08 Apr A Welcome Guest
“A Welcome Guest”Written by Kieran F. West Edited by Craig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
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⏰ ESTIMATED READING TIME — 27 minutes
My early childhood was spent on my father’s farm in the middle of nowhere. Literally, in the middle of nowhere.
We had no hospitals or police stations near us; everything we ate, we made from scratch.
It was like being Amish or something.
The farm was called Beacon Farm, and to even get to the store was a long drive in my father’s old four-by-four.
We had a plethora of animals. We had goats, sheep, cows and pigs. My father managed the slaughterhouse. My mother spent her time making butter, baking bread and preparing dinner for my father and me.
And I often walked the grounds. All day long, I wandered the grounds.
It was a fantastic time.
My childhood was defined by Beacon Farm…that was until, one day, Kenneth arrived. The stability of the farm and my childhood would be defined by the guests that came upon Beacon Farm to take what they felt they were owed.
Kenneth stood in the doorway. He was drenched from the rain. He wore a flat cap, and he had a big bushy coat on.
He smiled despite the drips of rain soaking his face. He seemed happy. He had a warm and amiable nature.
“Hello…is that Mr. Starlin? It’s me, Kenneth!” Kenneth said.
My father was Bobby Starlin, and my mother was Deidre Starlin. Not many people knew this.
Beyond some of the far-to-reach neighbors, the local police and the taxman, strangers didn’t know our names, nor did they care. This was a life of family solitude.
Kenneth was a rude awakening. A stranger knocking out the blue, unheard of on Beacon Farm.
“May I help you, sir?” My father said.
My father was a Christian man. Not one to turn away a visitor or guest. But wary in the same way, a farmer instinctively protects their land.
The man put a handout and said:
“It’s me, Kenneth. May I come in?” Kenneth said.
And with that, he was within the grounds of our house drinking a pot of coffee with my folks. I was by the doorway watching the interaction with naivety and lack of adult understanding which is only now heightened by hindsight.
“I never expected you to remember me, Mr. Starlin,” Kenneth said.
My father nodded sternly.
“Your mother adopted me. For three years, I lived on Beacon Farm with you. Three long years. I was only ten years old when I lived with you and your parents. You must have been a couple years older,” Kenneth said with a laugh and a big wide grin.
“I am afraid I don’t remember you…Kenneth, is it?” My father said.
Kenneth looked solemnly. A sadness overtook his face. He looked down into his shoes.
“I understand, sir. That is a shame.” Kenneth said.
“Well, is there anything we can do for you?” My father asked.
“I have a small request. I have traveled a long way to see you. And, well, to be honest with you, I am a little upset that you cannot remember me. But, you see, I walked over thirty miles to get here, sir. I was just wondering if I could stay the night? I’m worried about catching something if I stay in that rain any longer,” Kenneth said.
My father frowned.
My father was not one to welcome a stranger that he’d never met before.
“I am sorry, but I am afraid I must send you on your way. We do not usually allow for guests.” My father said.
Kenneth looked at my father and widened his eyes.
“I am sorry, sir. It is just that I thought you were like a brother to me at the time. That is all.” Kenneth said.
My father looked confused. This man had come all this way to shake his hand, and that was it.
What was the purpose of this journey?
“Oh honey, you can’t turn him away in the rain,” my mother said.
My father clearly couldn’t remember Kenneth at all, but it was true that his mother had fostered and looked after many children on Beacon Farm.
My father was the only natural birth to his parents, but his mother’s philanthropy made Beacon Farm what it was to that day.
My father stood up from his seat.
“Stay the night, Kenneth. That is not a problem. Join us for dinner. It is delightful to have a former resident of Beacon Farm back again,” my father said.
During dinner, Kenneth ate like a man that had never eaten before. He was ravenous. He stuffed away plate after plate and then asked for seconds. My mother was delighted to feed such an appreciative man.
My father looked on with genuine frightening concern. You could see the wheels of remembrance calculating within my father’s brain. He studied the man intently.
That evening we retired to the lounge, and Kenneth played several games of chess with my father.
My father was a brilliant chess player and could not believe it when Kenneth won game after game after game.
Irritated and annoyed at the chess defeats, my father called an end to the evening and went to bed. He requested that Kenneth join us for breakfast before he went on his way.
We all went to bed with the stranger in the guest room.
The irony of having a guest room and never any guests.
As I slept, I could hear the strange mutterings coming from the guest room.
The strange utterings and noises. The word ‘master’ was ringing out from the room, and a strange chant, a strange, whispered chant. I could hear demented whisperings from within the room.
I made it inside, master. I made it right inside. I will speak to him, master. I will make him remember what he chose to forget.
