Millions of stars lie in the sky, doing nothing but shining down on those of us who are trapped here in earthly bodies, and I am only able to sleep properly at night knowing that my Daddy is one of those stars. I believe with all my heart that he is there, shining down upon us, and smiling at me if it is possible for stars to smile.
My daddy's death was the result of something called providence, which is probably most closely related to fate. He did not die the noble death of a soldier in Afghanistan, and his death was not the result of a fatal illness or a random car accident, but I like to believe that my daddy died a brave death because he lived a brave life.
My daddy, at the age of nineteen, had gone to a rally in Sacramento, California, in support of the legalization of gay marriage as states all across the country had begun to wake up to the possibility that gay people were people, too, but my daddy had not just gone to the rally as a supporter, wearing a pride t˗shirt and waving a pride flag. He had been one of the organizers of the rally. It had been my daddy, at the age of nineteen, who had been granted an audience with the governor of California, who listened to him with all his attention for the better part of an hour while my daddy explained to him that gay people have feelings and deserve to have the rights of other people in the country. Blacks had been freed from slavery and now enjoyed high˗ranking government positions; women, too, had been given the right to vote and were today just as qualified as men in all sorts of positions. Gays, he argued, were not asking for the right to be freed from slavery because they were not slaves; they were not asking for the right to vote (suffrage, my daddy had called it) because they had that. They were asking for nothing more than the God˗given right to love whoever they wanted to love and be given the full protection to do so.
At nineteen years old, my daddy won the respect of the LGBT community of California and of the whole United States, and he won the respect of leading men and women in the government of the State of California.
My daddy had gone on to tour the country giving lectures and speeches, and some people had started to call him the gay Martin Luther King. My daddy, whenever he heard that, would say that it might be true because Martin Luther King˗˗he would always refer to him by all three names˗˗had had a dream, and my daddy, too, had a dream, a dream in which there was marriage equality for everybody across the USA, not just in Hawaii and California, but also Arizona, Nebraska, and wherever else you might find gays and lesbians.
When my daddy was twenty˗one, he found himself at a university in Florida, and it was after a speech there that he met my Pappa. They fell in love and decided that that they would get married, but only when marriage was a legal deal throughout the whole country. They would not rest until that was the case, no exception.
My daddy had been a fighter, and he had been a winner, and he feared nobody but himself. What he feared in himself was that he might not do what he was given the natural ability to do, something like not living up to his ability.
That was one of the things that had been said at my daddy's funeral. I was only told that because I could not bear to go to my daddy's funeral. After he had died, I did not want to see him again. Of course, I wanted to have my daddy back. I wanted him to hold me, hug me, tell me he loved me, but I could not bear to see him lying down in a casket with his eyes closed, waiting for his body to be dropped in the ground, where it would be eaten by worms and maggots, but you couldn't blame me for that.
Maybe you could.
My Pappa told me what had happened the night they had gone for a drive in the mountains. It had been one of those cool autumn nights when the wind was just enough to send a little chill down your spine but not enough to send you running for your parka and rabbit˗fur gloves. My Daddy and Pappa were going to be celebrating their anniversary in a couple days, and they thought that a nice thing to do on a Sunday evening might be to go for a long drive in the mountains, only an hour or so away from home. I, at thirteen years old, could stay home by myself, and I really did not mind at all. It meant that I really could stay up as late as I wanted, so I told them to go along and have a good time. I would get along without them.
They went out in my Pappa's old Toyota Corolla, which had on it nearly three hundred thousand miles, and Daddy always had joked that it was long overdue to file for retirement. Pappa loved that car, though. It had been his second car after his first car had accidentally rolled over a cliff during a camping trip. That, he had said, had also been the work of providence because when the car had exploded at the bottom of the ravine it had fallen into, he did not know whether or not one of his friends had been in it, and it was not until an hour later that he had found his friend had gone for a walk without telling anybody and had not known anything about the car's horrible demise.
Pappa said that the drive up the mountain had been a smooth one, but I had been on that same mountain road several times and could tell you with my eyes closed that it was not a smooth trip at all. From what I knew of that road, it was a bumpy way all the way to the top, and there were parts of that road where you had to drive at under ten miles an hour if you didn't want to get yourself killed.
