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  Table of contents Issue Seventeen YOU & YOURS



hen I was ten, I fell through the ice playing on the lake next to Grampa's house. The water slurped me up like a giant frog. I can barely remember the shock, mixed hazily with the numbness, and the velvet nothing that crawled into my head. Next thing I knew, I woke up on the couch under the afghan. Grampa held my head up and poured a warm syrup down my throat. I sputtered.

“Easy there, champ. That was a close one. You need to lie back and drink up.” I did as I was told, weak, and let Grampa finish pouring the drink down my throat. It tasted like pennies. Grampa stoked the coal furnace and wrapped me in one of his old flannel shirts. I looked down at my drink. It was a dark, shimmering red.

Grampa pounded loudly on the bedroom door. “Come see the boy! He's fine, see? Goddamn it, get out here.”

I think I spilled some on myself? My chest was splattered with dull scarlet. I idly took another sip. My gaze followed a trail of the stuff, dribbled on the hardwood floor, that led under the kitchen door.

“What are you sobbing about? He's fine. I told you he's fine. You stupid girl, if I have to take this door off, I will put the damn screws in your hide.”

I crept behind Grampa's back, following the trail to the door. I peered out the kitchen window. The red trail led to a pit cut out of the beach. Nearby, a black dagger lay in the snow. The air over the pit shimmered. I finished the dregs of my drink.

“There you go. Get out here. You look pathetic. Wipe off your damn face.”

I turned to Mommy standing at bedroom door, wet faced and weak in the knees. She gaped at Grampa accusingly. “No, he was... But... you twisted old... no, this isn't right. He's dead. This isn't right!”

Grampa made her stop.

“The important thing is, you look after you and yours. That's it.”

The first body was a baby girl, from down the road. Grampa got her easy because the mother should've had an abortion, but wouldn't and couldn't and didn't know what to do. Grampa asked me every day how I was doing, as I got colder and colder. I felt like that freezing lake bubbled up inside my brain. So Grampa fixed me another drink. He put the body down in the lake when he was done. Grampa brushed the hair out of my eyes and explained there'd have to be another body, every new moon, for the rest of my life. It couldn't be animals. It couldn't be from a hospital. He told me I'd have to be brave little boy, for a very long time.

Life out in the country drifted on. I went to school. Grampa worked at the post office. Mommy worked at the VA. Our lives ticked forward. As the moon came around, Grampa would drive off and come back with a new body – a problem foster child somebody wanted to get rid off, a teen willing to make some money, a Rustbelt kid too hungry to think twice about a free Big Mac... He never tried to protect me. Grampa made me watch every time, because I'd have to do it myself one day. Out in the woods, we sat on the floor of the shack and watched the blood drain into a bowl. I'd stare straight into rolling, seizing eyes framed by rivers of glassy scarlet. If I felt guilt, it felt weaker than Grampa's hand on my shoulder.

Grampa showed me hunting knives and butcher knives, drilled me day and night about safe handling, and taught me to clean and sharpen them. When deer season came around, he arranged for me to meet his rifle-hunting buddies, so I could practice on their kills. Joints would make ripping noises as I worked them apart. Back in the car, I'd say it was like that girl's leg or that boy's arm, and Grampa bought me ice cream. Other weeks, he'd teach me about pigs – how much they ate, how fast they ate, what bits they couldn't eat. I did like the pigs. They made me laugh. Laughing, we'd come home to find mommy waiting for us, that sad lush's smile on her face.

One day, she challenged us. “What in god's name do you have him doing this time?”

Grampa rolled his eyes and pushed me into her arms. I grinned up at her and explained how cool it was, that knives were made that could saw through tendon and that's harder than it sounds and once you do that the skin slides away like rubber...

“But you know it's a bad thing, right?”

“Christ, I'm not teaching him to be Hannibal Lector.”

“No, but listen.” Mommy ignored Grampa and gripped my shoulder. “Killing is wrong. You remember that? He's hurting people. Oh god, my baby, he's gonna make you hurt people.”

Roaring, Grampa pulled Mommy from the chair by her hair and slammed her across the kitchen table. “You leave the poor kid alone. You hear me? You don't talk to him that way.”

Mommy sobbed drunkenly. Grampa cracked her across the skull with his free hand. Mommy howled. It tore a deep hole in me. She sounded like a baby with a dirty diaper.

“You stupid, selfish cow. How can you say that horrible shit to your own child?”

Mommy puked all over her face and the table. Why did she say stuff to make Grampa angry? I wanted her to stop. Why couldn't she shut up? Grampa hit her again.

About the time the old man had me ripping the throats for myself, Gramps walked me through how to find a corpse. You had to look at two things, he said – how many questions they'd have and how far away they were. You gotta keep it spread out and kinda random, you know? But you can't haul a squirming corpse a hundred miles, either. That's asking for goddamn liabilities. I had to walk Gramps into the modern age by hand, though. Crazy old weirdo used yahoo personals and the damn newspaper! But, shit, the principle's still the same. Still a dumbass blood donor corpse on the other end.

I could be a dumb fucking kid, too, let me tell you. I swear to god, I once floated the idea of gutting Beth Kowolski. “She's got these gorgeous eyes and just, fucking Hollywood perfect black hair. Beautiful goddamn lips. But, oh, she's a total bitch. I tried to - my hand to the Lord - I just gave her a damn compliment. And she tells me to go fuck myself! What's that? I'd love to see the look on her face when she's strung up and draining. Maybe it would pass through her mind that she should've treated me like a fucking human being.”

