Hey everyone- I’ve been working on a novella but before I publish the full thing, I’d love to get some feedback. I’m going to share a portion of the story here and I’d like to get your feeback. Is it good? Do you want to keep reading this? Criticism is WELCOME! I do not want to publish something that stinks or no one wants to read haha. Please let me know what you think in the comments. Hope you enjoy it.
The Coming Storm
By Seth Dombach
Every man has at least one story that sums up his life. Some stories are harder to tell than others. Some come easy, the words etched forever in memory. Others are harder, stonier tales, ones meant for late dark evenings to be told closely at a voice only above a whisper. That is my story, the hard tale that doesn’t want to be spoken aloud. The story of my life starts with the story of how I killed my father and how everything collapsed.
If I can start this story anywhere, I would have to start it from the first thing I can remember. It is not so much a distinct moment in my life. Nothing that, should it happen now, would leave little more than a lingering impression. This is one of those memories that you have to dig deep inside for. One that you can feel yourself working down through your mind, digging it up like stony ground. Something that even when you grasp it, it is like trying to cup water in your hand; you get some part of it, but the rest slips through your fingers, and you can’t catch it.
This memory starts out with an overwhelmingly bright light. The way your eyes get if you try and stare at the sun. This was how it was for me opening the door of our home. I can feel the chill on the air as it rushed over me as I looked out into the fresh fallen snow. I was standing on the porch in nothing but an oversized shirt that fell just below my knees. My feet were bare and slipped into the snow with a soft crunch. No one was around but me. I can’t remember if they were all sleeping or just weren’t paying attention. Either way it felt like I was the only one left. Like some force had come up in the night and stole everyone away. And that didn’t scare me. I felt comforted. Almost safe. The thought that I could wander on my own forever seemed attainable. And just as I felt like that might be true, I looked to the edge of the woods and there stood a man. He had a tan jacket and a large hat that stood up like something out of a Dr. Seuss book. I stared out at him, watching the steam from his breath rise above his head. He stood looking up to the tops of the trees with his hands on his hips, studying something that I couldn’t see. Then he dropped his arms suddenly and turned completely around, looking at me dead on. Our eyes locked on each other, as if we were both experiencing the same thing, but backwards. After a time, he raised his hand to me. I raised mine back. Then he turned back around and disappeared into the trees.
I never told anyone about that, like it was some sort of sacred thing that would vanish forever if it left my lips. It would just pop up from time to time when I wasn’t expecting it to, and it would always make me feel sad. Not depressed mind you, but sad in the way a late afternoon on a Sunday can make you feel. Knowing the short time in which you get to live in your own terms is coming to an end. How we all feel about the fleeting nature of our existence.
If I had the chance to live in one moment forever, I think that moment would be it. It was possibly the first and last time I was truly free. I did not have a before or after, just the distinct and brilliant present. I was nothing to anyone and everything to myself. No knowledge, no pain, no bliss. Just pure existence. But how fleeting that time is. I think we spend most of our lives searching for that moment again. Just for a taste of something so pure we would go to any length to retain it. But the journey to it would be a futile climb. It cannot be reproduced. You just get a carbon copy, degraded over time. The message is similar but hard to read.
I wish it were easier to hope that we could get back there. I wish I could lie to myself enough to believe it. But that memory ended along with my untainted childhood.
My name is Donald Debbs, and the story that follows is all true. This will also act as my will and testament and my confessional. I don’t plan to stick around much once this is all told. I’ve been able to run for so long, and now I’m tired of running. I want to rest, to be at peace. I may have done some terrible things, but even sinners deserve to die and meet that eternal sleep too. As for what lies beyond, I can’t say either way. I don’t think I’ve had much use for God just as much as He hasn’t had much use for me. I think if there is one, He’s got a lot to explain to us all. Why he made us to be so complicated and terrible and if we are made in His image, just how horrible He must be. I like to think that there isn’t anything past this. That once we are done, that’s it. It is no sound, no light, no understanding. Everything just dark for the rest of eternity. There is comfort in that. The idea that we don’t have to be anything anymore. We can just cease to exist and our memory can dissolve and we can just go on forever like that. Even Heaven would become torturous after a while. I like my way much better.
