Heaven and Hell

📅 Published on December 26, 2021

“Heaven and Hell”

Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

Copyright Statement: Unless explicitly stated, all stories published on CreepypastaStories.com are the property of (and under copyright to) their respective authors, and may not be narrated or performed, adapted to film, television or audio mediums, republished in a print or electronic book, reposted on any other website, blog, or online platform, or otherwise monetized without the express written consent of its author(s).

🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available

ESTIMATED READING TIME — 21 minutes

Rating: 9.63/10. From 8 votes.
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Tatum had grown generous to a fault, giving away most of his fruit and vegetables to his neighbors and friends.  He thought it was a way to get more acquainted with all of them.

Still, Tatum’s neighbors, up and down the street, remained standoffish, keeping their distance.  They had learned something about Tatum that made them nervous and cautious.  One by one, they began to shun Tatum until he felt isolated.

Tatum turned his mind into a hamster cage.  His suspicious thoughts took him around and around in circles of worry.  What in the hell had he done?

He’d stretched his imagination until it was distorted and convoluted.

Of course, it was because of his two bankruptcies, he thought.  And how he’d been unemployed forever?  His wife and two children left him after all?  It all made perfect sense.

Most of the neighbors were pissed off because they had to pay taxes to support him while he did nothing but sit on his ass.  By God, he was too young to be on Social Security Disability Insurance!

* * * * * *

Tatum snapped according to his Alford Plea agreement.  Tatum had grown tired of living in his shitty world.  The judge could care less about what Tatum thought.  In short order, he sentenced Tatum to serve the balance of his life at the Coyote Ridge Maximum Security, on the outskirts of Seattle.

Tatum ran away from foster care when he was 15.  He spent the next three years incarcerated at the King County Detention Center in Seattle, Washington.  He’d stolen a Shelby Mustang.  All he could think about was escaping his miserable life.  Not a single person complained about his choice of transportation.

Weary living a transient existence, Tatum busted ass in juvenile hall to earn a graduate education degree.  By God, he was going to be somebody one day, unlike his father Abe, who was serving a life sentence himself back in Arkansas.

Tatum was confused when his daddy was taken away from him for good.  He was only six back then.  He’d never be the same.

When he turned 18, Tatum was released from confinement.  Soon after, he left the silver-scaled city of Seattle for Sacramento, California.  He was determined to create his gold rush in the big tomato.  He intended to make the rest of his life a golden affair.

After Tatum settled into the area, he signed up for classes at Sacramento City College.  There, he obtained an AA degree.  After, he transferred his credits to Sacramento State University.  It took Tatum five years and many part-time jobs to receive his Bachelor of Science degree in business.

To complete his rite of passage, Tatum erased his surname.  It had taken a lot of time and paperwork, but he’d managed to convert his last name from Killen to Chapman.  For the remainder of his life, Tatum Chapman worried if his father’s killing d-i-s-e-a-s-e had somehow infected him?

* * * * * *

Tatum continued to fill his gills with rejection and failure.  So much so, he kept a mental record of what might have been and what wasn’t.  By all accounts, he was evolving into a clone of his no-account father.  Sure, he’d made a decent living and had a tidy family, but the promise of gold had soured into the color of bitter lemon.

From the outside looking in, Tatum’s family appeared as a wonderful story in the making…that is, until one after the other they left Tatum’s side.  Tatum was turning into a connoisseur of abandonment.

Shelly, the good wife and college sweetheart, had grown tired of her husband’s shortcomings.  To all that would listen, she’d said her marriage had fallen on hard times.  The stock market had been kicking the family’s ass.  Tatum was mostly on unemployment.  He’d become a burden.  Tatum had never been ashamed of his spotty work record.

Tatum explained that he’d hurt his lower back again, a slipped disk.  His orthopedic surgeon placed him on bed rest.  It didn’t take long before Tatum was addicted to prescription medication and unemployed again.  Shelly filed for divorce.  Enough was enough.

Shelly had said Tatum was a piss-poor head of the family and lousy provider.  It didn’t take Shelly long to pack up her shit and move to Daily City in the Bay Area.  Strapped for money, Tatum filed for bankruptcy the second time.

