Estimated reading time — 19 minutes
The Amazing Mr. Sykes
By Jon Creech
Timothy sneezed as some of the dust that had settled onto the pages of the book in his lap found its way into his nose. He loved spending his time in this antique shop no how much the other kids teased him about it, but it drove his allergies crazy. The furniture was out of style and he usually had no company other than an occasional elderly couple browsing around, but this place was quiet, it was peaceful, and it was all he had. Timothy glanced at the book he’d picked up upon his arrival, an old copy of Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea, and sighed. He could never afford the things he wanted, and in truth this store’s prices were perfectly reasonable, his parents just didn’t have money to spend on anything besides cigarettes and the occasional bottle of whiskey for his father. His mother barely rolled out of bed every day, usually dressed in food stained clothes and covered in tissues from her constant illnesses, and his father had too much pride to ask anyone for employment so instead he occupied his time with handy man jobs. Their poor choices left his family penniless most weeks and barely able to put food on the table.
Most of the people in town resented Timothy’s family and saw them as more of an eye sore than anything else. They just didn’t fit in this small town where everyone knew each other and faked smiles on the street as they walked by. It got Timothy beat up at school most days. The kids made fun of his smelly cloths while calling his father a “Drunken bum” and his mother a “Lazy whore”. Thinking about it made a tear rolled down Timothy’s cheek and throw the book down on the old rocking chair in front of him in anger. He wiped the snot from his nose and tried hard not to cry, shaking from the effort of holding back the tears that now threatened to burst from his eyes like a flood.
After a few deep breaths and counting to one hundred, Timothy sluggishly picked up the book and put it back on the shelf. A moment later a bell chimed as the front door opened and Timothy instantly brightened up, jumping from his spot and running towards the front of the store. He smiled happily as he was greeted by the store’s owner Mr. Garen whom he had met a few months back during his first visit to the store when he had been caught trying to steal a watch. Instead of calling the police the old man made him come back every day after school and help him with things like sweeping and cleaning the windows. After a few days the two became well acquainted and Mr. Garen learned about Timothy’s school and home life. Taking pity on the young boy, he told him he was welcome in the store any time he wanted, as long as he didn’t fall into old habits. Today he had come into the store with a stack of boxes in his arms and a few bags hanging from his wrists, setting them down on the counter long enough to get the ones he’d left by the door.
“Timmy my boy, would you please help me with these?” he asked with a bit of strain. Timothy rushed to his side and took a few boxes off the top of the stack, struggling at first from the hefty weight but eventually getting them to the counter. “Good morning Mr. Garen, what’s all this?” Timothy asked as he excitedly opened a box, taking out various items like old knives and jewelry. “I went to an estate sale a bit up the road today,” said Mr. Garen, “Apparently some poor fellow had an accident and passed away a few days ago. He had no immediate family, so the house had to be emptied quickly”. He dug out pictures, plates, and little glass animal figurines from one of the bags he carried in and began examining them closely. “Hmmm, definitely a few gems here. Heh, better than the things I get from flea markets this time of year.” He smiled at Timothy and roughed up his hair. “I’m going to go about getting these shelved and priced. You’re free to search through the boxes, just don’t break anything”. Timothy smiled big. “Thank you Mr. Garen,” he said hugging the man around his waist. The old man patted his shoulder then walked off with a few bags and started setting things on counters and tables, humming a pleasant tune to himself.
Timothy watched him for a second and found himself wishing his father could be more like Mr. Garen. “Maybe then I wouldn’t hate being home so much,” he thought to himself, turning to the boxes on the counter and sorting through them. Most were full of things like silver spoons, crystal glasses, and the occasional painting of some beautiful nature scene like a small brook or a wood that looked like it came straight from a fairy tale. He admired them for a few moments then set them aside and stood to go find Mr. Garen when his foot knocked against something on the ground, making it fall over with a thump. Timothy stooped down and found himself inches away from the biggest book he’d ever seen, laying on its side beside the counter. He picked it up carefully and chills ran up his spine as his fingers grazed over the cold leather cover.
