There's Something Wrong with Dad
Fifteen years ago, something terrible happened to my family. It's taken a lot of therapy and drugs to help me cope with it. I still think about those days a lot. I can't seem to get some of the images out of my mind. They scare me, they keep me up at night. I want to forget, but I can't seem to.
My therapist told me I should write it all out. She said that it would help purge some of these memories. I'm not sure if I believe her, but I'm going to try. I have to. I need peace of mind. I can't keep living like this.
A couple things you need to know before I begin: 1) My family didn't believe in technology. We didn't have a TV, a computer, a phone, anything. My dad believed those things would rot your brain out and he was always happy to tell people just that. 2) My family didn't like to be bothered. Our house was out in the hills down a dirt road. We didn't have neighbors. We didn't have company. It was just us. My mom, my dad, and my brother Jay. My mom home-schooled us and my dad would take his truck into town to work at the bank.
I wouldn't say we were an unhappy family. My mom, Ann, was caring, kind, and had a passive way of dealing with things. She was a soft-spoken submissive woman. My brother, Jay, was two years younger than me. I loved my brother. He was a troublemaker and I constantly had to cover for him, hiding some of his more mischievous actions from our parents.
And then there was my father, Henry. He was an old-fashion kind of man. Strict, but honest. He believed in a moral code, believed in being an upstanding example, and was a hard-working provider for our small family.
That was before everything went bad.
That was before my father changed.
I was sitting at the breakfast table happily munching my toast. My six-year-old brother sat across from me, slurping down his milk. My father walked into the kitchen and asked Jay to stop being so rude before going to my mother and pecking her on the cheek, bidding her good morning.
My mother smiled and helped him with his tie, telling him his lunch was packed for the day and to come home safe. My dad threw on his sports jacket and grabbed his briefcase from the kitchen counter. He ruffled my hair and leaned down next to me.
"Are you going to be good for your mom today, champ?" He asked. This close, I could smell his cologne, his face freshly shaved. He was a good-looking man, tall and dark with broad shoulders. I had always looked up to him and admired his physicality.
"Yeah, dad, I'll be good," I answered.
Smiling, my dad went to my brother and asked him the same. My brother shrugged his shoulders, a goofy grin on his face. One of his front teeth was loose and it stuck out at an angle, the object of much fruitless wiggling.
"Maybe today that'll come out," my dad said, examining it.
He kissed Jay on the forehead and said goodbye to my mother, blowing her a kiss, and was out the door. As I finished my toast, I heard him fire up the truck and back it down the gravel driveway.
My mother began cleaning up the breakfast dishes, telling Jay and me to finish up and fetch our school books. I hated school, as all children do. I thought it was boring and a waste of time. The woods and hills were more interesting to me than words and pencils.
Groaning, I brushed the crumbs from my shirt and motioned for Jay to come with me to our room to collect our school supplies.
The day passed like so many before it. Jay and I sat at the kitchen table, doing our school work, listening to our mother, and trying not to die of boredom. At lunch, my mother made us peanut butter sandwiches and we were allowed to go outside for an hour. This was always my favorite part of the school day.
Jay and I bound from our house and went to the woods. We climbed trees, threw rocks at each other, and then finally took turns rolling down the grassy hill we lived on. I remember how warm it was that day, the June heat foreshadowing an even hotter July.
We heard our mother calling us back in and we obeyed, steeling ourselves for the final stretch of schoolwork. Hours seemed like years in that kitchen, but three o'clock always came. When the hands on the old clock made a right angle, we were allowed to close our books for the day.
That evening, Jay and I decided to make paper airplanes on the living room floor as my mother prepared supper. I remember the delicious smells wafting through the house as we folded newspapers into planes. Jay had just finished his first one, holding it up proudly, when dad came home.
From the second he walked into the door, I knew it was going to be a bad night. We all have those memories of our fathers, probably when his temper got the better of him and everyone was on eggshells. This was different though. There was an aura of tension around him that I had never seen before.
