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short clean horror story
What if you had to protect your family, but you couldn’t let them know what you’re doing? This short story is about Kona and his problem with things that smell too good. It has a lot of Pidgin dialogue in it. I’d love to hear your thoughts. ~Aunty Lehua
Being an only child, Kona was blamed for things he didn’t entirely do. The best he could figure, it was some kind of screwball adult logic that said if Mom didn’t do it and Dad didn’t either, it must have been Kona.
“Robert Konahele Inoye, get in here now!”
Kona groaned. Three names. He lowered his baseball cap and headed down the hall and into the kitchen.
“Kona, where the Oreos?”
“No act, Kona. They’re not in the cupboard. I never had them; your father never. Tell the truth. You wen cockaroach all the cookies last night.”
“I just had a couple. With milk,” said Kona, pointing to the empty glass by the sink. “Just two only. Not the whole package. Fo’real.”
Mom gave him stink eye. “No shibai me, Kona. Who wen eat all the cookies if not you, hah?”
He shrugged. “I dunno. Wasn’t me.”
“Those cookies were for the whole week! Now get no more cookies. None for snack; none for dessert; nobody get cookies now. Nobody like one greedy pig, Kona. Whoever ate all the cookies stay exactly that.”
Yeah, Kona thought, greedy, but not one pig.
Mom sighed. “Go get your backpack. Time for school already. And don’t forget to make your bed.”
Kona hated making his bed. Walking around the edges and bending close to tuck in the top sheet made him feel…exposed. From the doorway Kona leaped to the middle of his bed. Kneeling on the edge of the mattress and leaning down, Kona held the top sheet in his hands. With a bounce worthy of a circus act, Kona flung himself skyward and jammed the sheet between the mattresses before landing on his knees again. After inching his way around the bed tucking in the sheet and smoothing the blanket behind him, Kona’s last bounce sprung him almost out the door. He put on his Mom-eyes and glanced back for a final check.
As the bed’s dust ruffle settled, he saw something shimmer. Moving quickly, Kona kicked the empty Oreo bag deeper under his bed. His Mom-eyes spotted the telltale crumbs, and he brushed them off his desk chair before shouldering his backpack. Heading out his bedroom door, he almost didn’t hear the sh, sh, sh, soft and dry like sandy slippahs on cement, a settling sound, a sound like empty firecracker papers scuttling along sidewalk before coming to rest on a dry, brown lawn. Sh, sh, sh. Kona didn’t turn around. He knew there was nothing to see.
At recess, Kona couldn’t get anyone to play with him. “Too hot, brah,” said Glen Miyabuchi. “I no like run around. Bumbai come all sweaty and stink li’dat.”
“What you mean, bumbai? You pilau now!” snickered Brenda Chang.
“Eh, no act, Brenda. Like beef?”
“Nahnahnah, brah, cool your jets. Just joking.”
“Come,” said Wendell Pacheco with a head jerk. “We go play marbles in the shade by the library.” He held a big marble up to the sun, colors winking. “I get new bamboocha. Green cat eye.”
“Shoots,” said Glen. “We go.”
“Not keeps, but. Only for fun, yeah?” said Wendell, trailing Glen a little.
“Whatevers, Wendell. You know you going lose,” said Glen, rounding the corner to the shady side of the building.
“Hey! This marble’s new. I no like lose ‘em yet.”
“Only funsies, yeah?”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah…”
Looking back, Brenda saw Kona still standing near the classroom door. “Eh, Kona, you coming?” she called.
He shuffled his slippahs on the cement, sliding his weight from foot to foot. “Ah, no,” he mumbled to the ground. “I never bring marbles today.”
“No worries! Can borrow. I get plenny.” Brenda shook her purple Crown Royal bag, the marbles clicking.
“Nah, I got other stuffs for do. You guys go play without me.”
“You sure?” she said, head tilted to the side. “Can borrow, you know. Only for funsies.”
“Nah. I like run even if you guys no like play chase.”
