(Work of Nancy Holden, and my personal favourite out of the bunch.)
Petey lay in his bed, shaking with terror, his eight-year-old eyes bulging so widely they ached. His head throbbed; his grubby fists clenched tight to keep him from screaming, as the moonlight gleamed on the chair that rattled near the closet door.
It had moved, oh, no, oh no, it had moved, and no one would ever believe him. All those nights his mom and dad would come in and talk to him in syrupy voices, and tell him, Why, Petey, nothing moved. Only live things can move. And your stuffed rabbit isn't alive, and that pile of laundry isn't alive, and Mr. Robot isn't alive, and...
And they never believed him. They never did!
But the chair had moved. He had seen it. When he'd pretended to look away, then looked quickly back, he knew the chair had inched closer to the bed. He knew it was coming to get him, to eat him all up and spit out his bones, to fling him to the monsters and the bogeymen and witches with rotten teeth and no eyes who lived in the closet...
...who stuck their heads out at midnight and laughed at him when his mom and dad were asleep; and waited until the last minute for the sleepy pad pad pad of slippers, the creak of the bedroom door...
Petey? Are you having another nightmare, dear? Don't give yourself one of those headaches!
There, it moved again! Petey wanted to scream but his throat was so dry he couldn't make a sound, not even a hoarse gasp. It moved, he swore it, please, please, someone, it moved!
He whimpered like a wounded kitten. Only live things could move. Only things that were alive.
Why didn't they ever believe him? When he whooped with white-hot fever over the dwarf in the toy chest, they just laughed. When he pleaded with them to listen listen! about the skeleton in the mattress, they said he had an active imagination. They only believed about the headaches. Headaches were real.
Maybe he needs glasses. Maybe he's allergic to pollen.
It moved again!
Petey bolted upright and pressed his back against the headboard. His head was splitting. They had believed him about that, but they had never done anything! They had never helped him! They had never taken away the pain!
"Stop!" Petey begged. "Stop!"
His head always hurt, like a little gremlin lived inside, sticking pins in his brain. And they talked about taking him to the doctor, and talked about taking him for tests, and talked and talked...
...but they didn't care about him. They didn't love him, because his mom had had a boyfriend while his dad was on his battleship; and when he came back, she was going to have a baby. Him. Petey...
It was still moving!
...and he heard them late at night, fighting. His dad (not his real dad, his real dad was a bogeyman) would shout, "Ya shoulda gotten an abortion, Barb! Ya shoulda gotten rid of him!"
And his mother would cry and say, "I know, Jack, I know. I'm sorry."
Then last Sunday, after the kitten, his dad (the fake one) had shouted, "He's a monster! He's not human! We should send him away!" And his mother, sobbing, had replied, "Yes, Jack. I know. We will."
It moved. Tears streamed down Petey's face.
But only things that were alive could move. And the chair was not alive.
And neither was the thing sitting in it.
"I didn't mean to hurt the cat," he whispered. "Or the dog, or Mrs. Garcia's niece..." He crammed his fists in this mouth; no one knew about that.
It moved again. Much closer.
"I didn't mean to," he cried wildly. "Grown-ups are supposed to help little kids! And nobody..."
He thought of Mrs. Martin, the school nurse. She had tried to help him. When his head hurt really badly, she would let him lie down on a canvas cot in her office while she knitted. She had a big bag full of yarn and light green needles that flashed between her fingers. She wouldn't call home unless he asked her to. She would let him lie there, not moving, and every once in a while she would smile at him and say, "Feeling better?"
Sometimes he would say no just so he could stay with her. She was older than his mother but she was pretty anyway, and she always smelled like roses. She sang to him sometimes while she knitted, in-and-out, in-and-out.
Bye, baby bunting, Daddy's gone a-hunting
like he was just a baby, and she told him he could grow up to be whatever he wanted.
He should be locked up! Did you see what he did to that cat? My God, Barb, he's not normal!
I know, Jack, I know.
Whatever he wanted, even President of the United States. And once he laughed and said, "Not me, Mrs. Martin!" But she shrugged and asked, "Why not? You're a bright boy with your future ahead of you."
Who was that guy you cheated on me with? Who the hell was he?
