It was August 15th of 2000. Grant Smith was seven, and content. It was raining in sheets of iron outside. His mother stood in the kitchen, washing dishes from the dinner she had just served. Hannah Smith sat in her womb, barely a seedling yet.
Grant Smith sat in front of the TV, coloring in a coloring book, and humming. Life was good. His dad would be coming home soon, bringing hugs and kisses: love wrapped in a bundle of masculinity.
“Grant?” his mother called from the kitchen.
“Yeah.” he replied, continuing to color.
“Do you want to help me bake some cookies for when dad gets home?”
“Sure. Let me just finish coloring.”
“Okay, I’ll get the chocolate chips out and ready.”
“Okay.” Grant continued to hum, occasionally brushing his brown shag of hair from his eyes. After another few minutes of coloring—relatively—in between the lines, he closed the book and smiled a crooked-toothed smile. “I’m ready now!” He got up, turned off the TV, and ran out to the kitchen. His mother was cracking eggs with one hand, while grabbing the flour with the other.
“What should I do?” asked Grant.
“You can stir in the chocolate chips, and lick the batter off of the spoon.”
“Okay!” Grant was excited. He hadn’t seen his dad in three weeks, though he had spoken to him over the phone only a few nights before. They had exchanged I love you and definite plans for when he returned.
The batter was now ready. All it needed were chocolate chips. Grant got up on a step stool, grabbed the bag from his mom, and poured them into a big bowl. Grant grinned and gazed into their creation. His daddy would love them! He was sure of it.
Though a stormy day, the atmosphere around him couldn’t have been brighter. Grant looked up to find a mother smitten with life, awaiting the return of her dearly beloved husband and friend. Her green eyes glistened.
“When’s daddy coming home?” Grant asked.
“We should be hearing from him anytime.” she replied as she brushed her light brown hair from her face, and sucked a glop of batter from her finger. “He might be home in time to read you a story, and tuck you in. But, if not tonight, tomorrow.” she rubbed the top of his head, and then turned toward the counter. Grant walked away, rolling his eyes impatiently. It was already late into the day. When would his dad call? He had waited long enough. Grant wanted to hear the door open. He wanted to be scooped up by his six foot father, pinch the edge of his trucker cap, and smell semi-truck exhaust lacing his flannel shirt.
Without speaking another word, Grant got up on the couch, nestled in, and closed his eyes. He slept until being awoken by a frantic mother’s scream:
“What?!” The plate in her hand dropped, and crashed against the floor. Grant opened his eyes, wiped them clean, and then stumbled out to the kitchen.
“What’s wrong, mom?” he yawned.
“Grant.” her eyes were a bright red, and her hair was matted with cookie dough. “Ga-go get your coat and poncho.” she was noticeably distraught.
“Why?” he said softly.
“Because I said so!” she yelled, grabbing the bowl of cookie batter, and throwing it against the wall. “Go!”
“Why did you ruin the cookies?!” Grant now screamed. “Those were for dad!”
“Don’t scream at me! Go get your rain boots and poncho!”
“No!” he was hurt. “Not until you tell me why you threw daddy’s cookies against the wall!”
“Shut up and go upstairs!”
“I hate you!” Grant ran out of the kitchen, up the stairs, and to his room. The warmth of the bright atmosphere was now cold. Grant knew something had happened, but didn’t know what. “Dad’ll be home soon. He’ll love me. He won’t be mean like mom.” He opened the drawer, and pulled out his blue poncho. Tucked beneath his bed were his black strap-on rain boots. After putting both on over his pajama bottoms, Grant stepped heavily through the hall and down the stairs. He came back down to the kitchen to find his mom picking up thick shards of glass from the shattered cookie bowl while crying. His heavy presence became light, and Grant walked slowly out to the kitchen, hesitant, but curious.
“I’m ready.” he said sharply, folding his arms, and tensing his pouty lip.
“Come here.” she said, while pulling her pointer finger back, and sniffling. Reluctantly, Grant stepped forward.
“No.” he said quietly, inching farther away.
“I’m not going to bite. I just want someone to hold.” Still reluctant, Grant took a few steps forward, and then ran into her arms. “I’m sorry baby.”
“Wh-why are you mad?” he calmed a quivering bottom lip.
“Daddy’s hurt.” Immediately, Grant’s eyes widened, sinking far into his face. A tear rolled down his cheek.
“What?” he understood, but not to the full extent.
“We have to go see him.” she sniffled once more, and then wiped tears and mucus from her top lip. “He got in a car accident.”
“Where is he?” Grant now stared ahead, feeling a tingle crawl into his body and linger.
“He’s at the hospital outside of town. You know the one where you go and get shots, and check-ups?”
“Uh-huh.” he nodded quietly, thinking about the last time he talked to him on the phone.
