In the darkness of the night, a young child's voice could be heard. He was whimpering softly to himself behind an old wooden door. Endless tears stained his black and blue cheeks, soaking through his once-favorite Sticker Man sheets. He gripped the soft, plush material, piercing the flesh of the mattress with his nails as the screams he bottled up for so long, running past his lips with their venom began to seep through his trembling flesh, slashing apart his battered and bruised heart. He squeezed his eyes shut, trying to forget the stubbornness of unwanted memories that circled in his troubled mind. They refused to fade, no matter how much he tried. He felt their venomous marks burn intensely with each slice. He clutched his ringing ears and tried to muffle out the voices of each day, but he felt their taunting names and comments growing louder inside his head. They giggled and laughed as they all watched him receive his daily punches and kicks, which he received just because he existed. They blamed this young child for everything that went wrong in their lives.
He buried his bruised cheeks deeply into the soft pillow beneath him. As he bawled his eyes out, the pillow soaked up all his shame and guilt, which he felt deep inside with every cruel word, every evil laugh, and every one of their frightening glares.
"Why...what did I do?" James sobbed through his fresh salty tears.
"Honey...sweetie...are you okay?" an older voice called from downstairs. "You're not...injured...this time, are you?" he sighed under his breath and lowering his tone to a mere whisper, Aaron (James's father) muttered, "Hang in there kiddo." He tried to be as silent as possible, not wanting his son to hear his heart melting away, slipping down his puffy red cheeks. Sniffs and sobs escaped slightly as a quiver arose from his throat. Quickly, he covered his mouth and nervously scanned the room from side to side. When he saw that there was no sign of his son, he exhaled his nerves away. Watching his barrier crumble to the ground, allowing his painful tears to be free of their once inescapable prison. He surrendered to each droplet that slid down his stinging red cheeks and splashed on the pieces of the broken mask he always wore to hid his frightened and miserable face. A simple smile always painted upon his lips. Shards of his broken mask, shattering on the kitchen tiles, illuminated his true feelings of anger and guilt. "All I want to do is protect my son. Why...why is it so hard?" sobbed Aaron, collapsing to his knees in defeat. "How did you do it, Dad? How did you find the strength?"
"Keep...strong," a static voice whispered faintly in the distance. A chilling breath whipped around Aaron's face and settled on his shoulder as if it was trying to comfort a scared child who was afraid of the dark. He felt the hair on the back of his neck sticking straight up with goosebumps running up and down his arms.
"Who's there? Come out," Aaron demanded as leaped to his feet to get away from the cold breeze. He desperately searched around for something heavy; his eyes widen with catching a glimpse of a dented flashlight submerged under old juice bottles and tin cans. Without a second thought, he quickly yanked the flashlight out of all the rubble. "I have a flashlight, and I know how to use it," he screamed, tightening his grip on the dented handle, ready to swing at the slightest movement. "Show yourself," he demanded, growling softly under his breath.
"Aaron... it's... me. Don't... swing," the same static voice panic, hoping his words would calm the frightened man down long enough for him to finish his words. "I... am...a... ghost. I... can’t...show...myself. Wait! Can...I... borrow...your...cell... phone?" he asked.
"Funny," Aaron snorted. "You're a ghost because you have a fake, spooky static voice. Why are you even trying to scare me? Do you take me for a fool? I am not afraid. Give up already and show yourself, coward."
"Son... please... I... just...want... to... show... you... something... neat," the static voice begged.
"Um... okay, I will play along for your amusement," Aaron replied, too tired to put up a real fight.
“Could... please… get… out… your... phone,” the static voice instructed.
“Sure,” Aaron muttered to himself. What am I even listening to this mysterious, fake static voice? Why does he keep calling me his son? He wondered as he reached into his back pocket and pulled out his simple flip phone. "Now what?" he questioned, looking at his phone with a rather annoyed expression on his face when he noticed that the phone's screen was still blank. "Nothing is happening. I knew it was a trick." He flung his arms up in the air, feeling ridiculous for believing a random voice out of nowhere.
"Oh... be... patient., you... need... to... stop... being... paranoid. You...will...see, this... is ... not ... a... scam. But... first... you... need... to... turn... on... your... phone... please," the voice instructed in a softer and weaker tone as if it was using too much of its energy to communicate.
