Like Father, Like Son

Micah Castle

Children’s laughter and the pitter-patter of feet across the sidewalk echo through the Halloween night. I wish I could be their age again, be in their shoes than mine. When I was about their age I hadn’t gone out to collect candy, hadn’t run up doorsteps riddled with ghouls and ghosts, witches and jack-o-lanterns, orange-and-black streamers and spiderwebs; I was agreeing to something I didn’t understand… Why did my father enlist his thirteen-year-old son into his work? Didn’t he consider that a kid shouldn’t be involved with all this mess? But it’s not all his fault, since I’m still doing it fifteen years later, long after his death.

Every day I wonder why I continue: maybe because it’s the only thing I’ve ever known? Maybe it’s being comfortable with the routine? Maybe I don’t like change? Maybe I don’t want change?

“Who knows?” I mutter to the shriveled failure in the grave before dumping dirt over his opaque eyes and gray hair. This isn’t something my father showed me how to do. I’m the first to bury anything in our backyard. Lucky me.

I cover the failure until his yellowed mummy costume can’t be seen, and the loose earth protrudes over the grassy rim.

I glance over my shoulder at the fence. No one’s peeking, no one’s interested tonight. All too busy giving treats or tricks.

I toss the shovel aside after patting the dirt down and go inside.

 

There’s knocking at the front door. I grab the bowl of candy from the kitchen table and stride down the hallway, passing faded Halloween decorations, and sit down in the chair standing before the door. I snatch the ghoul mask from under the seat and slide it on.

Have to look the part.

I open the door. A kid wearing a brown furry costume with a plastic werewolf mask quickly raises a burlap sack that’s already heavy with sweets.

My stomach churns as I drop a few chocolates into his bag, and say: “Awesome costume,” then: “Would you like some more?”

I hold the bile in my throat as he nods, push it down as I escort him inside, down the hallway, to the cellar door. I’m beyond my body, the house, so far away I can’t watch myself repeat the yearly actions that are so ingrained into me that I can’t even reason why I don’t just stop. I have to; I must. Like father, like son.

Down the wooden stairs into the already lit cellar, to the small room off the side littered with heaps of old candy. He runs into the room, and my mask hides the welling tears as I follow.

 

Soon, the Wolfman’s eyes are already opaque and his skin paling. His mask lies in a pile with the others below the stairs. I finagle with tubes and wiring in the middle of the room, surrounded by the banks of batteries that are kids. Have to make sure everything's connected, make sure there’s no kinks, make sure the damn Fissure is being fed properly.

I look over my shoulder at the looming crack in the far wall. The intelligible symbols encircling it still make no damn sense. The Fissure reminds me of my father. Always watching over me, ensuring the task is finished. The symbols around the indent I sit in are also annoying, as though I was given instructions from a different planet.

Pressure builds in my temples, and my face warms.

I cast aside the wires and tubes, wipe away the sweat.

“What the hell do you want?” I shout at the thing beyond the Fissure, the thing my father claimed dwelled there and was only waiting.  “What are you, even? Why haven’t you awoken yet?”

I stand, hands clenched. Now I’m no longer screaming at the wall, but myself: “Why the hell am I still doing this bullshit?” I turn towards the stairs, stop. My legs lead. I try to move forward but I can’t take a step. There’s still work to be done.

I sit back down, return where I left off.

“Why am I such an idiot? A daddy’s boy?”

No kinks, move onto the tubes.

“How haven’t I been arrested yet? It’s been almost twenty years…”

Tubes are good, too.

I drop everything and now, I go upstairs.

 

I stand in the kitchen, looking out the window above the sink. Alka seltzer sizzles in my cup. I’m waiting for something but don’t know what. The fresh mound in the backyard is barely noticeable, the older ones already covered in grass.

I want to run. I want to leap through the glass. I want to do anything and everything that could remove me from this life. But I don’t. I wait, wishing my father were still alive to at least tell me what it’s all for. By this time, he would’ve had answers, would’ve known what actually dwelled beyond the Fissure, what actually would happen once it’s awoken from the energy of those trick-or-treaters… Because I want something more than this. I want to finish and move on. I’m almost thirty and the only friend I ever had was a father who succumbed to a disease we didn’t see coming. Never knew my mother, not even her name.

Relationships? Marriage? Children? A home? Just words lost within the obsessive repetition of my routine. I pray for an end, for someone to take the reins.

The sizzling stops, and I chug the water.

The clock in the living room dings.

Finally, Halloween’s over.

 

Upstairs, I lay in bed and idly watch The Addams Family. A cool breeze wafts through the open window, smelling of rain. Leaves tumble and scratch across the pavement outside. Briefly wonder if he were still here, why would I do, say? Would I be angry? Sad? Welcoming? Would there be hugs or fists? Probably a bit of both. He’s still my dad after all.

I settle deeper into the bed, and close my eyes.

 

Stones shatter, break, collapse.

I jerk awake. Lurch greets me with a moan.

“What the hell was that?” I say, groggily.

