Adam and Jacob curled up on an armchair dressed in black suits and shiny shoes. Lights out, television bright, burnt shadows flickering against the wall. Jacob clung to his toy phone. Adam stared at the television but did not watch it. He could not shake the image of the beetle shell coffin lowering into the ground from his mind, knowing Anne, his wife, and Jacob’s mother lay inside leaving them in relentless darkness.
‘Can I still talk to Mommy?’ asked Jacob, voice cracking with emotions he could barely understand.
‘We’ve talked about this, haven’t we? Remember what Father Finnegan said -’
‘We pray. But I don’t like praying.’
‘I don’t think God will let her. I tried to pray, but Mommy didn’t talk back.’
Adam clung to Jacob tighter.
‘Daddy is God dead too?’ asked Jacob looking up.
Adam shook his head, said no, even though he had considered it himself.
‘She watches from Heaven; she’s watching us right now.’
Jacob slid down to the edge of the seat, breaking the hold. He took his blazer off, pulled at his tie, and stretched it down, it tightened into a knot Jacob struggled to undo.
Adam shifted down to Jacob’s level then placed a pair of soft hands over Jacob’s and wrangled with it until loose.
‘I’m going to ring Mommy tonight on her phone. She’ll know then, Mommy always looking at it.’
Adam rose to his feet, walked to the kitchen, and poured himself a glass of water.
‘Jacob, I think it’s your bedtime now.’
Adam lifted his son and carried him to the bedroom with Jacob’s arms wrapped around his neck. Soon his son would be too big for this.
Teeth brushed. Bedclothes chose. Lion in one hand, a toy phone held tight in the other, Jacob lay in bed waiting for his father. Adam bent down to kiss his son goodnight, Jacob held up the teddy first, ‘kiss Lion, then me.’
Adam did so.
‘Yes,’ replied Adam as he stepped towards the door.
‘Do you think Mommy still knows she’s my bestest friend?’
‘Of course, she does.’ Replied Adam, he then blew a kiss, turned out the light, and closed the door. Turned. Adam Leaned against the door, closed his, and packed the pain into a box and buried it somewhere at the back of his mind.
Adam awoke with a night of tears dried on his face. He showered then dressed. He combed his black hair into a side parting just as Anne liked it.
Jennifer, Jacob’s nanny would be in soon. As much as he wanted to stay at home, mourning would not pay the bills. At least, at work, he could vent his anger, far away from Jacob.
Poking his head around the door of Jacob’s bedroom, Jacob sat on the window seat with his toy phone to his ear, looking out towards the surrounding trees and a lake just behind the house.
Adam sat next to Jacob.
‘Don’t worry; I’ll tell Daddy.’
‘Tell me what?’
‘Shhh, I’m on the phone,’ sighed Jacob, shaking his head. He paused. Nodded. ‘Okay, I’ll tell Daddy.’
‘Tell me what, Jacob?’
‘Mommy said, don’t forget your house keys.’
A chill cut through Adam. His mouth turned dry. The strength ran from his legs leaving him weak. Just for a moment, he believed that Anne was on the other end of the phone before a thought entered his mind. Anne reminded him daily about his keys. Adam sometimes didn’t bother with them in the knowledge that Anne would be home long before him; there to greet him at the door with a kiss. Jacob would have seen this ritual every day. The poor boy just wanted what he wanted, for everything to be back to normal. That was all. Adam hugged Jacob tight.
‘Of course, I’ll remember, you’ll be there to give me a hug when I get home, won’t you Jacob?’
Jacob said nothing.
Adam pulled into the driveway and found another car in his spot. Adam parked up behind it, locked his car and entered his home. Jennifer waited just inside the door.
‘What’s going on, Jennifer? Whose car is it parked outside?’
‘Mr. Murkowski’s waiting for you in the living room. Jacob’s upstairs. He’s sorry so that you know.’
‘Jacob is. But you’d better let Mr. Murkowski talk to you first. Before you do, just know I love Jacob, and you know that. I had no idea what he was doing. One minute he was there and the next. Poof. He was gone. Andy was with him.’
‘Mr. Murkowski’s son?’
Adam took his coat off, hung it on the coat stand, and went to the living room.
Mr. Murkowski stood waiting he was a good five inches taller than Adam’s six foot. Adam reached out and shook hands with Larry Murkowski.
‘Can I offer you a drink, Larry? Take a seat.’ Adam went to ask Jennifer to give them a moment to find she had already gone.
