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Crossing Over

Crossing Over

This was written for Kinsman’s Quarterly Iridescence Award. The prompt was paranormal. This was selected for the semi-finals. Unfortunately, due to a mix-up in Submittable, it didn’t advance.

There was a man on the bus that I couldn’t take my eyes off. He kept shaking and whispering to himself. He was scratching all over. Every time he looked my way, I turned around but my eyes would drift back to his strange ways. I tried asking Mommy about it but she told me, “Mind ya business”.

She hunched over a book, playing with a strand of one of her long braids. Sometimes she would play with the ring Daddy had given her. She said she had to study for a test. I didn’t know what that meant.

I tried to entertain myself by looking around at other people. There was a woman near the front who kept coughing. Another man was sitting in the back. When I turned around, his eyes were locked on me. It scared me so I snatched my eyes away. I peeked back again and the man was looking out the window. He was wearing a black shirt with no sleeves. There was a white skull on it that I thought was kind of cool. But looking at people was getting boring.

I started kicking the chair in front of me but mommy told me to knock it off. Faced with no other options, I went back to staring at the weird man. He was shaking and beating his head now.

“Do you want to help me study?” Mommy asked. I perked up as she spread the book out in my lap. There were animals on the pages. A lot of words too but I didn’t know what they said. They weren’t like the books Mommy and Daddy read to me. Those were fun and had big letters. I pointed to the animals I didn’t recognize and Mommy told me what their names were and how their bodies worked.

“I’m going to take care of animals one day,” Mommy said. My eyes got wide in excitement. I asked if I could help her. She smiled and said, “Of course you can.”

A voice rang out, saying the next stop was Birchwood Community College. I knew what that meant. I got excited and jumped out of my seat, running to the front. Mommy shoved the book back in her backpack and followed me. The first person who walked on had long dreads and was wearing a red jacket. He gave me a big smile and picked me up.

“My little man!” Daddy said, holding me as he showed the bus driver his student ID. Mommy kissed his cheek then mine, telling us she’ll see us later. She told Daddy to actually cook today. Eating out wasn’t allowed.

“Of course baby! We ain’t eating McDonald’s again.” Daddy said, sounding serious but giving me a wink. I winked back. Mommy rolled her eyes but she was smiling. She waved as the bus doors closed. Daddy and I sat down. The man with the skull shirt rushed to the front of the bus, stopping the driver. He said he wasn’t paying attention and almost missed his stop. The driver opened the door and the man stepped off the bus.

I told Daddy about the animals in Mommy’s book and about daycare. I asked why the weird man was acting like that. Daddy told me it was because aliens put weird stuff in his nose. I decided I didn’t trust aliens anymore.

Before long, a voice announced Lee Street. I jumped up and ran towards the front. McDonald’s was on the corner. I ordered the same thing I always did. Chicken nuggets with a slice of cheese on top. Daddy didn’t order anything and paid with some change he dug out of his pockets. I wanted the orange pop but he told me mommy would kill him if I didn’t have something healthy today. So I had to drink water. It felt weird to eat by myself so I gave Daddy one of my chicken nuggets. But only one. 

On the way home, we stopped by the park across the street. I met some kids there. We’re new to the neighborhood so I hadn’t made friends yet. I like this place better. The people weren’t as scary and we didn’t hear loud popping sounds as often. Some kids were playing hide and seek and they let me join. I had climbed a tree to hide, when I saw a guy in a white skull shirt standing by the swings. He was staring at Daddy who had sat on a bench, reading a book. The man looked up as if he had felt my gaze. He turned around and walked away. Then someone grabbed and pulled my leg. Stupid man got me caught.

We had started another round when Daddy told me it was time to go home. I said goodbye to my new friends. We crossed the parking lot to our building. There wasn’t as much trash around as our last building had. The only thing out of place here was an apartment with a broken window. Someone had shoved a basketball into the space.

After we walked the three flights of stairs to get home, Daddy made salad. One for him and one for Mommy. I stood in front of the balcony door, watching for the bus. It came when the clock had a seven on it. My parents had taught me that. And other things too. Like how to spell my name and their names. All the colors. How to count to one hundred. They said I needed to be prepared for school even though I couldn’t go for another year.

A bus came and I saw a short woman with red and blonde braids walk off. I hopped up and down, yelling “Mommy’s home!” Daddy chuckled and grabbed my hand. We went downstairs to meet her at the door. She gave me a big hug, telling me she missed me.

As we were closing the building door to head back upstairs, a man rushed in before it closed. He said he had forgotten his key and thanked us for letting him in. I recognized his shirt immediately. I had a score to settle.

“You got me caught,” I told him. The man whipped around, staring down at me. He had on sunglasses this time so I couldn’t see his eyes. My parents looked between me and the man.

“You know this guy?” My dad asked.

“Naw, naw, man.” The stranger said, “He, uh, I, we just saw each other at the park.” He snapped around and hurried down the hall before I could say anything else.

“Didn’t I tell you to mind ya business?” Mommy chided, but she said it with a smile, running her fingers through my stubby dreads. I couldn’t wait until they were as long as Daddy’s.

“He made me lose at hide and seek.” I said, “This is very serious.” My parents chuckled and we went back home. I heard some loud music in the hallway but it wasn’t as noisy as our last place.

