Word count 4884. By Grant Hinton.

My nana and grandpa have always lived in the same house. My dad and his brother grew up there, and it’s always been the hub of our family get-togethers.

Nana’s pale blue door was always a welcoming sight. When my brother and I stand before that door, we know that behind it are nana’s freshly baked cookies, Grandpas endless stories, and hours of fun with my father and his brother’s childhood toys. I’ve never met my uncle; he died when my dad was just a boy. We still enjoying his toys even though his death is never spoken about.

My father never told us how he died and once, when my brother asked at a family dinner, it ended up making my grandpa break down in tears, my father left the house for hours, and my nana looked like she was gonna pass out. We never asked again, but it’s always on our minds. I think my brother is a bit too young to understand, but I do. Anyways, it’s great to play with their old toys and see their faded names printed on the bottom. It looked like my uncle loved trains as nearly all of them have his name on them.

*

As my father pulled up on the pebbles driveway, I pushed open the car door and raced my brother to the front porch. I won, as usual, it wasn’t much of a contest to be honest, he’s only seven, and I’m thirteen. Grandpa must have seen us pull up as he stood with his hand on his hip and his usual silly grin on his face.

“Ah ha. I thought I heard a loud racket coming from outside, and low and behold; it’s you two raggamuffins.”

He tossed our hair in turn and steered us through the door as he straightens to embrace my mother.

“Hello, Mary.” He kissed her on the cheek and waved to my dad.

“You need some help there Roger?”

Dad waved him away and continued to unpack the car.

The smell of freshly baked bread wafted down the corridor, and I almost felt my feet lift from the wooden floor as you see in the cartoons. Nana was in the kitchen donning her favorite apron — I love Paris — printed in big letter, the shabby chic decor spread all over it. Mom got it for her last year when we went to Europe on vacation.

My brother was at my heels trying to look past me, but I wouldn’t let him, we must have looked like a pair Egyptian dancer bobbing down the hall. A large bowl of cookies waited on the kitchen side and reached for one. The sting of the wooden spoon echoed down the hall. Grandpa turned and chuckled as he pointed to us, sharing a private joke with my dad. He just shook his head.

“Boys will be boys.”

I pulled my hand from my armpit and inspected the welt. Nana tutted and bustled around the kitchen muttering to us.

“They are for after dinner Thomas — Ah, Ah Sean, you too, not till after dinner. Now go and play.”

She shooed us with a wave of her kitchen towel, and I turned to Sean.

“Race you upstairs?”

My little brother’s eyes lite up, and he grinned at me.

“you’re on.”

He pushed me hard in the stomach, and I fell to the floor as he skidded over the polished tiles. Nana called something at me as I barrelled to the staircase, but my laughter was too loud. Sean beat me to the landing, and he stood frozen outside what was once my uncle’s room.

My uncle’s room always smelt weird, like moldy cheese and bad breath. We’ve never been allowed inside, no one has. Dad said its stayed the same since he died. We’re only allowed to play in my dad’s old room, never in uncle Johns. My dad said Nana couldn’t bear for anything to be changed and it’s become something akin to a shrine. Whatever that means?

“Go on. I dare you” I pushed Sean toward the door, and he scrambled back.

“Haha. Scaredy cat.”

“Well. You do it if you’re so brave.”

He crossed his arms and glowered at me. I wasn’t afraid to go in, but I was scared of getting told off by Nana. The memory of that dinner came back, but I shook it off. That was years ago, and besides, I’ve always imagined what cool toys lay beyond this door.

I pulled the handle, and the door creaked slowly open. I heard Sean suck in a breath, and I suddenly realized what we were doing. A moment of dread and doubt crept into me, but I pushed it aside just like the door.

A hand grabbed my shoulder, and I froze.

“Boys you aren’t allowed in there, you know that.” Dad twirled us to face him.

“But..” I stammered.

“No, but boys, this room is off limits. OK?”

“Ok.” We chorused.

