• J.P Stewart

Horror Short Story: Mo

Updated: Aug 17, 2020

Mo

‘He’s not real!’ his father roared, eyes bulging. ‘Why do you have to be such a wee freak?’

The plate shattered against the dining room wall.

“I’m sorry, sir.’ Noah sobbed, staring at the table.

His mother leapt to her feet. 'Imaginary friends,' she said, almost pleading with her husband. 'It's a phase.' She moved between them and gently took her raging husband's hand.

He exhaled but never took his eyes off Noah.

She forced a broken smile, and wearily swept up the broken crockery. Like always.

Of course he's harmless – he's my friend, thought Noah as he willed the tears not to come. What sort of friend would want to hurt you? He fled to his room, knowing his father would stew and not follow. Noah closed the bedroom door and saw him. Mo.

That's what Noah called him. Mainly because that’s the only word the big clown could say. Mo always wore a happy face, red nose, and funny clothes. He juggled and did cartwheels and pulled rainbow hankies from his pockets. He was fun. It was silly, but still way more fun than the lunchtimes Noah usually spent alone in the playground, looking at his shoelaces, or inventing excuses to avoid eye contact with classmates and risk drawing attention to himself. So he walked endless laps of the football pitch, in a cold sweat, hoping the bigger lads wouldn’t decide lob a stone at him.

Mo’s big eyes and his wild green hair were more fun than his parents' horrified faces, when he had struggled to name more than two other children to invite to his last birthday party. More fun than when his father yelled and broke things.

Mo might not be real, but he's still my friend.

When he was younger, Noah thought ghosts were real. His father had screamed then too when he found out – only a freak would believe in ghosts, he said. More importantly, as Noah would come to realise, even if ghosts did exist, it wouldn’t matter much. They would still be very dead. Dead things don’t come after little boys. Dead things don’t do much at all. They’re just dead. They certainly aren’t hungry.

Mo was hungry. Always.

In the beginning it was like a game, a secret between the two of them, when Noah would sneak Mo bits of cheese and bacon under his father’s nose. It was easy - Mo was invisible, after all. Noah grinned ear-to-ear when he realised the truth. If his imaginary friend needed to eat, it meant one thing. While he might not be real, he was alive.

Noah stood in his room, looking at Mo's happy face, his drooping green hair, and frowned. Whatever was left of his dinner was in the bin which meant no snacks for Mo. The big clown whimpered, but smiled with sad eyes, and quietly retreated to his hiding place under Noah's bed.

Noah went to the cage on his bedside table, where Dale the hamster chomped away on his brown nuggets of crushed veggies. At least someone would be well fed.

That night, Noah's chest got tight and twisty as he stared at Mo’s shivering shadow on the wall, beaming out from beneath the bed as Noah's nightlight glowed from the corner f the room. It may have been a trick of the night light, or a dream, but Noah was sure the big clown’s shadow shrunk every time he blinked. He fell asleep to the sound of the Dale’s wheel squeaking on his bedside table.

Tomorrow would be better.

#

Dale curled himself up in a ball under his hay.

Mo stood by the bedroom door, his shoulders sloped and his big eyes sinking deeper into his head. 'Mo,’ said the clown, mustering a smile. He usually danced and juggled first thing in the morning. Not today.

Noah smiled back. ‘Don’t worry. We’ll get you some nosh today.’

Mo’s smile radiated into a grin. It put deep wrinkles on his once plump face.

#

Noah’s father stood over him as he picked around his breakfast. His mum sat at the opposite end of the table, looking into her bowl, her face red on one side below her eye.

‘Eat it, or leave it,’ said his father. ‘But this nonsense stops.’

‘But,’ Noah began.

The bowl vanished as his father emptied what was left of breakfast into the bin. ‘Have it your way.’ He marched back to the table with Noah’s schoolbag in hand. ‘On your feet.’

Noah looked desperately to his mum. She took him to school usually. He liked that part of his day. She only had eyes for the bowl in front of her.


#


In the car his father drove in silence. Noah sat in the backseat.

‘Mo,' said the clown.

Shhhh’, hissed Noah.

‘What’s that?’ his father barked as he peered in the rear view mirror.