When we reached our door, I thought I felt someone’s eyes on me. But when I looked back I saw no one down the halls. It didn’t matter. It was bathtime and after that, my parents let me watch cartoons while they read their books. They read a lot. They told me it was important to do well in school.

It took about an hour, but my eyes started to droop. I hated when that happened, it meant I would have to go to bed soon. I sat up straight and held my eyes open, hoping my parents wouldn’t notice my hands. But when I heard Mommy laugh, I knew it was over.

“Someone is tired,” Mommy said.

I shook my head. “Not me!”

“Yes, you,” Mommy said, walking over to the small bookcase against the wall. It was shaped like a tiger, my favorite animal. “What do you want to read?”

“Sherlock Paws!” I yelled. Mommy smiled and grabbed the book. “Daddy, are you reading too?”

Daddy smiled, but I think I heard him sigh too. “Of course, I’m reading too. Don’t want to miss out on reading Sherlock Paws for the hundredth time.”

“And we’ll read it a hundred more,” Mommy said, giving Daddy a look.

“Yep, maybe even a thousand times more,” Daddy said, joining us on the couch.

Just as Daddy sat down, a loud bang made us jump. It reminded me of our old neighborhood but it was closer than usual. I tried to see over the couch but mommy gasped and pulled me close. At once, Daddy wasn’t smiling anymore. I had never seen him look so mad. He stood up and shouted. I didn’t know what was going on. The man kept asking for a payload and Daddy kept telling him he didn’t know what he was talking about and to get out.

The man moved closer and I could finally see him. He had a skull on his shirt and a gun in his hands, pointing it toward Daddy. I couldn’t see his face because he was wearing a mask. Mommy asked him to please leave us alone. We didn’t know him or what he was talking about.

Another loud noise. Then Daddy fell. Mommy screamed and I heard Daddy yelling, “Run!” Mommy stood, with me in her arms. I reached out to Daddy. He was trying to get to his feet and I didn’t know why we were leaving him behind.

But Mommy only made a few steps before I heard another loud noise and Mommy screamed again. Then I felt pain and started crying. The man went through the apartment, throwing our things on the floor. Then he yelled a bad word and ran out of the room.

Daddy called out to us but Mommy didn’t say anything. She held me close, her breathing was heavy and sharp. I was still crying because my side hurt and I was scared. I didn’t know if the man would come back and hurt us again. Daddy crawled around the couch and wrapped his arms around us.

I asked Daddy why the man hurt us. He said he didn’t know. He told me everything would be alright. The police would come and help us. I told Mommy that my side hurt and she started crying.

“Remember what we do after we read, baby?” Mommy asked.

“We pray,” I said.

“That’s right.” She said. “Lord, please don’t let anything happen to my baby. Take care of him. Don’t let him die.” Daddy started crying and he kissed my hair. He never cried.

We were there for a long time. The numbers on the clock kept getting bigger then they got smaller again. We didn’t hear any sirens. No one came to the door. I asked my parents why no one was coming and they told me to keep praying. A miracle would happen.

After a while, my side stopped hurting. My chest felt funny, though. My body felt heavy. My parents were still holding me tight but they weren’t talking anymore. If I tried to ask them something, they would make a small sound. But I didn’t know what they were saying.

I heard other sounds though. They started low at first and I could ignore it. But then it got more noticeable. It sounded like a scream. A hushed scream that echoed but never ended. I twisted my head around and saw a person at our door.

I gasped. The look of the person scared me. They didn’t have flesh like a normal person, or a firm shape. They glowed and shimmered. They had a face but I could barely see it. I think they were the person that was screaming but they didn’t look scared or in trouble.

Then Daddy said, “No!” I snapped my eyes to him, saying, “Daddy!” I hadn’t heard him speak for so long I was scared something bad had happened to him. But he didn’t speak to me. He was talking to himself.

“No, I’m not leaving my son. And he ain’t dying.” Daddy said. He tightened his grip around me.

But his body didn’t move. He stayed slumped over, leaning against Mommy. When he spoke, his lips didn’t move. His eyes were open and still.

“Nita, baby, come on. I’m not losing you either.” Daddy said. He reached over and grabbed her hand. When he moved, his arm glowed like the person in the doorway. But he wasn’t shapeless like they were. He had a form. I could see his face.

Mommy grabbed his hand and sat up. But her body stayed where it was.

“Mommy?” I said, confused and scared. She reached out to me then noticed her hand and looked down at herself.

“Yefet, are we dead?” She asked Daddy.

“I don’t know.” Daddy said, “We need to get him to the hospital.” He reached out to me then hesitated and pulled back, as if he were afraid. Then he reached out again and touched me. He sighed in relief. I looked down at my hands but they looked normal. My body moved. Even if I felt sluggish.

My parents looked up at the person in the doorway. Daddy asked her if she saw someone coming and the form nodded. If they were speaking, I couldn’t hear them.

Someone gasped from the hallway. They rounded the corner and jumped back, covering their mouth with their hands. Their eyes scanned the scene but before I could speak they bolted down the hall. The figure in the doorway moved closer to my parents. I think they were talking to each other.

I heard footsteps coming from down the hall and someone else looked in. This time I spoke as soon as I saw them, asking them to help. The woman told me her husband was calling the police. She came in and knelt near me, telling me she would stay until the police came. I told her my parents were there. She covered her mouth, saying, “You poor, poor thing.”

My parents told me they didn’t think other people could see them but it was okay. Help was coming now and we would be alright.