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    Codey
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
2008 - Winter - Ghosts Entry

A Ghost of Christmas Past - 1. Story

A Ghost of Christmas Past

Written by Codey

 

It was cold and dreary. The misty rain would soon turn to snow, bringing the promise of a white Christmas. The trees along the promenade, which snaked along the river’s edge, were draped in sparkling white lights, each of which was encased in a halo formed from the mist. People, bundled against the chill and sheltering under umbrellas, hurried towards the pavilion and the sounds of holiday music. Among shouts of, “Hurry up, Mom and Dad!” excited children ran ahead of their parents, little boys making sure to splash each puddle of water and boys and girls each checking and rechecking their pockets to make sure they hadn’t forgotten their Christmas lists. It was Christmas Eve and Santa was going to be there tonight to hand out stockings filled with treats and hear each child’s wishes for Christmas. No one noticed the teen boy sitting on the picnic table but he noticed them. He scanned each face, as the people walked by, looking for someone familiar. There were a few who looked familiar enough that he felt he should know them, but none he could put a name to.

He heard the excited voice of a young boy singing, “I’m going to see Sandy Claus...I’m going to see Sandy Claus.” He looked up and saw a young boy of five or so coming up the sidewalk. The boy was skipping ahead of a man and woman pushing a stroller with a baby inside.

“That’s far enough, Sport.” Ricky heard the man say. “You wait for us there and stop running so far ahead!”

“Awwww, you’re too slow, Dad.” The boy whined, but stopped all the same. He was a few feet from Ricky and was spinning around on one foot when he caught sight of Ricky and stopped. “Hi,” he said. “I’m going to see Sandy Claus.”

“So I heard.”

“Are you waiting to go see him too?” he asked with a huge smile on his face.

“Nah, I’ll wait until tomorrow and see what he brings me.”

“Don’t you want to see him?”

“Well, it’ll be crowded, so I don’t want bother him and make him mad at me. He might not bring me anything then.”

The little boy looked worried, “Do you think he’ll get mad at me too?”

“No, because you look like one of his elves and he has a soft spot for kids like you.”

“Good! I don’t want Sandy to be mad at me.”

“Let’s go, kiddo.” his Dad said when they caught up. “We don’t want to make Santa wait.”

“He won’t get mad, Dad. He likes kids that look like elves!” The father laughed, took his son’s hand, and they walked away. They’d gone thirty feet or so when the little boy turned and waved bye to Ricky. The man said something to the boy and the boy answered him. The boy’s dad looked over his shoulder, scanning the area, but Ricky must have been far enough in the shadows that he couldn’t be seen. He just smiled and turned back to his family.

*****

Ricky Danielson was fifteen; at least he would be for the next few hours. Ricky’s parents were married in 1971, a few months before his dad was drafted and sent to Vietnam, leaving a pregnant wife. Ricky was born on Christmas day in 1972. His dad never made it back home and never got to see his son. His name is on the Wall in Washington DC, and Ricky wanted to go see it someday. To most people, those names were just that...names. To people like Ricky and others who actually knew the people represented by those names, they were much more. They were a connection to friends and family, and represented dreams that would never come true. To those like Ricky, they represented dreams that they could never have.

Ricky was four when his mom fell in love again. He didn’t know what this love stuff was all about, but his mom told him that now he’d have a dad like the other kids. He’d never known his dad, but his friends seemed to like the ones they had, so he was okay with the idea. His mom was partially right: he had a dad now but he sure wasn’t like the other kids’ dads. It was bad from the start. His new stepdad mostly ignored him, but he couldn’t ignore the presence of his stepfather.

Everything changed. There was no more Spiderman running through the house chasing evil-doers. No more long baths where sea serpents attacked ships and magic cars drove on the surface of the water. No more tents of bed linen for camping out in the wilds of Africa, where lions, tigers and elephants snorted, growled and roared while headhunters were chased off by the mighty hunter. If Ricky had been older, he might have realized that first day George moved in, that the devil had entered their lives, and Ricky’s descent into Hell had begun. Everything had changed.

As the memories began flooding his mind, Ricky cupped his hands over his ears, hoping to block the sounds of the screams, but it never worked. Just as squeezing his eyes tightly closed couldn’t stop the tears and visions, his cupped hands couldn’t block the noise from inside his head. It was the face. It always started with the face, soon to be followed by words, slaps with open hands and progressing, over time, to fists and kicking…but it always started with the face. Ricky had never experienced hatred before. He’d rarely even seen anger, but he instinctively recognized the face of hatred when he saw it that day of the wedding.

The lady who was supposed to watch him while his mom and new dad went on a weekend honeymoon became ill and had to cancel, and so his mom and George had to postpone their honeymoon trip. That afternoon, at home, Ricky was in the kitchen, watching as his mom emptied the dishwasher. Normally, he’d be in the living room watching the afternoon cartoons, but George was watching something else.

