I’ve been riding since I was six. It’s always felt natural and effortless. It’s nothing but the wind in my hair, the steady, pulsing steps propelling us forward, and a communion between woman and beast that transcends individuality. Once I’ve mounted her, we stop being separate entities. We become a singular machine with one, undeniable purpose: motion.
Sometime around my 14th birthday, I concluded that a saddle and bridle defiled the purity of the riding experience. They were training wheels. They had to be taken away before I could consider myself a real rider. So I insisted that I learn to ride bareback.
It was much harder than I’d anticipated. I fell often. I had a terrible time trying to get Millie to obey my commands. There were many occasions when she would roam in random directions and I couldn’t turn her. But I learned. Gradually, I learned.
I began wearing spurs. When I dug them into Millie’s sides, she’d whimper and stomp the ground, but she learned quickly that the pain meant it was time to move. The harder I spurred her, the faster she was to go. Before long, she knew I was in control again. I’d grab the thick hair by her ears and pull her head in one direction or another, depending on where I wanted us to go. My thighs would ache as I held on, but slowly, methodically, our oneness was reinstated. Our purpose was renewed. We were speed. We were power.
On the morning I’d intended to ride through sprawling, wooded acres of our property, I stepped outside to find a note on the doorstep. It was from our stable hand. With a growing sensation of rage and contempt, I read every messy, scribbled word that he’d written. He was reprimanding me for my treatment of Millie. He called me cruel. In the envelope, along with his note, were photographs of bloody streaks on her side from my spurs and raw patches from when I’d pulled her hair too hard and it had come away in my hands.
The audacity of the stable hand – the stable boy – infuriated me. When my parents died, they’d left me everything. Their fortune. Their land. Their stables. And, most importantly, Millie. Millie was my property. That the servant in charge of caring for my property could have the temerity to scold his better was incomprehensible. It was seditious. It was vulgar.
In a rage, I stormed down the hill to the stables and saw him brushing Millie’s hair. He saw me coming with the envelope in my hand. The fear blooming in his dull eyes gifted me with a modicum of satisfaction, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t nearly enough.
I pulled a riding crop from the wall and beat the cowering worker across his face and neck. I screamed at him and demanded that he not cover himself. He obeyed. Blood poured out of the thin, deep canyons I left in his flesh. With one, final swing, I watched his left eye split as the tip of the crop carved through the organ.
Millie paced around her stall, frightened. I saw the scabs on her head and sides that’d been featured so prominently in the photographs. I unlatched the door and beckoned her out. She looked in the direction of the stable hand and saw the blood on the floor. She hesitated. I screamed for the hand to leave, and he did. After a moment, Millie stepped out of the stall.
Her towering bulk trotted into the aisle. She brushed up against me, obviously happy I was there. I looked at my watch. There was still enough time to ride. I patted her on the butt, and she knelt down.
“Good Millie,” I whispered. My spurs clinked on the wood floor. “Now, up!”
She lifted me with one massive arm and placed me on her hunched, twisted back. Her misshapen breasts dangled as she arched, then moaned slightly as I gripped her thick, black hair. She turned her head, and for a moment, I was startled by how familiar a portion of her profile looked. That one, small sector of her deformed face looked like me. It looked like our mother. The memory brought a tear to my eye. I gathered myself.
“Let’s go,” I ordered my older sister, and with a grunt of assent and a whimper of pain as she felt my spurs, we galloped off into the dewy morning.
He said I’d feel better after a while; that my pain would fade along with his memory. His words echoed throughout the husk he’d left. My soul had been cored out and left to rot.
I tossed and turned, night after night, as I imagined him with the one who made him happy. My replacement. The thought of their sex didn’t bother me. It was the intimacy after – the quiet bliss when I was the furthest thing from his mind. Just days following the dissolution of our multi-year couplehood, the one which whom he’d spent so much of his life was on her way to being forgotten.
I was forgotten.
I sought an oblivion to mask my pain; anything to dull the omnipresent savagery of loss. Memories of our happiness felt false. I wondered how long he hated me before he finally let me know it was over. How long was I happy while he was miserable? How much of his life had I stolen, oblivious to his diminishing love? I knew it was all in my mind. And my mind screamed as cascades of neurotransmitters reinforced my feelings of profound, hideous dejection.
