“In the little world in which children have their existence, whosever brings them up, there is nothing so finely perceived and so finely felt as injustice.”
-Charles Dickens, Great Expectations
Simon heard the whistling, soft and rhythmic, from outside his bedroom door. The sound had woken him up. His head was hazy, but the tune was unmistakable, the words coming to him as the whistling continued in an innocent, childlike pitch:
“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes. Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, eyes and ears….”
Beside him, Kate was sleeping, lightly breathing, undisturbed by the whistling that, to Simon, seemed to echo in the hall. As usual, she was turned away from him on her pillow. The bedroom was dark, faint, pale moonlight coming through the thin curtains.
The tune repeated after it finished without a break, and then again a third time. It sounded like one of Daisy’s toys had crossed wires, or had been left plugged in. “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…” Simon shook his head and rubbed his eyes. He had to deal with it if he was going to get any rest. He should make Daisy get up, but he knew she slept more deeply than her mother.
Simon pulled on his T-shirt and stepped quietly from the bed. He closed the bedroom door behind him. The hallway was barely lit by an egg-yellow nightlight. Daisy’s bedroom door was shut tight.
The whistling was louder as Simon walked down the hall. It was coming from the kitchen. The tune continued repeating over and over, no breaths, no stops. He looked back at the bedroom door, still dark. Kate was still asleep. His daughter’s bedroom was still dark. “Head, shoulders, knees and toes…”
Simon wondered if he should pick up something, maybe go back for the fireplace poker. He felt childish, like a little boy scared of the dark, but the rhythmic “Head, shoulders…” was getting to him. He opened the hallway closet and took out his church-league softball bat. Last weekend, he hit a two-room RBI while Kate and Daisy watched from behind the dugout, both looking miserable. Kate was not one for church functions, and Daisy was not one for church. No amount of shaming her seemed to make a difference.
“Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes…”
As Simon got to the corner of the kitchen wall, the whistling stopped. Simon gripped the bat more tightly. He reached around the wall to turn on the light. When he flipped the switch, nothing happened. He felt sweat on the palm of his hand and wiped it on his boxer shorts so he could better grip the bat. He smelled leftovers from the dinner they had that night, ham and green beans.
“Hello?” he said, almost in a whisper, and felt foolish. It was a small kitchen. “Hello?” he said louder, his own voice echoing over the stovetop. Don’t wake Kate, he thought.
He stepped inside. There was no sound. Simon peered around through the empty kitchen into the dining room, all dark. He walked across the kitchen and flipped the dining room light switch. Nothing. He was angry now. Whatever Daisy had bought, it not only had woken him up, but it had quit before he could find it. If it comes on again, he’s waking her up. And he’s smashing the hell out of it.
He tapped the top of the bat on the floor and started to turn around. The whistling started again: “Head, shoulders, knees and toes….
It was then he saw it, its head nearly touching the nine-foot ceiling. It was vaporous, murky, but shaped like a man. He could see through it, see the cooking apron hanging on the wall behind it. Then he saw something in its hands, the dining room light reflecting off the copper-plated chisel and the silver hammer; both raised above him. Simon started to cock the bat for a giant swing, but felt the first crushing blow of the chisel into his shoulder, the blade cutting deep across into his shoulder blade, splitting it he was sure.
Simon was too shocked to scream. He fell to one knee, clutching his arm, then he raised his left hand to protect himself when he saw the hammer and blade coming down again, this time at his head.
The chisel grazed off his right side. Simon reached for and swung the bat with one arm, but it went right through it, disturbing it no more than a stick of straw through a cloud of smoke. Its body was there, but not there.
Simon fell flat from swinging the bat, and that’s when he felt an involuntary moan, a growling, come out of him as he pushed himself toward the hall. He tried to say Kate’s name, but he felt another piercing rip into his back, the clink of the hammer distinct and terrible.
As his eyes started to blur, the pain overwhelming him, he thought he saw his daughter’s bedroom light turned on from under the closed door.
Daisy sat upright in bed. She heard the commotion outside. She turned on her lamp, grabbing the journal from her bedside table. She heard the footsteps outside of her closed door, and she heard the tune it whistled: “Head, shoulders, knees and toes, knees and toes, eyes and ears, and mouth…“
She could hear the door of her mother’s bedroom kicked open, and then she heard her mother scream.
Daisy clutched firmly to the frayed leather journal, the journal with the hammer and chisel stitched on the front that she had secreted it away from her grandmother’s house. Earlier that night, after dinner, she read the words just as it instructed.
“It worked,” she whispered, and turned out her light.
Gregg Mayer is a writer and lawyer in Mississippi. His first published story was “The Peacemaker,” which won first place in a competition hosted by the Texas Bar Journal in 2017.