“Is George really my daddy now?” he asked, spinning around on the stool at the breakfast bar.

She looked at her son and smiled as she watched him spinning on the stool. He was so much like his father in temperament and as he grew older she could see more and more of her deceased husband in both his actions and looks. “Yes, Ricky. He is really your dad now.”

Ricky looked thoughtful as he reversed his direction and began to spin in the opposite direction. “What do daddies do?”

She wiped her hands on a towel, walked around the counter and sat on the stool next to his. “Daddies are very special people. They do lots of things for their kids. They play catch and teach them about sports and life. They help them with their homework when they go to school. The most important thing daddies do, though, is to love and protect their families.”

Ricky stopped his spinning with his back towards his mom. “I don’t think I want a daddy,” he said so softly, she barely heard him. “I don’t think George likes me.”

“Oh, Honey,” she said, standing and hugging him from the back. “George is a wonderful man. You and he just don’t know each other yet. It’s going to take some time for the two of you to bond. You’ll see, the two of you will get closer as you get to know each other. Promise me you’ll give him a chance, okay?”

“Okay,” he said, as she turned him around and hugged him. With his head on her shoulder, he could see George standing in the doorway. George’s face was contorted and angry as he glared at Ricky. Ricky felt a chill pass through him as he looked at George. That was the first, but far from the last, time he’d seen the face of hatred on George and, from that moment on, he feared him.

Things never got better between him and George, they only got worse. The abuse escalated from verbal to physical soon after the birth of Adam, Ricky’s half brother. Ricky was five at the time, and adored his little brother. He would sit for hours talking to Adam and telling him stories as Adam lay in his crib. Adam would gurgle and wave his arms and legs. He was too young to understand the words but would smile and watch Ricky, as Ricky talked to him.

Ricky learned, early on, to stay away from Adam when George was around. George didn’t want him around the baby, but when he was at work, Ricky was always close to Adam. As he grew, Adam would smile and hold out his arms to Ricky whenever he’d walk into the room. This infuriated George and he’d always yell and send Ricky to his room. Once, when Ricky was six and Adam one year old, one of Ricky’s friends from the neighborhood was with Ricky in their living room. Ricky was proudly showing off his little brother when George came home from work early. “Get away from the baby!” George shouted. His loud voice, and its tone, frightened the neighbor boy and he ran from the house.

George grabbed Ricky by the upper arm, twisted it, and threw him across the room. Ricky felt a terrible pain and was unconscious before hitting the table by the doorway. He awoke in the car with his mom, and she was telling him they had to say he tripped while running through the house, and that was how he got hurt, as she sped to the emergency room with him. That’s the day the lying started.

Over the next nine years, his injuries were caused by: a fall out of a tree; a wrench slipping when he was working on his bike and causing his black eye. He fell down the stairs and that was the cause of all the bruises. He twisted his knee (ankle, hip, back) playing soccer and that was why he was limping. Ricky became an excellent liar. At first, out of fear of George and fear that his mom would get into trouble, but later, out of embarrassment that people would find out. A few months after his fifteenth birthday, the whole town found out. To this day, Ricky didn’t know what set George off that night.

Ricky was in his room doing his homework when he heard the car pull into the driveway. A few minutes later, he heard the front door slam. This was always a bad sign when George came home angry. He got up and gently closed his bedroom door. He was hoping, out of sight, out of mind. Just maybe, if George didn’t see him, he would avoid the beating that usually came when George was in this kind of mood.

Ricky stood with his back towards the door and scanned his room. It had to be just right. Anything out of place, a sock peeking out from beneath the bed, papers and books not in neat piles, and even his soccer ball laying in the corner instead of hidden in the closet, had all led to beatings in the past. Satisfied his room would pass inspection, he went back to his bed to finish his homework. As hard as he tried, he couldn’t concentrate, and would reread a page several times and still not know what he’d read. His mind was consumed with the dread of the footsteps he knew would soon be coming up the stairs. So consumed, in fact, he never heard those footsteps. His door suddenly opened and there was George. George’s eyes wandered about Ricky’s room as if looking for an excuse. It was clear to Ricky that he’d not avoid a beating tonight.

“Who the Hell do you think you are?” George asked, glaring at Ricky. “Where were you when I came home for work?”

“I was doing my homework.”

“And you couldn’t leave it long enough to show me some respect and welcome me home? I work my ass off, earning money to feed and clothe some little bastard who isn’t even mine, and this is how you treat me?” Ricky knew this wasn’t true, but didn’t dare say anything. He’d heard his mom telling his aunt that the social security check she got for Ricky, after his dad’s death, was a major source of family income, since George had such a low paying job. This was just an excuse George had come up with to justify the beating he was going to give Ricky.

As George strode over to stand in front of him, Ricky was transfixed by the look of anticipation on George’s face. It was the same look he’d always seen on Adam’s face when he was unwrapping a piece of candy that Adam knew was for him. He steeled himself for the inevitable.

