This story is by Jace Hawkins and won the Grand Prize in our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
Jace Hawkins has a degree from Clemson University, and now lives with his wife in his hometown of Akron, Ohio. He is a writer of fiction and creative nonfiction, and a lover of books of all kinds. His adventures as an avid bibliophile can be followed on Instagram @follow.the.reader.
Even as little Montgomery climbed from the back seat, David still hadn’t come to terms with the situation. He couldn’t believe Patrick trusted his son to his care, even for one day. Just keep him alive for twenty four hours, David told himself. That’s all you need to do.
“Alright Montster, I’ll be back to pick you up tomorrow. I promise we can do whatever you want for the rest of the weekend,” Patrick said, kneeling in front of Montgomery.
“Now I need you to behave for Uncle David. Can you do that for me?”
“I guess so.”
They stood in the driveway and watched Patrick drive away, stranding them with nothing but each other. David watched the car travel the mountain road until it disappeared behind the timberline. Montgomery stared at him, a look in his eyes that David couldn’t identify.
“So …” David said, “Monster, huh?”
“Mont-ster,” Montgomery said, emphasizing the T. “And only my dad is allowed to call me that. I’m his Montster, not yours.”
Really? David thought. Because you’re just about the scariest damn thing I’ve ever seen. “Ok then, what should I call you?”
“My name, Dave. It’s Montgomery.” Smart mouth for a seven year old, David thought. Or is he eight now?
“It’s Uncle David.”
“Are you sure you’re my uncle? I’ve never seen you at any of my birthday parties.”
“I was at a few,” David said, more to himself than to Montgomery. He’d stopped going after Montgomery’s third birthday. All those germy brats hopped up on cake and ice cream, running around screaming. It had been hell on Earth. Kids just weren’t his thing. Neither were people, for that matter. “And yes. I’m sure. But if you’d like to just call me David, that’s fine.”
“Ok, Dave. Do you have a Playstation?”
“I have an Xbox.”
“Playstation is better.”
David sighed. “I’ve got a little work still to do. You can play while I finish up and then we’ll go grab some food or something.”
Just keep him alive, David thought, which means don’t murder him.
David set Montgomery up in front of the TV with a controller in his hand. Despite his Playstation preference, the little snot sure knew his way around an Xbox.
He brought his laptop into the kitchen and sat down to work. He figured he should remain within earshot of the kid. He preferred his tiny office. A room within a basement within a house within a field within a forest within a fence. Each layer of his Russian nesting doll defenses provided a sense of security from any forces that dared intrude upon his peace. He’d bought the property to be left alone. For one day, at least, that plan had been foiled.
It had only been a couple hours when he heard the crash.
David sprang from the table, chair careening across the floor, and bounded towards the sound. Fear burned bright and hot from the base of his skull. Two hours in and he’s already dead, he thought as he ran. A final leaping stride propelled him onto the scene. A hole had blossomed where his flat screen had been mounted, the TV having relocated to the spot previously occupied by the glass entertainment center below, now just a thousand sparkles and winks spreading brightly from the impact zone. Montgomery stood staring at the scene, Xbox controller still in hand.
When he saw Montgomery was unharmed, David’s fear transmuted seamlessly to anger. “What the hell happened, kid?!” Montgomery just stared at the wreckage. “Montgomery! WHAT THE FUCK HAPPENED?!”
“You shouldn’t say fuck,” Montgomery said. David’s rage burned a little hotter. “I was just playing and it fell down.”
“It just fell, huh? I’m sure.”
“It did! I swear!” Montgomery dropped the controller with a thunk and crunched his way through the broken entertainment center towards the TV. “Maybe it’s not broke. I can help.” Before David thought to stop him Montgomery reached his little hand under the TV then pulled back sharply, burying it instinctively in his stomach. When he pulled it out to look at it David noticed a bright red bloom on the belly of his yellow shirt. Blood rushed over his fingertips, dripping down onto the broken TV. David’s anger turned back to fear.