Then I had an idea.
Part of me felt sad about how easy it was to buy heroin.
The first pet store I visited had the rats I wanted. I brought them home and fed them a solution of sugar water and heroin. They died soon after. I knew the last moment of their lives had been their best.
While they were still warm, I removed their brains and ate them. I wanted to absorb the physical manifestation of their joy.
I know a small portion of the euphoria I experienced following my meal was from the trace amounts of heroin I’d ingested. But it lasted longer than a drug high. It lasted for days. For three full days, the thought of him didn’t send me into a self-destructive spiral. Quite the contrary; I felt like I was growing. I was getting over him.
At the end of the three days, the pain came back. Nightmares flooded the sleep that’d once been a respite. The fact remained: I was gradually being forgotten. I was being replaced. Someone was creating new memories with the person I love. I couldn’t let that happen.
More rats, more heroin. Another respite. Two days, though. Only two. It wasn’t working the way I’d hoped. The root of the problem was still there. Every passing day, I was becoming less clear in his mind. The prospect being forgotten was infinitely worse than forgetting him. The former made the latter impossible.
My moment of serendipity occurred while I was throwing the dead rats down the garbage chute.
He answered his phone when I called. To this day, I feel terrible for lying to him. He rushed over, as strong and protective as ever, to see who’d hurt me. When he was sitting down, I came behind him and injected a lethal dose of heroin into the side of his neck. He punched me, hard, before his pupils dilated. Before he stopped breathing, he smiled at me.
“Kate,” he whispered, “to think I’d almost forgotten how beautiful you are.” He exhaled a long, quiet breath. His dilated eyes never left mine as he blinked once or twice, almost as if he were wondering why he didn’t feel the need to inhale anymore. When he died, his smile remained.
I opened his head. It took longer than I’d expected. I made sure to keep cleaning off his face. His smile urged me to go on. After an hour, I stared at the mass inside his skull that was him. His essence. His everything.
I didn’t know what part did what. I just knew it was all him, so it was all important. Over the course of a few days, I consumed him as he smiled. Each morsel had the potential to be a piece that contained his memory of me. All his memories of the good times. All his memories of the beauty we experienced. The closeness.
When his skull was empty, I felt different. I wasn’t euphoric, like I’d felt after the rats. I felt better. I was at peace. This was my closure. I’d ensured that I wouldn’t be forgotten. The one I loved was with me again. Forever. And together, we could be free to make new memories.
There’s nothing scary about the woods. Sorry guys. Or, should I say, sorry kids. I get it. You all saw Blair Witch Project or read some shitty “creepypasta” BS online and suddenly some of the most beautiful places in the world are havens for demons or zombies or whatever garbage is lining the pockets of writers these days. But guess what: it’s all your imagination. Look, I remember being a kid. My mind would go all over the place: ghosts, goblins, aliens, blah blah blah. You know what happened, though? I hit 13. I saw the real world.
Here’s why I’m so irritated about all this “oooh I’m too scared to go into the woods now” bullshit. I live near a state park. There are quite a few local businesses that used to thrive because of the high number of hikers, picnickers, and daytrippers during the spring, summer, and fall. But over the last couple years, perfectly coinciding with those idiot kids one-upping each other to cry about how scared they are, these businesses have lost a ton of money. Yes, I own one of them. An ice cream stand.
I could see the trend starting, too. Pasty white, black-clad preteens on vacation with their parents would whine about being too frightened to go on a mile-long hike along a pristine trail just because there were spooky trees around. All while shoveling ice cream into their soft faces. I thought back to what my father would’ve done if I complained about being too much of a baby to walk around outside for an afternoon. The only ice cream he’d have bought would’ve been for me to put on my black eye.
So I’ve lost money because of this shit. My buddies lost money, too. Spouses divorced each other, kids ended up not going to the colleges they wanted to, and the local economy, aside from the revenue from skiers in the winter, went to hell. And it’s all because of those little assholes who think fragile bleating and cowering in fear is more desirable than strength and resiliency. I weep for the future.
