Tuesday, 5 July 2011

Fourth Person Singular

"And he is the mad eye of the fourth person singular
         of which nobody speaks
         and he is the voice of the fourth person singular
         in which nobody speaks
         and which yet exists
         with a long head and a foolscap face
         and the long mad hair of death
         of which nobody speaks
     And he speaks of himself and he speaks of the dead..."
                            
                 Lawrence Ferlinghetti "HE"

      Every night since I was seven years old he's swooped down at me out of the darkness of sleep: a pale, skeletal boy with thin arms thrust out like wings, eyes like white domes in black craters, mouth open as he screams acceleration.
      His name is Wren.
        *       *       *      
      It's been over 30 years and the images haven't even begun to fade. Maybe writing it down will help exorcise my ghosts.

        *       *       *


      In 1961, when I was six and my brother, Wren, was nine, we would huddle together on his bed pulling his thick blue bedspread over our heads on those nights when the screams came from the basement. Several times each year, tortured voices wavered up the heat ducts, sometimes sounding like men, sometimes women. Sometimes they would wail for hours although one night, a single excruciating plea of "stop!" was followed by silence. Wren and I put our ears to the metal vent in the hardwood floor, listening for more, but instead heard the door downstairs slamming and Dad stomping up the stairs. I barely had time to scramble back to my room and pull up my covers before my door swung open and Dad came in and kissed me
goodnight.
      He smelled like the stuff they use to clean hospitals, the scent of pine heightened until it makes your nose smart and your eyes water.
      Smashing, cursing sounds told me he was going into Wren's room. Dad hardly ever came upstairs, so he didn't remember Wren's forty or fifty model airplanes hanging on fishing line from the bedroom ceiling; a network of filaments like a massive spiderweb. 
      The next morning at breakfast, Dad spoke. "Renfield," he said, being the only person who ever used my brother's full name, "I want you to take down those airplanes."
      "You broke four of them," Wren replied sullenly.
   A spoonful of cornflakes stopped en route to my lips as I watched Wren mirror Dad's stare, a shrunken reflection of our father's stubbornness and passionate intensity.
      "Move them or suffer more losses than you already have. Understand?"
      "Yes, sir," he muttered, playing it safe for once. My relief slipped out in a sigh. Then, with no more trepidation than saying "pass the milk", Wren asked, "What is that screaming we always hear coming from the basement?" I wanted to grab my brother by the shoulders and shake him and shout "Shuttup you idiot! This man made Mom disappear. He'll make you disappear too and then I'll be alone with him.  Don't leave me alone with him!" But I didn't move, didn't breathe.
      Looking up from his magazine, Dad sounded genuinely puzzled. "Screaming?" He turned to me. "Have you heard screaming, Barrymore?"
      Avoiding Wren's glare, I said, "No, Dad."
      "He hears it just like me. Tell him, Bear."
      I couldn't.
      An interminable silence later, Dad suggested, "I have a proposition for you, Renfield. Come into the basement with me when I get home from work tonight and I will show you everything there is to see."
      I hoped Wren would somehow read the silent plea in my eyes, but without according me even a scornful glance, he flipped his long black hair out of his eyes and said, "Naw. Guess I don't want to know all that badly."
      "We will see." Dad nodded, then looked at us one by one. "Neither of you have mentioned this imaginary screaming to anyone outside of this house, have you?"
      "No," I answered, hoping Wren would chime in and we would speak in a single voice like
we once did.
      Instead, my brother wondered aloud, "How could we tell anybody, if you won't let us out of the house, Dad?"
      "You sneak out sometimes while I am at work during the day. I found that yellow plastic bowl you left beside the garage the other day."
      We had used the bowl to feed our neighbour's Irish setter. Their house was around the bend in the road and we never wandered that far, so we'd never been close enough to overhear the dog's name. Going over to inquire might start them asking why we weren't in school. So I blessed the dog with a second name; Robin, like in that song Mom used to sing.
      "When the red, red robin comes bob, bob, bobbing along..."
