Phil was an emotional wreck.
He peered out the window for a brief instant before twitching the blinds back into place. No one was going to show. He knew it in his heart. He put out a hand to catch himself on the arm of his favorite easy chair, but missed, and collapsed all the way to the floor. He curled up, hugged his knees to his chest, and began bawling his eyes out.
A knock on the door startled him, and he rose quickly, dashing the tears from his face with the heel of his right hand. When he opened the door, His lips moved, but no sound escaped to welcome his sister and her new husband to his home.
“Hey Phil!” cried his sister Lynette. she took a step into his domain and dropped her purse on the table next to the door before squeezing his ribs ever so tightly. “This is Robert, I’m sure you remember that.” She gestured Robert to come inside as she sidled Phil gently out of the way and softly closed the door.
Robert stuck out a hand. “Nice to finally meet you, buddy.” He smiled broadly, a smile that began to wilt when Phil failed to grasp his hand or even speak at an audible volume.
“Don’t worry, hon,” Lynette patted her husband on his upper arm. “Phil gets a little freaked out when he has company. Why don’t we all go sit down in the living room?” She led the two men into the adjacent room and settled Phil on his easy chair before ushering Robert to one end of the couch. She took the other end.
Phil teased a stray bit of string from the upholstery with his forefinger and thumb, refusing to look up at the invaders on his couch. He suddenly regretted ever buying that couch. If he hadn’t gotten a couch, there would be nowhere for them to sit, and then perhaps they wouldn’t have come at all. They wouldn’t be invading his sanctuary.
When he finally looked up, the couch was gone, and the floor was dusty in the spot where it never was. A single tear followed in the tracks already left on Phil’s face as he realized that he’d done it again.
He’d forgotten that he was an only child.
Phil peeked around the corner to see if it was still there.
It was still there.
A figure lying in wait for him if he dared go around the corner alone. He was only six, and he knew better than to cross the street without holding someone’s hand, but he’d gone and done it anyway. Spitefully. His mother told him and told him all the horror stories about children being stolen away when they didn’t listen to their mothers, but had he listened? Of course not.
But all he wanted was to ride the swing at the park. His mother was busy cooking dinner and refused to take him, so he’d opened up the door quietly, so quietly, and slipped out by himself. He played for so long that all the other children were long gone with their families, probably eating dinner and getting ready for bed by now.
Phil imagined that his mother called for him until she was hoarse, and that now she was crying, rocking in her chair. His father was away on a business trip, and Phil wondered if he would come home early if Phil was missing. Probably not.
It was so late, so far past dinnertime that Phil grabbed at his stomach as it growled in hunger. He wanted to go home so badly. This was a poor decision, and he knew it. Still, swings. Phil loved the swings.
The problem now was that he couldn’t go home, no matter how much he wanted to. The monster was between him and home. Between him and dinner and his soft, warm bed. Between him and his mother.
He rummaged around under the picnic tables to see if anyone had dropped any snacks and came up empty-handed.
One last try. He leaned around the side of the building with the bathrooms, but it was still there. Phil sniffled a bit as the tears began to set in. He was so sorry for not listening to his mother. So sorry. He took a deep breath and brushed the first tear away with a small grubby fist. He had to make a break for it. It was going to be rough, but if he did it, he’d be home in no time.
Phil took off running past the monster, but he only made it four steps before he tripped on his shoelace and fell face-first onto the hard concrete walkway. One day he would learn to tie his shoes. He cried out in pain, reaching up to feel how much blood was pouring from his face. In truth, it was more than enough blood to warrant panic, but Phil actually felt much better when he looked to his left at the monster.
He almost laughed aloud at himself. It wasn’t a monster at all; it merely looked like one in the shadows and fading light. It was an overflowing trash can. And that claw that Phil feared was outstretched waiting to tear out his throat? It was nothing more than a rusty old nail.
Phil stood up without even brushing off his wood-chip-coated knees. He laughed at his younger self, because now he didn’t believe in monsters anyway. He ran home, where his mother was so happy to see him that she cleaned him up without a word and sat him at the table for a lovely dinner of meatloaf and mashed potatoes, his favorite.
I have no idea what my time was; I had a household emergency in the middle. It’s all good now, though.