How the Oswold Children Died

He would never forget the story of how the Oswold children died, but if he did, they would be sure to remind him. As it was, they mostly just repeated back to him the last words he said before their deaths.

“Oh, I’ve made a mistake.”

Jeremy always made a point of letting him know that the haunting wasn’t his idea. There are rules, and it is very hard for a young boy to change the rules. This is especially true when the child is dead.

He had never really liked Emily. Even when she was alive, she had always looked far too stern and serious for such a young girl. While it certainly suited her better now that she was dead, it was no less upsetting.

He had become rather lonely since the youths began to manifest in his home. He had only been with two women since their death. As much as he tried to ignore them, the children standing on either side of his bed were very distracting during lovemaking.

“Oh, I’ve made a mistake. Oh, I’ve made a mistake.”

Other than that, they were pretty easy to ignore. He was a little uncomfortable with them following him into the bath, especially since Emily was six, and old enough to start asking questions.

He woke up every day around seven. This was easier as it got close to summer, since the children tended not to come out in sunlight. It meant he could start the day in peace. In the darker time of year, his radio alarm was sure to set them off too.

“That ought to do it. Oh, I’ve made a mistake.”

Once, he tried earplugs. A very high end industrial model. Orange, with a little cord between them. Jeremy smiled and shook his head. “You think that’s sound you’re hearing?”

He started the hot water, and picked out his clothes. He could never put his finger on any outward expression of it, but Emily often seemed to disapprove of the clothes he picked out. He did find that he was more likely to be complimented on outfits she had agreed to. After the bath, he ate a simple breakfast of cereal or toast. On weekends he might bother with eggs. He never had the motivation for really making a breakfast, like pancakes or waffles, now that he was alone. Finally, he’d head into the bathroom to finish getting ready. He did everything with the medicine cabinet open. He didn’t like seeing them in the mirror. They looked more dead somehow.

They were never able to follow him past the bus. Even on December 21st, the darkest day of the year, the sun would be up before he arrived at work. He was glad of that. He already hated his job enough. Eight hours of processing claims without having to hear it.

“Oh, I’ve made a mistake. That ought to do it. Oh, I’ve made a mistake.”

He always intended to bring food for lunch, but almost never did. There were several excellent delis in the area, but he usually just went across the street. They had good bread, but they skimped on the cheese, and the salami was too salty. Every other week after lunch there was a department meeting. It was forty-five minutes of people he hated talking about nothing. He sometimes wished the kids could be there, not because he missed them, but so they knew he was being tortured at work as well.

In the summer, he’d go drinking after work, sometimes with a co-worker, but usually alone. He wasn’t much of a drinker, but he enjoyed spending time with people who were neither children nor dead. Later in the year, they might even show up for the last 15 minutes of work. On those days he’d check out early. He’d leave through the back door, and walk around the building to the bus stop. Jeremy seemed to be impressed by this brazenness born of cowardice.

One evening in early January, he ran into his Team Leader sneaking a cigarette in the protective warmth of the back stairwell. He did his best to smile and hurry to the bus as if neither of them was breaking any rules. The entire night the two of them never let up for a moment. All through dinner and the evening news. When he tried to read his mail. When he told the Firefighters’ Association for Burn Victim Orphans that he couldn’t afford to help that year. Even after he turned up the music so loud he couldn’t think.

“Oh, I’ve made a mistake. Oh, I’ve made a mistake. Oh, I’ve made a mistake.”

If he didn’t start cooking as soon as he got home, he would settle into the couch, which almost always meant ordering food. Sometimes, during dinner, Jeremy would ask to hear about his day. Once he realized that the longer the story, the longer they listened quietly, he made it a point to recount every little detail of each day, often taking the time and effort to invent a number of details which had not actually happened. Jeremy would always let the most fantastic stories pass without being contested, but had a million little questions about the inanities of the day. “Why would they have you at a meeting about that? It has nothing to do with your job.” “That’s the silliest rule I’ve ever heard.” “No one could be that bad at his job.” After dinner they would all sit and watch TV. The only time Emily seemed to have something to say was when she asked to watch cartoons. Occasionally he’d switch it to Nickelodeon while he ran to the bathroom, but for the most part he led her on. “After the seven-day forecast, okay?” He knew quite well that the seven-day forecast came in the last five minutes of the show. Eventually she stopped asking all together.

Finally, he turned off the TV and went to bed. They would stand at his bed, either both of them at the foot, or one on each side, and they would stare. They would stare, and they would speak. Every night, it was the same. At first it kept him up for hours, but people will get used to almost anything.

“That ought to do it. Oh,…”