Joey's Friend

Joey's Friend

By R.J. Steen

When his parents fought, Joey would hide in his Special Place. There he would scrunch up squashing himself deep into a corner, in the dark, and listen to the angry bark of his father's voice and the nervous high pitched wail of his mother's. Poe would come at these times. He would appear in the spot where Joey was looking at that time, hovering in the air with a toothy smile on his impish face. While the battle raged outside, Poe would tell him things. All kinds of things. Sometimes Joey didn't understand the things Poe told him, while at other times Poe told him things that scared him, but always it was better than listening to his mum and dad fight.

Tonight it happened again. Joey knew it was going to be a bad night around supper time when Daddy wasn't home. Mummy set the table in silence, carefully arranging the place mats and the cutlery, while glancing at the clock frequently. It was nearly seven o'clock and he wasn't home. Although Joey was only eight he knew what that meant. Daddy had stopped off at his "place" again. After visiting his "place" he would come home and wouldn't be like "normal daddy" at all. Instead he would be an angry, violent demon. Joey knew about demons because Poe had told him about them. Now mummy was becoming agitated as the minute hand climbed slowly towards the twelve.

'Come on, Joey. I think it best that you eat your food before daddy gets home.' There was a tear in her eye as she said "daddy" and her voice wavered on the two syllables; fear where there should have been love. He stared at her with large blue eyes bravely trying not to cry, although his lips trembled slightly. It was his mother's pain that brought on the empathic emotions although he was still too young to be aware of that fact.

The meal had become overcooked. His mother had painstakingly prepared it for six o'clock, but once again daddy had not returned home at the proper time. She looked at him apologetically as she placed the plate before him. Mashed potatoes that had grown a yellowish-white skin from standing too long, cold carrots and cauliflower that crumbled into mush as Mummy set down the plate. Even the savoury mince had congealed into an unappetising mess. He prodded the food warily with his fork and looked at his mother. Seeing her helplessness, her state of depression and the plea for understanding that showed in her eyes, Joey grinned at her and began eating as if it was the nicest meal she had ever presented. She smiled back but the smile was wan, flaring briefly until half formed before vanishing again like a quick snatch of winter sunshine between passing storm clouds.

Joey had managed to eat the carrots and potatoes with about half of the mince when the front door flew open, banging against the doorstop. His father wore an angry scowl as he stomped into the kitchen, brushing past his mother without a glance and seating himself at the table. He smelt of sweat and of the powerful sweet spirit that he consumed in quantity whenever he visited his "place" and the fumes almost made Joey gag.

'What are you staring at, brat. Eat your food.'

Joey reacted jerkily, thrusting his fork into the mince so quickly that a huge glob tumbled off the edge of the plate and onto the place mat.

'You clumsy little fool. Look at the mess you made.'

When it came, it felt as if he'd been hit by a truck. The slap knocked him from his chair, onto the floor and the side of his face became instantly numb. He didn't dare cry. Crying was a sure way of getting hit again, even harder. Joey pushed himself up into a sitting position, holding the side of his face, and looked with frightened eyes at the monster that his dad had become.

'No, Ray. Don't hit the boy. It wasn't his fault...'

She ran straight into his fist. Joey saw his mum reel back from the blow, striking the wall and barely managing to stay on her feet. Blood was pouring from her nose and she was screaming. Deeply frightened now, Joey ran from the room to hide in his special place; to bury himself deeply in the corner of his closet, pulling the door closed behind him.

Poe came during the worst of the row. He smiled that special smile of his. Sort of evil but, at the same time, sort of nice and comforting.

'I think he'll murder her.' Poe observed, nodding at the closed door that blocked the worst of the shouting and screaming. 'Probably break her head against the wall.'

Joey sniffed loudly, looking at Poe from the corner of his eye. He wanted to cry again but he was all cried out.

'Daddy won't.' He whispered fiercely. 'Mummy loves daddy very much, and you are bad to say that daddy will...That he...That's just a bad thing to say, is all.'

Poe scratched under his nose with a dirty fingernail, black as midnight. His eyes burned yellow, like a cat's, and his smile didn't slip an inch.

'It was only an observation. Bet you on it if you'd like.'

