I Hope I Did the Right Thing

Submitted into Contest #155 in response to: Set your story in a kids’ playground, or at a roundabout.... view prompt

14 comments

American Contemporary Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

TW: Swearing and hints of abuse.

It is my curse to spend most of my time with people I despise. Tonight is no different. I’m following a rumour. There’s a man who goes to the playground near my house. He offers children cigarettes and alcohol. All they must do is go to his house.

            It’s just a rumour.

            Let it just be a rumour.

I don’t have a job. I have a calling. I rid the world of terrible people. I don’t kill them or hurt them. Mostly. I rid terrible people of the evil inside them.

            There are kids playing in the park when I get there. It’s dark. They’re playing by the light of the streetlamps that mark the road to the school. There’s a red park bench by the swings with the words Coca Cola written across it. A shadow is sitting on the bench with his feet up on the chain-link fence around the play park.

            I can hear his voice as I walk up to him from behind. He has a childish voice for a full-grown man. The pitch is high. Intonation is uneven as if he gets excited midway through words. His clothes are odd. He’s wearing a letters jacket with cartoon characters smiling around number 06.

            He wears blue and green Velcro shoes. There’s a name tag around his wrist, the kind hospital patients wear.

            “I can get you alcohol if you like. My dad has loads at our house.” That childish voice sounds so innocent, but the lure is there. Now I want to meet his dad.

            “Get lost Andy. Perv.”

            “I’m not a perv,” says Andy. “I’m a good boy. Papa says so.”

            “Go play with your own friends,” says a boy who’s in his teens. “Brought a creepy friend tonight?” The boy nods to me as I get closer to the bench. “Screw this, you guys wanna come to my house? We can play Minecraft.”

            The gang of kids sling insults at Andy and me as they walk away across the grass of the park.

            “Hi Andy,” I say. “How are you?”

            “I’m good,” he says. His smile is that of a toddler with crow’s feet. He has grey hair among the brown. “I should go. I’m only meant to be here if I bring friends home.”

            “I like alcohol. Can I come. I’d like to meet your father.”

            “Um, sure. My friends are usually younger though.” Andy’s eyes look away from me. He knows something isn’t right.

            “Where do you live?” I ask. Now I feel like the pervert. Andy seems innocent but to my instincts he smells like bait on a hook.

            “Not far. I need to go. Nice to meet you.” He smiles again. I see a boy in a man’s body. I see fear in his eyes.

            I hold out my hand. “Nice to meet you Andy, I’m Dennis.” My name is Xander, but I can’t tell him that in case his dad is what I think he is.

            I want to be wrong.

            I rarely am.

            Andy shakes my hand. The moment our skin touches I start to see his memories. Recently it’s mostly watching cartoons. Kids follow him to the house sometimes for free booze. It’s not free. Andy doesn’t know what happens because he goes to his room.

            Memories Andy doesn’t like are further back. Things his dad used to do to him when he was small. Cartoons help him forget.

            Shaking his head as I let go of his hand, he gives me the innocent smile again. “Hello, Dennis. I’m going home now.” He waves to me even though I’m standing right in front of him.

            I watch him go. He fades into shadows between the streetlamps, and I walk down the middle of the road in the shadows.

            Why do I feel like the predator?

Andy gets home to a nice house with pillars by the door. He rings the doorbell. After a minute a man in a white shirt comes to the door.

            “You alone?”

            “Yes, sir.” Andy says in a voice that conveys regret.

            “Come in, eat your dinner, brush your teeth and go to your room.”

            “Yes, sir.” The childlike voice has a layer of practiced etiquette pressing it down when the man I met at the park talks to his balding father.

            There’s a car in the driveway. A nice car, Pontiac Firebird. Black with a gold phoenix across the bonnet. I open the hood and pull out the starter cap so that the old man can’t drive off if things go badly.

            Being in a built-up area like this isn’t my thing. It’s a neighbourhood watch kind of area. I’m tempted to try cutting the phone line but these days everyone has a cell phone so there’s not much point.

With all possible precautions taken I knock on the front door. Two stone lions stand guard either side of me. The mat says welcome. The door has three keyholes which is weird by any standard.

            Andy’s father opens the door. Seeing me, his brow creases in mild anger. “Who are you? This is private property.” His grey eyebrows are the fluffiest caterpillars I’ve ever seen.

            “I met Andy in the park earlier and he dropped some money when he was walking away.” I pull a ten-dollar bill from my pocket and hand it to the man.

            “Andy doesn’t carry money. I buy everything for him.” He tries to close the door, but I have my foot in it.

            “You know it’s not very responsible to let him go wandering around at night if you can’t trust him with money. I’m sure this is his. Can you give it to him?” I have my hand back a bit so that he has to step towards me to take it.

            “Fine.” He reaches to take the money. As his hand closes on the note, I grab his wrist and dive into his mind. Andy’s dad is called Bill.