‘Nothing.’ He hugged his knees.

‘I mean it, boy. No more rubbish with hiding your food or talk of invisible shite. It’s horseshit, and you’ll end up a wee billy-no-mates if you keep spouting that nonsense. You hear me? Nobody wants to be friends with a head case.’

I already haven’t got any friends.

‘Yes, sir.’

‘Good.’ His father turned his attention back to the road.

Noah glanced sideways. His friend had vanished.

‘Mo.’ The clown appeared in the front passenger seat, sitting sideways with his own knees pulled to his chest, staring at Noah’s father.

#

Noah’s school dinner may as well have been a pile of dirt on a tray. It was supposed to be fish and chips, but his appetite had vanished. His father had followed him into school, which wasn’t ever a good thing, and now Mrs. Murtugh was staring at him from across the canteen.

She’s watching me eat. He’s told her to watch him.

And it was easy to watch Noah sitting all alone at the end of a long bench. Watch his food, his hands, and his lips – in case he started talking to “himself”.

Like a freak.

He stared at the food, and felt his chest grow heavy.

‘Mo?’ said the clown. His sunken, sad face appeared beneath the table and poked itself between Noah’s legs, almost resting the chin in his lap. Those big eyes were turning yellow and had more wrinkles in their corners since this morning. Bald patches appeared where green hair once grew thick and curly. Noah’s stomach twisted - Mo was starving.

Mo frowned and licked his lips.

Noah glanced at Mrs. Murtugh. She stared back, leaning forward in her seat, with her own wrinkles working their way into her forehead.

I can’t.

Noah shook his head. ‘Not now,’ he mumbled, doing his best not to move his lips.

Mo’s heart lived behind his eyes and Noah’s words broke it. The clown’s gaze glazed over. He nodded. ‘Mo…’

#

Mum wasn’t at the dinner table that night. Noah sat shaking in front of the pizza his father ordered. Every so often he glanced up at his father’s face staring from across the table, and regretted it. The clock ticked passed eight o’clock. His stomach wrenched at him – but it was more revolt than hunger. He wouldn’t eat, he would not be hungry, not when Mo needed it more. It wasn’t fair.

‘I’m…’ Noah said.

His father’s eyebrows lowered into a scowl. ‘You’re what?’

Courage came, almost by surprise. ‘I’m not hungry.’

The plate was swiped from the table and thrown in the bin along with the untouched pizza. Noah’s chair was dragged from beneath him, forcing him to stand, and his father’s seized him by the shirt collar. ‘Then get to bed.’

He dragged Noah along the hall and shoved him into his room. The door slammed behind him and angry footsteps disappeared down the hallway.

Darkness – except for his nightlight. Dale’s wheel squeaked away in his cage, full of energy, happily running his latest marathon. Noah breathed, choking on a sob, and ambled to his bed. He sat with his head in his hands and thought about whether it would be easier to run away. He wondered how easy it might be to simply die.

But then mum would be alone, with him.

He hadn’t seen her at all since this morning. She hadn’t come out of her room for dinner. Noah’s head rested in his hands. His shoulders bobbed.

‘Mo,' said the clown.

Noah flinched and shot a look across the room to the darkest of corners.

‘Mo.' The clown was there, but in the darkness, with only his large, yellow eyes hanging in the shadows. Huge and hungry. ‘Mo?

Noah sucked in air through gritted teeth. ‘I’m sorry.’

Mo drifted out of the shadows. Noah gasped as his friend’s frail, gaunt body emerged. His clothes hung from his bones, their colour gone, his skin had paled to sickly yellow, matching eyes. All his hair had gone. He hunched forward as if the weight of his own head had bowed his spine. ‘Mo.’

‘There’s nothing here, Mo. I’m sorry.’

The clown nodded. A cold expression soaked into his gaunt features. ‘Mo.’

He sunk to the floor, as if his bones had melted out of his body, and crept under Noah’s bed, back to his hiding place. Noah lifted his feet from the floor and turned to watch Mo’s shadow against his far wall. He wasn’t a round clown under the bed now, but this jagged, bony thing that barely moved. Noah crawled under his covers, and shook.

