obbing silently, the boy lay still in the dark. Hoping it would end. Hoping he would wake and he could run to Mommy’s room and her comforting arms. But it didn’t end. And Bobby kept dreaming. This was worse than Bobby’s first day of school when Mommy left him with nothing more than a hug and a ‘be good, my darling angel’.
After the Bandersnatch had passed the fireflies slowly began to reappear: organic constellations swirling and swooping above the muck. With them came the sounds of the forest. Boughs creaked as trees sighed with relief: it’s gone. Chirping crickets passed the word along: it’s safe. In the distance, the warbling wail of some swamp bird answered: it’s over.
Bobby had fallen in the midst of a dense, swampy forest. Crooked trees crowded around the boy, their bark painted with swatches of brown moss and green slime, their gnarled roots clutching at the muddy ground. From above faint starlight filtered through rotted leaves and the tangled branches to which they clung.
As the boy searched his surroundings he saw an orange light winking through the trees. On. Then off. Then on again, this time to stay.
Soaking wet and covered in mud Bobby got to his feet. The boy looked at his filthy hands, trying to brush the muck off on his filthier pajamas. What a mess, Mommy would say, time to draw a bath, but she never really drew anything.
The bath would have to wait though. For now, Bobby started toward the light, winding his way through bent trees and around puddles of darkly still water. When he was almost there, when he could nearly see the source through the trees, it went out. A second later, it was on again and Bobby stepped through the trees into another clearing. This one was made up of three greasy tile walls and a flaking linoleum floor all smeared with crusty, brown filth. Bobby was in a kitchen, complete with stove and oven set and a row of tiled counters.
There, in the middle of it all, sat an open refrigerator casting its orange light into the kitchen and the forest beyond. A corpulent cook stood, bent over, investigating its contents.
The cook was as tall as the fridge and a bit wider. When she saw Bobby enter the kitchen, she smiled wide, scratching under her hairnet with one hand and ashing her cigar with the other. Sweat dripped from her face and dampened her clothing.
“Hey, kid.” The voice was a gruff man’s voice, and it took Bobby a moment to realize it had come from the cook. “Wha’chu need, kid?” She puffed at her cigar and wiped her hands on her apron, adding another set of prints to the already greasy cloth. “You hungry?” The cook took a dead cat from the fridge by the tail and turned from Bobby. She moved slowly, laboriously maneuvering her bulk across the kitchen floor to a counter onto which she flopped the cat with a grunt.
Wiping drying tears from his face with the back of one hand, Bobby took a step into the kitchen. The small boy was hungry but he didn’t think this kitchen made anything he would like. One look into the open fridge confirmed this assumption. No peanut butter and grape jelly sandwiches with the crusts cut off; no apple wedges with the seeds removed; no cold milk in a plastic monkey cup, Bobby’s cup. Instead, fuzzy gray mold covered most everything. A number of flies picked at a bowl of fruit, once juicy and sweet, now blackly misshapen and festering. More bowls, filled with grubs and maggots of varying sizes. Another cat. And is that Oscar’s one-eared rabbit?
The boy looked away. He didn’t want to know. He just wanted to find Mommy.
Mommy. Despite his best efforts, Bobby felt the tears begin to well up. He tried his hardest to fight them down like a big boy, but they must have shown because the cook asked:
“What’s eatin’ you, kid? You tell Cookie all about it.” She reached down to tug at her sagging stockings.
“I los’ Mommy,” Bobby explained tearfully.
“Sorry to hear that. You eat somethin’, you feel better,” The huge woman took a bloodied cleaver from its hook on the wall and raised it high. “Let Cookie fix you a snack.” At home Mommy would make ants-onalog – but they weren’t ants, they were raisins and they taste better than ants.
Cookie worked from a different cookbook. She brought the knife down and the cat’s head plopped to the floor. Bobby jumped. Another chop and the tail joined the head. The cook lifted the cat by its hind legs and sliced it longways. The innards dripped wetly to the counter. Flies buzzed. Bobby wrinkled his nose and closed his eyes. Wake up, he told himself, but nothing happened.
“I need t’find Mommy,” he insisted, eyes still shut. Tears began to leak from between Bobby’s eyelids. His lower lip shot out. Big boys don’t cry. But Bobby did.
“Don’t cry, kid.” Cookie opened the oven and tossed the cat carcass in. The door clanged shut. One heavy step, two heavy steps and Cookie was in front of Bobby. She patted the boy’s head, adding droplets of sweat to the tears on his face. She smelt like Papa Chuck. Like smoke and medicladed creams – they’re for his joints. “The only mommy I know, kid, is my Ma and her kid don’t look nothin’ like you.” Cookie smiled hopefully, leaking cigar smoke from nose and mouth: “But maybe my Ma can help you find your Mommy?”
Bobby looked up at the kind cook. Maybe? Cookie went on, “Ma lives just through there,” she pointed to a door across the kitchen and stood, returning to her culinary preparations. She snatched a bowl of writhing creatures from the fridge. They looked like insect lavras – that means baby bugs. Tasting a few noisily, the cook dropped a handful onto a heated griddle. They sizzled. Bobby started for the door.
Smoke was beginning to seep from the oven but Bobby didn’t care. Cookie’s Ma. Through the door. Cookie’s Ma was going to help Bobby find Mommy. The foul-smelling smoke stung Bobby’s eyes. Made him cry more.
Cookie was at the fridge, rummaging about. Her muffled voice came from the chilly appliance, “sure you don’t wanna stay, kid?” Bobby turned, his hand on the door’s knob. Cookie found what she needed and stood, one hand on the fridge door. “I’ll fix ya somethin’ nice.” Cookie smiled, swinging the fridge door shut. The light went out.
No more Cookie.
No more smoke.
Just a dark kitchen. And then the voice: BOBBY…
Bobby, Bobby, Bobby. Bobby hated the way his name sounded in that raspy voice. YES, BOBBY: STAY. From the trees a crouching shape emerged, stalking closer as the voice whispered inside Bobby’s head. STAY. I’LL FIX YOU NICELY. There: the eyes. Bobby remembered those gleaming eyes.
As it approached, the shape became a mangy dog. Bobby thought it might be the dog called wolf. Its fur was matted down with some thick, dark liquid. Blood? And those eyes. They glowed, boring into the boy, filling him with fear. The wolf stopped at the other side of the kitchen and laid down, head on paws, nonchalant. Watching, waiting, whiling.
“Go’way,” Bobby shouted. Where’s Mommy? “Wha’d’yu want?”
REMEMBER YOUR WISH, BOBBY? YOUR BIRTHDAY WISH?
No more nightmares. Like a big boy.
SILLY BOBBY. YOU DIDN’T WISH FOR AN END TO NIGHTMARES. The voice hissed a laugh and the wolf lifted its head, grinning toothily. YOU WISHED TO NEVER WAKE UP.
“Lee’me alone!” Bobby turned to the kitchen door and pushed. It squealed and creaked and groaned in protest but opened anyway. He passed through the doorway and the door closed behind.
Copyright © 2003