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Aria Tucker. Single mother of one. Her tangled coffee-colored hair is up in a messy bun and her creased clothes are covered in crumbs. She works around the clock developing very complex software. Today is no exception. Aria sits at her brightly-lit desktop and types what some may think as gibberish, but actually are lines and lines of intricate code. Her computer is old, probably around a decade old. Lots of scratches and fingerprints are plastered on the screen. Her desk is overflowing with papers and empty cups of coffee. The holes in the wall are concealed by discolored photos of Aria and her son from years ago. The cracks within the frame of the house yearn to be fixed. Sometimes Aria wonders if guys wearing snug tights used to live in her house during medieval times.
Jackson Tucker, her son, creeps down from his room. He wrinkles his perfectly ironed green polo shirt and pushes up his thick-framed glasses. “I finished my homework, can I play video games now? My friend lent me his Minecraft account and I’ve never tried--”
“No,” Aria answers without turning around to face her son. “Go read a book and learn something. You’ll be thanking me when you get a good-paying job in the future.”
“B-but I’m only nine! I should be enjoying my childhood a-and playing Minecraft, just like every other kid!” he complains.
“I said no.”
Jackson stares at his mother as she keeps tapping at her keyboard. “Yeah, well, if you keep, uh, controlling me like you always do, um, I’m going to go crazy! I’m going to turn out like those dorky adults in movies that put work over everyone and everything. O-or I might not even care for work and be a homeless psychopath!” he fumbles.
Jackson stares down at the cold wooden floor. The places where the wood meets each other seem to have separated after the many years of stomping feet. The dust has become a blanket of some sort as if to comfort the slowly decaying floor.
Jackson stands there for a few seconds, waiting for his mother to turn around and notice him. To his expectation, she doesn’t. Taking in a deep breath, he obnoxiously puffs. He runs upstairs to his room on the verge of crying.
After a couple of minutes pass, Aria realizes she has nothing left to type. She’s lost. She takes a sip of cold coffee and leans back in her chair. What Jackson said is stuck replaying in her mind. Had she been a terrible parent? She had tried so hard to this day. I- I didn’t know he felt like that… She always thought that being strict with her son would be beneficial. Sighing with guilt, she palms her face and sits in silence for a couple of minutes. After organizing her papers along with her thoughts, she shuts down her computer to go up to her son’s room.
“Who’s there…?” Jackson replies sarcastically.
Aria rolls her eyes playfully and walks in. There are clothes and papers scattered on the floor. It’s a small blue-gray room, just perfect for an intelligent nine-year-old boy. The dull wallpaper covered in grime is ripped in several places and the tiny window is covered in blemishes.
As Aria enters, to her surprise, she finds that Jackson is not crying. He is simply sitting there and staring at something in his hand. His soft brown hair no longer looks soft, but rather edgy. She creeps over to his side as he hides the object in his hand.
“What do you want now?” Jackson grumbles.
“Well, I just wanted to say that I’m sorry and I know it’s been hard for you and stuff… And- yeah, well… You can play Minecraft for a little bit.”
Jackson doesn’t move. “Ok.”
Aria awkwardly smiles and backs out of the room. As she backs away, she notices some torn down posters from his childhood. He usually keeps everything in a specific place and can never stand when something isn’t in its designated spot. That’s odd. Her mind is a mess. I guess I should get back to work…
An hour passes. Jackson is by the stairwell, just standing. Aria doesn’t notice him at first but sees him in the reflection of her computer after a couple of minutes. His eyes are bright red... like he’s been spending a lot of time on something very elaborate. It’s the video game- Aria thought.
With an automated voice, Jackson asks, “Can I go out with my friends tonight? It’ll only be till 11 pm. We want to see a movie.”
“11 pm? That’s too late!” Aria sputtered. “How about 9 pm?”
“11 pm,” Jackson argued.
“11 pm?” Aria mumbled, confused.
“Okay. 11 pm,” Jackson nods and heads back up to his room. Aria stares down for a second, realizing what her son just tricked her into saying.
Eventually, the sun scurries below the horizon. Jackson leaves and Aria is still working. She’s already had four cups of coffee. 10:48 pm, Jackson should be back soon. She rubs her eyes. She is almost shocked that it’s not midnight already. For the first time in years, she decides to hit the sack early.
“Good night,” she says to her frail computer and heads to her room. Unlike Jackson’s room, Aria’s room is huge. She has a big closet that is filled with layers of filth rather than clothes and a large bed with an unusually firm mattress. Aria looks to the window to have a peek at the glistening stars but is greeted with the view of ancient bars that barricade her window.
As soon as she gets into her itchy nightgown, Aria lies down and attempts to fall asleep. However, something bothers her. Forty minutes have passed since Jackson should have been home. Aria shakes her head, convincing herself that she is worrying too much. It’s dark and all she can hear are the crickets. Frustrated, she pulls open her nightstand cabinet and pops open a Costco-sized pack of sleeping pills, and gulps down a few.
Aria wakes up with a pounding headache. She heads downstairs to get straight to work but, when she tries to turn her computer on, is greeted with a pitch-black screen.
“Great,” she mumbles as she kicks the chair out of her way. “Might as well get some other work done now.” Throwing a scarf on and jumping into her slippers, she trots outside to the backyard and is greeted by the sight of unevenly cut grass. She heads toward the tool shed and stops just yards away, heart pounding in fear, realizing that she still hasn’t seen Jackson yet. Taking a deep breath, Aria shrugs. It’s too early for this… He’s probably still sleeping.
She continues to the shed and cranks open the door. Anyone who opens the tool shed must be careful not to break off the door but also be strong enough to get the door open, which is sealed with a layer of mold and other disgusting substances. The interior looms of the smell of decaying wood and animal waste.
“Oh, God! I haven’t been in here since Uncle Pete died,” Aria says to herself while pinching her nose. As she reaches out for the plant snippers, everything goes dark. She quickly turns to see the door has been slammed shut. Heart almost leaping out of her chest, Aria rushes to the door, finding it even more stuck than before. Aria backs up and rams into the door again, this time not caring whether the shed falls apart or not. No luck. Suddenly, she remembers the small hidden window that was being covered by some plant fertilizer and throws it aside. A few rays of sunshine fill the large wooden box to reveal even more dust flying in the air. She frantically looks side to side until she notices Jackson standing outside.
“Jackson! Help me out! The door seems to be stuck,” Aria pounds on the window.
Jackson slowly turns his head as his lips begin to curve at the ends. He still hasn’t changed out of his green polo. Now he has bags under his eyes, sweat rolling down his forehead, and cracks in his glasses. He is tightly holding on to something in his hand. “Oh, I’m sorry. Are you stuck? Can you not get out? Are you so angry that you could just kill someone?” Jackson says passionately as he paces toward the window. “If you had the chance for revenge, would you take it?” At this point, he is just inches away from the window. Aria stumbles back in shock as Jackson pounces on the window. “Would ‘ya?” he says, leaning in even closer. Then he whispers, “Well I would,” and throws the lit matches in his hands at the shed.