            Anger is the surface of the bubble in which all his life floats. I expect to see abuse. First, I see his. Bill was molested by his uncle. Friends of the uncle joined in. 

            He struggles with me. I charge into the house, locking my shoulder under Bill’s neck to push him away from the door. I tackle him into his own home.

            I pull a chloroform rag from my pocket and slap it over Bill’s mouth as he falls. Holding his wrist, I don’t let his head hit the ground. I’m not here to kill anyone. I pin his arms with my knees as he struggles. He’s no match for the mental struggle that we’re fighting. He’s not as strong as me either. Not anymore.

            Bill is a doctor. How about that? He specialises in finding lung cancer treatments for patients who have been told they were terminal. He’s good at it. He has letters on his walls from people who are alive because of the advice he gave them.

            What he doesn’t have on the walls are the photographs he’s taken of children who only came for free alcohol.

            I try to scrub away only the creepy things Bill has done but it’s all woven together. Even when he’s doing good things at work, he’s thinking about the terrible things he does at home. He has a hard drive hidden beneath the floorboards in his room where he keeps all the photos.

            Andy’s mother knew about it. She ran away because no one would believe her. Bill has been suing anyone who accused him of the things he really does. His money is a shield which has buried the truth for years.

            The doctor thing is really pissing me off. Why can’t he just be a purely evil piece of shit? Why does ridding the world of a pervert mean ridding it of a good doctor? Why do I have to choose? I can’t turn a blind eye to this. He’s saved lives. He’s ruined others no doubt.

            Many victims of sexual assault attempt suicide. Many who don’t suffer from a life of depression, post-traumatic stress disorder and more.

            His memories start to drain away. I take the memories of what was done to him as well as what he’s done. Maybe that’s as much balance as I can hope for. He’s unconscious on the red carpet of his hallway. The door is lying open. I kick it shut gently but the noise reverberates through the walls.

            “Papa?” Andy’s voice bounces off wood panelled walls.

            No. He’s fine. Stay where you are, please.

            Andy appears at the end of the hallway. “Papa. What’s wrong with Papa?”

            “He fainted, Andy. Can you help me carry him to bed?”

            Bill’s son recoils as if I’ve asked him to slap his hand down on a hot stove. “I don’t want to go to Papa’s bed.”

            “That’s alright, Andy. Hold his hand here. He’ll be alright. You both will.” He comes and kneels next to his father. “Here. Breathe this in.” I give him the rag. “It will calm you down.” Now I’m the monster.

            Andy, trusting me, smells the rag and I see his eyes roll. I hold it over his face until he’s lying there as well.

            There’s nothing left of Bill but childhood memories from before he met his uncle. I take the bad stuff from Andy, hoping he’ll be alright with the gaps in his memory. Most of the time he spent with his father was clouded by a fear he didn’t understand.

            I have to clean up. I’ve got DNA all over both. Fingerprints on the car. Footprints in the hallway.

            I’m good at cleaning. Wiping backwards as I go, I close the door behind me. When the car has no trace that I’ve been there I walk to a payphone. My tip tells the police everything they need to know about Bill. They know where to look for his hard drive. They know where he keeps the camera. They know the names of the children he molested.

            It’s Andy I feel sorry for. All his life he’s relied on his father to survive. He’ll need a carer until the day he dies. I’m going to keep an eye on him. If I can, I’ll help.

Back home, I slip my golden key into a copper covered lock. The moment the door is open a soft weight slams against my ankles.

            Genzo, a fluffy ginger lump is already purring. A smile cracks my face, but I’m crying.

            “Xander? You’re home?” Billie’s voice calls through from the kitchen.

            “Yeah,” I say, trying to keep my voice level. I wipe my eyes on my sleeves, but the tears won’t stop. My whole body is shaking. My legs feel weak beneath me. I sit down on the wooden floorboards with my back to the door.

            Genzo, formerly known as Toby, crawls into my lap. Teardrops glisten on his orange back as I stroke him. My heart rate slows a little. I press my face into him, and he rubs his head against my chin. He knows I need the love right now, or he just wants attention. I don’t care. I can smell the tuna on his breath. Every detail about him is a distraction I need.

            “Xander!” Billie’s voice is a gasp. She hurries over and sits next to me. She knows what I do. She knows what it does to me. “The rumours were true?”

            “Yeah. But it wasn’t the guy at the park. It was his dad.” I feel the taste of vomit climbing up my throat. Genzo jumps away as I rise.

            “Are you alright?” Billie asks.

            I shake my head as I run to the toilet and throw up into the bowl. Without looking I reach for the flush but another jet pours from me. I see the gyoza Billie made me for dinner in little chunks. I need to chew my food more.

            “Have a shower,” Billie says, peeking through the bathroom doorway. “You’ll feel better after. I can join you?” Genzo peeks from between her legs. I realise that she’s only wearing a dressing gown.

            “I’ll come to bed soon,” I say. “I need some time.”

