Working Title: Interest Free for Ten Years WIP
First draft of something new. Another in the vein of “be careful what you wish for.” I keep writing things with young narrator perspectives, and I’m not sure that’s a strong suit for me. Additionally, this one still feels a bit rough around the edges. I definitely think the pacing of the last half is off, but I’m not sure how to fix it without turning this into something just ridiculously long. It’s definitely a rough draft, but one I hope to get spruced up. I think it needs to sit a bit, and maybe revisiting it after I’ve gotten a bit of distance will do me some good. I’m not quite the fan of this one like I was for Pheromones, but not everything will always be your favorite! Nonetheless, I hope you enjoy, and let me know any thoughts or suggestions!
Lena knew her dad had been different. It hadn’t been a sudden shift, but at the same time it was a drastic change—drastic in those subtle ways that only a child would notice in her father. He still took good care of her, made sure she always had a well-balanced breakfast, healthy lunch, and hot dinner. She had nice clothes, fun toys, and a room all her own. But he was different. His eyes looked tired and angry so much of the time, and his skin felt hot to the touch when she climbed into his lap at night. The laughing man who had swung her around their stuffy living room was now quiet. Attentive, but distracted. And he left now every night, just after he tucked her into bed. His goodnight routine had shifted from a lengthy ceremony with stories, prayers, and tickling games to a perfunctory kiss on the forehead and distracted “Sleep tight.” Then the hallway light would switch off—though he knew it made her scared to have only the dim nightlight in her room—the front door would creak open, close, and then she would hear his keys scratch against the lock.
The little girl assumed it was because she was, as he had portentously informed her on her last—her tenth—birthday, a big girl now. Maybe big girls did not get told fanciful stories or fight wars with the tickle monster. Certainly big girls did not need hallway lights on. But Lena couldn’t help but feel that, even as big as she was, she still needed a daddy at home while she slept.
He was always home when she woke up. Sometimes he looked even more tired. Sometimes he came home with cuts and bruises. She saw it, but it did not make sense in her young eyes. Why was her daddy coming home with a bloodied lip and jagged tear through his shirt? Why did he sometimes stuff his clothes into thick black garbage bags and tuck those into his trunk? Why did he not sing or smile when he made her breakfast anymore? And why oh why did she sometimes wake to hear thumping steps and something sliding down the attic stairs?
It all began about a year ago, a few weeks after her birthday. She had been tucked tightly into bed when suddenly the sound of whispered voices snuck beneath her door. She could hear her daddy talking to someone, whispering furiously to some other person. The other laughed, deep and bellowing. Lena hated the way that laugh sounded, all deep and echoing. There was no happiness in it, but something cruel instead. Her father’s voice grew a little louder, speaking more quickly. From beneath the laughter, she heard a sharp thud as her father’s voice stopped. Lena hid beneath her covers, terrified to hear the sound of footsteps approaching her room. There was some more talking, a voice she did not recognize giving sharp, barking statements. It was all almost too quiet to hear, but enough to keep her ears straining. Eventually, her ten year old eyes could not remain awake, especially as no footsteps inched nearer. In the morning, her father was in the kitchen and buttering two pieces of toast, just like always. And so Lena assumed the last night was nothing but a bad dream.
After a year of a new daddy standing in front of her day after day, tonight was the same as all the others. The sullen man pulled a steaming, if somewhat bland, meatloaf from the oven. He heaved a portion onto her plate, joined it with a pile of mushy steamed broccoli, and filled her glass with milk. Silently, he sat and ate while she shared about her day at school, her upcoming tests, and those mean things that Lucy Neal said during recess today. Her father just smiled distractedly, nodding at the right places. After dinner, Lena settled in to watch some TV until 8:45 sharp. Her father leaned into the living room.
“Get ready for bed,” he intoned, a hint of irritation already in his voice. Lena wanted to argue, to put up a fuss, but the memory of the last time she tried still hung heavy in the evening air. Her dad had yelled so much, his face all red. His eyes, for once, did not look tired. But they looked oh so angry and that left her scared. Yes, her daddy had changed quite a lot over the last year.
Once she was tucked into bed, she saw, for an instant, a flash of her dad in those eyes as his face hovered over her forehead. She felt her dad in his lips as he gently kissed her forehead, but then he was gone and the tired man was back. Yet seeing that glimpse of her dad made her feel nostalgic—made her feel brave.
“Will you tell me a story, dad?” The man in the doorway paused, sighing heavily.
“No. Go to sleep. I have things to do.”
“Please?” There was that bravery, that childish desire to curl up with her father and listen to him regale her with some fanciful tale.
“I said no!” There was the angry man, and Lena felt herself shrinking into her covers as she began to sob.
“I’m sorry, daddy. I just—just,” she hiccupped with her tears.
“Let me guess,” he began, mocking her, “you just wanted a story?”
Lena nodded, trying to wipe away her tears before he got any angrier.
“Well, here’s a story for you, so sit back and listen. Once upon a time, there was a man. Now, this man wanted nothing in this world more than to have a family. Unfortunately, this man was an idiot who was completely incapable of finding a woman willing to put up with him long enough to incubate a little spawn, so he began to look for other options.
“Adoption wouldn’t work, as he was mostly broke and a single man. And his poor finances also meant he probably couldn’t buy a baby. Plus, the coward didn’t have the stomach to just go out and get one on his own, like any good desperate kidnapper would. The poor man eventually found some friends who could give him just what he wanted, for a price.”
