Guilt

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Status: Finished  |  Genre: Horror  |  House: Booksie Classic

Home invaders killed a man's wife and son. One year later he hears someone else break into his house. After shooting the shadow lurking in his kitchen, he turns on the light and becomes terrified by what he sees...

 

For a year I’ve had more nightmares than sleep. I constantly replayed their deaths, piecing together what I did wrong. Sit with it long enough and the guilt becomes as familiar as breathing. At that point it’s impossible to live without it. Edna, Simon, I’m sorry.

I was in the middle of the same nightmare when a noise woke me.

I opened my eyes to a blurry bedroom. Though sprawled under two blankets, I was still cold from the A/C. The alarm clock’s LED-blue read 2:34 AM. Only two hours of “sleep”. But what else was new?

I sat up waiting for the noise again. Patiently. Anxiously. My hands wrung the bedsheets and my heart pounded in my ears. Even if I stayed up till sunrise, I needed to make sure I heard what I heard.

It came again. It was the sound of clattering dishes. Someone had come into my house.

I reached under the bed and dragged out the M1911 pistol. It weighed in my hand like a corpse—heavy, cold, lifeless.

I snuck out into the hallway on the balls of my feet. The vertigo of adrenaline and darkness made it feel like I walked on walls. I tried to keep calm but it was hard. I felt that weakness, that pathetic weakness that got Edna and Simon killed. I told myself: Relax. Leave the panic for the cocksucker downstairs. Make him wish he never came. Let him cry, beg, and when he think you’ll let him go... BAM!...scatter his brains all over the wall! 

When I passed Sheila’s door I couldn’t even look at it. Our last argument was brutal. Of course it wasn’t the time or place but I couldn’t stop thinking about it: I had overheard her on the phone talking about her boyfriend inviting her to a party. When I told her she couldn’t go, she threw every insult she could at me: Nazi, psycho, prison guard. Eventually we resolved it by shouting “Fuck you!” at each other. We weren’t always like this.

Feelings aside, I was unsure if I needed to warn her and risk making too much noise. I was painfully aware that every second I waited was a second that I let myself and my family be put in danger.

I left her alone.

I crept downstairs, ready to shoot without hesitation.

Once I spotted the shadow in the kitchen, I aimed at his head. My eyes had a hard time adjusting to the dark.

I breathed in slow, held, then exhaled. When the breath ended, a calm overcame me. I squeezed the trigger. Little by little a rush of emotions swelled within me. Finally, retribution. But then, a hair of second before I fired, the intruder said something:

“Dad?”

The explosion rung my ears. Scared stiff, I watched the shadow fall to the floor. What this person said—I didn’t want it to be what I thought I heard...but the more I replayed it, the more anxious I grew.

I turned on the stairwell light.

Oh...oh...no no no no no...Sheila. Sheila.

I dropped the gun and ran to her. A mangled wound replaced one of her green eyes, and trickled blood down my arm. Holding her head in my hands, fingers combing her brown curls...I rocked back and forth sobbing a lullaby, wanting so badly to soothe the hurt I caused.

“It’ll be okay baby. It’ll all be okay.”

But she was gone. No longer would I see her smile, how she raised one corner of her lip higher than the other. Or hear the way she whined, “sorta-kinda” when she talked.

I screamed. I wanted my cry to cut into the ground. But my ears still rang, so I heard nothing. I forgot what noise was. I forgot who I was. Hurt became all I knew, and it filled me like water rising in a sealed container. No matter how loudly I cried, no one would hear me.

Still dazed, the thought of calling 911 entered my mind, thinking that perhaps there was still hope for her to live a life she deserved. But she was gone. No doctor could’ve fixed this mess. A part of me figured that what I held in my arms wasn’t my daughter, but rather a figment of a horrible nightmare I so desperately wanted to leave.

But she had dreams unrealized. Potential unfulfilled.

Ever since she was seven, rain or shine, we’d practice throwing and hitting at the Roosevelt High School baseball diamond. I taught Sheila every pitch in the MLB handbook—her cutter alone broke around two hundred bats and carried her to six national championships, four of which her team won. I thought she was going to be the next Mariano Rivera.

