Continued from Childhood's End: A Bloodlines of Rollinsford Story, Pt. 2...
Dad had always come in through the garage door, most recently—since the accident with the freezer— applying more than adequate attention to his surroundings. The busted deep freezer stood to this day as a defunct reminder of his former failings. But it wasn’t the drawling whine of the garage door that reached Dirk’s ears, pulling him from a dreamless and restless sleep beside his mother and sister on the sofa.. The front door, which opened on the kitchen, was the one he heard.
Dirk shot up, nearly spilling Lisa off his lap as he searched the shadows that had gathered about the house. The only illumination came from the incandescent above the kitchen stove. He listened as the door swung open and bumped the kitchen countertop with a barely perceptible thunk, and he waited for their visitor to step into the archway.
Mom was beyond spent. She didn’t so much as stir at the sound of feet shuffling across the kitchen. Though Dirk couldn’t place the dread that filled him in this moment, he knew it was right in the way his hand lifted to muffle the words of his wakened sister.
“Steven,” Lisa’s voice poked through his hand, pressing harder now in sudden urgency. She pawed at him in her feeble way, now wriggling her body in rejection of this new oppression. Dirk’s sudden, all encompassing terror, disconnected him from the force he was using to silence her. It wasn’t until Lisa’s fingernails bit into his forearms that he realized she couldn’t breathe.
Relaxing his muffling hand, Dirk pressed his lips to Lisa’s ear, breathing in the baby sent that still coated her at four-years-old. He whispered, “Someone is here. You need to be quiet, Midge.”
“What if it’s Daddy?” she asked, still fumbling in Dirk's arms.
Dirk shushed her, his gaze sweeping back to the archway as a lone silhouette stepped into view. It wasn’t simply the form of a man. It was the doughy form of their father, slightly diminished after his months off the sauce.
“Daddy!” Lisa cried, now trying to twist out of Dirk's tightening grip. “Daddy! Daddy!”
Dirk had never heard her so happy to see him. He had only a moment to ponder his sister’s dramatic shift away from the customary fear and avoidance. Only a moment, just before Mom shot up off the couch, struggling briefly with her bearings before homing in her husband, standing motionless, voiceless in the archway.
“You son of a bitch,” she leered in a sleep-croaked voice. “Do you have any idea what you’ve put us—“
She was silenced as the figure released a sudden, earsplitting screech like wildcat calling out in the night. Dad’s hands lifted, curling before him like the claws of a predator as he shot toward Mom, closing the space between them in seconds and falling upon her in a tearing frenzy.
Dirk was off the couch with Lisa screaming in his arms before he realized he’d reacted. His sister’s voice stabbed into his right ear as the animalistic shrieks and grunts of their father filled the other. Fumbling in the dark along the wall, Dirk withdrew into the hallway, feeling wet warmth pelt his face and arms as his free hand finally found the light switch. He hesitated only a moment before throwing it, casting light upon the horror that had assembled itself here.
The couch and windows around their mother were streaked and misted with her blood. Frozen upon her already dead face was an expression of unfathomable terror. Dirk hesitated only briefly, thinking he could see something else beneath that gaze, a final expression of acceptance perhaps. It was as if she’d always known things would end this way. Mom's blue and white checkered nightgown was shredded along the collarbone. There, jagged ruts of glistening pink flesh had been scored by what looked like bear claws.
But no bear had done this. Almost at the instant the light fell upon him, Dad’s head jerked up and around so rapidly it could have snapped vertebrae. Eyes glowing with a chaotic amber phosphorescence settled upon Dirk and Lisa with clear, ravenous hunger. The diseased, gray pallor of his flesh was rouged with wet crimson, its tongue flitting about around the lips, collecting syrupy leavings.
“Dad…?” Dirk asked, observing only faint recognition in those horrid monster’s eyes. Dad’s lips curled in a menacing snarl, furling over rows of jagged shark’s teeth. In the moment before the creature lunged toward them, the force of its spring shunting Mom’s lifeless body off the couch, Dirk glimpsed beneath his father's monstrous features the expressions and body language which had long served as a barometer in reading Dad's mood. Right now they warned of inevitable pain and punishment, and they told Dirk that any restraint he'd ever observed in this man was gone. Never to return.
