by Scott M. Roberts
Another eviction notice. Not really a notice, though -- a note. Just a couple of
lines scrawled out in Ernesto's handwriting, amounting to little more than, "Hey,
Mr. Rick Manchester, you're a filthy, lazy, S.O.B., get out in four days." That's
all it was. A note and a signature, Ernesto Ruiz Montalvo. The fourth this month,
counting down the days. And then, he'd have to abandon Tommy. He'd have to
leave his little son here alone.
Rick's fingers shook as he closed the front door. He needed a drink, but last
night's bottle was half gone. If he drank it now, he'd have nothing left after he
visited Tommy. Rick brushed his hands over his beard and stood and trembled at
the weight of the eviction note in his hand until he let it fall to the floor. Upstairs,
that's where he had to go now. Tommy would have to see him now, wouldn't he?
Because it was all about to end. Everything was about to be torn to pieces by
Ernesto Ruiz Montalvo and his damn eviction notes.
He touched the wall reverently as he made his way up the stairs. Even though
he'd put plaster over every spot, he knew right where to lay the tips of his fingers.
This was where Tommy's head hit the wall. This was where his Dukes of Hazard
watch tore into the wallpaper. This was where Rick picked his little son up by the
neck and threw him down the stairs. The top step. It squeaked today just as
loudly as it had fifteen years ago. In four days, he'd never be allowed to touch
these walls again. Never hear the squeak of the step that warned him too late to
The bedroom. He'd had his last dream here. The very last one. Sergeant Davies
screaming in the rain while men were flashed into gore by Vietnamese bullets, and
poor, scrawny Private Rick Manchester curled up under a bush, too scared to
scream or run, and he knew it was a dream because Sergeant Davies had been
killed by a grenade outside Dong Hoi, but here he was impaled on a stake, and
Timmons and Rosas were trying to put their guts back in their stomachs, but in
that other Vietnam, that real Vietnam, they had been crushed underneath a jeep
that flipped, and all their blood was running down toward him in the rain, and it
was pooling at his feet, and it hissed and something dark and cold as iron rose up
from out of it, but that never happened in the real Vietnam, and this thing coming
out of their blood and pain, it was worse than war and Hell, and if it touched him,
Rick knew he'd spend all his soul's days devoted to it, and then a hand on his
neck, a little hand like Charlie's hands were, and now he screamed at last, and
leaped on his attacker, strangling him like he was about to be strangled, only he
realized too late the hand was soft and the fingers weren't just little, they were
tiny, and the step squeaked, and Marie screamed and Sergeant Davies screamed
and little Tommy opened his mouth but didn't make a sound just like Private Rick
Manchester. But the thing in the pool of blood laughed.
No more dreams. Not even on the lonely, angry nights in the mental hospital. Not
even when they put him on suicide watch and doped him up so much he couldn't
do anything else but sleep.
Rick crossed the room to the dumbwaiter. It had been here when he and Marie
had first rented the place. When Tommy had been a baby, they'd put him on the
little sliding tray, and haul him up and down, up and down . . . it was the only way,
sometimes, to get him to sleep. It became their favorite indoor game. Five years,
he'd hauled Tommy up and down. Five years, Tommy's laughter echoed up the
chute while Rick's laughter chased him down. Then the welding accident, the
morphine, the flashbacks . . . In one year, it was all gone. Tommy, Marie, life --
gone like an echo with no one to hear it.
The door to the dumbwaiter was about at waist level. Rick slid it open. It was
barely big enough for him to fit his shoulders through. That was fine -- Rick had
learned he didn't have to even put his shoulders through, just his face. Close eyes,
insert head, and hold breath: a little safety drill. He waited a moment, and then
opened his eyes.
All the world spun and swirled like a million dark butterflies blown by a breeze
into Rick's face.
He was somewhere else. It was nighttime, and the moon was big and silver in the
sky, brighter than it ever was in any sky Rick had seen. He was in a wheat field,
and a breeze made the stalks dance softly. There was no eviction notice here, no
Ernesto Ruiz Montalvo. Just the moon, the wheat, the breeze.
