The whisky and ice rattled softly in the glass as I stood over Thomas, fast asleep in his little bed. His face hidden under a mass of raven black hair. I took a sip of whisky and sighed. This wasn't the first time I had watched him at night, drink in hand, pondering just how this little imp got here, into my home. He was almost four years old now and his occasional presence was still a source of confusion and disbelief. I had met his mother in a similar haze of alcohol, and it was under that same haze that I've been told we conceived this little gremlin. I stepped carefully out of Thomas' room, my old gym room. I stepped over his discarded toys, trying not to stir him from his sleep.
I slumped down onto my recliner in the living room, the ice clacking loudly in the glass. I took a long draw from my whisky. I was lost in an existential sea of bad memories and moderately priced alcohol. Caught in a trap with no idea which limb to bite off and escape. If only I fought harder when Thomas' mother came to me, swollen with pregnancy, with her accusations towards my busy sperm. I didn't know her, I still don't, not really. She wore me down, got me to doubt myself and what I might have done. I drained the last of the whisky from the glass and set it down on the floor next to my recliner. Old blues songs rang through my head. Songs of suffering and pain, cheating wives and hopelessness The suffering of others did little to put mine in perspective. I sighed heavily, surveying my living room while I mustered the motivation to get up and pour myself another drink. A pile of toy cars rested on a play mat of streets that had replaced the rug which was now rolled up against my wardrobe. That rug really tied the room together, and now I had a tiny city to walk all over.
I got up from my recliner and laid down on the floor, getting up close to the play mat city. I had one when I was Thomas' age, it could even be this one for all I knew. I picked up at some charity shop one day in hopes that it would shut him up for five minutes. It was a bit worn out and stained but the kid seemed to enjoy it. I picked up a toy car and pushed it down one of the streets. I crashed it into another at a crossroad and wiped them both out. A dark thought ran through my head, wishing that maybe Thomas and his mother could meet their fate like this on their way home tomorrow.
“Is that what you really wish?” A voice whispered in my ear, a deep voice that slithered into my ear like a snake. I frantically got to my feet from my prone position on the floor. There was nobody there as I looked around the room, or in any of the rooms as I searched for an intruder. I checked the front door, which was still locked, before returning to living room. “I can make that happen for you...” I froze in place, questioning my sanity at that moment. A small flame ignited on the play mat, on the crossroad I crashed the car. I looked at it bewildered for a second before leaning down and attempting to extinguish it with my thumb. When I touched it, my hold arm felt like it was burning, like it was going to melt off to nothing. I reeled and the voice laughed. The little flame danced in time with the laughter. I got back down onto my stomach to have a closer look at the fire, It wasn't spreading, it just sat there bobbing around as it laughed at my pain. I inhaled deeply and then tried to blow it out like a birthday candle. As the room retuned to it's darkness, I let out a little shriek as I saw what stood in the place of the flame, a tiny devil.
I could feel his staring eyes like knives as the devil looked up at me. It's presence weighed heavily on me. “You wish for the woman and child to die in a car accident?” the voice came again, smooth and slithering.
“No, no...” I stammered “I don't want them dead, I don't think I could bear having that on my conscience...”
“But you're happy enough to fantasise about it” I couldn't see his face but I was aware of the smug grin that came along with his words.
“I just don't want to be around them, I want my life back. I wish he was someone else's child.”
“Really?” His voice drew out the vowels as he asked, like he was toying with me.
“Yes.” I felt guilty but there was a feeling of relief that came with admitting out loud. There was a flicker of light as the devil's flame reignited on the little play mat street, extinguishing again seconds later leaving a small mark like a cigarette burn. I lay on the floor for a while, consumed with my guilty thoughts before making the resolute decision that another whisky was the only way to make sense of this evening. Returning from the kitchen with glass in hand, I sat on the recliner with self-made promises to forget whatever mental break I had just experienced and with the remote in hand, turned on the TV. Channel hopping to find something to take my mind off it, maybe an old movie or if I was lucky, anything with half naked women. I was changing channels rapidly before something took my eye and I tapped the back button. 24 hour news, a woman crying, it hit me like a heart attack. Thomas' mum. “Someone else's child” had been my words and now there was someone else's child asleep in my old gym room. Police were looking for Thomas. I dropped the glass of whisky onto the floor as my brain exploded with panic. Thoughts of life in jail chilled me to the bone.
