This story is by Tia Oshel and was part of our 2017 Spring Writing Contest. You can find all the Spring Writing Contest stories here.
“It is what it is, Charles,” Momma repeated, locking my bedroom door from the outside while I pleaded with her to leave it open. As the noise of her leaving quieted I settled into bed, hoping that when I opened my eyes I could be anywhere else. I snuggled under my tattered blue blanket and begrudgingly fell asleep.
My eyes flew open at the sound of a large crash downstairs. My room was pitch black, I glanced at the tiny red numbers on my nightstand. One fifty-seven, too early for momma to be home. I pulled my blue blanket up over my head and closed my eyes again.
Another bang echoed through the house, I turned to look at my clock; it had only been five minutes. Nervously I stood, fumbling around in the darkness for my flashlight, wincing as I stubbed my toe on the edge of the bed. The floorboards in the hall creaked, I froze. Someone is in my house. Panicked, I reached out desperate to find anything heavy. My hand closed around the cool metal of the flashlight but I did not turn it on.
Outside the footsteps shuffled past; for the first time in my life, I was grateful to be locked in my bedroom.
“Clent, you find it yet?” A rough voice hissed.
“Not yet. It’s gotta be here, though.” Clent whispered.
“You checked in here?” I dropped to the floor; the rough voice was outside my door. I rolled under my bed and slid as far back as I could.
The intruder tried to open the door, “it’s locked,” he grumbled. It’s locked, I’m in here, please go away I silently pleaded. The intruder kicked the door down; a pair of muddy black boots entered the room. Light spilled in and his shadow slithered across the floor.
“I thought you said you checked the bedroom already?” The rough voice called out.
“I did. Nothing in there but cigarette butts and dirty clothes,” Clent replied, a second pair of boots appearing in the doorway. The dim light flickered on, I squeezed my eyes shut. The men pulled open the three drawers in my dresser, dumping the meager contents onto the floor. A busted-up baseball rolled across the floor and under the bed.
“What tha? This is all kids’ clothes.” The rough voice complained, “I didn’t know Vicki had a kid.” He spread my clothes across the floor with his boot.
“Me neither,” Clent replied, peeking into my closet. “Where is it?” he asked.
“I dunno, but it’s gotta be here somewhere. Ain’t nobody stupid enough buy it off Vicki.”
“No, the kid, moron. We know it ain’t out on the streets with her and the door was locked.” My heart pounded in my chest; the men shuffled around my tiny room.
“There’s a bar on the window,” Clent commented. The second pair of muddy boots stopped in front of my bed. He slowly kneeled, pressing two hands onto the floor.
His eyes were small and black, he reminded me of a bird. A disgusting smile spread across his face, his teeth were rotten. He reached out and locked his hand around my ankle, pulling me out. I squirmed and kicked and held onto the far post of my bed as fiercely as I could but the man was stronger.
“Well, well, look who we have ere’,” Clent said.
“What should we do with him?” The man who was holding me hostage asked. Clent ignored his question, though. Instead, he kneeled beside me, staring straight into my eyes.
“Ralph here is going to keep an eye on you, okay? But you’re not gonna cause any problems, are ya?” He whispered.
I nodded my head in understanding, my eyes wide with fear.
“Do you know where you mom is?” Clent asked.
I shook my head no.
“You know how to speak, boy?” Ralph yelled, pushing me over. I yelped, pulling my arms up over my head. Clent punched Ralph in the leg and stood me back up.
“What time does you mom usually get home?” Clent asked.
I glanced back at my clock, “around three, mister.”
“And she just leaves you locked in your room?”
Clent frowned, “what’s your name?”
“Charles, after my daddy,” I boasted.
“Is that so?” Clent looked up at Ralph, “and how old are you Charles?”
“Ten next month, sir.”
“I see…” He was quiet for a moment, “Charles here’s what’s going to happen: the three of us are going to go downstairs and wait for your mom to come home and then we’re going to have a chat. You see, she has something that belongs to us. Once she returns it you can come back up here and sleep. Sound good, sport?”
