– Written for ZeroFlash March Competition Image prompt. WC 914. ‘Charlie’s House’ was published but ineligible for the contest due to word count restriction. Drawing prompt by Sophia Johnson.
Being back in the old house had me on edge. Sleeping was impossible. I was suddenly that little boy again. Dreams of the past flooded in threatening to wash away the man I had become. I tossed and turned but couldn’t find comfort in that creaky old bed.
Mom said she never blamed me for Charlie’s disappearance, but I blamed me. My ten-year-old mind even concocted an elaborate story to make sense of it all. I could not for the life of me remember what really happened to my little brother.
I begged mom to get rid of that antique mirror but she didn’t want to part with her deceased grandmother’s belongings just because I had bad dreams.
I would see things in it that weren’t there. After my brother disappeared, I swore I heard his voice every so often at night. I had nightmares where he was attacked by a big black wolf with glowing red eyes and thick shaggy fur. Sometimes I would wake up in the attic and not remember how I got there. They would tell me I was dreaming and sleepwalking. Of course I was. Believing that was the only way I was able to function.
Now that mom had passed I will be selling this place and everything in it, none too soon for my taste.
I heard a noise in the attic and prayed for it to be the wind or the old house settling. It persisted until I was forced to identify it. It sounded as if something were up there walking around.
“Oh god,” I mumbled to my empty room and sat up on the edge of the bed with my head in my hands. I was trying very hard to be an adult.
“Well, Hell!” I said and stood up quickly, grabbing the baseball bat from behind the door and charged up the stairs.
I threw open the attic door and wielded the bat ready for whatever waited.
I was met with glowing red eyes and a snarl making its way from behind gleaming white fangs.
“You!” I screamed at the menacing black wolf from my nightmares. He looked ready to pounce so I began inching backward. Before I could turn to run he launched himself at me and knocked me to the floor.
He stood looming over me and I was suddenly aware of myself trembling and sweating, exhausted. I accepted that I was nothing more than that little boy and always had been. “Fine!” I yelled. I closed my eyes, laid my head back and dropped my arms to my sides. After what felt like an eternity, I was surprised by a cold nose then a warm wet tongue bathing my face in dog slobber.
I slowly opened my eyes. I could have sworn this giant deadly beast was smiling at me. Suddenly I felt angry. I shoved him with both hands and scrambled to my feet.
“What?! After all this time, all the nightmares,” I ranted. “I tried to forget you. I was doing a pretty good job of it too. I have finally lost my mind! I dreamed you took Charlie. You could have killed me and here you are smiling at me?!”
He backed away slowly and then trotted to the corner of the room hidden in the shadows. He returned with something swinging from his mouth. It was Charlie’s favorite red baseball shirt. “Hey! Give me that!” I scolded and moved toward him. He growled a warning and ran toward the creepy old mirror. He dropped the shirt on the floor in front of him and motioned with his broad muzzle. I walked in his direction but before I could reach him he snatched up the shirt again.
He half barked, half howled over the fabric hanging from his mouth, and then whimpered.
I flashed back to when Charlie disappeared. I remembered the long-forgotten night. I remembered the story I told. I remembered the story as it happened and as much as I tried to convince myself over the years that it was a child’s fantasy, I could not. “No, no, no,” I mumbled. It was real. This wolf that haunted my dreams, the wolf that stood in front of me now, was Charlie.
I fell to my knees in front of this huge hulking animal and I looked into his glowing red eyes. I searched for my little brother. He dropped the shirt and licked my head. This time, I was sure it was a smile I saw on his long dog face.
He backed away from me toward the mirror and looked out the window as if directing my attention. I noticed the moon was full and the sky was clear. He shook his mane and leaned down for a brief moment and then continued backing toward the mirror. I looked from him to the moon and back again. Then I realized he was half in the mirror and moving further away from me.
“No! Charlie no, don’t go!” I pleaded.
He shook his head again, pawed at the red shirt, looked up at the moon, then back at me and was suddenly gone from my sight. I jumped at the mirror and slapped both hands against it but it was solid. I lay there near the mirror in the fading moonlight clutching my little brother’s slobbery red baseball shirt. By the morning, I knew I would not be selling the house.
This was Charlie’s house.