My father died when I was seventeen. He was a sweet man, a kind soul. I guess you have to take my word for it. Jed Richard Miller was born in Jackson, Mississippi. He was a typical blond blue-eyed southern boy with a heart of gold. He went to college on a baseball scholarship, got his religious studies degree and went to work in the ministry. His work took him to a small town in Florida. And that was where he met her, the green-eyed angel, vixen, demon. Also known as my mother.
Julia Dixon was a twenty-year-old waitress from Jersey who’d hitchhiked to Jacksonville to start a new life. Her beauty was the stuff of fairy-tales. She had an insatiable lust for life. Until I was born. I assumed my mother suffered from postpartum depression. At least that’s what I learned in school; some women just get depressed after having a child, it’s natural. But growing up, all I knew was she never wanted to be around me.
My dad was my rock. He worked from home, writing sermons, and doing paperwork. He cooked and cleaned, kept house, all while my mother worked ten-hour shifts. She was a waitress somewhere on the army base or air force base. It was one of those. I just know she was gone most of the day, and every weekend. And she never went to church with us.
Mom and Dad started to argue a lot. We lived in a studio apartment, so I learned to hide in my mother’s walk-in closet while they fought. I know he never hit her. Even though she broke his jaw, three fingers on his right hand, ribs, and even fractured his eye socket leaving him partially blind. She would storm off into the night. And Daddy, he would let me out and make hot cocoa for us while we sat together watching television, working on homework, or just talking. At midnight, Daddy would put me to bed in my crib (I slept in a crib until I was seven). As I got older I knew to turn away, sleep against the wall.
Otherwise, when my mother came home no matter how many hours later, I was treated to what I thought was s*x. I’d seen s*x on TV; it was kissing, touching, making sounds. But the people on the screen, they look happy, safe, loved. Not my parents. Soft sounds turned to loud sounds, and then screams; deep, animalistic screams. She would leave for work and Daddy would sleep. Sometimes I’d wake him, other times I’d just give him a kiss goodbye before catching the bus.
This went on for nearly a decade, then came the day of the accident. He’d been on his way home when his car was forced off the road. According to the police report, he had been tired, sick and his wheels just slipped. (Or something pulled him). I just know it wasn’t suicide. He’d never leave me all alone. My father’s chest was crushed, shrapnel puncturing his liver and spleen. He required hours of extensive surgery. That was when they found it; late-stage bowel cancer.
I knew he was in constant pain, but my mother never let him see a doctor. I didn’t really know why; adults get in trouble for hitting kids but I never learned anything in school about a wife hitting her husband in the face as he fell to his knees. All while he begged her for forgiveness. I thought that was all perfectly normal. So did the police. All of Daddy’s injuries were attributed to the crash. Even the bone fragments in his cornea.
Before she could talk her way out, my mother left, just up and walked out, abandoning my father in the hospital. With no way to make rent, I slept on a chair, in the room by his side. He was already sickly and weak after the surgery to remove the worse of the infection. His church started a crowdfunding campaign to help pay for chemo. But it didn’t last long. The treatment did a number on him. After just a month, I’m pretty sure I saw my father’s soul being dragged into hell.
He was violently ill, vomiting and convulsing at all hours of the night. He had a constant fever resulting in horrifying delusions. He claimed he was being burned alive, on a bed of hot coals, while demons drooled over his smoldering flesh. Each drop of their acidic fluid opened up sores on his skin; sores what would appear on his actual, physical body.
It got to the point where even full sedation did nothing to ease his pain. Since chemo would have only granted him a few more months at best, he came home to die in the bed that he once shared with my mother. I spent the summer of my Junior year by his side. with no other family in the area, it was determined that I would move in with my best friend, Kelly’s family until I was of age.
I watched my father in bed, writhing in pain. Each day I checked on him, to bring food, water, and kept him clean and presentable. But on just the second week, the site of his colostomy bag felt wet, and warm. Removing the blankets, there was so much dried blood and puss. I knew he had an abdominal infection. I called 911. By the time the paramedics arrived, he was sick with a bad fever, struggling to breathe on his own. But they wouldn’t take him.
