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Something Wicked. . .

What If?

October 30, 1998|Peter Magill | * Magill, 37, is a South Pasadena writer

"What if you aren't my real mommy, and Daddy's not my real daddy?"

Mrs. Gray smiles playfully at her precious 4-year-old, at his cherubic pink face--so concerned, squeezed tight with seriousness. She sits on the edge of his bed.

"Don't be silly, Edward. I think I know my own little boy."

"But what if?"

"Well then, I'd still love you very, very, very much," she answers, puckering her black witch's lips, planting a good-night kiss on his wrinkled forehead. He pushes her away with chubby, cold toddler hands.

"Edward!" she says, her feelings hurt.

"What if I was really someone, something, else's little boy?"

Plucking Edward's Halloween mask from the floor, Mrs. Gray shakes her head, playfully scowling at the distorted green goblin face.

"You mean, what if you were a goblin, not just on Halloween, but every day?"

"Not exactly a goblin. Not a goblin at all. Something with scales. With scales that don't show normally, because if I concentrate, I can make them vanish. Like now."

"Oh, Edward. . . ."

"And a long, forked tongue--a really gross, slimy one that I hide in the back of my throat."

"That's enough, Edward," she says, glad that Halloween comes only once a year. And next year, it's not going to be any goblin costume, either. Maybe a cowboy. Or a magician.

"What if, what if, Mom, when Sparky got eaten by coyotes last summer, what if he didn't really get eaten by coyotes?" he asks, his tiny chin quivering. "What if I couldn't help myself, if I was throwing his ball, and then all of a sudden, something just, well, came over me?"

"All right, Edward, now that is enough." And she wipes the first tears from Edward's worried face (too worried for a 4-year-old) and feels the gooseflesh rise on her arms.

"What if, a long time ago, way back when your Edward was a baby, I snuck into his crib?" And his words are barely decipherable through his snuffling.

"Edward, I want you to stop this. It isn't funny. Halloween is over. It's time to stop pretending."

"But what if I'm not pretending?! What if your little boy is gone? If he was taken away so that I could live with you? So that, eventually, I could kill you."

Mrs. Gray silently rubs her chilled arms. Little boys don't talk like this. Someone's been scaring Edward, telling him stories that no little boy should hear, and when she finds out who. . . .

"Mom?"

"Yes, . . ." and she wants to say, Yes, Edward, but she doesn't finish. Doesn't want to upset him further.

And now his voice is softer, controlled.

"Do you remember when Mr. Daniels had that accident last summer? When he severed his artery trying to repair our power mower and. . . ."

"Stop it, Edward!" yells Mrs. Gray, and she springs to her feet. Turns off the light.

And then stands there, listening to Edward's breathing. Listens as his breathing slows, a sleeping rhythm. And Mrs. Gray wants to leave the room, but she can't.

Instead, she reaches her hand down to Edward's chest, just a gentle touch. And catches her breath.

Something's wrong. The skin feels, well, coarser. And raised in spots.

As she feels the long, wet tongue slide its two-pronged end between her fingers, she hears Edward's sibilant, ancient voice.

"And what if I'm not the only one?"

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