by Ian McClellan
This short story is a stand alone tale from the brilliant
One Undead Step by Ian McClellan
Thursday, 17 July 1969
Randy was so excited that he could hardly sit still and eat his birthday cake. Even though it was past his bedtime, there he was sitting in his mother’s recliner watching Daniel Boone with his dad. On Saturday there would be a party. All his friends would be over as well as his cousins who lived on the other side of town. They’d eat cake and play games and go swimming in the pool. Of course, they would have to wait at least an hour after eating before they could go in the pool or else they’d ‘get cramps’ which Randy understood to be some terrible, life-threatening malady. It was going to be a great party, but it would pale in comparison to the evening of his actual birthday when he stayed up late with his father and watched Fess Parker battle villains on the plains of the old west.
Randy didn’t get to spend anywhere near as much time with his dad as he would have liked. He didn’t know where his father worked- he only knew that it was where he always seemed to be. When Randy got up for school each morning he was already gone, and sometimes wasn’t home when Randy went to bed at night. His mother always said that it was so they could have nice things, which they did, but he’d once overheard her on the phone say she wondered if he really was at work all that time. That statement hadn’t made any sense to Randy at all, but Randy was a little young to understand that his father ‘had needs’, and that his mother couldn’t satisfy all of those needs. Neither could his father’s secretary or his father’s boss’s secretary, which was why his father had to spend so much of his time ‘entertaining clients’ instead of at home with his son.
Just like a starving man might consider a stale piece of bread a meal fit for a king, this lack of quality bonding time with his father made Randy revere the rare moments the two spent together. This was why he was staring at the man like a deity instead of watching television when there was a thump at the door. It wasn’t a knock, which would have also been strange at that time of the evening at their house, but a very distinctive thump. The pair swiveled their heads toward the door, and the senior of the two blurted out, “What the hell was that?”
Randy’s mother came in from the kitchen and looked through the peephole. “Well, that’s just…” and jumped back as there was another thump. She put a hand over her chest and turned to her husband, who was setting aside his plate and getting out of his chair. “Goodness, that man nearly gave me a heart attack. It’s Mr. Jenson from down the street. He just walked into the door.” There was another thump.
Randy’s father tilted his head back and laughed. “That old codger’s probably just drunk. Let him be and he’ll figure out he’s at the wrong house and leave,” He said and sat back down.
“We can’t do that. He looks more than drunk. He looks… he doesn’t look well,” she said as she turned to open the door.
As her hand touched the knob, her husband’s mind turned to the recent killings that had shocked the city. People had barely left their homes in the last few days, especially at night. Why would the old man be out at such a late hour? Could he possibly have something to do with all of that? He pushed the ridiculous thought out of his mind. They’d known Mr. Jenson for years. The man was no killer.
‘That old codger’ Mr. Jenson from down the street fell on Randy’s mother as soon as the door was cracked. She screamed and went down like a sack of potatoes with flailing arms. Randy’s father sat in stunned paralysis and wondered just how drunk the old bastard was. He jumped up as he saw his neighbor’s teeth clamp down on his wife’s neck and tear off a chunk of flesh. Blood spurted from the wound like a crazy water fountain. She was screaming, but had stopped by the time the end table came crashing down on Mr. Jenson’s back and splintered into pieces. The old man barely seemed to notice. He stood up and came at Randy’s father, who was bludgeoning him with a leg from the end table to no avail. Randy remembered something his mother had told him once. It was something about eating sweets before bed and having nightmares. As Mr. Jenson brought his father to the floor, grabbed his arm, and took a bite from his wrist, he told himself over and over- You ate too much cake and you’re having a nightmare. You ate too much cake and you’re having a nightmare. You ate too much cake and you’re having a nightmare.
Randy’s father, in the meantime, wasn’t about to lay there and let the crazy old bastard from down the street eat him. He took the table leg and stuck the jagged, broken end under Mr. Jenson’s chin and shoved with everything he had. It broke through the skin, slid past the mandible, and hit the brain. Mr. Jenson fell over dead. Randy’s father got up clutching his wrist, which was bleeding profusely, and looked at his wife.
“Oh my…” he sobbed. “Oh my God.” He took a step toward his wife and fell to one knee. His skin was getting whiter by the second and it occurred to him that he was bleeding to death. Randy sprang up and knelt by his side. They were both crying. “I’ve been… a terrible… father,” he told his son between labored breaths. He reached up and touched the boy’s cheek. “I’m sorry.” His eyes closed and the hand fell away as he fell backward, leaving a bloody smear down the side of the boy’s face. Randy laid his head on his father’s chest and wept, not noticing his mother sitting up on the other side of the room. When he heard the floorboard creak behind him he jerked his head up and saw that his father’s eyes were open. For a split second his heart was filled with an unfathomable joy. His father- this god, as he had come to think of him- had not actually died there on the living room rug. The joy didn’t last long, though, as he realized that something in his father’s glare was very, very wrong. A set of hands fell on his shoulders from behind. His father’s mouth opened.
It had been the greatest day of Randy’s young life. It would be the last.
You ate too much cake and you’re having a nightmare. You ate too much cake and you’re having a nightmare. You ate too much cake and you’re having a nightmare.
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