Logan maneuvered the Wii controllers in unison, swinging his arms like a seasoned hockey player. The boy’s passion was obvious — rivaling that of the gladiators his game was designed around despite the disparity of size in his preteen frame.
The digital puck soared past a sprawling goaltender and into the net.
Conner, Logan’s competitor, exhibited his own fervor as he chewed out the faux net minder. “What was that? Wake up and face the shooter. Stupid auto-goalie.” Conner was only a few weeks older than Logan, but already had sprouted seven more inches. He thought the added height would leverage him a scoring advantage in their rivalry, but his new friend proved to be resilient.
The boys met a couple of months ago when Conner moved into the neighborhood and over the summer they developed a healthy rivalry. Hockey quickly became their favorite battleground. They logged many afternoon hours carving digital ice, but there was more at stake this time. It was their final match-up before starting the 5th grade tomorrow with different homerooms.
Logan danced around the coffee table, punching the air like Rocky in training to celebrating his miraculous two-goal comeback to tie the game in the waning seconds.
“I hate it when you use the green Whalers jerseys.” Conner said, grumbling while he scratched at the bandage high on his arm.
“I know,” Logan said through a joker’s grin. “Green for good luck. Now, they’re gonna help me win this thing in overtime.”
Movement drew Logan’s eye to the bandage. “Uh, dude. You might want to stop scratching that. You’re making it bleed.”
Conner tugged his shirt sleeve down to hide the area. “That? Oh, I scraped it open on a nail head. My dad’s fixing the cellar steps.”
The boy’s eyes bulged suddenly. “What time is it?”
Glancing up at the wall clock, Logan answered. “Almost 4:40. Why?”
“Damn it! I gotta go.”
“I have to be home before five or my dad’s going to beat my ass raw.”
“But it’s overtime of game 7. You can’t leave now.”
“I really have to go.”
Conner shoved some items into his duffel bag and sprinted out the front door.
Logan threw his controller and flopped onto the couch. “Shit.”
The next day Conner was a no-show at the bus stop. Logan looked for him all morning — peering out the bus windows, searching the halls between classes, staring at the slotted windows in the classroom doors — but his friend remained unseen. He was beginning to worry about why Conner might have missed the first day of school, when, from the cafeteria line, Logan spotted him sitting alone at the back table.
“You make it home in time yesterday?” Logan asked, placing his tray across from the lone dinner.
“Huh?” Conner said, visibly shaken from deep thought. “Oh. Yeah.” Then he returned to biting his cuticles and plowing the mashed potatoes from side to side with halfhearted fork movements.
Logan chewed on a dry hunk of meatloaf and eyed his friend. He didn’t look well.
Conner’s eyes were shadowed and heavy. His complexion was more pale than usual, earning him another notch toward the color of coconut Popsicle like the ones they used to get from the ice cream truck on Friday afternoons. Which he skipped on the last few times. Logan realized. And look, now he’s not eating his lunch.
Conner shrugged and Logan glimpsed the edge of a new bandage just below his shirt collar.
“What’s that one from,” Logan asked pointing to the gauze dressing, “another nail head?”
“It’s nothing,” Conner replied in a distant tone. But, like a sudden May breeze, he warmed to the conversation. A light flickered to life in his eyes, chasing away the darkness of his frown. “Hey, you want to come over and replay Game 7?”
“Is it okay with your Dad?”
“He won’t be home till later.”
“Yeah. I feel bad about cutting out on you yesterday. We need to finish that game.” Conner smiled. “I’m gonna hit my locker before class, so I’ll catch you after school, okay?”
Logan hesitated. “Yeah, sure, but aren’t you going to eat lunch?”
“What, and risk toxic mutation? I’ll hold out for something better.”
Conner dumped the tray into the nearest trash receptacle and walked out of the cafeteria.
A few hours later the boys were immersed in their championship game and amid the chaos of crosschecks and slapshots, taunts and complaints, they did not hear Mr. O’Barr return early from work, nor his calls for Conner’s attention.
The TV suddenly went dark. Conner’s father, an imposing figure, stood before them with the plug dangling from his fist.
“You’re not allowed to have guests over while I’m gone.” He said.
Conner’s complexion moved up another notch. “Dad. I’m… I’m sorry, we just wanted to finish our game from yesterday.”
The man’s frown drooped further with nostrils flaring above his thick mustache. “Sorry doesn’t unbreak the rules. Your play time is over. Go wash up and we’ll discuss this over dinner.”
“Get your ass up there ‘fore I throw your goddamn Wii in the trash,” his father said, pointing up the steps. “And you better come down ready to eat this time. I’m not going to serve another uneaten meal in this house.”
Conner jumped to his feet and scrambled up the stairs.
Logan watched the confrontation from eyes wide with fear. He didn’t know what to do. Would Mr. O’Barr turn on him as well? Should he just leave? Was Conner safe? That was it. Safety. It all made sense now. His behavior. His lack of appetite. The nail-biting. The bandages and scars. Conner was being abused!
Mr. O’Barr rummaged around the living room, cleaning up the video games and controllers.
Logan was close enough to hear the man’s teeth grind as he picked them up.
“I swear to God, I’m…” The man stopped, took a deep breath, and faced Logan. “It’s time for you to go home.”
He pulled Logan to his feet, shoved the boy’s school bag into his arms, and promptly escorted him out of the house. The door slammed shut before Logan could turn around.
What should I do? He thought, hesitating on the stoop. Logan stepped down and started toward the curb when the muffled sounds of broken glass made up his mind for him.