‘No thanks, Adam, not today. I’ll get straight to the point because I don’t know any other way of going about it.’ Said Larry as pulled out his cigarettes with trembling hands, pulled one out, and lit it. He smoked between words, ‘I’m a widower, I know how you feel.’
Adam doubted Larry knew how he felt at this moment. In fact, he felt it impossible. How any man loved his wife was different from the next.
‘Andy took it hard. He got angry. Only natural. He lashed out. Swore. Acted out but nothing too bad. Nothing I couldn’t forgive him for.’
‘What happened, Larry?’
Larry Murkowski’s shoulders heaved as he fetched a deep sigh.
‘I was driving down here to pick up Andy from a playdate with Jacob. Thought with everything going on, Jacob could do with a friend right now. I’d arranged it with Jennifer, and she said you wouldn’t have minded. Anyway, one minute they’re playing on the sidewalk, I see Jacob take a step back then run at Andy before he pushed him right into the road as another car was coming down there like a guided missile. That guy must’ve seen Andy on the road just in time to hit the brakes and thank Jesus he did. He swung the car round to stop himself from hitting Andy. Now he must’ve thought it was his fault because he came flying out of that car to see if Andy was all right. I took the guy to one side, explained that it was an accident, no one’s fault. God knows how I would’ve coped if he hadn’t of stopped in time. I couldn’t cope without Andy and Betty. I tried to sit Jacob down to what was going on and why he did it.’
‘Did he explain why?’
Larry took a deep draw of his cigarette.
‘Well, here comes the odd part and the part I don’t expect you to believe, but I’ll say this, you need to take the boy to see a counsellor, see if you can’t help him deal with his grief better.’
‘With all due respect, Larry, I know how to deal with my son.’
‘Adam, I need you to listen for your sake as well as Jacob’s. He said to me that all mother’s need to be with their children. He said Betty had told him on the phone. Now I’m going to leave it at that Adam, but you’ll understand if Andy doesn’t come around for a while, won’t you? He’s pretty shaken up.’
They shook hands and Adam showed Larry the door and said that he was sorry for what Jacob had done. Then closed the door. Before rushing up the stairs without as much as a thought of how he would handle the situation. But one thing was for sure; the phone had to go. It wasn’t healthy. Adam got to the top of the stairs and stopped. He heard Jacob talking.
‘Mommy, I don’t think Andy wants to be my friend anymore.’
Later that night, Adam snuck into Jacob’s room as he slept. Reached out and slipped the plastic phone from Jacob’s grip. Adam didn’t feel right doing it. Sneaking back downstairs, Adam decided against putting it in the bin in case Jennifer would think it was there by accident. Knowing it was Jacob’s favorite toy she’d only be inclined to fish it out for him. No. It had to go far from here. As he held it, he could feel something off-kilter about it. He couldn’t have put it into words with a gun to his head. It just felt wrong. Cold, but not to the touch but in how it made him feel.
He felt dread. He felt death closer than he had ever had before. It was there, in that little plastic toy phone. Adam grabbed a coat, left the house, leaving the door locked. He traveled down to the lake and looked out to the still waters. Adam cocked his arm back and cast the phone as far as he could.
He went home, but he couldn’t sleep. The phone would not leave his thoughts. It rang in his dreams.
Adam woke, washed, and got ready for work. His eyes felt heavy, his body was beaten.
Padding by Jacob’s room with lead-filled feet, he heard talking. He pressed his ear against the door and listened.
‘I thought you were gone, mommy. I got scared. Are you scared? You said it was dark where you live. You said it was cold. Did you want a blanket? I can bring you a blanket if you want?’
Adam held his breath and pushed the door open, his hand never leaving the handle, he slipped into the room.
Jacob sat there with his back turned to the door, grey light filtering in through the window, a pink phone held to his ear. The thin black cord was laying like a snake on the floor.
Jacob rested the handset on his shoulder, the speaker pressed against the fabric of his nightshirt, and cocked his head over to meet Adam’s gaze.
‘Mommy needs me.’
Then turned back to face the window, not saying a word, the phone still pressed to his shoulder.
It occurred to Adam that his son would not speak until he had his privacy.
‘Love you, son, stay away from the road, okay? See you when I get home.’
Nothing. Jacob now understood God’s language, silence.
Backing away, Adam left the room without another word.
Jennifer waited as Adam’s footfalls chopped down the stairs.
