by Xiola

ATF "Little Britches" Universe

Warning: SENSITIVE SUBJECT MATTER. This story is dark and intense and deals with child abuse and other topics that are sad and disturbing. I was thinking about Halloween and what kinds of really scary things are out there.

Thank you to JIN for all of her encouragement and support, and for putting up with me.

October 21st
I don't remember Halloween. Seems like it's somethin' I should know about - there's pumpkins and witches and things decoratin' the stores, but I ain't sure what it all means. J.D.'s excited - but that ain't nothin' new - J.D.'s always excited 'bout somethin' - says he's gonna be a vampire and have big teeth and a black cape. Says Buck's gonna take him out t' git candy and that don't make a whole lotta sense t' me. Any time we get candy, Buck or Chris takes us t' the store t' buy it and we ain't never had t' dress up t' go. Chris and Buck - they's askin' what I wanna be and I don't know what t' tell 'em - I's afraid I's gonna say somethin' wrong, so I jist shrug m' shoulders and don't say nothin'. I don't want Chris and Buck t' know I's stupid, so I asked Mrs. Jefferson at school what Halloween means. She's real nice and she never makes me feel like I don't know nothin' - well, Chris and Buck don't make me feel like that neither, but I don't like t' let on t' them that I don't know stuff - 'specially when it's stuff everybody else seems t' know. Well, when I asked Mrs. Jefferson, she said that I done asked a good question, and she told everybody t' sit in the listenin' circle so's she could tell us about the hist'ry of Halloween. Seems like Halloween's bin around a long time, and it's a whole bunch a festivals all rolled up inta one. She said it started off with people celebratin' a change a' seasons - like when it comes so's there ain't as much sunlight and days is gittin' short and all the harvestin' is done. That weren't so bad t' hear, and I could see why people would want t' have a party when they's all finished workin' fer the summer. Then she said that people used t' have a day in church t' honour all the saints or some such, and them parties was held around the same time. That didn't seem so bad neither, and rollin' a bunch a celebratin' all up together - well, I guess it makes sense t' get it over all at once. But then she started talkin' about dead people, and how there was this day set by t' honour the dead and it got itself all tangled up in Halloween too, and the good things t' eat and the saints and the devils and the dead people and savin' souls from evil spirits was all happenin' on the one day - well, I didn't much like the sounds 'a that and by the time she was done, I's wishin' I ain't never asked. I done saw dead people, and I ain't sure why anyone would want t' be reminded 'a anything dead. It all got me thinkin' on my Mama. I ain't never told no one this - well, mostly 'cause I kinda fergot about it til now, but I think I's the one that killed her. We's livin' in the big 'partments then - well, the 'partment's weren't big, but the buildin' was and we's livin' way up high so's when ya looked out the window ya could see the mountains. Ya could see them better on the roof, and me and Mama'd go up there, jist us two, and some days they looked so close ya woulda thought ya could reach right out and touch 'em. She promised we'd go to the mountains one day, me and her, and she said there's lakes there where the water's this funny colour blue so's it don't even look real, and there's fields where the flowers is all different and they only last fer a day and ya don't see 'em nowheres else. We didn't never go, though, and after she died I runned away and it didn't really matter that we never got t' go. I couldn't see the mountains no more anyhow.

