I went back to Arizona. To my dad’s old place. Like I said, I’ve got places all over, but most of them are mine. This one was my dad’s. This one was my favorite.
It took a few days to get my sleep schedule back on track. To get ready. Because after the snow, the mud, the leaves — I knew there was no escaping it. Best I could do was go back to the only place I considered home.
My dad bought the place, a modest little bungalow plopped out in the middle of the desert — remote, private, you bet — after Ma filed for divorce. She found out what he’d been up to and finally found herself a spine. I don’t think my dad much cared, to be honest. He didn’t fight her, didn’t screw her out of what she asked for, either. Gave her a fair amount of money and jetted down to sunny Arizona. Almost like he was relieved.
I spent my teenage years bouncing back and forth between Ma’s place and my dad’s. It wasn’t so bad. When I wasn’t in school, my dad let me drink with him. He’d be in his armchair, the same bulky armchair that sits in my living room now like a dozing brown bear. “Nothin’ wrong with a little Jack Daniels between men,” he’d say. What he didn’t say was that even though I saw what he was doing in that strange house, I never told Ma, even though he belted me good when we got home that night. I think that made him respect me.
I didn’t ask questions, either, when he left for long periods of time. My dad had always been private and even though I was older I had no doubt I’d get the belt again if I went snooping. When he got drunk, he could get mean, and sometimes he’d come back stinking plastered, looking for a chore to keep him busy. No snow in Arizona, no walk to shovel, so every now and then I’d hear him out in the backyard digging. He was the kind of man who had to keep his hands busy. Couldn’t fault him for that, I guess.
Once I was back to normal, feeling like maybe I could stay up pretty late, I bought myself a bottle of Jack and settled in the living room. Sank into my dad’s old armchair. I turned on the television and began flipping channels. Sadly enough, I couldn’t find “Overboard” on anywhere.
And sure enough, after about an hour, it started.
I switched off the television. Finished my drink. Poured another one.
“I hear you out there,” I called. “Didn’t take you too long this time, did it?”
“What’s it gonna be, huh?” I demanded. Jack had made me brave, braver than before, so I slammed another swig back and felt the warmth spread through my stomach. “Are you my dad? Are you me? Gonna yell at me for not shoveling the walk? Ha! No snow out there, asshole, and no rain neither. We don’t get any rain in these parts, not that often. Just sand and sun.”
Tap-tap-tap-tap. On one window, the one on the porch. Then I heard it in the kitchen, too. And towards the back of the house, in the mudroom.Tapping on all the windows. There were more this time.
And when it spoke, that’s when I knew I’d made a mistake — that I’d missed the whole goddam point. That I was absolutely, utterly fucked.
Not my dad. Not me. Not even the wordless babbling. Worse. Much, much worse.
“Danny, oh Danny, Danny,” it said in a sweet, feminine voice. A voice I didn’t really recognize but also sort of did. “Danny, oh Danny, we’re out here, Danny. We’re here. You thought we couldn’t find you, but we did.”
There was no way.
I’d made sure, I’d been so careful.
“Danny, oh Danny, Danny,” it crooned again, and there was nothing wrong with the voice really, just sounded like a normal lady, someone I might meet on one of my nights out, someone I almost certainly did. “Danny, oh Danny, you thought we couldn’t get to you but we did. We’re here, come outside, say hello, oh Danny, don’t you like us anymore? You liked us so much, too much, didn’t you?”
I felt like my mouth had been stuffed full of leaves again. My stomach wasn’t warm anymore, it lurched like I’d swallowed a gallon of cold, thick mud.
“Danny, oh Danny, you just did what your daddy taught you. We’re not angry, Danny, we’re not mad, those were our friends we sent before, we couldn’t get to you first so we sent them along and they were the old ones, they were the angry ones, but we’re fresh and new and we want to know why you left us, Danny.”
I gripped the glass of whiskey so tight I thought it might shatter.
They shouldn’t have been able to get out of the basement. I learned that, I learned from my dad, if you let them stay mobile they can almost get away, that lady in the house that night almost got away because I distracted him at the window, she bolted but my dad was faster and he took her down but I’m not that fast so it was always just easier to cut off their feet.
“Danny, oh Danny, we figured it out, we’re smart girls, Danny, did you know if you try hard enough you can walk on your hands?” It sounded so nice, like it wasn’t mad at all, not like the others, but oh god I wasn’t sure it was telling the truth. “It took us longer, the lot of us, oh Danny it took us a while to try hard enough but we did, we can do it now, just like our friends. Our angry friends. Oh Danny, did you know when you’re angry you try much harder?”
Yeah, that I knew. When you think your dad is the best guy in the world but really he’s just a bully, he thinks he’s so much better than you and hits you with the buckle end of his belt for just being a kid when it was him who was being bad, him who was in there strangling some woman who probably was gonna tell Ma about what they’d been up to. When he punishes you again and again for things you didn’t mean to do, like forgetting to shovel the walk. For getting mud on the porch. For not getting all the leaves in the yard bagged just right. Yeah, you get angry. And you try much harder. To be better than him.
“I think he only did the one,” I mused, finally lifting the glass to my lips with a trembling hand. “I think it was just the one, if I had to guess.”
“Oh Danny,” it said, and it sounded aroused, like it was getting hot or something. “Danny, oh Danny, you did so much more, didn’t you?”
Tap-tap-tap-tap. At all the windows. How were they tapping? If they walked on their hands, how were they tapping, oh god as if any of this made any sense at all…
How many of them were out there? Some of them? Dear god, all of them?
