dresser drawer and anoint her.
“Matthew!” Janet is calling me in a voice that sounds far too awake for this time of morning. I open the door. She is sitting at the edge of the bed. Her eyes are as red as they were the day that our baby bled out of her. She has been crying, maybe all night. But, I didn’t hear it.
“How are you doing, honey?” I ask, trying to avoid looking at the red of her eyes.
She just shrugs. Her brown hair is matted with dried tears; her face is the picture of sadness. She sniffles once and then a second time.
“There is a reason for this. God has a plan.”
“Don’t start.” her arms push at me before I ever reach her side. She wants distance. I back away. I try not to get angry. I want to yell at her. I want to curse. The Lord helps me hold my tongue.
“We have Marcy, sweetheart.” I say softly. “She wants her mommy back. And you are the best mommy she could have.”
I’ve always been able to fish a smile out of Janet, even at her saddest. This morning is no exception.
The tingle of Teddy fills me. The first child is walking toward the school. He is a fat boy, fat like I used to be. I hate him. He reminds me of myself. He reminds me of the day daddy stuck his piece in me.
My eyes close. I can feel the anger building. I search for the image of daddy dead on the stairway. It doesn’t come. All that I can feel is his piece against me; all I can see is the dark shed where it happened. I don’t want to be here. Take me away, Teddy. Please, take me away!
I helped Marcy with her hair while cooking breakfast. I haven’t always been a multi-tasker. But, when you live with women, you learn quickly. She wanted her pigtails unbraided this morning. I tied them with her favorite blue bows, and now she is sitting across from me, chewing on a piece of bacon.
“Thanks for the breakfast, daddy.”
“Did you thank Jesus?” I ask.
“I forgot,” she puts down her piece of bacon, folds her hands, and we say one together: Dear Jesus, thank you for this day. Thank you for this food. I love you, Jesus. Amen. I grew up saying that one.
Marcy looks at me with a smile, and then at her mom. Janet smiles back at her. Little hints of light still sit in her eyes. Meet her where she’s at Lord. Only You can.
Anoint her; this is my second reminder from the Lord. He has been quiet otherwise.
I say yes quietly and stand up. The lights are on, but they don’t need to be. Sun breaks through our living room windows in strips; in the dining room it is a glorious pouring, that lights both my girls’ faces. Janet looks alive again. But, the sadness still sits with her, like a weight she wears. I can fish out the smiles. They can even look very joyous. But, the smile is a deceiver; the eyes are the truth-keeper. My mom used to tell me that. I have passed it on to Marcy. She likes the rhyme of it, as do I.
Walking back down the hall, I can’t help but think about the blood I saw last night. Not just on my Marcy, but the flashes of it. I can’t help but wonder why. Since early last night I have felt unease in my spirit. Something dark is trying to come against me—against my family.
Anoint her, Matthew! The quiet of the Lord’s command has become loud, as if He is right behind me. I feel urgency. I feel fear creeping into my house, and waiting at the entryway. And for some reason, I feel like 2nd Timothy 1:7 will only keep it out for so long.
Darkness is coming. Or maybe it has already arrived. There is a reason that I have been up late the last several nights. During that time I have grieved the son I won’t see until I die, but mostly I have been deep in scripture. Deep to a point where sometimes hours pass, and my highlighter has run over verses I don’t even remember lining.
I’ve arrived at my bedroom. I’m cold, but I don’t know why.
Death is not the end, daddy, Marcy’s voice is as loud as the Lord’s was. I turn. No one is there. I can somewhat hear Marcy going over the highlights of the last week with Janet in the dining room. Though, it’s fading.
I open the door. It feels like eyes are watching me from everywhere. I say 2nd Timothy 1:7, once, twice, three times. They fade, but don’t disappear. I flick the switch. The lights don’t come on. I feel like the scared boy I used to be. My hands are shaking again. And my comfort in the Lord is back by my girls. I feel completely alone, walking into darkness without a light. It is only my bedroom. Why does it feel like a dungeon?
