47 Sharks day 4
This is a horror story, at least sort of. It is actually the first part of a larger horror story, but it works on its own. I am going to try to make all of the parts work on their own, although obviously they are more interesting together.
Is it trigger warning that this talks a little kids going to the bathroom? It’s a tiny bit weird in this context, so I am going to say it is. Sharks might eat my up otherwise. The other trigger warning is…that this is a horror story.
Little kids spend a lot of their lives in fear. It’s easy to forget, if it’s been awhile. Sometimes it’s movie monsters, or shifting things under their bed, or a black velvet painting of a little girl with giant eyes. And sometimes it’s just…something. An image, or a face an adult makes, or some random song, something that isn’t scary to anyone. Unless you are that particular kid. Then it’s terrifying. For me, throughout my childhood it was two simple words:
Every time that damn tiger appeared on the TV screen my jaw tensed. I wrapped my head in couch cushions. I made excuses to leave the room. If I had the remote, I changed the channel and then pretended it was an accident. Even at eight years old, I couldn’t explain it to anyone. It was too silly. Just once my mom bought us a box of frosted flakes. I tried to hide it in the back of the cupboard.
One morning my older brother Adam stuck his hand into the box to get the toy at the bottom. I thought when he pulled it out it would be gone. Just a bloody stump. The funny thing is, he did lose two fingers in a lawn mower accident less than a year later. Still…
I told my mom I hated this cereal. My brother said he loved it, just to annoy me. After two mornings of this I started squirting lemon juice into my brother’s bowl when he wasn’t looking so the milk would sour. He never asked for it again.
What made it worse was that I had no idea why frosted flakes scared the piss out of me. It just was. If I couldn’t understand it, I couldn’t fight it. I didn’t know why, because I didn’t remember. Not until three weeks ago. Not until it all started up again. I forgot about what happened to Brianna. I forgot about the withering man.
The first time I saw him was a week before it happened. I was seven years old. Brianna was eight, but I was in charge because I was bossier. Bri always told me I was bossy, but she still did what I said because I had all the good ideas. On this particular day we were at Oaklawn Park with my babysitter Alanna. Alanna thought we liked Oaklawn Park because it had a big jungle gym and really good swings. That wasn’t it. We liked it had a lot of bushes and places to hide behind. For me and Bri, going to the park was all about one thing: peeing on stuff.
Is this a weird thing to admit? I guess it is. Consider it practice. If I can’t talk about this, then I definitely won’t be able to talk about the other stuff. I have to talk about the other stuff.
Some time in the last few months I had made an amazing discovery: I could pee in public as long as no one saw me, and I didn’t have to ask for permission. I had to ask for permission for everything. Getting out my toys. Having a snack. Playing video games. This discover meant, finally, there was something that was all mine. I showed Bri one day and she flipped out. It was exciting, because it was wicked. My mom had no idea why I wanted to wear nothing but skirts all of a sudden.
Everyone went through a phase like this, right? I’m going to assume you did. It’s easier to talk about. Like imagining other people in their underwear. Only, you know, not. So that’s what we did. We climbed the jungle gym. We played on the swings. We drank lots of water.
I was serving as Bri’s lookout as she ducked behind a withered old tree when I saw him.
“Hurry up, Bri!” I said. “I have to go and Ali’s going to find us any minute.”
“I’m hurrying!” said Bri, “don’t be so bossy.”
“I’m not bossy, you’re bossy.
“I’m the boss and I say you’re the one who’s bossy.”
We both giggled.
“Do you see her?” Bri asked. “Is she coming.”
I stood up all the way and craned my neck to look around. And there he was.
I say “he,” but I couldn’t really tell. There was a person standing about a hundred feet away, starting at us. At first I thought it was woman, because he was wearing a long, flowing dress, mostly black with some red thrown in. It was a weird thing to wear, because it was hot out. Then I saw the face. It looked like a man’s face, because he was bald. But it was weird. He was too tall. Too slender. I could not quite make out his features, but they were wrong somehow. His eyes were too big. And his mouth was…there was something horrible amiss with his mouth. That’s when his skin started to move.
I shrieked, and Brianna leapt to her feet.
“What? Is it Ali?”
I looked over at her. “No, it’s this man, he’s…” I looked back over to where the man was. He was gone.
“What man?” Bri asked. “Where are you going?”
I ran over to where the man was. It seems weird that I did that. Aren’t little girls supposed to run away from things like that? Oh well. When I got there he was just gone. No man, no footprints in the mud. But there was something on the ground. A toy. It was a fake tree on a plastic base, with two figures sitting under it. The tree was withered and bent, and…I looked back at the tree I had just come from. The toy tree looked exactly like the real one.
I leaned down to get a better view of the plastic figures. One of them was a little girl. It was wearing an orange skirt, and had blond hair. Just like Bri. My heart pounded in my chest. If that toy was Brianna, then the other one must be…
Ash Ketchum, from Pokemon. I was a little insulted, to be honest.