“I’m going to teach you to respect me, and if that means beating it into you, then so be it!” George yelled, as he slapped Ricky hard on his face. Ricky immediately slid to the floor and assumed a fetal position with both hands protecting his face. He’d learned, over the last nine years, that this was the best way to avoid the more serious damage from the beatings. He went into that place in his mind where he was more an observer and less the victim: A place where the pain was more bearable and he was less likely to cry out. Crying out always seemed to just feed George’s rage and make it worse.

It probably only lasted five minutes or so, but this time was especially vicious. Ricky was racked with pain and feared opening his eyes, even after he heard George leave the room, still cursing him. When he did dare open them, he saw his mom standing in his doorway. “When are you going to learn to not anger him?” she asked as she pulled his door closed. Ricky was left to cry himself to sleep, still in the fetal position, still on the floor.

Ricky awoke some time later, with someone lovingly stroking his head and crying softly. His mom had come to comfort him! “Mom?” he asked, opening his eyes.

“Shh!” he heard a voice whisper, “You’ll wake them up and he’ll just get you again. As his eyes grew accustomed to the dim light, he recognized Adam. “Are you okay, Ricky?” Adam asked.

“Yeah, I think so. I’m going to be pretty stiff and sore for a few days though.”

“We have to stop this, Ricky; we can’t keep letting him do this to you.”

“Believe me, I’m not letting him. If there were a way, I’d do it, but there’s nothing I can do. He’s bigger and stronger than me, so I can’t fight back. He’s an adult and I’m just a kid. There’s nothing I can do.”

“Yes there is. We’re learning about this in school now. It’s abuse, and to stop it, you have to tell some adult you can trust.”

“Huh! If my own mom won’t do anything, how can I expect some other adult to? And besides, I don’t want anyone else to know this happens to me. I already feel ashamed enough.”

Adam helped Ricky get up and onto his bed. He lay down beside Ricky and waited for him to go back to sleep, all the while thinking and planning. By the time he went back to his own room, he knew what he had to do.

The next day at school, Ricky was so sore and in pain that he wondered if he would make it to the end of classes. During last period, when he thought it would soon be over for the day, he was called to the office. The principal told him there were some people that needed to talk to him and left him in his office with two strangers. It was a man and a woman. The woman introduced herself as Mrs. Baker from the Department of Family Services, and the man as Officer Williams. Ricky felt his heart drop.

They asked him about his home life and how he got along with his stepfather. Ricky continued insisting that things were fine at home. When he heard the final bell, he told them he had to get home, but they said they weren’t finished with the interview. Ricky knew if he was late getting home, he’d be in for another beating. He told them if he wasn’t home on time, he’d be in trouble, but they assured him he wouldn’t be. “Yes, I will! You don’t know!”

Mrs. Baker put her hand on his shoulder and said softly, “Yes, I think we do know, Ricky. We’ve spent several hours today speaking with your brother, Adam, and he’s already been removed from your home for his safety. He put himself in danger by telling us what’s been going on and we want to help you, but you have to tell us the truth. There’s no turning back now, for Adam. Do you want him to have to go back and face your stepfather with him knowing Adam came to us? Do you want him going through what you’ve been going through?”

Ricky hung his head in defeat. There was no way he’d let anything happen to Adam. “What do you want me to do?” he asked.

“Why don’t we start by you taking off your shirt and tee?” Officer Williams asked.

Ricky nodded and stood up. “I might need some help,” he said reddening in embarrassment. “I’m pretty sore.” Ricky knew what they’d see. He’d seen himself in the mirror often enough to know. There’d be the brilliant blacks and blues of the fresh bruises interspersed with the purples and yellows of the older ones.

“That’s okay, Ricky.” Officer Williams said softly. “I’ll help you and I promise to try not to hurt you too badly.”

Ricky tried hiding the pain as the officer pulled his shirts over his head but couldn’t help wincing a few times. He kept his head down, so didn’t see their reactions, but did hear a sharp intake of breath from Mrs. Baker. “Officer—” she said with controlled anger apparent in her voice, “We need to take him to the emergency room to be examined, and we can document these injuries there.”

The next few days were a blur to Ricky. He was first placed in a group home for a week, until they found foster parents for him. Adam was placed in a different home for the week but was returned to his mom and dad, after it was determined he was in no danger there. Ricky didn’t miss home at all but did miss Adam. He was worried that George would blame Adam for what had happened, but Mrs. Baker, who remained Ricky’s case worker, assured him George wasn’t angry at all with Adam, but that they were monitoring them every week, and the school counselor talked to Adam every day. He was being well protected.

On the Monday of the second week, Ricky was supposed to go back to school. When he came down to go to school, though, Mrs. Baker was there, waiting for him. “I have some good news, Ricky, we’ve found you a good home. Go gather up your things and I’ll take you to meet them.”

