J. W. Judge
A few days ago, my 5 year old started calling for me in the middle of the night. I looked at the clock and saw that it was 3:40am. With only an hour and twenty minutes left until my alarm was set to go off, I knew that my good sleep was pretty much done for.
I went up to his room and tried to coax him back to sleep. But when he told me that he couldn’t sleep because he didn’t want to be alone any more, I felt really bad for him and laid down beside him.
But in that little bed with only a minimum of covers made available to me, my mind started racing. And I came up with the scene below, that is being incorporated into a work in progress — as in, this is only the second scene for that project, but it looks to be weird and interesting.
[Note: I have adapted a version of this story to be incorporated into my debut novel, Vulcan Rising. Read more about the novel at jwjudge.com.]
So when people tell you that having a family is a deterrent to being able to write more, I have two responses: (1) that’s probably true, but you have to make time in the margins to write if it’s a priority for you; and (2) this isn’t the first time that having kids has been good for my writing and inspired some content, fiction or otherwise.
Now, I’m not saying your should have kids just so that can serve as sources of inspiration — though I’ve probably heard of people having kids with worse motivations for bringing them into the world. But if you do have kids, you may find that it’s good for your fiction writing from time to time.
Here’s the scene that was inspired by my 3:40am wake-up call.
Josiah scrunched his eyes to read the clock from across the room. 3:40 AM. He fumbled for the monitor beside him, punched the button, and asked “What do you need?“
“Can I come to your bed?” came the four year old’s request.
“No,” Agatha whispered to him.
He relayed the message. “No, buddy. It’s too early. Just go back to sleep.”
“I’m scared,” the boy complained.
“There’s nothing to be scared of. Just go back to sleep.” Josiah heard whimpering. “I’ll be there in just a minute.”
With the grunt, he shoved off the covers and sat up. The cold air struck him like it had been a bucket of water. He pulled on a pair of sweat pants and padded down the hall to the boy’s room.
“What’s wrong?” he asked.
“I don’t want to be alone anymore.”
Josiah’s dad-heart broke just a little bit when he heard that. “Okay, buddy. Scooch over. I’ll lay down beside you for a couple minutes. Let me have some of those covers.” They nestled in and within a few minutes the boy again. A few minutes after that, he could hear gentle snoring.
Josiah had just started to drift off himself when the boy jerked and sat up. “Something fell on my legs!”
“Something fell on my legs.”
Josiah began running his hand over the bed covers hoping it wasn’t another water leak. “There’s nothing here,” he determined.
The boy argued, “Uh-huh. Look at the leaves.”
Josiah strained his eyes in the dark, assisted by the dim glow of the nightlight. He felt around the middle of the bed where the boy’s legs were curled up. There were no leaves.
“There’s nothing here. That’s just the bedspread.”
Rather than conceding that his imagination was running wild, the boy said, “There’s an animal too. He’s curled up by my feet.”
Josiah’s frustration level was escalating. “Bud, there’s nothing here.”
“He says he’s a red panda.”
“What?” Josiah asked.
“The animal. He says he’s a red panda,” the boy replied.
“So he just told you that?”
“Yeah. He says he’s here to keep me company so I wouldn’t be alone anymore.”
Josiah was at a total loss. “Okay. Well, I guess I’ll just lay here for a few more minutes ‘til you go back to sleep. Lay down now.”
The boy said, “I don’t need you now. You can go back to your bed.”
“Yes. Panda said he’d stay until morning.”
Pushed himself out of the bed started walking back to his room, not sure what was happening but relieved that he was going to be able to try and get some more sleep. When you climb back into bed, Agatha asked, “Everything alright?”
In the dark, she couldn’t see the peculiar expression on his face.“I guess?”
“What does that mean?” she asked, pushing herself up onto an elbow.
“Well, he said he was scared and didn’t wanna be alone anymore, but now apparently there’s a panda in the bed with him so everything is okay. But there’s nothing in the bed other than that boy. Oh, and the panda can talk.”
“Things are getting kind of weird around here,” Josiah observed.
“I know,” Agatha said.
“That’s … not the response I was expecting.”
“I know,” she said.
“I think we need to talk in the morning.”
“I know,” she said.
Sleep didn’t come easily for Josiah after that. There was too much strangeness going on. When the alarm started fussing at him at 5:00 AM, he felt like he had barely closed his eyes again.
After seeing the boy off to school, Agatha grabbed a cup of coffee and sat down at the kitchen table across from Josiah.
