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Forwarded

Tom received the first letter postmarked from his hometown in May, and continued to get them at irregular intervals throughout the summer. All had been forwarded a half-dozen times or more, addresses crossed-out and heavily edited, having passed through various film studios and the offices of former agents. One had been forwarded by the editor of an obscure reference book on horror films. Tom met the man once at a party years ago. So odds were he shouldn’t have gotten any of these letters. But he did. They took an improbably circuitous route to get to him, all originally postmarked a year or more ago. Now they were here he’d spent hours trying to decipher them.

They weren’t conventional letters, but childlike, chaotic drawings scratched out and multilayered, covered with multiple loops and rough cross-hatching in both blue and black ballpoint, ferociously applied, as if with a pen in each angry fist. A few alphanumeric characters did rise out of this tangle, crude misspelled words (if word-making was the intention): owt and dammem and fulohell and others.

It was only after multiple examinations did he detect an evolving imagery from drawing to drawing, like the individual shots of an animation: something desperate and ugly and angry, emerging.

He was born Thomas Tobin, later changing it to Thomas Tobin Greene as a stage name for his mostly unsuccessful acting career. He was known for a few small parts on television, cop shows, a well-reviewed play in New York for a nine-month run, and toward the end of his career, a handful of horror movies in which he was featured. He wasn’t half-bad at playing dangerous characters, manic villains, the evil or the insane. Not much else. But those roles always came naturally to him.

At age sixty his small talent appeared exhausted and he spent his few years before retirement editing technical manuals. He didn’t mind so much; he’d lost his taste for acting. The small paychecks never felt adequate for the deep sense of exposure he felt, and the anxiety and vulnerability he experienced preparing for his last few roles became intolerable. He had to keep reminding himself he was still a good person.

He liked and kept his stage name, Greene sounding so positive, and Tobin was his father’s name, and hating his father, he wanted to bury it.

The name on the return address of those letters was “Toby Tobin.” That was the real problem. Toby was someone he used to talk to, long ago, when he was a kid who found comfort in talking to himself. Not an imaginary friend exactly, because they’d never been friends. And he wasn’t Toby; he just couldn’t be. “You be good now, Toby Tobin,” he’d say, or sometimes, futilely, “Behave yourself Toby.” No one knew that name besides Tom.

Tom had not been home in years, but his brother Will was retiring from the police force, and would be honored in a special ceremony. Despite their differences Will said he wanted Tom present. His brother was a brave man, a good and decent man, no doubt about it. The last thing Tom wanted was to go home, but he felt obligated to make an appearance. Besides, there were those letters.

Hanover was four hours from the airport. His brother offered to pick him up, but Tom didn’t want to be stuck without a car. Besides, neither liked the way the other drove. “I’d pull you over for driving too slow. It’s a hazard.” Will never said that in a light-hearted way, but then he rarely said anything in a light-hearted way. Will’s driving was typically angry and aggressive; Tom was terrified to ride with him.

Hanover was smaller than he remembered. Smaller and duller and shabbier: fewer people on the streets, many stores shuttered. In front of the drug store an older man waved vigorously. Tom didn’t recognize him, but waved back.

A man stood in his brother’s yard with his back to the street, hands on hips, apparently studying the garden which spread from the side of the house up the hill to the wild overgrowth above, where the bushes shuddered and branches swayed. He had late stage male pattern baldness, a classic horseshoe or cul-de-sac hairline. He wore a civilian shirt with uniform pants.

Tom caught his breath—this was a vivid recreation of his father, dead fifteen years. But when his father turned around it was Will’s face on the other side. Will grinned and walked across the yard, growing taller with each stride. He was a good eight inches taller than either Tom or their dad.

His brother opened the car door, reached in and pulled Tom out for a hug. Tom barely had time to get his seat belt unbuckled. He let himself be swallowed inside his brother’s embrace, his tears flowing uncontrollably.

“Hey there you old so-and-so,” his brother whispered huskily into his ear. An expression their dad used to use. He smelled of liquor and aftershave. Tom pulled away.

“You’re drinking again?” He’d decided not to talk about his brother’s drinking in order to keep the peace, but here it was, first thing out of his mouth.

Will scowled. “I retire tomorrow, big brother. I think I’m entitled to a few drinks at the end of a long career putting my ass on the line. Doesn’t mean I have a problem. I see you haven’t stopped eating. How much do you weigh now, anyway?”

Tom felt a flash of shame. “I’ve let my self go, I know. There are reasons, but I intend to do better. I’m sorry, I just worry about you.”

