When Henry Disappeared

It’s a perfect day for a funeral.

The sexton loads the casket onto the device and Bruce Kensington watches his father disappear into the earth. The tears come wearily; he’d been up with the lawsuit documents the night prior. How many doctors feed a lifetime patient sleeping pills for fourteen years, only to rip him off them in four weeks? Surprisingly, and tragically, Bruce’s research is revealing the answer to be something in the realm of “enough to be a problem for your case.”

Bruce’s eyes grow warm and wet, and the cemetery—vintage upper-middle America— blurs together. He sighs.

Uncle Earl had waited two days after it happened to call Bruce on a Friday. Sensitive. A pleasant surprise to find in a fly-fishing, beer can-crushing uncle. Probably related to his knitting and gardening. The family refers to Earl as “an eccentric.” He’s Bruce’s favorite.

But when Earl started to describe the seizure, all Bruce could think of was hanging up, getting away, and in what became a haze of Bruce trying to simply place the phone back in its cradle turned into Bruce waking up to a smashed phone and battered, bloody hand. Some things you can’t take hearing. Some things you just don’t want seared into your brain.

Bruce wipes his eyes on his sleeve. The sexton’s words fill his ears, but his eyes are on the small ghost town just up the road. Maywood. The memories have been coming back to him slowly, difficult to make sense of. But under all the rot and disrepair, he still recognizes his home. This both delights and repulses the child in him.

He remembers, and for a moment his family is alive again.

His family. That autumn in Maywood so long ago. The one when all those people went missing and never came back. Henry among them.

Bruce glances at his surroundings. It really is a perfect day for a funeral. Every day in Maywood is. Was. Whatever. The flat Nebraska countryside is dismal, gray. The cemetery has grown fat and wide on York County’s corpses and there is nothing but an all-surrounding eternity of tombstones and mausoleums. The faint but pungent scent of rain and moss is on the air. There is the soft prickle of mist alighting on the face, a sensation that only echoes in the deafening silence of the countryside.

The family has gathered for the procession and is carrying out their funereal roles with gusto. Uncle Earl looks on stoically while the earth swallows his brother. Cousin Maggie is boo-hooing, nutty Auntie Heather is uh-huh-huh-huuuh­ing, and the pastor is quoting the Bible. Very clean performance. Very Hollywood.

Bruce, however, is standing and watching but thinking of the choice he made forty-two years ago, one deceitfully serene autumn night. He thinks of how he’s stuck to that choice ever since. And he wonders—as most of us do after making a decision of great consequence—whether that choice was the right one.

Wonder? No, worse. After over four decades of being sure about his decision, he is beginning to doubt.

Bruce has this feeling of dread, like he’s burying his father’s body and it still has an animating restlessness in it. A question he was never able to answer. His mother, too. Henry had gone around to the rear of the house to fetch some firewood for the stove one night and never come back. And thanks to Bruce, they never learned why.

Had he chosen differently, that night forty-two years ago, his parents might have actually cried like Auntie Heather is. Gotten that closure. And maybe now he wouldn’t be doubting himself.

The way Auntie Heather is crying, the way it stutters, nearly sounds as if she’s laughing—it reminds him of the screaming that same night. Bruce clears his throat. The sexton and his staff are taking eons to lower the casket. His father was not a small man.

That’s when it clicks in his head. The cemetery is right along the stretch of dirt running through the empty plains and fields into Curtis. They’re less than ten miles from where it all happened. That goddamn autumn night. This fact hits home and Bruce’s mind howls back into the mist of childhood.



It’s 1923 again. The world is as living and breathing as ever. Women have voted for the first time in the election between Harding and Cox and though Bruce’s father has sworn off the drink, he goes down to Smith’s Restaurant the night the newspapers report Harding’s victory. In the back of the kitchen with the rest of Maywood’s farmers, he eviscerates a couple bottles of Old Chicago brought over by Marcus “Brick House” Semple. Marcus refuses to divulge the origin of the bootleg, much to everyone’s disappointment. Bruce’s father drinks until he stumbles home laughing and roaring and red in the face. Bruce’s mother puts him to bed with hands not unfamiliar to the task. The Ku Klux Klan is rampaging across the South and Midwest. Louis Armstrong reigns in the kingdom of jazz. After a good harvest the year before, Bruce’s father brings home a battery-powered radio. For almost a year, they are the only family in the tiny rural town of Maywood to own one.

