What's Behind Me

Melody Kazey

Jonathan jumped at the sound of the window shutters clapping against the wood paneling of the house, remnants of the storm that hadn't let up since the night before. He looked back out at the expanse of his yard just as his golden retriever Milo scampered towards him, blonde snout caked in dirt and grass from the old tree in the center of their lawn. Jonathan laughed and patted the dog on the head as Milo dropped another lost treasure on the porch steps.

"Whatcha got, boy?" Jonathan said, lifting the small book and brushing off the dirt and drool on his old jeans. Some bright colors peaked through. It was no more than a half inch thick, some type of children's book that his own son Bart had long outgrown.

Jonathan picked away the leftover grime until the name of the book was clear in aged primary colors.

What's Behind Me?

Jonathan wondered if Caroline had bought it back when Bart was a smaller little man. He turned the flat cardboard cover to see the first page. The porch light flickered, and Milo whimpered and ducked his head. Jonathan patted his old friend by the ear while examining the first page. A boy was mid kick on a tire swing tied around a sturdy branch of the tree in the middle of a lush yard. His auburn bangs stuck to his forehead and his mouth was wide with smile. A small stain like spilled ink sat below the tree.

"Little boy play," Jonathan read aloud, "Oh little boy gay. Kick your feet and wave to the day."

Jonathan shivered against the crisp wind and tugged his jacket a little closer. Milo circled by the door. Jonathan turned the page and then held his arm out to the dog. He was rewarded with a series of short licks as he looked at the next pages. These featured the same little boy, only this time his hair was longer, he stood a little taller, and he held a straw filled cloth doll up to the light of the window overlooking that same yard with the tire swing. Each page had a small inky stain as if it bled through from page one.

"You look through little happy eyes. You dance in sun and let moon rise."

Another clap of the shutters made Milo howl. Jonathan jumped and grabbed at his chest. "Dang it, Milo. Trying to kill me?" Then Jonathan noticed the lights flickering again, the unseasonable wind making Caroline's wind chimes peal in a frenzy. Milo circled round and round and leaped in place. Jonathan's eyes followed the dog's point of attention and he saw the shattered glass of his son's window, yet he hadn't heard a thing.

"Bart!" Jonathan threw the book aside and tore into the house. The living room lights flickered as well. Whenever they blacked out, Jonathan felt a cold, stinging pain like icicles dragged along his skin. Fear only propelled him faster. The steps creaked under him as he pounded up the stairs two at a time. Jonathan nearly tripped at the top when the lights flickered and that scratching pain enveloped his foot. Whoever was trying to stop him would regret it dearly.

The doors along the upstairs hallway shivered and flung open as he passed them to reach the door at the end. It was the only one that stood perfectly still. As his fingers clenched around it, the lights blinked, and the stuck doorknob turned icy, enough to burn the skin of Jonathan's palm. Gritting against the pain, Jonathan threw his weight against the jammed door until its hinges snapped and the door toppled forward.

The room was bathed in shadow. Even the window, shattered by some force that had broken in and left glass shards along the floor, only let in meager amounts of moonlight. Somewhere in that chaos was a young boy's cries and a crackling voice that reminded Jonathan of every nightmare he'd had since childhood.

"Oh little boy, you fear the dark? Time and time, I leave my mark. There's nothing left for you to do, but spin the rhyme. See it through."

Jonathan grabbed a shard of glass and lashed out in the darkness wherever the voice echoed. Behind him was his whimpering dog. His mouth was full until he spat out the little book again at Jonathan's feet. It dropped onto the last page. The auburn haired boy was hand in hand with a fiery red creature whose sulfur light wouldn't penetrate the dark surrounding them. They both had one foot on the window sill leading out to a dark sky, not full of clouds but children's crying faces. The creature on the page stared straight into Jonathan's eyes, toothy maw hanging open in shock.

"But how do you see through the dark?" the page read.

Jonathan stood firm, staring down the nothingness at the window. "Man's best friend called. My boy is his spark!"

A flame burst in front of the blacked out window and there stood the creature from the book, lithe arms wrapped around an auburn haired boy's shoulders. Jonathan didn't hesitate. He charged forward and plunged the glass shard into the kidnapper's chest while below him, Milo sunk his teeth into the creature's leg. It howled in pain and fizzled away into a cloud of acrid smoke. Bart collapsed, and Jonathan pulled his shivering son close.

Beside them, the golden retriever pawed at a small children's book open to the first page where a small boy was swinging and a puppy happily snapped his teeth by the boy's feet, fiercely loyal as he'd always been.