Two weeks ago was the best day of Kaiden’s life, his fifth birthday. His birthdays had always been the best days but this time around, Kaiden got a gift far better than anything he imagined he would get.
His mom told him to sit down on the floor and took out a small book. Kaiden has seen a couple of those around the room but this one was different. It was colorful rather than muddy and it seemed to be missing far more pages than the others but he didn’t mind.
Kaiden’s mom knelt down on the floor with him and gave him the book, “It’s a coloring book. With dinosaurs.”
She rummaged in her pocket and produced two pencils, one pink and one pastel blue, “You can fill in the pictures with these.”
The boy jumped up in joy and snatched them out of her hand. He took them to his book and started coloring immediately. He scratched a few lines in and Kaiden’s mother slapped his hand.
“We won’t have another one for a while,” she said sternly, “You have to make it last. Going over the lines like that.” she tisked.
Kaiden worked dutifully on his coloring book. He filled in the various stripes and feet, and toes bit by bit, making sure to never go over the lines and keeping the pressure on his pencil even.
Next week, Kaiden used his skills on a second dinosaur page. This time, he experimented with patterns. He drew criss-crossing lines, parallel lines, and squiggles instead of using plain flat colors.
Late one night, his mother got home. Kaiden was already sleeping. The creak of the door woke him up just enough to crack his eyes open. She smelled of heavy perfume. His dad woke up. The two fought. They usually did when Kaiden’s mom got home.
He wanted to color his book but dared not to get up. He waited for them to stop arguing until he fell asleep.
The next day, Kaiden had a mission. He would finally finish the second page but he found a problem. He didn’t like the pattern he had drawn, a square purple tile on one of the dinosaur back stripes. No matter how much he colored over the tile pattern with the pink, the purple was visible.
He ripped a small tear in the paper. Kaiden’s mother would be mad.
From time to time, strange people would come to the apartment room. One day, it would be a large overweight man that yelled at his parents. Another day, it would be one of Kaiden’s mother’s friends, a tall woman in high heels who wore the same heavy perfume.
She sometimes slapped Kaiden’s mom and that made Kaiden cry.
“I want to learn about real dinosaurs,” Kaiden told his dad one day. The man smiled from beneath his tired exterior.
“Sure thing, buddy,” he started but then as if something suddenly occured to him, he stopped, “One day.”
The boy went back to his coloring book.
Weeks passed by quickly as each page filled up and the pencils grew shorter and shorter. Kaiden knew he would run out soon. He asked his mother for more but she cut him off and told him there would be no more. Kaiden’s parents grew cross with him and his questions.
His mother returned home late almost every night rather than ocassionally and his dad got home too tired to even talk every night. He was always covered in some kind of dust.
Kaiden spent his time alone in the apartment. He wasn’t allowed to leave without either of them.
His mother’s friend came over very often and she grew more aggressive. She slapped his mom and often took his dad with her. He returned in the morning even more tired.
One day, in the middle of the night, the fat man knocked on the door yelling. Kaiden recognized his voice.
His mom and dad were inside and they quickly shushed him when he tried to ask what was happening.
He finally cried out, “I’ll find you!” and left.
Kaiden shook and when his mom saw him, she smacked his face. It burned and he started to tear up. She pulled out his coloring book and told him to color.
“But I’m done with this week’s page,” he protested despite wanting to do so very badly. The new page had a dinosaur that oddly smiled at him. Kaiden liked that.
“I’ll get you more later,” she brushed him off and left the apartment, slamming the door. Kaiden’s dad went back to sleep.
The boy patiently waited for his mom to return the next night but she did not return. She didn’t return that night or the next, or the next.
Kaiden’s dad started coming home even later but this time he smelled strange. The boy didn’t like that but he still hoped his mom would come back with a new coloring book.
Ever since his mom told him he’d be getting a new one, Kaiden colored his book several pages at a time. He lacked company for the most part. There came a day when Kaiden’s dad forgot to buy groceries and after a couple of days, Kaiden’s hunger gnawed at him. His father stopped coming home.
He knew he shouldn’t leave the apartment but he also knew he had to. He had vague memories of going to the grocery store with his mother. It should be just down the stairs of the building, around the corner, and down the road.
