Oskar first saw the little blue boy sitting on a bench down the path from where Oskar was flicking small bits of bread out to a hungry flock of ducks. (Or maybe they were simply gluttonous. With the vast numbers of bread-toting children that frequented the park on weekends, Oskar could scarcely fathom these animals remaining hungry for long.) The boy looked a few years younger than Oskar. His face was round and luminously pale and topped by a fine black field of cowlicks. He was wrapped in a puffy winter coat that strained against him, clearly a size too small. His legs were draped in a pair of sweatpants that could have fit both his legs in one side. The cuff of the pants brushed the ground, but his feet swung freely above it.
Pitying the little pauper, Oskar hobbled over to say hi and share some of his bread with the boy when the first smell of rot crept up on him. It was a damp smell that grew exponentially as Oskar closed the space between himself and the blue boy. By the time Oskar was within three feet of the boy, the smell had grown strong enough to develop its own taste and texture. The air had the spongy, pulsating feel of water-rotted wood filled with squirming insect larva. The smell was a physical force. It filled Oskar’s mind and made it difficult to think or even to keep putting one foot in front of the other. Oskar suddenly wanted nothing more than to stay as far away from the little blue boy as possible. He had no idea how people could stand being within a hundred feet of the boy, much less to run and skate and play. Oskar was a voracious learner of the highest degree, reading most anything he could get a hold of. He could recall tearing through stories of certain phenomenon that only children could observe, but the adults here were not alone in their unawareness. Two children side-armed a Frisbee back and forth not more than ten feet behind the boy’s bench.
The rotting, fetid smell doubled in intensity and Oskar staggered a step backwards and caught his foot on a broken branch. He pin wheeled his arms wildly and had to spin around to keep from falling over. It was still a very near thing. He scowled childishly at the dead branch that had nearly tripped him. Some dumb high school kid had probably thrown it on the path trying to trip a biker. When Oskar turned back to the little blue boy, he found himself looking directly into the little boy’s pale green eyes. Caught staring, the blue boy’s eyes widened slightly and he started fidgeting, pulling at his fingers and licking his lips. A long moment passed before the boy was satisfied that his curiosity was not going to earn him Oskar’s ire. He tilted his head slightly, his curious gaze intensified and a tattered triangular strip of his scalp peeled away from his skull and hung limply between his left eye and ear.
The wound was bloodless and tinged a painful purple-blue color that was deeper than the shallow blue hue that touched the entirety of the boy’s exposed skin. The boy shifted his head back upright and the wound attempted to swing back against his scalp again, but could not defy gravity and continued to bob loosely. It was this final gesture that suddenly and completely broke Oskar’s will. He spun clumsily on his heel, narrowly avoiding falling flat once more, and sprinted in raw, breathless terror away from the park, away from the bench, away from the little blue boy with the torn head. Oskar ran home at full-tilt for nearly ten minutes before having to slow down and trot the rest of the way. By the time he got back to his house he was utterly out of breath, his legs felt numb and watery, and his mind was a howling void that could not piece together what he had seen only minutes before. All he could see was the bobbing flap of dead flesh.
Nearly twenty years passed before Oskar gave another moment’s waking thought to the little blue boy sitting on the park bench. Within ten minutes of arriving home all those years ago, his mind had started up a rather standard procedure. It had slowly clouded over the events that it had no classification for nor understanding of.
It took Oskar a bit longer to notice the smell this time and far longer to actually lay eyes on what logic demanded be an apparition or hallucination.
He was walking through Bed, Bath, and Beyond. It was the weekend and he and Alice needed a new toaster. Their current one now belched thin tendrils of ugly black smoke whenever it heated up. This was a fairly significant problem, considering the job of a toaster. Oskar, dutiful as always, had wandered off to find a sales agent in hopes of discovering which toaster would die the least painful death after the longest lifespan. Amidst innumerable throw pillows, loofahs, and blenders Oskar strode through the aisles in search of assistance.
Slightly taller than average with a thin frame, bleary green eyes, and mousy brown hair that was starting to thin ever so slightly, Oskar fit the mold of a young man looking to settle into his life perfectly. He was relatively unremarkable looking, with only the sharp bend in his poorly healed nose standing out. He had broken it when he was younger after falling out of a tree in the playground during recess one day and the school nurse had set it with a rather distinctive crook.
Upon finally grabbing the attention of a nearby employee, Oskar led her back to his wife and filled her in on the tragic demise of their toaster. Petite, brunette, and eye-catching enough to hurt any marriage, the saleswoman was more than happy to point out the varying brands and models of toasters that they carried and dutifully read all the different features off the information cards attached beneath the displays. Oskar was the first man she had helped in the past two weeks who had not watched with unwavering attentiveness as she bubbled on about this product and that. In fact, Oskar had not so much as glanced in either her or the toasters’ direction since he had met up with his wife again. His entire focus was narrowed to the little blue boy perched lightly atop a display stand.
Oskar’s ears rang, his eyes watered, and his whole body tingled uncomfortably as panic bent his every sense to its jarring whims. Oskar felt himself drowning, weightless. He could not obey even the simple laws of gravity, he felt himself floating along numbly, unsure if his thoughts were wafting away or if his body had really lost anchor. The world rocked to and fro, seemingly at random, and the colors around him waxed and waned with it.
Oskar closed his eyes tightly and clamped his teeth down. He told himself it was a panic attack, he had been having optical and auditory hallucinations with the attacks since he was a child and this was no more than that. He had learned a number of tricks to help bring himself under control. He also kept a small bottle of Klonopin with him wherever he went. Keeping his eyes closed, he opened the bottle with practiced ease and dry swallowed a couple of the small, circular pills. Giving the drugs time to take effect, he counted, stretched, and breathed as subtly as possible and wondered why Alice had not looked over and noticed his clear distress.
After exhausting his small bag of tricks, Oskar cautiously opened his eyes. The world had stopped swaying, the colors remained solid, and the weightlessness gave way to gravity. The little blue boy was still there, staring at Oskar with round, curious eyes. The flap of skin at his hairline had dislodged itself once more and the boy looked on the verge of tears.
Oskar awoke those nine years ago with little to no recollection of what had caused his panic attack and had asked only to be taken home. He apologized profusely to his wife, to the employee, and to those patrons of Bed, Bath, and Beyond whom he had disturbed (all parties were quick to wave aside his apologies) and then passed the car keys over to Alice. The rest of the day had been an uneventful mix of Oskar resting and Alice worrying and by the next day neither party gave the attack another thought.
Oskar himself did not give the little blue boy another thought until Sam drowned.
Sam was seven years old, the pride and joy of his parents, Oskar and Alice. They had done everything to make sure his life was a good one. They gave him a sweet, simple name they both preferred to their own rather stiff first names. They allowed him the adventures, innocence, and free spirited joy of childhood, even at the expense of their own sanity. They taught him to find out for himself what was right and wrong and forgave him the exuberant mistakes of youth.
The police ruled Oskar’s suicide a clear case of guilt over the death of a son. No one had ever been told that Oskar had seen his young son’s dead body twice before the police came to his door and asked him to make an identification. Oskar knew what had happened before seeing the body. When the police officer explained that Sam and his friends had gone to the local pool when no lifeguards had been present, Oskar understood. The boy had been running around the edge of the pool, he had lost his balance rounding a corner and had fallen. His head smashed against the concrete lip of the pool and had torn open along his hairline. Unconscious and bleeding, the boy had drowned while his panicked friends called 911 and cried. Oskar knew all this before the officer was halfway through his story and long before the sheet was pulled back on Sam.