He was sitting up on a little rise. Rick could see his red overalls. He pushed away
the desire to run to his son -- just moved forward easy through the wheat, his back
straight. Slow and calm and maybe this time, Tommy would stay. Maybe he'd let
Rick hold him again. Maybe they could sit down together on that little rise, and
Rick could smell him, and wrap his arms around him and hug him, and feel the
smoothness of that little six-year-old face against his grizzled cheek.
He was walking too quickly. Tommy saw him coming, and jumped up. His eyes
were wide and dark, as black as the starless sky. He turned and ran. Rick could
see his head just over the bobbing wheat, a loose tangle of brown curls.
"Tommy! Tommy, please stop! Stop!"
He had to catch him this time. He had to make Tommy understand that this was
the end. So Rick ran too, following Tommy under the bright moon, through the
whispering, rushing wheat and the warm breeze. He tried to make it a game --
Tommy wasn't really terrified of him. This was play. A daddy and his boy
playing tag. But the breeze carried Tommy's sobbing back to his ears.
"Go away!" Tommy screamed when Rick was close enough to put his hand out,
just an inch from Tommy's bright red overalls. "Go away!"
And then Rick tripped over nothing he could see. He fell, and fell, and fell, until
he was back in the bedroom, looking down the dark chute.
Rick stood there numbly, willing the wheat field back. It wouldn't come. It never
did. Tommy had told him to go away, and so he did, and he couldn't come back
until tomorrow. Tomorrow . . . maybe tomorrow Tommy would listen to him.
But he wouldn't. Rick knew it. Tommy hadn't listened the first day Rick had put
his head into the chute, looking to see why the tray had stuck. He had gone back
every day since then, even when he was bone tired from medication and liquor and
work, even when he knew all he could do was watch his son run off into the wheat
Tommy never listened.
Ernesto was at the front door. Rick could hear him pounding and shouting his
name. Little rat's key didn't work, now, did it? Must have something to do with
the new lock Rick had installed after getting the last eviction note. Rick lay on the
nappy old couch in the living room, and smiled, listening to Ernesto. Let him try
the back door, too. Let him go on back there and see how Rick had fixed it, too.
Let him bang away, and scream and shout.
Rick got up to get a drink of water -- and the front door swung inward, without
even making a squeak. Ernesto looked in at Rick, surprised.
"Hi, Ernesto," Rick managed slowly. How had the door been opened? There was
someone else standing behind the Mexican, someone tall and broad shouldered,
with graying hair. The stranger had a face like a retired Army General. Apple pie
and industry and discipline all rolled into one.
Ernesto came in. "Took you long enough to open the door."
Rick shrugged. "I was asleep."
"You was drunk. It's eleven o'clock, man. Why ain't you working?"
"I don't see the point, Ernesto. You're evicting me, remember? I've got nothing
to work for now, since I don't have to pay rent." Mr. Army General was still
standing outside. "Come in if you're coming in, mister. Don't just stand there
with the door open -- you'll let the flies in."
"You invite him in, but not me, Rick? After all I've done for you?"
Ernesto was in his face now. Rick backed off a bit. "He's not evicting me."
Mr. Army General came in and closed the door softly. When he moved up,
Ernesto moved aside. Like he was obeying an unspoken order. Mr. Army General
stuck out a hand. "Quincy Umble, Mr. Manchester."
Rick took his hand slowly. Quincy Umble had hands as cool as iron. "Rick. Just
"Rick." Quincy Umble nodded. "I am going to be purchasing this home from Mr.
Ernesto guffawed. "See? He is evicting you. In a way."
Rick sagged away. "Oh."
Quincy Umble did not look at Ernesto. "I'd like to take a look around your home,
Rick. Ernesto, I don't think you need to stay -- why don't you go get the car
started up? I won't be long."
And just like that, not a word spoken back, Ernesto left them alone. Rick watched
him go. He turned to look at Quincy Umble, and his breath caught in his throat.
Quincy Umble's eyes were as large as moons, as dark as a starless night sky. And
they were hungry.
"So," Quincy Umble said. "Rick. Show me around."