My ice cream stand is supposed to reopen on March 1st. Already, though, I can tell it’s going to be a brutal season. The pervasiveness of those online stories about “creepy things in the woods” and “omg I can’t believe what I found in this diary while I was hiking” has just grown and grown. When I look through the comments on the ridiculous websites that showcase that trash, I see adults, ADULTS, saying how terrified they are to even go out in their backyards because they think some skinny guy in a suit or a troll monster is going to possess them or something.
Never once have the authors of that garbage thought about how their recklessness is destroying small businesses. Before my wife died, I used to be able to look out from my back porch and see families hiking through the woods, kids skipping stones across the pond, and dads teaching their sons or daughters how to safely build a fire using sticks. Now, there’s just the timeless woods and a devastated economy. The childish dopes succeeded in scaring themselves away from nature and they screwed up the livelihoods of real people in the process.
Thankfully, every now and then, a family will walk by the house and do the things I used to see before all that “I’m too scared” horseshit started. The other day, for the first time in nearly three years, a young couple braved the melting snow and mud and set up a tent right on the outskirts of my property. Do you know how happy it made me to finally see some people who weren’t afraid of ghosts or haunted woods?
I must’ve stayed in the tent until the sun came up, enjoying their warm, young meat. The woman died instantly but her husband or boyfriend or whatever remained alive for hours. The only benefit of such a low population of hikers nowadays is that not a single person heard him screaming as he watched me eat the most tender morsels of his partner before I unleashed my appetite on him. Another bonus: they were in a tent! I just had to wrap it around them and drag them back to the house. No fuss, no muss.
After all my complaining, I have to admit, finding two people who were brave enough to go out in the woods helped me feel better. It showed me they didn’t follow trends and did their own thing, just like in the old days. It doesn’t entirely make up for the lost wages and the harm to our local economy, but it’s still something. That knowledge, plus a freezer full of meat that’ll last me through the spring, helps warm my cynical heart.
I remember the man with the soft teeth. He’d come into my room at night and bite me over and over. The bites didn’t hurt and they left no marks. All I felt was pressure.
The first time I saw his face, I was terrified. His eyes were different. Instead of two eye sockets, he had nine. They were clustered in front of his face and up his forehead like a honeycomb. Two on top, four in the middle, three on the bottom. The sockets didn’t house eyeballs. There was a single, thin eyestalk growing from the center of each hole. Each stalk swayed in front of his face like long grass in the breeze.
When he’d visit me, I’d lose the ability to move or scream. All I could do was watch. After a week of visits and my parents not believing a word that came out of my mouth, I thought sleeping with the light on might keep him away. That was the night he started biting my face.
The man would always move slowly and with great care. Every motion seemed calculated and precise; I didn’t know what he was doing, but I had no doubt he did.
The first time he got close, I saw the inside of his mouth. Like his eyes, his teeth were unlike any I’d seen. There were three rows of bulbous growths pushing from an array of holes in his gum line. They looked as soft as they felt. Each one was covered in fine, downy hairs. They reminded me of the fat bodies of moths.
He’d open my mouth with his index finger and thumb. Then he’d close in. I felt his eyestalks brushing against my face and forehead and eyes as he pressed his upper teeth against my lower ones. He’d close his mouth around my chin, locking my lower jaw in his mouth.
It was uncomfortable, but it didn’t hurt. He would stay there for ten minutes at a time, gradually modulating the pressure of his jaw against mine.
On the last night he visited me, he performed the same steps. Once my jaw was in his mouth, though, he applied more pressure than he’d used in the past. His eyestalks straightened out and felt like firm cables against my face. As the pressure increased, I felt his teeth start to burst against my own. One by one, the thick, insectile bodies inside his mouth succumbed to the pressure and coated my tongue and gums with thick, bitter paste. I felt his tongue, which had never been involved in our interactions before, extending over my teeth and massaging the paste into my gums. I tried to retch, but even that had been taken from me.
The man did the same with my upper teeth and palate. When he left and I could move again, I rushed to the bathroom, threw up, and brushed my teeth more times than I could count. I never saw the man again.
It’s been 25 years. I’ve been plagued by dental issues my entire adult life. Every visit brings worse news; it’s gotten to the point where I’m dealing with irreversible bone loss. Eventually, my teeth will fall out. The foundation to which they’re attached is simply deteriorating. It’s not uncommon, but it’s rare for someone my age who is otherwise in perfect health.
