The dark and stuffy room was silent. Linda was nervous, she knew that she shouldn’t be doing this, but it was just because she cared.
She walked on tiptoes – she knew he was at work but it was just instinct to keep her heels from touching the tiles. And to shut the door.
Switching on the light she blinked with the sudden brightness and looked around his bat cave.
It was a tip. Chip packets and empty coke cans lay on the arms of the couch and the floor. One of them must have had some liquid left in it as a dried up brown puddle stared at her from the seat of the lemon coloured couch. ‘Well, I won’t get that stuff out’ she lamented, a bit annoyed.
Swiftly darting over to his portable gaming device, she picked up the games he had in a pile, some in their covers and others just scattered on the table top.
‘As I thought’ she said aloud ‘he’s still playing those games. Bloodshed and violence, disgusting’. She made sure nothing was put back in the wrong place, tiptoed back to the door, and turning off the light, she left.
Linda was a good mother. She had been widowed early on and brought Thomas up on her own. There had been good role models in his life – her father when he was alive, and her brother up until a couple of years ago, so to her his behaviour and penchant for violence and gore shocked her, in fact it distressed her.
“Honestly Jean I don’t know what to do. I’ve talked to him so many times about what he plays and tried to understand why but it’s done no good”. She said to her good friend.
“Take the device away”.
“I can’t do that – he’s nineteen years of age. I have no right to do that”.
“Well, I can’t help you then. Did he say why he enjoys that kind of thing when you asked?” her friend of over twenty years asked her.
“He just said he enjoys it but once he’s finished playing, he forgets about it”.
“Yeah, until the next time. And you told me he’s in that room for hours sometimes”.
“Look I’ve got to go Jean but I’ll be in touch with you, ok?”
Linda was in the kitchen when her son arrived home from work. He was an apprentice mechanic, so quite often walked in looking greasy and dirty, and today was no exception.
“Hi love. How was your day?” Linda asked him and as was the usual reply, he said “Great. Yours?”
It was Thomas’s night for indoor cricket, a relief for his mother to think that he was doing something other than playing games. She didn’t know what time he actually got in as she was usually asleep, so assumed he played games until late. Once or twice, she had woken up and the house was in complete darkness, no light showing in the hallway or when she went to the loo, from under Thomas’s door either.
She had got up from her bed to get a glass of water on one occasion and as she was sipping it, heard the key in the front door. ‘That must be Thomas. He’s been out somewhere’ she thought
“Hi Thomas” she called out, “It’s very late – where have you been?”
“Oh, what are you doing awake Mum? I was around at Jack’s helping him sort out his computer. I didn’t realise what the time was.”
“Thomas, I told you about Mrs. Taylor’s nephew who was walking home late at night and was attacked by someone in a mask – with some sort of knife. He was in hospital for three weeks. Please be careful Thomas.”
“I will. Night Mum.”
Linda lay awake for ages thinking about all the bad things that could happen, and how she never wanted any of these things to hurt her son or ruin her son’s life. Even gaming seemed evil to her.
Somehow to Linda, the blackness of night always made it easier for negative and scary thoughts to enter her mind. Horrible things like violence and depravity… but as she tried to override these thoughts with all the positive things in her life, sleep gradually took a hold of her.
She had tried to talk to her son about his friends and if they played games too, but all she got was “Yeah, we all play them”.
So, she left it and thought that at least he was at home and not wandering the streets, except when he was helping a friend out!
They ate their meal together and discussed the best and worst parts of their day. It was a little game they quite often played together at the dinner table.
“Well” started Thomas “My best part was, and I’m not sure you noticed, but I was home earlier than usual. Pete had something to go to so shut up early.”
“No I didn’t notice but that was a good thing. My best part was having a coffee with Jean. She’s such a laugh at times.”
“Did you discuss me at all?” Thomas asked with a wry smile on his face.
“No, why did you ask that?” she said, interested in hearing what he said next.
“Well, because last time you met up with her, the next day when I bumped into her the first thing she said to me was “Oh yes that cream really has cleared up your skin!”
“Oh yeah, sorry I do remember that, but this time I didn’t, honestly “she lied. “Now, what was the worst part of your day?”
“Umm, probably the pie I bought at lunchtime was cold. I ate it anyway as I was starving, but it was awful”.
“Mine was worse than that! I tipped over the container of beetroot in the fridge this morning and it went everywhere. I opened the fridge door, tipped it over reaching behind it for something, swore loudly, then had to clean it up. Do you know how hard it is to clean a liquid that colour up when it’s gone through everything?”
“No, and I really don’t have the time to listen to your blow by blow account of how you did it. So, thanks for dinner and I’ll see you after training.”
As soon as Linda heard the front door slam, she grabbed her phone and rang her friend. “Jean, not a word to anyone about Thomas’s gaming…please.”
“No, I won’t, promise.”
That was the one flaw her friend had; she was a bit of a blabber mouth! But by ringing Jean up, she would know Linda was serious.
Jean was fortunate that her two daughters were fairly sensible. The youngest, in her last year of school was happy to stay at home and study for her end of year exams. The oldest girl was already at university, and had a good balance of studying and going out at weekends. They both knew Thomas as they all grew up together and though he was a nice enough guy but he wasn’t really their type.
Linda knew Jean wouldn’t cope with having to deal with problems, or addictions, like gaming.
Her two girls had told her that most of the boys they knew were into gaming. Sometimes at school someone would actually fall asleep at their desk – they had literally woken up asleep on their gaming device, got dressed and come to school. “I couldn’t cope with that.” She had openly told them.