That next morning my mother fixed eggs. She put a plate of eggs and bread in front of Kenneth, and he ate with a rapid gusto and aplomb.
“I am happy to give you a ride into town, Kenneth,” my father said.
“Well, that would be amazing Mr. Starlin, but I was hoping to just stay one extra night until I can get back to full health. I am still somewhat drowsy from the rain.” Kenneth said.
My father frowned. His generosity had failed him. This man had arrived from nowhere, eaten his food, slept in his bed and beaten him at chess in his own house, and my father’s memory of the man was lost.
“After all, I came looking for a brother that doesn’t remember me,” Kenneth said.
My father was a gentleman, and something about this guest was eating at my father.
You could see it clearly.
My father sighed reluctantly.
“One more night,” My father said.
“Thank you, Mr. Starlin, really, thank you so much,” Kenneth said.
That evening as we sat down for dinner. Kenneth leaned close to my father and physically pulled my father’s chair closer to him. He did it with a big, threatening smirk on his face. My mother nearly dropped the tray of potatoes.
My father looked aghast.
A fury took upon his face until Kenneth said:
“It was a shame about the fire on this land. The one in the barn. Do you remember the fire in the barn, Bobby?”
My father slumped his shoulders at the words fire.
I never knew about a fire on this land. I looked at my mother, and she shrugged her shoulders in equal confusion.
“What fire?” my mother yelled.
My father shushed my mother immediately. He looked pleadingly toward Kenneth.
“It was a tragic shame that they couldn’t save all of those children,” Kenneth said.
My father nodded. My father began to tremble and shake. I saw his leg moving from underneath the table. A profound sense of grief had overcome him and shot his adrenaline to a thousand there and then.
“I often wonder how the fire started. All those curious little boys you had, curiously exploring the property and who knows, maybe one of them set fire to the barn,” Kenneth said.
My father’s eyes widened.
“It was the worst day of my life,” my father said.
I looked at my mother.
The worst day of his life, and we didn’t even know about it.
“A better day for you than for all those children in the barn…wouldn’t you say, Mr. Starlin?” Kenneth said.
“Children?” My mother screeched.
My father looked upon the dining table in a stark shame. He refused to meet Kenneth’s eyes.
“Was it you that set fire to the barn, Mr. Starlin?” Kenneth asked with a hushed malevolence.
“Absolutely not!” my father said in a loud incredulity.
His face reddened, and my father’s fist was clenched.
“Good. More pork, please,” Kenneth said.
And my mother heaped more pork upon Kenneth’s plate.
The sins of the father.
Kenneth winked at my father and then at me. Then he smiled at my mother.
“Delicious. What do you think, Bobby?” Kenneth said.
The name Bobby was said with a real punch and bite.
Kenneth managed to stick around a fair bit after the agreed two nights. And every night, I heard the weird prayers and chants from the guest room.
Kenneth shoveled our food into his mouth.
He watched our television.
Spent hours consumed in the bathtub and walking the ground, to the point where my own joyful exploration of the farm was now restricted to the small patch of forest where I’d built a treehouse.
Kenneth had successfully conquered and colonized the farm.
He was everywhere.
Every room I entered had Kenneth in it. Every piece of land was taken by Kenneth’s presence.
My father became dour at the intruder, but it got to the point where Kenneth was a week in and my father lost any gumption to kick the man out.
My father had readily accepted Kenneth, just like that.
I approached my father. The frustration of seeing Kenneth everywhere was pissing me off. I was to broach the subject with him.
My dad was in the lounge reading the newspaper, legs crossed, cigarette in his mouth and coffee still steaming on the table.
“Father – how long is Kenneth going to live with us?” I asked.
“Son, Kenneth doesn’t live with us.” He said.
“But he’s here every day, and I miss when it was just the three of us,” I said.
My father sucked hard on the cigarette and blew it out again.
“Son, this man pertains to being a brother of mine. My mother took in many children, and I regret that perhaps we owe this man more than you could imagine…for the sake of your grandmother’s legacy. Do you remember your grandmother?” He asked.
“Yes,” I said.
“It’s for her. And for me. And for Beacon Farm. The sins of the father are carried on to their children, if you catch my drift,” he said.
I didn’t. I didn’t catch any drift.
“Thanks, Father,” I said, and I walked out of the room.
Nobody in the house could ever sleep anymore.
Kenneth was drowning out our evenings with a fearsome chant every single evening. It was a prayer. It was a call. It was a beckon to the afterlife.
“I am sorry, but this is ridiculous,” I heard my mother scream from the bedroom.
“I know, sweetie,” my father said.
“Then kick him out. Like you said you would,” my mother said, far too loud.
My father paused.
Then the room went quiet.
Then the deadly chanting stopped.