“But what about school? I was supposed to go back this morning.”

“You can return to school tomorrow. One more day will make no difference,” she answered with a smile. Ricky was secretly pleased that he had an extra day before having to go back to school. He’d been dreading the day, now that everyone in their small town knew what had been happening. He was unsure how the other kids at school would treat him now.

Ricky was nervous on the way to his new home. This was all new to him, but he was at least relieved that he was going into a stranger’s home instead of his old home. He listened attentively as Mrs. Baker gave him the background on the Oaklins, his soon to be foster parents.

They were a couple in their early forties, whose only son had left home a couple years ago for college. He was an accountant and she was a stay at home mom. They missed having kids around the house and decided to become foster parents for male teens. Male teens are the hardest to place, and so they were accepted happily into the foster care program as providers. They lived on the outskirts of town, but still within the city limits, so Ricky would be attending the same school as before, instead of the county school.

Their son, Luke, was in his second year at State University but came home for holidays and for the summer. He worked summers with his dad for spending money during the school year, and would work for his dad after graduating with his degree in accounting.

Mrs. Baker told him about their house, but his mind latched onto the words “swimming pool.” He barely heard anything else until they pulled into the Oaklins’ driveway. What he was thinking was that summer was coming up and he’d be where there was a pool he could use whenever he wanted. He was brought up with a start when it hit him. He didn’t know the rules at the Oaklins. They might not allow him to use their pool. He knew nothing at all about what it’d be like here.

They’d been sitting in the driveway for a short while, when he felt Mrs. Baker’s hand on his arm. “Are you ready to go meet them, Ricky?”

He took a deep breath, “I guess,” he replied guardedly.

The Oaklins were waiting for them on the porch when they walked up to the house. Mrs. Baker introduced everyone and they went into the house. Mr. Oaklin offered to show him his room. Ricky followed him and entered the room that was to be his. A Gramma room! There was a Gramma bed and furniture...flowery wallpaper and pink curtains! Ricky felt the dejection creeping over him. This was to be his room for the next who knew how long?

Mr. Oaklin saw the look on Ricky’s face. “Pretty uncool, isn’t it? We had to have a room ready for you before they’d let us take you in, so we just left it the way it was. We had no idea what you’d like for furniture or colors, so we decided to wait until you were here to help us get it the way you want it.”

“You’re going to redo the room just for me?”

“No way! WE are going to redo it, the three of us. There’s no way you’ll get out of helping. My wife is a slave driver when it comes to redecorating, and if I have to sweat working on your room, so will you.” Mr. Oaklin laughed.

Ricky was surprised. Maybe this would all be okay after all. “Well, okay, I have to warn you though, I don’t smell too good when I sweat,” he laughed in turn.

“I’ll let you in on a secret. Sweat from good, honest work or from doing something fun, never stinks.”

“Oh? Well the guys in my gym class must not be having fun there then.” They both were laughing as they went downstairs to join the ladies.

Going back to school was not at all what Ricky had been expecting. The kids that ignored him before still did, and his friends were just concerned that he was alright. They all wanted his new telephone number, but he said he’d have to ask before giving it out. They all seemed to understand that, and so, all in all, it was a pretty good day, but got even better when he got home that afternoon.

Mrs. Oaklin was waiting for him when he walked in the door. “How was school, Ricky? Do you have a lot of homework to catch up on? Do you feel like going furniture shopping?”

He was unsure which to answer first, so just answered them all at once. “Good, no and yes.” He answered, smiling.

They were in the furniture store and had looked at everything at least twice. Ricky had no idea that shopping was this hard. He figured shopping meant going in, getting what you wanted and then leaving. “What do you think of bunk beds?” she finally asked him.

“Bunk beds?”

“Yes. Your room is really too small for two twin beds, and when you have someone sleeping over there’d be little room for a sleeping bag on the floor, if we get a full size bed. With bunk beds, you’d have more room for other things in the room.”

“Just a twin bed will be fine. I never really had a sleepover before anyway.”

“You never slept over at a friend’s either?”

“No, I wasn’t allowed.”

“Well, you are allowed now...you can have someone sleep over and you can sleep over at a friend’s. That’s it! Bunk beds it is! Okay. Let’s look around for a desk and chest now.”

“Weren’t we already looking for those?”

“Of course not. We were bed shopping and now we’re chest and desk shopping. Honestly! You men just don’t know how to shop!” She looked at her watch, looked shocked and said, “Oh my gosh. The store is closing in only four hours, so come on; if we don’t hurry, we may have to come back tomorrow!”

“Four more hours?” Ricky asked, stunned.

“Gotcha!” she said, laughing. Ricky wasn’t sure if that ‘gotcha’ meant she’d been joking about four more hours of shopping, or that it meant she’d snagged him for four more hours of shopping for real. It didn’t matter though. He was having a good time, and followed her down the aisle for desk and chest shopping.

