My Aunt Lidia visited about three days after my twelfth birthday with a gift I’ll never forget. She handed me a green box with a black and purple ribbon tied around it. The tag said Machen’s Boutique – that weird store downtown that smells like dust and sells beat-up old junk.
I untied the ribbon and pulled the top off the box and the thing staring back at me had to be one of the ugliest things I’d ever seen. A bearded man with only one eye stared angrily back at me. I didn’t know what to say so I just stood there looking at him. He was about twelve inches tall, wore a dirty toga and sandals, and was unlike any other action figure I’d ever seen.
“Do you like it?” Aunt Lidia asked, “I know you like to play with your dolls. I thought he’d fit right in with the rest of them.”
I felt my face redden with embarrassment. I didn’t play with dolls. I collected action figures. But I didn’t correct her.
“Thanks, Aunt Lidia. I’ll put him on my shelf with the others.”
“Oh, you’re welcome, sweetie. The man at the store said he’s Polyphemus, the famous cyclops from that Odyssey story. He said he was a real mean one. Maybe your superheroes can fix his attitude a little.”
I thanked her again and carried the box to my room. As I grabbed a hold of the figure, it was warm, which I thought was a little weird. Most of the time action figures are plastic and cool to the touch. But this one was as warm as if I’d picked up our cat, Jethro.
I placed him on the shelf next to Action Max and Sergeant Dynamo, my two favorite figurines. Polyphemus looked out of place next to them, but I wanted to show Aunt Lidia that I appreciated her gift.
I had to admit the artistry on Polyphemus was well done. I leaned in for a better look and saw he had age lines around his eye and his skin looked almost real. It didn’t shine like the other plastic figures on the shelf. His beard hair looked real, not like the fake doll hair that most toys use. And after a moment, I’m almost certain I saw his chest moving as if he were breathing.
“He sure looks good up there!”
Aunt Lidia startled me. I agreed with her, this time meaning it. I was surprised by how cool the new figurine looked, even if he did creep me out a little.
We left the room and visited for a while. Aunt Lidia peered over her lowered glasses to read from her phone. She giggled, “As ugly as Polyphemus was, he was just as dumb. It says here that Odysseus managed to convince Polyphemus that his name was actually ‘Nobody’, so that when Odysseus put his eye out, Polyphemus screamed to his brothers that ‘nobody hurt me’.”
We shared a laugh but part of me was nervous about making fun of Polyphemus. Yes, he was only an action figure, but there was something different about him. Part of me hoped that he was beyond the sound of our voices. Bedtime was coming up before long and I didn’t really want to be in a dark room with him by myself.
Aunt Lidia eventually left, and I thanked her again for her thoughtful gift. As I made my way down the hall towards my room, I heard a muted thud as if something fell on the carpet. Thinking it was Jethro coming out from hiding–since he hates houseguests–I thought nothing of it. But as I turned through the doorway of my room, what I saw weakened my knees.
Both Action Max and Sergeant Dynamo were broken into pieces and strewn across the carpet. The initial shock eventually left me when I knew for sure Jethro had to be responsible. It wouldn’t have been the first time he’d destroyed my stuff.
I was angry. Jethro had his own toys to play with but for some reason he liked to go after my stuff. As I bent to pick up the pieces of my broken figures, I saw Jethro enter the hallway from my Mom’s room across the hall.
Suddenly I felt ill. It couldn’t have been Jethro. He was stretching and bleary-eyed as if he’d just woken up.
I looked up on the shelf and saw Polyphemus with Action Max’s broken leg in one hand and Sergeant Dynamo’s arm in the other. And his eye was glaring directly at me.
Brian Barnett is the author of the middle grade novellas Graveyard Scavenger Hunt and Chaos at the Carnival. He has over three hundred publishing credits in dozens of magazines and anthologies such as the Lovecraft eZine, Spaceports & Spidersilk, Blood Bound Books, and Scifaikuest.