Translucence: A disease in which the skin becomes semitransparent and takes on a cloudy appearance in which the organs and muscles are seen beneath the skin.
He watched them as they played outside. He always watched them. His curious eyes darted wildly; desperate to capture every moment. He’d laugh and giggle as he watched the kids pretend to be pirates. He would bite his nails as he witnessed intense shootouts when they pulled out their plastic guns and played cops and robbers. When they played tag, he imagined the exhilaration and adrenaline that one employed as they ran to avoid being it. He vicariously lived an ordinary childhood from this filthy cellar window. When the children would go home, and the day concluded, he would return to the shadows.
As they took off, and said their goodbyes, the boy peeled away exhausted. He felt like he had been among them, playing. His muscles had ghost aches which added a sense of reality.
“Damn, when Corey was running from Becky and turned that corner and almost collided with Bobby. I thought they would be bopping their heads for sure. Earlier, when playing pirates, I could have sworn the evil pirate king, Peg Leg Bill, would have the last laugh. Boy, do I feel stupid. I should have known Captain Peterson would crush him. He walked the plank and those sharks had one hell of a meal.” He shook his head amused as he crossed the cold stone floor. He stopped at the mirror; the quicksilver glass was there to always remind him of what he was; a monster.
He looked into this mirror every day and hoped one of these times he’d see a normal boy; every day was another disappointment. His skin was still semi-transparent. It looked like a sick, hazy mix that served as a window to his insides. He looked like one of those pictures in a biology book, the one which showed where all the organs were located. His eyes were round and could be seen even when his lids were closed. He saw his heart beating against white ribs and the muscles that surrounded it. He saw his lungs swell and deflate…all evidence of life. But was this?
His mother told him that the world wouldn’t understand. Society was enslaved to ignorance and prejudice she had told him. They would call him a monster and try to hurt or kill him she said. “They will bash you with sticks and burn you alive. I’ve seen them do it because some people have black skin, imagine what they’d do to a boy with no skin color.” That is what she said; however he just didn’t see it.
These kids outside seemed nice. Their play was sincere, and he couldn’t see any sense of hatred in them. They weren’t the malicious individuals his mother made them out to be. They were loving life and took full advantage of it. They were human, just like him.
He believed mother was wrong, but mother’s law ruled. She was second only to God. She said that to him one night when he tried to challenge her. She was a strong woman, and her strength became overbearing when his father died. She lived upstairs by herself now and cast him to the basement; two lonely people under the same roof.
Well, he wasn’t totally lonely; there was Rodney.
Rodney was a rat that shared this cellar. He was always close by, and often the nameless child would have long conversations with the rodent. Rodney never participated of course, but he did seem to listen quite well.
“Hey Rodney.” The child called out as the rat trotted across the filthy cement floor. It stopped and looked up at the child. “Yeah, I have been looking out that window again. What’s it to you? You’re still my pal.”
The boy collapsed onto his dad’s old army cot. His dad had died in Iraq. His mother had told him Iraq was full of treacherous, godless monsters who loved killing innocent Americans. What made them a monster was something mom called Islam. She once called it a religion of whores. For weeks the boy was confused, trying to figure out what a whore was. He held his ear to the vents to hear the television upstairs. After hearing the word a few more times he figured a whore is a woman no one likes.
How could a religion be a woman that no one likes?
“I know Rodney. It’s torture. I just don’t believe mom. I don’t think she’s right. The kids; they’re all around the same age as me, eight years or so. They have fun and I don’t think it’s fair that mom won’t let me outside.”
Rodney just stared at him.
He heard the cellar doorknob turning. It was his mother. Was it feeding time already? Quickly he turned to Rodney and with his hands made a shooing motion.
“Get going Rodney, mom will try to kill you for sure.”
The little rodent trotted off back into the darkness and just in time. Suddenly the dank and dark domain of this child was invaded with the artificial light from a normal world, a world alien to him. Cast in the doorway was the silhouette of his mother.