Don’t be afraid. I am with you. The warmth of the Lord’s words let me walk into the middle of my room. I feel sick. The breakfast in my stomach feels ready to come back up. I feel dizzy, too. My dresser is still a few feet away, by the bedroom window. The heavy black sheets Janet has hung won’t let even a hint of light in. It might as well be night time. It’s far too dark for day. Janet has been letting the flavors of her sadness soak into this room, and now it feels heavy.
My hands grasp hold of the dresser drawer. I pull it open. The tingle of fear trickles down me, and stabs into my feet. I can’t move.
Take control! The Lord commands. I do, and the fear weighing me down begins to disappear. I grab the small bottle from under my folded white t-shirts and walk back toward the hall. Knocking is coming from all around me. Something wants in. It immediately makes me think of the thing that called my Marcy.
“Jesus has not given me a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and a sound mind. I rebuke you, Satan, in the name of Jesus.” I say as I walk past my bed. The light of the hall is brighter than I remember; the dark of the room is blacker.
I slip back out to the hall, and close the door behind me. I hear the same knocking. This time it’s louder. This time there’s distant laughing. But, I am warm. The Lord is my Shepherd. The color of this oil is almost like my cologne: bronze. I look at it, and then back. My door is open. I closed it.
“Leave,” I whisper, trying not to alarm my girls. The door slams closed. It causes a flash of images to splash on me. I see Marcy blood soaked; I see shadows of dark things growing around her.
I run out to the dining room, and begin to pray over her. She doesn’t ask why. Maybe she feels something is here, too.
Teddy saved me from daddy. As soon as I saw him walking toward me, he let my eyes open. The fat boy is gone. Three more children have followed behind and are now somewhere in the school. Cars have lined up on both sides of the street. They drop the kids and go. It is a few minutes after seven thirty in the morning. I haven’t seen little M yet.
Other eyes have looked into mine. This is not just an empty and idling Buick to outside eyes anymore. The covering I have been under for the last twenty six years has been cut into. They now see the man with no identity. After Teddy wiped the cops clean of their memories, I became non-existent. I became a ghost that appeared when the time was right, when Teddy told me to.
Under Teddy’s covering, the children have been easy to lure. I give each one of them a teddy bear. I paint the color of their eyes on the bear’s. It never fails. Teddy is right about that. They are gullible. Just like me, when daddy told me that he needed help in the shed. He told me it was just between me and him. A little project, he said. I came. His project was me. But, Teddy saw an end to that. Teddy saved me. He continues to save me. But, like any good master, he keeps me in line.
I grab Teddy from the seat next to me, and look into the red of his eyes. They used to scare me. Now I find comfort in them. The red moves in swirls. Teddy is alive. He has been alive since I was twelve. I’m now thirty eight, but I look much older. Fifty. Maybe higher. The bags beneath my coal colored eyes don’t go away. I sleep enough to function. But, it’s never sound.
“Teddy,” I ask.
The red swirling reminds me of the way water moves when a finger sticks the surface and spins around. But, there is no answer.
“Why can they see me, Teddy?” my voice is hoarse. I ask it twice. This time, it’s louder than the last.
I can’t hear him in my head. I can’t feel the tingle of him. I look back into his eyes. Where are your red swirls, Teddy?
I’m taking Marcy to school. Usually she walks, since you can actually see the school from our house. But, the stirring has only gotten stronger. When I close my eyes, I see red swirls. I hear her haunting voice from last night; I hear the devil’s growl.
My hand is clasping Marcy’s. We are walking, both bundled up. It is cold for November, but I have seen much colder.
Before I left, I anointed Janet, too. She didn’t receive it nearly as well. She called my sensitivity in the spirit crazy. That’s what she calls it now. That’s what she calls me. I rubbed the oil on her forehead and prayed in tongues. She looked at me like I was crazy. Almost laughing at me, she closed herself back in our bedroom, after I told her to avoid it. I don’t like this Janet. She isn’t my wife.