He dug out his for-emergencies-only cell phone and dialed.
Ten minutes later Logan was back on the stoop, but this time he wasn’t alone. A black man dressed all in blue stood next to him. Logan straightened and puffed out his chest. He felt a tingling surge of power run through him at the thought of justice being served to help his friend.
The officer rang the doorbell then cupped his hands around his eyes to peer into the narrow windows along the door frame. After a moment he reached up to knock but the door vanished beneath his knuckles.
“Mr. O’Barr, I’m Officer Emery and I’d like to ask you a few questions.”
Conner’s father glared down at Logan then stepped aside to let them in. They followed him down the hall and into the kitchen. Officer Emery surveyed each room along the way. “How many people are present in the home, Sir?”
“Just me and my son, Conner.” Mr. O’Barr picked up a hand towel and started drying dishes. “Can you tell me what this is about?”
“In due time. Where is your son now?”
“Upstairs, washing up for dinner. Why?”
The officer’s eyes paused on shards of broken glass near the man’s feet. “Sir, what can you tell me about your son’s bandages?”
Mr. O’Barr stopped. His hands froze mid-circle in drying a dinner plate.
“Conner told me they were from skateboarding or street hockey or something like that,” he said, splaying his hands.
“He doesn’t like skateboarding!” Logan said, blurting out the words with his pent-up emotion.
“Look, Officer, I work a lot. It’s hard enough scrounging paycheck to paycheck each month, but to keep track of every little thing he likes or dislikes is—”
“Hobbies are one thing Sir, but injuries are your responsibility as a parent. Do you know the health of your child? What’s the story with the glass at your feet?”
“I knocked over my tumblers before you arrived. And, I don’t like your tone, Officer Emery.” Conner’s dad thrust a finger at the cop. “I raise that boy the best I can and you can’t—”
“Sir, I’m going to be frank. There are allegations of child abuse against you. Have you caused harm to your son?”
“What? Are you freaking kidding me? No. No, I haven’t.”
“There are witnesses to an increasing frequency of bandaged wounds.”
“He’s an active boy, for Christ’s sake! You’d worry if he didn’t consistently carry a red badge of courage.”
“Sir, the amount of badges have become excessive. Logan’s outcry for Conner’s well being is not the first. His school had alerted us to a potential problem just yesterday. They spoke to Conner and he was very uneasy about the conversation. He wouldn’t even allow the nurse to check his wounds.”
“Hey, I don’t want some incompetent nurse prodding at my son!” Mr. O’Barr snapped. Veins pulsed in his neck as his frustration swelled.
“Sir, I’m going to ask you again. Did you harm the boy?”
“No, goddammit, I’d never hurt him!” The man shouted and the wet plate slipped from his fingers and crashed to the floor.
The policeman jerked a hand to the Taser on his belt. “Mr. O’Barr. Stay calm or I will be forced to make you calm down.”
“Whoa.” Conner’s father slowly put his hands in the air. “It was an accident. I’m calm.”
“Good.” Officer Emery said and gestured to the kitchen table. “Sit down.”
The policeman, keeping an eye on Conner’s father, turned to Logan.
“Son, please go upstairs and check on Conner. Ask him to join us here, in the kitchen.”
Logan nodded and ran up the steps.
A moment later he screamed.
The policeman’s instincts kicked in and within seconds he cuffed the father to a chair, shouted for him to stay put, pulled the firearm from his holster, and jolted up the stairs.
The second floor came into view one step at a time. Logan was standing in the hall, staring into the opened bathroom.
“Back away from the door.” Officer Emery said as he reached the top.
Logan complied, but moved with slow, clumsy steps like a sleepwalker, never taking his eyes off his discovery.
Officer Emery heard the sobs of a child and they weren’t from Logan. He moved laterally, with his gun raised, until the bathroom interior was visible. Taking in the scene before him, the office gradually lowered his weapon.
Conner sat on the edge of the tub, arms tucked between his knees. Tears dripped from his down turned face. He was only wearing boxer shorts and his wounds were exposed—the bandages had been removed.
Emery sucked in a sharp breath at the sight of them. They weren’t the kind of injuries he expected. Mr. O’Barr’ is one sick fuck! He thought.
The boy’s body looked like some sadistic kind of checkerboard — angular chunks of flesh were missing at varying intervals, but only in areas that could be concealed by summer attire.
Emery’s stomach clenched and churned. His heart literally ached at the sight.
Conner whimpered. A few drops of blood splashed to the tile floor between his feet and that’s when Emery caught sight of the razor blade.
“Conner,” the officer said, speaking in soft and slow negotiator tones. “We’ll get through this. Please, put down the blade. Don’t give up on us, now.”
Conner lifted his head and looked at the cop for the first time. His face was wrinkled with confusion. “Give up?”
“Stay with us. We care about you. Your father can’t hurt you anymore.”
“My father? He never hurt me.”
“I… I can’t stop cutting.” Conner’s tears flowed in thick rivulets. “It hurts so bad, but I need it. I crave it.”
“We’ll get you some help.” Logan said, peering in from behind the officer.
“No, you don’t understand. I’m addicted. I don’t want real food anymore.”
Conner brought a hand to his mouth. An angular piece of flesh dangled between his fingers. He slurped it up and feverishly chewed the bloody morsel.
“The more I eat, the more I want.”
~ Tyr Kieran
© Copyright 2012 Tyr Kieran. All Rights Reserved.