Sunny and the Ugly Man

📅 Published on November 22, 2020

“Sunny and the Ugly Man”

Written by B.T. Joy
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Rating: 8.75/10. From 4 votes.
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Andrew wasn’t sure what his dominant emotion was as he watched the news article unfolding on CNN, but he was pretty certain it was somewhere on the spectrum between hatred and hopelessness. Probably closer to hopelessness by this point, on account of the fact that similar events had been reported every day that month by the national stations and those of every major city in the country.

The current demonstration had begun in the center of Douglas Park as an organized gathering of the Chicago branch of SIAV Survivors, but around noon it had spilled out onto West Roosevelt Road and all the adjoining avenues for a distance of five blocks. The demonstrators held up placards marked with the same old slogans. The multitudes of people who had turned out to protest – all sufferers of the virus – were beginning to block traffic onto the 290. Police barricades and mounted units had been posted down the lengths of Independence Boulevard and Lexington Street; effectively hemming the protest in. For the moment the men in the riot gear and those on the shuffling horses were biding their time, awaiting further orders.

The CNN report cut abruptly from the wide, bird’s-eye view of the thronging streets north of Douglas Park to focus on a hub of activity on the corner of Roosevelt and Sacramento. From this vantage point you could see the faces of the protesters more clearly; the month-old scabs and new lesions threaded through the skin of their scalps and faces; the exposed and rotten wounds as large as dinner plates; the fluid that ran from their orifices or dried yellow to the sides of their heads and mouths.

The news reporter got in close to one of the protestors and offered the microphone to his chapped mouth. Andrew recognized the protestor at once and immediately upped the volume on his set to listen. It was César Bennet, a former Chicago City Council Supervisor, who’d contracted SIAV three years ago and later resigned from office, due to the unconscionable methods the government had employed in combating the virus.


He grabbed the microphone in a hand scaled by dry pustules. You could see the news reporter balk as she let the mic go. Bennet hardly noticed her revulsion. His eyes were deep and angry and staring down the lens of the camera at the national audience.

“I want everyone to listen,” he raised his voice above the general sounds of discontent from around and behind him, “because there’s a lot not coming out, through media bias. Since January, four years ago, when this virus first presented itself, twenty-nine SIAV survivors have been shot and killed by law enforcement in Chicago alone!”

The tone in Bennet’s voice was drawing the attention of his fellow protestors; some presenting their own banners to the TV camera; others just listening, staring at Bennet with their cloudy eyes. Andrew too, in the fourth-floor apartment of his condo in Bridgeport, watched Bennet through his own steadily developing cataracts.

“What we expect from our police and our Government is simple!” Bennet gesticulated furiously at the viewers. “We expect compassion! We expect support! We expect medical assistance!”

The SIAV sufferers behind him made a single unanimous sound of assent.

“What we don’t expect is to be treated as social pariahs because of an illness we did not choose!”

The cries behind Bennet got wilder and more insistent.

“These are not the Dark Ages and this is not the bubonic plague! We are not at fault and we are not responsible for our sickness! We are survivors!”

The crowd was beginning to get restless, shouting out slogans, punching at the air. The news reporter tried to get her mic back from Bennet’s death-grip – obviously, she’d been given the cue to round things up – but Bennet held firm and shouldered her out of his way; stepping yet closer to the camera and staring even more intensely into the living rooms of the masses.

“I’ve heard talk!” he shouted, “talk of euthanizing SIAV survivors for the good of public health! But I am here to tell you this: both the virologists at PASCV and the CDC agree, categorically, that SIAV is not contagious! We will continue to say this while there’s still breath in our bodies! You cannot catch this virus from us! We are not the problem! We are not contagious!”

One man in the background, his palate and lips cleft by a skuzzy growth, screamed a response.

“We’re not contagious! We’re not contagious!”

“We are not contagious!” Bennet exclaimed, pointing angrily into the camera lens.

The reporter started trying in earnest to wrestle the microphone from the protest leader’s hand.

More of the shambling crowd had begun to wander closer and closer to the camera.

“We’re not contagious!” they shrieked in shrill, sick voices. “We’re not contagious!”

Bennet released the microphone disgustedly, turned to his crowd, and punched the air.

“We are not contagious!” he shouted to them.

