Hello there, friend, and welcome to Bradshaw, Texas, where the steaks are bloody, and
the trucks are muddy. I wonder if I could invite you to join me as a fly on the wall this evening…
Me? Oh, flies have no names. I’m just an old soul in need of a little company and a good story; so, whaddya say?
Shall we take a trip to a cool, dark bedroom at 3324 Wilmore Lane, where an elderly
woman lies on her deathbed? She can feel the end is near, but she refuses to go quietly into that good night… No matter how desperately she yearns for it.
Evelyn Kirkwood has a list of ailments longer than her frail arms and all the medications
to go with them, but it doesn’t matter what they are; at 79, she’s dying of old age— plain
and simple. She’s had a hard life, and now she’s looking at a harder death; it was never
going to be any other way— not for her… Her grandson— a grown man of 38— sits
snoozing in a recliner as bulbous raindrops strike the window, and a dark, shadowy figure looms in the corner…
Every few minutes, a fresh burst of lightning flashes its eerie glow upon their motionless
forms, and a roaring clap of thunder spills into their dreams… But things such as the
weather stopped bothering this family long ago… The weather is something that happens Outside; they stay Inside.
Evelyn married Mark-Austin Kirkwood in 1962. They were only 18 back then, and she
called him Caustin… That’s when the world was still pretty and new— when aging was
a myth, and death was nothing more than a foreign concept… Her husband was a
supervisor at the paper mill, and— by all appearances— they were living out the
coveted middle-class American Dream… But— like all dreams— this was merely an
All told, they had seven wonderful years and two beautiful children together before fate
reared its ugly head. In the summer of ‘69, their son was killed in a boating accident
after falling overboard; little Jordan’s arm was amputated by the propeller, and the
6-year-old perished enroute to the hospital. That’s the day Caustin became Mark; Evelyn blamed him for not shutting off the motor in time, and he blamed her for letting it
happen at all.
Two weeks after the funeral, Jordan’s possessions were taken away; even his pictures
were removed… Their daughter, Emily, was only four and did not understand why her
brother was gone— why her father was suddenly cold and cruel— or why her mother
stayed locked away in her room; she had no point of reference for emotions like grief or
depression… But as the days turned to weeks— then months, and years— this became
all she knew.
In ‘72, Mark was fired for drinking on the job, and the family was forced to move into a
small house fifteen miles outside of town… Six months later, Evelyn’s mother passed
away; it was around then that they traded their car in for a used clunker… That’s what
Mr. Kirkwood was driving on the morning of April 13, 1973 when he failed to heed a
stop sign on Sycamore Street… Unfortunately— at the exact same moment he blew
through the intersection— Harriet Springer was trying to get her three kids to school,
and she came to what is commonly known as a rolling-stop. Had she in fact come to a
full stop, she would have undoubtedly noticed the instrument of her demise barreling
towards her at fifty miles-per-hour.
Mark got off easy; he died on impact— well before his debilitated mind could register
the accident was even occurring… Evelyn was forced to take Emily and what little they
had left to her father’s home in Alabama. Life wasn’t ideal, but the years passed as they
In ‘76, Evelyn married Ross Bordeaux, a used car salesman; he wasn’t much to look at,
but he didn’t drink, and he was kind at first… Sadly that, too, was only temporary… In
‘78, it came to light that Evelyn’s new husband was less interested in her than he was
Emily was 12 the first time he touched her inappropriately; with each secret visit to her
room, he went a little further, and she became a little more withdrawn from the world…
At 13, he took her virginity, and she began cutting herself… Within a few months, there
was no sexual act he hadn’t forced upon or from her. She bled from places she didn’t
know could bleed, and she thought it was her fault.
For the rest of Evelyn’s life, the day she learned of this betrayal will be a jumbled blur.
The memories are buried so deep, that— anytime she tries to recall them— she gets an
awful headache, and it becomes impossible to think. Sometimes she will see a flash of
herself holding a peculiar bottle over a simmering pot; sometimes, it’s the image of a
bulky, rolled-up rug… A rug that looks a lot like one she used to own…
Evelyn reported Ross missing that October; she was the prime suspect only until police
discovered Bordeaux’s disgruntled customers. He had half-a-dozen death threats in his
office, and they were all dated within the last two years. Suddenly, detectives weren’t so
sure where to look, and no formal charges were ever filed.
Eventually, Evelyn was able to sell their home and move back to her father’s house;
barely recognizing the empty shell that remained of her daughter, she vowed to never
take another husband… Unfortunately, Emily had only begun to learn the cruelty of
men. During her senior year, she began self medicating with pills, and— on her 18th
birthday— she dropped out of school to marry a 26-year-old junkie who called himself a
musician. His name was Travis Corley, and he overdosed on the night of their first
anniversary… Being three months pregnant, the new widow was forced to move back in
with her mother and grandfather.
Fred Mueler was at his limit; his blood pressure was high, his heart was bad, and he
was terrified of what would happen to his girls after he was gone. That fear tripled with
the birth of his great grandson; for the first two years of Tommy’s life, Fred was most
often the one to change him, feed him, and soothe him. Evelyn did her fair share of
work, too, but Emily was rarely home. The family lived in a state of constant dread…
That she would follow in the footsteps of her father and late husband was clear; it was
only a matter of when and how? With every phone call, they expected to hear the awful
news, but— on January 9, 1987— Fred beat her to it by dying in his sleep.
Emily still had no interest in straightening out her life, so Evelyn assumed full care of her
grandson and subsequently spoiled him rotten… Tommy was her second chance, and
she intended to get things right this time around… All the while, Emily continued down
the path of self destruction until finally— on a stormy, January night in ‘91— Evelyn
received the Call. Emily was killed in a deadly collision caused by an intoxicated
driver— only she was not the intoxicated driver! It was one of her… Shall we call him a
client? He and the only person in the other vehicle— a father of four— also perished in
Evelyn barely reacted; by now, she was hard as steel towards everyone and everything
except for her darling Tommy. After receiving the max payout from the insurance company, she felt no remorse in going after the driver’s family. As it turns out, he was a very successful businessman from the city looking to be more discreet after causing a scandal the previous year. The lawsuits won enough money to pay off Fred’s house and truck while still leaving a sizable nest egg— one that was invested wisely.
Her dreams of Tommy becoming a doctor fizzled out around highschool when his
grades never seemed to get higher than a C-average… Plus, the closer he came to
graduation, the more she couldn’t handle the thought of letting him go. She could afford
to supplement his income no matter what he decided to pursue… But then there was
still the problem that he would eventually meet a girl and want to live with her instead…
She found herself feeding him extra sweets after dinner and snacks between meals—
anything to fatten him up… She even stopped reminding him to shower, and— being a
teenage boy— he often averaged just one a week. He wasn’t much for socializing, and
that was fine, too; he had plenty of games, and the other kids never gave him a reason
to desire their company anyway.
After he graduated, Evelyn kept meaning to help Tommy find a job… But then she
would think of all those hours that her Good Boy would be away, or— even worse—
what if he still managed to meet a girl? And not just a girl— no, no, no— it would be a
conniving whore who wanted to steal him away! With a little more consideration, she
decided it would be best to employ Tommy herself; every week, she gave him a list of
odd jobs and paid him $20 an hour for his work… He did a few chores in the beginning,
but he quickly realized he didn’t really need any money— so he quit. A voice in Evelyn’s
mind told her to speak up— to teach the boy some responsibility… But she couldn’t bring herself to do it…
As a result, the years continued to pass and nothing changed— just the way they liked
it. This brings us back to where we started— to the stormy night of September 27,
2023— at the bedside of a dying woman and her attending grandson.