As if on cue, the day after my most recent trip to the dentist, I lost my first tooth. I’d felt it loosening and the dentist said it was only a matter of time. And more will follow. I scheduled an appointment to see him in three months. It was as frequently as my insurance would allow. More of my teeth started to wiggle when I poked at them with my tongue. I started to accept their fate.
Recently, my resignation has developed flickers of fear and disbelief. The tooth that fell out started to grow back. I’d never heard of such a thing. But I can see something grayish-white pushing through the raw socket. When I touch it with my tongue, it’s soft. And I can feel my tongue brushing against it, almost as if it has nerves of its own.
I’m trying not to think back to the memories of the man in my room, but it’s impossible not to. Not when more of my teeth grow looser by the day. And especially not when I have seven painful spots near my eyes and forehead that feel softer than they should.
I don’t want to bring my son into town because I know people will stare and try to interfere. You know the kind of folks I’m talking about. Gossips and busybodies. They’ll look at him and say he’s sick; that his color looks bad; that he’s lethargic. A couple men, Jehovah’s Witnesses, I think, rang the bell last week. I answered with my boy in my arms, and they had the audacity to gasp when they saw Cullen. I just slammed the door in their stupid, pious faces. I have my own faith, anyway – my Lord tells me everyone is welcome, no matter how they look.
When Cully’s mom died giving birth to him, I buried her myself. It’s what we’ve always done in our family. We’ve had six generations of Dempseys come and go. Each one is on our property, six feet underground at the foot of the rock face. No gravestones. No need to tie them to their earthly names when they’re beyond. Their memories live on through our journals and essays. It’s what my great-many-time-over grandfather, Finian Domnall Dempsey, demanded of all his children, grandchildren, and so on. It’s how our legacy will endure.
I’ll admit to not being the best father over the first couple months of Cully’s life. I often forget to feed him. Sometimes I leave him alone for hours at a time if I need to run errands. I’ve never once heard him cry or whine, though. He’s very sweet like that. Not a complainer. One thing I’ve always remembered to do, though, since it’s hard to forget, is bathe him. As the time has gone by, his smell has gotten worse and worse. In the back of my mind, I know the reason. I’m not ready to admit it yet. My boy is healthy. Strong.
FDD MICROCYCLE: Angel-Sunflower-Lamb
This was one of our shorter microcycles, as we’re nearing its end. It feels good to write an update so soon, though; only about a month after the last one. Cullen hasn’t moved. The food I tuck into his mouth, hoping he’ll swallow, just sits there and putrefies until I turn him over and let it tumble out. That thing in the back of my mind I mentioned last microcycle is hard to deny nowadays. Cully’s gone unwashed for at least three weeks. Whenever I tried to do it, he’d get damaged. I can’t bear to hurt my boy. I’ve since swaddled him up in the tiny blanket Sine had knitted for him. I wish she could’ve seen him in it. He looks so peaceful.
FDD MICROCYCLE: Archangel-Thistle-Lion
I had to stop denying the reality of Cullen’s situation today. More and more of him had leaked through the blue pastel blanket his mother had made to keep him warm and safe. The entire house smelled of death. The end of the macrocycle just made the impending trip to the rock face that much more of a necessity.
At the foot of the rock face, above the bodies of those who came before me, countless flowers grew. Their bright faces shone with hope and encouragement, doing their best to cut through the morosity I felt. I carefully placed Cullen on the grass. I unwrapped the blanket and stared at the carcass of my son. As the wind took his odor away and poured it into the woods, I thought about the long wait I’d have to endure. Another three quarters of a year until I’d see my next Angel.
The swollen torso of Cullen collapsed inward as his livid flesh melted into the grass. His little mouth stretched open, popping softly as the decayed jawbone separated. His swollen tongue pushed itself out over his nose and forehead, followed by his esophagus, stomach, and intestines. A wanton orgy of flies descended upon the viscera, only to die the moment they touched the glistening surface. From the soil beneath my beloved boy, countless black tendrils of the finest gossamer erupted in an infinitely-long, omnidirectional spread. In my mind, I remembered the last words in Finian Domnall Dempsey’s journal he’d left before inaugurating the very first macrocycle: “…and corruption will begin its inexorable metastasis in testicles and breasts and bones.”
