Mr. Chew isn't real.
He's a monster from an old nursery rhyme; a myth passed from the big kids to the little ones.
Mr. Chew all dressed in black
His jaw unhinges with a crack
An older girl at the playground scared me with the rhyme when I was younger, so bad I'd cried. The other kids laughed.
My brother Jason is eight now, so I passed the rhyme down to him like any good big sister would. Maybe I wanted to give him a scare, too. But I'm the one who's scared.
Mr. Chew wears a too-small black suit, with cuffs that stop mid-forearm and leave his spindly hands dangling. Liver spots dot every patch of pale, exposed skin on his oversized bald head, long neck, and bare feet. But it's his eyes that betray he's a monster–bulbous, white orbs with blood-red irises pitted by black pupils and no eyelids that I can see. He doesn't blink, only stares.
Watches you with blood-filled eyes
Grabs with fingers sharp as knives
I sang Jason the rhyme a week ago, and I've seen Mr. Chew every day since. He comes closer each day. At first, he was just a hulking figure standing at the end of the block. Today he's posted on the sidewalk in front of our house. I walk past him to wait for the bus and feel a rush of hot air, smell a hint of rotting fruit.
"You're not real," I say, still watching him.
"Who?" asks the skinny, shaggy-haired boy just ahead of me on the sidewalk, waiting with the others for the middle school bus. He's a year younger than me and new, or else he wouldn't be talking to me.
"Him." I point at Mr. Chew.
“There's no one there." The boy cocks his head to the side.
Heat climbs up my neck. "I know."
Late at night, the man will creep
Eats the bad ones while they sleep
"Crazy Cammie." Drew, the coolest of the cool girls, sing-songs my nickname and bumps me from behind, earning giggles from her friends. She eyes my threadbare grey t-shirt and stained, ill-fitting jeans. "Crazy Crusty Cammie." She pushes me, knocking me into the boy.
"Watch it," he says, grasping my arm.
At the press of his fingers on my skin, my pulse swells to fill my ears like a crashing wave, and I shove him to the ground.
His face reddens as he scrambles back to his feet. He won't look at me.
I should apologize, but my teeth are clenched too tight, my throat closed off against an anger I can't let escape.
Drew snickers and my fists itch to find her face, but I jam my hands in my pockets instead. Remember what the counselor said. I control my temper; it doesn't control me.
The bus pulls up, and I'm the first to climb the steps, slumping into a seat at the very back. As we pull away from the curb, I watch Mr. Chew.
There is no chance to run away
Mr. Chew will make you pay
His eyes swivel in their sockets and the black pupils settle on me, bore into me.
See you soon, his eyes seem to say.