He had lived in this house his entire life, but it never bothered him until now. Oak paneling lined the walls, framed by slabs of drywall painted a hideous shade of beige. ‘Moon Dance’, the man standing behind the paint counter had called it, holding up a paint swatch with the not-quite-quite-brown-not-quite-white color printed on it. His mother had decided in all of two seconds that this was the new color of their home and purchased several cans of the stuff with a wave of the finger. He had not been around on the day the workers painted, but he was sure it’d been a tough experience, what with his mother around. Despite everything his mother had put him through, though, he stood here, waiting for her to walk through the front door.
A clock chimed from the living room and his eye twitched, begging him to turn his head and investigate the noise. He willed himself to remain straight, to remain focused. There was nothing worse than involuntary movement, and he had worked hard to control his reflexes. If nothing else, he would at least control his body.
Freshly baked bread sat on the kitchen next to a few covered plates with strong ethnic flavors stinging his nose. The food had been coming in all week, but it usually sat on the table for hours until he had the sense to trash it. He had not noticed the food when he woke up this morning, but, lately, he had not been noticing anything.
“Alex, are you awake, honey?” His mother’s voice floated in from the front door, as sweet as ever. Her voice was plastered with a smile, something he would not have believed in the present circumstances had he not experienced it himself. She drifted into the kitchen, the black dress swishing around her ankles.
“It’s so good to see you,” she said, stepping in front of him. He kept his eyes on the ground before him, studying the red and beige patterns that he had never noticed before. They twisted into loops and circles that crossed his eyes so he closed them, wondering who had been dumb enough to bring that into his house.
“Are you ready for this afternoon?” She reached for the narrow black tie around his neck, adjusting the cloth straps to press against his collar. He swallowed and opened his eyes as she rested her hands on his shoulders. Her soft brown eyes held his, and he wondered to himself if he had ever looked into her eyes before. “You never seemed to be able to do that right,” she said, a soft, sad smile crossing her lips. “Just like your – ”
Her eyes misted suddenly and she turned away. He wanted to reach out to her, to touch her, to comfort her, but he stopped himself. There was no room for any of that anymore, and as he watched a few tears spring from beneath her dark eyes, he knew there would never again be room for comfort between them.
“I have to go, Alex,” she said, reaching for her eyes and turning away. He watched her walk again through the front door, knowing that she would enter the car and drive away, leaving him behind if he didn’t join her. Sometimes she just didn’t pay any attention to him, but he had grown used to that about her.
He took a few steps forward, his eyes still fixed straight ahead. The long hallway in front of the door was decorated with picture frames lined in wood, an impression of the history he desired to leave behind. From the corner of his eye he could see the wedding pictures, the baseball pictures, the graduation pictures, and then more wedding pictures. He tried not to focus on the single face that tried to shove itself onto the forefront of his mind. The door was made of oak, just like the rest of the house, and his mother had had it carved for them in their garage. The carpenter had spent a good portion of the weekend cutting through the wood to form the strange two headed dog design that stared at him from the door. The dog was large and imposing, but only one of the faces looked frightening. The other face was kind and gentle, sort of like a loving parent. He had always envisioned his mother as the meaner, terrifying dog, with the twisted face and commanding presence. She did not look like a dog by any means, but when she put her mind to it, she could be a terrible person to be around.
His mother’s car door slammed with a soft thud, which could only mean that she had crawled into the passenger’s seat. The driver’s side of the car was notorious for it’s loud thunk every time you closed it, no matter how gently. He pushed open the elaborate door and stared at his mother’s car. It was red, with a few white streaks on the side where an immature teenager had keyed it, and fit the two of them perfectly. If he had been in his right mind, they would have repainted it a long time ago, but when there is so much going on, the least important is politely shoved aside, never to return to it again.
His mother smiled at him from within the car, reaching across to unlock the door for him. It was a new car – they had only had it for a few weeks – and he was still getting the hang of driving. He had never had a reason to drive before, but now, with things as crazy as they were, everyone advised him that he might as well get it over with. “You never know when that skill might come in handy,” they would say to him, holding up their driver’s licenses. “You can’t always expect to rely on your parents, you know?”
He pulled open the driver’s door and turned to look one more time at his home. He had lived here for his whole life, but he had never noticed the balcony on the second floor. It jutted out of the building like a sore thumb, its metal gates painted white and gray. The metal twisted into the shape of a swan and a duck, the two animals facing away from each other. He closed one eye and lifted his finger, tracing the air in front of him in accordance with their shapes. He had always been interested in art, but it was the lines and curves that drew his eye. He smiled, suddenly remembering the night he had stayed up really late, drawing with crayons on the ground, waiting for the door to open so he could share his masterpiece. He had been so excited to share it, and he was greatly encouraged by the response his drawing received.
He slid into the car, glancing at his mother. She dabbed at the corner of her eye with a white handkerchief, careful not to soak up the black eye makeup she had so painstakingly applied this morning. She looked away, hiding her face from him. He twisted the key in the ignition and listening as the engine fired to life.
“We need to hurry,” she begged, her face covered with the cloth. He ignored her and applied pressure to the gas petal, twisting the wheel and pulling out of the front driveway.
The ride to the church was long and uneventful. He had not even noticed the time pass, nor had he noticed his mother speaking to him without any encouragement the entire time. Pushing open his door, he looked at the small gathering of people in front of the church. They were here to support him, but he did not want to see their faces. He did not want to answer any of their questions, take any of their food, or sit through awkward conversations as they tried to say encouraging words. He turned to his mother and forced a smile. She was not looking at him, but focused on the crowd in front of the church.
“Robert is here.”
He looked at her.
“Who is Robert?”
She looked at him suddenly, fear lighting her eyes. “I am sorry, I did not mean to say Robert, I meant to say Robin is here, my friend.”
He turned away and searched the crowd for the short woman who visited them every week, Bible in hand. She was supposed to be his mother’s spiritual leader, but he had never seen anything spiritual about his mother. Then again, he had not noticed anything about his family until only recently.
Robin’s head faced his, her eyes meeting his. He resisted the urge to look away, to protect himself, but instead deadened his eyes to achieve the same effect. She never looked away, though, but instead walked closer to him. The large brown leather Bible was there in her hand, clutched to her chest as though it would bring her some warmth on this dark and cold day. A shiver threatened to crawl through his body but he forced it back, clenching his teeth and squeezing his hands. Robin’s blond hair was long and flowing, though graying at the temples, swishing against her back like a pendulum. Her eyes were swatches of light blue and were the only things remarkable about her face. A thousand sunrises had seen Robin’s face, and they left evidence of their presence by carving straight lines near her eyes and cheeks. She drew near to their car and smiled brightly at him.
“Good afternoon, Alex,” she said politely, reaching up to peck him on the cheek. He did not return the smile. He did not return the kiss. Instead, he watched her walk around the car and open the passenger door. His mother climbed out and collapsed in Robin’s arms.
“Oh, Robin, I do not know how I will be able to make it today,” she sobbed quietly into the older woman’s shoulder. He looked away from their scene, focusing on the keys in his palm. They were normally shaped keys attached to a key chain shaped like a ‘V’. He had not noticed this key chain before. The metal ‘V’ had left an imprint on his palm where he had applied pressure. He slipped the keys into his pocket and rubbed his hand, trying to smooth out the skill and dull the slight pain that he suddenly felt.
“It will be all right, Sandy. Trust me.”
He stepped away from the car.
“Alex!” A voice he did not recognize called for him. He looked around, trying to locate the speaker. The small gathering in front of the church doors had disappeared, leaving a dim trail of voices in their wake. A few latecomers straggled in the parking lot, but they neither looked at him nor spoke.
“Alex!” The voice called again, this time from behind. He whirled around. Standing in front of him was a young girl, no more than eleven years of age. She wore a plaid skirt and a thin sweater across her chest. Words danced on the black sweater in faded white letters. He made out the word ‘class’, but no more. Her straight black hair was parted down the middle and spilled over her shoulders. She smelled oddly, almost like pumpkins, which was odd because there were no farms around here.
“Hey, Alex, why are you looking at me like that?” She smiled and shook her head.
“Silly Alex, you do not like talking, right?”
