The Brat
By: Gabriella Balcom

"Brad, stop throwing food," Ginger told her twelve-year-old son.

Acting as if she hadn't even spoken, Brad flung a chunk of canteloupe at his sister, Eva, who was six. It struck the side of her head, making her wail. Ginger hurried to remove the remaining fruit from the kitchen table and gently cupped Eva's cheek, managing to soothe her cries.

"You're going into timeout if you don't stop, Brad."

His face darkened ominously as he glared at her. Grabbing a handful of scrambled eggs, he slung them in her direction. They hit her forehead and glasses, tumbling down her new blouse. Gleefully laughing, he slung some at Eva, who began to cry once more.

Tensing up, Ginger took a deep breath, fighting the urge to cry or scream. The day had barely begun and Brad was already…

She and her husband had adopted him four years earlier. He'd been a handful from the very start, continued to be one even at the best of times, and showed no signs of stopping or behaving anytime soon. When he'd been kicked out of every school in town, they'd uprooted their family from southern Texas, moving from one city to the next, finally arriving in the northwest portion of the state. They'd taken Brad to numerous doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists, who'd mentioned possible diagnoses of ADHD and ODD, and even tried medication, but his behavior had remained the same. The experts' overall consensus had been "behavior problems," along with early signs of sociopathic tendencies.

Brad shot Eva a nasty look before nabbing a fork. Ginger hurried to take it. She snatched away the spoon he grabbed, too. There was no telling what he planned to do with utensils, but given his history of hitting people with anything he could get his hands on, Ginger had no doubt it would be bad. He certainly didn't need a fork or spoon for eating, because he had no food left. He'd already thrown it everywhere.

Brad grabbed the butter knife from beside Ginger's place and stabbed the table.

She asked for it, but he ignored her. Her eyes widened, darting from him to Eva when she realized he was glaring at his sister. A pit opened in Ginger's stomach when he moved toward the six-year-old, and she grabbed his hand, trying to pry the knife from his hands. He kicked her over and over.

She wrapped her arms around him, keeping a hand firmly on the knife while trying to restrain him, but he struggled to get free.

Experts had taught her and her husband to best way to restrain but being forced to do it was frustrating. In fact, Ginger felt nothing but frustration and wondered how long she could keep this up. Brad had been known to act out for hours before. He usually wouldn't cooperate, no matter what, and seldom showed remorse, regardless of what he'd done, who he'd hurt, or what he'd demolished.

"Art, can you come here?" Ginger called to her husband who'd been showering as she'd left their bedroom earlier.

"What's up, Hon?" he replied, his feet thumping as he hurried down the stairs.

No explanation was needed when he entered the kitchen, and he immediately hurried to take over with their son.

"Stop," Art admonished after Brad yanked an arm free, and struck his father. Art secured the arm, glanced around, and winced. "The food everywhere?"

Ginger nodded, her shoulders drooping. She felt completely demoralized. The kitchen looked as if a tornado had swept through, even though she'd cleaned up earlier before the kids woke up. She'd have to redo everything.

Eva sniffled. Her Halloween costume, chosen just for the contest at school today, bore evidence of Brad's misbehavior.

Sighing, Ginger knew her daughter would have to change into her old costume and hoped that wouldn't prompt another round of tears. She remembered the flying eggs and examined herself, discovering stains on her blouse. She'd be late getting the kids to school and herself to work, even though she'd gotten up extra early. After all, she couldn't show up with dirty clothing and bits of egg in her hair.

***

That evening, Bradley sulked at the dinner table, refusing to eat or talk.

Ginger and Art exchanged a meaningful glance, silently agreeing that this was better than an outburst.

Although they tried not to use physical punishment, they didn't regret spanking him earlier. He'd run amok at school, refusing to mind, listen, or do anything he'd been told. He'd kicked classmates and his teacher, damaged other children's Halloween costumes, and acted overall as if his only interest lay in harassing everyone. As a result, the principal had suspended him for three days.

His parents had originally planned to ground him from his TV and video games, along with assigning him extra chores, but still let him go trick-or-treating. However, they'd changed their minds after picking him up. Not only was he unrepentant about his behavior at school, but he'd picked on Eva on the way home, tearing up her homework and marking on her costume with a pen.

"I hate you," Brad yelled at Ginger, throwing his plate onto the floor, sending ceramic shards and food everywhere before turning to Art. "I hate you, too! You're mean."