Outside, there was a loud "bang" and the shouting stopped abruptly. Both the boy and his friend peered anxiously at the door. Joey held his breath, straining his ears, listening for any sound that would indicate Mummy was okay. Was Mummy hurt? Why was everything so quiet? A deep sadness welled suddenly from deep within his chest. It rode the crest of his fear until his eyes could no longer retain their moisture and, once more, Joey began to cry in long, racking sobs. Poe had gone again leaving him alone and frightened, locked in his own wardrobe with the house as silent as a tomb. At last he heard it. A sobbing outside, muffled by something. A pillow. Joey knew the sound of his mummy crying into her pillow and he let out a long sigh, unaware until now how he had been holding his breath. The loud banging sound had only been his Daddy slamming the front door as he left.

Mummy lay on her stomach on the big, double bed. She clutched a pillow to her face and cried into it with long, choking sobs totally unaware that her little boy was standing, quite perplexed, watching her from the doorway.

'Don't cry, mummy.' Joey's voice was so tiny it was a wonder that she heard it at all. Upon hearing her boy's attempt at solace she jerked her face out of the pillow and looked at him with tear reddened eyes. Joey saw the dark blotches on her cheeks and chin, saw the new bruising around her eye, and his little heart crunched painfully.

'It's okay, tiger. Daddy's gone out for a while. Can I get you a warm milk before bed?'

'Why does Daddy hit you, Mummy?'

'He gets angry, baby. It's just...He gets angry.'

'Daddy's bad, isn't he, Mummy?'

She hesitated, looking at him with a plea in her eyes. Then she shook her head.

'No, Joey. I think he is ill and needs some help, but I don't know how to get him help.'


Joey hung his head and stared at the floor. His mother arose stiffly from the bed and crossed to him, wrapping her arms around him and placing a kiss on his forehead. Her lips were hot and she left damp smudges on his face with the tears that stained her cheeks.

'Yes, tiger?'

'What does "murder" mean?'

She was still cuddling him and so he felt the shock that coursed through her at his words.

'Why? Where did you hear that word?' She wasn't angry, but there was anxiety in her voice and Joey heard it. It meant she expected something bad. Maybe she expected something he would say would be bad? Now Joey felt confused. Should he tell Mummy about Poe's prediction? Or was that the "bad" thing she was expecting? He didn't want to make her cry again.

"Nowhere.' He whispered.

Mummy's hands rested on his thin shoulders now and she had brought her face close to his. All the fear and uncertainty had gone and her gaze was steady as she looked him in the eye.

'Where did you hear that word, Joey?' She whispered. She didn't sound anxious anymore, nor did she sound angry. Perhaps he could tell her about Poe.

'Poe told it to me.'

'Poe? Who is Poe?'

'He's my special friend. He comes to talk to me when you and daddy are...When Daddy isn't being well.'

'Murder is a bad thing, Joey. It means to hurt someone so bad that they die.'

'Can Daddy hurt you that bad?' There. He'd got it out. He looked through his eyebrows at her waiting for a reaction. Mummy wouldn't get mad at him. She never did, but she would cry if he upset her. It hurt him to see her cry, and so he waited apprehensively as she digested the dreadful question.

'Come on Joey. I'll get you that milk.'

Mummy scooped him up off the floor, cradling him in her arms, and walked to the kitchen where she plonked him in a chair. She did not look at him, nor talk to him as she fetched the milk from the refrigerator and began heating it in a saucepan. Joey followed her with his eyes not daring to speak. She was so quiet, and she hadn't answered him. Joey drank his milk, watching his mother rubbing occasionally at her eyes as she paced the kitchen. Her hands shook badly and she could not hold back the occasional sob that caused her body to jerk as if in spasm.

'Poe says that Daddy will do it to you. Daddy wouldn't, would he mummy?'

She stopped and turned, her eyes showing fear and pain. 'Do what, Tiger?'

'Murder.' He replied, and buried his face in the cup of milk waiting for her reaction.

'Joey! How can you say such an evil thing?' She had gone quite pale and the look of fear in her eyes became intense. 'I think it best you go to bed now, and no more of such silly talk.'

