Not for the Faint Hearted
There comes a time in every child’s life when toys must be put away and the color of their lives begins to leak away into the rest of the world, leaving for greener pastures and more bright eyes filled with wonder. But not for Caleb. No, he was a special child that had always been fascinated by the tinkling of toy bells and the painted smiles on dolls. He had always loved the fun in the world and even when others put away their toys and trinkets, their minds turning to the concrete grey of the world, Caleb’s mind remain a wonderland, never succumbing to the pains of this plane.
Always the outcast, he had walked on the outskirts of society as a teenager, always looking for the childish fun in everyone but never able to find it. So finally his will broke and he too succumbed to the grey of adulthood and put away his toys and trinkets in boxes, never to see the light of day again. He put on his black and white uniform, feeling the very strings of the fabric stitch into his skin and take his imagination away and with his head bowed low, he joined the working world.
Oh, the world of paperclips and water cooler conversations. The realm of gossiping behind your friend’s back and your body and mind now a slave to deadlines; how Caleb hated it. He hated waking up in the morning and putting on the shackles they called cufflinks, he hated his prison garb they so affectionately called suits and most of all, he hated his black shoes, as dark as the night, its shine curving into a mocking smile, as though the devil were on his very feet. He hated his prison cell, a cube of plastic and glass, he hated his torture devices, his phone, his laptop, all bought with money he could have used to bring more friends into his life.
But most of all, he hated that his heart had betrayed him into loving something other than his beloved toys and trinkets. He had been fooled into marriage and he had been fooled into making three squirming messes of useless life. They say that fatherhood would change every man, and so it did for Caleb – but when he held his children in his arms, all he felt was an uncontrollable urge to drop them onto the floor. Soon all they did was cry and eat and cry some more and squirm and even his wife joined in with her crying and squirming and her constant need for him to be alive.
Caleb hated it. He hated that his coworkers talked about him. He hated that his wife and children were so needy. But most of all, Caleb hated that all of that had the outrageously annoying habit of needing to be alive all the time. He couldn’t go a day with just having a break, where he could just be silent in a space that was just his own. He couldn’t get away from the years of trying to be normal, so one night when finally all the demons in his home had gone to sleep, he crept up to the attic where he knew there were three very dusty boxes filled with happiness.
He looked around but he couldn’t find the boxes. He searched the whole attic and all he found were his wife’s memories and his wife’s things, and as his sweat turned cold, he ran down to his bedroom and shook his wife awake.
“Where are they?!” he cried as tears began welling up in his eyes and his wife’s slurred voice said, “Where’s… what?”
HOW could she not know what he was talking about?! He slapped her and shouted at her again, demanding to know what had happened to his only friends and fear took the wife’s heart. He had never hit her before, not even gotten angry with her before. “Y-Your… t-toys?” she stammered out and Caleb screamed “YES!” just as the three began to cry. “I got rid of them years ago, Caleb!” she cried and Caleb stopped, his fingers giving an involuntary spasm.
“You… What?” he asked slowly, his eyes growing wide, tears pouring down like rain from saucers. He stepped back a little and looked at her, just staring while tears flowed and breath shortened. “Caleb?” his wife asked slowly and he turned to his side and vomited onto their bedroom floor, his emotions getting the better of him. “Caleb…?” his wife said again and he screamed. He screamed for his years lost from his fun, he screamed for his friends, now in places unknown in hands they didn’t recognize. He screamed for his stupidity, foolishly believing that if he tried to fit in, he would be happy. He screamed and screamed and then he was silent all that could be heard between the two hearts in the room was the heavy breathing coming from the man’s mouth.
And he rose from the floor and looked at his wife. He looked at her and walked out of the room. But his wife didn’t follow him to where he was going to. No, she went to her children as Caleb went downstairs and prepared what he had to. It was all in his memory, all there waiting for him and so his fingers flexed in practice and his back muscles finally relaxed after so many years. He closed his eyes and finally, finally after so many years, he felt himself smile again.
Two days later, the police broke down the door to Caleb’s house and found him in the living room. He was crouched down in the middle of the room, all the furniture was against the walls and around Caleb were dolls and animals carved out of what looked like ivory. Caleb was singing Ring-Around-The-Roses quietly and there was a broad grin on his face as he carved a giraffe with a small knife, sharp as a shaft of white light in a dark room. But why the police stopped at the entrance of the room was because all around the walls was finger art done in dried blood, but what was exponentially worse was that the disemboweled bodies of Caleb’s wife and three children hung like puppets from the fireplace, their hands. Limbs and heads held up with string that he had sewn through them.
Their disemboweled organs hung from the walls like party decorations, nailed into placed and there was what looked like a cake made out of their livers and lungs, complete with candles rammed through them. As the police approached Caleb, barking orders that fell on his deaf ears, they realized that Caleb was carving toys out of his wife and children’s chest and pelvic bones. He had cut them out and washed them before sorting them out and began carving them.
Only when the police stood over Caleb and blocked his light did he look up, his eyes red and veiny, hair bedraggled and smile wider than ever. “Did you come for my birthday parrrrrrrrty?” he asked in a childish voice, high pitched and somehow, entirely and absolutely terrifyingly. The police barked what sounded like orders to drop the knife Caleb was holding, but he didn’t, choosing instead to look back down and continue carving.
One of the police officers leaned down and tried to yank Caleb to his feet but Caleb begin to scream and he thrashed around, wildly swinging his knife around and as he stabbed the officer that had yanked him up, six bullets caressed his skin and settled in his body. And as he fell and hit the ground, he was silent, but as a police officer kicked his knife out of his hand and the light faded from Caleb’s eyes, all the officers heard something that they forbad their children to ever say because any time they heard those 26 alphabets fitted into those vowels and sounds, they cringed and felt a jolt of fear through their hearts.
Because as they found out later, Caleb had killed his parents as a young boy and had run away with their bones in a box. He had carved their skulls into toys and as he grew up and was brought into orphanages, he would find people and kill them. He would take parts of their body and strip away the flesh and carve their bones. Through the years he collected three boxes of bones and his wife had attempted to hide them from him, burying them in the garden behind their house as investigators found as they were examining Caleb’s case. They identified thirteen different sets of bones and along with the unfinished bones of his wife and three toddlers; they put them in an evidence case and tried to forget about them.
But after years of complaints from police officers and staff, the station decided to donate the bones to the criminology museum to be put on display. Because after three months, the whole station and most of the town that Caleb had resided in knew about the laughing at night, they knew about the shadow of a man, sitting cross legged on the floor and most of all they knew about the whispering boy singing Ring-Around-The-Roses around the shelves of the evidence room.
And for the officers that had been there that day with Caleb and for some of the staff in the museum, they knew. They knew the words that Caleb had whispered just before he died with a smile on his face. The police officers knew that he had been looking at the puppets his family had become and the museum staff knew exactly how Caleb’s high pitched, child-like voice had sounded. Because as long as Caleb’s beautifully carved bones remained, so did he. And if you listen hard enough when you’re around children or just before you set your own down to sleep at night, you might just hear poor unloved Caleb whispering to you.
“Play with me.”