It was after six when they got home from the shopping trip. Mr. Oaklin was already home and had dinner nearly finished. That would have never happened at his old home. George would have just sat in the living room complaining and waiting for Ricky’s mom to come home and fix dinner. Eventually, but before bedtime, he’d have convinced himself that dinner being late was Ricky’s fault, and Ricky would pay the price.

While they ate, Mrs. Oaklin told Mr. Oaklin that they’d picked out the furniture today and would go tomorrow to choose paint colors. She said the furniture would be delivered tomorrow but they could just put it in the garage until the room was ready. “Why not put it in tomorrow so he can get that old stuff out?” he asked.

“Because you’d have paint all over it, even if we cover it with plastic. Remember the last time we painted Luke’s room? You even had paint on the basement floor when we were painting upstairs!”

“That wasn’t my fault. That came from all those rags soaked in paint that I dropped down there.”

“Yes and that paint got on those rags from mopping up the paint you spilled on Luke’s floor!”

“I still say that wasn’t my fault either. I think we had an earthquake you didn’t feel, and that’s what knocked that gallon of paint over!”

“Yeah, right. Ricky honey, you’re not eating. Are you feeling okay?”

“Yes, I’m fine. I was just thinking,” Ricky said as he started eating. What he didn’t say was that he was thinking about how much he was enjoying being here and listening to the playful bickering. He hoped it would last forever.

They finally got all the work done and the new furniture in place the following Sunday. They were sitting in Ricky’s room just looking around and admiring their work when the phone rang. Mrs. Oaklin went to answer it, and he and Mr. Oaklin stayed where they were. “I think it turned out pretty good,” Mr. Oaklin said. “Does it suit you?”

“Oh yeah, and it was fun too!”

“Good, and see? You didn’t smell too bad either.”

“I was too tired to smell, period!” Ricky laughed.

By the end of the first month, Ricky had begun calling them Mom and Dad. It wasn’t something he’d planned or even thought about, it just happened and seemed perfectly normal. He’d come home from school one afternoon, and without thinking, had announced, “Mom! I’m home!” At first, he was mortified and confused when he realized what he’d said. He’d gone up to his room and sat on his bed, feeling confused, and somewhat guilty. It sort of felt like a betrayal of his real mom and dad. Not a betrayal of George, though. He meant nothing to Ricky. Ricky had never considered George anything other than a nightmarish monster to avoid as much as possible until he was able to escape. The monster in Ricky’s life didn’t hide in the closet or under his bed. His monster lived openly, and Ricky was the one who needed to hide.

His real dad hadn’t gone to war by choice. He hadn’t chosen to die, and Ricky had never blamed him for not being there. He felt a connection to his real father. Other people had made the decisions that led to his father’s death, just as other people were making the decisions that were affecting his life. But what about his mother?

Parents are supposed to protect their kids. They’re supposed to teach them to know the difference between right and wrong and to be truthful. The more Ricky thought about this, the more he realized that his real mom had failed him as a parent. She’d failed him by not protecting him. She had never blamed George for his treatment of him, but instead had seemed to blame Ricky. He couldn’t help but feel that she’d reversed the concepts of right and wrong. And then there was the lying. She hadn’t just encouraged the lies; she’d actually ordered him to lie. Lies that had a single purpose: to protect George. Ricky’s wellbeing was ignored, just to protect George.

He compared this to something that had happened the week before. The Oaklins gave him money each week to pay for his lunch. He hadn’t been spending it because he wasn’t eating lunch. Adam’s school was next to the high school, and he and Ricky had been spending their lunch times sitting by the fence separating the two schools and just talking. That particular Monday, he felt guilty when he was offered his lunch money for that week. “I don’t need the money,” he told her. “I haven’t been eating lunch and have the money from last week, still.”

“Ricky, you shouldn’t be skipping lunch. It’s hard to learn if you’re hungry and it’ll bring your grades down. Why aren’t you eating?”

“I spend my lunch time talking with my little brother. It’s the only time we can see each other.”

“Oh, honey!” she said sadly, giving him a hug.

The next morning, as he was leaving for school, she handed him a paper bag. “What’s this?” he asked.

“It’s your lunch, and I packed two of everything. I don’t want you two having to go hungry, just to be able to see each other.”

That was being a mother. He wasn’t betraying his birth mother. She had betrayed him.

*****

Ricky felt a slight wiggle and heard a creaking sound, as someone sat on the picnic table with him. He looked up and it was Daniel. He’d met Daniel on one of his many trips to the hospital. He couldn’t remember what led up to that trip or even many of the details of his time there. Daniel being there was the only thing he could remember well.

He remembered being cold, when he awoke. He looked at his arms and hands and saw they were bloody. He felt his head and could feel the cold sliminess of blood there. “He kicked me in the head,” he thought. Ricky knew from experience that head wounds bled a lot, even when they weren’t serious. He wasn’t in pain and so, expected a few stitches and then to be sent back to the Hell that was home.

