Momma used to say I was really special. She’d tickle me to sleep and just before I’d shut my eyes, she’d lean in and call me her ‘special little guy.’ Then she’d kiss me goodnight and walk out the door. And I’d usually see her in the morning, making breakfast, singing as she cooked.
I miss that. I miss it a lot.
I don’t wake up to breakfast getting cooked by my momma anymore. Just a lot of sad, special kids like me getting shuffled to a cafeteria if we’re good enough that day. The bad ones gotta eat in their rooms which is real bad cause it means they can’t watch TV with their mush. Things would be bad enough here without a TV around. And I already told them I want to go home before you ask. My stepdad said I deserved to be in here, as a punishment for what I did to momma. But I didn’t do anything!
But no matter how much I said it, all the adults looked at me like I should just shut up. All accept for one.
The kids here called him a lot of stuff. Some folks called him Swirls, other folks called him a ghost. This one girl down in wing B in the padded room calls her Teddy. But that’s what she calls everybody.
Not me. I call him Captain Wiggles. Cause he’s dressed like a captain! He’s got a hook and buttons made of gold and a big blue coat that wraps around and shifts in a wind that ain’t around. It’s hard to look at Captain Wiggles sometimes, cause he’s always moving or shifting somehow, his arms like those wiggly guys outside of the car stores. But he’s always smiling way more then any other adult in this place.
If we made sure our doors didn’t get shut all the way, Captain Wiggles would float down the halls and whistle, and we’d all follow him to the living room to play and watch those weird shows they got on for adults at night. And he’d make sure we didn’t get caught! But he was better known for his one-on-one visits.
Captain Wiggles only came a month ago, but every kid knew about him almost personally. He was like Santa Clause ‘cept he could actually give you what you wanted. A kid down in wing D got a bike! And another got a unicorn with the prettiest, shiniest hair in the whole wide world. Kids said he’d come into their rooms at night and ask them some questions, just a couple, and make ‘Em whatever they asked for, no matter how weird it sounded.
It felt like the only kid he hadn’t visited had been me. Maybe the other kids had been making it all up, that talking to you face to face stuff. But they really had gotten toys from him, so…maybe I wasn’t special like I thought.
I was tossing and turning the night he finally came. Shifting through the window bars like a snake or a scarf in the wind to come over and sit right by my bed. He was always so tall, so high up you couldn’t see his face right besides the smile. Up close like this, you could see how weird the rest of it looked. How his eyes curled and spiraled, how his mouth didn’t move when he talked in that weird voice he got. “ Evenin’, Billy! ”
I sat up in bed, holding the sheets up to hide the smile on my face, “What took you so long, Captain?”
He seemed to scratch his head with that curly hook, bits of his hair flying off like bubbles and coming back around to end up in his ponytail, laughing when he looked back at me, “ Sorry! There’s a lot of kids here! ” He looked right in my eyes with a big smile on his face, “ You know how this works? ”
I sat up even higher in bed, throwing the blanket aside so I could nod my head real hard, “Course I do!! I just gotta answer some stuff, right?”
His smile widened up to curl back behind his ears, “ Excellent! Let’s see...what to ask you first… ” He tapped his swirly hook to his chin, snapping it like a pair of fingers as he looked into my eyes, “ What’s your name? ”
I grinned-he had to start off with an easy one, Huh? “B-Billy! Billy Matthews, sir!”
He laughed when I answered, his head tilting like an owl, “ You have two first names?? ”
“Matthews is my last name!” I patted my hand on the bed, “Cmon, don’t get distracted! Gimmie something harder!”
“ Something harder? Hmmm… ” His hum trailed off, the sound wrapping round and round my head, vanishing when he made a popping sound and smiled at me, “ Okay! Who put you here? ”
Huh. That was another easy one. I shrugged and gave a laugh, rolling my eyes at the thought of him, “My stepdad did! I said a hard question-that ain’t hard.”
Captain’s smile hadn’t changed. “ Why?”
I blinked a couple of times, and laughed again cause my mouth didn’t know what other sounds to make. “Why? Cause...cause I was annoying him?”
“ Why? ”
“...cause he said he couldn’t handle me without my mom.”
