By Amanda Eiden
Three swift kicks is all it takes for Otis to break down the front door. It cracks from the hinges and hits the floor with a snap. Jackson and Dewey step inside. Their feet in sync. Cool air. Soft television static. Popcorn pops from the stove.
Otis glances around before stepping inside. Fighting footsteps come from the next room. Glass shatters on the ground. Otis steps into the kitchen and removes the popcorn from the stove. He stretches his arms as his brothers drag Hale into a chair and tie his arms and legs to it.
“Please,” Hale says, “what do you want?”
“You know exactly why we’re here,” Otis says.
Dewey flicks a switchblade open and holds it to Hale’s sweating, wrinkled throat.
“I’m a retired police chief. Hancock county.”
Otis and the boys chuckle.
“Where’s the money?” Otis says.
Dewey presses the knife against Hale’s skin, exciting a stream of bright red blood. Hale’s eyes clamp shut.
“Not too deep,” Otis says to Dewey; he moves the blade away. “Where is it?”
“I maybe have a hundred in cash. In my wallet. But that’s it.”
“Not that money. The stuff that’s buried here.”
“Buried? Boys. You’ve got the wrong guy.”
“No. I heard you—bragging about money buried on this lot. To those guys at Harvey’s.”
“That? Oh, that’s only a rumor.” Hale’s corroded artery pulses in a heavy beat.
“Not what we heard.”
“If there was money, do you think I’d still be living here?”
Otis takes a step toward Hale and uses his steel toed boot to stomp down onto Hale’s bare feet. Hale’s neck jerks back as he yelps. Otis stomps on his feet three more times.
“Please,” he says as Otis lifts his foot again.
“Alright. Let’s try something else. Untie him, Dew.”
Otis turns on the gas stove as Dewey shoves Hale toward it. Otis grabs Hale’s hand and holds it out to the metal burners, blue hot flames streaming up from it.
“Please, no,” Hale says as the flames begin to kiss his skin.
Otis brings Hale’s palm directly down onto the metal grate. His skin sizzles and he screams in pain for the first few seconds. And after, his body goes limp. His mouth and eyes clamp shut. Otis lets go of his hand as Hale sinks to the floor.
The air begins to smell like grilled pork. Otis’s lips curve into a smile.
“Remember where it is now?”
Otis stands over Hale, holding his burnt hand up to his chest. He doesn’t move, maybe he can’t. His dry lips press together.
“I got one more trick for ‘ya.”
Otis grabs a pocket knife and flicks it open. It’s sharp, clean. It glistens in the yellowed kitchen light. He bends down beside Hale, holding one hand on the man’s forehead. The other wraps around the knife.
“I’ll give you one more chance. Just tell me where it is. And we’ll be on our way.”
Hale’s eyes blink open. They’re bloodshot and damp. His chest rises and falls quickly.
“Woods.” Hale whispers. “I tried. There’s nothing.”
Otis sighs and the smile falls from his face.
“I really thought you’d be a little better than this, mister police chief.
Otis angles the point of the knife toward Hale’s eye. He squirms under Otis’s legs that pin him to the floor.
“Hold still, or I won’t get a clean extraction.”
As Otis digs the knife deeper and deeper into Hale’s eye socket, trying his best to preserve the whole eye, Hale’s body falls limp. Otis chuckles as he cuts a pink, slimy string from the eyeball and completely removes it from the socket. He spins it around in the light, deciding after a minute it must be hazel.
Dewey and Jackson look to Otis as he stands to his feet, putting the eyeball carefully into his flannel pocket. He wipes his blood-caked hands on his jeans.
“What are you two looking at? Get him loaded up.”
Dewey and Jackson carry Hale’s unconscious body out to the Bronco. Dewey takes out a shovel before slamming the back and tire rack shut.
“Alright. You start digging, Dew. We’re gonna head back home to Momma. You know your way.”
As Otis and Jackson drive onto the farm, the sun is well beyond the horizon. Long shadows cast all over the yard. A single light glows from the kitchen window. They drag Hale inside and hogtie him on the kitchen floor. Muffled hums ring through the house.
