Flash Fiction Friday: Tony the Bear by Brian LeTendre
TODAY’S BREW: Celebratory Pumpkin Spice Latte, a rarely enjoyed treat. IT’S MY BIRTHDAY, BABIES!
It’s my 38th birthday today! In honor of this, most blessed day, I bring to you a short story by our friend Brian LeTendre. This story is so cool, partly because it’s based in truth, and partly because it reminds me of the kind of horror I read and watched growing up. Because yeah, I watched and read horror growing up.
Also, now announcing FLASH FICTION FRIDAYS! Every Friday we’ll be hosting a chosen writer’s flash fiction piece. And when we pick you, we’ll say YOU HAVE BEEN CHOSEN.
Tony the Bear
by Brian LeTendre
“How in the world did your room get to be such a mess, buddy?” I asked my four-year old son as I got him dressed for daycare a few weeks earlier. It was hard to believe that a three-foot tall, 28 pound kid could have created such disorder. We had picked up his room together the night before, just like his mother or I did with him every night before he went to bed.
Toys were scattered everywhere, board game pieces all over the place—it looked like someone threw dynamite in his toy box, and what I was witnessing was the aftermath of the explosion.
My son looked up at me annoyed, his blue eyes almost hidden behind his tousled hair. “Dad,” he replied exasperated, “it wasn’t me, it was Tony.”
“Tony who?” I asked, thinking he was just throwing out the name of one of his daycare friends.
“Tony the bear dad,” he replied. “He lives in my closet.”
“You mean like one of your stuffed animals?” I said, pointing to one of several plush bears, wolves dinosaurs and superheroes he had lying around.
He rolled his eyes as if he was explaining something to a baby. “No, dad. A bear. A big, brown bear. Like the ones that live in the woods.”
I smiled, remembering that I too had an imaginary friend when I was a kid. Of course, I grew up in the 80’s, so my imaginary friend was a ninja named Whisperkill. He showed up right about the time I started getting my ass kicked by the neighborhood bullies on my way home from Catholic school every day. I wanted him to teach me martial arts, but he was more into stealth. Mostly, he just taught me how to avoid the bullies. Come to think of it, he kind of sucked at being a ninja.
“Tony the bear, huh?” I mused. “Well you tell Tony that next time he comes over to play he needs to help pick up, too. Just because he’s a wild animal doesn’t mean he can be a slob, too.”
“All right, Dad, I’ll tell him,” he conceded, and then bolted out of the room, arms spread like an airplane and making jet noises all the way.
“We need to get out of this neighborhood,” my wife sighed as she flipped through the local section of the Sunday paper the other day. “Seven break-ins over the last three months in our neighborhood. Ridiculous. In this his latest one they even killed an old lady!”
I took a long sip from my cartoonishly huge coffee cup so she wouldn’t see me roll my eyes. She had wanted to move out of the city for years, but I loved it. More importantly, I loved our house. Compared to the duplex I grew up in, the place was a castle. Sure, the crime rate was terrible–it was the city, for crying out loud.
But there was no arguing with her, and wasn’t taking the bait. I stood up. “I’m going to go see if the boy wants to come grocery shopping with me.”
That answer seemed to satisfy her, so I made my escape and headed upstairs. As I rounded the corner of the landing, I could hear my son’s voice coming from his room.
Smiling to myself, I tiptoed over to his door, which was only open an inch.
“I think there’s some pizza left in the fridgerator,” I heard him say. “I’ll try and sneak some when I go to bed tonight.”
I peeked through the crack of the door. My son was sitting on his floor, action figure in hand. He was staring toward his closet, head tilted slightly. Like he was listening to something.
“Okay,” he finally said, and then looked directly at me. Hi Dad!”
I actually jumped a bit. Had he known I was there along?
“Hey pal,” I said tentatively as I opened the door. Scanning the room for who knows what, I found it completely empty, except for my son.
“What’s going on, dad?” he asked. “Do you want to play?”
“Who were you talking to, buddy?” I asked.