Gramps slapped me so hard it knocked me to the floor. It took me a whole minute to process I had pissed him off royalty.

“You still go to that school,” is all he said on that. See, I was smart and took the hint.

The old man kicked the bucket when I turned sophomore. It had been so long that I had been near a dead body for an honest reason, I nearly chopped him up and fed him to the Schwartz's hogs. By then, sure, I had done my own pick-ups. But he had always hovered over me, in the planning, trip, cutting, the whole nine yards. I would tell him it pissed me off, which makes it even funnier that doing it solo for the first time scared me shitless. I waited too long. I waited so long that I felt freezing water on my face. I could barely fucking see or hear. I could barely fucking breathe. Mom gave me zero help, like always. Her fat ass just sat in the kitchen and sucked Jack Daniel's dick. She stopped me on my way out to make me listen to her bullshit.

“He's gone now. You don't need to do this anymore. Please, my darling baby, don't do it. You're free.”

I rolled my eyes. “You psycho bitch.”

I pulled off a 100% A+ miracle making my own dinner that night. I drove over the state line to the Allegany rez, with a head full of death. I parked by a certain crossroads and sat in the dark, turning the plan over in my head like a knife. The knock on the window almost made me shit my pants. It was a scrawny rez kid with a face like bacon. I opened the door.

“Are you Mr. Duke?” He stared at me. Probably expected me to be way fucking older.

“Jerry, right?” I smirked as charmingly as I could. “Get in. It's good to meet you. Finally. C'mon, I rented a motel room in Daisy. Let's get you a real bed.”

Jerry looked back, then climbed in. “You don't look so good.”

“I had a few drinks before. I... was nervous to meet you.”

Jerry must've been an asshole, because that actually made him smile. Jesus. He slumped sleepily against the window. How fucking old was he? Fourteen? I saw a big purple bruise on his shoulder through his ratty tanktop.

“You leave your dad a note? Tell him anything about where you're going?”

“Yeah, I left him a note. Told him to go fuck himself.”

“Poor bastard. That's gonna be a heavy trip to swallow.”

“. . . are you defending him?”

“No, no, of course not... I guess I'm just thinking, shit, a guy puts so much of himself into holding a family together the way he wants it to be, that's just... Sorry. Your dad's a shit. I shouldn't be talking about it.”

“Yeah, fuck my dad.” Jerry leaned over and kissed my cheek.

Out on the interstate, I faked a bad tire and swerved us onto the shoulder. I went to check the tire, then called Jerry out to lend me a hand. While he stared at the tire in confusion, I slapped a chloroform rag over his face. Poor little corpse fought like a fucking tomcat. I nearly broke his fucking neck.

All the way home, all the way back to the shack and stringing whats-his-name up, the silence fucked with my head. I expected Gramp's ghost to whisper in my ear, that I held the knife wrong or I splashed too much of the blood or whoever-the-fuck made too much noise. No, though, just silence – just that coughing, gurgling, gasping you get when someone vomits through their neck. That's when I learned silence means you're a man.

A week later, Mom took fifty Valiums with her nightcap. I hope she fucks the Devil in Hell.

I don't think I will ever truly understand my grandfather. How he resurrected me, where he learned his skills, whether he also enjoyed my condition... He and my mother took it all to their graves. Was my grandfather a serial killer? If he had been, he left no trail I could find. I suppose that's reassuring.

Before I sold the old property, I carefully combed it for evidence. I found the pit in the sand from all that time ago. The black iron dagger was there, yes, with a black iron bowl. Next to the ashes of the fire I found a bauble on a chain, a ball of teeth carved out of speckled green stone. It was meaningless to me. Despite all that my grandfather taught me, he never imparted any real understanding of myself.

Have I ever looked for other blood drinkers? I'm not sure I should. Why would I want to? I'm a normal man. I sweat, I sleep, I eat real food and go to the bathroom. I have friends I see regularly. I've had girlfriends. You know, in a sense, not for long. It's hard to get a relationship going when you can't trust someone. I have a steady job at the insurance office. I'm not going to go far, because I don't work long weekends. My life has walls. But the shape of it isn't that odd at all.

So why would I want to find another one? I've got my own issues. I'm not a good person. I kill eleven or twelve people a year, mostly kids. I don't hold that against my grandfather. He saved me. I'm not sure I hold it against anybody or anything. Of course, I can't just commit suicide. You have to look after yourself. There's nothing wrong with that. But I'm in the wrong place. The things I have to do don't fit into the big picture.

I've been thinking about that – the place where I am. I stared at that last one – watching that spastic dance as the body emptied out – and I thought, I should move. I moved before, when I realized every time felt the same. Now it's feeling the same again. I should move. But I don't want to. I like my friends. I like my job. And I like my girlfriends. I want to find one I can trust and I want to start a family. I want to put down roots. I want kids.

I want my own little boy.




Nick Callahan grew up Cleveland, Ohio and currently lives in nearby Columbus. For the sake being contrary, he pursued both biology and creative writing in college, but hard science eventually won out. In 2015, he finished a doctorate in biophysics at the Ohio State University, a process he's found provides plenty of fodder for scary stories. In his down time, he writes about the strange, irrational, grotesque, and bizarre things that have no place at the lab bench. He can be found on Twitter at @OrangeBac.

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