Mo lay silent, no crying, no shakes. He didn’t even seem to breathe.

‘Goodnight, Mo,’ said Noah, knowing he wouldn’t get an answer. He kept his eyes on that jagged shadow until sleep forced itself on him.

#

Noah opened his eyes as the first light of morning shined through his bedroom window. He glanced at his clock…. 06:12. He groaned and cancelled the alarm before shuffling out of bed. I could be quiet and sneak to the kitchen to get something for Mo.

He dropped to his hands and knees to peer under the bed.

Nothing.

The room was empty and bright, with no dark corners to hide, unless Mo had started camping in the wardrobe. He padded across the room and checked just in case, but all he found were clothes on coat hangers and his usual stash of toys.

Panic squeezed Noah’s heart. Mo had never left him, not completely, not since he’d appeared at the end of the bed all those weeks ago. He lived in Noah’s mind so he couldn’t run away… could he?

Noah squeezed on his trainers and lifted his plastic golf club out of the wardrobe. He didn’t know why, but having something like a sword in his hand made him feel better. He checked under the bed again, behind his curtains, and even opened his drawers and ruffled through his underwear and socks just to be sure.

‘Mo?’ he whispered. ‘Where are you?’

It was so quiet. Really quiet.

He walked to his bed side desk, his putter-sword raised high, and peered into Dale’s cage. The wheel sat still. The bed of hay was empty. The cage door was latched shut.

‘Dale?’

Mo.’ It came from behind him.

Noah spun to meet two bulging, yellow eyes staring down at him. The clown looked like a walking corpse, with skin hanging from his skull, and his suit all rotted and pale. But he was smiling.

Noah’s back pressed against the desk. He pointed the putter-sword at the thing bearing down on him. ‘Where’s Dale?’ His voice shook.

Mo’s smile broadened and exposed a mouth full of blood-stained teeth. ‘Mo.’

Sweat rolled down Noah’s back. He shuffled sideways towards his door.

Mo stayed where he was, watching, smiling. ‘Mo... MoMore.’

Noah scampered outside and slammed the door behind him. He collided with something in the hall and fell back onto his bum. His putter-sword bounced off the carpet. Noah gazed up into his father’s red face.

‘What are you doing?’ growled his father.

Noah tried to answer but the words just wouldn’t work in his mouth. ‘It was Mo…’

His father had him by the scruff and dragged him to his feet. ‘Don’t. Don’t you dare.’

Noah whimpered. His pyjama bottoms became wet.

His father glared down at the sound of dripping pee on the carpet. ‘Perfect.’ He shoved Noah against the wall and stormed to his bedroom.

Noah wanted to warn him. Again, the words wouldn’t come. His father emerged with a change of mismatching clothes and shoved them into Noah’s arms.

‘Get into the bathroom and sort yourself out. You’re not getting out of school just because you wet yourself.’ He marched away to the kitchen. Noah was still shaking and glanced up the hall towards his bedroom.

Mo stood in the corridor, watching. ‘More.’

Noah changed in the hall and never took his eyes off the decomposing clown.

#

He swept into the canteen and snatched a handful of chips from the hot trays before sprinting out the door. He didn’t stop moving. He lapped the pitches, the nursery, and the mobile classrooms, afraid to look anywhere but his own feet. Someone threw a stone at him and caught him in the ear. He yelped but kept walking. They threw stones sometimes. Sometimes worse.

He rounded a blind corner and skidded to a halt.

Yellow eyes. Red teeth. ‘More.

Noah snatched the chips form his pocket and held them out towards the thing that used to be a clown.

Mo gazed at them, as if it was the first time he’d seen chips, and shook his warped head.

More.’ He smiled and licked his bloody teeth.

‘But this is real food,’ said Noah. ‘You don’t want it?’

More.’ The clown kept smiling. He was hungry. But not for chips.

#

He hid under the covers, torch in one hand and his putter-sword in the other. Mrs. Murtugh had sent him home for wetting himself in class. It wasn’t his fault. He’d turned to look out the window onto the playground and saw Mo standing on the football pitch, waving. He was thinner than ever, like a scarecrow bending in the wind.