Durk Evans Sr. not only sought to punish, he sought to devour.
Whirling from his father, Dirk sprinted down the hallway, finding the rapid footfalls of the creature rising up behind him as it gave chase. The heavy footsteps shook the house, nearly reaching them before Dirk stormed into his room, releasing Lisa to the floor, and slammed the door closed. In the hallway, the creature crashed into the door, beating on it frantically. For a few seconds Dirk's world was one of muffled shrieking and thudding fists, shot sickeningly with Lisa's terrified sobs.
He paused only briefly over Lisa, wanting to comfort her but heeding the overriding survival instincts rising in him. There was no time to waste. The creature their father had become wasn’t with it enough, it seemed, to know to grasp the unlocked door handle, but its thudding against the door intensified with each repetition. It would burst through in no time at all.
Hauling his screaming sister into his arms, Dirk dashed toward the lone window beside his bed and released Lisa to his knotted bedsheets. He struggled for a few seconds against the window lock, grunting with wild frustration until he was able to throw the latch and heave the window up. It wasn't until it stuck on the plastic stoppers Dad had installed last summer (after Dirk had been caught sneaking out to see a movie with October Mills) that he realized they were trapped. Dirk fumbled at the plastic guards for a few seconds, understanding that he’d never get them off without a screwdriver.
Stepping back and nearly losing his footing on the springy mattress, he considered the 10-inch gap he’d opened as the cool spring air wafted in and nibbled at the skin on his forearms.
“C’mon, Midge,” Dirk said, spinning and scooping up his sister. “You’ve got to run as fast as you can to Mrs. Woodrow’s house. Tell her… tell her…” he was unable to distill what they'd experienced down to something as simple as ‘Dad is hitting Mom.’ As the door buckled and bowed behind them, Dirk spat out the only directive he could seize upon in his frantic mind. “Tell her to call the police. Do not leave her house. You understand?!”
Lisa’s face was awash with shock. Dirk couldn’t be certain she’d heard any of it, but this changed their desperate position in no way. Shifting her about so he could guide her head-first through the window, he bent and placed a kiss on her forehead. “Be brave, big girl. Get to Mrs. Woodrow’s and stay there.” And with that he began to feed her out into the night, eventually holding her by the ankles as her outstretched, trembling hands met with the grass outside the window. He released her.
It was only as he let go of her ankles and watched her move upright, the light from his bedroom washing a face that was now a landscape of terrified confusion, that he realized the pounding had stopped. Spinning toward the door, he gaped at it, still closed and intact, before whirling back to the window.
“No,” he gasped, breath fogging the window. His gaze sharpened on the silhouette stalking silently toward his sister from the corner of the house. Lisa saw it and was immediately paralyzed with fear. “No! Lisa—Midge—come back! Quickly for God’s sake, come back—”
Lisa thrust her tiny hands back through the window. Her tartan Hello Kitty pajamas bunched at her chest as she scrambled to thread herself back through, but Dad was on her before Dirk could seize her wrists and haul her back in.
Dirk’s soul felt shredded in an instant as his gaze met with the unfathomable terror now dominating Lisa’s tiny, innocent face. The creature moved with such deadly grace and speed that it seized her by the shoulders and flung her away from the window in one quick, fluid motion. She landed at the edge of the yard, head clocking brutally on the chunked pavement. Lisa didn’t get up, she simply went still in a broken heap in the moonlight.
“No!” Dirk screamed, expecting his father to storm off after his sister, only to watch as the creature slowly swiveled back to the window. Dirk felt his sanity flee him as the corrupted, dead face of his father lit up over a taunting grin. There in that face, the color of ashes from a fire left to smolder overnight, was a brutal intelligence and an underlying need to feed and corrupt, to drink and defile. Peering through the fragile pane of glass that separated them was a creature whose very existence was one of clear, unbridled chaos.
“Dad,” Dirk pleaded, disarmed in every way. “Please.”
The grin on the creature’s face didn’t so much as twitch. This face was devoid of conflict in its dark task, as if all of Dad’s former cruelty had been allowed to dominate his very being, banishing all restraint forever.