He didn't say anything when he walked in, just tossed his coat over the back of a chair and put his briefcase down. My mother turned from the stove and smiled at him, welcoming him home and asking how his day was. Dad said nothing, just going to the sink and filling a glass of water. He drained it in one long gulp and set the glass down.
He turned to Jay and me, something hard and dark in his eyes.
"What are you doing?" He asked, his tone sharp.
"Look, dad, it's a B52 Bomber!" Jay said proudly, swooping his paper plane through the air.
My father took a step forward suddenly and snatched it from his hand, examining it. He lowered the plane and stared at us, "Is this the paper I was reading this morning?"
I swallowed. Yep, dad was in a bad mood.
"I told them they could use it, I thought you were finished reading it," my mother intervened.
My dad turned to her, "Well, maybe you should ask me next time. Do you think you can handle that?"
My mom blinked, "I'm sorry, honey. I didn't think it was a big deal."
My dad said nothing, just pulled a kitchen chair out and sat down, watching us. I felt uncomfortable. I felt like he was looking for an excuse to be angry. He wasn't usually like this, but there had been a time or two his anger had gotten the better of him. For the most part, though, he wasn't a violent or even loud person.
"Bad day at the bank, dear?" my mother asked, stirring a pot full of sauce she was preparing.
My dad turned to look at her, "I had the worst day I've ever had." He shook his head, "You can't even imagine. None of you can. The things I go through to put food on this table."
My mother turned and frowned, "Aw, I'm sorry to hear that. Can I get you a beer?"
My mom went to the fridge and pulled one out, handing it to him and putting a hand on my dad's shoulder reassuringly.
My dad went to twist the top off, but pulled his hand away with a snarl, "Ow! Shit! Of course, it's not a twist top, why would it be!" I could see a drop of blood on my dad's hand from where the cap had cut him. I began to look for an excuse to leave the room before dinner.
"Relax, dear, I'll get you a bottle opener," my mom said, trying to cool his rising temper.
My dad shook his head, "Oh, don't bother!" Raising his arm, he smashed the neck of the beer against the table and shattered it. He poured the beer from the fragmented neck into a glass before tossing the empty bottle toward the trash can. It missed and shattered on the floor.
"Henry!" my mom said, her voice a soft hiss.
My dad took a long pull and set the glass down hard on the table, "Maybe next time you should get the twist-off caps. Maybe you should think about me every once in a while."
Not wanting to fight, my mom quietly turned around and continued making dinner. My dad took another drink from the glass and looked at Jay and me. I quickly looked down at my half-made paper plane and mindlessly fiddled with it. I didn't want him to even know I existed right now.
"Tommy," my dad called me. My heart froze. I looked up at him, panicked.
"Were you good today?" he asked. "Was Tommy a good boy for mommy?" His voice was condescending and his eyes bore into mine.
He drained the rest of his beer, staring at me, before putting it down and muttering, "You better have been."
As my brother and I tried to melt into the floor, my dad stood and went to the bedroom to get changed out of his work clothes. I let out a sigh of relief and looked at Jay. He grimaced at me and shook his head, his loose tooth jutting from his upper lip.
"Be good tonight," I whispered urgently to him.
I picked up my plane and decided to stash it in my bedroom. I didn't want to give my dad any excuse to flip out tonight. Out of sight, out of mind.
As I walked down the hallway toward my bedroom, I passed my parents' room. I glanced inside and saw my dad.
He was standing by the bed, shirtless and facing the door. For a split second, I froze, expecting him to bark at me for something. But then I saw he had his hands over his eyes, his elbows jutting away from his body. He didn't move a muscle, just stood like that silently, like he had been turned to stone.
I didn't know what to make of it, the odd display unnerving me. I didn't stick around to find out what he was doing and quickly scooted down the hall to my room. I deposited my plane on my dresser just as I heard my mom call everyone for supper.
Jay and I trotted to the table as my mom placed a steaming bowl of hot spaghetti on it, smelling of garlic and basil. Jay rubbed his stomach and swooned, expressing to mom how hungry he was. I took my place at the table next to him as my father entered the kitchen.
