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Estimated reading time — 18 minutes

The night that Oskar Strid returned home, after having been missing for almost a decade, was not a celebratory one. His father had answered the door when Oskar knocked, then stood and stared at his son in silent disbelief. Three years earlier the boy had been declared legally dead. Yet, there he stood, looking exactly as he had when he had disappeared. In fact, he had not aged a day, which was particularly perplexing as Oskar had gone missing when he was eleven years old. Maria Strid, the boy’s mother, and wife of Mads, had taken the boy to the Dulcet County Fair and vanished along with him ten years prior.

When Oskar and Maria were lost to fate or foul play Hanne, Mads’ and Maria’s younger daughter, had been running a fever so Mads stayed home with the six-year-old. Since their first trip to the fair, on Oskar’s fifth birthday, the boy looked forward to it every year. On his eleventh birthday Maria put her worry for her daughter aside and kept with tradition. Mads, who never really enjoyed things like fairs, was happy to stay home with Hanne. He was never comfortable in a crowd. Besides, other patrons were rude, the barkers were obnoxious, and everything was far too bright, loud and overpriced. Maria loved the fair. The lights and the smells enthralled her. She played every game, rode every ride and she felt blessed that her son had loved the fair as much as she.

When they left that evening, they were giddy as they co-conspired to enjoy it more than ever. Their good time would not be indelibly tarnished by Mads’ grumpiness and discomfort. It was an opportunity for them to create a memory that could belong just to her and her son. Mads loved watching the whispering and giggling that mother and son engaged in the entire day. At dinner he watched his son look out the kitchen window every few minutes, as tradition demanded that they not leave the house until sundown so that they could take in the multicolored spectacle of the fairway lights from the top of the hill on Union Street. When they turned in the driveway to wave goodbye to Mads, he marveled at the way that Oskar’s hair, so blonde it was almost white, captured the light of the setting sun and created the illusion of an orange yellow halo around his face. His gaze shifted to Maria. She smiled faintly then turned away. Then they left. Then they never returned…until Oskar appeared on the porch.


“Hi, Mads.” The boy broke the silence. It had been ten years but Mads knew the voice to be Oskar’s. Almost.

“Oskar? How…where…what happened?” His father could not formulate a proper question as wave after wave of emotion flooded his brain and weakened his resolve. Falling to his knees, Mads looked directly into his son’s eyes. He reached out to grasp his arms. Oskar flinched only slightly. “I don’t understand.” It was all he could think of saying.

“It’s kinda hard to explain.” Said the boy. “Not so hard to tell. It’ll just be hard for you to hear.”

“How are you?”

“If you let me in, I can explain.”

“Of course, come in.” Mads said, almost formally, springing to his feet and stepping back to allow his impossibly young son into the house.


The boy looked around. His father looked at his face for signs of happiness, or at least nostalgia. What he saw was observation, cold and clinical. Oskar’s eyes moved from surface to wall and back again. There was no warmth in this perusal of his former home. The boy was just reacquainting himself with the surroundings, curiosity standing in for nostalgia.

“I remember…” Then the boy allowed the sentence to dissolve into the ether. With those two words Mads realized what was different in his son’s voice. There was no youth in it. There wasn’t joy or love. There was no sense of wonder. It was the voice, though still pitched appropriately to his stature, of someone much older. It was the voice of the road weary. Mads heard the same tone every time someone broke down while driving across country and had just pushed their equally weary car into the parking lot of his garage, conveniently located just off Route 48.

“Your mother?” Was all that Mads could manage.

“She’ll be here.” He offered no more information than that and Mads was certain he would not glean any further knowledge were he to press on. The boy moved to the sofa and took a seat. His father was moved by the fact that the boy took the same place on the sofa that he had laid claim to for the family’s Saturday movie nights, a tradition that was established when Oskar was old enough to sit up by himself.

By this time shock had made way for curiosity and, more pressing, doubt. It was impossible that his son had remained unchanged all these years. It would have been one thing if he’d disappeared when he was twenty and returned at thirty, similar enough to be almost unchanged. There was no realistic explanation for a child to pass ten years without aging a day.