They spent some time at the top of the mountain, which looks over the entire city and a whole lot more, so they had stars shining from above and stars twinkling from below. After about two hours up there, listing to the radio, drinking soda and eating Cracker Jack and chocolate almonds, they decided that they needed to get back to me. (I would have let them stay another two hours. I did not get to stay at home alone very often.)
The ride back down the mountain, Pappa claims, was indeed bumpy, and at some point, they ran over a large rock, something close in size to a boulder, and the front of the car bounced into the air for a split second like Herbie the Love Bug. Pappa said though that when they drove over the rock, he checked in the rearview mirror and saw nothing unusual in the road.
Ordinarily, the drive might take almost an hour from top to bottom, and they had been driving down the mountain for less than half an hour when they saw flashing lights in the sky to the east, which would have been the driver's side of the car. The lights were flashing, not like the lights you see at construction site, but more rapidly, more like strobe lights, and they were a hazy red color, which at first reminded Pappa of emergency lights.
The lights flashed wildly for fifteen seconds or so, all the while coming down toward the earth from some point high in the sky as though they might have belonged to a falling star, and suddenly, there was a silent explosion in the road not far ahead of the tired Corolla. A tremendous flash of pure white light was followed by a few flickers of red that could have belonged to the flames of a lonely fire, then everything returned to normal.
"You check that out," Daddy said.
Pappa checked his rearview mirror. Realizing they were alone on the road, he said, "Maybe not," which he says would have been the wisest thing to say if only he had left out the word "maybe." He stopped the car, though, and turned off the engine.
"Maybe yeah," said Daddy, and his voice carried very badly disguised fear.
Pappa looked at him. "I said no," he said in a firm voice.
Daddy got angry. He was not the type of person who got angry very easily. He was always a very easy˗going person, one of those guys they always called the life of the party. That was his personality. At those rare times when he got angry, though, you knew to stay away from him like you knew to stay away from a scorpion, and this was suddenly one of those times, which was very strange because there really had been nothing to get angry about except some strange lights that had scared both of them out of their pants.
Daddy gave Pappa one more look before he got out of the car. He slammed the door with all his strength, and that old artifact shook in its boots. Pappa turned on the low beams of the car so that Daddy could see better, and Daddy walked toward the front of the car like a sheriff in the Old West, ready to shoot the bad guy as soon as he saw the whites of his eyes.
Daddy did not get more than a few feet in front of the car, though, when he flew backwards the whole length of the car, landing on his back. Pappa flung open his door and slid over the hood of the car fast like those guys from The Dukes of Hazard.
"What was that?" he asked Daddy.
Daddy sat up, and Pappa saw that some blood was running down the back of his neck. He helped him stand up. When Daddy was on his feet again, something that felt like the wind of a tornado hit Pappa in the gut, and he fell backwards. Then, Daddy shot into the air until his feet were level with the roof of the car, and he was moved quickly in the direction of where the explosion had just taken place, then he collapsed to the ground on his face.
Pappa got to his feet, and so did Daddy, but before Pappa could do anything, Daddy's head shot back like he had been punched in the face, and then his entire body began to shake. It shook like the ripples of water after several pebbles have been thrown into it at once.
Pappa ran over to Daddy but felt something like a force field prevent him from coming within arm's reach, and he stood and watched as Daddy just vibrated. Unable to do anything more helpful, Pappa screamed.
The shaking and the screaming went on for a minute at least, and when Daddy's body crumpled to the ground, he just looked dead. Pappa ran over to him, but his eyes were open and he was breathing normally.
"What happened?" Pappa asked with tears in his eyes.
Daddy looked very sleepy. "I don't remember," he said, blinking his eyes. He sat up and looked around. "We're on the mountain," he said as though he had just realized it. Then, he saw the car and pointed to it. "We got up the mountain in that?"
Pappa helped Daddy to his feet and helped him back to the car. They both got in the car and drove home, and nobody said a word the whole time.
When I heard the car pull into the driveway, I turned off the horror movie I had been watching in the living room, put down the screen to the DVD player, and ran upstairs as fast as I could. I was in my pajamas and covered up in bed when I heard the front door open, and I expected that nobody would think that I had spent the night up watching scary movies.
After a few minutes, Pappa came into my room. "Jeremy?" he whispered.
