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art by Justine McGreevy

An Old Acquaintance

K.G. Jewell lives and writes in Austin, Texas. He once knew enough Russian to get directions from a guard at the Russian Embassy in Ulan Bator. That is no longer the case. His website, which is rarely updated, is lit.kgjewell.com. This is his fifth story to be published with Daily Science Fiction. Go look up and read the others at dailysciencefiction.com.

Tabbitha was out of town. I turned off the light and stretched out over the entire bed. Was this a guilty pleasure? Was my loneliness supposed to quench my enjoyment of such luxurious space? I closed my eyes and dreamt of the barren vastness of Wyoming.
A yank of my pinkie toe awoke me. I sat up and scanned the dark room. There, at the foot of the bed--two bloodshot yellow eyes.
"Geeze man, you scared me," I said.
The eyes blinked. "That is my job." The whispering voice triggered memories of the sleepless nights in my youth.
"Where you been? I haven't seen you since, what? Sophomore year of college?" It had been a couple of years, at least.
"What about Montreal?"
"That was you? I thought it was some French-Canadian voodoo or something."
We'd never exchanged names, but I'd always thought of him as an Oscar.
"I was trying to be culturally appropriate."
"You did a good job. I was seriously afraid for my life." Oscar appreciated compliments.
"So what brings you out tonight? The usual? Seems like I've grown past a pinkie pull." I had actually assumed I'd grown past Oscar all together.
"I have a favor to ask."
"A favor?" What kind of favor does a boogeyman need?
"Yeah. Business isn't good right now. My regular clients are all getting too old for me, and none of you slackers are having kids."
"Who are you, my mother?" I considered turning on the light and banishing him, but I kinda owed Oscar one. He had gotten Tabbitha into my tent on a geology field trip freshman year, and that had turned out pretty well for me. "What can I do for you?"
"Can you introduce me to some of your friends with kids? Maybe put in a kind word? I'm getting killed by night lights and video monitors. Parents just don't appreciate lonely darkness anymore."
"And what? Brag about how you made me pee the bed until third grade?"
"I'm thinking more how I helped you build character."
I had mixed feelings at this point. Sure, Oscar and I had grown into an uneasy relationship, become friendly acquaintances even, but the early years had been rough.
Then I remembered Thomas.
Thomas was my boss George's son. He was a terror. He had singlehandedly brought to an early end the last two office Christmas parties. On Bring-Your-Son-To-Work day, Thomas had bitten the company's oldest and more lucrative client. He seemed to enjoy hurting people.
Thomas could use some quality time with Oscar.
"I've got just the kid."
I leaned forward in the dark bar and tapped the table between George and myself. Our beers rattled.
"No, really, I'm not kidding. You just need to unplug the night light and leave the closet door open."
George took a sip of his beer and shrugged. "At this point I'm willing to try anything. The boogeyman can't be worse than electroshock therapy, and his last babysitter mailed me a pamphlet on that after she quit."
"Good. If you want, you can meet him and extend a formal invitation."
George swiveled his head. "Here? Where?"
"No, Not here, here. Outside." I nodded towards the back door, helpfully labeled FIRE EXIT ONLY. "In the alley."
George stepped out. Two versions of "Ring of Fire" played on the juke-box--the Social D and the original Cash. I ordered two whiskeys straight-up.
The door opened, and George returned, his face drained of color. I pushed one of the drinks at him. He drank the entire glass without blinking.
"We made a deal. I lived, he gets to visit Thomas."
Take-Your-Son-to-Work day rolled around again. The staff was surprised to learn that Thomas was going to be allowed to return.
They were even more surprised when he was a model citizen for the day, never once raising his voice nor causing any trouble.
Towards the end of the day, I heard a knock. Thomas was in my doorway.
"Come in."
He stepped inside and closed the door behind him. He marched up to me and punched me in the arm.
"Ow!" I rubbed the bruise. "What was that for?"
"That's from Ralph."
"You know, the boogeyman. He said that's for giving him the hardest job of his life."
"Thanks. You give that right back to him for me, will you?"
"I will." Thomas smiled, his eyes lighting up as he cracked his knuckles. "Oh, I will."
The End
This story was first published on Thursday, May 3rd, 2012

Author Comments

Solitude and darkness have fueled the creation of many childhood monsters. This tale was born as I realized that some types of isolated darkness get harder to find in a lit, technological-connected world.

- K.G. Jewell
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