We was livin' with Donnie then - I never liked him and I's real scared 'a him. He weren't happy when Mama moved in and he found out I's comin' with, but she done told me t' be good and keep m' mouth shut and Donnie wouldn't pay me no mind. I tried t' behave, but I guess it ain't somethin' I's ever real good at, and he used t' yell at me a lot and sometimes he'd put me in the closet and leave me there til I learned my lesson. I weren't real good at learnin' even back then, 'cause he used t' leave me there a long time. One time him and Mama went somewheres and I think they musta fergot I's in there, cause I didn't have nothin' t' eat and I got so hungry my tummy ached real bad. I wet myself a bunch a times too, and I knew Donnie was gonna be mad, but after a while I jist didn't care. He used t' hit me, fer bein' stupid, but I done deserved that 'cause I was stupid - still am, jist nobody lets me say so no more. One day I was puttin' a plate in the sink and I weren't tall enough t' reach in so good, and it fell outta my hands and broke. He picked me up and shook me so hard I's sure all my teeth's gonna fall out and Mama screamed at him t' let me go and he dropped me then and hit her and made her lip bleed. He slammed my arm in the door once 'cause I turned on the TV and he done told me b'fore not t' touch it. My arm hurted fer a long time, and now I kin feel there's a lump there when I rub it. Donnie always said I's cruisin' fer a bruisin' and if I jist behaved m'self, none a these things woulda ever happened. He done hit me one time - cain't remember what I did - but I bumped my head on the table, hard. I's real sick after that - couldn't hardly move without throwin' up - and that jist made him madder. He told Mama I's a good fer nothin' little bastard, and he throwed us out in the hall and locked the door. Mama cried and she was bangin' on the door and beggin' him t' let us in, but he wouldn't. We went down the hall to Lacey's place fer awhile after that, but she said we couldn't stay long 'cause there weren't much room there. After a few days Donnie come down - said we's allowed t' come back but if Mama wanted t' stay, she's gonna have t' do somethin' 'bout me. I's scared when he said that - I started t' cry - not loud 'cause he got mad when I cried, but I didn't know what I'd do iffen I didn't have Mama t' look after me. She said not to worry - things would be O.K. and she'd never leave me by myself. She done lied about that, but I ain't mad at her or nothin'. I's the one that killed her, and lyin' ain't near so bad as that.

Donnie come home that night and he smelled funny, and he kept bumpin' inta stuff and talkin' loud. Chris and Buck smell like that someimes, after they been drinkin' outta them bottles me and J.D. ain't allowed t' touch. Donnie used t' give me some a' that stuff t' drink, when his friends come over and Mama weren't home. It tasted real bad and it burned goin' down and after awhile I got all dizzy. When I tried t' walk I kept on fallin' and Donnie and them would laugh at me. Sometimes I laughed too, 'cause it was kinda funny, but then it would stop bein' funny and my tummy'd start hurtin' and I'd usu'lly end up barfin'. Donnie'd get mad and hit me and make me clean it up. Don't rightly remember much 'a what went on them times. I us'lly ended up fallin' asleep and when I waked up agin, I was still sick. M' back would be painin' somethin' fierce and I had t' jist lie still fer a day or two before I could even get up. Mama'd git mad at Donnie and yell at him, but he'd jist laugh. Donnie weren't scared 'a Mama - Donnie weren't scared 'a nobody...

Oh, yeah, I's thinkin' on the day that Donnie come in - loaded is what Mama called 'im - and they started fightin'. I crawled under the bed 'cause they's screamin' and throwin' stuff. Donnie called Mama a bitch and some other words I ain't allowed t' say and the next thing I see Mama's lyin' on the floor, lookin' at me. There's all this blood on her face and after a bit I hear the door slammin' and Donnie's gone. I's so scared I cain't move and Mama's sayin' fer me t' go git Lacey, please baby, please, and I's still curled up under there with the bottles and the socks and the papers and the dirt and I jist cain't move. I know I shouldn't be afraid 'a m' Mama, but the blood's runnin' down her face and spreadin' on the floor in this puddle that's gittin' bigger and bigger and comin' right t'wards me. I don't want t' look no more, but I cain't stop. Mama's whisperin' now - help me baby help me - and after a bit she goes all quiet but she won't stop lookin' at me. I try t' push m'self closer t' the wall and after a bit I musta falled asleep, 'cause I remember wakin' up and thinkin' I had a really bad dream. I open m' eyes, though, and Mama's still there and she's starin' right through me and I know I ain't dreamin'. I keep tellin' m'self she's m' Mama and she ain't gonna hurt me and after a bit I come out. I don't want t' do it but I reach out t' touch her arm. Her skin's all cold and I guess that's when I figured she's dead. I think I screamed and run out the door and down the hall t' Lacey's but there weren't no one there. I don't want t' go back t' our place, but Donnie's gonna be mad when he comes home and there's all that mess on the floor, so I gits a towel from offa the floor in the bathroom and I try t' wipe it up. There's too much, and it's real sticky and it gits on my hands and on m' clothes and I's still tryin' t' git it off when I hear someone talkin' and comin' down the hall and I's sure it's Donnie. I don't even wait t' find out, jist run out the door and someone's yellin' but I don't stop and I don't know nothin' fer awhile exceptin' that I run a long time.