She made her way down the stairs. Each step she took made the old wooden steps moan and creak. When she reached the bottom, she dropped a plastic bag on the ground. Although she was only thirty years old, she looked ancient. Her short blond hair brushed behind her ears. Her thin frame was beginning to puff up; the years had been cruel to her.
“I left you a sandwich and an apple.” Her attention was quickly stolen by the cellar window. The condensation had been recently wiped off. Her face began to squish up as the anger flushed her pale features red. “You little fucking bastard, I told you to leave this goddamn window alone.”
“I’m not doing anything wrong, just looking out.”
“I don’t like it, no not at all. People could see you and they’d burn this house down. They wouldn’t understand, no they wouldn’t. You’re jeopardizing both of our lives.” She ran over to it and quickly covered the window with the sheet she hung from a nail. As she dressed it up to conceal it better, she froze. Suddenly her anger was re-directed. “My god, these are rat droppings. Child, we got rats down here?”
“No, just one and he’s not dirty; he’s a friend.”
“You truly are a curse boy. Satan put rats on this earth to disease god’s people. Now know this, I will have this window boarded up tomorrow and I am baiting the place for rodents.” The boy felt his world collapsing. His heart sped up as he felt ill.
“Mama, please don’t do this. I didn’t do anything wrong.”
“Your birth was wrong.” With this she stormed up the stairs and slammed the door behind her. The boy heard as the locks engaged. He scampered around looking for Rodney.
“Rodney, we need to get you out of here. My mother is going to kill you.” The little rodent came running out from behind some old boxes and stopped at the boy’s feet. The child began to tear up. “I don’t want you to go but if you don’t leave my mom will kill you.”
The rat stared at the child.
The rat turned its head slightly.
“Rodney, that…that’s murder.”
The rat continued its hard stare.
“But if I kill her, I’ll go to prison. I want to play with the other boys not go to jail.”
The rat’s tail dropped a little.
“I don’t know.”
The rat looked down.
“Ok then Rodney. I love you and want nothing to ever happen to you. I’ll do anything for you.”
The next day the child was impatient. He couldn’t sleep the night before, dreaming of being in the world with normal kids. He looked in the mirror and tried to convince himself that they wouldn’t be afraid. He saw his blood flowing throughout his body in a network of veins. He watched his muscles twitch and strain as he lifted his arm. He closed his eyes, yet still he saw through the lids. He wasn’t a monster like his mother had said, he was a human with an unfortunate disease.
The world would understand.
He replayed Rodney’s plan through his head. It was a good plan, and he knew it would work well. Rodney told him to tell the police about the lifetime of abuse, of imprisonment. Rodney told him that no right-minded person on this earth would put an abused child in prison.
The locks on the door began to disengage. The time was now. He needed to get his nerves up; needed to get himself ready to pounce. She came down the stairs holding some plywood and a hammer. She intended on destroying his only connection to the world. The miserable little bitch brushed past him, her long blue dress touching his arm briefly. The whore didn’t even acknowledge him. Her dopey eyed glance proved this task she was set out to do was a burden, a wrinkle in her day. Wasn’t he the wrinkle in her life? As she put the hammer and wood down, he felt his hatred overwhelm him.
She was the reason he wasn’t normal.
She was the reason he had no friends.
She was the reason for all this misery.
He wasn’t her burden, she was his.
The bitch was bent down trying to measure the little piece of plywood. The child reached and grabbed the hammer. He held the steel tool in his hand. He raised it above and slammed it down with all his might.
The sound was hollow. It echoed throughout the cellar as the skull cracked from the impact. She let out a muttering attempt to yell but it was caught in her throat. She spun around on the ground as she spit blood out her mouth; the impact forced her to bite her tongue. Her eyes were wide open as she pushed herself into a corner, trying to get away from the child.
“What have you done?”
“I want to be free mama; I want to be with the other kids.” He responded confused.
“They’ll kill you. Don’t you realize this? I have been among them; I know how they can be.”
“I don’t believe you. You hate me.”
