They are out there, I can feel them. They are waiting for me and my bare feet. The screams. I can still hear the screams. They cut through my mind when I sleep. They pierce my subconscious, they radiate through my dreams. I can hear them, the screams. On the floor they wait for me. Next to the coffee table and at the bottom of the stairs I can hear them. At the foot of the refrigerator and right next to my bed they wait for me. They wait for when the lights are turned off and my wife is soundly asleep. They wait for me and the screams are my own.
I can hear them chanting. I can hear them counting and signing the alphabet. I can hear them ask me if I am up and ready to play at 2 in the morning, in the darkness they torment me. I can hear the dark tones and slow melodies echo off the high ceiling downstairs. They are there, waiting and chanting, hoping soon that my wife will ask for her 2 am glass of water. I can hear their distorted voices from low batteries which doesn’t prevent them from letting me know that it’s 2 minutes ‘till Night Night and am I up and ready to play. Am I up and ready to play, am I up and ready to play.
They tell me if I am happy and if I know it to clap my hands. They tell me that they know a dog named Bingo. They tell me that there is a star that twinkles, twinkles, always god damned twinkling. They have sharp edges and their bright colors are mysteriously not twinkling in the middle of the night. I can hear them and they wait.
I put my feet over the side of the bed, cautious, listening. It is quiet. The air does not move. It is stale with my fear, thick with my apprehension.
My feet make contact with the carpet. I can feel them, out there, waiting.
I am struck down on my first step. In the confusion I can tell that it is a cow hoof chewed to bits by my dog. The edges are serrated like a knife as it digs deep into the crevices of my toes. I double over trying not to put to much pressure on that foot and thus increase my injury, hoping that I am not cut to the bone and no major arties are slashed. My hand comes down blindly in the lightless night, clawing for support but finding none. My head makes contact with the bed rail and the screams begin.
“Mother fucker! Do you have to leave these damn binkies everywhere! Every God Damn Time!” I scream but no one can hear my screams. My wife doesn’t move, Little Hoss does not utter a peep. I am alone, utterly alone. I press on.
I am struck again less than two steps away from the door. A bone this time. A bone from what I can only assume is the previous superdad that came before me. It is a glancing blow but enough of one to remind me that these things are out there, unseen and unmoving but deadly. I say a prayer for the unknown superdad, good luck my friend.
I come to the top of the stairs. I can only tell this because my hand is gripping the top of the rail like it is my magical teddy bear from when I was a kid. My bear would ward off all monsters and evil beings while I lay shivering beneath my covers. I have given the bear to my daughter but now I want it back. Please let me have it back.
Each step is a step that I don’t want to take. I bend the knee and begin my descent, I can feel the air getting cooler, swirling around my eyes that can see nothing. 5 steps down my injured foot hits something soft, furry and menacing. I hear a hiss and a claw rips into my ankle. My knee buckles, my forward momentum is carrying me over. I grab the railing with my fingertips, dear god let me hang on, just let me hang on.
I can hear the cat running out the dog door. He likes to sleep on the steps sometimes, waiting in ambush for my 2 am pregnant wife water trip. My knee might be dislocated, I may need stitches. The cat used to be my friend, my cuddle buddy but the night has changed him. He is crazed. He is insane. My breath has left me and I am wheezing for some courage. I must keep going.
I make it to the bottom of the stairs and the sigh of my relief is quickly replaced with a loud BANG! as I crash into the play table. My pinkie toenail is obiliterated and is the first true sacrifice to this weekly ritual. The warmness that I feel leaking between my toes is my blood, I don’t have to look to confirm it. I am off balance for the third time in less than 20 feet and I kick the wicker toy box that seems to always move on it’s own. The other foot now throbs as well.
That’s when I hear the music. The music that plays 3 times slower than it is supposed to but has a hypnotic melody to it. And the words, as if whispered by the undead.
Do your ears hang low do they wobble to and fro, can you tie them in a knot can you tie them in a bow.
The ritual kicking has awakened Mr. Doggy and his siren’s song. My mind is going cloudy, the blackness in front of my eyes is being replaced by the gray cloud of crapola what am I doing up and I hate all dog toys and baby toys past midnight.
Lightning briefly illuminates the living room floor, the rain has begun and so must I begin my journey across the living room floor. With each flash I see dark shadows and amorphous shapes. There are no distinctions, no boundaries and no hope. I know the thunder will mask my cries for mercy.
Oscar the Octopus, Mr. Frog, Princess Barbie, Fun time sing along Piano—I know that they are all waiting in that waste land, waiting to trip me, waiting for me to fall into their pit.
I take my first step and I can hear, very softly, a synthesized voice counting in Spanish. It feels like a countdown to my doom. Uno, dos, tres, quarto—each marking a step further into the abyss.
Fun time sing along Piano strikes first, catching onto my robe and tearing it from my body. I twist, letting my arms fall out of the arm holes but my balance is not what it was ten years ago. I am not prepared for this journey.
My heel comes crashing down on what I assume is the stomach of Mr. Frog, who gleefully tunes “That’s the red star, That’s the orange triangle!”. It mocks me as I fall, crashing into the abyss, crashing into hopelessness.
I can feel little stuffed paws all over me. Mr. Octopus begins to tie himself around my ankles. I try to struggle up but the ground is soft. I am stuck on the Princess Barbie toddler couch and I have no grip. My feet kick wildly, curses erupt from my lips “Can’t we just pick up our damn toys once!” I exclaim but no one is there to hear me.
My hand falls on something hard and plastic. I hear the Hickory, Dickory Dock song, but slower, almost unrecognizable. I know immediately that this the Lion Rattle that plays music whenever it is touched. It was a revenge gift by my mother in law, knowing full well that my daughter would love it and never, ever, ever stop shaking it. The sound bores into my ears.
I am not being driven insane. That would imply a journey, but there is no journey to my madness. It just is. Before I was sane, now I am not, the transition was instantanious. I pick up the rattle and fling it in desperation. I hear it shatter the wall. I escape but with throbbing stubbed toes. I am in the kitchen when I smell the stench of decay. My foot lands on something soft and slimy. I don’t go down but I gently slide on this pile of grotesque like an ice skater on the hard wood floors. I can feel pebbles of broken dog food and know immediately that it is dog puke from the fat dog stuffing it’s face. If you could see my face, you would see a face with an “Aw shit Kahn!” coming out of it. I am naked. I am alone. I am cut and bruised. I am covered in dog puke.
I reach the fridge and get the water. I look back at the way I came and know that I cannot go back that way. I will not make it. I can not continue. I will sleep in my car tonight and be happy that there are no dog bones, baby toys or excrement waiting for me there.
But I can still hear them. I can still hear the jazz beat by Mr. Piano, I can finally see the twinkle of Mr. Frog’s Orange Triangle on his chest. And I can feel their presence. To all those that follow in my footsteps as superdad, know this: You will be given 3000 toys for your new child. For your own sake, pick them up after she has strewn them about like land mines. And keep bottled water upstairs.