The team was two women and a man but the tall blonde seemed to be the leader. She said my father had a DNR on file, with my mother listed as having medical power of attorney. I knew that was a lie. The fever left my father with a severely weakened heart. His kidneys and liver were already in failure. All I could do was wait for him to pass away. But he just got sicker and sicker.
Until the day he suffered his last seizure. I turned him on his side, allowing him to hopefully spit up whatever was blocking his airway. He started to cough up saliva laced with blood. “I-I need to talk to you.”
I simply nodded, ready to let him speak his peace.
“Y-You need to know the truth.”
“About your mother.”
“You mean, why she left?” I honestly did not want to talk about my mother.
“I-I had to make a bargain,” his voice had a sense of truth that I had never heard before.
“What are you talking about?”
“They’re going to come for me. You’ll be ok,” he gripped my hand tightly. “You’ll be ok. Just go to bed in the bathroom and lock the door.”
“Sure, Dad.” I had no idea what he meant but if nothing else it would be a nice quiet place to sleep.
The next morning, I awoke to the sight of my mother standing over an empty bed. “Your daddy passed in his sleep last night.”
I knew she was lying. “Where is he?”
The paramedics already took his body away. But don’t worry you’ll get to say your goodbyes at the memorial.
“Memorial?” She’d already made funeral plans? I should have known something was up.
The memorial, held in our living room, the same day was not an open casket or a casket of any kind, but rather a photo and an urn.
She had him cremated? I knew how long cremations take and less than a day was just insane. Was that even my father in the urn, or was he being held captive somewhere?
As the guests (my mother’s friends and a few people I recognized from church) dispersed I took the opportunity to steal the urn, locking myself in the closet the way I did as a child. I opened the urn and touched the ashes. If this as really him, I wanted to chance to say goodbye. And If not, I wanted real answers. I felt a pulse; a throbbing, human pulse. There was something inside the urn. I reached further down until the urn swallowed me up to my elbow. Only then did I see the truth; flashes of a memory that I would have rather forgotten.
My father had a ten-inch scar on his upper thigh. I was told it was the result of the accident. I had no reason to doubt the validity of the claim. After all he had been in surgery to remove massive pieces of metal and glass from his body. But I had seen the scar before. It looked like he cut into his inner thigh with a large kitchen knife. The wound had long healed over, forming scar tissue. And that tissue had scar tissue of its own: he had been hacking into his leg on multiple occasions. That was the image seared into my mind as I finally gripped the source of the pulse; a warm, still-beating human heart.
“Dad?” As the word left my lips, my word was plunged into darkness. A single point of light illuminated a figure. With the eerie silence, I felt as if I was watching a stage play.
My father sat in the shower, naked with his knees pulled to his chest. In his hand, he held a large serrated knife. I could hear him breathing as his hand trembled. He was mumbling to himself, praying. I watched in horror as he closed his eyes and brought the knife down on his own crotch, over and over. A pool of blood was forming underneath him when he suddenly heard a knock at the unseen door.
“Daddy?” asked the innocent voice of a first-grader who just got home from school. “Where are you?”
“I’m the bathroom, sweetheart,” he replied with a strained voice.
“Okay,” the child version of me said, as she took a seat outside the door. “I’ll wait for you to finish.”
My father chuckled, knowing how his request sounded. “No, sweetie, I’m not using the toilet,” he started to laugh, despite his situation, “I-I just need some time alone. Daddy just needs to rest for a while,” he reached his hand up to turn on the shower, allowing a stream of water to hit his body. This washed only a small amount of the blood down the drain.
Suddenly there came a third voice. “Where’s your father?” my mother sounded annoyed, maybe even drunk.
“Daddy’s resting in the shower,” my little voice replied.
“Like hell he is,” my mother didn’t even knock, she went straight to kicking open the door. “Go do your homework- now!” she made sure to slam it closed in my face before I had a chance to see what was actually happening.