“Tommy…” Evenyln’s voice is weak and feeble as she calls to her grandson. When he
does not stir, she takes a moment before trying again. She has only been at it for a few
minutes, but that is an eternity when you are frightened— and the figure in the corner
frightens her very much.
“Tommy… I need—” That is as far as she gets before succumbing to a violent fit of
coughing. The sound jerks the sleeping man back to reality, and he trips over his own
feet while searching for the light. As he rises, a flash of lightning illuminates the now
empty room with an eerie glow, and Tommy has just enough time to reach the lamp
before falling back into darkness.
“You ok, Gammy?” His hands tremble ever so slightly as he pours a glass of water and
waits for Evelyn’s coughing to subside.
“Fine, fine,” she sputters weakly; when she is ready, he lifts it to her lips with one hand
while supporting her head with the other. After a few sips, she taps her fingers, and
Tommy sets the glass atop her nightstand before carefully wiping the dribble from her
This is how they start each morning; Evelyn wakes to the unshakable feeling that she is
being watched… Then her eyes seek out the dark figure that she is now all too accustomed with seeing. The first time it appeared, she thought it was merely a hallucination; it was nothing more than a shadowy mass floating outside of her room.
Since then, she has made sure the door is kept shut at night…
A week later— maybe a little more— it reappeared; this time in the far corner of her
room. It was too dark to be certain, but the shadow seemed to be moving— morphing—
into something almost humanoid; only its head was much too small for its body, and no
limbs had yet taken form. Eight more days passed before she finally saw the apparition
clearly enough to recognize its odd shape as the result of a hooded cloak. The garment
was a far deeper black than any she has previously seen; it made the surrounding night
seem pale and dull… But then there was the small void where the figure’s face should
Evelyn has come to believe— almost accurately— that its face is actually a blackhole;
she feels an unshakable certainty that it will creep closer and closer until she is simply
sucked inside— that its pull will be so fast and so strong, even her dying scream will not
escape. Some voice deep within her— perhaps one which still retains knowledge from a
previous life— recognizes the looming figure as the shadow of Death…
“Here, let me fix your pillows.” Tommy fusses over her bedding, desperate to be helpful.
When his grandmother initially became bedridden, she had a nurse with her around the
clock, but she and Tommy found reasons to dismiss each one… Now it is just the two of
them, and that is exactly how they intend it to stay…
“Such a Good Boy… My sweet—” exhausted, Evelyn is already drifting off again, but
Tommy needs her to stay awake.
“Gammy, wait; do you need the bedpan? You don’t wanna wake up in a mess again, do
you?” His tone is gentle and caring; he has never felt many positive emotions towards
the outside world because it has never shown any towards him… But— where his Grandmother is concerned— that is all he feels. His entire existence revolves around—
depends upon— her, and there is nothing he fears more than her loss.
“But I don’t gotta…” Evelyn whines, but then transitions to the warmer, motherly tone
reserved for when she needs to ensure cooperation. “Don’t let me be a bother; you go
on and read your little cartoon books. I feel so much safer when you’re watching over
me… My Good Boy…” She doesn’t like to think of it as manipulation, but it is exactly
She is desperate to rest before the apparition returns— which will happen the moment
Tommy falls asleep— but she doesn’t know how to explain this without sounding senile… In fact, a significant part of her strongly suspects— and hopes— that is exactly what she is; senility is far easier to live with than Death.
“Oh, alright…” Tommy knows he will soon pay dearly for acquiescing, but he cannot
bring himself to push… Instead, he returns to the recliner and opens a comic book.
It is less than two hours later when he hears— and smells— the confirmation of his fear.
The alarm is set to go off in twenty minutes, but he does not wish to risk another
infection. Laying his comic aside, Tommy yawns, walks to her bedside, brushes his dark
hair beneath a shower cap, fits a new pair of plastic booties over his feet, and slips on
some rubber gloves while making a mental note to order another box.
Ready to begin, he leans down, whispering, “Gammy, it’s time,” while nudging her
shoulder softly, but she barely stirs. “Gams, we have to get up now.”
Evelyn wakes just enough to feebly attempt rolling onto her side, and Tommy positions
his arms beneath her to assist; some of the mess gets on his arm, and he edits his mental note to specify elbow-length gloves. After cleaning the excess waste and removing the sheets, he prepares a warm sponge bath…
Such moments used to make him gag and retch, but now they hardly concern him.
Likewise, the first time he bathed his grandmother came with a level of awkwardness
most people never experience; it felt wrong— dirty— to rub a wet, soapy sponge on her
sagging, naked breast… To work his way south to even more forbidden regions… But
two things helped him overcome this difficult adjustment. Mainly repetition; it has a way
of desensitizing us to even the most unthinkable acts. The second is how wholly
mundane and unappealing the human body becomes after almost 80 years in our cruel
After the sponge bath, their routine does vary in one new way this morning… “There
now, how’s that? It’s not too loose or too tight? These had the best reviews. Lots of
people said they forgot they were even wearing them.” Outwardly, Tommy is smiling—
his voice is sweet and soothing, and his eyes are bright— but inwardly, his stomach is
tight, and he is terrified she will change her mind.
“Yea, yea; I keep saying it’s not the diapers. It’s using them! How would you like sitting
in your own mess and waiting to be changed? Hmm?!” Evelyn’s eyes are squinted into
thin slits to better see her grandson’s face.
“But Gammy, that’s what you were doing anyway… I’ll still take you to the bathroom or
bring you the bedpan whenever you want… These are just in case.” Tommy has lost
count of how often they have repeated this exact conversation, but he would gladly
triple the number if it meant cleaning less fecal matter.
“Don’t you sass me!” To a stranger, Evelyn would sound angry, but Tommy knows she is
simply afraid. They each understand the diapers are more than a demeaning inconvenience; they are an admission of defeat— another step towards the grave.
“Oh, no ma’am, never.” Now that his grandmother is clean and clothed, she is taken into
the living-room where Tommy places her into another hospice bed— this one set to a
reclined position for better television viewing.
Being in her bedroom all day every day was crushing her spirit, but her disposition
improved considerably with this simple routine adjustment. She now has a view of the
street through her big, cottage windows, and she enjoys creating backstories for her
neighbors almost as much as she enjoys watching the hummingbirds through her patio
“Well, Gammy, what do you wanna watch this morning?” Tommy stands with the remote in his hand— waiting to make a selection— but Evelyn is clearly lost in thought.
He cannot actually hear what those thoughts are, but, luckily, we can!
She will never admit such a thing aloud— or even allow it to dwell too long in her
mind— but she is desperately worried that her grandson will not be able to care for
himself once she is gone… She has already paid for all that could be pre-arranged; after
the funeral, her ashes will be placed in a beautiful urn and mailed to Tommy… She
imagines him placing her upon the mantle where she will continue watching over him
from above… Or— she must admit— possibly below.
“Gams, I could use you back here on earth, please.” It makes him nervous when she
does this; her face goes slack, and her eyes become cloudy… It makes him feel as if he
is looking at a corpse.
Only in these final days has Evelyn realized the unforgivable disservice she has done to
her grandson. In trying to avoid the mistakes made with Emily, she has isolated him
from the rest of the world; she wanted him all to herself, and now he will be utterly and
completely alone because of it.
