Sorry but this has been an odd week. Need a quick breather with a blast from the past (originally posted on October 6, 2014).
“Step on a crack and break your moma’s back.” Little Jimmy sang the rhyme as he skipped across the sidewalk. The broken concrete spiderwebbed with cracks half way down the lane. When the neighborhood drifted away, the street and sidewalk fell into disrepair. But this information was beyond little Jimmy’s understanding, for him it was the loss of friends and playmates.
He stopped in Joey’s driveway. Best friends since kindergarten, he hadn’t heard from him in months. That last day, they said their good-byes. Joey’s mom made peanut butter and Nutella sandwiches. He hadn’t had one since.
“Jimmy,” the red haired girl yelled out. “Hey, Jimmy, wanna come hang out at my house?” Short, freckled, a year younger than Jimmy in school, she kept foisting herself on him. He couldn’t get rid of her.
Another casualty of the summer, all of Ashley’s friends had moved away too. They were last two kids in an empty neighborhood. Sometimes the games she wanted to play, they were a bit girlier than Jimmy was comfortable with.
She didn’t want to play house. He could understand that one. No, Ashley played last kids on earth. She begged him to help her repopulate. She said it when they were alone at her house. They were always alone at her house. Jimmy wasn’t sure that her parents were ever home.
He scanned the street, watched a couple leaves kicked up by the wind. What else was there to do, he thought. “I guess so,” he said. “But I need to check in at home first.”
Her smile toyed at the edge of her lips. They rose slightly and her teeth gleamed through the darkness of her closed mouth. “Okay, I’ll come with you.” She held her hand out to him. His left eye twitched as he took her hand in his.
Jimmy’s mother kept the house clean. Everything had a place, and she maintained order. His dad moved his chair away from the wall once, only once. His mom marked it out for him and he never moved it again.
“Jimmy, is that you?” His mom called from the kitchen. She met them in the living room. “Oh, and you brought your friend.” Her smile filled her face.
Jimmy didn’t understand how she did it. She smiled so nice when Ashley came over but as soon as she left her mood soured. She didn’t say anything bad about her, not to Jimmy but he knew.
“I’m going over to Ashley’s,” he said. “I’ll be home before dark.”
“Okay.” Her smile dropped away but the inflection in her voice didn’t change. “I’ll put your dinner in the oven to keep it warm.” She didn’t ask if he would have dinner at Ashley’s. She didn’t leave that as an option for him.
“We have to be quiet,” Ashley, said as they approached her front door. “My mom has been sick and she needs to rest.” She led them into the dark house. The curtains to the large picture window had been drawn and Ashley didn’t turn on the living room light before they stepped inside.
Dishes with half eaten food and glassware with moldering liquids buried the glass-topped coffee table in the center of the living room. The floor carried a layer of dirt and toys spread throughout the room. But the dust, a thick layer of it, over everything including the TV and TV stand, gave Jimmy a chill.
“My mom’s been sick for a while,” Ashley said. “She hasn’t had the strength to clean up.” She walked through the maze of toys and junk on the floor to the kitchen. “You want something to drink? We can go downstairs and play on my Xbox.”
“When did you get an Xbox?” Jimmy said. He sidled around the room to avoid the more questionable junk. In his attempt to avoid the coffee table he almost tripped over it.
With glasses filled with a yellow liquid and ice, she came back into the living room. “Let’s go down stairs,” she said. Ashley glanced down the hall, a glance that lingered for a moment longer than it probably should have. “We really don’t want to disturb my mother.” She handed him a glass then took his free hand in her own.
She flipped the switch for the stairwell lights. The first light they used in the house burned at Jimmy’s eyes. Blinded by the flash it took a few moments for his eyes to adjust again, while she pulled him down the stairs.
The foundation of the house rested on a single room basement, converted into a modified family room. Storage shelves lined the far wall, while a couch and chairs sat in the center of the room. They faced a TV along the southern wall. Just beyond the landing on the north side of the basement they had a washer and dryer set up as an open laundry room.
“Come on, I just got a new game. You gotta check this one out,” she said as she pulled him, drove him to the couch. “My dad got it for me just before…”
“Just before what?” he asked. He knew he shouldn’t have asked even as he heard them come out of his mouth. Tears streamed down her cheeks. He saw them as she turned her face away from him. “Where is your dad?” His voice lowered, softened.
“When mom got sick. He left us here,” she said. “He told me he’d be back.” She clicked the button on an Xbox controller and then turned the TV on. “This game is so cool.”
Jimmy didn’t push her. Instead he picked up the second controller and turned it on. He signed into his account and was ready to play. The zombie game wasn’t what he expected but the bodies and heads exploding gave him some great entertainment. They lost themselves in the moment of hunting zombies together.
After a while he paused the game to visit the bathroom. Up the stairs and then back into the darkened upper floor, he couldn’t find the light switch for the hall light. Lost to the game, they missed the passage of time.
He fumbled down the hall and reached his hand into the first doorway he found in hopes to find a light switch. The burst of light blinded him for a moment as he realized he flipped the switch to Ashley’s mother’s room. The bathroom was on the other side of the hall. A pungent smell blazed through his nostrils as his eyes adjusted to the light. At first he thought the funk of the upper floor came from the garbage in the living room.
The source of the smell emanated from the bedroom, bad enough he wanted, needed to find out what it was. He stepped into the room and saw the lump on the bed. Her mother hadn’t woken with the burst of light. In fact her chest didn’t rise and fall.
The flies buzzing the body swarmed at him to explore his fresh pink flesh. He swatted at them, forced them away. His arms flailed and he bumped the bed. The rotted skull broke away and rolled from the bed to land at his feet.
The bathroom forgotten, he sprinted from the room. The light from bedroom flashed across movement by the front door. As he entered the living room he heard the click of the dead bolt sliding into place.
“I told you mother is sick and not to be disturbed,” Ashley said. Light from the bedroom flashed across the hammer as she swung it.
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