“What happens if she doesn’t have it?” I whispered.
“She better have it,” Ralph interjected.
“Let’s hope she has it,” Clent murmured.
Momma was late, as usual. The minutes ticked by, I twirled my thumbs on my lap. Ralph sat beside me with an iron grip on my arm, Clent paced back and forth like a caged lion. Finally, the front door squeaked open and Momma stumbled through.
Clent turned on the light; Momma shrieked and dramatically fell backward.
“Late night, Vicki?” He hissed.
She stared blankly at him. Her hair was tangled, her shirt was torn, and her makeup had smeared all over her face.
“I’m done for the night, you’ll have to wait till tomorrow,” she slurred, not noticing I was sitting on the couch. Ralph started to laugh.
“If I decide I want some sort of nasty shit you’d still be the last one I’d call.”
Momma rolled her eyes, “suit yourself then.”
“Momma,” I whispered. That got her attention. She turned to face me and Ralph on the couch.
“Why aren’t you in bed? How’d you get out of your room?” She hollered, stomping toward me, fist raised. Clent stepped in her path.
“Now, now, he ain’t done anything wrong. We were just keepin’ him company till you got home. He’s been a good sport about it, ain’t ya, Charles?” A strange smile spread across his face when he said my name.
Momma looked past Clent and glared at me. “What do you want then?”
“You took somethin’ that belongs to a certain someone, you know who he is.”
“I don’t got any idea what you’re talking about.” Momma insisted, trying to back away. Clent grabbed ahold of her arm.
“Where is it, Vicki? You should just tell me now. I’d hate to have to do something unsightly in front of your boy.”
“I sold it!” She yelled, her eyes wide with fear.
Clent squeezed tighter on her arm, “I’d advise you not to lie to me.”
“I…I used it all!” She tried.
Clent shoved her backward into the wall, momma slumped to the ground, sobbing. “No way even a junkie like you coulda used all that crank already and not be dead in a ditch. This is the last time I’m gonna ask you nicely, Vicki.” Clent kneeled beside her on the floor, “Where is it?”
Momma just started crying even louder. Clent sighed and stood up, “Ralph, go upstairs and help Charles collect his things; I bet he would like to meet his daddy.”
I sprang off the couch, “you know my daddy?” I looked over at momma, slumped on the floor. “You said daddy was mad at me and ran off, he came back?”
“He did. He didn’t want no bastard child.” I felt the excitement sizzle out inside me as I slid back onto the couch.
Clent kicked momma in the stomach, “Dammit Vicki, don’t say stuff like that to him! You know that ain’t true. Look at em’ he’s a spittin’ image of his old man.”
I felt Ralph tug at my arm and I stood up. He dragged me up the stairs and I followed. It suddenly didn’t matter where I was going; it had to be better than here.
“How long will I be gone, mister?”
“You’re not coming back, boy.”
It didn’t take me long to gather up my things, all I had fit into one tiny backpack. It had trains on it and had come with a tiny tin lunch box. I pulled my blanket off the bed and stuffed it into the backpack.
“You got everything? We’re not coming back if you forgot something,” Ralph said.
I looked around one last time, “yessir I got everything.”
Back downstairs Momma was on the couch with her knees pressed tight against her chest. Her nose was bleeding. Clent was pacing back and forth in front of her like a lion in front of his prey.
When he saw us he looked at me and smiled, “there he is. You all packed up, sport?”
I nodded my head, I wondered if this was what going to camp felt like. Clent was scary, but he was nice to me. Momma had never asked me if I was ready to go anywhere. She never took me anywhere.
I looked at her on the couch, sniffling and bruised. She raised her eyes to meet mine. I held her gaze waiting for her to protest them taking me. For her to jump up and wrap her arms around me. For her to say anything, anything at all.
But she didn’t. Instead, she said, “If you take him, our debt is settled.”
Clent ignored her and stepped to my side, he placed his hand on my back, “You packed up, sport?”
I nodded my head yes.
Momma opened her mouth to say something, but then closed it again and looked away from me.
“It is what it is, momma,” I called out to her as Clent lead me outside.