“Yeah, well, feeling’s mutual. I’m doing okay. Amy’s got dinner on, let’s go eat.”

The dining room was furnished with his mother’s dining room set. Tom hadn’t known, but he didn’t care. He didn’t want anything from the old house. He had too much of his own stuff he was trying to get rid of. He didn’t want to leave a lot for people to dispose of after he was gone. Nothing in their house in particular reminded him of their father, and yet everything did. His brother looked and talked just like his father, sitting in his father’s place at the table, holding forth with his grievances.

“So I’m retiring not because I’m old or because I want to enjoy myself, whatever that is, but because I can’t take the bullshit anymore. People who can’t do their jobs. People who won’t let you do your job. They may be giving me this big sendoff, but half the town is just as glad to see me go. Those folks never understood what I did for them anyway, how I kept them safe. Now that bunch of hypocrites want to honor me. Well, fuck them. I’ll take their watch or their gift card or whatever, but fuck them.” Most of the dinner had been that kind of conversation, or monologue of complaint. Their father had done the same thing every night. Tom could hardly get his food down. Just like old times.

“Will.” Amy kept patting the table nervously, as if signaling her husband to tone it down.

Tom tried to find some way to defuse his brother. It wasn’t one of his talents. “You can’t read their minds. Most people don’t say anything, good or bad, do they, when people are doing their job? It takes something like tomorrow’s ceremony to get them to tell you how much they appreciate you.”

“You don’t live here, big brother. You escaped to Hollywood. This isn’t Hollywood.”

“I never lived in Hollywood, Will. Still don’t.”

“You know what I mean. You had Hollywood money.”

“Actually, I never—”

“Okay, I know you’re not rich. But you have a name people might know. They see you in those movies, and they can look up your name in books and on the internet. Me, people will forget me the day after I retire. By the time I die it will be as if I never existed.” The way he scowled, with his head down, uncanny how much he looked like their dad. Tom averted his eyes.

Amy hurried into the kitchen to get their dessert. Tom started to get up to help, but saw an opportunity to talk to his brother alone. “How’s the old house? Do you know the current owners?”

Will shook his head. “It’s been empty for years. Not worth saving. You’d know if you visited more often. I told the town council they should tear the place down—I sure won’t shed a tear. But as always they’re not going to do anything until some kid hurts himself in there, or a vagrant burns it down.”

“Lots of bad memories, I know. I know I was just terrible to you growing up, the way I bullied you. I think a lot about those days, and I want you to know how regretful, how sorry—”

Will raised his hand. “We don’t need to reminisce about the good old days.”

“I’m just so sorry, I need to apologize. I’m not like that anymore. I’m a good man. There was just a brief period—”

“You know in my job I work with troubled kids all the time, and not one of them did the kinds of things you tried to do to me.” Will had never said that to him before.

Tom felt sickened, but pressed on. “I’ve tried to remember what I was thinking at the time, and I can’t, but I don’t think I intended to hurt you. Maybe I was resentful, I don’t really know. Maybe I was just trying to scare you. I never imagined—”

“I said no reminiscing!” Will pushed back from the table and left.

The guest room was a converted porch at the back of the house. It was a humid evening, with a hot breeze making it even more uncomfortable. Tom sat on the steps and watched the sunset over the untamed trees and wild scrub at the top of the garden. He remembered they didn’t trim things back here, so there were plenty of opportunities for hideouts, for places kids could get lost in. The town lay in a wide valley between two mountain ranges covered with forest. The sky was a blue velvet blanket stretched out between them. Despite its drawbacks (and those were immense) he’d always thought it one of the most beautiful places on earth. But he could hardly bear to be here.

He kept looking at a particular tangle—vines and stems and narrow branches making a swirly, loopy pattern just inside the thickest part of the scrub. It appeared as if the air had been scratched, worn thin at the one spot. He kept watching it for movement, and although he couldn’t find any, he kept expecting it to be there.

“Got a minute, Tom?” It was Amy, walking around the side of the house in her housecoat, her head in a scarf. He noticed how thin she’d gotten since the last time he’d seen her. He wanted to blame Will, but that wasn’t fair. He didn’t know.

“I’m sorry I upset Will. I was trying to apologize, but I guess I shouldn’t have brought those things up.”