The sounds of his friends’ junkenpo lingered in his ears as Kona started his long, slow jog all the way around the soccer fields, crossing in front of the Lauele Elementary School sign and back, working up a good sweat. Ho, hot, he thought.
“What’s up with Kona?” asked Wendell. “How come he always running?”
“Buggah wen snap. All he like do now is play chase master, even if only get him.” said Glen.
“Like we still second grade.”
Later in the cafeteria Kona ate with grim determination. He passed on the chow fun and ate the franks an’ beans served with a stale roll, something that looked like over-cooked spinach, and lime Jell-O jiggling with mandarin oranges. Ignoring the chatter about the newest anime and forcing down another bite, Kona studied the flyers lining the cafeteria walls. His eyes brushed past Tai Kwon Do, YMCA Swimming, and AYSO Soccer, and came to rest on the large Boy Scout poster nearest the door. Well-scrubbed boys. Campfire. Marshmallows on a stick. Be Prepared. Oh, yeah, thought Kona, be prepared. No joke. If I was one scout, I’d get some kine award for the most prepared guy ever. He speared another hunk of rubbery wiener, pretending it’s steak.
“Ma, what get for dinner?”
“Teri steak with rice, steamed veggies.”
“Teri steak! Tonight?”
“You complaining? Every time you beg me for make teri steak. Tonight I made ‘em extra sweet and gingery just for you!”
“I like ‘em; I just… not tonight.”
“Too bad. It’s already defrosted and soaking.”
Kona looked at the thinly sliced beef swimming in sugary shoyou sauce, thinking hard. He tried again. “But Ma, what about Dad? Teacher said eating red meat is junk.”
“Robert Konahele, steak is not junk!”
“Not junk like junk food, Ma. I mean like the food pyramid. My teacher said people, people like you and Dad, yeah? You guys need to watch what you eat. More fish, li’dat.”
Mom paused her chopping, knife held aloft. “People like me and Dad?”
Sensing an advantage, Kona pressed his luck. “Yeah, you know. Older, rounder folks, the kine that gotta stay away from beef and salt so your heart no explode. Maybe we can give the teri steak to the Nakamuras. Trade ‘em for fermented tofu and kim chee. Can make stir fry with lots of garlic. Easy and heart-healthy.”
Mom’s stink eye curled his hair and chicken-skinned his arms. Too late he saw the smoke coming out of her ears as she grabbed a dish towel. “Robert Konahele Inoye, you better engage your brain before you speak again or I guarantee you not going sit down for one week!”
He tried to scramble out of the way, moving like a cockroach when the kitchen lights come on. “Sorry, Ma,” he mumbled, weaving from side to side as Mom snap, snap, snapped the dish towel at his feet. “Teri steak sounds ‘ono. Never mind my teacher. I think she vegetarian. Those guys always a little lōlō. Too much mung beans and edamame, yeah?”
“Eh, boy, you show some respect for your teacher!” Snap! Mom turned to the sink and began wiping the spotless counter. “But, hey, you worried about your heart, you no like eat my teri steak, your loss. You can eat the leftover chili, then. Plenny beans, no steak. Gotta be good for your heart. But no blame me if no one like sit by you! Now stop futzing around and wash the rice. Your father’s coming home soon, unless he keels over in traffic from all this beef and salt!”
At dinner, Kona ate all the chili and only a little of the mango cobbler, even though he loved it. He knew he’d need it later.
“Kona, shower then bed,” called Mom.
Kona looked up from his computer. “Just a minute. I need—”
“Now, Kona. And hang up your towel this time. I’m not your maid, you know.”
Kona hit ctrl-S and powered down the computer. Arguing was useless. There were too many things adults didn’t get.