I held my breath.
The ringing of silence went through our ears and echoed throughout the house.
And then the chanting began again.
“He’s a guest,” my father scowled.
At the end of the week, my parents were resigned to the guest room, and Kenneth had taken over the master bedroom, moving his cap and two sets of clothes with him.
I couldn’t understand the change in dynamics and hierarchy, but my father was initially the one that Kenneth had spoken up towards on their first meeting, but somewhere during the stay, my father was now answerable to Kenneth.
And now Kenneth spoke down towards my father.
Something had turned somewhere, and my father was now petrified of Kenneth. But I couldn’t see where the change occurred, except for when Kenneth mentioned the fire.
My parents waited on Kenneth hand over foot.
Kenneth was sitting in the kitchen with a knife and fork banging against the kitchen table, awaiting pile after pile of delicious food that my mother slaved over all day to prepare.
I was just a casual observer of this madness, but my parents had begun forsaking the farm for Kenneth.
And as I sat eating toast, Kenneth poured bacon and eggs and coffee down his throat. I looked upon the palm of his hand, and I saw a luminescent pebble on the very center of the surface.
And I saw a strange power within the amoeba on his hand. I saw my parents gazing at the same thing fearfully.
I saw that Kenneth had power from within the very palm of his hand. And I recoiled in abject fear.
“Do not fear the pebble, my lad. The pebble means well. The spirit of Penwarden means well.” Kenneth said.
“Who is Penwarden?” I asked
“Now, let us not bother Kenneth, young man,” my father said, and he hoisted me off my seat and ushered me out onto the grounds.
“A smart lad,” I heard Kenneth say.
Penwarden was the thing that Kenneth spoke to every night. I came to realize that my parents had gathered an awareness of Penwarden during their stay. My father recoiled at the mention of the name.
Penwarden was the name I had heard Kenneth chant in the now colonized master bedroom. But who this was was beyond my young grasp. But the way I saw it, my father prayed to Jesus, and Kenneth prayed to Penwarden.
What was the difference?
It was a sudden thing, the way Kenneth had gone from guest to proprietor. But I still tried to see Kenneth as merely an extension to the farm, the same way that the pigs and cows were a welcome guest and extension to Beacon Farm.
I still wandered the grounds in the spaces that Kenneth hadn’t occupied. I fed the animals. And I checked on the animals. I checked to see if they were affected by the strange man with his ugly chants and pebble-shaped power.
The animals were fine.
My mother and father were slowly losing their strength.
My father was a strong, burly man before Kenneth came around. Now he was weakened. Severely weakened. He looked like he had lost nearly fifteen pounds within the space of a week. My mother too, looked gaunt and frail and more demure than I was used to.
Kenneth, in the meantime seemed to be getting fatter and fatter. He was a plump, purple color by now. He was often joyous and happy, but with that menacing scowl he aimed toward my father. The one that kept my father in check.
Kenneth was changing. Everything was changing.
When he first arrived, he was a rakish, tall, weasley man, and now he was becoming this big, plump, jovial, loud roly-poly of a man.
The change was rapid.
And just as rapidly was my parents’ deterioration.
I decided to ask my father again about Kenneth.
He sat in the study after a long day of labor and constantly served our guests.
“Father, why is Kenneth still here?” I asked.
“Son, you will now have to get used to the idea of Kenneth,” he said.
“But I don’t want to get used to Kenneth. He is ugly and loud, and he smells out the house with his incense. He uses the bathtub all day long, he eats all the food, and he doesn’t belong in this house,” I screamed.
My father slapped me.
He gave me a hard slap across the face and rose from his chair.
“Kenneth is our guest. A welcome guest,” he said.
And within the doorway was Kenneth, applauding my father, clapping to the act of violence that my father just carried out.
“Mr. Starlin knows what loyalty is, young man,” Kenneth said to me.
He walked towards my father and slapped him upon his bald head. Kenneth kept his hand upon my father’s head, tapping his fingers.
“That wasn’t a very nice thing you said about me, boy,” Kenneth said.
Kenneth raised the palm of his hand towards me, and I saw the beckoning of his pebbled amoeba.
And then he slapped me across the face.
Across the other cheek, the one that my father left untouched.
“You do not want to be a troublesome firestarter like your father,” Kenneth yelled.
My father’s eyes widened at this insinuation. He looked fearful. More afraid than I’d ever seen anyone in my life.
He looked at Kenneth in a pleading manner.
“Lock this boy in the cupboard,” Kenneth said.
And my father did.
He grabbed me by the hands and threw me into the cupboard, and locked the door.
That was where I spent that night.
The next day, after my father let me out of the cupboard, Kenneth was extra pleasant to me.
