WP and snowball, April 8

[Editor’s note: this is a work-in-progress. It began with a writing prompt and a single sentence. From then, it snowballed and the below is the “beginning avalanche”.]

The first appointment of the day is with the Higgins family. Tom walks out of the elevator and proceeds down a series of twisting yellow-painted hallways. The neighborhood has seen better days.

Tom glances at the order sheet and reconfirms the details: 8 year old kid, can’t sleep, complaining of a monster in the closet; the parents called yesterday, while Tom was out on a job; school and private therapist reports attached, no anomalies. Lisa penciled in a cute little owl at the bottom of the sheet. It’s waving at Tom.

The parents, Harold and summer, answer the door and invite Tom in.

Unnecessary introductions are made. Tom notes a small child watching TV in the living room. There’s a musical kids’ show on.

"That’s normal?" Tom nods in the kid’s direction.

"Absolutely, loves that program," Harold replies. "Their songs are constantly playing in the house."

The lyrics are soothing. Tom looks at his watch again.

"The show will be over in a few," the father says. He’s nervous.

"Mind if I use your balcony?" Tom asks, holding a cigarette up in his fingers as an explanation. Adam’s parents nod. "Harold, want to join me?" The father hurries along.

Out on the balcony Harold confides in Tom. "I don’t know what to think. Is this for real?"

"Think I’m running a scam?"

"No, no, nothing that vulgar. I believe the results, the families you’ve helped. I know that you’re worth every penny. I’m curious, in your honest opinion, if I may ask… How do you do it?" Tom keeps smoking. "Do you ‘scare the kids straight’?" The air quotes accompanied the question. "What is it? How do you do it?"

"Do you believe in monsters?" Tom asked.

"The human kind, sure. Susan works at Sacred Heart, she’s seen what kind of damage people can do."

"What about the monsters who keep Adam up at night?"

The father’s face twisted into an uncomfortable grimace.

"Come on. I don’t know why my son wakes up screaming. All the shrinks say he’s normal. We’ve never laid a finger on him, this isn’t a trauma thing."

"You trust all of them over your own kid."

"When he’s talking monsters in a closet, yeah, I tend to dismiss that kind of talk." The father poked a finger toward the apartment. "I moved everything out of that closet, put a light in there, Adam still screamed his head off. And the shrinks aren’t digging up anything."

"So you do some online research and call me up. But you don’t really believe it all. It’s Pasta Time at the Higgins household. Thanks for the smoke," Tom says as he tosses out the barely-smoked cigarette. "Looks like his show’s over. Good, mine’s about to start."

Adam leads Tom into a brightly-wallpapered kids room. Harold follows closely, followed by Susan.

The room has a car-themed bed, a cluttered desk in one corner, an open chest of toys in the other. The walls are adorned with what looks like Italian Ferrari posters from the sixties.

"Sit down on your bed, Adam," Tom directs the boy. "That’s the closet?"

Adam sits on the bed and nods toward the closet door.

Tom opens the door wide. The closet is almost empty: no hangers on the bar, nothing on the top shelf, just a lamp in the corner, minus its shade. The bulb in the lamp is on. Tom switches it off. He then walks out of the room and toward the apartment entrance. There’s a large paper-wrapped rectangle that Tom brought with him. He picks it up and carefully carries it into Adam’s room.

The paper comes off to reveal a narrow but tall mirror. "Come over here," Tom indicates his spot to Harold, "and hold this mirror for me."

Harold holds the mirror by its ornate gilded frame. The mirror is facing the closet.

Tom walks into the closet and closes the door most of the way, leaving just a narrow slit. He pokes his arm out the door and directs Harold to move the mirror this way and that: "Left. A bit more. Tilt it back a bit."

Tom stands back in the closet and checks his work. Through the partially-open door Tom sees the mirror, and in the mirror he sees the red car bed and Adam sitting on it.

Tom walks out of the closet and closes the door to the same small slit as before.

"Hold the mirror, Harold. Adam, sit there and tell me about your favorite driver."

As Adam talks, Tom walks up to the window, slides it all the open, then lowers the blinds. The room is pitched into darkness. Tom walks up to the room’s doorway. Susan is standing there, watching.

"In or out, but we gotta make this room dark."

Susan walks into the room and goes over to sit with Adam. Tom closes the door. The room is pitched into a sort of twilight.

Adam is telling everyone and no one about a Swiss driver. Tom remembers hearing about her on the news recently.

[Tom comes over to the mirror, moving behind it, being careful not to step between mirror and either the closet or Adam. Harold looks on incredulously as Tom pulls out a small box, and out of this he pulls out a match and strikes it on the box. Tom moves the match, slowly, from behind the mirror, then slowly between the closet and the mirror.]

Tom sits down next to Adam and pulls out a small box, out of which he pulls a long thick match. He strikes this on the box, then holds it in front of Adam. "Hold this, buddy."

Adam grows quiet, stops talking about the Swiss driver, and carefully grabs the match. He pulls it away from his face, careful not to blow it out.

"Now, Adam, what’s the last dream you remember?"

"I… I was in this old building."

"And was the monster there?"

Adam looks away from Tom, focuses his attention instead on the match.

"Baby…" Susan nudges her son.

"Yeah. It was hiding, behind a door."

"What’s the color of that door?" The match dips as Adam’s hands begin to lower themselves. Tom grabs the child’s wrists and pulls them up. "Not too low. Now, the door. What color was it?"

"Green."

Tom looks at the match. It has been burning for a while now. The flame is concentrated at the sulfur-covered tip, the rest of the match is still untouched and undamaged by the fire. Tom is muttering something under his breath.

The flame increases in brightness and thrashes around wildly, as if Adam and Tom are holding the match inside a hurricane. Miraculously, the flame is not blown out.

"Come on, you vain bastard," Tom mutters under his breath.

Tom’s hand shakes from the effort of holding up the match. Sweat beads Tom’s brow.

"Susan, reach up, be ready to pull the blinds open. Harold, that mirror is going to surprise you in a bit. Dig in, don’t drop it." Tom gives instructions without taking his eyes off the flame. "Adam, this flame can’t hurt you."

"So cool," Adam replies, mesmerized by the cold flame dancing in front of his face.

Tom blows out the match and the multicolored display is gone.

"Now, Susan!" Tom shouts and leaps for the mirror. Harold is struggling to hold it up now and the frame warps and creaks, a deafening sound in the small room.

The blinds come up a second before the mirror flies out the window.

Harold is lying on the floor and staring out the window, unable to say anything. Susan comforts Adam, who’s still holding onto the strange match.

"Thanks for the call, folks. This one’s on me." Tom takes the match out of Adam’s hand and walks out.

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