Could he really murder her? She supposed that the possibility had crossed her mind from time to time, but only subliminally. She remembered the night she had first met him. Ray Marsh was playing rhythm guitar in a four piece band at the local hotel that Friday evening. She didn't usually frequent hotels, but her girlfriend had urged her to come dancing and she had relented. During a fifteen minute break her girlfriend had brought Ray to the table to introduce him to her. By the end of the evening Ray had asked her on a date. Their romance had culminated in a wedding six months later and, eight months after that, Joey was born. Ray had always been partial to a drink with Jack Daniel's and Coke being his preferred tipple. She had thought him extremely funny and witty when he'd "had a few" and he certainly had never shown any tendency towards violence. That was until about two years ago after being retrenched from his job. He had started drinking heavily and coming home late.

At first it was an occasional slap for "nagging" or "being a stupid bitch", but the beatings had got worse. She had called for police protection, had even taken out restraining orders, but the beatings had continued. Last year she had reported him for an assault and the judge had sentenced him to one month imprisonment. He had come home after his release and beaten her so badly she was unable to go out in public for nearly two weeks. He told her then that, if she ever put him in again, he was going to kill her.

Again the question. Could he really murder her? She sighed deeply and blew her nose into a handful of tissues. The answer was pretty obvious to her even though she would not allow herself to think it.

It was good to snuggle under his covers again. The room wasn't very dark because a bright moon shone through the curtains, bathing his room in an argent glow. His Power Ranger dolls stood sentry duty on the window sill, silhouetted in the light. Soon he drifted off to sleep and dream of adventures. Several hours of bliss passed before the front door crashed open and the yelling began again. This time Joey listened from under the covers trying not to cry. At about half past three in the morning the noise stopped and a frightened little boy lay awake thinking about murder; the bad thing that could make people die. He couldn't hear his mother crying, only his Daddy snoring loudly in the master bedroom.

'Murder, Joey, is when someone kills a person on purpose to get rid of them.'

Poe grinned at the little boy who peeked out from under the covers, eyes wide and round, and vanished.

She had managed to drift into a calming sleep, slumbering without dreaming. Above her head, on the bed head, the radio alarm clock showed the time to be a little before 3.00 a.m. The crash of the front door opening woke her. Ray stormed into the bedroom even more drunk than before.

'What's the matter with you, you bitch? Can't you wait up for me anymore? A man comes home to be with his woman and the bitch is asleep.'

'Ray, it's three in the morning...' The slap hit her so hard it spun her head to the side far enough that she felt a sharp pain in her neck. She was just bringing her eyes into focus when he hit her again on the other cheek.

'Fuck off out of my bed, you frigid whore. If you don't want me, I'll sleep on my own.' He was shouting so loudly that she worried he might awaken Joey. Holding the side of her face he had slapped second she scrambled off the bed, scurrying from the bedroom.

'You fucking slut!' The voice chased her as she ran out of the door. It sounded raucus; a drunken slur. 'Whose been fixing you while I'm out? The milky? More like the fucking garbo, I'd say. Fucking bitch!'

Tears streamed down her cheeks as she headed for the kitchen trembling with fear. Now she was certain about the answer to her earlier question. Yes, he would. Maybe not tonight, but one night. One night he would come home drunk and would get up enough rage to kill her. No-one could stop that from happening. Suddenly she felt incredibly calm as if she had suddenly found an answer to the meaning of life itself. She sniffed back a warm rivulet of moisture that was threatening to drip from her nose and opened the kitchen drawer. She could still hear him in the bedroom rambling on in his loud, drunken voice, accusing her of committing obscene sexual acts with every tradesman that had occasion to visit the house Sorting through the tangle of cutlery she grasped the ebony handle of her special serrated edged chef's knife. It was the one she had ordered from Demtel only a few weeks before. Holding it up to the light she watched, fascinated, as the light played along the scalloped edge. It would be adequate for tonight.

Joey woke just after 5.00 a.m. He left his bed quietly, opened his bedroom door and tiptoed to the bathroom to use the toilet. He could hear the loud snoring that came from his parent's bedroom and so he knew his father was asleep.

After finishing in the toilet, he went to the door of his parent's bedroom and peeked around the corner. His mother wasn't in the bed.

'I told you. She's been murdered.' Poe's voice mocked him. He glanced around, but his friend was nowhere to be seen. 'Told you so. Definitely been murdered.'