Dad went back downstairs. Sean looked at me and poked the door.

“Don’t,” I said.

But it was too late; he was already inside.

A layer of dust covered my uncle’s room; it made the carpet look furry, except for a few scuff marks that led to the bed, where a dent marked a vacant bottom. Along the wall by the bed was a window, and the wall opposite had been painted to resemble the wild west. A massive black and green locomotive streamed along the tracks with Indian on horseback chasing after it.

Another wall held shelves of trains and toys and besides that was a big vacant space. I thought maybe it once held a wardrobe for my uncle’s clothes, but as he didn’t need clothes anymore, perhaps it got transferred to another room.

Sean surged ahead and drew his own set of shuffling footprints through the carpet. He grabbed a train and began to play on the floor. I couldn’t help but wonder how un-touched the room was, as the dust particles glisten in the sunlight through the window. An old set of comics sitting neatly by the bed drew my interest, and I sank down to read them.

I was so engrossed in them it took me a moment to realize Sean was talking to someone. I initially thought my grandparents or parents had come into the room, but when I looked up he was sat in front of an opened wooden chest, and he was playing a weird card game.

Sean still being young would often talk to himself as he played, I think I used to do it too when I was younger, I imagine everyone does. But I don’t ever remember arguing with myself.

“No, that one is mine, and that beats yours, see?” He said. Sean poked the card and then huffed.

“Ok, well you don’t explain it very well. This is the first time I ’ve played. You should be a better teacher.”

I shook my head and chuckled to myself; Sean could be nuts sometimes.

“No, that’s not fair! You don’t…I didn’t… that’s not fair!”

I heard a crash and was shocked to see my brother clutching his head crying on the carpet; a dark green toy train lay scattered on its side by his head. A crack ran down one of the green panels, but it seemed to be old as it was held together by a layer of glue.

“Sean, what the hell, you can’t break uncle John’s stuff. Nana will go mad.”

My brother’s weeping slowed to a sniffle, and he rubbed his head.

“It wasn’t me Thomas; it was Charlie.”

He said pointing to a patch of carpet opposite him. My mother’s voices drifted up the stairs.

“Boys come down and wash your hands, please. Dinner is ready.”

“Come on; lets put this stuff back,” I said.

I put the comic away and reached for the box.

“No.”

“What?” I said, but my brother wasn’t looking at me.

“He’s my brother, that’s ok isn’t it? Ok, well maybe we can play again after dinner, can’t we Thomas?”

I laughed and ruffled his hair as my grandpa does to us.

“Yeah of course Sean. You can come back and play with Charles.”

“Charlie.” he corrected.

“What?”

“He doesn’t like being called Charles, Thomas.”

I thought it strange but left him to it. Like I said my brother could be a bit nuts at times. As I approached the stairs I felt Sean push me in the back and I stumbled down the first step, but luckily I caught the rail and steadily myself.

“Damn it, Sean. That’s dangerous you idiot.” I turned angrily to him, and he had the grace to look away.

“I didn’t do it; it was Charlie.”

“Don’t be stupid; Charlie is imaginary.”

I was angrily clattered down the stairs and stormed into the dining room. Nana looked over the food-laden table from her conversation with my mom and smiled.

“Oh Thomas. Look at how big you’re getting.”

Sean came through looking all sulky and sank into a chair next to my dad. A strange smell wafted across the dinner table, and at first, I thought Sean had broke wind.

“Oh, what’s wrong Sean? Thomas, have you been picking on your brother again?”

Nana pinned me with a stare, and I started to protest when Grandpa came through with the turkey.

“Ah ha, here’s a bird I like the most, especially when it’s a roast.”

He chuckled at his rhythm, placing the large bird on the table and started to crave it.

“Thomas, what have you done to your brother’s face?”

I glanced over at my dad and saw him cradling Sean’s chin in his hands, twisting his face from side to side. Four long angry scratches marked his face from eyebrow to lips.

“It wasn’t Thomas, Dad. It was Charlie.”

