Episode 13 - The New Guy
Jason and Amy lost their father. He was gone. They watched it happen every step of the way from the first time he stumbled and forgot his own name to the hasty dismissal by the doctors that he was just tired and dehydrated. They believed it when Mommy told them he’d be better soon even as his condition got worse. A few weeks later the doctor’s changed their diagnosis and determined he’d suffered a stroke, but as long as he kept to the plan and followed doctor’s orders he would be ok. A month after that their mother explained that the doctors found two huge tumors in his neck and in his brain. He deteriorated quickly after that. His speech became more and more slurred. He couldn’t remember simple words. He couldn’t go to the bathroom alone.
Before they knew it, Jason and Amy were sitting in a chair in the ICU at Blessed Virgin Hospital. Hooked up to a machine that forced him to breathe, Daddy’s lungs rose up and down mechanically like a grotesque animatronic dummy. The drugs kept him from feeling pain according to the nurse. The whole scene turned Mommy into a wreck. Her sisters stood beside her in tears. Jason couldn’t remember ever seeing an adult cry like this. The closest had been the way his dad cried at the end of Old Yeller, but those were soft, almost tender tears. His mom and aunts wept and wailed and cursed out loud in front of them.
“Why him?” said Aunt Marge. “He hasn’t smoked in five years. He hasn’t had a drink in ten. It’s so unfair, goddammit.”
“He’s only thirty-nine.” said Aunt Kathy. “It doesn’t make any frigging sense.”
Their mom just held daddy’s hand and sobbed.
Jason and Amy sat and kicked their feet against the legs of the hard little chairs provided by the nurse. This ain’t like the movies, thought Jason. In the movies they get shot or have cancer or whatever and just lay there with heavy breath as they say their last words with a little blood dribbling out of their mouth.
But no. Not this. Daddy couldn’t talk. He could barely open his eyes, and when he did Jason saw them full of fear. Jason believed Daddy knew what was happening.
At one point the nurse changed the medicine in the tubes connected to Daddy.
“C’mon.” said Aunt Marge, “It’s time to say goodbye.”
Amy put her arm around Jason and hid her face in his shoulder. She hadn’t spoken a word all day.
“Maybe they should be out in the hall,” said Aunt Kathy.
Before the kids got out of their chairs Daddy stirred, and made a creaking noise. His arms flailed for a moment and briefly reached upward before they fell at his side.
Mommy and her sisters collectively moaned in sorrow and disgust as Daddy’s blood flowed out of his body through the ventilator tubes that had been keeping him alive. His life literally poured out of him into those translucent yellow hoses. All the while his chest heaved up and down in gruesome mockery of actual life.
“He’s gone.” said the nurse as casually as stating the time of day “He’s dead.”
Jason broke. He’d been sitting silent and numb for hours, but couldn’t hold back the tears any longer. Tears rushed out of him as he bawled along with his family. Only Amy cried silently. Tears rolling down her face, but her voice, entirely absent.
After a long while they were ushered out of the room so the nurses and orderlies could clean Daddy up and unhook the machines. When they returned Daddy was still quite dead. Propped up on a pillow, his jaw stuck open like a mournful ghost.
Movies never show this part, thought Jason, He looks so...dead. I thought it would be like going to sleep. But no. It’s bad. It’s real real bad.
A priest came in and said some prayers. Jason couldn’t remember a word of it. He held his gaze on the floor so he didn’t have to look at that...that...corpse. It wasn’t his dad. Not anymore. It was just an empty husk. A useless carcass. It didn’t even feel like his dad was in the room. Just a twisted mannequin wearing his face.
Between his shoes Jason spied a bright red circle on the floor. A drop of Daddy’s blood must have fallen out of the tubes and been missed by the clean-up crew. Jason wiped it up with a tissue into which he’d been crying. Not knowing what else to do, he stuffed the last drop of his father’s blood into his pocket.
He kept that tissue in his pocket for several days. For a week neither he nor Amy went to school and Jason didn’t change his clothes once the entire time up until the funeral. No one seemed to notice. Mommy was totally checked out and Amy continued her vow of silence.
When Aunt Marge gave him a suit to wear to say his final goodbye to Daddy, Jason pulled the stained tissue out of his pocket and hid it under his pillow. He took his first shower in days, put on the ill-fitting suit and stood by his mother and sister in front of the casket.
