Allen said he was getting clean again. This time he really meant it. He had already checked into rehab and was meeting with his counsellor twice a week.
He told us that he loved us.
Everything from the moment he trudged through the front door and struggled threading his coat over the lone hanger in the closet suggested it was just another one of his tall tales.
Tate had made it very clear in the days leading up to Thanksgiving that he was opposed to inviting our older brother over. Deep down I knew it was a bad idea too. Whenever Allen came back telling us he was trying to turn his life around it really meant that he needed us for something.
Allen had been the bad egg of the family since our parents died in a car accident while we were boys and our grandparents stepped up to take us in. He’d been pulling the same bullshit throughout his adolescence with our grandparents too old and beaten down to reign him in.
So many nights of our teenage years Tate and I would stay in playing Xbox and watching DVDs only to brace ourselves when we heard footsteps coming up the porch and Allen stumbling in fucked up and always angry.
When our grandparents finally passed, all they had left in their estate was the house to pass down to us. It hadn’t taken long for us to grow so sick of the constant parties and Allen’s strung-out junkie friends passed out on the couch every night that we eventually had to kick him out and try and make it on our own.
One-third share of a decaying two-story house smack in the middle of Saint Paul suburbia wasn’t worth much. It was maybe enough money to float his drug and escort expenses for a couple of months at the most.
Wherever the money had gone, it was clear it had run out by the time that Thanksgiving rolled around. We’d broken our golden rule and opened our doors to him one more time. We’d even tried to take it seriously that year. I’d ordered an organic turkey from a specialty grocer and Tate had spent hours preparing sides of potatoes, stuffing, broccoli salad, and even baked an apple pie for dessert.
Allen showed his immense appreciation by wobbling while he struggled to keep his balance in the front hall. His eyes were red around the edges and he scratched at the left side of his neck like he needed to peel off the outer layers of skin. His plaid shirt and jeans with paint stains all around the knees looked like they were on their tenth time being worn without a wash.
His eyelids twitched. He looked all over the room like he had trouble making out the familiar shapes around him. He smiled at us and we feigned smiles back. We were both so nervous. Just how far off the deep end would this night go? Perhaps we’d have to physically force him out if things got out of hand.
We’d made sure the house was dry. We’d even hid the wine and whiskey glasses so he couldn’t get inspired. There was a glass pitcher with ice water smack in the middle of the table and that’s all that the three of us would have to drink that night.
“Want to sit on the couch?” Tate gestured towards the living room and then headed back for the kitchen. “Dinner’s almost ready. Just need to set the table and I’ll bring everything out.”
Allen stared at the dinner table like the idea of sitting down scared him half to death. “Nah bro. I’ll stand for now.” He kept fidgeting at the front door. He kept looking over his shoulder and out the window. Like even he knew that this whole thing was a bad idea and he should just make an excuse to jump ship now for all of our sakes.
“Just gotta get somethin’ from my car. Be right back.”
He’d slammed the door behind him before either of us had a chance to answer. We looked at each other and shrugged. The whole thing was all-too-expected like we were reading from a script. He probably wanted an extra hit of whatever he’d been on all day before he could stomach sitting down for a period of longer than fifteen minutes.
There was nothing we could do about it aside from not let it bother us. I started setting cutlery and Tate brought the food dishes over one-by-one. The arrangement looked elegant when it was complete. Our late grandmother would have been proud if she was still around to see it.
We gave Allen another five minutes before we started eating without him. It wasn’t something that needed to be debated. We didn’t need to bother checking on him to see when he was coming back. The food would only get colder with more time spent on a wasted cause. We scooped big portions onto our plate and started digging in.
Eating with just the two of us didn’t hurt that badly. It never does when you prep yourself for the worst-case scenario ahead of time.
We both loosened our belts and sat there at the table for some time when we were done. Every once in a while, I would glance over to the door waiting for the moment where Allen would burst back in like nothing happened with some cooked up story about how he got a call from a friend in need or how he couldn’t find whatever the hell he was looking for in his car.
Then it hit me. That degenerate didn’t have a car. He’d never owned one and hadn’t even tried to get his license as best as I could remember.
I went to the front window and peered out. The driveway was empty… as I’m sure it had been the entire time. Allen probably had one of his junkie friends drop him or he had walked all the way from whatever ghetto part of town he lived in. He probably took off down the street the moment he realized he wasn’t mentally stable enough to sit down for a proper dinner with his brothers.
It seemed like all the neighbours were entertaining Thanksgiving company with their narrow driveways on sprawling city lots stuffed with three or four cars at least.
A single black van was parked on the street directly in front of our house. It was one of the nineties GMC Savanas with no windows lining the back. I pictured Allen hunched over inside and desperately taking another hit before he could find the confidence to come back in.