‘I didn’t see you there, Jennifer.’
‘It’s okay; you look like you’ve had enough already. Are you okay, Mr. Brown?’
Adam nodded with pursed lips. ‘Can you keep an extra close eye on Jacob today for me?’
Hurt registered in Jennifer’s eyes, her face fell, her smile faded like a dying star.
‘I told you, Mr. Brown, that I honestly had no idea where he and Andy had disappeared to. They’re little ninjas. I am sorry about what happened.’
Adam shook his head, stepped down to Jennifer’s level and patted her hand. ‘I know it’s not your fault, I mean it. But what I mean is just keep an eye on him and the phone. I didn’t expect all this to be easy for him, but I didn’t expect him to act like this either.’
A ghost of Jennifer’s smile returned. ‘Okay, I’ll hide his phone up for the day.’
Adam glanced away. ‘I’ve already taken care of that. But he’s now using an old phone I thought we’d thrown away. I worry about him. I know it’s hard, but this is getting unhealthy.’
Adam rolled up his sleeve and checked the time.
‘Crap. I’m running late. Keep a close eye on him will you and talk to him. He always listened to his mother more. Maybe he’ll listen to you more than me.’
‘He’s got Lion if he won’t talk to us. Better than a phone don’t you think?’
Adam shrugged his shoulders then turned. He reached the door, stepped out, and then drew himself back in before he left for work.
‘Thank you, Jennifer. Really.’
Adam rushed home, foot pressed down, running through red lights, weaving through traffic, begging beneath his breath. What had possessed Jacob to do it? Was it an accident? He played the blurted phone conversation with Jennifer over in his mind. She made no sense. All he gathered was that he had to be at home.
Adam flinched as an Ambulance wailed past him in a flurry of lights. Adam turned left, the ambulance just ahead. It turned right. The same way Adam needed to go. Then down the straight road, then right again. Adam’s gut lurched forward as he traveled in the ambulances slipstream. He knew where it was heading.
His house came into view. People had gathered on either side of the street. Curtains flickered. Adam pulled up behind the ambulance outside his house with screeching brakes.
Swinging the car door open, wrestling with the seat belt to escape to the sidewalk. Larry Murkowski’s car jutted out at an awkward angle. Fence collapsed. Grass ripped. The smell of hot brakes and oil hung in the air. Jessica sat on the edge of the step of the ambulance’s cab. Her head cocked back as an Emergency Technician checked her over.
Adam’s legs wobbled, his chest turned cold, the hairs on his neck rose. Larry leaned against his car holding a wad of tissue to his nose. His eyes were already bruising. Cuts adorned his head. Adam prepared himself for the worse.
Larry looked up, burst into tears and staggered forward with his arms outstretched.
Adam flinched and stepped back, but Larry moved faster, wrapped his arms around Adam.
Larry snorted then wiped his eyes on his sleeve as he released Adam then held him at arm’s length. ‘I’m sorry, Adam, I am.’
‘I didn’t see him, honest. I called the ambulance.’
A feeling of dread punched Adam in the gut, winding him.
‘What have you done, Larry? What the hell have you done?’ Said, Adam, as he pressed forward but Larry held him at arm’s length, refusing to let Adam move forward. Looking over Larry’s shoulder, Adam saw Jacob on the floor like a broken toy. Fury rose melting fear. Yanking Larry towards him with a snarl, ‘you! You did this on purpose, didn’t you?, Didn’t you!’
Holding his hands up, Larry protested before Adam yanked Larry up until his toes dragged along the road, before throwing him to the ground. ‘You’re not worth it.’
Larry’s arm rose, propping himself on one arm and reached out to Adam with the other as he lay.
‘Wait! You’ve got to hear me first!’
Adam wasn’t listening. He ran over to Jacob’s still form laying in the garden. The emergency response a flurry of wires, bandages, and rubber gloves. Adam felt the bile rise in his gut towards his throat. Adam saw one of them look over her shoulder and at him.
‘You the father?’
Adam nodded as he stepped closer.
‘No,’ said the Emergency Technician rising to her feet then towards Adam. ‘We’re doing everything we can.’
‘Will he be okay?’ Adam’s words tumbled from his mouth.
‘As I’ve said, we’re doing everything we can. Once we can get him to breathe, we’ll be better for it. You can help us by getting him a bag ready and staying as calm as possible.’
Adam nodded. He felt useless. But. If he couldn’t be at Jacob’s side then maybe Lion could.