Bruce is again twelve. He can’t wait to grow up and take joyrides to the city like he sees the rich university kids doing on the weekends. He is still young enough to see the magic in the world, and only when the stealthy hands of the Reaper peel this filter from his eyes will he become aware—too late, of course—that it had even existed. But of course he has no mind for such things because for now he’s twelve. He will always be twelve and never even questions it because the world makes so much sense right now. The biggest problem at the moment is finding out how to get in good with the big kids at school. Maybe then Myra Fleming will finally look at him the way she looks at Adam Colson. The big kids are always breaking the rules, Adam is the leader of the big kids, and that makes Myra Fleming look at Adam Colson.

It’s also two autumns after Henry went out to the wood box to fetch some logs and never returned. Henry was not the only one to go missing from Maywood during that time. Seven children and two adults went missing as well. This led to the birth of many rumors among the children in town—those not related to any of the missing people, anyway. Bruce wasn’t given to gossiping, and even if he was, he’s never had or will have the stomach for these particular rumors.

It‘s late August and school has just begun. Bruce’s father has fallen ill after a bad snake bite from a wayward rattler while on his way back from the chicken coop. His father is the town heretic who believes in the value of education, and so has hired on a farm hand to help Bruce with the work while he recovers. In the meantime, Bruce continues performing his chores before and after school, and drives the horse and wagon out to Curtis for the weekend market.

On the morning of the season’s first market, Bruce’s mother pulls him aside as she does every morning before he loads the wagon. It’s still dark outside.

“Straight to town and straight back,” she tells him, fixing his hair.

“Yes’m.” Bruce fidgets away from his mother’s hands.

“Keep the money in the wallet, and no detours. Home before dark.” She licks her finger and fixes a cowlick at the back of his head. Her eyes are distant. Bruce can’t help but feel that she is not here, not talking to him at all but that she is two years ago, talking to Henry. Warning him with the gut-wrenchingly perfect hindsight that comes after tragedy. Of course, she has no way of knowing if there is anything out there bearing ill will towards her last and only son. And yet she knows it anyway, as all mothers do. Even more so now that she hasn’t heard the noise of her eldest son practicing his fiddle upstairs for over two years.

Something on the edge of Bruce’s vision moves. He glances out the dining room window and becomes quite unsure what to make of seeing his own self standing out on the edge of the corn field. A moment of eye contact with himself causes an unpleasant and rising buzzing at the bottom of his brain, like wasps trying to get inside. Then he blinks, and there’s nothing there but corn stalks.

“Be back before dark,” his mother repeats, slamming him back to Earth. She squeezes his hand, kisses his forehead.

“Y-Yes’m. I will.” As soon as he is outside and hears the door close behind him, he musses his hair up the way he likes it. He looks over at the corn field, hesitating, then runs around to the barn out back to ready the horse.

He climbs into the wagon after hitching up the horse. He tries not to remember that it was Henry who used to accompany him on these trips to town.

Bruce is on the road to Curtis before the sun is up. He’s got nine miles ahead of him, most of it nothing but tall grass on his right and Coon Brook on his left. Pa usually keeps the radio by the bed so he can listen to The Happiness Boys and the uproarious Negros Amos ‘n Andy (Bruce’s father doesn’t tell the other men in town about the latter). But on the weekends, when Bruce has to go into town, he lets the boy take the radio along with him. A radio does not replace a son, of course, and Bruce’s father is always quiet when he hands the radio over.

Now, four miles out of Maywood, Bruce has the Crosley Harko nestled in his lap. The Clicquot Club Eskimos are in his ears, but Myra Fleming—especially the way her hair catches the sun—are on his mind.

For some reason, the horse is whinnying, snorting and shaking its head. It has been doing this since they left town an hour ago. It’s still dark and the two of them are alone in the world except for the gurgle of Coon Brook on their left. The road between Curtis and Maywood is a lonely one and nearly always deserted. There aren’t so much as prairie dogs to spook the young mare at this hour.