Then, all at once, Dad whirled back toward Lisa’s unconscious form at the edge of the yard and sprinted toward her. Dad pounced upon her tiny body and tore into her at the neck in a series of jerking head snaps. Dirk couldn’t move, frozen at the window and unable to pry his gaze from the sight in the moonlit yard. He blinked absently at a world of building water, hot tears soaking his cheeks as the creature reared back over and over, burying its gnashing teeth deeper and coming back up again. Now chewing euphorically at a strip of cartilage which flopped wetly against its chin, the creature sucked the flesh into its mouth like a strand of spaghetti before moving lazily, almost drowsily to its feet. Seizing Lisa's tiny corpse by the hair, Dad didn’t so much as glance back at the window as he dragged the broken body into the shadows.
I’m next, Dirk thought, finding his fate oddly appropriate, as if he should have expected things to go this way in the end. The tears were streaming harder as he watched Lisa’s bare feet disappear behind the house, and for a moment he readied himself to join her. Then the anger and resentment he’d stifled all his life crashed over him, leaving him seething there before the window, fists clenched and teeth barred.
“You son of a fucking bitch!” Dirk screamed, spinning toward the door and rushing out of the room. He didn’t spare a single precautionary glance down the hallway as he sped into his parents’ bedroom. Falling to his knees at the edge of his parents’ bed, Dirk felt around beneath for the object he sought. An impossible length of time passed before his hand finally brushed the metal lock box. He yanked it toward him, gaze flitting briefly to the shadowed hallway.
Dirk knew about his father’s gun just as most teens did. He’d never overheard Mom and Dad speak of it, probably because they were afraid of eventually using it on the other, but he was aware of it just the same. Just as he was aware that Dad’s pin code for everything was 1235. Dirk had never had a reason to test it on the lock box, but as he divided his attention between the plastic wheels marked 0 to 9 and the still empty hallway, assembling the numbers in their correct sequence, he knew even before the lid snapped open that it would work.
And it did.
When he rose back to his feet, he held the comforting weight of a snub-nosed .38 caliber revolver in his hand. Suddenly Dirk understood how men derive such power from the feel of a gun in-hand. He was suddenly blessed with the means to escape, and he would do his best to take his father apart on his way out.
He angled the nose of the revolver upward and confirmed it was loaded. The hollowed-out tips of the most brutal-looking bullets winked in the dim light slanting in from the hallway. Dirk had assumed it would take two fingers to work the hammer, but found to his surprise with a quick test of its smooth fluidity that Lisa could probably have done it. The cylinder rotated and clicked, six shots ready to fire.
Dirk’s gaze lifted to the bedroom doorway, expecting to see his father there. A part of him was unsurprised to find the doorway unoccupied. Somewhere out there in the darkness, Dad waited, and Dirk Evans was not about to let him down, especially now that he was armed. The years of abuse and cruelty poured over him like gasoline on an already fuming fire.
It was time, time to revisit that abuse and cruelty and scrub his father’s sorry carcass from the world.
Dirk rounded the bed, lifting the revolver so that it led him out into the hallway, toward the living room. The house was mostly soundless and the shadows seemed to gather in greater intensity in the presence of the creature. Dirk listened above the hum of the fridge and the rumble of the furnace downstairs for sounds of movement. As he passed into the living room he halted his gaze from straying to Mom, whose feet poked out from behind the chaise, unmoving. His pace slowed as he neared the kitchen archway. He sensed his father.
Dirk halted as a voice poked through the darkness, its owner unseen in the shadows that gathered behind the stove. It was his father’s voice, but somehow… low. To say it sounded demented, perverted, would be too plain an assessment. The humanity beneath it had been eroded and replaced by a cruel facsimile. One that sounded like a man but made Dirk feel as though he were listening to a wolf’s voice speaking human words from the black maw of its den.
“I enjoyed it,” the voice spoke, crawling out of the black. “Putting the screws to you and your mother and sister all those years. I loved it.”
Dirk was frozen in place, the revolver leveled at the clustered shadows where the creature concealed itself. His fear was all-encompassing, a shawl he might wear the rest of his days. As slurps and gulps rose from the shadows, however, Dirk felt his fear distill into capability, and in an odd moment of almost telepathic thought-sharing, he realized that fear was something the creature had weaponized here. It was something Dirk might turn around on the monster.
