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Authors: Robert Swartwood

Tags: #Fiction, #Horror

The Dishonored Dead (47 page)

BOOK: The Dishonored Dead
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When I opened the door, Dean stared back at me. His face was expressionless at first, but then he smiled. “Sorry,” he said. “A little behind schedule, I know. But I talked to Officer Armstrong”—he jerked a thumb back at the street—“and he’s going to follow us until we get to Manheim. Ready?”

For an instant, an image flashed in my mind: a body lying in what I somehow knew was a hospital bed
.

I blinked, shaking it away.

“Whoa there,” Dean said. He sounded more upbeat than I’d heard him all week. “You all right? You look like you, I don’t know, like you just saw a ghost or something.”

I forced a smile and stepped outside, pulling the door shut behind me. “No,” I said, turning the key in the lock. “Just a little lightheaded. No ghosts here.”

And it was true; I hadn’t seen any ghosts.

Not then.

Continue reading for an excerpt from Robert Swartwood’s horror novelette
Through the Guts of a Beggar

 

Josh wakes up one morning to find his ten-year-old brother filling in a grave in the backyard. From there, the day just gets worse.

 

 

 

 

 

Here’s how it starts:
the phone rings and I answer.

“You’re grounded.”

I can tell by the static on my father’s end that he’s on his cell. Lying in bed, I glance at my alarm clock and see it’s almost 11:00 AM. Four extra hours of sleep on a Friday; thank God for whoever invented parent-teacher conferences.

I yawn. “Say what?”

“Goddamn it, Josh. I knew you weren’t doing well in school, but this … this just isn’t acceptable.”

I can hear Mom in the background, telling him to settle down, to watch his language. He mutters something to her, then says, “This is your senior year, Josh, and—and you might not graduate.”

Slowly I sit up in bed. My room’s a mess: papers all over my desk, clothes all over the floor. How many times have I been told to clean everything up? Way too many, that’s all I know. Dad even told me to clean it up this weekend, and I had nodded and said sure, I’ll try, but it’s all become a charade.

“Do you hear me?”

“Yes,” I say quietly.

“Then what’d I say?”

Seems like the only person you can never BS is your old man. I try to think of something smart to say, but I just woke up thirty second ago and I’m still pretty much dead to the world.
 

“God, Josh, would you listen to me? I said you’re ground. That means no friends allowed over. Not even Amanda. And don’t leave the house. Just … get your room cleaned.”

“Okay,” I mutter, because really, what else am I supposed to say?

“Okay what?” In the background, Mom tells him to ease off, to not be so hard. He tells her to stay out of it, that he knows what he’s doing. Then: “Are you there?”

“I’m here.”

“You better mind me, son. I’m very disappointed in you.”

“Sorry, Dad.”

And then he says it. No hesitation, no reluctance at all in his voice. He just comes out and says it. And truthfully, it doesn’t surprise me. Not one bit.

“God,” he says, “sometimes I wonder why we even—”

So I’m adopted. Big deal. The same goes for Tyler—only I look more like our parents. Ty’s Korean, has the tan skin and black hair. But he’s my brother, and I’ve known him nearly all ten years of his life, and I love the kid.

For one quick moment, I wonder if Dad would have said the same thing to Ty just now.

The phone starts beeping in my ear. Dad must have hung up. Pity, I think—I wanted to wish him and Mom a happy anniversary. Tell them to have a good ol’ time up in the Poconos for the weekend.

Yeah, right.

I hang up the phone and throw on a pair of shorts and undershirt from off the floor. Then I’m heading down the stairs and walking into the kitchen for something to drink, and it’s as I reach the fridge that I realize just how quiet the house is. The TV in the living room isn’t on; there’s no radio blaring music anywhere in the house. Ty probably went out to a friend’s or took Laddie for a walk. Either way, I’m alone.

Right now the last thing I want to think about is everything my father was bitching about, especially what he said before he hung up, but I can’t help it; it all keeps racing through my head.

I pull out a carton of orange juice and slam the fridge door, thinking maybe that will make everything better. It doesn’t. What it does, for some strange reason, is makes me think about Amanda, and what we’re planning on doing tomorrow.

Or at least what we
were
planning.

Remember: I’m grounded.

I go to grab a glass from the cabinet but then think screw it
and drink straight from the carton. I stand there by the sink, staring out the window into the backyard.