“Hey there,” Ricky heard.

It was then that he first noticed the youth sitting in the chair in the corner. “Hey,” he answered, looking at the young man, who seemed to be vaguely familiar. Ricky figured he must have seen him on previous visits to the emergency room.

“My name’s Daniel.”

Now, Ricky was sure they’d met before. The name, Daniel, seemed to belong to the youth. “I’m Ricky,” he answered.

“I know.”

“So, we’ve met before?”

“No, this is the first time we’ve spoken.”

“But, I know you from somewhere.” Ricky was captivated by Daniel’s face. Daniel was smiling, but his eyes showed a deep sadness. “I guess I’ve seen you around the hospital before, then. Do you work here?”

“No, but lately I seem to spend a lot of time here. You might have seen me here or somewhere else. Who knows?”

Ricky noticed that, even though there seemed to be a lot of commotion and activity in the corridor on the other side of the curtain, they were alone in the room. That was odd. Usually, the nurses would be hovering over him. “They’ll be in soon to take care of you.” Daniel said, seeming to read Ricky’s mind. “There’s nothing more they can do for you right now and they’re pretty busy in here tonight.”

“Yeah, it sounds like it,” Ricky said. “So, why are you here with me?”

“Because it didn’t seem right for you to be alone.”

“I don’t mind being alone.”

“I know, but I thought, maybe, we could talk or something.”

Ricky’s guard immediately went up. Whenever someone wanted to talk, it was always about what had happened to him. How he got hurt and who did it to him. He immediately fell back on his failsafe answer, “No one did this to me,” he said. “I fell down the stairs at home.” Truthfully, Ricky had no idea how he’d ended up in the hospital again, but falling down the stairs was almost always a safe response.

“Well, none of that matters now. We can talk about anything or nothing, it doesn’t matter. I’m just here to keep you company.”

“I already told you, I don’t mind being alone.”

“I know that’s how you feel right now, Ricky, but you’re wrong. Everyone needs someone, even if it’s just for the comfort in knowing someone’s there and all you do is stare at the wall together. We can talk or not, it’s up to you.”

“I guess.”

They did end up talking, that night, but even though they talked for a long time, Ricky only remembered snippets of that conversation. What he did remember was the safe feeling he got by knowing Daniel was there.

*****

“What are you doing here, Daniel?” Ricky asked.

“I’m where I’m supposed to be. The question is what are you doing here?”

“What do you care?”

Daniel sighed. “So they sent you back to your mom and dad’s today?”

“They’re not my mom and dad!” Ricky responded angrily. “She may be my mother but she stopped being my mom a long time ago, and there’s no way that SOB, George, will ever be my dad or father!”

Ricky felt his anger and frustration growing, “No one even asked me. It was like what I wanted didn’t matter. Mrs. Taylor just showed up this morning and said it was time for me to go home. George had finished his anger management therapy and things would be okay from now on. All my clothes were just stuffed in garbage bags and thrown into the trunk of her car. I felt like I was being treated like garbage too.”

“I know.”

“She told me that they were rushing things because tomorrow is Christmas, and they thought the family should be together for the holiday. They just came in and ripped me away from my new family like that didn’t really matter.” Ricky could feel the tears starting now, “I barely got a chance to say goodbye to the Oaklins.”

“I know.”

“Why does everyone say that?”

“Say what?”

“That they know, or that they understand. If that’s true, why didn’t someone stop him a long time ago?”

“That’s a question I don’t know the answer to.”

“They didn’t really want me back, you know? It was all about the money. When the state took custody, the social security checks went to them instead of Mom and George. George wasn’t even there when Mrs. Taylor dropped me off. Mom told me he was at a friend’s house...that meant he was out drinking, I knew.

After Mrs. Taylor left, Mom told me that I needed to make sure I obeyed George. Things were tight and they’d probably lose the house if they lost the money I brought in. Boy! That sure made me feel welcome. She never once asked how I was or how things had gone while I was at the Oaklins’.”

“Your mother wasn’t always like that.” Daniel said sadly.

Ricky looked at Daniel strangely. A question was trying to be asked in his mind but his anger wouldn’t let it come out. “I told my mom that I wasn’t the one that had better be on good behavior; that was George. I was done with all the lying. I wasn’t going to be beaten on and then have to lie about it, just to protect him for her, or to protect her for allowing it to happen all these years. She tried telling me I just didn’t understand George, that he was really a good man, but expected his family to obey him.”

“Her defending him made me so angry that I could hardly speak. I told her I was going for a walk to cool down and would be back later. As I was leaving, she told me George would be home soon, and I needed to be back before him, because that was one of his rules. I told her to Hell with George’s rules...he better learn to live by my new rule if he wanted to stay out of jail.”

