H The Paper Boy

Editor’s Foreword

A scrapbooker’s nightmare...

Jimmy lay in his bed and tried not to be afraid.

He and his dad had done all the bedtime things they usually did. At seven thirty, Dad made Jimmy put his motorcycle track away, the one that hooked to a table to make a ramp and then you pushed a motorcycle down and it zoomed away and did a loop-de-loop, only most times it crashed or tipped over. But when it worked just right it was great!

Dad told Jimmy to go brush his teeth. He did, but Dad said that wasn’t long enough and he had to do it again and Jimmy did. Mom lay on the couch watching TV and Jimmy kissed her goodnight. Dad said to go get his pajamas on. Jimmy kicked out of his clothes in his bedroom. He put on an old tee shirt that said SEAWORLD! with a picture of Shamu jumping out of the water, only the shirt had a hole in it. Jimmy thought it looked like a bullet hole except for no bleeding. Then Dad came in and pointed at the clothes on the floor, so Jimmy scooped them up with both hands and put them in the laundry basket in Mom and Dad’s room and came running back.

Dad leaned against the wall in the bed and he plumped Jimmy’s pillow next to him. It was best time–book time!–and Jimmy jumped up next to Dad who was so tall and strong. He loved to lean next to Dad’s warm body while they read books to each other until bedtime.

“Go pick out a book, kiddo,” said Dad, and just as quick Jimmy jumped out of bed and slid to his knees in front of his bookshelf. He had so many books he turned his head sideways to see the titles. He picked out one of his favorites called Lucky Lucy and ran back to bed. If the book had a lot of words then Dad would read it, but if it only had easy words then Jimmy could read it out loud. First grade would be starting soon, and Dad had read to him since he was a baby, probably.

Lucky Lucy was an easy book and Jimmy could read almost all the words except for the long ones and he would poke Dad with his elbow and Dad would say the word out loud and Jimmy would copy him. At the end, Dad said it was time for lights out. Jimmy begged to read another one, but Dad said it was already after eight o’clock so he had to go to bed even though he was not tired. Dad leaned over for a hug and Jimmy squeezed him real tight.

“Bear hug!” Dad said. “I’ll sleep good tonight. Now I’m all hugged up!” He tucked Jimmy in, and then stopped at the door. “I love you, bud.”

“I love you, Dad,” said Jimmy and he meant it. Dad clicked off the light and closed the bedroom door. His night-light cast dim shadows in the room. Sometimes Mom asked if he wanted to try sleeping without it and Jimmy always said no with a for-real look on his face. The closet door sat open and, with the lights off, the closet was always darker than the rest of the room, but he could still see his clothes on the rod and his shoes on the floor. He could hear the TV on in the family room. Mom watched TV a lot and he could hear it mumbling, mumbling.

Before long his eyes felt sticky. He folded his hands behind his head, wishing Dad would let him stay up later. Grownups got to do whatever they wanted, and no one ever told them they had to go to bed. He turned over on his side, facing his closet, and when he heard the crinkling sound he sucked in a deep breath.

On the top shelf in the closet was a stack of papers–color sheets, craft projects–stuff Mom wanted to keep. One of them was a giant boy he had made in kindergarten. Miss Beuell made each kid lie down on a huge toilet paper roll and she took a marker and traced all around their bodies. Feeling the marker crawl around his body felt funny and tickly. When he stood up he saw an outline of his body and Miss Beuell cut it out with scissors. Everyone drew clothes on their outlines and made eyes and a mouth on the faces. When Jimmy brought his home Mom looked at it and held it up to him to see how big it was, but at the end of the day the paper boy had no bed to sleep in, so Mom folded it up. Its head and knees and tummy were folded like a big fan and Mom put it on the top shelf in his closet with the other papers and stuff. The paper boy’s hands with the cutout fingers poked out the sides.

There in the dark he could see one of those hands slowly twist around. Its finger curled back and forth like Mom did when she wanted him to come closer so she could lick her thumbs and wipe grape jelly off his face.

come here I have a secret

Now Jimmy moved. He jumped out of the bed and ran out of his room into the living room. The TV was on, but Mom wasn’t on the couch and then he got real scared. He went back down the hall, only he ran past his room super fast, and went into the office because he saw a light on in there. Dad was staring at a lot of words on the computer screen and he turned around.

“What’s the matter, bud?”

“I saw the paper boy in my room looking at me,“ Jimmy said as serious as he could.

“The paper boy? We don’t take the newspaper.”

Jimmy huffed out his breath. “No, Dad, the paper boy! The thing I made at school. I saw its hand move and it went like this.” Jimmy curled his first finger to show how he meant.

“Oh,” said Dad. He got up and walked out of the office. Jimmy stayed close behind. He saw Mom come from her bedroom into the hallway. Jimmy heard the toilet running and he was glad because he thought the paper boy had gotten her first.