The view of the camera shuddered as the operator nearly tripped, trying to back away from the growing mass of diseased human bodies.

The pictures remained of Bennet whipping the crowd into a frenzy of civil unrest; starting them off on the familiar chant that had become the rallying call of the entire SIAV Survivors Movement. They chanted, all of them as one heaving body:

“Fear is! Rage is! We are not contagious!
Fear is! Rage is! We are not contagious!
Fear is! Rage is! We are not conta-”

Andrew killed the TV and as the screen blackened he caught sight of his own reflection in the liquid crystal cells. Believe it or not, he was looking better today. His hair was almost entirely gone – which was a shame – before the virus he’d worn it long and Heather had once told him it was the thing that turned her on the most about him, how it could be both rugged and neat at the same time.

The white undervest he was currently wearing was flecked here and there with patches of brown where the skin – having no natural integrity – had broken, releasing a spew of blood, pus and the related antibodies out onto his clothing. Practically every item of linen he owned had to be laundered twice a day and his bed – Jesus Christ – the sheets looked like a slaughterhouse attendant’s apron most nights, when he finally tumbled in.

The worst lesions were on his neck and shoulders; his hands and feet; his left calf, his right elbow and on both the external and internal tissues of his anus. Now his torso was beginning to show signs of decay. Blessedly, his face had survived all but the most superficial damage and really, apart from a slight cloudiness in his eyes he looked almost normal.

The best medical authorities he could afford on his invalidity check – which, due to the strain of SIAV on welfare, was tiny – assured him that things would only get worse and, really, it was only a matter of time before cells in every portion of his body would begin to degenerate. That was the problem with SIAV. No one knew anything about it. No one knew, not really, which part of the patient’s body would start rotting next.

SIAV. They’d called it that because they didn’t know what else to call it. S.I.A.V. Systemic Intracellular Autolysis Virus. In other words, every cell in your body had the potential to turn cannibal. The lab-coats over at PASCV were working on the assumption, or so Andrew had read, that the virus had somehow latched onto a sub-unit in the human cell which regulates the flow of digestive enzymes. In the healthy human body, as far as Andrew could gather, these enzymes are released by dead cells so that the cell can devour itself and leave room in the system for new growth. The problem was that the SIAV virus had gotten into the enzyme-producing subunits of living cells and it was tirelessly sending the same message over and over and over again:

Eat. Eat. Eat.

* * * * * *

It was around 3 PM now, though you wouldn’t know it. The fog was so dense in Bridgeport that Andrew, through the windows of the condo, couldn’t even see as far as 31st Street; when on a good day, he remembered, you could see clean out to the pond on Bosley Park.

As he rose from the sofa, he wondered if it was the fog or his eyes that obscured his vision. It didn’t matter. He got up anyway. He had a regime to keep to if he wanted to maintain even the ghost of human fitness. He had to stay focused. The only two things that mattered to him in the world now depended on it: Sunny, and the custody battle. He shambled from the living room to the adjoining kitchen, wandered inside and opened up the fridge. His lip curled with distaste at the sight of it.

It’s the regime, he told himself. Think of Sunny. Think of the custody.

He reached into the coldness and retrieved the chilled china bowl filled with all that chilled, pink spew. He carried it back into the living room and slumped like a slob on the sofa again. He would have to give this dive a good cleaning if he wanted to have a chance of appearing human to the social services.

He put his hand into the bowl and fingered out a chunk or two of its vile contents. He pushed the slimy substance into his bloody, chapped mouth and physically gagged it down.

Still, he thought. A year and a half and I still gag every time.

It was better back then though, he reminded himself. Back when the health authorities first discovered that cerebral matter could be used to ameliorate the symptoms of SIAV. Back then they’d stocked the butcher’s shops with the brains of prime A-grade beef. You could take it home, slice and dice it and sauté the stuff in Greek olive oil with your pick of fresh herbs.

Later in the year, the CDC discovered that cooking the brain matter completely compromised the effectiveness of the treatment and so the SIAV sufferers were relegated to chowing down on raw cow’s brains, instead of cooked. Then, later again, the cost to the cattle industry grew too onerous and so the bovine cerebral matter was slowly phased out in favor of the parts of lower, less-prized animals.