Sweating and looking around, Bruce debates pulling over to soothe the creature when The Clicquot Club Eskimos disappear into a snowstorm of static. At the same time, an overwhelming grief for his lost brother slams into him like a locomotive at full-steam out of the mist, out of the tall grass. It trails maddening uncertainty and despair like toxic smoke that fills Bruce’s lungs. It coos to him, shushes, whispers terrible little truths into his still-growing ears. Henry’s absence becomes a presence in itself, a black and endless pit next to Bruce on the wagon.

Bruce’s young and already-fragile heart breaks a second time. He opens his mouth to scream into the void of the tall grass and nothing comes out. He releases deafening silence into the world and is so answered.

The horse begins weaving its head back and forth, as if looking for something. Its whinnying grows more intense. Even amidst the blood of an old wound reopened, Bruce is worried it will spook and clenches his thighs around the radio. The poison voices of this fresh hell tell him dark things, tell him to find something, something hard, and hit it, hit himself again and again and again or the brook he could—

Bruce shakes his head, struggling to contain his breathing. Trembling and scared, he imagines hearing something moving in the tall grass. But by the time he can calm himself enough to listen, nothing but silence greets him.

A few minutes pass. The horse settles down. The Eskimos re-emerge from the static blizzard. Bruce relaxes and notices that his spell of despair has passed like swift clouds. He wipes his eyes and goes back to singing along with the Harko, albeit meekly. He doesn’t understand what has just happened, but doesn’t care to dwell on the matter and tries to block it from his mind.

The streets are still mostly empty by the time he gets to Curtis. The light and shadows are just beginning to give glowing life to the more modern buildings: the small Victorian-esque houses on the outskirts of town, the Dime-n-Five on the corner of his first turn, the barbershops. The fresh sunlight spills across Bruce’s cheek and the event on the road into town all but melts from his mind. He drives the horse to the market street where all the local farmers come to sell their crops and picks out one of the most coveted spots right where the main road opens up into the market. He fashions a display out of old milk boxes and a tablecloth, and proceeds to distract himself from the incident by the tall grass with greeting and taunting any incoming farmers.

The day goes by slowly. He spends most of his time daydreaming about Myra Fleming and how swell it would be to swagger into the schoolyard during Monday’s recess in lock-step with Adam Colson. March to the back of the schoolhouse, they would, and roll their own cigarettes, and pass a bottle of Early Times Black Label between them—don’t ask how they got it, not if you don’t want your teeth knocked in—taking long slugs from the neck without making faces the way their parents do (and since not even the grown-ups are allowed to drink anymore, this really makes them the cat’s pajamas). This is, of course, when a group of flabbergasted girls will happen upon them just as Bruce is taking a swig of whiskey. And just who should happen to be among them but Myra Fleming! Well! Bruce, drinking, will hold her in his cool and unconcerned hawk’s gaze, lower the Early Times and swallow, and see that she is for the first time looking not at Adam but at him. Just him, in that slightly demure way: head tilted, eyes up, a ghost of a smile, her hair setting the sunlight on fire.

The customer Bruce is helping to load his cart asks if Bruce is okay. He’s got a funny look on his face. Bruce answers that he’s fine and goes back to distracting himself with thoughts of Myra while hefting baskets of cabbages.

Even if his heat-drunk daydream were to become reality, Bruce of course has absolutely no idea what in the blue hell he is supposed to do after Myra Fleming looks at him. But that look is all he wants right now. He is not even thinking about what-ifs or what-thens. Failure and embarrassment do not exist in this scenario. This is his trump card, his ace in the hole. It will succeed as naturally as Coon Brook freezes in the winter and thaws in early spring. He unconsciously trusts in the energy of the universe that everything will work out as it should. Trusts in it the same way he trusts—from an area far back in his mind he is not aware exists yet, an area he will only much later come to know as “fear”—that he will always, always be twelve years old. And don’t question it. Not if you don’t want your teeth knocked in.

The sun floats across the sky. Vegetables and dairy are sold. Coins change hands. Occasionally, Bruce catches a glimpse through the ocean of people, one of a girl who looks an awful lot like Myra. She even has a similar birthmark on her arm. Very often he would turn to address a customer or grab a basket of eggs and there she would be, just on the edge of his vision. Deadpan, staring at him. Making eye contact with her brings back that unpleasant buzzing in his head. Then someone passes between the two of them and she’s gone. Sweating, Bruce takes to staring at the ground. He starts to avoid looking up even when speaking to customers.

