I stand over my son in the dead of night and lightly stroke the hair spilling across his forehead, the way he likes it.
I move down to bare skin, just light touches here and there with the tip of my index finger. It used to soothe him when he was a babe. I can see the effect hasn’t disappeared with age. He sighs, and a worry line on his forehead fades. He’s still in a deep sleep, eyes moving back and forth in dream.
I trace my way down to the knot of furrowed wrinkles just above the bridge of the nose, an unfortunate genetic heirloom from his daddy.
I tap it playfully.
Must have tickled.
He smacks his lips three or four times, mumbles something to himself. Sounds like the word “pizza.”
I smile in the dark.
Like father, like son.
But the grin is the only movement I make, here in the dark above the bed.
I reach for his face again. But I don’t touch it; not this time. Instead, the pad of my right thumb hovers less then an inch above his closed right eye.
I keep it there. Ten seconds. Twenty seconds. Thirty seconds.
A sharp and quick push is all it would take. After all, eyes are mostly water and nerve tissue, right? And there’s a soft spot beneath the right eye. Not the left, strangely; only the right. One hard shove of the thumb and it would slip like silk into the socket.
The eyeball would pop like a grape on the end of its stem.
I breathe. Around me, darkness breathes.
For the first time I notice the pearls of sweat on my forehead. The beating of my heart is so violent it’s swaying me slightly atop my feet.
I catch myself.
My son sleeps with two pillows. One he sleeps on, the other he clutches to his chest, as if a favorite stuffed toy. I could easily remove it fand turn it around so the cool side’s facing him, and then push…
Push hard, smothering, with all the strength baring down on my shoulders. The fabric, smelling of fabric softener, would immediately stifle any startled screams…
Biting lips, I taste blood.
I should walk away. Turn and walk away and shut the door behind me.
Instead, I tentatively touch the baby-soft flesh connecting my son’s left nostril to the cheek. I do the same on the opposite side of the nose. It’d be simple, really — squeezing each shut with fingers to stifle the flow of air.
So simple — two fingers closing out the nose, the hardened palm mashing shut the mouth.
Right away he’d wake up, of course, though confused and groggy. No raw fright at first. Confusion proved stronger than fear at such early stages.
Some say a man can last long minutes without air. What of a boy? What of my boy? Would those minutes be shortened significantely as he thrashed about, gripped by panic?
I pull both my hands away from his face. Strangely, my fingers ache.
I stand for a moment there, easing down.
Here in the dark, I can still feel my hands slipping around his neck and squeezing.
… Feeling the pulse of his beating heart; a throb against my tightening fingers.
With eyes open, open and staring, my son’s awake. In those eyes I glimpse wispy terrified traces.
I can understand why. Clearly, I’m but a looming shadow next to his bed, vaguely human-shaped, but mostly a mass darker than the surrounding night.
Panic in his voice, the end of the word trilling upward.
“I’m here buddy,” I say, leaning down next to him.
He’s awake, but still asleep, caught in that familiar limbo.
I kiss him on the forehead. “Go back to sleep.”
He whispers something back to me, eyes already closed. He does what he’s told.
Having resisted the urge to kill my son for another night, I exit the boy’s room and make my way down to my own room, crawling into bed and curling around my wife’s warmth.
Sated, I’m out in moments.
Kevin McClintock is a newspaper editor and has sold 10 horror stories. He is working on his first novel. He is a member of the Horror Writers Association.
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