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Quiet Laughter

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I remember the day that my dad bought the painting, the one of the boy dressed in Victorian clothes sitting on a wooden stool. My dad always had an affinity for classical-looking paintings and other forms of art, and this one seemed to fit his tastes perfectly. The boy was about nine years old, give or take a year, and his face was like the Mona Lisa’s; you couldn’t really tell if he was smiling or not. But the handiwork of this artist was remarkable, at least that’s what my dad would always say. Even though he always brought home interesting pieces of work like this, his fixation on it seemed a bit odd.

I was 17. We lived in Savannah, Georgia at the time, in a small house on Jones St. It was filled with small sculptures and paintings, and even though the painting of the boy was exactly what my dad liked, it was rather large in comparison to the other paintings he had on our walls. He ended up taking down a couple of the paintings he had hung in our hallway between the foyer and the kitchen in order to fit it. But there it hung, dull but intriguing, staring back at me as I stared at it.

My dad always took special care of this painting, ensuring that it was always hung straight, dusting it off every couple of days even though there was no way dust could accumulate that fast. I would often find him staring at it, his face locked into this almost smile, transfixed on the boy. When I caught him, I’d always ask what he was doing, and his response was always the same: “Oh nothing, just admiring my striking young boy.” And every time I found it more and more odd that he referred to the boy himself and not the painting. It was just a painting after all, right?

About a week after my dad hung the painting on the wall, I began noticing a few strange things. I heard laughter coming from the hallway, even though it was just my dad and myself in the house, and my dad wasn’t in the hallway and sometimes not even in the house. It was always very faint, just barely noticeable, and if I was listening to music or watching TV or something of the sort, I wouldn’t have noticed it. But occasionally when I was studying or dozing off for a nap, I’d hear it. Every now and then I felt compelled to investigate, and so I traced the laughter to the hallway, only for it to stop when I rounded the corner. Once or twice I thought I saw a shadow leap into the wall, but I convinced myself that it was nothing. I was so wrong.

There were other things that happened, like lights flickering or scratching coming from the walls, but the laughter is what really got to me. For weeks, the laughter continued, I heard it more and more often, and it seemed to be getting louder. I began hearing it in my dreams. I would be at the end of a small corridor, looking at the painting of the boy, and the laughter would begin. Softly at first, just barely audible. But over long minutes, the laughter would crescendo, until the boy was laughing maniacally. As the laughter grew more sinister, his hint of a smile grew into a malicious grin, his eyebrows furrowing until he was glaring at me. I would always be paralyzed, rooted to the spot, unable to turn my head or close my eyes.

As the laughter became deafening, the boy would begin to crawl from the painting, eyes wide with what seemed like bloodlust. He’d reach out to me, hands gripping at air, as if he was looking for something to grab hold of. Inch by inch he would tear himself from the painting, coming closer and closer until his face was nearly two feet from mine, and finally his hands would find my shoulders. But as soon as they did, his eyes rolled into his head and the laughter became a deafening, bloodcurdling scream. Then, all of a sudden, I would wake up sweating, my heart nearly beating out of my chest.

I told my dad about the dreams eventually, after it became unbearable to see the same thing over and over again. I told him I was scared to sleep for fear of seeing him. I’ll never forget what he said to me. It chilled me to the bone.

“Don’t ever talk about him like that again, Phil.” He said it in such a threatening tone, I didn’t even recognize it as my dad’s voice. He never got angry at me. And over the painting? There was something wrong. And the painting was that something, it just had to be. I knew that I had to get rid of it, one way or another. Something happened to my dad, and I couldn’t take the dreams any more. I had planned to burn the painting the next day while my dad was at work.

That night, I had the dream again, the same beginning as always, the boy in the painting just staring at me, his Mona Lisa smile looking so evil as the laughter grew louder and louder. He peeled himself out of the painting again and grabbed me, but there was no scream this time. The boy stopped laughing and instead spoke to me. His voice wasn’t of a nine year old boy though. It was low, layered. Demonic. He… It spoke only five words: “It won’t work. He’s mine.”

After that I woke in a sweaty panic again, but rather than lay in bed with my light on the rest of the night, I decided that it had to be that night. I couldn’t wait any longer. Whatever it meant by “he’s mine,” well, I just knew that I had to do something right then. I threw my sheets off of myself and walked to my door. That’s when I heard it. The laughter. Only this time, it wasn’t just from the painting. I could hear the soft, low tone of my dad’s laughter too. I had no idea what to think. I slowly opened the door and let the darkness outside of my room pour in. I didn’t know what to make of the laughter I heard, so I wanted to be careful.

I walked down the stairs so slowly that I wasn’t sure I’d make it to the bottom before the sun came up. I was never so thankful to have quiet stairs, because it seemed like no one had noticed I was coming; I could still hear quiet giggles coming from the hallway. After what seemed like a lifetime, I made it to the bottom of the steps. I inched my head around the corner until I could see what was in the hallway.

Moonlight was shining through the window in the kitchen, making it easy to see the horror that was taking place in the middle of the hall. My dad was sitting on the floor. Across from him, the boy. They were silhouetted against the moonlight, but I could see the eyes of the boy, red like fire in the darkness. I could see his malicious grin, looking at my father as if he was planning to do something horrible. I knew that I had to think of something. Anything to get my dad away from that monster.

I didn’t know how much time I had before whatever was going to happen did happen, so I had to act quickly. I stood up and prepared myself to run for my dad. The laughter grew in volume and I knew that I had to move.

I charged, screaming into the hallway, and the laughter ceased as I saw my dad and the demon boy look straight at me, meeting my scream with screams of their own. I faltered for a second, hesitating at the sheer volume that was assaulting my ears. I charged faster, but now towards the boy. He stood up in an instant, and smiled, before vanishing. I was so shocked, I stopped dead. But almost as soon as he vanished, I heard the laughter, now echoing throughout the house, coming from nowhere and everywhere at the same time.

I grabbed my dad, who had reverted to his soft laughter, and pulled him to his feet. Suddenly, a knife came flying from the kitchen directly at my head. I ducked, but felt the wind from the blade cutting through my hair.

“YOU WILL NOT TAKE HIM,” I heard the demonic voice roar. With my heart racing, I backed towards the front door, knives still coming one by one, cutting my arms or face if I was too slow. “HE’S MINE,” the voice screamed.

I was nearly to the door when I felt myself hit something soft. I slowly turned to find the boy standing with his soft smile looking up at me.

“You are not leaving,” he told me in a softer, but just as malicious tone. “You will stay.” His soft chuckles now resuming, I felt tears rolling down my face. But as his laughter grew louder, I bent down and grabbed one of the knives that had been thrown and plunged it into the boy’s throat, diving for the door handle and sprinting with my dad into the night.

I spent the rest of the night at St. Joseph’s Hospital with my dad. He had passed out while we were running from the house, and I couldn’t wake him up. I told the doctor that saw me for my cuts that I’d tripped and cut myself on some broken glass, though I doubt he believed me. After that night, my dad finally seemed normal again. He apologized to me for everything and made sure I was okay. He burned the painting too.

Now three years later, we’re still in the same house, though with less art around. My dad thought it would be best to cut back after what happened. The reason I tell you all of this is because I don’t really think it’s over. I occasionally catch my dad laughing softly to himself, as if in a trance that he doesn’t wake from until I get his attention. I don’t think the painting is really gone; I think it’s still out there somewhere, like it would be in some horror film. So if you ever find a painting of a boy of about nine, in Victorian clothing with a Mona Lisa smile, get rid of it. Once you hear the laughter, just run and pray.

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