Born Under the Veil

by Jordan Felker

Chapter 1

1986

Phil - 4 years old

 

       There was something waiting for me under there. I could feel it hiding under the white belly and between the lion paws of our bathtub. The room was little, and the walls were all dark brown wood on the bottom and dark blue paint on the top.

       I pushed myself into the corner under the towel rack. If I reached out my arms, they'd touch the sink or the toilet, but that was too close to the tub.

       I didn't know what was under there, but it felt like waiting—like waiting to go to the doctor when you have to get shots. And watching, like when your mom is watching you from the other room, thinking she'll catch you doing something bad.

       Mama sent me in first, and then she would take the baby in with her after. She said I'm big and I have to do it by myself. She said that I don't want the other boys to make fun of me at kindergarten if I tell them my mom helped me take a shower.

       So I told her okay, I would try it.

       But if I reached over the side of the tub, the waiting thing might've reach out and grab me and pulled me under there where it was dark.

       I took one step forward and kept my feet on the rug. Then I leaned over as far as I could to turn the knobs. They were silver and shiny and I would have liked them if they weren't so cold. Two hands to turn the knob, Mama said. But when I leaned over the side of it, the tub was cold on my chest and I couldn't watch what was happening under my tummy and it was starting to make me really, really scary. I mean scared.

       The rug was base. It kept my feet warm.

       I wanted to sit down, but if I did that, I'd have to look under the bathtub.

       It wanted me to look at it, but I didn't want to see.

       What if it had eyes?

       "Philip!" Mama made her voice go through the door crack. "I don't hear any water!"

       The bathtub didn't like to hear her voice. It started shaking a little bit.

       I pushed my back against the towel and the wall, as far away as I could get. The floor got so cold I could feel it through the rug, and I could feel whatever was watching me in my chest. Be quiet, Mama!

       It was cold everywhere now. My feet and even my ankles were frozen, and it was getting dark.

Sometimes, when I played at the far end of the yard, when Mama and Jason were safe by the house in the sandbox, something waited for me in the gully, too.

       Mama said Daddy digged that gully. But when I told her I didn't remember, Mama cried. Now I said I remembered everything—but I had to look at pictures to see his face.

       I was scared of the gully, where The Cold waited for me and sneaked over my toes when I played too close. Then I came inside and Grandma Rosie rubbed my feet with two hands and got a big old frown. "Where is this ice coming from?" she said, every time.

       It was the same Cold under the bathtub now.

       It was watching me so close it made me want to scream.

       "I don't want to take a shower, Mama!" I yelled over my shoulder toward the door.

       "Philip, just get in, soap up, rinse off and get out. Hurry up, I have to pee."

       It was almost dark in there now, even though the lights were still on.

       I didn't know where all the clouds came from, but they filled up the floor under the bathtub. The shiny knobs of the shower were like mirrors, and something there was looking at me, coming closer to me. The curtain moved like something was behind it, and I felt the air fill with a billion tiny Things. Nothing—there was nothing up there but a sloppy brown stain on the ceiling, but I could feel them. They started to fly around my head.

       Now there was only a little light from the keyhole, and Mama covered it up every time she walked past with baby Jason.

       "Mama! There's something under the bathtub!" My head went up and down, not sure where to look, which one might come for me first.

       "Philip—" she pushed out a big breath. "There is nothing under the bath—"

       Something dark flashed out from under the belly of the tub and it came straight toward my face—too fast for me to scream.

       I opened my mouth and it went inside, cold cold cold, all the way down my throat.

       I wanted it out—I needed it out! 

       I scratched at it, hard. Maybe I could make it mad. I scratched so hard that one of my fingernails peeled up.

       Everything was cold and black.

       "Mama!" I reached for the keyhole where the light came in, but I didn't want to leave the rug. The Things might get me if I got off of the rug. Mama! 

       The Cold hurt my throat and The Things dove at my head like little airplanes. I waved my arms in big circles to push them away. I couldn't make any noise, but I was crying. I wanted to be a big boy, but it hurt too much and The Things wouldn't stop.

       I wanted Mama to come in here and make the lights turn on again.

       The Cold wouldn't get out of my throat. My fingers couldn't reach it and it was spreading into my chest. But The Things froze when they hit me now, and some of them disappeared.

       When the last light from the keyhole went black, I wanted to call out to Mama to get The Cold out of my throat, to turn on the lights. Please!

       The Cold was in my tummy too, and it was heavy. I wanted it out of there! Get out!

       I remembered just in time. There were some haircutting scissors on the sink, in the jam jar with the hairbrush and my comb. I had to touch my toes off of the rug, but they were already frozen, so it didn't matter.

       I opened the scissors as big as they would open and I felt for the cold parts of my neck. It started right under my chin and went forever. So I took one point on the scissors and I pushed it in there, right where I could get The Cold out.

 

       There was a man talking somewhere to the right of me.

       His voice was quiet, but deep, like I thought my daddy might've sounded. I could only hear some of his words, and most of them I didn't understand.

       "Co-lapst tray-key-uh," he said.

       I thought I was sleeping in the bathtub. Everything was light and cool, but my throat was hot hot hot.

       I smiled really big, my T.V. star smile, with my eyes closed to show Mama how good I did against The Cold and to say I was sorry because I didn't think I took a shower.

       When I opened my eyes, I could see a window and a television and a big picture of horses.

       This was not the bathroom.

       There were long strings tied to my arms and hands, and metal bars beside me. This bed was wrong.

       Mama! The air wouldn't come up right. I couldn't say her name.

       She was standing right there in the door with a man in a long, white robe—the man with the quiet voice.

       The baby held all Mama's fluffy hair in his fists. I wanted to go tell him, "No." I could hold him and help Mama.

       I rolled over and the strings bit my hands.

       Ow! I tried to yell at the strings, but I couldn't make any noise. I tried to yell at Mama and the baby and that man—I yelled and I yelled and I yelled. But I couldn't hear me.

       No. Nonononononononononononono, my feet yelled for me, sending the blankets to the floor. They yelled at the bed and threw me up and down. When they yelled at the metal bars, finally I could hear me clang and clang and rattle.

       Mama turned around at the same time the baby started screaming.

© 2019 by JORDAN FELKER. All Rights Reserved.