Tyrone sat on the floor, in front of his mom’s black-and-white television, eating a cup of Frosted Flakes as he watched Saturday morning cartoons. Tyrone liked Frosted Flakes. He liked Tony the Tiger because his name was similar to his own, and he liked to think they could go on adventures in their own cartoon together: The Tony and Tyrone Show. Tyrone wished he could play with Tony like the kids did in the commercials, and he wished he could eat a bowl of cereal just like the kids in the commercial did. But Tyrone always had to eat his Frosted Flakes without a spoon.
Most of the time Tyrone sat on the floor, in front of the tv—so he could hear only the tv and not the noises coming from his mom’s bedroom—and he ate his cereal in a cup, the milk and the flakes crashing against his mouth in a mixture of sugary crunch and somewhat spoiled creaminess. Sometimes he ate Frosted Flakes without any milk at all. Sometimes he ate nothing all day but Frosted Flakes, and sometimes he ate nothing. Regardless how he ate, Tyrone never ate with a spoon.
Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood came on. Tyrone liked Mr. Rogers. He was a nice White man. He wasn’t like the landlord who was always threatening Tyrone’s mom for rent and calling her a “useless nigger”. Tyrone wished Mr. Rogers owned this apartment building. Things would have been different if he had. And Tyrone liked Officer Clemmons. Tyrone sometimes liked to think that Officer Clemmons was his dad and that he would come home any day now.
Every neighborhood, Tyrone thought, should be like Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood. There was never a single crack to be seen. Tyrone hated the cracks that he saw around his neighborhood. Each one scared him. They glowed with a white phosphorescence in their jagged fissures, and things writhed within them, like wet snakes or homeless men rummaging through dumpsters, and Tyrone’s mom moaned when the crack in her bedroom writhed. It was not a moan of pain or pleasure, but both, like she was dying, but was too happy to care about it.
There were cracks all around the apartment building. Tyrone saw the first crack in a man’s face. It was a year ago, late at night, while his mom was asleep. Tyrone had his window open and he heard a man singing as he came down the street. Singing like he was drunk. Singing, “Jimmy cracked corn and I don’t care” as loud as he could. Tyrone had gone to his window and saw a man stumbling down the street, his clothes disheveled.
“Jimmy cracked corn…!”
The man had glanced up at Tyrone, his black face split with a glowing white crack that did not bleed.
“What you lookin’ at?” the man shouted. “First spooks jump me and now I got a nosy little nigger starin’ at me.” He snorted, and started laughing. “Hey! Don’t you go hidin’ from me, boy! They’ll fix you up right!”
Tyrone had crouched beneath his window, trembling and praying that the man would go away.
“Stupid brat,” the man said.
The man left, but the crack he carried with him remained. Later Tyrone saw some pale men in black suits standing on the street corner. They were not like Mr. Rogers. They wore black hats and black shades, hiding most of their fish-belly white faces. Where they stood, a crack opened and grew larger, like a spider’s web ensnaring the whole neighborhood. Soon Tyrone saw it spread in the walls between the apartment buildings, near the alleyways where the burn-outs slept, and along the cars and the streets, from the barbershop to the grocery store, ruining everything. It crept into the apartment hallway, and the stairwell. It was on people’s doors, splitting their windows and, soon, it was on every other face, their heads split down the center, or their chests, and so their hearts, and everywhere the crack spread Tyrone heard the tentacles writhing. At night, as he lay awake in bed, he heard the tenants moaning like his mom. Their moans reminded him of church hymns— back when his mom used to take him to church—only the words were all wrong, and weird, and frightening. The gibberish roared in his ears sometimes. His mom had stopped going to work, and, after a while, she did nothing but stay in her bedroom. Sometimes a stranger would join her, and the moaning would be louder than before, and then the stranger left, but all the while Tyrone sat so close to the television that his eyes burned and overflowed with tears as Mr. Rogers and Officer Clemmons smiled on, pitiless in their perfect neighborhood.
And so Tyrone watched cartoons, and ate Frosted Flakes without using a spoon, and waited until the day his mom would emerge from her bedroom, transformed, head full of burning white cracks, and reaching down to kiss him as her face split open to swallow him forever.
(The above was one of four stories I wrote to submit to The Root’s short story competition in relation to Lovecraft Country. Unfortunately this story 1) was too long by about 80 words, 2) had references to drugs (allusively to the 80’s crack epidemic in the US) and 3) was written by me, a White boy (insomuch as Melungeons are considered White). So, knowing I have been disqualified on three fronts, I decided to put it up here to rot.