The Dust Man’s Birthday Party
The Tall Man hid behind the boiler for almost a week. He wanted to wait until the four year old’s birthday party had come and gone. The family could talk of little else on their last Sunday alive. They had invited two cousins. The mom couldn’t stand the cousins. She and the Dad argued loudly about it just outside the closet where the Tall Man hid. The mom thought one of the cousins had stolen something the last time they had visited. The Dad, sounding tired, just pleaded with his wife to be nice to his sister and her kids. The Tall Man got the sense that they were really squabbling about something else. But he didn’t care. They would both die either way. Then the Dad wouldn’t be tired anymore.
The Tall Man wasn’t tired at all. He slept during the day, and walked around the house at night while the family was asleep. Sometimes he watched the two little ones in their beds. One night he listened at the door of the parent’s bedroom while they had quiet sex, then tiptoed away when he heard the mom get up and go to the bathroom.
He listened to the birthday party through the walls. With only a week to go before Samhain, it sounded as if some of the visiting children had dressed up in costume. He could hear them running around the house, playing a game of hide and seek. It was a game he remembered from his childhood. He was very good at hiding.
At one point, he had a moment of concern, when he thought he might be forced into action. He hard children’s footsteps running, and the door to the boiler room opened, letting in a blinding light. He had not seen true daylight in months, preferring to operate by night. He caught a glimpse of a boy in a pointy hat. The shaft of light stabbed his eyes and he willed himself further back into the recesses of the closet. He heard the child pull the door shut, and he listened to the sound of the little boy breathing hard, trying to hide.
The Tall Man tried to remain perfectly still in the back of the closet, just a few feet from the boy. He knew he could reach out and wrap his long fingers around the child’s neck. But there were too many people in the house. He tried to hold his breath and imagine himself invisible in the darkness. The dust behind the hot water heater seemed to settle into his lungs.
He thought about dust, and about how he’d heard that it was mostly made up of shed human skin that had already died and been sluffed off by the body. He wondered how much of the dead skin in his nose belonged to the Mom, and how much to the Dad.
The idea of her skin inside his mouth and nose was exciting, and the Tall Man knew he wouldn’t be able to contain himself much longer. Then the boy would be dead, and he would have to prepare to fight whoever came looking.
Suddenly the child threw the door open and ran out into the hallway, shouting for his playmates. The Tall Man reached out a long arm and pulled the closet door closed. It snicked shut with a satisfying sound, and he let out a long breath.
The party continued, and he heard the sound of children and adults singing to a cake. He didn’t like the burning candles he could imagine on the cake. Fire scared him.
The children applauded and made noise for a while, then the house slowly grew more quiet as the guests left. The family put the children to bed while the Tall Man hid in the closet. Then the parents talked in low voices. Gradually their discussion grew louder and more heated. He heard the mom hiss something at the Dad. Then he heard the sound of a door slamming.
The birthday boy’s feet pattered up the hallway, past the closet, and the Tall Man heard a tentative knock on the parent’s bedroom door. The child asked something with a sniffle, in a whiney voice, and was admitted to the room.
The Tall Man listened gleefully to the sound of the Mom’s voice, telling the child he should go back to his own room. The father’s comments were little more than a bass rumble. He and the Mom argued for a moment, then she acquiesced. The birthday boy squealed a sound of delight, and the Tall Man heard bedsprings creak.
From the hot-water heater closet, he listened, and squeezed his fist tight in rage. The child had been given permission to sleep in bed with his parents! The ritual couldn’t be enjoyed if the family were all together. The Tall Man needed to visit each bedroom individually, tiptoeing from one bedside to the next, and saving the Mom for last. He shook with anger. They were ruining his plan!
Gradually he unclenched his fists and let out a long, slow breath. He could be patient. He was better at hiding than anyone, and he could take his time.
The Tall Man ran his finger across the back of the boiler, gathering dust on his fingertip. He raised it to his mouth and tasted the dead skin on his tongue. He could be patient. There was always tomorrow night.