The van shook gently but no door ever opened. I drew the curtains shut and then my phone started buzzing on the counter where I’d left it to not distract from our precious family meal. Sure enough, it was Allen’s phone and the rational part of me was screaming to let it go to VM.
Then again, maybe I’d find the confidence to tell him how I truly felt over the phone. The cat always seemed to have my tongue whenever I saw him in person.
At first, all I heard were his gasps on the other end. When Allen’s voice finally came through it was shrill and desperate. Something was wrong. He didn’t have the finesse to fake it that well. He stumbled over his words and couldn’t find a way to string more than a couple together at a time.
It was so predictably infuriating. He’d managed to fuck himself up swiftly. I didn’t want to piss away any more time trying to figure out what was wrong with him? I wish I would have been jaded enough to just hang up the phone right then and there.
I glanced back at Tate who slouched forward in his chair with his elbows on his knees. He stared back at me apathetically, no more interested in the gibberish he could hear coming from the other line.
When Allen was finally able to find his words, he was suddenly composed.
“Y’all to come to the reservoir behind the house. Came down here to stretch my legs n’ slipped. Need some help gettin’ up!”
“The fuck are you doing back at the reservoir Allen? You said you were going to your car and there’s nothing in the godamn driveway.”
“Needed to stretch my legs. I’m sorry brother. I need you to come back n’ help me up. Messed my ankle up real good.”
“Get your ass up and hobble back here yourself. We’ll pack you a doggy bag and you can walk your ass home.”
Suddenly Allen’s voice became very stern– threatening even.
“Listen brother. You and Tate walk down here to the reservoir now or I’m gonna call up my junkie friends to go over there and make you. Would y’all like that?”
I looked up to Tate again and it was clear he could still hear Allen word-for-word. He got up from his seat and went to put his jacket on.
I stood there speechless. Allen erupted into a burst of shrill laughter on the other end of the line like he’d gotten the upper hand. He hung up before I could find any more words.
“What are we gonna do?” I asked Tate while he fished through the front cupboard looking for his gloves and hat.
“I guess we’ll go down to the reservoir?”
The reservoir was a quarter-mile walk downhill from the end of our backyard. I’d always felt lucky we had it there. It meant our property was one of the rare spots in the city where we didn’t have neighbours towering over our backyard.
I’d fished some old flashlights from underneath the kitchen sink and both of us hopped over and headed back. It was surprising Allen would’ve made it back there on his own. He would have been forced to hop a fence somewhere. I wondered what condition we’d find him in. Maybe he’d be lying on his back and flailing in the dirt after the adrenaline rush he had on the phone faded. Maybe he’d be sitting calmly on one of the concrete slabs trying to downplay the whole thing and claim I was overreacting.
It was surprisingly dark once we got down there. I suppose we were far enough away from any of the suburb streets to get much illumination. We panned the flashlights all over the empty space. We saw the familiar concrete blocks with little weeds poking out between them all the way down to the sewer opening. Cars whizzed by on the overpass a couple of blocks to the west.
Everything looked as was it should. Except… Allen was nowhere to be seen.
“Fucker,” Tate said under his breath.
“He’s never where he says he is.”
There wasn’t any use in pissing away more time looking for him. We started our way back towards the house. Wherever Allen was, and however he had made his distress so convincing over the phone, we weren’t going to let it be our problem anymore. I was determined to draw my line in the sand from that point forward and make sure that I wouldn’t let my older brother or his predictable actions invade my thoughts for the remainder of the evening.
The plan lasted maybe two minutes. We realized that Allen had once again fucked us over before we even made it inside the house. The rear door had even been left swinging open in the cold November air.
The whole place had been ravaged. All the dishes had been knocked off the table with the leftovers smeared deliberately all over the floor. Pictures had been pulled off the wall and all the cupboard drawers had been yanked out and tossed around.
Tate dashed to the front door, which had also been left hanging open, and locked it. I ran to the garage to grab two baseball bats which I was thankful hadn’t been stolen. We went through the house together, slowly growing more horrified as we realized that everything portable and remotely valuable had been taken. Even our grandmother’s gold necklace, which she had passed to her mother and then had passed back to her, was gone.
We kept in a little nook behind the fireplace for the very reason of mitigating it being stolen. Only Allen or someone who knew us well could have thought to look there.
Amid all the contempt I had felt towards my older brother in that moment, I was amazed he had composed himself well enough to divert us so convincingly and even further impressed that he was so quick to clean us out. We were gone out of the house for seven or eight minutes at the most. He’d made remarkably quick work of it. I supposed that kind of talent came with time practice.
Tate and I said very little to each other for the remainder of the evening. We picked up as best we could and made our way to bed, both of us taking our baseball bats with us for protection. I triple checked that every door and window was locked before turning out the lights. I’d be damned if I ever let that fucker step foot in that house again.
