This short story became SPIXer (Most popular story) on 02 Nov 2013 and won INR 500
His loud screams could be heard throughout the neighbourhood.
Scared, I got off my bed and ran into his room.
My little boy was sitting on the edge, his eyes wide, as if in shock and his face wet from previously shed tears.
“Oh, sweetheart,” I said, hugging him close to my body. “Did you have another nightmare?”
He nodded, too shocked to speak.
“Do you want me to sleep here with you tonight?” I asked, stifling a yawn.
This was a regular habit for us.
Every night we’d hear my son scream and either Stu or I would wake up and attend to him. But nowadays, it was mostly me.
My son lay down and held my hand, signing for me to do the same.
“Do you want to talk about it?” I asked him, watching the expression on his face soften and his eyes droop from drowsiness.
“Someone pushed me.” He said. “I thought it was real, mom. I really did.”
I shuddered at the thought.
“I won’t let anyone hurt you” I whispered, in my son’s ear and we both fell asleep as he cuddled close to me.
“You were sleeping in our son’s room again” Stu said, the next morning, as he looked at me accusingly.
I tried to come up with a lie, knowing that if I told him the truth, he would give me a lecture about my not letting our son deal with his problems himself.
I didn’t agree with Stu. Our Austin was hardly eight years old. He needed me to take care of him and tuck him in.
Stu shook his head, his forehead full of wrinkles from frowning, and his lips tight from restraint.
“Just… Please, darling,” He said, the expression on his face turning into that of worry.
I nodded, too scared to say anything.
After giving me a half-hearted peck on my cheek, he walked away.
That evening, my mother came home, her hands full of bags of goodies.
“Oh, wow. Thanks, mom,” I said, my face beaming. “Austin loves these chocolates.”
My mother looked at me, her expression unreadable.
She never believed in feeding children chocolates.
When I was younger, my mother gave my sister and me vegetables and fruits till we were eighteen.
I think that’s why my sister committed suicide.
The memory sent a shiver down my spine.
“Ok, relax.” I said, her expression scaring me like it used to when I was a child. “I’ll only give him one when he has nightmares. Speaking of which, I forgot to tell you. Austin had a really bad nightmare yesterday. He thought that someone had pushed him. Poor boy.”
Turning to look at my mom, I realized her eyes filled with tears and her lips turned downwards with the strain of trying to control them.
She blinked them away and attempted a watery smile.
“The poor boy” She said.
That night the screams were louder than they had ever been.
I woke up with a startle and glanced at the clock.
As I was about to get up, a hand grabbed my wrist.
“Babe,” He murmured, his voice laced with sleepiness. “Not again.”
“He’s our son, Stu.” I said. “I need to save him.”
Getting up, I rushed into Austin’s room.
He had his face covered in his hands. Slowly, he looked up at me, his tears marring his features.
“What was it this time, sweetheart?” I asked.
As we lay together, he told me what had happened.
“Mom, I had a dream,” He said, gulping. His eyes looked terrified. “In it, I was having another dream. Like a dream in a dream. It was awful. It was about me looking down from our terrace, standing on the edge. I was about to jump, when I woke up. And then, I found myself on the same terrace. Thinking that I was still dreaming, I jumped. But it was reality and I died.” He finished, crying bitterly.
By the time he was done, I was in tears too.
Stu patted my arm and then held my hand.
“Come with me,” He said.
I looked at Austin, who had managed to fall asleep.
“We’re going out.” Stu told me.
“Honey, can’t we go tomorrow? I’m not dressed.”
“No,” He said, determined. “We’re going now.”
We got into his car and he took me on a drive.
A chill went down my spine when he stopped.
“Why are we here?” I asked, worried. “Stu?”
“Just come with me.”
We walked through tens and hundreds of stones till we got to the one that belonged to us.
Passed away from jumping off a terrace’
My whole body shook.
Goosebumps covered every inch of my skin.
“I didn’t want to have to do this,” Stu told me, his arm wrapped tightly around my shoulders, his face screwed up from trying to control his tears. “But, honey, Austin died two years ago.”
We sat there, at around three in the morning, watching the remains of our son, our eyes watery.
As we got up to leave, I saw my son, sitting on his grave stone, smiling, as he waved.
I waved back, ignoring Stu’s horrified expression.
And I smiled.