About Uncle Story
When somebody in town sneezed —pop! — they disappeared before you could say gesundheit. That’s one of the bedtime stories I remember our uncle telling Lucy and me. I think I was five or six. Lucy is a year younger. His name was Jack, but we called him Uncle Story. His tales always had a simple moral. For example, some kids made fun of an old lady who sneezed so she put a hex on the whole town. Uncle Story said we should always respect our elders.
Another of his yarns was about a farmer who had the only clock in the county. He was happy at first that everyone came to him to learn what time it was. But then he was so overwhelmed by the lines of people, he couldn’t get his chores done. Moral: Don’t ever let yourself become a slave to the clock. Seemed profound as a second slice of pie to a couple of children.
Once Uncle Story came to our house and went straight to the kitchen with Mom and Dad. Lucy and I were sitting on the floor in the front room in our pajamas. We had our legs scissored apart; our bare feet were touching, and we were toe wrestling. I could hear the three grown-ups whispering in the other room. After a few minutes, they came out. Mom was wiping her eyes. Dad hugged Uncle Story. When they finished their embrace, Uncle Story came to Lucy and me. He reached down and squeezed Lucy’s foot and mine in his hand and asked Mom if he could tuck us in and tell us a story.
I remember Mom’s voice crumbling as she told him of course he could. Lucy and I each declared victory in the toe fight and argued our way upstairs. After we brushed our teeth, we went to our bedroom. A few minutes later, Uncle Story came in. We’d always sit on the lower bunk. He’d put one of us on his lap; the other of us sat beside him. I think I had the place of honor this time. The story was about a disappearing man. Each day there was a little less of him till finally he was gone. But not to worry, Uncle Story said, the man had turned into a dream, a happy dream. And, as a dream, whenever the children he loved started to have a nightmare, he chased it away.
After that night, Uncle Story came by less and less often. Then not at all.
Mom and Dad argued about whether Lucy and I were old enough to go to the funeral. Mom eventually won out. Some people there were crying. I was sorry for Uncle Story, but thought the thing would never get over with. Then, when we finally left the funeral parlor, I realized we still had to go to the cemetery. Lucy was sleeping in Dad’s arms by the time they lowered Uncle Story into the ground during a cold drizzle.
That evening Lucy started crying when I explained we’d never see our uncle again. Being the big brother, I thought I’d cheer her up with a story. I fashioned a tale about Uncle Story’s ghost rising up out of the ground to watch over us.
It was sometime in the middle of the night that Lucy woke up screaming. When Mom rushed in, Lucy said she’d seen, in our room, a scary ghost that looked like our uncle. When Mom asked Lucy where she got such a notion, my sister started jabbering about my story. I tried to explain it was meant to be a friendly ghost story, but I still got in trouble. My parents unplugged my television privileges for a week.
Of course life went on. Lucy and I gradually quit talking about Uncle Story. Actually, now that I think back on it, that happened pretty quickly. We both went away to college. Lucy went to a school in the western part of state. I went east. We kept in touch.
I started having the dreams during my sophomore year. They were nothing but vague shapes in the dark at first, but they left me so unsettled I could hardly concentrate to study. Then the dreams took on jagged edges and revealed Uncle Story. I hadn’t even thought about him in years, but now he haunted me.
The nightmares wouldn’t go away. Each time, I was a child again sitting on Uncle Story’s lap. As he told one of his tales, I’d become aware of him shifting his weight and squirming underneath me. Sometimes Mom or Dad would look in on us, and Uncle Story would grow still, then begin moving oddly again when we were alone. Were these dreams of something that really happened or just my crazy imagination? I had no idea, but I became so obsessed, I couldn’t even go to class.
I knew I had to get my act together or I was going to flunk out of school. I started smoking pot at bedtime to help me sleep. I met a girl I sort of liked. I went to most of my classes. My grades were decent. The nightmares were less frequent. I thought I was cobbling things back together.
Then one evening I was talking to Lucy, and I noticed her voice kept trailing off. When I pressed her for what was wrong, she said she’d been having strange, awful memories. More like flashbacks. She said they were about Uncle Story.
About the Author: David Henson and his wife have lived in Belgium and Hong Kong over the years and now reside in Peoria, Illinois. His work has appeared in various journals including Dime Show Review, Flash Fiction Magazine, Fiction on the Web, Fiction Pool, The Eunoia Review, and Literally Stories. You can find his website here, or follow him on Twitter here.