The Other Cheek

📅 Published on September 8, 2020

“The Other Cheek”

Written by N.M. Brown
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: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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I’d just begun getting intimate with my wife, and we had gotten a good rhythm going when she suddenly froze. “Shh, Trevor, wait… Did you hear that?”

A cool puff of air from my pillow met the back of my neck as I slammed my head down in resignation. “I didn’t hear anything, Lara,” I commented, trying my best not to sound annoyed.

She’d been on me for days about having sex.  Oof.  Now don’t get me wrong, Lara is a gorgeous woman. We’d probably have twelve kids by now if she didn’t have her tubes tied. But I’m older now; we both are. I work two jobs so she can stay at home with our two boys. By the time I come home in the evening, I’m exhausted. I wake up tired, spend my entire workday tired, and go to bed tired. It wasn’t personal against her. If anything, you’d think she’d realize that everything I do is for her and the kids’ benefit and be thankful.

But you know how it goes; it can be lonely being the only adult in a house full of little ones. Not to mention the isolation. I got to go out and go to work four days a week, while Lara stayed cooped up at home with the children. She was likely desperate for adult interaction and attention by the time I got home from work every day.

It’s an age-old argument, a real classic. The wife stays home with the kids all day and loses her mind while the husband breaks his back at work. Both lamentingly think the other has it easier, well clinging to a countdown to freedom that never truly comes. It’s a no-win, both-lose situation; one that has no real solution.

We’d met in our late teenage years at a local fast food restaurant. I’d just moved into a new apartment with my best friend Hagan and his older brother Rob, and she’d just moved out of her parents’ house into a house of her own. It was a double-wide trailer that definitely needed some tender love and work. But there was no mortgage and or rent; the only costs required were utility bills and property taxes. No matter what the condition, she’d decided to make it work, determined to make it into a home.

It just so happened that Hagan’s brother lost his job, causing an almost 20% increase to our utilities with one less person to split the costs with.

We’d tried for two years before our first son Keiran came along, Toran followed three years later.  I thank god for it now; at the time we first wanted to have him we were hardly more than kids ourselves. I needed her to be mine forever, and I couldn’t think of a better way to do that than to have a baby. We needed a couple of years for maturity to set in and the facts of life to marinate a bit.

Anyway, back to the good bits. More annoyed than angry, I threw on my bathrobe and headed to the boys’ room. If I caught them fooling around in there instead of sleeping like they should have been, then I would be mad.

Both boys flinched once the light from the hallway hit their eyes. They sat in a tangle in the middle of their room, hands balled into fists and hair disheveled. “Boys, separate! Now!” My voice boomed through the dark room, causing them to scatter to their separate beds. “Alright… so!” I clapped my hands in mock anticipation.  “Who’s going to tell me what the hell is going on in here?”

Toran’s lip quivered as he held a hand to his shoulder, a red palm print welled against his skin. My eyes widened with rage and shock. “Keiran, did you… did you hit your brother?” My son didn’t answer, only pouted in the direction of the floor. “Hey!” He jumped when I raised my voice. “Did… you… hit… him? Come on, buddy, you know if you tell me the truth I’ll take it into account when I consider your punishment.”

His eyes welled with tears as his outstretched finger flew defiantly towards his brother. “Yeah. But he-” I cut him off at the pass. “But nothing! He is three years younger than you are! What are you thinking?! I never, and I mean never, want to see or hear of you hitting him ever again. Are we clear?” He nodded, a scowl of betrayal never leaving his face.

I’d like to say we picked up where we left off, but Lara was deep in sleep by the time I returned to our room.

The trouble began a few days later, while we were sitting at the dinner table.

“How was your day at school, boys?” I asked, passing them the bowl of macaroni and cheese so that they could take a helping for themselves. As usual, Toran blathered on about kids in his class and who got yelled at for what behavior. But Keiran… he stayed sullen, silently looking down at his untouched plate. I reached out to touch his arm in order to get his attention and he violently jerked away as if he’d been hit.

“Whoa… Buddy, what’s the matter?” He clutched his forearm to his chest protectively as his eyes tried their best not to swell with tears. Again, I attempted to gently reach for his arm, ensuring to keep eye contact the whole time. This time, he relented and gave it to me.

