Ophelia clung to the dense shadows the television cast, the blue, electronic light not daring to reveal her as she crept behind unsuspecting eyes. After a few moments of complete stillness, the eight-year-old resumed her mission, certain her nearly deaf grandmother hadn’t heard Mr. Smiley giggle. With careful foot placements, to avoid the squeaky floorboards, Ophelia found herself before her Nana’s tacky front door. Setting Mr. Smiley down next to the glass jar they would need for their excursion, she stared at the teddy bear’s button eyes scoldingly. Her young eyebrows formed an annoyed look on her tan face as she pulled her windbreaker from its hook on the wall. As a car trolled past the quaint residence, headlights threatened to expose the young girl and Mr. Smiley. Quietly, Ophelia pulled her sweatshirt’s hood over her brown hair. That one rebellious curl poking out, taunting her, and the countless times she’d tried to brush it away. Still wearing her frown from before, the child hoisted Mr. Smiley and the glass jar into her small arms. Then, with nimble hands, she unlocked the door and slipped into the night.
Little boots splashed through puddles. Young Ophelia made her way, cradling her possessions, down Coyote Road. She often wondered why the street was named that. She had never seen a coyote here before. Sure a few mean doggies, but no coyotes. Even if wild animals were roaming, Ophelia wasn’t anxious.
“Mr. Smiley will protect me,” she would think confidently, squeezing the stuffed bear. But Ophelia’s attitude changed abruptly. She dangled Mr. Smiley in one arm as she chastised angrily. “You almost got us caught!” The bear stared back blankly. “Well, no, we didn’t. No thanks to you,” Ophelia mumbled back, “and that’s not what I call fun.” Slowly the pale moon peeked around the overcast clouds, sending moonlight streaking across the slick street.
Ophelias was just about to continue her parent-like lecture when Mr. Smiley interrupted. After a few seconds, she gasped sharply.
“She is not! Well, sometimes she can’t hear all that well, but that doesn’t make her a hag,” Pausing briefly, she crossed the deserted street, trying to recall a certain word. “She’s just alderly that’s all.” Her boots hopped a few inches to the next sidewalk curb. “That’s what I said. Elderly.” she quipped matter of factly. Then her hazel eyes began to wander the clear night sky, tiny, yellow sparkles flew happily around the empty space.
“Wow,” Ophelia exclaimed, her mouth agape from the scene, “The park is always so much better than Nana’s backyard.” A joyful giggle escaped her lips as she sat her worn teddy onto the park bench, and began unscrewing the jar. Mr. Smiley relaxed on the bench, watching the eight-year-old who placed him there dance around the empty park, capturing the blinking fireflies in her hands. Each time she unscrewed the lid to shove her new prisoner in, two or three would lazily fly out, escaping. Ophelia adored the thrill of tracking and securing the flying insects. And Mr. Smiley? He enjoyed watching too.
“What’s this one’s name?” Ophelia cupped her hands around one of her captives. A few seconds of silence passed before Ophelia laughed. “That’s a silly name. Blinky it is!” she declared, releasing the docile insect. “Bye-bye, Blinky!” calling after the bug before returning her gaze to the flashing jar. She reached for the metal lid again but paused. Ophelia stared at her firefly catching buddy before turning her gaze towards the park’s mulch path as instructed. There, stood a stranger, observing her. Politely she waved at her onlooker. “Hi, mister.” Realizing he had been noticed, the man stepped towards Ophelia awkwardly. He smiled wearily, revealing stained teeth. Peering around, the man relaxed some.
“Well, good evening young lady. Out for some late-night firefly wrangling?” he asked, gesturing to the full jar in her lap. With an enthusiastic nod, Ophelia held the jar out to him, so he could gawk at her natural talent. The man chuckled to himself, the pungent smell of booze lingering.
“Do you mind if I let one go?” His hand lay atop the lid expectantly.
“Hmmm,” Ophelia tapped her chin thinking, then swiveled to face Mr. Smiley, restating the man’s question. “Can he let one go, Mr. Smiley?” Silence. Turning back to face the man once more she nodded. “He said you can let one go. But only one,” She repeated holding up one finger for emphasis.
“But of course,” the mysterious man crooned, “Thank you, Mr. Smiley.” He nodded to the shabby bear then freed a single firefly from its prison.
“Well? What are you naming it?” Eagerly, Ophelia watched the agile creature climb across the man’s weathered hand. Mimicking her, he tapped his chin.
“How about I name it after myself?” Then he blew his warm breath on the bug, sending it flying into the night sky. “Farewell, Jack,” he whispered.
“Bye-bye, Jack.” Ophelia parroted. The gentleman, whose name was Jack, brushed the leaves from the bench’s seat next to young Ophelia.