Lena did not like this story. She was crying even harder, trying not to look in the angry eyes glaring at her from her father’s face. Try as she might, the covers could not hide her from those burning eyes.
“So, this stupid man agreed to pay the price so that he could get his bouncing bundle of joy. Within a month, a baby girl was waiting on his doorstep, paperwork included. And the man began to forget all about his little deal, chalking his good fortune up to a miracle.” The man moved and sat beside Lena on the bed. He softly grabbed her face, brushing the tears from her cheeks and the hair from her face. “Now, Lena, let me tell you something very important. When I—When we make a deal, we make it good. We aren’t about halfassing our work, or any of that tricky wish deal folks are always on about. Hell, we even give folks ten years, interest free, 0% APR. Better than any crook car salesman or furniture dealer. But, when that ten years is up, we do expect our payment. I mean, between you and me, that only seems fair. But our stupid little man in this story, he just never thought about how he’d handle it when time to pay came up.
“So, his free years flew past, and we came to collect. Now, you may have heard about selling your soul to the devil, Lena. Maybe you’re too young for that, but it’s a good time to learn. When you sell your soul, you see, you have to sign it over in blood. Someone else’s, specifically. Because we can’t just take souls all willy-nilly—that would be crazy!” The man wearing her father’s face laughed, madness in his angry eyes. “We need them damned, and so you have to make good on your promise. But your daddy, oh, he refused. He said he had a little girl to take care of. Of course! We gave you to him! He tried to go back on our deal, as if us holding up our end of the bargain somehow meant he shouldn’t keep his. But you can’t get out of our deals.”
Lena was frightened, because she suddenly understood those hushed voices from long ago. She understood why the happy man had disappeared and left her with this tired and angry one. And with understanding came fear.
“So, we took what we needed from him. If we can’t have his soul, we can at least have his life. Only thing, he was smart in the details he laid out. You had to have a healthy childhood. So, lucky me, I get stuck with babysitter duty for a snotty brat who wants me to braid her hair, play catch, and tell her sappy bedtime stories. As you’ve probably noticed, that’s not really my,” he waved his hands in the air, searching for the right word “thing. Instead, Lena dear, how about we make a deal?”
She sniffled, looking at him from over the covers. “Are you going to kill me?” He laughed again, but this time it was the same deep and echoing laugh she remembered from months ago.
“Of course not! That would be against the terms of our agreement. And we always honor our bargains, even if your daddy dearest was not so reasonable. I’m just suggesting a partnership. I give you everything you need to have a happy and healthy childhood, you let me do what I need. And shut up about the stupid stories and monsters under the bed. I’m the only monster to really be scared of.” He smiled, jagged teeth peering from behind her father’s pearly whites. “Think you can do that for me?”
Lena nodded numbly, unsure of what was happening. The man wearing her father tousled her hair affectionately. “See, I knew we could work it out. So, you have a good night’s sleep. I’ll see you in the morning, sunshine,” he singsonged on his way out the door.
For the next few weeks, there were no thundering steps up into the attic. No dragging later in the night. In the mornings, her daddy was standing there, fresh as ever with two slices of buttered toast and a glass of orange juice.
One morning, he was smiling a startlingly wide smile.”Morning, Lena. Breakfast is ready. Oh, and I have some business this afternoon—like we discussed?—so I won’t be here when the bus gets home. I’ll leave some dinner in the fridge.”
After getting off the bus to an empty house, Lena heated up the chunky mush from the tupperware. She watched TV all alone, much like she did most nights, she reasoned. Finally, Lena put herself to bed, far too young to do so. She locked the front door carefully, turned out the lights, and pulled the covers up to her chin. It was hard to fall asleep in the oh-so-empty house, but eventually her eyes drifted closed, and she dreamt of laughing faces and human masks.
It was late when the front door thundered open. Her clock read 2:46 as she listened to thumping steps move towards the attic. Lena was curious to a fault, and struggling against the fear that her daddy was really some sort of monster. Seeing that there was nothing going on would prove that all of this had been some strange nightmare, some misunderstanding and stretch of confusion. She opened her door just a crack, just enough to see her father dragging something heavy behind him. The attic stairs slid down, and he moved to drag his cargo up the stairs. Lena saw an empty-eyed face looking back at her from the long package. Stifling a scream, she dove back towards her bed.
A few hours later, the same heavy footsteps pounded back down the stairs. Through the still open sliver of her doorway, she could see the creature in her father’s skin carrying down more lumpy bags. He stomped out to his car, then back in for another bag. Lena shook, squeezing her eyes tight as her heart thundered even more than those pounding footsteps.
The next day, there were cops on her front porch. While she had felt shaky and scared on the phone, Lena knew what she had to do. There was a twinge of guilt as she gave her home address and her daddy’s name to the calm woman on the other end of the line, but she steeled her resolve to get rid of the monster living in her home. It did not take them long to find the evidence, especially with their eleven year old guide happily opening the door and pointing out the creaky attic. The bloodstains and remains up there were enough to convict him a thousand times over. Lena felt scared as they led the man away, but sure that she had made the right choice.
Only, as he left, he bent down next to her to speak for just a moment. She trembled slightly, and the police officers moved quickly to pull him back, but he had just enough time. “I suppose this means the deal is off, Lena dear.” And then he smiled. With that crooked smile, Lena saw her daddy’s eyes once again, sorrowful and scared, just as the police car door slammed shut. And she was not so sure she had made the right choice after all.
This work by Katherine C is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.