Christmas Curiosity

A Short Story

by- Tom Kubrak


She always told me it was going to get the better of me one of these days. Now that I was 13, a man grown, she made sure to remind me in her favorite way.
“You have to grow up Steven Joseph! You’re in high school now and you have a bright future ahead of you!” She stopped, wiped her eyes. “If you don’t fuck it up.” I remembered her storming out the house to work before I could get my piece in earlier that day.
Whatever. I didn’t care. She never was at the house anyway. She was always too busy with her new-boyfriend. This new one was named Jerry. My sister and I called him Merry Jerry because he always was smiling and a little too excited when he came over.
He tried to be supportive during the first few months. He even came to a few of my basketball games.
“Go Steven!” He often called out when the coach finally put me in the game. It was kinda weird, but I understand he was trying and that he really liked my mom. I appreciated that. You know, seeing my mom happy and all.
The girls in my grade though, damn them, they were probably more in love with him then my mom was. They told me he was the most “handsome man they’d ever-seen in their lives.”
‘What the hell man.’ Right there I didn’t care about him again.
I hate when girls do that.

At dinner time he often brought over some expensive seafood or steak dish. We were broke and he wanted to treat us so we would like him a little more. I didn’t know if he knew about all my moms other boyfriends but he seemed like a smart dude.
My little sister and I just didn’t really buy into this new guy though. He was alright but there was something off. It wasn’t easy having a mother who brought home a different guy an introduced him like he was THE next one. My sister and I started to make bets when she would break it off.

“You’re not excused Steven.”
I tried to get up and begin my nightly exploring but my mom wasn’t having any of it.
“It’s alright Kat. He can go.” Jerry said.
“He’s barely touched his..” My mom bit-her-tongue.
“Okay Mr. well thank Jerry for the steak at least.”
“Thank you Jerry. It was really good.” I lied. It was burnt and red in the middle. I don’t like how the adults liked it.
“Alright get out of here.” She eyed me the whole way while I put on my shoes and coat.
“Grab your scarf! And let me see you put it around you.” It was getting cold but that scarf was was too big and it was almost pink.
After dinner was when I often went out to explore. My mother loved to remind me before I left too,
“You’re curiosity is gonna get the better of you one day.”
“Love you too!” I called out. I tried to not listen to my mom all that much. I loved exploring. I was all alone and I felt so alive when I explored these places. There were so many cool spots in town too. I couldn’t believe more people didn’t do what I did.
I only had one spot I went to as of recent though. That was the hospital. It was a magnificent place and I hadn’t even cracked the surface of what was inside it.

***

When Christmas came around that year, my mom told us:
“We’re going to Jerry’s this year.”
“Mom!” I said. Attempting to change her mind. But again, she walked out of the house before I could say anything. I hated it so much when my mom did that because I couldn’t do anything about it.
Jerry lived a town over in South Orange. My mom, sister and I were living in a two bedroom apartment in Orange. It wasn’t that it was far it was just I didn’t trust Merry-Jerry yet and I didn’t know if I would be able to get out to go and explore.

We didn’t talk the next few days leading up to it and we didn’t even talk during the ride over Christmas day. It was one of those good old fashioned standoffs.

***

“Hey sport.” He said to me as I walked in. I hated when he said that.
“Hey Jerry.” I said, as I shook his hand and held the sweet potatoes, my mom picked up the other day from the Orange Supermarket, in my other hand. They were getting pretty heavy. So I broke his grasp and I ran to the kitchen to drop it off.
“Kathy.” He said leaning in for a Christmas kiss from my mom. “Kristina.” He bent down eye level with my 7 year old sister. “How are you?”
“I’m alright.” She said. “Anything good on TV?”
“Sure yea, let me help your mom bring the rest of the food to the kitchen and then I’ll help set you up in the living room. Sound good?”
“Sure.” My sister said, shrugging her shoulders and skipping into the living room. I knew my sister though and she was mad we were there too.

It was a whole day event. My mom was there early to help Jerry cook the food he bought. She didn’t want to have to drive back and forth from Orange so she brought us with her, telling us, “Just be patient okay! Dinner will be ready in no-time.” My sister and I rolled our eyes in the back seat of the car as she told us this.

So after awhile of trying to watch the Disney channel with my sister I gave up. I wanted to explore now.

“Hey mom.” I said to her as she whisked some eggs. “Can I go outside and go on a walk?”
“ Sure Steven. Now don’t go exploring please. Be back soon. Dinner will be ready in an hour or two.” She looked pretty stressed out with the dinner. I think if she wasn’t so pre-occupied she would’ve said no.
“Okay thanks mom.”

I walked outside and into Jerry’s garage where all his bikes were. I took the red one with the seat lowest. ‘He won’t mind.’ I thought.
I hopped on the bike and headed into Orange. I drove in the middle of the road since there were barely any cars out. It was a chilly but cold ride back into Orange. The road had a thin layer of ice on it.
When I rode past the park I noticed a few kids having a snowball fight on the football field. I really wanted to join but I decided not to. I more so wanted to spend some time at the hospital. Some of the kids I recognized from school though, so I waved and shouted:
“Hell yea guys!”