“I just walked around for awhile and then came here to sit and think. I don’t know how long I sat here, but I finally noticed it was dark and so went back. George was already home and he started yelling at me as soon as I went in the door, but I didn’t back down from him this time. Mom must have told him what I’d said, because he was screaming about me threatening him.”

Ricky stopped talking then and got a confused look on his face. He looked around like he was trying to remember something. “And then?” Daniel asked.

“I’m not sure.” Ricky said. “I guess I just got so angry I left and came back out here.”

Daniel looked at him and started to say something a couple of times but stopped without speaking. The two just sat there for several minutes before Daniel spoke, “Your mother changed so much from when I knew her.”

“You know my mom?”

“No, but I knew your mom a long time ago.”

“You can’t be more than three or four years older than me, so it couldn’t have been very long ago.”

Daniel just smiled at him. “Maybe I’m a lot older than I look.”

“Yeah right, and you have a picture hidden in your attic too, I bet.”

Daniel just shrugged and said, “No, but you have my pictures hidden in your room.”

Ricky was startled by this. The only pictures he had hidden in his room were of his dad. He stared at Daniel and he looked like he could have been his dad’s identical twin, except his dad would be a lot older than him. “How did you know about my dad’s pictures? Are you related to him? To me?”

“I know a lot about you, Ricky. I’ve watched you grow from a baby in a crib into a wonderful young man, in spite of the abuse you’ve endured. And yes, we are related.”

“How are we related and how did you know I’d be here tonight?” Ricky was beginning to feel some weird vibes at this conversation.

“I wish I could tell you, Ricky, but I can’t.”

 “Why not?”

“Because of rules. Where I am now, there are rules and we can’t break those rules, no matter how much we want to. There’s so much I want to tell you, but I just can’t. You have to learn it on your own.”

“What do I need to learn?”

“Just what you’re supposed to.”

“This is all a bunch of crap!” Ricky said angrily, getting up and pacing around. “Just tell me! Who the Hell are you and what do you want from me?” Ricky stopped in front of Daniel and looked him in the eye. “Stop talking in riddles and tell me the truth.”

“You already know the truth, Ricky, now you just have to figure out what you know and then believe it. The truth is no different than a lie, unless it’s believed.”

Ricky walked away from Daniel and stopped at the edge of the promenade, watching the people walk by. He thought he knew the truth, but how could he believe something so outrageous? Was he crazy and Daniel was just a figment of his imagination, or was the outrageous the truth? “If I ask you a question, will you answer it?”

“If I can.”

“Are you real?”

“It depends on how you define real. If I’m real to you, why does it matter?”

“So I know if I’m crazy or not.”

“You’re not crazy, Ricky.”

Ricky decided the outrageous was the truth. Daniel was a ghost. His dad’s name was Daniel, so he was his dad’s ghost. He felt a warm glow growing inside him, but he had one more question. “How can you be a ghost...my dad’s ghost…and be so young?”

“I prefer ‘spirit;’ and do you know how old I was when I died?”

“Yeah, nineteen.”

“When you die, you stop growing older. I told you earlier that I was older than I looked.”

The glow Ricky was feeling grew, until it encompassed his whole body. It was true! He was talking to his real dad! “Have you come to save me?”

“No, but I have come to help you save yourself. You have to trust me, though, and George will never be able to hurt you again. Can you trust me that much, Ricky?”

“I’ll try.”

“Good. Come on, and I’ll walk you back.”

“George will be really pissed when he sees you.”

“George won’t see me.”

“Oh, because you’re a ghost, right?”

“No, because I’m a spirit.”

“Oh, yeah. Spirit. Right, gotcha.”

Daniel stopped across the street from George’s and his mom’s house. “Let’s wait here for a bit, Ricky.”

“If I don’t go right in, it’ll only make things worse when I do go in.”

“Please, Ricky, for me?” his father asked. “You’re already late. What difference will a few more minutes make? You said you’d try trusting me, and this is the first test of that trust.” Ricky knew his father was right. He had already given George the excuse he’d need, if he truly hadn’t changed. A few more minutes wouldn’t make it any worse.

Almost immediately, a police car pulled up in front of the house with its lights flashing. Ricky started to cross the street, but his dad held him back. “Wait, and let’s see what’s going on,” his dad begged.

“But Adam may need me.” Ricky responded.

“No, Adam’s fine. He’s not there.”

“Are you sure?”

“Yes, I’m sure. Adam’s safe.”

Within a few minutes, two more police cars pulled up, followed shortly thereafter by an ambulance. Ricky looked at his dad with fear and questions apparent on his face. Daniel put his arm around Ricky and quietly said, “Just trust me, Ricky, okay?”

Ricky just nodded and continued watching the scene unfold across the street. He saw his mom brought out and placed in the back of a squad car, followed by another officer leading George out. George was covered in blood. Ricky could hear an excited voice saying, “Coming through, make way, give us room, please.”