Wordlessly, he took a seat at the head of the table, opposite my mother who shot him a cautious glance.
He folded his hands and turned to me, "Why don't you say grace for us tonight, Tommy?"
I nodded and closed my eyes, locking my fingers together, "Dear Jesus, thank -"
I jumped as my dad slammed his hand down on the table. Jay let out a little squeak and my mom visibly flinched.
My dad leaned towards me, "Now, Tommy, how do you expect Jesus to hear you when you talk so softly? Start over, but louder."
My heart was thundering in my chest and it took conscious effort to keep my voice from shaking. My father's outburst was so sudden and out of character for him that I didn't know how to respond.
I lowered my head and began again, "Dear Jesus, thank you for the food, and thank you for Mom who made it." After a pause, I added, "And thank you for Dad who goes to work for it. Amen."
My mom echoed my "amen" and told me that was a nice prayer. Jay was staring at my dad, unease blooming in his eyes.
Dad looked at the bowl of spaghetti and I saw his jaw clench, "This again. I guess it's not your fault, Ann, that you can't cook anything but noodles. It's not like your family had the money to send you to college to make something of yourself."
My mom looked up at him, shock rippling across her face. My dad met her stare, his face carved from stone. He was daring her to say something to him, anything. Wisely, my mom lowered her eyes and began spooning out the steaming spaghetti.
Jay immediately dug into his, twirling his fork around the sauced noodles and shoving them hungrily into his mouth. I winced as he slurped down a mouthful, causing the red gravy to squirt from his lips.
My dad turned to him, his eyes icy, "Jay. What have I told you about being rude at the table?"
Jay froze, fork halfway to his mouth, "U-uh..." he stuttered, mind blanking.
My dad curled a finger at him, "Come here. Now."
I felt my heart sink into my guts and turn to rot. I was breathing heavily, not wanting my brother to be in any kind of trouble. I watched as he slid from his chair, fear in his eyes.
"Bring me your plate," he said in that same iron voice.
Jay turned and took his plate, slowly walking it over to stand in front of my dad. My father looked him over, shaking his head, his mouth twisting into a grimace.
"I didn't raise a pig," he said darkly, "But if you insist on being one, you're going to eat like one."
He suddenly grabbed Jay's plate and threw it on the floor, shattering it and spraying spaghetti everywhere. I jumped in my seat again, forcing my eyes away and praying I'd disappear. My mom gasped and her mouth fell open.
My dad pointed to the floor, "Go ahead, son, if you're so desperate to be a barnyard animal, you can eat like one!"
Jay looked at my mom and I could tell he was on the brink of crying, unsure what to do, begging someone for help.
"Henry, don't you think you're overreacting a little bit?" my mom ventured timidly.
My dad slammed his hands down again, his voice rising, "Ann, if you don't raise these kids to be-gggungrate-hate it when the wind blows north!"
Everyone paused. I chanced a glance at my dad. What? It sounded like he had switched sentences midway through. My mom said nothing, waiting for her husband to continue. Jay sniffled beside me and I reached out a hand and took his, squeezing it gently.
My dad blinked and one of his eyes rolled up into his head and then righted itself. It happened so fast I almost didn't see it. He cleared his throat and gave his head a quick shake.
My father blinked a few more times and then looked at me and Jay. He saw me holding his hand, Jay on the brink of tears.
"Tommy, let go of your brother's hand," he said, his eye twitching slightly.
I obeyed, our sweaty palms separating. I watched my father, food forgotten, my throat dry and my mouth parched. I didn't understand why he was acting like this. I had never seen him this hostile toward us. I knew that sometimes when he had a bad day at work he came home frustrated... but never like this.
What had happened today?
My father looked at me in my seat, waving Jay to sit back down, "Tommy, your brother was being punished. Do you know why I punish you boys? It's so that you understand right from wrong. Now, I just saw you trying to comfort your brother." He leaned toward me, his breath hot, "That tells me that you're on his side. That tells me you think it's ok to act like a pig at my table."