At breakfast, I ate my usual toast while he shoveled down half the farm, and he ruffled my hair and smiled and slid some bacon onto my plate.
“When you get to mine or your father’s age, you’ll understand about discipline. Right, lad?” Kenneth said.
I ate some of the bacon.
I was so hungry.
Two bites, and it was gone.
“And if you become a good boy, I will introduce you to my friend Penwarden,” Kenneth said.
“Father, who is Penwarden?” I asked.
My father dropped a plate, and it smashed onto the floor. Kenneth rose from the dining room table and screamed at my father.
“CLEAN THAT UP. CLEAN THAT UP. YOU CLEAN THAT UP, OR I SWEAR TO GOD!” My father ran to the utility draw and pulled out the dustpan and brush and was rapidly sweeping up the broken plate and bits of bacon on the kitchen floor.
“Call yourself a farmer. I call you a pig,” Kenneth said in disgust.
My mother ran out of the room crying.
I was aghast. I had never seen my father spoken to this way; I had never seen my mother crying. I had never seen the vicious, tonal temper of Kenneth. I wanted out of the farm. I wanted away from this nightmarish scenario that I had fallen into. I wanted the blissful nature of my earlier days.
I wanted Kenneth gone.
As I exited the kitchen and walked upstairs to my room, I saw my mother. She was desperately crying on the landing floor by the foot of the stairs.
Her dress was ripped, and you could see the ribs attaching themselves to my mother’s skin.
Both my parents were withering away.
Physically and emotionally.
And I was too.
One evening I mustered up the courage to approach Kenneth in my parents’ old room. I knocked on the door. I couldn’t take this anymore. I’d have to assert myself as the man of the house; my father was losing that right.
I waited for him to call me in or tell me to piss off.
“Is that you, young man?” he said.
“Yes,” I said through the door.
“Enter,” he said.
As I entered, I saw Kenneth in the middle of the room. He wore just his shorts. He was shirtless and covered in a black smudge of paint.
He sat atop newspaper clippings, his hands clasped together and his eyes closed.
“Hello,” he said.
“Hello,” I said.
“I mean no disrespect. But for how long do you intend to stay here, sir?” I said.
“Until I am called to leave,” he said.
He opened his eyes, and I saw a luminescent glow between his blue colored iris and the pupil. It was the color of streetlights.
“Why are you here?” I asked.
“I’m a guest,” he said.
“No, you’re not,” I said.
“I’m a guest. I was invited.” He said.
“No, you just appeared one day, and you won’t leave. I liked it when it was just me, my mother and father,” I said.
I was frustrated. I was angry. My voice rose as I said these words. I wanted to slap this evil man and cast out his evil ways. But I was held back by my childhood and the weakness of my pre-adolescence.
Kenneth shrugged and closed those beaming eyes again.
“Your father expected my arrival,” Kenneth said.
“No, he didn’t!” I screamed.
I looked towards the doorway, and my frail, weakened father stood behind the door. He gave me a look of frightful disappointment.
Like I was in the wrong!
“Your father expected me. He has been expecting me for some time,” Kenneth said.
I looked upwards towards my father.
“Son, leave Mr. Kenneth alone. Do not disturb him,” my father said.
“Why did you let this man into our house? Why have you not called the police and kicked him out? Why are you feeding him every day? Why do you let him walk through the grounds of the house, causing such a disturbance? Why are you not man enough to protect your family!” I said to my father.
“Kenneth is a guest, son; we do not treat guests this way,” my father said, the timid shake in his voice noticeable.
“He’s not a guest. He’s an intruder!” I shouted.
“Son, you are being quite rude to Kenneth,” my father said.
I stormed out of the room and barged beyond my father and went back into my bedroom, and threw the covers over my head.
From the distance of the master bedroom, I could hear Kenneth lambasting my father some more.
I could hear the slaps and hits and the harsh words of brutal domination.
Kenneth was now in charge of Beacon Farm.
Kenneth became more demanding and more physically domineering. He’d throw his coffee over my parents, and he’d slap my father around the head if there were anything he didn’t like about what he was eating or what my father was doing.
My mother stayed in the guest room, hidden away from Kenneth. She seemed accepting of the situation and just awaited the final stage – whatever Kenneth chose that to be.
She’d accepted defeat.
She’d often swayed back and forth in the bed and repeated the phrase: This was your father’s sin, not mine; why am I being punished? I tried to imagine that Kenneth had other families to torment and that he wouldn’t be around forever, and so I decided to just go about my own business in my own way until this nightmare ended.
And then Cliff arrived.
Cliff also turned up in the middle of the night, soaked in rain, smiling with his hat in his hands, pleadingly asking for a seat at the table.