The headaches! The headaches!
At Halloween she lent him a doctor's bag and a stethoscope and told him maybe he could go to medical school and become a doctor.
"You're a good boy, Petey," she would say. "A fine young man."
He tried to tell her about the skeleton and the dwarf and the witches - oh, the witches, with their laughing, waiting for the pad, pad, pad of the slippers before they disappeared! But she didn't believe him either, and that hurt him, worse than the headaches. Mrs. Martin cared about him. He knew that. But she didn't believe him, and the pain never got better, never did.
And then she stopped working at the school and he was all alone again.
"Nobody helped me!" Petey screamed as loud as he could. "You should've helped me!"
"I'll help you now," slurred the thing in the chair.
It used to be his mother, but now she was all bloody from where he had stabbed her wasn't my fault, wasn't, was not! and the rest of her was white. Her lips were blue and her eyes were full of blood and flies were buzzing in her hair.
She hadn't moved for four days.
"It's not my fault!" he shrieked, scrabbling against the headboard. Maybe if he made a run for the door, he could escape. But she was moving, even though she was just a dead thing, not a live thing, and only live things moved.
Except his pretend dad, who was still alive - Petey could hear him moaning in the hallway - had not moved since Tuesday.
Anything he wanted to be ... a fine young man.
"I'm coming for you, Petey," his mother whispered through broken teeth. He had punched her when she screamed "Monster! Monster!" until she stopped. "I'm going to give you to the skeleton in the mattress and the dwarf in the toy chest. I'm going to fling you to the eyeless witches in the closet."
President of the United States.
"Not me, Mrs. Martin!"
He heard a mad, gleeful gibbering underneath the bed.
"No!" He buried his face in his hands and sobbed. "Oh, please, no! I'm sorry! Please, someone!"
The gibbering faded. The room was still.
Maybe it was just another headache. A bad dream. There was nothing...
Bye, baby bunting
When he raised his head, his mother, all oozy and gory, smelling terribly, was standing beside the bed. She smiled a toothless, gummy smile. "No more headaches."
And the chair skittered up next to her just as the closet door opened.
Anything he wanted...
And then everything moved.
* * *
(Work of Norman Patridge)
Four. Yes, that's how many there were. Come to my home. Come to my home in the hills. Come in the midst of feast, when the skin had been peeled back and I was ready to sup. Interrupting, disrupting. Stealing the comfortable bloat of a full belly, the black scent of clean bones burning dry on glowing embers. Four.
Yes. That's how many there were. I watched them through the stretched-skin window, saw them standing cold in the snow with their guns at their sides.
The hollow man saw them too. He heard the ice dogs bark and raised his sunken face, peering at the men through the blue-veined window. He gasped, expectant, and I had to draw my claws from their fleshy sheaths and jab deep into his blackened muscles to keep him from saying words that weren't mine. Outside, they shouted, Hullo! Hullo in the cabin! and the hollow man sprang for the door. I jumped on his back and tugged the metal rings pinned into his neck. He jerked and whirled away from the latch, but I was left with the sickening sound of his hopeful moans.
Once again, control was mine, but not like before. The hollow man was full of strength that he hadn't possessed in weeks, and the feast was ruined.
They had ruined it.
"Hullo! We're tired and need food!"
The hollow man strained forward, his fingers groping for the door latch. My scaled legs flexed hard around his middle. His sweaty stomach sizzled and he cried at the heat of me. A rib snapped. Another. He sank backward and, with a dry flutter of wings, I pulled him away from the window, back into the dark.
"Could we share your fire? It's so damn cold!"
"We'd give you money, but we ain't got any. There ain't a nickel in a thousand miles of here..."
Small screams tore the hollow man's beaten lips. There was blood. I cursed the waste and tore a handful of metal rings. He sank to his knees and quieted.
"We'll leave our guns. We don't mean no harm!"
I jerked one wring, then another. I cooed against the hollow man's skinless shoulder and made him pick up his rifle. When he had it loaded, cocked, and aimed through a slot in the door, I whispered in his ear and made him laugh.
And then I screamed out at them, "You dirty bastards! You stay away! You ain't comin' in here!"
