How far would you go to find out the truth? Published in the Corpse Magazine, April 2004.
| David pulled the door closed behind him, drowning out the low hum of mixed conversations from the kitchen on the other side. Pausing for a moment at the top of the stairs before flipping the light switch, he headed down the 23 steps to the basement below, loosening his tie along the way. The sounds of the crowd of mourners were further reduced to a weak buzz, broken only by the occasional trail of footsteps across the floor above his head and the sobbing of his mother in the living room.
Sitting down on the second to last step, the one that squeaked, David rubbed the palm of his left hand into his eyes to hold the tide of tears at bay. It wasn’t quite working. Lifting his head, he scanned his father’s workshop as his tear-soaked vision steadily declined. Various woodworking machines were stationed at convenient intervals around the basement. Above one of the workbenches, small hand tools hung neatly on hooks attached to the pegboard-lined wall. It was like a woodworker’s operating room down here, clean, neat, and orderly. A rack of screwdrivers caught his attention.
Standing gingerly, David limped across the basement and selected a large Phillips screwdriver from the rack. Turning it slowly in his left hand, he stuck it under the cast on his right forearm and dug at the itch that had plagued him throughout the whole memorial service.
Memories started to flood his senses faster than he could process them; the service, the casket at the far end of the pews, the sound of the whining engine and twisting metal, the pain. He collapsed onto the workbench and let the tide rush in, the solitude of the empty basement providing a small measure of solace to his tortured soul. Painful sobs racked his body with the power of a jackhammer, his breath abandoning his lungs. Tears, saliva and mucus formed a pool on the work-scarred
surface of the bench. Guilt poured into his heart to fill the void that his spilling emotions left.
A familiar sound from behind him brought him back from his depths, replacing the guilt with shame. Waiting until the storm of his emotions passed before he dared face whoever was in the basement with him, David lifted his head and wiped at the mess on his face with the sleeve of his suit coat, bought just for the service, before turning to find that he was completely alone.
“David,” his mother’s voice called from the bottom of the stairs, “time to get up.”
Rolling over on to his back, David stared at the ceiling for a moment, trying to recall the dream that his mom had interrupted. It faded from his memory the more he tried to remember it. Sitting up on the edge of his bed, he stared at the poster of the band Korn’s latest release, “Issues”. The one-eyed rag doll on the poster returned his dazed morning gaze.
“What are you looking at,” he muttered.
“Honey, are you up?” his mother called again.
“Yea, mom. I’m up.”
She poked her strawberry blonde head into the doorway, “Could you bring the laundry basket down for me?” she asked.
“Sure,” he answered, “Give me a sec to get dressed.”
Hitting the play button on his CD player, David got off the bed and slid into his baggy jeans and favorite Limp Biskit T-shirt. The opening notes of Korn’s “Falling Away from Me” drifted from the speakers. Crossing to his desk, he slid his wallet into his back pocket and attached the chain to a beltless belt loop before kicking his feet into his favorite pair of Vans sneakers, the laces trailing behind. He checked his hair in the dresser mirror and decided on his black Tony Hawke baseball cap before going to get the laundry basket.
Walking into the kitchen where his little sister, Jennifer, sat eating her breakfast and watching music videos, David paused for a minute, holding the laundry basket and glaring at his sister.
“Hey rodent, think you can open the cellar door for me?” he asked over the mound of clothes.
“Open it yourself,” she taunted through a mouthful of Cocoa Puffs.
“Come on, buttface, my hands are full!”
Jennifer didn’t move an inch, never taking her eyes off the Backstreet Boys dancing around a gravity free space station.
Placing the basket so she couldn’t see the TV, he opened the cellar door himself before returning for the basket.
“Thanks for nothing, you little virus,” he growled as she rolled her eyes towards the ceiling.
“What-ever,” Jennifer drew out the word in a thick Valley Girl accent.
David started down the basement stairs and heard the door close behind him, the deadbolt sliding home.