I was born in October of 1974, the 5th to be exact. Nothing spectacular about it. Nothing was ever very spectacular in the place I was born into. We lived on the outskirts of a rural Pennsylvania town called Ridgway Hollow. We lived on 20 acres of farmland, seven miles out of town, toward the base of the Tuscarora mountains. If it sounds like nowhere, that’s because it was. The town, that you could call it even that, was not much to speak of. It held a grocery, an antique store, The First Presbyterian church, and two bars; The Hearthstone Inn and The Ugly Dog (which fit its name in sight and quality and also housed my father most nights of the week). On the outside looking in, this was about as quaint as you could get; the ideal picture of small town America. Down to the residents sitting on their porches, the perfectly laid brick sidewalks, and at least one American flag for every 5 square feet. A town where everyone not only knew your name, but knew your business as well.
Even when you live outside, they still know. Or they make it a point to find it out. Neighbors helping neighbors. More like, neighbors dropping in unexpectedly to stick their nose where it doesn’t belong. It was almost a guarantee that some underhanded gossip would be discussed directly after church let out on Sunday. And our town was religious. Very religious. Even our town’s welcoming sign read:
‘Thank you for visiting Ridgway Hollow! What a friend we have in Jesus!’
You could always count that any town meeting would start and end in a prayer, and at least one person would feel the need to quote scripture to you anytime you would meet, as if it were some kind of ingrained greeting particular to Ridgway Hollow. Even in the grocery there was a picture of Jesus, his face pained from the crucifixion, that hung just below the ‘daily specials’ board.
But just like most religious towns, there was an undercurrent of something different that flowed beneath the surface. Something sinister. I would rush outside of church in the summer time and throw my jacket into the back of my father’s car, and watch as the old ladies with their blue hair would sneak out for cigarettes, and I’d watch them whisper to each other and throw their heads back in laughter. Then their husbands would join them, not trying to hide their habits, they’d clap each other on the backs, and tell jokes that started off with phrases like ‘Do you know what they call a Pollock….’ Or any other kind of colorful racial epitaph. And I’d stand with my back against the tree and watch them all. Like I was observing some sort of alien species that had infiltrated our world. They looked just like me, even had some of the same habits as me, but I felt like they were sinister creatures underneath fake skins. I feared if I peered too close I would see something beneath that façade, something dark that didn’t want to be seen.
The gossip was one thing, but it was more than just that. Most of it in my own family, but I can’t get to that just yet. But being a child afforded me an unseen presence. I could move between them undetected. I had heard them talk about something to do with an activity involving the basement of the church, and the true blood of the lamb.
Those days it was easier to disappear. The motto of ‘children are meant to be seen but not heard’ could have added the prefix ‘unless I say’ to it. I spent as much time as possible away from my home as you’ll soon come to know why. Even though I was close at times with my younger brother Daniel, I also preferred to keep to myself. I found a spot in the woods near the bank of the creek that I was able to turn into a little fort. I would keep it covered in pine boughs and would keep some comic books in a Ziploc bag. But mostly I would come out there just to sit and watch. Watch the woods, watch the creek, watch life moving forward. It was the closest I ever felt to spirituality, more than I had ever felt in the Sunday school class of Miss Anderson who liked to scare the younger kids with stories of gnashing teeth and wailing souls. Something about being out there, the quiet stillness, just felt right to me. It felt like the world wanted me there. It was the direct opposite of what I felt when I was around man-made structure or even other people.
It still sends a chill down my spine when I feel a storm coming on. The world takes on an eerie stillness right before it unleashes its fury. You can feel the electricity in the air, almost as if you are breathing it into your lungs, like setting yourself on fire. But above everything else it is the quiet that is the worst part of it. Like something waiting to grab you if you dare make a sound, it has a sentient presence to it.