A sunset color bruise painted the corner bone of his wrist. Lara gasped as she spotted a few fainter ones dancing in a trail up his arm. “Who the hell did this to you?” She asked him, her voice drought with rage and fear.

“I tripped and fell into the bike rack at school. It’s no big deal.” He stated matter-of-factly. As my gaze burned into his own, I knew he wasn’t being truthful. Lara did as well. She went on a fifteen-minute tirade about how no one’s going to hurt her babies and get away with it and now little kids are assholes. She attempted to bribe him with reward after reward to open up to her, but he just wouldn’t budge.

Toran remained silent, as if completely oblivious to what was happening around him. Once again, this was something Lara and I both noticed in unison. “Oh, dear god…” she cried. “Toran.” He looked up gleefully at the mention of his name, his mouth splitting into a broad, gap-toothed grin. My wife placed her hand over his tiny one gingerly as she looked at our eldest son. “Keiran, please, whatever you do… keep him safe. I worry enough about you as it is. I couldn’t take it if anything happened to him. Toran again looked at her sweetly, smiling through a mouthful of mashed potatoes.

Keiran glowered at her and his eyes teared up, causing her reflection in them to become malevolent and warped.

I gave him a little while to settle down before calling him down from his bedroom.

“Okay, Keiran, come over here and have a seat with your Dad,” I said softly. I wanted him to come into this conversation with a sense of comfort and trust.

“Now I understand that you don’t want to get in trouble and that you want everyone to be your friend. But it’s not okay for people to hurt you, kiddo. If you tell me who this is, maybe I can help you.” Keiran shook his head violently in defiance. “You’re only protecting them and hurting yourself by not speaking up.  You know that, right?”  Again he didn’t verbally respond.  He just kept swishing the bottoms of his feet over the carpet distractedly.

“Well if you won’t tell anyone, will you at least defend yourself?” I pleaded with him. “Your mother and I worry about you. You’re a good kid and shouldn’t have to put up with this kinda shit.” He smirked at my cursing, but still said nothing.

“Don’t stop till you see the whites of their eyesssss!” Toran yelled as he ran past, riding the kitchen broom like it was a makeshift horse.

A few nights later, both of our phones chimed in unison but with different tones as we sat on our bed for the night. We’d just turned them back on from having them off for most of the evening to spend time with the kids and to let them charge. We hadn’t been able to get over 32% all week, and we needed to unplug. We eyed each other with mock suspicion as we checked our notifications.

“It’s the kids’ school. They left a voicemail,” I explained. Lara indicated that her alert was the same. I pushed in the 1 on my phone and waited to connect to voicemail, putting it on speakerphone in the meantime.

I waved my hand in annoyance to a voice that couldn’t see me, impatiently trying to rush the process to get to the new message.

“Mr. Simmons, this is Mrs. Anderson, Keiran’s teacher. I’d really like for you or your wife to contact me at your earliest convenience. I have some growing concerns about your son and would like to talk to you about them. Please call me back, thank you.”

Lara looked at me in alarm as the line disconnected. “What do you think that was about?” she asked me.

“I’m not sure. It could be a number of things. Maybe he’s falling behind in something. He’s a good kid.  I doubt he’s doing anything wrong.”

But my wife had already grabbed the phone and began to dial the teacher’s extension. “It’s those damn video games,” she muttered, not so subtly under her breath.

“You’re not gonna reach anyone at 8:45 at night,” I reminded her.

The line had already rung half a dozen times at this point. When it prompted her to leave a voice message, Lara simply hung up the phone in frustration.  “I’ll try again tomorrow after school.”

However, she didn’t get the chance to; my cell phone rang at dinner that evening. The screen read Janean Anderson; it was Keiran’s teacher. I mouthed her name to my wife, excusing myself so I could go outside and take the call. Taking a generous amount of air into my lungs before releasing it, I pressed the green icon to accept the call.

“Hello, Mrs. Anderson. My wife and I have been anxious to hear from you. I hope everything’s alright. Keiran’s not causing trouble, is he?”

“Hi! I’m glad to reach you. I hope you all are well. Keiran is a wonderful student, but lately, I’ve noticed his grades are declining and he’s been experiencing some behavioral changes that I wanted to talk to you about.”

“Okay…” I replied, preparing myself for the inevitable information that was about to come.

“Your son is increasingly sullen and withdrawn. Now, I know your family well.  We’ve appreciated all your help volunteering for our events.  Anyway, what I mean is that I know you’re all close, but unfortunately, my job mandates that I ask these questions.”