“Ok, let’s do some Hitchcock, then; that’s always a winner.” Tommy puts on her favorite
show and gently shakes her back to reality; Evelyn’s stomach is on a strict schedule,
and he is already running behind. With the loss of her teeth the year prior, they quickly
found baby food to be the easiest way for her to eat. She cannot take in much at once,
and when Tommy attempted to cook, it always ended with food poisoning, grease fires,
or ants… Once he managed all three…
“Did ya at least get meat flavors? I ain’t eating no more of that banana-pear shit!” To
anyone else, her words now sound like garbled gibberish, but Tommy still hears her as
clearly as when he was a child; so much so, that he would be quite shocked to learn it
has changed at all.
“I sure did; we’re having a double helping of turkey for breakfast.” He announces this
proudly and feels an instant pang of disappointment when she fails to confirm he is in
fact a Good Boy.
Looking up from the selection of baby foods, he sees her attention has drifted to one of
the dark corners, and her lips appear to be moving. He has caught her doing this a few
times over the last couple of weeks, but he can never make out her words, and she becomes angry when questioned. He thinks it is because she is embarrassed, but we know it is because she is frightened. Crossing the room quietly, he listens closely…
“I told you to stay out of here, you sorry bastard!” Evelyn’s words are clipped and sharp.
Tommy wonders if she is seeing her dead husband… A mind like his cannot conceive of
something like Death manifesting as a physical entity— not outside of his comics, at
least… Yet— when he glances back to the corner— the food tray falls from his hands
and the awful noise is almost enough to conceal his startled scream. For just the
briefest instant, he saw the outline of something large and misshapen… But then his
eyes adjust, and he sees the corner is actually empty.
Evelyn feels as if her heart has stopped and wonders if this is the moment she will die,
but— ever so gradually— her breathing returns to normal, and her heart resumes
beating… Though perhaps slightly more strained.
“Oh, I’m sorry! Thought I saw something for a second…” Tommy is trying to make light
of things, but he is slowly beginning to crack under the mounting pressure. He is already
well past his limit, and he knows the sudden addition of terrifying hallucinations will
utterly destroy him. So, you see, they both have their own reasons for being particularly
Evelyn looks up to see her grandson is pale and shaking, but he is not her immediate
concern. What terrifies her is the fact that he saw the apparition; he should not be able
to see the products of her dying mind… “So what the hell is it?” She does not mean to
mutter the question aloud, but she has little control over such faculties these days.
“No Gammy; there’s no one here.” Tommy bends down to meet her at eye level and
speaks even louder; “I was mistaken!” It tests every ounce of Evelyn’s patience.
“Dammit boy! Back up! I’ve told you! I’m hard of hearing— not deaf!” She is not trying to
be harsh; she understands his reaction all too well… She has spent more than half of
her life believing she was ready to leap into Death’s arms, but— now that the time has
come— she does not want that menacing black shadow anywhere near her. Its presence in her home is an unwelcome intrusion she would like to banish with a shotgun.
“Right, sorry… Here, how about we get you some breakfast? Nothing broke; all I need to
do is fix you a new glass of orange juice. Be right back!” Tommy rushes off before she
can protest, and Evelyn is left alone once more.
Only now does she notice the television is on and eagerly directs her full attention
toward it. She wants to think everything will be fine as long as she doesn’t look in the
corner… But she doesn’t believe that at all…
“Tommy, what’s today’s date?” Evelyn asks as he returns with her juice.
“It’s the—” Tommy stretches the word as he checks his phone “—twenty-seventh.”
“I’ll hang on for as long as I can, but I don’t think I’ll get to see October this year… Just
remember, if it’s only a matter of a few hours— maybe a day— do whatever you have to
do to make it to the end of the month. You might as well get one more check out of
those gov’ment bastards… But don’t try to wait any longer… Who’s my Good Boy,
“Me; I am…” Tommy blushes proudly, knowing he will absolutely do whatever it takes to
fulfill this morbid request when the time comes…
Of course, he is once again envisioning her death as taking place in the distant future.
He operates on one very basic principle— that as long as he keeps his grandmother
nourished and comfortable, she will not die. He only sees the brave face Evelyn
presents outwardly… He cannot understand the betrayal of having one’s own body turn
against them, nor can he fathom the excruciating pain that comes with knowing you will
be sick every day for the rest of your life.
“Yes-you-are,” Evelyn coos as if speaking to a toddler, and Tommy soaks up the sweet
praise that is his sustenance.
The rest of the day is a cycle of these same events; after breakfast, Evelyn watches
television and hummingbirds until dozing off. A few hours later, Tommy wakes her,
changes her diaper— a task which proves far more simple than changing her bedsheets
and nightgown— and feeds her lunch… Dinner comes and goes in much the same way,
and then it is time to get ready for bed.
Evelyn is fed, changed, brushed, and moved back to her bedroom where she watches
more television until falling asleep… Then— like every other night— Tommy sneaks
upstairs to play on his computer; sometimes, that means watching a movie, playing a
game, or listening to music… Other times, it means touching himself in ways he wishes
a woman would touch him. Not that it will make any difference in the coming course of
events, but this night happens to be one of the latter…
The earliest Evelyn has ever woken is between 2:30-3:00, therefore, Tommy makes
certain to return by 2; with this routine, she has never noticed his absence… Until right
now— at the stroke of midnight— when she wakes in a state of absolute terror… She is
positive she has just experienced some unspeakably horrific nightmare, but she cannot
recall what took place… Then she feels the spectre’s presence, and she has her answer.
The television is still on, and she dares not look away from it. She feels cold, empty—
like Death’s hand is looming only inches away— and she does not wish to know if her
instinct is correct. Without moving, she calls out to no one…
“Tom… Tommy… Tommy, please… Come on, baby… Tommy? Wake up, Tom… Tommy
please, please Tommy!” Evelyn continues in this way for several minutes, her fear
growing with each second. Finally, she cannot stand it anymore…
Ever so slowly, she lowers her gaze towards his chair— his empty chair… “Must be in
the bathroom…” That is what she tells herself, but— deep down— she knows it has
already been too long for that…
“Dammit Tommy—” before she can finish her thought, she sees it. To say its hand is
“only inches away” may be an exaggeration, but not a very big one. The apparition
stands just at the foot of her bed— its arm extended towards her— hand opened wide,
inviting… And it has changed its form… It now radiates warmth and comfort… All her
feelings of empty coldness vanish as if blown away by a refreshing summer breeze… It
is the hand of her father, her mother, her daughter, and even her little son— all joined
Where the figure’s face was once a black void, she can now see the faces of her long
lost loved ones— calling her home… But no matter how desperately wishes to join
them, she simply cannot… “What about Tommy?” Her words are barely audible, but she
is certain the apparition understands them… And that it does not care…
Be it a homeless man on the street, the president of the United States, or Death
incarnate, Evelyn will not tolerate the dismissal of her grandson’s life. She calls upon
every ounce of pain and misery she has ever felt while focusing on the memory of their
boat speeding towards little Jordan… “We must have looked like a monster coming to
gobble him up….” She pictures the sight of Mark and Emily in the morgue— her parents
in their coffins— and she imagines crumpling all of that anguish and rage into a tight,
black ball which is then hurled at the apparition.
In reality, nothing actually passes between the two, but— just as she sees the ball of
hatred collide with the entity in her mind— the figure with the warm faces and welcoming hand explodes into dozens of snake-like shadow tendrils that swarm all around her bed.
