Bewildering Stories

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The Man in the Red

by Steve Bomkamp

He was alone and still when the wall started shaking, and the cupboard started rattling. Dishes fell to the floor and broke into sharp pieces. “It’s not safe in here Telly. Let’s go to a room where we can lock the door.” Ben picked up his bear and went to a place where he thought it was safe. It was his room. He hugged his bear tightly on his lap. He curled up on the bed and snuggled it.

That night there was a dream. There were faces looking down at them, but it was through gauze. There was a woman and two men. He could tell it was his mom’s lipstick. He heard voices:

“He’s going to make it isn’t he?” his mom said.

“It’s too soon to tell,” said the man in the blue.

“When will we know if he’s going to be all right?” his mom said.

“I don’t know,” said the man in the red.

Ben was in his living room with his Teddy Bear in his hand and he was dancing with it. He was holding onto its arm, and he was flinging it around. His mom was in the kitchen. She was taking things out of the cupboard and putting things away. She took a bowl out and put some chips in it and set it on the counter. The doorbell rang and she let in some guests. It was a man and woman. The man was wearing a red raincoat, and the woman had on a dress that made her look like an ostrich.

“Your parties are splendid,” the woman said. She ran across the room and fluttered like a bird. The man in the red sat down on the couch with the bowl of potato chips in front of him. He rested his foot on his knee and put one in his mouth. “Oh I love the Vikings. I can’t wait until they play today,” he said.

“It’s always one game or another,” his mom said.

“He’s not going make it, is he?” said the woman in the dress.

“It doesn’t look good,” said the man in the red.

The door bell rang. His mom lifted up her arms in delight and opened it. Two more people entered. There was a man in a blue sweater and a woman with a necklace. The woman with the necklace sat down on the couch next to the woman in the dress and they began to talk. They moved in close together and held each other’s hands.

“When’s the last time you saw the Vikings?” said the man on the couch.

“I watched them three weeks ago,” said the man in the air.

“Ben stop waving your Telly. Our guests want to watch TV,” his mom said.

“But I want to play. You never let me play when there’s other people around. I wish we were always alone. One day I’m going to have my own house where I can always be myself.”

“I’m going to get something to eat?” the woman in the necklace said. “Tell me how he is when I get back.”

“I will be sure to let you know,” said the man in the red.

There was a knock on the door. His mom opened it and a man in the black stepped in. He handed his mom a cane and then he came walking out into the living room and sat down on the couch. The man on the couch threw a potato chip onto his lap. “Those are good,” he said. “Try them.” The man in the black brushed it off onto the floor.

“It’s okay, he’s a friend of ours,” his mom said. “If you want to you can sit on his lap.”

“I don’t want to sit on his lap. I want to play with my Telly.”

“Ben you’re getting crabby. I think you need to get some rest.”

“What’s he doing now?” said the man in the blue. “Now he’s playing with death.”

“I’m going to get some rest but I’m going to do it on my bed,” said Ben. He took his bear and ran upstairs. The steps were soft and carpeted and his feet produced soft thuds. He went inside and closed the door behind him. He could no longer hear the noise from the party. In his room was an aquarium with his pet fish in it. He turned the light off and sat on his bed so he could stare at it. He turned on a lamp over his fish tank and the only thing that could be seen in his room was the blue water.

There were seashells in the aquarium and out from one of them now came a fish. It was yellow and blue-striped and it was really, really pretty.

“It’s Maestro,” said Ben. “Did I wake you up? Did you still want to sleep?” Ben stuck his hand in the water and the fish started nibbling on it. Its tender lips closed around his thumb.

There was a knock on the door. “What is it?” said Ben.

“It’s your mom,” said the voice. “I’ve come to tuck you in.”

“Oh all right. As long as we get it over with in a hurry.”

The door opened up and the man in the black stepped in.

“Did you hear some noise upstairs?” said the woman in the dress. She took some popcorn from the bowl and pecked it out of her hand.

“Oh it’s probably nothing,” said the man in the blue. “You know how easily kids get scared.”

“Do you think he’s seen a monster?”

“It’s probably his imaginary friend.”

“Well I’m going to check on him,” said the man in the red. “There is no reason for a little kid to be scared.”

“How long do you think he’s going to be around?” his mom said.

“It’s not up to him,” said the man in the red.

The man in the black took out a scythe and drifted forwards. Ben backed up against his headboard and threw his Teddy Bear at him. “You don’t belong in my room. You belong somewhere else,” Ben said. Bones could be seen underneath the hood of the man in the black as he passed the fish tank.

“Don’t you love to party,” said the woman in the dress. “Come on, let’s dance.” She grabbed the woman with the necklace by her hand.

“Another touchdown,” said the man in the blue. “I love watching football every weekend.”

The man in the red pulled on the door to Ben’s room but it had been latched shut. He pulled harder and it came open. Ben was curled up into a ball on his bed. “Where is he?” said the man in the red. “Do you think there’s anything we can do to help him?” said the man in the red.

“He’s hiding under the bed,” Telly said.

The man in the red stepped forward and peered under the bed. It looked like crepe paper had been stuffed under there. The man in the red reached under the bed and pulled out a black cape. He stood it up like a corn stock. Inside the hood teeth could be seen rattling.

"Why you're just a monster who likes to torment children,” said the man in the red.

The man in the black brought out his scythe. The man in the red took it out of his hands. He grabbed the man in the black by the collar and pushed him against the wall. There was the sound of bones breaking. The man in the red grabbed the man in the black by the neck. The man in the black’s teeth chattered together faster and faster until he was dead. The man in the red stood back and let the bones fall to the floor.

“You’ve killed him. I can’t believe you did it,” Ben said. He jumped up and down on the bed. “And if you ever get yourself in trouble again, just call for the man in the red.”

Ben jumped on the floor and went over to where the man in the black’s bones lay. He sorted through them and picked up the skull. “It’s an ornament,” he said. He put it in the fish tank and the fish swam in and out its eyes.

Copyright © 2003 by Steve Bomkamp

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