Fresh Air and Ice Cream

Bobby held the controller in his sweaty hands. His face, gaunt from far too many hours spent perched in front of a television screen, reflected the computer-generated chaos that played out before him. Extinguish the Light was his favorite game, one he wasted as much of his free time on as he could, and he had discovered ever since he talked his mom into buying it for him that he could never get enough of it.

A brilliant flash of light momentarily blinded him. He dropped the controller and shielded his eyes from the onslaught.

"Bobby, I want you to stop playing that game right now!"

It was his mother. She was standing in front of a window with a role of curtains clenched in her hand. The sunlight lit half her round face; the other half was partially hidden in shadow.

"Mom!" Bobby moaned. "Can't you see I'm busy?"

Theresa sighed. Her son was a good boy, always helpful and polite, always getting good grades, but lately, ever since she made the mistake of buying him that game, he had changed. He was lazy now. All he did every day was play video games.

She let go of the curtain and strutted over to the television, and with a defiant gesture, yanked the plug from the wall, causing the screen to immediately go blank.

"Mom!"

Theresa studied her son, part of her bothered by upsetting her only child, and another part relishing putting her foot down.

"Bobby, I want you to go outside and get some fresh air." She walked back to the window and pointed. "It's a beautiful day," she continued, trying to muster a smile. "Look. There's other

kids, and an ice cream truck."

Bobby perked up when he heard the words: ice cream truck.

He dropped the controller, its tough plastic body landing with a soft thud on the cream-colored carpet, and stood up. He had been crouched on the floor in front of the television for so long his legs threatened to buckle, but he ignored the discomfort. All that mattered was the possibility of an ice-cream sandwich, or a toasted almond bar, or a strawberry swirl cone.

He scrambled up to the window beside his mother.

"You see?" Theresa said while twirling her auburn-colored hair in her fingers. She reached into her pocket and withdrew a crumpled five dollar bill, holding it out to Bobby. "Here you are. Now go get yourself some fresh air and ice cream."

Bobby snatched the money and immediately darted toward the front door. Dreamy images of white and red ice cream spiraling up from a sugar-laced cone, or vanilla cream encased in a thin sheet of chocolate and suspended on a wooden stick, danced in his head. He grasped the door knob in a sweaty hand and twisted it, causing the main barrier between him and a delightful sugar coma to open.

The first thing he saw was the ice cream truck and the small group of kids lined up to place their order. Six children of varying ages, none of whom he recognized, were eagerly awaiting their turn. All wore anxious expressions and gripped loose change or crumpled bills in their hands.

Bobby wanted to rush out the door and take his place in line, but hesitated. Something wasn't right. Everything seemed normal: the kids standing in line, the birds in the sky, the other houses, even the ice cream truck driver (a pencil-thin man with a heavy five o'clock shadow and a sincere grin). But still, something wasn't quite right.

Realizing that he couldn't be frightened of a hunch, Bobby forced himself to step onto the

front porch. The uneasy feeling he had still clung to his mind, but he resisted letting it fester there, instead focusing on his mother's advice to get some fresh air.

He closed his eyes and took a deep breath, letting the warm breeze slide into his lungs and began to cough. It was a foul smell, reminiscent of a diseased rodent stewing in raw sewage, but generously bathed in the natural aroma of a beautiful summer day.

Bobby instinctively covered his mouth and nose with his arm in an effort to further distance himself from the smell.

Then the door behind him slammed shut, causing him to spin around.

"Mom?" he called out while trying to turn the handle, but it wouldn't budge.

A painful jab in his back sent him to his knees, and then he was yanked toward the street, toward the kids standing in line, toward the slavering mouth of the ice cream man, a glistening orifice far too big for the head it was set in.

And as he whipped past the other children he noticed something that made his final moments all the more unbearable.

His mother had opened the front door and was standing on the porch. She wore a grin that was in stark contrast to the situation. It reflected joy and satisfaction instead of shock and horror.

Theresa closed her eyes and took a deep breath, enjoying the stench as it filled her senses. Her species loved the smell of death, of decay, of the terror that prey felt when being pulled toward its doom. It was a breath of fresh air to her and stirred her appetite.

Theresa looked at the ice cream man and noticed the blood smeared on his face.

He looked back at her, flashed a bloody grin, and waved his hand, causing the children in line to quickly vanish in puffs of oily black smoke. Then he seated himself behind the wheel of his truck and drove away, the familiar ice cream melody echoing down the street.

Satisfied that her lord and master had been well fed (children who left the safety of their

house willingly always tasted better, a fact that she herself could vouch for) Theresa stepped off the porch and made her way around the side of the house. She noticed the foot poking out from beneath a row of bushes up against the home and promptly gave it a swift kick, sending the real Theresa's foot back into its hiding spot under the brush. She supposed it didn't matter though. She would be leaving the neighborhood soon. Her master wanted her to check out new feeding grounds right away.