Joey didn't dare rebuke his friend in case he woke up his dad. He decided to find out what had actually happened, and began a search of the house.

He found his mother asleep in one of the lounge chairs with her feet tucked up under her. She was clutching a huge kitchen knife across her breast and moaning softly in her sleep. Even as he watched, a tear dribbled from one eye and coursed lazily down one badly bruised cheek.

When Detective Peters entered the bedroom all he could see was blood. There was so much of it that he could be forgiven for thinking that a dozen human sacrifices had been slain to a dark god. He frowned at the splash-marks on the wall, over the bed head and the puddle on the floor. Careful not to get blood on his Hush Puppy loafers, he tiptoed to the double bed and looked at the corpse curled in a foetal position under the quilt. The thick, eiderdown bed cover was drenched in blood. Detective Peters looked at the corpse's face and saw in it the same inane look of surprise he had seen in so many murder victim's faces. Dead eyes stared upwards, while the mouth was slightly agape as if screaming in the final moments, 'Why me? Why the fuck does it have to be me?'

Almost a standard expression for murder victims, Detective Peters thought as he pulled back the soaked doona. Underneath it, the body lay clothed in singlet and underpants and even from several feet away Dave Peters could smell the stench of cheap scotch mingled with the coppery smell of blood. The man was absolutely crocked when he died, that was for sure. He reached down and clasped the shoulder that was uppermost, feeling the rigid coldness of the dead flesh beneath his latex glove. Holding his breath so as not to cop a nose full he pushed firmly, rolling the corpse to its back. Even freshly dead corpses had that unpleasant death smell about them.

Dave looked at the wounds in the man's chest and whistled. They were savage blows; deep jagged lacerations obviously done with a wide bladed knife. He counted thirteen of them set roughly in a circular pattern. Eight of the wounds were clustered tightly over the heart while the other five were located randomly about the chest and stomach area. Whomsoever had wielded the knife had certainly intended nothing less than to take this man's life. From the next room he could hear the woman sobbing. He sighed, squaring his shoulders in preparation for interviewing her.

A female detective, Kate Turner, sat with her. Kate had one arm placed comfortingly around her shoulders. Dave noticed that the other woman was covered in blood. Large red stains marred the cheap dressing gown she wore, as well as both hands.

'Mrs Marsh? I'm Detective Peters.' He didn't offer her his hand.

The domestic situation of the Marsh family was well known by the local police. On numerous occasions patrols had been called to attend at this house. On those occasions Raymond Francis Marsh came home drunk and beat up on his wife, Shirley. He'd even done a short stint in prison for domestic violence, assault. It seemed pretty obvious what had happened. She had been beaten again (Peters could see the fresh bruises on her face) only this time she'd had enough. This time she had finished it.

'Where is the knife, Mrs Marsh?'

She started a new bout of sobbing as she shook her head helplessly.

'I...I...I don't kn...know.' She managed to stammer.

Dave glanced at Kate who shrugged in return.

'Did you kill him?' He asked the sobbing woman.

'I...I don't....I can't remember.' She had buried her head in both hands and now began to bawl in great, gusty cries. When she had recovered herself she looked at the detective with reddened eyes. 'I remember thinking he would kill me. I remember taking the knife from the drawer for protection. Then I woke up and the knife was gone...' Again she began to cry gustily, forcing out her words between sobs. 'I found him in the bed this morning, dead, and there was so much blood...' Her crying became hysterical. Kate glanced at Dave disapprovingly, her eyes clearly telling him to leave her alone for now. He took the hint and backed from the room while Kate put her arm around Mrs Marsh's shoulders. 'Go and look in on the boy.' She said as he exited through the door.

'What's your name, little boy?' Dave knelt on one knee before the eight year old who stood pigeon toed, head hung on his chest.

'Joey.' He spoke so softly that Dave had to strain to hear the name.

'Joey? Hi. You can call me Dave if you like.'

Joey nodded slightly, his eyes never leaving the ground at his feet.

'Joey, do you know what happened?'

'Murder.' Joey answered softly.

'You know about murder Joey?'

'It's when a person hurts someone so bad they die.'

'That's right, Joey.' Damn, but the kid was bright. Succinct and accurate.

'Do you know about the murder, Joey?' He didn't want to upset the kid, but he had to find out if he had seen anything or heard anything.