He shouldn't do it. He didn't want to do it. Men with hunger like that in their
eyes -- Rick knew that look. Like some of the soldiers he'd known, looking at the
pretty young Vietnamese girls and licking their lips. Like the child molesters he'd
seen in the hospital. Like the kids he'd seen in some alleyways, hunkered over
needles and syringes. Hunger that doesn't ever, ever die, and here it was right in
his own home, asking him to show it around. It had no place here.
"I don't want to," Rick said. His voice got swallowed up in those black eyes.
Quincy Umble smiled, showing his white, even teeth. He clapped Rick on the
shoulder. "I understand perfectly. But you should. Be a good host. Show me
Quincy Umble's hand was on his shoulder still. Rick felt his head getting light.
"This is the kitchen," he said, pointing. "And, uh, this is the living room. I had to
sell my T.V. You know, to, uh, buy food."
"I see. I like the pyramid of liquor bottles that have taken its place."
"Uh, yeah. See, I know I have a problem. I do. I've been to AA, you know."
"I can imagine. Won't you show me upstairs?"
Rick led him upstairs. Quincy Umble's arm never left his shoulder. Rick felt his
arms twitching, wanting to touch the sacred places he'd covered with plaster. But
he couldn't. Not with Quincy Umble watching. Not with Quincy Umble's arm on
They came to the bedroom. "Exquisite," Quincy Umble said, and his black eyes
were on the dumbwaiter. "Beautiful." He swallowed, and Rick watched his
Adam's apple bob up, down, up. He whispered, "Sweet."
Quincy Umble let him go, and Rick felt all strength ebb right out of his body.
Quincy Umble crossed over to the dumbwaiter, laid his hands on the door, and
opened it slowly. Tenderly. But Rick knew his eyes were hungry, and they were
peering down the chute.
"Beautiful boy," Quincy Umble muttered. "So tragic. So sad."
"Get away from him!" Rick raged. He hauled himself to his feet, lurching against
the wall until he stood at the dumbwaiter. "Get away!"
He struck at Quincy Umble, knocking him away from the dumbwaiter. Was
Tommy all right? What had Quincy Umble done? How had he known about the
Quincy Umble straightened himself, and those terrible black eyes fixed themselves
on Rick. He didn't say a word. But suddenly, his hand was around Rick's throat,
squeezing, until it felt like his eyes were going to burst out of their sockets. No
matter how hard he flailed and beat at Quincy Umble, he couldn't breathe, he
couldn't get free.
The top stair was squeaking.
"I just love irony, don't you, Rick?" Quincy Umble said. And then he heaved Rick
through the air.
Rick's head cracked against the wall as he fell. He crumbled into a heap at the
bottom of the stairs. Everything was a madness of rushing blood and spinning
lights. He tried to see the steps -- they were right in front of him, they had to be.
He had to get up there, and get that thing away from the dumbwaiter, away from
Tommy. Rick's fingers scrabbled at the edge of the step but he was too weak to
push himself up.
The sound of footsteps coming down. Quincy Umble wasn't going after Tommy
right now. Rick felt his big hands close around his arms and drag him into the
living room. Then, a breath on his eyes, as damp as November rain, and frigid.
Rick felt something snap together in his skull, and the pounding blood stopped,
and the lights stopped spinning. Quincy Umble let him fall to the floor, then sat
heavily on his chest, straddling him so his knees held Rick's arms pinned to the
"Get off of me," Rick grunted.
Quincy Umble pulled something out of his jacket. It looked at first like an ugly
stone knife, its edges caked with blood; but as Quincy Umble turned it, Rick saw
that it was a long, thick spike, it's head worn from being hammered; but at last he
saw, really saw, what it was: a combat knife. One edge keen and honed, the other
serrated. Quincy Umble lowered the knife to Rick's temple and made a quick
little snick! Rick felt tufts of his beard fall away onto his ear.
"What do you want!" Rick demanded. "Why are you doing this to me?"