I shook my head frantically, "N-no I just wanted -"
My dad cut me off with a wave of his hand, "Stop. I don't want to have to punish you for lying as well."
He patted the tabletop, "Put your hand on the table."
I shot my mom a terrified look, begging her for help. Her eyes were wide and her face pale. She didn't know how to react, had never seen her husband so cruel or sharp with us. She was speechless, afraid that saying something would antagonize my dad further.
"On the table," my dad repeated, his voice hardening.
Hand shaking, I placed it on the table, palm down. Jay had started to cry next to me, tears dripping from his cheeks.
My dad picked up his fork.
"Henry," my mom whispered, eyes wide.
I looked at my dad, fighting back my own tears, fear choking me.
My father gripped the fork, "You need to understand that -" he stopped suddenly, coughing hard, and then gasped in a dry voice, "Don't you hate the wind in the north?!"
He dropped the fork on the table and his mouth fell open, his tongue stretching to his chin. His eye began to twitch rapidly and he rubbed it viciously, closing his mouth and gritting his teeth.
None of us moved, paralyzed by the odd display. I had no idea what he was talking about or why he was acting like this. Something was wrong with him, that much was clear.
After a few seconds, my dad lowered his hand from his face and smiled at all of us, "I think you boys understand now. Remember what I said and we won't have to do that again, ok?"
Jay and I nodded vigorously, desperate to get away from the tension, the table, all of this. I felt like I was stuck in some alternate reality, a nightmare I was just waiting to wake from.
My dad pointed to the floor, "Tommy, could you please clean up that mess?"
As I scrambled to comply, he turned his eyes to my mother, looking her up and down where she sat. He began to twirl a spoon in his hand and got a strange look in his eye. It was as if he was evaluating her as a person, taking in all her physical features.
As I was scraping globs of spaghetti into the trash, I heard my father say, "Jay, can you go around to the back of the house and get me a brick?" I heard my brother get up and open the side door to the outside, the hinges creaking in their familiar way.
"Henry, what's wrong?" I heard my mom ask in a hushed voice. Even as I sponged up the mess, I could hear the fear in her voice.
My dad didn't respond. I finished wiping sauce from the floor just as Jay shuffled back into the house. He held a brick in his hands, dirt staining his fingers. With downcast eyes, he brought it to my father and placed it on the table next to him.
My dad turned to the both of us, his voice cold steel, "Now both of you, go to your room for the night. I'm going to fuck your mother."
I heard my mom gasp as Jay and I turned away. I took my brother's hand in mine, heart racing. I was terrified. I rarely heard my dad use that kind of language before and never in such an abrasive manner. As we quickly walked to our room, I looked at Jay and saw his face was a mess of snot, drool, and tear-streaked terror. His eyes were wet and wide with confusion. He didn't understand any of this, didn't understand why his father was being so mean to him. I didn't either and so I gave his hand a little squeeze, unsure what else to do.
We closed the door to our bedroom and stared at each other. We could hear our dad yelling loudly in the kitchen, his voice rising. Jay covered his ears and ran to his bed, collapsing into his pillow. I went to him and put a hand on his back as he cried, his sobs muffled in the cotton.
Then I heard my mom start to scream.
I felt tears spill from my eyes and I began to hyperventilate, each breath a desperate attempt for oxygen. I covered my ears and squeezed my eyes shut as something crashed to the floor in the kitchen. More banging followed and all the while my mother continued to shriek, her voice rising to an inhuman level. There was agony in her cries along with fear and I kept waiting for her to stop.
But she didn't.
It kept going.
Jay was weeping now, shaking his head into his pillow, trying to block out the sound. His whole body was shaking and it sounded like he was having trouble breathing. I laid down next to him and clutched his body to mine, my own tears spilling into his hair. I didn't know what to do, didn't know when this horrible nightmare would end.
I heard another crash as something shattered in the kitchen. I heard my mother howling and the screech of table legs on the hardwood floor. I heard Jay praying to god, his voice trembling. I clutched him tighter, realizing that I was sobbing as well. My whole body felt like it was a quivering mass of jello, my muscles weak and useless. I was more terrified than I had ever been in my life.
