My Uncle Joe spent five years in one of those “re-acculturation” centers. He was one of the lucky ones — locked up, not put down — because my grandfather had so much money and my dad says Joe was always his favorite.
I was only nine then, and I still don’t know how many people my uncle bit. I know it was enough that my mom left us the day after Dad turned him in.
“Joey’s one of our best patients,” the receptionist told my dad. She wore a thick turtleneck and too much perfume. “How nice for him to go home in time for the holidays. Here’s your kit–sedatives, vitamins, first week’s blood supply. You’ll be getting shipments weekly; like any produce, it needs to be fresh.”
Dad grunted. Neither of them mentioned the last piece of the kit, the gleaming wooden stake.
“Bet you didn’t get grub like this in the clink, Joe,” said my grandfather.
Uncle Joe smiled with his mouth closed. My dad had given him the smallest possible portions of everything, and I think all of us but Grandpa were praying he could get through this late-night Thanksgiving Dinner without throwing up.
The night before, Dad had shown Uncle Joe the bedroom set up in the basement, pointing out the cardboard and blackout curtains over the two small windows. My uncle ruffled my hair. “Look at you all grown up,” he said. “You playing football this year?”
“Next year,” Dad said.
Joe licked his teeth. “I haven’t been to a football game in quite a while.”
“One thing at a time.” Dad gave him a blood pack and pushed me up the stairs. He wedged a kitchen chair under the doorknob. “Should give us some warning, anyway.”
From the look of Dad at dinner I’d bet he lay awake all night, holding that stake under his pillow.
“How about pie?” said Grandpa. Uncle Joe got up and fetched it, then went outside. Dad followed him.
I gulped my pumpkin pie as fast as I could. “I’ll be right back, Grandpa.” I paused by the glass door to the deck. Dad and his brother stood outside it, looking over the back yard: one skeletal figure, one full-fleshed.
“I wish there’d be snow,” Joe said. “Snow and a full moon, it’s almost like daylight again.”
Dad reached out and dropped his hand on Joe’s shoulder.
“Get some of this pie, Joe,” Grandpa called from the dining room.
In the morning, we would find the cardboard ripped away from the basement windows. Ashes would drift across the bedspread downstairs and dance with dust motes in the sun.
I would say, “Wow. He really hated it, huh?”
And Dad would squeeze my shoulder. “He regretted what he’d done to others. Couldn’t live with it. You hear me?”
So that’s how we tell it. My grandfather is proud of his boy’s conscience, his courage. I can’t argue with that; I just think he’s got the wrong son in mind.
Brynn MacNab has been reading speculative fiction since before she knew there was any other kind, and writing it for almost as long. She is delighted to return once again to Flash Fiction Online, where her first professional story was published in 2012. You can find links to more of her work at brynnmacnab.blogspot.com.
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