“I know you loved it,” Dirk sneered, boldly stepping through the archway. “Small people can’t stand against the truly exceptional, so they exploit weaknesses and bully anyone who won’t fight back because it’s the only way they can feel big.”
A deep growl, throaty and rattling with mucus replaced the feeding sounds. Dirk knew it was intended to throw him off and intimidate him into withdrawal; more gasoline on the fires of Dirk’s sudden, existence-defining resolve.
“It takes a big man to come home half in the bag and take out his inadequacies on women and children. I’m sure your buddies Hagrid and Spock would celebrate your work, one being a registered pedo and the other a witless pile of flotsam who gambled away his kids’ college accounts. You know what they say about the company you keep, though I doubt you were ever capable of much introspection with your face in a bottle and your head up your own ass.” Energy pulsed in Dirk with every cutting word, and he marveled at how seamlessly they emerged. He had wanted to tell his father off all his life, and every moment of hurt and heartbreak and betrayal he’d suffered over the years had returned to fuel him in this moment.
Dirk Evans felt like a new man entirely.
The growling only deepened, now joined by the sounds of claws tearing splintered gutters in the cabinetry. But the creature would not yet reveal itself, and Dirk felt pressed to continue, this time bringing it all together in a crescendo he knew would hit hardest.
“Mimi and Papa told me last summer how much they hated you. Papa said he’d probably go to jail someday for feeding you a helping of buckshot. Remember when I went to stay with them? After you’d slugged me in the gut over the beer you thought I’d stolen? I never took shit from you, by the way. I have no interest in ending up a gutter trash degenerate like you. But they saw the bruises and saw right through the story I gave them. Papa said you were a worthless layabout whose only accomplishment in life was donating sperm to his daughter. He said you were the furthest thing from a man he’d ever seen, that you weren’t worth the tax dollars it would take to keep you in prison and should just be strapped to a table and euthanized.” Dirk paused as a head slowly poked up from behind the stove, followed by a pair of amber eyes glowing and seething with unbridled rage. He forced himself to meet the gaze and hold it in the sights of the pistol. “Oh, there you are,” Dirk growled. “Did that get your kettle whistling, Pops? You don’t like it when people disrespect you… I know that all too well, so let me summarize everything in simple terms so your insect’s mind can process it: you are scumbag, undeserving of life and a stain on society. Your single contribution to this world was and always will be pain, and all because you’re either too stubborn or too stupid to realize that you are, and always have been, a monster.”
The creature wearing his father’s face had risen into view from the waist up now. With a sort of thud that set Dirk’s stomach roiling, Dad dropped the object he’d been holding. One of Lisa’s tiny bare feet poked out from behind the stove, and Dirk thanked God it was all he could see.
“Some big man you are,” the creature said in a watery rasp. “Waiting until it’s too late to save anyone but yourself. Does that make you so righteous still?”
There was something in its speech, the structure and placement of its words, that left Dirk certain another presence had joined his father in there. Dad had never been bright enough to weaponize his words like this. Moreover, there was an odd lulling character to it that briefly made Dirk want to lower his defenses and submit, but he was able to push beyond it in his mind.
“What’s done is done,” Dirk said, forcing a coolness so convincing that he nearly believed it himself. “Doesn’t change what I have left to do.”
Dad’s eyes narrowed.
“And what is that?” Dad asked, for a moment shedding his sinister character in a bout of chittering laughter. “To kill me? You think that police special has enough bullets to stop an estafru?” Dad threw his head back so hard that Dirk was shocked it hadn’t snapped his neck. Dad’s mouth opened, stretching his face unnaturally out of proportion as he belched laughter at the ceiling.
Estafru, Dirk thought, disturbed at how simultaneously familiar and ominous the word sounded. As if it were a question on a quiz he’d covered while studying, but couldn’t, despite his best efforts, extract from his mind. Through the murk, however, the emotions stirred in him by the name… they were the same ones he imagined were felt between mortal enemies.
Dirk wasted no time silencing the creature’s laughter with an unconscious squeezing of the .38’s trigger.