Finally, my mother stopped screaming. A soft hush fell over the house. I didn't hear anything except the blood pumping in my ears. Jay had quieted to a series of soft sniffles, his face still buried in the pillow. I looked up from the bed, staring at the closed bedroom door. I begged it to remain shut.
I heard movement in the house, footsteps that came down the hall and stopped on the other side of the wall, in my parents' bedroom. I heard shuffling and then a door shut. I waited. I prayed.
Jay shifted next to me and I told him to be quiet, wiping tears from his face and holding him close. More footsteps in the house, heavy slow paces. I thought for sure my mom was dead. People didn't scream like that and live.
Our bedroom door opened.
Jay let out a little scream and shrunk into me as my dad entered.
He was crawling on all fours, his mouth hanging open, drool running down his chin, his eyes rolled back into his head. He shuffled side to side across the floor, slowly opening and closing his mouth, spittle leaking from his face. He was blinking rapidly, one of his eyes rolling forward to stare at us.
After a few seconds, he coughed, hacking up phlegm. Growling, he wiped his lips and stood, looking down at us cowering on the bed.
"Come with me," he said, his voice a low rattle in his chest.
I didn't move. Jay shrunk further against me. I could feel his body shaking against mine, sweat beading on his skin.
My dad took a step towards us, "Get up, both of you, right now."
"Where's Mom?" I asked, voice trembling.
He was standing in front of us now, "She's resting. She's had a long day. Now get up."
Jay shifted against me and then he was sliding to the floor. Without much choice, I followed his example. My dad placed a hand on each of our shoulders and guided us toward the door. As we were directed through the house, I listened for my mother. What had he done to her? Where was she? Was she dead in the bedroom? I didn't hear anything, no clues as to her condition or where she was.
We entered the kitchen and I saw that the table was pressed against the cabinets and a few of the dinner glasses lay shattered on the floor. I expected to see blood smeared across the floor or dripping down the surfaces, but there was none.
At least, that was until I saw the brick.
It had been placed on the counter by the sink. Half of it was soaked with thick, oozing blood.
When I saw it, I felt my body tense up. My dad must have felt the change in my stance because his grip tightened on my shoulder. Jay was sniffling beside me, his eyes cast down, refusing to look up and potentially see the horrors my father had bestowed on my mother.
My dad pushed us through the side door, outside. The night air was humid and sticky on the skin. A fat yellow moon hung in the sky like an out-of-place Christmas ornament. Stars twinkled across the black canvas and my ears were filled with the sound of chirping night critters. Contrary to inside, everything felt alive out here, pulsing in unison with the night's dark heartbeat.
We were led around to the back of the house, toward our old shed. My dad didn't keep much out there, just a few tools and the rickety lawn mower, both of which weren't used much throughout the year. I didn't like the shed, something about it always haunted me. At night, as I lay in bed, I would imagine some creature hiding inside, waiting until I fell asleep before emerging and creeping into my room to watch me.
Jay and I jerked to a halt as my dad squeezed our shoulders.
"Wait here," he said, his voice sounding far away and strange. I glanced over my shoulder and saw he was rubbing his eyes.
"I want to go back in, I want mom," Jay sobbed, wiping his nose with the back of his hand.
"You can go in when - came up and traveled in the wind," my dad said, his sentence fracturing into two nonsensical statements. He coughed hard and stuck his tongue out like he had a bad taste on it. I saw a shudder wrack his body and he looked like he was about to gag. He gained control of himself with a quick shake of his head, closing his mouth so hard his teeth clicked together.
I watched as he came around us and walked toward the shed. He looked back, making sure we were obeying, and then went inside. Jay looked at me, his eyes full of fear. He expected me to have some kind of explanation, an answer to the madness that surrounded us. I couldn't summon the words to comfort him, didn't know what combination of soothing syllables I could possibly string together to calm his terror.
"What is he going to do to us?" he whispered, the warm moonlight shining in his eyes.