I stretched as though he had awakened me from a deep, innocent sleep. "Yeah, Pappa," I said in a tired voice, yawning for the effect as I sat up.
Pappa turned on the light and smiled. "Did you enjoy The Twisted Bodies?" he asked me.
"Wha˗˗" But, I had been caught. "Yeah. I didn't finish it, though."
As I admitted my guilt, I saw Daddy walk down the hall. He looked exhausted, as though he could barely keep on his feet, and he didn't even glance into my room.
"Okay," said Pappa, turning off the light. "Go to sleep now."
"Pappa," I said as he closed the door.
"Is Daddy okay?"
I knew that that was a lie, though. I had seen that Daddy was not okay, and I had heard it in Pappa's voice. He was very far from fine.
"Pappa, I love you."
"I love you, too." He closed the door.
It took a long time for me to fall asleep that night, and probably also for Pappa.
I woke up early the next morning. It was the beginning of July, so summer vacation had already had a head start, which meant that I really had no need to wake up before nine o'clock, but that morning, I was already downstairs with a cup of cold chocolate milk in front of me at seven thirty, an hour when even vampires might still be lurking around in the streets.
Daddy showed up in the kitchen not long after me. He was smiling and well rested and did not look anything like he had the night before.
"Good morning, Pumpkin," he said. I was thirteen years old already, but Daddy still called me Pumpkin sometimes. I didn't mind it unless we were out in public. Then, I would sort of turn away and pretend that he never said it.
"Good morning, Daddy," I said.
"Up early this morning?"
I had some chocolate milk in my mouth, so I just nodded as I swallowed.
Daddy turned on the coffee maker. I hadn't yet developed a taste for coffee, though my good friend, Henry Adams, had told me that I would. He told me that when you grow up and get a job, you have to drink coffee before you go to work or else you might fall asleep at work.
Daddy made his coffee and sat down at the table with me.
"How was it in the mountains last night?" I asked him.
"Oh, it was just fine," he said. "A pretty night, nice view from the tip top. You've been up there."
"Pappa brought one of his Peggy Lee albums. That stuff reminds him of the old days." He scrunched up his lips. Daddy preferred newer music; he had never really liked that stuff from the days before color television.
"When do you have to be at work today?" I asked.
Daddy looked at me. There was something in his eyes that said that he did not completely understand my question, so I repeated it.
"Work?" he said. "The usual time." He gulped down the last of his coffee and got up from the table hurriedly. "Heigh ho," he said. He gave me a peck on the forehead, which I never remembered he ever had done, and went out of the kitchen. A few seconds later, I heard him go out the front door.
It was not until nine o'clock, when I was finishing up a plate of scrambled eggs, that Pappa came down into the kitchen. He gave me a kiss on the cheek and rumpled my hair. "Hey, kiddo. Everything okay?"
"Yeah," I said.
Pappa did the coffee ritual.
"Did you get enough sleep? Those movies didn't keep you awake all night?"
"Not the movies," I said, thinking about how Daddy had looked when they had come home.
Despite his usual tone of voice, I saw that Pappa was worried about something. Maybe it was the lines around his eyes or maybe his eyes were a little more bloodshot than usual or maybe the smile did not reach out as far as it normally would. I could not say exactly what it was, but something was there that should not have been there, and I suspected that it had to do with how Daddy had been last night.
"Daddy's not feeling well this morning," he finally said to me, holding his coffee cup in both hands. "He's going to stay home with you today."
I looked up at him. "Pappa," I said.
"Daddy already went to work this morning, and he looked just fine to me."
Pappa stood up from the table. "Daddy's upstairs asleep, Jeremy. I just came from there."
I shrugged my shoulders. "Maybe he came home," I said, though I really didn't believe it.
There was a sudden crash upstairs. Pappa dashed out of the kitchen, and I followed him, nearly knocking my plate off the table. I watched as Pappa ran up the stairs, taking two at a time. I could not do that, but I followed him as fast as I could. When we got upstairs, we found Daddy on the floor in the hallway. He was curled up in a ball, crying like a little kid, and he was dressed exactly as he had been when he had come down for his coffee earlier.
Pappa knelt down beside Daddy and helped him to his feet. Daddy's face was red, shining from the fresh tears. I just stood at the side, staring, not really knowing what to believe.
"What happened?" Pappa asked.