The carcinogenic tendrils of Archangelic filaments continued their eruption until the last of my beautiful boy had dissolved into the dirt. And he was gone. I mourned for what felt like hours and watched snowdrops, sunflowers, and thistles rise from the Cullen-fertilized ground. I felt empty. Alone.
I walked back into my home, trudged down to the basement, and unlocked the cage which held the soon-mother of my future Angel. I told her what her name would be, then I handed her a ball of yarn and two needles. Sine got to work immediately. Later that afternoon, I planted the seed of the new Cullen. All that’s left for me to do is wait.
Our grandfather was obsessed with safety. Whenever my brother and I went out, he’d tell us to be careful and watch out for cars and slippery spots on the ground. If we were playing around the house, he’d demand we keep an eye out for sharp corners on the coffee table or wires we might trip over. Even when we were going to bed, he’d stand over us and warn about the dangers of our blankets getting wrapped around our necks. He’d demand that we listen to each other breathe if we ever woke up in the middle of the night. Just to make sure.
To make matters worse, he’d follow us in his pickup truck wherever we went, the loaded gun rack dissuading anyone from interfering with us. We could see him when we were in school, always parked outside, just in case anything might happen. As Reggie and I got older, we started to get tired of his nagging. We weren’t kids anymore. We didn’t need to be coddled and watched over.
When we turned 16, Reggie and I got a present very uncharacteristic of our safety-fetishizing grandfather. He’d adopted two adult dogs. Twin brothers, just like me and Reg. They were Caucasian Ovcharkas; apparently the same breed he used to work with when he was stationed in Siberia, back before he and grandma moved to the States. Over the 11 years we’d lived with him, we’d never been allowed to go near any dogs. Even little ones. “They’ll kill your brother,” he’d always say. The guilt we’d feel from that statement would always get one of us to tell the other to leave the animal alone.
The Ovcharkas were truly enormous. I’d never seen such massive dogs. They were both well over 200lbs and neither of them were overweight. When I leaned over and gave one a tentative pat, it felt like there was iron under the thick fur. Its tail didn’t wag and it didn’t look at me. Both animals just stared at grandpa. We were told their names were Mikhail and Sergey.
Reggie looked as uncomfortable as I felt. We thanked our grandfather for our gifts, but it was obvious we were unnerved. Grandpa asked us if we remembered the dog we’d had before our parents had died. Neither of us did. He told us it was a beagle named Chair. “A useless animal,” he informed us.
As our birthday dragged on, grandpa taught us how to care for the Ovcharkas. For the first few hours, they’d only listen to him. Whenever we spoke to them or even tried pushing them in the direction we wanted them to go, they’d wait for him to give the command before moving. By nighttime, though, the dogs had started to accept the commands from my brother and me. Their responses weren’t instantaneous, like they were with grandpa, but it was still progress.
The next day, we realized why we’d gotten our presents. The dogs were never to leave our sides. Rather than grandpa cautioning and watching us all day, every day, he’d simply transferred his authority over to the animals. We were pissed. Reggie especially. He’d always been the more outspoken one, and, as a result, had most often incurred grandpa’s wrath. This time, though, Reggie wasn’t slapped when he called the whole arrangement “bullshit.” Grandpa wrinkled his deeply-scarred face and yelled something in Russian. The dogs leapt at my brother. Reggie screamed and flailed, but the dogs had him on the ground in an instant. They stood over him, growling and frothing, until Grandpa yelled another word we didn’t understand. They backed away and Reggie got up. He didn’t complain anymore.
Since we were on summer vacation, we had a lot of downtime. Wherever we went, though, the dogs followed. We’d walk down the street with the two colossi in tow. They’d growl at anyone who came near, whether it was at one of our friends who came up to say hello or at the cashier at the store who yelled that no dogs were allowed in the place. Anyone who presented even a hit of a potential threat was intimidated by the growling guard dogs. For Mikhail and Sergey, a potential threat was being within five feet of us.
On a hot day in early August, we were at the lake down the street. As usual, no one wanted to be near us because of the two wary, grumpy Ovcharkas. Reggie and I went swimming. The dogs, of course, swam alongside. Out of absolutely nowhere, there was a speed boat bearing down on us. Before anyone, dog or person, could react, Reggie was struck. The hull of the boat crushed his skull and the propeller tore through his skin like wet paper. The driver just kept going.
