They came at dawn.
The little men in their white suits and hissing gas masks broke down the front door of his home at first light, filling his entryway with smoke and shrapnel. They filed through the shattered doorway, one by one, like ants returning to the hill.
They came at dawn, but he was ready.
He’s known for a long time that this day would come. He brought it upon himself, and he knew that. His coworkers at the base had been keeping his son in isolation for months, only letting him view the boy through a small porthole in the door. At just under two years old, the little man had already spent the majority of his life in a hospital bed, surrounded by the smell of sterilized death and plastic sheeting. It’s a miracle that he had survived this long.
He couldn’t take it anymore, you see? His son was just lying there, helpless, for days on end without anyone to hold him. Nobody would comfort him and tell him that everything was going to be alright. They had him so drugged up that he wouldn’t even turn his head when his father pounded on the viewing glass. That’s no way to live, you know? No matter what is wrong with him, he deserves love and compassion. Nobody deserves to die alone, surrounded by masked strangers. He couldn’t take it one more goddamn second, so, during the guard shift switch last night, he broke into the room and took his son home.
Although this is the first logical place any person would look for the boy, the man was prepared. Over the past four months, he’d been constructing his own version of a safe room in the basement. The walls were made up of two rows of concrete blocks, sandwiching layers of steel sheathing and carbon netting. The door is solid-core, the locks fivefold and unbreakable. He didn’t have time to fully provision the room yet, but he had to get his boy out of there right away. There wasn’t time to do much, just the few minutes to unlock the door and get him down the stairs.
So, there they were. They watched the monitors as the little men in their white suits crashed through their front door. They sat there and held each other tight as the man’s former friends, his former subordinates, tore through the house with their guns drawn. The Army’s finest soldiers had found the door to their safe room about an hour ago, and now they were gathering on the other side. They were trying to wait them out, you see. Trying to give the man time to realize the error of his ways and hand his son back over to them.
What they don’t know is that he had all he needed in his arms. They may not have had food, or water, but they had each other. The buzzing little drones could sit out there and rot for all he cared.
The phone was ringing.
He had forgotten about the fucking phone.
He awoke with a jolt and hobbled to the other side of the room, hunched and exhausted. He wiped the drool from his chin and stared at an ancient rotary landline that was buzzing itself into a frothing madness. He had always meant to get that thing disconnected, but after his brief conversation with General Ferris last night, his timetable was shifted up dramatically.
“Answer the fucking phone, Jer,” screamed his former boss, his former friend and mentor, into a megaphone. “We need to talk to you, and I don’t really want the entire neighborhood to hear.”
Unfortunately, the man didn’t have a megaphone at his disposal. They’d never be able to hear him through the steel and concrete. He was getting ready to rip the phone off the wall when he heard a soft stirring from the bunk in the corner.
“Hey Bubba”, He said as he ran over to the bed. “You’re awake!”
“Shh, Bub. Don’t try to say anything. You’ve had a rough few weeks, but you’re home now. Nobody is going to hurt you anymore.” He tried his best to wrap his boy back up in his blankets, but the squirt could be a slippery little shit when he was irritated.
He wished that asshole Ferris would have waited another day to give the EX-10 orders. He would kill a small village to have had even another hour to get some food and water down here. As it was, though, they were trapped like rats in a cage.
“I know, dude, I know. I’m hungry too.” He looked into his boy’s wet eyes and saw life stirring in them for the first time in months. He was starving. They both were.
It had only been 8 hours, but if they didn’t get something in their bellies soon, they would never see the light of day again. The man reached for the screaming telephone and held the receiver to his ear. “Good morning, gentlemen”, he said, using his best customer service voice he learned while slinging drinks in college.
He didn’t get the same respectful tone back. Ferris was on the other end and he was furious. “Fuck off, Jerry,” he snarled, “We need to get you out of there RIGHT NOW. You and your boy are in grave danger.”
He didn’t know what to say. Was he in danger of catching what his son had? Most likely not. Even if there was a chance, it was one he was willing to take. “No questions asked, and no harm done, Jerry,” the General continued. There was something in his voice the man had never heard before. Was the big, bad, General Ferris actually afraid?
He held his hand gently over his son’s mouth, “I’m sorry, sir, but I can’t do that,” he said, “As soon as I open that door, you’re going to put a bullet in my skull and have one of your goons carry out your EX-10 order.”
There was a loud sigh on the other end of the line. Ferris was only about 3 feet away from the man, but the grizzled veteran knew that it would take a tank to cross that distance. “Jerry, the safety of this community and everyone living in it is at stake. If we need to smoke you out of there, we will.”
The man was afraid of that. Ferris sounded desperate, and desperate men tend to do stupid shit. He had installed a top-of-the-line air filtration system in there just last week, but he hadn’t had the opportunity to test it out yet. His only way out was to lie.
“Go ahead and do that, General. Smoke us out.” he puffed his chest out and bluffed. “We’ve got enough clean air and food down here to survive the apocalypse. Do what you need to do, but we’re still not coming out”.
Another long pause. The phone crackled either from old age or panic. “Jerry, I don’t know what you have for provisions in there, nor do I care.” The General seemed to spit those last words onto the cold concrete floor. “I don’t have time to wait you out, so you either come out willingly, or we will smoke you out.”
He was afraid. The motherfucker’s voice was shaking like a little boy’s.
“I hear him, Jerry”, Ferris screamed through the phone. “You have to get the hell of there. Now.”
His son was down off the bed and holding onto the man’s leg. He was afraid. Hell, even the man was terrified. General Ferris and those shitty little beasts in his employ were ruthless when they needed to be. Even so, there was no way that he was going to let those little men in their little white suits get their hands on his boy. Never again.