Grandpa’s craving knife clattered to the floor, and my dad sat bolt upright, the color drained from his face, and his eyes went wide.

“Where did you hear that name?”

He turned to Sean and me with a desperation I’ve never seen. He pulled at our tops, like my bully Jacob does at school when he wants my stuff.

“Sean said it upstairs,” I said.

My dad turned white, “Oh my god, You went into Johns room, didn’t you?”

I knew I was in trouble but nodded slowly anyway hoping that dad wouldn’t be too mad. Dad threw his cutlery across the room and toppled his glass.

“Damn it boys; I said not to go into uncle Johns room for a reason.”

I’ve never seen dad like this; he paced the room like a lion a cage. Nana looked sick since Charlie’s name was spoken and she hadn’t said a word. Grandpa had sat back in his chair and placed his head in his hands.

I looked at Sean, but he was too busy playing with the cards from upstairs. He was muttering to himself. I didn’t know what was happening, and when suddenly Sean freaked out on the seat, I didn’t know what to do.

Dad charged over to my side and swept Sean up; he jittered and convulsed. His eyes flicked to the back of his head and a low moan purged from his mouth in a singsong voice.

“Imaginary fiend, Charlie. Imaginary friend, Sean. Imaginary friend, Charlie, Imaginary fiend not gone.”

Mom cried out as my brother turned to her with white eyes, I staggered back. This wasn’t my brother anymore. Dad let Sean go, and he crashed to the floor. Sean didn’t seem bothered as he jumped up and trotted out the living room, and up the stairs.

We waited anxiously as we heard him banging about upstairs. Eventually, he returned. But he wasn’t my brother anymore; he didn’t move like him. He walked like my science teacher at school. She was like ninety and had a crooked back.

Dad broke down then and told us the story of John’s death.

*

“Wide, haha. Missed again,” chuckled John as he ran for the ball and picked it out of the shrubs.

“Try again Rog; I bet I can save it.”

Roger caught the ball and he placed it at his feet.

“Alright, ready.” He looked at his little brother and the two piles of clothes that made the goal posts.

“Boys?”

A man in denim overalls and dirty shirt lent against a white van in the driveway. John whooped and ran toward the truck as Roger kicked the ball. It sailed toward the goal and went through unhindered.

“Wow, is that mine Dad?” Asked a wide-eyed John.

John peak into the interior of the van at an old style wardrobe. It’s curved edges suggested Victorian although Malcolm didn’t pay antique prices for it. The man who had owned it practically gave it way.

“Yep,” Malcolm said slapping a hand on the side of the red wooden panel.

“It the last bit to go into your room.”

John clapped his hands and jumped about as their father and another man lifted the wardrobe and waddled up the path. Soon both men were panting hard as they struggled up the stairs to John’s bedroom.

John’s mom held him by her side and watched from the door as Malcolm moved the wardrobe into position.

“There, job jobbed, Thanks, Steve.”

Malcolm wiped the sweat from his brow and waved to the man as he disappeared through the doorway.

“Well, what do you think Sue? Got it for a bargain from a man that came into the yard today. Thought it would be good for John’s room.”

He came over and ruffled the youngster’s hair.

“I love it Dad. Thanks.” Smiled John.

*

Roger’s mind jolted from his favorite comic. He stretched his hearing. There it was again. Shouting. Roger stood and went out to the hallway.

“No, that’s mine. That’s my favorite.” John’s squeaky voice echoed down the hall.

Roger pushed at his brother’s door and saw John’s new wardrobe flung open wide with various toys scattered around it. An old wooden chest Roger had never seen before lay at the edge of the bed, and John sat on the floor surrounded by broken toy trains.

“What are you doing breaking your trains? Dad’s gonna go mad.

Dad?” He yelled.

Malcolm’s voice floated up the stairwell.

“What’s going on Boys?”

“John’s breaking all his toys.”

Malcolm’s heavy footfall thundered up the stairs, and moments later he stood over John fuming.