She lit a cigarette, stuck it in her mouth with a frown. He’d never seen her smoke before. He remembered her beautiful sand-colored hair. Now gray, it didn’t look that different. But he’d noticed she didn’t smile as much as she used to. He thought she was beautiful and kind and Tom had never had anyone remotely like her his whole life. “I never had siblings.” She threw the cigarette down and nudged it into the damp grass. “I don’t really get this brother stuff. Did you know he got closer to your dad toward the end? They weren’t buddies, but they talked a lot. But I know they didn’t talk about what happened when you were kids. He doesn’t talk about that ever. So it’s hard for him. And now you’re famous.”

“I’m not famous.”

“Well, the most famous person we know. He’s actually very proud of you. We both are.” She smiled then. “He doesn’t know how to make things right between you. He hates it when bad things happen to kids. Has he told you what’s been going on?”

“What? No. Not a word.”

“Two kids dead, scratched up and clawed, their bodies dragged around through the fields, into the woods. It might have been post-mortem, but still. Two others—older, teenagers—missing. All this last year. He’s been up all hours patrolling, every single day, and he must have interviewed everyone in town and most of the county. Just nothing. And he’s retiring tomorrow. I’ve told him someone else can handle it, a younger officer, but he believes it’s all on him. He thinks he’s a failure.”

The next morning Tom drove his rental over to the old house. He didn’t want to tell Will; he wasn’t sure where the conversation might go. So he said he just wanted to drive around and refresh his memory, maybe drop in on a few friends.

“You think you still have friends here? No offense, but you’ve been gone forever, and I don’t imagine you were staying in touch with anyone. Were you?”

“No. But maybe somebody will be glad to see me.”

“Remember my big do is tonight and I expect you to be there. Do I need to remind you to leave yourself enough time to clean up?”

“I won’t be late. I won’t embarrass you.”

Little in the area felt familiar until Tom was within a few blocks of the old neighborhood. People were generally poor here. Derelict houses were sometimes pulled down but new homes were rarely put up to replace them. A lot of empty lots. Many of the landmarks he recalled appeared to be missing. The Adams’ house on the corner remained well-kept, still the yellow color it had been during his childhood. The next previously small home had added a second story and a large garage. He’d never known the quiet couple who’d lived there. The next two houses were missing, or he thought they were missing. He remembered two Victorians with wraparound porches, an antique birdbath in front of one, an ornate gazebo before the other, but had he just imagined them? Instead a large field deep in weeds and ragged bushes nibbled at the road. Nearby were the ruins of a structure which had burned to the ground. A chimney and a few blackened uprights remained. He couldn’t remember if it had been a house or something else.

Following the overgrown, vaguely paved remnants of an alley, where Tom remembered trimmed lawns and brightly painted houses, there was another wild field, mounds of earth and ash, a red-rusted vehicle carcass, the collapsed remains of a couch, a small dilapidated structure enveloped in vines. He was disoriented and couldn’t quite place what part of the neighborhood he was in, or where their house might be.

Then past another tall mound of refuse he saw a familiar tree, the swing still attached, but a pendant of shattered gray boards now, then the moss-covered concrete runner that had been the front walk, the crushed corner of a blonde brick garage, its unpainted door sprung open and bent sideways, and the attached house with its missing doors and windows, stark naked openings swimming with shadow.

He watched his feet as he stepped around splintered planks and piles of brick and drywall rubble, nervous when his shoes appeared to sink too far into the twisted weeds. Inside, several walls leaned, with detached sheetrock and ceiling panels pancaked over sections of the floor. This disassembly confused him, and he had difficulty matching up the rooms with the ones in his memory. Spindly little trees, binding weed, and other bits of snarled vegetation had taken hold, outlining the broken rectangles in vivid green and skeletal gray and black, spreading through the interior and invading the structure in trails which felt oddly familiar.

He heard the occasional scurry, a scrape and a light squeak, which suggested an infestation of rodents. Now and then some larger bump sounded with a shifting of materials, which made him suspect a creature of more gravity. He picked up a broken stick and swung it a few times, wondering what he could do if attacked. He perceived some soft complaints, as if from something wounded, and thought he heard a distant whine and maybe crying, but all that might be in some other place or even imagined from memory.

Scavengers had raided the place, dragging the copper wire and pipe out of the walls, signs of a camp fire, fast food wrappers and beer cans and other trash, pushed into corners by the constant drafts. There was also a great deal of unexplainable wire, coat hanger or electrical or fencing, some of which he would have thought the scavengers would have taken but for some reason had not. Most of it was bent into circles and loops, and he thought of those drawings he’d received, with all their complicated swirls. These created visible passages throughout the ruin, wire tunnels which had snagged bits of clothing, clumps of fur, and threads of flesh. A portion of the wire was reddish, both dull and glistening, as if something had repeatedly wounded itself in passing.