She did not wait for his answer. “Well, you remember me, right?” Again, she did not wait for his answer. “Mother does not like when I talk to people at funerals. She calls it a time of mourning, and you are not supposed to talk when you are mourning.” The young girl straightened her back and pressed her chin against her neck, imitating her mother. ” ‘You must have respect for the dead, otherwise, they will climb out of their graves and eat you alive!’ ”
With her fingers splayed out she lunged at his face, squeezing his cheeks and scratching at his forehead with her fingers. He gently pushed her fingers aside and grabbed them, looking into her eyes. She squealed and tried pulling her fingers out from his grip.
“Mother does not know anything, though, so I do not listen to what she says.”
“You should listen to your parents.” The words slipped out. He had been trying so hard to stay quiet but the words had come nonetheless. She smiled mischievously and let her fingers go limp.
“I told Mother that I could get you to talk!” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “They say that you almost killed your mother when you found out what happened. Is that true?”
He looked into the eyes of this young girl that he had never seen before. He noticed a small bump on her forehead, slightly red. Suddenly, her name returned to him. He released her fingers.
“Yes! You remember your cousin! The world has not come to an end!” She grabbed his middle and pulled him close to her, squeezing much tighter than any other little girl he had come in contact with. Jamie leaned back and looked into his eyes. “You do not seem as sad as your mother,” she observed, gesturing behind her with her eyes.
Alex looked up at the car where his mother and Robin stood, still huddled together in their tears and despair.
“I am sad,” he said, putting his hand on Jamie’s head. “I just know how to control it better.”
“Yeah, a lot of people are in there crying like it is the end of the world, but I know that if you can keep from crying, then anyone could.”
Alex smiled. The logic of a preteen was so refreshingly simple. Her trust in him may have been misguided, but she genuinely believed in her conclusions. Alex was not sure if any of the conclusions he had arrived at were believable. He had searched and searched for the answers, but everyone kept telling him the same things, and he was not satisfied with their ideas. That was the only reason why he came here today, to this silly little church, with its silly blue chairs, and its silly people thinking the world ran by truths he was not sure he believed in anymore.
But he came here today for answers, and as he held his little cousin, whom he had not seen in ages, he wondered if all of the answers were actually here, like everyone claimed.
Alex turned his body and led Jamie into the church, not bothering to see if his mother would join them any time soon. The stepped into the foyer and he had barely a second to look around at all the pictures laid out on the tables before his world was engulfed in flames.
Dyrk had been twelve years old when he got his first tattoo. None of the other kids in school had one, and it had gained him instant popularity. All of the girls had crowded over to see him flex the muscle under the tattoo. The guys had crowded over because it was cool to be bad, and having ink meant you were totally bad. Dyrk’s fascination with this wearable art had grown as he went through high school and he had added to his great collection of dragons and names every month, except the month before graduation. His mother had made him promise to do his schoolwork that month instead of slacking off as usual, and she would reward him with a few hundred dollars for a new tattoo. With his friends, a few hundred dollars could mean a world of difference. As soon as Dyrk walked off the platform with his hard earned diploma, and dashed to an appointment he had made with Rodney, the best tattoo artist in the small town of Riverside. A few hours later, he had emerged with his right arm dripping with Vaseline, designs of a dragon eating a man gleaming in the sun. He had named it ‘The Passage of Man From Predator to Prey’ and loved it more than all the others.
He had not thought of his past history in a long time. Dyrk liked to live in the present, to focus on the things ahead, and to never look back on regrets or accomplishments. He was competitive by nature, his mother had told him, and he always assumed that the best competitors look forward for the next competition, never satisfied with their past failures, or even their successes.
But today was different. He was standing in the front of a church, arms crossed, nervously looking at the double doors for someone to walk through. The tall man who preferred to be called “Reverend” above anything else crossed over to where he stood. He placed a hand on his shoulder.
“You doing okay?”
Dyrk smiled slowly and uncrossed his arms. He nodded, then crossed his arms again, a frown playing on his lips.
“I mean, everyone is nervous on their wedding day, even the lady, although she will never admit it to anyone.” Reverend smiled as he spoke, patting him on the shoulder. Dyrk looked away. He had more reason than anyone else to be nervous, and yet here he was on his wedding day thinking about tattoos instead
“You know, I never thought I would get to this place in my life.” Dyrk turned away from the reverend and watched the streams of supporters flood the sanctuary. They had all come out to support him on his big day, and he was grateful. There was Mrs. O’Keefe, the grocery store owner who still managed to remember his orders from when he was a small boy running around Riverside like a hoodlum. He recognized several family members who had flown down from upstate just to see him tie the knot. There were dozens of faces that he did not recognize, faces that he had just met, and faces that he had never seen in ages.
A young man stepped through the aisle and stuck out his hand to Dyrk. A big smile lit the dark man’s face and his shook his hand vigourously.
“My friend, Dyrk! How good it is to see you again!”
Dyrk stared at the young man, his face not registering in his mind. Who could this possibly be? A dozen faces flashed through his mind, until it rested on one final figure.
“Danny? NO! It can not be you, Danny!” Dyrk threw himself against the young man, grabbing him and wrapping him an embrace. He had not seen the young man since he was a small child, barely old enough to hang out with them as they played in the streets with his older brother. It had been strange for him to see him again, this old friend of his, but he wondered why his brother was not here to support him. Dyrk pushed back from their embrace and studied Danny.
“Danny, I have not seen you in forever!” Dyrk laughed and pulled him close in an embrace again. “Where is your brother?” He asked. “Where is Michael?”
Danny pushed away and looked away from Dyrk, all the excitement from their meeting gone from his face. He shook his head and shoved his hands into his pockets.
“Dyrk, my brother has been in prison for seven years now. They say he is never getting out.”
“No. No, that is ridiculous,” Dyrk said, shaking his head. “You can not tell me that Michael, the greatest man to ever walk the face of the earth, that he is in jail? What did he do, Danny?”
The wedding disappeared from his mind as he looked at Danny, expecting an answer. Blackness clouded his eyes and he felt himself slipping further and further into his memories. The only thing that he could remember was the sound of a blast, and a handful of glass cutting through his cheek before completely surrendering to the blackness of unconsciousness.
The hospital was quiet. Alex sat upright in his bed, covering his nose. The stench of flowers filled the room, left behind by well wishers from the church. He hated the smell of flowers. They smelled green and fresh and left little flakes everywhere. His mother had left some candles around to purge the sterile hospital smell, but he blew them out as soon as she had gone home. He loved the smell of cleanliness, and nothing was more clean than that of a hospital. A handful of cards lay on the small table next to him. Alex picked one up.
It was a construction paper card, with small skateboarding boys drawn on the cover. He opened it up and traced the straight handwritten lines with his fingers.
“Hey, cousin, you are going to be okay, right? Signed, Jamie.”
Alex smiled and replaced the card onto the side table. His hands, bound together with tubes and tape, banged into the table and he winced in pain, dropping the card onto the ground. He watched it flutter to the floor, saw the little skateboarding dudes flip in their places and settle on the floor. Someone would pick that up for him. He reached for his hand with his free hand and listened. Alex looked at his throbbing hand. His arms were covered in bruises, but aside from that, he had not been damaged in the blast. He did not remember much from the blast, but he had heard from his mother and other visitors that the reverend had suffered third degree burns and would need skin grafts if he was ever to be able to move his body again. Aside from him, though, no one else had gotten hurt.
Alex’s thoughts returned to Jamie. He had thrown himself over the young girl immediately, taking the brunt of the damage for her. His backed ached as he recalled the door fallen on him just before he blacked out. No one seemed to know what had happened, but the police were supposedly onto it. His mother had told him that the homicide detective, Harold Wendell, would stop by sometime to give him some more information. In all honesty, he did not want to hear any more about this incident. He wanted to bury it under the distractions he had worked so hard to put onto the forefront of his mind. He did not want to be reminded, yet again, that he had absolutely no control over his own life.
A nurse slammed open the door with her back, pulling a long metal cart into the room. She wore a simple green pair of scrubs, smiling at him as she turned around.
“You are awake.”
“Just barely,” Alex replied, returning her smile. Her name was Andrea, and she had been in one of his classes in high school. She was a very intelligent young woman, but he had never been able to see past her appearance until now. Until she showed up in his room, he had only seen her as a beautiful woman, with the perfect body, the perfect hair, the perfect smile, the perfect life. Alex could never have been with her, not because he was not handsome, but because of his father. Alex suddenly stiffened and closed his eyes. His father. Not the person he wanted to be thinking of at the moment.