Sleep didn’t come easily that night. I’d spent more time tossing and turning than I did lying still. The anger had seeped down to my core and rotted my thoughts from the inside out. For whatever little amount of time I managed to stay asleep, the resentment towards my older brother found its way to wriggle into every corner of my dreams.
It was exactly two in the morning when I first started hearing the tapping. It didn’t feel real at first, more like I was still half-stuck in the mist of one of my nightmares. However, the longer it persisted, the more impossible it became to ignore.
I was partially grateful for a purpose to get out of bed. I thought maybe the wind was blowing the tops of one of the trees scattered across the backyard against the window. I drew the curtains thinking nothing of it at first.
When I saw Allen standing there at the second story level– I would have thought I was still dreaming had my heart not skipped several beats. The window occupied the upper two-thirds portion of the wall. There was a narrow ledge of brick lining the outside that you could maybe get just enough of your toes on top of to support your weight. Even then, it couldn’t explain how he’d managed to climb up there in the first place. There was no access point that I could think of.
His head was maybe a foot or two above mine. His skin looked sickly white in the pale light from the street. He looked back at me with dead eyes. The look of a man strung out and barely in touch with the reality around him. The kind of semi-catatonic state you would need to be in to think that climbing up there was a good idea in the first place.
I took a step back he leaned forward and pressed his cheek against the glass. I tried to scream for Tate but no sound escaped my mouth.
Was my older brother seriously about to break in through the second-story window? Had he tried all entry points on the first floor and was now resorting to checking if I’d overlooked locking one of the windows on the second?
His hand stretched to the far right end. It looked like he was trying to wedge his fingers into the crack between the window and the wall.
The rage that had been bottled up within me the entire night started to spill out. No social restraint could hold it back right then and there. I started punching the glass and driving my shoulder into it. I tried to create enough force to startle him enough so he would lose his grip and fall back first to the lawn below.
“Fuck you Allen! Fuck you!” I started screaming at the top of my lungs. I launched myself harder into the glass. Still, he did not budge. It’s almost like he didn’t acknowledge that I was even there. He was so focused on that space between the wall and the edge of the window.
The commotion had been enough to wake Tate up. His footsteps pounded from the room over until he was right up next to me. He looked at me in a state of horror and disbelief.
“The asshole’s still trying to get in,” I said weakly.
“What asshole?” Tate asked.
I turned back to the window and saw the space was empty. It was the same for the lawn below and all the surrounding area that we could see. There was no indent on the grass, no scruff marks anywhere that would suggest he’d fallen back and managed to quickly scurry away.
I didn’t press hard trying to explain to Tate what I’d seen in the window but I managed to convince him to camp out in my room for the remainder of the night. I wouldn’t let myself sleep another wink. I was doubtful I could even if I tried. We both sat on the floor of my bedroom with our backs against the wall and our bats in between our legs. I kept staring out the window, part of me deep down expecting Allen to try his luck climbing up again.
We debated calling the cops at first but figured it wouldn’t get us very far unless we could actually track him down. There was still part of me worried about Allen’s health even though it was vastly overshadowed by my innate desire to self-protect.
If there was any silver lining in all the madness, it was that there was a distinct brotherly bond that had only been strengthened that night between Tate and me. It all spawned from the disdain from our older brother– just as it always had and always would.
It didn’t seem like such a long time before the night sky finally started to brighten. The tops of the trees in the backyard started to show their texture and I could even see back to the reservoir.
I might have suggested we bundle up and walk somewhere high enough where we might be able to catch the sunrise. Maybe we could stop somewhere for an early Black Friday Breakfast.
We both jumped to our feet, ready and able to fight Allen off if he was going to force another confrontation. Footsteps sounded around the side of the house and then towards the front door. Then, very faintly, a hushed voice whispered something that I couldn’t make out.
We didn’t waste any time. We stormed downstairs with our bats brandished and ready to strike Allen down. There would be no second-guessing that time.
Everything was remarkably still on the main floor when we arrived. We tip-toed into the front hall hoping he’d been foolish enough to stay there thinking that we hadn’t heard him. Right before we reached it, we heard that same voice on the other side.
Tate looked at me and nodded. We clutched our bats and unlocked the front door. He tried to push it open but it didn’t budge. He checked the lock again and shook his head. He leaned into it harder the second time but still it didn’t move. I tried pushing with him and it felt like we were pressing against a brick wall.
Something was very wrong. Allen wasn’t strong enough to hold the door up against us even if he tried. We had been barricaded in. There was no other explanation.
That’s when I noticed the proof in our surroundings. There was very little of the morning light flooding in downstairs. All the windows, whichever ones weren’t already covered by curtains, had been boarded over.
“No. No. No.” I said in a panicked voice and moved through the main floor, looking for any exit that wasn’t blocked. “Why would the asshole lock us in?”