I think what really bothers me the most about it is that it reminds me, more than anything now, of my father. Even though I can still picture the man in my mind, nothing feels more like who he was then that still before a raging storm. To him; my brother and I were nothing more than accessories for his use, though he treated his farm equipment better than us. He was proud of his things, not his children.
While he normally regarded us with disinterest, that reaction could always be changed at the drop of a hat to unbridled anger. Just like the on-coming storm you could tell the shift in the air. His hatred towards us radiated off him like some dark aura. His eyes would glaze over and a monster would replace what little of a man there was underneath that skin. His brow would scrunch up and his lips would pull back exposing his tobacco-stained teeth. It made him look like some sort of rabid dog, and I guess in a way that was true.
Usually my brother was able to escape his fury. That’s not to say that he didn’t end up father’s target more than once; but normally it was me that drew his ire. I don’t know if it was the way I looked, or my voice, or just the fact that I was smaller and easier for him to overpower. Whatever it was that made him hate me so fiercely made my life hell. I knew enough to try and hide when I could feel his wrath coming on, but he always seemed to know exactly where I would be. I would race around the house, and he’d be right there, waiting for me. His arms were like pistons that would shoot out and pull back before you could move. I would feel his grip on my arm, and as soon as those fingers would dig into my skin, I knew I was done. Without a word, he would turn and pull me toward the barn. Sometimes I could walk on my own, but mostly he would drag me, once pulling my arm out of my socket.
The barn was built by my grandfather. My father inherited it when he died, years before I was born. We were never allowed to go in it without our father around. We were only permitted inside when he needed an extra hand or when his temper took control of him. Mostly we were in there because of the latter. He had a routine during these times. First he would throw the barn door open with one hand, and the other hand would pick us up and toss us onto the floor like a sort of human shot put. I’ll never forget slamming into the ground, the smell of hay and dust filling my nose, and tensing up in anticipation for the slam of the door going shut and his hands on my throat. He was strong and the anger made him stronger. I could feel the ridges of his calloused hands as he pushed his thumb into my windpipe, taking my breath away. I would gasp for air while he lifted me off my feet and walked me over one of the barn’s support beams.
Once or twice he held on to my neck a little too tight and a little too long and I would pass out. I did my best to keep conscious throughout it, because when I did pass out, it made him furious that he had to worry that he might be found out if he went too far. When he got me over to the beam, I knew the routine. Put my head down and wrap my arms around the beam. He would grab a rope from the hay loft, the kind of rope that has long fibrous strands that dug into my skin like splinters. He would wrap it around my hands so tight that the blood would pool in my fingers, making them look like the sausages my mother would serve for breakfast on Sundays before church. Once I was tethered to the post, he would shove a rag into my mouth. Sometimes I would be lucky and it would be clean, but mostly it would be stained with oil or gasoline and my eyes would sting from the fumes and shortly after the tears. I could never bring myself to look at him while he was hitting me. I was too afraid that if I caught his eyes I would see the devil himself. That or he would be so furious that I was looking for some sort of sympathy that he would kill me. His belt would crack over me again and again. The storm had come and this was the strike and the thunder. He would grunt with each hit like he was expelling evil from his body. The worst feeling was the way that blood would soak into my clothes, making them stick to my back. I would just stare down into the floor, memorizing the pattern in the grain of the wood, and wait for the storm to pass.
When he finished, I could hear him panting like he was exhausted. I’d listen for the rattle of his belt as he wrapped it back around his waist. He would then untie my hands and pull the rag from my mouth. Once I gagged and vomited on the floor and he rubbed my face in my own putrid mess. He was never in the running for father of the year.
I would hobble into the house after it was all over. My mother would pretend to busy herself with something in the kitchen, or scraping at some invisible spot of dust as I would make my way up the stairs to my room. When he first started in on me, she used to sneak in and comfort me, but he put a stop to that one night when he pushed her down the stairs and broke her collar bone. After that she barely spoke to me at all.