I peek out the window, nothing out of the ordinary, then get out of bed and rush downstairs. I throw open the front door. Only the walkway, the paint-peeled fence, and curled leaves strewn about on the uncut lawn. The front porch is lifeless. I slam the door and go into the kitchen, looking outside. Same as the porch.

I turn to the basement door, and my stomach knots.

 

There’s a massive hole where the Fissure once was. Chunks of cement spill over the floor, their backside coated slimy black. Dust cakes the tubes, wiring, and containers that are now covered with frost.

“Holy shit…” I whisper. I did it. It’s over. “Whatever the hell that means.”

My stomach knots tighter as I move around the rocks to the hole. There’s only blackness inside. A void. An abyss. I smell rotten eggs and spoiled fruit.

“Hello?” I call, my voice echoing for much longer than I anticipate. I try to recall anything my father said about what happens when it’s done, but nothing surfaces.

I retrieve a flashlight from the toolbox in the corner, switch it on, and cast it into the nothingness. Slick dark walls glean underneath the light. Water drips from a craggy ceiling. The walls narrow into a tunnel that contains a gloom that not even the flashlight can pierce this far away.

It’s been so many damn years, I don’t care what it is or could be, or what may come. I don’t think. I don’t dwell. It’s time for action, finally.

I pass through the gaping hole.

 

The tunnel gives way to a vast cavern with hard-packed dirt walls and a vaulted ceiling with yawning holes. Thick rune-like symbols spread across the ground.

What the hell are those?

I cautiously near the closest one, kneel. I run my hand over it. It’s like touching ice. I pull my hand away, straighten, and look around once more.

Is this it? Is this what he was so desperate to have? All those years, all those kids? This empty cave and unreadable symbols? Years of bullshit I had to deal, hoping that whatever was beyond the Fissure was some sort of heaven, and this is all there is?

“Fuck him,” I spit, fists shaking. His work, too.

I’m hurt and angry, and tears are on the brink of falling, but I push them down and head back the way I came. I’m met with no entrance, no tunnel, only a wall. Maybe I missed it? I search the wall to the right, then left. Nothing but hard-packed dirt.

“What the—” The ground violently shakes and I stumble back, turning, waving the light around. Cracks streak beneath me to one symbol, then zigzag to another, then another, forming a constellation.

I throw the light wildly from one spot to the next. Sweat streams under my arms, heat swelling around me. Tiny, gray nubs rise from the symbols— not nubs— fingers. Two sets from each, with absolute black nails. They dig and claw and pull. Arms. Heads. The failures. All the kids I’ve buried.

My knees buckle, and I fall back against the wall.

Their flesh dry and cracking, colorless blood seeping out. Their eyes no longer opaque but bottomless and empty, glinting against the flashlight. They’re dragging themselves out, reaching towards the ceiling, as though pleading with the gods. Their mouths open and speak guttural gibberish in unison.

My ears sting. My brain rattles.

I drop the flashlight and clench my head, grit my teeth. In the faint glow, they still emerge, but their bodies are endless. Where legs should be are spiraling appendages that uncurl on and on until they are towering over me, their heads touching the ceiling. They’re interconnected, woven like a basket, their twirling bottoms congested.

Their voices rise into a shrill cacophony, and the ground surrounding them gives way, plummeting to depths I can’t fathom.

Their middle unravels, revealing a void, and my father emerges like a stigma. He’s missing his glasses, and his umber eyes are scarred with fissures. The clothes I buried him in are gone, and he’s coated in something slick, wet.

I want to fight the longing soaring within me, but can’t. “Dad?” I cry out, crawling towards him. “Father?”

The ceiling begins to crumble and fall around us. Huge clumps of wet dirt and stone fall into the enormous hole.

“You did great, Charlie,” all the voices say as the night sky pierces the cavern. The blinding stars are melting, streaming towards them. “You’ve created the Key.”

I get to my feet, wipe the blood from my mouth, tears from my eyes. I can’t help but want to be near him. I can’t help but want to follow his words, ask for his guidance, be given direction and answers to all my questions. He was my beacon for so many years, and now he’s returned.

“What do I do now, dad?”

The melting stars coalesce over their writhing frame like a layer of brilliant skin. It drains into them through crevices in-between their woven bodies, burrowing deep.

“We unlock the gate, Charlie. We wash ourselves in their glory.”

The slime covering my father turns ivory, and golden light bursts from their insides.

“Whose glory?” I ask, wide-eyed despite the burning. A smile forms.

He looks up. I do, too. We watch the stars drag across the sky, pulling space like a tapestry in opposite directions, peeling apart the night. Titanic, honey-colored silhouettes appear with roving limbs and enormous eyes and unnamable things drifting in liquid or light. Even as the radiance spills into our world, I still don’t know which it is, but it doesn’t matter now.

“The Keepers, son. The Keepers."

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Micah Castle is a weird fiction and horror writer. His stories have appeared in various magazines, websites, and anthologies, and has three collections currently out. While away from the keyboard, he enjoys spending time with his wife, aimlessly spending hours hiking through the woods, playing with his animals, and can typically be found reading a book somewhere in his Pennsylvania home. Can be found on Twitter @Micah_Castle and

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