      The lecture droned on, "...going out any more. I have to trust you to be good boys," Dad gave Wren a fatherly smile and tousled his hair. "If you told anyone about this screaming, they would quite likely send you to a psychiatrist. Do you know what the psychiatrist would do? Perform a lobotomy operation. Just like they did to my father. They drilled a hole in his forehead, inserted a knife, and sliced off the front of his brain. We don't want anyone doing that to you, now do we? I want my family safe and sound. Keeping your mouth and eyes and ears shut is the best way to stay safe and sound, Renfield."
      "I thought keeping the door shut was the best way."
      "Are you being smart?"
      "No sir. You told us..."
      "Do not ever get smart with me."
      "Yes, s..."
      "Mouth SHUT, correct?"
      Wren nodded.
   Dad got up and walked straight out the kitchen door. My brother and I listened to the rattling of locks and latches, the departing footsteps, the uneven rumble of the Rambler's engine and the crunching of gravel as Dad backed out the driveway. Then Wren said, "I'm going down to the basement. You wanna come?"
     I shook my head and pouted. "You'll scream," I warned.
     "Huh?"
     "Going down there will make you scream like all the others."
     "Dad goes down there," said Wren. "He doesn't scream."
     I trailed my brother upstairs, unable to muster a better argument than his. We struggled to lift the window in his bedroom.
      "Get something to prop it open!"
      I brought the wastebasket from the bathroom and watched as he climbed onto the porch roof. His legs, his head, and finally his hands seemed to sink into the greenery as he climbed down the trellis.
      After a few scary minutes by myself, I decided to follow, but on my way out, I hit the wastebasket with my shoulder and the window came shuddering down at me. Certain I was about to be decapitated, I threw myself back into the room, escaping with no worse injury than bruised elbows and a sore bum.
      I'd seen the wastebasket bounce off the gutter into the yard, where Dad was sure to find it. My struggles to open the window couldn't budge it.
      Had I locked my brother out forever? I had no idea what to do next. Break the window? I scanned the room for a tool, in case it came to that. On the floor were clothes and empty boxes from his model planes, but no balls, bats or other outside toys. Being too young to assemble the many models Dad had given me as gifts, I'd passed mine along to Wren who had thrown out the cars and boats, but added the airplanes to his collection.
      I looked up. Even if I could reach them, Wren would kill me for throwing one of his planes through the window. I'd once broken a wing on a model he was working on. He didn't talk to me for a week.
      I looked down. I was standing on the furnace grate. Kneeling beside it, I tried unsuccessfully to pry it out of the floor. Then, lying flat on my stomach, I put my lips to the open vent. "Wren?? Are you down there?" I shouted timidly. Receiving no answer, I yelled again and again. When I stopped, I could hear my own small, hollow voice still echoing through the ductwork.
      The door behind me opened and I whirled, surprised that Wren had found another way in.
      But it wasn't Wren.
      Dad stared down at me, his face blank and grey as usual. He was still in his blue suit as if going off to work but he obviously hadn't gone.
      "We were...uhhm...playing hide 'n' seek," I stammered, unable to lie quickly or convincingly enough. "I'm IT. Wren is hiding."
      Wordlessly, Dad turned and headed back down the stairs.
      How had I failed to hear him return? Dad must have read our minds again. He must have parked the Rambler on the road and snuck into the house on tiptoes. 
      I laid there on the cold floor until Dad called me for supper hours later. Wren wasn't there. Hopefully, he'd seen Dad coming and run away. I never asked, never spoke at all, never even looked up from the canned spaghetti cooling and congealing on my plate. Dad sent me to my room.
      I curled on my bed, clutching my knees to my chest as I listened for my brother's screams. There were screams; although not those of a child. A man's voice gibbered and wept for a long time before his screaming started. It was loud at first, his voice gradually weakening, becoming hoarse and merging with the rustling of leaves in the nearby trees, the rushing of water in the creek, the pumping of my own heart.
     Wren was in bed when I peeked in on him next morning. 