Andrea cleared her throat and he opened his eyes again, warmed by her smile and genuine care for him.
“We have a good lunch for you today, Alex, and you have me to thank for that.”
“Thank high school and Photography class,” he said, straining to see what was inside the cart. A few slices of bread were spread on a platter, with various different meats laid out next to them. Andrea smiled and lifted the platter onto his lap
“Yes, our teacher was a really nice man. He never forced us to do any work, though, so I wonder how good he really was.” Andrea reached into the cart and began digging through it. Alex looked at the pieces of turkey, ham, and bologna, and rearranged them into a semi circle, symmetrical with each other. He lined up the slices of bread beneath this semi circle, forming a horizon line. It looked like the sun was about to set, and he ran his finger along the horizon line.
“Oh, would you look at that, the sun is about to rise,” Andrea remarked, setting down a tub of mayonnaise and a packet of mustard. “You should consider yourself lucky, Alex.”
“I am grateful for you bringing me this food,” he said. She sighed and sat on the edge of his bed. Her long black hair was tied up neatly in a bun on the back of her head, and her dark brown eyes were covered by a pair of black, wire framed glasses. She looked so much older than when they were in high school, but her beauty had taken on a dignified manner that surpassed any of the other teenagers at Riverside High. She looked into his eyes and smiled sadly.
“I am not talking about the food, Alex, although that was a very hard thing to get in here. I was talking about the different ways that this could have gone down. how many people could have gotten hurt and how you only walked away with a few bruises. I mean, the re
“Alex, I am not talking to you about the food. I am talking about the fire. I have treated dozens of emergencies at the emergency room, but I have never dealt with anything like this before.”
“But no one was injured,” Alex said, furrowing his brow. She shook her head, her voice growing grave.
“This was an attack, Alex. It was not an accident, it was not a mistake. Someone wanted to do this, and they are an unspeakably evil person for that.” Andrea stood and pushed the cart out the room, not speaking to him any more. He closed his eyes and thought back to the event. No one else beside the reverend and himself had gotten hurt, which he was grateful for, but he wondered how it may have turned out differently.
The door squeaked as it was pushed away from the hinge, and his eyes jerked wide open.
“The hero has finally awakened!” The lanky brown haired detective strolled into the room, laptop open in hand. He stood nearly six feet tall, with close cropped hair and dark brown eyes. His brow slanted slightly, and his mouth formed a permanent scowl. Alex studied Harold Wendell with a careful eye. The detective wore a brown suit, tailored to fit his slender frame. The man was not athletic in build, although Alex had seen the infamous video of Wendell chasing a pack of thugs outside of Starfield Theater, and Alex would not want to race against the detective if his life depended on it.
“Alex, I really am glad to see you in your right mind,” he said, gesturing to the platter on Alex’s lap. He looked down at the setting sun – or was it rising? He was not sure. He wanted to ask the detective what he meant by his comment, but let it slide. Whatever had brought the good detective here was more important than any digs on Alex’s personality.
“Your mother was just in the station,” Wendell said, making for the small plastic chair next to the side table. He bent to retrieve the card that Alex had dropped and turned it over in his hands. “Jamie is the young girl you saved. She is a really brave girl, if you ask me. My own daughter, Christa, she is seven, and she would never have been able to handle any of this.”
“Why was my mother at the station?” Alex asked, closing his eyes. He pictured his mother in his mind, her pale face twisted in confusion as she tried to make sense of what was going on. First, his father, now him. It was all too much for her to handle. It was all too much for him to handle, but until he got out of the hospital, he was not really handling it.
Detective Wendell cleared his throat and shifted in his seat, the plastic squeaking under his weight. “Alex, your mother was there because I called her there myself. We have reason to believe that this attack on the church was directed at one of your family members.”
“That is absurd.” Alex’s eyes flew open and he drilled the detective with a hard stare. “You are trying to say that someone wanted to kill either my mother or myself, so they bombed a church?”
“I am only doing my job, Alex,” Wendell replied, his eyes gone cold, his voice, stiff. “I wanted to break this to you slowly, but your mother insisted I tell you now.”
His mother had always tried to protect him from everything. Here she was, trying it again. It did not matter that he was a full grown man, capable of handling himself. She insisted on taking control of his life, and he was grateful at first, but now, it was overdone. Why she had decided that it was now time to tell him something intrigued him. He was offended that the detective needed his mother’s permission before speaking to him.
“What did she tell you to tell me?” Alex demanded. The detective looked away. “Honestly, just tell me already. Were they going after me, or my mother?”
“They were not going after either of you,” Wendell said, crossing his arms. Alex blinked. If they were not going after his mother or him, who were they going after? The next logical conclusion horrified him.
“But, Detective Wendell, that just does not make any sense. Why would anyone want to kill my father if he is already dead?”
(“Alex, you know your father, the kind of man that he was. A man like that makes enemies throughout his lifetime, enemies that just do not forget the pain he caused them)
The house had been empty for almost three weeks after the attack at his father, (Dyrk Chamberlain’s), funeral. His mother had refused to enter the two floor home, insisting on spending her nights over at Robin’s house, and her mornings with him at the hospital. He had enjoyed his stay at the hospital during recovery, especially the frequent conversations with Andrea and the assortment of special foods that he had received because of their friendship. But, in all honesty, he was tired of sitting around in his hospital bed, waiting to be checked by doctors, waiting for reports of the incident that put him there to come to him. Alex hated this situation, where he had absolutely no control over anything, and he wanted nothing more than to come into his own home where he would not have to worry about any of that.
Detective Wendell’s news had not left his mind since he spoke them.
“The attacker was not going after either of you.”
He had not replied to any of Alex’s questions, refused to hear any of his demands, and simply walked out of the hospital room and did not return. His mother did not speak to him about the information the police had gathered, and the news itself was ignoring the tragedy altogether. Jamie had visited him twice in the hospital, but she was too young to have heard anything. The world was brushing this incident under the carpet; no one cared about the injured reverend or the poor, grieving young man.
“The attacker was not going after either of you.”
Again, Detective Wendell’s words ran through his mind. What had he meant by this? Alex wondered. He had searched his father’s name on the Internet, but had only come up with information he already knew. Why anyone would want to harm his father was beyond him, and why they would have resorted to his funeral instead of speaking to him face to face baffled him even further. His father was known for speaking with people in order to resolve problems, never settling until everyone had come to an agreement, however difficult it may have been. Anyone that had a problem with anything his father did had always approached him to his face, and everything had been settled.
This time, however, it was different. Whoever wanted to take revenge on his father had attacked his dead body on a day when all of his family and friends were gathered together. On a day when the only people that truly loved him in the world would be gathered in one place, this phantom attacker would strike, defaming his name and casting a poor shadow over their family for the ages to come.
Alex glanced at the outside of his home. The grass had reached record heights, never before going this long without a trimming. He sighed and slung the tattered back pack over his shoulder. He had had this back pack for a few years now, and he insisted on using it, even though his mother had offered to replace it several times since then. It reminded him of a better time in his life, a time when he was not confused about what he was supposed to do with his life. He wanted to return to that time in his life, but he knew it was impossible. Wearing the bag and looking at the visual reminder was a daily reminder of something he longed to attain again.
It did not surprise him to find all the lights off in the house and the window shutters drawn. His mother did not believe in the safety of the neighborhood, insisting that all of their neighbors were vicious creatures at heart, waiting for the moment to pounce and destroy. She had the shutters installed, despite the fact that hurricanes or tornadoes of any kind were not common in Riverside at all.
He twisted a thin key into the door and wiggled it to the left. The giant oak door popped open and he stepped through it carefully. The burns on his body had healed well during his recovery period in the hospital, and he did not hurt as much as he had expected to hurt. Alex thought of the reverend, with his badly burned body, and wondered if he would ever be able to move without intense pain ever again.
As he expected, the house was dark, too dark to see. Alex felt along the left wall just inside the door, flailing with his palm until he touched the plastic switch and flicked it upwards.
Nothing was out of place. Everything looked exactly as it had looked when he left the house three weeks ago. A half empty bottle of soda sat opened on the marble kitchen counter. Packages of cereal stood next to the bottle, although his mother would never have allowed them into the house under different circumstances. The air was still and deathly quiet. He could only hear the sound of his breathing.