The delight that Andrew was even now feeding himself was, most probably, a mixture of 5% sheep, 5% pig and 90% poultry.

Shut up and take your medicine, he said to himself; cramming the rest of the filth into his craw, chewing and then forcing a swallow.

The authorities recommended purchasing and consuming around six-hundred grams of ‘cerebral matter’ per week; a euphemism which they would insist on using. Andrew was up to eleven-hundred grams and, although the ingestion of more than the recommended amount was not proved to heighten the results, Andrew was sure it was his gorging that was keeping him in slightly better shape than some other poor sons-of-bitches he could mention.

He put the bowl down on the coffee table and sat back on the sofa; listening to the brains of dead animals swill around in the acidic enzymes of his stomach; making him ‘well’ again. Or well enough at least to convince the courts he was making an effort.

He sat there for a long time, staring at the opposite wall through his cloudy, purblind eyes and thinking about Sunny. She was five now and since she turned three he hadn’t been able to see her without a bailiff between them.

Fathers didn’t have many rights to begin with but even those rights are denied to sick fathers. He wasn’t happy, but he found himself smiling. Thinking about that last time. Up in the family courthouse. Little Sunny was so unafraid of him. To her, he wasn’t sick. He was just Daddy. He remembered her little warm hands, chubby on his cool, thin hands. He remembered her dimpled finger pointing at the putrid scabs on his fingers.

“Daddy has a bad-bad,” she said.

Andrew’s smile broadened.

That’s what she called them – the lesions – bad-bads.

“Daddy,” she said, then she pointed at her own elbow where the tiniest purple shine was the only evidence of a fall she’d had that day in the park. “Sunny has a bad-bad.”

“No, baby,” he touched her elbow, “Sunny’s got no bad-bads. Sunny’s perfect.”

For some reason, Sunny’s lip had trembled and her eyes welled up.

Then came the request:

“Kiss it better, Daddy,” she asked, presenting her elbow.

The bailiff made a hoarse sound at the back of his throat. Andrew looked over at him acidly where he was sitting only a few feet away. Then he looked down at Sunny.

“I can’t, baby,” he said. Kissing your kid was one of those rights they take away when you get sick.

“Please, Daddy,” Sunny was getting really close to bawling, “kiss it better.”

“Sunny,” Andrew looked at her sternly. “Stop!”

Then, and it happened in seconds, Sunny let out a piercing scream and started crying for her mother. Heather, who’d been waiting outside anxiously the whole time, broke into the room like there was a fire. She rushed to her daughter – their daughter – and whisked her up in her arms.

“She’s okay,” Andrew made to approach them, but the bailiff stood in his way. Andrew eyeballed him but he wasn’t backing down.

“For Christ’s sake, she’s okay.”  Sunny was screaming at this point.  “She’ll be okay.”

“I think we should leave.” Heather nodded to the bailiff and the bailiff nodded back.

Then, as though Andrew didn’t have a say at all, Heather began carrying their child back out of the visitation room.

“Heather!” Andrew called after her, but she never answered. The bailiff barred him with one strong, healthy arm. Andrew could feel every rag and chafe and tear in his skin prickling like a living thing, like a buzzing hive of cannibalistic cells. He felt like the most disgusting freak alive.

“For God’s sake!” he shouted, as the door slammed behind Heather and Sunny, and it was pathetic.

“For God’s sake!” he shouted again.  “I’ve got fifteen more minutes!”

* * * * * *

Today had been worse than most days and now the night was falling over Bridgeport and all over Chicago. Andrew supposed it was the severity of the protests over at Douglas Park that’d gotten him so morose. He remembered César Bennet and his mob. He remembered what they were chanting and how the frightened camera crew backed away from the riotous crowd and their disgusting bodies.

Fear is! Rage is! We are not contagious!” they’d chanted.  “Fear is! Rage is! We are not contagious!  Fear is! Rage is! We are not contagious!”

Andrew thought lazily about who came up with all that bullshit. All those militant mantras folk chant at rallies and sit-ins:

Make love. Not war.’

‘We’re here! We’re queer! Get used to it!’

‘Hands up. Don’t shoot.’

They all seemed a little too well-penned and rehearsed to have arisen from some spontaneous outpouring of emotion, so Andrew had this theory that the media wrote the slogans and secretly leaked them to the protesters; all so they’d have a catchy jingle to report later on; something that would sell papers.