Tate looked at me and for the first time in years, I thought he might catch him crying.
“Did you hear anything during the night? How could he do it so fast?” he asked.
“Come follow me and I’ll show you.”
Allen’s voice sounded shrill from the top of the stairs like he had been waiting for that exact question.
We both sprinted to the bottom steps and sure enough, we saw our sickly-looking older brother staring down at us from the top. He looked so apathetic. Like his sneaking in our house to torture us was so easy it hardly amused him anymore.
We stormed up towards him. Both our bats were raised and there was no doubt in my mind that we would have beaten him within an inch of his life if we could have gotten our hands on him. He darted for my room and we followed gaining more ground with every step.
He had the window wedged all the way open. He hurdled out of it with incredible finesse and landed squarely on his feet on the back lawn. He kept running without breaking his stride and hopped the fence like it was nothing. He was already halfway towards the reservoir while Tate and I were still trying to figure out how we would shimmy ourselves out.
Neither of us could believe it. We looked at each other and then gingerly slid our ways out the window and fell onto our hands in knees on the lawn. We ran as hard as we could after him, thinking that he could have only gotten so far and wouldn’t have anywhere to hide once we had him trapped down in the reservoir.
The harsh reality was that we would never saw Allen again after that. We looked in every nook and cranny and screamed his name like bloody murder into the early morning air all to no avail. For the second time that night, he had lured us down there only to disappear.
I was lost. I was so angry and wanted so desperately for Allen to be around so I could take it all out on him. He’d done it. He’d found a way to break us even more than he already had earlier in the night.
I turned back to our house and screamed his name one more time.
It was like my voice had been a timer. I saw the first of the orange flames rising above the roof shortly before I smelled the smoke.
I marched back towards our house like I was in a daze. The flames grew higher and higher and by the time I reached the back fence, it was like the whole thing had been engulfed in one giant fireball.
The house was the last thing he could take from us. And what a show he’d put on in doing so.
My phone buzzed in my pocket. I answered it without looking. Allen laughed wildly on the other line. I fell to my knees and kept listening. The fire had grown taller than the trees.
Tate and I spent the next several hours at the police station sitting in a grey room with nothing but four chairs, a metal table, and a circular wall clock next to the door.
I don’t think the cops ever really suspected us of being guilty of starting the fire, but we definitely raised some eyebrows when we gave our rendition of the events that led up to it.
The problem was simple: there was physical evidence to contradict the story we gave them. And once they told us what they knew and then even showed us the evidence in pictures, there was nothing more we could say to explain ourselves.
Allen couldn’t have been responsible for tormenting us all night and then ultimately burning down our house… because he had been murdered shortly after he told us he needed to check something in his car.
The car he was talking about was really that black van I saw parked on the street in front of our house. It belonged to some drug kingpin who Allen had begged to follow him over, promising him he could get the money from us to pay his debts.
The amount owed was in the six-digit range. That’s the only way so many higher-ups would have been involved first hand. Allen must have had a change of heart when he stepped in and saw us nervous for his visit.
He went back out to plead his case and they dragged him back inside the van and slit his throat right on the spot. The police knew about this hours before we called to report the fire. They caught the two cronies tasked with dumping Allen’s body in a park a couple of blocks over. They already had his body in morgue and had the two criminals in for questioning and selling everyone out well before we were ever on their radar.
The debt had been worth more than Allen’s life alone. He’d been too big of a problem for them for too long. They wanted ours as well.
At first, they stormed the house expecting to gun us down while we ate unsuspecting at the dining table. Of course… we’d been lured down to the reservoir at that time. They must have just missed us given the timeline and they decided to rob us of everything we had before coming back for us later on.
It took seven men several hours to board up all the exits in our house quietly in the night without us hearing, but they were sure they got every exit– most certainly my bedroom window. There was no way we would have been able to get the boards off from the inside.
They torched the house after they heard us yelling and running up the stairs, thinking they would sit and listen as the screams turned into burning anguish. Only by some miracle did we head down to the reservoir for the second time when we did.
They checked my phone for the call logs from Allen. There was nothing. His phone had been smashed shortly after they’d killed him and tossed onto the street.
I could still hear his wild laughter in my head yet there was no way he could have called. There was no way he could have been back at the window or back inside our house. There was no way he was ever actually down at the reservoir.
Perhaps he truly did love us.
The Devil walks among us.
He manifests himself in all the minute fears that creep inside your head during the late hours of the night. The Devil’s In The Details Volume 2 features twenty stories of psychological horror to seize your mind and resurface all the thoughts you tried to bury.
Monsters in the dark, hometown possessions, ghosts bound by tragedy, deals with the Devil– the twists and turns of this collection will keep you up at night wondering why you ever let yourself get sucked in.
Click HERE to get your copy now!