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Thursday, October 4, 2012

YOU CAN CALL ME DANNY Is on the way. See what is to come....

I am not only working on cover ideas for the novel You Can Call Me Danny, but also working to make it the best that is can possibly be.  Editing, revising, deciding how to accomplish what I am trying to do with a story I think will long live a the reader's memory but also show, not tell a message in life.  There are things that happen we can turn a blind eye to or realize and gain understanding with.  With understanding and care, a helping hand or the concern and help of another can make a lot of difference.  There are also things in life that have no real answers, only what we think may be the answer.  What really is or is not, is something that may remain a mystery... a story to tell or a sinister shadow that haunts.


            A young child trapped in a nightmare life had a special friend.  His friend told him, that he could call him Danny.  Danny was his only friend.  No one but Steven could see or hear Danny.  Was Danny a friendly ghost there protecting, or was there more to this entity than anyone might suspect?  Steven began to think Danny might be a Guardian Angel but angel or evil…only time would tell….. because Steven would tell no one and betray his friend and that friend was there to stay.
          Steven eventually made two new friends at school who shared so much in their disturbed and distraught family lives.  They were about to share more as things began to occur beyond their control.
           Sneaking through the darkness of night, Steven went to his friend Jimmy’s house.  The drama that occurred at Jimmy’s house was mild compared to the conclusion of the activities he had left behind.
          Tragedy and chaos, murder and an end to life as Steven had known, erupted in his household in the dark of night. 
           They found themselves speeding down the highway with a man of questionable character as they left a life behind that felt like a nightmare with no hope.  Where they would go was a question only the future and life could answer.  The real life nightmare they left was more than they could imagine as the night of changes swiftly developed in all directions. 

         Three young boys fled in the night.  It was a night that would change their lives forever.  If it was a new beginning or a new nightmare of a different kind, only time would tell….and we can not forget Danny.  He would not want to be left behind.  “You can call me Danny.”

These are a few of the covers I am considering.  Knowing the story behind the cover makes a difference and I would love to hear what you think.



Five-year-old Stevie Johnson pushed the toy truck back and forth and back and forth along the floor of his room until tiring at last, he stopped and pulled the toy man from it. He gazed at the little plastic man reflectively. It had dark hair just like his father. As he contemplated the toy, he thought about the time his father had lifted him by the neck and thrown him against the bedroom wall. Leaving Stevie in a crumpled heap on the floor, Michael Johnson had stormed out of the room cursing.

Still thinking about that time, Stevie placed the toy man on the floor. He began running the truck over it, first slowly and then faster and faster, his anger towards his father growing with each swift movement of his hand. All of a sudden he picked up the truck and slammed it down on the little man, crushing the toy beyond repair. He smiled with satisfaction at the mutilated object of his revenge.

“What the hell, do you think you’re doing?” a voice in the doorway asked.
Stevie looked up into the furious face of his mother.

“What’s wrong with you?” she shouted. “There is something wrong with you. Why do you act like you do?” She stepped quickly into the room and grabbed Stevie by his upper arms, her fingers digging painfully into his young flesh. He cowered as she continued her tirade, lifting him off the floor in her rage. “I’m sorry for the day I gave birth to you. All you ever do is cause trouble. You learn to play and play right! Your Dad and I pay good money for all your toys and you never take care of them. You had better take care of them or I will throw all of them away and you can just sit in here by yourself forever. Do you hear me?”

“You can throw them away if you want. I don’t care. I don’t care what you do.”
The sound of the slap across his face resounded throughout the small room. Stevie fell on his side and curled into a small ball, fighting the tears he did not want her to see. “I don’t care, I don’t care what you do.”

The door slammed and the tears finally came as sobs racked the small body lying on the floor.
“It’s going to be all right. I think you are a good boy. The only thing wrong with you is that they are too stupid to see how special you really are. They don’t deserve a boy as special as you.”
Startled by the sound of the strange voice, Stevie looked up through his tears. There was no one there. Cautiously, he sat up and looked behind him. There was a man sitting on the edge of his bed.
“Who’re you?” Stevie asked in astonishment.

“My name is Daniel Montgomery Manderville, but you can call me Danny. What should I call you?”
Stevie paused for a moment. He was uncertain if he should be talking to this strange man. Deciding it was safe, he said, “My name is Steven Michael Johnson, but everybody calls me Stevie. Where did you come from? I didn’t hear you come in.”

“I’m here, and around, all the time,” Danny explained. “I’ve just never had the chance to meet you before.”

“Your clothes look kind of funny,” Stevie observed with curiosity. “How come you don’t wear blue jeans like everybody else?”

