This story is by Sarah Gribble and was a runner-up in our 2020 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Sarah Gribble is the author of dozens of short stories that explore uncomfortable situations, basic fears, and the general awe and fascination with the unknown. She’s currently cooking up more ways to freak you out. Find more stories, news, and books at sarah-gribble.com.
And be sure to check out Sarah’s new book, Surviving Death. Tilly’s death isn’t going very well. One more strike and she’ll be sent to hell. Can she last long enough to get justice? Get Surviving Death here.
Georgie was seven when he decided to disappear.
He’d told his friend Tommy at school that he was going to do it one day, just up and come apart and float away, never to be seen again.
Tommy, always serious, had looked at him with his beady, red-rimmed eyes and had simply stated, “That’s impossible. People can’t just float away,” and had gone back to digging. The hole Tommy and Georgie had been working on was slow work, especially since they’d carried the dirt away in their pockets, not wanting to leave a mound for a teacher to find, but Tommy said they’d eventually dig a tunnel out of the schoolyard and they’d escape forever.
Georgie had rubbed his dirt-stained jeans and said, “We could spearmint.”
Tommy was always going on about spearminting. He read a lot of books and was going to be a scientist. Or so he said. To Georgie, being a scientist sounded like one of those jobs his daddy would say was for wussy college folks who didn’t want to break a nail.
Real men work with their hands, Georgie. You don’t want to have a limp wrist, do you?
Georgie didn’t know what would cause a limp wrist, but he thought it might be something like whatever Kelly in his class had. Kelly couldn’t use her legs, and Georgie didn’t want that to happen to him.
Tommy scoffed. “I’m telling you, you can’t do it.”
“Magicians can do it,” Georgie insisted.
Tommy again looked at him. He pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, leaving a smear of dirt. “Magic isn’t real. Science is real. Keep your head out of the clouds.”
At that moment, Tommy reminded Georgie of his daddy yelling at him to not play with the GI Joe his aunt had given him. Real men don’t play around with make believe and they sure as shit don’t play with no dolls!” This was after Daddy had calmed down, long enough for his purple face to turn a normal color, but not long enough for Georgie’s butt to stop stinging or his lip to stop bleeding.
“Magic is real,” Georgie mumbled. He was pouting now, his arms crossed over his scrawny chest. Tommy ignored the comment.
It was Tommy’s fault he’d even thought of disappearing. Tommy had told him of these itty bitty things called Mole Cues. He said they were so tiny, you can’t even see them. He said they floated around and sometimes stuck together. But the thing that had really stuck with Georgie was when Tommy said sometimes the Mole Cues come apart.
Georgie thought “it reasoned” (to take one of Tommy’s favorite phrases) that if everything was made from Mole Cues and sometimes Mole Cues could come apart, that meant Georgie himself could come apart.
Georgie decided to start spearminting that very day. They had a spelling test in the afternoon, and Georgie was no good with words. He shut his eyes tight and concentrated and tried to come apart.
It took a while, but eventually he started to feel funny. Kind of like right before he would fall asleep at night, when his brain started to feel like it was falling. And then his Mole Cues really came apart and he floated away. All the way to a special place full of fairies and blue trees and real GI Joes to protect him if any people showed up with mean fists.
When the bell rang, he opened his eyes to find himself still in his seat, the paper in front of him as blank as he’d gotten it. He was sure he’d really come apart, but he’d come right back together. He shot a smirk at Tommy’s back.
Science and magic had a lot more in common than what Tommy thought. Georgie would get the coming apart right and then rub Tommy’s nose in it.
A week later, Georgie sat at the supper table with his mother. He was nervous because it was just him and Mommy munching on the burnt meatloaf. Well, more him munching and Mommy just pushing her food around and rubbing her sleepy eyes with the dark halfmoons under them. Daddy wasn’t home yet, and that was a bad sign. If Daddy wasn’t home by suppertime, that meant he’d gone to the VFW and would come home stinking and mad and stinking mad.