They were right though; the chanters chanting on Roosevelt and Sacramento. They weren’t contagious – not one of them. They couldn’t pass anything more serious on to the next man than the common cold. And yet they were banned from the subway, and some bars wouldn’t accept their custom. And yet people stared at them on street corners like they were something out of a horror movie. And yet they couldn’t kiss their children goodbye at the family court.

There was a contagion alright, but it wasn’t cellular. It had nothing to do with viruses or cell-walls rotting to an incoherent scuzz in the presence of caustic enzymes. No. It was deeper than that.  It was happening deep down, on a DNA level. Fear. And fear becoming anger. That was the contagion. Give it something to hate, with a body as ugly as Andrew’s had become, and watch it spread like flames in dry grass.

That’s why Heather had left him of course: the fear. But who could blame her? She’d fallen for his rakish long hair, for his come-to-bed eyes, not to mention his tricks in the sack. Now what was he? Bald and partially blind. He smelled bad, like iron and urine, and he fouled up the linens with brown blood three times a day. And as for the sex… his genitals had withered like the rest of his body. When naked, he appeared so androgynous he could barely stand to look at himself.

Something was wrong.

He sat up on the sofa and pressed a hand hard against his stomach. The pounds of sheep and pig and chicken brains were lying unusually heavy on his innards. He frowned and pressed harder. His guts gurgled and the pain intensified. He pulled himself up from the sofa and started making his way over to the bathroom. Perhaps it was time for the onerous daily duty of evacuating his intestines.

* * * * * *

Andrew had only just opened the bathroom door when it happened. He’d fallen down by the toilet so hard he’d heard his knees crack on the tiles. His festering mouth had opened like the outlet of a gutter and all that partially digested fodder had spilled out into the enamel pan. It hadn’t even been like vomiting up his dinner. More like vomiting himself. More like his tissue loosening and foaming up through the largest and most convenient opening.

Now, looking down at the blood-covered u-bend, Andrew saw the horrible reason for that feeling. In there, among the brains he’d thought of as medication, part of his stomach lining floated like a discarded caul in the ugly water.

That was the reason the CDC said not to eat so much. The stomach couldn’t take it. Andrew shivered. He couldn’t tell if it was tears or puss that leaked from his eyes as he reached up and flushed part of himself into the underground sewers.

He knew the feeling though, and it was hopelessness. Things weren’t going to get better.

Hell, he’d seen them – the others – the other poor bastards suffering from his disease. Walking corpses. Bodies, dead in all but their beating hearts. Eyes totally white. All extremities gone. Teeth exposed in perpetual snarls. Eyelids and noses festered to redundant scabs. Gender rotted away because it’s no longer necessary.

Not human, he thought to himself. They’re not human.   

* * * * * *

Andrew moved as quickly as his decaying joints would allow. He moved from the iron smell of the bathroom to the iron smell of his bedroom; where his sheets stank like the funeral shroud of a violent death. Only one thing mattered now. Sunny. He had to see Sunny while he still had eyes. He had to hear her voice before the rot set in, reducing his world to the whine of tinnitus.

He had to be her daddy again; while he still was her daddy.

He found his old stained jeans on the bed and searched the pockets – Christ, even that was painful on his hands. He found the cellphone in there and flicked through until he reached the most familiar number. He didn’t hesitate as he had on other occasions. He pressed Call and pushed the cell against his ear.

“Come on. Pick up. Pick up,” he chanted under his breath.

After ten torturous rings the call connected and Andrew’s eyes flickered when he heard Heather’s voice:


“Heather!” he said.

“Andy?” He could see her expression in his mind; all frowning puzzlement and a concern that verged on the parental.

“Heather! Don’t hang up the phone!” he pleaded.

“What’s wrong, Andy?” she answered. “It’s nearly twelve-fifteen. Are you hurt?”

He couldn’t concentrate. Puss was leaking from his eyes.

“No. I’m fine,” he lied. “But… Heather… listen…”

“Oh, Christ, Andy,” Heather sounded disappointed. “This isn’t about Sunny, is it?”

“She’s my kid too, Heather!” Andrew tried to reason, but the tone in his voice was too fevered to appear convincing.

