Dawn is my little sister. When I was 11 and she was just a tiny baby, I hurt her really badly. I didn’t know what I did was going to cause so much trouble. I just wanted to do something nice. Something that would make us happy.
My parents made me go away for a long time. I didn’t understand why everyone was so angry. I missed my sister terribly. Even worse, I felt betrayed by the people I’d expected to understand me.
After six years of hospitalization, I got to see her again. My parents had passed away in a car accident while I was gone and I went to live with my aunt and uncle. Both were psychologists. Both understood the problem I apparently had. Still, they believed I’d learned to cope with it over the course of my rehabilitation. And they were right. I would never hurt anyone again. The mere thought of it was abhorrent. Continue reading “Dawn”
Their pale faces were tilted skyward. Each pair of eyes brimmed with hope. In the moonlight, their skin seemed luminous; a battle of bright flesh against the surrounding darkness. Their mouths were slightly open, as if expecting to receive holy communion. They stood in a circle on the mossy ground, hand in hand. Their open throats drooled blood down their young chests.
Under my bare feet, the moss felt so comforting. So inviting. With the children standing guard, I would curl up on the ground and fall asleep.
I didn’t understand. I had those floaty things. My teacher said everyone did. An artifact of our eyes developing, or something like that. I guess he’d been told the same thing, but it did him little good. His parents were concerned, of course, and they brought him to ophthalmologists who were all in agreement: his eyes were fine. When he denied the experts’ claims and doubled down on his insistence that something was wrong, his worried parents got him into therapy.
I guess the therapist helped him a little bit. Malcolm’s paranoia seemed to diminish somewhat and his anxious habits like twitching and blinking weren’t as pronounced. That was good – a lot of kids made fun of the way he blinked. He told me it helped push the things out of sight for a couple seconds.
When I was a kid, I used to play games like “The Floor is Lava” with my brother, Greg. I didn’t like it too much. Greg was far more athletic than I. Older, too. He’d do all these graceful steps and great, balletic leaps that were way beyond anything my pudgy body could do. When I’d fall and lose the game, he’d gloat for a while and then we’d go off and play something else.
My neighbor, Mr. Clayton, would always watch us from the other side of the fence that separated our backyards. Mom said to stay away from him, but she couldn’t stop the guy from watching us play. He seemed harmless, if not a little weird. We didn’t pay him much attention. All afternoon, he’d watch us run races or throw the football around, only leaving his place behind the fence if he wanted to refresh his drink. Every so often, Greg would say, “hi Mr. Clayton” and give a big, exaggerated wave. Mr. Clayton just smiled awkwardly and looked down at the ground. To be honest, I felt a little bad for the man.
On an afternoon in late June, right after we’d gotten out of school and the day after Greg’s 15th birthday, he and I were roughhousing outside. We did that often. Even though he was older and taller, because of my extra heft, we were roughly the same weight. He was still much stronger and more agile, though, so he always got the better of me and pinned me down. After another win by Greg, he had me helpless on the ground while he crowed over me. While I waited for him to get off, I glanced over to the side. I could see Mr. Clayton watching us with rapt attention. His right shoulder was moving back and forth. Even though I was 11, I had a pretty good idea what he was doing.
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.
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.
I’ve lived in the same house for 40 years. After Ralph passed and I was left alone for the first time in three decades, I turned to my neighbors for comfort. They provided it in spades. I was honored and brought to tears by their kindness. Not too many places would make sure a lonely old man was taken care of. I’m surrounded by wonderful, beautiful people.
I took on the role of a grandfather to some of the neighborhood children. I was more than happy to babysit; Ralph and I always wanted to adopt but it wasn’t permitted in our state. So, having the opportunity to be a formative figure in the lives of these children was a great privilege. It made me feel like I was getting another chance to do everything that had been denied to me. I wish Ralph could’ve been here to take part. Still, I know he’s watching with the same love and pride he expressed every day he was alive.
One girl, Madison, formed a particularly strong connection to me. Her father was out of the picture. Her mom, Helen, who was forced to work full time, was rarely home during the day. Helen had always been the most supportive and loving of the neighbors after Ralph’s death, so when I had the opportunity to help with Madison and watch her during the work day, I was more than willing.