     Needing to know if he was alive, I slipped through the doorway, crept up beside the bed, reached out and tentatively touched him on the shoulder. He didn't move. I shook harder, then tried to roll him onto his back, but he resisted.
     "Go away," he said in a voice I barely recognised.
     "Are you hurt?" I whispered.
     "He made me watch."
     "But he didn't hurt you?" I asked.
     "He made me watch." Wren said again. "Now go away."
     "What did you see?"
     "The screams. I saw the screams."
     "Who was screaming?" I asked.
     He didn't answer so I grabbed his shoulder again, shook harder, asked more loudly, "Who was it? Why were they screaming?"
     "Breakfast," said a man's voice from behind me. Dad had stuck his head in. I turned and saw him smiling warmly. As suddenly as he'd appeared, he went away and I heard a number of distinct thumps as he descended the stairs two at a time.
     Dad must have heard me asking Wren about the screams, which, even from the sanctuary of my bedroom, sounded full of pain and fear. I didn't really want to know what the screams looked like. I didn't want to talk to Wren anymore. I didn't want to go downstairs for breakfast. I didn't know what to do.
     Wren got up and I followed him down to the breakfast table. My brother stared vacantly at me as we sat down, although I'm sure he didn't see me. Dad whistled and made "a hearty breakfast" of bacon and eggs. I concluded he hadn't heard me asking about the screams. Dad chattered throughout the meal about nothing in particular.
     The next few weeks were lonely. The only time I saw Wren was at supper. After we ate, Dad would present him with a new model plane. Wren added it to the stack against the wall at the bottom of the stairs before retreating to his privacy. After a while, my brother began to act like himself again. The tower of boxes shrank, then disappeared.
     I went to his room, but Wren was so caught up in the process of building his new models that he hardly talked to me. So I stopped visiting. The next day the banging and hammering sounds began. Wanting him to know how hurt and offended I was, I refused to give into my curiosity. He didn't seem to notice. One afternoon as I was just about to give in and visit him, Wren appeared at my door.
     "Come see my invention."
     I did.
     His model airplanes had been taken down and were heaped in and around his closet. A single plane hung from the knob at the bottom of the light fixture in the centre of the ceiling. Leading from there into the corner where Wren stood on top of his bed, was what looked like a railway track which Wren had constructed out of coathangers. At the end of the track, hung another plane. Wren reached up and grasped it firmly.
     "Watch this," he said, hurling the projectile as hard as he could. I could actually hear it whistle through the air as it flew across the room and collided with the stationary plane. Bits of plastic sliced through the air in every direction and I turned away, covering my eyes.
     "What'dya think?" he asked.
     "Uhmm, neat, I guess."
     "It's the neatest thing ever," he corrected. "I'll show you again."
     I watched Wren untwist the lines, dropping the wreckages carelessly to the floor, before replacing them with new airplanes.
     "You know what this is called?" he asked just as he was about to throw the second plane. I shook my head.
      "A dogfight." Smash.
      "What is?" I puzzled, as Wren replaced the casualties with new sacrifices.
      "Airplane battles. No kidding. I dunno why. A birdfight would make more sense. Or
flying tiger fight. But it's called a dogfight. Wanna try?"
      I could barely touch the fuselage with my fingertips let alone grab hold of the plane.
     "Can you make the string longer?"
     Wren shook his head. "Took forever to get everything just right. Don't wanna start over."
     I couldn't throw very hard. On my first attempt the plane ended up flying in circles around the target after missing completely. Wren let me try again. I managed to break one strut off the propellor on the target plane.  Wren laughed. I stomped out, leaving my brother to the bewildering and solitary pleasure of destroying the only thing he'd ever cared about.
     A month later, Dad took him downstairs for a second time.
     The screams went on for longer than usual that night and I imagined I heard more than one voice wailing. I didn't recognise either of them though.
     Wren was withdrawn the next day, but not at all as bad as he'd been that first time. He even came to breakfast. Dad had made pancakes.
     "What do you want for your birthday on Sunday, Barry?"