“You shouldn’t say shit,” Montgomery said, paling to the beat of the dripping blood.
The amount of blood seemed ridiculous to David. He wrapped Montgomery’s hand in a towel, shoveled him in his car, and made the thirty minute drive to town in about fifteen minutes. At the urgent care they unwrapped the blood soaked towel to reveal a disproportionately small cut. Wouldn’t even need stitches, according to the doctor. David shook with adrenaline while the boy was tended to. Montgomery remained stoic as they wrapped his finger and sent them on their way. He’d said maybe ten words since they left, none directed at David.
On the way home David stopped at a drive-through. Montgomery ignored him when he asked what he wanted, so David ordered for him. Montgomery picked at his fries on the thirty minute drive home that felt this time like three hours.
Back at the house Montgomery put on a clean shirt, strapped on his backpack, and sat on the porch staring down the stretch of road his dad drove away on earlier that day. He still hadn’t spoken to David.
David stewed over his laptop, looking out the window every few minutes to stare at the back of the boy’s head. My TV breaks and I’m the bad guy now? His mind swam in a suspension of exasperation and guilt.
He went out to the porch where Montgomery rocked slowly in a chair. The boy showed no recognition of his presence, despite the bang of the screen door announcing David’s arrival. He just stared and rocked. David sat down in the adjacent rocker and matched his rhythm to Montgomery’s.
“I love this view,” David said. Montgomery rocked and stared. David’s throat went dry. “Listen, kid. I’m sorry I yelled. How’s your hand feeling?”
“You swore at me.”
“Yeah. I’m sorry about that,” David said. Montgomery rocked and stared. “I really am. You can swear at me if you want. I won’t tell your dad.”
Montgomery stopped rocking. He looked at David for the first time since he’d come onto the porch, his blank stare probing David’s face for sincerity. “Fuck you, Dave,” Montgomery said.
David gaped at the boy’s inscrutable face until a spasm of laughter erupted from his own gut. The rumor of a smile whispered from the corner of Montgomery’s mouth. “You shouldn’t say fuck,” David said. The sun sidled up to the mountains in the distance, wrapping the world in ribbons of red and purple and gold. They rocked and stared.
A quiet settled over the evening. David made dinner and let Montgomery use the comically long matches to ignite the logs in the fireplace. It’s radiance became a glinting mosaic in the shattered TV screen that was now propped in the corner.
About an hour after he put Montgomery to bed in the spare room, David heard a timid tap at his door. He beckoned the boy to enter, but he stood in the threshold looking at his feet.
“There’s noises in the closet in there,” Montgomery said.
“What do you think it is?”
“I don’t know. A monster maybe.”
They walked to the bedroom and stood outside the closed closet door. “We should go inside,” David said. For once the look in Montgomery’s eyes was easily read. Fear. David opened the door, yanked the pull-chain for the light and guided the boy into the closet, wading into the waves of coats and sweaters.
“See any monsters?” David asked.
“I see one,” David said, staring at Montgomery with a smirk. The boy rolled his eyes, tumblers falling into place, unlocking something behind his usually impenetrable gaze.
“Mont-ster, I know. Come on, you can sleep in my room. I was getting a little lonely anyways.”
Montgomery curled into the side of the bed farthest from David’s own closet. They left the lamp on, and soon Montgomery seemed to David to be asleep.
“The volume button was on top,” Montgomery said, facing the wall.
“It was on top and I couldn’t find the remote. So I tried to climb up to reach it and..” David heard him muffle a sniff. “I didn’t know it would fall. I’m really sorry.” He turned to look at David, tears spilling down his cheeks.
“Ah, don’t sweat it kid. I needed a bigger TV anyway. Thinking about getting a Playstation too.” David smiled and went back to his book. When he looked back over Montgomery was asleep. He was still alive. His dad would be there to pick him up in the morning. As he turned out the light, David wondered if he’d be invited to his next birthday party.