The little boy cowered in the dark recess of the moldy basement; scared, shivering, and alone. There was a steady drip coming from the corner, probably an overhead pipe that had sprung a small leak. Drip, drip, drip. It was maddening to listen to, but it was something to concentrate on other than his own maddening fear.
The ropes that tied him to the wooden bench were not overly tight, just enough to pinch his slim wrists with the slightest depression. He didn’t even consider squirming loose; there was nowhere to go, nowhere to hide. The door was locked, and even if he could find a way out-
His breath caught in his throat as he heard the bump, bump, bump of footsteps on the floor above, which would be the living room. His father. In very little time, no time at all, he would come downstairs, into the basement, and- Drip, drip, drip.
The boy knew he shouldn’t be here, not this time. He hadn’t done anything wrong this time. It was the other guy’s fault. It’s always the other guy’s fault, he could hear his father say. But it was!! That’s the truth, I swear!! It really doesn’t matter, now does it, son?
The door above unlocked and shuttered open, heavy footsteps clad in working boots slowly making their way downstairs. “Boy, you did it this time!!” the bellowing tone of his father rang out. The boy didn’t want to look at him; he just wanted it to be over. A tear slid wetly down the cheek exposed to the cool air of the basement, the other one buried in the sawdust of the bench.
The boy’s father approached him, banging the liquor bottle gently against his head to make him open up his eyes. The boy stubbornly refused. There was the soft hiss of air as the container whisked downward, smashing into glittering pieces of jagged glass not three inches from the boy’s head. Scared, the boy had no choice but to look at his father.
“Got your attention, didn’t I?” his father asked, not really expecting an answer. The hazy look in his eyes told the boy he didn’t need one, or at least wouldn’t listen to one. His beard was scruffier than it had been yesterday, another consecutive day that his father had refused to shave. A snarling mouth protruded from underneath, gaps visible where rotten teeth had fallen out from the infected gums. The man looked drunk, but even worse, he looked crazy drunk.
“I’m going to have to punish you real good this time,” his father told him, heading for the cheap metal shelves that buckled with the weight of rusting tools and cans of ancient paint, their lids so glued down with congealed paint to render them forever sealed. The man let out a short laugh as he headed for his favorite means of punishment.
The boy knew that pleading would do no good; his treatment was inevitable. He listened to the sound of the dripping water, pretending that it was a waterfall, a waterfall that could bury him into the comforting depths of the deep earth and away from this nightmare. Drip, drip, drip. Then he heard another sound.
The slinking rattle of a heavy linked chain was subtle, almost melodic, along with the busted pipe, but its implications were not subtle at all. They were downright terrifying. The boy would have screamed, he knew what was coming, but that would only prolong the punishment, as well as its severity.
His father approached the wooden bench he had straddled his boy to with twines of cross-threaded rope, carrying in his massive arms a massive chain. One end, linked to a dulled and blunted hook, still stained with dry blood and bits of hair, screeched across the concrete floor. SKKKKIIIISSSHHHHH!!!! Drip, drip, drip.
He stopped at the bench, lowering the chain, the clinking of the links very close now to the boy’s head. The boy could smell the alcohol wafting from his father’s breath, his clothes, his dirtied hands, in an endless wave of gut-wrenching revulsion. And the boy knew that it was going to start soon, and all’s well that ends well.
“Remember, boy,” his father slurred, smiling his gap-toothed smile at the fruit of his loins, “this hurts me more than it ever hurts you.” He paused for a moment, raising the heavy chain, the blunted hook, into the air, letting it dangle before the boy’s widened eyes. “One day, you’ll thank me for all this.”
The boy took a quick breath, a dizzying breath of pure oxygenated fear, and the chain whirred around and around, picking up speed, gearing toward destruction. He could feel the wind it generated on his face, and, despite the fear, despite the impending terror, it actually felt good. Then the chain changed direction, and spread outward to seek his restricted hands, hands that were bound with cross-threaded rope, hands that were in for a world of pain. Drip, drip, drip.
The man who had once been that boy sidled up the lonely expanse of the graveyard, casting a weary look on the oblique and long-forgotten monuments. He found the one he was looking for, bending down to read his father’s name chiseled into the granite stone. An angel, perhaps an angel of mercy, had been etched at the top. The man snickered at this, although he really saw no reason to laugh. No reason at all.
He lowered himself down on one knee, being careful not to dirty his trouser pants, and deposited the single rose he had brought at the base of the headstone. It sat there, the only image of vibrant color among a patch of yellow grass and overgrown weeds, the depressingly gray shade of the stone its backdrop. The man looked at the rose a moment longer, than back to the grave. “Thank you, Dad. For everything,” he whispered.
The man raised himself up and headed back along the path he had come toward the idling limo that waited for him near the cemetery’s entrance. The plume of blue smoke issuing from the exhaust hung like a lingering mist over the black trunk. His chauffeur, poised and ever-ready to act, readily opened the rear door and tipped his cap. The man straightened his expensive tie before bowing down into the car. “Didn’t take too long, did I, Charles?” the man with the pristine suit and badly scarred knuckles asked. “No, Senator, of course not,” came the chauffeur’s obedient answer. The door closed, and, a few seconds later, the car drove out of the cemetery, back onto the highway, back toward Washington, D.C.