Taking command of reason he thought, ‘No’. Obviously, this boy was an imposter. Someone was playing a terrible prank on him. Or maybe someone wanted to extort money from him by finding a boy who looked remarkably like his son to conspire against him. But he had nothing. He owned the auto repair shop in town, and he only owned half of that. His brother was the co-owner, and they were making a good enough living, but hardly enough to exact such a terrible and complex plan.

Mads began to examine the boy who claimed to be Oskar in closer detail. While the imposter’s eyes continued to drink in the contents of the living room, Mads allowed his eyes to take inventory of the boy’s appearance. His hair was longer and shaggier than they kept it. It looked darker than he remembered but it also looked dirty, which would explain the variation. There were scars on his hands and face that were not reflected in his recollection of Oskar. He wished that fake Oskar would smile so that he could examine his teeth. His son had a tooth, bottom front, which was set back behind the rest of the row. It was the only imperfection in an otherwise perfect smile. This boy was thinner than his son, as well. Oskar was a skinny kid to begin with, but this boy looked frail. Then there were the eyes. They were the same icy blue that he remembered, but they were lightless and cold now.

“When you’re done trying to convince yourself that it’s me, I can prove that I’m Oskar.”


The boy lifted his shirt, showing a scar that would indicate he had surgery in the past. “Remember the night my appendix burst?” Mads nodded involuntarily. “Remember how I had to have two more surgeries after to clean infected fluids from my gut? Remember when I told you that I was running away and you warmed up mashed potatoes and asked me why? Do you remember what I said?”

“You said you didn’t know. You were just sad.”

Imposter Oskar let go of his shirt and it returned to hanging loosely on his rawboned chest and continued, “Vinny died. We buried him in the woods. You said dogs evolved from wolves and that dog heaven was probably a forest where they could run free. Remember the time I caught you smoking a cigarette out back and you begged me not to tell mom? Remember that you let me pick the movie that Saturday and I picked Steel Magnolias? I picked it because it was her favorite and you hated it. I was so angry that you lied to her. I was even angrier that you made me lie to her.” The boy narrowed his eyes and paused. He looked at Mads and grinned with what seemed like malice. “Remember when I was six and I walked in on you and mom? Mom made you talk to me because I couldn’t stop crying. I thought you were hurting her. She came to my room and told me that you weren’t hurting her, that it was just the opposite. She told me you were a good man that would never hurt her or me or Hanne.”

“Enough,” There was an edge of anger in Mads’ voice as the shock wore off, replaced by disgust for this obvious imposter. “Who are you and how do you know so much about my family?”

“It’s me, Mads.”

“Stop calling me Mads!” It came out as a quivering shout. “My son would call me dad.”

“After all this time you still expect to be a father to me?” Imposter Oskar smiled up at Mads. It was a smile that was devoid of love, or any feelings at all.

“I never stopped being your father. I was always your father. I am still your dad.” He stared down the boy. There was no indication that this boy cared about him. This version of Oskar was dead in the eyes, but a sudden spark gave Mads hope. The boy’s eyes broke away from the man’s stare. They focused on a photo of Maria and Oskar that was on the mantle, in the same spot it had been in since the day after the disappearance. The photo was taken the day that Oskar turned eleven. It was the most recent photo he had of them. He took it himself, just before the boy and his mother left for the fair. Hanne was in bed sick, so the photo was just the two of them. That very picture appeared in every newspaper in the state. The police had asked for a recent photo. He took out his phone and air dropped it to the female officer who was present. The same officer returned to his home the next day. She had printed a copy of the photo and framed it for him. She apologized, thinking he might not like the frame. She held him while he cried, clutching the gift to his chest. There were so many times the associations of that photo with the search for his missing wife and son made Mads want to take it off the mantle and hide it somewhere. To bury it even, somewhere he might rediscover it again in his elder years and possibly be able to look at it again without pain and loss. But he kept that photo right where it was because it was the one used in the search and that translated as hope. Somewhere in the back of his mind he believed that people were still looking for the boy in the photo, but not the boy standing before him now, who was staring at his father with concern. When Mads looked up to meet Oskar’s eyes, the boys eyes softened. Mads could not be sure but he was convinced the look, among what seemed a cacophony of emotions, contained love.