It hadn’t been there before Mr. Garen showed up, but he didn’t remember seeing it in any of the boxes either. He stared at it breathlessly, taking in the tome’s intricate craftsmanship and detail. “Wow…” he whispered. “Found something you like?” Mr. Garen said, walking up and looking down at the book. “Did you buy this at the sale?” Timothy asked, holding the book up so the man could get a clear look at it. The store owner scratched his head, deep in thought as he racked his brain.
“I don’t remember to be honest, but I’ve never seen it before so I suppose I must’ve”. He stepped up to the counter and examined it closely. “Hmmm there’s a lock on the clasp…and I sure don’t have a key”. He looked at Timothy and a smile spread over his face as he had an idea. “Would you happen to know a boy who loves books that would like to take this off my hands?”
Timothy’s eyes widened. “You mean it?” he asked happily, taking the book and clutching it to his chest. Mr. Garen laughed and nodded with another big smile. “It’s all yours Timmy, I just hope you can get it open”. Timothy hugged the man with all of his strength, looking up at him in admiration. “Thank you so much, sir. I’ll get it open, no problem! I promise!” He glanced at the clock and seeing that it was nearly time for dinner he put the book in his backpack then said goodbye, thanking Mr. Garen again and again on his way out.
When he got home he set his bag in his room and then went to the table where his mother and father had already begun eating soup, his own bowl awaiting him at the other end. He sat and tried to eat, imagining what it would feel like if someone were actually happy he was home. His parents made no effort to say hello or acknowledge his presence, but instead yelled at each other like usual. His mother would call his father a lazy slob, and his father would counter with “At least I even get out of bed you disgusting bitch,” and this would send his mother over the edge and into a long rant.
Timothy found his appetite suddenly ruined and quietly left the table, slipping into his room and shutting his door. He sighed trying to ignore the sound of his parents shouting in the next room, but to no avail. Eventually he gave up and sat on his bed, setting his backpack beside him and pulling out his new gift for further examination. The dark leather looked rough and dry but the jewels were beautiful, bright shades of red and blue glinting in the light. He looked at the lock and was starting to ponder how he could get it open when it suddenly clicked softly, sliding off the clasp and falling to the floor.
His breath got caught in his throat. What had he done to open it? He hadn’t even touched it yet. Not wanting to jinx his good fortune, he put it out of his mind and slowly slid the cover open. His eyes widened as they fell upon the pages inside. It was blank. The entire book was blank. At first he thought it was only the front page, but as he flipped through he realized every single one of them was white as snow, completely devoid of ink. He found himself shaking in frustration but this quickly gave way to sorrow and he began to cry. Covering his face and sobbing quietly he felt the tears burning his eyes as they fell down, streaking his cheeks. A few managed to slip between his fingers and hit the page with a soft splat as his body heaved with sobs.
He wiped his eyes and started to pull himself together when he noticed something odd. Staring at the book in wonder, the boy saw his tears turn black on the pages and start to move across them, forming letters in a strange language he had never seen before. Timothy watched in amazement as five words appeared on the page. Just five, right in the middle. Below them was a picture of two cat eyes, bright yellow with thin black slits staring right into his soul. He found himself shaking in fear, unable to look away. Why was he afraid? “It’s just a book,” he told himself, “Nothing bad ever happened to anyone because they were reading a book.”
But no matter how hard he tried he couldn’t shake the feeling these eyes could see him…that they were urging him to do something. He pried his eyes off the ones on the page and looked at the words. For a moment he tried to decipher them and figure out what they said, but then he felt something come over him, almost like a cold hand moving through his chest and gripping his lungs. It filled him, shaking his entire body with a sensation he’d never felt before, and slowly he let it take over. His eyes found their way to the words on the page and before he knew it he found himself saying something in an alien tongue. Five words…just five words. When he had finished speaking the feeling had vanished as quickly as it had appeared, and so had the words on the page.
The yellow eyes still remained but were now closed and he felt as if the book had grown a thousand pounds heavier. Unable to stand the weight any longer he dropped it to the floor and before he knew what was happening the book rose into the air with violent twitches and jerks. He gaped in horror as the pages began to tear and rip, glowing with a ghastly bluish green light. Wind whipped his hair around and tossed the contents of his room around like they were nothing. Timothy curled up in a ball screaming at the top of his lungs, hoping it was just a bad dream and would end when he awoke. A soft humming noise drifted through the air followed by a loud crash, and just as quickly as it had all begun it all stopped. The boy had barely lifted his head when his eyes met a small figure standing atop the book which now lay open on his bedroom floor.