“Hello, Cliff,” Kenneth said.
“Hello, Kenneth,” Cliff said.
“Do you mind if I join you for dinner?” Cliff said.
“This is the Starlin house. You will have to ask the patriarch, Mr. Starlin. Do you remember Cliff?” Kenneth asked my father.
“I am afraid I do not,” my father said.
“He lived in the house; he was another castaway saved by your gracious, kind mother,” Kenneth said.
My father lowered his head.
“You were like a brother to me, Mr. Starlin,” Cliff said.
Kenneth chuckled, slapped that growing belly of his and ate some more strings of bacon.
“That’s what they all say,” Kenneth said.
Cliff raised his hands in submission, and he demonstrated the same pebble on his palm. The same one that Kenneth had.
“Please join us,” my father said.
I punched the table in anger. There was to be another freak taking up the grounds in my house.
“Is this what your mother did, Father? Took any filthy man off the street and onto her farm? Is this what the farm was and has become again?” I shouted at my father.
“Now, that is not the way to welcome a guest in this house,” Kenneth said.
“Fuck you!” I shouted towards Kenneth.
A great gasp rose from the table by everyone concerned.
The table went deathly silent. Everybody was stunned at the provocation. The table halted into a portrait of complete silence.
I got up, and I left the table.
“Such insolence,” Cliff remarked.
That evening I dreamed of the clearest of pictures I’d ever dreamed of in my life. Clear enough to have been a film or TV show that I could remember as vividly as pictures in a book.
The scene still sticks with me like scenes from a movie screen.
It started when I was round the back of the barn, and I had in my hands a pack of matches. I could feel the flint all coarse between my fingers.
It was an old barn, not the current barn that we had. It was a decaying wooden barn. It was old and dirtied.
The barn was full of children within. They were playing. The barn was being used as a play center for the children. There were hula-hoops and hop-scotch markings, and little kids slapped their hands together and sang songs in a delightful glee.
I looked down at the matches. It was a full pack. I had never played with matches before. I was thrilled at the potential of the match. The potential to do life-changing things with the strike of one match.
“Bobby, what are you up to around here?” A voice said.
I turned, and I faced a woman that looked like my granny but much, much younger.
“I’m not Bobby,” I said.
I slid the matches into my pocket and hoped that they weren’t noticed by this kind woman.
“Now, Bobby. Knock off the silly games,” she said with a smile.
“But I am not Bobby,” I said.
She patted my head and walked away. A trail of foggy clouds seemed to follow her as she walked off, her silky dress caressing the floor of the grass.
I ran towards the horses’ stable.
We don’t have horses now. It seemed that we did then. I took a large bale of hay and ran back to the barn. I placed it outside the barn, but I stacked it up within the wooden frames.
I stuffed the hay in there. My fingers and nails were all dirty and sodden.
I don’t know what compelled me to do this; I wasn’t within reach of my reason or logic.
“Hey, what are you doing?” I heard someone say.
I looked and saw a young man facing me. He was curious. He was interested. He was eager to know what I was doing, not in an accusatory manner but in a befriending and kindly manner.
“Who are you?” I asked.
“You know me,” the boy said.
“No, I don’t,” I said.
“I am a foster child. I’m Penwarden. Your mother is looking after me,” Penwarden said.
“I hate all you foster kids. I want the farm to be the way it was. I hate that you all come here like a bunch of slugs and eat my food and sleep on our floors, and you’re all lazy and don’t help out around the house properly. I hate all you foster kids,” I said to the boy.
A tear started to trickle down his cheek.
“Oh, look, the foster boy is crying. The foster boy who can’t have his own mommy and daddy,” I shouted.
The boy started to run away, and I gave chase. I wanted him to get the full brunt of my anger. I jumped on top of his back. We both fell down, and I was on top of this boy. I started putting hay into his mouth. I put his arm around his back to the point of it nearly breaking, and when he screamed, I gave him a few kicks.
“You are not welcome in this house,” I shouted between each kick.
When I released my grip, the boy ran away.
I returned to peeking through the holes within the barn. I saw all the children there. All of the children that my mother was so eager to house. The children slept in sleeping bags across the grounds to the point of ridiculousness. The noisy kids were always clambering through the halls and walls of the house.
And then I lit the box of matches and threw them upon the hay. I watched the flames start slowly and then gather speed as the wind caught the small trickle of flame. Then the flames began to double, triple, maximizing in height and ferocity and then really catch on against the side of the barn.
Rising and rising and rising up towards the roof of the barn.
And then I heard the screams within, and I ran back towards the house. Back towards Granny.
All the kids within the barn had charred or were near death.
The farm was then awash with police, firemen, paramedics and inquisitive neighbors. It had all happened so fast. Time had no resonance beyond the rapidity of passing.
