A Shirt of Bears

Robert Buswell

And behold it came unto pass in those days that Val and Kenneth drove home from a celebratory function upon a moonless Halloween night. Now Val was something of a cautious person, but Kenneth was not so wary of potential dangers. The rural roadway they traversed homeward had been constructed with the inclusion of multiple curves, leading Val to question Kenneth regarding his ability to drive.

“Ken, do you consider it prudent to text message while navigating these curves at this speed?”

“Fear not, my love,” Ken replied. “I am an accomplished driver and therefore cognizant of my responsibility to deliver us home safely.”

Now Val believed these words to be untrue, but she also realized that the time was not appropriate for an extended discussion upon the topic. Therefore, she wrapped her passenger restraint device about her person and hoped that, of all the possible outcomes given the situation, she would experience the outcome most conducive to happiness.

Not long thereafter, she screamed.

When Ken perceived that a scream had occurred, he focused his full attention upon the highway. He caught a momentary glimpse of something white as he struck the object, causing it to fly headlong from the roadway. He then soundly applied the vehicle’s braking system. When the vehicle had completely ceased forward motion, he queried Val upon the nature of the object he had struck.

“It was undoubtedly a child,” she said.

Now Ken trembled within upon hearing her words, saying, “Does it seem feasible that a child would be trick-or-treating way out here?”

Val, weeping, said, “We are ruined, for we have killed a child.”

When the police arrived, Val supplied to them her best-remembered description, saying she would never forget the child’s face. Nor, she opined, would she ever neglect to remember the expression the child wore in the instant prior to impact.

The law enforcement officers first examined the vehicle, finding a small area upon the front which suggested a recent collision. They penetrated the woods and searched therein. They visited the residences within walking distance of the area, inquiring whether children were missing. They administered tests upon Val and Ken to determine if either person showed signs of the influence of intoxicants.

Yet after hours of labor, the entire efforts of the police yielded no results.

The police person in charge finally released the two with a stern admonition about the hazards of texting while driving and drove them home, for the police had elected to retain their vehicle for further forensic testing.

During the time which consisted of the following month, the police saturated the area of the collision with their investigative efforts. The police laboratory’s employees found that, contrary to expectations, no evidence from the impacted object had been transferred to the vehicle’s bumper, causing the lab’s employees to return the vehicle to Val and Ken. No person in the immediate area, nor even anyone in the extended area, could fail to account for their own progeny.

And there the matter rested for all but Val, for she alone saw the child’s face and was unable to cleanse her psyche of the specter of the child’s horrified look as the car bore rapidly towards it.

Years passed. During that time, Val and Ken copulated, such copulation being the event antecedent to the birth of their own child. And verily Val, with her considerable unease concerning the Halloween holiday, was unduly concerned that some misfortune should befall their child. For that reason, Val never let the child trick, nor did she allow the child to treat. On every Halloween night, Val and Ken could be discovered within the safety of their four walls.

Now Ken supposed this a harmless quirk in Val’s personality, but only supposed it so because Val could not bear to present her thoughts to him. For the truth was that as their offspring grew, Val became steadily more frightened. As the child’s face elongated and filled out, Val believed that she recognized it. She doubted her suspicions, not wanting to believe them, and hoped that she was only falling prey to imagination.

But in her heart, Val knew.

In the year their child turned five, Halloween found Val and Ken at home, as was their custom. And Val was strung very tightly, but Ken was relaxed. The child played with building blocks as Ken watched a television program. Val, however, sat in a nearby chair in a state of near panic, for there was no mistaking that face.

Now after some length of time had passed, the fullness of Val’s bladder caused her to visit the bathroom. When she returned, the child was gone. And she moaned in such a way that Ken’s veins iced and his hair unaccountably rose from its customary position on his neck.

Val demanded to know where the child had gone, but Ken urged her to relax. He told her the child had merely gone to prepare for bed. And the child chose this precise moment to reappear in the doorway.

Val experienced the urge to cry out.

For the child wore a white nightshirt. And the shirt’s front side presented a depiction of two cuddly bears locked in embrace. Val belatedly recognized the shirt, realizing too late that she had suppressed the memory of the shirt in favor of the memory of the child’s face. She ran toward the child with the intention of stripping off the shirt by force. And Ken was briefly concerned for her sanity, but only briefly.

For as Ken and Val gazed upon the child, it looked beyond them with an expression of surprise and terror. Val knew what the child could see, but Ken knew not.

Val had nearly reached the child when it was suddenly lifted straight up, as if by an unseen hand, and flew rapidly backwards down the hallway. The child lay quite still after that.

Val, when she saw this, experienced permanent loss of function in a vital organ and slumped to the floor. Ken, supposing her to have fainted, ran to the child and saw that it had been struck with a very solid object, for there was significant blunt trauma. There was no possibility, Ken knew, that the child had survived the impact, for the child had massive head injuries. He nonetheless began to dial for emergency services on his cellular telephone as he returned to Val and discovered her condition.

He stopped dialing and panicked then, for he was alone in a home with two recently-deceased persons, having no explanation for their cause of death. And his psychological health was unusually poor when the police arrived several days later in response to a neighbor’s complaint about the odors of decomposition.

ROBERT BUSWELL is a volunteer railroad employee who is employed full-time in the aeronautics industry. He also writes stories featuring dire warnings about unsafe driving practices. These stories further his fulfillment of a judicially-imposed community service obligation for unpaid traffic fines. His stories have been published recently in Traffic Cautions Literary Magazine, Avoidable Wreckage Review, Semi-True Stories of Irresponsible Driving Behavior, and Jersey Devil Press. He owns two bathtub stoppers, is fascinated with ash, and collects discarded light bulbs. He lives and works in Houston.

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