It was a little man, or at least it looked sort of like a man. It had smooth grey-blue skin with a head of thick wavy red hair combed back and partly neatly. The being wore a grey suit thinly striped in black and garnished with a green pocket square. He ran his fingers along the sleeve of his jacket as if to straighten out a wrinkle using his pointed black nails. His gaze fell upon Timothy and the child had to swallow a scream as he noticed the man’s eyes. They were cat’s eyes…large, round, and yellow eyes with thin black slits that peered straight into his very being. This little man was the scariest, most intimidating thing the boy had ever seen, and he stood no more than three feet tall. Yet somehow it gave off an aura of control and power as its bright eyes studied him.
He greeted Timothy with a wide, pointy toothed grin. “Greetings my young friend, allow me to introduce myself,” he said giving a low bow. “My name is Mr. Sykes, the one and only, and I see you have found my book”. Slowly, he stepped off of the tome and peered down regarding it with disdain the way a fly might look at a spider’s web. Turning back to the child he put a smile back on his face. “I’d first like to thank you for freeing me from that wretched book. It gets quite boring inside the old thing after a while”. Timothy slowly sat up, looking at the little man, and after a few seconds he managed to squeak out, “You’re welcome”.
Mr. Sykes smiled and bowed once again. “I am sorry for any scare, sire. I didn’t mean to frighten you with my awakening”. He stepped forward and smoothed out Timmy’s hair and shirt then held his hands behind his back. “Now then, I owe you an explanation. I am a gifter; a conjurer of magic and spells, and it is my job to serve whoever finds and opens my book for me,” he said as he looked at Timothy with a grin. “And today that is you my dear boy.” Timothy looked at him, completely speechless. This…this couldn’t be happening, it wasn’t possible. But there was Mr. Sykes, standing before him as real as anything else in his room. “What…what do you mean, ‘serve me’?”
Mr. Sykes bowed once again, and when he straightened up he wore another mischievous grin on his face. “In any way I can, sir. I live to serve. I possess magical powers, and have the authority to grant you three wishes of your choosing. If, after each wish, you are unsatisfied with the outcome, I can undo what has been done without using up another wish.” Timothy’s eyes widened. Three wishes…could it be possible? Anything he wanted, anything he could dream of, and all he had to do was ask. He quickly got up and walked to his door, peeking out to make sure his parents had gone to bed.
As he suspected, they had wandered off to their room some time ago and had left their dishes out on the table for him to clean. He closed the door and turned back to face the creature. “Alright then,” Timothy said slowly, “then…for my first wish…I’d like a dog.” Mr. Sykes raised a brow, then crossed his arms tapping his foot as if annoyed. “You would like a dog? The whole world at your fingertips, and you ask me for a dog?” Timothy blushed in embarrassment. It was a stupid wish compared to all the things he could have asked for, but he had never been allowed to have a pet before.
After a moment he straightened back up and addressed the gifter again. “Yes,” he said with newfound confidence, “I want a dog”. Mr. Sykes looked at him for a moment, then he simply snapped his fingers, and vanished. Timothy looked around and, not seeing a puppy, a dog, or any other animal, he looked down sadly. “This was just some kind of a joke,” he thought. “Of course I’m not going to get a-“. Suddenly he heard a faint noise almost like scratching coming from his bedroom door. His eyes widened and his pulse quickened as he stepped towards it. Was it possible…? He opened the door excitedly, his mind racing as he thought about what kind of dog awaited him. When the door swung open he froze in horror, repulsed by what stood before him. It was a dog, or at least it had been a dog when it was alive. What was standing in his doorway now was just rotted flesh and fur clinging onto the skeleton beneath by a few strands of muscle. Its nose was completely worn away, exposing the bloody skull under the flesh. The ugly monster’s paws were grimy and matted with a mixture of dirt and maggots as if it had dug out of its own grave. Worst of all though was the smell; the reeking odor of decay.