Near the end of the day he sells most of the stock he brought and the wallet his mother gave him is swollen with coins. Soon he’s back on the road to Maywood an hour before the town starts to shadow up. The A&P Gypsies rollick out of the Crosley Harko and he bounces and sways along to them. He hasn’t seen the strange girl, or himself, for the last couple hours. His young mind is more than willing to believe this means they’re no longer an issue.

He is still five miles from Maywood when he sees an odd, greenish hulk in the distance ahead. As he draws closer, it comes into focus: a steaming, overturned truck just off the road in the tall grass, across from the embankment and trees leading down to Coon Brook.

He urges the horse on, knowing he should be worried for the people inside but secretly excited just to be so close to a real-life automobile. Looks like the type the university kids drive. He’s so consumed by the sight of it that he doesn’t notice the disjointed arms reaching forward from behind him. The slender, hairless arms of a girl his age. The right one has a birthmark on it. But they’re long, too long. Spindly. They bend where they shouldn’t and the fingers have too many knuckles. The hands rest on top of his own, holding the reins with an almost sensual touch.

Everything goes photo-negative—the trees, the sky, the hands, the tall grass, everything so revoltingly opposite the color, shade, and hue it should be. An electric jolt sings through Bruce and his mind implodes with the buzzing of wasps.
At that moment the horse screams, rears up, and takes off down the road at full gallop. Bruce shouts in surprise and loses his grip on the reins. The wagon hits a pothole in the dirt, dips down, and bucks Bruce into the air. He yells as the alien world spins into further nonsense. Both gravity and equilibrium lose meaning. The back of his head knocks against something hard and everything goes—



It’s dark when Bruce wakes up in the dirt. Moon-dark. The world is normal again. The sky is peppered with stars. The rocks, the grass, the dirt road are coated in a faint, white-blue glow and the half-awake boy finds it easy to believe he’s not in York County but on the moon.

The air is much colder now. The Crosley Harko lies on its back in the grass. Vegetables and broken milk bottles litter the road around him. He looks at the jagged glass bottom of a bottle next to him and cringes. Had he landed just a foot to his right… well, never mind. He hadn’t.

His head throbs angrily. He rubs the side of it and his hand comes away slick with something dark that shines in the moonlight.

Bruce is worried now, but not scared. Not yet. He is his father’s son, and his father is a pragmatic man. He has no idea what time it is, but it is well past nightfall. He has no idea what has been going on all day, but knows—as every child knows—that the mere presence of his parents will bring eternal safety and clarification.

His parents must be worrying something terrible. They might even have rallied the neighbors into a search party by now. Bruce groans at the thought. He walks over to the radio, picks it up, inspects the damage. Miraculously, it has only suffered a few dings and scratches. The battery compartment has popped open and is now empty, but things could have wound up a lot worse. With the radio now in tow, Bruce turns and takes off at a run down the road, ignoring the pain in his head.

Consumed by a sense of urgency, he only notices the overturned truck in the grass when he almost passes it. He slows to a stop and steps toward it. His mind crackles and buzzes with confusing static. The boy stops, turns on his heel, and continues on down the road away from the truck. He’s had quite enough of whatever has been going on today.

Of course, when he comes upon the same truck in the grass again, he’s compelled to stop a second time.

Bruce stares at the truck. His breath begins to shake. This doesn’t make sense. It’s the same green truck spilled onto its side. The same runway of flattened and torn grass. This kind of thing isn’t supposed to happen. It can’t happen.

Gulping air, Bruce looks back at the road behind him. The same old empty road to Curtis running along the same old eternity of tall grass. He had ran maybe less than a half-mile, not far, but there’s no sign of a truck– or anything else– on the road behind him for miles.

“Fine,” Bruce says. He scoops a rock and hucks it as hard as he can into a tree. “Fine.”

He walks up to the truck’s hood and tries to ignore the insect-like buzzing in his head. It’s a Ford Model T, resting on the passenger side. He recognizes it from the catalogues his family gets in the mail, has even seen his fair share in town and when the university kids go joyriding through Maywood. But he’s never seen an automobile up close, and that makes the Tin Lizzie a whole different monster.