“I wear these, because they suit me. I’ve had them a very long time. Don’t you like the way I dress?”
Stevie smiled at the stranger hesitantly. “Sure Danny, I like them just fine. Do you want to see my new fire truck?” Without waiting for an answer, he went to get the toy. By the time he turned around again, Danny was gone. Puzzled, Stevie went over to the bed. Crouching on his hands and knees, he peered under the bed to see if his new friend was hiding there. Not seeing him, he left his room and went in search of him, wondering why he had not heard a sound when Danny left. Determined to find him, he went to his parents’ room and again, on hands and knees, peered under the bed. He started as he heard his mother’s voice.

“What in the world are you doing, Stevie? I saw you walking all around taking your little sneaky steps, and now you’re looking under my bed? If you’re trying to sneak up on Scruffy, I’ve told you before not to scare the cat anymore. It’s not a game.”

“I’m not looking for Scruffy.”

“Then what are you looking for, or what kind of new game is this you’re playing?”

“It’s not a game. I’m looking for my new friend, Danny. He’s got to be here somewhere.”

“Well, you and your pretend friend need to get ready for lunch. After we eat, you can help me with the laundry downstairs.”

“I don’t like it downstairs. It feels like people are watching me.”

Marsha glanced impatiently at him, though there were times, she had to admit, she too had felt a presence in the basement. But that was not something a child needed to know.

“You have such an imagination,” she tried to reassure him. “The basement is just kind of dark, and that makes it seem spooky. There’s no one there. No one can come in or out of our apartment without the buzzer sounding. Don’t you remember when Daddy put that in? Anyway, you know I can’t leave you here all by yourself. Who knows what you might get into?”

“I wouldn’t be by myself. Danny is here someplace. He’ll keep me company.”

“Stevie, there’s no way anyone could come in without us knowing.” To prove her point, she went to the door and opened it. “See? Nobody can get in here without the buzzer going off.”

Stevie was thoughtful during lunch. He was wondering why the buzzer hadn’t gone off when Danny had come to visit him. “If Danny couldn’t open the door without the buzzer going off, then how did he come in?” he asked.

“Danny is just a pretend friend like your stuffed bear,” Marsha said distractedly. “It’s okay to have a pretend friend, but we need to know the difference between pretend and real.”

Stevie put down his half eaten French fry in frustration. “I told you Danny is not pretend, Mom. He’s real. I saw him.” Stevie then went into detail about what Danny looked like and the clothes he wore.
Marsha had heard enough. “Did you see what people wore a long time ago on TV?” she asked impatiently.

Stevie let out an exasperated sigh. “Mom, I told you Danny was sitting there on the bed. He told me his name and when I asked about his clothes, he said he’d had them for a long time. I even asked how he got in here and he told me he was here…and around…all the time. That’s why I’ve been looking for him, to see where he is.”

Marsha felt a cold chill. There were many times she had felt there was someone in the apartment. She had wanted to tell her husband, but found no way of doing so without sounding ridiculous. She was sure that even if she did tell him about the eerie feeling she had from time to time, he would start an argument and put it all down to her drinking. She saw nothing wrong with a person drinking and if she had the occasional beer for breakfast, so what? Who was he to pass judgment? There was many a time he came home from work and drank until he fell asleep.

They were always quarreling, she and Michael. He made fun of everything that was important to her. She believed in witchcraft and spells and that kind of thing. She’d read a lot of books on the subject. She was not alone in her beliefs. Even then, Michael still made fun of her. She shrugged. The fact was, she didn’t care what he thought as long as he provided for her and Stevie, though they needed a better place to live. The neighborhood had become dangerous.

The area of the city where they lived had at one time been an enclave of the rich and powerful. Over the years, it had gone downhill considerably. The once stately homes had been sold, resold, and most of them remodeled into apartment buildings with two or three apartments in each. Marsha and Michael’s third floor apartment was part of one of those large and once elegant homes built in the eighteen hundreds. The rest of the building was now empty, the tenants on the other floors having trashed the apartments and the landlord never having bothered to repair them.

Many homes in the neighborhood had been broken into. The possibility of intruders was a constant concern to everyone. Stevie never went outside, except on the rare occasion with his father. Even then, it was unsafe to sit out on the front porch or play in the yard. There were frequent drive by shootings, vehicles being broken into and even abductions. Michael was concerned for his son’s safety, but rarely had time or made time to do things with him. He worked long hours and spent his days off drinking and partying with his friends. On the weekends, visitors came and went and there was always loud music, alcohol and drugs of different kinds.

