The Evening News Is Not For Kids

Brian O Murchu's short story, "The Evening News Is Not For Kids", was competing for the PLA 2018 Short Story Contest and was selected by the Free Library of Philadelphia to be published in this Short Story Dispenser.

Image of Set Stories Free - 2018
Image of Short Story

A fly swatter started Connor’s bad dreams, and it took the Roman Empire to get rid of them. Connor discovered the fly swatter in the kitchen cupboard and couldn’t put it down – he smacked walls, furniture, plastic cups, a glass (he had to hide the pieces under his mattress), both dogs, his legs, his back, and (accidently) Mommy. Then she took it away from him and forbade his touching it unless an actual fly showed up. That was how it began.
Well, there was one other thing, but no one in the family realized it. After dinner Connor had to practice Math before he could watch TV. Grandma was alone in the living room while he did skip counting in the Kitchen with Daddy, and she turned the news on for a bit. Connor isn’t big enough to watch the news, but he and Daddy were busy and Daddy didn’t notice the noise coming from the next room.
Connor had a bad dream that night, the same one over and over. The next morning he told Mommy about it, traipsing along behind her while she hunted for clean school clothes for him. In the dream, their home was invaded by bad guys like the ones on the news, except they had fly swatters instead of guns or speeding SUVs. He ran through all the rooms of the house, but they always knew where he was. One would leap out at him from behind a door or a dresser, or from nowhere at all, and swat him with a fly swatter. It didn’t really hurt, but they were really mean and he had to get away. But he couldn’t. It went on and on, until he woke in the morning tired and unhappy.
Mommy tried to make him feel better, and when the bus arrived he remembered that Trent was bringing in his book of Minecraft Castles today. He ran to the bus without looking back.
That night he dreamed it again though, and woke up sad and annoyed and even more tired.
The next night Daddy read to him at bedtime. Last year this had been a nightly ritual, but lately Connor had been so poky getting ready for bed that there’d been no time for it. For this emergency Daddy said he’d stay and read to Connor until he nodded off. Connor was so tired that he fell asleep on page one. Daddy tip-toed from the room.
But the next morning Connor reported that the fly swatters had chased him again all night.
At dinner that night everyone was in a bad mood. Connor was feeling low, and Grandma kept trying to feed the cat mashed potatoes under the table, which got Daddy yelling at her about the mess while Mommy and the cat watched. Finally Mommy suggested that Daddy read aloud to them, right there at the table.
This helped a little. Connor had borrowed the book from the school library, a book about the Roman Empire, and he perked up to hear about the soldiers and their chariots, swords, and shields. It said that in battle the Romans held their shields up in front of the soldier on their left instead of themselves. This puzzled them all, and the book didn’t explain why. They talked about it, and Mommy finally said that the Roman Empire had been pretty powerful, so they probably had a good reason for it.
At bedtime Daddy read a little more, and his son’s eyes closed after five pages.
Then Connor was in the living room with Mommy, Daddy and Grandma, and there was a loud banging at the front door. Bad guys broke in, three of them, swinging fly swatters. Mommy grabbed Connor by the shoulder, and then the whole family was standing side by side in the hallway. The hallway isn’t very wide, but tonight there was room for Mommy to stand by the right wall, with Connor between her and Daddy, and Grandma holding onto the left wall because her balance is not a "hunnert percent."

They had shields and swords; no – shields and fly swatters. The bad guys yelled and ran at them from the living room – there were lots of them now. Mommy held her shield up in front of Connor and told him to hold his in front of Daddy. He did, but his arms were all shaky and weak.
The bad guys in front started swatting at them and Mommy swatted back. The man in front of Connor growled and swung at his head, but Mommy raised her shield enough to block it, and Daddy’s fly swatter smacked the man so hard that he ran away. Another bad guy stepped forward to take his place.
Mommy and her bad guy kept swatting each other, and both kept yelling “OUCH.” Since she kept her shield in front of Connor, there wasn’t one in front of her. Daddy’s shield was guarding Grandma and he was busy swatting the bad guys in front of Grandma and Connor; but he couldn’t reach the one in front of Mommy. Mommy yelled “OUCH” again, and Connor realized he could help her! He swatted the bad guy in front of her. He did it again and the man yelled “Ow ow yowee Ow!” and ran away.
For a while everyone except Grandma was swatting. Mommy and Daddy both smacked the bad guys in front of Connor. From behind Mommy’s shield, Connor swatted the ones that bothered Mommy. She stopped yelling “Ouch.” And helping Mommy kept him so busy he forgot to be scared, mostly.
Then Mommy was shaking him awake for school. He was in his bed. It had been another dream, but this morning he wasn’t tired or upset. He hugged her and told her how they’d all defended the house.
“We were like the Romans, and we guarded each other, and then it wasn’t so scary.”
“It sounds like you were very brave,” she said. He thought so too.
Then she asked, “Why is your mattress so lumpy?”

Connor blinked and swallowed before answering her, still trying to be brave. But he missed his shield.