Evelyn tries to scream but no sound escapes; she is forced to watch in helpless terror
as the black shadows stretch, warp, and bend their way into the tall, sinister figure she
is accustomed to… Only now its reaching hand is that of a skeleton, and its palm is no
longer turned upwards in invitation but down— prepared to take. Its long, bony fingers
are sharpened to fine points, and Evelyn already knows its grip will be like ice-cold
It looms over the foot of her bed like a nightmare personified, growing taller, darker,
and— somehow, she knows— angrier. Her eyes are involuntarily affixed to its true face,
which— to her horror— is now visible; it is the face of the oldest thing she has ever
seen. Its gray, leathery skin is mottled and stretched thin over its skull, conforming to the
shape like a glove. It has no distinguishable gender, hair, or nose; its paper-thin lips are
stitched shut with thick, red thread, and its eyes are empty sockets— windows to the
predatorial void awaiting her… She can feel its pull, and— when it gets too close— it
will consume her.
Adding to her panic, Evelyn is completely paralyzed; her mind is awake and trapped—
helpless— inside of a useless body. Mentally, she is very much like that of a cornered
animal; she understands the Now— the sight before her, the feeling of a clenched fist in
her chest, the pain in her left arm and upper abdomen, the nausea, and the cold sweat
breaking out all over her body… But animals never concern themselves with “why” the
predator chases them; whether for food or sport, they must run.
The apparition is now so large, it must bend forward so as not to hit the ceiling. Its body
stretches across the length of Evelyn’s bed, placing its face directly above her own…
And suddenly— faster than the human eye can follow— it descends upon her like a
pouncing tiger, enveloping her. If someone looked in at this precise moment, they would
see the literal definition of nothing. Evelyn, her bed, the floor beneath it, the wall behind
it— they all appear to be gone; it is as if some great god has taken a pair of scissors
and removed them from the universe, leaving only a blank void in their place… But they
haven’t gone anywhere; they are simply hidden beneath the black blanket of Death.
Likewise, the last thing Evelyn experiences before losing consciousness is nothing. She
hears nothing, she sees nothing, she smells nothing, she tastes nothing, and she feels nothing— not physically or emotionally. She has no desires, no fears, no memories, or
dreams— there is only the vast expanse of nothing…
Tommy never hears a sound; when he returns, he sees only his grandmother— resting
“Gammy… Gam-gam… Come on, it’s almost 6:30, can you believe it? I can’t remember
the last time we slept through the night, can you?” Tommy shakes Evelyn gently, but
she shows no signs of stirring, and her head rolls side-to-side in a loose, unnatural way.
Now frightened, his voice grows louder— more frantic— as each word passes his lips.
“Gammy… Gams, you have to wake up, now… Gammy? Gammy, you have to!”
“What did I tell ya about screaming in my ear, boy?” Her voice is a hoarse whisper, but
Tommy has no trouble hearing it.
“Whew! Holy shit, Gams! I almost called 911! Are you ok? Should we… Well, I mean…
Do you think we should go—”
“No!” She cuts him off, her voice suddenly restored to its prime. “We ain’t going
nowhere; use your head!”
“Uh, ok… If you’re sure… I guess that’s fine…” Tommy is confused; something feels
wrong, but he is not sure what.
“Ain’t ya gonna change me? Did you suddenly lose your sense of smell or something?”
“Sorry Gammy— just glad you’re ok…” Tommy dons his protective gear and moves
Evelyn to the top of her large dresser which has been converted into a makeshift
changing table. With practiced ease, he quickly opens her gown, but that’s as far as he
gets. No amount of experience could have prepared him for the sight hidden beneath.
Her diaper looks like a jumbo water-balloon filled with toxic black sludge; the waist flaps
are barely holding, and shit is leaking out of every opening.
He gasps audibly as he stares slack-jawed behind his mask, and his expression is one
often worn when trying to solve a difficult puzzle; he simply doesn’t know what he’s
going to do with all of the waste. It’s on his arms, her nightgown, and all over the
sheets— even the floor.
“What’s the problem?” Her tone is sharp and defensive.
It brings Tommy back to reality. “Nuh—nothing! Nothing at all; there’s just a little more
mess than usual, but we’ll have you fixed up right quick, don’t you worry.” He avoids her
gaze by busying himself with extra towels— four of which go directly into the trash…
Some things simply cannot be cleaned… When the diaper is finally removed, it barely fits in the wastebasket, and Tommy is forced to fetch the one from the bathroom which is also soon filled to the brim…
With the worst mess of his life nearly behind him, he takes both small trash cans to the
curb rather than risk the plastic bags bursting. He doesn’t care if it upsets the HOA to
put them out a day early, nor does he care if the garbage men are angry; he simply
wants the mess out of his house so he can begin erasing this awful memory.
Back inside, he is completely lost in thought as he passes through the living-room and
turns into the hallway where he suddenly lets out a short, high-pitched scream. At the
far end of the still dark corridor— hovering in midair— is a cloud of swirling black
shadows; they are stretched long and thin like eyeless snakes, twisting and writhing
themselves into a knot.
Tommy reflexively shuffles backward— out of the hall— but trips on a rug in his haste.
He is stunned momentarily before recalling the reason for his panic, but the pain in his
aging body has a sobering effect. “It’s just not possible; shadows can’t move of their
own— especially not through the goddamn air!”
Rising to his feet, he holds his breath and turns back toward the hallway; feelings of
relief wash over him to see it is empty once again. Yesterday’s similar incident flashes
through his mind, and he briefly wonders if a tumor could be causing these hallucinations… Then comes the realization that this would mean visiting a doctor, and he dismisses the theory as quickly as it came.
“Hey! Did you forget my bare ass is still flapping in the breeze?! Where the hell did you
The sound of his grandmother’s accusing voice echoes in Tommy’s head, and his
suffocating fear of disapproval temporality erases all other thoughts as he rushes to her
“Well look who it is…”
“Gammy, I’m really sorry! I took out the trash, but then there was this—” Tommy
hesitates; he doesn’t want to strain Evelyn’s heart with a fright— nor does he wish her
to think he’s lost his mind… “—big spider in the hall. Don’t worry; I killed it and sprayed
some of that poison.”
“I guess that explains why you screamed like a little girl. So, how ‘bout it? You gonna get
me off this damn dresser or what?” There is a hint of playfulness to her words that gives
Tommy a profound sense of relief— like some great danger narrowly avoided.
“Ha… Yea I guess I did sound like a girl; well, in my defense it was a really big spider…
But hey, it’s dead and I’m alive, so let’s get you into something more comfortable and
head into the living-room.” Tommy maintains a chipper disposition as he raises Evelyn
to a sitting position and gets a fresh nightgown over her head… But then his work comes to a stop. “Can you lift your arms for me, please.”
“Well… No… I’m sorry, Tom… It doesn’t seem that I can…”
“Hold on; don’t panic—”
“You’re the one panicking…”
“—Uh, here! Let me just—” Tommy gently lifts Evelyn’s arms into the sleeves one at a
time, then carefully places her into the wheelchair.
When she cannot hold herself upright, he bends forward to secure the harness— something she has never needed until now— and breathes in the smell of something far worse than human waste. “Gammy, I don’t wanna do it anymore than you do, but we really can’t put off going to the—“
“Don’t you dare say it! You know they’d never let me come home again!” Her words are
like actual needles in his ears; they’re angry, hurt, confused, and— worst of all— knowing, accusing… “Do you remember what we talked about?”
“Yes ma’am…” Tommy’s reply is mumbled, and his head hangs low in defeat; strands of
greasy hair fall before his face, but they hide his shame from no one.