Stevie dreaded those parties. At those times, his mother, fond of her beer and wine, seemed to forget she had a son. It wasn’t long before Stevie concluded parties were bad, because the longer the party, the meaner the grownups became. He was forced to stay in his room and not bother them. If he didn’t stay in his room, his parents locked him in, leaving him alone. If he didn’t stay quiet, they would turn off the lights. Then they would turn the music up so loud no one could hear his screams or cries. He was alone in the dark.

But what Stevie dreaded even more than being locked up in a dark room alone were the times when his aunt babysat him. His stomach twisted into a sickened knot as he thought about the things she made him do and the things she would do to him as she smirked, “Now it’s time for you to be a little man. Be a man. I’m going to make you a man.  He closed his eyes and many things came to mind.  He visualized an alligator lunging out of the water to snap and consume it’s prey.  He smelled the suffocating sweet scent of her perfume.  The smell of it filled him and he could not breath, thinking of it.  He could see her smile.  Her eyes glinted with a predatory nature that could consume him and reminded him of a big cat about to pounce.  He did not want to be what she pounced on.  He did not want to be consumed and be no more.  Maybe he did not want to ever be a man.
“No one wants to hear anything you say. You’re just a kid, but someday you’ll be a man.”  Those were the words he dreaded as he heard her talking about being a man.  Be a man.  Stevie’s little shoulders sagged.

But his parents loved him. They loved him in their own way.  Many thoughts and memories flooded his little mind.  There were times his father smiled and appeared to be proud of Stevie.  His mother would buy him some special toy and tell him it was because they loved him.  They must love him because he had a lot of toys.  It wasn’t often, but there were other times when he thought they loved him, like when they went camping together on the piece of land his father had bought in the Missouri Ozarks. It was a beautiful wooded area with lakes and trails. The only time Stevie ever felt free was when they were camping. His parent still got drunk, but they were nicer to him and there were no bedrooms to lock him in. If friends came along, as they did from time to time, he just stayed out of their way.  His aunt never went camping.

From as early as Stevie could think, he had realized the only time anybody noticed he existed was if he did or said things that made them angry. But he didn’t care if they yelled at him and called him names. He didn’t care if they got mad, because he felt angry all the time.  He was sure they never thought or cared if he was angry.  It seemed the only person who liked him and cared about his thoughts and feelings was Danny, but his mother didn’t like him having Danny as a friend. Besides, she thought Danny was a pretend friend. But he wasn’t. He was real.  He was very real.  He didn’t understand how Danny appeared and disappeared like he did. He shared as much with Danny one day when he came to visit.

“Where did you come from?” he asked. “I didn’t hear you come in. Did Mom see you? She’ll be mad. She says you’re just pretend.”

Danny smiled. “Your Mom can’t see me unless I want her to see me. I’m your special friend.”
Stevie hesitated. “I wish you would want mom to see you so she would quit telling me that you are just make believe. If she could see you, then she wouldn’t get mad at me when I talk about you.”
Danny smiled that patient smile of his again. “It would make no difference if she could see me. She seems to find things to get mad about and takes it out on you. She is really mad at herself. Since I am your special friend then only you can see me. Do you understand?”

Stevie thought about it. “I don’t really understand,” he confessed. “But I’m glad you’re my friend.” He paused thoughtfully before confiding, “I don’t like it when my Mom’s mean to me. You’re lucky because you’re big. She can’t just pick you up or throw you around if she gets mad at you for being my friend. I bet she’d be afraid to hit you. I’ll be glad when I get big so people can’t do things to me and hurt me.”

“You’ll be big soon enough,” Danny told him. He squatted and looked Stevie in the eye. “I would never hurt you, Stevie.”

Stevie looked at him uncertainly.

“You can trust me,” Danny assured him. “I am your special friend and will be forever.
Stevie nodded. “I know you’d never hurt me, Danny. You’re too nice to be mean, like other grownups.”

Again, he wondered how Danny had got in without the alarm going off. “How did you get in here without my Dad’s alarm going off?” he asked.

“I told you before, I’m always around.” Danny stood back up and sat on the bed. Stevie climbed up beside him. “I looked everywhere and you weren’t here. I looked everywhere except the basement. I don’t understand,” he confided, still unable to stifle his curiosity.

“I guess you didn’t look everywhere then, did you?” Danny smiled. “Don’t worry about trying to understand. Do you trust me?”

Stevie frowned in thought for a moment. “Sure I trust you,” he said hesitantly. A smile suddenly lit his face. “You’re my best friend, Danny. You’re my only friend. If it’s a secret, you can tell me.”