Gunshots exploded. We only got one of them, not clean but bad enough. The others pulled him into the forest, where the dense trees muffled his screams and kept us from getting another clear shot.
The rifle clattered to the floor, smoking faintly, smelling good. We walked to the window. I jingled his neck rings and the hollow man squainted through the tangle of veins, to the spot where a red streak was freezing in the snow.
I made the hollow man smile.
So four. Still four, when night came and moonlight dripped like melting wax over the snow-capped ridges to the west. Four to make me forget the one nearly drained. Four to make me impatient while soft time crept toward the leaden hour, grain by grain, breath by breath...
The hour descended. I twisted rings and plucked black muscles, and the hollow man fed the fire and barred the door. I released him and he huddled in a corner, exhausted.
I rose through the chimney and thrust myself away from the cabin. My wings fought the biting wind as I climbed high, searching the black forest below. I soared the length of a high mountain glacier and dove away, banking back toward the heart of the valley. Shadows that stretched forever, and then, deep in a jagged ravine that stabbed a river, a sputtering of orange. A campfire.
So bold. So typical of their kind. I extended my wings and drifted down like a bat, coming to rest in the branches of a giant redwood. Its live green stench nearly made me retch. Huddling in my wings for warmth, I clawed through the bark with a wish to make the ancient monster scream. The tree quivered against the icy wind. Grinning, satisfied, I looked down.
Two strong, but different. One weak. One as good as dead.
Grizzly sat in silence, his black face as motionless as a tombstone. Instantly, I liked him best. Mammoth, wrapped in a bristling grizzly coat he looked even bigger, almost as big as a grizzly. He sat by the fire, staring at his reflection in a gleaming ax blade. He made me anxious. He could last for months.
Across from Grizzly, Redbeard turned a pot and boiled coffee. He straightened his fox-head cap and stroked his beard, clearing it of ice. I didn't like him. His milky squint was too much like my own. But any fool could see that he hated Grizzly, and that made me smile.
Away from them both, crouching under a tree with the whimpering ice dogs, Rabbit wept through swollen eyes. He dug deep in his plastic coat and produced a crucifix. I almost laughed out loud.
And in a tent, wrapped in sweaty wool and expensive eiderdown that couldn't keep him warm anymore, still clinging to life, was the dead man, who didn't matter.
But maybe I could make him matter.
And then there would only be two.
When the clouds came, when they suffocated the unblinking moon and brought sleep to the camp, I swept down to the dying fire and rolled comfortably in the crab-colored coals. The hush of the river crept over me as I decided what to do.
To make three into two.
Three men, and the dead man. Two tents: Grizzly and Redbeard in one, Rabbit and the dead man in the other. Easy. No worries, except for the dogs. (For ice dogs are wise. Their beast hearts hide simple secrets...)
The packed snow sizzled beneath my feet as I crept towards Rabbit's tent. The dead man's face pressed against one corner of the tent, molding his features in yellow plastic. Each rattling breath gently puffed the thin material away from his face, and each weak gasp slowly drew it back. It was a steady, pleasant sound. I concentrated on it until it was mine.
No time for metal rings. No time for naked muscle and feast. Slowly, I reached out and took hold of Rabbit's mind, digging deep until I found his darkest nightmare. I pulled it loose and let it breathe. At first it frightened him, but I tugged its midnight corners straight and banished its monsters, and soon Rabbit was full of bliss, awake without even knowing it.
I circled the tent and pushed against the other child. The dead man rolled across, cold against the warmth of Rabbit's unbridled nightmare.
"Jesus, you're freezin', Charlie," whispered Rabbit as he moved closer. "But don't worry. I'll keep you warm, buddy. I've got you warm."
But in the safety of his nightmare, that wasn't what Rabbit wanted at all.
I waited in the tree until Grizzly found them the next morning, wrapped together in the dead man's bag. He shot Rabbit in the head and left him for hte ice dogs.
Redbeard buried the dead man deep in a silky snowdrift.
That day was nothing. Grizzly and Redbeard sat at the edge of the clearing and wasted their only chance. Grizzly stared hungrily at the cabin, seeing only what I wanted him to see. Thick, safe walls. A puffing chimney. A home. But Redbeard, damned Redbeard, wise with fear and full of caution, sensed other things. The dead man's fevered rattle whispering through the trees. An ice dog gnawing a fresh, gristly bone. And bear traps, rusty with blood.