     "It's my birthday?"
     "Seven years old. Both my boys are growing up."
      I didn't respond.
     "If you don't ask for something I can hardly get it for you can I? What would you like?"
     "A puppy?"
     "You know we don't have pets in this house. Don't be so stupid. Now what would you really like?"
      I shrugged.
      "Would you like to come to the basement and see what daddy does downstairs?"
      "A colouring book."
      "We could have a party down there. All three of us."
      "He says he wants a coloring book instead, Dad," Wren cut in, the boldest I'd seen him since his first trip to the basement. "I don't think Barry's old enough. He wouldn't understand."
      Dad pushed his plate of uneaten pancakes into the center of the table and wiped his lips with a napkin. Then he stood, not moving from his place at the table, and stared at me.
      I'm sure Dad saw that I was crying, no matter how hard I tried to hide it.
      With a nod, he grunted, "Perhaps," then strode to the door and out.
      "Why can't I have a puppy?" I sobbed once he was gone.
      "He'd kill it. He killed Robin, you know?"
      I didn't know. I hadn't been outside in weeks.
      "He keeps the body in the basement," Wren continued.
      "Maybe it was another dog that looked like Robin."
      "I'm sorry, Barry," Wren said, coming around the table to give me a hug. "I'd get you a puppy if I could." 
      Wren's hammering resumed late the next morning, but he wouldn't let me see what he was up to. "Secret," he explained.
     That Saturday, Dad brought home a yellow cake with red writing on white icing. It spent the night in the fridge.
      Sunday at noon, Dad brought out the cake, singing "Happy Birthday" as he carried it to the table. He watched for my reaction and I pretended that it was a big surprise. He smiled and kissed the top of my head. 
      "I guess I should get some candles to put on there," Dad said.
      "Aren't you supposed to light the candles before you sing?" asked Wren.
      "I think there's some in the hutch. Be right back," Dad continued, as if my brother hadn't said a word. He went into the dining room to look for them.
      Wren saw me staring at the top of the cake and said, "What are you looking at?"
     "The words."
     "What for? He'll never let us learn to read."
     Wren had been to grade one but I'd never gone to school. Dad said that insolence and apathy were all we would learn in school. Teachers know nothing about respect, he would say. How to give it or how to earn it. I'd like to teach the teachers, he would say. And he would laugh.
     When Dad returned with the candles, he also brought my presents; a stack of coloring books and what seemed like a hundred packages of crayons. I picked one of the coloring books off the pile and studied the cover wondering if I could learn to read by studying those letters. If I looked at them long enough, would it suddenly come to me and start making sense? I looked at the second coloring book down. It was blue with a cartoon dog on the cover.
     "You like Huckleberry Hound, Barry?  Did I pick you some good ones?"
     "What's Hucklederry Hound?"
     Dad put his hands on his knees and bent down to look me in the face.  He smiled broadly. "Like on TV?"
     "Barry's never seen TV, Dad."
     "Yes, I have," I protested.
     "Well, you can't remember it, can you, twerp?"
     I had no answer to that one.
     Dad just kept smiling. "Maybe that's what I should buy for Christmas. A television set, a family present."
  Wren and I nodded eager assent.
     "Now let's get back to that party," Dad grinned as he held a little box of candles beside his ear and shook it.
     After I blew them out, Dad asked, "What'd you wish for?"
     "That Mom would come back."
     "Oh." Dad's smile disappeared. He busied himself cutting big pieces of cake, then said, "I have to go to work."
     "It's Sunday," I protested as he was leaving, but Wren held a finger to his lips.
     "Shhh. Let's just eat."
     Wren gave me the biggest piece and I crammed a big forkful into my mouth. After a minute I looked up at Wren, who simply sat with his empty hands face down on the table on each side of his plate. He stared at the cake without eating any. After a few more bites my appetite disappeared.
     "What's the matter?"
      "I got you a present," Wren said.
      "Why didn't you bring it to the party?"