Reggie’s corpse floated face-up in the bloody water. His face was destroyed. One eye was completely missing while the other draped itself over his left cheek. From groin to chin, there was nothing but a gory channel the same diameter as the boat’s propeller. Tangles of his shredded intestines leaked their contents into the water. Mikhail and Sergey swam in silence, staring at his carcass.
I was beside myself with panic and rage. I screamed and tried to drag my brother’s body toward the shore. As soon as I touched him, Sergey bit my arm. Hard. I let go of Reggie and hit the dog. He stopped biting. Again, I tried to move my brother. Another bite. This time, the dog pulled me away from Reggie while Mikhail swam in a circle around my brother’s body. I felt my radius and ulna snap under the pressure of Sergey’s jaw. I shrieked and started punching the animal. My assault did nothing to release the pressure.
Mikhail’s growl caught my attention. I felt it in my chest before I could hear it. I whirled around and saw something moving inside Reggie. No, not inside. All over. His skin was undulating and stretching while the bones underneath popped and crackled, as if they were all breaking. His ribs spread twice the width of his chest, some puncturing through the flesh as they went. The remains of his guts started slapping and flopping around like a net full of eels poured onto the deck of a fishing boat. A deep, resonant moan rose from the destroyed form of my brother.
I started to back away. This time, Sergey let me move. I swam backward while watching the unbelievable scene unfold. Both dogs watched Reggie while I stood on shore, overcome by fear and confusion. I felt a hand on my shoulder. I yelped and spun around to see the scarred face of my grandfather. He’d been following us again. He held a shotgun. On our sides, bathers were running from the lakeside toward the cars. “Watch,” grandpa instructed.
What I once knew as Reggie flailed and howled. The water, turbid from his inhuman thrashings, was pink and foamy from the release of his blood and other bodily fluids. His moaning intensified, causing me to cover my ears. I turned to run, but he held me by the back of my neck and wouldn’t let me move. “Watch,” he hissed.
Reggie stopped moving. The dogs, who’d been paddling close to him, barked furiously. Massive stalactites of bone began to erupt from the remains of my brother. As they burst through, the dogs attacked. They tore at the already-damaged flesh of the creature, ripping out thick chunks before pushing their faces in to get more. As they bit, the Reggie-creature moved toward us. As the water around it grew shallower, more of its body was revealed to us. It walked on five pillars of articulated bone; the segments joined by oozing, fatty tissue. It moved slowly, but deliberately. Bulbous, white eyes squeezed themselves from the cracked sockets of its skull. They rotated and then focused on my grandfather and me. He held me tighter.
As it walked, the dogs were tearing more and more of its body to shreds. Sergey attacked its legs. As the gristle and fat were pulled from between the segments, the creature slowed. Still, it didn’t stop. An ossified spike shot from the rib-area of the monster, impaling Sergey through his chest. The dog was dead. Mikhail, in a renewed frenzy, tore the remaining connective tissue from the other four legs. By the time it had stopped moving, it was only ten feet away from us. Mikhail ripped the creature apart, spitting its bowels and meat from its bulbous eyes all over the sand. And then he stopped. Whatever Reggie had become was dead.
Grandpa let me go. Mikhail ambled over to Sergey and began to lick the mortal wound in his brother’s chest. He whimpered and sat in the sand, panting. I sobbed as the pressure I’d felt released. My grandfather slapped me and held my face in a vice grip between his leathery palms. I stared at the deep latticework of scars covering his face.
“I always thought it would’ve been you,” he hissed. “My grandfather made the same mistake with me.” He traced the facial scars with his fingernail. Then he grabbed my broken arm, causing me to yelp. “At least this’ll heal.”
I glanced over my shoulder. The remains of the monster had turned into a foul-smelling gelatin. Seabirds were diving and collecting it in their beaks before it could absorb into the sand. Those who managed to get a beak full died moments later, falling from the sky into the lake or on the sand.
“I thought your father knew better,” grandpa grunted as we walked. I didn’t say anything. He kept mumbling in frustration when we got into the house. “A fucking beagle,” he murmured. I sat on the couch and cried.