Redbeard rose and walked away. Soon Grizzly followed.
And then there was only the hollow man, rocking gently in his chair. The soles of his boots buffed the splintery floor as his legs swung back and forth, back and forth.
Two. Now two, as the second night was born, a silent twin to the first. Only two, as again I twisted rings and plucked muscles and put the hollow man to sleep. Just two, as my wings beat the night and I flew once more from the sooty chimney to the ravine that stabbed a river.
There they sat, as before, grizzly and fox. And there I watched, waiting, with nothing left to do but listen for the sweet arrival of the leaden hour.
Grizzly chopped wood and fed the fire. Redbeard positioned blackened pots and watched them boil. Both planned silently while they ate, and afterwards their mute desperation grew, knotting their minds into coils of anger. Grizzly charged the dying embers with whole branches and did not smile until the flames leapt wildly. The heat slapped at Redbeard in waves, harsh against the pleasant brandy-warmth that swam in his gut and slowed his racing thoughts.
"Tomorrow mornin'," blurted Redbeard, "we're gettin' away from here. I'm not dealin' with no crazy hermit.
Grizzly stared at his ax-blade reflection and smiled. "We're gonna kill us a crazy hermit," he said. "Tomorrow mornin'."
Soon the old words came, taut and cold, and then Grizzly sprang through the leaping flames, his black coat billowing, and Redbeard's fox-head cap flew from his head as he whirled around. Ax rang against knife. A white first tore open a black lip, and the teeth below ripped into a knuckle. Knife split ebony cheek. Blood hissed through the flames and sizzled against burning embers. A sharp crack as the ax sank home in a tanble of ribs. Redbeard coughed a misty breath past Grizzly's ear, and the bigger man spun the smaller around, freed his ax, and watched his opponent stumble backward into the fire.
I laughed above the crackling roar. The ice dogs scattered into the forest, wild with fear and the sour smell of death.
So Grizzly had survived. He stood still, his singed coat smoking, his cut cheek oozing blood. His mind was empty - there was no remorse, only a feeling that he was the strongest, he was the best.
Knowing that, I flew home happy.
There was not much in the cabin that I could use. I found only a single whalebone needle, yellow with age, and no thread at all. I watched the veined window as I searched impatiently for a substitute, and at last I discovered a spool of fishing line in a rusty metal box. Humming, I went about my work. First I drew strips of the hollow man's pallid skin over his shrunken shoulder muscles, fastening them along his backbone with a cross stitch. Then I bunched the flabby tissue at the base of his skull and made the final secret passes with my needle.
Now he was nothing. I tore the metal rings out of his neck and the hollow man twitched as if shocked.
A bullet ripped through the cabin door. "I'm gonna get you, you bastard," cried Grizzly, his voice loud but worn. "Your hear me? I'm gonna get you!"
The hollow man sprang from the rocker; his withered legs betrayed him and he fell to the floor. I balanced on the back of the chair and hissed at him, spreading my wings in mock menace. With a laughable scream, he flung himself at the door.
Grizzly must have been confused by the hollow man's ravings, for he didn't fire again until the fool was nearly upon him. An instant of pain, another of relief, and the holow man crumpled, finished.
And then Grizzly just saw in the snow, his eyes fixed on the open cabin door. I watched him from a corner of the veined window, afraid to move. He took out his ax and stared at his reflection in the glistening blade. After a time Grizzly pocketed the ax, and then he pulled his great coat around him, disappearing into its bristling black folds.
In the afternoon I grew fearful. While the redwoods stretched their heavy shadows over the cabin, Grizzly rose and followed the waning sun up a slight ridge. He cleaned his gun. He even slept for a few moments. Then he slapped his numb face awake and rubbed snow over his sliced cheek.
Grizzly came home.
I hid above the doorway. Grizzly sighed as he crossed the threshold, and I bit back my laughter. The door swung shut. Grizzly stooped and tossed a thick long onto the dying embers. He grinned as it crackled aflame.