For as long as I knew her, she was a passive woman. But that was mainly due to the way my father treated her. I had seen a picture of her as a young woman once. She wasn’t beautiful exactly, but had such a genuine loving smile on her face. One I had never been accustomed to seeing. My father had sucked any compassion or joy from her long before my brother and I had come along. I think mostly that my father had us to trap her there. When we were growing up, a woman raising children on her own was frowned upon, and she could kiss most chances of remarrying goodbye.
I think he knew all that and planted his seed in her without her approval in effort to keep her locked down to him. By the time my brother came along, any happiness in her had died. I can’t remember her ever kissing him or even holding him with a loving mother’s embrace. I once saw her breastfeed him, and the look on her face while he suckled from her was one of disgust and apathy. She looked like a sow in the mud, completely oblivious to the runts trying desperately to get a drop.
Before long she had stopped caring about either of us. We would come home from school to plates of cold food left at an empty table. She would sit on the porch, looking wistfully out to the corn fields. I can’t say that I blame her, in fact if anyone in my family deserves pity or forgiveness, it is my mother. I can’t imagine what horrors that woman had to face, how she could stand my father’s stinking breath on her neck as he would thrust away on top of her. I could hear them some nights, his low grunting and the sound of the bed creaking above my room, and then his loud snores filling the silent void of the house. On more than one occasion I could hear her low sobbing mixed in between. So it was no surprise when I came home to find her gone one day.
Our bus dropped us off at the end of a long dirt road that led up to our house. Most days I would run home, in hopes that I could get in and rush to my room, pretending to have more homework than I truly did. But the day my mother went missing, I had taken my time. It was late September and the evenings had begun to cool. That day the clouds had hung in the sky like a painting and I couldn’t help but stare straight up at them, making myself dizzy in the process. I had lost my footing and tripped off the road into a puddle of mud, ruining the one nice pair of pants my parents had spent some real money on. My heart absolutely sank inside my chest, knowing this would result in yet another trip to the barn. I tried and tried to rub the mud off my clothes, but it was no use. I thought perhaps if I could just make it into the house quick enough, I could rush up the stairs to my room and change quickly. I could take the pants into the bathroom later and wash the mud off.
When I made it over the last hill to where the house was visible, I could automatically see my father standing on the porch. The closer I got I could see he was holding a dark brown bottle in his hand, probably the big bottle of whiskey he kept hidden underneath the bathroom sink. I watched as he took a long swig off the bottle as I made my way toward the house. I knew I was fucked. He would see the stain and that would be it for me. He’d probably open my back up this time again, and leave yet another scar I would have to explain in the shower after gym.
I stopped short of the porch where he was standing, waiting for that look in his eye, or for him to bound down the stairs and put his hand around my throat. But he didn’t. He just stood there looking at me, but also past me, like he was looking at nothing and everything all at the same time. I stood completely still for what felt like an hour, like a man who just stumbled upon a rattlesnake den directly below his feet.
I finally got up the courage to break the silence, still hoping he hadn’t noticed the darkening stain on my pants.
“Hey daddy. I’m home now. I just need to run in and change real quick so I can go get my chores done.”
“She’s gone” he said without a hint of inflection
“What?” I guess I knew who he meant right away but for some perverse reason I needed to hear him say it.
“Your mother, the whore you fell out of. She up and left us, boy. Probably out there now with her legs spread for Emmitt Perkins, because that is the type of disgusting cunt she is.”
I shuddered when he said that word. I was twelve and hadn’t heard it before, but it came out of his mouth with so much poison that I knew it was a word he knew would hurt me just by his saying it.
“What do you mean she left us, daddy?”
“Take the fuckin’ corn out of your ears you piece of shit, you know exactly what I said. How fuckin’ stupid are you? She never loved me or you or your brother for that matter. I come home from the fields today and all her shit was gone. Like a goddamn ghost, she just up and vanished. I knew this day was comin’ for a long time. She been takin’ little trips every day, probably laying down with half the town of Cornerstone. Hell, I even see her makin’ the eyes at the pastor. Believe me, I did.”
