where the bad kids go
I sat in the living room with the lights on for the rest of the night, tortured by the sounds of the house as it settled. I watched movies on my cell phone through Netflix to drown out the silence until the first sign of dawn. I couldn’t help but obsess over the nightmare I had had moments before, and I wondered if the dream and my dad breaking in had any connection.
But then I remembered that my dad was also a born-again alcoholic who had been drinking before he broke into my mother’s house, and I dismissed his reaction to some kind of hallucination from the alcohol and probably other things that I didn’t know about.
“You do realize you should’ve called actual 9-1-1 instead of me, right?” Marco retorted when I called him over and asked for him to file a report on the break-in. “You’re lucky I’m on duty.”
“I figured it would’ve been easier for me if someone I knew was taking the report,” I lied as I watched Marco walk into the house through the front door.
He stopped in the middle of the living room and did a slow turn as he nodded in approval. “You did a great job at cleaning this place up.”
“Cleaning and organizing helps with my anxiety,” I admitted.
He observed the cleanliness one more moment before he pulled out a notepad and pen and sat on a nearby chair. “Okay,” he started, “So, your dad, who you haven’t seen in over twenty years, broke into your home?”
I nodded. “He was in the basement going through the boxes.”
“Did he try to hurt you? Did he have any weapons?”
“He had a knife,” I said, “but he didn’t hurt me with it.”
“Christ, Jesse, why didn’t you call the police right after this happened?” Marco asked.
I wasn’t sure if I should’ve told him about what my dad had seen before he booked it up the stairs as if he’d seen the devil himself, or even about the bizarre nightmare I had just shortly before.
“He didn’t seem dangerous. He was just here to take back what was his that my mom kept.”
“You realize that this man has been booked multiple times before, right? Evading the police, assaulting an officer, breaking and entering, and not just this house. He attacked your own mother, for God’s sake! This man isn’t safe, Jesse. Do you want to press charges?”
I sat quiet for a moment, and the image of my dad’s petrified face flashed in my head. Then I said, “No.”
“Are you sure?”
“He didn’t do anything. There’s no forced entry here, or an actual attack. I’m fine, he’s gone and probably not coming back—”
“Like hell he’s not coming back. You don’t know what people can be capable of. Next time he could have a gun.”
“What makes you think he’ll come back to try and kill me? What reason does he have? He doesn’t want anything to do with me or my mom.” I paused, almost a hesitation, and Marco could tell my tongue was caught on something.
“What?” He was forceful, authoritative, on duty.
“Something was in that basement last night, Marco. My dad saw it, and whatever it was, it scared the absolute hell out of him. That’s why I don’t think he’ll be coming back.”
“What was it?” Marco asked as he leaned in interested, resting his elbows on his knees.
“I don’t know. I didn’t see it.”
He sat back up just as quickly as he had relaxed himself. “So the guy was seeing things. He was probably high on something. Great.” He exhaled a frustrated chuckle.
“And what if he wasn’t?” I asked. “What if he really saw something that frightened him so badly that he forgot why he was even here in the first place? I saw his face, Marco. There was something in that basement with us. I could feel it. Ever since I stepped foot in this stupid house, I’ve felt like there’s something else here. Something bad.”
“It’s an old house,” he replied. “Things happened in here. Bad things. People have died. Stuff lingers. I’m not a complete skeptic, and considering the circumstances, I wouldn’t be surprised if there was something more to this place. But I have to be rational here, Jesse. It’s my job.”
“I had a nightmare before my dad broke in,” I admitted. “It was strange.”
“Okay. What happened in your nightmare?”
“I woke up and saw my mom standing in the corner of her room. She said that there was someone in the house. Someone…or something was sitting at my desk in the corner. A monster. When I woke up, I was standing in the same exact spot in my bedroom that I was in my dream. That’s when I heard my dad in the basement.”
“It was probably your subconscious telling you that he broke in.”
“Probably. Something about the dream, though…it felt so real, and so surreal at the same time, like it actually happened. Like what I saw was real.”
“Do you think your dad saw the same monster that you saw in your dream?”
Tell him, my thought commanded, he won’t believe you.
“Yes,” I said, embarrassed, and Marco noticed as I bowed my head to hide it.
“So, you got your bedroom door unlocked?” He asked as he changed the subject.
I walked Marco to my bedroom and opened the door. The stagnant air continued to hold the scent of my childhood.
“I haven’t been in here in years,” Marco said.
“You and I both,” I said flatly as I stood in the doorway.
He pointed at the desk in the corner. “Is that where it was?”
“Yeah,” I replied. “And I was standing here.”
Marco looked around the bedroom, at the neatly-made bed and the few toys he had given as gifts. “She kept this room in good shape. You think that’s why she kept it locked? To preserve how it was when you left?”