And everywhere on walls, floors, and ceilings, the graffiti: pencil and crayon and ink, paint and lipstick, crayon and smeared mud and something thick that stank horribly, whirls and coils and furious crossings of lines, obliterated words and words needing obliteration, massed and laid over and over until the eye couldn’t help but find shapes moving and groveling for escape.

He heard something in a space far back behind the thickest wreckage. Like a sigh forced out from pain. Tom couldn’t bring himself to move closer, but whispered “Toby?” before stepping back.

When a familiar voice answered, although he couldn’t have sworn with which words, Tom made a stumbling retreat until he was outside the house, and upon further consideration went back to the car and locked himself in. He watched the house and yard for some time, thinking since he’d come all this way he should really pin down what was actually there, but knew he could never go back inside. Still he felt unable to drive away, and sat there as the afternoon wore on, sun baking the interior until it was unbearable, and him too anxious to roll down a window for air.

No one would have ever said Tom was a bad kid. He was quiet and obedient in school, and too shy to enter into any conflicts with the other kids. He had a few pals he hung out with, but none on a regular basis, no “besties,” none he ever invited over to spend time in his room, around his house, or in their yard. Will had lots of friends, and sometimes brought a few by, but they never stayed long. Will didn’t want them to.

It was embarrassing to have friends over when your dad was drunk and passed out on the couch. Embarrassing but bearable. They figured it was no secret to the rest of the town that one of the town cops was a drunk. But sober, and often raging, their father was impossible to be around. People kept their distance. No one wanted to be arrested by Officer Tobin. People said yessir and nosir and kept their heads down and prayed for the best. He’d been written up dozens of times for what happened to prisoners in his custody. Their mother, barely remembered, ran away when the boys were little. Tom couldn’t really blame her, but why had she left them behind? Tom had tried to imagine what he might have done to drive his mother away but those years were simply too far away.

Will claimed not to recall much from those years. Tom’s memory was vivid, but there were gaps, and some events came back unfocused. He recalled nasty arguments with his father, denials he’d done anything (whether he had or not). Other days it was all about screaming and running through the house, dodging and falling and escaping outside, covering up, protecting his face.

There was a time—he was eight maybe nine or so—when Tom fancied himself a sort of mad scientist. Will, up until then always anxious to play, readily agreed to be his assistant, or lab rat, until it became clear what that entailed. This was a couple of years after he stopped talking to himself, after he stopped talking to Toby. His dad caught him a few times mid-conversation, and he’d been slapped for it. “Stop acting crazy!” his dad told him. Tom wasn’t sure he could tell whether he was acting crazy or not, but he sure would try.

Once, claiming to be studying “air-o-magnets,” Tom attempted to throw a dart past his brother’s head into a target. It would have impressed everybody if he’d been able to pull it off, but the dart lodged in Will’s ear.

A few early electrical experiments had been relatively harmless, given Tom knew so little about electricity. He ran an extension cord with exposed wire through a brass tube and had Will hold the tube while he plugged it in. Will panicked, dropped the tube, and there was a shower of sparks, but the brass hadn’t been connected to the wire.

A few months after Tom acquired magnesium powder, potassium salts, and some chemicals from a chemistry set, mixed them together in a coffee can in their living room and gave the can to his brother to hold. “Hold it real still,” he told him. Tom took a step back and shouted “Presto chango!” as he tossed a lit match into the can.

Thankfully Will dropped the can before it erupted into white light and purple flames. He stumbled back onto the couch in shock, waving his hands as if they were on fire. Flames burst through the bottom of the can as it hit the floor and spun, setting fire to a corner of the shag rug. Tom stomped on the flames, yelling for Will to help, but Will just pushed himself farther back onto the couch.

Tom didn’t think he ever meant to hurt his brother. He screwed things up a lot but he was sure he was a good kid—how could he not be a good kid?—and he never imagined these experiments would actually injure Will. But this time Tom terrified himself.

He spent an hour trying to clean everything up. He went into the kitchen looking for heavy-duty scissors thinking he’d cut the burnt corner off the rug and hide it at the bottom of the trash. When he came back his father was standing there, his hands on Will’s shoulders. The worst thing was the way Will looked at him, his head down and forehead all wrinkled up, eyes mad and frightened at the same time. Tom tried to find something to say that would make everything right again. Finding nothing, he ran. As he broke through the back screen door he could hear his father bellowing behind him.

