Johnny heard moaning and cooing coming from the basement laundry room one night.
The little boy hesitantly let out a smirk. “I’m not afraid of the dark,” he said to himself. “I’m a big boy now.”
He paced slowly as he climbed down to the dark basement. He kept swinging his head from left to right inspecting details, making sure he’s unharmed. Claiming that he’s a big boy, he tried fighting off the tiny little snitches of fear in his head. And then he let out a hard sigh.
As soon as his hands felt the switch to the basement light, he switched them on. There the basement appeared lit by candlelight as the light bulb was tinted with a little orange as scarred by old age. The old lamp light swings gently in the absence of the night breeze making a slight creaky noise. Perhaps it was the boy’s breath that blows it to move even though the light bulb itself was out of reach for him. It was hung through the naked beams of wood that held the main floor of the house.
The noise increased as he came near to the piles of laundry. Beside the baskets of dirty piles of clothes was the washing machine. Being the vertically challenged of a boy like he is, Johnny had to get a plastic stool to climb onto so that he’d get to open the washing machine lid. And he did as needed.
Within the cramped confines of the washing machine tub, there is a small girl in a raggedy shirt with dark stringy hair, sunken eyes, bony limbs and a wet, pale complexion.
Johnny was too shocked to resort to let out a loud scream, gasp or anything at all. His eyes widened like it wanted to throw up with his eyeballs falling from its socket. He looked straight down and onto his chest wandering whether or not he already caught a heart attack. Realizing he hadn’t, he told himself, “You’re a big boy now.” Then he gulped so hard without getting to swallow anything— anything but fear.
“Hello,” he said. Even he couldn’t even believe he said such a thing. He breathed in and out recharging his bravery every second of that moment. But as the seconds came racing, he no longer felt the creeping fears that bothered him. He only wanted answers more than to get out of the basement.
“What are you doing in the washing machine?” asked Johnny. Curiosity ate him up to oblivion. He forgot his fears, the creaky noise of the lamp light and the creeping darkness that enveloped that room.
“I’m hiding from the monsters. They don’t like it when I’m out in the dark,” said the strange girl in the tub.
The boy smiles and peers closer to the stringy haired girl. He tilted his head and blinked once and widened his eyes to get a clearer image of the strange girl.
“There’s nothing to be afraid of. Monster aren’t real,” said Johnny.
“Sure,” replied the girl. Johnny got to clearly view the girl. She was hugging her knees; perhaps tighter this time when the soft creak of the tub whispered as the girl moved. She looked as if she buried her face onto her knees isolating herself from the dark that can be seen. “But still,” she continued. She left her lips stuck to her knees with her eyes on sight. “There are things that hide in the dark,” she said covering her eyes again from the stale glow of the creaky light bulb.
Johnny without the slightest stint of fright smiled a calm smile; one that welcomes a friend home. He reached his hand down to the tub. “Well, come on then,” he said. “I’ll show you there’s nothing to be afraid of,” he added.
“I’m Johnny,” he said his name to assure safety to the girl. “And there’s nothing hiding in the dark, I promise!”
The stringy haired girl looked up at him with bewildered eyes and confusion at the gesture of friendship and acceptance. Reluctantly, she reached up and took hold of the boy’s hand.
With a huff and a tug, Johnny pulled her out of the cramped space and into the stale glow of the basement’s light.
“There will always be light, no matter how dark it is. There’s nothing to be afraid of,” Johnny smiled, revealing buck teeth and a few missing chompers.
The two kids stood there in the basement by the washing machine with a couple more friends, their shadows. In the dark of the night, they didn’t seem to mind the creeping presence of their shadows knowing they are two children together; even though they are strangers.
The girl weakly smiles and says “Thank you.” But she looked rather unsettled at her next thought. She suddenly couldn’t say a word. But she seemed to have won the battle against her urge to stay quiet and run. “I’ve never known anyone so friendly, Johnny,” she whispered over the creaking of the electric hum of the bulb.
Johnny pressed his lips together feeling shy of admitting his little truth. “I’ve never known anyone kind enough to reply to me,” he said. He could not say straight ahead how other kids would pick on him for being friendless. But that night, he found the courage to be honest and accept his loneliness to start a friendship with the strange girl who hid in the washing machine tub. Without a tick, he asked, “Do you like games?” Johnny shrugged the sudden sadness that tried creeping in his head.
The strange girl lit up and giggled softly and then she said, “Yes.”
“That’s awesome!” Johnny cheerfully exclaimed, leading her up the stairs, and leaving the seemingly candlelit basement. He let out a litany of fun things to do like playing hopscotch, hide and seek and other games he’s always wanted to play after years and years of wandering alone in the house. He didn’t notice the quietness in the girl’s eyes as they welcomed the moonlight.
“Johnny?” asked the girl.
Little Johnny froze and looked at the girl. His eyes clearly wanted to say “Ask me anything but—”
“Johnny, where’s your mom?” asked the girl.
He wanted to cry. He wanted break down and cry. At that moment, Johnny wanted to let out his tears. But he could not say that his mom was gone. He could not say that he was all alone. He could say anything at all because he could not understand either.
Maybe the girl knew how much Johnny missed his mother; maybe she didn’t.
After seconds of staring at Johnny’s sad eyes, the girl looked down. She looked as if she was trying to pull something off her sleeve to break the eyes and get Johnny off his nightmare of a daydream. “Clay,” she finally said. “My name is Clay.”
Perhaps that’s all that was needed to be said for Johnny heard his mom’s loving voice in his head after the longest time, “You’re a big boy now, Johnny.” He breathed out hard and smiled.
“I guess it’s you and me now, Clay.”