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THE CHILD CATCHER

I open my mouth to answer her question but then close it again. Jen waits, coiling my chest hair around her finger.
“Well?”
“Well, what?”
She slaps my chest and rolls over.

***

When I was young and tucked up in bed, I would listen to my mother crying in the next room. She never told me why she cried to the darkness and I never asked.
Outside my bedroom window was an abandoned house. A man would drink in the gloom of the litter-strewn garden and curse at the moon.
I had my first sleep-over that summer. Matthew, my best friend, was in his sleeping bag on the floor when I chanced a look out of the window. The man was flourishing a bottle in his hand like a crazy conductor leading the stars in song.

“That’s The Child Catcher,” Matthew whispered over my shoulder.
“Who?”
“He catches kids and does stuff to them.”
“What kinda things?”
Matthew shrugged. “Any kid that’s been taken ain’t seen no more.”
I watched The Child Catcher pick up a cigarette butt from the floor, rip open its soft white belly, and crumble the innards into a cigarette paper. Suddenly, looking up at my window, his eyes locked on mine. Matthew grabbed me and thrust me to the floor.
“Did he see you?”
“I dunno. Why?”
“If he sees you he’ll take you next.”
“He didn’t see me.”

As Matthew began to snore, I lay in bed, listening for the creak of a floorboard, staring at the doorknob, waiting for it to slowly and silently turn. Eventually, sleep took me to dark, musty places where things scurried in dank corners. I woke up panting and dripping with sweat. Matthew murmured and rolled over on the floor. My legs felt warm. I had wet myself.

After that, I saw The Child Catcher everywhere. When I walked home from school, he was sitting on a bench. When I played football, he was leaning against a tree, his bird-like eyes watching me.

END OF EXCERPT


Disfigured Liberty

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A Psychiatric Hospital, a London bomb, an abusive father, a hedonistic rock star, bereaved parents, and a suicide bomber, come together for this literary sojourn into the grimy depths of sadness and regret.

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