He was looking at me. His face hadn’t moved an inch. It was hitting me now how weird that was for this guy. “Um...c-cause my mom went away, is the thing. He told me I did it.” I blink a few times, my brows creasing as I talked, “He told me momma always hated me. But...that don’t make any sense.”
His smile had creeped around again, curling up the sides of his head like ivy. “ Why doesn’t it make sense? ”
“Cause she never acted like she did. She used to say I was special just like she was. That I was gonna do something great.” My eyes darted from Captain Wiggles to the bed, “I...No, she didn’t leave. Adults told me she left but I know she didn’t.”
“ Why do you say that? ”
I swallowed. Stepdad had told me it was all my fault, that I made momma run away. But she hadn’t. She didn’t. “Cause I saw her.”
Captain didn’t say anything. He looked like he wanted me to keep going. I didn’t know how at first. When I’d tried with the adults before, they’d given me all sorts of pills till I couldn’t tell what was going on, till I stopped talking about it. But Captain wasn’t other adults. He’d listen to me. “I...I got scared that night. I didn’t know why but I was real scared. I went to go see momma.”
My hands grabbed a bunch of sheets off my bed. They were shaking real hard. “When I got in there...it was all red.” I swallowed again, “Red on the walls, on the ceiling, on those pretty curtains she made. All of it was red.” I found myself looking up at Captain, “My stepdad was the reddest of all.”
I couldn’t keep my eyes on him long. They went down to the bed, “I...I dunno.”
“ You do know .” He grinned at me and his eyes got real wide, “ You can answer this one, can’t you? It’s an easy question. ”
The shaking had gone up my hands into my shoulders. I felt sick. “I-I...I wanna stop.”
“ But you know this one, Billy. ” His eyes twinkled at me. “ Why did he kill her? ”
My hands ended up in my hair, “I don’t know!”
“ YES YOU DO! ” His claw didn’t look very sharp, but it somehow went right through my mattress, his smile wrapping over and over around his head, “ SAY IT! ”
“CAUSE WE’RE PSYCHIC!”
I never heard myself get so loud. I covered up my mouth before anything else could come out, but by the time I did I was shaking so hard I could barely keep them on. It hurt a lot to yell it, but once it was out… “I...she said we were both special. Gifted.”
I’d started crying, the salt getting in my mouth as I talked. “Used to be when she made breakfast, she’d flip her eggs without touching the pan once. I thought it was cool. The first time she did it around my stepdad…”
My eyes widened. “He looked like he saw a monster.”
I felt the hiccups in my chest first, bringing up my sleeve to rub the hot tears on, breathing in before I got choked off by another, “B-but she wasn’t a monster! She was my momma! A-and he took her and put me in here, so I wouldn’t tell anybody! I-I’m not a monster! I swear I’m not-not a-“
Before I could get out anything else, I felt him wrap his arms around me. Once, twice, three times, four times. He smelled nice. He smelled like that time momma took me to the beach. It made me miss her even more. “ There we go, Billy. It feels good to say it, doesn’t it? ”
My chest hurt, my head hurt. I couldn’t stop blubbering like a dumb baby into that nice blue coat of his. But he was right. I nodded, leaning my head deeper into him.
“ I’m glad you answered my questions, Billy. ” He’d leaned his head down right by my ear as he hugged me tight. “ Now you can tell me what you want. ”
“...it can be anything?”
Captain nodded, “ Anything in the world. ”
I’d thought about it before, in the beginning. Back when I was so mad, I didn’t know what to do. When I’d tried telling folks and they’d walked right past me like I didn’t matter. When I watched a kid bend a spoon and get taken off somewhere and come back like there was nothing going on upstairs. Thought about how my stepdad didn’t visit but kept on paying for my room every week. Thought about the way he’d looked at me that night.
The more I thought, the more red I saw. The more my sheets tore and knotted themselves up. The more I wanted to scream. “...Can you hurt someone for me?”
“... Anyone you want, Billy. ”
My stepdad was right about one thing. I deserved to be here. After all, if I hadn’t, how would I have ever met Captain Wiggles otherwise? Maybe that was momma looking out for me wherever she was.
She told me I was special.
For the first time that night, I got to see how special I could be.