“That better be unlocked when I come back up, Jenny,” he called out as he descended the stairs. A mocking singsong of nonsense from the other side of the door answered his shallow threat. Reaching the bottom of the steps, he entered the laundry room to the right and placed the basket on the bench.
“Time to give that little virus a five-knuckle antibiotic,” David said to the empty room, and froze.
The silence of the basement was broken by a whisper. Though more of a rustling sound than anything else, like newspaper caught in a draft. He stood stock still, listening. There it was again.
Turning and heading out of the laundry room, he paused at the doorway and looked over the workshop. Nothing had changed down here in the two weeks since the funeral. There was also nothing that would account for that strange sound. Sighing deeply, he put the odd noise out of his mind. He missed the sound of the tools, the smell of the wood and sight of his father bent over a work in progress. Crossing the room to the large table saw in the center of the shop, he drew a line in the dust on the cold metal surface.
“I miss you, Dad,” he told the empty workshop.
A creak from the stairs caught his attention and he spun to find his mom standing at the bottom of the steps.
“Who are you talking to David?” she asked, looking around the empty workshop.
“I was just thinking out loud, mom,” he said.
“Are you alright?”
“I’m fine, mom, just missing Dad a bit.”
“Me too honey, me too. We can talk about it tonight if you like. Why don’t you go up and get ready for school now. The bus will be here in fifteen minutes.”
“Why can’t I ride with the guys, mom?”
“Jesus, David!” she snapped. “Do we have to go through this every morning? You’re driving me nuts. You are not riding in that piece of junk with those boys. I don’t trust them and you are not getting mixed up with that crowd, period. If you insist on bothering me about it every day, I will take you to the front door of the school myself, in the minivan.”
“Alright, alright. Don’t get psycho on me, mom, I was just asking. The bus will be fine.”
“I thought so. Now go eat something and get ready to go.”
David headed up the stairs. His mother paused at the bottom, looking into the workshop for a moment before heading up the stairs herself.
David whipped around the corner of Elm Street and into the schoolyard as the final bell sounded. The only kids left on the grounds were flicking their cigarette butts into the bushes and heading inside. He kicked his skateboard up under his cast, climbed the six multicolored, spray-painted steps and entered the hallway of the school. Kids were flowing from the halls and into the classrooms like mercury down a drain. Slamming doors echoed from all sides. Walking to his locker, David spun the combination and started to dig for the books he would need for the morning.
“Welcome Back, Mr. Sullivan.”
Turning around, he faced the Vice Principal. “Good Morning, Mr. Visnick.”
“Sorry to hear about your dad, David.”
“Thanks,” David replied uncomfortably, staring down at his shuffling feet.
“Well… you’re due in world history right about now, correct?”
“Yes, Sir, I’m running a bit behind, sorry.”
“That’s quite alright, David. It’s going to be a while before things seem normal again. Take all the time you need, within boundaries of course. Have a good day, and again, welcome back.”
A student ran across the intersection of the two hallways, causing Mr. Visnick to spin on his heel. “Mr. Johnson,” he called out as he broke into hot pursuit. “Freeze, young man!”
The sound of sneakers squeaking on the industrial tile echoed down the hall as David slowly walked to class.
He twisted the knob of room 409, and opened the door. Miss Trahan waved him into the darkened room and motioned him to his seat. It seemed that every eye was on him instead of the TV monitor, where an announcer was describing the many accomplishments of Napoleon Bonaparte in a sleepy monotone. What few students weren’t looking at him had succumbed to the announcer’s hypnotic voice and slept, blissfully ignorant to his late arrival. He took his usual seat near the end of the center right row as quickly and quietly as possible. Eventually, the prying eyes and sympathetic stares returned to the screen at the
front of the classroom, and David felt himself falling under the hypnotic spell of the monotonous narrator.