The wheels are thin, almost spindly, and the cab is nothing but metal doors, plate glass for the windshield, and a thin vinyl canopy. The truck bed is walled by four planks of good wood. The interior is black, plush with leather. It’s new, virtually unscathed, and gleams in the moonlight. Bruce is transported and can only gawk.

He is about to look at the interior when he notices the body face-down in the grass, just under the guts of the truck.

There is blood everywhere, as if the man had fallen from the driver seat and stumbled around before collapsing. Bruce inches closer and peers at the body, afraid to get too close. A good chunk of the man’s neck is missing where the jugular should be. Just torn off. The blood and sinew beneath gleam the way the Tin Lizzie does and Bruce fights the urge to vomit.

An odd mess of grass, dirt, blood, and pieces of something else that smelled too repulsive to inspect up close cluttered around the corpse and led north, disappearing into the tall grass.

Bruce knows he now has more reason than ever to hurry back to Maywood, but wants to take one last look at the automobile. After all, there’s no help for the driver anymore. He walks back to the front and peers through the windshield.
A cache of liquor bottles is cluttered on the passenger side door. The origin of the accident becomes a little clearer. They are all broken, save for one. The sole surviving bottle is full of an amber liquid. The black and red label reads “Early Times: Red Label.” Bruce gapes.

This is it. This is the energy of the universe, speaking to him. Right here. It’s not the Black Label Bruce always fantasized about, but one can’t be picky with divine intervention.

Bruce wants that goddamn bottle.

He clambers up the hood onto the front left wheel jutting into the air. He lowers himself into the cab, balancing on the steering wheel, then eases himself onto the mess of broken glass. He picks up his prize and uses his shirt to wipe off the spilled liquor and glass shards. He is so enveloped in his victory that at first he doesn’t hear anything happening outside the truck until something drips onto his shoulder.

He looks up at the driver’s side door overhead.

His eyes go wide.

The driver is crawling over the bottom of the truck into the cab. He is old, with a full snow-white moustache. Here comes Brick House Semple, so named by the children of Maywood not because he lives in a brick house but is built like one. Brick House lost his wife in the disappearances two autumns ago and what minute amount of joy he could call his own had gone with her. He is not a wealthy man and the automobile must have cost him a fortune. Must have cost him everything he had, in fact.

Missing wife. All that liquor. The new automobile. The accident.

Oh, Bruce thinks. Oh, poor Brick House.

Either way it doesn’t matter, because it is very clear that whatever Bruce is looking at right now is not Brick House, not by a mile, but something else entirely.

Brick House is there, and yet he’s gone, long gone, baby. The old man’s eyes have gone milky white, but not so much that Bruce can’t see them flitting and rolling aimlessly in their sockets. A low groan emanates from him that at first rises, then falls. He pulls his mouth open in a humorless yellow-toothed grin and another tendril of saliva drips onto Bruce’s shirt. The boy is crystallized. A sort of whimpering escapes him. He can only look at those eyes, those translucent moons spinning in their sockets, first here, then there, then at Bruce, then at the back of his head. His mind starts to buzz.

Brick House opens his mouth, and what comes out is a sound Bruce never thought the human throat capable of producing. It starts out as a hiss, like a cat’s or snake’s. Then it rises and turns into a kind of groaning shriek, which is when Bruce falls back into himself with a thud and starts screaming himself.

Bruce falls on his behind and scrambles against the vinyl of the cab roof in an unthinking effort to get away. That sickly sweet smell of rot is back, not as strong as before but definitely there, and he understands that Brick House is actively decaying even as he tries to climb over the threshold into the cab. Brick House starts reaching in, his fingers opening and closing, wiggling, groping past the steering wheel, and Bruce’s scream rises, reaches the intensity where it starts sounding halfway like crazed laughter, his mouth dancing and producing pure nonsense. He has nowhere to run and now Bruce’s head becomes a wasp’s nest of skittering and buzzing; he feels himself disappearing, being replaced by this red haze of mindless fright that takes control of his limbs and drops control of his bladder, no need for that right now—takes control to get him from point A (here) to point B (anywhere but here) as fast as goddamned possible and that means in one straight line but it doesn’t register obstacles in the way and ends up making Bruce only pound and claw and curse at the interior of the vinyl roof, using his mouth to voice its primary concerns which come out as nothing but partly-laughing, mostly-screaming gibberish. The only word that makes it through this haze of madness is “no” over and over and over. And through it all, reaching for him, Brick House groans that terrible, shrieking groan.