I did this to her. I did this to my baby.

I blacked out. I saw streetlights. A lonely bridge. A river. But nothing else.

Then I woke up. A sunny blue morning shone through my window. Was it all a dream? Had to be—the anger and distress felt too horrible to be real. It took all the strength I had to drag myself off the bed and go to Sheila’s room, but when I got to that white door I froze. A dead quiet hung in the air. My mouth went dry. After much hesitation, I knocked. “Sheila?”

Nothing.

Deep breath.

I opened the door and peeked in. The letter from Princeton detailing her acceptance and scholarship money still sat on her desk among her dozens of trophies. I scanned her clothes-ridden room to find, to my relief, Sheila curled under a mound of blankets with only the top of her head visible. The rise and fall of her body as she snored was the most captivating thing on the planet. I clapped a hand over my mouth to stop myself from weeping. With a grin as wide as sin, I silently shut the door.

I went downstairs and cooked Sheila’s favorite: bacon, eggs over easy, and French toast with bananas on top. “Because” by The Beatles played on the radio. I sang along. The almost three-minute song was a sigh of relief that seemed to last forever. I didn’t need to worry. Everything was fine.

I called for Sheila to come down once I finished breakfast. When she didn’t, that same rising anxiety crept back. What if...no, impossible. It was all just a bad dream. She’s up there. You saw her yourself.

I laughed, thinking she was probably nursing a sambuca-induced hangover. While I didn’t condone it, I was happy to know that my girl was growing into a woman.

After serving myself, I sat down on the sofa and flipped on Sportscenter. Thank god it was Saturday. Work was the last thing anyone needed after last night. I was about to dig in when I realized I forgot my fork.

I got up, went to the drawer in the dining room, and opened the top shelf. That’s when I saw the bloody dishcloth on top of the knifedock.

No.

I rushed upstairs with the rag in hand and burst through Sheila’s door. She wasn’t there. Not in the bathroom, the backyard, anywhere. It was like she vanished.

I called her phone. Immediately I heard the “Hey’ya!” she started her voicemails with. Again I called her. And again. Five more times, each of them yielding the same result. Pacing around the living room I was ready to breakdown in tears. Then the doorbell rang.

I paused. My body went numb. I opened the front door and saw the last person I wanted to see: Jarrett, Sheila’s boyfriend.

“Um hey Mr. Parker, I-I mean sir,” he said. “She forgot this last night.”

He held Sheila’s jacket, which looked more like a jean napkin in his hands. Pinned onto the jacket were pro-communism buttons—Fuck the Fucked Up Capitalists! Down with Oppression! one of them said.

He gave me the jacket. I thanked him.

“Would it be alright if I grabbed her?” he asked, pointing with his them at the muscle car double-parked in front of my house. “We had a lunch date at Randel’s Place, the diner across the street from our high school. You know, to celebrate the whole Princeton thing.”

“She’s not with you?” I asked.

“Uh, no. I’m sorry I thought she was here. Once I dropped her off, I made sure she got in. You don’t know where she is?”

“Can’t say.”

“Oh...well, I’m sure she’ll turn up eventually. She probably got one of her friends to take her. Your car’s still in the driveway so I doubt she’d be anywhere else. Not like there’s anything fun to do around here, heh. Oh, um no offense.”

“None taken.”

“Don’t worry. I’m sure she’s fine.” Jarrett smacked my shoulder with that freakish linebacker strength of his. I winced and he apologized profusely, rubbing my shoulder as if that would make it feel better.

After we said goodbye he got in his car and rode off. I shut the door, mind dissecting what he said. What if it was true? What if she left for Randel’s without telling me beforehand? Perhaps I was so focused on cooking breakfast that I missed her.