But, Marcy is my daughter. And I love her so much. I see all of the wonderful of Janet in her; I see my nose, eyes, and ears. She is beautiful, much like her mother. Though, I don’t want to think about Janet right now. It makes me angry. It makes me wonder if she can handle this second miscarriage.
You’ll find her dead. Better hurry home! The devil’s words are striking all the weak spots. I am stretched thin this morning. My strength in the Lord feels weak. I imagine Janet dead on our bedroom floor, both with my eyes open and closed. I look at Marcy. I see flashes of her from the haunting state she was in last night.
“These are not my thoughts. I send them to the captivity of Jesus Christ in the name of Jesus Christ.” I whisper.
The images don’t fade, but disappear completely. I take a deep breath, and then a second. I feel relief. I feel peace. Marcy and I are standing outside of her school. I give her a big hug. I have to kneel down. Her little arms wrap around me. A soft and sweet, I love you, daddy comes from her. And then she runs up to the door and goes inside. Daddy loves you too, sweetie.
Matthew Mills is blonde like his daughter. He is standing on the sidewalk. M went inside a few minutes ago.
“We are going to show Matthew my power.” the tingle of Teddy is back. The red swirls in his eyes seem even livelier.
“What do you mean, Teddy?” I ask.
“Take her, and then go back to the shed.”
“I don’t like the shed.”
“Listen, John!” the tingle of Teddy has frozen me. “Matthew Mills tore the covering. He has power, too. But, he will see what power is. He will see what I can do.” Teddy’s whisper is terrifying. He’s angry. I don’t like when Teddy is angry. That’s how I get the scars on my face. Self inflicted, but forced. He makes my nails dig deep, like earlier this morning, but more severe. He likes the dripping of blood. I am a servant to Teddy. He would not accept any other way.
I haven’t been back to the shed since I killed the last child. It’s where everything is. It’s where one teddy bear for each child victim sits next to the other. There are fourteen altogether. But, after little M, there will be fifteen. It’s where my daddy’s cigarette pack is. Teddy loves the shed. It’s where he keeps his trophies.
Matthew Mills is walking back the way he came. His eyes are focused on the sky. He hasn’t looked at me once. I will wait for him to leave completely. He came from one of the houses down the street. I think it was the big white one at the end.
“Go inside. Go to the principal’s office, and have Marcy paged. They won’t suspect a thing, John. Just trust in me.”
“I do, Teddy.”
I feel weightless. The school is a block behind me. When I close my eyes, I see nothing. Janet’s sadness doesn’t weigh heavily on my mind, nor does Marcy’s safety.
Sometimes I’m still unable to completely swallow all that I have. I turned thirty just a couple of months ago. And what I have is what some people three times my age have never gotten to experience: true happiness. Janet and I will get through this, just like we got through the first miscarriage. And we will come out stronger. There is a reason for what’s happened. Lord, make it clear to her. Make it clear to me.
Matthew is far enough down the street that I would look like a blur if even seen. I tuck my left hand away in my trench coat pocket as I step out of the Buick. Teddy is in my right hand. I’m holding his left arm firmly.
I can feel that I am without identity again. Teddy’s power seems stronger than before. I open the door to the school. The school bell is loud. It sounds more like a buzzer. A few children scurry past me, toward their classes. I step up three steps. There is a lunch room left of me, and a hall of classrooms right of me. The principal’s office is maybe two hundred feet down the main hall.
A well dressed man walks past. He doesn’t notice me. Teddy’s power is strong.
With many of the other children, I would wait in my car. I would prove that I wasn’t a stranger by telling them something strangers wouldn’t know. They would get in. And then away we would go. But, with M, Teddy wants me to take her while under supervision. He wants to prove his power.
I can see a white haired woman at the desk through the office window. She looks up and sees me. Teddy’s covering is down. I open the door.
