We were both young at the time, so we played lots of games together. Peek-a-boo, for one. Hide-and-seek. Sometimes we would jump out at each other to try and invoke a scare. Though we did this over and over, we never seemed to tire of these games.
We were playing in Tommy’s room one day when his mother stuck her head into the room.
“Tommy, did you do your homework?” she asked. I suspected that she already knew the answer, but still, she had asked, anyway. Parents do that kind of thing sometimes.
“Not yet,” Tommy said. “It’s just stupid fractions. I’ll do them later.”
“No, you’ll do them now,” Tommy’s mother said, and then she looked at me. “Jack’s not going anywhere. You two can play later.”
“I don’t want to do them now!” Tommy said and slammed his fist against the hardwood floor. “I’ll do them later!”
“Thomas Bryant, you will do your homework right now, or so help me, you’ll never play with Jack again.”
I gasped. She was just bluffing…right? She had to be. It’s not like she could just throw me out in the garbage!
“But—” I began, but Tommy shot me dagger eyes.
“Okay, Mom,” he said, his cautious eyes still on me. “I’ll do it right now. Swear.”
“Bring it to me when you’re finished,” his mother said, pleased she had won the battle. “And I’ll check your answers.” She closed the door and her footsteps faded down the hallway.
“You can’t talk back to her like that,” Tommy said to me. “She’ll throw you out of this house forever. Just let her say whatever she wants. She always leaves eventually.”
“Okay,” I said. “Sorry.”
Tommy rolled his eyes. “Let me go do this stupid homework. I’ll be back.”
I sighed, but relented, and Tommy left the room.
Lousy parents, I thought. They’re always ruining our fun, aren’t they?
But because I am a good friend, I sat patiently and waited for Tommy to return.
Some time later – I don’t know how long – I heard muffled voices. It sounded like arguing. I could hear Tommy’s voice—whatever he was shouting grew more and more clear as he made his way back to his room.
He finally entered. With a final “shut up!” he slammed his bedroom door.
“God, I hate her!” he said and beat his fist into his other hand.
“You don’t mean that,” I said. “You’re just mad.”
“No, I mean it,” Tommy said, and I could feel the hate for her emanating from his body. “All she does is tell me what to do! She’s ruining my life and I’m sick of it! I wish my dad were here. He wouldn’t let her treat me this way.”
“It will be okay,” I said. “Come on, let’s play.”
After a while, Tommy forgot his anger. But I didn’t. Back at home, I thought about it all night. It wasn’t fair for Tommy’s mother to treat him so badly. The kid had already dealt with enough in his few meager years on the planet—life had been tough ever since his father had been accidentally killed during a convenience store robbery. Did Tommy really need an overbearing mother on top of that?
Not according to me.
The next day I was playing with Tommy again. It was an early Saturday morning. As we laughed and joked with each other, we heard Tommy’s mother open her bedroom door, and then her footsteps plop down the stairs.
“Great, she’s awake,” Tommy muttered. “Watch, she’ll probably make me do chores all—”
The sound of his mother’s screams cut him off. His eyes went wide. He grabbed me and threw open his bedroom door. We hurried down the stairs and into the kitchen. Tommy’s mother had backed into a corner, her wet eyes wide in shock, her hands covering her mouth.
Tommy’s father sat at the kitchen table reading a newspaper. Whatever skin had not rotted off his face was gray and ashy. Both eyes were closed and the back of his neck and head were grounded down in an unnaturally flat layer of brown pulp. He had endured much damage the night before, when I had retrieved him from his grave and dragged him down the street.
Maggots popped out of gashes in his skin and wriggled on the kitchen table.
Tommy, too, clasped his hands over his mouth and backed away.
No one spoke, so I did.
“I granted your wish, Tommy!” I said. “You said your mom wouldn’t be so mean if your dad were here. So I got him for you!”
“Oh my god,” Tommy said, and he gagged on something wet in his throat. I could feel my cheeks grow hot. I thought I had done a good thing, but now I wasn’t so sure. I began to feel embarrassed. I wished I were back home again.
Tommy’s mother looked at me in utter horror, her nauseous eyes rolling around in her head. “Tommy,” she began, her eyes still on me, “what is…going on?”
Tommy shook his head. “It was Jack, Mom!” He pointed at me. “Jack dug up Daddy!”
Her eyes bounced back and forth between Tommy and me, having trouble processing what was unfolding before her.
“I went and got Tommy’s dad for him!” I said. “So you would be nicer!”
Tommy’s lifeless father sat motionless in his chair, but then his head toppled forward and smashed against the tabletop with a sickening crunch.
“I’m losing my mind,” Tommy’s mother said. “No way that thing is talking out loud. No way.”
“Jack is real!” Tommy shouted. “He’s my best friend!”
“You’re a monster,” she said to her son, her voice almost unrecognizable through her clenched teeth. She grabbed the phone off the wall and dialed three numbers. “They’ll lock you up for this,” she continued, her mind unable to process that I had been the one to confess. “I’m calling the police. I’ll let them tell me what’s happening.”
I shot across the room and wrapped my neck around her wrist. I yanked hard and the phone went flying out of her hand. With the phone in pieces I sprung toward her again, this time wrapping my spring around her neck.
“Stop being mean to Tommy!” I shouted. “I’m his best friend and I won’t let you treat him the way you do!” She tried to speak – to scream – but my grip on her neck was tight. Her face grew pink, and then red, and the life began vacating her eyes.
“Jack, no!” Tommy screamed. “Leave her alone!”
But I didn’t stop. My grip remained tight. I’d decided right then and there that I would no longer let her treat Tommy the way she did. I was going to make sure she never said another mean thing.
Tommy pulled on my spring, but all it did was tighten my grip around his mother’s neck. She soon became dead weight and I untangled myself from her. She fell to the ground.
Tommy launched to her lifeless side and cried for her. “Why did you do it, Jack?” He was sobbing now. “Why?”
“So we could play together forever,” I explained. “Why are you mad at me?”
“I hate you!” Tommy screamed at me. “Go away!”
“You don’t mean that,” I said. “You’re just mad.”
Tommy climbed to his feet and grabbed me roughly. He walked me toward the cellar steps. “I’m throwing you in the furnace,” he said. “I’m burning you into ashes.”
“Tommy, no!” I pleaded. “Please, I was only trying to help!”
Tommy threw open the cellar door with a squeal and his footfalls echoed off the dingy stairwell walls. I begged for my life, but Tommy would not hear me. He only continued walking down the steps.
Out of desperation, I sprung out of the box and wrapped myself around the banister. Tommy made it just a few more steps down before he could go no further.
“Let go, Jack!” he said and pulled on me.
“Please!” I begged. “Give me another chance!”
Tommy grunted and pulled harder and harder, and I could feel myself losing my grip. Finally, I was ripped from the banister, the force of which caused Tommy to fly backwards off the steps and land with a thud on the concrete floor. His body minutely shuffled, but he did not get to his feet.
I clomped down the remaining steps and jumped to his side.
“Tommy!” I shouted. “You’ll be okay! Just hang in there!”
Blood flowed from an unseen wound on the back of Tommy’s head. He didn’t speak, but the pain in his eyes dripped with betrayal. Soon after, they dripped with nothing at all. His breathing stopped, and his chest settled.
I was alone again.
I squeezed myself back into my box and shut the lid above me.
I wished to be back home, next to Tommy’s other toys in his bedroom closet.
I cried, alone in the dark.
Why does this keep happening to me?