“Did you think I was joking?!”
“No ma’am, I—”
“Your childhood has lasted damn near 40 years now, boy! It’s time to be a man! There’s
no one left to take care of you!” A sudden, violent bout of coughing snaps Tommy back
into caretaker mode, and he rushes to bring his grandmother a cup of water. After
waiting for the fit to subside, he lifts it to her lips, but— each time— the coughing
resumes, and the water dribbles down her chin and front.
“Oh, forget the damn water, would ya?! Sweet Jesus!”
Tommy sets the cup on the nightstand— clearly unhappy— and mutters, “I’m sorry.”
“Fine, fine… And you can wear that scowl for as long as you’d like, but I still ain’t going
back to no hospital; what’s the number one rule, son?”
“No hospitals… No exceptions.”
“Yes, yes. Now, tell me why. Come on; I know you remember.”
“Because you want to die in your own bed— in your own time— with no further
intervention from medical professionals or their expensive scams.”
“That’s right! And what are you gonna do if I die right before the end of the month?”
“Wait until midnight on the 1st to call 911.” Only half of Tommy’s awareness is in the
present; the other half is a million miles away, falling into a bottomless pit alongside
dozens of eyeless shadow snakes…
“Yes! But not too long, right? Now, who’s my Good Boy?”
“Me… I am…” There is no enthusiasm behind his words, only dejected defeat. “Well, we
can’t put off the sponge bath any—”
“Oh yes we can! You know as well as I do it won’t help. Why put either of us through the
extra bother? It eats up so much of our time; wouldn’t you rather be playing one of your
games while I watch TV?” Her points are impossible for Tommy to dispute; if he is honest with himself, he cannot remember the last time a bath made a dent in her smell… But this is different; it is more than a foul odor— it is downright rotten— and it scares him like a bad omen…
As he pushes Evelyn into the hallway, he thinks again of the shadow serpents and wonders if the smell is really his grandmother or something lingering near her… “Yea, I guess you’re right… Well, we’re behind schedule anyway; if we hurry we can still fit in your people-watching time.”
“No!” She snaps; it is quick and vicious… And then it is gone. “We’ll leave the curtains
closed today; I have a headache.”
The prospect of sitting in the dark all day is not one that Tommy relishes, but— with how
the morning is going so far— breakfast worries him much more, and his instincts are
finally correct… After placing Evelyn in the living-room bed, he retrieves the food tray
and a single helping of ham flavored baby food.
“Come on, Gammy, just try— please!” He stands exasperated with a spoon full of goop,
but Evelyn’s mouth is shut tight.
“Will you settle down and listen to me, goddamnit? I’m trying to tell you I can’t swallow it!
Do you want to clean that slop off of you, me, and the floor for no reason?”
“But you have to—”
“I don’t have to— nothing, mister! Now hush!”
With no arguments left to make, Tommy resigns himself to the couch. The curtains have
all been pulled closed; the room is dim enough to be mistaken for nighttime, and it
frightens him. Deciding it was better to clean in the light than cower in the dark, he starts
a load of laundry before loading the dishwasher. The kitchen has a window cut-out
which overlooks the living-room, allowing him to keep an eye on his grandmother. He
watches her for a moment— sitting stiff as a board, eyes pointed at a television just out
of his view— and he weeps softly.
The dishwasher needs to be replaced, but that would require letting strangers into the
house; instead, he prefers to help the old girl along by pre-rinsing. After developing a
rhythm, his mind begins to wander, and he momentarily forgets about scary things
lurking in the dark, but he remembers to cast an occasional glance in Evelyn’s direction.
It is during one of these glances that he sees the outline of a tall figure standing in the
far corner of the living-room; it is wearing all black and has a hood pulled over its
head… But it is too dark to see its face…
Panic takes over, and a plate falls from his hand, shattering. He ignores his grandmother’s startled cry, focusing only on the motionless intruder as he rushes into the living-room and fumbles for the lightswitch. Evelyn recoils at the sudden brightness, but Tommy hardly takes notice; the corner is now empty, but it was only out of his sight for a second. He searches the room for any sign of where the figure could have gone, but he and Evelyn are quite alone.
“Just what do you think you’re doing?! You’re not cracking up on me, are you?”
“Didn’t you see him?” Tommy continues checking behind every piece of furniture even
though he has already seen nothing is there.
“Who? Oh! Is that damn mouse back again?!”
“No! The—” He stops himself from taking it any further. “Nothing, nevermind… Just
shadows, I guess…”
“Then turn off the damn light!”
Tommy does as he is told— too confused to argue— and returns to clean his mess in
the kitchen. By lunchtime, Evelyn remains paralyzed and is still refusing to eat; what
Tommy tries to feed her dribbles down her chin and into her lap. All the while, there is a
tall shadow figure in the corner of his eye, but— when he turns his head— nothing is
Dinner is much the same, and, tonight, Tommy does not feel like spending time in his
room; to be so far away from his grandmother would be either too lonely or not lonely
enough, and he does not wish to experience either scenario. When he moves her into
the bedroom, she feels cold and stiff. After adding an extra blanket to her bed, he gently
massages her arms and legs to increase circulation.
“You can’t possibly think that’s doing a damn bit of good…” Evelyn’s voice is condescendingly amused.
“It certainly isn’t hurting anything,” Tommy mutters without looking up from his task.
“Nothing but that little head of yours;” she replies with a soft, low cackle which turns into
another coughing fit.
Tommy tries to give her water, but, again, most of it misses the mark. Her inability to
drink frightens him more than the paralysis or refusal to eat. If a healthy person can only
survive for a few days without water, how long will she last? Then there is the matter of
the shadows— the shadows which are suddenly able to move of their own volition and
change their shape at will; he feels very much as if he is in one of his comics.
“Oh, forget it; I’m fine now.” If Evelyn had the ability to move her arms, she would have
slapped it from his hands.
“I said forget it!” The sudden venom in his grandmother’s tone makes Tommy recoil,
and he retreats to his recliner where he silently stares at the television until falling
All night, he dreams of the room’s shadows gradually stretching themselves toward the
same direction, becoming longer— thinner— as the hours pass. Ever so slowly, they
peel away from their surfaces to merge in the far corner where dozens more of these
serpents are now settling into the shape of a tall, cloaked figure. It is entirely black
without a speck of color; where its face should be is a void so dark, Tommy feels it must
be a hole in the very fabric of reality… Then he blinks, and— upon opening his eyes—
the figure is standing before him… He now finds himself staring directly into the void,
and he screams, pushing himself— and the recliner— backwards.
When he next opens his eyes, he is lying flat on his back— feet in the air— and the sun
is shining through Evelyn’s paisley curtains. He is drenched in a sheen of cold sweat,
and his heart races with the all-too-real memories of his nightmare… But— try as he
might— he cannot remember what he saw within the void, and he is grateful.
“Well… Are you dead? Are you gonna answer me or what?” These are the first words of
which Tommy is consciously aware, but they sound far away.
There is a piece of his mind screaming that it must be late— that he has important
things to which he must tend— but an even greater piece is still staring into that
impossible void, unable to look away… It is the memory of Evelyn’s paralysis which
finally breaks the spell. Is she better? Worse? Had her words sounded playful—
light-hearted (dare he think)— just now? He must know.