The kids, Jon and Stephanie, fraternal twins, left with her before eventually completing college and moving out independently.

With their father on disability, there would be one less adult to supplement their student loans.  Tatum’s adult children accused him of never being there for them and that he was always emotionally unavailable.  They thought worse but spared him from the details.  His family had good reasons to abandon him.  To them, he was a miserable failure.

Tatum’s last job had been with the State of California through the State Controller’s Office.  He was a financial analyst until he filed for disability.

On top of the not-so-obvious back injury, he was fired.

* * * * * *

It took Tatum nearly two years to dig himself out of this emotional hole he’d dug for himself.  He’d torn out his backyard lawn and created a dwarf orchard, saving a lot of space for a huge vegetable garden.  Over the next several years, Lexapro and his gardening preserved his sanity on more than one occasion.

Tatum became generous to a fault, giving away most of his fruit and vegetables to neighbors and friends.  He thought it a way to ingratiate himself with all his neighbors.

Still, Tatum’s neighbors up and down the street made sure to keep a safe distance by avoiding him.  They had learned something about Tatum that made them nervous and cautious.  One by one, they began to shun Tatum until he felt isolated.

Tatum turned his mind into a hamster cage.  His suspicious thoughts took him around and around.  What in the hell had he done to feel such shame?  He stretched his imagination until it was distorted and convoluted.  Had he turned into the ghost of Charles Manson?

Of course, it was because of his two bankruptcies, he thought.  And he’d been unemployed forever after all.  It all made perfect sense.  His neighbors were pissed off for having to pay taxes to support him while he sat on his ass.  By God, he was too young to be on Social Security Disability Insurance!

One evening while on a walk in the neighborhood, Tatum got the balls to ask the Taylor couple (the neighbors two houses down with the baby shit-colored paint) a question.

“Do you hate me because I am getting government assistance?” he asked.

The Taylor couple turned up their noses and briskly walked away in the opposite direction.  It was as if Tatum had farted too loud.

Just maybe, the damned postal carrier told the O’Connors (the couple with the shitty landscaped two-story clapboard on the curve) what a loser he was?

Maybe the letter carrier lied and told the O’Connors that his so-called antidepressants were in truth Oxycodone, the medication he’d quit abusing months before, wink?  Maybe they assumed he was bat-shit crazy?  The couple avoided him as if he had the Bubonic Plague.

In this crap-spattered world, in one fell swoop, somehow Tatum had messed up.  He’d become a pariah to all of his family and neighbors, except the neighbor family to his immediate right, the Kincaids (the crappy stucco mess with the crooked gabled roof).

Jim, Nancy, Tammy, and little Billy hadn’t acted strange around him yet.  He assumed wrongly that they respected him, maybe valued his friendship and fruit.

Oh, how they made Tatum feel human, less alone in a universe that felt so alien.

He’d gotten invited to swim parties and football games on TV.  Hell, ge’d even watched the Kincaid’s house when they were out of town.

One late, hot afternoon, this lonely man Tatum instructed little Billy how to smash a cannonball dive in his neighbor’s gorgeous swimming pool.  Billy’s parents were not at home.  Billy looked up to Tatum.  He was this cool guy who could do the cannonball and monsoon his parent’s nasty colored roof, for God’s sake.

Tammy, barely 13, avoided Tatum altogether.  Both Tatum and she were ok with that for the longest time.  Many teens grow cautious of who they hang around with, especially adults.  His daughter ignored the hell out of him, too, the spoiled little bitch that ended up at Harvard.

Rudeness is simply part of being a teenager, Tammy’s mother had told Tatum.  He knew the symptoms from being overlooked and discarded by his kids when they were young.

Tatum and the Kincaid family teamed up on joint projects.  They pruned Tatum’s overhanging cherry and orange trees, harvested corn, and had picked pomegranate fruit.  In return, Tatum gave them wheelbarrows of tomatoes, which the Kincaids promptly threw away or passed them off at work; whatever he grew was too acidic.