“Sorry, Mike”, the man said into the receiver, dropping the courtesy of rank, “We’re not coming out until you rescind the order and get the fuck out of my house.”
The line was silent. Even the little feet shuffling in the background seemed to stop. “Jerry, it’s almost too late. Hand him over to us and let us carry out the order. If you don’t, I will burn this house down and cook you and your boy in that little metal room.”
The man slammed the receiver down and ripped the phone from the wall. They were never going to take his son away from him. If they wanted him, they were going to have to kill him and the entire neighborhood first.
The boy had wormed his way out of his blankets and was now crying on his bunk.
“I know, pal,” the man started, “I’m working on it, ok?” It had been over three hours since Ferris had called the room. Three hours of almost deafening quiet. No megaphones. No shouting. No shuffling of little feet in little white booties. Nothing. The man was able to grab a quick nap, but now he was trying to think of a way to get out of here.
“GOD DAMN it, Bub, would you stop?” He shouted at his boy. He hated it when he got frustrated like that, but his mind was consumed with General Ferris.
He leaned his head against the metal door and tried to listen. Nothing. The fuckers had packed up shop and left them down there alone. He knew why they were doing it, too.
It was a tactic they used a lot in Iraq. When a target is entrenched with dangerous cargo or innocent people, sometimes it was best to wait them out. Burn them out, like Ferris suggested earlier, and you might set something off that would kill your men and everyone within a 3 mile-radius. Fire has a tendency to misbehave, too. Sometimes, the back wall of a hideout would collapse, giving the target an easy escape route. They would be out the back and half way to their next safe house before the troops would know what happened.
The fire was a bluff. The force was a bluff. They are outside, right now, watching. They were waiting for him and his boy to die of starvation. It’s the only way they could keep things completely contained. It’s the only way the mission, and the order, could be carried out without endangering others.
He looked down at his boy yet again. His son was weaving and shaking. His skin on his face was sunken into his cheeks and the dark circles around his eyes drooped half way down his face. His son was dying, and there was nothing he could do about it.
dada… eat… dada… eat…
What had he done? He refused to let the General carry out his EX-10, but at what cost? Instead of a nice, peaceful, painless death at the hands of the doctors, his precious boy was about to starve to death in a metal box. He swore to his wife, as she was bleeding on the operating table where she had given birth to their boy, that he would never let anything happen to him. No matter who, or what, came their way, he swore to keep their boy safe.
dadda… dadda… dadda… eat… dadda
He had failed. He failed his commanders. He failed his late wife. He failed his son. He glanced down at the boy, who was looking up at him with hope and hunger. There is no greater pain in this world or any other plane of existence than knowing that you could not keep your child safe. That they counted on you to love them, to care for them, but you weren’t enough. You were never enough.
DADDA… EAT… DADDA… EAT
The boy was growing desperate, and the man was growing tired. He was tired of struggling. Tired of fighting for his son’s life at every meeting with his superiors. They had wanted to carry out the EX-10 moments after birth, but he has fought for his son. He fought because of the promise he had made his wife.
DADDA EAT EAT DADDA EAT DADDA
They were all afraid of his son. The doctors, the soldiers, Ferris, the whole fucking lot of them. They looked at his boy and backed away. Some even ran from the room when they saw him. They didn’t see what he saw in his son’s eyes. They didn’t see how beautiful he was, how he was a gift from God for him and his dead wife.
DADDA EAT DADDA DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA
He looked at his boy. He looked at the love and purpose of his life. There was nothing wrong with his son. He was perfect. An angel that graced this earth for too short of a time. Judging by the look on the boy’s face, the time was short, indeed. He knew what he had to do.
EAT DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA
The man reached into his back pocket and pulled out the silver-handled pocket knife his grandpa had given him. It was duller than shit, but it would do the trick. There was no way that he could let his son suffer anymore. With every cry, with every whimper, the boy broke his heart more and more. The General was never going to let them leave. They were never going to be able to live their lives together.
EAT DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA
He knew what he had to do. It was a relief, really. A blanket of intense calm fell on the man’s heart. They were stuck in here, with no way out, and they were both going to starve to death. He opened the blade of the knife and gestured over to his son’s bunk.
EAT DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA EAT DADDA
“That’s right, Bubba,” the man said through a loving smile. “Eat Dadda”.
He reached up and brought the knife across the left side of his throat, cutting deeply into the soft arteries that pulsated like earthworms under the surface. The boy let out a primal shriek and fell to the floor with a loud, wet, slap. The boy righted himself and started pulling himself across the room. Each of his long tentacles bit into the concrete and tore out baseball-sized chunks as he made his way to his father’s bleeding body. The long strips of flesh and exposed stingers dragged along behind him, leaving a sticky trail of mucus and offal from his bunk to where his father lay. When he reached the man, his proboscis-like tongue snuck out of his mouth to taste the sweet blood gushing from his father’s neck. It was hot. It was delicious.
The boy let out a shriek and leaned back onto a knotted mass of tentacles and flesh. He raised himself into the air and began to shudder. His torso slowly began to pull apart at the sternum, revealing a black, oozing cavern of needle-like teeth. He grabbed the back of his father’s head with his toothed suckers and drew him closer to the hellish cavity. The man didn’t try to fight it, though, his heart was as full as his stomach was empty. Before the gaping maw could close and end his life forever, he looked up at his son one last time.
“I love you, Bubba,” he said with a soft smile. “Always have. Always will.”
The boy let out one last bellow and clamped his teeth down on the man’s head, sending a hundred sharp points of death into his father’s skull. Maybe it was an acknowledgement of his father’s words, or maybe it was nothing at all. Either way, the man died hearing his son say “I love you, too, Dadda” for the first and last time.
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