What the hell happened in the basement, he wondered? Am I going nuts? OK, David, he thought, one of two things happened down there. Either I am starting to lose it and hear things in my head, or someone else was down there with me. Jennifer was still in her seat when I got upstairs to the kitchen, so it couldn’t have been her. Mom wouldn’t have done that kind of thing, so it wasn’t her either. So what if I am nuts? I don’t feel crazy. Isn’t that one of the signs though? Don’t crazy people think that they are sane? But, on the other hand, doesn’t the questioning of my own sanity make me sane instead of insane? Damn! This is crazy.
He looked up at the screen and into the French revolution. A cheering crowd was gathered in a courtyard as a man was dragged into their midst on an ox cart. Kneeling down with his hands tied behind his back, he was seemingly oblivious to the rocks and garbage the angry mob was pelting him with. Slowly, the poor man lifted his head as the cart came to a halt. His face was painted with egg yolk and fear as he faced the hooded figure and the large wooden contraption that awaited him. The camera panned over to the device just as the bell signaling the end of the period sounded like a gunshot, startling everyone in the room.
“All right, class. Your assignment is on the board and is due at the end of the week,” Miss Trahan said, as she flipped on the overhead lights causing everyone to groan in unison, shielding their eyes. People started gathering their things and moving out of the classroom, all but David. His attention was riveted to the fluorescent washed image still on the screen at the front of the room. He couldn’t take his eyes off it. It was as if it was looking back at him, beckoning to him.
“David,” it seemed to hiss, “David…”
“David.” A hand touched his on the desktop. “David?”
“Are you alright?” Miss Trahan was staring down into his face with an obvious look of concern.
“What… oh, yea. I’m OK,” he answered, rising to his feet. “I gotta go.” He gathered his things and headed from the room.
David walked out of history and out of the school, he was done for the day, even though it was only 9:30 AM. He walked slowly toward home, his mind reeling. Did the man who fell victim to the wooden monster feel anything? Did he see the jeering crowd as the executioner lifted his freshly severed head aloft for all to see? It takes four minutes for the brain to die from a lack of oxygen, right? What does a person go through when something like that happens? What did my Dad go through?
He heard the telltale sound of a board coming up from behind.
“What’s up, Sully?” a voice asked.
“Hey, Brandon,” he answered.
“Come on, dude. Call me Roach.”
Brandon was David’s best friend and lived next door until they entered middle school. Then, Brandon’s father got a big promotion and they moved into a bigger house on the other side of town. Since then, they had drifted apart. Roach, whose real name was Brandon Griffin, started hanging out with the Goths last year and had colored his hair jet black, pierced everything on his face. His helmet had a big iron spike on top as if he were a refugee from a Hogan’s Heroes episode.
Roach kicked his board into his left hand and walked alongside David.
“Here,” he said, handing David his own board from his right hand, leather and chain bracelets ringing. “You forgot this.”
“Thanks. Don’t you ever stay in school?”
“Not if I can help it, my man. You up to a little time on the vert ramp this fine scholastic-free morning?”
“I don’t think so, Bran… er, Roach. I kinda have something that I want to work on.”
“That’s cool. Anything I can help with?”
“I don’t think so.”
“Come on, man! I thought we were tight?”
“We are, I just…”
“Come on, David, who knows you best?”
David sighed deeply, “You do.”
“Then that settles it. What’s the project?”
“I want to build something in my basement. It’s a huge secret, so you can’t tell anyone about this.”
“Dude, what do you think I am? If this has any potential for trouble, count me in.”
David looked Brandon over a full minute just for emphasis. “Ok, you’re in.”
“My man! Now, my fearless leader, what is the project?”
“Let’s go to my house, I’ll tell you along the way.”
The boys threw their skateboards to the ground and kicked off towards David’s house.
“Somebody get that,” Sheryl Sullivan yelled over the sound of the running water as the phone rang a second time. She was up to her elbows in dinner dishes and the kids had a way of disappearing when there was a job to do. The phone rang a third time and then a fourth.
“Could someone please answer the damn phone,” she yelled.
“Alright, I got it, I got it,” Jenny huffed from the family room. Sheryl listened as she scrubbed the leftovers out of a saucepan. She heard Jenny behind her at the top of the basement steps.