"It's going to be okay," I said softly, the words tasting like a lie.
We heard movement from the shed, our father's actions hidden behind the closed door. A warm breeze stirred the distant trees and the night was filled with the sound of rustling leaves. My hair danced across my forehead in the wind and I begged to blow away with it. Jay and I remained frozen in place, neither of us knowing which would be worse: facing whatever my father was preparing or running away and facing the wrath that came after. It's not like we had anywhere to run; where could we possibly go? Who could we flee to? Our minds were trapped inside our youth, doomed to the almighty authority of our father.
The shed door opened, snapping me out of my thoughts. My dad stepped back into the night, his figure draped in shadows and dark moonlight.
"Both of you, get inside," he ordered.
Jay grasped my arm as we shuffled forward, our father stepping aside to let us pass. The smell of rotting wood and old grass assaulted my senses and I rubbed my hand across my nose, trying to scrub the stench away. My dad had illuminated the cramped space with an old electric lantern. It sat on the workbench on the right, our small lawnmower catching the light on its dull metal surface. Tools piled around the lantern, an array of rusted hammers, screwdrivers, and pliers. I couldn't remember the last time my dad had actually used any of them.
But all of that was seen with a passing glance. That wasn't what held my attention. Something else did, my eyes drawn to it like fire and gasoline. Jay's fingernails dug into my skin as he saw it too, his breath catching in his lungs.
A noose hung from the crossbeam, dangling down into the empty space. The rope was knotted tight, the twisting cords more menacing than anything on the workbench.
My dad entered behind us, shutting the door.
He went and stood by the noose, motioning me forward, "Come on now, Tommy, let's get this over with."
"D-dad," I croaked, mouth dry and voice cracking like a dead twig, "W-what are you going to d-do?" My heart was pressed against my ribs, throwing itself against bone, a wild beast in my chest.
Dad traced the hanging loop with his fingers, "You're going to be my wind chime, son. I need to know when the wind will blow north. I think you'll make a good chime, once I empty your insides out. But I'll do that after."
"Why are you doing this, Daddy?" Jay cried, wet tears rolling down his cheeks.
He didn't answer, just waited for me to go to him. I didn't move, didn't know what to do. Was he serious about going through with this? He couldn't be, this was my father! He loved me, he would never do anything to seriously hurt me.
At that age, blind trust is a dangerous thing. It filled me, the memories and kindness my dad had shown me over the years. I trusted him. He was my father. But that darkness in his eye, that black spark, it terrified me. Reality and faith collided together in my mind like oil and water, the mixture churning my stomach in sick horror.
My father gripped the hanging rope, "If you don't come over here right now, I'm going to use Jay instead."
I felt my brother bury his face into my side, weeping "no, no, no, no, no" over and over again, his tears damp on my shirt. I wrapped an arm around his head, feeling his sweaty hair brush over my skin. My heart was audible in my ears, my lips cracked and dry, breath coming in stuttering heaves.
"D-dad," I cried, feeling myself begin to cry, "Dad, I don't want to. Please dad..." My face was flushed as the fear came bubbling out of my skin in wet streaks.
My father suddenly reached out and grabbed me, gripping my arm and yanking me toward the rope. I let out a cry and fell towards him, his hands hard and strong. He pushed and shoved me, positioning me under the rope, its shadow a dark halo over my head.
Jay was screaming openly, his face red and terrified. He just stood there, helpless, as my father pulled the noose down and slid it over my head.
Dad's going to hang me.
The thought hit me like a knife to the heart. My knees were weak and knocked together, my whole body trembling in horrific anticipation. The rope around my neck scratched and rubbed against my skin, coarse and itchy. This was really about to happen. Up until this point, I didn't believe my father was capable of such sins, especially to his own son. My dad was my hero, a strong supportive pillar, and an example to my brother and me.
And now I waited with bated breath for him to kill me.
"Here we go," Dad said, positioning himself behind me and grabbing the dangling end of the rope that hung from the cross beam.
I heard a tightening of cords, the rope stretching and straining.