The woman (Granny, I assume) had sat me down. Her face streamed with tears. The despair on her face was gargantuan.
It was inconceivable grief.
“Bobby, what happened by the barn?” she asked.
“I keep telling you that I am not Bobby,” I said.
She slapped me. She slapped me hard and let all her frustration travel through the slap.
“Now is not the time for games, Bobby,” she screamed.
An instinct took over me. And my instinct was to avoid danger or trouble. To deflect the blame. To pass through any consequences. To stick it to one of those damned foster kids.
“I saw Penwarden playing with matches and stuffing the hay into the barn,” I said.
“Oh, Lord!” she cried.
And then I looked over at fat, ugly, orphaned Penwarden and I gave him the finger.
He looked at me, confused, still hurting from earlier.
“He’s bad news, Ma,” I said to my granny and then I hugged her. She clung back to me.
“I’m just glad you’re ok,” she said.
I stepped outside and saw the charred remains of the children. Their blackened bodies were still steaming with smoke. They were laid out on the grass, and a policeman was writing names down in a notebook.
SAMUEL – CLIFF – CHRISTOPHER
And then I saw Penwarden being taken away by three policemen. A delicate hand atop his shoulder. A sorrowful look upon his face.
“Oh, Lord!” my granny screamed.
She wailed like a wounded wolf and then sunk to the floor on her knees.
Then I was in an older body, even older than I am now. I was walking the halls of what appeared to be a hospital. But all the cells were padded with cushions amongst the walls. The hallways were long and thin. I held a piece of paper with some writing on it. I looked down, and I saw the words:
Patient Penwarden – Cell 35A.
A young woman stood facing me. She wore a blue hospital gown and a beautiful smile with her hair tied back in pigtails.
“This one is loco. It’s your turn to check on him,” she said.
“Who?” I asked.
“Penwarden, of course,” she said.
“Who is Penwarden?” I asked.
“Kenneth, knock it off,” she said.
“Who is Kenneth?” I asked.
As I approached the far end of the hallway, I heard the malevolent chuckling from within the walls of the cells. I walked further and further down a long, cascading hallway until I approached cell 35A with the words PENWARDEN scribbled in chalk across the black door.
I turned the knob of the door, and I entered. I saw an older, deranged-looking Penwarden seated at the center table within his padded cell with his palms open.
And I saw that familiar pebble that had conquered the center of his palm, and I walked closer and closer towards that enticing beam of white.
“You owe me a favor,” Penwarden said.
A ratcheting noise.
Those awful chants were hollowing out in my head. The same chants that Kenneth did every single night, except I was now Kenneth.
And then I woke up.
Kenneth stood over me as I awoke. He laughed.
He smiled, and I saw the bright white of his horse-toothed smile.
“The sins of the father,” Kenneth said.
The house was changing upon the entry of our new guests. The house was becoming more fluid, and there was a strange, swaying movement in the house and everything within it. Almost like it was moving in tandem with the winds.
The colors, which I can remember as being a blue and white motif before then, developed into a red and black entanglement of rich noir.
The guests were getting fatter, but the original occupants, besides myself, were becoming frailer and skinnier…
I was the only thing within the house that hadn’t changed.
It was like they were eating the contents of the house and draining the power away from the owners.
Pretty soon, my parents couldn’t keep up with their demands for food, and Kenneth and Cliff began eating the livestock whole. They’d march a pig or cow into the kitchen, stun it with one of the stun guns and then begin devouring the flesh the way you’d see a lion or tiger do it in a nature documentary. Then they’d leave my parents to clean up the discarded carcass of their beloved livestock.
I was stuck to my toast. We had enough bread frozen that I could live off the toast and eat this every day.
My parents lived off nothing, and it showed. The weakened, starved, malnourished state of my parents was a depressingly familiar sight by that point.
I’d lost track of how long Kenneth had been here, and now Cliff was here, and then another visitor turned up.
Once again, on a rainy evening, a knock on the door.
“Hello, I am Christopher,” Christopher said.
Covered in rain. Drenched head to toe in the rainy rural wet from the journey.
“Why, hello, Christopher. I am Kenneth,” Kenneth said.
“I was wondering if I may stay with you this fine evening,” Christopher said.
“Well, I am afraid it is not for me to give out invitations willy nilly on the farm. This house belongs to Mr. Bobby Starlin,” Kenneth said.
Cliff, Christopher, Kenneth, my mother and myself looked upon my father. My father, drained of all essence, shrugged his shoulder and said:
“Please join us, Christopher.”
My mother ran to the fields to get another animal to bring to the house. Kenneth sat at the table with the stun gun dangling between his fingers.