            “Alright. Come on Genzo, daddy needs space.” She picks up her ‘fur baby’ and closes the door.

            I leave my clothes in a heap on the floor. They smell of the sweat that comes from worrying. Hot water slams down on my shoulders as I sit in the bottom of the shower. I wrap my arms around my legs. I think about Andy being taken into care. I think about Bill’s patients dying because he’s not there to point them to the treatments they need.

            “I did the right thing,” I tell myself. I rock back and forwards.

            “I did the right thing.

            I did the right thing.

            I hope I did the right thing.”

By the time I slide into bed my body is starting to surrender to sleep. I know I’ll have nightmares, but I don’t have the strength to fight it anymore. My face hurts from crying. My head is a painful blend of headache, trauma, and exhaustion.

            Genzo hisses as I dislodge him from his crease in the blankets. He moves to lie next to Billie’s feet.

            She wraps an arm around me as I curl into a ball.

            “It’s alright now. I’ve got you.” She strokes my hair and kisses the back of my neck. “I love you Xander.” Her arm tightens around my stomach.

            “I love you too, Billie.” Only when I say her name, I realise that she’s another Bill in my life. As she strokes my hair, I remember the way Andy felt as a boy when his mother did that to him. I left him that memory. All I have is a copy.

            All he remembers now is his mother and the cartoons.

            I hope I did the right thing.

July 16, 2022 13:48

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14 comments

Michele Foley
18:18 Jul 29, 2022

Love the sci-fi aspect of Xander. My heart is hurting for Andy. You bring to light that bad people sometimes can do good things and it can be a struggle to judge. I like Xander as a future superhero.

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Graham Kinross
01:06 Jul 30, 2022

I think of Xander more as one of those charity workers who has no life and is drowning in disaster even though they help but there’s no rest for them.

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Kelsey H
11:24 Jul 28, 2022

This was really a great read, I actually enjoyed it a lot despite the subject being so dark, I loved this take on it. The narrator who can see peoples memories, and take them away, is a really interesting idea and I loved reading his perspective. The best part of this was the way you gave complexity to the situation - although Andy is leading children to be abused he is actually a victim himself, the man who is the abuser is also saving lives, Xander struggles with knowing the right thing to do ... loved this aspect to it and the depth and r...

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Graham Kinross
11:31 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you.

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01:52 Jul 28, 2022

This was a very fascinating story! Even though I've never ever been in a sort of highly traumatic childhood home like Andy had been, it felt like I was standing there right next to him, feeling the same overwhelming fear of his father. The descriptions of Andy and his dad were really good. Having a main character who can take away someone else's traumatic memories...I never would've thought of writing in a style like that. Excellent work!!

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Graham Kinross
03:16 Jul 28, 2022

Thank you. It’s part of a series I’ve been working on for a while.

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L. E. Scott
17:53 Jul 27, 2022

This made me cry. And yeah, no matter how much good a person does it doesnt offset hurting the innocent. Your mc did the right thing. I am a little curious what kind of power they have, can they just take memories or can they alter them too? I guess if altering was a choice it would have been the best one.

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Graham Kinross
20:31 Jul 27, 2022

Yeah I think if he could alter memories he could turn bad people into good people and wipe away the pain of victims more cleanly. Thanks for reading.

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20:17 Jul 25, 2022

This was genuinely so good. I love how you portrayed Andy and his mannerisms, and how they were a direct product of his abuse, which was a product of the abuser's abuse. And I love how all actions carried out by Andy, Xander or Billy isn't 100% good or 100% bad. It was very realistic to describe how things can be varying shades of grey.

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Graham Kinross
22:26 Jul 25, 2022

Thank you. In previous parts of this story the antagonists were more two dimensional Neo-Nazi cutouts but I wanted to show that no bad behaviour is without a source, without a reason. People are just continuing bad habits. Have you read the other stories in the series?

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22:33 Jul 25, 2022

No, I had no idea it was a series! That's so cool

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Graham Kinross
22:38 Jul 25, 2022

https://blog.reedsy.com/short-story/qt7692/ This is the first one.

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J.C. Lovero
00:45 Jul 17, 2022

Hi there Graham! Thanks for linking me to this story! I really like the premise of someone who can essentially erase memories. Gives me sci-fi vibes or some type of magical realism and I'm into it. You painted the sadness very well with Xander throughout the narrative, especially with his encounter with Andy and Bill. Loved the cat lol The last couple of lines are particularly bittersweet. Some memorable lines: “Um, sure. My friends are usually younger though.” Andy’s eyes look away from me. He knows something isn’t right. (oof) Cartoo...

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Graham Kinross
13:57 Jul 17, 2022

Thanks. It seemed like time to go into more detail with the toll Xander’s life is taking on him. I wanted a more complicated antagonist as well, the previous ones were a bit two dimensional, which can be fun but this is deeper. I’m going to keep going with this and go into more detail with Xander’s abilities and his life when he’s not ‘working’.

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