Grant’s mom picked him up and rubbed his back as she opened the door between the kitchen and pantry. She did her best to comfort him, now walking down three steps and over to her black SUV. After buckling him in his seat, she got behind the wheel and started the vehicle.
With the push of a button the garage door opened. She put it in reverse, and backed out. Grant sat in the back seat, blankly staring out the window. The town of Miles wasn’t large. It was a small, irrelevant town in Minnesota; it was nothing but a town for a worried wife, and a quiet seven year old to pass through in an SUV.
Wide eyed but calm, she drove through Miles. Grant’s mom feared Hannah would be born into the world without a father. She feared she would be just like the widow down the block: a single mother of two. All Grant could think about though was if he would ever again hear his father read him a story before bedtime, or kiss his forehead with his prickly cheeks.
The ride was one of realization. Grant couldn’t help but feel sad about the loss of a happier time. His seven year old mind was a sponge that soaked up everything. He had always understood more than most of the kids his age. He understood the possibilities, but decided to wave them away like a cloud of mosquitoes on a hot day. His conscience was there in the car with him on that rainy August night. Though, hope still was sitting next to him, in the form of biblical teachings. He had to believe that the God his folks had fed him along with baby food and cereal was real.
It was all he had: a belief in something good, a man who could heal the sick, and bring sight back to the blind. Even though it had been fed to him since he could remember, Grant only thought of them as bedtime stories. Ironically enough, God had been fed to him by the very person he now prayed for. Yet, some food doesn’t please. Grant was finicky. They tried to feed him faith, only to find it spit up later on. He didn’t like the taste.
“Please save daddy.” he whispered, while folding his hands. “I love him—thank you.” At this moment, Grant still believed in God.
“Grant?” his mother said silently, while clenching the steering wheel, and crying a tear.
“Yeah?” he replied softly.
“Know wa-whatever happens God will always be there, to help you through it.”
“Okay, mommy.” he nodded his head with honesty.
“He’ll never leave you.” every word that came from her mouth seemed like an act. Grant already knew that this God both his mom and dad had spoken of was gone. Maybe He had never been there to begin with.
After driving for another few minutes, the SUV pulled into a relatively empty parking lot. It wasn’t packed as usual. Once his mom parked the vehicle near the entrance, she turned off the engine.
“God,” she sighed. “I don’t want to go in there.” Following two more long sighs, she opened up her door and then Grant’s. The rain had subsided for the moment. Yet, the air was wet and sticky. The sky was thick, shrouding them in a watered down red.
Without his mother’s help, Grant unbuckled himself, and got out of the SUV. His small feet and the boots that covered them touched the ground, only to sink into a four inch puddle of rain. Every step toward the dimly lit two story building was one filled with worry. What would he find when entering the hospital? Would Grant find his father bloody, with bone protruding from skin? Or would he be smiling, saying, “God saved me kiddo.”?
Grant rubbed his arms against the sticky plastic of the poncho, and then folded them.
“I’m cold, mom.” Grant said while beginning to shiver. “Can we go inside?”
“Ya-yeah, baby.” she replied hesitantly while rubbing the back of his head. And so their pace of hesitance soon became a jog. Before Grant knew it, he and his mom were pushing a pair of revolving doors around, and entering a drafty hospital. The first thing Grant saw was a man with long, greasy curls sitting in a wheelchair, peeling off bandages from recently sutured wounds.
Next thing he knew, his mother grabbed his hand and pulled him through a few long halls holding gurneys freshly made, like beds for the soon-to-be-departed.
“Wa-where are we going?” asked Grant.
“To find daddy.” she said.
After passing through two long hallways, and by a set of bathrooms, they arrived in a brighter room. It was small. A TV was screwed to the wall in a far corner, with an infomercial playing. There was a table covered with scattered toys. It was a waiting room, as plain and dull as they come.
It was the first time that night that Grant didn’t feel pressured or pushed. He took a seat in one of the gray padded chairs, picked up a magazine with a cartoon mouse on the front, and flipped to the mazes page. His mom made sure he was okay, and then went up to the front counter, asking about her husband and the condition he was in. Grant glanced over to see the nurse say, “He’s in surgery now, we’ll let you know, when we know.”
It was something they left his mom to ponder as she walked back to her curious, wide eyed son. Grant sat quietly with eyes that displayed knowing. He knew what sat behind the swinging silver doors by the front desk. He knew that his father was critically injured. Though, the details were still something to be explained.
His mother took a seat next to him, brushing her greasy hair from her green eyes, and sighing. By pure impulse, Grant took her hand, and rubbed it softly.
“I love you, mom.” he said with a smile.
For a moment his mom only looked at him, and then replied. “I love you too, Grant.” Silently, they sat next to one another, both treading through a field of jagged thoughts that would stay thoughts until becoming truths.