“David,” she called, flicking the light switch on and off. “Telephone.”
David’s voice floated up, over the dying whine of a power tool. “Who is it, rodent?”
“It’s Brittany Spears, zit farmer. She wants you to father her baby because of your incredible good looks, keen intellect and dance ability.”
“Knock it off, you two,” Sheryl called over the hum of the dishwasher.
“Figure it out yourself, genius,” Jenny snapped, slamming the basement door and disappearing back into the family room.
David went to the phone above the workbench and picked it up. “Hello?”
“Dude, I found it.”
“Wait a second, Roach. Jenny, Hang up.” A stifled giggle answered him back.
“I am warning you, you little worm. Hang up the phone, now!” Another giggle drifted through the phone line.
“Mom,” David yelled at the top of his lungs. “Jenny won’t hang up the phone.” The line clicked, signaling her swift departure.
“What were you saying, Roach?”
“I found the part that we thought we’d have trouble with, dude.”
“You’re kidding, where?”
“Our next door neighbor is a welder and he had a piece of steel in the garage that he said I could have.”
“That’s great, man. I honestly didn’t think that we’d find one. Can you bring it over tomorrow when you come, or is it too heavy?”
“Dude, I would drag it over on my hands and knees to see this thing completed.”
“Cool, I’ll see you tomorrow in school then.”
“Later,” said Roach.
“Later,” David answered. He returned to the center bench and the large half circle he was in the process of cutting out of a length of two by six.
The following day, David was putting his books from the last class of the day into his locker when Roach finally caught up to him.
“Damn, Brandon,” David snapped, “where the hell have you been?”
“Lot of references to the dark side there, old buddy,” Roach said, smiling at him. Sure you aren’t ready to make the leap to my version of reality?”
David looked him over. Roach had slicked his jet-black hair to his head like a bathing cap. The septum of his nose was now home to a thick silver ring that looked like he could lead a bull around with. His black T-shirt proclaimed, ‘Charlie don’t surf’, under a likeness of Charles Manson. A black leather belt, studded with wicked looking metal spikes, barely kept his ripped shorts above the level of decency. The whole image was topped off with a pair of highly polished Doc Martin boots, also the color of night.
“I don’t think so. Are you wearing eye liner, Roach?”
“Cool, huh? It makes my eyes seem more sinister, doesn’t it?”
“Yea, you’re a real intimidating force to be reckoned with. It might be more impressive if you were more than five foot five, 120 lbs. Did you bring the item?”
“Course, man,” Roach replied as if stung. “What’s up your ass today?”
“Nothing. I was hoping to get started early, that’s all.”
“Then let’s get it on,” Roach chimed, shouldering his obviously heavy black backpack. “Times’ a-wasting.”
Together, they headed out of the school and to David’s basement.
“Dude, this looks great,” Roach exclaimed, descending the basement steps. “How did you do all this without your Mom freaking out?”
David walked into the workshop, grabbed a piece of sandpaper, and began to work on a length of wood. “She doesn’t come down here much, only to do the laundry. Besides, I told her that it was a school project for the spring play. She loves all that extracurricular crap. She thinks it shows an interest in school and all that stuff.”
Roach looked over the pile of wooden pieces, each with various cutouts and grooves. “I can’t believe how far you got on it. It almost looks finished.”
“All I needed was the steel so I could make the final measurements and assemble it. Lets take a look at what you got.”
Roach hoisted his pack up onto the bench and unzipped it. Standing the large metal plate on its edge, he slid the sides of the pack down until it was low enough to get the plate free. It flopped down on the bench with a clang.
David put down the sandpaper and reached for the steel. “Dude, this is perfect.”
“I know, isn’t it great?”
“How did you get it in the right shape?”
“I told you, my neighbor is a welder. I just asked him to cut it for me and he did, no problemo. You seek and I shall find.”