Daddy wiped his eyes with the back of his sleeve. "I don't know," he said. "I just woke up and found myself here, lying on the floor."
"What was the crash?"
Daddy looked at Pappa. Now he had fear in his eyes. "I think I fell." Of course, that might have been a perfectly normal answer in another place at another time except that in the hallway there was no place for him to fall from.
Pappa took Daddy by the arm and led him back to the bedroom. "I think you need to get some sleep," he said.
"But, the office," Daddy said in a voice that sounded very far away.
"I'll give them a call. You just need to rest."
Pappa put Daddy back to bed, and then we went back downstairs without saying a word.
Daddy didn't come out of the bedroom for the rest of the morning, and I spent the morning continuing my monster movie marathon. Monster movies don't have the same effect by day as they have by night, but they can still freak you out enough.
I was in the middle of Fright Fest 2 at the part where the fat girl opened the door and got spears jabbed into her on both sides when Daddy came down the stairs. He looked to be in a good mood, as he had been when I had met him in the kitchen in the morning.
"Jeremy," he said. "Are you watching those things again?" He came up behind the couch and looked over my shoulder as the Man in the Mask pulled the bloodied spears from out of the fat girl. "Well, I think I need a good home˗cooked meal now," Daddy said together with the Man in the Mask.
Daddy sat down next to me and put his arm around me. His arm felt cold, and Daddy had a strange smell to him. It was the smell of an old attic mixed with moth balls and the faded smell of mouse droppings. I scooted a bit away from him because I could not stand the smell, but Daddy just scooted closer to me and tightened his arm around my shoulders. His arm hurt me, but I remained silent and kept my eyes on the movie.
"This is the one where Vickie Trooper gets killed," Daddy said.
"I know. The Man in the Mask cuts her head off."
"With his thumbnail," Daddy said with a smile, rubbing his own thumbnails without thinking about it.
"I like the third one better," I said, and I turned off the DVD, got myself free of Daddy's arm, and got up from the couch.
"Hey, where are you going?" For a split second, there was a spark of his famous anger in that voice, but the expression on his face cooled immediately.
"I'm just˗˗I need something to drink."
"How about some coffee?" Daddy lowered his eyebrows.
I looked at him, not understanding why he was acting so peculiarly. "You know I don't drink coffee," I said.
"It's awfully hot," he said.
"Not because of that," I answered. "I just don't like it."
Then, he continued his thought, not having heard my response. All he added was, "Down there in hell."
I lay awake in my bed in the dark. The window was open, and a pitiful summer breeze made the curtains flutter. I heard some cars in the distance and the sound of a dog's bark down the street, but the night was silent except for that.
I had not been able to sleep. I did not even feel tired. I felt wide awake as though it were the middle of the day, and I finally got out of bed and turned on the light. At my age, I was no longer afraid of the dark, but anybody knows that things that could happen in the dark were much less likely to happen when all the lights were on.
A second before my finger touched the light switch, I saw the hall light go on from under the door. I heard the whisper of slippers shuffle across the floor, probably on their way to the bathroom. I opened the door as quietly as I could and peered into the hall, but I saw nothing.
I stepped into the hall. "Hello?" I said quietly. "Pappa?"
Suddenly, something hit me on the back of the head. It felt like a baseball bat, and I went flying forward, headfirst over the railing, and I found myself bent over the railing at the waist. Then, I felt another blow at the back of my legs, and I lost my grip on the railing and fell back down onto the floor.
My head was throbbing, and I felt blood run down the back of my neck. I was too weak to scream, but I pounded the floor with the palm of my hand. It felt like I was hitting the floor hard, but I somehow knew that it was barely more than a pat.
My vision became blurry, and I heard a noise that sounded like the siren of an ambulance, but I was sure that that was just my imagination. My eyes were wet from tears, and my head felt like it was going to explode. I had never had such pain like that in my life, and I was terribly afraid of dying. I did not want to die. I hit the floor again with my hand, and my entire body just fell to the floor like a stone falls from a mountaintop.
Pappa and Daddy ran out into the hall. I heard Pappa say something, and Daddy ran back into the bedroom. Pappa tried to ask me what had happened to me, but I did not understand anything he was saying, and I could not say anything back to him. I just thought that it would be nice if I just passed out and woke up when it was all over.