“Can I help you?” she asks.
“Can you page Marcy Mills?” I ask. Teddy tells me to smile. I do.
“Put me on the desk. Have my eyes meet hers.” Teddy commands. I do. “Ask again.”
I ask the same thing. This time her reply is a groggy nod of the head.
She grabs the intercom and speaks. “Can Marcy Mills come to the principal’s office immediately?”
We wait. The clock ticks quietly, though it seems to get louder. The woman is tapping on her keyboard again, almost methodically. I hook my head around the desk to see that she has written the words my dead husband burns, over and over again. There is no emotion in her eyes.
The door opens behind me, and little M looks up at me.
“Ms. Brands? What’s the matter?” she asks.
“Something happened at your home. This man is going to bring you there.” she doesn’t look up from typing.
“Who is he?” she surveys me with a bit of a scowl.
“I’m a friend of your dad’s. Well, I work with him.” I pause and smile. “He always talks about you, M. You are the world to him.”
Her eyes brighten as the lie slips from my mouth convincingly.
“What happened?” she asks, her scowl now a curious gaze.
“I don’t know. I’ll let him tell you. Get your coat and backpack.”
M looks at Ms. Brands, who hasn’t looked away from her computer once since Teddy’s eyes met hers. “Is this going to count against my record, Ms. Brands?”
“No.” the pecking of the keys is almost louder than Ms. Brand’s reply. “It will be fine, M.”
As M opens the door and walks to her locker, I hook my head around the desk and look at the screen once more. The words so will I have now been added in between the first set: My dead husband burns. So will I. My dead husband burns. So will I. Over and over again.
I grab Teddy from the desk, and tuck him under my arm. M’s locker is down the hall. She is grabbing her primarily pink backpack, and wrapping herself back in her coat and scarf. I open the door, leaving the sound of methodical typing to haunt Ms. Brands. Soon she will know what happened. By then it will be too late. She won’t remember my face, or the interaction we had.
“So you work with my dad?” she sounds so adult.
“Yeah,” I answer as she closes her locker and follows along.
“What’s your name?” For a moment, the light in her eyes spill onto me. For a moment, I forget about Teddy. For a moment, I consider bringing her home.
“That’s a nice name. John. It fits you well.” she smiles. “My dad always picks good people.”
The tingle of Teddy pours into me. I am filling with anger. My hands start to shake. My eyes feel wide. I smile to comfort her… to comfort me. It seems to work, she smiles back. But, I feel sick. Why am I fighting? With the other children, I would let the tingle of Teddy fill me with all the needed ingredients. I would drive them someplace far away and suffocate them quickly. And then the tingle of Teddy would leave me. I haven’t fought it before. Teddy will punish me for this.
I got home a few minutes ago. I am standing in the entryway. The light in my house paints across the ceiling in a way I rarely see. I am usually three hours into a twelve hour shift by this time. I am one of the supervisors at the town’s only factory. It pays the bills enough so that Janet can do what she loves. She paints and draws. Her work has sold but not often. Whether or not it sells doesn’t really matter. I provide, so she can do what she loves. After all, the only job I’ve ever really wanted was to be a family man. And I have that. I pray for a son of my own, but if it’s not in the Lord’s plan, it’s not in His plan. My steps are directed of Him.
I rarely see the morning sun in my house, except in the summer, when it comes up early. I don’t know what to do with my time. Come Monday I will be back at work. I used six of my vacation days so that I could be here for Janet. If I’m honest with myself, I haven’t been here for her. I have avoided her. I can’t stand to see her faith shriveling. The Lord has pulled us through a lot. And there is a lot of light in my life.
There’s a lot of light in her life…
But, maybe that’s not for me to decide. A walk with the Lord is personal. And maybe hers isn’t nearly as sound as mine.