Suddenly my throat was clamped with hot fire, a burning agony that cut up into my chin as I was lifted off my feet. I kicked my legs frantically, impossibly helpless, my hands grabbing at my neck.
I couldn't get my fingers between the rope and my skin, the tension denying any space to dig my nails into.
My head swelled and I felt the blood in my face ready to pop out of my eyes and mouth. I hacked and coughed, horrible gagging retches exploding from my lips as I tried to breathe. My vision began to swim and colors began to blend.
I felt myself dying.
Suddenly, the pain was gone, the halo of fire around my throat vanishing. I felt my knees hit the hard floor and I crumpled into myself. I sucked in deep lungfuls of air, the oxygen never tasting any sweeter in my life.
As the world began to focus again, I realized my father was screaming. I blinked back the dizziness and focused my eyes, pushing the shadows away.
My father was against the back wall, clutching his side and howling as blood bubbled from his shirt. Jay stood next to him, weeping, screaming, his right arm soaked with blood up to his elbow.
He was holding a rusty box cutter, its blade dripping.
"Don't hurt Tommy!" Jay was howling through wet eyes, "Don't hurt him, Dad!"
Hand pressed to his side, my dad swiped at Jay, trying to snatch the box cutter. Jay jerked back and almost tripped over himself, letting out another shriek.
"Look what you did to me!" My dad grimaced, pulling his hand away and revealing a deep gash in his side, his shirt tattered and red.
I struggled to my feet, reaching out and pulling Jay towards me. I took the box cutter from him and put a hand on my throbbing head.
"I'm okay, it's going to be okay," I tried to reassure him.
Suddenly my dad lunged for me, pushing himself off the wall using his back. Without thinking, I slashed at him, a purely defensive reaction.
Time seemed to slow as I watched the blade catch my dad in the arm, the blade eating into his skin. It cut through the flesh like soft butter, parting his wrist like a bloody zipper. Blood squirted into my eyes and I heard my dad scream, pulling his arm back and cradling it on his chest.
He slumped to the floor, his face pale and full of fury. He was breathing hard and I could tell it wouldn't be long before he steadied himself and was at us again.
I grabbed Jay and ran from the shed, the night behind us filling with howls of rage.
As the air hit our tear-stained faces, I suddenly noticed trucks roaring down the road and up our driveway. They were bulky and loud, the diesel engines growling toward us. Blinding white lights cut paths through the night, shining across my bloody face as two, three, then four of them stopped in front of our house.
They were camouflaged. Even at that age, I knew they were military.
What is going on? My exhausted, terrified mind asked.
I pulled Jay close to me and advanced on them, unsure what they were doing here, but desperately needing help.
Two men emerged from a white van, dressed in hazmat suits. They sent a shiver of fear coursing through me as they charged Jay and me, yelling and waving their arms. I froze in the yard, Jay trembling beside me.
Men in uniform poured from the other vehicles, guns drawn, all pointing at us. They all had gas masks on and it gave them a chilling, inhuman look in the moonlight.
Everyone was shouting as the men in the hazmat suits approached Jay and me. I backed up a step as they got close, gripping the box cutter in my bloody hand. I didn't know who these people were or why they were pointing guns at us. I needed to protect Jay. He had been through enough, we both had.
"It's okay kid, it's ok!" one of the men in the suits said, raising his hands. The other one had a pistol drawn, scanning the yard.
"Where is he?" the one with the pistol asked.
I stammered, mind blanking in fear and confusion.
"Your dad, where's your dad, kid?" the first one asked. Through the suit, I could see blue eyes reflecting back at me.
"He's in there!" Jay cried suddenly, pointing to the shed, "He wanted to hurt Tommy so I cut him! I had to! I'm sorry, I didn't want Tommy to die!"
The first one looked at the one with the pistol and gave a quick nod. I watched as he trotted over to the shed and peeked inside. He looked back and gave the three of us a wave and then a thumbs up to the men in gas masks.
Then he entered the shed.
And I heard him kill my father.