Funny how I fergot all that. Ya'd think I'd remember somethin' like this b'fore now. Guess it's all this talk 'a Halloween. J.D. says it's ten more days. Ten days. I killed Mama and runned away and leaved her alone. Now she's gonna come git me.

I's sittin' at m' desk now, and I's gittin' worried. I guess I's pullin' on m' hair some without even knowin' I's doin' it 'cause Mrs. Jefferson comes over and makes me open up m' hand and I's got a whole bunch of it stuck 'tween m' fingers. She wants t' know if somethin's wrong and I say no. She tells me t' go git cleaned up fer lunch and I do, but I know I cain't eat nothin'. Chris always makes me good lunches, but I's too worried t' eat. I's wrappin' m' hair around m' fingers agin and when I pull on it, I don't feel so worried. Mrs. Jefferson looks at me and tells me t' stop and eat m' lunch. Says she don't want t' haf t' tell Chris that I ain't bin doin' what I's told, so I eat some and then I goes in the bathroom and throw up. I go back out and sit in m' seat and I really want t' pull m' hair agin but Mrs. Jefferson's watchin'. I got a real sharp pencil in m' desk and I take it out and I stick it inta m' hand. Ya know how when ya got a loose tooth and ya bite down on it and the hurt is all shivery around the edges and it really feels kinda good? That's how the pencil feels - but she's still lookin' at me so I stop. I put the pencil on m' lap where she cain't see it and I lift up my shirt and feel m' scar. I got two scars now, but this is the real ugly one, the skin on it's all shiny and red. I take the pencil and put the sharp part on that scar and I put the other end against m' desk and lean on it. Not a lot, not so's it's gonna bleed or nothin', but I like the way it feels diggin' inta me and for a little while I don't feel so worried... I wonder if I'll see Mama comin' - she'll prob'ly come at night when I's asleep so I guess I'll jist have t' stay awake. I push the pencil harder in my side. That's better...I wonder what she'll look like - prob'ly like Edward Scissorhands or Beetlejuice or somethin'. Maybe I kin talk t' her, tell her how bad I feel 'bout what happened. I shoulda helped her....I push harder. It's startin' t' hurt now. That's good.

Ten more days.

I's sorry Mama, I really am.

October 26th

What's with this kid? He's out there, on the deck, by himself - just sitting. Buck took J.D. in to town for the day - guess they need to find the finishing touches for their costumes - father and son vampires - Buck's idea. He's a bigger kid than J.D. Think Vin and I'll have to move out next week - the pair of 'em will probably be on a sugar high that'll last at least a month. They offered to take Vin with them, but just last night Vin came and asked if he had to go out for Halloween. I said not if he didn't want to - we can spend the evening together - rent a movie and have some popcorn. We don't get any trick or treaters way out here - Gloria brings her two over and that's it. Didn't get much of a response to that. He usually likes it when we have the house to ourselves for the night. There's something going on with him. Lorraine called - she's worried about him - says just this past week something seems to be bothering him. He was doing well up until then - taking part in class, seemed to really like it, but she says all of a sudden he's withdrawn. When she asks him if everything is O.K., he says yes. Of course. I mean, this is Vin we're talking about. But I've seen it too. He's not eating again - well, just enough to keep me and Buck off his back, and he's been spending a lot of time alone in his room. And in the bathroom. He wanted to know if he could start having his bath by himself - said he was too big to share the tub with his brother, and he didn't need me helping any more. Says he can do his own laundry - got me to show him how to use the machine. Who'd have thought a kid that age would even think about where the clean clothes come from? Tried to tell him it was his job as a little boy to dirty the clothes, not wash them, but this is Vin after all. He's always up in the morning and dressed before Buck and I are even out of bed - it's like he doesn't want anyone seeing him in his birthday suit anymore...that's normal, I guess. He is getting older - it's only natural he's more self conscious about his body. J.D.'s certainly not there yet - that kid would run around naked 24/7 if we'd let him.