I think about Dad again. I knew what my teachers were going to tell my parents even before they went to school today, but I hadn’t warned them. My hope was that maybe it wasn’t as bad as it seemed.

I keep staring out the window.

Amanda is stopping by later. We’re supposed to call and confirm tomorrow’s appointment, and she wants us to do it together. What am I going to tell her when she shows?

I keep staring out the window.

Maybe I’ll give Ralph a call. I’m sure he’ll know what to do. Sure, the guy’s almost seventy, but he knows me better than my parents. Hell, probably better than myself. Just our next-door neighbor, yes, but he’s pretty much been a part of the family since I was first brought home. He’s like our surrogate-grandfather.

I keep staring out the window, and this time I’m able to blink, to realize where I am and what I’m doing. Standing in the kitchen, tightly gripping the Tropicana carton, I’d been wrapped up in my thoughts, but I’d been conscious too, watching what was going on in the backyard.

Ty, my little brother, is out there with a shovel. He’s wearing his khaki shorts and one of his white T-shirts. Only now his shirt’s not so white. I can see the dirt even from where I stand.

It looks like he’s just finished digging something up. Or filling something in—I can’t tell.

He doesn’t notice me, which is probably best, because he’s crying. The sky is clear, the sun is shining, and I can see the tears as they streak down his small round face.

Then I notice something else.

The place where he’s standing, smoothing out the dirt, used to be nice and even with green grass. Now it’s completely torn up, like a dog was digging up a bone, and I suddenly realize just what it looks like, how long the dirt mound is, how narrow.

It looks like a grave.

 

 

“Ty?”

He’d turned away when the patio door opened. I can’t see his face, but I can hear him sobbing, and I can see his shoulders hitch. He’s holding the shovel in front of him, as if hiding it, like I’m not supposed to know he has it.

“Ty, man, you all right?”

When he doesn’t answer or even acknowledge my presence, I walk up to him and place my hand on his shoulder. He jumps, startled, as if he hadn’t been expecting it. His shoulders continue to hitch, and now that I’m closer to him and the mound of dirt, I smell it. Not the early autumn air or the grass mowed two days earlier, but something under all of those smells. Something that just doesn’t smell
right
.

“Tyler,” I say, and force him to turn around. He does so stubbornly, his face lowered. “What’s wrong?”

He slowly looks up at me, blinks. Says nothing. Then his mouth opens and he whispers a single word. A name. “Laddie.”

Laddie. Ty’s dog. Our parents brought the collie puppy home when Tyler was just two years old. Ty and Laddie grew up together, did everything together. They were close. Best friends.

Ty’s eyes shift back down to the mound of dirt, and I look down there too. I remember what I first thought.

“What about him?”

Again, a whisper: “He’s … dead.”

My hand is still on my brother’s shoulder, and it’s unintentional, I swear, but it squeezes when he speaks those two words. His shoulder stiffens and his face screws up in silent pain.

“Dead?” I ask, releasing my grip. “How?”

“I … I need your help, Josh.”

“What happened to Laddie?”

“There’s something in the woods,” Ty says, his voice small and weak.

“And it killed Laddie?”

He shakes his head. “No. I did.”

At that moment I tell myself I’m dreaming. This is just some fucked up dream, that’s all. In real life, Ty would never do anything to harm Laddie. He didn’t even punish him when the dog bit him last year for trying to take away his chew-toy; Ty only hugged him and told him it was okay, he wouldn’t like people taking away
his
chew-toy either.

But I know I’m not dreaming, so I ask, “But … why?”

“Because—” His eyes shift back up to meet mine. He clears his throat. “Because he was different.”

I notice something then I wish I didn’t. There’s more than just dirt on Tyler’s T-shirt. Something that looks like dried mud.

“Different how?”

Ty shakes his head, stares back down at the dirt mound. “I can’t tell you,” he whispers. He sniffs and for the first time wipes the tears from his eyes. “But I can show you.”

 

 

About the Author:

 

Robert Swartwood was born in 1981. His work has appeared in
The Los Angeles Review
,
The Daily Beast
,
ChiZine
,
Postscripts
,
Space and Time
, and
PANK
. He is the editor of
Hint Fiction: An Anthology of Stories in 25 Words or Fewer
. Visit him online at
www.robertswartwood.com
.

BOOK: The Dishonored Dead
8.63Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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