Before I Wake

Kevin felt the floor shake beneath his slippered feet as a staccato stream of gunfire shattered the evening stillness. There was a moments pause, broken by a blood-curdling scream, and the shots resumed full force. Kevin let out an exasperated sigh, threw his head back, and stomped his foot hard on the floor. “Dad!” he yelled, drawing out the word and injecting it with all the whining insistence his seven-year-old voice could muster. In response, the sounds of violence faded slowly, blending into the normal background noises associated with any home.

Satisfied, Kevin pulled the small stepping stool out from under the sink and climbed up to grab his toothbrush. He knew it wouldn't be long before he'd be able to reach everything without the stool, but he didn't mind using it. He'd only recently began putting himself to bed and he enjoyed the new responsibility, but he wasn't eager to grow up too fast. He finished brushing his teeth and filled a small paper cup with bright green mouthwash. It was so painfully minty that Kevin's eyes watered nearly every time he used it, but it was worth it to hear the throaty animal noises he made when he gargled. Spitting out the mouthwash, he jumped from the stool, pushed it carefully back under the sink, shut off the light, and walked across the hall into his bedroom.

Kevin made sure the majority of his toys were tucked away safely and knelt down beside his bed. He'd said his prayers every night for as long as he could remember without giving it much thought. He repeated the same archaic four lines his mother had taught him, not knowing exactly what it all meant, but knowing it was a standard part of his nightly routine. After a mumbled “Amen,” Kevin stood up, kicked off his slippers, and crawled in bed beneath his favorite dinosaur blanket.

No sooner had he settled himself and closed his eyes when he heard a faint chuckle. Startled, Kevin sat up and quickly turned towards the sound. He was no longer alone. In the pale glow of his night-light, Kevin now saw a man sitting casually on the floor holding one of his sneakers. The man wore a spotless white robe and his face was obscured by shoulder-length auburn hair. Giggling softly, the man was shaking the shoe and watching in awe as tiny red lights flickered in the heel.

“Nice shoes!” the man said excitedly, without so much as a glance in Kevin's direction. Terrified by the man's unexplained appearance, Kevin remained motionless. “I've had these for ages,” the man said as he nodded towards his own, sandaled feet. “I can't complain. They're pretty comfortable, but not nearly this... this exciting!” In spite of his fear, Kevin instinctively looked at the man's sandals. With their worn leather straps and thin leather soles, they were just like what gladiators wore in the movies. The same gladiators that had swords, wore helmets, and fought lions. To Kevin that made the simple-looking sandals very exciting.

“I wonder what they'll think of next,” the man said bemusedly, tossing the shoe into the corner where it rolled next to its mate. He seemed perfectly comfortable, not at all concerned with the fact that no trace of him existed in the room only moments ago. In fact, he appeared merely curious, surveying the posters, toys, and books about the room. As the man turned his head to look around, Kevin caught a quick glimpse of his face. It was surprisingly familiar. With its short, cropped beard, and deep, intense eyes, Kevin had seen this face nearly everyday of his life. It stared back at him from the cheap, reproduction painting hanging over the fireplace, it looked down reprovingly from the porcelain collector's plate in the dining room, and he swore he'd even seen it on one of his grandmother's sweat-shirts. With this vague familiarity, suddenly Kevin wasn't quite as scared.

Confusion quickly took the place of his fear. Where had this man come from? And why was he in his bedroom? “Excuse me,” Kevin managed to squeak, nervously gripping his blanket tight to his chest.

“Yes?” the man said, casually looking up from the LEGO pirate ship he now held.

“Umm, well, I was just wondering why you're in my room.” Kevin asked sheepishly.

“I've just got a little business to take care of,” the man replied with a disinterested tone, returning his gaze to the ship and beginning to fidget with the small plastic cannon on its deck.

“My Dad knows lots about business stuff!” Kevin said helpfully. “He's downstairs, you wanna talk to him?”

“Not this time,” the man said with detached finality. He discarded the pirate ship and caught sight of Kevin's box of crayons. His eyes lit up and he began to scoot crablike across the floor towards them. Reverently, he opened the box and slowly scanned all 64 colors before delicately extracting 'Periwinkle' and rolling it between his thumb and forefinger. “Don't you just love these things?” the man asked as he brought the crayon up to his nose, closed his eyes, and inhaled deeply. “I can never seem to get enough of em. Even the smell. Do you mind?” he gestured towards a battered coloring book laying on the floor a few feet from where he sat.