I wasn’t even standing next to him, but I could smell the alcohol coming off of him. It was the same sour smell on his breath when he would lay into me out in the barn. Hearing this news didn’t make me sad, I knew it was only a matter of time before she left, or he killed her. At the time he told me I still couldn’t be sure which one.
“Can’t we find her? She’d come back if you talked to her, dad.”
“Boy, my days of givin’ a shit what she does are long gone. I aint doin’ a goddamn thing for that bitch again” he kept using these words, I think just to hurt me. “All I gotta say is she best not show her face here again, or I’ll knock her teeth out the back of her skull” With this he put his head back, pulled up a wad of pleghm, and spit it onto the porch floor.
I knew one thing for sure: that she would not show up here again. For a while I kept thinking that I would run into her in town, or that she might send a letter to me somehow. But I also think I knew deep down that I was just lying to myself, hoping at least part of her cared enough to reach out. But I don’t blame her either. She was the smart one. She left and she never looked back. I like to imagine that she hitched a ride with some nice dressed man who smelled of good cologne. And that she told him to just drive, and that they did, until the sun came up the next day. Her sleeping on his shoulder even when the first rays of the morning sun shone upon her face. I never did see her after that day. I think now I just hope that she forgot about us, lied to herself enough to believe that we were just a bad dream, the kind that fades only minutes after you wake up.
For a few weeks after she left, my father stayed to himself. Locking himself up in the barn for days and nights. I’d make my brother breakfast and dinner, and at night I’d push my dresser in front of our room, hoping he’d stay out there. I didn’t sleep much those first few weeks, and I’d lay awake looking out my window at the lights flickering in the barn. I’d open the window, letting in a cool blast of air, wondering what was going on out there. There was nothing but the darkness and the silence. But that silence only lasted for so long.
One morning as I was leaving for the school, he was there, out in the field. I couldn’t tell what he was doing out the frosted kitchen window, but I could see his familiar shape. I slowly opened the door, letting in a cold blast of early autumn air. A chill ran down my back as my eyes locked on the man. He was sitting on top of a fence post, looking out into the corn that had yet to be harvested. I think if I ever truly felt sympathetic towards him it was in this moment. There was something in the way that the wind was hitting him, blowing through his hair that made him look like a child then. That and the way he stared off into the distance like he was lost. I guess he was. I tried to slip outside without him noticing me, but the doors in that house were old and hadn’t been tended to in a long time, so it opened with a loud creek that couldn’t be stopped as I walked to the porch. I looked up as the door shut behind me, and he had turned to face me. The sympathy I felt moments earlier disappeared as I saw his face and the hatred in his eyes had returned. I could feel them burning into me, like staring into the sun for too long and going blind.
We sat there, motionless, staring at each other. Even though he was far enough away, I could swear that he hadn’t blinked once. I knew that if I didn’t make the first move, he would soon hop off that fence and make his way toward me. So I broke my stare first and hurriedly made my way down the path to the road. I felt his eyes on my back as I walked down the road, half expected him to come run me down, and squeeze the life out of me on the cold, hard ground. I spent the whole day dreading my return home. I knew he would be waiting for me. I knew the barn would be waiting for me.
To my utter surprise that did not come when I returned home. The house was empty of both my father and Jonathan. I peeked my head through the front door and waited for his thunderous voice to come from the living room, but instead there was nothing but silence from inside. It was an eerie feeling at the time. I had spent the day girding myself against what I expected would come when I walked through the door, that I didn’t know how deal with the emptiness. It was a feeling I would eventually come to embrace over time.