“People can only find and see me when I want them to,” Danny explained patiently. “That may be hard for you to understand, but if you really trust me, then you can believe what I tell you and not worry about it. You’re my friend too. I’ll visit you at times and keep you company. My visiting is not a secret, but we don’t need to tell others because they won’t understand. They never listen or care anyway, so why should we tell them?”

Stevie looked confused. “It’s just that I don’t understand why Mom can’t see you. She thinks I’m lying about you and you’re only in my imagination.”

“Do I look and sound like your imagination?”

“You look just like anyone else. I don’t know what you would look like if you were only in my imagination like Mom says. I think you’re right that they don’t listen or care anyway.” He moved closer to Danny with a conspiring smile. “Maybe it could be our secret for just you and me.”

“Why, I think that is a capital idea,” Danny smiled back. “You are very smart. If it is a secret that I am here, then we don’t have to worry what others might think or what to tell them or not tell them. If we do not tell them anything there will be nothing for them to question or get mad about. Would you promise me that you will tell no one I am here or about anything that we talk about? That would make me feel better.” Danny lowered his voice as if he did not want anyone to overhear their secret conversation. “I’ll make you a promise too.”

“What?” Stevie asked excitedly.

“I promise to look out for you. I promise to be your friend and care about you and love you. I’ll teach you things and share secrets with you. I will take care of you and never leave you. Even if you do not see me, I will be with you always and be a part of you. You will never have to feel alone. But you must trust me and only me. Do we have a deal?” He held out his hand to seal their secret pact. 

A cold draft filled the room as they shook hands. Danny smiled again as he slid his arm around his shoulder. “I’ll always be your friend, Stevie. You never have to feel alone again or think that no one will listen to you. I’ll always listen to you and care about you.”

There was a noise outside the door and Stevie tensed. He quickly slid from the bed and peeked out the door, worried his mother might have overhead him speaking to Danny. She was loading a large laundry basket to carry down the steep, narrow, curving stairs to the laundry area in the basement and had obviously heard nothing. Silently, Stevie eased the door shut and listened to her footsteps disappearing towards the stairs. He breathed a sigh of relief. She had forgotten him. He turned to share the good news with Danny. There was no one there. Startled, his eyes flitted around the room. He ran over to the bed and looked underneath it. He checked the closet, but there was not a trace of Danny. Just then, there was a bumping sound followed by a loud scream. Alarmed, Stevie ran to the door and opened it. He went quickly down the passage to the doorway for the basement stairs.

He hesitated, peering down the steep stairs leading down to the basement. “Mom?” he called. There was no response. He started at the sound of the front door opening then relaxed a bit as the alarm was silenced. His father was home.

Michael called out to his wife as he came into the apartment, but again there was no response. Seeing Stevie standing by the open door to the basement, he frowned. “Where is your mother?” he asked gruffly.

“I don’t know,” Stevie answered fearfully. “I was playing in my room and heard some weird noises. I think she went to do the laundry.”

“Get out of the way,” Michael barked and stomped down the stairs.

Stevie immediately realized something was wrong as he watched his parents making their way slowly up the narrow stairs. His father was almost carrying his mother who could hardly walk. Stevie moved out of their way quickly as his father took her to the living room and helped her to the couch.

Worriedly, he watched as his father checked his mother’s head, arms and the back of her legs. There were bruises everywhere. Michael went and got her a glass of water. “What the hell happened?” he asked as he handed it to her.

“Michael, you have no idea what I go through.”  She winces in pain as she continues.  She puts a hand to her head.  “I am lucky I lived through this.  It could have killed me, and for what?  I went downstairs to do the laundry,” Marsha explained between sobs and tears. “I felt someone push me from behind and the next thing I knew I was falling down the stairs. I hit my head where the stairs turn sharply.  Someone pushed me, I tell you.  I was carrying the laundry basket and someone… I felt hands on my back…. Pushed me down the stairs.”

“You left Stevie alone upstairs?”

“I was so upset by the way he was behaving, I decided to let him stay in his room.”  Marsha ducked her head drying it with the back covering her face with both hands.  Her voice was muffled.  “Maybe you just don’t care?”   Need her doing something here like drying her tears with the back of her hand. She raised her head and shot Stevie an accusing look as she wiped the tears with the back of her hand, “He was the only other person in the apartment.  Do you hear what I am saying?”

 Michael glanced at Stevie. He had been at the top of the stairs looking down when he came home. But he was too small to be able to push an adult down the stairs. On the other hand, it might have been possible to knock Marsha off balance if she had both hands full with that big laundry basket. He hated to think his son would do such a thing, but, as Marsha had said, there was no one else in the apartment.