“I completely understand, and I’m thankful for it,” I said calmly.

“Well… is there anything different that you’ve noticed? Are there any problems at home that could maybe be affecting his performance at school? Please understand that my intention is not to make assumptions or pry, just make sure our student is in a positive, conducive environment for their education and health,” she stated.

“I actually wanted to talk to you about that. Have you seen any instances of bullying recently? Has our son been having problems with anyone? We’ve noticed his behavior too and frankly, it’s quite alarming.”  I went on to explain to her about the bruising on his wrist and arm that I’d noticed yesterday at dinner. When I told her the excuse he gave me, she sadly informed me that the school didn’t have a bike rack anymore. It had been taken out for replacement last month and wasn’t due back for two weeks yet.

Mrs. Anderson then went on to tell me that Keiran was well-liked by his classmates, and hadn’t ever had an issue that she’d been aware of.

Well in my mind that only left one option, the school bus. As much as I hated to embarrass him, I asked the driver if he could sit up front with Toran for a while. I’m sure he’d hate it, but it’d be better than being bullied every day to and from school. If this was starting to affect my kid’s grades, then I’d do whatever was necessary to get him back on track.

When I told their mother about it, she cried into her hands for over twenty minutes. She made me repeat the conversations and explain the tones over and over until it was time to go to put the boys to sleep.

Lying in bed that night, I could tell that Lara was having problems falling asleep. She’d tossed, turned and sighed about five times before I finally asked her if she was okay.  “Do you know how many fire and bomb drills the kids have had to do this year Trevor?” She asked quietly.

“Not off the top of my head, but I’m sure it’s happened once or twice,” I remarked. I had to follow up with, “Just like every other school in the country, sweetheart,” upon seeing her face twist into a knot of worry and stress.

“Well, Keiran isn’t like all the other kids in the country.  He’s mine,” she retorted bitterly. “And there’s some little asshole at school that wants to hurt him. I think I want him to attend school online for the rest of the year.”

“Right… and who’s going to have the time to help him, hmm? Are you going to drop what you have planned each day to get them on and off the computer? Will you be able to hang up from your phone call if Toran needs help online? These are things you need to think of, Lara.

I know I sound awful, but my wife had already been dealing with breakdowns from them being home all day during the summer. I did the best that I could, but I have to work a lot of hours in order to make enough to support my family. Lara always takes too much onto herself and burns out. I didn’t want her to snap on the kids. I couldn’t leave things like that for the night, so I said something to make peace and pacify the situation. “I promise if it escalates, we will have them both learn from home.”

Well, folks, I’ll tell you what, it escalated. Of course, you probably already knew that. There wouldn’t be much of a story to tell if it all ended there.

Exactly three days later, the boys came straight inside after getting off of the bus. Toran was chattering excitedly about something one of the kids in his class did to get in trouble that day, while Keiran walked straight to his room. His head and shoulders were drooped and I could feel an off vibe in the air on top of everything else. He’d likely had a bad day, and I wanted nothing more than to make things better.

I knocked on his door, not waiting for a response before opening it and stepping inside. Keiran lay in bed on his side, his back facing myself as well as the rest of the room. Muffled sniffles came from his pillow, and his shoulders shook with sobs as he softly cried into it. I ran my hand across his back soothingly as I waited for him to calm down enough to tell me what had happened.

An involuntary gasp escaped my lungs and entered the air as he turned to face me. Not only was his face beet red with tears, there was a sallow, yellow look to his left eye. I was furious to recognize it as the makings of the start of a black eye.  “Who the hell did this to you?” I demanded, more angrily than I’d meant to.

He shook his head in defiance as he wiped his tears on his snotty sleeve.

“Still won’t tell me, huh?” I asked solemnly.

Toran burst into the room with a wrapped cheese stick in each hand. “Come outside and play, Keiran. I got you a cheese stick.”

Keiran’s face warped into a scowl as his eyes landed on his little brother. “No…” he growled.

Toran’s eyes narrowed, but besides that, his facial expression never changed. He just simply repeated the sentence in a deadpan voice. “Come outside and play, Keiran.”

Normally I let the boys work things out amongst themselves, but that day I decided to interject. “Not today, buddy. Your brother had a bad day and needs to veg out a bit.”

