Chapter 2: Penance
I'd like to say I was fine when I left the graveyard, that I had found a way to accept my brother's death. The truth was, I was even worse. I'd been holding onto this idea of retribution, the idea that I could still, in some shape or form, make up for Neil's death. It was the only thing that had kept me together. And now it was gone. I'd watched the demon try to take vengeance on the man who killed him, and it didn't help anything. I knew had to let got of the idea of vengeance, but there was nothing else to replace it. Nothing but emptiness.
The trip back from the graveyard passed in a blur. I vaguely remember walking away and getting into the car, but I don't recall driving anywhere. I must have though, because my next memory was of pulling into my mother's driveway. I don't even know why I went there instead of to my own home. I wasn't about to talk to her about the demon--I didn't plan on telling anyone about the demon--but maybe we could talk about Neil.
I stopped at the front door. It was hanging open, totally ajar. I could see into the house, see Neil's picture on the wall of the living room, his shoes still sitting in the hallway, his coat on the stair railing. I wanted to tell Mom it was time to start boxing his stuff up. She couldn't keep living in the midst of all these memories. That's when I heard the screams from the kitchen.
I ran through the door and down the hall, bursting into the kitchen. I found my mom in the corner brandishing a steak knife, holding off three giant, snarling dogs. Well, dogs was the only word to use, but they weren't like any dogs I'd ever seen. These beasts stood as nearly as high as my shoulders, and their claws must have been six inches long. I could see great big scratches in the linoleum floor where they'd walked.
Their fur was a color I still can't describe. It was red, but not the bright red of a crayon. More like a deep, earthy red, like blood that has been soaked up by dirt and absorbed into the earth. And they were silent. No barking, no snarling, just bared teeth and hatred as they snapped and bit at my mom. I could see gashes running down her arms and legs, while the knife in her hand had yet to pierce the skin of the dogs.
Without thinking, I dove and tackled the dog nearest me, knocking it into the other two.
"Mom! Run!" I yelled, but she remained frozen in place. I scurried to my feet, fully expecting to feel those massive jaws clamping down on my legs, but the dogs just bounded around me and
resumed attacking her. I ran in front of her, trying to hold them off. One knocked me to the side while the other two kept attacking. I tried to get back up to help her, but the dog sat on my chest, holding me down on the ground.
I couldn't see my mom, but I heard her screams grow louder. I pounded on the dog's back and head, trying to move it. I flailed about in desperation, and in my flailing I felt something. A rolling pin. It must have fallen on the floor in the chaos. Summoning all my strength, I bludgeoned the dog over the head with the pin. It gave the smallest of yelps and sprung up, just for a moment, allowing me to get back to my feet.
"Mom! Mom! Just run!" I yelled, but she said nothing. It was as if she didn't even hear me. I ran in front of her, causing the dogs to back off for just a moment, and grabbed her by the arm. Half dragging her behind me, I ran out the back door, slamming it shut behind me, and into the woods behind the house. The running seemed to bring her back to reality, because pretty soon she was running on her own beside me.
"Where are we going Marcus?" she gasped in between breaths.
"I know a place we can hide," I said. "Neil and I used to hide there when we were little."
I looked back. I'd hoped the door would stop the dogs, but it only slowed them down. I didn't how, but they had gotten it open. We had a good head start, but they would follow us. Luckily, the hiding spot was just ahead. The tangled roots of a great oak tree had been exposed by erosion, and they created a perfect overhang we could hide underneath.
I dropped down under the roots and pulled my mom in behind me. Only someone directly in front of us would be able to see us now.
"Where did those things come from?" I whispered as loud as I dared.
"I don't know," she replied. "I just turned around and there they were. I don't even know how they got in the door."
All of a sudden we heard sniffing and scratching above our heads. The dogs were already on top of us. I never thought they'd leave us alone, but I'd hoped this spot would buy us enough time to form a plan of escape.
"They're after me," my mom said, "so you can still get away. I'll draw them off, and you run."
"That's crazy! Mom, they'll kill you."
"I don't care! I failed Neil, but I'm not going to fail you."
"Neil... Mom, what are you-"
It was too late, she was already off and running. She barely got three steps before the dogs leapt off the overhang after her. The lead dog leapt onto her
back, raking its claws down her skin as she fell to the ground. It prepared to sink its jaws into her neck when a great purple fist shot out of nowhere and threw it back.
There it was, my demon. It must have followed me back from the graveyard. In a flash, he had thrown the first dog off my mom and was holding the other two in its hands by the sruff of their necks. With a great heave he hurled them deeper into the woods. With a yelp they landed and ran further away, the third dog hot on their heels. All of them had their tails between their legs.
I ran to my mom, who was still on the ground, crying.
"Are you alright?" I asked.
"I told you to run," she said. "I thought if I could save you it would... it would make up for it."
"Make up for what?"
"Mom, Neil's death wasn't your fault. He died in a car accident. There was nothing you could do about it."
"I taught him how to drive. Maybe if I'd taught him better. Or if I'd gotten him a safer car. Or... or."
"Or nothing. You did the best you could. Neil was hit by an eighteen wheeler that swerved into the left lane. Nothing about that is your fault. You were a great mother who always did the best for Neil and for me."
With that, she erupted into tears again. I put my arms around her, and began to cry as well. We just sat there, the two of us, crying in each other's arms in the middle of the woods.
The demon stood guard above us, watching the woods for danger.