“I’m not having this conversation again, Andy,” Heather said sternly. “The courts decided you’re not well enough to cope with Sunny.”

“That’s bullshit, Heather!”

“You’re not well enough, Andy!”

“Well, I’m not getting better!” Andy surprised himself at how fierce, almost animal, his voice was. He tried to calm himself down. “Heather…” He slumped down, sitting on the floor, his back against the foot of his bed. “There’s nothing of me left.” He was crying. “Nothing. Pieces of me keep falling away… and… and I’m scared, Heather…”

There was a silence on Heather’s end but he could tell she was listening. He turned his teary cataracts towards the bedroom window. The fog was deep and white across the city. Somewhere out there men and women – no longer men or women – were wandering blindly through the night.

“Sometimes I think about those things,” he told her. “They just come walking into my thoughts, you know, those things from horror movies. And I think: what must that be like. A massive silence in you. This… complete dementia. Amnesia. But you’re still walking. And you don’t know why… And you’ll never know why again.”

“Andy,” Heather sounded like she was crying too. “You’ll be alright, Andy. They’ll find an antiviral… something…”

Andrew wiped the tears from his eyes; his features set.

“No,” he said, “The doctors say it’s only a matter of time. It hasn’t happened to anyone yet but… the virus… soon it’s going to start eating the brain and then… Heather… we’re not going to be human anymore.”

“Andy, you’re scaring me,” she said.

“You’re not as scared as we are.” He looked out at the rolling fog. “You’ll never be as scared as we are.”

He blinked his thoughts away and then remembered Heather on the other side of the line. It was hopeless. Hopeless. The courts were against him. Heather was against him. His own body was against him.

He knew a guy to speak to who hung around Armour Square most nights. He’d said he could get him an unlicensed firearm for a hundred bucks. SIAV didn’t kill you. Some were saying it kept you alive. But he could take his own road out. He’d go there tonight; find the guy; buy the gun. Then he’d put it in his mouth and pull the trigger. They say if you destroy the brain even the virus dies.

“It’s okay, Heather,” his voice was sedate, even pleasant. “I’m sorry I called.”

He made to hang up.

“Wait,” Heather’s voice stopped him mid-action. “Listen, Andy… listen…”

She paused. Andrew could tell she was thinking.

“You can come over.”

She said it quickly so she didn’t have time to censor herself. Andrew blinked. He could hardly believe she’d said it.

“She’s been talking about you,” Heather went on. “Every night, actually.”

Andrew just sat. Crying and listening.

“We’ve been reading fairy stories,” Heather said. “Every time we get to the end of a book she says we’ve got to leave the last story for Daddy to read.”

Andrew’s lip quivered.

“Can I read her one tonight?” He could hardly speak.

“Sure,” Heather said. “It’s late. But she wants to see you.”

* * * * * *

After he’d washed for the third time that day and changed his clothes into something he hoped would stay presentable for the rest of the night, Andrew called a cab to take him up to River Road, where their old house was. The medical bills meant he couldn’t run a car and the subway was off-limits, so the taxi service was essential to his infrequent trips onto the streets of Chicago.

The driver said nothing as they rode up to the north of the city. It was obvious he didn’t want a carrier in his car but the sheet of Plexiglas between them seemed to make him amenable enough, just so long as there was no conversation. The arrangement suited Andrew.

He sat there in the backseat thinking of Sunny. Had she really been talking about him? Had she really saved a story in every one of her books, just to hear the way he’d read it? Something moved like a slow storm in his aching cells. He couldn’t put his finger on it but somehow it almost felt like hope.

He didn’t even notice the streets outside, strewn as they were with the odd clutter of debris; evidence that the protests today had become riots, and that the riots had spread. Every now and then he’d become aware of the graffiti clinging to the brick walls like a multicolored arabesque. Andrew had always thought there was something both heartbroken and mundane about graffiti. It was stoic yet cynical, too. It seemed to grab the zeitgeist and hold on to it lightly; almost ironically. The graffiti of these times was no different.

Somewhere someone had scrawled a puerile caricature of an SIAV sufferer; complete with gnashing teeth and red-paint sores. An arrow was pointing at the rendering’s head; DEAD MAN WALKING, was the tag. Somewhere else the message was simple. WAKE UP: THE VIRUS IS A BIOWEAPON. In a third place there was a caption, showing no real signs of art that was, nonetheless, full of desperate sincerity. SIAV US, was all it read.