Shaking away the last of his stupor, he winces for his bad back as he rolls out of the
overturned recliner and rises to his feet. Taking in the room around him, he notices
every shadow is in its proper place. In the light of day, nightmares always seem silly and
overly dramatic… But not this one… If anything, the instilled cold sense of dread is only
intensifying— effecting his senses. When his eyes first fall onto Evelyn, he is taken
aback by the sight of a pale corpse staring wide-eyed at the ceiling…
Then he shuts his eyes tightly to refocus. “She was just speaking; she can’t be dead.
I’m still hallucinating…” He repeats the lines in his head like a mantra until he is once
again brought back to the moment by his grandmother’s voice.
“Hello? Is anybody home? Tommy! What the hell is wrong with you, boy? You ain’t gone
touched in the head, have ya? I tell you what, we don’t have time for that, sonny, you
best snap out of it!”
When he opens his eyes, all appears normal once again. “Sorry… I’m just… It’s nothing…” With a shake of his head, he brings himself fully back to the present, stands the recliner right-side-up, and gets to work. “I’m fine now… Everything is fine…”
Don’t let him fool you, friend; it is most certainly not fine… He just desperately needs it
to be; in fact, he has never wished for anything so unreservedly— so desperately— as
he wishes for this…
“Well, I should think so; looky here!” Detecting a surprise undertone of cheer, Tommy
follows her gaze down to her arm where she holds it slightly raised. “Guess I’m gonna
be around a bit longer after all, ha!”
As the morning progresses, he learns her bowel movements are back to the normal
level of disgusting, and— most importantly— she is able to swallow again. Not only
does she drink a glass of water, she eats an entire jar of beef baby food. Even though
he wishes she would eat a little more, Tommy is elated by her improvement… He
almost forgets there is a tall, sinister shadow figure looming in the corner. Evelyn’s
silence regarding the unwanted presence has led him to assume it isn’t real, and thus
he has decided to treat it accordingly…
With his new strategy in place, the day passes as smoothly as one can considering the
less-than-ideal circumstances. His last Amazon order arrives, he is able to clean that
awful stench from his grandmother, and— after dinner— they watch a movie before
going to bed… The night, however, is not so kind to our dear protagonist… His dreams
are once again plagued by shadows and visions of Evelyn’s rotting corpse… But memories of this nightmare fade soon after waking, and the morning proceeds normally.
Unfortunately, this perfect illusion is nearing its end… As lunchtime approaches, there is
a knock at the kitchen door. “Who the hell is that?” Evelyn sounds as annoyed as
“I’m sure it’s one of those sorry neighbors again; I’ll be right back.” On his way, another
round of knocking sounds. “I’m coming, I’m coming,” Tommy pulls open the door with an
“Hey there, neighbor; I was walking over to check on y’all and noticed your cans were
still out, so I thought I’d bring ‘em up on my way.” The middle-aged man in the
sweater-vest lives next door; Jason Vaugner also happens to be President of the
Homeowners Association… His extended hand is ignored, and he makes a look of
disgust when the rancid stench from inside invades his senses. A refusal to shake
hands would normally anger Jason, but— after seeing (and smelling) his neighbor— he
now considers himself fortunate.
“Oh… You shouldn’t have…” Tommy replies in a tone that clearly conveys his sincerity.
Jason awkwardly wipes his hand at the thought of his near miss; “Uh, anyway, I know
you have a lot on your plate with— umm— with everything… So, I just wanted to remind
you that trash days are Tuesday and Friday— not Thursday… And it runs pretty early,
but as long as you drag the cans back on the same day, it doesn’t really matter what
time you do it. Sometimes, I don’t get my own until damn near 9:00 at night, haha…”
This is a fascinating exchange, truly. You see, Jason harbors quite the distaste for Tommy, yet— due to the pressing social obligation under which he has been conditioned to adhere— he is incapable of expressing such emotions outwardly. This is why he feels the need to include polite laughter even though the subject material is clearly not humorous.
Even more interesting is the fact that Tommy understands these protocols very well; he
is fully aware that Jason expects him to follow a certain script— to chuckle at his
jokes— to politely agree with his every word and end it all with a firm, hearty
handshake… But Tommy will not bend; upsetting Jason Vaugner is one of few
pleasures Life still affords him. After a long, thoughtful pause, he simply responds,
“while you’re here, I’ve been wondering about something… Why is it called the
H-OH-A? Y’all know “homeowner” is just one word, right?”
“…Yea… No telling.” Not wishing to give Tommy the satisfaction of a reaction— and
equally desperate to escape the awful odor now burning his lungs— Jason is already
walking away as he adds, “Just remember what I said; next time there will be a $50 fine,
and the price goes up after that.”
Ahh, the politics of human interaction— it never gets dull. Of course, Tommy forgets his
neighbor’s threat by the time he closes the door; the only thing that confuses him more
than the HOA’s existence is the fact so many bend to its will. They have no official
authority; the source of their power is merely the fear of rejection, and he considers
those who participate to be the lowest forms of life… He is also wholly ignorant to the
chain of events he has just set into motion; had he handled his neighbor with a bit more
care, our story may have ended differently, but now, sadly, the events we are about to
witness are set in stone.
“Jason again?” He hears Evelyn ask from the other room.
“Yep.” Tommy speaks loudly to be heard from the kitchen where he is preparing her
“Well, what was he crying about this time?”
“I put the trash out a day early, haha.”
“Oh, he can suck a rock. We’re gonna need Joey to cut the yard one more time, though,
or they’ll all be bitching about that next.”
“Yea, I’ll text him after lunch; are you hungry yet? I found a new flavor— turkey pasta
“Jesus, boy. If you want to poison me just drop some cyanide in a ham jar; why do you
keep ordering all these weird chunky flavors?”
“Well I couldn’t tell it had chunks when I ordered it… I just thought you might wanna try
something new. Nevermind, here; I’ll go get the ham.”
“I don’t know what’s gotten into you the last couple days; it’s like you’re living off in a
Quickly returning with the new food jar, Tommy responds without thinking. “I know; I’m
sorry. I’m doing my best, but it’s kinda hard to keep up with everything that needs doing
around here while the shadows are coming to life—” Only after the words are out does
he realize what he has said. “I mean… I’m sure it’s just stress… Now that things are
getting back to normal, the hallucinations will probably stop…”
“Oh! I didn’t realize you could see him too; I just didn’t want to worry you, but it’s only
Death; he’s here for me— not you.”
Tommy stands in stunned silence as he processes this new information which so
completely— so instantly— has reversed every belief holding him together. It takes all
of his self control to keep his voice steady and calm. “Gammy… Are you saying that you
can physically see a man standing in the corner over there?” He gestures to the apparition with an almost imperceptible nod.
“No— it’s not a man; it’s Death, and he’s only here for me. Just ignore him; that’s what I
do. He’s been hanging around for weeks, but I keep refusing to go with him. I don’t
know why you’re so surprised; I keep telling you we’re gonna get that extra month’s
check. It’s already the 29th; we’re so close now! And who knows— with the way I’ve
been feeling, we just might shoot for November!”
Evelyn’s cackling laughter echoes in Tommy’s mind as he races upstairs to retrieve his
handgun. He purchased the Smith & Wesson .22 on a whim and has never actually
used it, but he feels now is the time. After making sure it is loaded and ready to fire, he
hurries downstairs to face what he now fervently believes must be a crazed homeless
man… But— when he reaches the living-room and turns on the light— no one is there.
“Where’d he go?!” Tommy searches the room in a panicked rush, gun raised and ready.
“What in sam-hell are you doing with that thing?!”
“Not now; quick, which way did he go?”
