Take My Hand
He. It. That thing.
Twigs cracked. Footsteps. It's coming.
"Are you there daddy?" asked a little voice.
John's wheezed as he ran through the forest. He was a runner, why was he wheezing? Couldn't he outrun his six-year-old?
But it wasn't just his six-year-old. It was something else.
John leaned against a tree and dry heaved. How much longer could he go?
"Ready or not here I come," chimed the little voice.
How was it keeping up? Stupid question, he'd watched in horrified-shock as it killed their whole campsite. Tossed adults around like stuffed animals. Crushed them on the ground to see what was inside.
And the worst part, this was his boy. That's what his eyes were telling him, but he couldn't reconcile it. None of it made sense.
John pushed off the tree, huffing. One foot in front of another. Back to the cars. Back to people. He shuffled into a clearing and spun around.
The road, it was here. He should be able to see it.
"I see you daddy," giggled the voice.
An old pine shook. Its base was a pile of pinecones, pine needles, and branches.
A thumb pushed out between the needles.
"He put in his thumb," sang the childish voice. "And pulled out a plum."
It pushed its hand through the brush. Hand extended, telling John to stop.
"What a good boy am I!" It cheered.
It ducked its head through.
John swallowed the choking saliva in the back of his throat. It had the short, dark hair of his son, his brown eyes, even the baby cheeks.
"Chris?" John asked the creature-child.
"It's time for daddy to go now," John said, voice shaking.
"But I don't want you to go; I want you to play with me. I can't play with anyone else. They're all broken."
"You don't want to break me, do you?" John asked, taking a step back. Knees shaking.
Chris' nose scrunched, it was his thinking look. The same look he had on his face Thursday night when John was helping him with his math homework.
"I don't want you to be broken daddy. I want you to come with me."
Chris held out his hand.
John grimaced at the peace offering. An hour ago, he'd seen that harmless-looking hand pull out a man's throat.
"I can't do it myself," Chris said.
"You can't do what yourself?" John asked.
"I can't take Bobby home, he lives across the road. He sleeps in the cemetery."
Chris pushed his opened hand closer. It was pale, corpse-like.
"Can you hold my hand? I can't cross the road without an adult," Chris said.
The air was cold around them. A flurry of snow whisked past.
John looked down at his son. Was he possessed? John's heart pounded. Was that even possible?
He would do anything for his son. That was the answer of yesterday, before the camp and carnage.
Could he walk this evil thing home? Wasn't that a small price for his son's life?
John took Chris' hand. Chris' fingers were icicles. The loving look in his face felt forced like a hug after punishment.
"This way," Chris said, pulling his hand.
Chris walked quietly. John's hand was so cold. He couldn't feel his fingers.
The forest opened to an old, overgrown gravel road. Grass grew up in patches and the stones had long been pressed into the mud leaving little tread.
Across the road was a church. The timbers of the roof had caved in. The round, stained glass window had fallen inward, making the glass-depicted angel look as if it were hung.
Before the church was an old cemetery. No grave stones, just rickety wooden crosses whose nails had loosened so their cross sections had fallen off or swung in the wind.
"I can't cross the road without you. Bobby needs an adult to cross the road," Chris said.
They stepped into the road. Step by step, John felt his grip on Chris' hand warm.
They reached the other side and Chris let go of John's hand. John followed him through the cemetery. Chris stopped at a grave and straighten its crooked cross. With his index finger, he outlined the 'B' carved into the top of the cross.
"Bobby is asleep now," Chris said "He won't hurt anyone anymore, he promised."
John dropped to his knees. Chris' voice sounded normal. He reached out and touched his hand. It was warm.
John wanted to cry. He wanted to nestle his son in his arms and weep, but this graveyard was no place for joy.
John's eyes darted to the graves around them. Was this where the kids were playing last night?
A cold wind brushed passed and the cross Chris had straightened leaned crooked again.