Alex shut the door behind him and took a few steps forward. The wood creaked under his weight as he made his way to the living room. Ticking from the many grandfather clocks which lined the living room wall reached his ears as he drew near to it. He paused in the doorway of the living room, peering into the cozy area. Shadowy lumps rose from the ground and threw shadows onto the wall. It was too far away from the front door to be reached by the hallway light. He searched for a separate source of light, and noticed a thin stream of yellow pouring out from under the attic door.
Why is that light on? He wondered, turning into the living room. Alex was not sure when the last time anyone had entered the attic. Probably after Dad died. His mother had made a point to haul all of his father’s effects into the attic. She would rather hide away memories of her dead husband than keep them in her room where she would see them every day. Alex could understand. He would not want to have a constant reminder of his father’s death. Just one more thing in this life that he had no control over.
The door loomed ahead, and he knew that he would never be able to rest until he investigated it. Dozens of scenarios flashed through his mind, all of them ending in either his own death or that of his mother. Alex stepped through the living room, eyes fixed on the attic door before him. His toe caught the leg of a table and he grunted to cover the pain.
It was an oak door, much like the one in the front, except that it had no special designs. A simple sign reading “Attic: do not enter” was taped onto it, scrawled in marker on a white sheet of paper. Alex touched the sign with his hand, running his finger along the long sticks of the t’ and i. His father had asked him to write that sign before a family reunion a few years ago.
“I would not want any of our noisy relatives going through that door,” he had said, crossing his arms as he always did when he was thinking of his family. “They do not like heights,” he continued, “and I would not want any of them climbing up those stairs only to find out that they were going high, high up.”
Alex had laughed at his father’s explanation. Surely, he did not expect Alex to believe that this was the real reason for marking off the attic. Although he had been in it himself numerous times, he had never entered it without adult supervision. If there was anything to hide, though, Alex was sure he would know about it. Regardless, the sign had worked, and none of his family members had tried to enter it. That evening, after everyone had finished dinner and was talking upstairs, Alex tip toed into the attic and searched every corner, opened every box, but did not find anything that was out of the ordinary or suspicious.
As he climbed up the narrow staircase, he remembered how his father had reacted when he discovered the young teenager huddled over a stack of boxes.
“You will not find anything up here, Alex,” his father had said, smiling slightly at him. “Anything you would ever want to know, I can tell you.” They had sat together for the next few hours, asking each other questions, his father sharing dozens of funny stories from a time before Alex was born. It had been a bonding experience. He missed his father.
A single light bulb swung at the top of the stairs. Shadows stretched with each swing of the light source, and he reached up to steady the warm bulb. He stared at his hand. It had not been as hot as he expected. Alex glanced around the attic. Dozens of boxes stood stacked along the walls, with a few couches and chairs scattered in the middle. He climbed over a few fallen lamps and sat on an old rocking chair. Straining to see the back of the attic, Alex tried to remember if he had heard anything from his mother recently. After the incident with the detective, she had made herself scarce around him, keeping to safe topics, such as the weather and something happening in the news. But she had never mentioned coming home, or whether or not anyone else had come into their home. Things did not look tampered with, but he would have had to have taken inventory of everything before he knew whether or not anything was missing.
Wind howled and whipped around his ankles and traveled up his pant leg. He had not closed the downstairs door, but that was only wise. Alex’s eyes drifted to a large metal chest shoved under a table.
I am almost sure that I have never seen that before. He stood up and squatted near the table. Reaching forward, he tugged at the chest. It did not budge. He dropped onto his knees and rested one hand on the table, while he pulled at the chest with the other. Nothing. He grabbed the chest with both hands and yanked. It wedged free and slid across the attic floor with a loud scrape.
It was not locked. He lifted the lid and let it lean against the table. A dozen manila folders filled the chest, along with a few other books and loose papers. Alex reached inside and pulled out a small, clay elephant. He smiled as he turned it over in his fingers. He had carved that elephant in his third grade pottery class for Father’s Day. Alex felt along the bottom for the indentation where he had placed his initials, A.C. His friends had made fun of him, calling him Air Conditioner for the rest of the year, and asking him if he was broken because his body was always warm. Alex’s father had loved it, though, and had even come into school to speak to the teacher about the bullying. The boys had continued talking about him and calling him an electrical appliance, but his father had stood up for him, he had liked Alex’s clay elephant, and that was all that really mattered in the long run.
Alex set aside the clay elephant and pulled out a single folder. A yellow sticky note was stuck on the manila folder with the markings “copy #1347558” scrawled on the paper. He touched the sticky note, his brows knitting together.
What is this?
He opened the folder . . . ( filler: He still kept paper records, which was strange for the second half of the 23rd century. As a member of the Morland Order, I had a lot of dealings with books and physical libraries, but the rest of the population had moved into the digital realm a great many years earlier. As I thumbed through folders and folders of thin, yellowing paper, I couldn’t help but wonder if this man was anything to be afraid of. My mission was simple: kill the New England Regional Director. The reasons, however, were not. Even still, I wasn’t sure how anyone so behind on the times could interfere with our plans.
A bright flash of pink caught my eye and my fingers froze. There it was. Director Killy Hanrue’s expansion plans for Manhattan, printed on neon pink paper, just as my research had indicated. I didn’t know what the Morland leaders wanted with these architectural designs, but it was none of my concern. This request had come in a few days before I left Kentucky for New York, and the only thing they would tell me was that I had better not return without them.
Shoving the plans into my light gray satchel, I closed the file cabinets and surveyed my surroundings. I had managed to get inside with little to no hassle, although the welt on the security guard’s eye would beg to differ. The office was large and neat, with a cluster of bookshelves to one side and the Director’s desk to another.
I stepped over to the mahogany desk, which looked fairly new, despite the fact that mahogany, or any kind of wood for that matter, was extremely rare. On the wall behind the desk was a huge screen, with a dozen different news channels running at the same time. I reached out and gently touched a portion of the screen, and one of the channels enlarged and covered the entire screen. We didn’t have much technology in the Morland Temple, although we knew of its existence, and it still fascinated me. The woman on the screen began to speak, her voice shrill and loud.
“Director Killy Hanrue delivered a speech last night in Old Times Square, with thousands of supporters flocking just to see him.”
The image suddenly shifted to my target, standing on a podium a few blocks from Altin Hall, where his office presided. His bright blue eyes gazed directly into the camera, every short black hair neatly in place. He opened his mouth to speak, revealing straight white teeth.
“My goal is to bring peace to our world, to create a New American Society in which we are not afraid to let our children play in the streets. A New American Society where we don’t
have to worry about being robbed or even murdered )
Riverside was a quiet town, never seeing any excitement, never having any murders or big thefts like some of the other small towns in the Midwest. Some would say that the town was blessed, protected by God from any real danger. Others would say it was too poor and backwoods for anyone to care about it. The adults of the town would disagree, citing the movie theater, the night club, the town’s historical museum / library, as fine tourist attractions. The teenagers of the town would disagree with the adults, citing the old movies, strictly enforced age limits, and stuffy old museum curator / librarian, as tourist revulsions.
Dyrk Chamberlain considered himself neither teenager nor adult. He had just finished high school and part of him could identify with the youth who sneered at the sloppy camera work of movies churned out in the 1980’s. And then there was that part of him that enjoyed the abstract local art and the artists that gave speeches and taught classes to the elderly. Dyrk was entering his prime years, and he wanted to grow up and enjoy life as his new adult friends did, but he also wanted to enjoy the youthful pleasures that his younger friends indulged in.
“Too bad I can’t have both,” he whispered to himself as he trudged through the thin layer of snow covering Second Lane, his suede boots changing color as the white flakes melted on the brown fabric. It hadn’t been wise to come into town wearing his favorite boots, but it had been an emergency, and he never used his head during an emergency. Even now, when he was supposed to be investigating the potential robbery of his father’s business, his mind was wandering to the disadvantages of being a 19 year old – simply because he had the word ‘teen’ in his name, neither the teens nor the adults fully accepted him.
“Do well with this business, Dyrk, and you’ve got yourself something to show for.” This time, he said the words aloud. It always sounded better to talk to himself with actual words rather than keep them in his head. As his father always said, “Your thoughts aren’t real until you speak ’em.”