I grabbed my keys and made my way to the diner. I had to constantly ease on the gas because I kept speeding twenty miles over the limit without meaning to. Anxiety boiled like acid, ripping and chewing me from the inside out. I could’ve pretended she was alive. All I had to do was stay home and not know, telling myself that if she didn’t come home today then she’d come home the next. And the day after that and the day after that. Rinse and repeat. Anything was better than knowing.

I needed to clear my head. I drove up a side street to an isolated area surrounded by woods. Something about the surroundings became oddly familiar. Like I’d been here before. It wasn’t until I reached a certain section when it all clicked together. The streetlights. The bridge. The river underneath.

I pulled over on the shoulder, parked, and turned off the car. I wanted to vomit, if only to purge this ubiquitous dread.

The river rushed along. Its torrent was like a million forgotten whispers, and I imagined Sheila being swept away to who knows where. Scared. Alone. Or worse. I broke out in a death-cold sweat.

I turned on the car and drove to Randel’s Place.

~

Leaning against the stucco wall next to the restaurant’s picture window, I lipped and lit a cigarette out of a pack I had bought from a 7-Eleven. I’d never smoked before, but it afforded me a reason to be there without looking too conspicuous.

I took a puff and instantly coughed up half a lung. It tasted like the smoke from a car exhaust. Why did people smoke this crap?

Looking over my shoulder and into the diner, I saw the patrons talk and laugh. I remembered bringing Sheila here all the time. Her entire life, no matter how much I pled with her to try something different, she’d always order a bacon cheeseburger and onion rings with honey mustard on the side. Only then did I realize how much of a luxury these little, joyful moments were.

After smoking half of the cigarette, I spotted Jarrett and two girls in a booth at the far end of the diner. No Sheila. I told myself she probably went to the bathroom. I waited; those seconds felt like hours. Then, behind me, I heard a familiar voice:

“Dad?”

My heart missed a beat. I wheeled around, seeing only the parking lot.

I continued to spy on Sheila’s friend as I smoked away. It wasn’t long before I managed to read their lips.

 

Jarrett: Where is she?

Girl 1: Traffic? Maybe (unintelligible) Roosevelt?

Girl 2: But why would (unintelligible)? Princeton already accepted her. Isn’t that why we’re here?

Girl 1: You sure she’s not home?

Jarrett: I told you already I went over her house. She’s not picking up her phone either.

Girl 2: Should we call the police?

 

“Hey man.”

I jumped back and spun around, smacking my elbow against the window. A homeless man had his hand out. “Got anything to spare.”

I sighed. “Sorry man. Can’t help you.”

“Come on man, a quarter’s all I’m askin. Just somethin hot to eat.”

“I said no asshole. Beat it.”

He sighed. “Rich prick jerkoff.”

The bum shuffled away. I focused my attention back inside and saw people staring back at me; among them were Jarrett and the girls.

 

Girl 1: Isn’t that her dad?

 

Shit.

I got out of there as fast as I could. Once I made it to the car I slammed the door and floored it out of there. The last thing I saw in the rearview mirror as I sped around the corner were those three teens exiting the diner.

They saw me they saw me fuck they saw me!

My breathing grew sporadic. My hands jittered. I felt like the world’s only trespasser, a lost condemned soul stealing a body that didn’t belong to me. I needed to go somewhere, be somewhere, just to feel like I still had feet on the ground. It was too painful to go home. But where else was there? Where?

I decided to go to the only other place I could think of. I needed to see for myself.

I drove back to the bridge. After parking my car in a discreet location in the woods, I walked back and carefully climbed down the hill and onto the riverbank. I hiked beside the water, keeping an eye out for a body or at the very least a scrap of bloody clothing. It could’ve been hours or days I spent down there. It didn’t matter. But my daughter was still missing.

I went back home, went upstairs, and laid in bed. I stared at the blankness of the ceiling as it stared back at me. The lack of sensation numbed my mind, made me forgot more and more of myself. I just wanted to stay there. There was nothing left.

“It’s all your fault,” someone said. It sounded like a man’s voice, except it was reverberated and distorted. But I was alone, least I thought I was. Then he said, “I’m where monsters lie.”

