I awoke to a prick on my arm. The sun rays slicing through the blinds as I blinked into the new day. I heard his little footsteps before I caught the sheared hair of his head.
“Teddy, is that you?”
He rose with an early morning smile. It might’ve been sweet were it not for the sharp point of a knife pressing into the flesh of my upper arm.
“Ouch.” I pulled myself up, clearing my throat, gathering myself as I realized this was not a dream. Young Teddy hovered near my bed, eyeing the knife–its point at my arm–with a dark fascination that seemed to warp his little boy smile. For such a handsome kid he could be cold at times, his face unmoved by either a hug from me or a beating from his grandfather. It was as though he didn’t understand humans—more often he was observing rather than engaging.
“Teddy.” I tried once again, to break through. Only it wasn’t just the one knife but ten or twelve. My bed was full of kitchen knives.
My voice caught. “Teddy, what are you doing?”
At the sound of his name, his fingers danced along the bedspread. “I want the truck.”
I jumped as a woodpecker cackled outside my window. The light on Teddy’s profile, his boyish features marred by the mechanical gaze in his eyes. I tried to swallow but my throat scraped and I rasped for breath. A wedge of sun glinted off a steak knife. “Well, did you do what I asked? Did you pick up your toys last night?”
He nodded, his smile growing, his eyes raking my skin, burning at the flesh. I held my voice steady, hoping I could save him. If his grandfather walked in and saw him in my room…
“Teddy,” I strained to keep a whisper. “Did you put these here.”
He shook his head, his smile took a devilish turn seeing the knives, arranged around my arms and legs, their handles waiting to be gripped, the blades ready to be used. Plunged. He wasn’t yet four, and I feared it was too late.
“I want my truck, Aunt Julia.”
The knives shifted under my weight, clanking together as I sat up. I fixed my hair and saw his hand only an inch away from a handle. The boy would never stab me, I told myself again. “Teddy, I will give you the truck when you clean up your mess.”
He reached for a knife and I gasped. He stopped, looked at me with a smirk. “This mess?”
I shook my head until I found my voice. I thought if I treated him fair he’d react accordingly. “No. The toys, downstairs.” I lowered my head, conspiring with him, “Before your Papa gets up, okay?”
The smile fell. Just saying the man’s name out loud seemed to tighten the strings in my chest. I gathered the knives, carefully, as Teddy’s eyes followed hypnotized by the shapes and sizes. His gaze changed as he took notice of my bare legs. I quickly covered myself with a blanket. My neck prickled.
“I’ll be right out, now run along.”
Teddy nodded. I held my face in check as he padded to the door but stopped short. He turned back to me.
“Your door doesn’t lock.”
The room seemed to shrink. The walls breathing with my pulse. I blinked it off, reminding myself once again that boy was four, still pure, incapable. But I knew I was going to take that job in Seabrook. My sister would have to fend for herself. “Thanks, Teddy.”
He glanced one more time at the knives in my hands before he slid out of the room.
Only then did I exhale.