“You left me in the basement, Danny,” it said, sad now, pouty, a girlfriend who’s not getting her way. “You came back, oh Danny, yes you did, but I was so smelly by then, and when you left I hadn’t even gone yet, I was still there, still alive, and my feet, oh Danny why did you cut off my feet? It hurt, Danny, oh Danny you hurt me so! You hurt us so!”
“You were all so easy,” I said, wiping a thin sheen of sweat from my upper lip with the back of my hand. “Buy you a few drinks, bring you home, knock you out. Maybe if it hadn’t been so easy—”
“Oh Danny, don’t lie, don’t be a little liar, you did it to show your daddy, didn’t you? And you showed your daddy, oh Danny, we know that now, we know what you did, your daddy is awful mad at you for what you did…”
The rain fell harder, harder, like a fucking monsoon. I couldn’t hear the tapping on the windows anymore but I knew they were out there, all of them, because why not all of them?
On the porch, something began running back and forth. Back and forth. I thought I heard a little kid laugh but couldn’t be sure.
I felt like I was losing my mind, thoughts were slippery and escaping from me, they were all out there.
“Are you sitting in his chair, Danny?” it said, louder now to be heard over the downpour. “Oh Danny, are you sitting in the chair where you did it? He told us about it, Danny, he’s awful mad at you, oh Danny, oh Danny…”
“I had to wait ’till I got big enough,” I murmured. “Strong enough. I had to do it with my own hands, just like he did.”
“Danny, oh Danny, you wrapped your big strong hands around his neck and you showed your daddy, didn’t you? 15 years ago, oh Danny, oh yes Danny, that’s what you did, we know what you did, your daddy wants you to get what’s coming to you and now it’s raining and now we’re done talking and now we’re coming inside and now you’re going to be so sorry.”
The blonde I’d brought home in Texas. The redhead with the huge tits I scored in Minnesota. The mousy little brunette I’d settled for in New Orleans, the one I’d left in the basement when the whatever on the porch came through the window.
Scores of them. All of them. Had there really been that many? Crawling through the broken glass, unaware of the way their rotting skin was being shredded to ribbons. A few were dragging themselves forward by their elbows, trailing bloody stumps where their feet had once been.
Most, though, were walking on their hands. And goddam were they fast. They must’ve been angrier than they let on.
I dropped my drink and scrambled to the back of the house, to the kitchen where the phone was. I’d tried to handle this myself and it was out of my hands, I had to get help, I had to get someone out here to help, oh god why had I moved to this godforsaken place in the middle of nowhere?
Outside, the rain poured, buckets of it.
When I got to the kitchen, I fumbled with the phone on the cradle, nearly dropping it in my panic, and looked behind me.
They had me surrounded. My house stunk of decaying flesh. Some of the older ones, their jaws hung crookedly from their skulls. But they were just… waiting.
The ones on their elbows were crouched, tense, ready to pounce. The ones on their hands swayed with an eerie expert balance.
Slowly, unaware if they could see me now that I was still — many of them had no eyes, after all, just gaping dark holes in their heads — I punched nine-one-one. I brought the phone to my ear. As the dead women watched, I told the operator that I was being attacked and needed help. They said help was on the way. I wondered if it would be soon enough and replaced the phone on the hook.
The brunette (the mousy one from New Orleans) shifted back and forth, back and forth on her hands, like an excited little kid.
“Danny, oh Danny, you’re going to be so sorry!” she squealed through decaying lips. I wasn’t even sure how she could make sounds with those lips.
A tittering spread through the crowd, a slurpy sort of giggling that almost couldn’t be heard over the heavy rain.
I put my hands over my ears.
“Stop! Leave me alone!” I screamed. “You were stupid sluts, you were just like the one my dad did, you got what was coming to you!”
“Oh Danny,” the brunette cried as the rest of them kept saying my name. “Oh Danny, you showed your daddy, you showed us, and now you’re going to be so sorry, now you’re going to see your daddy again! You’ll be like us, you’ll get what’s coming to you, yes you will, oh Danny!”
They said my name, over and over. It began to sound like a song.
I rocked back and forth, shouting nonsense at them, trying to drown out the rain and the chorus of dead women crooning my name. I backed up against the sink, hands clamped over my ears. I don’t know how long I was like that but they got louder, louder, louder until —
“Ha!” I cried out, triumphant, and opened my eyes to look at the 37 rotting bodies that filled the house where I’d murdered my father. “You hear that, you dumb bitches, that’s the police! They’re coming, they’re gonna save me!” Indeed, the women had stopped singing, and through the rain I heard the distinctive wail of a cop car’s siren.
But they were smiling.
“Oh Danny,” sighed the brunette from New Orleans, “look in the backyard.”
My blood ran cold.
No. There was no way.
I turned and looked out the window that oversaw the backyard. The backyard of dry, packed desert dirt. The backyard where my dad used to dig and the backyard where I eventually did my own digging, too.
He liked Arizona because it was dry. Because it never rained. But tonight, oh how it had rained. And it turns out, I was wrong. He’d done more than one.
Just like me.
In the backyard, the tightly-packed desert dirt was mostly gone — under the downpour it had become a thin murky soup. In it floated swollen, bloated carcasses. Bones stripped of flesh. A few heads that still had wispy hair on them even as the skull gleamed beneath it.
I knew they weren’t all mine, not that many bones, but that didn’t much matter. The siren was louder now, right outside. It didn’t take long for me to put the pieces together.
I turned back to the living room and was unsurprised to find it empty. No rotting women. Those were in the backyard. The interior of my house suddenly began to flash blue, red, blue, red. And I began to laugh.
What is it they say about the sins of the father? It doesn’t matter.
Because I lied.
I’m not sorry.