Don't need to worry about him being cold at least. He's got on three t - shirts and a sweat shirt that practically reaches his knees. He looks pale, though, and his face seems thinner, if that's possible. He's looking at me now and I give him a wave. No smile, but he lifts a hand in reply. I don't remember those circles under his eyes being that dark - were they, a week ago? No, I'm just being paranoid....or am I? He looks like he's waiting for something out there. Perhaps I'll go and sit with him a bit. Try to find out what's going on. Damn, there's the phone - hope this doesn't take long - I really think I ought to have a talk with that boy.

7 - 7 - 7 - 7 - 7 - 7 - 7

Chris is lookin' at me now, through the window. I hope he's not gonna come out here and wanna talk. Don't feel much like talkin'. Don't feel much like anything. Jist wish Halloween'd git here and git done. P'raps I won't be around after Halloween. I been stayin' awake most every night, but I ain't seen no signs 'a Mama. Guess she is waitin' for the soul's day, or whatever Mrs. Jefferson called it. It's hard t' stay awake sometimes but I kin do it. Always fall asleep on the way t' school, but I's with Chris. I can sleep some with Chris around 'cause I know I's safe with him....took a knife outta the drawer night b'fore last. Don't think Chris or Buck noticed. Fergot m' pencil at school, and besides, it weren't workin' any more. I mean, it didn't make the worry go 'way. The knife does real good though. M' side was bleedin' a bit from the pencil, but this is a lot better. The knife's real sharp so I don't have to go too deep and now when I get all tight inside and I kin feel m'self wantin' t' scream, the knife's fast and it bleeds more and I feel better right quick. Blood's startin' t' git on m' clothes some, but I taked care 'a that. I kin do my own wash now. Chris showed me....maybe Mama won't come at all. Maybe she's forgetted about me - I's startin' t' fergit about her...she'd be mad about that... Chris wants me t' come in now - must be time fer lunch. I don't want t' eat nothin' - everythin' makes me sick - I's gittin' good at pukin' though - kin do it now so's I don't hardly make no noise at all.

October 31st

I've gotta call Nate. There's something wrong with Vin - I knew there was - guess I was just hoping it was my imagination playing up. He's got a fever. I hear a noise in his room and when I go in to check, he's sitting up in his bunk half asleep, still wearin' that damn sweat shirt, talking to himself. He must have jumped five feet when I put my hand on his forehead. I try t' git him outta bed and when I reach in to pick him up, he pushes me away. He's been funny lately - not wanting anyone near him, not wanting to be touched - he's been through this before - gets distant and doesn't want anyone in his space, but he gets over it. At least he always has. He worries about things, Buck and I are trying to help him get over that... I've never seen a kid so anxious to please, so quick to blame himself when things go wrong, so afraid of screwing up. But then, I guess I've never met a kid who's been through the things Vin has. Doctor Will warned us that Vin's life has probably been as close to hell as any kid's life can be and we've got to expect problems. He and J.D. have been here about six months now, and I guess I was getting too comfortable with getting back into the whole parent thing. Yeah, Vin's been sick a lot, but we could see from day one that the boy wasn't healthy. This is different, though, and even though I know he's not feeling well, there's more than just that going on. I can feel it.