“What the hell you playing at mate? Hey, what are you thinking boy?”

“It wasn’t me Dad. It was Charlie.” John wept quietly to himself.

“Who the hell is Charlie?” He turned to Roger who shrugged his shoulders as to say he hadn’t a clue either.

“I thought you loved your trains kid?” Malcolm soften as tears spilled down his son’s cheeks.

“I do daddy, but Charlie doesn’t. He said I should smash them all up, and when I said I wouldn’t, he did it anyway.”

Malcolm took in his son’s tearful face and the broken mess of toys. He knew this was a pivotal moment in his son’s upbringing. If he allowed John to destroy toys who knew what he would break next?

“I’m disappointed in you young man. You can clean this mess up, and tomorrow you’ll help me in the yard as punishment. Do you understand?”

“But…” John spluttered.

“Do you understand?” Malcolm raised his voice, and when John nodded his head, he let out the pent-up breath and moved to the door.

“Now clean it up, and bring it to the garage. I might be able to salvage a few of those trains.”

John wiped his nose on a sleeve and started to tidy the toys into a small blue plastic box. Roger reached for a piece of a train and helped his brother.

“You know Dad works very hard for us to have these toys. If you start wrecking them, Dad won’t buy us anymore.”

He looked up at his brother blue eyes as tears started to form again.

“No don’t!”

Roger felt a sharp pain in the back of his head, and blackness crept around his vision, soon it devoured him completely.

*

Roger opened his eyes and found himself looking up at his mother. She cradled his head in an ice pack as John sobbed on his bed. Malcolm was shouting angrily at him.

“What happened?” Roger asked as he sat up groggily. The pain in his head flared causing him to see stars. Sue gave him the ice bag.

“Your brother hit you with a train, that’s what.” Sue glowered at her youngest son. “And you wouldn’t get any dinner tonight either.” She humped and strode out the room.

Malcolm sat on the bed; the anger washed from his body, all that was left was guilt from shouting at his son. Guilt for bringing him to tears. Now he resorted to cuddling the young boy while he wept into his big chest.

“Ok, now-now. We know you didn’t mean it, it’s ok. Calm down.”

John tried to speak through the sobs racking his body as Malcolm settled him down on the pillow, and paced to the door. His composure was melting, and he needs to get away before his sons saw him cry.

“You boys make up and when your ready come down and say sorry to your mother.”

He strode from the room, and the boys sat in silence broken by John’s body convulsing sporadically after the aftermath of tears.

“Why did you hit me John? It bloody hurt.”

“I didn’t…didn’t…do it. It was…was Charlie.”

Roger was just about to say again that Charlie didn’t exist when a train fell off the shelf. Rogers blood ran cold as another fell, and then another. Roger swallowed and turned to his brother, trying to ignore the feeling that someone else was in the room.

“W…Where did Charlie come from John?

John wiped his nose. “He said he was locked in the wardrobe, and when daddy moved him here, he had a new family to play with.”

Roger pulled John off the bed and placed a hand on his shoulder as he led him from the room.

*

Malcolm heard the noise on the edge of his dream; it was a damn good dream too, it was the one with Mrs. Freeman in it, the one where she beckoned him to the room at the back of the office. Yes, it was a damn good dream, Malcolm closed his eyes trying to get back to the dream, but the bang sounded again.

Like lightning, he was out his bed and on the landing listening like a hawk. Sue was at his shoulder. There it was again. Malcolm reaches John’s door in two steps and opens it. Sue’s scream pierced the night.

John was missing from his bed. His covers lay scattered on the floor, and the wardrobe shook violently like someone was trapped inside. Malcolm races to the door as a small shadow of a boy formed out of the air. It’s head twisted toward them as it held the doors closed.

“What the hell?”

Malcolm momentarily taken back lunged for the handles, and the figure disappeared. He flung open the doors and John fell to the floor. His hands and feet tied with string, and a sock protruded from his mouth.

“Argh, my baby.”

