A shriveled boy appeared in my backyard the night I wanted to escape, crawling naked from the doghouse like he’d lived there all along, oblivious to the cold. His skin wrinkled everywhere but his forehead, where it stretched across his skull, cracking like old leather. His bulbous eyes gleamed black, his teeth a dull yellow in the porch light.Mom and I stared at him through the sliding glass door as the snow whipped around him in eddies and whorls. Mom squeezed my shoulders, but when I hugged her back she winced and clutched her ribs. The shriveled boy lurched to his feet and rushed to the door, his midnight gaze locked on my mother.”Don’t trade places with him, Joey,” she said. “You’ll never come back.”

She went to the liquor cabinet and poured whiskey over ice.

“Why couldn’t Dad see him?” I asked.

“He’s too angry,” she explained. “This will calm him.”

And she went back to the bedroom.

An hour later, the wind howled as loud as their shouts. It flung crystals and flakes at the shriveled boy like dad had flung the tumbler at mom. If the boy felt their sting, he did not show it, huddling in the doghouse door and glaring at the bedroom window as if he might cry.

He tiptoed to the sliding door, drumming his fingernails on the glass: clack, clack, clack. I shook my head, and his expression hardened. His lips stretched back and fangs gleamed where they hadn’t been before. He dragged his nails down the pane, the sound slicing my eardrums like the tumbler had sliced mom’s forehead. He pointed at me, then the doghouse.

I turned to go, but his whimper stopped me. For a moment I stood frozen, my hand flinching toward the door latch. Then I remembered Mom’s warning and walked away.

By midnight, the sharp stink of whiskey mingled with the rusty scent of blood. Mom’s voice fled the bedroom in muffled gasps, unintelligible but laced with rage and terror, defiance, and contrition.

The shriveled boy slumped against the sliding door, his ribs showing through his fissured skin where it pressed against the pane. He stared straight ahead, obsidian tears frozen on his hollow cheeks. His eyes pleaded for me to switch places with him.

Dad’s voice rose in a frenzied crescendo. The wall rocked, pictures shook, and mom fell silent. The shriveled boy put his hand against the glass, fingers spread. His dark eyes lured me and I put my palm against his, only glass between them. Our hands matched, knuckle to knobby knuckle, as if the glass were a mirror.

Dad’s footsteps thundered down the hallway and my throat tightened. He roared my name.

The shriveled boy hopped from foot to foot, pointing at the doghouse. He was my only hope, my only escape, but Mom’s words echoed in my head like a bell. My hand quavered leaf-like over the latch. The shriveled boy clapped, his night-black leer darting from my hand to the hallway and back again.

I opened the door and sprinted for the doghouse.

Behind me, the shriveled boy stepped inside and locked the door.

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I press my nose against the cold glass and my breath forms crystals on the pane. I should feel the cold, the wind’s brutal stab, but numbness and solitude surround me, insulating. Deadening.

Inside, mom huddles on the couch, while dad towers over her, stabbing his finger at her like a knife. His lips move, but I hear nothing. I don’t need to.

Behind him stands the shriveled boy, eyes jet black, sharp teeth shining. His gnarled hands have curled into fists at his sides as he fires his midnight glare at my mother. Her sight settles on him for a moment, then skitters to me. Her eyes open wide and rivers erupt on her cheeks as she realizes I ignored her warning. Then dad clenches his fist, and calm settles across her face. She nods at me, closes her eyes.

I long to go back inside, to feel pain again. To feel anything, even agony, so I know I’m still alive. I tap on the glass, my fingernail making a ping that draws the shriveled boy’s stare. He locks his eyes to mine for a fraction of an instant, then shakes his head and turns toward mom, his fangs glittering in the light.

Dad looks at the door, but stares right past me, like I don’t exist.

I still can’t feel the cold.

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—Chris Barili’s fiction has appeared in anthologies by Zombies Need Brains Press and Sky Warrior Books, as well as on Evil Girlfriend Media, Quantum Fairy Tales, and The Western Online. He holds an MFA in Creative Writing, Popular Genre Fiction, from Western State Colorado University, and lives in Colorado Springs.

3 Responses

  1. Roland Petrov
    at · Reply

    This really isn’t fiction, is it? It’s a story I lived, and the remnants are still with me. You wrote it so well!

  2. jeffbaker307
    at · Reply

    Nice!

  3. Chris Barili
    Chris Barili
    at · Reply

    Thanks for the feedback, everyone. Roland–that might be the ultimate compliment for a writer to receive. I’m glad you enjoyed it.

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