WEDNESDAY: Humbugged


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I DON’T wanna go to Mr. Morrison’s house. I don’t like it there. He’s a mean old man. He’s got dirty fingernails and bloodshot eyes and his skin is all puckered up and wobbly around his neck and gross and all.

Mrs. Morrison’s always sleeping. She ain’t got no idea of what Mr. Morrison gets hisself up to. All’s she does is lay in bed. All day long, even when the sun’s shining so bright through the curtains that I think she must see fireballs right inside her eyelids. It is the strangest thing, her laying there so still.

She’s alive, though. Last week, I snuck up and checked by putting a tissue over her face. It went up and down, up and down, so I know she’s breathing, even if it’s ever so lightly. Maybe Mr. Morrison goes and puts sleeping stuff in the glass of water that is always there on the rickety stand by her bed. Could be so.

Girl’s honour: I try my best every single day of each and every week to be good. I don’t want no trouble. I am polite to Mr. Morrison even when he’s gone and drunk too much of that sour-smelling whiskey he hides around the house.

He really loves the drink. Sometimes the empty bottles pop up in the strangest places. I seen them stacked behind the long curtains in the parlour and under the saggy sofa cushions. Once I even seen a bottle in the cracked old birdbath in the backyard. No bird in their right mind would ever go there looking for clean water so I guess it is as good a place as any to pitch an empty.

Now I’m gonna tell you something horrible. When he’s on a drinking binge, Mr. Morrison pinches and pokes me. He’s been doing this ever since last summer when I turned nine. It ain’t right. I tell him please, please, Mr. Morrison, please stop, but he don’t. He don’t. Last week, he grabbed ahold of me and wouldn’t let go. I could feel his nasty fingers pressing me right under my favourite checkered shirt. He tried to touch me in worser places, too, but I hollered so loud he was scared Mrs. Morrison might wake up and he let me go.

My mama, she don’t believe me. She tells me to quit my whining and my story-telling and pray to Baby Jesus for forgiveness. But I always tell the truth. I do.

Mama says I gotta go to the Morrisons after school when she works late. Someone’s gotta watch me, and the Morrisons, they live just three houses away and they do it for nothing. Can’t beat a better deal than nothing, Mama says. And they been doing it for years and they’re our good neighbours. Word of Mama, who’s so tired after her long shifts that she can’t hardly see straight and who, even though she loves me, don’t wanna hear my side of the story.

When he’s sober, Mr. Morrison’s not so bad. He’s grumpy but he leaves me alone to do my homework or watch TV. Still, I don’t wanna go there anymore. Cuz, you just never know, do ya? You just can’t tell when another bad drinking spell will come. And then the poking and prodding’s gonna start up all over again.

Sometimes when he’s sober, Mr. Morrison gives me money and sends me to buy bags of hard candies from the corner store. His favourites are these dark, stripy ones that come in crinkly cellophane wrappers. They taste like a cross between peppermint and some kind of butter that ain’t quite right. Mr. Morrison, he calls them humbugs, and he just loves to suck on those hard candies all day long. He eats them when he’s sober and he eats them when he’s drunk, too. Don’t make no difference to him. He always smells like rotten buttery peppermint from all those sweets, and sometimes the sour old whiskey fumes break right through, which makes it even worser.

I hate it. Only good thing is I sometimes catch him when he’s a-sneaking up on me, ready to poke. I can smell him coming. Then I run and he’s old so he can’t catch me.

Tonight Mama’s scheduled to work. She says I gotta go the Morrisons’ house to be watched. She says I’ll be safe there. I cry and cry, and I beg her to let me stay home, but Mama don’t listen. She says that Mrs. Morrison is a godly woman and Mr. Morrison is a nice man. Mama says he wouldn’t hurt a fly, never mind a little girl like me.

But Mr. Morrison, he ain’t never touched my mama. He ain’t never pulled on her clothes. She’s got no idea. She’s got none at all. And this just ain’t right.

So I have prayed to Jesus, who loves all the little children, and I have made a plan. Just in case Mr. Morrison tries to grab me, I will be ready. I’m gonna wear my favourite overalls and I’m gonna pack my pockets good.