“Are you sure you were pushed?” he asked Marsha. “Maybe you lost your balance trying to carry that big basket.”

Marsha rubbed her head where a dark bruise was forming. “I’m sure. I know when I’ve been pushed. I could feel hands on my back and then down I went. That little son of a bitch was getting back at me because he got in trouble earlier.” She started sobbing again. “You don’t know what it’s like to have to deal with him day in day out. You have no idea how hard it is for me. You need to do something about him, Michael. I can’t deal with him anymore.  I could have died.”

Stevie froze in fear as he looked from his mother to his father who had now turned to face him. “Well, you heard what she said. What have you got to say for yourself? Did you push your own mother down the stairs?’ His voice was harsh with barely contained anger as he continued, “Why do you act up all of the time and cause all these problems? Why?”

Stevie’s voice quivered as he tried to explain. “I’d never hurt Momma. I was playing in my bedroom. I don’t know what happened to her. I heard weird noises and a scream. I went to look for her, but I couldn’t find her and then you got home and…I love Momma.”

“When I came in, you were standing at the top of stairs. If you didn’t push her then tell me who did?”
Stevie fought the tears that were threatening to come. Why were they blaming him? How could they believe he would do such a thing?

Days later, the bruises all over his small body had become dark purple, black and yellow. The dark bruises around his neck where his father had dug into his throat resembled the purple petals of a flower. His body ached all over, but the pain and emptiness he felt inside hurt much worse than his battered and beaten little body. He spent most of the time in his bedroom. Feeling no desire to play with his toys, he sat in the corner of the room watching tiny particles of dust swirl in the swath of a sunbeam that had made its way through the window. He slowly rose to sit in the little chair by the window and gazed at the people coming and going on the street below. Seeing the cars passing by, he wished he had someplace to go where he would be safe and happy.

“I’ve missed you, my little friend,” the familiar voice behind him said. Stevie turned to see Danny standing at the bedroom door.

“I should have come to see you sooner, but sometimes time gets away from me. One day is like all days. How have you been?”

As usual, Stevie had not heard the door open. He had heard no alarm sound on the outside doors. He would never understand how Danny came and went as he did, but he was relieved to see him. Even then, he could not shake the depression and feeling of misery he had felt since his mother fell and he had been blamed. He was sure neither of his parents loved him and he didn’t know what to do to earn their love. No matter how hard he tried, he was always in the wrong.

“If you don’t feel like talking, I can always come back another time,” Danny said gently.
Stevie rose from his chair. “Oh, no, I’m glad to see you. It’s just that...well,...I’m glad to see you.”

“You don’t look too happy. Is it anything you want to talk about or that I might be able to help with?” Danny walked over to the window where Stevie had been sitting and sat down cross-legged on the floor.

Stevie looked at Danny somberly. “My mom and dad both hate me. Everything is always my fault even if I don’t know how things happened or what happened, it’s still my fault.”

“What are they blaming you for this time?” Danny asked in the soothing voice that always had a calming effect on Stevie.

“Something bad happened,” Stevie said with a defeated sigh.

“Have there been bad things happening? Seeing Stevie hesitate, he added, “You can tell me anything.”
He observed Stevie as he patiently waited for the child to answer.

“Everything here is bad. Momma fell down the basement stairs and told my dad that I pushed her. I would never push my momma down the stairs or try to hurt her. I don’t know why she would tell him that. I told him the truth and he still got mad and beat me.” Overcome by emotion, he stopped speaking. He sat with his head hung and tears glistening in his eyes.

Danny frowned as he looked at Stevie’s neck. “Your dad is the one that put those marks on you, isn’t he?”

At first, Stevie didn’t answer. When he did, his voice was little more than a whisper. “I know he didn’t mean to hurt me like he did. He was just mad because of the lie mom told him. I try not to make them mad at me, but no matter what, I’m always bad.  I really don’t know why my Momma would lie and say I tried to hurt her,  Why would she say something like that?”

“You are not bad at all. You are one of the best little boys I have ever known. Your dad should learn to listen to you more and your mom should drink less beer and pay more attention. Maybe if she drank less, she would not fall down stairs. None of that is your fault. You need to know that and believe me.” For the first time since Stevie had known him, there was anger in Danny’s voice. Stevie looked at him nervously, but quickly realized Danny was not angry with him, but on his account. He felt relief that there was someone who believed in him and didn’t blame him for things he had not done.
After a while, Danny said, “What about your aunt? I’ve seen her here a few times.”

