My Nighttime Parents
By Malik Mandeville
A waking nightmare
“Tick, tock, Jamie. Tick tock!” The words whipped out of my
father’s mouth, but it was the voice of my other father, as
rough as sandpaper, unlike my father’s crisp and lucid voice.
I tied the bandana over my eyes, sealing out every sliver
of light. “Good! Now, you know the rules; no peeking,” he said wryly.
“I hope you remember what happened the last time you tried
to look at us,” my other mother hissed into my ear. Her voice, even as a whisper, was like fingernails
on a chalkboard.
“Are you ready to play the game?” my other father asked. I
could hear the twisted smile stretching across his face.
“Yes,” I said. Like I had a choice.
I’ve known my other parents ever since I was a little girl.
I will never forget the first time I met them. It was in the dead of a silent
night when I woke up to the smell of my mother’s perfumed hand covering my
eyes. She told me to come downstairs, but I had to keep my eyes closed. Her
voice sounded strange, but as a child, I thought it was a
game… If only I knew how right I actually was.
My parents—my real parents—know nothing
about my other parents. I tried to explain it to them once, but they became
worried and thought I was having night terrors. When I brought it up to them
again, they acted as if it was the first time I had ever told them. Like a
broken record, I continued to bring up my other parents. Eventually, I
learned that their memories were rewritten by my other
parents, who would take cruel revenge on me.
“Now, now, you
know the rules,” my other mother said while digging her fingers into my arm. I
memorized those damn rules better than anything else. Rule number one: Follow
their every instruction. Rule number two: Never talk about my other parents to
anyone. Rule number three: Never EVER look at them. Rule number four: Play the
The game was always different, and I was the only player.
Games are meant to be fun, and they’re supposed to bring people together. The
game was usually straight forward, but I dreaded it every night. Sometimes I
would have to walk on broken glass or try to juggle butcher knives. Once, they
told me to set the neighbor’s house on fire. I could not bring myself to drag
someone else into this horrible game. I was paralyzed with fear and refused, so
instead, they set me on fire. My
upper back was covered in second-degree burns. The worst part wasn’t the pain
or the smell of my own cooking flesh; it was how much they enjoyed it.
“Open wide,” my other father said. I opened my mouth and
then felt a metal spoon enter. I was expecting there to be cockroaches again,
but I was surprised when I tasted chocolate.
“Is it a piece of cake?” I asked with bits falling out of
“Yes, very good,” my other mother said. Thinking that this
was perhaps the nicest thing they have ever done to me, I knew there must be a
As I got older, I refused to believe they were my parents.
I imagined they were strangers living in the attic who came down to torment me.
I thought about it for weeks, but I needed to see their faces. The night I took
a peek was the night I waited for them. Most nights, I try to get as much sleep
as possible, until I wake up to the sound of my parents’ bedroom door slamming
shut or I hear the floor squeaking from the weight of their steps. But almost
always they are already in my room when it’s time to play the game, like
creeping in to enact their nightmarish desires. The night of my peek, I was
told to kneel on dry rice for an hour. They stood around me the entire time. I
could feel them. I was told to keep my eyes down while I pushed through the
pain. I fought with myself, trying to resist the urge to look up at them. I
stared at the monsters’ feet, which were comfortably fitted into my parents’
slippers. That night when I finally saw their faces, it was from the reflection
of the hallway mirror. My eyelids shuddered at the sight: my parents,
as clear as day, wearing wicked and corrupt
“Time for the next round,” my other father said. I knew
what it was as soon as I tasted the sourness.
“A lemon slice,” I said.
“Two for two,” my other mother said, “And now the final
round. Can she get a perfect score?” My heart jumped into my throat.
It’s hard trying to keep what my other parents have done to
me a secret. My teachers have asked me how I hurt myself, and of course, I lied
to them. “Oh, I ran into the door” or “This was just from me sleeping wrong.” I
didn’t want to think about what my other parents would have done to me if I
told someone. I can never keep anything from them. They always know things that
happen throughout my days at school, things I never told my real parents.
Sometimes I feel like they follow me around, watching me while I’m in class or
on my way from school, slithering out of sight when I sense their presence.
Sometimes I can’t stand the sight of my parents’
faces, knowing what I know. I don’t blame my real parents, I truly
don’t, but I do loathe their faces. They smile and act like regular suburban
parents, completely unaware of the things they do to their daughter during the
evening—the hellish, wretched things. I thought about setting
up video cameras around the house, but I was too afraid. It wouldn’t
be against any of the rules because I could only show it to people.
That wouldn’t be talking about it. Right?
When I turned 15, I felt like I couldn’t take it anymore. I
had to tell someone. I needed someone to know why I fell asleep during class or
why I got to school very early and left as late as possible. That
someone was Riley. At first, she was the girl who sat next to me in
algebra, but then she became the girl who sat next to me during lunch,
assemblies, pep rallies, sporting events, and school plays. It was nice to have
a distraction away from home. When I told her about my other parents, I
immediately felt a suffocating boulder of stress rise from my body.
I knew they would find out somehow, and knew I would be
punished for it that same night, but I did not care. When it came time to play
the game, I awaited my punishment. But, as
it turned out, they knew nothing about Riley. I was relieved. There was a white
light in this dark game I was forced to play. I could finally keep something
“Eat up,” my other father said with icy glibness. The last
round was difficult. It was chewy and very thick. But I had to figure it out
“Is it a raw steak?” I asked.
“Damn. And I thought you’d get a perfect score this time,”
my other mother said, “but keep chewing, and you’ll figure it out.”
I did as she instructed. My jaw began to stiffen.
“I…still don’t know,” I said.
“I thought you would eventually get to the bottom of it,”
my other father said, “Because that’s what we
did.” I stopped chewing.
“My sweet Jamie, did you truly think you could keep something
from your parents? I wish you would just follow the rules and be a good girl.” No,
they can’t know about Riley. They would
have brought it up sooner.
“You know bad girls must be punished…which is why we had to
punish your friend,” my other father said. I feel
a force coiling around my chest.
“What did you do?” I asked.
“She told her parents everything, and we can’t have that.
Tell me, my sweet, sweet girl, how does Riley’s tongue taste?”
I could run away to another state, change my name, and try
to move on with the rest of my life, but that would be against the rules.
Malik Mandeville, email@example.com, of Palmyra,
NJ, wrote BP#89’s “My
Nighttime Parents.” He was born in Brooklyn, New York, where he first developed
his love for writing. Although he graduated from Arcadia University with a
degree in sociology, Malik dreams of leaving his mark on this world by
producing varieties of fiction.