Still, with all his weirdness, the Kincaids thought Tatum harmless, knowing what a difficult time he had fitting in the community.  His struggles were more than obvious.  Father Jim overlooked the day he arrived home exhausted and hungry from a hard day’s work only to find Tatum and Tammy playing chess.  They were the only two at home.  Tammy had slowly learned to tolerate Tatum as long as there was something in it for her.  He’d purchase her a silver necklace.

The loving family invited this friendly man, Tatum, into their home so many times: the Super Bowl, Easter, and Halloween for hot cider.  Jesus H-Christ, he let Billy sit on his lap.  Father Jimmy had never done that.  Tatum even loaned Tammy his old high school yearbook to see how good-looking he was on the swim team.  The close family had thought Tatum harmless.

And so all that friendly neighbor shit came to a screeching halt one late night as mother bear perused Sacramento Counties Neighborhood Sex Offender list.  She screamed at the top of her lungs, “I’ve failed my children–God forgive me or punish me!”  She was Catholic.

Her screams were feral and primitive, guttural.  Her hysteria woke Tatum.  The woman’s carrying on had gotten Tatum into the backyard, half-naked and afraid, looking east and west for fires or crashing aircraft, maybe a meteor.

Suddenly he noticed that shit was flying over the good neighbor fence he built: Two large grocery bags full of rotten tomatoes, a torn-up vintage yearbook, bundles of radish, and a shit load of slimy carrots.

“Keep your goddamned box of pomegranates, Tatum!”  Pomegranates rained out of the sky, hard knuckles of orange-colored fruit.  Nancy was so pissed at Tatum.  She even threw the family’s comfortable sofa cushions over the redwood good-neighbor fence.

“I’ll kill you, you pervert,” she raged.

In desperation, from hurt and anger, Tatum yelled back over the fence, “Whatever I did, I’m so sorry.  Hell, you guys can use my vacation house in the Sierra’s anytime you want, free!  I’ll mow your lawn for a year at no cost!  Please?”

Random shit poured out of his mouth in atonement for something he knew nothing about.  Tatum needed his neighbors more than ever.  After all, he was the pariah of the neighborhood.  He couldn’t afford any more rejection.  He’d bawled like a baby that night, out on his swinging hammock.

It wasn’t long before the Kincaids doxed Tatum, the wrongly accused pervert.  Dirty letters were mailed.  Voodoo dolls with missing body parts were sent.  M&S newsletters arrived daily from all over the world.

Still, Tatum, desperate for friendship, groveled to get back into the good graces of the Kincaids.  It would take him a while to give up his heroic efforts.  He felt ashamed and embarrassed for all the dirty acts he’d never performed.  Unable to prove his innocence, Tatum sunk under the deep fathoms of poor mental health.

Eventually, Tatum learned from Sacramento County that there had been a terrible mistake.  In fact, he wasn’t a pervert after all.  But it would take weeks or months to make any corrections.  After all, they’d spent a lot of money establishing a thorough list and shipped CDs all over the country.

Tatum would eventually get removed from the pervert list.  But, Tatum never expected it would take nearly two years for the county to pull his genitals out of the hellish frying pan the county had placed them in.  In the meantime, neighborhood property plummeted faster than Tatum’s state of mind.

Tatum mailed cash to the Kincaid kids.

He watered the Kincaids lawn over the fence.  Tatum showed little Billy his new drone by flying it low over their swimming pool.  Both Billy and Tammy screamed in unison.  They threw watermelon rind and plastic plates and spoons at the small dizzy object.  After, they ran inside the house and complained to their mother.  Nancy called the police.  Tatum agreed never to fly the damned thing anywhere in the neighborhood again.

Christmas cards were returned mutilated.  After midnight rocks were thrown through Tatum’s windows.  Glass littered his garden as shiny as diamond slivers.  Neighborhood garden hoses flooded Tatum’s small orchard into a perfect hog wallow, killing most plants and trees.

Tatum’s life dissolved into travesty and darkness.

One night he cried himself to sleep by rocking himself in bed as if it were a cradle.  He’d been suddenly woken from adjunct dread and anxiety.  It was the Kincaid’s damned small dog again.  Sparky was at the fence line.  Even Sparky had grown to hate Tatum.  After all, Tatum was a failure at love and couldn’t display affection or care deeply about anyone or anything.  Let alone a cute little dog.

