What He Became
A Horror Story
by Jason Ingolfsland
All Rights Reserved.
Something was wrong with Dad.
Every morning my dad would sit at the dining table with a mug of coffee, the Bible, the newspaper, and a bowl of oatmeal.
This morning was different. I rose out of my bed like usual, ascended the creaky stairs from the basement, and greeted my father, not even looking to see if he was in the room. I knew something was wrong, though, when I looked at the coffee table. In the past, a fresh copy of the local newspaper sat on the table, ready to be digested.
This time, no paper.
We followed a routine script and it rarely broke. I’d say “Morning, Dad” and he’d reply, “Boy” in his usual gruff tone. He’d been calling me “Boy” since I was, well, a boy. Now a man, he either forgot I grew up or, as a creature of habit, refused to call me anything else. I never contradicted him.
This time he didn’t say a thing.
I shot my head over to the left. Dad wasn’t there. No piping hot cup of coffee or oatmeal flooded with milk or Bible cracked open to the Psalter. The table was bare and clean, shimmering from sunlight barely breaking off the horizon and piercing through the open blinds. Dad’s heart problems weighed on him like an anvil, but it rarely kept him from doing what he wanted to do, and waking an hour before dawn to have devotions and eat breakfast was a die-hard tradition.
Dread overcame me, a thought so horrible I didn’t want to rethink it, but I couldn’t help it. Was he dead?
I knew I needed to check it out but I didn’t want to do it. I knew I had to walk up the next flight of creaky stairs to his master bedroom, open his door, and check in on him. After all, that’s what I was there to do–take care, check-in, and make sure he wasn’t on the floor somewhere, helpless.
I took a deep breath and exhaled, clenching my fists and releasing. With a newfound urgency, I walked up the stairs and knocked on his door.
“Dad!” I exclaimed. “Dad, you okay? It’s Howard. Dad? Dad!”
I stopped and listened. Silence. I thought I heard a faint whisper that said, “Boy,” but I didn’t know if I imagined it or not.
“I’m coming in,” I said finally.
“No!” Dad bellowed. “I’m…I’m changing.”
I let my hand off the doorknob and backed up a step. I breathed a sigh of relief. “Okay. I’m glad you’re okay. You had me worried.”
“Whatever is there to be worried about?”
A light chuckle exited my breath. “Well…nothing. I’m just glad you’re okay. Listen, I have a business meeting this morning and I’m running a bit late. You okay if I take off?”
“Yes, yes, don’t wait up for me.”
I nodded a few times and said, “Okay. I’ll be back later this evening. Probably around four-thirty.”
Dad didn’t say anything. He made a habit of not responding when he sensed the conversation digressed into the trivial.
My business meeting, which was actually breakfast with a couple of other filmmaker friends of mine, went well. I never told Dad about my filmmaking projects. Anytime I tried, he usually balked and belittled them, asking me if I won my Academy Award yet and if I was a millionaire. Sometimes he called me Spielberg, but not in a loving, encouraging way; it was more patronizing and humiliating. The less I talked about filmmaking, the less he made a big deal of it. It wasn’t how I wanted it, but if it meant not being made fun of, I’d deal.
Ironically, my love of movies came from Dad. He didn’t have many skills to share or hobbies to impart, but he liked to go to the movies, especially if it meant getting away from my mother and my three sisters who tended to complain about their lives. Needless to say, we went to the movies a lot.
Dad never whined or complained about his life. He was always content with the status quo. As long as he had a job, food on the table, and a roof over his head, nothing else bothered him. He complained about me, though.
“That boy doesn’t know the meaning of hard work. That boy is scared of his own shadow. All that boy cares about is being lazy and watching television. That boy can’t take care of himself, how could he ever expect to take care of a woman?” my dad would say.
That boy. That boy. That boy. A common refrain and unintended lyrical composition courtesy of Dad. Still, despite the hard-edged words that nipped at my heels, he loved me. I knew he did. He told me so himself every now and then, especially when we went to the theater. There were warm moments I clung to when dark clouds billowed in. Little things, like giving me his coat in a rainstorm or ruffling my sandy hair at the beach or giving me a Coke even when he only had the money for one. I respected him; I looked up to him; I loved him, and I desperately wanted his approval. I wished I could share my filmmaking career with him. Perhaps one day, I told myself, when I actually got paid and wasn’t making small, avant-garde short films only a handful of people watched.
I came home at 4:30 on the dot and didn’t find Dad anywhere. Usually, in the evenings, he was on the couch watching the television with a big cup of Diet Coke and a bag of potato chips. Like that morning, the house was empty; the house was quiet and dark. I ran back up the stairs and knocked on his door. “Dad! You in there?” I asked, a heavy breath hanging on my words.
“Yes, I am. Leave me alone,” he said in a guttural voice that sounded like his mouth was full of peanuts.
“Dad, is something wrong? You didn’t leave this room at all today, did you? What’s going on? This isn’t like you.”
“I’m fine, boy! Just leave me be.”
“Dad,” I said, disapproval cutting sharply at the edge of the word.
“I said leave me al-” he started but hacked up what sounded like a frog.
I wasn’t having it now. I knew he was ill. I turned the doorknob, but it was locked. “Dad! Why did you lock the door? You know you can’t do that. How am I supposed to help you with the door locked?
“I don’t need help.” He coughed again, this time more wet and violent than before.
I backed up a few paces, took a breath, and with one swift kick slammed the door wide open. The force slammed the door against the wall, punching a hole in the drywall.
The room was dark as pitch. The blinds and shades were closed and the light was off. I instinctively reached over to my left and flipped on the light.
I gasped, a deeply wrinkled revulsion warping my face. My gasp was quickly followed by a scream. It wasn’t a high-pitched scream, but a low and startled yelp, like witnessing a person being run over by a freight train at full speed. My feet moved me backward fast and quick, throwing me off my balance, and almost falling over completely. I grabbed the wall to stabilize myself.
End of Part 1