This story is by Kavan Wright and was part of our 2018 Fall Writing Contest. You can find all the writing contest stories here.
I got my first Helper right after Dad left.
That day I sat alone on the bus’ vinyl bench seat the same as every other day – the fate of an involuntary High School loner. When I got off the bus, Mom was waiting in front of our house down the road from the corner, arms folded, smoking a cigarette. She somehow smoked more since Dad left. I tried to hide my bruised face and the cracked glasses lens as I walked up. But she already knew. Why else would she be waiting there?
“Did those kids at school beat your face in again?” Mom’s arms were still crossed. She only uncrossed them briefly to pinch her cigarette between her fingers.
I was already mad. “I’m sorry, Mom,” was all I could muster.
“I said you had to man up. How the hell am I supposed to buy you new glasses?” She returned the cigarette to her mouth. “I work all day, I buy you food, I buy you books, I give you a roof over your head, and I do it all by myself, and you can’t take care of your goddamn glasses!”
“Maybe if you weren’t so selfish,” I said through gritted teeth, “dad would still be here and he could get me glasses!”
She slapped me. Hard.
I just wanted to get away. I ran across the street, through the empty lot there, and into the small forest that lay beyond. Mom just watched. I deserved that slap, but I didn’t deserve to have a mom like that – or a dad that would leave us. Mom and Dad both had problems, but Mom’s were so much worse with dad gone.
The forest was my sanctuary. The terrain was too rough for my leisure-loving mother to trudge through. A small creek cut a deep gorge and gave my boiling fifteen-year-old mind a tranquil sound to soothe it.
I sat on a rock by the creek for a while. I watched a squirrel hunt through the fallen leaves for whatever nuts or berries he thought he could find. He looked up at me from time to time, then, content I wasn’t a threat, continued on his way. A squirrel’s natural movements always made me feel good – they were like the manifestations of joy and energy. That squirrel made me smile.
Then he looked in another direction aware of some new threat. His nose twitched, and he turned his head just in time to see a cat pounce on him from behind a log.
“No!” I shrieked. The cat bounded away with the squirrel in his teeth.
I chased after it following the sound of the squirrel’s impotent chirping. The cat disappeared around a bend in the creek when I heard a sound like a melon being crushed on pavement.
I came around the bend and saw the cat eviscerated and lifeless on the edge of the water. Above it stood a tall, faceless figure with long arms and long fingers.
My first Helper.
Its skin had no texture – it was just black like the night sky. In its hand, it held the bleeding and gasping squirrel.
Then it spoke. He spoke. “I’m sorry. I was too slow.” He curled his fingers and squeezed. Blood dripped through his knuckles and splashed into the water. “I won’t let anything hurt you again. I’m here only for you. You needed my help.” When he spoke the space on his ovoid head where his face should be pulsed and shimmered. And his voice was warm. Full of… love.
Mom was sitting on the couch when we got back to the house. She was smoking something – not cigarettes. She was getting high like I had seen her do so many times. I showed my helper to her anyway.
She rolled her eyes. “Don’t tell me you have an imaginary friend now.”
Invisible, I thought. Interesting.
My Helper filled the empty space next to me on the bus to school the next day. He was so tall – his head touched the roof. He followed me everywhere at school – a constant presence stood silently behind me in class. In the cafeteria. In the halls.
I found the jerks who broke my glasses on the baseball field during free period. The fat one, Trey, was hitting rocks with a bat while the skinny one, Adam, sucked on chewing tobacco on the bench.
“Hey, you!” I shouted. I wasn’t quite confident enough to say anything nasty.
Trey started stomping towards me. “Back for more?” he sneered as he brandished his pock-marked Louisville Slugger.
Adam started laughing until he choked. “Show him, Trey!” he snorted.
Trey wound up, and when he got close, he swung.
The moment I hit the ground, I saw my helper spring forward and grab Trey by the neck. He struck Trey in the face once then tossed him into the backstop. The Slugger snapped in two from the impact. I could only guess what damage Trey had sustained.
My arm hurt where he hit me. “Helper! Why didn’t you stop him before?”
“I’m sorry.” He moved slowly toward me and picked me up. “I am still not used to… being.”
“Well get used to it.” I winced. “Take me to the nurse. I think my arm’s broken.”
I saw Adam as we walked away. He stood staring. The chew fell from his slack jaw.
It only took a few minutes for Mom to get there after the nurse called her. I knew what was coming when I got in the car.
“I don’t know what I’m going to do with you.” I could hear the emotion behind her words ready to burst like an over-spilling dam. “They think that kid has some broken ribs. He definitely has a broken jaw. And you with your broken arm. I don’t know how I’m going to pay for this. I wish you would think of somebody besides yourself for once.” Tears pooled under her eyes and ran down her face.
“I’m sorry,” I said and let the silence settle over the car. I could see my Helper bounding through the traffic outside. “I didn’t do it, though. My Helper beat up that kid.”
Mom just cried harder.
Dr. Emory told me my arm wasn’t broken, just dislocated. He would have to re-set it. I knew it would hurt, but I wasn’t prepared for the searing pain that shot through my body when he yanked my arm. I screamed.
“I’m sorry. I missed the socket. Hold on.”
Dr. Emory grabbed my arm again and I shrieked. My Helper didn’t like that. He shot across the room and ripped open the doctor’s chest in an instant. Mom screamed.
The eviscerated doctor hovered there a moment while my Helper extracted some dark material, like clay, from Dr. Emory’s chest. My Helper let the corpse fall to the floor then pulled and formed the dark clay into the shape of another person, another helper.
My second Helper.
My jaw dropped.
“Don’t worry,” my first Helper said. “He is still the doctor. Only better. Purer.”
My second Helper put his hands on my arm then in my arm. I felt my arm maneuver back to its socket and the pain disappeared.
“What did you do!” Mom screamed at me.
“It’s okay, Mom. The Doctor is a Helper now too. He fixed my arm. See?” I made a windmill motion with it.
Mom shook her head. “You’re sick!” she cried. “You need help!”
My Helper stood next to Mom. “We can make her better. Make her purer. If you want.”
“No, Mom. You’re sick.” I grinned. I couldn’t wait for my Mom to be a helper. Despite everything, I still loved her. I was ready for her to love me too. “Okay, Helper. I want to.”
Mom’s screams were cut short by my first Helper’s dagger-fingers in her chest.
He quickly formed another figure from the dark clay.
My Mom-Helper embraced me. She was so warm. Then she embraced my first Helper.
My first Helper.
I remembered what Dad said when he walked into the forest across the street with his gun. He said “I can’t save this family. You’re better off without me. I was the one who got your mom hooked. She was so beautiful… before me.” He hung his head low and disappeared into the trees.
“Come back,” I yelled after him. “Come back! We need your help!” Then a gunshot echoed through the gorge.
I guess he listened.
“We can help more people,” my Mom-Helper said. “We can make them better.”
I thought for a moment. I thought about the jerks at school. I thought about the mothers who resent their kids like mine did. I thought about the dads that gave up on their families.
“Yes,” I said. “Let’s help everybody. Let’s help the whole world.”