Quincy Umble did not look at him. Snick, snick! More of his beard fell away. "I
know you, Richard Manchester. I've known you since . . . Vietnam. Yes. You
got away from me for a bit when you married Marie, but I found you again. When
you burned your hands, I found you." His voice was low, teasing. Soft. The knife
scraped against Rick's face. "When you became addicted to morphine, how
delicious, I knew how things would end. I was with you when you had your last
dream, when you lifted poor little Tommy and threw his body down the stairs. I
was with you through your divorce, through your trial, when despite your best
efforts, they found you not guilty. I stayed close to you every night in the asylum.
I was with you when you visited Tommy's grave, and Marie and her new husband
found you and she slapped you, and he kicked you in the crotch. I knew you'd
came back to this house. I knew you'd find a way to pull Tommy back to you. I
knew your misery would bring you to him, and him to you. It's all about misery,
Rick. You understand that don't you? Misery can do terrible, terrible things.
People forget what misery can do. I do not. I know all the wounds, all the depth,
all the ache of your misery. It is . . . sweet to me, Rick."
"But now, old man, you're tapped out." Quincy Umble had finished shaving off
Rick's beard. "Your misery has just about reached its peak. I don't want you,
now. Tommy -- well, Tommy, trapped up in that dumbwaiter, no way to get free.
Dead. It's not true that spirits can feel no misery, you know. Capture a ghost, and
its capacity for misery is endless, because it cannot die. Absolutely. So I'm
going to take your boy with me. I'm going to pull him right out of that chute, and
place him in my strongest butterfly-box so he will never get away."
Rick wailed and struggled, but Quincy Umble just chuckled. He wiped his cold
hands on Rick's smooth, bare face. "Your beard will never grow back, now, Rick.
Never. Go on. Take a look at yourself."
Quincy Umble pulled him up to the window so he could see his reflection. There
was no strength in Rick to move against him. The face in the window was old,
tired. But it was Tommy. Tommy, as if he had aged, and been through years of
pain and trial. His eyes were full of failure and alcoholism. His reflection was
Tommy, in misery. Rick choked back a scream, and Quincy Umble pushed him away.
"It'd be a shame if you killed yourself just to get away from living a failed life,
Rick," said Quincy Umble. "So don't. I'm serious. Really. I'm going to leave
now, but I'll be back. In two days. I have to get an early start, you know, so
please have your things moved out before 9 a.m. The demolition equipment will
probably be here tomorrow evening -- I don't think I mentioned I was destroying
this house, did I? Anyway, just please be out by 9 a.m. on Friday.
"And say hello to that sweet little boy of yours for me Rick, if you go visit him.
I'll be seeing him soon."
The door to the dumbwaiter was still open. Rick sat opposite to it, on the far side
of the room. The moon had risen once, and set once, and now it was getting dark
again. Rick's head was buzzing for liquor. But he didn't leave. What if Quincy
Umble came back, with his black eyes and iron hands? What if he looked in the
The motors of big machines pulling into his driveway interrupted his thoughts,
made his heart jump. But he didn't get up. Not even to see Tommy.
What was the point? He was a fool to think Tommy would ever love him. Love
the man who had choked him, thrown him, killed him? Good daddies don't choke
their little boys. Good daddies don't have dreams about men being impaled on
sticks, and dark things rising from their misery. Good daddies don't get addicted
to morphine, even if their hands are raw flesh and burn every second of every day
so they can't sleep, can't think, can't do anything but be in agony.
The machines outside were as silent as the moonless sky, now. Rick didn't move
from his spot on the floor, just sat and stared at the open door of the dumbwaiter.
Before the welding accident, there had been good times with Marie and Tommy.
The trip to Kansas to see buffalo and antelope. The daily games of catch and tag.
If he had known . . .
Misery. That's what Quincy Umble had said this was all about. His misery had
drawn Tommy to him. Like drawing the tray up the dumbwaiter. Only now, the
dumbwaiter was stuck in the middle of the chute, so Tommy couldn't ever come
all the way out . . . Or maybe, Rick's misery had drawn him here, and Tommy was
too scared to come all the way through. And that's why the dumbwaiter stuck.
And why Quincy Umble could strip him out, maybe, because he was caught in the
dumbwaiter and couldn't get up to Rick, or down to escape.
