Knee Deep (Short Story)

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 Jeremy's childhood tormentors still loomed over the old man's lawn, daring him to approach. The abuse they'd suffered themselves over the past thirty years had only added to their menace. The old tire swing continued to bob and slosh at the end of its frayed rope, a dangling noose beneath the ancient oak aptly nicknamed "Black and Blue." The jungle-gym still cast its long shadow across the yard, a grim reminder of fractured bones and chipped teeth. The derelict fort still clung to B&B's thickest limbs; it had always been the go-to refuge from dad when he got into one of his moods, but inevitably where dad would corner his prey. Jeremy, also feeling the thirty years, couldn't comprehend his father's reluctance to finally rid himself of all this junk. Each time Jeremy made one of his occasional visits, he'd come away with new ideas on how to find less occasions to visit. He and his father had both said enough for a lifetime. So why the panicked call? Why now? The old man's probably got cancer.

He couldn't remember the doorbell ever working, in fact most people on Horne's Hill had known each other so long, they just knocked and entered. He did the same.

"Dad?"

"Jer, come on in. But do it slowly." It sounded like Dad was in the kitchen.

"What's going on?"

"There's something in here you need to see."

Jeremy's father boasted he'd survived a war, two military conflicts, and "a couple of ugly skirmishes" without so much as a fungal infection. The old man would probably be fit enough to serve even now if he got the call. But something about his tone this morning had sounded off. Rattled. And here it was again.

The hardwood complained beneath Jeremy's boots; that same squeak had conspired with his virginity the first night he'd tried to sneak Genie Dwyer into the house under the old man's watch.

"Dad?"

"In here. Quiet."

Peering into the snapshot-seventies kitchen, Jeremy spotted his father. Dad cowered against the fridge, eyes feral, wielding a claw hammer like a tiny club. Something crawled along the edge of Jeremy's vision as he entered the room.

A fist-sized creature, little more than a smear of oily black at first glance, danced around the table between them. It skittered sideways along the scarred wooden surface, balanced atop six malformed barbs, each tapping in succession like clawed, impatient fingers. Several spiny limbs reached out from its back and each of these tapered into a threatening stinger. It spat and hissed.

"Jesus! Dad, what is that?"

"It's my coffee mug."

"What?"

The "mug" growled.

"Watch." The old man lunged forward and obliterated the thing with one swift strike. White debris dusted the tabletop.

Wary, Jeremy tested a piece of the thing's innards between his thumb and forefinger. It was hard and porcelain and decorated with floral trim.

"Have a seat, Jer. We need to talk."

"No shit." Jeremy brushed chalky powder from the seat of his chair, the same chair he'd been assigned for three decades. His father did the same. Even without mom, the old family configurations held.  Scratching, Jeremy suddenly felt sure spiders were climbing his neck. He eyed the kitchen just in case the thing had simply pulled a disappearing act. "Smells a bit like dead fish, doesn't it?" asked Dad.  It did.

"Okay. Okay. You are obviously fucking with me, but I'm not sure how. You can't even get your email to work, so … so, somebody's helping you—"

"Jer."

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