Big Dan at Work and at Home
by John Rossi
Table of Contents|
parts: 1, 2, 3
His mother wouldn’t come home from work till at least around five-thirty. He was glad. He wasn’t in the mood to deal with any of her lectures right now. He desperately needed to be alone. He had been contemplating not even coming home at all but he felt the need to be here for some reason. He figured when you’re frightened and confused, where do you go but home?
It was his room he most wanted. The house he lived in had once belonged to his grandparents. They’d passed it to his mother when they died. It was in this very room where his grandfather had passed away peacefully in his sleep. His mother wanted nothing to do with the room where her beloved father had died, but it was different for him.
After his father had died of cancer, his grandfather became more to him than merely a grandparent. He was very much a second father as well. Dan missed them all right now, a lot. He missed his sweet-natured but feisty grandmother’s voice, which always welcomed him whenever he came home. He missed his father’s smart-assed remarks and patient guidance. He missed his grandfather’s no-nonsense wisdom. He needed them now.
Of all those he missed so dearly, he had spent the most time with his grandfather, given how young his father had been when he passed away. In the basement downstairs, they had worked on projects together, cleaned their guns together after a day at the shooting range and, in this very house, broke bread as a family on many a night. Now Dan counted those nights far too few. Here in his grandparents’ old room, he felt close to them, close to the way things used to be.
He looked down at his grandfather’s jacket he held in his hands. Realizing he was postponing the inevitable, he got up and took off his jacket, then his shirt and the tee-shirt underneath it. He looked at the mirror again, and the scars now seemed to mock him mercilessly, daring him to do the one thing he knew he had to but didn’t want to: put on his grandfather’s old flannel.
He slowly slid the jacket over his shoulders, but almost immediately it began to rip. He was a lot bigger now than he used to be. He was careful not to tear the jacket and managed to get his arms into it. It was apparent that where the blood stains still clung to the jacket, there were holes, bullet holes. He looked in the mirror and could tell, despite how small the jacket was on him now, the holes still rested near the spots where the scars resided on his body.
“How?” he whispered to himself as he looked into the mirror. How am I alive at all? he thought. How did I just get up and walk away?
Then it struck him. “Jesus,” he swore, as he suddenly realized why Larry had been acting so strange all these years. Had had seen that horror nine years ago and had never told anyone. What would seeing something like that do to somebody?
Dan felt like a complete heel for having judged him so poorly for all these years. But then he had saved Larry’s life, if it was all true. He walked over to his bed and took his grandfather’s jacket off and sat down. Everything that had happened today came back to him, and he suddenly had a terrible notion, something insane, something absolutely crazy. He took out his cell phone and using the stylus, for some reason certain touch screens didn’t work for him, he downloaded one of those pulse monitor apps. Once it was done downloading and installing, he read the instructions. Then he touched his finger to the screen and waited.
His phone didn’t register any pulse at all.
He tried again and got the same result. He dropped the phone, and it fell from the bed and clattered to the floor. He rushed up and made his way to the bathroom where he got his mother’s digital thermometer out of the medicine cabinet. He turned it on and put it in his mouth. When it beeped he took it out and read it. It clearly indicated sixty-eight degrees: room temperature. The thermometer clattered to the ground the same way the phone had.
He looked into the bathroom mirror and began to understand the terrible implications of it all. There was the fact that he was always so cold. Why he never ate anything. Why lifting three-ton forklifts didn’t hurt him. He had not survived that day. Somehow, some way, he had died. He had just never realized it.
How? he thought. How is this possible? How can I be dead and move? Sweet Mother of God, I’m not breathing. I don’t breathe.
He stumbled backward and caught himself. He sat down on the toilette and began to think: Now what do I do? He lost all track of time. The sun set outside, and still he hadn’t moved a muscle. He thought furiously as he sat bare-chested on the toilet with no idea that he was mimicking the actions of the living by contemplating in the best place to think in the house, just with his pants up. He sat as still as a statue for hours. His muscles didn’t twitch or ache. His legs didn’t fall asleep. If someone had walked in, they might have thought somebody had left an alabaster version of The Thinker on the throne.
It was around seven o’clock when his mother finally came home. She wasn’t alone. His sister, brother-in-law and their kids were with her. He heard the sound of their voices and snapped out of his seeming trance. Suddenly it came to him. It had been there right in his face, but he was just too shocked to see it.