A sudden creak of old dry wood startled them both. They turned their heads toward the stairs as Hanne descended. Her face was a mask of indifference that became recognition then joy. She bolted down the remaining steps and ran to her brother, embracing him tightly. After a moment she pushed him back. “Where were you? How are you still…?” Then she trailed off, as the last delusion fed by sleepiness faded. Letting her hands fall to her sides, Hanne crouched down and leaned her now sixteen-year-old face in until it was just a couple inches away from her brother’s face. Her voice barely a whisper, she asked, “Where’s mom?”

“She’s coming apparently.” Mads said.

The children looked at each other with great interest. He marveled at the young adult who was only six years old when he disappeared and her at the boy who should be a young man. It was the first time that the boy had shown any connection to anything in the house since his arrival. Reaching up, Oskar placed his open palm on her cheek. Hanne tilted her head into the warmth of her younger brother’s hand.

“You grew up.” Was all that Oskar said. If Mads was unsure that he had seen the capacity for paternal love in his son’s eyes he was certain that there was love for his little sister in Oskar’s voice.

“Without you”. Hannah mumbled sorrowfully. Then anger crossed her face, and she became indignant. Swiping his hand away she yelled, “You’re not Oskar! That’s impossible! Where is my brother and who the fuck are you?”

“Language.” Mads said mechanically.

The boy that represented the improbable return of her older brother smiled. It was the first time that he had since entering the house. Mads immediately recognized the recessed tooth on the bottom right row of his teeth, slightly darker than the rest. “It’s Oskar.” Was all that the man could manage.

“That’s not possible, daddy!”. Mads took notice of the fact that Hanne was now crying and moved across the room to put his arm around her shoulders.

“Sweety, I can’t explain it. But I do believe it’s him.”

“It is me. We’ll explain it all.” Oskar said, still smiling.

“Who’s we?” Hanne spit out between what were now sobs.

“Mom’s here”. The boy said, stone faced again.

“It’s a good thing I kept my key”. Said Maria, emerging from the kitchen.
Where Mads was stunned by the minimal differences in the appearance of his son, as compared to the son he lost, he was devastated by the woman who was striding up to him. The wife he lost was voluptuous, full hipped with a radiance that turned heads at the Kroger even when she was in sweats and a tee shirt. She had kept her hair boyishly short from the time Oskar was two, as he would frequently tangle his fingers in her strawberry blonde curls and yank as hard as he could. Even after the boy had grown out of such behaviors, ever practical, she kept her hair short for the ease of the upkeep.

The Maria that now stood in front of him looked frail, like the boy, with long tresses and a hardness in her looks that would scare off any flirtatious shopper at the local market. He noticed scars on her hands, as well, the backs of which were a myriad of bone and sinew just under the skin. He realized that she was not frail, at all. In fact, her hands belied great strength. Mads imagined that, were he able to see her bare arms and legs, that she would look like her skin was simply wrapped tightly around taught muscle and bone. Though she looked no older than the day she left, he thought that she looked haggard. It was as if the last ten years had been a struggle.

Then it sank in…they looked like junkies.

“You don’t look happy to see me.” Maria said, coldly teasing. “We missed you”, she turned to Hanne and added, “We came back for you.”

“I just want an explanation. Are you on drugs?”. Said Mads, now sounding weary himself.

“No…Sort of? If only.” Maria let those words hang in the air for a moment, then said, “There’s no rehab for what we are.”

Maria turned and looked at her daughter, “Hanne, honey? It really is mommy.” She cooed, moving toward Hanne and lifting her arms to attempt an embrace. Hanne stepped back and moved left, taking a place behind her father. “Oh, Hanne. We’ll explain everything. We’ll be a family again, I promise”.

Mads took a half step back from the woman he believed might actually be his wife. Oskar was still holding the photograph of his family and held it up for his mother to see. Maria’s face softened, almost imperceptibly and only for a moment. Then she turned back to Mads, “There’s a story…an explanation. You’re not going to believe it.” She paused. “But that’s okay. You don’t need to understand.” She took a step back the looked at her daughter again, “You’re so beautiful. So grown up. You’ll have a much easier time that your brother, fortunately.”

