The Boy

A Short Story

The boy would be safe here, tucked up inside the toy cupboard. Surely, he would be safe.

He had no idea what was going on outside now that Mummy and Daddy had stopped screaming, and the men had stopped shouting. The remaining sounds, the snarls and the wet ripping noises, were alien to him, made more terrifying by their relative quiet in comparison to the storm of screams that had gone before.

It had all happened so suddenly. He’d been tucked up in bed, sound asleep and snuggling into Mr. Ted, when his mother burst into the room. He’d bolted upright as she snatched him up from his bed and pulled him close to her shaking body. Her neck was slicked with a sheen of salty sweat that stung his sleepy eyes. Her breathing was heavy and ragged as she shushed him, although he hadn’t made a single noise. All he could hear was her whimpering.

Daddy appeared in the doorway. “They’re here. We don’t have time.” He disappeared into the dark house again. Mummy’s whimpering became a little louder, a little less controlled, a little more high-pitched. Everything notched up in tiny degrees, and his confusion turned to fear. From the direction of the kitchen, he could hear furniture being moved around, the heavy wooden table being dragged across the tiled floor.

He cried silently, and Mummy continued to shush herself, perhaps believing she was soothing him. She carried him across the room, as headlights momentarily lit up the window, casting new shadows, before leaving them in the darkness again. She snatched open the door to the toy cupboard, and planted him down inside. She kneeled in front of him and took him by both wrists. Mr. Ted hung uselessly from his left hand.

“Stay here. Be very very quiet, don’t say a word.” She put a finger to her lips, and shushed him once more, before closing the cupboard.

He heard her scurry off in the dark, and everything became silent as time grew elastic. Clocks go slower in the dark, he knew from experience, and so he had no idea how long it was before the first thud at the door. Once the silence was broken, cacophony ensued as the entrances to the house were pummelled. Above it all, he heard the tinkling of broken glass, and that’s when Mummy screamed for the first time.

He heard the noises of a great battle, Mummy and Daddy screaming little more than “No” over and over again, until his mother let out one elongated shriek that didn’t tail off as he expected, but ended quite suddenly, and very finally. The last he heard of his father was a guttural “ugh.”

The men grew quiet, and that’s when the noises started. The ripping noises, the snarls and the slurps. Somewhere in the dark, somebody burped.

Eventually, everything grew quiet. A single pair of heavy footsteps seemed to survey the house until he heard them approach his bedroom. He hid behind Mr. Ted, not as if he could offer any physical or spiritual talismanic defence, but merely in the hope that he might stifle any involuntary noise that may escape him.

Outside the cupboard, the footsteps stopped.