I started looking after Madison soon after her 10th birthday. She fell in love with the collection of toy kangaroos all over the house. Ralph was born in Australia and I always used to call him my little roo – especially when he got excited and his accent became more pronounced. On his birthdays, I’d give him some type of kangaroo toy. They’d been gathering dust after his passing and I was glad Madison could give them some life again.
Years passed and Madison started to grow up. I worried she was becoming depressed. She never had very many friends in school. She’d come straight over when her day was done and do her homework while waiting for her mom. Her mood was less bubbly than I’d remembered. Part of it, I’m sure, was her age. Adolescence is tough for everyone, let alone someone with a difficult family life like Madison. Still, I worried about her. She was perfectly nice to me and was never rude or disrespectful, but she’d withdrawn. She didn’t watch television with me anymore after her homework, either. She’d just sit on the floor in her kangaroo pajamas, which were far too small for her at that point, playing with Ralph’s figurines. Just like she did when she was little.
When Madison was 16, she got a boyfriend. Her first one, as far as I knew. I didn’t like him. At all. He was your typical teenage tough-guy type; a chain-smoking, foul-mouthed loser. There wasn’t anything I could do about it, though. Madison wouldn’t bring him over and I think she sensed I didn’t approve. But it wasn’t my business. I told myself years before that such situations were purely between Madison and her mother. Only if I felt like Madison was in danger would I interfere.
Madison spent more and more time with the boyfriend and less and less with me. The house grew quiet again. The other children I’d taken care of had grown old enough to watch themselves. Their parents stopped by every so often for coffee, but my general person-to-person interaction was far less than I’d previously enjoyed. I was lonely.
One night, Helen came to me in a panic. Apparently, Madison had admitted to using drugs. Helen had no idea what kind or anything like that, but she was terrified for her daughter’s safety. I tried to reassure her that there had to be something the school could do, but that was when she told me the other half of the story: Madison was pregnant.
This floored me. I’d seen Madison around town over the last few months and I’d noticed she’d gained some weight, but it never occurred to me she might be pregnant. Now her drug use was even more worrying. We tried to figure out a plan together and the only thing we could agree on was that the school had to know. Even though the local school system wasn’t the best, they had to have some resources dedicated to problems like these.
The school did nothing. Madison’s reckless behavior continued. Helen was too terrified to notify the police because she feared she’d be put in a foster home. I, too, was clueless. Time went by and the rare times I’d see Madison in town, she’d be stumbling around drunkenly with her idiot boyfriend, her protrusive belly an obscenity against the background of her intoxication.
On a late afternoon in February, I was leaving the supermarket when Madison spotted me from across the parking lot. She wasn’t with her boyfriend, thankfully. She rushed up to me and gave me a big hug. She didn’t seem drunk, but she had to have been on something. Her pupils were dilated and her words were slurred as she said how much she missed me. Then she asked if she could come over later to see the kangaroos. I told her that would be wonderful and that I missed her.
At some point around 7, Madison came over. I ushered her in quickly; it was way below freezing outside and she looked ill. I could tell she was high. She shuffled in without saying hello and went to the mantle where the kangaroos stood. In a singsong, childish voice, she talked to them. When she was 11, I thought that type of thing was cute. Now, though, knowing she was under the influence of something that was poisoning not only her, but the baby as well, it was far less adorable.
I walked up to her and asked if I could take her coat and if she’d like some tea and chocolate cake. She didn’t reply. She just kept talking to the kangaroos. I sighed and sat down on the couch, waiting for her to either snap out of it and talk to me or leave and hopefully go home to her mom.
Madison went down the line of the kangaroo toys on the mantle, saying “I love you” to each one. Then she walked back, doing the same thing in reverse order. Then she faced me. “I love you too, Michael,” she cooed, a thin smile cracking her pale face. “But you know what? I love Roo most of all!”
Madison dropped her heavy coat to the floor and I screamed. A gaping wound had been carved across the top of her belly. The blue head and chest and right arm of her baby stuck out from the opening. “Look at little Roo,” she said weakly. “Such a good little Roo.” Madison tried to hop toward me, mimicking a kangaroo. The limp head and arm of the child flopped back and forth with the movement.
“Sweet little Roo. All warm and safe in his pouch.”