“Jed, my love you are a f*****g sorry excuse for a man. I mean really, cutting the arteries in your legs? Is my little choir boy too much of a p***y to hang himself?” she paused; her mind suddenly overcome with a realization. “You were trying to castrate yourself, to deny me another child, and cut off my power.” She laughed as she stomped her foot down on his groin with a sickening crunch. “It doesn’t work like that. You don’t get to choose when you die or even how.”
I remember this moment, the child version of myself went to my parent’s bedroom and worked on homework, pretending to not hear the sounds emanating from the bathroom. But now I was treated to a stage performance of what my mother did to him. Standing over his body she turned on the water to its hottest setting, causing the bathroom to flood with steam. My father gritted his teeth in pain but he didn’t cry out for help.
When the steam cleared, she forced him on to his knees. “You’re mine,” she said with a sadistic moan, “I think I’ll let you live another ten years or so, just until I’m finished feeding on your precious soul. Unless you’d rather I start work on your daughter: MY daughter.”
My father quietly nodded in agreement, as if also trying to apologize for upsetting her.
She turned him, slamming his body into the wall. Her hands rummaged in an unseen cabinet she pulled out an electric toothbrush, rubbing it against her hand. “No, that’s too good for a mongrel like you.” She pulled out what appeared to be a cross between a curling iron and a hairdryer. As she brutally abused him, I quickly realized that the metal tool was probably hand made for that very purpose. She moaned with pleasure, grinding her hips despite the fact she was still completely clothed in her work uniform. “You like that? I know you do,” she kissed his neck, breathing into his ear. “Scream for me. You know want to.”
My father shook his head.
“I have ways of making you scream.”
My father let her do as she wished until broken his body fell limp. To his credit he never once screamed.
My mother was the same height as him, but too slim and slender to lift his body. So instead she dragged his naked corpse to the sofa. In the corner of the scene I caught sight of my six-year-old self, peeking from the doorway. Everything about the memory was correct; I had opened and closed the door, unable to see my father. No, I remember seeing his feet; his naked, blood covered feet. My mother chuckled, and left out the front door. The child version of myself locked herself in the bedroom. It was my turn now. I took a step forward towards his body. The sound under my feet was wooden, like an actual stage. “Dad?”
My father’s corpse-like form was looking up at the ceiling. “Sweetie? C-Can you hear me?”
“Yeah, Dad, I’m here.”
“Where are you?”
I had no idea how to answer that. “Are you really gone?”
“Why am I here? Why am I seeing this?”
“You were the only reason I stayed, the only reason I can stay.”
“Why were you cutting yourself? Did you want to die?”
“I tried to keep her power a bay. But she did things…”
“I know.” My mother was always so good at covering her tracks. When my father suffered from tremors, migraines and even seizures, she told people he was diagnosed with Multiple Sclerosis. Of course, he never went against her word. The lie made her look like a saint for staying married to him, even when she was cheating on him with every man in the county. “She did a lot of bad things.”
“There were dozens of other men. Her hunger was insatiable. You probably have at least a few brothers and sisters out there,” my father sighed. “I pray those children are as strong as you.”
“I think I would know if mom had been pregnant.”
“No, you wouldn’t,” he said with tears in his eyes. “It’s part of their power. Y-Your power.”
My power? What a joke. “Can I save you?”
“You save me by saving yourself. Give into her, just enough to learn her secrets and destroy her,” he sounded so confident, I felt sick to my stomach.
“I don’t know If I can.”
“You won’t have a choice.”
Light flooded my vision. The closet doors were flung open and I was dragged out by my legs. I screamed, but not for myself. I screamed because the urn flew out of my arms, spilling all over the floor.
“Grab the heart!” my mother shouted.
My eyes darted around, all of the women were people I’d met in the past; doctors, teachers, even some people from church. These were people who visited the hospital when my father was too sick to work. When he was bedridden, they brought food and medicine and offered their prayers. I always forced myself to be polite. But I always knew no one cared. They came to watch a show, to watch him die.