***

When I got to the hospital I parked my bike behind that bush on willow street and walked through the gap in the fence like I always did. I had to climb over a pile of old metal to get to the courtyard of the hospital. Then I walked around a few piles of trash and I was there.
It always was beautiful looking at that building. The fountain in the middle had been filled with trash but I wondered what it used to look like when the water was running. I liked to imagine the ambulances pulling up and dropping off the sick people.
My mom said I was one of the last kids born there before they shut it down. I don’t know if that was true but I was born there I know.
Mom said the Jewish family who owned it got deep in with some sharks and had to sell it. Causing it to get really bad when no one bought it.
Whatever happened, I kind of like it this way. The vines were dead now, being winter and all, but in the summer they climbed up each side of the building. It looked way cool during the summer.

I knew better than to go into it though. It was really creepy, but in the old courtyard I peaked in through the broken windows and threw rocks at the windows that still weren’t broken whenever I came. Most of those windows were on the fifth floor so they were harder to hit.
In the courtyard, along with some other kids I think, I made a fort. Mine wasn’t made out of tent material and metal like the other kids though. Mine was just sticks and rocks I found next to the highway.
‘Don’t be gone too long.’ My mothers voice started chirping in my head as my natural alarm clock went off. ‘Yea yea whatever, they probably burned the turkey already and had to start over. I got time.’
My mom’s a terrible cook, always ordering take out for us or leaving a ten dollar bill on the table for my sister and I to figure out dinner most nights.
Besides, I heard something inside there. I needed to stay a little longer.

I thought it was nothing but then I heard it again.

Shreshreshreshre

I was trying to figure out where it came from. It was faint but sounded like something being dragged or someone scraping something. I didn’t know if someone finally was starting to fix up the place or what.

Shreshreshreshre

“Hello..” I called out quietly a little nervous now.

It sounded like it was coming from that side of the building near the old security office. I began walking over and stopped like ten feet back so I could look up to see what floor it was coming from. Everything seemed to echo off the walls in the courtyard in the winter. It was hard to tell exactly where it was coming from.
“Hello- Hello-anyone there?”
My curiosity was coming back and I was thinking about going in. ‘Don’t prove mom right dude.’ I thought. Maybe someones in there though. Or maybe it’s just an animal.
‘Yea it’s probably just an animal. That’s it. Yea.’ I laughed a little but then I heard it again.

Shreshreshreshreshreshreshre- it was a lot longer this time and I was creeped out and worried all at the same time.
“Hello!” This time I hoped they heard me. My moms voice was screaming in my head and I actually was getting a little hungry. Even if my moms cooking did suck.
I paused for awhile.
I’m done. I’m going in. I took a few steps and then placed my hand on the side of the busted-window to pull my self in. But the siding SNAPPED and I fell back onto the pavement.
“Fuuuck.” It hurt so bad. I was laying on the ground writhing in pain.
I laid there long enough for a cold breeze to penetrate my Carhart coat.

Then there was silence and cold breeze seemed like it penetrated everything in that courtyard.

“RahhahhhhashresahhhrahhhrraASHHRaaAAHH”

Whatever that was I’m getting the hell out! I grabbed my hat that fell off my head and headed for the gap in the fence. I was limping a little too from the fall. Before I disappeared around the first pile of garbage I decided to let my mother win…’Just this once.’
I turned around…
There on the fifth floor was a man staring down at me. I could see his blue eyes as cold as ice.

I bolted. Got through the gap in the fence quick and then I ran the fastest I had ever ran ever since that basketball practice where I screwed up and made the whole team do sprints.
I tried not to think about if the man was real or just a mirage. When I got to Jerry’s red bike, I pulled it out of the bush, hopped on, and began pedaling so fast I thought my feet might fly off the bike.

***

My mom was naturally pretty pissed, when I got back over 2 hours later, but controlled her usual-fury in our house to a cute-fury in Jerry’s.
“Just a little walk hey?” She said smiling at me weirdly.
“Yeah.” I said. Turning away from her to grab a coca-cola from Jerry’s fridge.
“Okay well you made it back just in time. Dinners ready now. Grab your coke and sit down.”
Jerry placed the final dishes on the table.
“Kristina!” My mom yelled at a polite level.
“Coming!”
We did the usual stuff. Grace, and then passed around the food.
“Can you pass me the sweet potatoes sport?” Jerry said to me.
“Yea sure…Here.”
When we all finally got our plates. Jerry raised his glass of red wine and said, “A toast. To my first holiday with you.” He looked at my mom with his stupid brown eyes. “And your family. Thank you all for coming over and making this such a special day for me. I haven’t had people over like this in a long long time.”
We all clanked our glasses. Except me with my can of coke.
‘Cheers to the worst Christmas meal ever.’ I thought then giggled out loud.
“What’s so funny Steven? Something you want to share?”
“No.” I said, then laughed again.
My mom gave me that ‘When we get home I’m going to slap the shit out of you look.’ I stopped laughing.
I took a bite of my sweet potatoes.
‘They’re not bad.’ I began nibbling at the rest. My sister and I stayed silent while Jerry and Mom played googley eyes with one another.

As I tried to hate whatever was going on between Mom and Jerry, and think about the next guy she was going to make us eat dinner with, I couldn’t get the picture of those eyes out of my head.
I thought about that man. Whoever he was, just staring at me like that.
I took a bite of the turkey next.
‘Dry. Just as I suspected.’


Story by- Tom Kubrak

____

What did you think?

Let me know your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email at…

th.kubrak@gmail.com

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!