     "Party? This isn't a real...aw, hell Barry. Dad wouldn't have liked it, that's all. I got you something he wouldn't have liked, so you have to keep it a secret. Okay?"
     "What is it?"
     "Guess."
     "I dunno. What color is it?"
     "Mostly black. But his tail and one foot are white."
      Was Wren talking about some sort of stuffed toy? Where would he have found such a thing?
     "C'mon. I'll show you."
     I followed my brother to his bedroom which looked empty except for the pile of plastic which had once been model airplanes. The carpet was squishy underfoot.  
     Wren saw me looking down and said, "He messed the floor."
     "Who did?" I said, starting to get genuinely excited. Had Wren somehow smuggled in a real puppy? He started hauling something out of the closet. A box? A cage? No...a big piece of plywood; with a puppy nailed to the wood by its paws.
     "His eye is gunky," Wren was explaining. "I thought you could fix it with that big green marble you were showing me the other day."
      Not wanting to believe what I saw, I asked, "is it dead?"
     Wren was offended. "He WAS dead. Now he's your puppy.
     I covered my mouth with my hand, not knowing what to do.
     Wren kept talking, earnestly, desperately, "it feels a bit funny when you scratch him behind the ears. And he has these little white bugs crawling around in his fur."
      My brother was making a sincere effort to give me what I wanted. I knew that. I could see love and concern in his eyes, hear it in his voice. Wren cared about me. But then, so did Dad.
     "...maybe we should give him a bath."
     "Did you kill it?"
     "What?"
     "The puppy. Did you kill it?"
     "I FOUND him. Beside the road. Alone. He needs someone to love him. Somebody like you."
     I wanted to thank him, but I felt like throwing up.
     "I thought we could name him Razzmatazz. Why don't you..."
      I turned and ran to my room, slamming the door behind me. I leaned against the door and burst into tears.
     Wren pounded and pushed on the door. "Barry? Are you okay? What's the matter, Bear? Don't you like him? What's wrong?"
     Realizing that Wren genuinely didn't know what was wrong, I braced my feet against the side of my dresser. My socks left red footprints on white paint. I remembered how I felt when Wren said, "He messed the floor." Now I knew what he meant. "Go away!" I screamed.
     But he didn't go away. Nor did he try to break in. He kept knocking and asking what was the matter until I stood up and yelled. "Because the stupid puppy is dead and that's the dumbest present anybody ever got and you're the dumbest brother anybody ever had! Now leave me alone!"
     Without another word, Wren went away.
     I couldn't sleep. Sometime in the middle of the night, I snuck into his room to apologise.
     "Wren?" I whispered, stepping into absolute darkness.
     I stood there and listened for the sounds of his breathing. Nothing. I brought my hands up defensively with each cautious step, half expecting to run into something in the middle of the room.
     As I approached the bed, feeble moonlight sliding through the crack at the edge of the curtain allowed me to see that the bedspread was still pulled all the way up, neat as could be. I backed up to the door and flicked on the light. The room was empty.
     I walked through the rest of the house in darkness, everywhere except the basement.Then I went back upstairs.
     Maybe Wren had run away. Maybe I had driven him away.
     Wren wasn't just my brother, he was my protector, the only thing between me and Dad.Between me and the basement.
     He didn't show up for breakfast.
     "Where's Renfield?" asked Dad.
     I shrugged.
     That day, the pounding and hammering started again. This time it reverberated through the whole house. I couldn't tell where it was coming from and I was afraid to call out for Wren, in case it was actually Dad again.
     When Wren didn't show up at dinner, Dad asked me, "where's your brother?"
     "Said he wasn't hungry."
     "Is he sick?" Dad pushed his chair back and walked to the stairs.
     "Said he was tired. He's sleeping."
      "You're sure he's not sick?"
      I nodded. Dad came back to the table.
      "You bring him up some dinner later."
      I nodded again and ate the rest of my meal in silence.
     Dad wouldn't accept the same explanation a second time. I had to decide what to do.
     As far as I knew, Wren had only one exit; the window in his room. He'd been outside to get me the puppy so it followed that he must have managed to pry the window back open.
