It took three days. Three god damn days for the snow to stop but when it did, I packed up my things and got gone in a hurry. I didn’t even shovel the walk before I left. Fuck it.
I mean, it wasn’t like I had to give notice or anything. Dad’s money makes life pretty easy and I don’t need much. Besides, I’ve got places all over. Feels good to shake the dust off – or in this case, the snow – and stay somewhere else for a while. Especially, you know, after what happened.
I decided to head to New Orleans. The Big Easy. There’s no place like Bourbon Street in the world, I tell you, so full of life and booze and half-coherent women. My favorite things. Main problem is the rain. There’s a reason they don’t bury their dead in Louisiana, stick ‘em in big concrete boxes above ground instead. But rain isn’t snow and I can survive. I’m good like that.
I had a place on the outskirts of town. Close enough I could go into the city and have some fun but far enough from the constant buzz of NOLA activity that I wouldn’t be bothered. I mean, who can listen to jazz that often without going crazy? Jazz is fine and all but there’s a limit.
Was okay for a while. Started to suspect that maybe I’d even imagined the whole thing, tricked myself into thinking there had been something on the porch by way of whiskey and boredom. I mean, I’d been cooped up for days. What do they call that – cabin fever, right?
Yeah. It was probably that, right?
It started as a drizzle. I was heading home from the bar after a fairly successful night and suddenly it was spitting little droplets onto my windshield, the annoying kind that you barely need wipers for but if you don’t use them you can’t really see and it honestly pissed me off, this small thing that shouldn’t have mattered but did somehow. It was a black smudge on what had been a pretty good time and… I guess… it reminded me of the snow.
When I got home I made sure to latch all the fancy new locks I’d bought for my doors. No use taking chances. By then, it was pouring.
I’d barely fixed myself a glass of Jack – old habits die hard – when I heard the knock.
I froze. It couldn’t be.
Just like before, I waited. Hoping to God or Jesus or all the angels in heaven that I hadn’t heard what I knew I had. Enough time passed, rain pounding steady on the roof, that for a brief blessed moment I actually thought that yeah, I’d heard something, but it was just the storm and nothing else.
Again: a knock. Then another.
I knew by now not to look outside. Not to check the porch. Last time, that seemed to let it in my head somehow. Let it get me off the couch and almost open the door.
It was a little voice, a kid’s voice. He sounded alright, sorta familiar, barely audible over the rain. Maybe it was a neighbor? Maybe he sounded like someone I’d heard on TV? All possibilities, sure, most important though he sounded alright.
But I still couldn’t make myself look out there.
“Yeah?” I called, inching towards the door. “Who is it?” Like I said, I’m on the outskirts of town. I pay attention real close to my neighbors. I didn’t remember seeing a kid.
“Mister, let me in,” the kid said, his voice shaking like it does when you’re trying not to cry but pretty close to failing. “I was with my dad and he left me in the car and I don’t know where he is. It’s been real long, I’m getting so worried…”
For a second, my heart went out to the kid. It really did. My dad did something like that to me too, once. When I was real little.
Then I realized.
“How long’s he been gone?” I asked, and my voice wasn’t shaking, but I sorta was.
“Almost two hours,” the kid said miserably. “He parked outside of some house, I don’t know who lives there, he told me to be a good boy and wait.”
Of course he did. I remembered that much. But, like my dad, I hadn’t thought about it in a long time.
“Please let me in,” the kid pleaded. “It’s cold and wet out here, I’m soaked and I don’t know where my dad is.”
“You didn’t wait,” I said, the glass of Jack sweating in the hot palm of my hand. “You got out and that’s real bad, kid, he told you to be a good boy and wait.”
A long, tense pause while the doorknob kept rattling.
“I s’pose,” the kid said, sorta thoughtfully, “Daddy might be awful mad if he finds out I didn’t stay in the car, huh?”
“Yeah.” I exhaled, took a big swig of whiskey, swallowed. It was like swallowing cold metal. “He was.”
The doorknob stopped moving.