Tatum was a drug addict and had cheated the government.  And now everyone thought of him to be a child molester, even Sparky.

Before the crack of dawn, something snapped inside Tatum’s skull.  Sparky’s barking was too much for him to bear.  Tatum couldn’t unhear the synapse in his brain explode.  It sounded like the bubble wrap he often popped to relieve stress.

“Yap, yap, yap,”  Sparky yipped.  The same small dog Tatum once petted and gave store-bought biscuits, too, wouldn’t cut him a break that night.  All the white noise in his mind turned into a morbid hurricane.

Tatum had enough of all the goddamned howling and scratching.  He rose out of bed.  It was around 4:00 AM.  At the fence line, Tatum coaxed the little dog to calm down by throwing treats over to him.  He fed him a raw hamburger and anything sweet.  Once Sparky quieted, Tatum slowly unscrewed a fence board and removed it.

It took a few years for Tatum to turn into a monster, but he’d finally arrived.

When Tatum was finished, he replaced the fence board using a Phillips screwdriver.  The battery-operated Makita was too noisy.  He grimaced as he applied more than enough pressure to get the screws extra tight.  All the slivers in his hands comforted him.

Back in the kitchen, he poured himself a glass of milk.  After enjoying it, he retired to bed.  The remainder of his sleep was quiet and restful.  He’d wake energized.

Early the next morning, Tatum fried him up some organic brown eggs and burned him some toast.  His day-old coffee was heaven.  After breakfast, he washed the dishes by hand since the dishwasher was broken.  He’d been using the dishwasher too often to wash his dirty laundry.

In the evening, fully exhausted, Tatum drew himself a bubble bath and soaked for the next six hours.  It wasn’t until well after midnight that he realized there would never be enough soap in the world to make him feel clean again.

The holidays took the longest time to get the hell over.  Reindeer had run all over Tatum’s roof.  So much so, the roof developed holiday leaks.  He’d pounded the kitchen ceiling until he’d broken the broom.

Fireplace dampness caused the mortar in the hearth to crumble.  Tatum wasn’t able to use his fireplace to keep out the cold.  Oh, how Tatum missed burning up all his family photo albums, bills, and important papers.

Tatum’s garden and orchard lay fallow in the backyard: fresh corn had turned into unpicked obsidian.  His persimmons were petrified fruit.  The gardens cabbage patch faces having developed pock-marked complexions from cabbage worms.

Sometime in early January, the doorbell rang.  Tatum attempted to get up from his worn-out high back corduroy chair.  It was the only piece of furniture that his wife left him.  She’d even gotten their vacation house in the Sierras.  Hell, in truth, she took almost everything he valued in life.  She took everything that made him feel human, including his two children.

Tatum had lied to the Kincaids.  He’d said he owned the cabin, the rustic sanctuary deep in the woods next to the rugged Rubicon River.  He offered to rent it to them once.  “Hell, you can stay there cheap or free,”  he’d said.  That’s what you do to make yourself feel important and needed.  He never expected them to take him up on his offer.

Half standing, Tatum crumbled back down on his chair.  Only the postal carrier dared approach his rundown house and ring his doorbell anyway.  All she brought lately were unpaid bills.  Maybe it was his ghost of a conscience?  After all, none of his neighbors were out there.  They all hated the goddamned pervert.

The doorbell rang and rang again.  Tatum beat his hopes down with a dominatrix whip of shame.

The damned doorbell wouldn’t stop.  Tatum pushed himself up from his treadworn chair.  He stood and paused for a few seconds.  His heart skipped a beat.  Then he slowly walked toward the front door.  Tatum opened the door in increments of anticipation.

“Don’t shoot us, Tatum, please,” Nancy Kincaid begged.

It was the entire Kincaid family, with little Billy smack dab in front to soften the psychological impact.

Tatum gazed through them as if they were neighborhood ghosts.  After all, they were all dead and gone in his mind.

“Shoot you?” Tatum asked.  Tatum smiled.