“Well?” he said
“Well what?” she asked.
“Well, what the heck is happening around here?”
“Why don’t you start with telling me what really happened outside the other night?”
Josiah was caught off guard and it was written all over his face. He tried to recover. “What do you mean the other night? There was a fox. I told you that.”
“Josiah. Look at me.” He looked up from his coffee mug. “Do you think I’m a moron.?”
“No, ma’am. I do not.”
“Do you think I didn’t look outside when I heard that pistol fire?”
“Well I had —”
“Do you think I didn’t see three men out there with one of them laying on the ground and an animal in the driveway?”
“I, uh —”
“Do you think I didn’t notice the sand in the driveway to soak up the blood?”
“That could have been from the fox,” he said.
“It wasn’t.” Agatha said flatly.
“Then, no, I reckon you saw all those things.”
“So why don’t you tell me what happened?”
“It’s kinda hard to explain,” Josiah started fidgeting with some crumbs on the table. He felt like a child that had been caught in mischief.
“Try me. I’ve got time.”
“Not really sure where to start. Not even really sure what happened.”
“How about I tell you something that maybe make it a little bit easier for you?”
“This is going to be a little hard for you to hear,” she warned.
Josiah was surprised again, “What does that mean?”
“That means there’s something about me I haven’t told you.”
“Oh boy. Alright. Go for it, I guess.”
“I am … Well, we don’t really have a word for it.”
“What do you mean we don’t have a word for it?” Josiah asked.
“In English. We don’t have a word for it in English,” Agatha explained.
“Are you meaning to tell me you speak another language? I thought it was gonna be way different than that by the way you were carrying on.”
“I do. But that’s not what I’m trying to tell you.”
“I’m … you could say I’m a witch.”
Josiah just looked at her.
“Did you hear me?” she asked.
“I don’t rightly know.”
“I said I’m a witch,” she repeated.”
“Yep. I heard you then.” Josiah took a deep breath and exhaled. “I’m going to go smoke.”
“You don’t smoke.”
“I didn’t smoke. I do now.”
“You don’t even have any cigarettes.”
“I will have. I’m going to the store to get some, and then I’m gonna have a smoke.”
Josiah got up from the table snagged his keys off the wall and went to the garage. Agatha heard the garage door raise and then lower. About 15 minutes later she heard the garage door raise again then his car door open and close. Shortly after that she heard a good deal of coughing.
When she got outside, Agatha asked, “How’s the smoking going?”
“I think it’s gonna take some getting used to.”
“You want to pick a different vice?”
“Nah. I’ll stick with this for now.”
He took another drag and coughed some more. “So do you do spells and potions and whatnot?”
“No, I’m not that kind of witch.”
“There’s different kinds of witches?”
“Yes,” she answered.
Leaning against the house, Josiah looked at her kind of sideways. Up until now he’d just been looking out into the tree line trying to wrap his mind around this new revelation. “Are you a good witch?”
“Like, am I good at being a witch? Yeah, I guess I am.”
“No,” Josiah shook his head. “Are you a good witch, like Glenda the Good Witch?”
“Oh. Well, then. I guess it depends whose side you’re on.”
“There are sides?”
“Yes,” she said, “there are most definitely sides.”
“I reckon I’m on your side.”
“In that case, I think you’ll find that I’m a good witch.”
“Alright,” Josiah said. This was followed by several minutes of silence. Agatha let him have it. She knew this was tough to process.
“You said there was several kinds of witches?”
“What kind of witch are you?”
“I can talk to animals.”
“Like, you can talk to the dog?”
“I could. I don’t. He’s an idiot.”
“That confirms that suspicion.” He looked at his half-smoked cigarette before grinding it under his boot and said, “I’m gonna need something stronger.”
“You’d better get on to work.”
“Yep.” He walked back into the garage and opened the door to his truck. He turned back toward Agatha. “Seems kinda weird to be going to work after this.”
“It’ll be fine. Nothing’s changed.” Josiah laughed an unexpected laugh. Agatha smiled, and he pulled the door closed. After he started the truck up, she knocked on the window.
When it had stopped lowering, she said, “Tonight, you can tell me what happened the other night.”
“Oh, yeah,” he said, having forgotten he still had his tale to tell.
“Have a good day. Be safe.”
“You too. Or, yeah. You know.” He raised the window, shaking his head at himself, and starting backing out. At least at work, he only had to deal with putting out fires and helping old ladies who’d fallen down and couldn’t get themselves up.