summertime. heat. sky blue, the purest sense of the colour. only one or two lumpy cumulus clouds to be seen. the small boy gamboled along the gently sloping foothills which seemed mountainous from his perspective. the route was familiar though it had been nearly a week since he had last made the leisurely ten minute journey. his hands were free and his feet were covered with his new runners, dad said they made him faster.
about half way there he looked up to see a t-rex then a tricycle and then a mouse as the wind shifted the cloudscape. he chuckled to himself. how could a t-rex end up like something as puny as a mouse? he had a playful look about him, always grinning, the gears always turning in his head.
it was a moment of particular excitement for him because he hadn’t seen his gran in what had seemed like ages in his young memory. they were good pals and he always looked forward to bug hunting, cupcake baking and lawn mowing as a riding passenger. papa had died before he was born and as a result gran was the centre of the grandparental universe. his wee sister was missing out because she was just two and not big enough for such adventures, she was always better left at home.
he knew his gran liked wild flowers so he picked some along the way, finding as many different colours as he could. everything was where he remembered: the hanging flower pots, the birds in their bath, the covered hot tub he wasn’t allowed to go in without a grown up around, the chair swing on the wrap around porch. all of his wonderful exploits came crashing back to him all at once like a wave. he smiled in anticipation.
as he approached the red brick farm house, much bigger on the inside than it ever appeared from outside, he felt a chill. something he was unable to articulate mentally and verbally at this age. he simply knew something was wrong in his tiny gut. as he walked up the steps of the porch he looked at the orange mary-golds, they seemed sad and were looking down as if they’d just been caught stealing cookies from the jar. the red canada-lilies were drooping too. the wee boy snickered. how could flowers ever be in trouble? their job was to smell nice and look pretty, everybody liked them.
at the top of the steps, he was face to face with the sunshine yellow door. he could see the kitchen through the nine square windows evenly spaced above the doorknob but he was too short to see the table and chairs. the fridge, the calendar on the wall and the coat hanger for big people were visible from his stand-point.
the door was never locked but the boy paused before opening it and shouting hello to his gran. where was freeway, the big doggie? freeway was black, brown and white, a basset hound. on days like this freeway was usually running around the yard or lazing about in the sun. he shrugged and figured the dog must’ve been in the house.
he opened the door, no sooner than it was open, the boy was flat on his back and lightly hit the back of his head on the deck. freeway had pounced on him in the usual way, knocking him down. his intentions were good, he was so happy to see the boy’s face he began licking him all over his little nose, mouth, cheeks and ears.
‘hey there boy! hahahahaha. where’s gran, freeway?’
the dog of course said nothing. the boy entered.
looking around, the house was more shadowy than usual. all of the blinds and curtains were shut. it made no sense. gran would know what was going on and would make everything better right away.
‘gran, where are you? the cottage was so much fun. you should have come with us. i went swimming and canoeing and i ate so much bbq and ice cream.’ by this time his shoes were off, the door remained wide open and freeway was off somewhere outside.
as he wondered where she was he smelled a funny smell. something he had never smelled before. it was like pee and poo and that weird spreadable meat mum and dad ate on crackers when they had people visiting, all at the same time. skunks smelled bad and farts smelled bad; gran’s house always smelled like apple pie, timotei shampoo and fresh flowers. the boy made it through the large kitchen and noticed the indoor plants were as sad as the outdoor plants.
he came to the living room entrance and thought he would sit on the couch and wait for gran to come home, there were books he could read or he could watch tv.
he looked up and froze. eyes wide open, mouth gaping.
it was sitting in gran’s chair but it wasn’t gran. it was something he had never seen before and would never see again, not in real life anyway. he stared and stared. nothing could move him from the place in which he was standing nor the position he was in.
the hideous creature had a green face and neck. it had bursting blisters: a series of volcanic eruptions all over its skin like after a very bad sunburn, or so his mum had told him. he always wore his sun cream. the chair was wet and the arms were weird, they were grey on top and purple on the bottom. the hands and feet were blue. the hair was white and falling over into its face. the beast was fat like a giant baby but babies were cute and this thing was scary. its eyes sunken in like ugly cartoon ghosts.
the boy stood there thinking confusedly about things that would be thought about distinctly once age and experience allowed appropriate understanding. he was precocious and yet far too young to grasp what he was seeing, let alone express it for someone else to comprehend. when he read the lord of the flies as a young teenager this image would come back to haunt him in a way in which his peers would be unable to empathise.
it spoke in the same manner as golding’s boar’s head, in the mind of the boy in a trance like state, transfixed on the gruesome likeness.
‘henry, you are safe. i am in you.’
‘what do you mean? why are you here?’
‘i am protecting gran’s house. gran has gone. she is sorry she couldn’t say goodbye.’
‘i don’t understand.’
it didn’t respond.
henry left the room. he opened the fridge and took out a sprite. he walked up the stairs absently like a zombie and went to his room, even his sister was not allowed in there. he smiled slightly upon seeing stuffed animals, other toys and his comfy bed. he drank down half of the sugary drink and climbed onto the duvet. he slept immediately.
it was dusk by the time the boy returned home, he had been gone for hours and freeway was trailing behind. freeway had that look that dogs get when they see a human they like. the boy, however was white as a ghost. he had big dark circles around his sunken eyes, they matched the monster’s in this light.
his mum saw him coming up the path and ran out the side door, his dad immediately followed. ‘hey there stranger, where have you been? we were beginning to worry. you are usually home well before it gets this dark.’
‘i have been at gran’s.’ he replied with a calm unlike henry. ‘she is gone.’
‘what do you mean, henry?’
‘i don’t really know, mum. there was this monster there.’
‘monster?’ to henry’s dad, ‘i wish we’d checked on her when we arrived home yesterday.’
‘it was late, we were all tired and knew henry would see her today,’ his tone was comforting. ‘henry, explain to your mum and i what you saw.’ both parents knelt down to be at the boy’s level.
‘it was like a big baby. green and blue and purple and grey. it had white hair and it was sitting in gran’s chair. it talked to me, told me gran was gone and that she was sorry she didn’t say goodbye. i drank some sprite and fell asleep.’
mum’s hand was over her mouth. it had been since henry had uttered the word baby. dad put an arm around her.
‘what’s wrong, mum? do you think gran will be mad i took a drink from the fridge without asking?’
she was weeping now. ‘no, henry. i’m sure gran won’t mind.’
‘i’ll go over there honey, i’ve got my mobile.’ dad ran.
mum cried and cried. henry was hungry but didn’t want her to cry more so he didn’t tell her. he walked the two paces to her and hugged her, she hugged back.