‘I’ll go and get a bag ready now. Can he have his teddy with him, he might respond if he knows Lion’s there.’
The Emergency Technician nodded, ‘but let me give it to him then you won’t be in the way of us saving him.’
Without another word, Adam sidestepped the scene, looking down at Jacob, silently praying as he passed. The door shuddered as Adam breezed through towards the stairs clearing two to three steps at a time. He turned at the landing and entered into Jacob’s room. He picked up the SpongeBob Squarepants rucksack and ransacked the drawers for pyjama’s, socks, and T-shirts. Then onto the toy boxes for small toys, he could smuggle into the hospital.
He ignored the ring of the house phone.
It was too loud to be from downstairs, the only phone in the house.
Adam turned and looked at the dull pink phone laying in the center of the room.
Alone and disconnected.
Adam edged over to it. Looked at it for a moment trying to ascertain whether he imagined it or not. Adam bent down, picked it up and answered it.
‘Anne, is that you?’
‘He belongs to me.’
Adam gripped the phone, ‘No, Anne, he doesn’t. Did you make this happen? Did you cause all this?’
‘He belongs to me.’
Adam’s jaw shuddered, his hands shook, the phone rattled against his ear as he tried to hold it still, his words trembled as he spoke.
‘Don’t take him away, Anne. I’m begging you. Don’t take him away from life. He’s just a little boy. He’s not seen the world yet. He still believes Santa comes down a chimney every Christmas. That a fairy takes away his teeth for money. He still thinks there’s a monster waiting to get him in the closet at night. Don’t be that monster, Anne; I beg you. Jesus Christ, Anne I’m begging you. Don’t take away Jacob. Please. Let him grow up. Be a boy. A teen. A man. Let him live his life as we meant him to. We’ll all be back together one day, I promise. I swear on it. But let us live first. Please, Anne. Please? He doesn’t belong to us. He belongs to the world, don’t you think?’
Silence down the phone. A spiralling silence drew out like a knife.
The line went dead.
‘No Anne! Please wait!’ cried Adam down the phone, holding the receiver to his heart, ‘Don’t take him away.’
Adam slumped to his backside and clung to the phone so tight his the blood left his knuckles.
The silence felt as long as death.
‘He’s breathing!’ a voice shouted from outside.
Then an eruption of cheers.
Dropping the phone, it clattered to the floor with an empty echo. Grabbing Lion and the rucksack, Adam chopped down the stairs to see his son. The Emergency Technician swung round and stopped Adam before he came too close.
‘He’s breathing, and that’s good. But he’s not cleared the woods just yet.’
‘He will. I know that now.’ Replied Adam, silently thanking Anne.
Adam hopped in the back of the Ambulance five minutes after the paramedics had Jacob secure on a stretcher, hushing Jacob as he tried to talk.
‘No. Jacob, it can wait.’
‘No Jacob. You need to rest. I love you, and your Mommy loves you. But she wants you to keep to praying after this. No more telephones.’
Jacob licked his lips and pulled the oxygen mask away from his mouth, ‘I know, Mommy told me over that radio…’
Adam looked over at the ambulance’s radio as it fizzed, crackled, and then silent.
‘I know Mommy’s safe now. I feel tired, Daddy. I want to sleep.’
‘Stay awake until the ambulance people tell you that it’s okay to sleep. Okay?’
‘One more thing, Daddy.’
‘It can wait, Jacob. You need to rest. Here’s Lion.’
‘But…Mr. Murkowski’ Said Jacob as he took Lion and hugged him.
Adam looked to Jacob, reached over, held his hand and never let go.
‘I’m glad he’s okay, Adam. Andy’s been worrying about him for the last couple of days. Sorry, hang on.’ Larry Murkowski wrapped his hand around the receiver and cocked his ear towards the ceiling before taking his hand away to talk. ‘Yeah, sorry about that. I keep hearing a noise from upstairs. Anyway, mind if me and Andy drop by once Jacob’s better?’
Larry nodded. Paused. ‘Uh-uh. That’s great. Sorry, Adam, I keep hearing phones ringing from the attic. Sounds nuts doesn’t it. Only one up there is disconnected, I had enough of being disturbed at night…I’m sure I disconnected it…hang on; I’ll be back in a minute…’
Rob Teun writes horror, sc-fi and fantasy. He lives in Lincolnshire with his family.
You can follow Rob on Twitter @rob_teun