He was never able to remember how he got from the house to whatever place he would spend the next few days. He was so scared, wondering what craziness his father might do to him. His dad continued to yell, a sound more bull than human, loud enough his voice was cracking, turning into a hoarse scream. The scream continued with little drop in volume as Tom crossed street after street, doubling back, running through people’s yards, stumbling over ditches and straight through bushes. Even part way into the woods he heard his father hurtling through the brush behind him, enraged and shouting. Tom didn’t look back, but he imagined his father’s face warping into something swollen and split open. He never knew his dad could run so fast. He must have been so angry to be able to run so fast.

For one strange moment he wasn’t quite sure why he was being chased. Was it because of the fire and the mess in the living room? Or because of what he’d done to his little brother? Had he really hurt Will? He didn’t think so but with all the panic and confusion he might have missed it. If he had, he deserved to be punished of course. He deserved to be hurt.

Tom had no idea where he was. He’d been down and across numerous streets, through the backyards of families he didn’t know, in and out of dark sections of forest, sometimes crawling on his hands and knees through the scrub, so scared, the most afraid he’d ever been in his life, terrified because he couldn’t imagine what he was in for.

When he finally stopped to rest he was in some overgrown place, a patch of woods between neighborhoods maybe, or in a backlot behind the factories and warehouses on this end of town. He could just barely see the glistening reflection of metal roof between the trees, but it was some distance away, maybe miles. There were places like this in town—he’d seen them from the backseat of his dad’s patrol car, but he’d never visited any of those places, didn’t even know how to get to those places.

He didn’t hear any traffic though, so at least he wasn’t out near the highway, or maybe he had crossed the highway somehow and now it was behind him. He just didn’t know.

It was cold and the weeds were wet. Everything was damp and dripping even though he didn’t think it had rained in days. It was incredibly dark. Wherever he was there weren’t any streetlights or house lights. The only reason he could see at all was because of the moon hanging up there in the trees like a white balloon snagged in the branches.

He might have run so far he was out in the country, maybe out on somebody’s farm, somebody’s property. Maybe he was a trespasser and he’d always heard farmers didn’t like people trespassing on their land, not even kids.

It was mostly quiet except for occasional scratching, and now and then something sliding, and sometimes a thump or two, or several in a row like a runaway heartbeat, a scrape and a thud and he thought he might scream if it didn’t stop. Maybe he was making all those sounds. He could hear his own ragged breathing with a little bit of crying in it, and sometimes he made a little hurt sound as if someone had punched him and now there was something broken inside. Not as if he didn’t deserve it, scaring his brother and almost hurting him or hurting him and pretending he didn’t know. He was so sorry now and didn’t want to be broken anymore.

It was all so stupid. He was stupid for being out here where he didn’t belong, but maybe he belonged nowhere and maybe nowhere was where he was.

The night seemed to get darker and darker but to his surprise he could see better and better. Bodies lay under the trees and bodies hung from the trees with their eyes beginning to open, one at a time like individual fire flies, then two at a time, blink and blink all the dark animals from nowhere staring back at him but he couldn’t see their bodies just their stares.

Blink and blink and blink and blink they all closed their eyes and went back to sleep or went back where they belonged but he stayed because he didn’t belong anywhere. Blink and blink until there was just the one pair of eyes staring back at him. “Go away,” Tom whispered, but instead of going away the eyes burned into him like two bright suns.

“Toby?” he said, and although Toby didn’t answer he knew that was who it was. This angry Toby now lived out here in the dark and didn’t even try to be good. This angry Toby hated the world and what it had done to him, crawling around all night and eating out of people’s trash cans and stealing food wherever he could find it for days, so weak and hungry when they finally found him Tom was almost dead.

He didn’t hate the world. Tom was a good kid. He could be so good. People wouldn’t believe it he’d be so good.

Amy was outside the courthouse waiting when Tom pulled up. She looked extremely upset, racing toward his car with a bundle of clothing in her arms. He stared at her as she slapped at the driver’s side window. Of course, he thought. I’m really late. He rolled the window down.

“Where the hell have you been? Will’s beside himself! Today of all days! What’s wrong with you?” That’s what their dad said when he threw the dart into Will’s ear. Stop acting crazy!

“I’m sorry. I don’t. I just lost time.”

She looked at him strangely. “What’s happened? My god, you’re soaked and your shirt’s torn. Are you sick?”