He thought about the potential robbery. Someone had called him on his house phone and left a message before he got home from running errands for the business. Dyrk had barely dropped the groceries onto the counter before he noticed the red light and the bleeping of his answering machine. A voice he didn’t recognize warned him to get back out to the shop because it looked like a bunch of kids were swinging bats and trying to get inside. When he turned back for the door, the snow began to fall, small flakes at first. The old ladies had been predicting this for weeks, clutching their knees and wrists, bundling up when it was still nice and warm out. They had been ready, and they had been right. His shoes had taken a beating for his carelessness and they would need to be replaced, but if he didn’t check out the shop before anything bad happened, he wouldn’t have enough money for any shoes, much less replacements.
A silent wind swirled the air around him, blowing wet flakes into his face, stinging his exposed, reddening cheeks. The sun had begun to set behind the mountains a few hours before he set out on his errands, and now only a faint reminder of the gas giant filled the sky. Dyrk searched the streets for any sign of life, but he knew that very few remained in town after the sun went down on a weekday. He would be hard pressed to find anyone under the age of fifteen, although a few did manage to sneak out with their older brothers and sisters. Mick’s Pharmacy was open all night, but that was because Mick’s good for nothing son lived in the apartment upstairs and got paid for watching television behind the counter and ringing up the occasional customer. The two of them had gone to elementary school together, and had been great friends, but Dyrk had chosen athletics in middle school, while Mick Jr. had elected to stay at home and stare at screens all day, milking his dad’s resources.
Little had changed, Dirk realized as he drew near the dimly lit pharmacy along Second Lane. Mickey was still a slob and a half, and although Dyrk wasn’t officially part of any teams, he was in greater shape now than in his entire high school basketball career. Nothing ever changed in Riverside, he thought to himself, smiling. Everything was so predictable. Everything, that is, except for this.
A fresh set of footprints snaked on the sidewalk before him. There was only one main street in Riverside; it was called Second Lane, which no one understood, because it implied that there had to be a First Lane, although there was no evidence for this. Along Second were the commercial businesses and at the end, the town hall / police station / fire station, all housed in one large, two story building. Scattered on the opposite side of Second were a few residential areas and a small factory and warehouse zone. A bus depot sat wedged between both areas, right in front of Riverside High School. The elementary and middle schools were tucked on the far side of town, behind a row of dentist and doctor’s offices. No one trusted the Riverside High kids with any of the littler ones. Up until a few years ago, the current high school was jumbled with the middle school, but after the incident with the smoke bombs, the PTA rallied for a change in location. Dyrk remembered watching the high school boys in the third floor bathroom during lunch light up the bombs and throw them into the yard filled with kids. He hadn’t been part of the group; he had merely been using the bathroom, and he was still a seventh grader, but the principal didn’t believe him and he was suspended for three days. Dyrk had never been suspended before, and the excitement that it brought surprised him. A few weeks later, he pulled a fire alarm and felt the same rush of excitement. His father had whipped him good, though, forcing him to choose the branch that would administer the punishment. Dyrk had searched for a thin branch, hoping it would hurt less, but that a mistake. By the time he graduated middle school, though, the high school was in the bus depot, and he had ceased to be a troublemaker. (Apparently, the teenagers of a few generations ago were corrupting his grandfather’s young generation, and something needed to be done about it. With a legacy of corrupting the younger ones behind them, every generation of Riverside High students set out to live up to that expectation.)
Dyrk loved his town, but he couldn’t help but feel uneasy as he watched the footsteps crawl forward slowly along Second. He followed them, his head to the ground, not daring to see where they would lead him. Suddenly, the black prints turned to the left. Dyrk blinked and looked up. He staggered backwards.
Chamberlain Appliances. Est. 1923. It had been in his family for decades, but he never considered it anyone’s but his father’s. And it was here that the footprints had led.
“What is the meaning of this?” Dyrk asked under his breath, confused. He hadn’t seen anyone walking ahead of him, and the snow was falling way too fast for the prints to be very old.
He glanced at the storefront, looking for signs that anything was amiss. The two story building had undergone renovation earlier this year and had a new facade. Bright neon signs flashed in the windows, screaming “Open”, “Get your appliances here”, and “Trusted since 1923”. They didn’t need the signs for the customers, who knew their open and closed schedules by heart. His father had wanted them, and so they tore down the old entrance and built a new one.
The windows were intact, and the red bricks forming the building weren’t chipped or broken. Dyrk touched the front door, his fingers leaving a warm circle on the glass. It was still securely locked. So then, why did the prints lead here? He turned the question over and over in his mind.
A white face stared back at him from the window. Dyrk frowned at the lightly bearded face, the short, messy brown hair on top of his head. His dark brown eyes were buried beneath his brow, compliments of his father. a long slender nose peeked out from above his facial hair, compliments of his mother.
“You look like a mess,” he said to the man standing in the door, his breath blasting against the glass. The man disappeared. Dyrk grunted and pulled out a ring of keys from his blue jeans pocket. He fit the golden key into the lock and jiggled it to the left. It had always taken a little more than a simple twist to open the lock. Dyrk had intended to have it changed, and even though he sold dozens of different locks himself, he never seemed to have enough time.
The door jingled as he pushed it open. A few bells hung above it, echoing as the door settled in place. Dyrk groped along the wall for the light switch and flicked it on. Yellow light illuminated the shop. He glanced around, at the cashier’s table, the clearance bins along the center and the rows of appliances behind them. Everything was quiet as the bells settled into place. Dyrk breathed deeply. He smelled plastic and rubber. His father had suggested lighting scented candles, and he remembered the day that he had tried it. The strawberry scent did little to help with the odor, but he recalled the flickering light in his mind and the warmth it had emitted. He had been fascinated with matches and candles when he was a kid, but he had accidentally burned himself when he was five and all interest in flames left him. He looked at the counter, which still had a few wax marks from the melted candles. One of these days, he would have to get clean that off. (but there was little to be done against the overwhelming odor. He stepped toward the cashier’s counter.)
If anything was stolen, it would have to be in the cash drawer. Dyrk never left more than a hundred dollars in there, but even that he did not want to lose.
A great crash filled the store and he jumped. Muted voices followed and he whirled around. The sound came from behind the rows. The only thing back there was his father’s office.
“No one should be back there,” he mumbled under his breath. The appliance store had not opened today; he always took Wednesdays off because it was the slowest day of the week. But there were days when his father would come in and do some work in his office. His father didn’t work here anymore, but sometimes he liked to come back, to relive memories of the past.
“Dad? Is that you?” Dyrk raised his voice as he stepped toward the back office. Rows of untouched washing machines, dryers, vacuum cleaners, toasters and ovens strolled past him out of the corner of his eye. He kept his gaze focused on the office door in front of him. The door was open a jar, and his father’s desk lamp was on, that bright fluorescent bulb shining. Dyrk stepped on something, but didn’t pause to see what it was. Instead, he repeated his question.
“Dad? Is that you?” No answer. This was not good. Dyrk placed a hand on the office door and it creaked as he eased it forward. “Dad?” Still no response. The office in its entirety was suddenly exposed to Dyrk and he gasped. Crumpled under a set of bookshelves was the shivering body of his father, hands extended, (reaching for his desk phone. Dyrk ran over to his side, fumbling for the phone that had fallen off the desk.)
“Dad? Dad, what happened to you?” His father mumbled and clutched at his stomach. Dyrk touched the spot and his hands came away wet. With blood. He lifted his father onto his backside, leaning his torso against the bookshelves.
“Dad, can you speak to me? I need to know what happened!”
“You can’t, you can’t win ’em all, son,” his father sputtered out, wincing with each word. Dyrk felt the tears come to him, but he sucked them back. No need to cry just yet. Nothing bad was going to happen. His father was going to be okay.
“You can’t win, son,” his father repeated, eyes glazing over. Dyrk’s hands closed around the plastic phone he had been searching for and he held it in front of him. Dialing the three emergency digits, he shoved it against his ear.
“Come on, come on, pick up, pick up,” he chanted, touching his father’s forehead. He was growing cold. “Come on, Dad, hold on, I know you can do it.”
“Good evening, how can I help you?” A cheery voice filled his ear, and he nearly fainted.
“My father is hurt! He is bleeding! We need an ambulance right away!” Dyrk shouted, patting his father’s shoulder.
“Okay, can you give me your address, please?”