'Can you tell me what you know?'

'Poe did it.'

Dave shook his head. Who the hell was Poe?

'Who is Poe, Joey?'

'He's my friend who comes to me when I'm frightened. When daddy isn't being well.'

Joey proceeded to explain how Poe visited him sometimes, in the bedroom cupboard while Joey hid from his father's wrath. An invisible playmate that only Joey could see. A playmate who appeared and disappeared in the blink of an eye. A playmate who sat in mid air. Dave sighed and stood up, giving the boy's head a reassuring pat.

'You be all right here for a while?' He asked. Joey nodded and looked up for the first time, his big blue eyes meeting the detective's brown one's.

'You won't take Poe to gaol, will you mister? He was only protecting my Mummy.'

Dave smiled and shook his head. 'No, Joey. I can honestly say we won't take Poe to gaol.' After all, he thought as he left the room, how does one lock up an imaginary friend?

Late that afternoon Dave Peters and Kate Turner were the only police left at the house. Forensic Section, the Coroner's constables and the uniform had left taking the body with them. Shirley Marsh had been questioned at length, but had been unable to tell them where the knife was or how the murder had taken place. After a lengthy consultation with Legal Advice Section, a decision was reached not to charge Shirley Marsh with the murder of her husband. It was felt insufficient evidence existed to support such a charge. Even the blood on her clothing and hands could be logically explained as she had been the person to find the body. She had been cradling her husband's body to her breast and crying noisily when the police had arrived. She had also been the person who had rung the police reporting her husband's death. And, of course, there was no murder weapon as the knife had not been found.

'So, what do you think, Kate?' Dave thrust a cigarette between his lips. They were on the footpath, walking towards their car.

'I'd say she killed him.'

Dave applied fire to the tip of the cigarette and nodded. 'You think so?'

'Yeah, I think so. Bastard deserved it though.' She said with feeling.

'Probably.' Dave flicked the match onto the lawn and held open the gate for his partner. He grinned at her as she walked through the gateway. 'Almost glad we can't prove she did it, hey?'

'Yeah. Almost.'

Shirley sat in her armchair with her eyes glued to the television. She wasn't watching the flickering images that played upon the screen. She was thinking. Somewhere during the night, something had happened and now a great weight had lifted from her soul. She suddenly realised that this was the first time in two years that she did not feel afraid. No more would that front door crash open to herald another night of verbal and physical abuse. She glanced out of the window that overlooked her back yard. There was a full moon shining, bathing the yard in its friendly silver glow, and she felt peace in her heart. The beast was dead. The police had let her go because they couldn't find the knife. Where was the knife? The last time she remembered seeing it, she had clutched it in her hand as she settled in the chair to sleep. She had clutched it across her breast as her only defence should Ray decide to murder her in his drunken rage. When she awoke that morning, it had gone.

A movement caught her eye. Somewhere in the shadow of the cedar tree she saw a figure hunched over, doing something to the ground. Frowning, she got out of her chair and crossed to the window. It was darker there and so she had a better view of the rear yard in the moonlight. A small boy stood under the tree and he was digging with a plastic beach spade. Joey had made quite a hole as far as she could see. A hole about four feet deep. As she watched he plunged his small, plastic spade into the mound of dirt piled up beside him. Bending over, Joey picked up an object previously obscured by the pile of dirt. He raised it to waist height, hesitated a moment, then dropped it into the hole; but not before she had caught a glimpse of it as the moonlight gleamed off its wide, scalloped blade. She gasped as the knife tumbled into the hole. Not because of the knife, although that was a surprise, but because of the other thing she saw briefly. As quickly as she saw it, it vanished. Was it a trick of the light, or had it really been there? She would have sworn she saw a man-shaped being, the size of a large doll. Just before he vanished he was squatting in the air, near Joey's shoulder.

The End

Copyright 1997 by R.J. Steen

My Bio: - I am 44 years old, male and live in Port Lincoln, South Australia where I work as a police sergeant. Writing has been a hobby of mine for about ten years, although I have written stories earlier than that. To date I have not sold to a publisher. I am married with two children, a boy 22 yrs and a girl 19 yrs.


Rene Steen

You can e-mail Rene at:

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