The Crosley Harko begins to sing the scratch of static.

In a burst of clarity, the fear jangling Bruce’s mind like a puppet with a few cut strings draws his fist back and puts it through the vinyl roof. Starlight hits him in the face. Crisp night air cuts through the suffocating stench of human decay and slaps him awake. He grabs the edges of the hole, tears it open, and tumbles out of the cab into the tall grass just as Brick House clears the threshold and falls in. He hits the passenger door behind Bruce and there is an explosive crack that can only be the sound of Brick House’s neck snapping like peanut brittle. Bruce dares to hope this will somehow really kill him. But when he turns around the old man is still groaning, in a heap with his head canted at a very wrong angle. Still reaching for him. Bruce yelps but doesn’t scream, because now he has space to get away, he has the whole world to get away, and that is exactly what he does. He scuttles backwards, taking one last disbelieving look at the reaching ghoul, turns and stumbles to his feet and runs. He makes the road and tears down it and doesn’t pay the scratching radio cradled in his arm any mind, has in fact completely forgotten both it and the bottle of whiskey clenched in his other hand.

He runs like a spooked rabbit, unthinking, pure muscle and blood and fear.


A single word from the snow of static breaks the loop of Bruce’s brain. He falters.


He slows to a stop. Looks down at the radio.

“Br… –ait up.”

The voice sounds faraway. Roughed-up by the static. But familiar. Bruce checks the battery compartment again. Still empty.

“Where… ing to—ay?”

Bruce’s breath quickens. He knows this voice.  Without turning around, he knows he and Brick House are not alone. But he doesn’t want to turn around. He is afraid of what is waiting for him. Yet before he can stop himself, he feels his body turning anyway, knowing what he’ll find and hoping he’s wrong.

It’s pulling itself out of the field. Crawling on its belly, only a dozen feet away. It gets to its feet, but it’s so far gone it’s a wonder it can even stand. Mindless meat. Grinning meat.

It stands there a moment in the alien glow of the moon, as if studying Bruce. Then it shambles towards him.


Bruce is meat on ice, but he forces out a word.


The radio doesn’t answer.

“Henry, it’s time to come home. Ma and Pop, they…” His voice dies in a whisper. His stomach has turned to liquid and his legs are in serious danger of giving out on him. Step by dragging step, it approaches him. That sweet smell of human decay hits him full in the face now, much worse than with Brick House, and he can hardly breathe. It doesn’t groan like Brick House. The night is dead around them, not even the buzz of cicadas. The rotted thing glows in the moonbeams and there is the shuffing sound of it moving its carcass through the grass.

It’s almost in front of him now and still moving. Bruce’s mind screams at his legs to run but they have checked out for the time being.


It takes hold of the flesh of his arm. Its bone is cold. The rot is warm. The world goes photo-negative once more in the space of a second and the world turns inside-out. The stars and moon are now nothing but black holes that leach ink out into the paper white sky. Black tears well up in Bruce’s eyes. His knees waver, threatening to buckle. He tries to call his brother’s name and it comes out like a breeze in an abandoned house.


It comes in close and the smell of it is everywhere now, in his nose, in his throat, in him. He is suffocating. His heart slams in his ears like a runaway locomotive. It opens its maw. Only a handful of teeth remain. The buzzing in Bruce’s head swells even further and he knows without knowing that she’s nearby. Watching.

“So hungry.”

It moves in to his face, as if for a grotesque kiss, when the stench from inside hits him. Like weeks-old chicken meat left in the sun sprayed with perfume. He throws up all over it. This does nothing to dissuade it and it’s about to close its festering sewer of a mouth around Bruce’s jaw.

It does bring Bruce around, though, and he does the first thing he can think of, the only thing he can think of: He jams the fat end of the bottle of Early Times into its mouth just before it takes a bite out of him, rips his arm free from its grasp, and shoves it back.