My brother and I had always been close. “Joined at the hip,” everyone would say. They weren’t wrong; we went everywhere with one another. There was some security in that. The bullies at school were ruthless, our neighborhood was terrible, and, honestly, neither of us could imagine having to go through it all alone.
Even though we’d spend time together, we didn’t have much in common. Danny was a sports nut. He’d never miss a televised football game and he’d always talk about how he wished he could’ve played in high school. He tried out, but he didn’t make the team. “Just not athletic enough,” said the coach. I remember how heartbroken he was and our parents did their best to console him. There wasn’t much they could say, though. It’s not easy to comfort someone when they learn their dream is unachievable.
I, on the other hand, am more of a nerd. I’m bookish and I love to write. Something about the written word makes me feel free – like I can do anything. Silly, I know, but it’s better than doing nothing. Or watching football.
Once school was done, we needed to find a job. College was out. Neither of us were ready for the commitment. The local supermarket was looking to fill a few positions, so they hired us on the spot. The pay wasn’t the best, but the work was consistent and it filled our time. The money we made allowed us to rent an apartment near work. Moving out of the home where we’d grown up was a bittersweet moment for our parents. They were sad to see us go, but nonetheless proud of our maturity. Still, I knew they were relieved the place was so close to home.
A few years went by. Danny and I did our thing. Our social life was decent. He had a girlfriend for a little while, but it didn’t last. I stuck with my books. The escapism they provided was invaluable, even though the life I was trying to escape wasn’t all that bad.
Something terrible happened one summer about four years after Danny and I had moved. Our parents were arrested in a child pornography sting operation. It was a massive, multi-state investigation that caught nearly a hundred people. My brother and I were absolutely dumbstruck by the news. We knew it had to be bullshit. But there was evidence. Overwhelming evidence. Pictures, videos, chat logs – everything. Neither of them even contested the charges. Mom was sentenced to six years and Dad got seven.
The feeling of confused rage toward our parents manifested itself differently between Danny and me. He was a puncher. Walls, doors, some guy at a bar who was nice enough not to press charges; the works. I, probably unsurprisingly at this point, was a crier. All I could think about was how the memories I had of playing with either of my parents were tainted by a hideous, predatory subtext. I wondered if either of us had been molested. It was enough to drive me crazy. I sank into a deep depression.
A few months ago, Danny got sick. He thought it was a cold, but it persisted. When he finally got it checked out, the doctor said it was something more serious; something congenital that he’d somehow managed to avoid until then. His lungs kept filling with fluid. The doctor was surprised I didn’t have it, too. But that didn’t provide me with much relief; this was just another insult to my brother. His body wasn’t content with just making him bad at sports, it had to make him sick, too. He was terrified. I promised I’d take care of him, no matter what – that I’d try to be the source of comfort he’d always gotten from our parents. It was a rare moment of emotional closeness between us. We shared a profoundly awkward embrace.
As Danny got worse, I did my best to help him out. I hate to use the word burden, but he was a terribly heavy weight on me as his condition deteriorated. He refused to go to the hospital – not that we could realistically go anyway considering we had no insurance and were still paying off the thousands we owed for the visits to get him diagnosed. The only good thing was he was getting some disability pay from missing work. It barely paid the rent, but between that and the little we’d saved, it was enough to scrape by.
But now, as I write this, none of it matters anymore. Danny died in his sleep a few hours ago. The sensation of his body cooling is indescribably awful. I’m feeling weaker with every passing moment. I knew that if he was the first to go, I’d be prepared. I’d write something about us and leave the note to be found. I figure maybe people would want to read our story. But now that it’s here – now that the abstraction has become a reality – I’m scared. I want to get up and run away from the inevitability of it all, but I know it’s impossible.
My heart can only pump so much blood for the both of us now that Danny’s has stopped. The weakness I mentioned is starting to overpower me. I keep glancing at the face of my brother, expecting him to wink and start laughing, proving that this is just a cruel joke. But now I’m just fantasizing. I guess there will be time for more of his jokes and awful, cackling laughter after I join him. I wonder when our parents will find out. Even though I hate them for their crimes, I still want to make them proud. Hopefully, even in their grief, they’ll take solace in the fact Danny and I left the world the same way we entered it: joined at the hip.