“We’re on Second Lane, in Chamberlain’s.” He paused as she repeated his words. “It’s Dyrk,” he added, hoping it would mean something to her. He had very little to do with the police station, but he assumed that everyone in Riverside had come into his store at least once in the three years he had been doing this.
“Son, you, you can’t win. Don’t, don’t try,” his father gasped, taking huge breaths between words.
“No, Dad, no! The ambulance is gonna be here any minute now and you are gonna be all right!” Dyrk shouted the words until he believed them. His father smiled and coughed, clutching his throat. Blood splattered Dyrk’s shoes and the tears began flowing freely.
“Dyrk, son, I want you to know that this is for the good . . . ” The man grew cold and still, his eyes staring straight ahead, his mouth spread wide. Dyrk screamed and threw himself on the body. No, no, no, not his father! Not his father! He was the only family Dyrk had left. He couldn’t die.
“You can’t die, Dad! You can’t die!”
The front door jingled and footsteps pounded through the store. A young man, Tommy his badge said, rushed through with a stretcher.
“Dyrk, you have to help me get him on this!” Tommy said, pulling him off of his father. Dyrk pushed the paramedic away, staring at him viciously.
“You weren’t quick enough! He’d dead!” Dyrk stood up and ran out of the store, pushing past the other paramedic, ignoring the shouts of Karen, the police officer, and the stares of the crowd that had suddenly appeared on the sidewalk. Dyrk ducked his head and tried to slip away. He glanced down the street, to Mick’s Pharmacy, and saw the body of Mick Jr. turned away from the crowd by the back door.
“Junior!” Dyrk shouted, using a nickname he had called the man when they were younger. If Mick would let him in his house, he would have a good viewpoint of the store, but he wouldn’t have to deal with the crowd. More than anything, he wanted to sit down and cry.
“Junior!” He called out again. The chubby young man turned around at the sound of his name. He wore a leather jacket, open at the zipper. Underneath he wore a white t-shirt. It was covered in red. Covered in blood.
He hadn’t gone outside for over a month. The police officers stopped calling him after the first week, and the well wishers and acquaintances stopped visiting the week after that. Someone still left a package of food for him, wrapped in a white blanket and placed in a wicker basket. Every morning, Dyrk took the food and replaced the basket, and every morning, there was new food for him.
At first he didn’t care who it was that brought the food, but as the quality of food increased, from cereal boxes to homemade bread rolls, his curiosity increased as well and on the third Monday he stood in the front door all morning, waiting to catch a glimpse of the anonymous food bringer. Something had crashed in the kitchen and he had jumped out of his skin, remembering the last time he had heard a crash and what it had brought with it. When he turned back to the door, the basket had been filled and the person who filled it was gone.
Four weeks had come and gone in the wake of his father’s death, and Dyrk knew he wouldn’t last another day in this daze. He closed his eyes and remembered that night, when he saw his father crumpled on his office floor, his stomach cut open. He saw, in his mind’s eye, the blood staining Mick Jr’s t-shirt. He saw himself lung after the man, only to be hauled away by the police and dragged out here. He saw the wooden casket lowered into the ground, pictures of his father tacked on among the flowers. He saw himself laid out on the couch, trying to block out all memories of his father, his mother, and his brother, all of whom were gone. Gone.
“Gone.” He opened his mouth to whisper the words. They caught in his throat. He hadn’t spoken since the funeral, not that he had seen any reason to. Who was there to talk to? He didn’t have an animal, and none of his friends, neither the teens nor the adults, saw fit to visit him anymore. It was well with him. He coughed and swallowed.
“They’re all gone.” This time, the words came out loud and strong. He stood up from the couch, knocking over the wicker basket at his feet. He had showered this morning, which was a first for this week. Dyrk’s mind was slowly regrouping, and he knew that in a few more days, he would be fine to open the appliance store again.
“You’re going back in there?” It felt good to talk aloud again. Dyrk stretched his legs and walked into the kitchen. “You think you’ll be fine,” he continued, “knowing your father was murdered in cold blood?”
Cold blood. His father had been killed in cold blood. His father’s office had a back entrance, which only a few people knew about. Mick Jr. was one of those people. Dyrk had caught the slob with blood on his shirt, blood covering his hands.
The answering machine blinked red and pushed the button. He glanced around the counter, with a brown bag filled with warm bottles of juice that he had never been able to unpack. Dyrk lifted one out of the bag and twisted the cap with a soft pop. He tilted the warm, deep purple liquid to his lips and winced as it stung his tongue. Grape juice had always been his favorite drink since he was a child, but he hadn’t had it in years. As he swallowed the tangy drink, he hoped it would remind him of a better time, a time when he was happy and had no cares or worries. It settled in his stomach and rested there.
“You have thirty seven unheard messages.”
He was not reminded of a better time.
“Mr. Chamberlain, I am sorry to tell you that we still don’t have any leads on your dad’s case.” It was the police officer, Karen. She had been a few grades older than him and left to become a cop before graduating high school. They always said that Riverside was desperate for cops, no matter their age or gender. Some might say Karen got her job because she was pretty, but everyone knew she hated her looks. Even back in high school, she would hit anyone who said anything about her being pretty. Dyrk had been tempted to say something one day during a particularly flirtatious exchange they were having, but remembered seeing his friend Gary sporting a black eye and thought it best to merely end the conversation.
He pushed the “delete” button and waited for the next message to begin playing.
“Hey, Dyrk, buddy, you know, we should get together sometime, you know, catch up on old times.” He didn’t recognize the voice, and pressed the “delete” button. He scrolled through thirty of the messages this way, listening for a bit, but ultimately deleting it and ejecting it from his mind.
“We are all terribly sorry for what happened to your father, Dyrk. He was a good man, one of the best.” Dyrk straightened. It was Mick Sr., the owner of the store across the street. The man’s voice cracked with emotion as he cleared his throat and continued. “If there is anything we can do, anything at all, just let us know. My son is willing to help with anything, running the shop, doing errands, anything.”
“That no good, good for nothing slob!” Dyrk shouted, sliding the answering machine off the counter and onto the floor. The phone clattered on the linoleum a few seconds afterwards, and he kicked it. That no good, good for nothing slob! Mickey was offering to help run the shop? Do errands? Why did he think he could show his face anywhere after what he did?
Of course, they didn’t have any evidence of his involvement, but then again, they had no evidence that his father had been murdered, and he knew it to be true.
“But why would Mick want to kill my father?” The question played itself over and over in his mind and he voiced it in hopes that it would help answer the question. It didn’t help at all. “Why would Mick want to kill my father?” He repeated for good measure.
“My son is willing to help with anything,” Mick Sr. had offered in the message. “Running the shop, doing errands, anything.”
Was Mick trying to gain access into Chamberlain Appliances? But why would he have to commit murder? Couldn’t he have just asked for a job? None of this made any sense to Dyrk. He had seen Mick covered in blood, and yet the police had never managed to connect the blood to that of his father’s. They couldn’t say whose blood it was, but it sure wasn’t Jeremiah Chamberlain’s.
The thought occurred to Dyrk that there might be something in C.A. that Mick wanted, something that he couldn’t get if either the son or the father was around. But why would he resort to murder? Dyrk couldn’t answer that question, and it bothered him.
He bent over and picked up the white cordless phone from the ground, pressing the green button on the left. Dyrk held it up to his ear.
“Mr. Chamberlain, is this you?” He recognized the voice as Karen’s. He trudged into the living room.
“Yes, it is.”
She took a deep breath. “Mr. – ” She paused and started over again. “Dyrk, I know you wanted to hear from us if we found anything.”
They have my father’s killer! They have my father’s killer!
“Did you find – ”
“Dyrk, we didn’t find the killer. We still don’t know if there was a killer.” Her voice was low, and her speech slow. Something was wrong.
“So then why did you call me?” He asked, angrily.
“We found a knife, covered in blood.”
Dyrk sat straight on the couch. “Any finger prints?”
“No finger prints,” she began, “although there was a boot print on it. The prints are consistent with bloody prints all over the store.”
“Well, this is great, isn’t it? I mean, you have those prints, all you need to do is – ”
“They were your prints, Dyrk.” Karen cut him off, her voice shaking. “The knife and the blood prints match your boots, the ones we collected a few weeks ago.”
But what were they saying? That I killed him because I stepped on a knife?
“Karen, I remember stepping on something when I walked into the shop, and it could’ve been the knife.” Dyrk swallowed. “But that doesn’t mean that you guys suspect me or anything?”
