Sunday: December 5, 2021
Miguel Pareja’s eyes shot open at the high-pitched squeal of his son’s voice. Before he could even push himself off the couch, the toddler sprinted into the room and jumped up with him. Miguel grunted, laying a hand on the back of the boy’s head as he buried his face in the blanket half-draped over Miguel’s chest. “Mijo, what’s wrong?”
The boy lifted his head, his blue-flecked hazel eyes filled to the brim with tears. “Pere Fouettard is gonna kidnap me a-and all my friends and kill us to sell with the pork!”
Miguel was almost certain he’d heard that wrong. “Pere who now?”
“Fouettard! Father Whipper!”
“Mijo, I don’t know…” Miguel cleared his throat, looking down at his watch. “Buddy, it’s three in the morning. I think you had a bad dream. A… a really bad dream. But I promise you, Daddy’s right here. I’m gonna keep you safe from this Father…?”
“Whipper!” Eliseo exclaimed.
“Right. I won’t let this Father Whipper hurt you or your friends. No one’s taking you anywhere.” Lightly, Miguel tapped a fist against the boy’s cheek. “You’re my little boy, mijo. You’re safe with me.”
Eliseo sniffled, rubbing his eye with the heel of his palm. “Felt too real to be a bad dream, Daddy.”
“They usually do, bud. That’s part of what makes them so bad.” Miguel sat up on the couch and hugged the boy to his chest. “I’m sorry you were so scared, mijo. Bad dreams are never any fun.”
Eliseo nodded. “Can I sleep out here with you?”
“I think the couch is too small for both of us. How about I set up a sleeping bag in your room, huh? Like a little sleepover of our own.”
A smile came to the boy’s face as he sniffled. “Sleepover sounds fun.”
Miguel pushed himself to his feet and moved Eliseo over to his hip. The boy wrapped a hand around the front of his shirt, head falling to his shoulder. Miguel closed his eyes for a moment before turning to press a kiss to the top of the boy’s head. Things had been difficult the last six months, when Miguel’s ex-wife passed away and he was given full custody of their son. Eliseo had been riddled with nightmares nearly every night, and Miguel spent most of his work days exhausted.
Eliseo’s nightmares usually told grand tales of monsters of all kinds. Krampus, Bloody Mary, ghosts, Demons, Vampires. But this one, Father Whipper or whoever, was new. The others, well, at least Miguel had heard of those. He could always understand where Eliseo may have heard of or seen the other monsters. There had been recent movies about Krampus, ghosts, and Demons. One of the shows he watched on television focused on monsters as the main characters, though in their world, ‘monsters’ were the normal thing to be.
But Father Whipper was new, and Miguel had no damn idea where that had come from to haunt his son’s nightmares. Maybe he’d check that monster show Eliseo liked, just to see if they had added a villain with a far too disturbing backstory and motive.
Miguel grabbed the rolled up sleeping bag from inside the coffee table ottoman and carried Eliseo back to his bedroom. Six months ago, it had been the master bedroom, which he always gave to Eliseo when he visited on weekends. Now Miguel had retreated to sleeping in the living room full time until he could find and afford a place with two bedrooms.
His neck and back hoped he could find a place far sooner than later.
Miguel set Eliseo on his bed and unrolled the sleeping bag on the floor. “All right, mijo. Do you need anything before we get tucked back in?”
Eliseo shook his head. “Mm-mm. Feel safe now.”
Miguel smiled. “I’m glad to hear that, bud. I’ll always keep you safe.”
“I know, Daddy. You put away the bad guys.”
“I do. Always will. Especially if they’re after you.” Miguel kissed the boy’s head and tucked him back into bed. “I love you, mijo.”
“Love you, Daddy.”
Miguel smoothed a hand over the boy’s dark hair. Eliseo was one of the only good things that had come of his marriage, and it killed him inside that he was unable to take away his bad dreams. He’d move mountains for the boy if he had to, but he couldn’t stop the nightmares. It was a kind of hell all on its own.
He laid down in his sleeping bag and closed his eyes, but sleep never came. Unfortunately, that was usually the case after one of Eliseo’s nightmares. No three-year-old deserved to be haunted by images of some ‘Father Whipper’ murdering and butchering him and his friends. The very idea that his son had seen something so horrific in his sleep made Miguel’s stomach twist and flip a million different ways.
But there was simply nothing he could do about it.
According to Miguel’s watch, it was just after six when his phone rang. With a groan, he rolled onto his stomach and crawled out of the sleeping bag. In an awkwardly light jog, he made his way to the living room. He grabbed his phone, accepted the call, and pressed it to his ear. “Pareja.”
“Hey, Miguel. Was worried you weren’t gonna answer.”
“Yeah, sorry. I was halfway across the house.” Miguel cleared his throat. “What’ve you got?”
“You’re our last detective on call today. Already tried everyone else.”
“No, I… I got an answer. Just, uh… No one’s been able to handle the scene just yet.”
Miguel scrubbed his free hand over his face. “What kinda scene are we looking at?”
“A dead three-year-old. Looks like he’s been butchered. It’s a tough fuckin’ scene, Miguel. I understand if you don’t wanna do it either.”
Miguel’s heart skipped a beat. “I, umm… Let me call my babysitter and grab a shower. Text me the address.”
“Will do, Miguel. Good luck.”
Miguel ended the call, free hand covering his mouth. A three-year-old dead and butchered. It was just a coincidence. It had to be.
A/N: I still need to come up with a description for this one, so the ‘back to book details’ currently doesn’t have a link, but I’ll get to it as soon as I can!
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