The dog barked at its new master, wagging its tail which accidently flicked clumps of dirt and fur in each direction. Timothy’s mouth hung open in shock of the sight he beheld. The dog couldn’t seem to understand why the boy wouldn’t greet him so it took the initiative to tackle Timothy and lick all over his face. Its tongue was already half gone and what was left had turned a sickly green color that was starting to turn black. Timothy tried his hardest not to vomit but when the tongue suddenly detached from the dog’s mouth and clung to his cheek, he lost control and had to roll over, puking all over the floor. When he looked back up, Mr. Sykes stood before him, a wicked grin on his blue face. “What is it sir? I found a dog for you, and very close by. He was buried in the field just down the road”.
He laughed at his own wit as if his master’s displeasure was hilarious. Now Timothy was enraged. He didn’t appreciate being tricked by this thing, whatever it was, and he certainly didn’t need to be mocked. Picking himself up off the floor he pointed a shaky finger at the dog. “I want this thing gone, now!” he shouted angrily. Mr. Sykes wiped away a tear of amusement and then smiled up at the boy. ”As you wish sir,” he said, then snapped his fingers making the dog and the vomit disappear. Timothy shook with anger and embarrassment then turning his back to the creature he whispered “Go away…I don’t need you”. To this Sykes grinned evilly, running a single pointed nail down the child’s spine. “Oh yes you do Timmy boy…they always do,” he said soothingly. Timothy froze up and whispered quietly, “I-I never told you my name”.
But when he looked over his shoulder the small man was gone and he stood alone, scared out of his mind. Timothy slowly walked to his bed and curled up under the blanket, leaving the book on the floor. “Why did Mr. Sykes do that?” he wondered. It was a simple wish, there was no need to be so mean, especially to the one who freed him from the book. He shut his eyes and forced himself to sleep, then slowly but surely, he drifted off. The next morning he woke up and searched his room for relatively clean clothes so he could get ready for school. Finding a shirt and some pants he slid them on quickly and headed toward his door, but as he did he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. No wonder the kids made fun of him, he looked like a lost boy straight out of Neverland. His hair was a mess, his cloths smelled of cigarettes and mildew, and he hadn’t gotten new shoes for three years. Unable to take his reflection anymore, his gaze instead fell upon the book. He looked at it for a moment and realized that he did need Mr. Sykes after all. Only he was capable of changing his life for the better. He had to try again, or he was going to face another day with his head in a locker or a toilette. Closing his eyes he whispered softly, “Sykes?”
“Yes?” The response came from right behind him and he whirled around to find the little man standing on his bed, looking right into his eyes with his head slightly cocked. He bowed after a moment, then looked back up at Timothy. “I live to serve, master”. Timmy looked at him wearily, whispering to himself “Of course you do”. The boy looked at Mr. Sykes for a moment then said, “No more tricks. I want to make my second wish…I don’t want to be bullied at school anymore…but I don’t want you messing around with me either.” Mr. Sykes smiled. “Well I’d never do that to you, would I master?” He snapped his fingers then smiled again, baring all of his sharp teeth. “It is done, your day will be worry free”. Timothy glared at him hesitantly then nodded. “Ok,” he said, “I trust you”. Sykes patted him on the back, grinning the whole time. “Of course you do Timmy boy. Now, off to school.” Timothy smiled, excited to have a life where he no longer feared seeing the other kids. He quickly ran outside and raced down the street towards the elementary eager to start his day. When he arrived, he cautiously opened the door and peeked inside. Just down the hall, he could see a few of his usual bullies having a laugh by the water fountain. Mustering all of his courage he took a deep breath then started down the hall.
The moment the children at the fountain saw him, they hung their heads and moved out of his way. Timothy as awestruck. It worked! They were leaving him alone for the first time in years! He smiled, feeling good about himself and his new sense of security, but as he walked to class he noticed something strange. Everyone he passed would shy away from him; students, teachers, even janitors. Some went out of their way just to avoid crossing his path. The boy frowned in confusion. He attempted to approach his teacher when he got to class and ask her about what was wrong, but she refused to make eye contact with him or answer any of his questions. Timmy could’ve sworn that he even saw her flinch when he moved.