     After Dad went out that night, I got up and went to Wren's room. I entered in darkness, in case Dad was lying in wait again. Ready to catch us again.
     There was a gust of cold air. The window was open. A new airplane was hanging from the light fixture. The wind slammed the door behind me as I walked to the centre of the room.
     "Wren?" I yelled, turning circles as I stumbled back toward the light switch. Flick. A second plane slid along the track. Crash. But no one was there to throw it. The room was empty, except for me. Except for me and the airplanes, now swaying silently on their strings; two wreckages dangling from their strings.
     "Wren!" I screamed, lurching from the room.
     I searched the whole house calling his name; checking every door and window; looking in closets and cupboards, behind curtains, even in places I knew were to small for him to fit.
      I flopped face down on the sofa and was still sleeping there when Dad found me, hours later, and carried me up to bed.
      At breakfast the next morning, Dad put my bowl of cereal down in front of me. "Where's Renfield, son?"
   My throat tightened up like it was stuck with airplane model glue. Able to neither swallow nor talk, I shook my head.
      "We're a tight‑knit family. You two are always together. Your brother wouldn't have left without telling you where he was going. Where was he going, Barrymore?"
      "I...don't..." my words seeped out.
      "What are you afraid of, son? Do you think he's gone to the police? Is that it? Are you afraid they'll send him to a psychiatrist and slice up his brain?"
      It hadn't occurred to me. Suddenly I was truly afraid for my brother.
     Dad's moist brown eyes oozed fatherly love as he reached out, cupping my whole jaw in his big hand. "I can't protect him if I don't know where he is. You tell me, so I can bring him home safely."
     The air felt so warm and thick I could hardly breathe. "I don't know," I said. "I've been looking for him."
     "You don't know?" Dad asked. "If you don't know, who does, Barrymore?"
     "I don't..."
     "Tell me where he is, son."
     "I don't..."
     "Tell me!"
     As I shook my head, tears ran down my cheek into his cupped hand. He let me go. Then he got up and stared out the window, into the morning sunshine. "What are we going to do? We can't call the police."
     Recalling his story of where the police would send him, I nodded.
     "But if the police find him and Renfield mentions that he has a brother, they might come looking for you I'm...I'm going to have to hide you. I'll put you in the basement. Won't let them look in the basement. This wrecks my plans. I was going to have guests tonight. Damn that boy."
     Dad's stare made me feel transparent, like he could see the fear gushing around inside me. "Let's go. Before the police get here."
     I bolted from my chair, planning to lock myself in the bathroom, but Dad caught me before I reached the stairs. "What the hell is the matter with you? I'm doing this for your own protection. To keep you safe and sound."
     I squinted in the bright sunshine as he carried me out to the porch, then down the steps to the basement door. He inserted a key in the lock and the door swung open, letting some darkness out. But somehow no light came back in when we entered. 
     Dad didn't even turn on the light when he pushed the door shut behind us. The air was cold. My legs swung with the rhythm of his stride as I pried at the hairy arm clamped around my chest and listened to my father's footfalls clop across bare concrete. Abruptly, he stopped and reached up. As a light directly above us blazed on, I struggled to get free.
      "Am I going to have to strap you down like I did to Renfield? Like I did to your mother?"
      Peering through the incandescence of my fear, I saw a table; a giant version of the puppy board, its wood was riddled with nail holes and covered with dark splotches.
      Dad spun me around to face a wooden wall. No, it was an upright board; like the table, except with belts instead of nails to hold someone by their arms and legs.
      The board wasn't propped up from behind, it was nailed to a beam above us. As I stared up at the ceiling, I could make out something else; some sort of metal track, like the one in Wren's room. My gaze slid along it into an impenetrable darkness. This had to be where Wren got the idea to build his track. I wondered what sorts of things my father sent rumbling toward whomever was strapped to the board. Things that made people scream.
      My gaze searched the perimeter of our pool of light. I saw shapes along the wall. Just jars and bottles I finally realized; milk bottles, pop bottles. Maybe there were horrible things in them. I couldn't tell.