Dumbfounded, Kevin shrugged. “Sure, I guess.”

“Thanks!” the man said excitedly. “I wish they'd had these when I was a kid!”

Kevin watched with amused interest as the man methodically flipped through the pages, searching for the perfect image to color. Kevin had never seen a grown-up get so excited about coloring. It was normal for kids to get excited, but adults always seemed to think they were too old for things like that. Kevin knew that he'd never be too old for anything he loved, and he certainly loved his crayons. Like the man, he even enjoyed their waxy scent, (a fact he'd been too embarrassed to ever admit to anyone.)

On the floor it appeared that the man had made a decision as he was now hard at work coloring. He hunched forward over the open pages, completely engrossed in the task before him. Though his pale hand moved free and frantic over the paper, it seemed at the same time that every stroke and new color choice were painfully deliberate. It was mesmerizing to watch. Kevin had never seen anyone color so intensely.

As he watched, Kevin almost forgot just how bizarre this situation really was. Snapping back to reality, he realized he should try to find out more about the reason behind the man's presence. “So, you said you're here for business,” Kevin began. “What kind of business is it? Can I help?”

“Oh, it's nothing to worry about, easiest thing in the world,” the man replied, not tearing his focus away from the coloring book for a moment. “All you really need to do is get some sleep.”

Kevin laid back, still very confused, but not knowing what to do next. The man obviously was too distracted to carry on a decent conversation, but he wasn't hurting anything, and Kevin knew his dad was just downstairs if he needed him. Maybe he would try to get some sleep. In the morning, he was sure his dad would explain the whole strange occurrence to him over breakfast. Closing his eyes, Kevin focused on the sound the crayon made against paper. There was a soothing gentleness to that sound. Comforting, not unlike waves crashing on the shore. Kevin loved that sound. A calm, peaceful smile crept across Kevin's face as he drifted to sleep.

That smile never left Kevin. Not in the morning when his father screamed, shaking his shoulders violently in a desperate attempt to wake him. Not when the paramedics sent the electric charge coursing through his chest, causing his arms to flop almost comically at his sides. The smile remained. Even days later, when Kevin lay before his tearful relatives and friends, the same calm smile was upon his lips. When the satin-lined lid was closed and he was lowered into the ground, Kevin wore a brand new navy blue suit and that smile.


It was days before Kevin's father had the courage to enter Kevin's bedroom. And weeks, or even months before he dared touch anything. He brought a large cardboard box and a roll of packing tape when he finally began the daunting task of organizing Kevin's belongings. Books and toys were thrown haphazardly into the box. He didn't want to spend any more time in the room than was absolutely necessary. As the box filled and the room emptied, Kevin's father reached under the bed, and pulled out a few stray LEGOs and a coloring book.

The book still bore the partial boot print of one of the hasty paramedics. Undoubtedly it had been kicked under the bed in the chaos of that fateful morning. He stared for a moment at the cover and sighed, tears beginning to well up in the corners of his eyes. As he began to weep in earnest, he flung the book into the open box, it falling open to its last-used page. A shocking rectangle of color now stared up from atop the discarded pile of painful memories.

The original, printed image was that of a smiling cartoon unicorn, standing in a meadow under the arc of a large rainbow. However, that was now barely visible beneath the layers and layers of color that filled the page to every border. It was as if every possible crayon had been used. Bright, swirling colors pulsed and undulated in graceful patterns across the paper. Within the composition there were also areas of ominous darkness and shadow. The resulting effect was both staggeringly beautiful and unbelievably disturbing. Had his vision not been clouded by tears, Kevin's father certainly would've stopped to look more closely. As it was, he barely registered the fact that there was something colorful in the box before he folded it shut and brought a line of tape down over the seam.

Still crying, now uncontrollably, he carried the sealed box down the stairs and out to the garage. Tucking it in a corner beneath a plastic tote labeled 'X-mas Stuff,' he wiped his wet eyes with the back of his dusty hand and headed back into the house. He knew the box could never be thrown away. He also knew that he may never have the strength to open it again.

Author's Note:
This story changed a lot as I wrote it, and it may still change. But, one thing that won't change is the image of Christ sniffing a Periwinkle crayon, because I think that's just inherently awesome.

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