People just didn’t understand Alden.
He blinked out of his daydream to see his teacher standing above him. Her face always looked like she’d just bitten into a lemon, but it was extra twisted at the moment, a fire in her dumb brown eyes.
She snatched the paper from beneath his arms, the one where he’d been doodling a knife-brandishing Jason surrounded by severed body parts. It was the horror movie scene he started picturing in his head when she first started talking about George Washington. She smashed the paper in her fist as her lips pressed together so hard they made her face white. She sputtered out short sentences. “Principal’s. Office. Now.”
Alden pretended he was a serial killer being interrogated by the cops as the principal yelled at him. Blank faced and calm so it would be over quickly. It worked.
The walk home from school felt too short. Normally, rounding the blocks of shoebox houses to the last one by the fields took forever. He knew his parents were going to be mad when he showed them the write-up, especially because he’d just pinky-promised his dad he wouldn’t draw anything else gory at school.
He sighed, slowing his steps.
People didn’t understand Alden. He heard adults whisper weird words with stupid meanings behind closed doors, and gotten used to the strange looks when he talked out loud about the things inside his head. He didn’t care, though. The world was boring, so he made it fun.
His mom’s car wasn’t in the driveway when he reached his house and he silently cheered. She was the one who demanded to see his folder when he got home from school. His dad was in the kitchen, making dinner. He walked in and tossed his backpack across the table. “My teacher’s a bitch,” he told his dad. “I’m gonna go play outside.”
“Don’t swear.” His dad turned before to see his outfit.
Alden insisted on wearing whatever the hell he wanted to wear, whenever the hell he wanted to wear it, regardless of parental protestations. This morning’s outfit had been a big yellow raincoat and rainboots - his Georgie outfit, he called it.
“You do know it’s not raining, right?”
“It’s part of my costume,” Alden informed him. He grabbed a toy knife out of the toybox in the hall, and his favorite Jason mask out of the pile nearby. It was the one too big for his face, but he decorated it Michael Myers style with markers - not from the old, stupid version of Halloween, the one from the movie his dad let him watch if he promised not to tell Mom.
Alden’s backyard was huge, at least an acre, and it ended in an old playground that once belonged to his neighbors before they moved. It was rundown and the swings creaked with rust, making it the perfect setting for his horror movies. He stomped through the high grass toward it, whistling the Halloween theme song now stuck in his head.
The skies were overcast behind the tall trees surrounding him. He imagined them reaching down to grab him and the skies pouring rain as he stalked through the grass with his machete, looking for his next kill. He’d decided it was an evil teacher with dumb brown eyes that tortured little kids in her cellar.
He was almost to the playground where she enticed her victims when he heard someone behind him. He turned around, thinking it was his dad. It was actually a fat man with tiny glasses. He wore a sweat-stained polo that smelled like onions.
Alden’s movie fell away. He was now just a kid standing in his yard wearing a raincoat, holding a plastic machete from last year’s Halloween. He scowled, annoyed that his fantasy was so rudely interrupted.
“Hey, buddy, cool Freddie mask.”
Alden just stared, unamused.
“Did you see my dog come through here?”
Alden shook his head. There were tiny beads of sweat sitting on the man’s fleshy forehead that would not move.
“Can you help me find him? I was supposed to trade in my nephew’s X-Box for him, but if you help me find my dog, I’ll give it to you instead.”
Oh, hell no.
“My dad is in the kitchen,” Alden warned him.
Alden had fantastic reflexes, but his boots made it difficult to sprint - especially in the unmowed grass. Before he knew what was happening, the man had a knife - a real one - pointed at him. “Listen, you little shit,” he spit on him. “You’re going to follow me to my car right now or I’m going to stick this into your guts. Even if you scream, the houses are too far away.”
Alden couldn’t help it.
He started to giggle.
“You little asshole.” The man advanced, drawing close enough that Alden could smell his rotten breath and onion armpits. But he couldn’t move the knife any closer. In fact, his arm was frozen in place.
Alden took a step back and removed his mask to get a better view.
The man’s arm shook with exertion, his forehead beads now running down the curves of his face. He was turning red like a tomato, making weird grunting sounds as his arm slowly twisted itself around to point the knife at his own stomach.
A few crow calls cut though the air as they swooped by, the air thickening where they stood.
“What is happening?” the man managed to sputter, his eyes bulging out of their sockets.
Alden didn’t respond. He didn’t have to use too much energy, but he wanted to stay focused. The man was squishy, malleable like his teacher, Mrs. Hellow. Though Mrs. Hellow didn’t deserve to be Pushed by him. Not yet anyway.
He watched the man’s expression shift from disbelief to terror as the sharp end of his knife went into his shirt. It popped through the thin fabric to his vulnerable flesh, pressing until it pulled crimson to the surface.
“Please, I’m sorry--”
Alden suddenly wondered what his dad was making for dinner. His stomach growled in response. He hoped they’d be able to eat first before Mom asked him to produce his backpack. Maybe he could tell them some fat idiot tried to kidnap him, though he doubted they would believe him.
The man screamed when the knife finally slid into his stomach, then back out, then in again, until the screams turned into garbled choking. He collapsed to the ground like a sack of potatoes, stabbing himself over and over, relentless in his execution. It reminded Alden of when his older cousin used to grab his younger cousin’s hand and snack him with it, taunting, “Why are you hitting yourself? Why are you hitting yourself?”
Alden looked down at the barely animated lump of gore. “Why are you stabbing yourself?” he mocked.
The man did not respond.
His arm, coated in what looked like meat sauce, fell with a thud, releasing the knife. Alden waited until the flies came before he was satisfied the man was dead. Then he picked up his Jason mask, and headed back across the yard.
He hoped his dad made spaghetti.