I pushed off hard and dove from the ceiling. My claws ripped through grizzly hide and then into human hide. Grizzly bucked awfully, even tried to smash me against the hearth, but the heat only gave me power and as my legs burned into his stomach Grizzly screamed. I drove my claws into a shivering mass of muscle and brought him to his knees.
The metal rings came next. I pinned them into his neck: one, two, three, four.
After I had supped, I sat the hollow man in the rocker and whispered to him as we looked through the veined window. A storm was rising in the west. We watched it come for a long time. Soon, a fresh dusting of snow covered the husk of man lying out on the ridge.
I told Grizzly that he had been my favorite. I told him that he would last a long time.
* * *
(Work of David Morrell)
Upstairs, my mother sits stiffly on her bed. I want to make her answer my questions, to shake her, to force her to help, but I know that will only frighten her more, push her mind down to where I can never reach it.
"Mother," I say to her softly, touching her gently. "What has happened?" My impatience can barely be contained. "Who did this? Where are Meg and Sarah?"
She smiles at me, reassured by the safety of my presence. Still she cannot answer.
"Mother. Please," I say. "I know how bad it must ahve been. But you must try to help. I must know where they are so I can find them."
She says, "Dolls."
It chills me. "What dolls, Mother? Did a man come here with dolls? What did he want? You mean he looked like a doll? Wearing a mask like one?"
Too many questions. All she can do is blink.
"Please, Mother. You must try your best to tell me. Where are Meg and Sarah?"
"Dolls," she says.
As I first had the foreboding of disaster at the sight of Sarah's unrumpled satin bedspread, now I begin to understand, rejecting it, fighting it.
"Yes, Mother, the dolls," I say, refusing to admit what I suspect. "Please, Mother. Where are Meg and Sarah?"
"You are a grown boy now. You must stop playing as a child. Your father. Without him you will have to be the man in the house. You must be brave."
"No, Mother." My chest aches.
"There will be a great deal of work now, more than any child should know. But we have no choice. You must accept that God has chosen to take him from us, that you are all the man I have to help me."
"Now you are a man and you must put away the things of a child."
Eyes streaming, I am barely able to straighten, leaning wearily against the doorjamb, tears rippling from my face down to my shirt, wetting it cold where it had just began to dry. I wipe my eyes and see my mother reaching for me, smiling, and I recoil along the hall, then stumble down the stairs, down through the sitting room, the kitchen, down, down to the milk, splashing through it to the dollhouse, and in there, crammed and doubled, Sarah. And in the wicker chest, Meg. The toys not on the floor for Sarah to play with, but taken out so Meg could be put in. And both of them, their stomachs slashed open, stuffed with sawdust, their eyes rolled up like dolls' eyes.
* * *
(Work of Richard T. Chizmar)
Elliot Fosse, age thirty-three, small-town accountant. Waiting alone. Dead of winter. After midnight. The deserted gravel parking lot outside of Winchester County Cemetery.
Elliot stared out the truck window at the frozen darkness. His thoughts raced back to the handwritten note in his pants pocket. He reached down and squeezed the denim. The pants were new - bought for work not a week ago and still stiff to the touch - but Elliot could feel the reassuring crinkle of paper inside the pocket.
While the woman on the radio droned on about a snow warning for the entire eastern sector of the state, storm winds rumbled outside, buffeting the truck. Elliot's breath escaped in visible puffs and, despite the lack of heat in the truck, he wiped beads of moisture from his face. With the same hand, he snatched a clear pint bottle from the top of the dash and guzzled, tilting it upward long after it ran dry. He tossed the bottle on the seat next to him - where it clinked against two others - and reached for the door handle.
The wind grabbed him, lashing at his exposed face, and immediately the sweat on his cheeks frosted over. He quickly pulled the flashlight from his pocket and straightened his jacket collar, shielding his neck. The night sky was starless, enveloping the cemetery like a huge, black circus tent. His bare hands shook uncontrollably, the flashlight beam fluttering over the hard ground. Somewhere, almost muffled by the whine of the wind, he heard a distant clanking - a dull sound echoing across the grounds. He hesitated, tried to recognize the source, but failed.
Snow coming soon, he thought, gazing upward.