For nine years, he had gotten up out of what should have been his grave to go to work to help support his mother so she could keep the ancestral home they all loved so much. For nine years, the need to provide for and protect the people he loved most had somehow driven him to defy death itself. In that moment of epiphany, he knew what he would do, what he had always done: he would go on.
He quickly got up, went to the sink and splashed water over his face and wet his hair. He grabbed a towel and put it around his shoulders to help hide his scars and tried to look like he’d just gotten out of the shower.
He went out to see if he could get to his room before they saw him but, as he came out, his mother was making her way into her room with a bagful of goods. Their eyes met, and they both fell silent. His sister came around the corner with another bag, and it became obvious they had just hit the department store. His mom usually did that when she was upset.
The uncomfortable moment came when none of them knew how to test the waters. His sister was certainly aware of their argument this morning. They had probably gone out after work to talk about it.
“Did you just get home from work?” she asked tentatively.
“No” — he told her as she stood there with his sister by her side — “doctors.”
“You went to the doctor’s?” his sister Stacy asked, shocked.
“Yup, have another appointment in about a week,” he lied earnestly.
“What for?” his mother asked with real worry.
“Circulation problem,” he replied. “The doctor told me that it could actually be some kind of problem with my metabolism. That’s why I barely eat. Doc says he might be able to prescribe something that could help. If it works, I’ll get my appetite back, and won’t look like I bathe in bleach all the time.”
His sister laughed. His mother’s expression changed.
He knew her enough to know what she was feeling: relief.
“Oh, oh, well and good, honey, that’s good. How long do they think it might take?”
“Could be weeks, could be months, all depends on the how the tests come out,” he lied again. “My insurance will cover it, so it should all be okay.”
His brother-in-law came around the corner with his niece in his arms and his nephew on his back. They both quickly jumped off their father and leapt to their uncle for their traditional greeting. He held out his arms and allowed them to swing on his outstretched limbs like monkey bars while they called out, “Uncle Dan!” They all looked on as he effortlessly held the kids up.
Tony commented, “Put on a shirt, you ’roid fiend, you’re making me feel small.”
“You are small,” Dan retorted.
“Right, ’Roid Monkey. I need to borrow the reciprocating saw again.” Tony asked.
“When are you going to buy some real tools? You only make your living with them,” Dan accused.
“They’re at the job, and I just need to cut some wood before I leave tomorrow morning.”
“Right, this time, bring back my grandfather’s saw before I have to come looking for it,” Dan warned. “I’ll go out to the shed and get it.”
He moved to go out the back door after he put his niece and nephew down when his mother stopped him, “Put on a shirt! You just got out of the shower and it’s cold out. You have bad circulation. You’re going to freeze to death out there.”
“Right,” he answered and retrieved his flannel from his room and even put on a cap he hadn’t used in years to placate her. He then quickly stuck his grandfather’s old flannel in his closet. He knew he could not afford ever to let anyone see it.
He went out back to get the tool and on his way to the shed, he stopped in the middle of the back yard. He looked out into the vast, wooded areas that lie behind all the homes on his block. A sobering and frightening thought struck him as he peered out into the dark night that obscured the woods he had known since he was a boy. If he existed, if he was dead and could still walk, what else was out there?
He heard the sound of his family’s laughter from the house. From out back he could smell the pizza they were spreading out on the table. He looked back at the home where the people he loved most sat down to have dinner. His lie would hopefully buy him time and set his mother at ease, at least for a while. He would figure the rest out as he went along.
What he did not know was what he would do if he met someone else like him. What if they weren’t driven to protect those they loved? What if they were something else entirely? What if there was nothing human about them at all?
He quickly made his way to the shed and flicked on the light. He got the saw, but it wasn’t really what he was looking for now. He went to the wall where all his grandfather’s tools still hung well cared-for and oiled. He picked up the high carbon steel, six-foot crowbar and then stepped out of the shed. He put down the saw and stepped over to some cinder blocks that had been neatly stacked in the back yard for years. He swung the crowbar over his head and brought it down with such force that it obliterated all three blocks.
He looked out into the night, knowing that if something came out of those woods looking to start trouble for those he protected, they were going to find three hundred pounds of crowbar-wielding, undead beast waiting for them. He picked up the saw, looked out into the woods once more, and started back towards his home.
Copyright © 2020 by John Rossi