On the third night alone, Kaiden decided to go out. The door creaked open and he stepped out into the hallway. A woman busily passed by him on her heels, trying to go down the stairs, muttering something about the elevator being held up at the bottom.
Kaiden sneaked down the stairs to get a look and saw his father standing between two police officers. A woman with a clipboard stood behind him. She checked and rechecked her papers. They all walked into the elevator and went up.
The boy ran up the stairs, one level above where he lived and waited for the slow elevator to arrive. When it did, he watched. His father’s face was red and swollen from crying. Even from this far away, Kaiden smelled the alcohol.
“Please, please,” he pleaded with the woman between sobs, “don’t take him away.”
Kaiden had never seen his dad this way before. He instinctively put his left hand in his jacket pocket to feel the familiar pink and blue color pencils, and a folded up dinosaur drawing. It always made him feel better but even he struggled.
The police officers escorted the man to his apartment’s door and waited for him to open it. Kaiden knew he had to leave, he had to get away. He heard stories about cops. He often overheard his mother talking about barely escaping them at night.
She sometimes had to spend a night in jail when they caught her. Kaiden didn’t want to go to jail.
When the group entered the apartment, Kaiden ran down the stairs quietly all the way to the bottom and sprinted away from his apartment building. He turned the corner toward the grocery store and kept running.
When he made it to the grocery store, he noticed the odd stares people gave him and he knew he could not stop so he kept running, tears streaming down his face. He passed a church with its ringing bells and suddenly found himself in a square park surrounded by tall buildings, much like Kaiden’s building.
He turned in a circle but could not remember which way he came from nor did he know where to go. He saw some children at the playground. When he started to walk in their direction, they gave him looks that made him feel ashamed, and they seemed to tell each other jokes about him.
Kaiden turned away and found a bench at the edge of the park where he collapsed. He could hardly catch his breath from running, and he could not stop the tears from falling down onto his lap.
“Hello child,” he heard a voice call to him and his head snapped toward it. An older woman with thick perfume approached him. She held a bag of candy in one hand, and a large leather purse in another.
“Are you lost?”
Kaiden shook his head but then he looked around and nodded.
“Come with me, I live right up there,” she pointed toward a balcony facing the park in the closest building, “I’ll get you some hot food. Where are your parents?”
“I don’t know,” Kaiden whispered, his own voice sounding odd to him.
The woman walked closer to him, put her hand on his shoulder reassuringly, and helped him get down from the bench. She kept her hand on his shoulder as they walked toward her apartment building.
She occasionally smiled at him and offered him a few candies from her bag. Kaiden had never tasted anything so sweet.
Kaiden imagined this woman saving him but he also imagined the dinosaurs saving him, running through through the park like a cavalry, picking him up, and taking him off to a distant land filled with volcanos ready to erupt.
The boy imagined that the T-rex would carry his mom and dad on its back as they crossed the street down below and ran out of the city. Police and the work and all the strange people be damned.
Before he knew it, he was in an elevator with the woman going up.
“I really should get home,” Kaiden said emptily. He had no home to go back to.
The woman nodded, “After dinner, certainly.”
Her grip on his shoulder tightened until he yelped out. He tried to get away when the elevator opened but the woman picked him up and pulled her scarf around his mouth. She opened her apartment door and walked in with him, his screams muffled with the fabric.
He kicked and punched but managed to do nothing.
“That’s what I get for offering you free food? You ungrateful brat,” her sweet voice turned poisonous. She opened a door to a room and threw him in, he landed on his back painfully.
“You have a mattress, you have a TV, and you’ll get supper. If you try anything, that will be the end of it for you. No one knows you’re here, no one will find you here, and your parents probably don’t even care you’re gone,” she spit at him, closed the door and locked it.
Kaiden crawled into a corner. He took out the piece of paper in his pocket and starred at it, unable to move, unable to think, unable to talk.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw some colored pencils next to the stained mattress. A toxic green, a purple, and a black pencil. It felt like an eternity, but eventually, he reached out for one and started coloring over the ruffled piece of paper and its fading colors.