I rushed to my bedroom and threw on some proper clothes and my jacket before quietly navigating the toys and silently picking up Thomas. I carried him with care out to the car. The streets were quiet, I just had to drive 20 minutes from here to Thomas' house without any attention. I started the car and I could barely hear the motor over the sound of my heart beating in my ears. I prayed at the lights to stay green. With each one I passed, I felt a little safer. My heart sunk when I noticed that the next set of lights was by a bar. Drunks stumbled outside and I knew there had to be some police nearby to keep them in line. The light turned red and my eyes darted quickly between the lights and a drunk who was edging closer to the car, probably mistaking it for a taxi. He grabbed the door handle and it rattled in his hand. The light turned yellow and I floored the accelerator. The drunk screamed at me as the car drove away. He clutched at his fingers in the rear view mirror. Thomas stirred a little bit but quickly started snoring again.
I parked my car a street away from Thomas' house and moved quickly while trying not to look suspicious or wake Thomas. I looked around for any signs of being watched as we came towards the house. I seemed to be in luck but I stuck to the shadows. In front of the house was a little fenced garden with a rusty gate that would probably wake all the neighbours. Instead I lifted Thomas over the fence and put him down on the grass. The cold would soon wake him and either he'd let himself in, or his crying would bring his mother. With Thomas safely placed in the garden, I slinked away. The temptation to burst into a run was overwhelming but I kept my cool. I got to the car and I could have screamed in relief, but I held it in, I didn't feel safe yet. It was only once I was home that I felt safe and after all that I just wanted to sleep.
I don't know when I managed to drift off to sleep but I woke up in the afternoon the next day. I had missed calls from work which I returned, claiming I was ill. I took a bin bag and collected up all the artefacts of Thomas from around the house before sneaking them into the neighbour's wheely bin. I checked the TV for news, and breathed a sign of relief as it seemed I was in the clear. Thomas never saw me when he was someone else's child so I guessed he had no memories of me. A little pang of sadness accompanied that thought but I soon forgot it as I reclaimed my life.
I spent the next couple weeks throwing myself into work, and down at the pub in the evenings. I felt liberated, not a care in the world. I was getting home from the pub late on Saturday when I sat down on the recliner and began flicking through the channels again, too wired to fall asleep. I almost cried when I saw her again, back on the 24 hour news. The reporter stood outside of Thomas' house, men in white suits and masks behind her, flashes of blue and red lighting the house. She was dead and apparently not the only one. A local man had been found dead a few days before. His photo filled the screen, the drunk. My eyes were fixed to the screen, and my heart pounded when the door bell rang. I sat quietly, praying they'd go away as the bell rang again. I got up and moved quickly to the door, taking a deep breath, trying to think up excuses for the police. When I swung open the door, I thought for a second that they ran off. A prank. Something grabbed my leg and I looked down to see Thomas there, his mass of black hair clung to my leg. I didn't know what to do, but there was no one else in the street and I took him inside before anyone could see us. He walked his wobbly little walk through to the living room and when I followed him through, he was sat in my recliner. He laughed to himself as he wiggled on the seat and pointed at the TV. It was still on the news, still reporting about his mother's death. A chill ran down my spine. I rushed over to the TV to turn it off. Thomas' laughing echoed in the room, gradually deepening into the laughter I had heard two weeks before. “Someone else's child.”
I bolted from the room and down the hall, out into the street. I didn't know where to go. Whatever was happening was insane, I prayed I was still drunk, that this was all a bad dream. There was a church a couple streets from where I stood and it seemed like a good idea to run in the direction of it's spire. I ran down the road frantically but I lost my footing and stumbled face first onto the hard tarmac. Deep laughter boomed from yards away and I felt the stabbing pain of the devil's gaze upon me. He walked towards me with Thomas cradled in his arms. The street lights blinked out as he came closer.
“Is this what you wished for?” His voice rang with smug pride.
“NO! I JUST WANTED TO GET MY LIFE BACK!!” I sobbed.
“Life is what you are given, we are just God's play things.” The Devil turned his back to me and began walking away. I started after him when I was surrounded by light, and then pain as two cars smashed into me from both sides.
(Written by Christopher Stewart)
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