Mads looked at Hanne, then at his wife. The last thing Maria said had a foreboding in it, but he could not sus the meaning of the words. Teenaged Hanne looked remarkably like the Maria who had gone missing. But the skeletal specter that gazed at his daughter hungrily was as different from that woman as he could imagine. He knew it was really her, but he wished he didn’t believe that. He watched her look at him then turn away, coldly dismissing him. Then she cocked her head slightly, “He’s coming.” Was all she said, then she turned slowly and sat on the sofa. Mads could not help but be moved by the fact that Maria slid down on the far end of the sofa, her reserved spot for family movie nights with Oskar. The boy moved suddenly, making Mads and Hanne flinch. Oskar held his hands open palmed at shoulder height and shrugged, an insincere apology. He placed the frame back in its assigned place, made obvious by a long rectangular absence of dust on the mantle shelf. Faintly, the sound of a motorcycle approaching disturbed the air in the room. It was still far off. He wondered how Maria might have heard that a full minute before he did, especially considering that the sound was so familiar.

Unsurprisingly the motorcycle pulled into his driveway and a moment later fell silent. He recognized the slow gait of his brother. Mads was three years his junior and he loved his big brother fiercely and unconditionally. When Mads was eighteen months old, brother was the first word he was able to say. So tickled were their parents that Brother became his only sibling’s nickname and Mads always took a second to recollect his brother’s real name whenever asked. So much for the ferocity of his love. His love for Brother proved to be unconditional when, after a three-year stint in prison for aggravated assault, Mads put the down payment on the garage and brought Brother in as his partner.

Brother was a kind and gentle man, but he was tough when he needed to be. He did not start the fight that landed him in prison, but he won it. He was walked into the police station while the man who started the fight was transported to the hospital. The aggressor appeared in court in a wheelchair with his crying wife and equally grief-stricken brood in tow. Brother was unmarried, in fact he had a reputation as a womanizer. He was unemployed then, freelancing as a handyman. He enjoyed a drink and rode a motorcycle. Just the kind of stereotypes that small town judges base their decisions on.

Brother appeared in the doorway. He opened his mouth to speak but when his eyes landed on Maria he remained silent. After a moment his face split in a huge grin and he charged into the room and embraced his sister-in-law.


“Holy shit, girl! Where have you been?” he yelled. His hug loosened and he held her at arm’s length. Looking into her face his expression melted into one of both despair and confusion. “What the hell happened to you? You look like forty miles of rough road.”

Mads knew that Brother dated Maria long before he married her. The two were high school sweethearts. Seeing them together, and their reaction to each other, he could not help but wonder if the affair had ever ended.

“It’s a long, strange story. But soon we’ll have all the time in the world.” She shifted her weight, and he caught a glimpse of his still pre-adolescent nephew. He tried to break free of her grasp, but she held him fast. “Brother, I’m a bit stronger now so don’t bother trying to fight me. Oskar, come here son”.

Oskar quickly shifted to the space behind his uncle. Grabbing Brother’s arms, he pulled them behind his back until the man’s elbows were touching. Brother tried to wriggle out of the boy’s grip but found it impossible. Oskar shifted his weight slightly and his uncle was on his knees in front of Maria. She touched her waist and with a simple flick of her finger and a small tug she produced a short, wide blade that was masquerading as a belt buckle. Without ceremony, and with a hint of a smile on her face, she punched the blade into Brother’s neck. A second later she pulled the knife out. The first jet of blood that exploded from the wound soaked the front of her husband’s jeans and the face of her daughter who was still mostly hiding behind her father.

Maria dropped to her knees before another gout of blood could be lost. She wrapped her arms around Brother’s neck, holding him still, and planted her mouth over the wound. Brother pleaded with her to stop. When he began to weaken, his demeanor turned to anger, ordering her to stop and threatening her. Shortly thereafter, acquiescence led to tears, and he sobbed softly before falling silent. For a few moments the only sound anyone in the room could hear was her gulping the last of what his body offered willingly. When she started loudly sucking the last drops from Brother’s corpse, she was startled by screaming.