Stevie sat silently thinking. He did not like to think about what his aunt did to him or how he felt, but Danny was his real friend and the only one he could talk to about his problems.

“I don’t like my auntie Lee. She does things and then lies about it. She gets me in trouble and I don’t like her. I can’t say anything about her though or everyone says I’m a liar and then I get into real bad trouble. I wish she would never come back.” He hung his head again. “I don’t want to talk about her anymore. It makes me feel bad to even think about her.”

“You don’t have to talk about anything you don’t want to talk about. I just want you to know you are not alone anymore. You have a friend. You have me.”

“Want to draw pictures with me?” Stevie asked hopefully. Without waiting for an answer, he went to his closet to find his coloring book and crayons. As he rummaged through the closet, he heard Danny say, “I can’t stay long right now, but maybe you could make me some pictures for the next time I visit.”

Stevie stuck his head out of the closet to answer. “I’ll make you a bunch of pictures, but can’t you stay and color with me for just a little while? Danny?” Once again, Danny had vanished. This time, Stevie was determined to find out how he disappeared like magic. Remembering a movie with secret places behind the walls he had once seen, he began tapping on the walls to find a hidden entrance to the room. It was the only explanation. As he reached the center of the wall, his bedroom door opened. His mother stood in the doorway staring at him. There was beer on her breath.

“What are you doing?” Marsha asked. “I heard you tapping on the walls.”

Stevie thought quickly. He knew whatever he told her, it couldn’t be the truth. “I saw a TV show about old houses. Some of them had secret passages and places to hide in the walls. Maybe since this is an old house there’s some treasure or something hidden in the walls.”

Marsha laughed and Stevie thought he saw a glimmer of love in her eyes. The sound of his mother’s laughter made him happy, even if she was laughing at him.

“This house is plenty old,” Marsha smiled. “But I don’t think you’ll find any treasure. But knock on the walls all you want. Just don’t knock any holes in them we’ll have to fix. I wouldn’t knock too loud though or you might wake up a ghost or two.”

“What do you mean?” Stevie asked curiously.

Marsha smiled wisely. “As old as this house is, there was probably more than one person who died here. I’ve read a lot about things like that in my books. I’m actually kind of an expert on spirits and special things like that.”

Stevie stared at her in wonder. He had never seen her seem so interested in talking to him. But he loved the feeling she wanted to be with him and he wanted her good mood to last. He tried to think of something to say that would prolong it. Cautiously, he cleared his throat. “That’s really neat,” he said, hoping that was the right thing to say. Seeing it seemed to be, he went on to ask, “Do you really think there might be ghosts in our house? What does a ghost look like?”

Marsha gave him an amused look. She pulled her shoulders back, seeming to stretch even taller than usual as she stood in the doorway. “I’m afraid you’re way too young to understand such things. Maybe when you get older we can talk about the supernatural.”

“I could try and understand,” Stevie pleaded. “What is supernatural? If you tell me things then I could learn.” He was desperate for more of this attention she was giving him and it was obvious that talking about these things put her in a good mood.

“Maybe, some other time I can teach you some things. I have a lot of books about things like that. I’m sure if there was a ghost in our house I would be the first to know about it and be able to contact it.” To his disappointment, she changed the subject. “There are hot dogs, chips and cookies for lunch. You can eat in the kitchen or bring it in here if you want.”  She opened the door a little farther to let him out.

“I want to eat with you. It would be fun.” He smiled up at her hopefully, hungry for more attention.
Marsha hesitated. She turned toward the kitchen with Stevie following closely behind. “You go ahead and eat. I’m not hungry yet,” she said, opening the refrigerator and taking a cold hot dog from the top shelf. She placed it on a paper plate on the table where she had already laid out a bag of chips and another of cookies for him. He sat, still hoping she would keep him company even though she wasn’t hungry. She went back to the refrigerator and returned with a can of soda for him and a can of beer for herself. She hadn’t been sitting for a minute before the telephone rang.

Stevie listened to her talking on the phone while he ate. He soon realized she was talking to a woman named Janet Mason who was married to his father’s best friend. The Masons were one of the couples that often came on the weekends to party, drink and get high with his parents. Like his parents, they didn’t think of themselves as drug users because they smoked marijuana and popped a few pills. They were just partying and having fun like everybody else. Stevie didn’t mind Janet and Mark Mason. They didn’t get mean with him or make his mom and dad get mad at him because of things they said about him. Sometimes, they even visited him in his room as he was not allowed out of his room when guests were there. Sometimes, if they were the first to arrive, he got to leave his room and talk with them for a while.

