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Estimated reading time — 8 minutes

Tommy was lying in bed when he heard heheard a gunshot ring out in his Nebraskan home.. Gunshots were not an unusual sound for Tommy. His pa was a esteemed gun collector and living on the farm his pa had often fired the gun as pesky predators that have tried to hunt his livestock. But, this gunshot seemed a little unsettling, it had not happened outside on the edges of the field, a bang that twindled away in the night, no – This shot bounced off the walls, it was let off inside the house.
Tommy stayed in the bed, it was around two or three in the morning, he wasn’t sure. All he knew was that it was way past his bedtime, these were the haunting hours, the time of day children like him shouldn’t see. It felt like an usual world to a nine year old when it was too early for the cockrell to give its morning call. He looked at the thin beam of light that had made an almost perfect line under his door, he could hear a shuffling downstairs, not sure what the sound could be. He rose from the bed and slightly tiptoed towards the window, pulling back the curtains. It was pretty hard to see outside, being in the middle of nowhere, all he could see was blackness, the only light was displayed on the ground, from the windows of the first floor. He pressed his face up against the cool glass, he could feel a slight breeze come through the frame, the wind was picking up outside, the tree that sat at the edge of the pig pen and the crop field started to rattle its leaves as if it was a rattlesnakes tail.

Heavy footsteps bounced around the house, thuds that sounded like his pa’s work boots. ‘Oh no,’ Tommy thought as he hastily tiptoed back to his bed, pulling the quilt over his head to pretend he was asleep. He didn’t want his pa to see that he was still awake, the last time he had been caught, he had a pretty bad whooping with the leather belt. Tommy and his brother, Caleb called it the whooping belt – that is what it was only ever used for. An old leather belt with an bald eagle etched into the leather along with star studs along the rim, those stars made the whooping worse as they were metal. Tommy thought about the belt, the last time it had laid across his bare skin was when he dropped the bag of chicken feed, spilling its contents on the floor.
“C’mon here boy,” his pa then said and Tommy already knew what was to become of him, his pants were pulled down displaying his buttocks and the whipping pain commenced, it happened on the porch that overlooked the farm. Tommy, tried his best not to cry, he focused on the far horizon, wondering how far away the nearest town is, he could just run for it, but he had never did because he had always thought that the coyotes would get to him first – he would be eaten.

The wind picked up more outside, his pa’s boots never made it to his bedroom, he could hear him shuffling with something metalic downstairs, possibly in the outhouse that was connected to the kitchen. Tommy looked at the framed picture of his mom on his bed-side table.
‘Oh Ma, why didn’t ya take me with ya ?’ he thought, a tear formed in his eye which he immediately wiped away with the back of his hand.
Only babies cry was something that his pa had told him on countless occasions.
She had ran away, especially when the beatings from Tommy’s pa got worse. Well that is what his pa had told Tommy and Caleb.
“Yer momma’s a whore, she done run off and left us fer another man. Don’t ya be cryin’ fer her now.”
She used to hide away for days with black eyes, thick lips, cut cheeks. Tommy was a little annoyed as to why she had not tried to take him and Caleb from this place, away from the monster Tommy’ calls his Pa downstairs.

The front door slammed, Tommy jumped to the sound and shot his body up in his bed. He could hear his pa’s boots on the wooden porch downstairs. Tommy once again made his way over to the window. His bedroom looked out to the front, he could see his pa. Something was slumped over his shoulder, it was noticeable against the blackness of the night because it was wrapped in a sheet of white. As he walked towards his car that was parked just a few steps fromt the door, the end of the slump bounced up and down. Tommy’s pa opened the trunk, he placed the white slump into it and slammed the trunk door shut. He could then see him pull something from his chest pocket, it was his pack of smokes. He stuck the cancer stick into his lips, his face momentarily lighting up an orange glow as he lit his lighter. As his pa took a long drag of his cigarette, the red tip grew brighter. Then Tommy’s eyes met with pa’s. Tommy quickly hid to the side of the window, his back pressed up agaisnt the wall. He could hear his heart beating in his ears and feel it in his chest.
‘Did he see me?’ Tommy thought to himself.

Tommy’s scared curiosity was soon swept aside when he could hear the driver’s door of the car open, soon followed by the roar of the rattling engine. Tommy poked half his face into the window, the headlights lit up his room as his pa turned the car around and made its way around the back of the house. He was gone, it was now silent. Now his pa was gone, Tommy looked at his bedroom door, with the beam of light that decorated his floor.
‘Let’s take a look and see what he’s been up to,’Tommy thought. His idea was to have a quick look, he had no idea where his pa had gone to or for how long. Tommy opened the door, the world beyoned the threshold of his bedroom door felt forbidden and foreign. Tommy poked his head out from the door, he could see Caleb’s room, his door was wide open with the light off. Tommy walked over to the Caleb’s door. He looked inside, he could see that the bed was empty. The sheets had been slept in for they were not tidy, Caleb, unlike Tommy, always kept a tidy room. I reckon they call it OC…., somethin’ like that, Tommy couldn’t remember the final letter to OCD.

