My grandma gave me Mister Patches when I was just four years old and still afraid of the dark.
“Just hold it close when the lights go out and make sure you don’t let go” she’d whispered in my ear, as she handed me the disheveled teddy bear. Mister Patches was a veteran of two World Wars, and it showed: he had a button for an eye and a square of tricolette fabric on his belly. He had plaid armpits and the ends of his feet were clad in felt. His smile was crooked, the black thread that originally outlined his mouth long since torn, replaced halfway through by a bright blue thread. It made his mouth look funny, like he was smiling two different kinds of smiles:
“One” my grandma said, pointing at the black-thread half “is for children that have good-dreams. The other” she turned Mister Patches, showing the mad zig-zag of blue “is for bogeymen, which Mister Patches eats.”
Following her instructions to the letter, I did sleep with Mister Patches, holding him close and never once leaving him out of my sight as I slept. And true to her promise, Mister Patches dispelled my fear of the dark and swept away the bogeymen, standing fiercely at my side. By the time I was six, I had known little else but peace and his comforting presence.
The bogeymen came back in full force on my seventh birthday, when I had thought myself to old to need Mister Patches’ help.
It started as whispers beneath my bed and tiny sounds from the creaking house, as it settled. It began with long shadows and the headlight of passing cars, throwing odd shadows on the faces of action figures and posters, altering their features subtly, sinisterly. It progressed, within a week, into moaning from behind the wall and odd tearing sounds coming from somewhere inside the ceiling.
Mister Patches was lying on my bed beside me, when I opened my eyes and searched for him. Tiny bits of thread hung loosely from the tricolette square on his belly, the cotton stuffing slightly gutted. I couldn’t put down exactly how I had known, but I could tell that his glass eye was transfixed on my bedroom wall: at the tiny crack, indistinguishable in the darkness. I couldn’t exactly see it, but I could make out the tiny bit of thread that had been somehow sewn into the plaster, holding it together.
I daren’t tell my parents, for fear of being scolded and I couldn’t call my grandmother, for fear of not believing me, of hurting her feelings when she’d see the tear on Mister Patches, thinking it had been the result by my clumsiness.
For a month, I had slept fitfully, fearing the odd sounds in the darkness, with Mister Patches by my side, his threading growing all the more ragged, the felt on his right foot gutted. The crack on the wall had expanded, held in place tenuously by brightly-colored thread. But from the tiny opening, I could clearly hear the sound of something shuffling uneasily, its breathing ragged with anticipation.
When I awoke to find the plaid armpit patches torn from below his armpits, their tiny squares sewn into the wall where the crack had widened the most, I mustered the strength to tiptoe out of my room and into the living room, to call grandma. I knew that she would probably be asleep at that hour, but I daren’t face my parents the next day or stand another night of the strange whispers.
Halfway through dialing her number, there was a roar and a sound like something tearing (not like fabric or felt, but more like the sound of some impossibly powerful gust of air, tearing doors from their hinges). Something screamed upstairs, another thing cackled. There was the sound of threads popping and something that sounded very much like a bag full of sand, slamming against the floorboards.
When my parents rushed into my room, they found me there, clutching at the gutted Mister Patches, my tiny hand struggling to stuff the cotton back inside the fabric. His glass eye had gone, his felt padding hanging limply. The crack on the plaster was no longer there, but I knew that so was Mister Patches.
I gave him a proper funeral, the kind that storybooks said was served for soldiers. My grandma was there to attend, as soon as I told her the news. We bundled Mister Patches carefully inside my favorite cartoon bedsheets and lowered him into the grave set in the garden. She died, the following day, of a stroke; her eyes transfixed on the wall of her bedroom, where there had been a tiny, almost undistinguishable crack.
I grew up since then, learned to overcome my fear on own. But sometimes, I hear the sounds that the house makes in the dead of night and the whispers from beneath the floorboards. There’s a crack on my wall, faintly outlined against the plaster that I can’t plug no matter how hard I might try. Sometimes, something snarls at me from the tiny slit and I find myself praying I still had Mister Patches.
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