The light bathes me as I walk upstairs. I feel safe. My eyes are heavy. Sleep has escaped me since the miscarriage. But, for the first time since, I feel if I were to close my eyes, I would fall into a deep sleep. The couch in the living room is comfortable enough. A bright coating of light is blanketing the surface, and a fleece throw is on the arm. I take off my jacket, and throw it on Marcy’s rocking chair. It used to be mine, made by my dad’s own hands. But, dad’s gone now. Cancer. Years ago.
Little M is in the backseat. Teddy is in the passenger’s. He hates her, more than anyone before her. He noticed my hesitance. There can be no hesitance! Not with her. The tingle of Teddy has become the fingers of Teddy. I can feel him prodding around in my head. I can feel his whispers becoming loud commands. He’s telling me to kill her here. I can’t. Her smile lights me up. It makes me think of the days before daddy and his piece against me. The days of my mother… she was lovely. Her name was Anna Christine Doe, but before marrying daddy, her name was Anna Christine Hill. Back then, the light was bright in my life. But, then she got sick. And everything changed…
Little M makes me think of the before. Her kindness makes me think of my mother. Even her eyes remind me of hers: blue and beautiful.
“Mr. John,” she says in that quiet, kind voice.
“Yes, M.” I answer.
“Why haven’t you brought me home yet?”
We have been sitting for a few minutes. My lips want to say run, but Teddy grabs control and forms a simple lie: just warming up the car, M. I’ll bring you home soon.
I pulled her out of school for urgent reasons. At least, that’s what I told her. But, I’m not being urgent. And she can see that. Yet, she isn’t running. She is sitting and waiting.
There is no good in me. It died long ago, just like daddy. Teddy has cemented a truth into my life that one girl’s smile can’t change, no matter how bright it makes me feel inside.
I put the Buick into drive. We pull up to and then past her house. And as I expect her to, she says, “Mr. John. Where are we going?”
I’m sorry, Little M. Teddy told me to.
I thought my eyes would close. They did, but then they opened again. I’m tired. I know that much. Food doesn’t settle well. And the taste has all become blah. It’s all the symptoms of tired, yet no matter what I do, I can’t sleep.
My mind has become an active machine, always calculating, always running at its fullest speed. I have always been a deep thinker. But, this is different. It feels like if I were to let my mind slow down, I’d drop into a place of despair. The Lord is my shepherd. I am his sheep, and I’m nearing a dark valley. I’ve seen darkness before. But, I’ve never felt like this.
Maybe Janet is someone I can’t help right now. Maybe the weight of her hurt on my shoulders would cause my knees to buckle. Maybe the Lord knows this. And maybe that’s why I can hardly be near her since the miscarriage.
… Or maybe that’s what I tell myself, so I don’t feel guilty for failing as her husband.
I sigh, once and then a second time. I’m sitting instead of lying down. My hand runs through my hair. I sigh a third time.
From beneath me, I feel vibration. My phone must have fallen out of my pocket, and is now wedged between the cushions. I fish it out: 3 Missed Calls.
It’s the school, all three times. There are two voicemails. My stomach is a mess of knots and sick stirring. The operator tells me of messages ready to expire. I re-save, and then she says, playing first unheard message.
There is silence and then this: “Mr. Mills, Marcy is missing. Please call us back at the number provided.” It’s very professional.
The second message isn’t: “Mr. Mills, Marcy is missing. Ms. Brands remembers nothing about it. Please come down to the school.”
I close the phone before hearing the operator again. The first message was professional. It was direct and under control. But, the second message says they know nothing about where my Marcy is. The sick feeling in my stomach has now become a pit.
M continues to ask me where we are going. I haven’t given an answer. I continue to avoid her eyes in the rearview, and Teddy’s in my own mind.
“Mr. John?” the fear I expect to fill her voice isn’t there. “Jesus wants me to tell you,” she pauses. “He wants me to tell you the light isn’t gone.”
