Short short story: Dirty Knife

Inspired by a Neko Case song of the same title. 

All summer long, the heat and the sun had begun trapping him inside. It started in June when the sun rose at midday to just the right angle and he could feel himself drawing power on it, becoming incandescent with the heat and light, becoming more powerful. He thought the end of days might be coming, that he might actually ignite it accidentally, so he laid in supplies, closed the doors and blinds, and waited out each day in suffocating stillness.

He read, mostly; searching the Bible. When that didn’t turn up the answers he was looking for, he went back to Darwin trying to trace this thing back. His only regular company was the cats, but as the summer wore on, they began associating with a feral colony out in the woods and started keeping company with their own kind, bringing them back to the porch in the long evenings to be fed in the dying light.

His family finally noticed his absence in September from the annual Labor Day picnic. He had never particularly liked being with people, but they noticed the empty seat on the edge of where the elders now sat and they missed his rude interjections, always interrupting the others’ stories to correct some fact.

The family sent his nephew, you know the one, he recently passed his exam and had started work at the nursing home. He stopped by on his way to his shift and after wading across the meadow that used to be the lawn, found his uncle on the back porch surrounded by cats. His uncle explained what had happened, that the sun was now drawing energy from him, but he was winning by staying inside. He explained the genetic mutation he thought he had, told his nephew how glad he was to never have married, to have not passed it down to his generation. The nephew left reluctantly – he was going to be late – thinking he would call old Doc Herman in the morning to see if he could get him out here in the morning. He was relieved to have peace and quiet back as the sound and smell of his nephew’s car faded and the dust settle back on the dirt road.

The next day his nephew was back, this time with old Doc Herman. It didn’t go well at all; they listened to him but didn’t hear him, didn’t believe him. They wanted him to go into town and worse – go to the hospital. He’d finally had to go get the shotgun he kept by his bed, chasing them off. He’d be damned if he’d have liars and unbelievers on his property, “Live Free or Die” was the state motto and he took it to heart. They might be back, but he’d be ready for them next time and made sure they understood with a warning shot.

It was getting late in the season and here he was, with no wood to get through the winter. It’d become too dangerous for him to go out even at night as his skin tingled in the open air; he had begun drawing on moonlight as well. And he couldn’t ask the family for help, they all thought he was crazy and were ready to put him in a home with old Doc Herman’s help.

No matter, though, the house had plenty of rooms he no longer used, all filled with furniture from his childhood, several generations of childhoods, in fact, since he had lived on in the house as the elders had died, the rest of the family left it all to him to manage.

He began breaking down night tables and beds, leaving mattresses and bedclothes in the rooms and stacking the furniture wood next to the stove first, then in the wood shed. It was hard work, but not as hard as splitting wood outside. He figured he could probably make it through winter and keep the pipes from freezing if he only lit the fire when the mercury dropped below freezing. He had plenty of winter coats and his blood would keep him warm, even as the equinox passed he could feel the sun drawing on him.

They found him in December during a cold snap when daytime highs were only getting into the single digits. The enormous steady stream of smoke coming from where his house was alerted the neighbor, who called the fire department. Could be a chimney fire, the neighbor thought, but it wasn’t – he had managed to set the whole house on fire. They followed his frantic foot prints and occasional blood droplets through the snow, through the underbrush, where they found him in three winter coats holding a dirty knife, stab wounds in his lower back.

They never did figure out how he did it exactly, but they got him fixed up physically, at least, and into the state hospital. He spends his days sitting well away from the sunlight streaming through the windows.


This isn’t my usual Wordless Wednesday; I need to mark the occasion with more than just a picture. This is my oldest son, Brandon. He graduated from high school last night. He’s always climbed as high as he could; he received a plastic Tyco tricylcle for his first birthday, one with 2 wheels in front & one in the back. One night when I was making dinner, I left B alone with his bike in the living room for a few minutes and when I returned, found him standing balanced on the handlebars, a feat he would repeat until he grew out of the bike much to the shock  and dismay of his grandparents; I had tried to stop him, but he was persistant and insistant and never fell off.

When he was 3, Brandon went out to the car ahead of us by a few minutes and was climbing  unsupervised on the back of our Jeep Grand Cherokee with the hatch closed. He slipped, fell on his elbow, and broke his ulna almost in the elbow joint. Side note: the ortho we saw had the biggest hands I’ve ever seen, and not just because of the contrast between small boy and man hands: this doc needed extra large latex gloves. We explained to him how risky that was and chided him for not waiting for the rest of us. The cast on his arm slowed him down temporarily, but ultimately didn’t make him any more cautious or less confident in his abilities.

When he was 7 or 8, much to the horror of my neighbor, he climbed on top of the playsets in our backyard, not just on top of the swings, but up onto the roof of the treehouse that the slide is attached to and would jump off, down to the ground, after declaring himself king of the mountain. None of the other kids could follow him and believe me, they tried. 

Because of his climbing abilities, my husband started taking him and my 2nd son Ethan rock climbing at an indoor climbing gym near his work, really the only one in our area. B was a raging success, climbing up their 50 foot wall in record time, ringing the bell at the top, and belaying back down. Ethan, on the other hand, could only go up about 20 feet before he froze in fear. They joined the kids climbing team and my husband began climbing also, joining the adult teeam. They all ended up focusing on bouldering and we’d occasionally all go climbing, except for my youngest, Henry, who was too small at the time; he ended up just playing on the climbing mats & running around. Brandon got so good, he became the captain of the kids climbing team. I have video of him climbing one of the bouldering walls 3 years ago with just his arms.

So really, this picture of him on the field goal last night has been a long time coming. He had to do it twice, even – we had camera problems the first time around. As he was jumping down a second time, another set of parents walked by and the wife said sort of quietly to the husband, “That’s a good way to get suspended!” I guess she didn’t register the cap, gown, and diploma. We wouldn’t have been able to stop him anyway and I stopped trying way back when he’d climb up on the handlebars of that bike. Some things are just a fundamental part of your kid and you’ve got to just go with it because fighting against it would be futile & soul crushing. I look forward to seeing him figure this out too, not necessarily with climbing, but with other parts of his personality/being; I look forward to seeing what he metaphorically climbs next.