Credit: K. Alexanderson via flickr.com
“I told you to stop hounding us about &#%$ trick or treating, didn’t I? DIDN’T I?!”
The side of my head slammed onto the musty floor of my bedroom, a jolt of pain ripping through my skull. I didn’t have a chance to see if my thin vinyl skeleton costume had torn after my dad shoved me; luckily my plastic mask with the elastic band was safely on my bed.
I looked up at him, glimpsing the Jack-o’-lantern decoration behind him that my mom had put on my door. A smiling black cat, part of the combo pack that she bought last month, looked out over us from the wall above my top bunk. I loved waking up to the sight of it each morning, one day closer to the big night.
I nodded quickly. “Yes.”
“Speak up, &$#%! Act like a man for once in your pathetic life!”
But I wasn’t a man. I was a 7-year-old who lived in terror of when my dad’s next tantrum would come. It was like being in the middle of the calm sea in a row boat, not knowing when the next big storm would come and capsize my world.
Dad, I love you, I wanted to say. We all do. Mom, Michael, Kay. But I didn’t dare. It would have made things so much worse to speak out like that.
He picked up my plastic orange trick-or-treat bag with the cut-out handles that we had gotten for free at the mall. A grinning Jack-o’-lantern sat on top of the block letters that spelled out Safety First.
“You think you’re going trick-or-treating tonight? Huh?!” He tore the bag apart like it was tissue paper.
Tears trickled down my face. Through my blurred vision, I watched my dad throw the pieces of my bag at me. I wiped my eyes with my costume sleeve, the smell of vinyl filling my nostrils.
“Get up, you piece of *&#$!” My dad kicked me in my thigh, the nerves screaming out and shooting straight to my brain. I yelped like a defenseless dog.
“Bruce! You’re hurting him!” It was my mom’s high, pleading voice. Knowing that she would be my dad’s new target for a while, I cried harder.
My mom’s intrusion made him even angrier, but instead of hitting her, my dad grabbed a clump of my light brown hair and pulled upward with ease; compared to his 240-pound flabby frame, I was a rag doll. With my head and leg throbbing, I leaped up to stop the excruciating pain that pulsed through my scalp.
“Bruce, stop it! You’re acting like a crazy man!” she screamed, pulling at my dad’s thick arm.
I dropped to my knees, too frightened to stand up. The pieces of my trick-or-treat bag littered the floor near me; part of the Jack-o’-lantern’s stretched-out face covered a section of my Hot Wheels race track. I wanted to disappear into the cardboard grandstands among all the tiny spectators.
Did he really just slap my mom’s glasses off and grab her around the neck? The scene before me had a dreamy, yellowish tint to it, like the dreadful calm outside the window just before the twister passed over our neighborhood last summer.
I didn’t know why my mom purposely stepped in the path of the beast that lived inside my dad. She always ended up getting hurt worse than I did.
My younger sister and brother were hiding somewhere, probably in my sister’s room behind her dresser. I didn’t blame them; I hid on my top bunk whenever my sister got in trouble, which wasn’t as often. I guess I was a worse child than she was.
I should have let my mom eat dinner in peace instead of asking her twice about trick-or-treating tonight. It was Halloween, though, and my classroom party today made me even more anxious about going around the neighborhood with my mom and sister, complete with our costumes, flashlights, and bags.
My dad grabbed my arm and yanked me to my feet. I felt his powerful fingers dig into my skin. With his other hand, he pinned me to the upper sideboard of the bunk bed by my throat. I suddenly felt embarrassed wearing my costume at that moment, like the sissy that my dad always called me.
“Why are you such a $#@&*? Huh?!”
I got a whiff of my clean, crisp bed sheets as my dad’s grip tightened. I tried to say I don’t know. I’m sorry, but no matter how hard I tried, the words did not come out of my mouth.
“Answer me, &%@$#!”
“Bruce, you’re going to kill him!”
The grip on my neck loosened, and I collapsed on the floor, gasping and clutching my neck. I heard repeated slaps and then my mom let out an eerie whining sound. If I ever found myself inside a real haunted house, I bet the ghosts would sound just like that because it was the most chilling sound that I had ever heard in person.
The flat ding of the doorbell echoed from the cheap speaker in the hallway. Some kid was probably standing on our porch with a smile beneath his mask, maybe holding his mom’s hand – or his dad’s.
I wouldn’t know because I stayed in my room the rest of the night until my mom sneaked in later to tuck me in, sobbing the whole time. She let me wear my costume to bed with my grinning skeleton mask beside me on my pillow.
The periodic sound of the doorbell and the fear of my dad bursting into my room again kept me awake for a while. I clutched my mask and waited for sleep to come.
(I was urged by a friend to enter this in the WordPress Weekly Writing Challenge.)