I bunched up the blankets, somehow knowing to reach under the bed for the M1911. The pistol felt...strange. The wooden grip was hot to the touch, and it weighed about five pounds heavier than before. Nevertheless I pulled it out, looked at it, and became paralyzed with fear.

A green eye blinked on the left-side stock of my pistol. It was like my daughter’s. But its was rheumy, bloodshot, pouring nonstop tears. Spider legs crazily crawled and spasmed out of the barrel. “Hello partner.”

“What’s going on?” I said.

“What do you think champ? It’s me, a troubled friend talking to a troubled friend. I see how you’re hurting, poor you.

“This can’t be real.”

“Oh I’m real. And you better get used to me champ, because it’s about time I feed you some much needed medicine. Sheila’s dead. You killed her. You killed her and now she’s rotting in hell with Edna and Simon, the precious wife and son you failed to protect. Their blood is on your hands.”

“Stop it.”

“You thought you had it all, didn’t you sport? A white picket fence, a payable fixed-rate mortgage, summer vacations to Europe, all for your wonderful family. The comfort made you soft, blind, stupid. If we had been friends earlier...”

“Stop.”

“...I would’ve shot those burglars dead. That’s how good of a friend I am. Your family would still be here today. Your daughter wouldn’t blame you for letting them die.”

“That’s not true.”

“Isn’t it? Why do you think she only applied to colleges far away from here, in the middle of Bumfuck, Indiana? Why does she shout at you over every tiny thing? It’s because you were negligent, and that makes you just as guilty as the killers.”

I sobbed.

“Shame about the argument you two had last night. How does it feel knowing that the last thing you told your daughter was ‘Fuck you’?”

“I didn’t mean it. I only wanted to protect her.”

“How does it feel knowing her last words to you were, ‘I can’t wait to leave you.’ No wait, that’s not right. Ah yes...this was what she said...” Then, mimicking the voice of my daughter, the gun said. ‘Dad?’”

“Please. Stop.”

“Don’t worry pal. I’ll make it stop. Do you want the pain go away?”

“Yes.”

“Okay pal, I’ll tell you. Listen closely. All you need do is and put me in your mouth. Go ahead. Suck me off. Make me cum. Do yourself—do the world a favor!”

The taste of steel shivered on my tongue as my hand shivered with the monster in my mouth. Pulling the trigger was so simple a motion. Those couple of inches a fingertip had to travel to do something so violent and final. Perhaps peaceful even. Terrifying how a weapon can make anybody—no matter how weak—a god of destiny, be it your own or others. What if I botched it? The thing which scared me more than life or death was having a partial mind, to be forever confined in a bed or wheelchair and knowing you’re trapped in a shell of a person, drooling from a half-skull with missing teeth, cursed with the ugly scar of weakness, no longer able a master of my own fate. So I just stayed there, letting myself get lost in the blankness of the ceiling again.

A knock came from the front door.

The gun laughed as I tossed it under the bed. The bedding didn’t muffle its laughter at all. Even as I went downstairs that mocking voice still bounced around in my head, growing louder. I tried to ignore it, but I couldn’t shake the feeling that the voice behind the laugh knew something I didn’t. The whole scene felt...wrong.

I opened the door. On the other side of it stood two men, one short and rocking a blonde crew cut while the other was balding and had a body the shape of a pear.

“Hello sir,” blondie said. “Are you Sheila Parker’s father?”

“I am.”

“My name is Detective Vidal and this my partner Detective Adams. Hope you don’t mind if we come in and ask a few questions.”

“What is this about?”

“An anonymous tip said your daughter’s missing,” Adams said. “Nobody’s seen or heard from her in about two days. Dunno if you’ve noticed.”

“Wait, today’s Sunday?” I asked.

“Monday. You got somewhere you gotta be?”

How long was I in that bed?

“Is everything alright sir?” Detective Adams said.

“No—yes,” I said. “I mean, I’m okay. Please come in.”