In the bathroom, he ran water in the sink, wet his toothbrush, and added some toothpaste before rinsing it all down the drain. He turned on the shower and sat on the toilet lid, counting slowly to 100 hippopotamuses. He carefully leaned into the shower, wetting only his hands. He lathered and rinsed his washcloth and squirted shampoo in the bottom of the shower before turning the water off. Taking his wet hands, he ran them quickly through his bangs and behind his ears, brushing his thick brown hair away from his face. The built-up grease helped; his hair looked wet, at least from a distance. Kona put on clean boxers and loose fitting shorts, ran his towel around the shower stall to dampen it, and dumped it on the floor for his mother to find.
Back in the kitchen, Kona opened the fridge, picked out a piece of raw onion from a plastic wrapped bowl, and ate it for luck, rolling the juice around with his tongue. Out came the mango cobbler. He tossed the foil cover in the rubbish can and, on second thought, pushed it deeper, hiding it underneath the bloody meat trays and mango peels. He tiptoed down the hallway and set the cobbler on the floor inside his bedroom, screening it from the den.
“Kona,” Mom called, “quit fooling around.”
From the hallway, Kona watched Mom turn another page; Dad watched the game. “I’m going to bed now,” he announced.
“Okay,” said Mom, not looking up. “Sweet dreams.”
“Yeah, Buddy, don’t let the bedbugs bite.” Dad looked up. Something…something…Dad couldn’t put his finger on it, but something was…
“G’night,” said Kona.
Nothing. The moment passed. “G’night, Buddy,” said Dad turning back to the game.
In his room, Kona rummaged in the bottom of his closet and pulled out a wadded pair of boxers and hammajang soccer shorts, the same clothes he’d worn each night and hidden in his closet for over a month. Putting on the rank and musty clothes, he immediately felt better. It was going to be all right. He carefully closed his closet and bedroom doors, making sure they were shut tight. Eye-balling the proper distance from his pillow, he set the mango cobbler on his desk chair, turned off the light, and took a flying leap into bed.
Pulling the covers up to his chin and tucking them under his shoulders and behind his neck, he smelled his hands, clean and fresh, like flowers after rain. Frick. Better hide ‘em in my pits. His tummy rumbled ominously. Looking good, he thought.
No matter how hard Kona tried to stay awake, it always waited until he was asleep. Shhhhhh, shhhhhhh, not settling, moving. A dry sound, like snakes, like sand, like crisp, dried leaves against a window screen. Shhhhhh, shhhhhhh. The bed’s dust ruffle ballooned, then lifted.
“What’s that?” A voice dry like sawdust cookies, then a snuffling, sniffling sound, the sound of a hound on a trail or pigs tracking truffles. Sniff. “What’s that,” sniff, snuff, snort—now not dry, but slobbery, hot, greedy—“What is it? Smells,” sniff, “sweet, like flowers, like,” snuff, drool, drip, “like clean.”
Kona held his breath and jammed his hands deeper into his armpits.
Sniff. Closer, hotter, heat against his cheek.
Kona puffed out his cheeks and blew with all his might.
“Ugh! Onion! Rotten, stinking!” Snort, wheeze, gasp. “Rancid! Not flowers! Where flowers? Want flowers! Where’s that smell?” Hissing, rasping, breathing deep. “Under? Is it under?” Snuffle, sniffle, puff, truffles beneath a tree. “Smells under.”
The edge of the bed dipped. The covers pulled away from Kona’s neck.
It was now or never. Kona clenched his stomach muscles and let one rip.
“Phew! Oh, oh, stinky, rotten, smelly, horrible, horrible, little boy!” The bed bounced back. “Oh, woe, woe is me.” The voice a child’s whimper, the sound of a birthday present taken back, a rotted piece of maggot cake, no candles left to light.
In the dark and through his terror, Kona grinned.
A sound like sea wash kissing sand, a moving sound, shifting away from the bed, low toward the floor. Sniff. “What’s that?” Snuff, puff, gasp. “Smells like sugar and mangos and sunlight. Mine!”
Kona heard the mango cobbler pan thud on the floor, then a terrible licking sound, a greedy slurping sound, a sound made by a too long tongue. As the pan disappeared under the bed, Kona let a last one rip. More better no chance ‘em. Only had little bit left, he thought, but enough in the pan for tonight. He glanced at his bedroom door to make sure it was still tight, and, tucking the covers snug around his neck, he drifted back to sleep.
