Don’t laugh, but standing guard around my bed there’s He-Man and Spiderman. Batman in his black suit, Batman in his grey suit, the Joker, Darth Vader and Chewbacca, plus anyone else I could find. Anyone else I could bear to sacrifice on the front line. They’re all armed to the teeth with plastic detachable accessories and weapons, carefully arranged in a protective semi-circle that took half the afternoon to get right. And don’t laugh, I’m not some dumb little kid you know. I’m like fourteen years old, and these—these aren’t toys, they’re collectables.
You see, last night silent assassins with beautifully maintained hair crept into my bedroom. Frozen in the pretence of sleep, I watched them take Han Solo, splay him out all medieval drawn-and-quartered style. Wrench his legs off one by one, arms to follow.
Han Solo in Carbonite now nothing but limbs, nothing but worthless.
Rage and disappointment swirled from my stomach, slid up the back of my throat. I swallowed it down in a hard lump that tasted of toothpaste and vomit.
This wasn’t the sort of thing you just let go.
And yeah, I knew where those bitches spent the day, so this morning while my parents ate breakfast, I snatched one. Took her back to my room and held her face down against the carpet. Twisted my fingers into her strawberry blonde hair, pressed my knee into her back for leverage and pulled a thick fistful from her scalp. I turned her over, held her against the wall and she smiled. Tried to seduce me, her lashes fluttering up and down.
Pushing her fringe back off her smooth forehead, I fumbled in my pocket for the lighter. Held it close, the flame reflecting in her eyes, so beautiful until a sloppy eyelid dropped down to mask it. Her face sagged, dented into a hot sticky mess. She stopped smiling. I stamped out the smouldering embers and kicked her away underneath my bed.
And yeah, it was worth it.
Only now it’s night and I’m feigning sleep, hoping maybe it’s enough. Straining to hear over the heartbeat in my ears, over the ridiculously loud breaths I’m trying not to take. One eye open, just a smidge, just enough to check. The blue of the nightlight paints the shadows cold, makes my room look underwater dark.
Downstairs, the muffled hum of my parents watching TV means I’m not alone.
Take a breath, repeat: I’m not alone.
Out on the landing there’s the soft padding of feet. An army on tipee-toes creep down the hall, stopping outside my bedroom door.
Something hard pushes against the wood. My heart slides up my throat, settles in my windpipe. I try to swallow it down. Tonight my door’s pushed shut—properly shut—been checked three times. There’s no way they can get it open. No way can they reach the handle.
They push again, building momentum, harder, louder. The poster on the back of my door quivers.
But it’s okay, because any minute Mom will be at the bottom of the stairs huffing and sighing. Saying, “What’s all this noise about? So help me, if I have to come up there—for Christ’s sake, Zachary, just go to sleep.”
Downstairs, the TV laughs.
The shadows under the door shift, regrouping. The brass handle depresses halfway down and springs back up. The latch doesn’t move enough to open the door.
I pinch the bed sheets up tight, as far as my chin, my pyjamas clinging to the cold sweat of my back. And it was worth it, right? I mean, man—Han Solo, you just don’t do that.
The handle depresses again, the latch clicks free, the door inches open. My stomach folds over, folds again smaller and smaller until all of the fear I’ve squashed down is forced up into my neck. They’re coming.
Oh save me Batman, He-Man, God.
My heroes and villains are knocked aside, peace offerings in a broken crescent moon of false plastic hope. The blue of the nightlight paints them dead.
This isn’t how it’s supposed to go. One for one and we’re even, right?
I close my eyes. Squash my fingers into tight little fists beneath the bed sheets, curl my toes. Take a small breath for every heartbeat.
They’re on the bed, brushing past my feet, pinning my trembling legs down, climbing up onto my chest.
I peep between the lashes of half-closed eyes.
Ebony stands over me, the pride of my mother’s collection. Porcelain and Victorian silk. Her thick black curls under a pale straw bonnet. More crowd around my face.
A smaller doll with long blonde hair lunges forward, forces her head into my open mouth. My lips stretch wide. Every breath I’m gagging, choking on nylon. I twist and jerk, fight until their cold hands hold me rigid. My own hands trapped beneath the bed sheets, useless. Ebony leans close, Dad’s silver Zippo lighter in her hands.
My fear convexed, perfectly reflected in lifeless glass eyes.
Emily Slaney is 70% no confidence, with dark humour and a crooked smile. She describes her writing as nihilistic emotional satire, because she likes to make you laugh before she pulls it all away from you. She lives in England with her husband and kids in a semi-detached madhouse where sarcasm is what passes for everyday speech. Emily has enjoyed publication at Thunderdome Magazine, Revolt Daily, Solarcide, and Parable Press. You can find more about Emily at: https://emilyslaney.com/.