I let them inside, careful not to react to Adams’ judgmental side-eye as he passed by me. They stood in front of me while I sat on the couch. They asked preliminary question after preliminary question and all they got in return were vague answers sprinkled with half-truths. I knew better than to tell a lie and get caught up in it later. Even so, a part of me wanted to confess. But I didn’t. I wasn’t sure why.

“We heard you were outside Randel’s Place spying on her friends,” Vidal said. “Care to elaborate?”

Jarrett sold me out. It had to have been him. For detectives these guys weren’t too keen on keeping info discreet. Nonetheless, the fear made my words come out in cottonmouth stutters. I worked up a wad of white spit and, without thinking, blurted out, “Listen, I’d like to help you but I don’t know anything. And I’m very late for work so if you don’t mind—”

“I have a better idea,” Adams said. “Why don’t you come to the station with us? Surely your kid’s safety’s more important than makin your boss rich.”

“Suppose you’re right. But I don’t know how else to help. You heard me tell everything about what happened Friday, what else is there to find out? And I know what you two are thinking, believe me I know. But it’s not true. I am just so worried about her.” Then, to my own disbelief, tears ran down my eyes. I wasn’t sure if I was really sobbing or acting.

“Don’t worry,” Detective Vidal said. “We’ll find her.”

“That’s right,” Adams said. “We will. Or we’ll die trying.”

“Thank you for your time Mr. Parker.”

As Detective Vidal shook my hand something peculiar happened. Although it looked completely dry it felt wet, soaking even, as if it was dripping in sweat or blood.

The detectives left.

Later on I got a call from my boss but I let it go to voicemail. For the first time in years, a bath rather than the usual daily shower grew more appealing to me. I turned the faucet on, letting the hiss-and-splash of running water lull me to a trance. As water filled the tub so too did the memory of killing her. Rage flooded me and there was no way to release it; no matter how loudly I cried, no one would hear me.

Like water rising in a sealed container.

Rising.

Rising.

Rising.

Rising.

I stepped into the tub and sank low enough for the warm water to touch my chin. I became aware again of the pistol’s soft laughter. I raised my right arm up and found it in my hand. When did it get there?

I looked deep in its bloodshot eye. What little color was left in its iris somewhat resembled a dim, green galaxy. I saw innocence, love, pain. I saw what happened that night.

~

A deep calm embraced me as I leaned against the door and watched the scene.

Simon nestled under the covers half asleep. Edna cleared her throat while reading The Very Hungry Caterpillar. The tiptoe of her voice was a watercolor dream: “...one apple...two pears...three plums...,” she listed on and on. The life we made was good, and it seemed nothing could take it away.

After kissing him goodnight, we went downstairs and poured ourselves a double shot of bourbon.

“Congrats,” I said. “Would you like the honor of toasting?”

Edna raised her glass. The kitchen lamplight reflected off it and landed on the wood of the fine china cabinet. “Bye to the call center, bye to kissing middle management’s ass, bye to hearing people bitch, moan, and complain inside a soul draining cubicle. And hello’ah freelance photography!”

We clinked glasses and sipped. The heat and bite of the whiskey bloomed with a gingersnap spice.

“We did good, didn’t we?” Edna said.

“A roof over our heads, two incredible kids, a wife living her dream. Yeah, I say we’re doing alright.”

“Speaking of kids, your child called today. She said thanks for letting her sleepover Zadie’s house.”

“Of course. It’ll do her some good to relax, especially with nationals coming up."

“She’s a good kid.”

“An angel.”

We finished our glasses and went to bed.

Around one in the morning I heard the clatter of dishes. Probably just Simon pouring some Cheerios, I thought. Careful not to disturb Edna, I walked out of the room and down the steps, ready to tell my son that he shouldn’t be up on a school night. Of course I’d pour myself a bowl and eat next to him, letting the curfew go unenforced.

I turned on the stairwell light.

Two masked men stared directly at me. They each carrying a duffel. The china cabinet empty aside from a few wine glasses. One of them had a gun in his waistband. As they stared at me and I at them, all the energy drained from my legs, leaving me to stand on willpower alone. My guts twisted themselves inside out. Every part of me trembled. It had to be a nightmare. It had to be.

