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Prodigal Son

 

Nathan jolted awake. Fuck! Why hadn’t Mum come to drag him out of bed yet?

He threw on the same clothes as he’d worn yesterday and rushed down the stairs. There was no time to shower, just a quick bite of breakfast before he had to run to school. With some luck, he’d only be a few minutes late.

“Hi, Mum.” He was halfway to the fridge when Mum let up a blood-curdling scream. Nathan stopped dead in his tracks. The thuds of his heart almost as loud as the shriek bouncing around in the kitchen. Her eyes were wide, and the colour bled away from her face. Hesitantly, he turned around to see what was behind him. His heart kept on pounding as he searched for movements by the doorway.

Nothing.

“What is it?” His voice quaked as he kept gazing at the foyer and her. When she didn’t respond, he took a step in her direction, but she moved away from the stove with the frying pan raised in front of her.

“Get out of my house!”

Nathan whirled around again. Who was she talking to?

“Who’s there?” His hiss was left unanswered, and for each second the tension in the room grew. Fear slowly but determinately curled a bony fist around his gut. He tried stepping closer to Mum yet again. If there was someone there, she at least had a frying pan they could use in defence.

“Jacob!”

Yes, where was Dad? Why hadn’t he come running as soon as she’d screamed? Nathan hardly dared take a breath. What if something had happened to him?

He almost sagged in relief when he heard Dad’s quick steps in the foyer and went to meet him in the doorway.

“What is it, Viv—hey! What are you doing here?” Nathan stared at him. “Get out of my house before I call the police.”

“Dad?” Nathan searched for recognition in his eyes.

“Get out!” Dad pointed towards the front door. “Viviane are you okay in here?”

Dad wasn’t a small man, and Nathan cringed when he fixed him with a hard glare. His hands curled into fists as he took one step closer to Nathan. “He didn’t touch you, did he?”

“Dad.” The whisper fell to the floor unheard. Nathan’s heart threatened to stop.

“Viv?” Dad took a step closer, and Nathan stepped back.

“I’m okay. Only got a bit of a scare.” Mum had backed away even more, and she was still clinging to the frying pan. She glanced at Dad, but for the most part, she stared at Nathan as if she’d never seen him before.

“Mum?”

Dad frowned. “You’re not welcome here. You can either get out of our house or we’ll call the police.”

Nathan looked back and forth between them. His lungs were slowly shrinking in his chest. “Are you kidding?”

“Call the police, Viv.” Dad didn’t take his eyes off him.

“No, wait!” This had to be a joke. Their expressions seemed genuine, though, and Mum would never fool him, would she? “What…are you doing? Dad?”

Dad gave him a hard glare. “Call them, Viv.”

The knot growing in Nathan’s stomach started climbing his throat. He looked up at the wall above the hall cabinet—all the pictures of him were gone. The wall had been covered with photos of him from infancy through last year’s school picture. Now it was empty. He couldn’t even see any nail holes to indicate where they’d been.

He heard Mum’s soft murmur and figured she’d already called the police.

“We told you to get help, boy.” Dad trapped him with his gaze. “If you wait here I’ll make sure you’ll get it.”

Nathan felt his world crumble. A vision of brightly lit corridors and beds in rows flashed before his eyes. He could practically taste fear and desperation in the air. Icicles grew in his heart as he traced a scar on his wrist he couldn’t remember getting.

With a shake of his head, he turned towards the front door, noticing his jacket was missing from the coat rack. “No, I…I think I’ll just go.”

He remembered people in white lab coats, his wrists restrained to the metal rail of the bed. He recalled the soft footfalls of nurses scurrying down the corridors and the hum of the strip lights.

The antiseptic smell threatened to choke him.

He needed to get out of here.