His unshaven face was a complicated Rubik cube of emotion.  It felt awkward the way his neighbors posed the question.  “Shoot them?”  For months now, Tatum had dwelled on doing exactly that.  He’d planned how to punish the Kincaids.  It felt so ironic.  “Shoot them…shoot them?”  he mulled.

“Yes, we wouldn’t blame you if you shot us, Tatum.  After all, like most of the neighbors, we made a horrible mistake.  We passed false judgment upon you in error.”

“More like crucified me,”  is what Tatum said.

“We get that,” Nancy spoke up again.  Her blue eyes were more mutton than human.

“It’s taken a few years, Tatum, but Sacramento County finally got it right.  Now we’re certain that you are not a sex offender.  Your name and address were somehow mixed up with this guy who’d just gotten out of Folsom State Prison.  He’s since died from complications of diabetes.  He lived in Fair Oaks Village, Tatum, not in our neighborhood – same name, wrong address.  Sorry?”

The good news wasn’t a big deal.  Tatum was guilty of many things but not for being twisted.  Of course, he already knew that.  If being a dismal failure was a crime, he would have already been sent to California’s gas chamber.  But the damage had been done to Tatum.

He hadn’t shown any affection to his kids his entire life.  No touching; quite the opposite.  His wife had said, “Tatum, you never reach out anymore, for the kids or me.”  To Tatum, humans were objects, objects that need to be put in their place and controlled.

Although none of this apology shit mattered much to Tatum, he acted to accept their apology graciously.  He let his mild spin like a whirligig on crack.  He would scheme.

Little Billy looked into Tatum’s eyes lovingly, the same way he used to look into Sparky’s eyes.  He smiled ear to ear as if an open wound, Tatum thought.

Over the last few years, while no one spoke to Tatum, he’d crafted a horrible mask of deception.  Gone were his feelings of neediness and cravings to be loved.  He’d learned to become his own best friend after all.  He embraced the fact that he was his worst enemy, too.  Tatum knew too well that a sign of a healthy intellect was the capacity to retain two diametrically opposing thoughts in his mind simultaneously.

Tatum taught himself how to act polite and naturally cover up the putrefying scent of social psychopathy.  He learned to mimic politeness, though it was difficult to override his body language.  Crafting thin layers of personality is more art than science.

And so Tatum and the Kincaids made up that day on his steps.  Intellectually he understood how such horrible mistakes are made.  But emotionally, it was all he could do to prevent any crimes against humanity.

Tatum had worked too damned hard at being angry and vengeful to let his conflicts go so easily.  He’d grown comfortable with the fact that the inside of his head steamed like a pressure cooker.

“Well, Tatum, let’s get the new year off to a good start.”  Jim thought to use a little psychology on Tatum.  Tatum played stupid.

“How so?”  asked Tatum.  Tatum fantasized about a hot fireplace poker going down Jim’s throat.

“Listen, Tatum.  We know how much you love watching our house.  And, well, we are planning a weekend getaway.  What say you, good neighbor?”

“Sure,”  Tatum said.  Tatum imagined Nancy’s shrunken head as the whiskered thing dangled from his car’s review mirror.

“Great.”

“Just keep an eye on it, right?”  Tatum appeared more diplomatic and less clingy to the Kincaids.

“Yes!  We intend to leave this Friday afternoon, Tatum.  Jim handed Tatum the extra keys, the house, the two sheds, Nancy’s car.  We’ll be back late Sunday from our trip to South Lake Tahoe.  Don’t feel obligated to stay home for the entire weekend, Tatum.”

Jim and Nancy’s gesture of trust was meant to keep their screwball neighbor from burning down their house as retaliation.  Only Timmy sensed Tatum’s passive-aggressiveness.  What is it with children and art?

Nothing inside the Kincaid’s house needed extra protection now that Tatum wasn’t a pervert.  All the panties, underwear, and bras would remain safe and clean.

“Tatum, you don’t need to enter the house unless there is an emergency, clear?”  The trust thing had reared its ugly head again.

That’s fine, Tatum thought.  By God, they trusted Tatum with all those keys, and that’s what mattered the most.  Just behind Tatum’s forehead, he was roasting the two Kincaid children over an open pit on this giant electronic screen he was watching.  Tender juices and innards dripped and sizzled.

