A phantom girl with an elderly face befriends an unusual boy, and throughout the years together they would commit horrific acts of violence and brutality. What derives from such a curious relationship?
Estimated reading time: 18 minutes
In the zero hours, in the dark corridor, was when and where I first met her, a girl my tender age of nine but with the expressionless face the age of ninety. One may think, more bizarre than that, I did not react how I should. There she was, a girl my height and age, face all droopy, dressed in an all-black over-sized shirtdress, sitting on the floor against the wall with her shoulders hunched like an old person… and I didn’t even bat an eyelid. For several long seconds I looked at her, bored eyes, and then continued with what I woke up from bed for: a glass of water.
All the while, on my trip to the kitchen, I knew she’d stood up from the floor behind me and was treading on my heels. Without looking back at her, I let her follow. Don’t get me wrong, I wasn’t behaving that way because I was a naïve child; I’d do the same today, twenty years later from that day.
‘Why?’ you may ask. Well… to simplify it for you the best I can, I’m not your ordinary lad, neither was I your ordinary kid. On average, I go by my days speaking less than two-hundred words, and those words can come out in the bluntest, harshest, most straight-forward way. In writing, I’m an almost different personality. In the flesh, though, I may appear to be blasé or indifferent about everything, every day, no matter how I feel inside. Autism perhaps? Maybe. If I was diagnosed, my parents never told me.
People around me in my daily life either live in a whole other world from me, or must tolerate me and the way I am, or torment me for their inability to understand me. At work, as many should figure just by looking at me, I’m not a team-player, but I’m an excellent worker. All things tech-related, systems-related, I’ll sort it out. This is the only reason my company keeps me around. If efficient communication is lacking, that’s their problem; I stop at anything more than writing heavily detailed emails and texts that nobody understands.
Back to nine-year-old me in the dim-lit kitchen with a wrinkle-faced little girl by my side. I poured myself a glass of water, took three gulps and then handed the rest to her without looking at her. When she held the glass with two small hands, I realized that the rest of her skin and body, everything apart from her face and hunching, was equivalent to her age.
In one chug, she downed every drop of water and then held the glass out to me, indicating that she wanted more.
So, she got another, and another, and then she pointed to my fridge and I opened it for her. Standing behind me, she pointed at the leftover meatloaf.
Even in my acts of compassion, people may assume that I am constantly indifferent because of the complete lack of emotion in my face, but this is an example of me being compassionate, a side of me people rarely ever see. I’d stayed with her as she gobbled up every cold tidbit of leftover. My heavy eyelids, my sleepy eyes watching her tiny hands shoving food down into her old, droopy, up-turned face, her toothless chewing.
After that, I’d help her wash her hands at the faucet and she’d follow me to my bedroom, sitting on the floor in the corner as I slept. For every day in the following years, I’d wake up to this old girl sitting in the corner of my room.
I’m not a good judge of what’s normal and what’s not, so I’d just lived with it for a big chunk of my life. It had become my normal. Day by day, we grew up together, except her old face and hunch remained the same. Nobody around me seemed to notice her, even when she was sharing my meals at breakfast, lunch and dinner.
As might be expected because of the way I am, a big portion of my life consists of bullies always hounding me. It’s amazing how even adults in a workplace environment can be this immature; they’re just more subtle and obscure about their approach. At least in school they’re more up front about it.
The first time my old-faced friend had ever spoken to me was when we were fourteen. It was when I came home from school with a bruised eye and busted lip. Of course, I’d simply told my mom that I’d tripped on a rock but… you know what happened.
In my room, I sat on the edge of my bed and stared blankly at my green wall, my insides burning with rage despite my outward blasé appearance. The old girl sat by my side and shared my silence for a few long moments. And then she finally said, “Nobody learns if they’re never taught.”
I have a sensitivity to sounds, and her voice is of an angel, so I was immediately filled with serenity. She’d looked at me with her droopy eyes and said, “Teach them to never touch you again or they’ll never learn. I can help.”
And when she said that she’d help, she meant it. She’d lent me strength and courage that I wouldn’t otherwise possess. So, the next day at school, I’d prepared three handwritten notes for the three bullies who were significantly larger than me. After recess, I’d left the notes faced down on each of their desks.
“Pussies,” was all it read with a heart and my name in the bottom left corners. I watched them scowling at me with their red faces. How dumb they were to have not seen the bate and been more precautious, but when a rascal’s head gets that hot his brains pop like popcorn.
When the bell rang and school was over for the day, they’d be hounding me all the way through the hallways, out through the twin-doors, away from the school premises and onto the emptiest walkway leading home. This is a place rarely ever walked, and so there wouldn’t be any onlookers.