He ran from the table, and up the stairs, presumably to his room.

"He hates me, too," Eva whispered.

"No, he doesn't," Art reassured her. "I'm sure he doesn't hate any of us. He's just upset because he got in trouble and can't go trick-or-treating."

"Jana says he's bad," Eva shared about her best friend. "She said her father would've torn up his butt if he was their family."

***

Three hours later, Brad crept from his room, pausing in the hallway outside his door to listen. He peered into his parents' and sister's rooms, finding them sound asleep. In the kitchen, he helped himself to some cold meat loaf and one of the three remaining pieces of pie from the refrigerator. Two were saran-wrapped, one labeled "Mr. Witenour," the other "James." Brad had no idea who those people were, but didn't care anyway, and ate those pieces as well. He spotted his sister's Halloween bucket, crammed some of her candy into his mouth, poured the rest onto the floor, and crushed it with his feet.

He glared at his sister's artwork on the fridge, tore it into several pieces, and shoved it into the garbage, pushing it underneath other things. Coffee grounds and canteloupe seeds got on his hands, but he wiped them on the curtains. Realizing his parents would see the candy fragments still lying on the carpet, he gathered them up, flushing all of them down the toilet.

No one was around to bother him, so he took his time circling the living room. Eva's latest school photo was on the wall next to his. Snatching hers down, he slung it out the back door, followed by the plaque his mother had just been awarded at work.

"They'll see them," he muttered, going to retrieve them. He stomped on the two items before hiding the pieces in a neighbor's trash can.

Brad returned to his bedroom, dozing off soon after lying down. But he woke thinking he'd heard something. He listened, but nothing caught his attention, so he closed his eyes.

Scratch, scratch.

Hearing the faint sound, he sat up in bed.

Scratch, scratch, scratch.

It came from the far side of his room. Tipoeing over, he pressed his ear to the wall, and heard more scratching. Mice must've gotten inside again. Dad put traps throughout their home last time, catching several little intruders.

A scurrying sound came from behind him, and he whirled, not seeing anything. It had to be mice.

Tapping over his head made him flinch, and he stared at the ceiling.

"Man, those things are really moving," he murmured. Shrugging, he lay down, this time positioning earbuds in his ears so he'd only hear music.

Red eyes stared into Brad's and he gasped. Throwing off his covers, he jumped out of bed. His heart thumped as if it was trying to escape his chest, and he felt light-headed. The floorboards were cold under his feet, and that's when he realized he'd been asleep. He didn't hear anything and felt foolish. Of course, nothing was in his room. Even so, he turned on the TV, putting the sound low enough not to keep him up but high enough to drown out any other mouse or night sounds. He fell asleep almost as soon as his cheek hit his pillow.

He dreamed something brushed his nose, making it itch. Then something touched his neck, and squeezed his throat, slowly tightening its grip until he had trouble breathing. He woke gasping for air, felt his throat with his hands, but nothing was there.

Rustle, rustle, click, click came from behind him.

"Stupid mice," he muttered, turning around even though he knew the darn things wouldn't be in plain sight.

Eyes widening, he almost fell over his own feet backing away.

A hand was on the floor in front of him, not attached to anything. Brad stared open-mouthed, jumping when the fingers wiggled, then started to pull themselves in his direction. Click, click, click. The sound came from the long, badly chipped fingernails hitting the floor.

The strange thing was covered in thick hair, the fingers slightly bent, resembling a spider's legs as they advanced toward the boy.

He took a step back, eyeing the door across the room.

With no warning, the hand jumped into the air, flying toward him with fingers widespread.

Brad screeched, fell over backwards, landing on the floor beside his bed. He immediately noticed movement in the darkness underneath.

A second hand crawled into view. He scrambled to his feet, racing for the door, but another hand dropped from the ceiling, blocking his path. More hands emerged from his closet.

A grotesque face with eerie green eyes and a misshapen, elongated mouth appeared on one hand, then on another. Soon, they all had faces.

Whispers sounded from around Brad before the creatures started toward him. Hands ran across the floor on their fingertips. Some traveled through the air.

He wildly swung his arms, kicking and fighting to get the things off his body, but more appeared.

The hands pushed him to the ground, ignoring his screams and thrashes while pulling him toward his bed. A final wail tore from his mouth as they drug him underneath, into the darkness.

The End

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