After what seemed like a hundred years in Pappa's arms, I heard real sirens and was soon put on a stretcher and taken out of the house and put into an ambulance. They closed the doors to the ambulance, and I remember nothing afterwards except that somebody in the ambulance at one point said, "God, who could do this to a little kid?"
I could not remember much from being in the hospital. I remembered that I had needles in my arms, and I remembered one of the nurses had come in to give me a pill with some stale water, and that nurse had looked a bit like Chelsea Clinton. Then, I remembered that Pappa had been next to me, talking to me, and his voice had sounded like an echo in a cave, and I remembered that he had been there alone. Daddy had not come with him.
By eight o'clock or so at night, I was in my bed at home with bandages around my head. I was in awful pain, but I was very woozy from the pills that I had taken. Really, it felt almost as though I was drunk, but I could feel something awful in my head.
Daddy and Pappa came into my room with a cup of orange juice. Pappa handed me the juice while Daddy stood at the end of the bed. I pulled myself as much into a sitting position as I could and drank the juice slowly.
"How's that?" asked Pappa.
I looked at Daddy, who was just staring out the window. "Better," I said weakly. "Thank you."
"You sleep tonight," Pappa said. "Those pills you took earlier will help you with that. Tomorrow, maybe, if you're feeling better, you can tell us what happened."
I shook my head and handed him back the empty cup. "I don't know what happened," I said, and I closed my eyes and sank back into the bed.
Pappa whispered something to Daddy, and they left my room, but they did not close the door all the way.
As Pappa had promised me, I fell asleep very quickly, and it was a deep sleep, but not a peaceful one. I had dreams about bears and snakes and one in which ten knives came down from the sky, points first, and stuck into the earth, and another dream in which I was lying in a bed with both my arms in casts and a deep gash down my chest, where mice were crawling in and out.
In the last dream, I was running through the woods, looking over my shoulder for somebody who was chasing me, somebody I could not see but knew was there. My toe hit a rock, and my shoe flew off my foot, but I caught my balance and kept on running. I heard the footsteps of the person who was running after me, and he was getting closer, but I couldn't see him. It was too dark, and he was taking advantage of the shadows to keep himself invisible to me. Then, I tripped on a large stone and fell. The ground where I fell was lit up by a bright, red light. Otherwise, everything around me was dark. I felt the ground shake like a small earthquake, and then a knife landed in the ground just above my shoulder. I rolled onto my back, and there was the man who had been chasing me, a Man in a Mask. He lifted a knife over his head and threw it down at me. It landed in the dust between my legs, an inch away from my crotch. Then, the man lifted up the mask to just above the mouth and spat on me. He lit a cigarette and put it in his mouth. I gagged from the smoke. The man took the cigarette out of his mouth and exhaled the smoke into my face, then he pulled the mask off his head, and in his eyes was˗˗
I woke up. A wind from outside blew my curtains softly, and I thought I heard the wind whisper my name. "Jeremy," it said. "Jeremy."
I wanted to scream, but I held it in. I was not going to let a few bad dreams disturb Daddy and Pappa.
I heard the wind whisper my name again. Then, the door to my room flung open. It flapped for a second, banging against the wall. I sat up in bed, and standing in the doorway, covered over with a veil of darkness, was Daddy.
"Daddy?" I whispered, not realizing that my own voice was mimicking the wind that had just said my name.
He didn't respond. He took a step into the room. I scrambled against the backboard of my bed, pulling the blanket up to my neck.
"Daddy," I said again.
He took another step into the room. Then, he took a lighter out of his pocket and lit it. A small flame flickered in the darkness of my bedroom. Wicked shadows began to dance on the walls. I could even make out the murderous grin of a jester.
"The sins of the fathers," Daddy said in a flat voice, his eyes empty. He let go of the switch on the lighter, and the flame disappeared. Now, we were together in the dark again.
I took the courage to stand up. I stood on the bed, not wanting to put my feet on the floor because there was no telling what might be waiting for me under the bed. I had no way to defend myself, but I knew that my Daddy had become something dangerous, and I was afraid. I forced myself to act bravely, though, and hoped that he could not smell fear. When I had been a lot younger, I had heard that there were animals that could smell fear. I now hoped that my Daddy was not like them.