My mom asked where I got the new toy. I told her Bri gave it to me. She said, “oh, that’s nice.” Brianna slept over that night. I didn’t tell her about the man. I meant to, but my older sister Anwa was home from college, and she promised to show us how to do our hair up like princesses. Priorities.
The next week Alanna took us to the zoo. It was great fun, even though it meant curtailing our usual activities. I liked the aye-aye in the lemur house, and Bri loved komodo dragon. We both loved the cloud rats, because everyone loves cloud rats. We spent the whole day running off so Alanna had to chase us, because that’s what babysitters are for.
“What do you want to do next?” Alanna asked us after we finished our lunch.
“Elephants!” I said. “Elephants elephants elephants elephants!”
“Bri?” Alanna asked. “What do you want to do?”
“Let’s go see the elephants,” said Bri. I beamed at her.
“We don’t have to see the elephants just because Jessica wants to,” said Alanna. “We can do something that you want.”
“I want to see the elephants,” Bri repeated.
Alanna laughed. “Alright. Let’s go see the elephants.” We both cheered.
The elephants had a huge area to themselves, separated by a wooden fence and a wall that was more of a pile of rocks. It was below the pedestrian walkway, so it was easy to see them over the fence. It was late in the day, and most of the elephants were lying in the shade of the trees. Two, a mother and child, romped about in the water and splashed it everywhere.
“Look at them,” said Alanna. “How adorable! I’m going to get some pictures.”
“There’s nobody else here,” I said to Bri when Alanna walked away with her camera.
“Yeah,” said Bri.
“Look,” I pointed. Right next to the fence was a large, dense clump of bushes.
Brianna’s eyes widened. “What? Here? You think we should,” her voice dropped to a whisper, “pee in those bushes?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Why not?”
“We might get caught!” said Bri, too loudly. She clapped her hand over her mouth.
“Don’t be a baby,” I said. I grinned my most evil grin. “I dare you.”
“We’re not playing truth or dare!” Bri protested.
“Well you do it,” I said, “then you can truth me. And I have to do it.”
“Even whether you like Antoine?” she squealed. Antoine was my neighbor, and Bri was sure I liked him even though I totally didn’t. She had been trying to rope me into truth or dare for weeks so she could ask me. But I was too smart. Still, I wanted her to do this, just to see if she would. I nodded. She squealed again, and walked over to the bush.
“Do lookout,” she said.
“I will,” I said, and followed her. “Okay, no one’s looking.”
“I’m doing it,” she said. She put a foot into the bush. She looked at me, and we both giggled.
“You’re awesome,” I said.
“I know it. You totally wouldn’t do this.”
“I would!” I said. “But I dared you. That means that…” I froze. At that moment, I looked out into where the elephants were and I saw him. The man from the park.
“Jessy?” said Bri. “Something wrong. My foot. Something’s wrong with my foot.”
“Brianna, get out of there!” I cried.
“I can’t, Jess,” said Bri. She didn’t sound scared. Just confused.
I tried to grab her hand, but she reached both arms into the bush to pull her leg out.
“Grab my hand!” I called to her. “Grab my hand.”
“I can’t,” she said. “I don’t want to…I….” Then she turned, and looked at me. Her eyes were sad, and confused, and afraid. Then she said the last words I ever heard her speak. “Frosted flakes.” She fell into the bush. I leapt forward and pushed the branches aside. But she was gone.
I looked up and back out into the elephant park. The man was still there. He stared at me. Then his face did something strange. The skin all over it started to shrivel. It pulled taught against his face, and withered into a wrinkled husk. Into took a second. He didn’t look like a person anymore. But the expression the withering left on his face was so very human. He was smiling.
I blinked, and he was gone. Alanna ran over to me.
“Jessica? Is something wrong?”
“It’s Bri,” said, my voice flat. “She’s gone.”
“What do you mean she’s gone. Where did she go?”
“She’s gone,” I said again.
That was years ago. Time went by. I remembered that Bri disappeared, but the details grew hazy. The withering man showed up, for a while. In my nightmares. He was never the scary part. Never the thing that was chasing me. He was just there. In the background. Watching. After awhile that faded. I remembered him dimly, as something that used to frighten me. But not something real. Just another one of those things. Like the skinless thing that lived under my bed. Or the red-eyed rat that lived in the sewers, and wanted to crawl up the toilet and drink my spinal fluid.
Eventually, I forgot about that, too. I wasn’t easy to scare, as a child. My brother and I would sneak down and watch horror movies after my mom went to sleep, and it was always him that had to turn the lights back on. But I was frightened of frosted flakes.
Breakfast cereal doesn’t affect me anymore. I grew out of that, like so many other things. I don’t pee on things anymore, either. But now I remember why frosted flakes were the demon of my childhood. And now I have much, much worse things to be frightened of.