He continued to eat his lunch, vaguely listening to his mother’s end of the conversation at the same time. “Michael mentioned you were coming over later and we could cook something on the grill.” Stevie cringed as he heard her say, “We never mind having Greg...I know how hard it can be to find a sitter. My sister sits for us, but it’s always a hassle. Stevie gets his little attitude going then starts telling some of his stories and some days I just don’t know what to do with him. I know what you mean. He makes up some of the weirdest stories. His newest thing is his little imaginary friend. He swears up and down that he’s real. He even goes all over looking for him…Really?...Greg had one too? So you think it’s normal?...I never thought of it that way....Well, I guess we just won’t worry about it anymore then. I didn’t realize so many kids had imaginary friends and that they even did specials on TV about it.”

They continued to talk, but Stevie had ceased to listen. He knew his mother would be busy for some time with her phone call and any chance for them spending time together was lost. At least she had been nice to him. He finished his hotdog, had a few bites of chips, took two cookies out of the bag and left the kitchen.

On the way back to his bedroom, he suddenly remembered his mother falling on the basement stairs. He had become curious about the basement after that. He had never really explored it because of the strange feelings he had when he was down there. And there were bad memories of one area where his aunt took him to help him become a man and teach him not to be afraid. When he had told her he was afraid of being in the basement, she had become obsessed with making him go down there, going as far as to turn the lights out and leave him there to find his own way out. He shuddered, remembering the terror he had felt when he was alone in the dark and the sickness and shame he had felt because of the things she had done to him there. He had tried to tell his parents, but it had only got him in trouble.

He paused at the door to the stairway leading to the basement, visualizing the large, dark room. It was divided into different rooms. The room near the stairs on the right was the laundry room. Across from it was a small room that looked like a living room with old, large, overstuffed furniture. He shuddered. This was where his aunt would take him to teach him how to become a man. He was not sure what else there was in the basement, because he had always been afraid to go and explore at the times he accompanied his mother to do the laundry. Stevie stood there for a while, curious about what he would find, but not curious enough to go down by himself. He turned on his heels, deciding he would go and color the pictures he wanted to make for the next time Danny came to visit.

He spent the rest of the afternoon painstakingly coloring the pictures for Danny, trying his best to stay within the lines. By the time he finished, he had a stack. He surveyed his handiwork proudly. He could hardly wait to give them to Danny. He wished he knew how to call him or find him, but he knew he would just have to wait for him to appear as he chose. As he put his artwork carefully away, he heard the sound of the alarm. His father was home from work.

Stevie eased his bedroom door open to listen before he went out to greet his father. He had learned the hard way it was always best to see what kind of a mood Michael was in before he showed his face. And he knew it was wise to let his mother have time to talk to him first. If he interrupted their conversation, they would be mad at him for the whole night.

He heard them laughing as they talked and decided he was safe. As he timidly slipped into the kitchen, Michael spotted him and smiled. “Hey, champ. How’s it been going? What have you been doing today?”

Stevie beamed. “It’s been going great, Dad. I worked hard and colored some really good pictures. Want to see them? I’ll go get them.” Before his father had a chance to answer, he took off to go get the pictures.

When Stevie returned with his masterpieces, he found his parents talking about the evening to come. His face fell when he heard Greg Mason would be coming with his parents. Stevie didn’t like Greg Mason and hated when he came to visit. Greg was older than him and as mean as a boy could be. He took delight in breaking Stevie’s toys and saying it was Stevie who had broken them. It seemed to Stevie that everywhere he turned there was someone who told lies and blamed him for things he hadn’t done. Feeling deflated and dreading the evening to come, he slunk off to his room without showing his father his pictures.

Stevie did not have long to think about what the evening would hold before the door to his room opened.  Janet and his mother were there with Greg standing there smiling and a glint in his eyes.
“You boys play nice now.  We don’t want any problems like before.  Greg has missed getting to come here and see you, Stevie.  Maybe you will be nice and share with him.” 

Janet thought her son could do no wrong and apparently Marsha would always agree with her friend and side against Stevie rather than stand up to her in any confrontation or argument.  All Janet had to do was get the angry attitude and loud to be able to make Marsha agree with her.  In many ways her son was a lot like she was.  They could be loud and mean when they wanted to until others just agreed with them or gave in and let them have their way.

As soon as the door closed Stevie tried to gather his drawings to find a safe place for them.  Greg lunged into him knocking him half off his feet causing him to drop the stack of pictures he has worked so hard on scattering on the floor.  Greg began stepping all over the pictures with his feet laughing and asking, “What ugly crap is this?  I bet it is something you did.  It looks dumb and ugly enough to be yours.”