No, it was so much worse. I could remember times when I would leave him alone with a female visitor only to come back to him clutching his colostomy port in pain. They were all hurting him. And I let them kill him.
I let them kill my father.
The group of women bound me to a chair. I was sobbing so hard I couldn’t have fought back even if I tried.
My mother lifted my face. “I always knew he would choose you.” She patted my cheek while holding a cup of thick red soup. “When a slave dies, the final piece is his alone to offer.” She had cut up the heart, somehow mixing it with raw red blood. “Will you honor him by consuming the last of his flesh.”
I started to cough, but my chest was wrapped so tight I couldn’t breathe. I vomited down my chest.
“Julia, she clearly doesn’t want it!” said a voice in the crowd.
Others groaned in agreement. “Just eat the damn thing yourself!”
“I always could,” my mother replied, looking me in the eyes. “He’ll just go through my digestive system like the others. Or his power could be a catalyst for you.”
I took a deep breath and swallowed hard, tasting the bile in my throat. I had to believe I was strong enough, but I couldn’t stop the tears. “I-I’ll do it. I’ll take a sip.”
I closed my eyes and leaned my head forward since my arms and legs were bound. My mother proceeded to dump the entire cup on my face, letting the chunky blood fall into my mouth as I struggled to breathe. The pain was intense. A burning in my chest followed by a migraine.
I was standing over my father’s dying body. His slender form was curled into a fetal position as he shivered uncontrollably. He was so sick with fever his eyes were rolling back into his head.
My mother walked her fingers down his shoulder to his back. “When you die, no one will miss you. how does that feel? To know you will leave behind nothing in this world.”
My father held his hand in a fist. He was hiding something, the one thing they were not allowed to take from him. “No one leaves the world unchanged.”
“Says who?” my mother laughed.
“The Lord helps those who have the strength to prevail,” my father muttered. He gripped the cross tightly as she reached to handcuff him,
“You grip your cross, beg your God!”
With one quick motion, he forced his hand to his mouth and swallowed the necklace whole. I could see the bones in his chest as he violently convulsed, choking down each bead of the rosary.
My mother stripped naked, joining him in the bed. “After all these years, I’ve yet to hear you scream. I’ll settle for your tears and perhaps your heart.”
More women came in, they were all shapes and sizes but they all wore silver masks. Some had their mouths exposed while others did not. Those who wore full gimp masks. They abused my father to death. His hands were secured behind his back with wire that cut into his skin. Women took turns touching him, until his eyes rolled back, in his head.
He thrashed about, coughing so hard, I could see his body struggling to take in air. I knew he was having a seizure. I walked through the crowd like a ghost, passing through body after body until I reached my father’s side. “It’s okay, Dad. I’m here. I could feel his fingers move. He was caressing my hand. “You’re not alone. I won’t let you go through this alone.” My father was still alive. As he held my hand. I knew he was crying. “I love you.” I could feel the moment his heart gave out. His body started to rapidly degrade. His skin turned grey, transparent and tight against his bones.
Knowing their time was short, the women started to tear in his corpse, grabbing chunks of flesh and bone. They were devouring him like a piece of meat. With a pain-stricken heart, I reached in, passing my hand through their bodies until I felt a bone. I figured it was a rib, or maybe part of his sternum. I gripped it in my hand as his body turned to dust. If anyone deserved to keep a piece of him, it was me.
They’d taken everything. And why? Because they could.
Men are weak. And those who are pure of heart are even weaker. He could have left her at any time. But he stayed, for me.
Love made him weak.
No, love made him brave.
Love makes us all brave.
I blinked my eyes; I was back at the funeral with my hands still bound. The crowd just stared.
“All hail our newest daughter!” she said gleefully. “You will enjoy this life, I promise you.” My mother stroked my face. “Because you and me, we’re one in the same.”
“I don’t think so,” I flung my arm forward stabbing my mother in the throat with that ever was in my hand.
I assumed it was the bone.
It was the cross from my father’s rosary, now covered in gore.
My gift, my power, my destiny.
All hail the queen.
I’ll make you proud, Dad.