This story is by A.J. Mortimer and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
It never showed its face. Hiding behind others to cause its pain, it manipulated and changed people. It broke down their will, drowning them in pain until they snapped.
Noah lay on his stomach on the floor of the living room in front of the TV. He twiddled his feet in the air and concentrated on his drawing. The football game played in the background, his father supporting his team from his recliner. His fourth beer in hand.
He switched pencils to draw his mum and dad standing on either side of him. The grass beneath them a vibrant green and the sky above them a bright blue. And the monster, a storm of black, a violent scribble around his parents’ heads.
A cheer came from the TV and Noah looked up from his drawing to watch the goal celebrations. A player in red ran across the football pitch followed by his teammates. He dropped to his knees and skidded, pumping his fist in the air. A grinning teammate tackled him to the ground and others piled on top.
Noah whipped his head around to see his dad’s reaction. Eyes clear and free, the smile he found there spread to his own face. The monster held at bay for a moment. A breath.
His dad chugged the last of his beer in celebration. He crushed the can and held it out to Noah. “Get me another,” he said, shaking the empty can.
“Yes, sir.” Noah scrambled to his feet to obey, grabbed the can, and hurried to the kitchen. His mother looked up from her TV show as he entered and eyed the empty can.
“Being a good boy for your dad?” She drew a slow finger around the lip of her wine glass.
“Yes, mum.” Noah dumped the can in the bin and padded across to the fridge.
“Maybe go draw in your room, sweetheart.”
“But we’re watching the game.” He rose to his tiptoes to reach the beer on the middle shelf.
“You don’t even know the rules,” she said with a sigh.
“But dad’s always happy when we score.”
“Noah,” her tone grew harsher.
“Fine, whatever.” She took a heavy gulp of the rest of her wine, pouring a new glass. “Do what you want.”
Noah cracked open the beer on the way back, his legs moving fast. Scrunching his nose up at the bitter smell, he held the can away from his face.
He tripped. His feet tangled in his dad’s work boots. He caught himself on the arm of his dad’s chair, dropping the can and pouring the cool liquid into the man’s lap. The moment stood still as they both realised what had happened. Noah gazed up at his dad and saw the monster taking over once more. It swirling behind his eyes, darkening the normally light blue.
Noah shuddered and lowered his head. “I’m s-sorry, sir. I didn’t-”
The force of the backhanded slap across his face knocked him to the floor, the sound echoed through the house. Muffled voices rose and broke through the living room wall, destroying the silence that had gathered in the living room. The volume of the TV in the kitchen had been turned up.
Noah pressed the hand that had been holding the beer to his burning cheek, knowing his cold palm could ease the pain.
His dad stood, pulling his belt out of its loops. He folded his belt in two and cracked it against the palm of his hand. Noah sobbed and wrapped his free arm around himself, trying to shrink into nothingness.
“To your room,” the monster ordered in his dad’s voice.
It took hold of Noah’s shirt collar and dragged him to his punishment.
Noah leant forward in his seat. The red welts across his back rubbed against his polo shirt but it was better than being pressed against the back of the chair. The principal watched him shift from behind her desk.
“Is there anything at home you’d like to discuss, Noah?” She let out a sigh. “This is very out of character for you.”
Noah looked at his hands fiddling with the cuffs of his school uniform jumper, unable to meet her eyes. His bottom lip wobbled, but he sniffed back the tears.
He finally looked up. He saw no monster waiting for him. Her eyes hadn’t darkened with the thing that liked to hurt him.
He opened his mouth but the office door slammed open before he could say anything.
“What’s going on?” Noah’s dad barged in, glaring between the two. “I had to leave work early for this.”
Noah dropped his eyes to the floor. He didn’t want to see the monster.
“Noah can you wait outside while I talk with your dad.”
Noah stood and kept his head down as he exited.
The door to the principal’s office closed behind him and voices rose and fell from within.
He dropped his bag next to the waiting area table and pulled out his drawing from yesterday to finish it.
Noah looked up at the sound of light sobbing. The boy he had fought with was being carried out of the school by his mother, tears still leaking down his cheeks as she held him tight. He looked away when their eyes met over the mother’s shoulder.
Noah added to his drawing to drown out the noise and the uncomfortable twisting in his stomach. He darkened the background, ignoring the mistakes and drawing over his parents. The grass lost its vibrancy and the blue sky became night. He picked up the black pencil and scribbled.
He jumped at the office door thudding against the wall as it swung open.
“This was a waste of my time,” Noah’s dad stormed out. He leant down to snatch up Noah bag and hissed into his son’s ear, “You are in so much trouble when I get you home.” Half of the bag’s contents spilt over the floor as his dad marched to the front door not stopping to collect any of it.
“Sir.” The principal rushed out after Noah’s dad. “Calm down and come back, please.”
“I will not calm down.” His dad turned back on the woman and poked his finger at her. “Neither me or my wife can afford to lose any paychecks just to stay home and watch him. He didn’t even start the goddamn fight.”
“Noah may not have started it but he escalated it.” Her eyes flickered to Noah before stepping closer to his dad and lowering her voice. Noah could still hear. “He bit another student. It took two teachers the pull Noah away.”
Noah flinched at the description. A simple disagreement between friends turned into an argument. Then Noah was shoved backwards into a wall and the pain of his back turned to anger. He doesn’t remember much after the edges of his vision darkened.
“He was defending himself.” His dad yanked him to his feet with a harsh tug to the back of his shirt collar. His drawing fluttered to the floor, the black mass of the monster swirling around Noah’s head.
Noah let himself be pulled towards his punishment.