“Well, I got to give you that much. This is exactly what I was looking for. Now all we got to do is measure it so I can make the final cuts on the wood and sharpen it,” David said, digging a measuring tape out of a drawer. “Go over to that cabinet and pull out the grinder. You found this beauty, you get to put the edge on it.”
“Cool, I’ll get right on it,” Roach replied, turning to the bank of cabinets along the far wall.
David measured the width of the section of steel. “Twenty one inches, even. That means we have to make the cross pieces all at twenty inches so that each side of the blade rides a half inch inside the channel. I’ll cut all the boards and drill the pilot holes while you sharpen that up.”
An hour later, David turned to where Roach was just finishing sharpening the large steel blade.
“Not too bad for my first time, huh,” Roach asked?
David ran his thumb along the paper-thin edge, a fine, red line welling up.
“You are truly the blade-master. Now, help me fit this in the channels and we can stand this puppy up.”
Carrying the blade over to the center bench, the boys fit it into the groove running down the center of a pair of four by fours, one on each side.
David placed a piece of wood at one end and fitted some bolts through the pre-drilled holes.
“Do me a favor and tighten the nuts on these and I’ll attach the bottom piece.”
“You’re the boss,” Roach said, moving to the top.
David attached the bottom section of the device and tightened the nuts.
“Ready to stand it up?” he asked.
Together, they stood the whole section up and placed it into the base that had been set in the center of the floor.
After tightening the bolts that stabilized it, they stood back to look at what they had created.
“Man oh man, I can’t believe this thing. Lets try it out on something,” Roach squealed.
“In a minute,” David replied, picking up a scrap of lumber. “Let’s clean up a little first, before my mom comes home. Grab that broom behind you, will you?”
“Sure,” he said, turning around.
David raised the stout piece of wood and smashed it down on Roach’s skull.
Minutes later, Roach found himself being slapped lightly on each cheek. David, looming overhead was trying to rouse him from his involuntary slumber. The half-closed eyelids fluttered with effort over milk white eyeballs. Slowly, the brown of Roach’s pupils rotated out of the top of his head and centered on David’s face, a mere six inches from his own. A weak groan escaped his lips and his eyes threatened to return upward.
“Hey, Roach,” David yelled, slapping him a couple more times. “Wake up.”
“Wha…” he murmured, eyes swimming into focus. “What happened?” he asked weakly.
“I whacked you, man. Now wake up, we got a project to finish.”
Roach looked around, trying to get up. He saw the uprights of the guillotine towering over him, the blade edge flashed wickedly. The wooden part of the base now held him by the neck. He could feel his hands, tied at the wrists, pinned under his prone body.
“David, what the fuck is going on?”
“Well, you wanted to try it out on something, right?”
“That’s real funny, man. Now let me up.”
“Can’t do it, Brandon, sorry. I have to find out something and you are going to help me do it. Finding the blade for the guillotine was the second hardest thing to find. A volunteer was going to be the hardest, until you came along.”
“What the hell are you talking about? Why are you doing this to me? What did I do to you?” Roach’s voice had taken on a tone of desperation.
“Nothing,” David replied softly. “I just need your help.”
“Dude, I will do whatever you want. Just let me out of this thing,” Roach pleaded, looking up at the blade looming overhead.
David sat down on a stool next to Roach and the guillotine, oblivious to his pleadings. “One month ago today, Brandon, Me
and my Dad went out for a ride on our dirt bikes. It was a perfect day, sunny and warm. He never should have died Brandon, not like that. It was all my fault. I led the way towards that new construction site, the one your father is building, and Dad was just chasing after me. We had never been down there before and I thought that there would be some cool piles of dirt to jump. He took the lead and raced way ahead of me. He never saw the chain crossing the road.”
Tears were now streaming down David’s face, his eyes, glazed and unfocused, remembering a vision of a month old tragedy. Roach stared, wide-eyed and open mouthed.