After burying Daddy there was a wake at the fire-hall and all of the grown-ups got drunk and laughed and cried all at once. Jason and Amy mostly stayed in the lobby, mindlessly playing Dig-Dug and Joust on arcade cabinets. He felt no joy in the games. They were just something to keep his eyes and hands occupied.
At the end of the wake, a man they didn’t know approached the kids and handed them presents, like it was a birthday party and not a funeral. They opened them without a word, figuring the man worked for the fire hall or the funeral home or something. He wore a black suit with a little hat and had thick eyebrows that looked almost painted onto his pale white face. Amy received a wooden container about the size of a cigar box. It was filled with colorful interlocking blocks that looked like LEGO BRICKS, except the logo on the box read “BALATRON”. Jason figured they were knock-offs.
Opening his own gift Jason found a plastic compass.
“Uhh...thanks...mister.” he said, trying to sound grateful, but when he looked up the man had vanished.
Stupid thing doesn’t even work, thought Jason as he watched the magnetic needle spin around in circles, rather than point due north.
Pocketing the compass, he returned to his arcade game and Amy pulled out her bricks and made a small house with them on the floor until their mother called them to the car for the ride home.
Several days went by and no one seemed to notice that Jason and Amy never left the house for school or anything else. Mommy fed them frozen dinners and they ate cereal the rest of the day.
After about a week of virtually no supervision or interaction Jason was ready to burst.
“Why won’t you talk?” he pressed Amy. “Come on! You haven’t spoken in days. You need to talk. You can’t leave me alone like this forever.”
She sat silently on the floor in front of a wooden chair and pulled out her box of bricks. One after another she placed them on the seat.
“Answer me. PLEASE. Just talk to me. Tell me about the dumb cartoons you like. You used to never shut up but now I just want to hear you.”
She continued to stack the bricks on the chair, forming a tower.
Frustrated with her, Jason knocked the tower onto the floor.
Amy looked down at the bricks her brother had scattered, then continued to pull more out of the little wooden box.
“Wait.” said Jason. “How many bricks does that box have in it?” Looking at the bricks on the floor, he surmised that there was no way they could all fit in the box, yet clearly they did. To top it off, Amy kept pulling more and more bricks out of the little box. She rebuilt her tower. She expanded the base of it and made two long branches from it that stuck out over the ledge of the chair. She went on interlocking the bricks into two legs of plastic running down to the floor.
“No way! You’ve got too many blocks! That box couldn’t hold them all. You couldn’t fit them in three boxes.”
Amy didn’t stop her labors. She methodically moved back to the top of the tower, making a pair of arms jutting out of it, complete with little brick fingers.
Jason grabbed the box and reached inside it, finding nothing. Not the inside of the box, just...nothing. It felt like sticking his hand into a hole with no sides and no bottom. He looked into the box and it was pitch black within. Turning it upside down did not spill its contents.
Amy yanked the box out of his hands, reached in, and pulled out yet more blocks.
“How are you doing that?” he sputtered in disbelief, but she gave him no answer.
Instead she just stuck the bricks together in the shape of a head. When she was done, Amy placed the head atop the torso.
“What is that supposed to be?” Jason asked her. “Are you making a man out of your blocks?”
Amy climbed onto the chair and sat in the brick-man’s lap.
“What are you doing? What is this supposed to be? You stupid little girl! This isn’t our dad! It’s just a bunch of plastic!” Jason swatted the head of the brick-man, but it held fast, impervious to his blows.
“That’s it! I don’t care anymore. Have fun with your plastic dad! I’m going to my room!” said Jason as he stormed off.
The boy buried his head in his pillow and cried and punched and yelled into it. Screaming at god. At Daddy. At Mommy. At Amy. He shouted into the pillow until his voice was nearly lost and he cried and cried until he exhausted all of his tears.
The pillow had grown so wet with tears that Jason flipped it over to rest his head on the dry side. Doing so revealed the tissue with his father’s blood and the stupid broken compass he’d received at the wake.
The needle on the compass had stopped spinning. He moved the device around and found that the needle remained steadily pointing in a single direction. Not north, though. He knew that for sure. Jason spent some time in the cub scouts and knew a thing or two about navigation. His bedroom window faced due east. Therefore north was to the right of his room, toward the bathroom. The compass pointed southwest, at the stairs.