“What’s wrong?” she asked, but Dad just smiled at her and went into Jimmy’s bedroom. Dad hit the switch and Jimmy’s eyes hurt a little from the bright light. Dad went to the closet but the paper boy didn’t move. It pretended to be asleep because a grownup was looking at it, but Jimmy knew it was still awake. Dad waggled the hand and Jimmy heard the paper rustle and crinkle.

“It’s just paper, Jimmy.”

He already knew that. Geez, he was the one who lay down on the toilet paper roll. But still, it was alive!

Dad closed the closet door. “Come on, bud. You need to get some sleep.” Jimmy looked from the bed to the closet, considering.

“You’re safe, I promise,“ Dad said. Jimmy got back into bed but he didn’t feel much better. Dad hugged him again and kissed his forehead, then turned off the light and closed the door as he left.

Jimmy looked at the ceiling for a long time. Dad had pinned a poster of the Space Station on the ceiling above his bed because Jimmy wanted to be an astronaut. Actually he wanted to be an astronaut during the week and a firefighter on weekends. Now he wished he lived on the Space Station instead of here. Yes, Dad closed the closet door, but the paper boy was still in there, and it was as big as Jimmy, so it could reach the doorknob, right? He could hear the TV mumbling and he could barely hear Mom and Dad talking. They were probably talking about him the way they sometimes did even though they never said his name. They would just say, “him,” but he knew who they were talking about.

He shifted in his bed and he felt one of his fingernails scratch on a sheet, so he started picking at the nail even though Mom always told him not to. He was still picking when he heard the TV go off. The mumbling stopped and the house grew really quiet. He heard Mom and Dad go past his room into their own bedroom. Then he heard another noise that made his heart feel like a Popsicle.

taptaptap

He turned his head toward the closet door. He looked at the doorknob with big eyes, sure as certain he would see it start to move, start to turn and then the door would slowly swing open–

taptaptap

His heart started pounding again. He rolled over away from the door, curling into a ball. Except he didn’t like that because he couldn’t see the paper boy coming. So he turned back over and stared at the doorknob some more. He decided that as soon as he saw the doorknob start to turn he would run. If he could get out of his room before the closet door opened then he would be safe. The paper boy was tapping on the door, just like the big bad wolf wanted the three little pigs to let him in.

open the door I want to tell you a secret

Jimmy ignored the voice because that was how they got you. If you don’t talk to them they can’t get you. Mom always told him not to talk to strangers, and that sometimes they would tell you things to make you go with them and then they would get you. He stayed in his bed and he barely noticed when his thumb slipped into his mouth. He stared at the doorknob wondering what he would see if he opened the door. Would the paper boy still be folded up on the shelf? Or would it be standing up with its hand on the doorknob waiting for him to open the door so it could jump out? Maybe he could open the door just to check. Would he be able to reach a flashlight on top of the frigerator? If he could, then he would come back and open the door just a crack. Then he thought that was a bad idea because the paper boy was only as thick as a piece of paper and it could–

He heard a clink! Jimmy gasped. It sounded like a doorknob starting to turn. He watched the doorknob. He couldn’t tell if it turned but he heard the clink. It sounded just like when Mom or Dad tried to open his bedroom door real quiet to keep from waking him up. He lay still, holding his breath, trying not to make a sound. He turned his head just enough to see his bedroom door. If he could jump out of bed and get out the door before the closet opened then at least he wouldn’t be trapped. If he wanted out he would have to be fast. Too bad he couldn’t wear his new sneakers because they made him run really fast. But they were trapped inside that closet.

Another clink. The paper boy was coming out! He counted to himself–one . . . two . . THREE! He jumped out of bed as quick as he could and ran out of the room without looking back.

The hallway was completely dark compared to his room with the night-light. He looked at Mom and Dad’s bedroom and the door was closed. That was bad.

Once when he was four he got out of bed to ask Mom if he could get a drink of water. He opened their door and Mom was sitting on top of Dad except they didn’t have any clothes on. Mom screamed and rolled away. Dad sat up and wrapped himself up in a sheet and asked what Jimmy wanted. He forgot what he wanted because Dad’s face was kind of mad and Jimmy turned around and left. The next day Mom said that she and Dad were just wrestling and that they wrestled so hard their clothes fell off, but from now on he may not come in their room when the door was closed. So Jimmy decided once and for all that he would take care of the paper boy all by himself.

He could barely see now. He walked down the hallway, fingers trailing along the wall, and went into the kitchen. He scooted a chair next to the frigerator. He stood on the chair and reached, only the flashlights were still too high. He couldn’t reach them even on his tippy toes. So he jumped. He only jumped a little bit, and his fingers bumped one but he couldn’t grab it. So he jumped again, only harder, and he grabbed a flashlight but he wobbled a lot on the chair when he came back down and he almost fell. He got his balance, then hopped down off the chair. He turned on the flashlight and waved it around like a lightsaber and now he wasn’t afraid of anything.