In the top one I will put a sharp little knife. You know, the one I cut my finger on last Christmas when I was trying to slice the edge off the pie crust Mama had just rolled out. I had to go to the clinic and get three stitches, and boy, was that pie crust ruined!

In my right side pocket, I’m gonna put Mama’s green garden snippers. They’re good and strong and sharp. I can cut right through the thickest branch of Mama’s pink rosebush with just one squeeze.

And, in my left pocket, I’m gonna carry our old metal ice cream scoop. It’s older than me and ever so trusty. I can make perfect ice cream balls with it every single time. Sometimes, I use it on melons, too, and make pretty fruit desserts, and then Mama tells me what a clever girl I am.

It’s almost time to go. I am ready. Least, as ready as I’m ever likely to be, in my overalls with my pockets packed. And, if Mr. Morrison ain’t drinking, I will be a good girl and I will do my homework quietly. I’ll be polite and respectful and I won’t disturb Mrs. Morrison’s nap.

But, if Mr. Morrison touches me here, or here, or here — then I am prepared. With my sharp little pie knife I will poke him wherever he has ever poked me. I will stick him over and over. I won’t stop until he is crying, just the way I always do. And then I will keep going.

I will get my green garden snippers out of my right pocket. I will cut off every one of his filthy, disgusting fingers. This for last week when you reached under my shirt, this for putting your hand inside my jeans, this for not quitting when I begged you to stop. How could he ever have touched me? I am just a little girl who never hurt nobody.

And if he’s still screaming, I will snip off his tongue, too. I surely don’t want his racket waking up Mrs. Morrison.

When all that is done, and he is laying there moaning and helpless as a baby, I will reach into my left pocket for my ice cream scoop. I will gouge out his lechin’ eyes. I will, I tell you. He won’t never look at me again, not never.

And then I will take handfuls of his stinking humbug candies. I will stuff them into his lying mouth. I will cram them into his gouged out eye sockets, and into all the gashes and cuts that I have made. I will turn his disgusting carcass into a candyland for the maggots. They can have him and welcome, too.

Afterwards, I will clean up best’s I can, and wait for Mama to come fetch me. And I hope she’s gonna understand why I done this to Mr. Morrison. I surely do. I hope even more I ain’t gotta do it.

I’ll be ready, though. I got my overall pockets filled with what I need to do the job. I got my plan and I have squared it with Jesus. I’ll be ready.


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  1. The voice of the child and her mindset when she fills her pockets with things to defend herself with is well done.

  2. Well done Sally! You have the voice and inner thinking down pat. Congratulations.

  3. Wow. Good story, Sally. Hard to read, but very, very good.

  4. Great story telling! Love how you nailed the thoughts and descriptiveness of a nine year old’s brain. Looking forward to reading more stories from you!

  5. Steven King better watch out for you, Sally! Keep writing like that and you’re going to steal a lot of his readers away. Congrats on a really well written story told in a compelling voice!

  6. Bravo, Sally. You are a great story teller!

  7. Ms.Basmajian’s tonal choices are tremendously skillful throughout the piece, grabbing her readers’ attention from the opening paragraph and never letting go. There is a sense of deep, immediate empathy that is hard to pull off in the short medium, and the author manages to bring finality to the piece without resorting to fatalism. A very beautiful, poignant tale.

  8. So well done – and yes indeed, hard to read. I am resisting thinking too much about ice cream scoops at the moment.

  9. Looking forward to more stories Sally. A clever, creative child ready to take on the nasty Mr. Morrison. Never did like humbugs either!

  10. Nicely done, Sally. Takes me back to the scary stories my granddaddy used to tell me back in Georgia.

  11. Please, please continue this story! In just 10 minutes, I grew to hate Mr. Morrison too! I’d like to see if her “plan” would actually come to fruition. Perhaps a Christmas “Bah humbug” massacre? Oh, how morbid. Nicely written, Sally.

  12. Sally, I love this. Please post more here, it’s thrilling to read your work!

  13. Great story. Perceptive insight into the thoughts of a 9 year old girl. You bring life to your characters that makes the reader want to learn more.

  14. Good tone and accent. The tale has a certain ‘meat’ to it.

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