Sue rushed to untie him as Roger appeared around the door wiping sleep from his eyes. He flicked on the light, and something struck him in the stomach making him fall to the floor. Malcolm grabbed Roger up and swept them all downstairs.

No one needed to know who or even what Charlie was anymore. The entity had shown its self and also revealed what it was capabilities. The family didn’t sleep that night as the doors on the wardrobe upstairs continually banged against its frame as the entity named Charlie showed its displeasure with its new home, and its new family.

The next morning when it was light enough to see, a white van pulled up on the driveway. Steve jumped out the driver’s door and pulled his sagging pants up. The sound of chopping echoed through the trees lining the garden. Steve had been to the house loads of times before and felt comfortable waking to a small gate that led to the backyard.

He found Malcolm bringing down a large axe on q tree stump. He picked up the two pieces and threw them to another pile wood.

“Hey, Mal. What’s up? I got ya message this morning from Shirley. She said I needed to come out here, see y’all?”

Malcolm muttered and swung the axe. It bit into another piece of wood, slicing through it like butter. Malcolm proceeded to tell him of the event of last night as Steve scratched his head and whistled.

“No wonder that guy wanted rid of it. Ya gonna burn it?”

“Seems the safest thing to do, I don’t know much about spirits or demons. But I do know fire worked on witches.”

“So, what ya need me for?”

“I need you to help me down with it.”

“I ain’t for shit going in there!” Steve balled up his fist and struck his thigh.

“I need your help bud, for my family?” Malcolm pleaded.

Steve pulled a face but eventually agreed. Steve watched from the door as Malcolm steered John into the room. The little boy was crying about not wanting to see Charlie again.

“Now, all you have to do is tell me if you see him.” Malcolm patted John on the shoulder, and his son shook his head.

“No Dad, he’s not in here.”

Malcolm nodded to Steve.

“If he’s not in here then he’s in there.”

He pointed to the wardrobe and pulled a length of cord from his belt. He strode to the door kicking a small wooden box further under the bed as he passed. Moments later Steve and Malcolm maneuvered the bound wardrobe down the stairs and out to the backyard. Sue stood on the threshold with a son tucked under each arm as the two men work to get a fire started.

“Damn woods to wet.” Muttered Malcolm.

“Hang on a minute there Mal; I’ll be right back.” Said Steve.

Steve returned with a can of gasoline and poured some over the wood and the wardrobe. He nodded to Malcolm who reached into a pocket for some matches. He struck one and turned to his family. Sue smiled reassuringly and raised a thumb up. His two sons looked blankly at the fire.

He flicked the match; Sue raised her hands to her face as the fire took, the fire fuelled by the gasoline instantly became a blaze.

The wood started to pop, and a moan swept around the yard. Soon the fire roared, and the men stepped back from the heat. An ear piercing scream erupted from the blaze, and Malcolm’s blood chilled.

“It seemed fire really does kill demons.” Said Steve with a smile.

Malcolm turned away hiding his face in his hands. Another scream entwined with the first, chilling his blood further. It took him a second to realize it wasn’t coming from the fire.

Sue ran toward the blaze. The flames attack her as she snatched at the wood, pulling it from the pier. Roger watched from the step; he didn’t know what had gotten into his mother. Why would she be throwing herself into the flames to save the wardrobe or even the demon within?

Malcolm rushed to Sue’s side as the screaming continued, something nagged at Rogers mind, the scream sounded too real, like a human voice, not a ghost. Malcolm frantically pulled at the wood surrounding the wardrobe, burning his hands but the fire was too intense. He shouted and pointed to Steve.

“Quickly get the hose.” Steve threw his arms in the air as the screaming continued.

“Now god damn it. Quickly!” Shouted Malcolm.

The fire roared on; Roger watched as Steve pulled the hose and eventually managed to pull it out. Malcolm grabbed it from his hands and battled the blaze.