The EMTs were wheeling out their stretcher with someone on it. The person was wrapped in sheets, but blood was quickly soaking through them. “Oh my God! Adam!” he shouted, jumping to his feet.

Daniel also jumped up. He quickly stepped between Ricky and the house across the street and, grasping Ricky by both shoulders, said, “No. No, Ricky. Trust me, remember? That’s not Adam!”

“It has to be Adam! No one else lives there!”

“Yes there is, Ricky. As of this afternoon, remember?”

Ricky looked into the sadness that was his dad’s face and the memories returned. The screaming and all that blood. George was in a rage and screaming at him, and all the while beating on him and kicking him. Adam screaming at George to stop and then his Mom screaming at Adam when he grabbed the phone and tried calling for help. He heard Adam telling him he was going to go get help, and then the sound of the front door closing. He remembered everything and he felt his knees buckling and things going slowly black, as the realization of what it all meant, hit him.

*****

Ricky awoke in a small room in the hospital. He sat up and looked around, wondering where everyone was. “Hi there,” he heard.

He saw a youth, maybe three or four years older than him, sitting in a chair. Ricky smiled in recognition, “Hi, Dad,” he answered the youth.

“So you know me now, I take it?”

“Yeah, but it’s all a little confusing and strange to me. I’ve never been dead before.”

“I know,” his dad replied. “I’ve only died once, myself.”

Ricky felt a pang of concern. “What about Adam?”

“Adam is fine. You saw him yourself tonight.”

“No I didn’t.”

“Sure you did. Do you remember the young family in the park? The little boy’s name was Ricky, same as yours. That Ricky is your nephew and his father is Adam. Those were his wife and daughter with him too.”

“That can’t be. Adam is only eleven.”

“No, Adam is 29. Mr. and Mrs. Oaklin took him in, and after his parents’ parental rights were severed, they adopted him. They were good parents for him, just like they were for you for those few months. He’s now an accountant in business with his dad and brother, Luke. When Adam was adopted, he chose not to keep George’s name, but he didn’t take the Oaklins’ name either. He chose to become a Danielson like his big brother.”

“And Mom?”

“She went to jail for ten years. When she got out, Adam wanted no contact with her. As for George, he’ll be in prison for the rest of his life, and child murderers aren’t treated well in there.”

Ricky thought for a moment, “Eighteen years then? Why did you wait so long to come for me?”

“I didn’t, son. I was in this room that first night and, for eighteen years, I’ve been in this room, on that picnic table, and across the street from your mom’s house with you, every Christmas Eve. You just weren’t yet able to see and accept the truth of what happened that night.”

Ricky stood and walked over to his dad and hugged him. “What happens now?” he asked as he turned and looked at the bloody shell that once was him.

“You come home.”

“Home?”

“Yes, home with me.”

“Dad?”

“What?”

“This is all so sad…so why don’t I feel like crying?”

“Because it’s all over for you. No more troubles or fears. You only have good things to look forward to for the rest of eternity.”

“Yeah, let’s go, Dad,” Ricky said, taking his dad’s hand and starting for the door.

“Wait. I know a shortcut.” He led Ricky towards a wall, where they both faded away as they walked into it. Two youths, father and son, on their way home.

© 2008 Codeyspen

Audio recordings of this and many of Codey's other stories and poems are available at Codey’s World.

Codey’s World – Website * Codey’s Poems and Stories

Story Discussion 

2008 Codey (posthumously posted with permission from his estate)
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Stories posted in this category are works of fiction. Names, places, characters, events, and incidents are created by the authors' imaginations or are used fictitiously. Any resemblances to actual persons (living or dead), organizations, companies, events, or locales are entirely coincidental.
2008 - Winter - Ghosts Entry
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Chapter Comments

I've been poostponing reading this for quite a while, I just couldn't seem to get started. I've read it now, though.

I kind of feel like crying, but then again - I guess this was sort of a happy ending?

The story is really well written, though I had some difficulty figuring out the time and place at times.

I like how it goes back and forth and how you make the ends meet in the end.

Jesus Christ, you really left me with and odd melancholic feeling here. This might be one of the best short stories I've ever read. Composition was great and the story was actually fairly original.

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Such a sad story, all the more because it's the reality for too many kids. I hope Mrs. Taylor who took him back, as well as whatever department (CPS?) she was from, had a very bad Christmas and faced censure for letting a kid get killed like that. Why didn't they listen to him?

But at least Ricky got to see his brother happy and knew he was never forgotten by him or by his foster parents. 

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I really enjoyed reading resp. listening to the recording by Ben W. Blue. Yet I still don't fully understand why Ricky see's himself in the future. Maybe I just have to re-read it some day.

Edited by Zuri
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Wow, you know how to tell a story this one brought tears to my eyes and made the hairs on my arms stand on end. It reminds of why my parents fostered and why I had so many foster brothers and sisters. Hopefully they now have better lives, luckily none had the ending that Ricky did.

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