“Sure,” Tatum promptly agreed.  His affect was as flat as an overmedicated psych ward cadet.  He’d begun to shuffle around the house lately, grumble and mumble about murder.  He loved playing the part of someone unpredictable.

“And, say, Tatum, since we are going to be up near your cabin…”

“Yes?” asked Tatum, wishing he could return Sparky to the Kincaid’s.

“Remember the time you asked if we wanted to use your cabin in the Sierras, cheap or free?”  Jim knew how to kiss ass.  He’d recalled how Tatum’s face lit up the first time Tatum offered the old piece of shit cabin.  Of course, back then, Tatum hadn’t told them that his ex-wife had gotten it in the divorce.

Jim was certain if he brought up the old place again, it would go a long way in mending their dysfunctional relationship.  Trust was a critical factor in rapport.

Tatum was certain way back then that the Kincaids would never take him up on his kind offer, an offer made to place Tatum in the best light possible.

“Ah, well, Jim, ah…”  Tatum quickened his dance steps on the polished floor of deceit.  “The old cabin needs to be ca-ca-cleaned,” he stuttered.  “It’s been several months since I’ve been up there.  And you won’t believe it, Jim and Nancy, I’ve been invited for dinner with the kids and my ex-wife in Daily City.  Dinner is scheduled for early Saturday evening.”

“Jesus.  Wow, what a surprise.”  Jim and the kids continued to stare up from the bottom of the steps at the old pervert.  The kids didn’t give two-shits about any mistakes made or the truth about Tatum not being a freak.  To them, Tatum was a creepy ass man with hair growing out of his nose, and that’s all that mattered.

Nancy chimed in.  “That’s terrific, Tatum.  We’re so happy for you.  So, are the twins flying out from Boston?”

Tatum nodded his head yes, slowly, as if he were mesmerized at watching himself shove a dirty dishrag down Nancy’s throat.

“Yes, yes, Nancy, they both got time off work.  It’s been colder than a witch’s tit in Boston…sorry, kids.  My twins were turning blue and needed a little thawing out trip.”  The Kincaid family chuckled.

“Well, here is the thing, Tatum.  We won’t be staying over this trip at the cabin, sorry.  And we won’t need you to accompany us.  We have rooms at Harrah’s in South Lake Tahoe.  But we thought we’d leave Lake Tahoe early Sunday afternoon morning and take an adventurous drive and at least get our eyes on the cabin.  We’d be more than happy to go back sometime and rent the place from you, top dollar.  How about it, pal?  What’s the address up there?”

“Tatum stared at the Kincaid’s for the longest time.  He visualized giblets simmering in a large cauldron.  He breathed in and out slowly as he schemed, stalling for time.

“Well, the address, Tatum?”  Nancy bleated.

It was her boiled gizzard that Tatum would eat first.  Tatum’s psychiatrist told him once to seek out his darkest thoughts and enjoy them.  He called the psychological technique Implosion Therapy.  After a while, Tatum would notice a reduction of obsessions.

“Watch them, all the horrible thoughts, Tatum.  Enjoy them.  Pretend they are dirty clouds.  Let them all float along and past you.  After a while, your mind will see blue skies again.”

“To tell you the truth, Nancy, there isn’t an address.  The cabin exists across this rickety bridge over the Rubicon River, a few miles west of Lost Corner Mountain.  It’s one of the few cabins PG & E leases out.  It has electricity.  How you get there is more a state of mind than an actual physical address.  Wait here.  I’ll write down the instructions.”

Tatum shuffled back through the darkness and opened the door to his bedroom.  While at his meager desk, Tatum sketched out what looked like hieroglyphs.

It was a pencil scramble of how to get to his ex-wife’s cabin.  She wouldn’t mind if the Kincaids parked across the river and looked it over at a distance.  She’d be in Daily City, after all, visiting with her twins and talking about how their father Tatum hadn’t changed much.  And that Sunday evening, Tatum would make sure to race home to keep an eye on the Kincaids house.

The crude map was more mystery and crooked lines than directions: Turn right off State Highway 50 after coming back from South Lake Tahoe.  Take the fork in the road off Highway 50 at Ice House Road, keep to the right.  Drive about 7 miles until you see two signs.  Choose one.