After dinner, the floor was caked in blood. The floor had turned a crimson red through staining, and my father started putting down pieces of newspaper across all of the floors in all of the rooms. Blood was everywhere. Footsteps of animal blood in every single room. A harsh whiff of iron wherever you went in the house.
Whenever Kenneth finished his meal of raw animals. He’d toss the bone on the floor and say:
A sacrifice to Penwarden himself.
Followed by the chant of Penwarden, Penwarden, Penwarden.
The blood and waste would seep into the floor and emanate from every room throughout the house. The walls were covered in animal waste and half-eaten carcasses.
After Cliff and Christopher, we were then joined by Donald, Ruben, Marcus, Paul, Samuel and Timothy.
The house was full now.
Packed to the rafters. A collection of strange men now occupying every crevice of the house, and the house itself had become trashed with blood, animal guts and the collective waste of the unwanted and unwelcome guests.
The house had taken on the full form of black and red and that brownish tinge of wastage.
And then, one day, we ran out of animals. They were all disposed of.
All of them.
I wandered down onto the fields of the grounds and saw that we didn’t have a single animal left. They were all gone. The years and generations of work throughout the Starlin family had now gone to waste. They’d been consumed by the waste. The grass had turned barren, and the farm had a vacancy to it that was depressing, alarming and somewhat felt inevitable.
I walked back into the kitchen and saw the dining room full of guests. They smiled at me. They laughed and cajoled.
My mother and father were desperately sweeping up and cleaning up around these vermin.
“We have no more animals left,” I said.
The kitchen broke out in cheer and laughter. There was applause.
“We have emptied the contents of the farm,” Kenneth said.
There was more cheer and applause.
“I think that means you should go now,” I said.
Kenneth smiled. The room went quiet, and then he looked upon the other guests, and everybody cheered again.
“We have exited phase one,” Kenneth said.
“Please, leave us with what we have left of the farm and just go,” I said.
“I am afraid we cannot leave you with the farm,” Kenneth said.
“But what will you eat?” I said.
“When we run out of livestock. We begin consuming the house.” Kenneth said.
And he wasn’t joking.
They were not consuming the house from within.
Like termites, this collective of men was now ravishing between the walls of the house. They took little nibbles out of the upholstery. They took big bites out of the bathtub. They were literally eating the house from within. For the next five days, while I feasted on toast and my parents’ bodies feasted on themselves, the guests of the house were literally feasting on the house.
I’d walk through the halls of my grand childhood home, and I’d see the chunks taken from the walls. The huge holes with the teeth marks surrounding it. I’d see the decay and crumble from within the house. The house was at the point of teetering over.
And I knew that I had to do something to get rid of the guests.
It dawned on me what the guests were doing; they were going to consume everything on the farm. Literally everything.
They were like a parasitic virus, taking every drop from the farm, and that would include ourselves.
There was only one way out.
“Dad,” I said.
I never called him dad. Ever. But that day, I called him Dad.
It was the middle of the night. My mother was asleep. The vermin were asleep – loud snores echoed throughout the house.
“Dad,” I said again.
My father awoke.
“Yes, Son?” he said.
“I know why Kenneth came,” I said.
“Why’s that, son?” he asked.
“When you were a child, maybe my age, maybe older, maybe younger, I don’t know. But I know that you killed all of those kids in the barn,” I said.
My father weakly mumbled an incoherent acknowledgment of my words.
“You killed all of those children. You burnt the barn down,” I said.
My father nodded.
“And then you blamed the Penwarden boy for doing it. This is your retribution. This is vengeance for the kids and for Penwarden,” I said.
“How did you know this?” My father asked.
“I don’t know. Maybe through Kenneth, maybe through the house itself, but I saw what happened. I saw it. It was you,” I said.
“He’s come to claim what I took from him,” my father said.
“What did you take from him?” I asked.
“His home, the farm, his place as a guest on the farm.” My father said.
“Kenneth?” I said.
“He was in the barn on the day that it burned. They all were. I took them from my mother’s charity. They have come to take the farm back. And to be honest, they deserve the farm,” he said.
“Why did you burn the barn?” I asked.
“Malicious spite. I don’t like having guests on this farm. I didn’t want to share my mother’s love,” my father said.
“But what you did, it was…” I said.
“…Unforgivable,” my father concluded.
“He is making you suffer,” I said.
“I deserve to suffer. But he is making the house and the farm suffer. And he is making you suffer. You don’t deserve this,” my father said.
“I forgive you, Dad,” I said.
My father looked at me. He was pleased.
It was the first smile that I’d seen from him in God knows how long.
“Be the man of the house,” he said.
“How so?” I asked.
