This was written for the Monthly Simlit Short Story Challenge, September 2021 edition. It is a side story for generation 1 of Life’s Greatest Adventure and can be read on its own without reading the main story.
✲ Prompt: Parents/Parenting/Parenthood
✲ Word Count: 896/900
✲ Picture Count: 13/15
John was sleeping peacefully for the first time in a while. The bed was warm and his back didn’t ache from the sharp springs. He was so comfortable that he didn’t want to move, but something kept nagging at him. What was it?
His eyes blinked open and, at first, he thought he had gone blind, causing him to sit up in a panic only to realize that he wasn’t blind, it was just pitch black in his room. Shaking his head at his silliness, he started to lie back down only to hear it – the same sound that had first tugged at his mind. Was that… crying?
He frowned in confusion, throwing off the warm covers, expecting to feel coldness gripping at him, but no such thing happened. It was supposed to be winter but his bedroom was warm. Had it become summer already? A glance at the frost-covered window said otherwise. His thoughts were broken when the crying broke the silence again. It sounded like a child, calling out for his father.
Now, John is not a man that believes in ghosts, so he didn’t hesitate to throw open his bedroom door and step out into the hallway. ‘Where the hell am I? This ain’t my shack…’ He tried to recall how he had gotten into this house, but he had no clue.
“Papa!” The child sobbed, sounding terrified.
John slowly headed down the hallway, the wooden floor creaking beneath him. The door at the end of the hall was cracked open, a blue light emanating from within.
He slowly pushed it farther open, seeing a small lump beneath the covers. “Hello?”
His head poked out and when he saw John standing there, he nearly tripped in his haste to leave the bed, his small arms gripping the older man tightly, his shoulders trembling. “P-Papa,” he cried, burying his face in the flannel of John’s pajamas. “I had a – a nightmare. There was… was a scary man in the c-closet. I’m scared!”
John felt overwhelmed with emotion.
He felt confused about where he was and who this boy was, for one. Why was he calling John his papa? He didn’t have kids! At the same time, he felt sorry for this boy who was clearly scared out of his mind. John had many a nightmare growing up and he had no one to comfort him and tell him it would be alright. No matter who this boy was, he was determined not to let him suffer alone.
He pulled back, gently patting his shoulder. “There, there, boy. It’ll be alright. It was just a dream.”
“B-But what if it wasn’t?”
John was silent for a moment before he reached up and flicked on the light. “In the closet, you said?”
The boy nodded, looking up at him with teary eyes. As he got closer to the closet, the boy started to protest. “No, don’t! W-Wait a minute!
But John didn’t stop until he was directly in front of the closet. “Now, you listen here. If anything is hiding in this closet, messin’ with this boy, just know that I will beat your a-” John’s eyes flickered to the boy and he cleared his throat, “butt and send you packin’! You hear?”
The room was silent.
John smiled at him, closing the doors. “See? Ain’t nothing there. It was just a dream.”
The boy rubbed at his damp eyes before darting at John, hugging him again with a smile on his face. “Thank you, papa. I love you.”
Warmth filled him as he slowly hugged the boy back, replying with hesitation. “I… I lo -“
John groaned as he lifted his face off the wooden floor, feeling cold and sore. He squinted in the darkness, seeing the familiar surroundings of his small shack. It had been a dream. Just a dream.
He frowned, rolling over onto his back to stare up at the ceiling. His hand came to rest over his heart and he felt warmth against his hand. It certainly FELT real enough and his heart clenched painfully knowing that it wasn’t real. How he longed to have a family of his own, to be a parent that could be there for his child, unlike his own father. A child he could teach to fish and to woodwork, someone he could help with their homework even though he’s not that smart. Someone that would love him unconditionally, looking up to him for guidance and reassurance. He wanted that more than anything else in the world.
He sat up, looking around the small shack.
But having a child now would be irresponsible.
He was barely scraping by, living in a small shack with only one room and a bathroom. There was no thermostat so it was icy cold in the winter and steaming hot in the summer. There was also no guarantee that the power would be kept on. And then there was the issue of him being a criminal… he certainly wanted a better life for his child and he would do anything to ensure that they did not lead the same life of crime that he had.
John wanted to be a dad more than anything in the world, but he knew he would have to wait until he was in a more stable position.
And that’s alright by him.