“Concentrate on your breathing Jack. Just breath!” a young almond haired boy whispered under his breath as he sat within the tight and dark walls of an old closet.
With nothing occupying the small space inside, and a still oiled sliding door, the old closet was a perfect place to hide a scared human being. Thin shafts of soft pale light sliced it’s way through thin slits on the old metal sliding door. A slightly thicker and brighter light forced it’s on path through, making it’s pale splendid glory known to the boy through the crack between the end of the door and it’s jam.
All was silent around the boy, but inside for him was a different story. The hard and quick beating of his already panicked heart rang in his ears like a million hammers striking metal. Yet, even with the deafening sound of his heart in his ears, the crunch of broken glass under heavy sliding feet proved to be much louder. If possible, his heart only hammered faster as the crunching slowly made it’s way to the closet door. The thin pale shafts of soft light darkened as the creature shuffled by. The sound of ragged and uneven breathing, much different than his forced silent and barely even shallow breaths, greeted his ears.
His grip on the bandaged pipe between his legs tightened, forcing his knuckles to turn a pale white. His breath hitched when it all suddenly stopped. At first, his curiosity told him to look, to check to see if the creature was gone with his own eyes. He didn’t though, he had learned first hand that curiosity will only get you killed in this land. However, that didn’t stop him from gently placing his ear to the door.
At first, there was nothing. No breathing that was not his own, no crunching of heavy feet, just the sound of his own heart as he slowly began to calm. That was, until, the breathing started again, this time right next to his own ear. He shot back, and, by some divine force, he fought back a yelp from the unwanted scare. His once white-knuckled grip tightened into a knuckle-popping death grip as the uneven shuffling and ragged breathing began to move again. He tracked the creature’s progress by following the blocked light from the door.
Eventually, the shuffling footsteps and breathing from beyond the closet faded, and he released a pent up sigh. His death grip loosened to a loose grip that could easily tightened. Mentally he counted down from ten.
At one, he locked eyes with the indent on the end of the closet door that served as a handle. With a slightly shaking hand he placed two fingers inside. Slowly, he slightly lifted the door as he slid it back enough to easily peak through. Gently placing a single dark green eye to the now enlarged crack he surveyed the room beyond the door.
What was once white wash walls, long since turned a depressing gray from age, greeted his eye. Glass littered the floor from shattered lights, scattered among the debris of the of the broken plaster roof. Frayed and cut wires that once served the purpose of directing electric into the room hung limply from the broken ceiling. A slightly rusted metal bed frame laid tossed on it’s side in the far corner. A door sat opened with obvious signs of forced entry if the splintered wood that was once a doorknob was anything to go by.
The boy let out a sigh of relief when his eye proved that the creature that stalked outside was now gone. He allowed the bandaged pipe in his hand slip down to the bottom of the handle, the top nearly touching the floor. He took a half step back, his two fingers still inside the indent, and squared his shoulders. He gently slid the door open, still cautious in the case of the creature still being nearby. He took a tentative step out, careful to avoid the debris that littered the floor. As he closed the closet door he caught his reflection on the mirror that was screwed tightly to the door.
He stood a short five feet and four inches tall. With him being only fifteen, it was hard for him to be overly muscular, but that didn’t mean he hadn’t built up the lean muscles of a runner. Still, evidence of his past life lingered. A small amount of fat still layered his stomach, his face still held a slightly boyish look despite with the small scars and filth that littered his face. He wore simple tan hiking boots, the ones that was found in any teenager’s closet. Tucked and taped into his boots he wore a worn, and slightly ripped at the knees, pair of blue jeans. A black leather belt with a scuffed metallic belt buckle was tightened against his waist, serving the dual purpose of holding up his pants and a few belt attachments. A clip-on cylinder of strike-anywhere matches, a small container half full of water purifying tablets, and old, but still useable, swiss army knife, and a small worn yellow flashlight rested on his belt.
Tucked into his jeans was a worn out and heavily used dark blue t-shirt. Around his neck rested a handmade necklace consisting of an old US quarter with either of it’s faces worn to the point of near invisibility, and two dull gold wedding bands on either side on a gently frayed dull black string.
Originally, the necklace had only the worn quarter hanging from it, given to him by his long passed grandfather as a birthday present. The rings however, they came from his parents. They were his final push, his only support, and his will to live. If these rings were ever lost to the point of being unretrievable he would follow the path of many before him and take his own life. The memory of how he got them however was a completely different story than the happy memory of his grandfather’s present. He retrieved them shortly after his father’s death and his mother’s disappearance.