It would be easy for the Kincaids to find the signs and solve the riddle.  And after, they would scissor back down this long winding road along a steep canyon, clear down to the Rubicon River and the cabin.  But Jim would see this as a worthy challenge.  After all, he was so competent.

“We love a good mystery,” the Kincaids had said.  “Glad to see you haven’t lost your curiosity, Tatum.”  Even the kid’s eyes lit up.  To a teen and pre-teen, there’s nothing better than getting the hell lost and scared shitless.

Come late Friday, the Kincaids hit the road for Lake Tahoe.  Mid-Saturday, Tatum would hit the road too, but in a different direction.  Tatum planned well.  After a good night’s sleep, he’d head in the other direction and then have a lovely supper with his ex and kids.

Tatum would be arriving home late, but there would be plenty of time left over so he could watch the Kincaids ugly-ass property.  He would do anything to make them feel less guilty.

It wasn’t until late Sunday that the Kincaid family reached Ice House Road off Highway 50.

In less than two hours, they were parked in front of Tatum’s two signs, nearly hidden behind the trees in the woods of the beckoning Sierras.

The close family was at the razor’s edge of the top of this ridge, alone on their new planet.  The wind was full of itself, blowing in a torrent of bitterness.  In less than an hour, nightfall would hunt them down.

The naked blue oak branches appeared rooted upside down into the darkening soil of sky.  Thunder and lightning roiled rims of mountains.  The gods of rain were electric and excited with lightning.

The Kincaids laughed at the two signs at first, the nervous kids the loudest.  Mother Nancy sat numb, mortified, as the rain quickened.

To their immediate left was Tatum’s first sign.  It was faded red.  It said HELL.

“Hell’s Bells,” shouted Billy. “Hot damn!” he’d said.

The second sign, painted make-shift red, said, HEAVEN.  Jim knew he’d arrived.  His guts squirmed with excitement, a barrel full of Rubicon eels.

“Jimmy, honey?”  It was too late.  The musky poisons of curiosity had already begun to leak through the meandering cracks of Jimmy’s skull.

“Yesss?”  Jim asked.

“Let’s turn around, get the hell out of here.  Tatum is crazy.  We don’t need to see the damned cabin.”  Nancy hated parsing words.

Real men never need directions.

Jim stepped on the gas and headed downhill to HEAVEN.  He’d been blessed.  He was headed home after all and maybe back to Sacramento.  But for some reason, none of that going back home shit mattered much anymore.

“Hang on, guys.  It’s the quickest way home.”  Jim’s face was seventeen.  He was going to get away with stealing all those cases of beer again.

The kids whaled and hooted.  They were back at the carnival.  “Go, Daddy, go!”  they chanted.

Nancy brushed over the numbers 911 on her smartphone, But there was nothing, her fingers having entered the no cell zone.

Down and down, the family coasted.  Nearly stopping, speeding up at times, smoke began to bellow from the brake pads.  Nancy prayed.  There was no way in hell they could back up on the crooked and steep road.  Scissor back driving kept pulling them down into the canyon.

It was too late.  Jim was the first to notice the now rickety one-way sign.  The road had narrowed.  No longer could two cars squeak past each other in both directions.  Jim’s heart was a squirming toad in his ribcage.  The end was near.  They just didn’t know it.

Everything was misty and eerie or nothing at all.  Rocks and debris sloughed off the side of the mountains cliff.  Rain slanted into the side of their car, icy guillotines.

After about 45 minutes, Jim stopped.  He unglued his hands from the steering wheel.  He let the engine run, turned it off.  The kids sat marble statues in the back seat.

Directly in front of Jim’s high beams was the thick industrial chain.  It had been padlocked to a latch on a galvanized post.  Beyond the chained barrier was the turnaround that Tatum mentioned, maybe 75 feet in circumference.  At the other end of the U-turn was the old footbridge, which bent to the right before it arched over the rushing Rubicon River.  Though the bridge appeared precarious, it was inviting under the circumstances.  The rain turned from hail to bullets.

