Become a Fan
By Chuckie Finn
Wednesday, November 27, 2002
My father and I descended the thirteen deteriorated and crumbling concrete stairs into the poorly lit basement of my grandfather’s house. A single bulb suspended by an electrical cord swung like a hangman’s noose at the bottom of the stairwell. With a trembling hand I reached up and pulled the beaded chain. I silently prayed the bulb had not blown out yet. Our readjusting eyes surveyed the dirt floor room that resembled an ancient catacomb. Forests of spiders and jungles of other nocturnal residents scurried away upon our invasion into their darkened domain. My nightmarish chore to refill the kerosene tank for the oil furnace haunted my phantasms and dreams as a young child. It was about to become a reality. The rigid knot in my stomach remained regardless of the soft words of charitable encouragement and my father’s strong arm across my shoulders. My apprehension remained as the strange and drifting shadows in the corners of the room stood and circled us as leering sentries guarding a secret relic buried there.
“Grandfather use to come down here to the basement and slaughter up the hens for Sunday dinner when I was a young boy about your age Todd. He would let me watch until he wasn’t able to hold the chickens any longer.” My father turned his head to me. I could see his mysterious sad and tormented eyes dart around the foul-smelling musk and mildew scented room. “ See those tools that he left hanging there on the wall?” he asked not expecting a reply of sorts. “Grandfather used those very instruments to cut off their heads and then he would allow them to run around the dirt floor before they died. He would clean out the body cavity and drain the blood into that large metal basin. Even the dogs looked forward to Sunday, because Grandfather would toss the entrails to them for their meal. No one ever went hungry in the family.” He beamed and punctuated his sentences when he spoke of his father as if he held a form of celebrity status.
“He sacrificed and raised nine children Todd, right here in this house and worked every day of his life out in the farm fields and never complained. Your grandfather was a man of few words and could overcome most any barrier before him.” I watched him as he spoke in bold confidence of the man he idolized. “If the State Health Board or those other enforcement agencies they have today ever came down here and saw how and what Grandfather slaughtered for meat to feed us, they would have locked him up and thrown away the key.” My father’s voice blossomed in protest. “Your Grandfather did what he saw necessary to stay alive and keep the family together during the Great Depression. They would require a truckload of lime to be dumped here to decompose the remains of the carcasses we walk on now beneath the soles of our feet.” There was a gleaming rage in my father and a deep-rooted sense that those persons in authority had manipulated the family and were the cause of our undue hardship. The ramifications and consequences of that maddening action escalated the monstrous tragedies that were witnessed in this room.
Grotesque pictured thoughts of splashing blood of animal parts and slimy mutilated organs spun through my head resulting in a fleeting prickling sensation throughout me. Horrific conjectured images of the confused hens and other sloppily mutilated farm animals scurrying about this “studio of pain’s” dirt floor flashed in front of me. I could visualize the hungry eyes of Otis Russell dancing with sheer pleasure in their torture. I feigned my bravery as much as possible to make my father believe I was not afraid of the blood spattered horsehair-plastered walls or the ghostly cries of tormented anguish that must have echoed in this basement room. I secretively edged closer to my father counting the seconds when we could escape this prison funeral and hastily return to the main floor where I could remove my cloak of courage.
“Is the tank almost filled, Todd?” He wiped away a cobweb with his hand and peered into the cylinder tank. “ Be sure to check it every time for cockroaches or other insects that may have climbed in there before you bring it back to the main floor.” He added with a crooked grin.
My breath caught in my throat a second. I shut my eyes and my heart raced at the thought of several vile wriggling insects floating on the surface of the kerosene. “Almost full.” I said confidently borrowing some emotions through a quaking voice. “Dad, may I ask you a question?” I scuffed my feet along the hard packed soil and licked my dry lips. He read my pleading eyes before I could make my inquiry audible.
“If it’s about having one of your brothers come down here and do your weekly ritual of procuring fuel to warm the family, the answer is no. They have done what was required of them.” There was an awkward silence for a moment before he spoke again as I regretfully murmured my disappointment with a heavy sigh. “You are the next oldest in line and therefore you should see that the others are taken care of. If that means you have to sacrifice a morsel of your time and a part of yourself, then so be it. Your time has come. Remember you are a Russell!” he snapped annoyingly. My tranquil plea to be released from this inevitable disabling bondage was quickly denied. “The older ones have paid their dues for your benefit and now you must reciprocate and pay them back to show your appreciation.”
The frightening butchery and bloodbaths, which occurred in this room reeked and oozed a fetid decay and left a festering dampness upon its walls. The four ground level windows were nailed shut and the square panes of glass were painted black to disavow any glint of daylight or pleasurable circulating air to violate the compartment. The stagnant air hung like a shrouded veil. I shivered as it slithered, embracing me into its bosom as we moved about the room. The sickening sight of a makeshift altar’s shadowy image choked the air from my lungs and seemed to beckon its celebrant to perform a sacrament upon its threshold.
“Grandfather would be ashamed of you to see your weakness and to hear you speak like that after all the sorrow and pain he went through to put a roof over your head and to feed you.” He snorted with disgust and spat upon the floor.
“But the Depression is over Dad and has been for years. There are no more shortages of fresh meat and vegetables. We don’t have to suffer any longer and live the way Grandfather did by cutting …..”
“Blasphemy!” A swift stinging slap found its mark alongside my freckled cheek that crippled me to my knees before I could finish my sentence. He stooped and pressed his face close to mine. His eyes blazed with fury as if they could see right through me. I could smell his foul breath from his mouth filled with cavity stricken teeth and diseased yellow gums as he continued his angry tirade. His strong grip upon the top of my head commanded my full attention.
“Look at me when I speak to you and stop this foolish demonstration of fear!” He grabbed me by the back of my tattered shirt and hoisted me effortlessly to my feet with one hand. “ My father taught me as I shall teach you. Be thankful your eyes were not chosen to be a sacrifice to serve the family! Do you think your older brothers wanted to sacrifice a part of their own bodies? Do you think they wanted to provide the infants a bottle filled with their own blood rather than their mother’s milk? With honor and respect, I gave my right arm for this family to have for Sunday dinner so I could provide meat for this family. Just as my father did until there were no more body parts to cook and serve the family in order that we should all survive.” I felt the grip of his hand relax a bit as he recalled to memory, with unconditional love, the face of my Grandfather.
Impulsively and instinctively, I blindly fled to the concrete stairway, crushing the spiders and cockroaches beneath my worn shoes trying to blot out the malformed images of death and horrifying ghostly shapes from my clouded memory. The dream like fantasy of my father’s laughter surrounded me as my surviving dismembered brothers dragged me back to the chamber. In a tidal wave of panic, I frantically sought freedom from the crippling darkness of the dungeon. I can see the image of my father, dressed in a black hooded robe preparing the implements that were hanging on the wall.
Like long painted fingernails the leather bloodstained straps holding me are cutting and ripping against the tender flesh of my exposed skin. I feel the warm blood trickle and pool around my bindings. It’s only a dream I whisper to myself, and soon I will awaken safe in my warm bed. But as I lay prone upon the altar with my fixed stare, I am looking up into the tormented face of my father. His one remaining arm is raised high, holding the bloodied axe as the silent cellar shadows close around me.
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|Reviewed by JoAnna Drelleshak
|You're never quite sure if the he is dreaming at the end or if this family has some how managed to get away with this horror for years. Nicely done!|
|Reviewed by Nickolaus Pacione
|the ending is what got to me -- very errie in the visuals. This one of those stories being one of the most darkly visual, keep up the good work. One story that would make Edgar Allen Poe proud.|