2021.10.17 23:17 Spannah88 Mr. Waffles
I’ve never been the maternal type. As a child I grew up thinking I would one day have a husband and children because that’s just what people do. Maybe we would have a little dog too, just to complete that perfect picture. As I grew into a woman it became clearer that not only am I not good with children, but I don’t particularly like them either. I will occasionally babysit my nieces and nephews, or coo over a friend’s baby, but my feelings have never changed. I have tried to be better with children, more fun, more patient for the sake of my family, but let me tell you, there is nothing that makes my ovaries want to shrivel up and die more than my niece Poppy’s imaginary friend, Mr Waffles.
He made his debut on her sixth birthday, which was three weeks after my brother Tom moved house. Shifting all their worldly possessions and dealing with the stresses of a move with two small children was challenging for him and his partner Hailey, but they still wanted to make time to throw a party for her. She invited ten of her closest classmates and had a tea party in the back garden.
Once cake had been consumed and gifts unwrapped the children began running around playing tag and What’s The Time Mr Wolf, giggling and shrieking with youthful excitement. I was chatting away with Hailey when I noticed Poppy break away from her group and march over to the buffet table, arms folded and looking fairly peeved.
Putting on my best ‘caring aunty’ face I walked over to sit beside her and asked what was wrong. “Alicia said I’m a cheater but I’m not! AND it’s my birthday so she should be nice to me!” She pouted slightly and frowned over at one of the girls who was dodging back and forth trying to avoid becoming ‘it’. “Well that doesn’t sound very nice, plus how can you even cheat at tag? You shouldn’t let her boss you around, just carry on playing and ignore her.” I smiled at her, trying to make it sound like no big deal in the hopes she would start having fun again. “Exactly! I tagged him fair and square, I don’t know who she thinks she is!” She flung her arms up in a mock exaggeration I presume she had seen on television. I squinted out across the garden and then shaded my eyes with my hand. “Him?” I repeated “but there are no boys here are there?” “Oh don’t be silly Aunty Em, Mr Waffles is a boy. I told him he could play with us and I tagged him on the arm. They are just being mean.” She ‘humphed’ and folded her little arms again.
At the time I didn’t think much of it, presuming lots of children her age would have imaginary friends. As soon as the game changed from Tag to Pass the Parcel she was back in the throng of it all having fun again. I left the party after another hour and didn’t return to their home again for a fortnight.
The second time I encountered Mr Waffles was when I arrived to babysit. After the stress of moving Tom and Hailey deserved a meal out together. Armed with some snacks, crayons, and a couple of blu rays I walked into the partially decorated living room to find Poppy sitting cross legged on the plush new sofa with a book in her lap.
“Hey Kiddo!” I called out cheerfully, dumping my goody bag on the floor and preparing to take a seat next to her. Before I made contact with the seat she halted me. “DON’T sit there!” Jumping up in surprise at her tone I turned and looked for whatever breakable object I’d come close to crushing. “What is it? Why can’t I sit there?” Sounding somewhat annoyed she glared at me and explained “Can’t you see? He is sitting right there! You can’t just sit on someone you know.”
‘Ah. Here we go then’ I remember thinking to myself. In all honesty, I wasn’t in the mood for imaginary games. I felt pretty tired and even looking after my good natured niece was exhausting for me. Deflection was the aim of the game I decided.
“Ok, well how about I sit over here and we can watch Coco? Orrrr I have Coraline if you fancy something spoooookyyy!” I said in my best Transylvanian Dracula voice.
Poppy looked to her left at the empty seat and then leaned in conspiratorially, cupping her ear and pretending to listen to her invisible pal. For a moment I thought I actually saw the cushion next to her depress slightly as if some weight were applied to it, but then Poppy sat upright again and I decided it was a trick of the light.
“Mr Waffles says you need to leave.” As she said this her brow furrowed slightly as if she felt regret at having to deliver this unpleasant news.
“Oh does he now? Well Mr Waffles sounds like no fun at all! Maybe he doesn’t enjoy popcorn and movies but we sure do don’t we?” At this point I felt slightly annoyed at the game but not too concerned. Until.
“HE SAYS GET OUT! GET OUT! GET THE HELL OUT OR HE’ll TEAR OUT YOUR SPINE!” Poppy screamed this at me, in a pitch I’d never heard her make before. Taken aback I stood still for a split second, trying to figure out where she would hear such a horrible thing.
As suddenly as the screaming started it stopped. She bowed her head back down to her book and started humming mildly. The non parent part of my lizard brain was yelling at me that I needed to react but wasn’t telling me how.
“Ok young lady, I don’t know what’s gotten into you tonight but it’s not ok to speak to me like that. You know it feels bad when someone yells at you don’t you?”
No response. She carried on humming, staring at her book but not turning the pages.
I tried again “Poppy! This isn’t like you, we normally have a fun time, will you please explain to me why you screamed at me like that?”
She ignored me until finally I approached and took her book from her hands. Slowly she blinked and looked up at me. Giving a large yawn, she quietly grumbled that she was tired. I decided to put her to bed and discuss the incident with my brother when he got home.