I think we put too much belief into things like community and that sense of being one with people around us. I ‘m not saying it is necessarily a bad thing, but I think we don’t know what to do with silence any more. There were nights before it got too bad where I’d lay out underneath the stars for the longest time. I didn’t know much at the time about astronomy, or did I care. There was just something so simple and beautiful about that type of loneliness. When I didn’t have to be afraid, or worried about keeping up an appearance. I could virtually disappear into the darkness. And boy was it dark down there on the ground, so dark that it made the night sky burst into an amazing show. The sky was so large and expansive that I felt I could see the very curve of the Earth and could watch it slowly spinning. There is something about growing up that makes you forgot about things like that, you take it for granted and disregard what is right in front of you all the time, but you’ve just become to jaded to recognize it’s wonder.
I don’t know where dad and John were that night, I never asked. They came in way after dark, and by the time I heard dad pull the door shut, I had the light off in my room and was looking out the window in that darkness. I heard his footsteps come up the stairs and stop right in front of my bedroom door. He paused there for a long time as I lay breathlessly watching, waiting for that door to swing back and the light from the hall to blind me as he stormed into the room. But again, that did not happen that night. I watched as the shadows from his boots turned left, and walked on.
Two years passed. Two years in which I learned to make myself invisible. It wasn’t as hard as it would seem. The biggest challenge was turning inward as much as possible. I had to teach myself how to internalize most of my thoughts and feelings. I would speak the least amount of words that I could, at home and at school. My grades suffered because of it but I wasn’t interested in excelling in school anymore. I was all about self-preservation. I couldn’t really call it living but it was a way to go from day to day without the constant stress hovering over my head.
The farm suffered in that time. My father was more interested in getting to the bottom of a bottle of whiskey than he was in making sure the fields and livestock (or his children) were taken care of. We made enough to keep the house, but there were more than many nights that we all went hungry. Once the coal stove broke down and we spent the night out in the barn with a burn barrel fire to keep us warm. These years were hard, but I had not been prepared for what was to come ahead.
When I turned sixteen I was given the opportunity to get my driver’s license. Any kid who has grown up on a farm has driven a truck by the time their feet could reach the pedals. I passed my test with ease and was then tasked with picking up all the food and running errands on my days off (between managing what little of the farm we had left). Sometimes, I would think about driving off and never returning, just like Mom probably had done. But I couldn’t do that to my brother. As much as I hated this life, I couldn’t let him down. He needed me there even if all I was a buffer; I couldn’t imagine what would go on if I wasn’t there.
Being sixteen the beatings had not stopped entirely, but I was strong then and most of the time he was too drunk to care. I had taken on the majority of the work from him, and he knew if he took me out of commission it would be up to him to do the work. He had gotten fat and weak. He barely left his chair anymore, only getting up to piss, and sometimes by his smell, I doubted he even did that anymore.
Once, while going into town to get groceries, I was stopped by one of the ladies who used to go to church with us. Mrs. Bucher was a nice woman, but not too nice. The kind of person you are never quite sure is genuine or just playing pretend. But from my short meetings with her she had always been kind to me and my brother, slipping us old hard candy from her purse after church let out. She saw me coming down the sidewalk and had waved from a distance, flagging me down in a way I couldn’t pretend to not notice. She half jogged across the street to meet me, her hideous flower-print sundress flapping against her legs as she strode. I thought for a moment how I had hoped that a car would have slammed into her while she came across the street, and how I would watch her body tumble down the road so I could slip away from this oncoming conversation. I instantly hated myself for thinking that. I didn’t even dislike the woman. But I had grown accustomed to keeping any sort of communication to an absolute minimum.
When she reached me, I heard her take a long breath into her lungs, and I could hear a rattle as she did. She reached out to me and took my hand in hers. It felt the way your fingers do after sitting in the tub for a long time, almost the same way the skin of a corpse does if you dare to touch them at a viewing.
‘Donnie Debbs!’ she said, drawing another deep breath in. ‘I haven’t seen you in forever!’
‘No Ma’am. I, I mean we’ve been busy on the farm’
‘Oh I’m certain you have, son. I just had noticed that I haven’t seen you or your brother and father out at the church in quite some time. You know that we do say a prayer for your family quite often, we’d love to see y’all back there again soon!’