The thought of his parents still hurt him, even after four years of mourning and surviving. He often tried to repress the memory of finding his home looted, his father’s mangled corpse on the living room floor, and his mother’s disappearance. However, he realized shortly after trying that it may be best if he kept that memory on the forefront of his mind, a constant reminder of why he was still alive to even remember.
Laying in his room, a eleven year old boy contemplated the options of staying up late and playing some games on his laptop. Suddenly, a loud crash clanged in his ears and his father’s shouts filled the house. Acting quickly, he jumped out of the bed and slipped on yesterday’s pants.
As he turned to the door to leave, his mother bursted in. They locked eyes, his dark green to her green on blue, and what he saw froze him. His mother was the calmest out his family, and always the most optimistic. Rarely he had seen his mother upset in anyway, and those moments were fleeting. However, the look in her eyes then shook him too his core. Panic and worry filled her normally peaceful and calming eyes. She grabbed him by his forearm, and he allowed her to lead him out into the hallway.
Quickly, she forced him over the trap door in the ceiling that lead to their attic space. Letting go of him, she reached up and pulled the cord that released the trap door and ladder. Obviously trying to be as silent as possible, she grabbed the falling ladder and quickly laid it onto the floor. Grabbing him again, she shoved him onto the ladder.
He stared at her, confusion evident in his green eyes. Sadness flashed through her blue on green eyes, and she parted her mouth slightly to speak. However, before a sound could be made, another shout and a loud crash sounded below. She spun around, looking down the hall before turning back to him. “Go up,” she whispered urgently, panic seeping into her voice,” go up, cover the door, and do not come down till we say otherwise.”
With that, she turned and ran down the hall and disappeared around the corner. Confusion and fear gripped his eleven year old heart, what was going on down there? Normally, he would check to sate his curiosity, however, before he could even take the first step, his mother’s panicked instructions echoed in his ears.
He turned and looked up into the dark space that served as an attic to his family. Quickly, he stumbled slightly up the ladder, before silently raising it up behind him. The attic space was small, about as big as his room. Dusty, old, and slightly rotted boxes filled the space with years of collecting objects that probably will never see the light again. However, as he looked for a big enough box to cover the trapdoor, he began to panic. None of the boxes were large enough! He began to wildly search, fear of the disappointment from his mother if he failed his task. Eventually, he came across an old redwood trunk. Dusty and dulled, this trunk has been around for longer than he has been alive.
Quickly grabbing it, he tried to pull it over the door. However, his eleven year old muscles were just not enough to budge it. Panicking slightly when he heard yet another louder shout and a crash, he ripped open the trunk’s lid and began to tear out all the objects inside. To him, they were nothing but dusty books and pictures of people he never met. Eventually, he managed to remove enough to allow him to maneuver it over the door. Not a moment too soon either, since another loud crash was heard and this time instead of a shout, and shriek echoed throughout the house. Inside he knew it was his mother, and his instincts drove him to check on her. Yet, he didn’t, his mother’s final orders once again preventing him from taking action. Sadness wrapped his heart tightly as he dragged the trunk over the door.
Male laughter echoed beyond the door as he backed away. Laughter that didn’t belong to his father. Oh, how he wanted to see, to make sure his parents were safe, but fear and orders halted his actions. Tears glistened his eyes as he sat among the dusty boxes, his imagination running wild with what his eleven year old mind could come up with. He felt sick, hearing that evil laughter, and no other sounds.
Eventually, the laughter faded, and the boy waited. He waited as the house grew silent. He waited as his eyes and head began to grow too heavy to hold up. He waited even when his body slumped unconscious.
Then, he awoke. Soft light filtered in through a crack in the roof, one his father had meant to patch a long time ago. Confused as to why he was in the attic, he watched as dust floated through the light. Suddenly, the memories of last night flooded his mind, and he quickly stood. He had fallen asleep! His parents may have called for him, and he fell asleep! He looked over at the trunk and saw it hadn’t moved. Relief gently flowed through him as he realized that whatever had happened downstairs hadn’t tried to move onto him. Then, panic once again gripped him as he realized it also meant that his parents had tried to come up to get him.
As he quickly tried to make it over to the trunk, a feeling of foreboding washed over him. There was something, it told him, that he didn’t want to see beyond the trapdoor. However, he pushed that feeling down, forcing his determination over it. He grabbed the trunk handle, and the sound of wood dragging across wood filled the room.