“I was taken away by CPS, not killed,” I said sarcastically. “She didn’t care about me, so why would she care about this?”
As Marco continued snooping through my bedroom, I walked up to the desk occupied with only my school photo. I picked it up as Marco walked up behind me and peeked over my shoulder.
“You were a cute kid,” he said. “Now you’re just older.”
I couldn’t help but smirk at his way of flirting, something that I wasn’t used to. It was so subtle but said each time with a sly hint, hidden between the lines.
I set the photo back on the desk and attempted to position it exactly how it had been. That’s when I noticed the light from the windows splashing against the deep grooves carved into the surface of the desk, and their shadows contrasting the five gashes with fresh wood shavings sprinkled around them.
Five claw marks. My heart skipped a beat.
There was a loud knock coming from the front door. It was two police officers.
“Valerie? Mike, what are you guys doing here?” Marco asked as he and I stood at the front door.
She was a curvy woman with thick thighs. Her black hair pulled tightly into a bun and showed off her pasty skin. Her mouth pursed together naturally and made her look like a bitch.
He had his hands on his hips, supporting a barrel-chested torso. An older guy with a buzz cut of salt and pepper hair. Thick eyebrows like fuzzy caterpillars sat on brown aviators.
Valerie spoke in a slightly masculine voice, “Should we be asking you the same thing, Marco?”
He snuck a glance at me before he said, “Just responding to a break-in. Mr. Lambert here found his dad in the basement trying to steal a few things last night.”
The two officers looked at each other. Valerie raised an eyebrow, and I expected one of the caterpillars on Mike’s forehead to hop up as well, but his face remained stern. They turned their attention to me, and Mike spoke with almost a bearish voice, “Is your father Trent Lambert?”
I nodded. Valerie asked, “Mr. Lambert, are you sure you saw your father last night?”
“Of course I did. He broke into my house, that’s why I’m filing a report about it.”
“Sir, your father’s dead,” Mike grumbled.
A rush of chills sprung from my neck and trickled down my spine. I looked at Marco, who stared at me with a look of concern. I saw the gears turn in his head, Did your father really break into your house last night?
“Mr. Lambert,” Mike started in an authoritative tone that he’s used hundreds of instances before, “Where were you between the hours of 3 a.m. and 4 a.m.?”
My heart shot a cold, icy feeling through my body as it began to pump blood at almost twice the rate, and my stomach twisted so much that I could feel the vomit bubbling against the base of my esophagus. My dad was dead, and I’ve just become the main star in a crime thriller.
I stuttered to get out the words that were so difficult to pull from my lungs, and the two officers exchanged glances once more.
“We understand this may be of some shock to you,” Valerie said. “Please, answer the question.”
“He was here,” Marco interrupted. “He called me over to file the report.”
“What time was this at?” she asked.
“I got here shortly before four,” Marco lied, and she gave him a ‘I’m not talking to you’ glance before returning back to me.
“I don’t remember,” I said. “I woke up and found him in the basement. I didn’t bother checking the time.”
“Did you and your father have a good relationship, Mr. Lambert?” Mike asked as he folded his arms.
“I wouldn’t say we had much of a relationship…”
Valerie quickly checked me out from head to toe. She barely pushed her lips to one side of her face before she said, “We’re just following our routine.”
“How did you guys know I would be here? I thought you guys would’ve called.”
Valerie responded as she looked at Marco, “We were told that you would be at this address for a while.”
“What happened to him?” I asked. Both officers hesitated, maybe waiting for the other to answer the question. “I can handle it, guys. I barely knew the guy.”
Mike finally grumbled, “He’s missing his tongue. And when I say missing, I mean we couldn’t find the thing.” Valerie elbowed Mike in the ribs as subtly as she possibly could, which was not at all. Mike grunted.
“His body’s at the town coroner’s office at the end of Main Street,” he continued. “They’re still running tests, you know, all of that blood crap. They need you to go down as soon as possible to identify the body. You can find out more information you’re there. Let me warn you though, it wasn’t pretty.”
Valerie shot him a nasty look.
As we finished up with the officers, ending with Valerie giving a forced (routine), “I’m sorry for your loss,” I watched them walk back to their patrol car before they looked over their shoulders at me one last time. Valerie’s thighs rubbed together as she walked, and the zip, zip, zip of her pants faded away once they reached the car. I shut the door as they drove off and turned to Marco.
“Is there something you’re not telling me?” he asked immediately.
“I have no idea what they’re talking about,” I admitted. “I swear, I’ve been here this entire time. He ran off and that was the last I saw or heard from him.”
“You’re telling the truth?”