‘Thank you ma’am, I’ll pass that on to my father’ I had pulled my hand back and was hoping I could get out of this quickly, but she had wanted to talk (or perhaps to gather information) and didn’t want to let this chance slip her by.
‘You know that I never did get a chance to tell you how sorry I am for what happened with your mama. I know how much a boy at your age still needs his mother. Just a shame, just a, and pardon my expression here, but it was a damn shame what she did to you boys.’
She looked into my eyes with such sincerity, as if she needed me to know how much she truly meant it. It took me off balance and I had to break her gaze, and I pointed my eyes down to the ground at my feet.
‘Now, I do not want you to think that I am trying to pry into your life, that isn’t my place, and Heaven knows I’d want to talk to your father if he would ever come around, but I just need to make sure that you are all ok. Word has been going around that your daddy has been sick for a while.” She lowered her voice to a whisper for her next words. “Sick from the bottle. Now, don’t you feel bad about that Donnie; that is not your fault. Your daddy has a lot on his mind and I’m sure he is hurting real bad. But I want to tell you’ she lowered her voice and leaned into my face ‘I want to tell you that I have an uncle who had the same problem. He didn’t want to admit it, but the Lord could see through that, and you know we were able to get him healed by the blood of the lamb. Now he’s got himself a good job up in Vermont, and put his whole life of the path of Jesus.’
‘Thank you, I will have to keep that in mind. But really, we are ok.’
‘I know you say that son, but we are concerned about you. If you need something, all you have to do is ask. That is what your neighbors are for! We could come out and help around the house. I know some of the ladies and I would be happy to get you boys a home-cooked meal sometime. I’m sure you miss that, and believe you me, it would not be a problem.’
The last thing I wanted was any added attention at home. I knew if someone showed up there giving out help or homemade food, Dad would have a field day, and probably beat me to death for bringing his issues to light.
‘Thank you Mrs. Bucher. I promise you that we are doing alright. My father doesn’t have a drinking problem, and we are able to take care of ourselves just fine.’
She recoiled at this, as if I had stabbed her. ‘Well son, you know I didn’t mean anything by it. I’m just doing my Christian duty to try and help those less fortunate. There is no reason for you to get snippy at me. You should be thankful that someone out here cares for you like we do.’
I could feel my anger starting to rise. I had been a patient person (mostly in fear of drawing attention) but that day she had hit a nerve.
‘Ma’am, I’m not being rude to you. If you really want to do something for my family, you’d do best to just leave us out of your thoughts and prayers. We’ve had enough of those, and frankly, they have done jack shit for us.’
If she had recoiled before, it now looked like she was about to implode. But I didn’t give her the chance to have a rebuttal
‘If you’ll excuse me now, I need to get food for my family. Don’t worry, we can cook it ourselves.”
I turned and walked away. I didn’t look back, but I think she probably stood there on the sidewalk with her mouth hanging open, hands on her hips, and full of outrage as she watched me walk away and round the corner.
When I got home that evening carrying three bags of groceries, I was met almost immediately with a fist to the back of my head. It dropped me right into the edge of the island. The groceries went flying onto the ground. As I was falling I could see oranges dumping onto the ground for a moment. Then I hit it head on and blacked out. When I came to I was being dragged toward the front door. My eyes were stinging and I could feel blood dripping off the tip of my nose. My head felt like it was on fire as my body was still limp. The next thing I knew, I was being lifted even higher and then tossed. I went backwards down the steps, landing on my back. I looked up and saw my father standing above me, seething, like he was about to breath fire and roast me alive. Blood was pooling in my eyes and I lifted my arm to wipe them clear. As my arm brushed across my head, I felt the burning intensify again. I could also feel the disgusting sensation of a fold of skin being moved aside and smacking down. I knew without seeing it that my head had been split. I could hear my brother screaming from behind my father saying ‘Daddy, don’t kill him, please daddy, don’t kill him!’ His scream scared me more than thinking about the damage that had been done to my head. I think he knew if something didn’t stop him, my father would kill me. Right there on the back steps, I would take my last breath, and then he’d be left alone with the man.