“Boiled cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, beans, and onions. That’s it.”
“Hah?” said Mom, doing a double-take.
“Ma, you said you’d cook whatever I like.”
“Yeah, but trust me. You’re not going to like this.” She shook her head. “Nobody likes this!”
“But I gotta have ‘em!”
“Why?” She cocked her head to the side.
“For, um, school. Extra credit, Teacher said.”
“Your teacher said if you ate boiled cabbage, brussels sprouts, potatoes, beans, and onions for dinner, she’ll give you extra credit?”
“Yeah, well, I gotta write one report on it after.” Kona grumbled.
Mom shook her head again. “Should’ve sent you to private school,” she muttered, opening the ice box and turning on the stove.
When Kona came downstairs that night after another sham-shower, he paused just outside the den.
“Confunit! The whole house reeks,” complained Dad. “Smells like giant bunny futs.”
“Kona needed it for extra credit.”
“Boiled brussels sprouts? You sure it wasn’t for detention?”
Mom snuggled up to Dad. “Kona liked it. He ate two plates.”
“Enough shouyu and ketchup and that kid will eat anykine.” Dad dropped his chin and nuzzled Mom. “Ummmm,” he sighed. “New perfume?”
“Yeah,” said Dad inhaling deeply. “You’re the only sweet thing in this whole house.”
“G’night,” called Kona.
“Sweet dreams, Honey.”
“No let the bedbugs bite, Buddy.”
Later, after his parents were snoring, safe in their bed, Kona tiptoed back to his room and carefully placed the perfume bottle on his desk chair. Nothing more sweet, he thought. He double-checked his bedroom door, making sure it was closed. No way I going chance ‘em.
The next morning, when Mom stripped the linen from Kona’s bed, she noticed something strange. The sheets were gray. Definitely grimy. Lifting his clothes hamper out of the closet, she—phew, what’s that smell?—found a pungent pair of boxers and soccer shorts wadded in a corner. Codeesh, she thought, how long have they been there?
When Kona came out of the bathroom that night, Mom was waiting. She gently pulled back his collar. The aroma did the rest.
Humiliating, Kona thought, Mom watching, making sure I used soap, toothpaste, shampoo like I was five. Dressed in the second pair of clean boxers and pajama shorts that night, Kona didn’t panic until he realized Mom was still watching.
“C’mon, Kona, I’m tucking you in.”
He climbed in. Clean sheets! Clean sheets! Kona’s mind reeled.
“Love you. Sweet dreams.” Mom turned out the light and shut his door.
Kona flew out of bed to the closet. Nothing on the floor except an empty clothes hamper! Frick!
The dust ruffle shifted, ballooning out into the room. “What’s that?” Sniff. “What is it?” Snuffle, sniff, wheeze. “Smells like flowers, like mint, like rain.” Sniff. “Smells like,” gasp, “like fresh clean boy!” Sigh. “Nice boy! Mine!”
More than a year later, long after the volunteer searchers had packed up their dogs, maps, and 1-800 numbers, leaving tattered have-you-seen-me flyers on telephone poles and lunch wagon counters, after all the media spotlights and searchlights faded away, and after even the diehard psychics and nut jobs gave up and went back to their tarot cards and UFOs, Kona’s mother finally began to strip his bed and box his clothes. Everyone said the Smart girl was one in a million; with no ransom, motive, or witnesses, there was no luck and little hope. Kona wasn’t coming back.
As she walked along the edge of his bed stripping the sheets, blanket, and dust ruffle, something rustled near her feet, a sound like crabs skittering along a lava rock shore. She reached under the bed and pulled out an empty Oreo bag. Reaching deeper, she found candy wrappers, an empty perfume bottle, a moldy pan with bits of sugary mango clinging to its side, and a wadded pair of pajama shorts, still faintly smelling of fresh, clean boy.