If Tommy was stuck . . . why couldn't Rick pull him out?
Rick crossed the room, and gave the draw rope attached to the dumbwaiter a tug.
The dumbwaiter wouldn't budge. He did it again, hard this time -- and the
dumbwaiter slid up in the chute a little. Rick cried out, but the rope snapped taut
suddenly, then dragged downward a couple inches. No matter how hard he
struggled with the rope now, the dumbwaiter wouldn't budge.
Could he push it down? Maybe with a stick or a long pole . . . but Rick didn't
have either. He'd have to climb into the chute if he wanted to push it down.
Impossible. He couldn't fit through the opening. Only to his shoulders. The
chute looked wide enough, but the door . . . If he lifted his arms above his head,
and edged in, he could do it. Rick ran his hand around the opening. He could get
out the same way.
Rick felt his heart thumping hard. What time was it? Rick raced downstairs to the
clock on the oven -- 4:30. Four-and-a-half hours. He could manage that. On the
way back up the steps, he took them two at a time.
He forgot to touch the sacred wall places.
Rick took off all his clothes but his shoes and skivvies, and tucked his shoelaces
securely back into the shoe. If there were any sharp edges in the chute, he didn't
want clothes snagging on them and slowing him down. Better to scrape himself
bloody than to be slow. Almost as an afterthought, he tied a knot in the end of the
draw rope to keep it from slipping through the pulley. And that way, he could use
the rope to pull himself back up the chute, too.
"Close eyes. Deep breath. In we go," he muttered.
He scraped his shoulders and ribs on the opening, but was able to brace his arms
against either wall of the chute and pull his waist and legs in. It was a tight fit.
Eyes still closed, he pulled on the draw rope until the knot caught on the pulley,
and it was secure. Then he began to descend.
The chute was close and hot. Rick was soon bathed in sweat, and his bare skin
kept slipping and chafing on the walls. But he kept his eyes closed as he worked
his way down. This would be his farewell to Tommy. He'd set him free. This
was Tommy's eviction day. No -- this was Tommy's day of emancipation. He
would be free of Rick, free of Quincy Umble, free of the misery that they had both
imposed and wanted to impose on him.
His feet touched something solid. The dumbwaiter. Rick resisted the urge to open
his eyes, resisted the trigger that would take him to his son and the wheat field.
Instead, he took a breath of the hot, stuffy air, and pushed with all his might down,
down, down for Tommy --
"Rick. What the hell are you doing?"
Quincy Umble's voice caught Rick by surprise. He felt his eyelids trembling, felt
them opening, and saw him grinning down.
The world broke apart into thousands of dark butterflies. The sound of their wings
swallowed Rick's cry of dismay.
He was in the wheat field. The moon was as bright as ever, the wheat just as gold
-- but the wind was as cold as rain. Tommy lay shivering at his feet.
"I'm waiting for daddy," Tommy said. His lips were blue. "Leave me alone. Go
away. I'm waiting for my daddy."
But this time, Rick found he did not go away.
"Tommy, is there someone else here?" Rick asked. "Is Quincy Umble here?"
"He left. You leave, too. I'm waiting for my daddy."
The wind stopped. Out at the edge of the wheat, Rick saw something moving --
not through the wheat, but on top of it. Where its feet touched, the wheat froze in
place, seeping blood from the roots. The creature had no features, no fingers or
toes, but was all jagged blackness. Arms and legs and a torso of dark shards, and
its head was a massive, gaping blackness that devoured the moonlight around it.
Tommy whimpered as it got close. Rick put himself between his son and the
"Little man," the thing said in Quincy Umble's voice, "get out of my way."
It never moved, but suddenly Rick's hands and arms were covered in a wash of
molten metal. Rick screamed and thrust his hands into the ground, but it had
already become hard from the creature's presence. His flesh dropped away from
his hands, leaving gobs on the ground as he tried to find something to wipe off the
"I will allow you to wipe your hands on Tommy," said the creature. "You may be
free of the pain that way, and no other."
Tommy wasn't moving. His lips gave a sudden twitch -- a whisper. Rick knew
what he was saying. I'm waiting for my daddy.