“You can’t possibly think you’re gonna shoot Death. Tell me I didn’t raise that big of a
“You’re the fool if you think Death has been hanging out in our house for weeks on end!
Do you hear yourself? Is your mind going now, too?” Tommy instantly regrets his harsh
words and takes a softer tone. “I’m sorry… I just don’t understand how you aren’t taking
this more seriously…”
“Oh stop being so dramatic! It was Death! Couldn’t you feel it? Didn’t you sense it? Like
some long forgotten memory…”
Seeing no point in further debate, Tommy settles for, “I guess we’ll see soon enough.”
Fear not my friend, I know our journey has been a long one, but— I promise you— the
end is near. We must only take the briefest of intermissions so that I might inform you of what is taking place next door.
Jason Vaugner is currently— at this precise moment— eating a delicious roast sandwich with his wife, Meg, and recounting the details of his visit with Tommy. His biggest concern is the smell… He caught only a quick glimpse of the kitchen and wonders if it is the sole source of the stench or if the rest of the house is in a similar state.
Either way, he is certain Evelyn cannot be receiving the care she requires; he feels compelled to call for a welfare check, while Meg believes this would be a waste of time… The State only intervenes in cases of the absolute worst of conditions, and she fears what a man like Tommy may do if they were to call the police.
With his lunch hour nearing its end, Jason is forced to accept Meg’s suggestion to wait
until after his big presentation… However— due to unforeseen circumstances— he will
not return home until after 11PM, drunk and incoherent… But tomorrow is another day…
Tommy puts Evelyn to bed at the usual time, and, again, chooses to remain by her
side— the 22 tucked securely in his lap… And, again, his night is plagued by images of
Death— visions he will not remember but will see again nonetheless… For now, he will
only recall a tall, dark, hooded figure rushing toward him.
Without hesitation, he raises his weapon and fires not once but three times; the figure
disintegrates into hundreds of shadow snakes which disperse in every direction, disappearing into the walls and floors— all except for a single serpent which strikes out,
latching onto his outstretched foot. At the same instant, Tommy’s world turns red as his
foot explodes with a blinding pain that radiates outward through his entire body. Instantly, he is awake and screaming in agony. The world is still red, only he now understands his own blood to be its source. The gun remains in his hand, but he hastily drops it on the nightstand wishing to be rid of it.
“Are you fucking kidding me?! How? How can someone be so goddamn stupid?!
Huh? I swear to Christ—”
Tommy can hear his grandmother fighting to be heard over his own agonized wails, but
the pain becomes so unbearable that her words might as well be in another language.
“Please… Wait…” He needs to move quickly, but he cannot so much as sit up to properly inspect the wound… Not until a few of Evelyn’s words make it through loud and clear…
“Just dial 911 and give me the—”
“No!” I don’t need a goddamn ambulance! I just need a second! Can you please just
give me that?!” Tommy angrily spits through gritted teeth, but he is slowly unfurling his
body. Though it involves much more screaming, he uses his arms to push himself into
an upright position, then slowly lifts his leg to bring his foot across his lap where he can
see the bullet’s exit wound. Grateful for some small bit of luck, he removes his shirt and
wraps it securely around the gaping hole.
“Bullet went all the way through… Gonna get cleaned up… Be right back… Sorry…”
Each word becomes more strained than the last as Tommy hobbles out of the room. He
falls just before reaching his destination and drags himself the rest of the way. After
finally making it to the bathroom, he leans against the wall to catch his breath… That is
when his eyes fall upon a tall, shadowy figure in the dark hallway… And it is now pointing at him with a rotting, skeletal hand… The only emotion it inspires is pure, unfettered rage. With his good foot, he kicks the door shut with a loud bang and takes several deep breaths.
It will take Tommy a moment to finish tending his wound; while we wait, perhaps I
should remind you of the Vaugner’s. If you recall, Jason wished to speak with police
about a welfare check for our dear Evelyn, but his wife convinced him to give the matter
further consideration. As it would happen, the incident with his neighbor was pushed to
the back of his mind after receiving a promotion and the wild night that followed, but—
after hearing this morning’s gunshots and those horrible screams— he knew what he must do…
Now that Tommy’s foot is clean and properly bandaged, he hobbles to his gaming room
where he retrieves a real oak replica of Gandalf’s staff. With it, he is able to move
around with slightly greater ease, but he is notably pale from the blood loss, and several
of the bones in his foot are shattered. The sight beneath the bandage is already growing
grimmer as the bruising darkens and the swelling increases, but he is so numb with
shock and fury that he barely feels it anymore; his body is like a machine fueled by pure
“Well it’s nice to see you’re alive!”
Tommy is pleased to see Evelyn’s temper has cooled; in his current condition, he is not
sure he could control his own if provoked. “Yea, I was gonna say the same to you. I’m
sure you’re ready to get changed; I’m sorry… Fuck am I sorry…”
“Nothing we can do about it now; what’s done is done. We’ll just have to take it one step
at a time— ohh, hah, no pun intended— and see how it goes…”
“I’m glad you’re able to find it so humorous…” His words are low and bitter, but he is
angriest with himself.
“You fired three times, ya know? The—”
“Gams, please!” Tommy’s voice cracks and tears spill down his cheeks as he pulls her
sheets back and prepares to move her.
“Alright, alright… But what do you plan to do about me? We could call up one of those
“No! I told you we don’t need anyone! I can handle it!” With a loud, agonized grunt, Tommy attempts to lift Evelyn from the bed, but the moment any weight shifts to his right leg, they both collapse back onto the mattress.
“Maybe you should just put a towel down and do it here. This isn’t gonna work, son.”
“Yea… Yea, you’re right. Be right back.”
“Hey, wait a second; what’d you do with the gun?”
“It’s tucked into my waistband… And yes the safety is on…”
Changing Evelyn’s diaper pushes Tommy to his absolute limit, but the thought of having
nurses in the house again is enough to keep him going. Moving her to the living-room,
however, proves impossible; deciding to remain in the bedroom, he hobbles to the
kitchen for her food tray. It is there he hears a violent knocking at the door followed by,
“police! Open up!”
Perhaps if Tommy had not been blinded with anger or suffering from sleep deprivation,
he would have remained silent and taken his chances… But he is hurt, he is scared,
and— on some level, he understands— he is alone. He does not know why the police
are at his door, but— since he believes he has done nothing wrong— he views them
purely as a nuisance.
Ripping the door open, he see two officers, and he is left standing before them in
bloodied clothes with a giant, wooden staff and bandaged foot on full display; they did
not pair well with his ghostly white skin-tone, wild, bushy beard, or wide, blood-shot
eyes. Before he can speak, the man introduces himself as officer Daniels and his
female partner as officer Newcomb. They are there for a welfare check on Evelyn
Kirkland but advise they have also received reports of gunfire.
“Of course there was gunfire! We’re in Texas! There’s always gunfire! Who the hell
“When we get calls that people are scared in their own homes— we care, sir. Especially
when the shots are fired somewhere that happens to be emanating a suspicious smell… Not to mention, you, sir, happen to be covered in blood and appear to have a serious injury to your right foot… I don’t suppose you would let us come in and take a look around? Maybe speak to Mrs. Kirkland?” Officer Daniels remains courteous despite Tommy’s hostile demeanor.
“Hell no. Gammy is resting; she would tear my hide if I brought people into her room.
We’re just fine here; you can be on your way.”
“Well, hold on, now.” Officer Daniels places his hand on the door to stop it from latching.