“Oh dear, I tried so hard to protect you that I made you despise me. I am not your enemy, they are. I’m your mother and you’re my son.”
Suddenly he felt bad as he watched the tears coming down his mother’s cheek. Was it true after all? Was she just trying to protect him? He had to admit, the situation was a little bizarre, but that didn’t render it untrue. He felt uneasy, looking into the eyes of his frightened mother.
Just then, Rodney came out from the shadows. He stopped and looked at the child.
“No Rodney, it was a misunderstanding.”
The rat just stared.
“No, she won’t kill you, isn’t that right mama?”
“No, I won’t kill your friend.” She played along as she tried desperately not to fall asleep. She knew if she was to fall asleep, she would not be waking up.
“You see Rodney.”
The rat looked up and its tail shifted left.
“She’s just pretending?”
“No honey, I’m not pretending.”
“She wants me to let my guard down so she can attack me?”
“Please don’t do this, I love you.”
“She plans on overpowering me and taking the hammer?”
“Please, oh god I’m sorry.”
“She’s planning to bash my head in, bury me and pretend I never existed?”
“Please I beg you son, don’t do this.”
“I guess it wouldn’t be hard to hide the truth that she killed me, no one knows I exist.”
“It’s just a fucking rat, it’s not talking. You just need help. You need help. That rat doesn’t talk, your mind just isn’t right. I can help you though, just put the hammer down.”
“No, I think Rodney is right.” Again he raised the hammer and smashed it down four times with all his might directly in the center of her face. She screamed for the first two blows, but after that all one could hear was the child’s grunts, the sound of shattering bone and the squishing of bloody meat and sinew. When the child pulled back, he saw the face of a monster was now nothing more than hamburger meat.
The child dropped the hammer to his feet. He stumbled back a little, shocked. He turned and saw Rodney just staring at him. His little black beady eyes, his long nose, his pink tail; Rodney was pleased.
“I did it. I killed her.” He suddenly felt an overwhelming joy, a sense of freedom. He laughed as he realized it was finally over. He could finally be a normal kid.
Outside he heard them; the voices of his soon to be best friends.
The rat just stared.
“What do you mean? My mom was wrong. They will like me. I know it.”
Rodney turned and quickly scurried off into the shadows.
“Don’t be jealous Rodney. You’re my best friend; you know that. I’ll be back later. I’ll tell you all about it.”
The boy opened the front door cautiously. He wore a pair of shorts and a t shirt he found in his mother’s closet. They were a little big, but they would do. Clothes were not the biggest concern of his; his anxiety was. He was excited, yet frightened. He’d never been outside before. The whole experience made him nervous. The boy took a deep breath and stepped out into the sunshine.
He walked down the front steps and out into the yard. Fear and excitement overwhelmed him, his heart was beating violently against his chest. Only a few feet away were the children he had been watching his whole life; the children he dreamed of playing with. He didn’t care what mother said, nor did he care what Rodney said. He was going over to them.
They gawked at him in a state of awe. One of the girls, Rachel, look terrified; however the rest looked with curiosity. They looked at the boy’s skin; saw his muscles and organs. They saw the bones and veins, the pumping blood. The whole thing was surreal to them, but for the boy it was even more so. Years in a basement and finally he was free.
“Why do you look like that?” Cory asked. The boy was prepared to answer these questions. It would be foolish to imagine that they wouldn’t ask about his condition.
“It is a disorder. I was born this way.”
“Are you a monster?” Becky asked. The boy from the basement frowned as he shook his head.
“No, I killed the monster.”
“What’s your name?” Bobby asked. His name: he hadn’t been given one. His mother would refer to him as the mistake, a monster and a product of her sins; none of these were his name, however.
“I was never given one, but I do like the name Jared.” As he spoke the name, he a strong attachment to it.
A real name for a real boy.
“Ok then, we’ll call you Jared.” Bobby responded. “Give us one second Jared.”
The group huddled. Jared heard hush arguing among the group. His head was full of games they were about to play. He was so excited he thought his heart would explode. Finally, the group turned back to him, and Cory stepped forward.