Before I had time to process what happened, I found myself on the ground. Did I get shot? Dying? Am I dreaming? The explosion and bright flash probably came from a neighborhood kid setting off fireworks, and I’m safe in bed asleep. But then the hurt came. The wound in my shoulder expanded. No, this was real.

He shot me again and again and again and again. Guilt lingered in the back of my mind—I knew it was irrational, that at times life is out of your control, but nevertheless it felt as if a neglected choice from my past led to my getting gunned down. As I gasped for air, nothing but what ifs raced through my mind.

The robber reloaded his pistol while his partner grabbed him by the shoulder and said, “Come on Bill, let’s go.”

“I’m not done yet brother.” He yanked his shoulder away. “I feel the presence of other souls.”

“You feel the...listen there’s no time for your psychic-voodoo horseshit. We got more than enough to pay our debts. No need for anymore killin.”

“We stay.”

The partner shook his head and made a line to the door. “Forget this.”

Immediately Bill turned around and fired at the back of his head, dropping him like a bag of meat, spraying the front door with blood, brains, and skull. His duffel hit the ground, shattering the chinaware inside.

“Mother and father have wronged us,” Bill said. “But the weak don’t survive this world. Kill or die, that’s the law of the land.”

My blood chilled. I didn’t know what terrified me more, the gun or the ideas he held. How do you reason with a psychotic?

“Oh my god!”

We both looked to the voice around the second-floor banister. Edna.

Bill laughed. “God. God. Let me tell you about God.” Bill walked past me and up the stairs. Fighting the urge to faint I grabbed him by the pantleg, begging him to take whatever he wanted and leave. When he broke my hold, I shouted for Edna to run away. But she stood frozen, reduced to tears. All I could do was watch as each of Bill’s footsteps tolled. Step. Step.

“As children, brother and I spent hours kneeling on raw rice scattered on a wooden floor, praying to God for forgiveness; the marks of Cain still scar my knees. In cages we slept while Adam and Eve beat scripture into us, branding into our skulls that our Almighty Father saw us as sin. And I believed them. For a long time I believed them.”

Bill pointed the pistol at Edna. My voice grew hoarse from yelling.

“But then,” Bill said. “as I lay in perdition, a snake came to me in a dream and whispered His flaws in my ears. He was not an infallible omnipresence, but rather a restless paranoiac. When I awoke, I killed Adam and Eve and freed ourselves from our fate. For a long time we have been denied the greatness of life. Now I will take what is owed to me.”

What happened next happened in fragments. The screams and explosions blended into a noise, followed by a short silence. However, the deeper I sunk into darkness, the more relieved I felt. This nightmare was about to end. I was returning to the ordinary concerns of enlisting Simon to preschool, of finding a tutor for Sheila, of supporting Edna’s rocky start into photography.

Then I woke up. There I lay in a hospital bed with tubes in my body and Sheila sitting next to me. Although our tears confirmed the worst it still seemed unreal, both then and afterwards. Every day I expected them to walk through the door—the four of us eating dinner at the table, or cheering Sheila’s baseball games, or something as simple as a bedtime story. But they were gone. For good.

~

I woke up. The gun was in my hand, but there wasn’t an eye or spider legs. Only cold steel. I hopped out the lukecold bathwater, put on my clothes, and began packing my bags. There was nothing left for me in America—or anywhere else really, except for the most isolated parts of the planet. Whether I lived in the forest, the tundra, or the streets, I found no more use for people. Survival was enough.

A knock at the door. Can’t I be left alone? Was that too much to ask? I ignored it and continued to pack.

The knocking stopped. Whoever was there was probably gone, I thought. Thank god.

I carried my bags to the foyer. This was it. Once I crossed the threshold, the personhood of me-myself-and-I would no longer exist; all that was left was to live and die as a nameless thing.

I opened the door. On the porch step was a person sitting with her back to me. No, not just a person. A girl. Young. Short brown curls.