In the darkness, he smiled. "The sins of the fathers," he said again.
My bed was near the window. It might be possible for me to climb quickly out the window. I might be able to climb down the drainpipe, but it was a risk, and one mistake could mean my death, so I quickly shook that thought out of my head.
Daddy took a deep breath and held it for a minute. Then, with the speed of the devil, he pulled a kitchen knife from his belt and lunged at me with it.
My legs were in pain, and my head was still throbbing, and I tumbled off the bed just before the knife went into my pillow. Daddy stood up, and I climbed out the window without thinking. I really had no other choice. I looked down at the ground as Daddy came out the window after me. The drainpipe was still several feet away, and one slip of my foot could send me straight off the roof.
Daddy had the knife in his hand and started to come after me. He was careful with his steps and watched me to make a mistake. I walked quickly sideways, one eye on the drainpipe and the other on him. I could not risk letting either one of them out of my sight. When I was only a foot or two away from the drainpipe, Daddy had almost come close enough to me to grab me. When he lunged at me, I dropped to my belly and wriggled over to the drainpipe. When it was within my fingertips, I flipped myself off the roof and hung onto the drainpipe like it was a lifesaver in the middle of the ocean.
I looked up and saw Daddy was standing over the drainpipe, looking down at me with the coolest eyes you could imagine, and then he just jumped down. He hit me on the shoulders before falling to the ground, and the force of his weight knocked me backwards. One hand lost its grip on the drainpipe, and my legs went dangling, but miracles kept my other hand in place. I quickly grabbed onto the drainpipe with my other hand again, my whole body full of pain that a thirteen˗year˗old boy should never ever have to suffer.
I was in trouble now, though, because Daddy was down on the ground waiting for me, but to go back up the drainpipe was nearly impossible. I was in too much pain to risk the climb back, and even if I managed to get within hand's reach of the roof, I doubted that I would have the strength to pull myself onto the roof, and I would just fall to my death anyway.
So, I prayed to God, closed my eyes, and let go of the drainpipe.
I fell onto the ground with one of my legs twisted under me. A sharp pain shot through my leg, and my lower back also suffered something from the fall, and I could barely move my body, but when I was able to look around the lawn, I saw that I was alone.
I lay there on the lawn for five minutes before I dared to try to sit up. When I finally did, I knew that I had to go back in the house. The door was locked, though, so I went around the side of the house to the living room, where I knew one window was open, and I heaved myself into the house.
I crashed onto the floor, my whole body in horrible pain, but I could do no less. I gripped the couch and pulled myself to my feet and started to call loudly for Pappa. A light went on upstairs, and Pappa called out my name.
"Pappa," I called back. "He's dangerous. Be careful."
Pappa ran to the balcony and saw me struggling to walk. He ran to the stairs and came down fast. "What's going on?" he said. He threw his arms around me, and I gave the last of my energy over to him.
"Something is wrong with Daddy," I said. "He came into my room and tried to kill me."
Pappa held me for a moment at arm's length and looked at me. "What are you talking about?"
We heard movement in the downstairs bathroom. On a stand next to the staircase was a pair of scissors. I grabbed them without Pappa's taking notice and stuffed them in my pocket.
Then, we heard noises upstairs.
"Who's there?" Pappa called out.
Daddy appeared at the upstairs balcony. "Is everything alright?" he asked.
I pulled Pappa close to me, putting a hand safely on the scissors in my pocket.
"Something was just disturbing Jeremy," said Pappa, and he gave me a disbelieving look.
Again, there were noises in the bathroom downstairs.
"What's going on down there?" Daddy asked. He started to come downstairs. My heart began to beat frantically.
When Daddy was finally downstairs, standing only inches away from us, speaking as innocently as he could, the door to the bathroom swung open. Pappa took me over to the couch and told me to sit there and not move. He moved cautiously to the bathroom.
Before Pappa reached the bathroom, the thought already came to me, and I shouted it out with warning. "There's two of him." I looked at Daddy in front of me and wondered if he was the real one or not.
Pappa let out a scream. "Wha˗˗"
Standing in front of him was Daddy. There were in fact two, and it was impossible to tell which the real one was.
"What is going on?" asked the Daddy who had just stepped out of the bathroom, then he caught sight of the Daddy who had come from upstairs.