“Don’t be a coward like me. Accept your responsibilities and end this. You can end this now,” he said.
“How do I end this?” I asked.
“It ends with me,” he said.
I pondered the meaning, and then it dawned on me that this was my father’s sin. This was my father’s punishment. Phase one was eating our livestock. Phase two was eating our house. Phase three would end with consuming…us.
I picked up the pillow that he lay on, and I put it over his face. And I began to suffocate my father within the pillow. He fought for a moment; he struggled and kicked and writhed in his body, but I put all my young strength behind the pillow, and I was fighting a weak and frail man.
And then, he stopped, and the body turned lifeless.
“No, no, no, no, no, no!” Kenneth yelled.
He ran towards me and pulled me off of the pillow, and threw me into the corner of the room. He looked down upon the bed and saw that my father was dead and beyond the realm of this life.
“You fucking bastard. This wasn’t how this was meant to go!” Kenneth screamed.
Kenneth ran towards me and grabbed me by the collar. I saw my half-asleep mother rise from consciousness and screech upon the realization that my father was dead.
Kenneth held me up against the wall and was crashing my head against it.
Crash-crash-crash, against the wall.
“If you kill Mr. Starlin, then we will no longer be welcome guests within the house!” Kenneth said between every hit of my skull.
“I have killed Mr. Starlin,” I said.
I tried to get air. I tried to say what I wanted to say. To make my words as impactful as possible, but he continued to choke me.
And then Cliff put a hand upon Kenneth’s shoulder.
“Let the boy go, Kenneth,” Cliff said.
“But he has fucking ruined everything!” Kenneth said.
“Mr. Starling is dead. Let the boy go,” Cliff said.
The other occupants clambered into the room. Kenneth scurried into the corner like the rat he was and wept in that corner.
“I am afraid, with the father dead, we are no longer ‘welcome’ guests of this house, and we have to leave,” Cliff said.
I coughed and choked, and I tried to gather as much air as possible to keep me from falling into unconsciousness.
I spluttered, and a wad of blood came out of my mouth and hit upon the floor. I gathered for air, and I said,
“With my father dead, you can no longer retaliate for what he did.” And then it dawned on me what killing my father did. It ended it. It ended the haunting.
They came to this house because of what he did to the barn that day, long ago in his younger years. They were the children of the barn.
With my father dead, the score had now been settled, and they could no longer devour the house and torture his family.
They are no longer “Welcome Guests” of this farm.
They all left together.
They walked down the stairs in unison and out the door and slammed it behind them.
And the red and black of the interior of the house had started to soften.
The house had been cleared of all of them. I looked up at my mother. She was trying to regain her strength so that she could stand on her own two feet.
I looked at my father.
His body was limp. His face upwards, a dead stare towards the ceiling.
His mouth was opened.
It was his transgression that caused such a disturbing time. The guilt and shame must’ve wrecked my father throughout his entire life, and now, he could hopefully get some peace.
We buried my father on the grounds. The very same grounds where countless generations of Starlins had built a magnificent farm.
The police never questioned where he went. And if anybody within the region ever asked, we said that he went out for a pack of cigarettes and never came back. Nobody cared about us or our family enough to look into it.
I won’t get into the story of my mother’s guilt, grief and sorrow, but she’s doing fine nowadays.
And she’s living safely with me.
My mother sold the house eventually, but the house was so destroyed that it was more the land that was purchased.
The land sold handsomely, but the house was immediately knocked down because it was beyond any repair. My father cursed the house when he did what he did to those children.
I learned the full story, and it was very simple.
My father had set fire to the barn and then blamed it on the orphan child Penwarden. Penwarden was committed for this crime and then killed himself in an asylum, hanging with his own bedsheets.
The men that visited were never seen again.
But they prayed to Penwarden.
And I assumed that through some otherworldly contact, this was Penwarden’s ambush and Penwarden’s revenge. When my father died, the vendetta died, and the house could no longer go on being tormented.
And neither would we go on with the torment; it ended with my father.
But one thing that I cannot explain to this day, many years later, was what was the pebble that had enraptured everyone—the pebble on the palm of the hand.
The one that Kenneth had, and Penwarden had in my dream…and that I now have, and have had for many years.
I’ve consulted a doctor about this. I spoke to a soothsayer.
I spoke to a psychic, and I’ve posted on the internet for answers, but I cannot explain what it is. But I have one now.
A large radiating pebble is embedded within my right hand.
A lingering hangover from what happened at Beacon Farm.
And I hate what it sometimes calls me to do.
Because it’s a bad, bad influence.
🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None AvailableCraig Groshek Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek Narrated by N/A
🔔 More stories from author: Kieran F. WestPublisher's Notes: N/A Author's Notes: N/A
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