Creeping out of his room, Jason followed the compass to the living room, where Amy still sat on the lap of that creepy figure of a man. The compass pointed directly at it.
“Why?” Jason said. “What is this for?” he waved the compass at the effigy.
“It’s so we can find him.” croaked Amy in a dry voice.
“You’re talking! You...um...find who?”
“Your compass thing is so we can find him if he moves.”
“Dad isn’t moving, Amy. He’s dead. He can’t get up out of the ground.”
“No. Not him. The new one. The one I made.”
“Amy. Amy. You can’t make a new dad out of toys.”
“We need a new dad, Jason. Mommy is sad. She can’t take care of us alone.”
“Ok...but. I don’t think she’ll-”
“Kids...” came a voice from the stairs.
“Mommy!” shouted Amy, her voice still hoarse from disuse.
“What’s going on down there?”
“We have a new guy for you. Come see!”
“A new what?” said mom, coming down the stairs. “Oh...hello.” she spoke to the pile of plastic bricks in the vague shape of a man.
“Umm...” said Jason, “Amy made a statue...with her blocks. She thought you would like it.” He placed his hand on the shoulder of the plastic man.
Jason realized that when he left his room he must have grabbed the tissue from under his pillow. It remained in his hand, the dried spot of red pressing against the brick figure. For a moment he thought he felt the thing move, but that would be silly. It probably just wobbled on the chair.
“Well...” said Mommy. “That’s very...um...very nice of you.” She pretended to shake hands with the mannequin then turned to her children.
“Kids, it’s about time for bed, don’t you think? And maybe tomorrow I can take you to school? If you’re feeling up to it.”
There was nothing Jason wanted more than to go to school. He never thought he would feel that way in a million years, but anything was better than being cooped up in the house all day, every day.
“Yes mom!” He said, “I really want to go to school in the morning.”
“Me too!” said Amy, beaming.
“Well, great! Let’s get you two to bed!”
Neither kid protested through bath, teeth brushing, or pajama time and were soon hitting the pillows. In the middle of the night Jason thought he heard laughter coming from downstairs, but he was pretty sure it was a dream and went back to sleep.
Mommy made breakfast for the first time in a very long while. Pancakes and eggs with bacon graced the table. As did the plastic brick-man, dressed in a pink bathrobe.
“Mom!” said Jason, “What’s he doing here?”
“Oh honey. I’m sorry. I didn’t mean for it to be awkward. But this little charmer stayed the night.”
“Well, yeah...I mean where else would he go?”
All through the meal Jason felt there were eyes upon him. He couldn’t wait to dash out the door the moment he saw the bus arrive.
After school Amy skipped ahead of Jason on the way home from the bus stop.
When he got to the house, Amy had left the door wide open.
“Stupid kid.” he muttered to himself as he closed the door behind him.
Jason threw down his bookbag and went to the kitchen to grab a snack, but the fridge and the cabinets were devoid of any ready to eat food.
“Mom?” he spoke into the air, not knowing where in the house she was, “I think you need to go grocery shopping. There’s nothing to eat!”
He wasn’t that surprised when no answer came. Mommy had been out of it lately. But the house was so strangely silent. He decided to check on her.
At the top of the stairs he saw the doorway to his mother’s room, it was pitch black. Even with the lamp off there should be at least a little ambient light. It was 3:30 in the afternoon. But it was dark. Midnight dark. The door frame was covered in colorful plastic bricks...as if Amy had built a tower all the way around the thing, including the head jamb.
“Hello?” he called into the room. His voice echoed as if he yelled into a deep tunnel.
“Mom? Amy? Is anybody home?”
Jason wasn’t afraid of the dark. He hadn’t been ever since he turned seven. Now, at nine years old he knew nothing in the house could hurt him. Still. He figured he should grab his scout flashlight. He didn’t know his way around Mommy’s room very well and didn’t want to stumble looking for the lamp.
It sat on his dresser, along with the tissue and the compass. He grabbed all three.
“Mom?” he said into the room, once more, shining the flashlight into her doorway. What he saw was not her room. It was a hall, at least ten feet long. The walls, floors, and ceiling were made of colorful plastic bricks.
