Sunday, October 28, 2007

Continuation of Stranger Danger...

Last night, I went to an awesome Halloween party, hosted by a friend from my last job. It was a costume party, of course, and I went as a haunted doll (hence the picture above) and my husband went as an apocalypse survivor. We all read scary stories, an annual tradition inspired by the famous party attended by Mary Shelley and Lord Byron where Shelley debuted Frankenstein. Yes, we're very nerdy.

Our scary story elocution is a contest. There were a lot of scary stories, including a murderous game of cat and mouse between Alice and the White Rabbit, a cabal of cannibalistic foster children, a librarian who unwittingly donates her soul to the devil, a creepy doll party (my husband's story) and a reverse chronological detail of a murder gone wrong. After 3 years, I won the coveted Raven Award with the story about Scotty that I posted a bit of for Writers Island, and I'm totally excited about it.

So as promised, here is the Scotty Potty story, in it's entirety. It is long... but it is officially award winning.

The Stranger

I loved waking him up in the morning. I wished I could still sleep as he slept. His body twisted in pretzel shapes, clutching his raggedy bunny doll. I could never sleep that soundly anymore, not since bills and mortgages and project deadlines, and waiting to hear if he would stir.

This morning though, he was awake when I walked in. The room was freezing; the window beside his bed was open halfway. He figured out the childproofing -- he's only 5. His face was turned away from me, towards the icy air.
“What’s going on, buddy? It’s freezing in here.” I reached toward the window to shut it; he turned on me. His face was gray ash, his blue eyes shining.

“Don’t shut it. I need to get used to it.”
“Get used to what?”
“Cold. It’s cold where I’m going.”

I wondered if he was still asleep, night terrors like some of his kids in play group get. “School? It’s not cold there – they have heaters in the classrooms.”

My son looked down at his hands. He looked like his mother whenever he looked down, the heavy-lidded eyes, the pink lips. This morning, his lips were almost blue. His hands were empty.

“Where’s Mr. Carrot?”

He looked out the open window and I followed his gaze. Mr. Carrot was 10 feet from the house, half buried in the morning snowfall.

“Why’d you do that kiddo? Mr. Carrot’s going to need a bath now.”
“I don’t need him anymore. He can’t help me.”

I read about this in all the child-psych books, security blanket type issues. He’s ahead of schedule, but that was nice for once. He was smaller than all the other boys in kindergarten.

“What’s Mr. Carrot supposed to help you with, pal?”
“It doesn’t matter.” He paused, slid to the edge of the bed.
“Daddy?”
“Yeah, pal?”
“How come you never call me by my name anymore?”

Before I could answer, he padded to the bathroom and shut the door.

He was quiet at the table, we all were, the three of us chewing our cereal. Only the dog noisily snorted his approval of breakfast. As my son fished the final Cheerios out of the milk, I grabbed my keys and his book bag. Our daily routine.

“Alright pal – time for learning.” I used my post-caffeinated singsong voice. He stared at his cereal bowl.

“I don’t want to go,” he said as if to the milk.
“It’s Thursday, little man. Only two more days and then we can party on the weekend. We’ll do forts on Saturday. Promise.”
“I hate it there, Dad. They hate me.”
“Who hates you?”
“Everyone. They pick on me.”
“They don’t pick on you.” My wife shot me one of her looks. This was a lie. His kindergarten teacher, Mrs. Keely, had already phoned us on several occasions, because he couldn’t play at recess without being ridiculed. I know how hard it is to fit in, but I figured he had to learn to fit in. We all do.

“They call me Scotty Potty.” I bit the inside of my cheek -- it was so minor, so nothing, but that must be horrifying to a five year old kid. My five year old kid.

“Don’t let it eat at you, Scott. Ignore them or go play with someone else.” I walked towards him – put my hand on his shoulder. At that moment, he transformed into a whirring vehicle of rage. He screamed, kicked, windmilled his arms.

“I donwana donwana donwana donwana--” He screamed those words over and over, a stream of syllables.

I had never seen him like this, not in five years of baths, bed times, and vaccination shots. This was more. He was a stranger to me then, someone else’s child full of rage.