“We can’t just take your word for it on a welfare check; we have to make sure she’s ok,
and— when she is— we’ll be sure to tell her you did your very best to keep us out of her
hair… And— by the way— just what is that smell, anyway? It sure is mighty strong…”
Of course, the officers already know what the smell is— they’ve experienced it enough
times in their line of work— but they have to play the game.
“Not that it’s any of your business, but that happens to be a can full of my grandmother’s
shitty diapers because the HOA fuckwads will cry if I take out the goddamn trash!”
Tommy is growing increasingly angry; he does not even notice when the officers’ hands
move closer to their holsters.
“Right, right… And does all of that blood belong to you, or…” Officer Daniels lets the
“Yes, it’s mine; you can see my foot is obviously injured. I hope you got a nice little
power rush outta this, but— if you’ll excuse me— I’ve got to feed my grandmother now.
If you expect to cross that threshold I suggest you come back with a warrant!” This time,
Tommy successfully slams the door. He can hear the officers speaking into their radio
as they walk away, but the words escape him.
With a racing heart and shaking hands, he slowly makes his way back to Evelyn with
the food tray.
“What was all that about?”
“Oh… Uh, police… Welfare check… For you…” Tommy collapses at the foot of her bed,
barely managing to keep the tray upright, though his staff falls to the ground with a hard
“Absolutely not! I can’t go out there, and those dirty pigs aren’t coming into my house!
“That’s wh-what I told ‘em…” His hands are now shaking so badly that he struggles to
remove the lid from the jar of baby food.
“Good; that’s my Good Boy, Tommy. My good, Good boy!”
The words are like a balm on Tommy’s wounded soul, and the jar lid gives way with a
satisfying pop. “I love you, Gammy,” he adds with a soft sigh as he prepares a spoonful
of turkey flavored mush.
“You’ve always been the perfect son; I don’t tell you that enough, but I’m going to start.”
Our dear Tommy is so immersed in the praise he has longed to hear, that he does not
even notice the dull throb radiating through his right leg anymore; he becomes lost in
daydreams filled with what-ifs and should-haves that can now never be. Time slips
away, and he is surprised to hear the spoon suddenly scraping along the jar’s bottom.
“Oh, I guess that’s it… Well, we can’t go in the living-room, but we can still watch some
Hitchcock! How ‘bout it?” Tommy feels that he is doing well; he does not understand that
he is pale as a sheet or that his words are barely coherent. If not for the copious
amounts of blood, he would easily be mistaken for someone in the throes of violent
“That sounds wonderful, son.”
A grin spreads across Tommy’s face as he relishes the moment he’s been waiting for.
To him, it feels as if weeks have passed since he first injured himself, but now— finally— he is able to collapse in his recliner and rest. He struggles only for a moment to get an extra pillow beneath his bad foot, then he lays back, starts Evelyn’s playlist, and closes his eyes… At the exact same moment, there comes the sound of distant police sirens… And they are getting closer…
It takes no time at all for them to reach 3324 Wilmer Lane, at which point they are shut
off, and Tommy’s phone begins to ring. Not recognizing the number, he presses decline
and blocks the caller. After repeating the same process with the next three calls, there is
a moment of silence before a woman’s voice can be heard speaking through a megaphone.
“This is Sergeant Pamela Reed with the Bradshaw PD. We have a warrant to search the property. Come out with your hands up, or we will have no choice but to enter by force.” Pamela’s words are filled with authority and the practiced ease that comes with repeating the same phrase for years on end… But they soften as she continues, becoming full of compassion and understanding; it is the tone she uses to convince criminals she is their friend. “Please, Tommy. We only want to help Evelyn. Just let us say a few words to her; then we can clear up this whole misunderstanding and all go on with our day. Don’t you want that, Tommy?”
Tommy does not respond aloud; he merely closes his eyes and begins rubbing his
temples while humming a soft lullaby from his childhood.
“No! They can’t do that! They can’t! Tommy! Oh, Tom, don’t let them take me! You can’t!
You won’t, will you? Please, say you won’t!”
The sobbing desperation he hears in Evelyn’s voice is just enough to pull him from the
trance, and he is flooded with new determination. If he only does one thing right in his
entire life, he wants— no, needs— it to be this. “Gammy, so help me, I don’t care what it
takes— what I gotta do— those bastards aren’t gonna get you. I promise!”
“Oh thank you! Thank you so much; I knew my Good Boy wouldn’t let me down. Oh,
Tommy, my life would have been so awful— so empty— without you.”
Knowing he does not have much time, he begins barricading the bedroom door with
everything he is capable of moving. So much adrenaline is coursing through his veins
that he does not even need his staff to move around.
“This is your final warning. You have sixty seconds to come out peacefully.”
Sergeant Reed is using her official voice once again. She has seen this scenario enough times to be confident of its outcome. In her experience, guys like Tommy never do things the easy way.
“Tommy, I’m so frightened!”
“It’s ok, Gammy; I’m right here. They ain’t getting in, I swear.”
“But if they do… I want you to put me out of my misery. Promise me.”
“Promise me! I’m 79-years-old goddamnit! I’ve earned the right to choose where I die! I
won’t go with them! I won’t!”
“I promise; I swear! No matter what, they aren’t taking you…” It is the hardest promise
Tommy has ever made, but he steels himself, determined not to let down the only
person who loves him.
Seconds later there are several loud crashes. Wood splinters and cracks as the doors
are forced open; glass shatters as multiple windows are broken, and the debris
crunches beneath a dozen pairs of boots as they march through the house. Every few
seconds, a voice calls “clear,” and— each time— it is a little closer until, finally, the
footsteps are just outside of the barricaded door.
“Tommy, this is officer Daniels again…” He pauses in case there is a response, but none
is forthcoming. “I got that warrant you asked for… Do you think we can have a real
conversation now? It’s not too late to just open the door, ya know?”
“Gammy doesn’t want to see you! Go away!” Tommy is trying to sound intimidating, but
he comes across as a scared, petulant child.
“You tell ‘em, baby!”
“There! You see?! Did you hear her? She wants you gone!” Tommy absentmindedly
strokes his 22 which is now back in his hand with the safety disengaged. He is not
willing to fail.
“Alright, we’re coming in hard; I hope you’re standing back… And Tommy… We’ve dealt
with some pretty bad people over the years, so breaking into places this way tends to
make us nervous. I really need you to have your hands in the air— empty— when we
get this door open… You think you can do that for me?” Officer Daniels waits for a
response, but again there is only silence. “Ok then, here we go!”
Tommy stands against the opposite wall, feet planted, and gun raised towards the door.
The moment it begins to open, he expects to see officer Daniels, but— instead— he is
once again looking into the endless void of Death’s face. With a new wave of fresh fury,
he fires, hitting the edge of the doorframe.
The next events unfold instantaneously; bullets rain through the small opening as
Tommy leaps to the side, but he is too slow. He is hit three times before falling to the
ground where he watches the door explode inward as a team of police pour through the
opening. He hears Evelyn’s screams, but he can do nothing about them; he knows he
has failed, and he is ready to die.
In his final seconds of life, he suddenly remembers what he saw when forced to peer
into Death’s faceless void… It was this— the moment of his death. He saw it after first
watching the death of his father, his grandfather, his mother, and then, finally, his
grandmother… This knowledge only troubles him for a brief moment; as his last
neurons cease to fire— Tommy’s world falls into complete darkness, and his suffering is
finally brought to an end…
Credit: Page Turner
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