It stumbles, catches its footing. A high-pitched shriek erupts from the radio in Bruce’s arms. The buzzing in his head becomes the erratic and rising scream of a fiddle gone mad. Something moves on the edge of Bruce’s field of vision and he looks up. She’s there, of course. Standing atop one of the spindly wheels jutting into the air, looking down at him. Myra Fleming, by all appearances. But the longer he looks at her in the light of this black moon, the more she seems to change. Become wrong. Long arms that bend where they shouldn’t.  Too many fingers, too many knuckles. A face that looked more and more like a poor and lazy paint job.

For a moment the thing that used to be Henry doesn’t move and struggles with the glass lodged in its tattered throat, seemingly trying to bite through it. Then the bottle explodes, throwing liquor and glass everywhere.

It comes at Bruce again. Faster this time, jerking and dragging.

That’s all Bruce can take. He turns and runs. He runs and runs and runs, and the radio’s shriek of rage is a neverending icepick right through his ears and the buzzing behind his eyes, until Bruce hucks it into the tall grass.

He keeps on running under the stars, that wrathful yowling dying in the distance behind him. Soon the blinding night sky and all its dark lights, along with the world around him, become normal again. The colors and shadows of the night soon make sense again, and the incessant, maddening buzzing dissipates from Bruce’s head.

Still, he doesn’t slow when the few lights of Maywood appear on the horizon. He doesn’t stop when he passes the first farm. And he doesn’t stop when he takes a corner at full throttle and sees someone up ahead. Standing in the road by the general shop, not much more than a blasphemy of contorted limbs.  Bruce keeps her at the edge of his vision and speeds on by across the street. Still, he can’t keep himself from noticing the shape of that hell of arms and legs, the black hole moons where its eyes should be, the mouth sagging open more than it has any right to.

Bruce runs at full tilt without looking back until the air in his lungs turns to nails and broken glass. He keeps on running until he collapses against the front door to his house. Each heartbeat echoes through his muscles and marrow. Each breath wracks his body like a minor seizure.



Bruce’s mother is so overwhelmed with tears and joy at his late-night return, she takes him out of school for three days because she refuses to allow him to travel to school alone. His father is too relieved to argue.

Bruce ends up telling them a raccoon ran across the road and spooked the horse, causing it to take off and dump him on his head along the way. It is not a total lie. His father gives him a peculiar look when Bruce tells them he could not find the radio, but doesn’t push the matter. Bruce suspects he doesn’t want to.

Two days later, notice of Brick House’s death appears in the newspaper. The article reads that the body had been found down by the creek, its head dashed open on the rocks as if it had fallen. The authorities see all the liquor in the Tin Lizzie’s cab and close the case.

There is no mention of a second body.



It’s the funeral again. Bruce’s father’s coffin has reached the bottom of its grave, and the sexton and his aides begin filling it in.

Bruce skips the three-thirty post-funeral engagement at cousin Alfred’s place. He goes straight to the airport and boards his three-o’clock back to California. He takes a taxi home and arrives at his apartment just after seven in the evening. He skips dinner, opting instead to sit on the couch and stare at the blank television, slowly drinking his way to the bottom of a fifth of vodka.

The Myra Fleming at school never seemed any different after that night. Her laugh was full of the same chimes and her hair tamed the sun the same way. Bruce watched, and closely. Nothing about her had changed. He did catch her watching him as the class got ready to leave one day. But that was probably a case of accidental eye contact. Happens all the time.

Last he heard, she was married to a dentist in Chicago. Two kids and a Rottweiler. Good for her. That didn’t stop the nightmares, of course. Nor the paranoia.

Sometime just before ten-fifteen, he looks up and sees its rotted countenance reflected in the television screen. He then kills the rest of the vodka, leaves all the lights on, and falls onto his bed in his dress clothes, staring at the ceiling.

What was he supposed to do? What version of the truth could he have possibly given to them that would not rip open the freshly sutured wounds in their hearts? That would not make them wonder at the dark fantasies that had clearly possessed their only remaining child?

And there are times. Oh, there are times. Times when he is getting ready to go to work in the morning or preparing for bed. It usually comes when he wakes in the middle of the night and shuffles to the kitchen for a glass of water and the thought of Henry flits across his mind unbidden like a moth to a lamp. When it does, he hears it. He’s quite sure he hears it. It could just be nothing.

Calling to him, ever so quietly. Coming from the living room where the radio is.