“Do you mind if I sit down?” With a pleasant nod, Ophelia picked up her furry friend and scooched over to make room. Exhaling a tired breath, he eased into the seat, then rested the side of his foot on a dingy jean-covered knee. Beside him, Ophelia smiled politely and hugged Mr. Smiley closer. But Mr. Smiley wasn’t happy. Mr. Smiley didn’t like Mr. Jack.
“So you live alone with your Nana now?” Jack inquired, glancing at Ophelia nod sadly out of the corner of his eye. “I’m sorry to hear that Ophelia. I lost my father when I was ten.” Peering up at the man’s face, Ophelia felt a newfound affinity with him.
“Daddy said he’d come back,” Ophelia mumbled to herself, “He promised.” Realizing he had earned the young girl’s trust, Jack took his chance.
“Say,” he began, sitting a bit straighter, “You know what I did when I was sad my father was gone?”
“What?” questioned the hazel-eyed child, clutching her stuffed bear in her lap. Mr. Smiley, who had been observing Jack intently had grown more concerned with the man’s curious question.
“I would go on to my roof with a gallon of my favourite ice cream and watch the stars in the sky. Do you want to do that?” He was immediately on his feet and extending his large hand out to Ophelia to accept. Hesitantly, she began reaching for the gruff hand; Jack was barely able to suppress a dubious grin. She paused.
“I’m sorry,” Ophelia whimpered staring at the bear in her arms. “Mr. Smiley doesn’t want to. He said we should go home.” Jack’s smile wavered. Jack was irritated and growing weary of this bear.
“Don’t worry,” he rebounded quickly, “I’ll get a tub of Mr. Smiley’s favourite ice cream too. We’ll be back before your Nana wakes up.” Unfortunately for Jack, his second attempt was met by silence as Ophelia looked to her stuffed animal, entranced. Jack Snapped. “Oh, for-” Jack yanked the bear from her small hands, agitated. Grasping the fabricated animal carelessly in his two hands he stretched it taut from its stubby legs to its round head. “Just come with me and I won’t have to hurt Mr. Smiley.” Ophelia’s eyes brimmed with tears as she watched the man grip her friend. Her lip began to quiver.
“Don’t hurt him! You can’t hurt him. Mr. Smiley won’t let you!” Little Ophelia wrung her feeble wrists, distraught. Jack took this as a challenge and began to stretch tighter, a stitch snapping in the small bear’s neck.
“Oh yeah? Well, let’s see how strong Mr. Smiley is without his cute, little, head.” With that, he viciously ripped the toy bear in two, a piece in each hairy hand. Jack’s lips spread into a malevolent grin. Wiping her eyes Ophelia stared back at him, her sadness giving way to confusion.
“That’s not Mr. Smiley,” she sobbed slowly to explain. “That’s Roosevelt.” Jack’s grin faltered and his eyes showed question. Before he was able to ask the obvious, Jack felt the bear’s beheaded corpse grow warm in his hands. Instantly, the mysterious heat rose, burning his fingers causing him to drop the fabric pieces to the ground. The torn bear shook violently, convulsing in the damp grass. Then, it stopped. Staring blankly. Harmless as before. Jack dared not stray his gaze from the bear as he clumsily stumbled backward. Suddenly a shadowy hand erupted from the bear’s severed neck, dripping like a black wound. An unnaturally long arm followed the hand, then a shoulder, and, a grotesque head. The sinister beast climbed out, steam rising from its inky flesh.
Turning, Jack fled through the park as the monster rose to its full height, surpassing the nearby lamppost. Slowly the creature’s face contorted and stretched into a long, deep smile, spanning its narrow face. Ophelia picked up the two halves of her stuffed animal and spoke sadly.
“Mr. Smiley doesn’t care for individuals like you, Jack.” And with that, Mr. Smiley tore after Jack on all fours, hunting him through the trees, grinning wildly.
“Yet another body has been discovered in Coyote Park. The age and sex of the corpse once again cannot be identified due to the extensive mutilation inflicted. Authorities ask that civilians stay out of Coyote Park as they block off more sections of the grassy nature in hopes of recovering all the “evidence” of the unfortunate victim. If anyone has any information on the identity of-” The reporter disappeared into pitch black as Ophelia’s Nana killed the television’s power with the remote.
“My goodness,” she sighed, returning to her sewing, “That park is a graveyard at this point. God bless those poor souls.” She turned the bear over in her wrinkly hands, inspecting her seamstress skills. “There. All done.” Ophelia accepted the bear gratefully.
“Thank you, Nana,” she peered at the black, button eyes of Roosevelt, “I’ll be more careful with him next time.” Mr. Smiley agreed.