“When I saw him wreck, I crashed into the woods to avoid the chain. There was a huge cloud of dust and the noise of his bike’s engine was racing so loud I can still hear it, it was screaming. I thought that Dads helmet fell off when he was thrown off the bike, but that ain’t what happened, Roach. My Dad’s head was still in that helmet. The chain took it off. I remember sitting next to that helmet, screaming until my voice was gone. His eyes were open, staring at me. I still see them, every night.
“This is where you come in, old buddy. I want to know what he saw. Did he see me? Did he watch me screaming while his brain starved for oxygen? Did he know how bad I lost it? Did it hurt? This is what you are going to tell me, Brandon.”
David stood up and reached for the switch.
“Wait!” Roach screamed. “Wait a fucking minute! You can’t do this. Don’t do this, David, please.”
David paused for a moment, looked into Brandon’s pleading eyes and threw the switch. Roach’s high-pitched scream died at the edge of the huge blade, bloody bubbles forming a crimson foam against the cold steel. His body convulsed on the weight bench that held it in the guillotine. David grabbed Roach’s head, blood splashing down the front of his T-shirt, and placed it on the bench, face up between his hands. Roach’s eyes were locked wide open in an expression of shock and disbelief, as his mouth worked soundlessly. David studied his face.
“Brandon,” he whispered. “Can you hear me?”
The eyes were unfocused, his face unresponsive. He didn’t seem to have heard him. His eyelids started to droop closed.
“Roach,” David snapped. The eyes snapped open, focusing on David’s.
“Hey Buddy, Do you understand me, do you know what is going on? Blink twice for me if you do.”
Brandon’s eyes remained fixed and unblinking, staring back at David in what seemed like defiance.
“I want you to show me, Roach, show me you understand.”
The eyes in the dying head started to lose focus, lids drooping closed.
“Roach!” David yelled. Roach’s lids fluttered, but remained half closed. “Don’t go yet. Tell me if you understand what is going on?” Now it was David’s turn to sound desperate, fresh tears tracing their way down his cheeks. Prying open Roach’s eyelids with his thumbs, he touched his eyeballs. There was no reaction.
“Shit!” David said, jumping from the bench. He started pacing around the basement, bloody footprints marking his path. “Shit, shit, shit. You son of a bitch,” he screamed at the lifeless head. “You were supposed to show me, you dead fuck! Now what am I gonna do?”
He slapped Roach’s head off of the workbench, watching it bounce under the bandsaw standing in the corner. Suddenly, the memory of his father’s helmet bouncing down the dirt road invaded his thoughts.
Collapsing on the bench, David broke down, smearing himself in Roach’s blood.
“What do I do, Dad?” He sobbed. “What should I do?”
The sound of the door closing upstairs in the front hall shocked David to his feet. An enormous pool of blood had formed
under Roach’s body on the weight bench and guillotine. The cellar looked like a scene out of a B-rated slice and dice movie. A bloody trail led to the bandsaw and the accusing face now staring out from under it through half closed lids. Looking down at his clothing, David started to fully realize what he had done.
Footsteps above worked their way through the house above in the familiar pattern that signaled his mother was home. Panic gripped him like a vise. Hurrying over to the weight bench, he pushed Roach’s headless body off into the puddle of congealing gore. A high-pitched whining sound caught his attention and he looked around for a minute before realizing he was its source. The steps above moved into the kitchen. Grabbing the rope attached to the blade, David pulled the blade back up into the cocked position and set it into the release mechanism. He could hear the water running in the sink as his Mom rinsed her lunch dishes from work. Lying down on the sticky, crimson-stained bench, he lowered the lunette around his own neck. In the kitchen above, the sink went silent and the footfalls started their normal path towards the cellar door. David reached for the de’clic, the switch that released the blade, as the door above creaked open.
“David, are you down there?”
His grip tightened on the handle of the release, and his vision of the blood-streaked blade above blurred with tears. He heard her start down the steps.
“David, honey? What is that awful smell?”
She would be turning the corner in a second. She would see everything. A picture of her terrified face flashed before his eyes.
“Dad,” David muttered, pulling the handle and setting the blade free, “I’m sorry.”