“Um, sure...wait a sec,” Aaron muttered, fumbling around with the small electronic device. He Cursed under his breath with not being able to see the buttons in the pitch black room. “Why haven't I turned on a stupid light?” Aaron grumbled under his breath. “Oh, here it is,” he smiled with accomplishment, jamming his thumb harshly on the small red key until the loading screen appears. Aaron waited impatiently for his phone to slowly start up. Unfortunately, he forgot to silent the phone before the final message appeared: Welcome, Aaron, the handsome and powerful. How may we serve you, this time, master?
Panicking with embarrassment, Aaron tried his best to hide his beet-red cheeks, but he was unable to think of a good excuse, so he remained silent. Maybe this person didn't hear my phone correctly, he thought, trying to ease his mind with false words, while rubbing the back of his head nervously.
"Oh... I... beg... your... pardon. I... didn't... know... I... was... floating... in... the... presence... of... royalty. Where... are... my... manners? I ... am... sorry... young... master." The faint voice chuckled at his own joke.
"Um... um... it...was," Aaron stuttered while scratching the back of his head more vigorously with soft nervous lighter escaping past his quivering lips. After an awkward silence, Aaron shivered as his body temperature began to drop immensely.
He watched his breath float toward the light and circled around the small kitchen, bouncing off walls as it sucked up the surrounding energy, causing the lights to flicker. Aaron felt his body temperature still dropping as he continued to watch a thin line of electricity circling around the glossy white bulb. Heat arose under the thin layer of glass, coating the inside with a bluish glow. Thick strikes of lightning slammed into the dirt, inches away from the small glass door. Illuminated specks of lights danced lightly on the tile floor. Aaron stumbled back in fright, sensing his limbs trying to run from an unknown threat. He bit down hard on his bottom lip, forcing himself to stay put for the sake of his son's safety.
"Yeah... that ...was ... awkward," the voice interrupted with a much louder and clearer tone. "Aaron, don't you dare run away from your fears," he demanded in a clearer, steadier, and serious voice.
"Huh?" Aaron gasped, noticing his phone beginning to shake forcefully under his loose grip. "Is this supposed to happen? Ow!" Aaron wondered aloud before yelping in pain. He flung the phone against the wall. He watched the small device angrily sizzle, burning the small strips of wallpaper, as it slid down. He glared at the scorched mark on the wall, waiting for the statically charged voice to laugh at his pain.
"Over here, my boy," the voice chuckled. "Look at the phone you threw."
"Sure," Aaron snorted, tiptoeing across the cold tile floor. "Is this going to hurt me again?"
Aaron's words cut through the stillness of the silent air. He reached down and cautiously tapped the black cell phone. He was expecting a jolt of electricity to zap the flesh of his fingertips, but to his surprise, it was cold as ice. Carefully, he flipped the top up, bringing it back to life as the screen flashed with a blinding blue light. The light lit up the small room. Aaron had to rub his eyes because he couldn't believe what he was seeing. A strange figure grinned up at him. He moved the phone closer for a better look. Kind of looks like my dad? He wondered. As he tilted the phone to the right, Aaron noticed that the figure fell to the right. Hmm, that is strange, he thought.
Grinning slightly, Aaron chuckled devilishly "Let's see something?"
A small gulp could be heard from the speaker, knowing Aaron had something planned." What are you going tttttooooooooooo—" the figure screeched, unable to stop him in time?
Aaron watched as the body slammed against the sides of the screen with each toss.
"STOP!" the figure in the phone screamed angrily. "Aaron Juliet Misluck, this is not a toy. I am your father!"
"Wait! Dad?" Aaron gasped in fear, accidently dropping the phone. "But how? I just thought it was a... I don't know." Sighing, he kneeled down to see his dad's face. "Sorry, Dad."
"It's okay, son," he grinned slightly, raising his eyebrows in shock. "You actually didn't recognize my unforgettable voice, did you? Honestly, son, how are you able to take care of yourself?"
"Dad," Aaron whined childishly, shifting his knees around, not wanting to face his dad's ghostly visage. He folded his arms across his chest and threatened childishly "Maybe I should turn you off."
"Okay...okay! No more lectures. But seriously, there is a real reason for my visit, son. I am here to help you and... James," he explains sternly.
"James?" Aaron whispered, turning his head to the side, facing the talking phone once again. "You've got my attention." He looked intensely at the phone, wanting to know all of his dad's secrets.