Andrew closed his eyes after a while.

The fog was only growing thicker and that, coupled with his ever-worsening memory, meant that he almost neglected to tell the driver where to stop. When he did, he got out and paid the driver through the half-inch gap he allowed in the front window. The cab screeched away, leaving Andrew alone on River Road. Just a short walk from the house he once called home, where Heather and Sunny still lived.

He put his hands in his coat pockets. They tended to chap and bleed in weather as cold as this, and he wanted to remain as human-looking as possible for Sunny’s sake. He walked down the length of the road with the houses on his right and the darkness of Robinson Woods on his left. Before he’d gotten sick he’d heard the old ghost stories about those woods. Stories of preternatural smells. Stories of ectoplasm floating between the trees. Stories of black shapes moving in the windless copses. Andrew looked down at his dark shadow on the road ahead. Christ! He almost laughed. He was the dark shape now. And he could feel it as the decent folk of River Road – who’d once been his neighbors – eyed him with fear and mistrust from the safety of their living rooms.

* * * * * *

He shambled up the path, conscious of the damage the cold was doing to his already damaged skin. When he reached the door he knocked at once. There was silence inside.  The wind hissed in the trees. Moments later the door was opened cautiously and Andrew caught the first glimpse of his ex-wife in weeks. She opened up more fully; looked around to see who was looking and then ushered Andrew inside.

“Christ,” she said, staring at him like he was some kid’s science experiment. “Andy, you look like shit.”

“Yeah,” Andy nodded. “Thanks for reminding me. Is she awake?”

He looked up the stairway to the darkened first floor where he knew his daughter still slept.

“No,” Heather answered. “I’ll wake her in a while. Do you want a coffee?”

Andrew felt the stinging pain in his guts intensify.

“I’m gonna say no,” he said a little bitterly, “only I vomited my stomach lining today and I’m not sure how coffee’ll sit.”

Heather made a horrified face and Andrew returned a disgusted one.

“Heather,” he said, “let’s not.”

“Not what?” she asked.

“You and me,” he tried to explain, “let’s not talk. I’m sorry… but the only thing I care about is Sunny.”

Heather looked at him strangely. At first he couldn’t place the expression. Then he was shocked to see she seemed genuinely hurt by what he’d said.

“I’m sorry,” he repeated. “It’s just… we’ve… been together…”

She frowned. Puzzled? Concerned?

“We’ve done things together,” he said. “Human things…”

Then he smiled at her.

“But I’m not that anymore.”

She turned away from him a little, and he could tell she was fighting hard not to show her emotions.

“I’ll take you to her,” she said sharply, and led her ex-husband briskly up the stairs.

* * * * * *

Andrew watched from the bedroom door as Heather sat on their daughter’s bed. She put a motherly hand on Sunny’s shoulder and shook her soothingly.

“Sunny,” she whispered. “Sunny. Wake up, baby.”

Andrew’s cells shivered as Sunny’s eyes flickered. Then, when they opened, the cells caught on fire.

“Look who’s here, baby,” Heather said. “It’s Daddy.”

Sunny sat up in bed and stared across at Andrew with her puffy, pink-rimmed eyes. She frowned – her mother’s critical face in miniature.


Andrew smiled and put out his arms.

That’s all it took for Sunny to jump up on the bed, bound over across the small room, and jump up into her father’s hold.

“Daddy!” she squealed, squirming in his arms. “Daddy, I love you.”

Andrew cried.

“I love you too, baby girl.” He nuzzled into her webs of blonde hair; smelling her fresh, healthy, baby-clean scent. His dying cells seemed almost alive again.

Heather stood by the bed now watching them. She was smiling.

“I’ll leave you two guys alone,” she said.

Andrew knew it was selfish and wrong to be pleased – after all, there’d been a time when he’d loved her too – but in reality, he hardly even noticed as Heather left the room.

* * * * * *

“Read me a story, Daddy,” Sunny said, bouncing onto the bed beside him and negotiating a golden collection of fairy tales into his hands.