For some reason Linda was awake when her son came home from cricket training. She called out to him “Hi love, how was it?”
“Yeah good” came the reply as his bedroom door banged shut.
She knew he would be switching his device on and getting ready to play for a few hours…he would have stopped at the local deli to buy junk food to eat during the night, and she hated the thought. Not the junk food, just the killing and bloodshed in the games.
As she drifted off to sleep, Linda decided that she would have a talk to her son on the weekend and discuss the probability that he had an addiction and would possibly need to ‘see someone’… already knowing it would end up in an argument. In her mind she could hear her son yelling “Are you serious Mum? I think you need to see someone.”
The next day at lunch with Jean, Linda told her what she was thinking.
“Of course, you should. You want to hit it on the head now, well Thomas does anyway. I know he won’t like it Linda, but it’s for the best. These bloody games. I tell you they are probably the reason we have some much violence out in the streets. I think they get to the stage where they don’t know reality from just a game. It’s awful, so I’m glad you’ve seen sense on this one. Now let’s forget about all of that stuff and order lunch.”
Linda kept putting off her ‘chat’ with Thomas. He seemed to be his room a little less in the evenings. In fact, he had begun to go out at night and come in quite late, but instead of going straight to his room, he would have a shower, make himself something to eat and then go into his room. She thought maybe he had a girlfriend?
“I think Thomas has a girlfriend, Jean. There are all the signs of it - he’s been going out for a while a couple of evenings a week instead shutting himself in room. And looking very smart when he does leave the house. When he gets home, sometimes I’ve even heard him humming a song…he’s happy!”
“But have you asked him?” Jean wanted to know.
“Well not in as much. I did say to him that I’d noticed he’s been going out a bit lately and asked if he was having a good time.”
“He just said “Meeting some mates.”
“I can’t keep on at him or he won’t say a word. If I just leave it, then he’ll tell me in his own good time. I’d love him to have a girlfriend…and another thing, he’s wearing aftershave!”
“I’ll ask the girls” Jean told her “They’ll know, especially Jess”
Thomas had changed. Linda thought he might have been dumped by his girlfriend as he became sullen and moody. He would get up in the mornings, go to work, come home and straight into his room. Sometimes when she called him for dinner, he would answer “Not hungry.”
“This is fun” Linda said to herself one evening whilst eating alone. I’m not having this”
She marched up to Thomas’s bedroom door and knocked on it.
“What?” he called out
Opening the door, she strode inside and stood in front of him. As soon as he saw her, he put the lid down of his device and looked at her.
“What is wrong with you Thomas? You’ve changed from being such a happy boy to this” and she pointed to his face. “Has your girlfriend dumped you. If that’s the case then I understand. I really do, but let’s talk about it…please. I don’t like it when you’re like this. It’s just not you son”.
“Mum, I didn’t get dumped. I never had a girlfriend. It’s nothing. I don’t want to talk about anything. I’m fine honestly Mum. Work isn’t too good at the moment. Pete is losing money and might have to sell the business.”
“Oh Thomas, why didn’t you tell me? You would lose your apprenticeship of the business folded. I get it now. But next time tell me when something is wrong will you?” She walked towards him and gave him a hug.
“Yeah, sure Mum, I will. You never know, business might pick up. Close the door behind you please”
‘Dismissed’ Linda thought cheekily as she walked away.
When the best friends met up again Linda told Jean about her son’s work and how that was making him so moody and stressed. “Oh, and he never had a girlfriend” she laughed “So a bit tricky to be dumped as I thought he had been!”
“I was about to tell you that. Jess asked all of her friends and he didn’t have a girlfriend, although she did see him with his arms around a girl and having a smooch a couple of weeks ago outside a nightclub?”
“Oh, good for him” answered Linda.
It was Thomas’s birthday. His mother had bought a new bed set for him. Colourful and cheery, so perhaps it would help to lift his mood! It would at least brighten his dull room a bit. They were having dinner out after Thomas got home from work. She didn’t have long to put the new sheets and cover on before he got home – a surprise for him!
‘Let me open this window and get some fresh air into this place, it’s so stale’ she thought putting empty cans and packets into a bag and taking his old bedsheets off.
As Linda tried to get the corner of the sheet that was tucked in against the wall off, she kicked something hard under the bed. Looking down to see what it was, she could tell it was some sort of box. It had a padlock through it but it hadn’t been snapped together.
Her Christian conscience was telling her that it wasn’t her business and not to look inside, but her curiosity and gut feeling was saying ‘hurry up and look before Thomas gets home.’
The gut feeling won and as soon as she lifted the lid, she wished it hadn’t.
It was as if time had stood still, or that she was watching a movie and this was the screen. Inside the box was a knife, blood stained - just lying there, staring at her. The blade had dark blood on it but the handle, smears, probably a hand print.
‘aaawww’ was all that escaped her lips, a low sound as if she was gasping and feeling like all the breath had left her lungs. She took a pen off the desk and moved what lay next to the knife, underwear, female, bras and undies, bloodstained and some ripped. On top of a pink bra sat a necklace, a love heart on a chain, silver and shiny. In the corner of the box was a dark bundle of something, but as she moved it with the pen, she saw it was hair, human hair.
Linda felt as if she was having a nightmare and would wake up soon. But when she heard the key in the front door and her son’s work boots plodding on the tiles, she knew it was real.
She could hear him coming closer and she actually wasn’t scared, but as she looked over at his desk with his gaming device and pile of thin covers containing what they did, she felt sick.