She didn’t reply.
“Karen, they do know that the shop is mine and my boot prints should be all over it.”
The receiver was silent. Dyrk stood up, hands clenched at his side. The silence was too much for him.
“Karen, can you say something?” He begged. She cleared her throat on the other end.
“Dyrk, I simply wanted you to know what we found. No one is inferring anything at this point. We’re still trying to piece it all together.” She hung up, leaving him holding the phone, speechless. Despite her calm assurance, Dyrk would’ve sworn she suspected him. Granted, his response had sounded a little paranoid, but that didn’t automatically label him as guilty.
“Something has to be done,” he said, dropping the phone onto the couch. He looked around the small living room, trying to get his bearings. His mind had been in sleep mode for the past month, and he couldn’t even remember how to get from the living room to the bath room. The living room was a mess, with empty containers, cartons, and packages thrown about haphazardly. A poster for an old band was taped onto the wall above the television. The band had survived the 60’s and 70’s, but hadn’t made it to the 80’s. Everything seemed to go downhill from their for the band, which was a shame, because Dyrk had grown up listening to their old records, dreaming of the day when they would get back together again. He stared at the poster, with thin, shirtless men sporting long hair and holding acoustic guitars. It reminded him of his father.
A great pain crushed his chest. He pressed a hand to his heart, trying to massage the pain away, but it came back in full force. His father was really gone. Never to come back again.
No, it’s not true, my father will come walking through the door any minute now.
Dyrk dropped to his knees right where he stood, eyes falling closed before he reached the ground. Tears pushed their way through his eyelids and a sob clutched at his throat. He let it out, heaving and shivering, whimpering and shaking.
“My father,” he struggled to speak, but knew he must. He must say the words if he was ever to believe it.
“My father, my father is,” he tried again, then covered his face. He slumped forward and screamed, tears and snot wetting his shirt. His father was really dead, never to come back again.
“My father is dead.” He forced the words out, then collapsed onto his face. The carpet fibers played against his cheek, but he didn’t notice. The tears suddenly stopped flowing, and he breathed deeply, shaking as he did so. His eyes hurt. He closed them and rolled onto his back.
Get your act together, Dyrk, he commanded himself. Your brother and your mother died, and you didn’t even shed a tear. You’re better than this.
His chest heaved as he sucked in breath, his mouth dipped in a frown. Dyrk lifted his body and rested a hand on the couch. It was time to move on. His father was gone, and there was nothing to be done about it.
Unless . . . a thought came to him. What if I found out who did this? What if I avenged his death?
Dyrk didn’t know how an investigation would help his grief, but it would at least distract him.
Chapter Eight – A New Fire
(Darkness had settled over Riverside earlier than usual. Although it was winter)
(He stood in front of Chamberlain Appliances)
This time, he had come prepared. With a hat pulled over his ears, face wrapped in a wool scarf, body bundled up in a leather coat and sweater, he was ready for anything the weather threw at him. Trudging through town unnoticed was much easier now, as everyone was buried under swaddles of clothing like babies. He didn’t have to duck his head every time he passed someone on the street, which was better for him. People still said hello as they passed him by, but it was more out of courtesy than recognition.
He breathed out deeply, watching thin streams of fog pour out from under his scarf. His fingers were shoved into his pockets and he wiggled them, trying to warm them up. It hadn’t snowed for a week, but (the) piles of the stuff still lined the streets, turning gray like a dirty Slurpee from 7 – Eleven. It would take forever before any of that melted, and Riverside didn’t have any plans for hauling it away. That was the downside of living in a small town.
That, and people get away with murder much easier. The thought bothered Dyrk, and he tried to shake it. What about the big cities, where hundreds of crimes happen every night? Don’t you think they have tons of people getting away with things worse than murder? What was worse than murder? What was worse than taking away the life of another, robbing them of their only chance of happiness, their only chance to get anything done?
Dyrk’s thoughts wandered to death. He had always assumed that people went to a better place when they died, but the truth was that he didn’t have a clue where they went. During his mother’s funeral, someone had said something about heaven, but he had always believed you had to be a Christian or Catholic to get into heaven, and, knowing his mother, she was neither of those. But it had helped the grieving process, thinking she was somewhere he might get a chance to see her again.
When his brother died, no one said anything about heaven. It was easier not to say anything at all, and so he had simply learned to live without his brother until the pain of separation disappeared. Dyrk had never had a close relationship with Orlando anyway, so there wasn’t much to miss. His indifference to his brother’s death never bothered him. Maybe that made him cold, inhuman. He couldn’t explain it at all.
But with his father dead, he did care. It hurt him, and he felt an emptiness inside his chest that he had never felt before. But for Jeremiah Chamberlain, there were no thoughts of heaven to comfort him, no indifference to numb the pain. Dyrk felt the brunt of it, and he knew that it was very real. Something needed to be done, though. His feelings wouldn’t just disappear overnight. He needed to do something about it, or else it would eat him up alive.
That was why he was here today, at Chamberlain Appliances, even though it was the last place he wanted to be.
The police were no help, which was to expected. They hadn’t had to deal with a murder since the establishment of the town in the beginning of the 20th century. (Dyrk didn’t think they’d get any experience overnight, even if they watched crime shows.) Dyrk had read dozens of crime novels, and it was always the incompetent police officers that let murderers walk free. He had no intention of letting anyone get away with this.
Dyrk pushed open the door, listening for the jingle of bells above him. They didn’t ring. He looked up.
“The door was unlocked.”
The voice was slightly familiar. He closed his eyes, trying to place it. Mick.
“Nice job, cutting off the bells. I’m sure it bothered you, making all that noise.”
Dyrk opened his eyes and searched the dark for a face. A dark body hovered by the counter, but his features were obscured. He took a step forward.
“Why didn’t you lock the doors?” Mick asked. Dyrk didn’t answer. “It’s so easy to get in and out if you don’t lock the door.”
“You killed him, didn’t you?” Dyrk spat out, fist clenching.
Mick’s body shook in the dark as he burst into deep laughter. “Nothing gets around you, Dirt, does it?”
He used a nickname from the past, a name Dyrk hadn’t heard in ages. Dirt. They called him that in second grade, after a group of middle schoolers shoved him into the ground.
Mick had never called him that, though. It bothered him.
“You killed my father,” Dyrk repeated, drawing closer to the counter.
“That’s interesting of you to say, Dirt, because you need proof – evidence – before an accusation can stick.” Mick chuckled as Dyrk reached the counter across from him. “You won’t find any at all, my friend, but I’d really get a kick out of seeing you try.”
Dyrk rested his hands on the counter, straining to make out Mick’s face in the dark. Suddenly, the overhead light flicked on and Mick was gone. Dyrk shielded his eyes and spun around.
“Where did you go?” He raised his voice to a shout. ”
Junior! Where did you go?” Dyrk listened for footsteps, but heard none. He ran for his father’s office, screaming, “Mick! Mick!”
There was no Mick in the office. It was entirely bare – with nothing but carpeting.
What is going on here? he asked himself, circling around the now empty room. He stood to the spot where his father’s desk should have been, but saw nothing. It came back to him right then, the order he had given to clear out the area. He couldn’t recall why he had done so, why he would get rid of the only memory of his father. it hadn’t been himself, but Karen who had suggested it. Yes, the police officer had requested the items down at the precinct and he’d told her to take the whole lot. Apparently, she had followed his orders.
He flipped on the desk lamp, fingers sweating. No one was in the office. It hadn’t changed, even with the police and paramedics supposedly crawling all over it, looking for clues. Maybe that was why they hadn’t found anything in his father case.
Look at you, man! you just let his killer run free! Dyrk bolted from the office…
Chapter Eight: A New Fire (v.2)
Dyrk stood in front of Mick’s Pharmacy, face covered in a blue plaid scarf, eyes peeking out from under a matching navy ski cap. Snow covered the sidewalks, although the streets had been cleared over the weekend. He wore a pair of leather snow boots and two pairs of socks underneath. This time, he was prepared for whatever the weather threw at him. The trip into town had taken over an hour on foot because of the snow, and, although it was Monday morning, no cars drove past him. It was strange to not see anyone driving on a Monday morning, no matter how bad the weather was. Everyone in Riverside loved money more than comfort, and they got up and went to work everyday, without fail.