“I’ll make him a vegetable, maybe a tomato,” Toran snickered. I ignored his little boy nonsense, telling him to go play in his room until dinner was ready. “Buddy, look, I know you’re upset and you’ve had a hell of a day, but… try not to take it out on your brother, alright? He’s younger than you are.”

That made things worse. After hearing that he asked me to leave, flipping over to bury his face in his pillow once more.

That night after Lara got home, we decided to make the switch to online learning. There was a chance that whoever this kid was in the same grade as Keiran, increasing the likelihood of him being in his classes, even if he does stay home for a year. But, as disgustingly selfish as this sounds, maybe the little jerk would have found someone else to torture by then.

One evening not too shortly after, Lara and I were startled awake by a large bang from the kids’ room.  At first, I was mad.  It sounded like they’d knocked over their dresser horsing around in there. They both knew better and we all had to be awake, dressed, fed and ready to be on the computer for class at 8 am.

My irritated anger quickly turned to alarm once I saw Keiran lying on the bedroom floor clutching the back of his knee. The room was pitch dark before I came in. Toran laid silent in bed, sound asleep.  I knelt on the floor next to my son, who was still writhing in agony. “Did you fall out of bed bud?” I knew that he couldn’t have. His bed was at least four feet away from where he landed.

“Something hit me, hard. Then I stood up and fell.” His blankets lay in a tangled mess around his ankles. The yellow around his eye had become an eggplant purple by now. He was staring intently towards the corner of his room.

“Are you sure you didn’t get up to use the bathroom and got hurt when you tripped? I’ve done that before.”

He shook his head vehemently, never taking his eyes away from the corner of the room. I rose to my feet and rubbed my eyes, weary with exhaustion.  My fingers fumbled blindly in the corner as I searched for whatever Keiran was staring at. In retrospect, I probably should have turned the light on, but the last fucking thing I wanted to do was wake up Toran. That kid was a terror when you woke him up and besides, he’d always been the first one awake in the house as it was.

The knuckles of my hand banged against a solid object, raised up about two inches off of the floor.  Keiran squeaked in fear when I picked it up, causing his brother to stir in his sleep. “Shh.” I raised my finger to my lips gently, motioning to his tossing and turning brother with my eyes.

What I held in my hand was a thick hardback book. Bold red letters across the front read ‘Uncle Wiggly’s Story Book’, which made absolutely no sense whatsoever considering this was a book Keiran received for Christmas and lost at New Year’s, over four years ago. I never thought I’d see it again. Is this what hit you? I mouthed. He gave a nod in confirmation, his knee clutched tightly to his chest. Kids have accidents and tell white lies, but Keiran wasn’t a clumsy kid.

Throughout the next few weeks, there were more incidents like I just described. Lost objects would reappear, always resulting in an injury to our little boy. What’s worse, their mother was beginning to suspect that he was being targeted by a supernatural entity. Which made no sense to me, seeing as Toran was such a light sleeper. Keiran’s farts have woken that kid up before. Besides, I wasn’t a very spiritual person… I’m still not. What she was saying seemed panic-driven more than rational fact.

Still, our son was still being tortured without explanation. I didn’t believe it until things started ending up in a different place in our bedroom then it did when we fell asleep. An eerie tinkling sound would drift through the house in the middle of the night, almost like evil laughter. Each time I’d sneak to the boys’ room, they were both facing the wall…peacefully in their beds.

A few times, things would break inexplicably and Keiran would take the blame for them. I admired his courageousness, but we both knew he was lying. In the most recent instance, he wasn’t even in the room that it happened in. I found poor Toran playing on the floor of their room, surrounded by shards of a broken lightbulb.

A natural foods store in town sold white sage bundles, so I bought some and had Lara smudge the house. We had no idea what we were doing. In the end, we ended up filling half of a shot glass with sand before sticking bunches of sage in the middle and lighting it on fire. We giggled lightheartedly for the first time in days as she climbed up on chairs to wiggle the smoke in the corners. Her mother used to be an herbalist, and told her that’s where the bad juju tries to hide during cleansing.

Worse still, we’d started to think that pulling them out of school was a mistake. Their grades and performance had both started to slip. Luckily, they were pulled out for a short enough time that there was still room for them in their brick and mortar classrooms.

Things went well for a little while once they went back to school.

