Squished next to my brother in father’s armchair, kicking our feet but ignoring each other. Mother just beyond the screen door near our armchair, replacing the porch light; my brother quiet, still is. The carpet was wet from being shampooed. We weren’t allowed off the chair. It was muggy, but still better in our apartment than the bug infested porch. All those creepy crawlies that find their way to screens never sat well with me.
The bitter shampoo scent almost masked father’s sweat. If not found lying on his side, head cocked on his curled wrist-pillow, he snored in this chair. Not sure where he was tonight though.
Still kicking feet, I looked to the kitchen opposite the front door and to my right. All our furniture piled high on 1970s linoleum flooring while the carpet dried. That wasn’t unusual. Well, it’s unusual witnessing furniture tumbling over itself all bunched into one room; a hoarder’s self-storage closet rather than a kitchen. No. Unusual was the back door just beyond the piles of furniture, open slightly. Nudging my brother, he acted like I wasn’t there. Looking to the front door, I yelled for mother. Nothing came out. I could breathe, but no sound.
Looking back to the kitchen, a small man appeared from the cracked door. Not much bigger than a large cat standing on hind legs. Nearly half of him was skull. A minature version of those pencil drawings crazy people draw when they claim abductions by spaceships. He wasn’t grey, he appeared more human than those drawings. No expression on his face, nothing. He cocked his head to one side as he stared at me.
My heart skipped before slapping my breastbone. Still staring at the cat-man, I mouthed for mother again. Whispers were all I heard. “Mother,” I heard myself whisper. Nothing more than an airy, forced whisper crept out. My lungs betrayed me like a man giving up on his last breath. I pulled my eyes away from the cat-man, mouthing for mother again. Same outcome. My brother was unreachable like I watched him on a bigscreen.
The room went cold, weird for mid-summer. Turning back to the kitchen and the short man, his head straightened like a wobbling webble. He smiled.
Wishing him to disappear, for my mother to hear my voice, to have a voice. I clenched my eyes closed. Please, I begged, just make him go away. My whispering cries only filled my ears. Opening my eyes again, the man still stood there. Staring at me. I breathed for mother. Over and over my words dropped to the wet carpet with a slosh. I wanted to look to the front door for comfort. My neck began to betray me as well.
There I sat. Staring at the fat-headed man. My body betrayed me. Airy whispers that felt like screams. The room filled with the sound of my hissing breath. My eyes grew dry staring at the old man. His bulging eyes penetrated mine, pierced my brain and wandered around inside. I tried to swallow past my sandpaper tongue, my wooden teeth, my old rubber band cheeks.
Back to breathing for mother, I squeezed those words out so hard I was certain my eyes would burst, my lungs shatter. Nothing. Just me and the old man among piles of our furniture. He lifted a finger to his tiny pursed lips and shooshed me a long echoing shoosh.
A new found energy came up inside. My fight or flight glands worked overtime. Cold turned to sweat, whispers to hoarse crying, still quiet but increased desperation. My neck gave in, allowing me to turn toward mother. Still nothing from outside. Mother’s shadow floated just out of reach. Just beyond the wall. How long does it take to change a light bulb?
Tears flowed as the solution tried to break free of my ducts, only emptiness trickled down my cheeks. My cries turned back to mumbled nonsense, even to me. There was no chance of being heard.
Giving up on calling out, I turned to face the old man again. The man floated beyond the door as it shut behind him. That was that.
I could not shake the feeling crawling my spine. My voice came back. Hearing mother hop down from her step ladder and open the door, my eyes and head snapped back to her for comfort so quickly I heard something crack. Mom! Mom! I cry. Someone’s here! In the kitchen! Pointing, I looked again to the kitchen. Nothing. No open door. No cat-man. Just a pile of furniture. My brother bounced off the chair leaving me to rock alone. Mother led my brother out the front door. Come on, Justin. Stop playing. Let’s go.
I wake up uncomfortably but not with the startle one expects from such a queer dream. The pit of my stomach and tight chest persists. The slithering sensation down my spine continues. I am back in our armchair. Sleepily I peer over, my brother still plays to my left. My eyebrows cock in confusion.
Sweat collects on my nose. Looking through the screen door, I watch mother’s elbow dance in and out of view as she toils with the light fixture.
My muscles freeze.
I want so badly to know, at the same time I don’t. To look to the kitchen. My muscles tighten and beg to be used, my breath grows short. Trying to be brave, I turn. Furniture piled high. No bulbous-headed cat-man. Where he was standing, only an end table on its side and a chair pushed up between its legs and snug against its belly.
Every piece of energy clinging to my muscles shrug off my lungs, flushing down my legs and on to the floor. It was just a dream.
Then my eyes focus beyond the married end table and chair. I watch as a pale and petite hand smaller than my own slithers out of sight behind the door. The door closes.