Except for him. He had taken a whole month off to mourn his father’s death, and he hadn’t even been conscious for the first three weeks of it. Many people had died during his lifetime, but he didn’t remember anyone missing more than a week, if that, due to a loved one’s death. It wasn’t that they didn’t care. They just didn’t see the need to prolong the grief and wanted to get on with their lives. Dyrk knew, though, the truth. They didn’t know how to handle their grief, so they worked hard and stayed busy so they wouldn’t have to admit that they were incapable of bringing back their loved one from the dead. He knew. He had done the same thing when his mother died, and repeated the process with his brother.
But not with his father. Something was different about this time, and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it.
It’s because he was murdered. A small voice found its way from the back of his head. He shoved his hands into his pockets. Maybe. His mother had died of cancer, his brother, leukemia. Both had illnesses, both had spent days and days in the hospital only to learn that there was little anyone could do about it. They were both too far along in their sicknesses. No one had noticed their symptoms, no one thought anything about anything until it was too late.
But not with dad, Dyrk thought. With dad, I know what happened. He was murdered.
It made all the difference to have been murdered. If he was murdered, then that meant someone was responsible, someone that he could physically see. With his mother and brother, it had been an illness, but you can’t do anything about that, can you? Ask his mother, and it had something to do with God. Well, he wasn’t too sure if he believed in God, but from what he heard, there was nothing he could do about that either. However, he could do something about a murderer.
The police were incompetent. They were wasting their time looking at bootprints when they should have at least some other form of DNA. There were less than ten thousand people in Riverside, and it couldn’t take that long to find out who did it. Unless, of course, it were a serial killer, or the killer had fled. But Dyrk didn’t think this had been a random accident. As much as he wanted it to be, he wanted to know that someone had done this on purpose. If they had, he would be able to take revenge. It was as simple as that.
Dyrk brought his walk to a halt in the middle of the sidewalk. He looked to his left, and across the street. There stood his store, Chamberlain Appliances, lights off, door locked. He hadn’t taken Mick Sr. up on his offer to run the shop, and he had found the offer by Mick Jr. a little more than troubling. Dyrk turned to his right.
“Mick’s Pharmacy,” the bright, neon pink colors read. No one could understand why he had chosen pink for his sign, but no one questioned Mick Sr. He was known for his eccentric style, his outlandish color schemes, and his big heart. It was rumored that when a customer started going into labor in the middle of his store, he carried her on his back all the way to Riverside Hospital. When all was said and done, he paid for the child’s first year of diapers, food, and clothing. Of course, other rumors put the woman as a secret lover, but everyone knew it was wrong. Mick Sr. would never cheat on his wife, Esmeralda, the self proclaimed South – American beauty, whom he had rescued from a prison during a visit to Columbia over thirty years ago.
Dyrk pushed the front door, opening it gently. There were no bells or wind chimes to alert anyone of his entrance. Mick Sr. wouldn’t stand for it. He’d wear the craziest clothes, say the craziest things, but he’d never put bells over his door.
“Too weird,” he’d said, when Dyrk asked a few years ago. “I’m trying to stay away from anything that’s strange or stands out.”
Dyrk laughed at the understatement.
The Pharmacy was dark, which was strange, considering the fact that it was the middle of the day. Monday at noon was usually the busiest time for Mick’s Pharmacy. He remembered because it alternated every day with the busyness of Chamberlain’s Appliances. Tuesdays, Dyrk expected more customers at lunch, Wednesdays it was Mick, and vice versa. No one worked on Sundays, not because of any religious affiliations, but because customers just didn’t like coming all the way into town on Sundays. Dyrk didn’t mind himself, and he often came down to the shop with his father just to think. His mother had gone to church, taking his younger brother with her, but he and his father had never gone with her.
Dyrk remembered the day when his father had started going, leaving him all alone at the shop. It had been a few months before . . .
Say it. Say “before he died.”
“Before he died,” Dyrk breathed out heavily. He could almost see the words escape from his mouth like the smoke racing out of the lungs of a smoker. Like cigarette smoke, though, the words hung in the air, waiting for him to breath in again, to suck them back into his system. That part of him that refused to believe his father was dead was persistent.
You’ve always been a smart one, Dyrk. Why change that now? You witnessed the poor man slip from this world with your own eyes. What makes you think he isn’t really dead?
“Before who died?”
The unexpected voice startled him, and he jumped, throwing his hands up to protect himself. Mick Jr.’s rotund body appeared in front of him, and he took a step back toward the door.
“I, uh, I was talking about,” Dyrk stammered, trying to catch his breath. He didn’t know if he should admit anything to Mick. They weren’t close or anything like that. The memory of the blood covered t-shirt rushed into the forefront of his mind, setting his eyes ablaze.
Mick must have noticed something, because he stepped around Dyrk and reached for the light switch near the front of the door. The messy Pharmacy suddenly came into full view before Dyrk. Everything from tiny plastic earrings to Tylenol tablets lay haphazardly in shelves that formed five rows in the center of the Pharmacy. One end of the shop, furthest from the door, had a counter dedicated to prescription drugs, while the other, closer to the door, was for the cash register, cigarettes, candy, and phone cards.
Dyrk stopped himself. Why was he looking at the shop when he had a possible killer standing in front of him? He grabbed Mick by the arm.
“Hey, man, what’s wrong?” The chubby man said, trying to wrench free from his grip. Dyrk tightened his grasp.
“Mick, what were you doing with that blood on you?”
“What blood, man? I don’t know what you’re – ”
Dyrk pulled Mick closer to him, breathing on his face. “Don’t play that with me. I’m talking about that day, the one when you killed my father.”
Mick shuddered and closed his eyes. He opened them slowly and shook his head.
“You think I had something to do with that, man? You don’t know, I loved your dad. He was more of a dad to me than my old man, you know?”
“No, I do not know!” Dyrk shouted, shaking the man in his hands. “I don’t know anything about you and my father, nor do I want to! I just wanna know why you walked out of my store covered in blood.”
“I wasn’t in your store, man, not anywhere near it.” Mick raised his hands in surrender as he shook under Dyrk’s hands.
Dyrk looked into his face. It was hard to tell if Mick was lying or telling the truth. How can you tell if a killer is being honest? After all, he had the courage – no, the inhumanity – to take a person’s life. Would he have any qualms about lying? Dyrk didn’t think so.
“Where, then, were you?”
Mick flushed and looked away from Dyrk. He shook him, and the man snapped to attention.
“Uh, I was, uh, at the, at the butcher’s shop!” He stammered. Dyrk pushed him up against the wall, nearly hitting the light switch with Mick’s body.
“Yeah, you were butchering my father, that’s what you were doing!”
“Hey, you want me to call the police, man? Because I will.” Suddenly, Mick had a backbone. Dyrk snickered and let him go.
“Yes, call the police. Tell them that I am accusing you of murdering my father and they’ll just chalk it up to me being out of my mind because of grief. No one will take you seriously.”
“They won’t take you seriously, either, man.” Mick stood up straighter, which wasn’t much to his five four frame. “You know that, though, don’t you. You went to the police and they turned you away, didn’t they.” It wasn’t a question. Dyrk looked away. There was no way Mick was turning the table on this one. He wasn’t winning this.
“Everything doesn’t have to go through the law.”
“Get out of my store.” Mick shoved something black in Dyrk’s face. He tried to focus his eyes on it, but his eyes crossed and blurred. He took a step back, and the small object suddenly came into focus. A gun.
Dyrk threw up his hands. He hadn’t expected this.
“I’m leaving, I’m leaving,” he said, carefully stepping toward the door. Mick stared at him, gun following his moving body like it was connected by a string. Dyrk quietly pushed open the door with his foot.
“You stay away from me, do you hear me, man?” Mick shouted, holding the door open with one hand, the other still pointing the gun at Dyrk. “You stay away from me until you get better. Your dad was a good man, Dyrk, a really good man. I miss him too.”
A rage he hadn’t expected possible for him filled his stomach. His nostrils flared as a scream threatened to escape from his lips.
How dare he say that he misses my father! He wanted to shout. How dare you say you miss my father!
But no words escaped him. Instead, he clenched his fists and ran across the street and into his own store, Chamberlain Appliances. He slammed the door behind him, barely heard the bells chiming, didn’t give more than a second thought as to why the door hadn’t been locked and stormed into his father’s office at the back.