“Tony,” he replied casually.
I strolled over to the closet, which was wide open, and peered inside. Nothing.
“Yeah dad,” he said, smiling. “Tony visits me all the time. He’s even been helping me keep my room clean, just like you told me.”
There was a part of me that was starting to get a little concerned, but the kid did have a point. His room had been spotless since that morning a few weeks ago.
There are worse things than imaginary bears who help kids pick up their toys, I decided.
“Come on pal,” I said as I scooped the little guy off the floor and threw him over my shoulder. “We’re going to the grocery store. Maybe we’ll even grab some snacks for Tony.”
“Awesome!” he exclaimed.
Last night at about 2am, I was awoken from a dead sleep by a loud THUMP.
The noise came from upstairs, and in my half-conscious state, I assumed my son had either fallen out of bed or had a nightmare. I looked over at my wife and she was dead to the world, the foam plugs she wore to drown out my snoring tucked into her ears.
“Don’t worry, I’ll get this one,” I murmured as I threw off my covers and stumbled toward the hallway. A bolt of pain shot through my foot as I smashed my toe on the side of the nightstand. “Son of a bitch,” I said through gritted teeth.
I hobbled up the stairs and made my way to his bedroom. The door was open, and by the greenish glow of the night light next to his bed, I saw him stirring but still apparently asleep.
I figured he either put himself back in bed after falling out, or I dreamt whatever noise I thought I heard. I lingered in his doorway for a few more minutes, just to be sure he was actually asleep, and then I shuffled back to bed.
Upon waking in the morning, I went up to check on my son and was dismayed once again to find his room a complete disaster.
“I thought we talked about this, pal,” I said exasperated. “Why is this room such a mess again?”
“It wasn’t me, dad! It was Tony!” he replied sincerely. “He knocked all my stuff over last night when he took the bad man out of here.”
Those last few words me stopped me in my tracks—took the bad man out of here.
“What do you mean, ‘the bad man’?” I asked cautiously.
“Last night,” he replied matter-of-factly.“I waked up and saw a man in the hallway. He looked at me and came in my room. I was gonna yell for you and mommy, but then Tony came and took him into my closet.”
I remembered the noise that woke me up the night before, but immediately dismissed the thought of someone actually being in the house. I was now more concerned that my four year old could come up with something so disturbing. This imaginary friend thing was getting out of hand.
I knelt down near the closet and put my hand on the door, looking at my son. “Buddy, I know that Tony the bear is your friend, but he’s just pretend. There’s really not a bear living in your closet.”
I opened the door so he could see inside. “See, pal? No bear.”
“Tony is real, Dad!” he insisted, tears starting to well in his eyes. I stood up and faced the closet. “He’s not, pal,” I said as soothingly as I could. “Tony—”
And then I saw them.
Five quarter-inch wide scratch marks, about six inches long, a little more than halfway up the inside of the closet door.
I looked closer. The marks weren’t deep, but they were definitely made by something sharp. I didn’t remember ever seeing them before, but truth be told, I never really examined my son’s closet that closely.
I started moving the clothes on the rack out of the way, feeling around the space of the closet. I wasn’t sure what I was looking for, but the walls were all still there. I stood back up, feeling kind of silly.
That is, until I saw the blood on my hand.
I checked my hand quickly for cuts (there were none), then ran over to my son’s toy box and grabbed his tiger-headed flashlight. I ran back to the closet and started poking around, and gasped at what the small beam of the flashlight had just illuminated—a slightly smeared, adult-sized bloody handprint on the side wall of the closet. It almost looked like someone had tried to grip the wall itself and failed. The print trailed off as it met the seam of the back wall.
As I stood there frozen, a wave of horror starting to wash over me. I’d forgotten my son was still there, until he came over and put his hand on my arm.
“See, Dad,” he said. “Tony took the bad man away.”
COOL, RIGHT? Now go check out Brian at http://t.co/VN2npjQuvp, and follow him on Twitter @BrianLeTendre.