He touched a hand to the lopsided weight in his coat pocket and slowly climbed the cracked steps leading to the monument gate. During visiting hours, the gate marked the cemetery's main entrance and was always guarded by a grounds keeper; a short, roundish fellow with a bright red beard. But, at one in the morning, the grounds were long closed and abandoned.
The liquor in Elliott's system was no match for the strength of the storm. His legs ached with every step. His eyes and ears stung from the frigid blasts of wind. He longed to rest, but the contents of the note in his pocket pushed him onward. As he reached the last step, he was greeted by a rusty, fist-sized padlock banging loudly against the twin gates. It sounded like a bell tolling, warning the countryside of some unseen danger.
He rested for a moment, supporting himself against the gate, grimacing from the sudden shock of cold steel. He rubbed his hands together, then walked toward a narrow opening, partly concealed by a clump of scrubby thorn bushes, where the fence stopped just short of connecting with the gate's left corner. Easing his body through the space, Elliott felt the familiar tingle of excitement return. He had been here many times before...many times.
But tonight was different.
Creeping among the faded white headstones, Elliott noticed for the first time that their placement looked rather peculiar, as if they'd been dropped from the sky in some predetermined pattern. From above, he ruminated, the grounds must look like an overcrowded housing development.
Glancing at the sky again, thinking: Big snow on the way, and soon. He moved slower now, still confident, but careful not to pass the gravestone.
He had been there before, so many times, but he remembered the first time most vividly - fifteen years ago, during the day.
Everyone had been there. A grim Elliott standing far behind Kassie's parents, hidden among the mourning crowd. Her father, standing proudly, a strong hand on each son's shoulder. The mother, clad in customary black, standing next to him, choking back the tears.
Immediately following the service, the crowd had left the cemetery to gather at her parents' home, but Elliott had stayed. He had waited in the upper oak grove, hidden among the trees. When the workers had finished the burial, he had crept down the hill and sat, talking with his love on the fresh grave. And it had been magical, the first time Kassie really talked to him, shared herself with him. He'd felt her inside him that day and known it had been right - her death, his killing, a blessing.
High above the cemetery, a rotten tree limb snapped, crashed to the ground below. Elliott's memory of Kassie's funeral vanished. He stood motionless, watching the bare trees shake and sway in the wind, dead branches scraping and rattling against each other. A hazy vision of dancing skeletons and demons surfaced in his mind. It's called the cemetery dance, the demons announced, glistening worms squirming from their rotten, toothless mouths. Come dance with us, Elliott, they invited, waving long, bony fingers. Come. And he wanted to go. They sounded so inviting. Come dance the cemetery dance...
He shook the thoughts away - too much liquor, that's all it was - and walked into a small gully, dragging his feet through the thin blanket of fallen leaves. He recognized the familiar row of stone markers ahead and slowed his pace. Finally, he stopped, steadied the bright beam on the largest slab.
The marker was clean and freshly cared for, the frozen grass around it still neatly trimmed. There were two bundles of cut flowers leaning against it. Elliott recognized the fresh bundle he'd left just yesterday during his lunch break. He crept closer, bending to his knees. Tossing the flashlight aside, he eased next to the white granite stone, touching the deep grooves of the inscription, slowly caressing each letter, stopping at her name.
"Kassie," he whispered, the word swept away with the wind. "I found it, love." He dug deep in his front pocket, pulled out a crumpled scrap of lined white paper. "I couldn't believe you came to me again after all those years. I couldn't believe it...but I found the note on my pillow where you left it."
Sudden tears streamed down his face. "I always believed you'd forgive me. I truly did. You know I had to do it...it was the only way. You wouldn't even look at me back then," he pleaded. "I tried to make you notice me, but you wouldn't..."
The cemetery came to life around him, breathing for the dead. The wind gained strength, plastering leaves against tree trunks and headstones. Elliott gripped the paper tightly in his palm, protecting it from the night's constant pull.
"I'm coming now, love," he laughed with nervous relief. "We can be together, forever." He pulled his hand from his coat pocket and looked skyward. Snow coming, now. Anytime. A sudden gust of wind sent another branch crashing to the ground where it shattered into hundreds of jagged splinters.