The whole day went by like this and when school was finally over he rushed home determined to get answers. The moment he opened the door he could tell something was wrong. His father took one look at him then cast his eyes down at the floor and seemed to shut out the world. He got a similar reaction as he walked by his mother on the couch and no all attempts to get her attention were in vain. “What’s wrong with everyone,” he asked himself? His confusion gave way to rage as he stormed into his room slamming his door and tossing his backpack onto the bed, looking around for the cause of this mischief.
“Sykes! Mr. Sykes! Where are you?” From behind him came a quiet noise, almost like a windy breeze, and he turned to find the little man sitting on his backpack, evil grin and all. “Why hello master, and how was your day?” he asked knowingly. Timmy balled up his fists angrily. “I wanna know why everyone is avoiding me. What’s up with the teachers? What’s up with my parents?” Sykes just smiled and calmly crossed his legs. “Why my dear boy, it’s because YOU are the bully now”. He rose and slowly strode over to the edge of the bed to face Timothy. “You wanted to be left alone, to not get bullied…well you got your wish. You’re the bully now, you have been your whole life. Everyone hates you, fears you, and loathes you. Even your own parents know all too well that your temper is always on edge. It’s such a burden, to fear being beaten by your own son”. He smiled his toothy grin and rested a hand on Timothy’s shoulder. “No need to thank me. I live to serve, sire.”
As the words sank in Timothy suddenly broke out into sobs. He never wanted it to be like this, to be the kind of person that he had to deal with every day of his life. All he had wanted was peace, to be left alone, to be normal. He looked at the little man, tears running down his cheeks. “Fix it. Undo it. I don’t want this anymore.” Mr. Sykes made a quiet tsk-tsk sound. “You’re so hard to satisfy my young friend, but alright. I’ll do as you wish.” He snapped his fingers then looked the young child in the eye as a grin broke across his face. “Now…how about that last wish?” he asked. Timothy shook his head quickly. “No way,” he said, “I don’t trust you one bit”. Sykes put an arm around him and leaned in close. “Come on my boy,” he smiled, “I’ve had my fun, I owe you at least one good wish. Name it, anything you want, and after this wish you’ll be rid of me.”
Timothy wiped away his tears thinking about the creature said. After one more wish he’d be free of this little menace and he’d have at least one dream fulfilled. He knew exactly what he wanted and he couldn’t think of any way for Mr. Sykes to ruin it. After taking a deep breath he looked over at the gifter. “Alright…” he said slowly. “I wish…I wish we had the biggest house in town”. Mr. Sykes smiled, “Of course,” he said, “After all, I live to serve”. He snapped his fingers and disappeared. Timothy looked around, waiting for things to change, for him to suddenly find himself in a grand home with large rooms and beautiful furniture.
Instead his room remained the same, nothing had changed at all. That was when he heard the first scream. It came from outside, followed by a loud thundering boom. He ran from his room then made it out the front door and was greeted by a bright orange light. Looking around in horror he watched as a fire spread through the whole town. Every house, farm, home, and apartment was up in flames, all of them burning to the ground. Ash fell like snow and black smoke clouded the sky as if a storm was descending on the town. Worst of all were the screams.
Babies, children, women, men…all screaming as they watched their homes crumble, engulfed in flame. Timmy knew that he had brought this on them and the guilt weighed on him like an anchor. Sykes had given him the biggest house in town alright, because his was the only one untouched by the inferno. He fell to his knees stammering, “…what have I done…what have I done”. In a mad frenzy he ran inside and barged into his room trying to find the little man and set things right, but Mr. Sykes was long gone and he had taken his book with him, leaving no trace. Timothy cried hysterically knowing that people had died, homes were lost, and it was all his fault. He sprinted back outside and stumbled as he ran down Main Street and made his way towards the antique shop where he could be safe.
His lungs burned as the fiery air filled them up, ash starting to settle on his hair and clothes. Sweat clung to his forehead and ran down into his eyes making them burn as he persisted towards his last hope of sanctuary, but when he arrived all he found was rubble and a few piles of bricks lying in the ruin. Apparently Sykes had made sure that the shop was burned down first, his last act of cruelty. Nothing was left. Timothy felt himself about to get sick. As he fell to his knees a shadow slowly cast over him and he turned his head to glance over his shoulder. Several children from his school had gathered behind him, their soot stained faces contorted in anger and disdain. “You little freak,” one of them yelled, “YOU did this, didn’t you?” Timothy cried out curling up into a ball, “No please, I didn’t mean to…” “See?” said another, “he admits it! I saw his house, it’s the only one left standing. He did this ‘cuz he’s jealous of us!” The other children all shouted in agreement.