When Noah got home his father had yelled and smashed more plates. There was no dinner. There wasn’t even homework. He’d been sent to his room, and he couldn't stop shivering. His mother hadn’t come out of her room. Dale was gone. He hugged his knees – deciding what to do.

More.’ It came from across the room.

Noah flinched, and held back a whimper.

More.

He peaked above his covers and those hovering eyes appeared in the far, dark corner. That hovering, red smile.

More.

Noah breathed deep and quick. It didn’t help; his chest was an empty hole. He thought of Dale. He thought of his mother. He glanced at his door. Outside his father's angry footsteps rumbled throughout the house.

I don’t want to be scared anymore.

In that moment he decided. ‘Go to bed, Mo.’

Mo stopped and tilted his head. ‘More?’

‘Go to bed!’ The strength in his voice surprised him. It must have caught Mo off-guard too.

The withered, hairless clown shrunk to the floor, moaning, and slunk under the bed.

‘Good,’ said Noah through gritted teeth. A gentle scratch pawed the underside of the bed.

Noah took a deep, certain breath.

‘You are real, Mo! I don’t care what anyone says! You’re real! REALLY REAL!’

He shot a look towards the bedroom door as the floor thundered with those familiar, violent footsteps. The door burst open.

‘That’s enough,’ growled his father. He heaved his bulk into the doorway, the light of the hall casting him in a dark silhouette, like he was more ape than man. He stalked inside and pointed at Noah. ‘If I have to tell you one more fucking time, boy, I’ll beat you bloody. Do you hear me?’

Noah glared at him. ‘He’s real.’

His father’s eyes went wild. He stormed for the bed. ‘You little fucking shit!’ He reached for Noah.

More.’

He stopped dead, and looked down at the darkness under the bed. ‘What was…?’

Noah met his father’s confused, frightened eyes, and liked what he saw. ‘Really real.’

The bed shuddered. Noah’s father screamed as he was dragged down. The walls splattered red as his legs disappeared into the darkness. Noah clutched his putter-sword tight as his father clawed at him, screaming with demented eyes. Wet crunches filled the space under the bed and sucked the power from his grip.

‘Help! HELP ME, BOY!

Noah smashed him in the face with his putter. His father shrieked one more time then vanished under the bed.

There was a final, air-shaking crunch. Then silence.

Noah leaned over the edge and found a pool of red spreading across the carpet. He breathed out.

His mother ambled into the doorway, her hair a tangled mess, her cheeks flush, and her left eye sported a nasty bruise. She looked at the carpet, fell to her knees, and screamed.

#

Mum lived somewhere else now. Somewhere she could get well, the doctor’s said. They really wanted Noah to get well too. He’d been through a lot. His father was a bad man and his mum was just protecting him, they said. Noah missed his mum sometimes. He didn’t think about his father. Why would he? Dead things can't bother little boys. Dead things can't hurt anybody.

The doctors didn’t say much else.

Neither did Noah.

He was alone for months. At least, that’s what they thought, in the hospitals and sheltered homes. But he was never alone. Not really.

In the quieter moments he giggled at empty spaces and applauded some unseen show. They never knew. He never told them.

When he smiled more, and started talking again, they thought he was better. A prim woman in a sharp suit sat down with him.

‘I have good news, Noah,’ she said, delighted. ‘A new mummy and daddy. A new home.’

#

Noah stood outside his new school, holding hands with his foster mum, and stared at the front gate.

‘It’ll be okay, darling,’ she said, her face all warm and loving. ‘The kids here are nice. You’ll make friends.’

Noah smiled back. They liked it when he smiled back. Beside him, Mo juggled, happy and plump, he’d been that way for months – a good meal goes a long way. Saying that, his eyes had a bit of a droop in them today and his yellow trousers fit a little loose around his waist.

‘I hope they’re nice,’ Noah said.

She kissed his cheek before he made his way up the steps with Mo. He did hope to make friends, because if he didn’t. if they were mean… he glanced at Mo’s gentle face. That big smile - still red. He hoped to make friends. But if they didn't want to be his friend, he already had one who would help him again.

The realest friend there is. And he’s always hungry.



#publish #steps #checklist

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