Two gravestones away from it, Elliott collapsed hard to the earth, fingers curled around the pistol's rubber handgrip, locked there now. The single gunshot echoed across the cemetery until the storm swallowed it. Bits of glistening brain tissue sprayed the air, and mixed with the wooden splinters, showering the corpse. His mangled head rocked once, then lolled to the side, spilling more shiny gray matter onto the grassy knoll.
For just one moment, an ivory sliver of moonbeam slipped through the darkness, quickly disappeared. As the crumpled scrap of paper - scrawled in Elliott's own handwriting - was lifted into the wind's possession, the towering trees, once again, found their dancing partners. And it began to snow.
* * *
(Work of Mort Castle)
Mama had told him it would soon be party time. That made him excited but also a little afraid. Oh, he liked party time, he liked making people happy, and he always had fun, but it was kind of scary going upstairs.
Still, he knew it would be all right because Mama would be with him. Everything was all right with Mama and he always tried to be Mama's good boy.
Once, though, long ago, he had been bad. Mama must not have put his chain on right, so he'd slipped it off his leg and went up the stairs all by himself and opened the door. Oh! Did Mama ever whip him for that. Now he knew better. He'd never, never go up without Mama.
And he liked it down in the basement, liked it a lot. There was a little bed to sleep on. There was a yellow light that never went off. He had blocks to play with. It was nice in the basement.
Best of all, Mama visited him often. She kept him company and taught him to be good.
He heard the funny sound that the door at the top of the stairs made and he knew Mama was coming down. He wondered if it was party time. He wondered if he'd get to eat the happy food.
But then he thought it might not be party time. He saw Mama's legs, Mama's skirt. Maybe he had done something bad and Mama was going to whip him.
He ran to the corner. The chain pulled hard at his ankle. He tried to go away, to squeeze right into the wall.
"No, Mama! I am not bad! I love my mama. Don't whip me!"
Oh, he was being silly. Mama had food for him. She wasn't going to whip him.
"You're a good boy. Mama loves you, my sweet, good boy."
The food was cold. It wasn't hte kind of food he liked best, but Mama said he always had to eat everything she brought him because if not he was a bad boy.
It was hot food he liked most. He called it the happy food. That's the way it felt inside him.
"Is it party time yet, Mama?"
"Not yet, sweet boy. Don't worry, it will be soon. You like Mama to take you upstairs for parties, don't you?"
"Yes, Mama! I like to see all the people. I like to make them happy."
Best of all, he liked the happy food. It was so good, so hot.
He was sleepy after Mama left, but he wanted to play with his blocks before he lay down on his bed. The blocks were fun. He liked to build things with them and make up funny games.
He sat on the floor. He pushed the chain out of the way. He put one block on top of another block, then a block on top of that one. He built the blocks up real high, then made them fall. That was funny and he laughed.
The nhe played party time with the blocks. He put one block over here and another over there and the big, big block was Mama.
He tried to remember some of the things people said at party time so he could make the blocks talk that way. Then he placed a block in the middle of all the other blocks. That was Mama's good boy. It was himself.
Before he could end the party time game, he got very sleepy. His belly was full, even if it was only cold food.
He went to bed. He dreamed a party time dream of happy faces and the good food and Mama saying, "Good boy, my sweet boy."
Then Mama was shaking him. He heard funny sounds coming from upstairs. Mama slipped the chain off his leg.
"Come, my good boy."
"It's party time?"
Mama took his hand. He was frightened a little, the way he always was just before party time.
"It's all right, my sweet boy."
mama led him up the stairs. She opened the door.
"This is party time. Everyone is so happy."
He was not scared anymore. There was a lot of light and so many laughing people in the party room.
"Here's the good, sweet boy, everybody!"
THen he saw it on the floor. Oh, he hoped it was for him!
"That's yours, good boy, all for you."
He was so happy! It had four legs and a black nose. When he walked closer to it, it made a funny sound that was something like the way he sounded when Mama whipped him.
His belly made a noise and his mouth was all wet inside.
It tried to get away from him, but he grabbed it and he squeezed it, real hard. He heard things going snap inside it.
Mama was laughing and laughing and so was everybody else. He was making them all so happy.
"You know what it is, don't you, my sweet boy?"
It was the happy food.
* * *