Timothy curled up tighter and squeezed his eyes shut trying desperately to shut them out. The children closed in around him and started picking up anything they could find; rocks, stones, bricks, and threw them at him one after another. “Freak!” “Firefly!” Their shouting rang in his ears as Timothy lay there taking each stone worst then the last. Soon they began to feel more like boulders crashing into him and sending sharp jolts of pain through his body. He clenched his teeth to keep himself from screaming but eventually a cry of pain escaped his dry throat, drowned out by the sound of cracking flames and firetruck sirens. For a moment he managed to open his eyes, peeking out at his assailants and squinting at them through the smoke. There among the children stood Mr. Sykes, smiling just as big and brightly as ever. Timmy’s eyes widened as he realized the small creature held a brick in its hand. Slowly it pulled its arm back winding it up and hurled the brick at Timothy’s head. He fell on his side, sending a small cloud up as his unconscious body hit the ground. The children dropped their stones and searched the group for the culprit, but Mr. Sykes was gone and none of the children had even caught a glimpse of him.
None of the kids would confess to throwing the brick and none of them were brave enough to check if he was alive. They quickly pushed his body into the ruins of the antique shop and kicked some ash on his body for good measure. If anyone found him they would assume it was an accident, and if he was alive then he’d be too scared to snitch. Without an ounce of guilt they left him there and wandered down the road to find their way back to their parents. They didn’t even look back, not once. All alone in the scorched remnants of the old store, no one saw the little man approach Timothy’s body, clutching a leather book to his small torso. No one saw his evil smile and the glint of his yellow eyes as he reached out for the boy’s hand lying limp on the filthy ground. No one saw them disappear without a trace as the walls of the shop finally collapsed on themselves, removing all evidence that Timothy was ever there.
Once the fires were dealt with the police got involved and they never found any clue about what happened to Timothy. They questioned his school mates, his parents, even Mr. Garen, but no one seemed to know a thing about what had happened to him the day of the fire. After a couple weeks the cops gave up altogether. There were no leads, no tips, no sightings, nothing. Timothy’s parents left town because without their son attending school there they had no reason to stay anymore. Slowly everyone started to move on with their lives. The townspeople searched through the rubble of their homes finding old photographs and belongings that had barely survived as they attempted to salvage anything they could.
One particular day on the outskirts of town, a woman searched the remains of her apartment hoping to find a few photo albums and the chest she kept her wedding dress in. She was digging through the ash and pushing piles of the stuff aside when she felt her shovel hit something. Brightening up hopefully, she set the shovel down and brushed soot away from the object in front of her. It was a book, a strange leather book she had never seen before. Furrowing her brow in confusion she studied the jewel encrusted cover, her fingers roaming over the title which appeared to be in some kind of foreign language.
She looked at the item puzzled and tried to figure out what it was doing in her home, but try as she might there was no logical explanation for it. The woman shrugged and turned around tossing the book into the cart of things she’d found among the ruins. After she was done for the day she loaded the contents of the cart into the back of her car and began driving to the hotel she’d been staying at down the road. She arrived a little after 10pm, leaving her findings from that day in the car and setting her keys on the night stand beside her bed.
As she went to close her hotel door a chill suddenly went up her spine that made her blood run cold. Slowly she looked down at her feet and sitting there propped against the door frame was the book she’d found. “Didn’t I leave this in the car?” she thought. Stooping down hesitantly she picked it up and closed the door, closing her curtains and flipping the light switch up. She sat on the bed with the book in front of her and looked it over. Something about it seemed….off. Feeling uneasy, she set the book aside and stood to go take a shower when she heard a soft click. Breathing heavily now, she turned back toward her bed and looked down at the book sitting on her bed. The lock had clicked open and as she watched it slowly slid from the clasp and fell to the floor with a thud.
Credit To – Creecher001