Thursday, February 25, 2016

The Black Box

Traditionally, a child becomes an orphan when he loses both parents to death. But a child can become bereft of mother and father, deprived of them, in other ways just as devastating.
Jason sat in the sand, watching grains slip through his fingers, yellow jackets buzzing around his blonde head.
He was four.
He was unattended.
Someday, he would grow up to be a superhero, an anti-hero dressed in black leather and a sarcastic, irreverent wit. His mythos would talk about how his parents died when he was young, lost to the violence of a random murder. The truth was they just left him alone. They couldn’t bother to pay attention to him. They had better, more interesting things to do with their time than cater to a snot-nosed kid who their friends thought a bit odd.
Jason, orphan by neglect.
Consequently, the monsters hunted and haunted him early and often.
“You’d be helping them,” said Kanis, the dog-faced demon. He nudged Jason towards the teal and white 1962 Studebaker. “Fill it up.”
Jason poured sand into the tank. This act would get his parents’ attention. They’d be proud of him. He’d save them some money.
A miscalculation on Jason’s part. His ability to get things wrong was monumental.
While locked in the bathroom, Kanis visited him. His parents deposited him in the guest en suite while they had a party. The trick with the car got him isolated. Beating him would require effort on their part.
Jason was glad he had friends, but it would be nice if he could count on his parents. It was clear even to Jason’s young mind that they just weren’t interested in him. He had no idea why he even existed or how he came to be.
Bathrooms were not safe-havens. They were cold and stark: way too bright with the lights on and ominously dark with them off. As hard as it was to see in the glare of florescent illumination reflected in mirrors and ceramic tiles, it was best to know what crawled out of the faucets or what clawed its way from the toilet bowl if Jason forgot to close the lid.
He tightened the hot and cold knobs on both the sink and the tub. The smallest drop of water could allow a fiend into the room. He knew better than to wash his hands. Being shut away for being a dirty, filthy child was nothing compared to the beasts of the pipes.
The dragon swooped down upon him from the vents in the ceiling, popping the light bulbs. It swallowed him whole from his head down to his feet. It was wet and dark and muffled inside the dragon. Jason rode the tunnel of the animal’s throat up then down, the gullet soft and slippery like a squashed tomato mixed with an over-ripe banana.
Jason slid past the dragon’s lungs and into his rib cage. The heart of the dragon beat as loud as a base drum. The pounding vibrated through the beast’s bones, a woofer on steroids. The throbbing consumed him, fusing him to the animal’s flesh.
He cried, fat drops falling from his eyes. His sobs matched the beat of the animal’s pulse. The added pressure of the boy’s weeping was too much for the dragon’s muscles. They contracted, loosened, tensed, relaxed, squeezed, let go. Jason passed through the monster like food through a boa constrictor’s belly only in reverse. The dragon expelled Jason like regurgitated bird food. His tender toddler skin red and blistered.
Jason’s tears mixed with the dragon’s saliva. When he finally broke free of his reptilian prison, he was dehydrated from fifty years worth of crying. He lay on the bathroom floor staring at the ceiling vent as the dragon’s tail slithered through the slats and disappeared.
The bathroom walls were slathered in shaving cream, covered in cartoon characters drawn in pink lipstick and dark brown eyebrow pencil, plastered in toilet paper squares attached by hair spray.
Foam brewed in the toilet bowl like a bubbling witches’ cauldron, round rainbows dripping to the floor and floating in the perfumed, steamy air.
Kanis sat perched on the shower curtain rod looking down at Jason, laughing at the little boy.
“You’re in for it now,” he said. “This place is a mess.”
“I didn’t do it.” Jason’s voice broke. He tried to sit up, but his little body shook. “I was inside the dragon the whole time.”
“Who’s going to believe that?”
“It’s true.”
“No one wants the truth. They want to know what they already believe.”
Jason lay on the floor all afternoon. He watched the sunlight fade. The room turned dark, black. His stomach ached and gurgled with hunger. His throat clenched from lack of water, but he couldn’t risk letting in more monsters.
The knob on the door turned. Light poured in. Jason closed his eyes against the blinding light.
“Hey, there’s a kid in here,” said a man.
“You’re joking,” said a woman.
“Nope, look.”
“Is it alive?”
“He’s breathing,” said the man.
“Look at the walls,” she said. “I can’t stay in this mess.”
“Do you think they know he’s up here?”
Their voices faded as they went out of the room, leaving the door open.
Jason found a soft, black wool coat in the pile on the bed. He pulled it around him to stop his shaking, stumbled to his bedroom, and crawled into his closet.

No one came to look for him.


  1. This is so wonderfully, heartbreakingly well written. Sadly, it's the reality for all too many kids, left to fend for themselves because unthinking parents couldn't be responsible enough to realize that they should take measures to avoid bringing into the world a kid they can't care for.