Floorboards creak as a wheelchair rolls into the room. Otis stands up to give Annalise a hug.
“Did you eat yet Momma?”
“No. I was waiting for you boys to get home.”
“Feelin’ any better?”
Annalise rolls her wheelchair over to Hale’s body. His chest slowly moves up and down. She looks down to him and taps her fingers on the arms of her chair. She shakes her head.
“Are you taking the new pills?”
“They make it even worse.”
“We’re gonna get you help Momma.”
“Where’s my Dewey?”
“He’s digging for the money.”
“You boys,” she says, bringing her voice down to a whisper. “All this blood and we’ve gotten nothing.”
“We would, if this fucker would just speak up!”
Otis kicks Hale’s side and he groans against the hardwood.
“You cannot keep doing this.”
“I don’t know what else to do, Momma.”
Annalise shakes her head again and breaks her glance from Otis. The muffled howls continue through the bones of the house. Hale’s figure stirs on the floor. Otis grabs a hold of the loose skin on the back of Hale’s neck and drags him up like he’s a cat. He unties his arms and legs and throws him into a chair, tying him to it.
Hale looks at Annalise. He tilts his head to one side, looking directly into her weathered blue eyes with his eye. The empty socket bleeds down his cheek and neck.
“Annalise?” he says, his voice a whisper.
“Oh,” she says, bringing her hand to cover her mouth. “Richard?”
“Hale,” he says. Then his lips somehow curve into a smile. He wheezes.
Otis steps back, running his fingers over the cool steel of the pocketknife in his hand. He looks to his mother, to Hale, then to Jackson, speechless as always. Otis steps away until his back meets the wall. Annalise rolls over to Hale.
“How long has it been?” she says.
Annalise reaches a hand out to rest on Hale’s arm. He trembles under her touch and takes a deep breath. He coughs, a raspy one.
“How old are the boys?”
“Dewey’s twenty six, Jackson twenty four, Otis twenty two.”
“Momma,” Otis says. “That’s enough. It’s supper time.”
Otis opens the fridge and pulls out a pot of chili. He puts it onto the stove, flicking the heat on. Then he sets the table for four people and unties Hale’s hands.
“Eat up,” Otis says.
Sounds of spoons clattering against bowls ring through the room. The fuzzy vibrations continue from somewhere near.
When Otis scrapes the spoon along his bowl to get every last drop, he smacks his lips and throws his bowl into the sink. He stares across the table at Hale. Blood, fresh and dry, paints his face. His one eye. Blistered black fingers. A shake to his hand as he raises each spoon of chili.
Otis orders Jackson to bring the last of the chili outside to the animals.
“What do you think of my chili?”
“Oh,” he says, clearing his throat. “It’s delicious. Very.”
“It’s a family recipe. Right, Momma?”
“Mhm,” she says, sucking on her spoon.
“You see my Momma’s sick. You understand why we need the money.”
Hale shuts his eye and shakes his head. He drops his spoon and it clatters to the ground.
“I’m going to give you one more chance,” Otis says, standing up so fast the chair flies into the wall behind him. He steps over to Hale and reaches for his knife.
Hale reaches out and clamps his fingers around Otis’s mealy wrist. Otis tries to shake his arm from Hale’s grasp. Hale pushes the knife closer to Otis’s chest.
“You fucker,” Otis says.
Hale uses all his strength to push against Otis’s wrist, allowing the knife to scrape into Otis’s chest. The knife falls to the floor. Hale struggles to stand up, feet still tied together. Otis looks down to his torn Metallica t-shirt and the blood now leaking out from it. His nostrils flare.
Otis bends down to pick up the knife, but it’s gone. He looks up to Hale, hopping over to Annalise. He raises the knife to hold it against her throat.
“Now,” he says. “I don’t want to hurt her. Or any of you.”
Otis’s heart skips a beat.