He stood on the steps glaring down at me, breathing so heavy and hard I thought his lungs might burst. Then he turned around, walked inside and slammed the door. I looked up into the sky and that’s when I decided that I had to kill him. There was no getting around that. No one would save us. No one would come. He had come close, and had my brother not been there, I would have been dead, and he would probably give my brother the same story he had given me about mom. I knew that if I didn’t do something soon, he would. Any part of him that had once been a man was now gone. He was nothing but a monster. A disturbed creature with a hair pin trigger, one that was looking for any reason at all to go off. I didn’t know how I would do it, I didn’t know and I didn’t care. I would have been glad to fry in the county jail as long as it meant he was unable to poison this world any longer.
But I did know one thing that I wanted from his death. One thing that I knew was indisputable and had to happen. If the man deserved anything it was this: it had to be long. Long and painful.
Though I had resolved that night that I had to kill him, I also had no idea how I would do it. After I had spent time in the bathroom cleaning up the wound (which I almost passed out doing), I went directly up to bed, even though it was still early in the evening. When I passed by the living room, I could hear dad slurping up a cold one, and the tv was blaring some wrestling match. He never checked on me. Hell, he barely moved to look at me as I stomped up the stairs to my room. This fueled the rage in me even more that he couldn’t even be bothered to acknowledge the gaping wound in his son’s head.
That night, I lay in bed, eyes glued to the ceiling, barely blinking. I wanted him to suffer for all of his sins. To feel the punishment he deserved for all the terror and agony he had brought upon my family. I knew I would need to incapacitate him. There had to be a fool proof way to ensure that once I had him trapped, there was no way that he could escape. The first thought I had was to shoot him in the legs. We were far enough from anyone else that gunshot would probably not even be heard, and if they were, someone would probably just think it was a hunter taking down a buck.
The problem with this idea was that I was never a good shot to begin with. Countless times that I had gone out hunting, I had typically missed. The best shot I had was hitting a groundhog just below the eye, but that was a fluke. I was terrible, too shaky when it came to pulling the trigger. I might have considered it had we owned a shotgun, but the only gun we had currently was a .22 that was collecting dust in the attic. A shotgun gives even a poor marksman a chance, a rifle is not so forgiving. I knew if I didn’t take him down with the first shot, he’d have a hold of me in a moment and probably snap my neck, or with my luck, bludgeon me to death with the goddamn rifle.
Then my mind went to the sledgehammer we kept out back for knocking down fence posts. One heavy swing of that thing to a kneecap would take down even the largest fellow. I did have the strength to pull off a crushing blow. Like I said, I had spent those past years growing into my own, and along with that, gaining quite a bit of muscle. I sat in bed with a grin plastered on my face thinking about the old man walking through the door unaware, just like I was this evening, and BAM, I would appear around the corner. He would only see the blur of the hammer as I swung it like some Greek god I had learned about in school. Then I would feel his legs crumble and give way under my power. I imagined his look of surprise on his face, as he would stare up at his oldest son with an expression that read ‘How did he beat me?’
As much as the idea of this excited me, it also terrified me. I didn’t like the idea of putting this first part of my plan directly in my hand. I didn’t want any margin of error. I couldn’t allow for any chance to not be able to fulfill this obligation. As soon as I thought that, I also thought that I did not want this being traced back to me in some way. My brother would do no good with his entire family gone. If the cops did come to take care of his body, they definitely would know that it was no accident with his legs crushed like that. It wouldn’t do. There had to be another way.
I lay in silence until the rest of the house went quiet as well. And in that cold, dark silence an idea came to me. An idea that was so perfect and grotesque that I sometimes wonder if the Devil didn’t whisper it to me himself.