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Harpy

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"Dad!" said a small voice next to my ear. "Harpy's back!"

I rolled over with a grunt of exertion and looked up into the boy's face.

"Daniel," I said slowly, "We've been over this. There is no Harpy."

"Yes there is! She won't go!"

"Daniel..."

"Harpy, dad!"

"Alright, so what's Harpy doing this time?"

"Making the crib rock."

"That's probably just the wind, Danny. Go back to bed."

"No, it's Harpy! I can see her!"

"Just go with him, Mark," murmured the voice of my wife reproachfully, "We'll all sleep better if you do."

Mildly exasperated, but knowing she was right, I pushed myself up by one elbow and let my feet hit the floor.

Standing before me, his thumb lodged firmly in his mouth and his light brown hair mildly askew, my son Daniel gave me an expectant look and then dashed out of the room. I heaved myself out of bed and followed him.

My son's bedroom was, as I expected, empty. The crib sat completely still. Nevertheless, Daniel was cowering just outside the door, as if trying to avoid eye contact with a wild animal. I turned to look at him with one quirked eyebrow.

"No one here, Daniel."

"Say it, dad!"

I shrugged and raised my voice, "Get out, Harpy, this isn't your house!"

It was then that I noticed something odd. The bed sheets in the crib had been disturbed. I dismissed it. My son had moved to what he called the "big kids' bed" scarcely over a year ago, and for all I knew, habit had made him try to crawl back into the crib after a trip to the bathroom, or something. In fact, that had probably been what was responsible for the rocking. Still, my little anti-Harpy catchphrase seemed to have done its work. Daniel was now waiting in "the big kids' bed," apparently without even the slightest trace of fear. I walked over to him and, wearily, kissed his forehead. He giggled.

"Love you daddy."

"Love you, Daniel."

And that was it.

I know what you're thinking. Harpy's probably the ghost of some dead kid who died in my house, murdered by her parents and seeking revenge, right? Well, sorry to disappoint you. Our house was just finished five years ago, before my wife and I had Daniel. And we couldn't afford any old, creepy heirlooms, or vintage furniture, or fancy architecture that requires ancient quarried stone. This house was built using brand new material, and furnished with freshly constructed furniture from IKEA and Amazon. Hell, Daniel's older than most of the stuff in here. No one died here. They wouldn't have had time.

No, the fact is, I'm just like any other dad with an imaginative child. Daniel's just imaginative in a weirder way than most. The kid will probably end up a horror author to rival Stephen King one day, the way he's going. And since you folks like creepy shit, I figure I may as well tell you some of the stuff he's come up with. What harm can it do? At least this way I've got someplace to vent, and if you folks don't think his little fantasy is up to par for the stuff on here, well, at least I'll be able to tell him even folks on the internet aren't scared of Harpy. He doesn't believe me or his mother, so maybe hearing some of your comments will talk him out of it. Oh, and by the way, if any of you are parents, maybe give me some idea of what to do? This shit is getting so far out of hand that I'm starting to get a little creeped out myself.

You're probably wondering who or what Harpy is at this point, so I'll stop dicking around. Harpy is Daniel's imaginary... well, friend is the wrong word for their relationship. It's probably better to call her his imaginary bully. Honestly, we don't know much about her. He's never really described her, except to say that she's red, though once when he was really young, he pointed at a steak in the frozen food aisle at Giant and said something that sounded like her name, but I might just be imagining that.

Anyway, from what I can tell, she's always been around, because as soon as Danny could talk, he wouldn't shut up about her. At first it was really boring shit, like, "Harpy's hogging blanky," or, "Harpy too loud," but once he could talk a bit more reliably, it got weird really fast.

Probably the first time Daniel said something that made me wonder if my wife and I were doing something wrong was the morning after his third birthday. Daniel really wanted baby carrots for breakfast—he loves those things—but we didn't have any. So Phoebe—that's my wife's name—went to the fridge and got out a bigger carrot, figuring he wouldn't care all that much if it were baby carrots or a chopped up large one. But as soon as she grabbed the kitchen knife, Daniel started screaming.

"Mommy don't cut me, mommy don't cut me, mommy don't cut me!"

Phoebe must've nearly cut herself in shock, but she dropped the knife in a hurry after that, I can tell you. But Daniel stayed hysterical for ages, and it was hours before we could get him to tell us what had made him scared.

Apparently, "Harpy" had told him that soon, mommy was going to cut him into little pieces. Of course, we told him we'd never even think of doing that, and hugged and kissed him until he calmed down, but Phoebe's still scared to use the kitchen knife around him. It's gotten to the point where I have to distract him whenever she's making dinner.

Then there was that one time Phoebe and I decided to watch an old home video. Before we had Daniel, we were really into indoor skydiving, and had gotten video of us doing it on our honeymoon to Las Vegas. Because we thought Daniel was asleep and wanted to relive some of the excitement, we put on the video and were just about to get frisky, when we heard Daniel screaming again from just behind the couch.

"Don't throw me in, don't throw me in, don't throw me in!"

To no one's surprise, it was Harpy again. She'd been refusing to leave his bed this time, and had told him to go downstairs and see what we were doing. She said we were looking at the place we were going to get rid of him. So, of course, he thought we were going to throw him into one of the wind tunnels. I don't know why my kid seems to think we want to get rid of him so badly, but this time it took us even longer to calm him down. But yelling at the nonexistent Harpy to leave seemed to help.

And then there was his first trip to the doctor. Look, I know kids don't like doctor visits, but Danny's reaction made zero sense. He wasn't scared by any of the normal stuff. Instead, he just kept screaming and kicking and crying, and wouldn't stop. We tried to get him to tell us what was scaring him, but it didn't do any good the first twenty times, because he just kept screaming "Harpy." Then, somehow, he seemed to calm down, and pointed at the trash can, of all things. Well, the nurse took it out, and after I told Harpy to go away, the rest of the appointment went just fine. Actually, better than fine. You wouldn't believe it was the same kid.

Then on the car ride home, he told us Harpy was laughing at him from the trash can and telling him he'd be trapped in there with her forever.

Now, on one level, I feel like I should be proud of the kid. If he's coming up with ideas this morbid and detailed, he's obviously both smart and imaginative. I don't think most four year olds are able to grasp the concept of death the way he is, for one thing. But I'm also concerned that his mind is going all these crazy dark places. I've considered taking him to a child shrink, but we can't afford that. And I've got no clue why he's freaking out.

Well, okay, that's not true. But the one idea I have makes no sense, not because it's supernatural, but because it involves stuff that I don't think any kid his age could understand.

You see, I'm actually Phoebe's second husband. Her first was this deadbeat who she married at eighteen to get back at her folks. It only lasted about two years, and from what she tells me, it was basically a nonstop bender, though she doesn't like to talk about it if she can help it. In fact, it took me until Daniel was about six months old before she even told me why she'd left. Turns out, the guy had knocked her up and wanted her to have the baby, but she wasn't ready. But he got violent whenever she talked about an abortion or adoption, so there was nothing she could do.

Eventually, she just decided to sneak off and get an abortion herself, and then file for divorce and a restraining order once she'd finished. The guy tried to come after her, but it had been no good.

Anyway, I only bring this up because she told me this while Daniel was sleeping in the next room in his crib, and might have overheard. But come on, a six month old kid wouldn't have any fucking clue what an abortion is. Even so, maybe he heard part of this and it stuck in his subconscious, because my wife told me her ex had been convinced they were about to have a girl. And he'd already picked out a name for her.

Harper.

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