As soon as there was nobody else around, the chase began.
For a whole minute I would be sprinting down the empty road, and they would be hot on my heels. I took a sharp turn into a back alley where I then stopped dead in my tracks at a dead end, faced away from them. Enclosed in the narrow space, surrounded with gritty brick walls, they approached slowly.
This was my plan all along. Not much a plan, however, rather an act of immense overconfidence, because all I had in mind was a brutal fight. One small kid against three oversized kids. Not much a plan.
“Grown a big pair of balls, have ye’?” the main boy said. He’d come up close to me so I could literally feel his breath on the back of my neck. His gruffy voice too mature for his age stoked my rage. “Makes it all the more easier to tear ‘em off.” He grabbed onto the back of my collar tightly.
Like the flick of a light switch, I turned into something else instantly, and I was almost unconscious of my own actions. Throwing my head backwards abruptly, I’d made contact with the boy’s chin. Bone meets bone. Nobody even had time to register the situation while I promptly pivoted on my heel and, with the momentum, threw a hard cross at his pained face. Knuckles meet the cartilage of nose. The popping sound it made would signal the other two boys to come to their senses and take action.
But I wasn’t even done with the first boy yet. As he moaned and pinched his rapidly-bleeding nose shut, I took his head in one hand and threw him into the brick wall, pulled him back, and threw him again… and then he was unconscious, and I was now done with him. One down, two to go. Looking at the blood on my shivering hand, I’d never felt so alive. Soon after, I’d receive a heel kick to the gut and a hook to my jaw, followed by a punch straight to my teeth.
In the state I was in, though, I barely made any response of pain to their attacks. They were stuck with an animal in a cage, and I watched the realization dawn on their dumb faces. What ensued for the five minutes from then on was a flurry of flying fists and legs and headbutts and bodies being tossed around between narrow brick walls until I was standing inside a messy circle of three unconscious, bloodied bodies.
As I stood there with my busted red, black and blue face turned to the sky, breathing deeply and fully, the old girl appeared beside me.
“What now, Sonia?” I asked her. It was a name that had spontaneously come to mind, and it had suited her in my eyes, thus it was the day she was named, a day of blood and victory.
“Boys this daft don’t learn that easily, don’t you know?” she said and yawned, her inward, sunken lips, toothless mouth widening and closing, saggy cheeks. She then shuffled away with her old-person hunch and disappeared behind the wall.
Many may think that what would befall one of these three bullies is unnecessarily drastic, but I believed Sonia. For the following fourteen years, I would deal with my troublemakers the way she’d asked me to: violence, brutality, strictness. Once, I’d forced a girl to bite off and chew her own thumb until it became bolus. I made her spit it out into a bowl, which I would then feed to Sonia because she’d wanted it that way.
Another time, I made a girl cut off her boyfriend’s tongue, cook it, and serve it on a plate. With a fork and knife, I cut up pieces of the tongue and fed it to Sonia. Many things I’ve done in those years. Honestly, I’m surprised I haven’t been caught yet. After each incident, the victims would be that scared of me.
Towards the end of the run, however, as I watched Jackie Thornburg dropping his kid off at school and waving goodbye, I would begin to question Sonia. She’d wanted me to murder Jack, which would be my first act of homicide, and I wasn’t sure if I could do it.
Fourteen years prior, after the brawl with the school bullies, I sat and waited in the back alley for the them to wake up. One by one, their heavy eyes would peel open and soon be welled with tears. I’d bound each of their wrists with whatever I could find within the heaping clutter of throwaway items in the back alley, so they couldn’t escape unless by some Godly intervention. When one of them attempted to rise, I wordlessly threatened his life.
With eyes widened in horror, they watched and pleaded as I walked up to them with a rusty blade I had found in the dumpster. Grabbing the main boy by the hair, I forced him up to his feet and dragged him over to the dumpster, holding his hand against the lid with my blade hovering over his fingers.
“From here on out, leave me be and tell nobody about this,” I told them, pronouncing each word clearly and slowly. “Disobey and you will be met with pure regret.”
They eagerly nodded their heads as though I would mercifully let them go with those words alone, but there seemed to be a misunderstanding; this boy’s pinky and ring finger would be severed regardless of their pleads.
Despite my sensitivity to sounds, the piercing scream that filled the air was music to my ears. Humorous, too, because the shriek belonged to a child half his age. All their gangster act, all out the window. With the same blade, I then cut the main boy’s wrist binds. Before I could cut the other boys’ binds, they’d all jumped to their feet and fled, leaving me staring at the severed fingers on the dumpster lid.