Until they didn’t.

I was in our computer room formatting pages for my newest anthology, so I was in the zone, deeply concentrating. After a week of mental silence, I finally had a vision of where I wanted the novel to end. My fingers flew over the keys with fervor as my cursor moved from one page to the next in an endless stream of sentences, paragraphs and punctuation.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, I had to have heard the hiss of the air brakes as the bus stopped in front of our house. The grumbling drone of the engine as it shifted back into drive should have stopped me mid-sentence. Yet even minutes later, when the front door didn’t open, I still didn’t look away from my screen.

It wasn’t until twenty minutes had gone by that I looked at the computer clock and realized the boys should have been home by now. I laid my head in my hands for a moment, rubbing at my word-worn eyes before rising to my feet. A pop resonated through my ears as my back aligned with my new position after being seated for so long.

Something felt…off as I walked into the kitchen, stopping in front of the refrigerator to take a mental inventory of what was inside. A pale glow fell over the inside contents as I opened the door. I grabbed Toran a cheese stick, which I knew he’d inevitably end up picking anyway, and cut up some carrots with ranch on a plate for Keiran. They were getting frozen meals tonight, which Lara hates, so I figured I’d feel less guilty giving them something that’s not junk when they get home.

I opened the screen door to the backyard and called out to them. “Boys, I have food for you here.”

No response.

“Hey! I said come on inside, it’s time to unpack your book bags and eat.” The only thing I heard sounded like someone bouncing a basketball on carpeting. A thud, thud, thud, over and over again. “Boys!”

Damned kids, I thought as I walked into the backyard. They never listen to me, and then when I get mad they act like–

Every emotion that I had ever experienced in my life faded away the moment I looked into my son’s eyes. What I felt then was something new. This was something that manifested itself far beyond the emotional realm, gripping my heart with acid and biting at my brain with insanity.

My son, the baby I’d helped deliver, hold, love and feed, was something I could no longer recognize. He stood tall, his body and hands quivering with a power he was too small to know what to do with. Tears shone in his eyes as he saw that I’d noticed what he had done.

“Daddy… you said to stand up for myself.”

“No… but–”

My voice trailed off as random pieces from the past month began to click into place. The noises, the injuries, occurrences around the house… Toran was always there, always unaffected completely. Another suspicion began to form, what if Toran was such a light sleeper when I was around because he was pretending to be asleep?

“He wouldn’t stop, Dad!” Keiran shouted, tears of agony streaming down his bloodied face. “I tried everything that you said.” My mind reeled with thoughts of death. I was overwhelmed by a spiderweb of toxic thoughts of Lara and how she’d handle a situation like this. I pictured all the ways she’d meet her death, and how every one of them would be a direct result of this moment.

“Oh, honey,” I hesitated, looking over my eldest son as I desperately tried to see any sign of the boy I said goodbye to this morning as he got on his school bus. As serious as the situation was, it still had to be handled gently. My kid was obviously not in his right mind.

My very soul was shaken and torn to its core. On one hand, as much as I despised myself for it, at that moment I hated him. I wanted to make him hurt the way that he’d hurt me…hurt us. Our family was now broken, and God knew how we would ever survive something like this.

On the other hand, this was my son. In his actions, he’s lost an innocence about himself that most people carry their whole lives. I had no idea how he was going to handle that, how we were going to handle that. And if what he said was true, he’d gone through so much pain and torture already. Why didn’t he tell us?

“We would have helped you!” I yelled, my voice reflecting how broken my heart and mind were.

“Nothing worked,” he interrupted, “nothing but this.” He motioned to a lump of broken clothing and flesh behind him.

“Jesus Christ, Keiran! No!”

There was no supernatural influence in our home, no demonic forces that had been trying to attach themselves to our son… nothing like that. As odd as it is to say, at this point, I’d give pretty much anything I have left to go back and have that be the case. This was something much worse… a little boy with an evil heart, a boy who didn’t have the courage or heart to give up his brother in order to save himself until he reached his breaking point, and two well-wishing parents who had no idea what was going on.

His brother lay silent and still on the leaves that peppered the autumn grass. At one point, they had been hues of vibrant reds and oranges. Now they were a shriveled and pale brown… dead.

Just like my Toran.

Rating: 10.00/10. From 2 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

Written by N.M. Brown
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: N.M. Brown

Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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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).

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