He followed the beam of light back to his bedroom. He peeked his head in, but the closet was still closed, so he went in. He considered closing his door behind him. That way the paper boy couldn’t get out. But then maybe he couldn’t get out, either. He decided to close the door, but not all the way, just mostly. He walked back to his closet door, shining his flashlight on it as if he could keep it shut by the light. When he stepped up to the door he listened. Was the paper boy still tapping on the door? Was it still turning the knob? Or was it waiting for him to open the door so it could jump out?

He moved the flashlight to his left hand and slowly reached for the doorknob with his right. He imagined the paper boy doing the same thing on the other side, reaching with a paper hand for the doorknob. Jimmy would pull, the paper boy would push, and Jimmy would see his own drawn face looking at him, only not with a toothy smile but with dripping fangs–

He yanked the door open and shined his flashlight all around real fast as if he was putting out a fire with a water hose. He shined the flashlight up and saw the paper boy’s white hand hanging out over the top shelf. The fingers weren’t moving, but Jimmy wasn’t fooled. It was only pretending to be asleep again.

He backed away, keeping the light firmly on that white hand until he bumped into his desk. Reaching around behind him, he put his hand on his desk chair and dragged it back to the closet. Then he stood on the chair, just like he did in the kitchen. With his right hand out and the flashlight in his left hand, he took a deep breath.

He grabbed the paper boy’s hand real fast. The paper crumpled in his hand and he yanked on it. The paper boy’s arm came out from under the stack of color sheets. He pulled harder and now the paper boy’s head came out and it was looking right down at him! Jimmy opened his mouth to scream but nothing came out but a rattly whisper. It stared at him with that crooked grin and huge teeth and one eyeball bigger than the other. It had him by the hand and it wouldn’t let go! Jimmy took a step back and felt nothing but air under his bare foot. He swung his left arm for balance and the light waved crazy around the room. The paper boy kept staring at him with its arm stretched out and pretty soon it would start pulling back. Then Jimmy would be trapped in the closet with it. He got both his feet on the chair and he yanked again. This time he heard a tearing sound–rrrrrrriiippppp!–and he fell backward off the chair all the way to the floor. He looked down at his right hand and his eyes popped open when he saw he held the paper boy’s whole arm. The paper arm quivered in his fist.

I ripped off its arm!

He dropped the flashlight and wadded the arm up into a tight little ball. He liked the loud crinkling sound it made. He mashed it up as tight as he could until it looked like one of Dad’s golf balls.

He dropped the ball and looked back up. He could still see the paper boy’s head only now it drooped down. It looked like a cowboy hanging over the edge of a fort because an Indian had shot him. Only this cowboy lost an arm. Feeling extra brave now, Jimmy stepped back up on the chair. With both hands he grabbed the paper boy’s head and pulled. He kept the head face down because he didn’t want to see if its eyes were still open. He thought he killed the paper boy but he wasn’t sure. He pulled harder, and section by section the paper boy’s creased body came out from under the stack of papers. Finally Jimmy found himself standing on a chair holding a limp body just his size in his arms. He jumped back down and wadded the paper boy’s body, smashing it, crashing it, and he gritted his teeth like a growling dog. No way could anything survive being smashed into a bowling ball. Just to be extra sure, he lifted the lid on his trashcan and stuffed it in, pushing down on the ball against the bottom of the can with all his weight. He put in the arm ball too and closed the lid.

His heart still pounded, but in a good way. He wiped his sweaty forehead with his hands and took a couple of deep breaths. Then he suddenly shivered all over. When he felt better, he bent down and turned off the flashlight. He scooted his chair back under the desk, closed the closet door, and crawled back into bed. He pulled the sheet up to his chin, and then he jerked up when he saw a head leaning into his bedroom door.

“You okay, bud?” Dad said. “I heard you up and about.”

“I’m okay. Good night.”

“Good night, Jimmy.” Dad closed the door behind him.

Jimmy laid his head back down and looked up at the Space Station again. I killed the paper boy, he thought. And I did it all by myself. He yawned fiercely.

I hope I didn’t hurt it.

After a minute he rolled over, facing the wall, and closed his eyes to go to sleep.

Soon the only sound to be heard in the room was Jimmy’s soft, even breathing, followed by a quiet, crinkling noise. After a minute, the lid of Jimmy’s trashcan lifted ever so slightly.

 

About the Author

J. Alan Brown works in North Texas and has published several short stories and articles. He is currently at work on his third novel. He can be reached for comment at ReadJAlanBrown@hotmail.com.

 

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