Andrew would never cease to be amazed at kids. Especially this kid. Months apart, yet the way she was acting, it might’ve been hours since they last interacted. He tried his best to keep his emotions as carefree as hers.

“Okay,” he said.

He opened the book and looked down at the words through the milky films that covered both his eyes. The print was garbled and nonsensical and he was beginning to believe that the problem wasn’t only visual. He looked up at her.

“I’m sorry, baby, I can’t. I can’t see right.”

Sunny tilted her head to one side; thinking.

“That’s okay!” she said at last, bouncing closer and nuzzling in under his arm. “Tell me one from your imagination.”

Andrew stroked her hair. He thought. Then he smiled.

“Okay.” He said, “Let’s see…”

There was a tiny pause as he tried to organize the story in his head; the way it had been told in his own childhood.

“Well,” he began, “once upon a time… there was this milliner…”

“What’s a mil-in-a, Daddy?” Sunny asked at once.

“It’s a guy who makes hats, Mrs. Interrupty.”

Sunny laughed quietly to herself.

“Now,” Andrew resumed, “the milliner was coming home, you see, from selling hats in a town… oh… miles from where he lived. And, because he wanted to save time, he decided to cut through this ginormous, dark, kinda creepy forest.

Well… he hadn’t been going long when he became… well… he got lost… and the only light he could see was a tiny little one way off in the middle of the forest. So he kept walking… just walking towards the light… and when he got there he saw that it was just the top window of a huge, tall tower and, around the tower, were growing these absolutely gorgeous roses.

‘Oh, dear me,’ the old milliner said, ‘I just bet my daughter back home would love one of these gorgeous roses.’”

“He had a daughter!?” Sunny squeaked

“Of course he did,” Andrew answered.

“What was her name, Daddy?”

“Well, her name was Sunny, of course.” He tickled her ribs.

She laughed and squirmed playfully away from his fingers.

“So the old milliner went to the nearest rosebush and picked one of those gorgeous roses for his daughter, Sunny.

“But no sooner had he broken the stem than a horrible voice… well… it just bellowed through the rose garden, ‘How dare you pick my roses!’”

“Who was it, Daddy!?” Sunny demanded.

“The milliner thought the same thing,” Andrew told her. “And he turned to the owner of the voice to find out just who he was dealing with. And a big shiver ran up his spine because there – right in the middle of the rose garden – was the ugliest man he’d ever seen.

“‘How dare you touch my roses!’ said the ugly man. ‘Now you must pay with your life.’

“But the milliner fell down on his knees and he begged and he begged.

“‘Please,’ he said, ‘I never meant any harm. I just wanted one of your gorgeous roses to give my daughter as a present.’

“‘Your daughter!’ said the ugly man. ‘Very well. In that case, your punishment for picking my special roses, is that your daughter must come and stay here in the castle with me!’”

Sunny jumped up and pushed her daddy’s shoulders in protest.

“Sunny doesn’t want to live with that ugly old man!” she laughed.

“Well, she must!” Andrew grabbed his kid around the waist and play-wrestled her to the bed. “She must! She must!”

Sunny giggled and kicked and protested for all she was worth.

When she’d calmed down, Andrew continued the story.

“So,” he said, pushing a chaotic fall of hair from his daughter’s eyes. “Sunny had to stay with the ugly man… but you know what?”

“What?” Sunny whispered, totally spellbound.

“Sunny was so nice, so good, that no matter how much the ugly man shouted… no matter how ugly he was… she still loved him.”

“She loved him?” Sunny said in astonishment.

“She did.” Andrew’s eyes were full of tears. “And… you know what baby girl?… every day with Sunny made the ugly man feel better and better, until he didn’t feel bad at all anymore.”

He smiled at her. Her little arms, hugging his arms, her tiny eyes looking into his sick ones without a hint of fear; the whole thing was ringing in him like a clear bell.

“Now,” he croaked, “time for little girls to be in bed.”

He tucked her in under the warm, soft covers.

“Daddy?” she said.

“Yes, baby?”

“Were they together forever?” she asked. “Sunny and the ugly man?”

Andrew smiled reassuringly. Then he leaned down and kissed her forehead lightly.

“Oh yes, baby girl,” he said. “I think they lived happily ever after.”

Rating: 8.75/10. From 4 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by B.T. Joy
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: B.T. Joy

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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