Nancy rubbed the passenger window with her jacket sleeves.  She peered into the oncoming shiny blackness.  Chills ran up and down her spine.  Darkness pressed against the car.  To Nancy, everything appeared tarry and heavy, dismal.  There would be no turning around, now or forever after.  The family had reached the end of the road.

“Look,”  shouted little Billy.  “There’s Tatum’s cabin, up the hill, on the other side of the bridge.”

“Dad, dad!  See the light inside?”  The Kincaids loved it when their daughter Tammy used her tongue for something other than another piercing.  Impending doom can make you mature from 13 to 21 in a hurry.  Something behind her pretty blue eyes whispered, “Is this all there is to life?”

“Wait here,”  shouted Jim.  He flung the driver’s door open into the wind.  His door was an unruly sail.  Jim slowly walked and approached the gate, chain, and padlock.

He shook the rusty padlock.  “I’ll kill you, Tatum, you pathetic bastard,”  he’d said out loud.  Jim began to cry, unnoticeable in the deluge of rain.

Jim waved his family to come forward and join him.  He appeared misty soaking wet.

Nancy panicked.  She unlocked her car door and kicked it open.  It bounced back and smacked her.  The door gave her a bloody lip.

One by one, the tight-knit family lined up behind Jim.  Desperate and fearful, they all leaned into the driving rain, forming a human train.  They all stepped forward, a frightened human centipede.

They shuffled through this lake of a puddle on the graveled roundabout.  The Kincaids mimicked black ants all the way to the base of the bridge.

Once across the oily arched deck, the panicked family halted.  Their train had hit a wall.  Wind and hail whipped at their eyes and bare skin, knocking Nancy’s glasses off, now broken on the ground.  Jim demanded they all move forward, Nancy half-blind.

The family sloshed another 100 feet up the steep greasy hill.  Jim reasoned that they could walk out of the canyon in a day or two?  But for now, shelter and water would be heaven.

Up the steps they chugged; little Billy, the bright yellow caboose, nearly slipping off the edge of the mossy steps.

The bright, swinging light in the cabin appeared warm and inviting through the laced window.  Maybe too inviting; just maybe a serial killer had broken into the rustic cabin?  Had Tatum’s vacation home been turned into a meth lab?  Maybe Tatum had decided to join them after all?  The fear of death tends to make you hopeful.  Jim’s mind was a branding iron question mark.  It sizzled.

Jim pushed little Billy through the open doorway.  No one would dare harm such a sweet child.  After Billy entered, the three cowards bunched up behind him accordion style.  Once they were all in, they skittered to a complete halt.  Nancy slam-kicked the entrance door shut behind her with the heel of her muddy boot.  After, Jim pushed himself in front of his family again.  He spread his arms wide as if to protect his flock and to spare them from what was coming.

In no cell zone hell, Jim maniacally smashed his brittle thumbs against 911, over and over again.  Instinct has a way of making a fool out of you.  His cell phone ignored his pleas for help.

Directly in front of the Kincaids in the dining room was a long wooden table with a fancy place setting for eight.

A kind host had gone out of his way.  Clean water was poured, folded cloth napkins were placed ever so correctly, silver forks, knives, and spoons.

Hell, their wonderful host had retrieved his estranged family from out of the coffin freezers he’d kept at the cabin.  He’d even taken the time to thaw them out.  The kind host had propped them up too, cinching them tightly in their respective wooden high back chairs.  He’d taken the time to sew their lips into an eternal smile, though black and blue, for any late-night conversations.

On each plate was a steaming chunk of Sparky.  He’d been exquisitely prepared.  He’d been served in equal proportions, along with some of Tatum’s carrots, potatoes, and asparagus.

Sight: Suddenly, the lights clicked off.

Sound: A mechanical pumping action, as if something wickedly metallic had chambered.  From atop the loft of the cabin, a voice shrieked out, vulture-like, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”

Rating: 9.63/10. From 8 votes.
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🎧 Available Audio Adaptations: None Available


Written by Dan A. Cardoza
Edited by Craig Groshek
Thumbnail Art by Craig Groshek
Narrated by N/A

🔔 More stories from author: Dan A. Cardoza


Publisher's Notes: N/A

Author's Notes: N/A

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