Tom struggled to get out of the car. He stood up and—dizzy—leaned heavily against the door. He noticed blood streaked across the back of his hands. Several of his nails were torn. Grime had turned to mud between his fingers. Scratches ran round and round his wrists and scored loops across his palms. “Maybe. I fell asleep in the car. It was so hot, and I couldn’t, I couldn’t get the window down.” She looked skeptical. “You don’t believe me.”

“No.” She stared at him. “No, why would you lie? I just don’t understand how you could get yourself in this condition. Tom, this isn’t right.”

“Did I miss everything?”

“There’s still time. When I left the house I brought some of your good clothes in case you showed up late. We just have to find a bathroom.” She put her arm around his waist and made him lean onto her shoulder. She might have looked slight, but she was very strong.

There was nothing shy about Amy. She found a bathroom on the bottom floor of the courthouse near the town’s police offices, told the woman inside who was freshening her makeup she had to get out, and dragged Tom inside. Now and again someone came in, looked confused about what was going on, and left.

“After I clean you up a little I’ll leave and you can change your clothes. You might as well trash what you’re wearing. They’re ruined. But we have to hurry.”

Tom sat on the floor as Amy took soap and wet paper towels and wiped down his face. “Some of these scratches are still bleeding. I’ll leave some wet paper on them and see if they clot. Not much else I can do. God, did you tangle with a cat?”

He didn’t answer. She washed his hair as best she could and combed it back, clipped the hanging nails and scrubbed his hands between hers. He had vague memories of his mother doing something like this for him when he was small, but no one else had ministered to him like this, and so gently, since then. He wanted to cry.

“I’m sorry I screwed up so badly. Sometimes I do crazy things.”

“Hush. Don’t say things like that. Just do better, okay? You two are grown men. Good men, both of you. You’re not boys anymore.”

He came out after he’d changed clothes, feeling bruised and rumpled, but more human. “Where is it going to be?”

“The main courtroom, but you need to let Will know you’re here. I don’t want him to go out in front of his fellow officers and all those other people worried about what’s happened to you. He went up the old back staircase. He’s sitting on the second landing working on his speech. No one uses those stairs except for emergencies, so he goes there if he needs some place quiet to figure things out. I warned him not to put off writing his speech, but you know how he is.”

The antique and ill-proportioned stairs were difficult for Tom. He was already out of shape, and of course he was extremely sore. He wondered if Amy had thought about any of that. Maybe she had and maybe this was his punishment, to climb these treacherous stairs and then to supplicate himself at his brother’s feet. If so it was fair punishment.

“Well, look who’s here.” Will sat perched on the edge of the landing, a pad and pen on his knee. He was wearing a dark blue dress uniform. Tom thought he looked the most impressive he’d ever seen him. No wonder he’d been able to attract a woman like Amy. “I could have used your help with this speech, but there’s not enough time now.”

“Looks as if I’m doing nothing but apologizing to you this weekend.”

Will shook his head. “Don’t. You went to the old house, didn’t you? Or what’s left of it? I knew you would. I’m not stupid you know.”

“I know. Sorry—nevermind. I’m late.”

“You’re not late. You’re just in time.” Will started down the stairs toward him. “I hope you found whatever you needed to find.”

“It was a full afternoon I guess.”

Will stopped on the same step and gazed at Tom. “Just don’t tell me about it, okay? And don’t tell me how you got those scratches.” He went down two more steps. “Are you coming, bro? Watch your step.”

Tom turned around and followed his brother down the stairs. Will might be getting old, but he still had broad shoulders, a thick muscular neck. Still looked good in his uniform. Tom admired all that. He admired almost everything about his little brother.

When Tom reached out his torn hands, and even as his fingers first touched the back of Will’s shirt, he didn’t know yet if he was going to push, or pull him backwards into safety.

About the Author

Steve Rasnic Tem is a past winner of the Bram Stoker, World Fantasy, and British Fantasy Awards. He’s published over 450 short stories. His most recent collections are The Night Doctor & Other Tales (Centipede Press), The Harvest Child And Other Fantasies (Crossroads), and Everything Is Fine Now (Omnium Gatherum). His last novel Ubo (Solaris, February 2017) is a dark science fictional tale about violence and its origins, featuring such historical viewpoint characters as Jack the Ripper, Stalin, and Heinrich Himmler. Yours To Tell: Dialogues on the Art & Practice of Writing, written with his late wife Melanie, appeared from Apex Books in 2017. In 2018 Valancourt Books published Figures Unseen, a volume of his Selected Stories.