Stevie did not bother to answer Greg.  He knew from experience that it only offered him more opportunity to taunt, tease and abuse him.  Stevie quietly and quickly tried to gather what he could of his drawings.  Without warning Greg stopped stepping on the pictures and stomped his fingers and hands.  In a swift kick he caught Stevie so hard it knocked him breathless on his side.  The moment allowed time to rip the pictures into little pieces.  That was the beginning of a long night ahead.

 Stevie woke the next morning curled up on the floor in a corner of his room. Pieces of the pictures he had spent the entire afternoon before coloring were scattered all over the carpet. Greg had torn them to bits and, in addition, broken the new truck Stevie had enjoyed playing with. When he had tired of the destruction, he had taken Stevie’s bed and left Stevie to lie on the floor.

Stevie looked around him in frustration. He picked up the broken truck and began to beat it on the floor, tears of rage and hurt running silently down his face. The door to his bedroom flew open and he looked up blinking away the tears. His mother and father stood in the doorway glaring at him.

Michael was the first to speak, but it was Marsha who got the brunt of his anger this time. “You bitch about Janet saying Greg wasn’t the one that broke all the toys. You can look right here for yourself and see the truth. I guess you and Stevie will blame Greg. I blame you. If you’d ever get off your lazy ass and teach our son how to behave, we wouldn’t have these problems. You don’t clean house or cook meals or do anything but drink you beer and read you goofy books. Why don’t you cast one of your witch’s spells and turn Stevie into a normal kid instead of the little puke he really is? You are both worthless. You don’t appreciate anything that I work my ass off to buy you. I’m going out.”

“I don’t have to listen to your shit,” Marsha shrieked. “You don’t have any idea what I have to put up with all day. Where the hell are you going and when will you be back?”

“I’m going out and I won’t be back until I’m good and ready. When I do get back, I want to see this place cleaned up.” With that, he turned abruptly and left.

It seemed like a long time that Marsha remained in the doorway of Stevie’s room staring at him. When she finally spoke, it was through clenched teeth. “Why? Why do you always screw things up? I can’t believe I actually took up for you and told them that Greg was no angel and he was the one who broke your toys. I told them you didn’t do it and here you are breaking the shit out of your favorite truck. Say something you retarded little turd.” She kicked a small truck lying on the floor so hard it flew across the room striking Stevie on the shoulder. He cried out in pain.

“If you think that hurt, you haven’t seen anything yet,” Marsha snarled. “I won’t put up with your dad getting pissed at me for the crap you do. I’m giving you ten minutes to clean up this room. He wants me to teach you how behave? I’ll teach you a lesson you won’t ever forget. Any toys you haven’t put away will be thrown out and you’ll get a swat for every little piece of anything I see on this floor. When you get done, you can clean the rest of the house to make up for causing me so many problems.” She then left the room, slamming the door behind her.

It was a miserable day for Stevie. He tried to think of happy times to cheer himself up, but there were very few of those. It seemed the only time he felt happy was when his friend, Danny, came to visit. Tears filled his young eyes as he surveyed the pieces of the pictures he had made for Danny. He had taken his time coloring them and done his best. He had been so proud of them and imagined Danny smiling and thanking him and saying how beautiful they were. Danny was his only friend. He could tell Danny about all of the occurrences, hardships, heartaches and troubles of his little life.

No one could ever know he talked to Danny about these things. His parents had both told him never to confide in anyone other than them about anything that happened in the family. Recently, they had been harping at him that he would start school soon and needed to listen to them and do as they said. They insisted that nothing that went on in their home or with them was to be talked about with anyone at school, no matter how nice that person might be.

To make sure he took them seriously, they told him a story about a little boy that complained about his parents. They told him when a boy gets into trouble it proves he’s a bad boy. “They take bad boys and put them either in a prison for children, or foster homes where they are punished all of the time and have to eat nothing but scraps,” his father had warned ominously. “If they still tell stories about people being mean to them, they are put in a worse foster home and are beaten all of the time. Foster homes are for punishing bad children.”

Stories such as these, designed to frighten Stevie, were repeated often to discourage him from talking about their parties with excessive drinking, marijuana smoking and drug use. What Stevie didn’t know was his father made quite a bit of money during these parties selling different kinds of drugs for a tidy profit. Michael and Marsha were aware there were anti-drug programs in the schools. Often children talked about what went on at home and parents ended up getting arrested. Whatever it took, they had to make sure Stevie kept his mouth shut.

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