The rumble of Daddy’s old Ford came up the driveway when Georgie was almost finished choking down his mashed potatoes. The noise made his stomach flop and his teeth jitter.
“That’s your cue, Georgie,” his mommy said.
Georgie ran. Sometimes if he could get upstairs quick enough, Daddy would forget he was there, almost like he’d already disappeared, and he’d be left alone for the night. Not always, but sometimes.
He hadn’t made it to the bottom step before the door swung open and banged into the wall, the doorknob continuing to dig a hole in the plaster, one shower of dust at a time. Just like Tommy’s escape tunnel.
“Whoa there, little fella,” his daddy said, “where’re you going in such a hurry?”
Georgie was stunned into halting, not by the sudden appearance of his daddy, but by the grin plastered on the big man’s red face. It was something he rarely saw.
“Come eat supper with your old man.”
“Already had my supper,” Georgie said before he could stop the words from tumbling out of his mouth.
Daddy’s grin slid slowly down into a frown. He took a step toward Georgie. “What d’ya say?”
Georgie could smell the sharp tang of whiskey on his breath.
“He has homework,” Georgie’s mommy said quietly. She’d snuck up behind Georgie, as quiet as a whisper in the wind. Her hand gently touched his shoulder and stayed there.
Daddy cackled. “I don’t think missing a few hand-ins is gonna hurt him none.” To Georgie’s shock, Daddy reached out and ruffled his hair. It took every Mole Cue in Georgie’s body to keep from flinching. “Gonna work on trucks like yer daddy, ain’t ya?”
“Go on upstairs and do your schoolwork,” Mommy said. She shoved his shoulder gently.
Daddy’s eyes turned hard as coal as he stared at his wife. “I said the boy was to come eat supper with me.”
“Go on now, Georgie.” There was a tremble in her voice, but this time her shove was stronger. He didn’t wait to be told again.
Georgie felt a fierce love for his mother as he pounded up the steps as fast as he could. He swore if he figured out how to disappear, he’d come back and teach her too. Then they’d both be free.
He ran into his room. The shouting started before his door was closed. He heard a thump before he could get his chest of drawers slid along the scratched wood floor and placed in its guard spot in front of his door. Another thump. A scream. The walls vibrated.
He grabbed his GI Joe from his secret hiding spot behind the headboard of his bed and retreated to the darkness of his closet.
Screaming floated up the stairs. Georgie shut his eyes tight and thought come apart, come apart, come apart. He wished he’d had more time to spearmint.
The screaming stopped abruptly. Georgie inhaled the scent of unwashed clothes and then held his breath.
The house was quiet.
And then a thud. Followed by another. And another. Slow and steady. His daddy’s boots on the steps.
Georgie squeezed the toy and backed himself into the corner. He made himself small and shut his eyes again.
Thud, thud, thud.
Tears pricked at the corners of Georgie’s eyes, squeezed out, then made rivers down his cheeks.
“Come apart, Mole Cues, come apart!” Magic or science, it didn’t matter which, as long as one showed up and saved him.
The metal doorknob jiggled and creaked. The door slammed against the chest of drawers. Georgie bit his lip. The sharp tang of blood filled his mouth.
The door hit again, harder this time. A slow screeching followed and George knew his guard dresser was defeated.
George concentrated, picturing one little Mole Cue and then picturing it whizzing away. “Come apart, come apart.”
The closet door swung open.
“Come apart!” Georgie sobbed as pee wet the seat of his pants.
Daddy cocked his head and smiled meanly. “We already have,” he said. He reached for Georgie.
Georgie shut his eyes tight and screamed. His Mole Cues screamed with him, vibrating and humming.
He exploded into a million trillion tiny Mole Cues. He floated away from his body and to the fairy land. The GI Joes smiled at him and Daddy couldn’t touch him anymore. He didn’t feel the hurts. He frolicked with the nice fairies and tried not to worry how he’d feel when his Mole Cues got stuck back together.
This time, though, Georgie’s Mole Cues stayed apart.
Georgie was seven when he disappeared forever.