      On the other end of the table was a workbench. It was painted green, just like the one at our old house. All of Dad's tools were hung up neatly along the wall above it; I'd never seen pliers and drills before, so I didn't know what they were. But I had seen knives, and there were lots of knives; some funny ones with big square blades and some hook shaped ones and some really skinny ones along with all the regular knives. There were a few empty spaces at the bottom. I wondered if Dad had brought some down for me.
      Dad put his arm around my shoulders and walked me up to the edge of the table. I backed away, but he held onto my upper arms and turned to face me. Crouching down, he looked me in the eyes and smiled. He shook me very gently for emphasis as he spoke. "It's a father's responsibility to protect his family. I'll teach you how to make people respect you, Barrymore. Because people who respect you will never hurt you. There's only one person you should fear. You know who that is?"
      Wide eyed, I answered, "You, sir?"
      He laughed and kissed me. "No, Barrymore. It's you. That's right. People hurt themselves sometimes, son. Even kill themselves. Like your mother. She could have lived as long as she wanted. But she knew I couldn't let her go to the police. So, you see? For all intents and purposes, her own hand held the knife that slit her throat. She killed herself. I guess she didn't have enough respect for herself. I loved her, just like I love you and Renfield. I would never hurt either of my boys. But I have to teach you not to hurt yourselves."
      As he stood up again, I heard a whistling sound like the ones during the dogfights in my brother's bedroom. Dad noticed the sound at the same time I did, only he had to turn around in order to see what I saw; Wren soaring toward us, his arms straight out to the sides like wings. In one hand, he held a fireplace poker and in the other, a knife. My father and I stood transfixed.
      Any sound the metal shaft of the poker might have made as it plunged into Dad's throat was drowned out by a terrible thump and clatter of the ropes breaking free of their guides. My brother flew overhead, his body slamming into the plywood board. The knife clattered at my feet.
      I bent down and tried to turn Wren onto his back. His head lolled loosely, just as the dead puppy's head had done two nights earlier. But how could Wren be dead?  He wasn't bleeding or anything.  
      Dad was bleeding. He was lying on his side and I could see the tip of the poker coming
out the back of his neck. 
      "Wren?" I said, but he didn't answer.
      I remembered somebody saying that when a person is dead, they stop breathing. And I couldn't see Wren's chest going up and down like it usually did when he pretended to be dead. I put my ear to his mouth and listened as hard as I could. I could hear a breathing sound, I was sure of it!
     As it got louder I realised that the sound wasn't coming from Wren.
     I looked at my father, half expecting him to pull the implement from his neck and stand up, but he didn't move.
     The sound was coming from deep in the gloom of the basement. A voice? I sat up, holding my own breath as I peered into the darkness.
     It was a voice of a sort; the growl of a dog floated toward me, turning into a whimper.
     "Robin?" I said. And the big red dog stuck his head around the edge of the board and sniffed at Wren's hair. It licked my dead brother's face. Then it staggered toward Dad and started lapping blood off the floor.
     "Robin! Don't!"
     Wren had told me Robin was dead. He'd seen the body. But Wren was wrong.
     The dog's tail pounded against the wooden table leg as I stood up. He began walking slowly towards me. I reached out to push him away. His fur felt stiff, the same way the puppy had felt a day or two earlier.
     Backing away from the dog, I looked at the bodies of my father and brother. "How long will you stay dead?" I whispered. Then I turned and scrambled toward the line of sunlight streaming in through the door which was standing slightly ajar.
     Sensing Robin close behind me, I looked back. In the light, he looked worse than he had when I'd first seen him ‑ horribly skinny and his fur was all matted and crusty. 
     Robin followed me when I ran. His limp prevented him from catching up, but he was still there every time I glanced back. The dog on my heels kept me running. I don't remember stopping. I don't think I ever stopped.
     Although my brother has been dead a long, long time now, he comes back night after night; as cold and familiar as the moon.
–end– 

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