The gunshot exploded in the night and I jumped, the finality of it deafening.
I stood there, dumbfounded, bloody, confused, and terrified. I didn't know who these men were, what they were doing here, or why they had just shot my dad. I clutched Jay to my side who was staring up at me with giant round eyes.
"Did... did that man just kill Dad?" he asked, his voice a shaky whisper.
The man in the hazmat suit shook his head. "Son, you don't have anything to worry about. It's going to be okay now. He won't try to hurt you anymore."
Someone was yelling behind him and I glanced over his shoulder to see that the men in masks had gone into our house. One of them was calling for a medic, frantically waving his hand to get inside.
My mother. I prayed she was okay, that these men could help her. I didn't know what my father had done to her, but I remembered the screams.
"W-what... what is going on?" I whispered as I watched the man with the pistol exit the shed. He was yelling at the soldiers, asking for something, my ears not registering his calls. My world was crashing down around me in inky patches of disbelief and shock.
The man knelt down in front of us, placing a hand on each of our shoulders. "Boys, I really shouldn't be the one to tell you this, especially not right now."
I looked at him with moist eyes, "My dad just tried to hang me... please..."
I could see shock ripple across his eyes through the hazmat visor. He looked at both of us, struggling with himself.
"Please," I begged, desperate to make any kind of sense of the madness.
The man sighed, "Boys... something horrible happened today. I really don't think I should be the one to tell you... but..." He looked at us again. "Boys, something bad happened by the bank where your dad worked. There was some kind of earthquake. Very minor, but it cut a deep gash in the earth. It opened up a pocket of... something... that we've never seen before. Some kind of gas. The wind carried it towards town and..." He looked to the ground, shaking his head, "It killed a lot of people. A lot of people. We're trying to contain it, keep whatever it is from spreading."
"Is that why you shot Dad?" Jay asked quietly, sniffling and rubbing his nose. "'Cause he had got the bad wind on him?"
The man looked up at both of us, his eyes fearful. "Boys... your dad died this morning along with everyone else at the bank. We took his body to containment. They're performing an autopsy on him as we speak. I'm really sorry, damn it I am."
I felt my brain bend back on itself, a mess of knotted thoughts and emotions, the words hitting me like bullets. What was this man talking about? Dad died this morning? That wasn't possible, he came home from work, just like every other day. My dad's body was lying dead in the shed. This man was lying, he had to be.
"Then who's... who's in there?" I finally asked, the question coming out in a weak dribble.
The man shook his head. "Son, whatever is lying dead in that shed... it isn't your father. You see... something else came out of the earth this morning. Something other than the poisonous gas. Something that crawled up to the surface and got out. Something that, for whatever reason, took the form of your father and drove home to you all. Witnesses saw him, it, leaving, the only one to get out. When we found your dad's body, we didn't know what to make of it. We still don't. That thing in there," he said, pointing to the shed, "We don't know what it is or what it was trying to do. But that is not your father." He shook his head, "Shit, I'm really sorry kids, I really shouldn't be telling you all this. I'm sorry about your dad, I really am." He stood up. "Come on, we need to get you to a hospital and have you checked out. It's going to be okay, I promise."
I barely heard him as Jay and I were led to the trucks. I saw men carrying my mother out of the house on a stretcher. She was alive and barely conscious, but when she saw us she reached out and called our names.
Jay started crying again and sprinted to her. I wanted to as well but found I didn't have the strength.
Everything the man had told me twisted and coiled around my mind. None of it made sense. None of it could possibly be real. It couldn't be. How could my entire life change so drastically in one night? What was going to happen to us now? Where were they taking us? Were we going to be ok? At the time, I didn't know.
I felt someone grasp something out of my hand and I realized one of the soldiers was trying to pry the box cutter out of my grip. I let go, the rusty metal peeling away from my palm, blood staining it in sticky red splotches.
What had happened tonight?
I looked back and saw the men in hazmat suits pulling my dad's dead body from the shed and zipping it up in a clear plastic body bag.
A final thought ripped through the madness.
What the hell is that thing?