Harsh light blighted the room alongside an ear-rending explosion that immediately erased all other sound. Rising up in the vacuum was a dull ringing that Dirk hadn’t expected or prepared for. Worse, the flare from the fired gun erased Dirk’s former adjustment to the darkness. The last thing he saw before his senses were stolen was his father flailing back over the windowed countertop where Mom’s house plants wilted in various stages of neglect. Dirk withdrew a pair of steps toward the living room, still holding the pistol out and wishing he’d taken more bullets from the lock box.
Gradually, new sounds rose beneath the ringing in Dirk’s ears. They sounded like an animal caught in a snare trap, its flight instincts overriding the clear fact that it was stuck. As his vision clarified and familiar shapes in the kitchen registered, Dirk leveled the pistol toward the stove, where Dad’s legs bulled Lisa’s corpse around in frenzied panic.
Dirk’s confidence returned, and he was soon advancing on the creature, only to halt himself as more of Lisa’s shredded and broken body appeared. Here rested the only sight capable of carving at his resolve, his newfound power. He couldn’t bring himself to see what the creature had done to her. He couldn’t face life with that image haunting him.
Stopping in the center of the kitchen, where Dad’s body had atomized their old kitchen table six months earlier, Dirk waited for the creature’s fit to subside. When it showed no signs of abating, legs continuing to thrash while it beat its head or arms into the drywall, Dirk reverted back to his former tactics.
“Is that it?!” Dirk asked, slathering his speech with taunting derision. He breathed deeply the gunsmoke now hanging in the air, barely acknowledging the way it bit at his lungs with each draw. “You seemed pretty confident before that this police special didn’t have enough bullets to stop you. Looks to me like one is more than enough. You’re just as small and dim as you were… perhaps more so—"
Dirk’s voice cut out as the creature suddenly sprang from the shadows, vaulting over the stove and advancing on him with claws at the ready. Dirk reacted with a shocking deftness of reflex, closing his eyes this time as he squeezed out a quick pair of shots. The ringing returned, but as he opened his eyes the kitchen remained as defined as it had been in the low light, though the gunsmoke now hung more perceptively in the darkness. The thud of a doughy man whose calories came chiefly from beer shook the house.
Dirk Evans Sr., or what he’d become anyway, writhed on his back on the floor, black stains spreading and steaming out from three entry wounds, one high in the shoulder and two in the gut. Though Dirk couldn’t be sure if it was the lack of light, he was nearly certain that the blood flowering out in Dad’s work shirt was black as onyx. The steam was another odd thing, as if Dad’s blood was so hot that it went to vapor in the cool, powder-choked air.
Estafru, Dirk thought again, tasting the inhumanity in the word. Whatever had happened to Dad, it hadn’t simply altered his mind and outward appearance, it had changed him on a level both biological and physiological. As Dirk watched him thrash about, now shredding his work shirt as though he might pluck the wounds from his chest like ticks from a dog, he wondered with mounting dread if others had been similarly turned. It could be a parasite or government engineered virus.
Whatever it was, it had taken his father, and could feasibly spread to him.
“What happened to you?!” Dirk demanded, stepping close enough to remain just out of arm’s reach. “How did you become like this?”
The creature had now torn its shirt completely free and shed it on the floor, that disgusting blue chambray all the fellows at the machine shop wore. It was clawing at its shoulder with one hand while the other threaded one of the entry wounds in its stomach and dug around grotesquely, presumably trying to extract the bullet. It seemed not to hear a word Dirk said, consumed in its inane struggle to correct the damage done to its body.
Dirk stepped closer, convinced that he was now either unseen or disregarded beneath the creature’s turmoil. He leveled the pistol sights on his father’s thrashing head.
“Tell me how this happened, you miserable fuck!” Dirk demanded. He realized all too quickly that he'd failed to consider in this monster an animal’s capacity to feign injury. Its capacity to lure a would-be attacker into a false sense of security. All at once its thrashing ceased, and its clawed hands pistoned toward him. White-hot pain flared in Dirk’s left ankle as the razors capping the creature’s fingers bored into his flesh.