Grant’s interest with the maze pages ended quite quickly, leaving him to sit and stare, until falling asleep five minutes later. He slept awkwardly, with one hand lying across his face, while the other one sat in his pocket, groping his crotch. Grant was asleep, yet fully aware. His dreams were picking up signals from the outside. He could hear the voices, smell the smells, feel the fear, and taste the anxiety settling in his saliva.
After forcing himself out of a stagnant dream, he awoke to his mother reading People. Grant stretched his arms out in a yawn, finding his body slouching out of the chair. From what he could tell, it hadn’t been all that long since closing his eyes. Not long at all.
“Ha-how much longer?” he asked while stretching once more.
“I don’t know, Grant.” his mother replied. “We’ve been here for almost two hours now.” she looked at her watch.
“Oh.” even though he wasn’t able to grasp the full perception of time, Grant could see impatience digging a crinkle in between his mother’s brow.
After another hour and a half of waiting, a man in a white coat came from the silver swinging doors, and walked over to Grant and his mother.
“Mrs. Smith?” he asked, while putting out his hand.
“Hi.” she replied, standing up, and shaking his hand. “Ha-how is he?” from the sound of the question, Grant knew it was something she didn’t want to ask.
“Well,” the doctor scratched a thin patch of gray hair sitting atop his head. “The surgery was a success... for the most part.”
“Most part—wa-what does that mean?”
“We helped stop the internal bleeding, mended his broken bones, treated his burns—”
“But?” his mother inquired.
“But his blood pressure continues to drop.”
“And what?” she was near tears again.
“If we can’t get it up, his heart will stop beating.”
“Can we see dad yet, mom?” Grant interrupted, pulling at her pant leg.
“I don’t know.” she replied while staring at the doctor.
“Yeah,” he nodded his head. “But you need to understand he is in bad shape. Be careful with your decisions, Mrs. Smith. Don’t expose him to this.”
“He has a right to see hi-his dad.” she defended.
“Alright.” he nodded his head with reluctance. “Follow me.” Grant grabbed his mom’s hand, and they followed the doctor through the silver swinging doors. Grant held her hand with slippery palms, and a staggering step. He found himself hesitant while walking through a well-lit hall holding doors on each side. It was the same as that hospital always had been: strange. Grant remembered getting shots, and check-ups in the rooms he now passed.
This time though, the strangeness of the hospital had morphed into something else: FEAR. And Grant could feel it clenching onto his body, beginning to squeeze. Every step he took brought more scenarios, more thoughts for him to tread through. Grant feared that he would arrive in the room holding his father, only to find that he had forgotten everything about him.
The small voice in his head began to pull on his feet, saying, “don’t look.” Grant knew what it meant, but his hand was clenched by an emotional mother. There was nothing he could do, except follow her. He continued walking forward, now sweating and cringing. Wincing with anticipation of what waited in the room. What would he find?
After many more steps, ascension to the second floor by steps, and another hallway, Grant and his mother arrived at the room. She let go of his hand, clenched the handle, and turned it.
Beeep! It was all he could hear. Grant stood back, breathing erratically, feeling his heart begin to pound at his skin. The voice inside told him what he already knew, but didn’t want to know. He backed up a few steps, watching his mother stop at the doorway, and then stumble in. What had she found?, he wondered, now feeling empty.
“Son.” the doctor said candidly. “Don’t go in there.”
“Wa-why?” Grant asked with wandering eyes.
“He isn’t what you remembered.”
“I have to see him!” exclaimed Grant as he averted his eyes from the doctor’s and ran into the room. It was now as the voice had said. His father lay on the bed with blank eyes. Slowly Grant inched over to his father with a distant stare—a distant presence. Once arriving he found him wrapped in gauze, with only a peaceful face exposed. Grant stared at him with tear filled eyes, senseless whispers, and aimless thoughts.
“Come he-here.” his mom called softly from over by his dad.
“No.” he shook his head, and began to back away.
“Pl-please, Grant. Ya-you’re all I have now.”
“Uh uh.” Grant turned toward the door, and ran out of it, entering the hall with leaking eyes. Even though the hallway continued on for many more feet, his thoughts stopped at one realization: his father, his best friend was dead.
“I hate you—ya-you killed him.” he whispered while looking up, cursing the God his father once fed him. There was no God. He finally sat down next to the door, hugged his knees with his chest, and hung his head in between...
Three days later a funeral occurred. Grant buried his loving father—along with the God he had been fed—in the ground on August 18th, 2000, a Friday. With nothing but a helpless stare, he watched the casket lower into a hole, and be buried beneath six feet worth of dirt...