“MOOOOOOOMMMMMYYYYY!” Hanne wailed, in torment.

The scream snapped Mads out of the trancelike state he had been in since his wife and boy appeared. He bolted forward and grabbed Maria by her upper arm and tried to yank her to her feet. Oskar dropped his uncle’s body and was beginning to stand. While his balance was momentarily compromised, Mads punched his son in the chest. The boy’s feet flew out from under him and he flipped off of his feet, landing with a loud thud onto his back.

Maria stood, unhindered by her husband’s grasp on her arm and gripped his forearm with her free hand. As she clamped down Mads’ face twisted in pain and fear, “I will take it off at the fucking elbow.” she said. Her voice was calm, almost matter of fact. Her face betrayed no emotion. There was neither hate nor malice in her voice. He was suddenly sure she was willing and capable of acting on that promise. Hanne remained in the room, crying and muttering. It took Maria a moment to realize that her daughter was praying. “Oh sweetie, that shit won’t do any good.”

Hanne had been dating Jimmy Conway, the son of Big James Conway who owned the town’s only movie house. Jimmy was an avid horror movie fan. Hanne was not. But she watched every horror movie he suggested they watch together, albeit between the fingers of her hands that were always shielding her face from the atrocities on the screen. She watched them because she loved him in that desperate way that sixteen-year-olds love each other, and she had seen enough of them to know where the story playing out in the family living room was going. And what to do about it.

Reaching into the top of her nightgown, Hanne presented a small, ornate gold crucifix on the end of a delicate gold chain. It was given to her by Brother, her Godfather, on the day of her christening. Maria looked at it blankly for a moment, then smiled. In a swift motion Maria reached out and grabbed the cross. So sudden was her motion that Hanne leaped back with a yelp, snapping the thin chain. Maria gently freed the cross from the broken chain, opened her mouth, and placed the cross on her tongue. She let it sit there long enough for Hanne to register that the symbol of her faith had no effect on the monster that was once her mother, then Maria closed her mouth and swallowed. Hanne screamed and bolted across the living room and up the stairs, toward her room.

“Get your sister, Oskar.” Maria said, then turned her attention back to Mads.

Mads watched the boy charge up the stairs behind his sister. He heard the sound of her door being knocked on, then pounded on, then broken out of its frame. Hanne screamed.

“What the hell is going on? Maria, what are you doing? Why?” Mads pleaded, unable to escape her grasp and save his only daughter and knowing the words sounded childish and desperate but unable to conjure anything more effective. “How? Our daughter! What happened to you two?”

“Oh, Mads.” She began. “Ten years ago, we went to the fair. You let us go…you let us go alone, unprotected. We had so much fun. It was the first year that Oskar was tall enough to ride all the rides. When we were walking home, he said it was the best birthday he ever had. That was the last thing he said before…” Maria’s eyes drifted, and her words ended with an audible exhalation.

“Before what?” Mads said, trying to sound stalwart.

“Before we came home.”

“You never came home.”

“Not this home. We were alone. You didn’t protect us. You couldn’t have protected us if you wanted to, but at least we wouldn’t have been alone.”

“You killed Brother.” He moaned. “Please don’t let Oskar kill Hanne.”

“Brother is coming home, don’t you worry.” She paused then continued, her voice exposing the pain of the memory, “We were attacked on our way home.”

“By who?”

“It doesn’t matter.” Maria said, edgily. “Look, a guy like me attacked us. He made us like him. He killed us, then he brought us home. It’s not at all like the movies, you know. We didn’t have to drink his blood to become like him. It doesn’t work that way. To make someone like me all I have to do is take everything,” She gestured at Brother, “then leave a little something behind. You’ll see. Brother is coming home real soon.”

“How can you?”

“It was hard at first. I didn’t want to have to kill anybody. But first you learn it, then you get hard. We can eat real food, you know, not just blood. We can walk around in the daylight. But your looks change. I could see in your face you noticed the moment you saw me. In the dark we don’t look so out of place.”


“Do you still love us? Why did you come home? It would have been better to think you’re dead then to know you’re monsters.” Mads was angry now.

