Community Writing Program Spotlight
In the dark, cold month of January, the Community Writing Program Spotlight will feature a month of horror leading up to the Otherworlds Horror/Fantasy Conference at the Crescent Hotel and the Writers' Colony January 27-29.
John slumped on the side of the bed. His left hand gripped a whiskey pint; his right, a cold steel frame.
As John's memories moved around the room, he recalled the first night in their new home. Norma had opened all the windows. Something she would never have done in Chicago. The sweet mountain air insisted on a long deep breath.
The city had provided the means to this end. John never missed his fifty-hour weeks in the corporate world, but Norma missed her teaching. There on the wall was the first Christmas photograph in their new life. Beverly, home from Cornell, and young David, showing off his new hiking boots, backpack and most of all, his twelve-inch Bowie knife, capable of chopping down a small tree if required.
John laid the bottle and the gun down and opened every window in the room. The trees rose up and up to the snow on the distant mountain. The sun was up, turning the room fire-orange. John stood at the edge of the fire and allowed it to slowly capture his shoes, then his pants, and finally his shirt and face. He stood silent. Staring at the sun.
Norma prepared breakfast. Everything was becoming a burden. In the last six months, John's problem had consumed her. Why will he not talk?
Norma's thoughts drifted. Beverly was in college, but David was still not sure what he wanted. John tried to get him back in school, but that was still a pending matter. John said they must give him time. David and John have always had a perfect, loving relationship.
Norma was distracted by the bell on the stove. The biscuits were done. She placed the biscuits on the counter to cool and stepped out onto the back porch, settling into one of the log chairs purchased from an old-timer down the road. He made them himself. She had said, "There is nothing around here that comes from Costco, and I like that."
Norma watched a family of chipmunks scampering over a fallen log. The youngers were almost as big as their parents, but could still be identified. Teenage chipmunks, Norma thought. Full of passionate energy but familiar with danger only through the warnings of their parents . Which was what the circling hawk counted on.
John looked at the floor. and it seemed to rise like a slow vise to crush him against the ceiling. His gun shook. He felt his body floating above. Floating like a corpse. Cold and clammy white. His hands were covered with sweat. As he looked down, his mind insisted the sweat was turning to drops of blood.
David stepped into the room. And John dropped the gun to his side.
"Hey, Dad, I'm going to the mountains. I'll be back by two."
"No, David. The woods will be full of hunters. Don't go."
Norma came in. "It's okay, John. David said he will be back by two. Why must you be so over-protective?"
It was true that David knew the mountains. And autumn was the best time of year. One could smell the sweet slowdown of summer and feel the new cool breeze surrounding everything. David would often lie on his back, looking up through the leaves of the birch and sycamore at the crystal blue sky.
"John, you worry too much. I know that pack of wolves is a concern for everyone, but they think they have them all eliminated now."
"Norma, it's five-thirty. David is not back. Something is wrong."
John went up the trail to the first ridge, crossed it, and waded a small creek. The ice cold water surrounded his boots, reached the top, and sneaked a wet path into the socks below. David would have come this way to the elk trails ahead. David loved the elk. "The elk go their way intending no harm", he said, "The elk cannot change their destiny any more than we can. The elk are innocent."
John sweated as he hurried up the next ridge. A gunshot rang from a far mountain top. A little mountain blue bird flew, as John pushed his way through heavy brush. A wolf could hide in here, but then, an elk could bed down here also.
As John topped the next ridge he came upon a flat meadow with huge boulders. Two turkey vultures circled on the currents overhead. A pair of sharp-tailed grouse exploded to John's right.
He slowly entered the meadow with its stubble growth of moss and grass and with its narrow winding paths created by small creatures searching for survival. He wasn't sure but...he thought he saw something at the far side. Something lying flat. It could just be the white bark of a fallen birch.
The sky was not as blue now. The clouds had turned gray. It looked like rain. Occasional, gentle drops stroked John's head. He wanted to go back down those ridges and into the house where Norma would be waiting. David would be home, and the rain would run down the glass. David will tell me what a beautiful day it was. He saw lots of nature. He saw his elk.
As John got closer, the white birch blurred into...not a birch at all. Not white. White spotted by red. A mostly nude body. John went down on both knees. The body was in pieces, partially eaten. He crawled to a sycamore and pulled himself up, staring at the thorny brush bordering the meadow.
Suddenly another body appeared lying on the ground next to a giant boulder. David was on his back looking up through the yellow-orange leaves at the sky above.
"Dad...what are you doing here?"
The father pulled the revolver from its holster, pointed it at his son, and pulled the trigger.
Ron McCaskill lives at Golden, Missouri and is a member of the Holiday Island Writers Guild. While Ron doesn't usually write horror, he composed The Father in response to a friend's horror story.
The Father displays a skillful use of several elements used in horror: the foreboding sense of doom delivered through bright details, and the surprise ending, that, though initally puzzling, makes sense of all that came before.