The stairs were next to Caleb’s room, Tommy felt like an explorer, like the one in his old comics that his ma used to buy him, ‘waistin money on this crap’ follwed by the knuckles of pa on ma’s cheekbone. Though Tommy’s ma often thought the amound of beer he drank was a waste of money, ‘pissin money down the drain’ was something that she used to say (when he wasn’t around).Tommy walked down the stairs, but only to the halfway point, next to the picture of Caleb smiling, holding a baseball bat with his school’s baseball team tee-shirt and hat on. That was a good day, his school had one the ‘Nebraska School’s Baseball Championship,’ the family got to meet the governer that day, he shooked Caleb’s hand and gave him a medal. Tommy was happy to get the ice cream from the stall, a rare delicacy for him.
Looking over the banister into the living room, he could see that the room was littered with beer cans, but it was hard to tell if they were new or if they were the same scrunched up ones from the night before.
“Caleb, are you down here?” he called out, hoping to hear his brother call back “over hear little bud,” as he always said before. The house remained silent, apart from the clicking clock and the growing wind outside, nothing else was making a sound. Tommy, though he was feeling scared, made it down to the bottom step. He didn’t dare wonder far, the moment he heard the car’s wheels crunch along the stones outside he was going to make a run for it. It was strange to see the house so lit up, his pa used to often shout rants ‘wastin electric money.’

Tommy noticed that the door to the cellar was opened. He thought this to be strange, his pa never left it opened because of the cool draft that used to suck all the heat out of the home. He slowly walked over to the door, the single lightbulb was on down there aswell. As he stood in the doorway to the cellar, every fiber in his body wanted to go down and see what was happening, but his brain was telling him not too. “What if pa comes back?” the little voice that sounded like him in his head would say. Tommy listened out for the car, he could hear nothing. Just the wind.
He placed his first bare foot on the top wooden step, he could feel the breeze coming up the stairs, the second door that led to the outside must be open, though that door was often padlocked from the outside.

“Caleb, you down there?” Tommy shouted out, but Caleb did not call back. Tommy walked a little further down, the second step creaked out, the straining wood pushing against him. He kept one ear for the car, but the other was pinned down to hearing what was in the cellar. Tommy had never liked the cellar, Caleb used to say that the Boogeyman lived down there, Caleb being the elder of the two brothers, he often enjoyed telling jokes like this, only because Tommy was too gullable and would believe it. Though, Caleb actually did it to keep Tommy away from the dangerous tools downthere. “The cellar aint no place for little boys,” Caleb would say, standing next to the shut cellar door, arms folded with his strict face.


Tommy cautiously descended into the cellar, his eyes adjusting to the dim light. It was a messy space, cluttered with forgotten items. Peering around the corner, he spotted a large red stain splattered across the floor and walls (red paint?). His heart raced as he wondered how it got there.
‘How’d the paint get on the ceilin?’ Tommy thought, turning his head upwards.

All for a sudden the distant sound of a car rumble broke the silence of the night. Pin pricks etched into Tommy’s skin, like a prickley headhog when it is in fear. Tommy ran up the stairs, stubbing his toe on the bottom of the cellar door, forgetting that the floor into the living room is a little raised. He tried to ignore the pain, he knew that the whooping from his pa would be a lot worse if he was caught. The steps to the upstairs felt longer than usual, he could hear the car door being shut. Tommy ran straight into his room, jumping into his bed, the springs in bed squeaking. He pulled the quilt over his shoulder and shut his eyes, but then he realized that there was too much light, his door was still open, his pa would know that he had been awake if the door remained open. Tommy quickly got out of bed, kicking the quilt away from his tangled feet. As he got to closing his door, the front door downstairs was opening.
Tommy jumped back into bed and shut his eyes.

The heavy footsteps of pa was making its way up the stairs. Tommy squeeze his eyelids harder. ‘Oh come on, sleep, please come,’ he so desperately tried. Tommy’s bedroom door began to open, the darkness under his eyelids turned a fleshy pink. He could hear his pa’s breathing at the door, he could hear the metal barrel of the gun being rested against the wall. His pa walked in, right up next to Tommy’s bed. He sat at the edge of it, Tommy almost rolling closer to his pa, the weight of the man knocking everything off balance. Tommy carried on pretending to sleep. He smelt awful, he could smell cigarettes, beer, sweat and dirt on him. He wanted to put his fingers up to his nose to block the smell, but he could not.

Pa’s hand rested against Tommy’s legs, he squeezed harder, it felt almost like an unintentional pinch, Tommy didn’t flinch, he remained asleep.
‘He’ll go to bed soon,’ Tommy thought, just waiting a little longer until he can open his eyes again.


Unexpectedly, Tommy felt a cool, circular metal against his temple. He couldn’t work it out, the coolness felt good against his skin. He so desperately wanted to open his eyes and see what it was. ‘A little longer.’
“I’m sorry, son. Time to say hello to Ma and Caleb,” Pa had said in a possessed to drink kinda way.
‘What did he mean -’

Credit: Marcus Woolley


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