We did what we could. I grabbed him by the pants, she hoisted him beneath the armpits, until little by little his voice grew hoarse from screaming and we somehow managed to squeeze him into the car. He finally stopped.

The entire drive to school, he never looked up.

When we arrived, I pulled Mrs. Keely aside. Told her about the tantrum, the nickname, the favorite stuffed animal face down in the snow. She smiled one of her wan, kindergarten teacher smiles.

“Paul, it’s natural for a boy of his – sensitivities – to dislike school. To fear the large groups of kids. I’ll keep an eye of him today, I’ll call you if anything happens.”

I left the classroom, the peeling posters on the wall, the cliques of kids already forming around the plastic house play sets and coloring books. I waved to Scott from the window; his face was still flushed and red. A group of boys sat in a circle around him, surrounding him. He did nothing and I left for home.

I spent the morning as I usually do, cleaning up dried milk puddles off the kitchen table while chatting with clients. I looked at those stubborn white films as the evidence of our lives together. Our table is ringed with the ghosts of former mornings, because they never truly disappear, even when I scrub. This morning, Scotty’s stain was thin translucent white and it flaked off in one intact iridescent circle. I didn’t need to add water; it just lifted off, like it was never there in the first place.

It was then that I remembered Mr. Carrot, lying in the snow. I wonder what inspired him to send the stuffed animal sailing out of the window late last night. He loved this rabbit. It’s been with him as long as he’s been alive. I stepped into my snow boots, barefooted, still chatting with my client. He was yammering on about project synergy and inclusive cooperation, or some other corporate bullshit. This is why I like to work from home, to remove myself as far as possible from corporate identity annihilation.

Mr. Carrot was still face down in the snow; he seemed to be sinking. I picked him up, his fur was stiff from the ice and cold. As I turned him over, I dropped the phone and it was immediately swallowed by the snow. Somehow, Scott had gutted Mr. Carrot. Not just gutted. His stomach was ripped open from throat (if he had one) to crotch. All of his gray stuffing was spilling out of the wound. I looked closely and found chew marks along his center seam, as if Scott had used his teeth. His button eyes had been plucked off and were hanging by single threads from empty cotton sockets. At that moment, the house line rang its insistent cheerful tone.
I fished the office phone out of the snow bank, hung up on the client. Fuck him. I’ll pay for it later, I’m sure. I slid-ran inside, picked up the phone.

“Mr. Noonan? This is the Franklin Elementary Principal.”
“Yes, Mr--?”
“Dr. Batton. It’s your son. An incident has occurred. You need to come in. Immediately.”

I took Mr. Carrot with me, even in his sorry state. Scotty may need him if he’s okay. That was my only thought as I drove – 55 in a 25 – the mile and a half to the school. If he’s okay. I wasn’t even praying for him to be okay – I just let the if hang there.

When I arrived, there were ambulances, cop cars, a field of red and blue flashing lights. A small stretcher was being wheeled out of the school. A little four foot body, draped in a heavy white cloth lay motionless upon it. Blood soaked the sheet where the face should be.

Instinctively, I ran to the stretcher. Told them I was the father. I needed to see what they did to him for myself. I uncovered the body from the feet, noticed that these weren’t Scotty’s shoes. A hand grabbed my arm forcefully. Someone said, “You’re not the father of this one.”

I was led into an empty classroom. They were all empty, but this was his classroom. The room was dark, the peeling posters of circus clowns and cartoon characters glowered at me. Their faces took on gray shadows. Scott sat on the nap map. As soon as I walked in, he looked up at me. I ran to him. He was unscathed – no cuts, bruises, broken bones, as far as I could tell. But he was covered in blood. Blood on his hands, on his yellow Dora sweatshirt. Blood around his mouth.

“What happened, buddy?”
“They didn’t call me by my name, Daddy. They never called me by my real name.”

I hovered over him, not knowing what to do. All I knew is that I didn’t want to take this one home.

3 Comments:

Jo said...

WOW. Eerie and how. That really gave me chills. Very well written.

...deb said...

Very creepy. You deserve the prize. I was struck by how the text I read earlier change when sandwiched. Fun and instructive.

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