Sue had fallen to her knees and was crying; tears crossed her cheeks, whites lines through the blackness of the soot. She looked into her blistering hands as her tears fell. Roger turned to look at his brother, but John wasn’t there.

His father had managed to get most of the flames to die with the water and frantically pulled at pieces of charred wood until he reached the burnt wardrobe doors.

A body lay within, a blackened mess, charred by the fire.

John’s chest rose slightly, as a feebly attempted at drawing air into his scorched lungs shook his body. With no care for his skin, Malcolm lifted his son from the fire and fell with him on the floor. He shuffled away from the flames as Sue came to cradled John’s frail body.

John’s clothes had all but burnt off, patches of skin blistered and others shone white with the burns. Roger watched in shock as his brother lay dying in his parent’s arms.

*

“…Roger! Roger, what’s wrong?”

My mom pulled at my dad’s arm, and he seemed to come back to the world. My grandpa looked over at me then to Sean.

“You thought you burnt me, but you were wrong,

Burnt your son now he’s gone.” Sean’s singsong voice had changed, It was like he spoke with multiple tongues. I shivered but couldn’t stop looking at him.

Sean came to the table, and we all shied back. He reached the cloth and pulled the contents of the table on the floor. Laughing, he stomped through the food until he found the pepper shaker. He twisted the top off and walked off into the other room.

He started to sprinkle the pepper around him in a circle. Next, he placed Nana’s candles at various points around him.

Nana spoke shattering the silence.

“My poor boy, We only wanted to get rid of the demon, but he burnt our boy instead.”

Charlie turned and laughed, it was high and twisted, like nails on a chalkboard.

“What the hell is he doing? oh no!” My mom saw the knife Charlie had pulled from somewhere and dug the blade into his arm. Blood slowly welled up and trickled down his fingers. Sean flickered the blood over the circle and traced lines on his face.

Grandpa jumped up and grabbed a carving knife off the floor. He lunged around the table scattering the last remains of food across the floor. Dad grabbed him.

“Dad no, you can’t he’s still my son.”

“No, he’s not. He’s gone, just like John.”

My Grandpa tried to get past my dad, but he wouldn’t let him, they pushed each other, and I could hear Sean laughing. Suddenly Grandpa’s eyes went wide. Mom gasped, and Nana screamed again, all the while Sean continued to laugh.

My dad looked at the blood on his hands with a dull expression, as if he didn’t see it. Grandpa collapsed to the floor as Nana came to his side. Her screams hurt my ears, and I covered them with my hands.

Something started to happen where Sean was standing. The lampshade was twirling above his head, and the lights began to flicker. Nana roared and reached for the knife. Dad didn’t see her pass him and Mom was too slow. She drove the knife into my brother, and Sean turned to look at her. A green smoke drifted from his mouth and entered hers. His eyes slowly changed back to their natural shade of brown and then he collapsed on the floor.

Nana chuckled and smeared the blood on her hand across her face. Then she turned and came toward me. Nana’s eyes had gone white as Sean’s had been. I knew Charlie was now inside her. I didn’t know what to do and dad wasn’t any help.

I ran under her legs trying to get away. She turned and grabbed my leg. I fell hard and managed to snatch at a candle. I shoved it in my Nana’s face, and Charlie screamed. It was like cold water down my spine. When Nana pulled her hand away, one of her eyes were burnt and blistering.

She came at me again, and I kicked at her leg. She fell on top of me, and suddenly Dad was there. He grabbed Nana by the throat while she bucked, trying to throw him off.

“Grabbed your mother and get out.” He shouted at me, but I was in a catatonic state. He yelled at me again, and I rushed to my feet.

I raced around them as the fought and grabbed my mom. She was in tears, but I managed to guide her to the door.

I heard Charlie screaming again in those voices as we stumbled over the threshold and out into the fresh air.

The street lights had just blinked on when the door slammed shut. I watched as a glowing started in the front window. Soon the windows burst, and smoke curled out from them. Mom broke down on the driveway as sirens sounded in the night.

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