After many countless nights of wailing uncontrollably, and enduring a series of grotesque dreams, Grant awoke to an anniversary. Exactly one year had passed from the day his father died. It was a day to ponder the past. It was a day to try and savor the good memories, and discard the bad. It was easier said than done though. Grant was finally healing from the shock of losing his father. He was now able to comprehend the thought of leaving his room, walking down the stairs, and entering the kitchen, only to find his mom sipping coffee from her mug. He was able to comprehend it because it was the way it had been for so long.
Seeing his father at the breakfast table had been something rare. Even before his father’s death, it had always been Grant and his mother; his dad had been nothing but a visitor whom he had loved.
With sleeping extremities, Grant stumbled out of bed, walked down the stairs, and entered the kitchen. He saw his mom breast feeding little Hannah Smith: his new baby sister, his mom’s light at the end of a very dark tunnel.
“Hey, baby.” she said to Grant as he entered the kitchen with a yawn.
“Hey, mom.” he replied. “How’s Hannah doing?”
“She’s hungry.” his mother said while laughing. “That’s all I know.”
“Yeah,” he sighed. “I’m hungry too.” His hunger led him to the cupboards. He poured a bowl of Grape Nuts, ate them with sugar, and then went back upstairs. It was a day just like any other: bright, warm, inviting… It was Minnesota at its most beautiful. Not a cloud sat in the sky.
Grant walked back to his room, closed the door, and dove beneath his covers. What was this sadness that he wore every day? And more importantly, how could he fill it with happiness? The answer for the moment was sleep.
Three hours had passed. He awoke to a noon sun shining through his window, birds whistling, and a few cheerful yelps from dogs running about outside. He awoke to the same bright atmosphere to find he felt the same way. A few hours of sleep had been his pain medication: nothing but something to numb him from the reality of the day.
Grant threw off his blankets, and walked to the door. The pain had faded. But, had the memories?
Grant walked out of his room, entered the hall, and descended the creaking steps. It was as if he had rewound time. Something was different about his surroundings. They weren’t so cold and broken. Grant didn’t know why, but he felt his father’s presence waiting for him down in the kitchen. Though, he was hesitant. Each step down the creaking stairs brought something warm, yet false feeling. As if he was in a dream that had dressed itself in a memory.
After several seconds of stopping and then starting again, Grant walked down the remaining stairs. As soon as he set foot on the hardwood floor, he felt his toes shrivel up, and crumble. Grant looked down at his shriveling feet, and then back up. Voices grew from something indistinct, to something clear.
He continued stepping toward the sounds, until finding himself in the kitchen. Suddenly, urgency overtook him. A fear grew into his being, and spread like a virus. His dad and mom stood in the distance, hugging one another.
“Dad!” Grant screamed, now running. “Stay with me!” His father’s ears stood at attention, but his head did not turn. His steps were futile, like he was running on a treadmill. He was chasing the life he wanted, but only found himself stuck, stagnant, paused… running toward an infinity he couldn’t reach. That life wasn’t his, not anymore.
Soon, he understood the futility of running toward his father, and stopped running. But, the urgency grew stronger and stronger. The room was now quiet; the cupboards were gutted; the fridge was empty, and the walls were stripped of memories. Grant swung his head from side to side, and when he looked forward again he saw nothing but mannequins hugging in the far off distance. It was no longer a pursuit, but a chase. Something guttural lunged into his spine, knocking him on the floor.
Grant struggled to stand, being held by petrifaction like a straightjacket. The outside stayed bright, but the kitchen and the lights surrounding it shut off, leaving Grant in darkness. His eyes bulged from their sockets, and his heart beat out of its chest. He could hear footsteps above and behind him. It had to be a nightmare. It had to be! A voice inside told him to muster up the strength, and run for the door. It told him to escape, or die.
But, part of him wanted to let this Thing take him away in the darkness. Part of him wanted this pain to end. It was his decision to make now: live or die. After some speculation within a claustrophobic mind, he chose life. Internally, he gathered every ounce of will and strength he had left. He only had one chance to escape, one opportunity to leave the darkness, and enter the light.
He tensed up, breathed deep, and pushed his small body a few inches off the floor. Now or never! Grant took one more breath, jumped up, and ran. It was getting closer! Grant reached out his hand, and grabbed onto the door. Frantically, he tried to turn the handle, but it fell off and landed in his hand. Grant smacked his palms against the kitchen door, only to watch the outside darken as well.
“Help me!” he screamed. “Please!” Suddenly something dropped from the ceiling, landed in front of him, and opened it’s mouth wide...
With a gasp, Grant awoke wet with sweat. The room was lit; the day was bright, and his mind was wiped clean of wonder. It had been some time, but finally he felt understanding. Something inside knew that his dad died happy, simply because he was happy. This day, August 15th of 2001, Grant Smith accepted the reality of his father’s death…