I wrote this some time ago for r/nosleep. Figured I’d post it here today in lieu of my usual content. Hope you enjoy.
You know that scene from Sixth Sense where Haley Joel Osment meets that older boy who offers to show him his dad’s gun, and then he turns around, and the back of his head is gone? It was a little like that.
School was out for the summer. Mom worked a full time job. Dad hasn’t worked in my entire life. Says he hurt his back doing construction. Keeps promising to go fill out applications, but at the end of the day, he’s still sitting in his chair, three sheets to the goddamn wind.
So it’s one of those days. Dad announces that he’s going out and getting a job and that mom better find a babysitter. He waits until she’s walking out the door to tell her. See, we have a regular, but she needs like an hour’s notice. Also, pretty sure that early in the day, she’s at her day job. So dad knows that mom can’t just call her, but if he asks too early, she’ll sit down with a phone book and find someone else. If he waits until breakfast is just nearly done, right before she jumps up to grab her purse, she’ll have no choice but to yell at me to get my shoes. Then dad has the day to himself.
It’s happened often enough this summer that I just put my shoes on when I get out of bed, and I’ve got a backpack packed with coloring books and shit and a little shit radio. I don’t even wait for her anymore. Second dad opens his mouth, I’ve got my backpack over my shoulder and waiting by the door. I like to think the expression she gives me at these moments is gratitude.
Mom’s an actress back then. Not like you’re thinking. We live in Chicago. Dad ran out his unemployment a year back, and mom makes just enough that we’re ineligible for food stamps. So that maybe tells you what kind of actress she is. But she’s as good a mom as she knows how to be, so she sticks me in the closet while she and her costars all get dressed. Everyone knows I’m there, and most of them are fine with it as long as I stay quiet and don’t try to peek. They’re here for the same reason she is, so they get it.
When they all leave, I’m allowed to come out and watch the little black and white TV or color on the floor, but mostly I stay in the closet. I’ve got this rotating star projector nightlight thing to provide light, and it’s harder to hear the all the moaning coming from the set. So that’s where I am, and I’m kind of dozing off when the door opens just a crack, and I can see this eye peer in at me. It’s brown, bloodshot, bit shorter than me. Not exactly worrying. Now, you can probably see where this is going cause you’ve read it like a million times, but back then, the only thing on my mind was I didn’t know any of the other girls had kids.
“Can I come in, too?”
It’s the tiniest goddamn whisper. She sounds scared, so I just scoot over to make some room. I don’t remember her actually coming in, just the door is closed again, and there’s this tiny, emaciated wisp of a girl all curled up next to me, leaning against the closet wall, stars slowly passing across her face and arms. I can’t see her well, but I remember she had this dirty white dress or maybe nightgown, and her face wasn’t quite the right color. People don’t usually come that grey, you know?
Well, I don’t say anything. As a general rule, I don’t say much of anything. I’m sure as fuck not talking to some random girl I never saw before. But I give her some crayons and one of my books, and after a few minutes, she uncurls a little and starts doodling.
“My name’s Tina,” she whispers. She sounds like she’s gargling salt water. I just kind of nod at her and wait to see if she’s going to say anything else. “My mommy hates me.”
I’m six goddamn years old, and I’m already pretty familiar with this story. I just frown and put my hand on her shoulder. She flinches, like she’s startled, but she doesn’t pull away or anything. Her skin is all kinds of fucked up, by the way. Cold, clammy, oddly squishy, but somehow dry, too, like…well, like a desiccated corpse.
Look, let’s just get this out of the way. Kid drowned in a bathtub. Left there for a couple hours while her mom got high. Probably drowned cause she was high, too, from all the hotboxing in that apartment. Then her mom sells her body to some whackjob for crack money. He’s another story.
I don’t find any of this out until later, but this is the moment where I realize I’m touching a corpse. She grabs my hand, you know like a sick person would, looking for reassurance, and goes, “You don’t hate me, right? I’m not a mistake, right?”
I shake my head, and she starts to laugh this gurgling laugh. After a second or two, it sounds more like she’s choking. Water’s pouring out her mouth. Floor is covered in it. I’m sitting in it. I yank my hand away and go for the doorknob, and she just starts sobbing.
In retrospect, I wish I’d stayed to comfort her. Maybe she’d have moved on. But right then, all I wanted was to get the fuck away.
My hands are wet, and the temperature is going down rapidly. My breath is fogging. Ice crystals on my fingers. Can’t get a grip on the doorknob, so I start screaming. Ghost kid is drowning and crying and begging the universe or something to tell her she’s not a mistake, and I’m freaking out that she’s going to drag me down with her when the door opens from the other side, and I go flailing into my mom. She’s barely dressed cause she came running out from the big climax scene, and pissed as hell with me cause she doesn’t see anything wrong. Girl is gone. Water is gone. Stiffs are gone, too, so the director’s pissed as hell at me and my mom both and docks her pay, so now she’s even more pissed at me. And thereafter, I’m the kid who had a bad dream and pissed himself and do I have any plans on doing it again this time so they can just work it into the movie.
I never told anyone after that, but I had proof. Proof to myself, at least. My books were all crinkled like they’d been soaking, and her doodles were still in the corner of one page. Picture of a stick figure with a big rectangle around it and a frowny face. You know, like a five year old trying to draw herself drowned in a bathtub.