Pain -- that's all this was. Just pain. Not misery. And he could live with pain.
Rick knelt to the ground and let the metal eat right through to his bone. He cried.
He wailed and whimpered and screamed. But he did not move an inch closer to
Something formed at the end of the creature's arm -- a stone dagger, a spike, a
knife, a black box with a butterfly pattern on it. And last of all, a squat spider
coiling and uncoiling its legs. The creature whispered, "Tommy, come to me
Tommy's lips moved. I'm waiting for my daddy.
"I said, come."
Tommy screamed. Something black and crawling was eating away at his feet,
creeping up to his thighs, a slick darkness that devoured him. Just a moment, then
it was gone, leaving the boy whole but whimpering.
"Come to me, Tommy." The creature gestured, and the black spider on its hand
I am waiting for my daddy.
The black goop appeared again, moving slower now, creeping up Tommy's feet,
hissing up his ankles. Tommy gurgled and screamed and cried, and writhed on the
hard, cold ground.
Rick struggled to speak. "It's just pain, Tommy." The metal on his arms flashed
hotter suddenly, splashing onto his chest. "Like shots! Remember how your butt
hurt after the shots for kindergarten? It's just pain, Tommy, and pain goes away.
It isn't like losing Grandma, right? It won't hurt forever, it isn't misery! Dammit,
Quincy Umble, leave him alone, he's a child!"
The metal on Rick's arms surged upward, searing through his eyes, filling his
nasal cavity, burning through his eardrums. Rick tried to scream, would have
screamed, but he choked on hot metal as it poured over his tongue and down his
throat, into his lungs.
"Touch your son, Rick Manchester. Touch him, just lay one little finger on his
leg, and I will release you. No more pain. No more misery. One touch, Rick."
He burned and burned and burned, but Rick didn't move. He endured. And deep
in his chest, something burst. Everything that had gone before was nothing, was
just a little burn, compared to this. This was Sergeant Davies suffering on the end
of a punji stick, Rosas and Timmons eviscerated by shrapnel, and they all looked
at him, Private Rick Manchester cowering in the bushes, and he didn't move to
help them. This was Marie screaming for thirty minutes until the ambulance came
to take Tommy's body away while Rick stood at the top of the stairs and looked
down at her anguish and Tommy's broken neck, afraid to move a muscle. This
was living every day of eternity with Tommy's ghost, never able to touch him.
This was the failure and shame of his whole life, and it seared him more deeply
and more horribly than molten metal.
"Touch your boy, Rick"
Jagged words, softly spoken.
"He is right there, your sweet boy, you can hold him close now, Rick. Let him
share your misery."
But Rick lay still beneath his shame and agony. His misery would never be
The wheat field shook with a warm wind. Everything spun.
Rick was in the chute. His chest burned madly within him, his heart seizing. The
left side of his body was completely numb.
He lifted one foot and then let it fall hard on the top of the dumbwaiter. Fall, he
prayed above the pain in his chest and the misery in his mind. Fall and free my
Rick gulped his last breath and closed his eyes.
And opened them.
The world exploded into butterflies. They came from all directions at once as the
chute dissolved. On his arms, on his hands, between his legs, under his feet, a
wash of every color, every size -- they swarmed and floated all over him.
Far away, something dark and jagged squealed and was broken on their wings.
"Daddy. You came."
A small hand on his neck. A warm little hand, as tender and welcome as sunlight.
Rick took a breath, and the air was full of Tommy-scent. That unique, peculiar
boy-smell, like grass and good earth, and sweat. And he felt Tommy's face on his
face, smooth and warm. Eyes, brown as honey, looked into his eyes, and Rick
lifted his hands to stroke Tommy's hair and touch his cheek.
They settled down in that field of rushing, hushing wheat. The moon set; the wind
grew warmer. And they talked. They talked about Rick's war, and they talked
about how Tommy had died. They talked about pain, and misery. They wept
together, as fathers and sons should do, and do not often enough. And when the
moon rose again, they settled against one another, Tommy's head on Rick's chest,
Rick's arm snug around his son's waist.
And they slept.
And they both dreamed good dreams.