Teddy has what feels like a thousand needles stabbing into my spine. His fingers seem countless. They prod the deepest parts of my brain, pulling the reigns free and grabbing control. I pull the car to a stop at the side of the highway. My hands reach for an empty plastic bag. But, it isn’t me. It’s Teddy. I can’t stop my hands. The edges of the bag curl back. I watch. It’s all I can do. I turn back to wrap it over her head. She is sleeping.
Thirty seconds ago, she was talking. Now she’s sleeping. Or is she? I don’t hear the breaths anymore. And her skin looks white.
Teddy’s voice is loud, outside of my head now. It slips from the vents. It comes from my own mouth. He is furious. He turns the bag back toward me, and wraps it over my head. I should be terrified, but I’m not. I am a man who has nothing to offer, nothing to give. And Teddy has the power to kill me now. Do it, Teddy! Do it!
The plastic is covering my mouth, suctioning over my nostrils. I can’t breathe. If I even could pull the bag away, I wouldn’t. This is right. Teddy has always told me of my defects. Everyone I’ve ever met has. The only people who are nice to me are children, and I kill them.
No. What’s happening? The bag is loosening. I can breathe. I was beginning to see black, but now the color of this world is becoming sharply vivid again. I used to love the color. Back when mommy would tell me about a place better than this world, I imagined beautiful things.
Now nothing is beautiful.
Why can’t I move? My eyes haven’t blinked, or if they have, I don’t remember it happening. I’ve been staring at the wall in front of me. Marcy’s life hasn’t flashed in front of my eyes. I haven’t seen her as the little bundle I brought home from the hospital, or the wonderful memories that followed. But, in my heart, I know that she’s already gone.
The reality of that hasn’t sunk in. It will though. And when it does, I don’t know what man will come out. I want to believe that the man of faith I have been for years can look past the pain and into the eyes of my Savior. I know the Lord has this in control. Yet, no matter how much I say it, the anger is still building inside of me. The man of faith is fighting against the grieving father, while the man of anger, the man of profanity is slipping out of me. I can hear the string of words I haven’t used in years coming from my mouth. I’m whispering it, almost soft enough that it’s not being spoken at all. Deep inside it makes me feel guilty, but at the surface, it’s all I can say.
I close my eyes. I can only feel this pain rising from someplace in my stomach, and pressing against my throat. It’s squeezing out of me. And with it comes even longer strings of language. I finally move. It’s my hand. I sway it in front of my face, and then close it into a fist. I look at it without blinking. It blurs as I slam it into my own face. Immediately, I can feel my right eye bubble with pressure. It’s already swelling. But, the pain is still stuck in my chest. The language is getting louder. I’m nearly yelling it, or at least it seems that way. I slam my fist into my face again. The pain isn’t transferring to my swelling eye. It’s staying in my chest, making the sick inside of me want to come back up. I slam my fist into my face a third time. This time I hear a crack, and blood spills from my nose almost immediately. The pain hasn’t transferred. Instead, it’s only built in my chest to a point where my heart feels ready to give out.
I try to take a deep breath, but it catches on the pain. I can’t relieve it. I pound my fist against the wooden coffee table. Pain jumps to my hand, though it doesn’t relieve. I’m gasping, but can’t catch my breath. I inhale heavily, still unable to release. The air is slipping from my nostrils, but I’m still suffocating. I inhale again and again, but there is no release.
It’s building to a point where my head feels ready to burst. I make a fist with my other hand. I want to slam it into the other side of my face. I want the pain in my chest to transfer to my swollen eye and nose. But, it won’t. It hasn’t. It wants to stay deep inside. It’s the pain of tears building, but I can’t cry for her. If I do, then everything will move ahead. The reality of never getting to see my little girl again will crush me. Everything will crumble.
My anger has become aimless. I scream. I don’t know what I’m saying. I only know it’s loud. I may still be cursing. All I hear is a deafening ring. I can feel the pressure relieving. I can feel the tears pouring out of me. My little girl is gone. The pain of backed up tears has become something much sharper, a pain I can’t begin to describe.