“You know what doesn’t die when you become monsters like us? Love. That doesn’t die. Ten years was too long to be without my family. So, I’ve come to bring them home.”

“I won’t go with you! I never want to be like you! And I ain’t gonna let you have Hanne either!” Mads spit.

“I didn’t come for you, Mads.” Her statement was punctuated by the sound of Hanne screaming. One long continuous scream. Mads struggled even though he knew he could not best the ghoul that held him fast. The scream lasted for minutes, but to Mads his daughter’s agony seemed to last for days. Then it drifted away along with her life, her father knew. Then another sound, closer to him, snatched his attention away. It was Brother. He was writhing and gasping for air. He started coughing. Then he stopped. After a moment Brother sat up and stared at the couple, perplexed. “Ah, your home.”

“What do you mean you didn’t come for me? You can’t just take Hanne away. You have Oskar. Please let her stay with me!” Mads pleaded, tears appearing on his cheeks.

“Mads, you’re a good man. But I never loved you really. Brother was my first love. My only love. Always, since we were kids. I married you because he wouldn’t marry me. You were my shitty booby prize at the fair.” She looked at him with genuine care for the first time since she returned. “I’m sorry, you weren’t shitty. You just weren’t the prize I wanted.” She said, releasing him from her grasp.

Mads turned toward Brother and held out a hand. Brother took Mads’ hand and allowed himself to be hoisted to his feet. Brother swayed a bit then fell backwards onto the couch. He prophetically landed in Mads’ movie night seat.

A creak from the staircase stole everyone’s attention. Oskar was slowly descending, his lips, cheeks, and chin spattered with gore. In his arms he was cradling his big little sister. She was dead. A large red stain on the front of her pink nightgown drove that realization home. Mads wondered how long it would take her to come home, like Brother.

“Kill me,” Mads said simply. “I can’t live with this.”

“And I can’t kill you. You may only be my husband on paper, but you are the father of my children. I came here to get Hanne and Brother, killing you was never part of the plan. There is a lot you don’t understand. But I’ll tell you, love doesn’t die. In fact, it becomes overwhelmingly selfish and intense. I need him. I need my kids. I’ll take care of them.”

“I know you think we’re monsters, but we’re not.” Oskar offered. “We’ll come visit, daddy. I swear.” That promise made, Hanne began to stir.

“Why did you wait ten years?” Mads asked.

“I couldn’t come back as I am. I knew that if I did, I couldn’t leave without Brother or Hanne. I couldn’t hurt you like that again. And I can’t kill you.” She took a moment to look into his eyes tenderly. “Love in my world is monstrous. Selfish and…”

“What happened?” Hanne mumbled.

“I’ll explain in the car, sweetie.” Maria said softly. “Oh yeah, we’re taking the car. All four of us aren’t going to fit on Brother’s bike.” She turned to Brother, saying, “P.S. you’re not my brother. So, you’ll be Eric from now on, just like your mama named you.” She turned to her children. “Kiss your daddy goodbye, kids.”

Oskar and Hanne obeyed. Hanne was still warm, only recently deceased. Oskar’s kiss was a cold touch. Mads touched his cheek where Oskar’s lips rested briefly, unconvinced that the place on which Oskar’s kiss landed would ever feel warm again.

The four moved toward the door. Brother followed the other three. He stopped in the doorway after the other three disappeared from view, then turned. “I love you, Mads.” And then he was gone.

Mads stood stunned for a moment. Becoming lightheaded he moved to the couch to sit down. Deciding he could never sit on the couch again, he walked into the kitchen to take his usual place at the table. His options played over and over in his mind. He could report the car stolen. The police wouldn’t know what they had in store. They wouldn’t be prepared for it. He did not even know if guns could stop them. Besides, he figured they would ditch the car at the first opportunity.

He could kill himself. He didn’t really have a reason to live. He also didn’t have the guts to put a gun to his temple and pull the trigger.

Or he could wait.

They would come back. They promised. And he would be waiting. If they wait another ten years, he would have plenty of time to figure out how to kill them for good.

He hoped.

Credit: Michael Fumia


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