“I don’t even know where the guy lives!” I argued. “This is just a bizarre coincidence of events, and now I’m suddenly the bad guy.”
“Nobody said anything,” he replied. It was enough to shut me up, and he sighed quietly. “At least he won’t be coming back. If it turns out that he was high on something, you got lucky, Jesse. You could be dead.”
We didn’t say much after that.
“You wanna follow me to the coroner’s office?” he asked.
I declined and showed him out the door. As we walked to his police car, he told me about his grandmother, a very Hispanic woman that cooked like a goddess and drank tequila as if it were her life force, in a good way. A celebratory way. He said that every month, she would cleanse her house with a bundle of sage to ward off any evil or negative energy that hid within the walls. She would smear it in areas where arguments had occurred, where children got hurt, and even where dishes had fallen onto the floor and had broken into a thousand pieces. Anything that produced any kind of negativity, she made sure to burn the sage in that very spot. He said he’d never seen a woman so happy the next day after the cleansing. It was as if everything bad had just lifted away.
That’s all he had said before he climbed into the driver seat and coasted down the street. He had always been a believer of something spiritual, and I almost wondered if maybe he could feel something in the house but didn’t want to mention anything until I somehow confirmed his suspicions.
I turned back to the house and looked at the walkway like a tongue that licked its guests toward its mouth, the front porch. The weathered columns were the jagged teeth that didn’t chew, and the front door was the opening to the insides that swallowed everyone whole.
I walked into the metallic interior of the coroner’s office where the buzzing fluorescent lights created a show of reflections along every surface. The hallways smelled of chemicals that tickled the inside of my nose and made my eyes somewhat watery, and I held my arms close to my chest as the air conditioning blasted at a toasty sixty-six degrees.
The autopsy technician carried a clipboard in hand as he walked me down the turquoise tiles that our shoes echoed on with each step. He looked like a ghost as his white coat trailed behind him, and I kept my distance so that it wouldn’t sway against me as he walked briskly toward the freezer room. It was hidden behind a large metal door with a small window to peek in, but since it was black on the other side, I only saw a reflection of myself when I attempted to see through.
He opened the door and I expected a rush of ice to whip around me and tighten my skin, but the air was just as constant inside of the freezer room.
Metal drawers lined one wall and hummed as cold air radiated into the occupied ice boxes. Two metal autopsy tables sat opposite of the drawers and sparkled beneath the fluorescent lights, sanitized and ready for the next poor, dead bastard that died of some unnatural or unknown cause.
The technician walked me toward the back of the room and stopped in front of a drawer with a personalized label typed in Courier font: LAMBERT, TRENT
“Before we begin,” the technician started, “I want to inform you that when your father was found, he’d been disfigured in such a way that may be rather shocking at first glance.”
“What happened to him?” I asked.
“Right now the cause of death is still inconclusive. We’re waiting on the blood test results to come back in to see if there was anything in his system when he passed.”
I sighed, “I understand that. I mean, what happened to him?”
The technician hesitated as he attempted to form his response in his head. “We believe that he was high on something. You can see it in his eyes. Something must’ve scared him badly, too. It could’ve been a hallucination. We won’t find out until the results get back. It could explain his disfiguration, too. Maybe he did it to himself, but I just don’t know how any human being could do such a thing. You do know about that, correct?”
I nodded, and the technician grabbed the freezing handle and pulled the drawer out with ease, revealing the lumpy, white sheet that covered the body of my dead dad. The chill from his frozen body sent shivers down my spine, but it could’ve been the sudden surge of uneasiness that made my skin bubble up into goosebumps.
“Would you like for me to step out and give you your privacy?” The technician asked.
“Please,” I choked.
“I’ll be down the hall near the front desk if you need anything.” He hung his clipboard on the face of the drawer with a form snapped to it. “Once you’ve properly identified his body, sign this paperwork where the X’s are and you can leave it here when you’re finished.”
He walked out of the room that felt much colder now as if all of the drawers had opened up and spilled their icy contents onto the glossy tile floor. I stood next to the stiff body of the man I’d seen only hours before, and I imagined pulling his sheet back and seeing the petrified expression that he looked at me with when we were in the basement.
I lifted my shaking hand, partly from the cold and mostly from the vision of what to expect once I lifted the sheet, conjured up by my imagination from fear alone. My hand hovered over his head and for a second I almost expected him to breathe or sit up suddenly. But he remained frozen, and I thought myself an idiot. This man wasn’t going to do anything. He’s dead.
I remembered the tattoo underneath his right wrist, the date that he vowed to sobriety that didn’t last forever. I convinced myself that that would be proof enough to properly identify his body and lifted up the sheet to show off his porcelain-white hand. I grabbed it and immediately snapped my hand back from the shock of how icy his skin felt, how stiff it seemed, and for a second I had really thought he was made of porcelain. I regained my composure and lifted his wrist again, turned it over, and saw the black numbers that hadn’t faded of their color unlike his skin. It was him. Good enough.