For the rest of the evening I felt spooked. Imagine, a grown woman getting wigged out over a child having a tantrum, and yet I felt it was something decidedly unlike a tantrum. The house seemed to shift around me, like a constant movement in my peripheral vision, but each time I tried to look, to catch it, there was nothing to see. Clicking through the channels to pass the time I felt a wash of relief when they both arrived home. They said they would speak to Poppy the next day, but in the presence of adults I felt calmer and suggested perhaps she had a bug coming on or was stressed after the move. Waving them goodnight I hurried to the car and the sanctuary of my own home.
Over the course of the next few months things seemed to get weirder and weirder. I popped round to drop off a set of new towels I bought as a gift, and noticed some crayon marks on the hallway wall next to three black elongated handprints. Tom, Hailey, and Poppy all had dark circles under their eyes, and a pile of dishes sat festering in the kitchen sink. There were no smiles, no laughter.
I’m ashamed to admit that I gave excuses the next couple of times my brother asked if I could watch Poppy for a couple of hours to give them a break. One night however, I got a call from my Hailey who was clearly holding back tears. I’ve always admired how composed and together they have both always been. Their home is usually immaculate, Poppy is loved and cared for, they both do well at work, and seem to have time for the rest of the family. This phone call painted a new and uncomfortable picture in my mind.
She told me how exhausted they were, and they didn’t mean to burden me but Poppy was having a difficult phase. None of them were sleeping much. Odd things were happening around the house. I quickly apologised for not being around enough, for not helping more. I told her I love them all, and a couple of hours was something I could easily give.
It all sounds so dramatic doesn’t it? I don’t quite know how to articulate the feeling we all seemed to be sharing, like this invisible shroud was connecting the two households. I didn’t want to visit, and they didn’t want to be trapped there.
Hindsight is a wonderful thing, don’t they say? Well, looking back I don’t know how I didn’t think more about how odd Mr Waffles was. How I didn’t really think about him at all, until the third time he appeared.
When I arrived at my brother’s house the first thing that struck me was the state of the hallway. Huge stains had appeared on the walls as if something was seeping through the ceiling. A long thin crack ran alongside the bannister leading up the staircase. There also seemed to be a musty smell in the air, an old abandoned building smell.
“Oh dear, are you getting a bit of …damp coming through down here?” I ventured.
My brother gave me a thin tired smile and pressed a piece of paper into my hand as he stepped out the door and into the evening. Hailey squeezed Poppy into a tight little hug before following him.
I realised after a few moments I was stood frozen on the spot staring after them with my head slightly cocked to one side. I let out a bubble of nervous laughter at how comical I must have looked before quickly silencing myself. Poppy rubbed at her eyes before slowly trudging into the living room and out of sight.
Unfurling the note I stayed in the hallway, feeling some odd sense of trepidation. Tom and Hailey had never acted that way before, and they had never let their home look less than tidy either. My eyes fell to the words in my hand. ‘Just play along.’
I walked stiffly into the living room to find Poppy sitting on the floor with a pad in her lap. She was drawing thick black circles with a biro. Approaching the sofa I noticed one of the cushions had that slight depression again. Instinctively I sat in the armchair instead, a metre away. “So, what’s on the cards tonight then flubba?” I managed to croak out, keeping my eyes trained on the television which was currently playing an episode of Friends.
No response at first, and then as though someone or something terrible was speaking through her, Poppy croaked out “Sit still and be quiet. Don’t move, don’t you move.”
I froze. For two whole episodes I pretended to be a statue. I’m a grown woman. Perhaps that’s why I sensed the importance of following the instructions. Of believing the note to be vital.
As another set of credits rolled, she spoke in that disjointed voice again, not her little six year old Poppy’s voice, but this calm bone chilling voice. “Turn it off. Be silent. Don’t look away.”
My trembling hand reached for the remote and carefully clicked off the television, my eyes remaining fixed on the now black screen. There he sat, reflected clearly for me to see. He didn’t look like a man, he looked more like an idea of a man. Tears rolled down my cheeks and my breath hitched as I took in the exposed rib cage, stringy bits of flesh spiderwebbed across the bones. The arms and legs looked like multiple bones had been snapped and fused together to make gangly limbs that hung loosely from his frame. His stomach was a pulsing mush of flesh, seemingly absent of any actual skin. But his face was the worst to look at. His face was pointed right at me, not at my reflection, but actually at me, watching me. It looked like a bone mask carved with blunt tools, dented and ridged, attached to a wet moulded mass of meat shaped into a head. The mouth was devoid of lips, and instead looked like a crudely carved hole filled with tens of tiny needle-like teeth. A thin pointed tongue flicked out for a moment as he watched me. As I looked at his jet black oval eyes, his head turned with a sharp swift crack to look at my reflection, meeting my gaze.
I think in that moment I passed out from the fear. That moment cemented my childless future, as someone who not only couldn’t relate to children, but didn’t have the strength to protect them either. How long was my niece alone in the room with that thing? Seconds? Hours? When I came to, Poppy was stroking my hair and softly humming. I didn’t look at the television or the sofa. I quietly stood up, scooped her into my arms, and took her to my car.
My brother came to fetch Poppy from my house the next morning after I suggested they stay in a hotel for the night.
That weekend we painted the house white during the daylight hours, and I helped arrange an appointment with an estate agent. It was a cramped few months having the three of the stay in my house, but luckily they found a first time buyer with no chain and were able to move again fairly quickly. Poppy just celebrated her seventh birthday and we haven’t had any more visits from Mr Waffles. I do hope the young couple that purchased the house don’t want children.
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