“I’m going to walk out the door,” Hale says, though his voice shakes. “And I’m not going to tell anyone about anything. I’ll forget it all. Everything.
“Let him go,” Annalise says. “He has no money!”
Otis clenches his teeth. His mother squirms under the knife. Her eyes plead him to stop all this. He fights off tears.
Behind them, Dewey quietly steps inside. Hale can’t see him. Dewey holds up a metal toolbox and nods. Otis nods back.
Dewey reaches a hand into the holster by his side, pointing a gun directly at the back of Hale’s head. Hale begins to slowly step backward, keeping eye contact with Otis. His feet shuffle along the floor between the rope tying them together. As soon as he nears the door, he turns around and sees the barrel of the handgun pointing directly at his forehead. Dewey squeezes the trigger.
The gunshot rings through the house. The murmuring from afar turns into screaming. Moaning. Hale’s body quickly thuds to the floor. Annalise clamps her hands around her ears, screaming and shutting her eyes.
“Momma, it’s okay,” Otis says, stepping toward her. “It’s just Dew.”
Annalise backs up as Dewey steps over Hale’s body. Dewey hands Otis the gun.
“You boys have no idea what you’ve done.”
“We didn’t have a choice. He was gonna hurt you. Give me a hand, will ya,” he says to Dewey.
Otis steps around Hale’s body, grabbing one of his feet in each hand. Dewey grabs Hale’s arms. They carry his body outside.
“Jesus,” Otis says once the front door shuts behind them. “She acts like she’s never seen a dead body before.”
He chuckles and looks to Dewey, who isn’t smiling. They carry the body around the back of the house to the open cellar doors. The shouting and moaning voices get quieter the closer they get. They drop Hale’s body to the floor.
“Jackson?” Otis says into the dark opening. “Hello?”
Otis rolls his eyes as makes his way down the stairs. Chains clatter all around him as he turns on more lights. He sees the empty chili pot, licked clean, in the center of the floor. He looks against the walls, checking that each chain is still locked. Six eyes watch him as he counts the six living bodies. The seventh chain has nothing on its end. Otis looks to the only dark corner of the cellar. A bare-backed figure bends over a clothed body wearing Jackson’s boots.
“What the fuck?”
Otis grabs the gun from Dewey and stomps over to the figure. He doesn’t hesitate to fire a clean shot into the back of the woman’s head. The sound blares out and echoes against the cement walls. One man from the other corner gasps before quieting himself. Otis turns around, throwing them all a threatening glance, before stepping over to Jackson.
His stomach is ripped open. Organs and blood fill the cavity like a pot of chili. Bites are taken out of his arms and legs. His clothes are ripped away to make room for skin, though little of it remains. Both of his eyes are gone.
Otis turns around, looking to the naked, breathing bodies in the room. Blood trickles down each of their chins. Or maybe it’s chili. It’s getting harder and harder to tell.
Otis’s eyes fill with tears as he takes another look back to his brother. He sobs and screams as he falls to his knees. He went too far. Momma’s right.
Otis raises the gun to his temple. His sobs make his arm shake. His finger wraps around the trigger. He shuts his eyes.
But he hears footsteps come down the stairs. He lowers the gun. Dewey walks under the dim cellar lights, carrying Hale’s body in his arms. He brings it over to a corner of the cellar where hungry bodies wait. Otis has to turn away.
“Dew,” he says. “Jackson’s gone.”
Dewey cocks his head and Otis points to the corner of the room. Dewey walks over to inspect the bodies. First, he drags the woman’s body closer to the other people. Slurping and chewing noises fill the cellar. Otis turns to the stairs and runs. His stomach churns. He throws up. Dewey comes out of the cellar with what’s left of Jackson in his arms.
The sight of his mangled body makes Otis throw up again. Dewey’s eyes are damp and he gives Otis a nod before walking Jackson to the woods behind the house. Otis drops to his knees again, burying his face into his hands. He sobs.
He thinks of Annalise and what this will do to her. His heart can hardly stand it. It’s his fault. Everything.