It couldn’t be.

I shut the door. She turned around.

Eyes greener than a meadow.

Sheila.

No, this is a hallucination. It had to be. I killed her. She’d dead, gone, dirt, dust. She couldn’t, couldn’t be here. Am I doomed to be haunted by her ghost forever? Fine, I deserve it anyway. Just walk past her and ignore her.

But I couldn’t. I needed to know. After putting my bags down, we stood face to face. I touched her shoulders. They were warm, soft, solid. However, her quivering smile and the way she raised one corner of her lip higher than the other was what erased all my doubts. She was alive.

“Hey’ya dad.”

We hugged, cried, laughed. I wanted to hold her forever and, for a moment, that’s what I imagined—in the darkness of my closed eyelids day turned to night, seasons changed, countries rose and fell, galaxies were born, time passed until even the concept of death died along with everything else, save the embrace of two souls.

Sheila, I’ll never let you go. It’ll be okay. It’ll all be okay.

~

We drove to Randel’s Place and ordered the usual. Sunshine and rock radio, along with the view of Roosevelt High across the street, took me back to better days. The diner was practically empty given it was a Tuesday morning. I still couldn’t believe Sheila was sitting right in front of me, wearing her denim jacket with the communist buttons on it.

“Let me get this straight.” I sipped my cup of black coffee. “You snuck out again after Jarrett dropped you off and went to a motel? Where’d you find the money?”

“I sorta-kinda sell weed to some kids at school.”

“Very entrepreneurial. You’ll go far in life with that salesmanship.”

“Thanks...you’re not angry?”

“You’re here; I’m here; this food’s here. The world didn’t collapse under our feet. Why would I be angry? I’m over the moon.” I snatched and ate an onion ring from her plate. “The honey mustard really ties this together. I see why you order this all the time.” 

She sighed. “It is the American meal of champions.”

"After brunch we should throw the ball around. It'll be like old times. Why aren't you eating?"

“I had a big breakfast.”

“What’s wrong?”

Sheila took a deep breath. “I’m sorry I made you worry. Really, I am. It was selfish and stupid and with Princeton to think about—”

“Hey hey don’t worry about that.” I held her hand. “I’m just happy you’re here. Let’s forget about it.”

“Okay.”

I looked at her jacket with its communist buttons pinned onto it. “I never asked you about the buttons. You aren’t a communist, are you?”

She raised a brow and smirked. “Is that a problem McCarthy?”

“No I was—”

“Relax, I’m messing with you.” She took a bite out of her cheeseburger. “I am sorta-kinda trying it out this commie thing. I mean it seems nice. Everyone shares. No one is above anyone else. People don’t rob, cheat, or kill for money. Mr. Alverez say that its good on paper, bad in practice. But honestly I don’t care. The idea makes me feel better.”

The thought was nice, a system with no poverty or greed. Had such a world existed a year ago, maybe Edna and Simon wouldn’t be rotting six feet under. But dreams didn’t change reality. They were dead. Never was I going to see their faces or hear them laugh ever again. That part of me was gone. I began to tear up.

“I’m sorry,” I said. “If I could go back and fix whatever mistake I missed—I don’t even know where I went wrong. If only I was strong enough protect them, then maybe...”

Sheila touched the hand I held her other with. “Dad, this constant self-loathing does nothing but make your life and those around you more miserable. Please just let it go and forgive yourself. Can you do that for me?”

Silence carried for a long time. It was a simple question, yet it felt like answer would determine my fate. I looked deep within and answered honestly: “I can’t. I deserve, no, I need this guilt.”

Sheila removed her hands from mine. “I understand.”

I paid for the meal and we walked to the car. As I sat in the driver’s side, Sheila grabbed her schoolbag from the backseat and took out three baseballs and two gloves.

“What are you doing?” I asked. 

“You said we should throw the ball around. Remember? Unless you don’t want to.”

“No, I do. I really really want to.”

“Great.” She gave me a glove and a ball. “Last one there sucks butt for lunch.”

