* Author : Chip Houser
* Narrator : Wilson Fowlie
* Host : Matt Dovey
* Audio Producer : Peter Adrian Behravesh
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Previously published by Bourbon Penn 20
Content warnings for bullying, injury, and child peril.
by Chip Houser
Aiden rests his chin on the back of the living room couch, watching his older brother mow down zombies in ZomPlex. The zombies grab at Zach’s avatar, mouths moving like they’re chewing. Aiden’s not sure if they’re supposed to be hungry or angry or both. Their facial expressions don’t match any of the cards from the game he plays on Tuesdays with Ms. Hampton. Zombies don’t make a lot of sense to Aiden, but that’s okay, lots of things don’t make sense to him, he’s barely seven.
Aiden taps Zach on the shoulder. “You said you’d take me to the pool.”
“Busy here.” Zach jerks the controller.
They’ve gone to the pool almost every day this summer. Aiden even jumped off the high dive with Zach a few times. Aiden loves that feeling in his stomach more than anything. But the past couple of days, Zach hasn’t wanted to do anything except kill zombies.
“You promised,” Aiden says. “I’ll tell Dad.”
“Go for it.”
Aiden walks toward the kitchen. “I’m going.”
Zach ignores him.
Their dad is sitting in the breakfast nook in his plaid pajamas, paper raised. The headline FINAL COUNTDOWN is in big black letters across the top. A grid of old people’s faces, each with a gigantic smile, covers the rest of the page.
Aiden says, “Zach won’t take me to the pool.”
His dad doesn’t say anything. Sometimes it takes him a minute to finish reading.
Aiden looks closer at the pictures. The first one is this ancient lady with like two hairs on her head and no eyebrows. Her smile is huge; Aiden can see her gums. Her name is Irene Rable and she is 102 years old. The people in the pictures get younger and younger going down the rows. The last person, Norwin Osterreich, is fifty-seven. Still really old.
“Dad . . . ” Aiden runs a finger along the table. “Can you make him take me?” His dad still doesn’t say anything. “Please?”
Nothing. Aiden’s used to people ignoring him, but not his dad. Something’s wrong, but Aiden isn’t sure what, exactly. His dad’s been reading the same paper for like a week, and Aiden knows it doesn’t take that long. Aiden’s sort of an expert on the subject; he reads like a third grader even though he’s only in first grade. He’s not very good at some stuff, but he’s a very good reader.
“Dad, why won’t you answer me?” Aiden peeks around the paper. His dad’s smile looks just like the old people’s in the newspaper. Smiling means happy, he always gets that card right with Ms. Hampton, but happy won’t get Zach to take Aiden to the pool.
The situation, Aiden decides, calls for extreme action. He needs his wolf mask. He isn’t supposed to know where his dad hid it earlier in the summer, after Aiden went on a clawing, howling rampage. His dad isn’t very sneaky. Aiden found his mask a few days ago, while hunting for snacks.
He climbs up onto the kitchen counter and pulls open the cabinet above the fridge. His dad’s still reading the paper. Aiden pulls the mask on and leaps off the countertop, landing bent-kneed, hands raised like claws. He doesn’t risk a howl, though. Instead, he creeps into the living room and stands behind Zach.