Dirk tried in a panic to pull away, only to find his efforts met by more pain as the claws sunk deeper, anchoring him to the monster. In the seconds it took Dirk to note the creature’s shift in posture, intending to sink its stone-like shark’s teeth into Dirk’s calf, Dirk found the composure to lift the pistol, and with microseconds to spare, he pulled the trigger four times, stopping only as the hammer struck the first of the spent shells and issued a powerless metal click.
The pain in his ankle diminished after a final searing swell, and the creature’s claws seemed to lose their vitality. Dirk kicked his leg loose and limped toward the garage, catching only snatches of his father, now lifting and testing a dead arm, shaking it as though it were asleep instead of shredded at the bicep in a black, steaming mess of broken flesh.
Dad had taken enough gun shots that he should have bled out long before this moment, but he showed no signs of succumbing to his wounds. No, he seemed more inconvenienced by the black pockmarks and his horridly deconstructed arm.
“I have to get out of here,” Dirk whispered, turning away ambling into the garage. There, he hammered his free hand against the automatic door switch on the wall and limped across the pitted concrete toward freedom. Waiting only long enough for the folding door to lift enough for him to duck under, he went to make a crouched exit only to double over as a new explosion of pain blossomed in his ankle. He gripped the wound, feeling hot syrupy warmth between his fingers, and forced himself through the agony to cant his head toward the kitchen doorway. Cooling relief swept through him as he found no sign of his father there. Only the sounds of the creature’s struggle still bleating out of the kitchen.
Dirk rolled out onto the pavement of the driveway, wondering for a moment how the gunshots had failed to rouse his neighbors from sleep. Every house on the road was dark, the nearest being that of his friend October Mills. It was a good quarter mile off with the rest of the newer homes that had risen up around the Evans’ glorified hovel, but the shots would still have been heard.
But as Dirk sharpened his sights on the blackness that swelled at the far side of the road, where the Vaughn Woods butted up to the soft shoulder, he discovered with an undulating stomach that the shots had indeed been heard. At least a dozen sets of eyes, each burning with its own shade of orange, yellow, or red, blinked at him from the edge of the forest. The growling and hissing rose in an instant, and seconds later the eyes were bobbing and jostling their way out of the shadows. Twisted faces emerged, perched upon pale naked bodies, showing nothing but famished hunger. The creatures moved as one to the edge of the pavement, pausing at the edge of the road as if it were a deep and torrential river. But they seemed to pause only long enough to consider some cryptic and unspoken directive before resuming course once more as one.
As a pack.
Dirk pushed himself through the pain as he made a hasty, scuttling retreat back into the garage. Pulling himself up along the guardrails of the folding door, he jammed the lift/lower button and dragged his bad foot back to far side of the bay. There, Dad’s bottles of used motor oil rested on shelves above Mom’s busted freezer.
The seconds lengthened unbearably as the creatures outside advanced, unhurried and as one, up the driveway. Dirk divided his attention between the maddeningly slow descent of the folding door and the still empty kitchen doorway. Sucking in a lungful of air, Dirk held the breath as the bare feet of the creatures—the estafru—halted and the last sliver of moonlight was snuffed out by the closed door.
He expected them to pound on it. He expected them to attempt to break in, but in a moment of intuited understanding, he came to understand the function they served. They were there to ensure no one got out while their new comrade... cut his teeth.
I’m trapped, Dirk thought, searching the house for sounds of his father’s continued struggle. Aside from the muted hum of the fridge, all was now silent.
Had Dad finally bled out?
Gazing down at the spent pistol, Dirk told himself it was best not to find out. He couldn’t run, but as he balanced against Mom’s dead deep freezer, he realized that he could absolutely hide.
Taking care to keep his noises to a minimum, he lifted the insulated lid of the freezer and gingerly swung his wounded leg up and over. Not wanting to test pressure on his bad ankle, he shifted his weight to his crotch, now straddling the lip of the chest, and winced as his balls were crushed in the act of swinging the good leg over. With a final precautionary glance toward the kitchen door, he spun and prepared to lower the lid on himself, only to pause once more at the sight of the used motor oil resting pungently on the shelf above him.
Animals have amazing senses of smell, a voice spoke in his mind.
Pursing his lips determinedly, Dirk collected as many of the bottles as his arms would hold and shrank down into the busted freezer, drawing the lid down behind him.