“Well, you are welcome to play with us Jared. We are heading over to the gravel pits to play hide and seek; wanna join?”
Jared felt tears in his eyes. His smile was impossible to hide. He felt something he never truly felt before…joy.
They crossed through the woods near the creek. They followed the stream a little while. Occasionally Becky or Rachel would look back at him with whispers. They were still afraid. He didn’t mind. He knew that by the end of the day they would all be best friends.
Once the trees broke, he saw what the kids referred to as the gravel pits. This was a place where massive piles of stone lay. They stretched taller than a house. There must have been a dozen of these little mountains. The group stopped in front of one mountain and Cory turned to Jared.
“Ok do you know how to play hide and go seek?”
“Of course, I watched you play from the basement.”
“What?” Becky asked, alarmed. “Monsters live in a basement.”
“Shut up Becky.” Cory yelled. He turned to Jared and smiled. “She doesn’t know what she’s talking about. Well, we will start with you being it since you are new to our group. We will hide. Give us until the count of ten before you come looking.”
Jared eagerly nodded his head and quickly covered his eyes. The children scattered while he counted.
“Three, two, one; ready or not here I come!” He yelled. He quickly darted around a corner but saw nobody. He listened. He didn’t hear anyone moving, nor talking. This was going to be difficult. He continued and jumped out around another mountain of stone; nothing. “You guys are good.”
He continued down the rows and searched. Finally, he heard a hush whisper. He turned his head and zoned in. It was coming behind one of the piles. He slowly and quietly made his way around the bend and was shocked to find all six of them.
“Wow, this wasn’t a very smart move. I found you all.” He laughed. “You don’t have to go easy on me because it’s my first time you know.”
“Shut up monster!” Cory yelled. Jared looked at him confused.
“What’s going on?”
“We know what you are. You live in a basement and watch us. You plan on killing us and eating our skin.” All the kids stared at Jared. They didn’t look happy. These were not the faces he fell in love with.
“No, seriously I am a boy.” He pleaded. “I’m not a monster. I promise.”
“No boy I ever seen. Looks like a freak!” Rachel yelled. The others agreed as they began to hurl obscenities.
“Cory, Bobby; please believe me.” Jared dropped to his knees as he begged.
“Dude, you didn’t even have a damn name.” Bobby responded. “You are totally a monster.”
“And your terror ends here monster.” The kids all bent down and each one picked up a big rock. Cory looked at his rock as a sadistic smile crossed his face. “I wonder if your blood will be green or black.”
“Please, don’t do this. I am a kid, a boy. I’m not a monster.” Jared sobbed. His tears ran down his cheek as he fell to his knees. He shook his head in disbelief. “Please. Don’t do this…”
A rock struck him in the face. His nose exploded. Cory stepped forward, laughing at the confused monster.
“This monster bleeds red.” He pointed.
“Maybe he isn’t a monster.” Becky called out. “What if we’re wrong?”
“I’m not a monster. Ask Rodney.” He yelled as he cupped his nose, trying to stop the blood.
“Who’s Rodney?” Cory asked.
“My friend, he’s a rat in my house. I’ll bring you to him.”
“It’s a trick. He wants us to go to his house so he can throw us in an oven. Die monster!” Bobby hollered as he threw his rock. It hit Jared in his arm, and he hollered out in agony.
“Please…don’t do this.”
Each child raised a rock in their hand and circled the child. The monster pleaded for his life. They imagined all the people he must have killed over the years. They wondered if the kids who they heard went missing wound up in his basement, their bones littering the stone floor. They knew they couldn’t let this monster live.
They began throwing the ammunition with all their might. Jared wept and shrieked as each rock struck. The kids continued to hurl the stones until he was still. Cory raised his hand to stop the assault and listened. He heard no more cries, no more begging; he knew the thing from the basement was dead. He turned to his friends and grinned.
“He’s dead. Let’s go back to my place and play pirates now.”