She slammed the door and ran across the street to Roosevelt High. I was thrown off—she hadn’t challenged me to a race like that since she was nine. Still, I couldn’t let her insult me and get away with it.

I ran after her with baseball gear in hand. You never feel how old and slow you are until you race against a teen athlete. I was afraid, actually afraid, that she’d run off and go missing. I damn near shouted for her to slow down before I caught myself. Yes she wasn’t a child anymore, but she was still my kid.

I reached Roosevelt High. From the parking lot to the baseball diamond there wasn’t a soul. Of course my little girl was at the pitcher’s mound yelling at me to hurry up.

Just like old times.

We tossed the ball as fast and as wild as we could. At least that part of my game was still solid. Getting concussed or, worse, throwing a bad pitch was the last thing I needed.

“So how’s Jarrett,” I said. I threw a fastball. “Does he know you’re back?”

“No,” she said. She hurled a cutter.

“Aren’t you going to tell him?” Curveball.

“I can’t.” Cutter.

“Why not? Lover’s quarrel?” Changeup.

She sighed. “Can I ask a sorta-kinda crazy question?” Cutter.

“Shoot.”

“Heh, funny you say that,” she said. “That gun, mind if you teach me how to use it?” Cutter.

After catching the ball I looked down. The pistol’s stuck out from the front of my pants. I didn’t even know I had it on me. Was it flashing like this the entire time? “Uh Sheila, we can’t do that here.”

“Come on no one’s around. There’s a whole line of trees we can shoot.” She pointed to the woods beyond the diamond.

“We can’t. I can take you to a range one day.”

“Please daddy? Dad?”

I was about to say no when I suddenly found myself close to Sheila, explaining how to hold and use the pistol. The back of her hand burned my palm. Down the iron sights the trees stood like gravestones. When did this happen?

“So you put your finger here,” she said. “Then pull back?”

My lips opened to speak, but it was as if invisible strings pulled at my mouth, at my entire body. I had no control. “Right,” I said, trying not to. “Inhale slow. Hold. Then the moment you finish exhaling, fire.”

We breathed in unison. From far away, the tree we aimed at looked like it had a human face engraved in the bark. I didn’t know why but my gut told me something horrible was about to happen.

“You can do this.” I held her shoulders.

“Dad?”

“Sheila.” I kissed her cheek. “I love you so much.”

“Dad?”

Why couldn’t I stop?

“Dad?”

Why?

Sheila fired the 1911 into the woods. She fired again. And again. And again. And again until she emptied the magazine. The crows hidden in the trees flew away. Dead silence.

Multiple gunshots echoed out from the woods; one hit my shoulder and knocked me to the ground. There was nothing but sunny blue sky. Turning my head to the right, I saw Sheila laying in the grass next to me, blood pouring from one eye. I looked at the sky again.

I blinked. The sky became my living room ceiling. The pain hit me, and it was then I realized my hands held something. in my left was an empty gun; in the right—which was wet with blood—was the hand of Detective Vidal, who lain in the exact position my daughter had been. Looking over my stomach, I saw Adams crawl across the street to his car.

“Shots fired, two officers down,” he shouted. “Shots fired.”

I pulled Vidal inside and shut the door. After freeing my hand from his, I leaned against the wall in fetal position, head between my knees. The lights in the living room were like the sun, so bright the rays could devour you. Like flames.

In the movie Taxi Driver, Travis claims to be God’s lonely man. But to do such evil and know it, it feels as if even God stopped watching—leaving you to wander in a world where people are objects, art is noise, and life is just a plaster of useless information.

The guilt erases you—it turns you into a thing only capable of tormenting itself. And you deserve it. I deserved it. I deserved this.

I looked up from my knees. Sheila stood in front of me.

“Care to atone?” she asked.

No.

 

 

END

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Submitted: August 28, 2020

© Copyright 2022 Marquise Williams. All rights reserved.

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Marquise Williams

If you like this, visit my website mqwilliams.com for more content.

Fri, August 28th, 2020 5:47pm

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