The upstairs Daddy said to Pappa, "Darren, who is that?"
Pappa's face was white.
"I'm Sanford," the downstairs Daddy replied.
"That can't be. Darren, can you explain what's going on?"
Pappa put his hands to his forehead as my fingers gripped the scissors in my pocket. He lifted his head and said, "Something happened up there on the mountain. It was that thing on the mountain that˗˗did this." He looked at both Daddys, the real one and the imposter one, whichever was which.
"Jeremy, you recognize me," said the downstairs Daddy. "Don't you, Pumpkin?"
"Jeremy," said the upstairs Daddy, "don't listen to him." Tears began to form in his eyes. "I'm the real Daddy. I'm the Daddy who stays up at nights singing 'There's a Sucker Born Every Minute' with you. I'm the Daddy who takes you to the library on the weekends. I'm the Daddy who was with you the first time you saw a live raccoon."
"That's a lie!" the downstairs Daddy cried out with a painful voice. "Darren, tell Jeremy that that one is lying. Tell him. I'm the real Sanford!"
Pappa did not know what to say or to do, and he was unarmed. If the imposter Daddy tried to do something, then Pappa might be in trouble if he decided to strike him first. If he dared to strike me first, though, whichever the imposter was, he would get a sharp object in the stomach. He'd look like something from one of those horror movies.
"Jeremy," the upstairs Daddy pleaded, "please recognize me. I'm the real Daddy. I am."
The downstairs Daddy took a step toward me, holding out his hands to me. I smelled the threat, and in less time than it took to blink the eyes, I had the scissors in his stomach. He fell backwards, his hands on the scissors, and he fell to the floor. Pappa gasped and stepped backward until he was standing next to Daddy by the stairs. We watched as the Daddy from downstairs gasped for breath. He tugged at the scissors until he finally pulled them out of his stomach, but it was too late. He collapsed on the floor. His head hit the floor with a whack, and his eyes rolled back. One last breath came out of him, and then that, too, stopped.
Pappa began to cry. I never had seen him do it, but now was as good a time as any, and he buried his head in Daddy's chest.
I slid onto the floor, unable to stand by myself any more, and I looked up at Pappa and Daddy. Daddy was rubbing Pappa's back, letting Pappa get his emotions out of him.
"It's okay," Daddy said. Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw his eyes light up, and he pulled out a knife.
I let out a scream and lunged at him. I bit his foot, and he dropped the knife. Pappa fell out of his embrace and stumbled back two paces. The imposter bent down to pick up the knife, but I grabbed the scissors much faster, and when he took a stab at me with the knife, the scissors met it and knocked it out of its intended direction. Pappa tried at him like a wrestler, but the knife went into Pappa's arm.
"Pappa," I said, holding out the scissors. Pappa grabbed the scissors from me and stabbed at the imposter. He stabbed once and missed, but the second time, he got him in the side of the neck. It was just a graze, and the imposter delivered Pappa a blow to the stomach. He quickly took out the knife, and Pappa staggered back and forth on the balls of his feet. Then, he brought together all the strength he could and fell upon the imposter, driving the scissors into his eyeball. The scissors poked casually out the back of the imposter's head, and the two of them fell together in a pile on the floor.
The house was quiet after that.
It was not until a few months after the funeral that Pappa had opened up to me and told me what had happened on that drive down the mountain. He explained that he did not think it would be too traumatic a story for me. On the contrary, he believed that I would understand the story very well. He had not been able to talk about it with me until he himself was able to understand the full effect that that explosion had had on Daddy. He did not think he would ever understand exactly what had happened, but when he was able to piece together the connection, then he was able to share it with me.
Pappa tried to tell me that I was not responsible for Daddy's death, and it certainly took a few weeks before the police were convinced of that, but I ask myself every night before I go to bed if I had not acted to quickly without thinking. If I had held myself back for a moment˗˗
It was pointless for me to have such thoughts, though. I knew that deep down. Whatever had happened happened, and Daddy had not been to blame, and I had not been to blame either. Daddy, the great hero, the man who had been respected by men and women all over the United States, had become a fallen hero, which in more proper terms is labeled a martyr.
I did not go to Daddy's funeral, but I mourned him in my own way, and now when I go to bed at night, I look up at those stars, and I know that he's up there looking down at me.
And, I know that he's smiling.