I suddenly knew why the kid had sounded familiar. It wasn’t a neighbor. It wasn’t someone I’d heard on TV.
It was me.
“Dan-eeeeeee,” he said slowly, drawing the last sound out long and low. “Dan-eeeeee. Eeeeee. Eeeeee.”
I told you my dad was real particular about things, like shoveling the walk when it snowed. He was also real particular about rules. And obeying them.
“We waited as long as we could,” I said, like talking to this Other-Me outside the door was normal, fine, not batshit crazy. “We waited, kid, I know that, but it was such a long time.”
“Dad-eeeeeee got mad, didn’t he Dan-eeeeeee?” It was still my voice, the voice of me when I was 8 and my dad left me in the car, and that was somehow worse. The funhouse-mirror version in the snow had been better because I could tell myself there was something wrong, something bad, but this just sounded like… me.
“Yeah, he sure did,” I said. “But he told us, you know, he told us to be good and what did we do? Got right out of the car and started snooping like spoiled little shits.” Another swig. “We deserved what we got.”
“Are you sorry, Dan-eeeeeee?” he said. “Are you sorry for what you did Dan-eeeeeee, eeeeeee, eeeeeee? You didn’t get what’s coming to you, aren’t you sorry?”
I remembered the whooping I got when we got home that night. I had gotten what was coming, all right.
Outside, the rain poured.
“No, we got punished.” I had already sorta resigned to myself that this was happening, there was no getting away from it, so I sat down on the couch closest to the door and swallowed half the glass. “Don’t you remember? We got it good. Could barely sit down for a week.”
“Dan-eeeeeee. Eeeeeee. Eeeeeee.” Slow, deliberate slaps against the door, like palms smacking on wood. “Let me in. Let me in. Let me in.”
I exhaled through my nose. The world was starting to dim around the edges but I tried to ground myself. Took another sip, hoping it would warm my insides – which had become cold, sick.
I didn’t answer.
“Dan-eeeeeee. Eeeeeee. Eeeeeee. If you don’t let me in, he’ll get me. He’ll get us.”
I didn’t answer.
“Aren’t you sorr-EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE!” it shrieked, and then it was like there were a thousand hands all at once, slapping the wood, the frame, the windows –
Oh god. The windows.
I’d thought to put locks on the doors but not the god damn windows.
I dropped the glass, grabbed my car keys and went for the back like a bat out of hell. I’d left something important in the basement but it didn’t matter, nothing mattered except getting away from that fucking thing.
The screen door stuck at first when I tried to open it. Nearly went barreling through the metal mesh. The stupid handle caught, it catches sometimes and it caught then, and behind me I heard one of the front windows open so hard the glass shattered.
I slammed against the door with my shoulder and the handle caught again, then broke. I fell through, started to run.
My car was parked in a shed behind the house. It’s more private that way.
I like my privacy. Just like my dad.
With unsteady hands I wrenched the shed doors open, boots slipping in the mud. I was already drenched.
I made my way to the car when I heard it: quick, thick squelching sounds.
I threw myself into the car and jabbed the keys blindly into the ignition. Someone must’ve been looking out for me because I got it the first time, lurched the car into gear, and drove straight through the back wall of the shed.
Splintered wood went flying everywhere. The car fishtailed, its tires finding little traction in the mud, but soon I was off the grass and on the little gravel road that wound around my property. It led, eventually, to the highway, and that’s how I got to the hotel where I’ll be staying for a while.
I don’t know who’s listening. I don’t know who cares. But if you are, if you do, do you need me to tell you that when I went back – in the daylight, of course – the front of my house was covered in filthy, muddy handprints?
Of course not.
What I didn’t expect, I guess, is for them to be so low to the ground. Like it couldn’t reach too high. Like a kid couldn’t.
I don’t know where I’m going next. It comes in the snow, it comes in the rain. It keeps… coming… back.
But like I said, I’ve got places all over. And what it doesn’t know about me is how well I can survive. I survived my dad, you know? I can survive this.
And if I don’t, I guess I’ll get what’s coming to me.