I hastily signed the form on the clipboard and hung it back on the drawer face. I looked at the outline of the body beneath the sheet one last time before I turned and made my way to the freezer room entrance.
I took no more than three steps from my dad’s body when I heard the sound of someone struggle to suck in the dry, cold air of the room. I froze. No…
The sound had come behind me. I cautiously turned around.
The fluorescent light above my dad hummed loudly.
I moved one step closer to the body. The fluorescent light started to flicker. It clicked and buzzed with every shutter.
Another icy breath was slowly sucked in, and upon closer inspection, I noticed the lump of his chest beneath the white sheet had started to move upward.
This isn’t possible…
I stepped away as the body continued to gasp for air, its throat rattling as it struggled to breathe. The sheet above the mouth pulled inward as the raspy inhales grew louder.
It’s not real.
I turned away in hopes that it was my imagination that was creating this nightmare, and if I didn’t look at the body, the breathing would cease indefinitely for a second time.
I was five brisk steps from the freezer room entrance when I was suddenly cemented to the floor by the sheer terror of hearing my dad’s voice as he croaked out, “Jesse.”
The hairs on my neck erected so tall that they almost pulled from their follicles in an attempt to point at exactly where danger had just manifested inside of the frigid room. My legs burned as my brain shot impulses at them to carry me to safety, away from the room, away from this building.
I began to turn. I had to, to tell myself that this wasn’t happening, that I am just imagining things, that it’s not real.
The fluorescent light threatened to burn out at any moment, and it emitted a dying hum that slowly morphed into the chaotic buzz of swarming flies. My nightmare of the creature flashed in my head, and that same feeling of dread was pumped through every artery and vein in my body as I looked back at my dad.
I stumbled backward and almost fell against the wall.
He stood next to the freezer drawer where his body had laid only seconds before. The white sheet covered him down to his feet, and upon closer inspection, I noticed that his body was hovering.
The fluorescent bulbs suddenly surged with light and then buzzed out completely. My dad’s covered body was bathed in darkness.
His yellow, unkempt toenails scraped along the slippery tile as his body slowly began to drift across the room like a puppet with an invisible master.
The second set of fluorescent lights flickered out as his body floated beneath them, and I watched helplessly as he slowly glided up to me. The lights above me started to flicker, and I pleaded in my head for them to spare me of the darkness that they threatened to cover me in.
He stopped only feet from where I trembled in terror.
“Go back to the house. Go back to the house. Go back to the house.”
His voice had mixed with a deep gurgle that expelled from the pit of his stomach, one that wasn’t his but spouted from an unseen ventriloquist. As he repeated himself, his voice deepened into the demonic grumble of some otherworldly creature, “Go back to the house. Go back to the house. Go back to the house...”
I closed my eyes and listened in horror as I inched my way across the wall with my arm outstretched for the door handle. The sheet that sat atop my father’s dead body began to slide downward to the floor.
I grabbed the door handle that felt just like his dead hand. The sheet fell to the floor in a lumpy heap and prompted me to open my eyes.
Oh my God.
Milky eyes that stared up at the heavens, sunken in deep sockets that pulled the skin away to reveal the purple-gray gums of a snaggletooth mouth stretched beyond human ability. The jaw hung loosely, unhinged from the skull. The mouth contorted into a permanent scream of pure fear. The missing tongue was a stump of blended meat that oozed dry, black blood down his ghostly-white, naked body.
I shoved myself up against the wall so hard that I almost fused to it. My mouth opened but didn’t allow anything to leave. Fear gripped around my windpipe so hard that I couldn’t even gasp. My legs threatened to drop me to the floor as my body trembled.
A rush of air whipped into my lungs, and I screamed.
The panicked technician and his receptionist fled into the room and found my dad’s body sprawled face-down on the floor a few feet from me, huddled in the corner of the brightly-lit room as I covered my face and head with my arms.
“What happened?!” The technician blurted.
I scrambled to my feet and frantically stumbled toward him, grabbing him by the collar as I gritted my teeth and stared at him with my wide eyes, incapable of blinking. He stared at me, fearing for his life as I’m sure I looked like someone who’d gone insane. For a moment, I really thought I had, or had some form of an anxiety attack while trying to identify my dad’s body, until I looked down and saw him near my feet. His arms were splayed before him, and I was sure he would snap back awake and grab one of my legs.
I didn’t take my eyes off of him as I backed out of the freezer room and into the hallway. I sprinted down the hall while the calls and curses from the technician chased me down.