“MOMMMY?” he implored, stepping into the strange hall. It must have taken millions of the tiny bricks to make. Did Amy do this? Had Mommy helped her?
“Jason!” came a muffled cry from somewhere in the distance. “Jason! I can’t see! Where are you?!”
Shining the light into the hall he saw that it turned to the left after the first ten feet or so. Creeping up to the passage Jason saw it led to a switchback tunnel which turned the way he had come. It was long, twenty...maybe thirty feet long. This was impossible. At this size the tunnel would have gone through Mommy’s room and out through the hall and over the living room. Along the right-hand side of the plastic brick corridor stood three passageways.
“Jason! Are you there?” came the cry of his sister from the first opening.
“Amy? Are you in there?” he called to her.
“Jason! I’m stuck!”
He ran into the dark corridor. It led to a vast chamber, easily larger than their entire house! He couldn’t see the edges of the room with his meager electric torch.
In the center of the chamber hung a cage, suspended from a ceiling beyond the reach of the flashlight. It was dome-shaped like an aviary and made entirely of tiny, colorful, interlocking, plastic bricks. Inside it sat Amy.
“Jason! Help me!” called Amy.
“What are you doing? Get out of there!”
“I can't, I'm stuck in a jail!”
“They're just toys! Break yourself out!” Jason said as he swatted at the thin bars made of plastic. The bars didn’t budge. He smashed at them again and again until his hands hurt, but he couldn’t separate the bricks.
“I need a hammer.”
“I could make one!” said Amy, pulling some bricks from her pocket, but she only had a handful of them. Not enough to make a hammer.
“That’s stupid.” Jason said to her. “They’re just plastic. The hammer wouldn’t be strong enough.”
“The bars are plastic too!” she said, defending her logic.
“Look!” said Jason, “There’s a lock with a keyhole!”
“Gimme those bricks!”
She handed them through the bars and Jason connected the handful of bricks into the rough shape of a key. Sticking the key into the lock and turning it, he heard a satisfying click and the bars swung open.
“We need to find mom!” Jason said.
“She’s probably with him.”
“Yeah. The new guy. He threw me in this cage. Said I needed a time-out.”
“The plastic man you made?” said Jason, “He came to life and threw you in a cage?”
“Are you really questioning me at this point?” said his little sister.
“Ok. Yeah. You got a point.”
The kids left the chamber through the door Jason had entered and came out to the long hallway.
“How do we know which door is right?” Jason asked.
“Use your compass.” said Amy.
“You’re so dense. Yes. It points to him. Remember?”
“Ohhhh...” said Jason, finally getting it.
He pulled out the compass and followed the needle. It pointed to the third passage.
Walking toward it he passed the middle doorway.
“What’s in there?” he asked out loud.
“I don’t know. Nothin maybe.”
“It can’t be NOTHING. There must be something in there.”
“Jason, we need to find Mommy. We shouldn’t go looking for more trouble.”
“I just want to take a peek and see what’s in there. It will only be a second.”
“What’s the problem? I’m going in!”
As Jason stepped into the middle room he felt a searing pain down his back. Crying out he fell to his knees and spun around to see Amy standing over him, her right hand was covered in tiny bricks, three protrusions stuck out of it like enormous claws of plastic blocks. Somehow they were sharp as knives.
“I told you not to go in there.” came a voice from within Amy. A voice that was clearly not hers.
“Who are you?” Jason asked as he bled on the floor.
“I’m your widdle sister, Jason.” said the...thing...in a mocking tone.
“You’re not my sister...”
“Oh but I am. Or at least I will be soon enough. All we need to do is go see Daddy. He’ll make a whole...new...YOU! And then we can all be a happy family again.”
“What did you do to the real Amy?”
“Oh big bwutha! Don’t worry. You’ll get to see her one last time!”
The Not-Amy reached out with her plastic hand and dozens of tiny bricks launched at Jason, wrapping around his hands and feet, binding him.
“Come along now!” it said as it dragged him along the bumpy plastic floor. “Let’s not keep Daddy waiting!”
Well, here was my first two-parter, but it might not be my last...don’t worry, next episode will pick up right where this one left off and we can see what becomes of Jason, Amy, Mommy, and...the New Guy.