I get up early and call Nate and he says to bring Vin in first thing. He's pretty groggy when I get him out of bed - he gets himself dressed, though, and down to the table, but I practically have to feed him breakfast. Buck knows what's going on, but J.D.'s so wound up about Halloween tonight that he doesn't seem to notice Vin is sick. I get Vin into the Ram and he falls asleep almost before we're out of the yard. He's in the back, in his car seat, and all of a sudden I hear a noise and look around just in time to see him puke all over himself. I stop and get him out and hold him on the side of the road until there's nothing left inside him. Can't help but think that havin' that boy in your arms is like holding a bag 'a sticks. He says he's all better now, but there's no way I can put him back in his seat, so I lay him in the front beside me. When we finally get to Nate's, he's upset we aren't at school - I told him he was coming here, but he couldn't have been listening and I have my hands full trying to get him through the door. I'm getting annoyed, I've never seen Vin act like this, but he calms down a bit when he sees Nathan. He lets Nate take him in the examining room, but he doesn't want me in there with him. I'm surprised how much this hurts, but I don't say anything, just sit down and start looking through a magazine. All of a sudden I hear Vin scream and I'm on my feet and flying into the room. Vin's thrashing on the table and Nathan's trying to restrain him. Vin's completely out of control, writhing and shrieking at Nathan to let him go, and over the sound of Vin's fury, Nate's nodding at me to take over and hold him down. I do, and Nathan goes to the closet, picks up a needle and jabs it in Vin's leg. Another minute goes by and he's still squirming some, but pretty soon the fight goes out of him, and his head rolls back and he's asleep.

"What the hell was that?" I know my voice is shaking.

"God, Chris, this boy is a mess." Nathan shakes his head sadly. "I put him on the scales when I first got him in here - he's lost five pounds since he was last here two weeks ago. He's not gonna like it but we're going to have to put in a feeding tube. He's got a temperature of 103. I tried to take off his shirt to check his chest and he went crazy. Let me show you why."

Nathan pulls up the sweater and the many t - shirts. There is a long dirty strip of toweling loose around his waist, and what I see when Nathan peels it back almost makes me sick.

"What on earth is that? How could I not know about this?"

I can't tear my eyes away from the angry red wound on my son's side. It has begun to fester, that much I can tell from the smell, and I feel myself choking back the urge to gag.

"Who did this to him?"

"He did it."

Nathan can tell I don't believe him.

"It's called self - mutilation. It's rare in kids Vin's age, but.... Has he said anything to you about what's been bothering him?"

I know I have that what - kind - of - a - stupid - question - is - that look on my face, because Nathan just shrugs and says,

"Didn't think so. He's going to the hospital and I'm going to admit him. He's needs IV antibiotics and he's going to have to get used to having that tube down his nose. You head over there now - I'll be right along. I'll just give Dr. Will a call - let him know we need to see him."

I gather the small, brittle bundle into my arms. I don't remember going out to the truck, and next thing I know Nate's coming along the sidewalk and telling me to get in with him. This is good - I don't think I could drive anyway.

Nathan reaches over and gives my arm a shake and I see we've reached the hospital. I get out of the car and trail along behind him. We go right upstairs, Nate says the nurses will bring the paper work up later, and we go into a room and I lay Vin on the bed. He's so still. He stays that way, thank God, til Nate's finished cleaning his side and getting the tube in. He's starting to wake up now. He's calm for a minute, smiles lazily up at me, but I can see the fear growing in his eyes and before I can even try to comfort him, he's shaking again.

"Take me home, Chris, she's comin' t' see me, I gotta be home. It's Halloween, she'll be comin' tonight - I killed her, I gotta tell her I's sorry. I's sorry Mama, I's sorry..." His voice is getting louder and his movements more frantic, and Nathan is back and he has the needle again. The drug goes into his arm this time, and I can see it clouding in Vin's eyes, creeping through him, taking him over. But the fear's not gone - he's just drifting away from it for awhile.

I put my hand on his chest, and I can feel his little heart beating. I'm afraid if I lose that contact, it will stop.

I have seen death, I have faced down evil, I have lived the nightmare of love and loss.

I hear the kids down in the ward, squealing and shrieking, and I remember that it's Halloween.

I have never been more frightened in my life.