He stared at the closed trapdoor, ladder sat upon it, folded neatly. At the top was a release he could pull to leave. However, as he reached for that release, the feeling of foreboding returned, this time stronger than ever. Shaking his head roughly, trying to dispel the feeling, he gripped the release and pulled.
The door swung down, and the ladder clattered down noisily before crashing against the floor. He winced at the noise, to him it sounded deafening. He looked down the hole, and saw the muddy shoe prints of boots covered the hall carpet. The foreboding feeling was still there, urging him to stay in the attic.
“M-mom,” he croaked silently, his throat sore and dry from sleeping in the dusty attic.
He shook his head sharply before swallowing, trying to loosen his throat. “Mom, Dad, you there?” He said louder, still with a slight rasp.
Silence responded to him, saying nothing to his question. Panic started to squeeze his heart, before he forced it down. Swallowing again, he ignored the feeling of foreboding and panic as he slowly made his way down the short ladder.As he placed his bare feet on the sodden carpet he looked about the hall. Doors hung halfway of their hinges, rooms were torn apart, items were strewn throughout each and every room, any valuables or electronics they owned were gone.
Then he came to his room. On the outside, with the door hanging open only a jar, it looked normal. However, the inside spoke a different story. His bed laid turned over onto it’s side, mattress and blue sheets lay crumpled. Drawers from his tipped over dresser were scattered about aimlessly throughout the room, the clothes within just thrown in random places. When he searched for his Ipod and laptop, his anger began to rise. He couldn’t find them anywhere.
He stood in the middle of the wreckage of what once was his room, anger rising at the fools who dared to so much as breath on his items. His vision began to tunnel and reden as sounds of whispers grew in his ears. He almost gave in, ignoring the signs, until he felt one of his longer than average nails pierced his palm.
With widened eyes, he tried to control his breathing. Slowly, almost painfully, his vision returned to normal, and the whispering faded away. He looked down at his right hand, the one that his nail had pierced. Blood slowly bubbled from the small wound, nothing serious, it will clot in a few seconds. He didn’t want another Joseph incident. Suddenly, he remember the entire reason why he was up in the attic in the first place.
He ran out onto the landing, anger slightly risen at himself for being so selfish as to forget his parents. However, when he looked down passed the railing, he let out a choked sob.He fell to his knees, hands barely gripping the railing in front of him, as he stared at what greeted him in the living room downstairs.
His father laid belly down in a puddle of blood. Tears threatened to overflow, but he forced them back. His father believed in strength, and strong men don’t cry. That belief still didn’t stop the shakes, the whispers only he could understand as he tried to process what was before him. He felt as if he couldn’t breath, his throat so tight it hurt. He didn’t care though, what had what was left of his attention was the twisting feeling in his stomach, and the ripping of his heart.
His mind went into overdrive, trying to figure out how and why this happened. However, out of the thoughts that rushed through his mind, only one was heard. ‘What if he is still alive?’
Without another thought, he released the banister, ignoring the stinging of his hands from gripping it so hard, and stood up. He almost tripped over his own feet as he ran down the steps. However, all hope that he may be alive was shattered when he fell to his knees. At the base of his father’s spine was multiple stab wounds, and muddy boot prints covered him as if someone took to stomping on him. The kicker of all of it though was the deep indent in his father’s skull. Blood and small bits of gray matter pooled around his head. The mixture of blood and a strong musky scent permeated the air, making his already twisting stomach to do flips.
He felt the blood from his father soak into his old jeans, but he didn’t care. Here laid his father, beaten, broken, and dead. On his knees, head bowed, and arms lying lifelessly at his side, tears began to fall, mixing with the blood on the floor. He no longer cared at being strong before his father. He was gone, and the only one left was his mother.
His mother! He jumped to his feet, all grief for his father pushed to the side for now. He rapidly swung around, searching for his mother’s body in the room. Hope flared and the twisting of his stomach lessened some, she wasn’t there. Perhaps she was hiding, just as he was! He began to draw in air for a yell to call out his mother, however all that came out from between his lips was a pitiful whimper. There, on the ground only ten feet from his father, was scraps of cloth.
The cloth, the same color as the clothes his mother had worn when she had hid him, lay in small ripped scraps, like an animal had torn away at it. Dried splotches of some unknown liquid splattered the ground nearby. It wasn’t blood, but something else entirely.