Otis rises to his feet and shuts the cellar door behind him. He slowly walks around to the front of the house. When he swings the door open, he can hear Annalise’s sobs. He steps over the pool of blood in the hallway as he moves over to her.
Otis bends down to give her a hug, but she pushes him away.
“Momma,” he says, his teary eyes looking directly into hers. “Something bad happened.”
“I know it. I told you.”
Annalise wipes her eyes and gives Otis a hard shove away from her.
“Momma, please don’t do this.”
“I begged you not to do this.”
“I just didn’t want you to go, Momma. I love you too much.”
“It’s my time. And you’ve never respected that.”
“I know if we had the money, those fancy doctors could fix you right up. I swear it.”
“All of what you’ve been doing is killing me faster.”
“He was gonna hurt you, Momma. He had a knife to your throat. And I know that J-Jackson—I know that was my fault.”
“I shouldn’t have sent him out alone. We never go alone.”
Annalise forces herself up and out of the wheelchair. Her weak legs hobble on the floor. She has a very difficult time making her way over to Otis.
“Momma, please,” he says. “You’re gonna hurt yourself.”
The tears that fill his eyes begin to trickle down his cheeks.
“Don’t do this, Momma.”
“I have to. You boys have gotten out of control. Now you got one of my boys killed.”
Her eyes are glassy. Her wrinkles furrow deeper into her face than they ever have.
“And Richard,” she says.
Otis swallows hard.
“Hale,” he says. “That piece of worthless dog shit. Hiding that money from us.”
Otis points to the metal toolbox Dewey carried in. It doesn’t look like it was buried. Just dust on the surface and rust around the hinges.
“I just want to save you, Momma.”
“You have no idea what you’ve done.”
Annalise shakes her wrinkled fist to him. The skin that hangs from her arm shakes. She stumbles back and Otis helps her into her wheelchair. She takes a few deep breaths.
“We can help you now, Momma. We have money. We can get you help.”
Otis moves over to the toolbox. The eighth house they ransacked, the first treasure. He slowly undoes the latch and it swings open with a creak. Inside, there’s Polaroid photos. A little wooden car. A second place ribbon with Otis’s name on it.
“What the hell is this?” he says in a whisper.
Otis digs deeper, finding some of his old report cards. Handmade Father’s Day gifts.
Otis reaches into his pocket and pulls out the hazel eye. He looks at it. And then to Annalise, with her hand over her heart and her sobs filling the room. He goes to the bathroom and stares at himself in the mirror. He moves as close as he can, staring directly into his own, hazel eyes. He drops the eyeball in the sink. He backs away from it.
When he gets back to the kitchen, Annalise is on her feet again.
“Momma, h-how? I thought Daddy ran off.”
“He did. But he always loved you boys. I’d sent him things over the years. He missed you all so much. I wouldn’t let him come back. I couldn’t.”
“B—but,” he chokes on his words. “His name wasn’t Richard.”
“Dick, short for Richard. My baby, Oats. What have you done?”
“I’m sorry, Momma.”
Otis steps over to her for a hug and she lets him. He cries into her shoulder. She tries to pull away, but he stays clung to her.
“There’s no money, Momma,” he says. “I’m so sorry.”
Otis pulls away from their hug. He turns to the front door. Dewey stands by the blood pool. e looks to them. And he knows.
“This whole family,” Dewey says. “Doomed.”
Dewey raises his gun to Otis’s forehead.
Squeezes the trigger.
Then to his own.
Annalise screams. Again. And again. Her screams beckon chains to rattle. Naked bodies to squeal. And a half-eaten soul to cry out from the woods.
Bio: Amanda Eiden is a writer and artist from rural Minnesota. She holds an MFA in creative writing from Concordia University, St. Paul. Her work has appeared in Mystery Tribune and Five on the Fifth,and is forthcoming in White Wall Review and The Chamber Magazine. When she’s not writing or drawing, she loves to spend time outdoors watching birds and playing with her dog and cats.
She can be found along with more of her work, at her Writing Portfolio.