The sun came in through the blinds, causing him to stir. “A.C. wake up.” He groaned and shifted his weight. “C’mon, wake up.” Little hands pushed at him. He opened his eyes and looked at the boy sitting on his bed. He wore a fluffy, oversized robe and a serious expression. A.C. waved a vague hand in his direction.
“Yeah, Luke, I know. I’m up. Just give me a minute.” The boy nodded, climbed down off the bed and went downstairs. A.C. took his time putting on sweatpants and a t-shirt, then followed him down, yawning and scratching his belly. Luke sat at the table eating cereal from a big bowl with a big spoon, gripping it near the middle.
A.C. sat down heavily. A puppy came bounding from the other room and leapt into his lap. He rubbed its belly and scratched behind its ears. “Hey buddy,” he said to the dog, then looked up to include Luke. “Can you be ready in ten? We’re late.”
“Yep.” Luke stood and went to the kitchen. A.C. heard the clatter of dishes and running water. “Hey A.C.,” the little voice came from the kitchen, “when are you going back to work?” Leaning back, A.C. closed his eyes, scratched the dog’s ears and let go a long breath.
“I don’t know.” The water stopped and Luke came to stand in the doorway, a dishtowel over his shoulder. He cocked his head and looked at A.C, but didn’t say anything. Then he went back to the kitchen and started making a sandwich for lunch.
An hour later, the old station wagon pulled to a stop before the school. “I’ll be back at three, make it your bee’s wax to be here, kiddo.” Luke didn’t say anything for a minute, just gave him a long, serious look. Then he leaned over and kissed his cheek. A.C. watched him run off, backpack bouncing and lunchbox swinging at his side. That look bothered him. He put the car in gear and pulled out of the parking lot.
A.C. sat at the picnic table on the lawn outside the house. The puppy ran past, chasing a blowing leaf. He peered up at the cloudless winter sky and shivered. When he looked down a centipede was crawling along the surface of the table. He resisted the urge to move his hand, instead letting it walk up to his fingers. It poked at him with its antennae for a moment, then crawled upwards. He felt the strange sensation of its legs on his skin. It wasn’t so bad, he thought. It started crawling up his palm, but as it neared the cuff of his shirt he jerked his arm and shook it off.
Around two thirty he went to pick up Luke. By the time they got home it was dark. A.C. carried two big boxes into the house, while at his side Luke struggled along with a third. They set them down heavily and stood, panting and looking at each other. The dog came running up and sniffed at the cardboard. “Scat, buster.”
Luke went into the kitchen. “What do you want for dinner?”
“I don’t care, whatever you want.”
“OK.” The gas stove flamed to life and A.C. heard the sound of running water, then a clank as Luke set a pot on the burner. He mixed a drink and sat on the sofa, his feet up on one of the boxes. They were dusty, it looked like they’d been in storage for some time. He sat and sipped his drink, gazing vacantly out the window as Luke boiled macaroni. It was snowing, he noticed.
They ate quietly at the table, Luke sipping his milk, A.C. his drink. “This is delicious, kiddo, thank you,” he said through a mouthful. Luke looked up, but didn’t say anything.
After dinner they did the dishes together, then went and sat on the floor next to the boxes. Luke took a binder out of his backpack and opened it over the top of a box. He worked on his math homework as A.C. watched the ice melt in his drink. When it was gone he made another. Then another. Luke carried on doing math problems while outside the snow fell in silence. Everything was still. The phone rang and A.C. picked it up.
“Hello?” He was quiet for a while, listening. “No, we haven’t seen anything. Yes, I’m sure. Alright, I’ll keep an eye out.” He hung up and turned to Luke. “That was the sheriff. Says he’s been getting some strange calls recently about an animal. Thinks it’s probably just a coyote, but wanted to let us know.”
He looked around. “I dunno, haven’t seen him since we got home.”
“Me neither.” They checked the bedroom, the closets, under the sink. It was a small house, and the dog wasn’t in it.
“Did you close the door when we came in?” A.C. asked.
“I think so, didn’t I?” They went to check, and found the door unlatched. A chill wind was blowing in through the crack. A.C. pushed the door open and the light from the kitchen illuminated a small patch of snow-covered ground. They both looked out at the darkness as the snow continued to fall. Luke shivered.
“It’s okay, kiddo, you were helping me carry boxes. Go finish your homework, I’m sure Edgar will turn up.” Luke looked at him, but didn’t say anything.
When he finished his math homework Luke got up and brushed his teeth. Then he took a bath. A.C. listened to him splashing around, then heard him drain the tub, dry himself and get into bed. He got up and went into the bedroom to turn off the light. As he was about to close the door he heard Luke’s little voice. “A.C?”
“Can I hear your lullaby one time? Say it for Edgar and me.”
“Yeah, alright. One time.” A.C. sat on the edge of the bed. In a low, quiet voice, he began:
“Soothing rhythms bred from they
who read these words aloud as day
fades the harshest squirmings cease
so rest my child and dream of peace.”
Luke’s eyes were closed as A.C. stepped quietly into the hall and closed the door. He went back to the living room, mixed another drink, and sat down with his feet on a box. The snow fell unrelenting outside the window. He sipped his drink and watched it until his eyes grew heavy and he drifted off to sleep.
In the middle of the night he opened his eyes. The house was dark and cold and still, but he had the uneasy feeling something had woken him. There it was–a faint growling coming from outside. Then a yelp. Then silence. He rose slowly to his feet, rubbed the sleep from his eyes, and went to check. When he opened the door he stopped. In the darkness near the edge of the light was his dog.
Edgar was lying in a pool of blood, his stomach ripped open, one leg twitching. A.C. stepped out and gathered the little body in his arms. Gazing all around him he saw nothing, only falling snow. He took him back inside, locked the door and threw the bolt. In the hopes of sparing Luke, he wrapped the corpse in an old towel and hid it under the sink. He took the bottle of vodka with him into the living room.
He took the top off one of the boxes and sat for a long time looking at pictures. An elderly couple, smiling. A young woman, beautiful, her arms wrapped around a young him. He pulled out a CD and blew off the dust. When he got up and put it on the melody came to him, heavy, laden with old feeling.
What was the name of this song? He unscrewed the vodka, sank back into the cushions and took a long drink. Then another. He couldn’t remember. He knew it was in his brain somewhere, but he couldn’t think of it. It wouldn’t come. For some reason this made him want to cry.
Rising on unsteady legs, he walked to the bedroom. When he opened the door Luke was awake, watching him with his serious little eyes. He leaned sloppily against the doorframe. “Luke. Little Luke. The world is going to eat you up.”
“I know, A.C.”
“Well good. Move over.” Luke slid over and A.C. got in beside him. “Don’t worry,” he murmured, “it’s going to eat me first.” Luke reached out a hand and placed it flat on A.C.’s chest. He felt the heart beat slow beneath his palm.
“You shouldn’t say things like that to me.”
A.C. didn’t say anything to anyone, just took a long drink and set the bottle by the bed. Eventually they both fell asleep.
Outside, in the darkness and snow, something sat watching the house. In no particular hurry, it licked the blood off its lips. Then it sat very still.