Believe it or not, that was the first time I’d ever laughed, or tried to. I do not know how normal people do it properly, but the way I do it, I open my mouth wide and expel the breath from my lungs in short but powerful bursts, and then take in another deep breath and repeat, making the sound “Hah-hah-hah… hah-hah-hah.” Is that correct? It hurt, so I stopped as soon as I started.
On my quiet route home, I trod down the shallow hill to get to the lake where I sat in the grass and began filleting the severed fingers. In a peaceful, silent moment afterwards, I fed Sonia the flesh of fingers and then she’d rinsed the gore from my face, hands and clothes the best she could with lake water before we resumed our walk home.
Fourteen years later, on the day that Jackie Thornburg rudely came up to me at my cubicle and raised his voice at me like I was his disobedient dog, I would be dragging his battered, unconscious body into a remote woodland at night.
When he’d woken up, most of what would come out of his mouth are “Please” and “Why,” but in the day, at my cubicle, in front of my colleagues, he was such a big boy. After having stalked him in his daily life, though, that human part of me felt compassion, and I was caught in a dilemma.
While Jack cried and begged, roped to a tree, Sonia told me that his son would be better off without a father like him, who treats someone like me the way he does. For several long minutes I was overwhelmed with internal conflict and Sonia’s voice was a solid eighty percent of it all. Finally, in a gesture that required shutting down my own thoughts, I cut the rope binding Jack to the tree and immediately shoved my knife into his hands.
“It’s you or me,” I told him and turned away so that I wouldn’t attempt to defend myself out of instinct. “Do it now.”
Never have I ever raised my voice as I did that night, but I had to reinforce my words, so I closed my ears tightly and shouted as loud as I could. “DO IT NOW!”
Regardless of having my ears shut, I heard behind me Jack whimpering in all his dilemma. All he was short of was a push, so I told him, “Do it now, or you’ll be met with pure regret,” and then I started counting down. “Five… four… three… two…”
Jack’s whimpering transformed into a guttural grunt intensifying into a loudening yell and even when I was turned away from him with my eyes and ears closed, I could feel the knife being raised high up over my head and coming down fast, but then…
Everything became still and silent, so much so that I believed it had already happened. I was dead and had crossed over to the other side in a painless instant. When I relaxed and turned around, the first thing I saw was the tip of the knife hovering an inch away from between my eyes. And then I saw how pale and wide-eyed Jack had become, as if he’d seen a ghost, which… arguably he literally did; he’d seen a ghost… or something.
Around the wrist of Jack’s knife-wielding hand was Sonia’s tenacious grip. So very terrified he was that he had frozen in place, not a single twitching muscle fiber. Snatching the knife from out of Jack’s hand, she threw it a good distance away into the darkness of the night woods. Jack dropped his hands to his sides and slowly turned his face towards hers as if to reaffirm what his eyes were perceiving: a girl with a ninety-year-old face and hunch, who’d appeared out of thin air.
Even I couldn’t believe it. Nobody had physically interacted with Sonia before, nobody other than me. Since forever, I was under the impression that she was only an extension of my consciousness, that delivered me strength, courage and knowledge I never would’ve possessed.
While Jack looked a jump-scare short of passing out, Sonia turned toward me. In an almost illusory transformation, the wrinkles on her face dispersed with the increasing elasticity of her skin. The bones in her neck and back cracked and popped as her posture straightened. Before long, Sonia was a full-fledged angelic being staring at me, forever dressed in her all-black shirtdress.
If there was ever a moment in my life when my constant blasé appearance had broken, it was that night, seeing Sonia in the flesh and in all her glory, a dreamy smile resting on her red lips, skin so bright it looked as if she were emitting light; I couldn’t feel my face, but I must have looked pretty dumb looking at her.
Without speaking a single word, she let go of Jack’s wrist, turned away and started walking into the darkness. It took me at least half a minute to come to my senses and chase after her, but every time I saw her walking ahead of me, she’d soon vanish into the shadows and reappear in another direction, always with her back turned to me.
No matter what, no matter how many times I’d called out her name, or how long I’d given chase, I couldn’t get in touch with her. You know someone all your life and she departs with only a smile, nothing else. Believe it or not, that was the first and only time I’d ever cried. Falling on my back, I laid down in the ground, covered in sweat and dirt, and whined like a baby to no end. All those nineteen years with Sonia was but a big riddle that I still can’t fully comprehend.
But day by day, I’m becoming a better person. I’ve learned to talk better; to tolerate; to not act in violence and vengeance. I’m filling in the jigsaw, and soon enough, I’ll understand, even if it’s just a small portion of the bigger picture, I’ll understand.
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