Perhaps, looking back, it started when Toby was a toddler. He was a bossy toddler, but then weren’t all toddlers little emperors, convinced the world was made to serve them?”
“Give that, Sarah!” he would demand, pointing to a toy only feet away - as far from Sarah as it was from him.
“Why can’t you get it?”
“Can’t. Arms too little, see!” He would waggle his small arms at her to demonstrate their uselessness. “Love me, Sarah! Give me!”
And he was small and cute and she had nearly lost him once. For all of those reasons Sarah would laugh and get up to pass him the toy. Possibly - probably - it was the wrong thing to do, but how did you see the monster you were growing when its features were still softened by baby fat?
Later, it was less cute.
“I need you to give me some money,” he would demand at ten, having again invaded her house without bothering to knock.
“Why can’t you ask Dad for it?”
“Because.” He would hug her, not coaxingly but as though he needed to demonstrate possession of her, his head already as high as her shoulder. “Don’t ask me why.” That could have been pleading but felt instead so much like an order.
“Toby..” She would hug back automatically, her arms closing around him. “Toby, if you’re in trouble or something we need to talk to Dad..”
“Just give me the money, Sarah..” And there was something wrong in that voice, something that made the hairs rise on the back of her neck. “You know I love you. I don’t ever ask you for much.” As though love carried a price, could be bartered away.
It was all wrong, and yet when he banged back out of the house later it would be with the requested money in his pocket. Sarah always meant to tell her father, but somehow she always forgot.
And then he was fifteen years old, old enough to scorn the trick or treating that took up half the neighbourhood. Sarah asked him to hand out the candy at her house instead, busy with an errand which kept her at the library until later than she would have liked.
“Toby!” she called as she came in. “Toby, did the Henderson’s little boy come here yet? I saw them looking for him at the end of the road, he’s wandered off from the group.”
Something scuttered at the edge of her vision. She froze for a moment; trying to see what it was, did she have mice? But it was gone, and was probably only imagination in any case.
“Toby, are you in? You know the kid, George I think his name is. Three years old, noisiest kid in the neighbourhood, how they managed to misplace him..”
She was chattering until she saw him but somehow the moment she saw him she knew. Maybe it was his expression, the look of someone who is completely certain that what happens next will be utterly within his control. What the world thought about it was inconsequential.
Sarah froze, a mouse before an owl.
“Sarah.” His voice was silken, charming, paralysing her like sticky honey. “Go back outside, Sarah. Help with the trick or treating. Forget you saw this.”
“No.” Her voice came as the softest of whimpers, panicked denial of the scene before her. Movement flickered at the corners of her vision and she moved her eyes frantically to follow it, needing to see what it was but daring not look away from Toby. “Oh, no.”
“You don’t even like the boy. You told me so yourself.” The small boy in his ghost costume was a later noticed detail, sitting as still as he was on the sofa. Toby ignored him, confident he would make no move to escape. “Too noisy, drops litter, neighbourhood pest you said..” His tone mocked her, gently reminding her of every time she’d come home and grumbled. “Go out, Sarah. It’s not your problem this time.”
“I’m calling the police,” she protested weakly, but made no move towards her phone.
“No. You’re not.” Toby came closer, reached to touch her face in a mockery of the baby caresses he used to give when tiny. A scream formed at the back of her throat but somehow couldn’t seem to escape. “You love me, remember? Your baby brother. You wouldn’t want to get me into trouble.”
An owl fluttered at the closed window. Toby laughed and moved to open it. “Go out, Sarah. Find your friends, have a Halloween drink, regret it in the morning. You can forget about the boy.”
Something in that phrase triggered sharp painful memories. Sarah reached for them, let herself grab for the dream-like memories she had half-convinced herself were the result of a teenager’s over-active imagination. The words were forced out through numb uncooperative lips, pushing her body to remember the defiance it had wielded fourteen years before.
“You have no power over me!”
As the spell shattered like glass she prepared herself to fight whatever parts of Toby were left behind.