"Do you remember the one speech I gave to you after each one of your little tumbles or when you got a scratch or two?" he asked.
Aaron thought for a second, lowering his arms. Then, he mumbled, "Keep strong. You used to tell me 'keep strong,' every time I fell or got injured." He nervously picked up his phone. He was surprised to find that it was still frozen under his fingertips. He lifted the small device closer to his face so that it was within hearing range. He noticed that his dad's voice was beginning to drop in volume. It got softer as the countless minutes passed.
"There's more, son. Try to remember. This is important," his father pleaded.
Aaron groaned wearily. "'Breathe out the pain and negative emotion, breathe in the victory. As you will, carry out this small task and watch it grow into a mighty one to come. My son, stay brave as they did before us.'" He lingered on to the last word with a smile, remembering his father's famous grin, each time he gave this speech. "Oh, Dad, what would you do to get James to laugh again? It has been a while, and I am at the end of my rope. These 'accidents' are getting worse," he sobbed into his hands, believing he was a failure for not being able to give his son a happy and safe life.
"Honey, don't put the blame on your shoulders; it is the curse's fault. He cursed us all; there is nothing you can do until his time comes to fight. Don't you worry? I believe James is strong enough to win against this devilish foe. Do you know why, my son?" Aaron shook his head, unsure of what his dad had to say. "It is because he carries your strength and stubbornness in his blood. Thanks to you, he will end this," his dad reassured him.
"Dad! Dad!" a childish voice shouted with concern.
"James, what are you doing up?" Aaron croaked, quickly shutting his cell and hiding it behind his back. Thank God I didn't turn on the lights, Aaron sighed with relief. He lowered his head to cover up the freshly made tears that were slipping down his raw, stinging cheeks. "Shouldn't you be in bed?" Aaron asked in a raspy whisper. He was expecting James to say what was on his mind, but to his surprise, he remained silent. He just stood there, trembling by the kitchen door. He stared at Aaron, who was sitting with his knees to his chin, hiding his face from his son's big evergreen eyes plastered with sorrow.
"Dad," James whimpered.
Aaron stared at his bare feet, fidgeting uncomfortably on the cold tile floor. Aaron, glancing up at his son's face, revealed his hidden tears. They glimmered in the moonlight, looking like little crystal scattered along his puffy red cheeks. He sniffled slightly, trying to hide the rest of the droplets of sadness away from his son's innocent eyes.
"Honey," Aaron softly whispered, trying to stabilize his quivering voice. He tried to swallow the hard, enlarged lump that was deep in his throat. "Honey, I'm all right." Aaron gave his son a reassuring smile, trying to comfort the quivering child, but he noticed that his gloomy eyes remained full of sorrow and guilt. He Frowned at the tears sliding down James's flushed cheeks; Aaron whispered, "Oh, honey. Do you need a hug?" He held out his arms. "Come to Daddy."
"No!" James protested with a frown.
Aaron sat there, flabbergasted, staring at his only child who he cherished more and more with each passing day, crying in pain, and all he could do was watch. He's just like me; Aaron acknowledged shamefully. My dad couldn't do anything to help me, and I can't do anything to help James.
"I... am... I'm sorry," James wailed. "I never wanted this, but... but... this..." He formed his hands into fists and stared at his knuckles as they turned whiter with each squeeze. "I want to end this...this stupid curse," he sobbed, dashing toward Aaron as fast as his tiny legs could carry him. He slammed hard into his dad's open arms and felt the warmth surround his small trembling body. He savored the sensation of being safe in his dad's tight grip and allowed his stubborn tears to fall, coating his dad's gray worn-out hoodie. Aaron hummed sweetly, brushing his tired fingers through James's silky orange hair.
"James, I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do now," Aaron mumbled, burying his face in James's shoulder, his grip tightening around his small frame. "But I promise you that I will always be here for you, no matter what comes next."
"I'm scared," James mumbled through the thick fabric. Remembering every accident, he couldn't explain, every person this curse had put at risk just because he was alive. His mother, his so-called friends, his family—they had all suffered because of him. "Am... I’m... (hiccup)... going... (hiccup)... (hiccup)... to have this curse forever?"
While stroking his back gently, Aaron said, "No, I know you are strong enough to find a cure, even if I wasn't." Aaron smiled. "You will save us all one day. I believe in you." He continued to hum softly in his son's ear until he fell fast to sleep.