He fell to his knees again, this time bent over, arms locked as he tried in vain to hold up his now heavy body, and eyes staring almost lifelessly to the ground. His final hope had shattered. His father was dead, his mother was missing, probably with the ones who did this, and all he did was hide. He had heard their screams yet did nothing but cower in a pile of dusty boxes in the dark. Hell, he was more worried about his possessions over the ones who had fed him, bathed him, and took care of him all his life.
Slowly, the feeling of hopelessness began to fade, burned away by self-loathing wrath. His vision, once blurred and unfocused, began to tunnel and reden once more. The whispers returned, stronger and louder than ever, urging him to destroy, to take out his anger on anything and everything. This time he didn’t fight it, no this time he welcomed it with open arms. His once lifeless eyes sparked with new light, and that light was insanity. His pupils dilated, focusing on the smallest detail of the carpet under him. Then, as he suddenly arched his back, he roared.
Reveling in his rage, he grabbed a turned over armchair and threw it hard. The dry wall exploded outward into the tiled bathroom in the next room as the armchair flew through the newly made hole. He ran about the living room, the feeling of euphoria blossoming in the wake of destruction. The glass coffee table shattered, the glass sprinkling the carpet. A broken lamp pole was speared through a tipped over and ripped couch. The already broken TV was shattered and nearly flattened due to a chair repeatedly slamming into it. Books were ripped to shreds, and the bookshelf was broken into pieces.
Looking about wildly, he growled when he saw anything that could be destroyed was as such. As he stood in the middle of this new wreckage, pieces of wood and glass sprinkled over his father’s corpse, his pupils began to dilate again. His shoulders slumped as the pleasant feeling of destruction faded, and adrenalin ran it’s final course through his veins. When his vision returned to normalcy, he felt the room begin to spin.
He fell to his knees once more, cutting his knees on the shards of glass in the carpet. He held his light head in his hands as the realization of what he had done caught up with him. Tears once more flowed from his eyes as he realized not only was his father dead and mother missing, he had also just destroyed their living room beyond repair.
He sat crying, his stomach once more so twisted that he actually became sick all over the carpet. He felt the sun tickle his skin as it passed unfiltered through the now broken window. He didn’t care though, the tears had stopped and now he just stared unfocused at his father’s body. His mind was empty, there was no whispers urging him, and he felt nothing. Then, the sunlight caught a golden metallic shine in his father’s fist.
His unfocused eyes suddenly refocused on that shine. He stood slowly, and shakingly made his way over to his father, glass cutting into his soles, but he no longer cared. All that mattered to him was getting over to his father. He forced himself not to look at his father’s lifeless face as he crouched next to him. He faintly whispered a raspy apology as he pried open his father’s fist. Inside, two gold wedding bands and a crumpled note sat.
A flash of sadness hit him hard when his slow moving brain realized just who these rings belonged to. Slowly, as though it were made of glass, he crumpled the note. There was only one sentence, scrawled in someone’s sloppy handwriting, ‘For your life.”
Anguish filled his shattered heart as he let out a quiet cry. No tears fell, his well had long dried up. So, he only sat there, staring at the note as anguish stewed inside him. Eventually, he forced himself to look at the two gold bands. Uncertainty mixed with his anguish as he was left with two choices. Leave them with his father’s mangled and looted corpse, or take them with him. The idea of taking them won out in the end, if only to remember them.
He reached up to his neck, pulling off a black string with an old and worn quarter attached to it. His grandfather had worked at the mint, and he was given this coin after years of good work. There was only one of it’s kind, and when his grandfather passed it was passed down to him. With his father’s permission he has a hole drilled at the top just big enough to fit a small black nylon string through.
He undid the tight knot that held the string as one, and slid his parent’s wedding rings on either side of the coin. He lifted it up, watching as the gold metal of the rings glinted with the sunlight, and the faded and dulled metal seemed to glow a slight golden hue. As he stared, thoughts drifted through his head, who were those that did this to him, why didn’t his neighbors do anything, why was he left alive?
He eventually came to the conclusion that his parents had given their lives to allow him to live. His eyes hardened from the watery and unfocused they once were. New determination coursed through him, burning through the anguish and confusion, using them as fuel to create an inferno. He was going to find out who did this. He was going to find his mother, dead or otherwise. He was going to live and move on from this.
Oh yes, he will live, and those fools that did this too him, they were going to pay.