"Always There"

October 25, 2009
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It was Herbert Caughter’s first day at kindergarten. He was a bright little boy, and his father was sure he would succeed. He was happy, and found joy in the world around him, from the sand in the sandbox to the sun in the sky. It was just Herbert and his father; the mother had left soon after Herbert was born. They had grown very close, and Herbert was a little reluctant to leave his father’s side to go into the school.

“Don’t worry son, I’ll be here when you get out. Good luck. I’ll miss you,” he said.

“Don’t worry, Daddy, I’ll always come back,” replied Herbert, and bounced off towards the school.

Herbert’s father laughed softly, and walked back home smiling to himself.

Herbert loved his first day at school and skipped across the playground at the end of the day to rejoin his father.

Each day after the first was exactly the same, and each day, as if they were reading a script, Herbert’s father would say “I miss you” and every day, Herbert would respond with “Don’t worry Daddy, I’ll always come back.” Herbert’s father loved this about his little boy, and knew he would always be there, even without Herbert having to tell him so. He was the ray of sunshine in his father’s life, and had a smile so wide it reached up to his ears.

Then one night Mr. Caughter had an odd dream. He and Herbert were walking together on the street, with Herbert skipping ahead and laughing joyfully. Mr. Caughter ran after him until Herbert led him into a large deserted museum. His small pit-patter of little feet, like a light rainstorm, echoed throughout the hallway. “Come on Daddy!” he called softly. Laughing, his father ran after him. They went further and further down the hallway, but it kept getting darker and darker. The only light, which was quickly fading, came from the open door they had come through. When Mr. Caughter no longer could see in front of him, he called out for Herbert. “I’m right here Daddy!”

“Come back!” Mr. Caughter yelled, Herbert’s voice getting father and farther away.

“I always will,” came the usual reply, but from further off.

Mr. Caughter ventured further in the vast darkness, threatening to swallow him up. All of a sudden, Herbert’s head jumped out at him from the darkness, causing him to jump back in fear. “I’m baaaaaack, Daddy!” he called. But something was wrong. Herbert’s face was mangled. There was blood dripping from a huge gash on his head, and several of his teeth were missing or chipped. He reeked of a dead smell, and Mr. Caughter recoiled upon seeing what looked like mold seeping from his son’s ears. The worst was that he had no eyes. Where the vibrant blue eyes usually were, there was now only two large, bottomless holes of black. He seemed like a zombie, come back from the dead, and Mr. Caughter could not believe that his son had taken the shape of such a horrid monster, more hideous than anything he had ever seen. The distorted Herbert reached out two arms of bone with skin still lifelessly clinging on to embrace his father…

Mr. Caughter woke up with a start, and ran downstairs to check on Herbert. He was relieved to find him sleeping soundly in his bed, and Mr. Caughter felt silly for having been so worried. He watched his son sleep peacefully for a little while, and later dropped him off at school, with “Don’t worry Daddy, I’ll always come back” being the last thing that he heard.

He had a busy day at work, and enjoyed the relaxing walk to Herbert’s school to pick him up after he left the office. It was a beautiful day, and Mr. Caughter had completely forgotten his dream, which had been bothering him a little over the day. However, his good mood evaporated immediately upon seeing not Herbert in front of the school, but a policeman waiting for him. Mr. Caughter felt his stomach drop and it was suddenly as if gravity had disappeared and he was barely there. Trying to swallow the lump in his throat, he walked over to them and asked what was wrong.

The first policeman seemed to be the one in charge, and he began to speak. “Mr. Caughter, we regret to inform you of an incident involving your son. The children were on their way back from a field trip to the museum, and while they were crossing the street, Herbert strayed a little way away from the others. A bus came, and the driver couldn’t see little Herbert, and—”

“Is he…” Mr. Caughter could not bring himself to say ‘dead.’

The policeman paused for a while. “I am so sorry, but…yes. You can…” He went on, but Mr. Caughter had stopped hearing. The entire world was dissolving around him. He saw a blur of colors, sounds were too far away from him to hear, and he yearned not to feel as the realization of what had just happened crashed down on him. He did not, would not, believe it. Herbert, his little boy, his young son, could not be dead. Mr. Caughter tried to shake the picture of his dead son from his dream, the living corpse, that had just entered his mind, but it was a vain attempt and it kept nagging at the back of his mind, disturbing his thoughts and tainting his vision of the son he loved. Shaking his head in disbelief, Mr. Caughter told himself that any moment now, Herbert would come skipping out of the school like he always did. He would always come back, wouldn’t he? But this time Mr. Caughter knew he would not. The immense sadness was drawing steadily nearer like a big black cloud predicting a storm, and however much he tried to push it away, Mr. Caughter could not stop it coming. He walked home in a daze, having absent-mindedly agreed to certain funeral details.

It was a quiet, sorrowful ceremony, held at the top of a hill in the town cemetery one Sunday afternoon. Mr. Caughter was unable to say more than a few words, and kept his head bowed for the rest of the funeral so that the other mourners would not see his tears.
One night after the funeral, Mr. Caughter went down to the cemetery to visit little Herbert’s grave. He knelt beside the small gravestone, and looked at the carved message reading ‘Here lies Herbert Caughter, beloved son.’ A single teardrop fell onto the roses Mr. Caughter had brought, and he watched as the tear was soon stained by the red color of the flowers, almost as if he had bled on them. This not being a very comforting thought, Mr. Caughter stood up quickly. He did not like cemeteries, especially in the dark, and there was an ominous haze beginning to surround him.
“Daddy…Daddy…” It was a soft voice, carrying on the wind, as if the rustle of the trees and sway of the grass had softly murmured to him. He ignored it, sure that his mind was playing tricks on him. Yet with every second that passed, the voice intensified, and he soon could not ignore it any longer. Now thinking of his dream, he began to walk away quickly.
“Daddy…Daddy…Daddy don’t leave me here!”
He broke into a run, gaining speed, and soon was running away blindly, faster than he had ever run before. It was as if very force of evil in the world was chasing him, telling him that he had but seconds before his doom.
“Daddy! Daddy!”
The source of the voice could be just by his ear, it was so loud now. He didn’t stop sprinting until he reached his car, and even then, in the safety of his car, he never once looked behind him. And so, he never saw the small, rotting, corpse-like hand protruding from the mound of dirt, clawing its way out, or even the small words etched on the bottom of the grave:
Don’t worry…I’ll always come back.

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