A Lending Hand
by Daniel Lind
Rodeo clapped his heels on the horse’s sides when his parents’ rickety house came into view, the safest place on Earth.
Cam greeted Rodeo with open arms. He wore Pa’s checkered shirt. “Howdy, Big Brother, I didn’t think you’d come back. I see you got yourself a beard.”
Rodeo dismounted and returned the embrace. “How’ve you been?”
“Roof needs fixin’, and I’m the only one who can do it.”
Rodeo frowned. “Where’s Ma and Pa?”
Cam looked away. “They’re…around.” He motioned towards the house and they walked in.
It was late afternoon. Black and white photographs of Pa smiling, showing off his muscles and big belly lined the dusty bookshelf. Above the mantelpiece hung Pa’s old shotgun. A stew boiled in the kitchen. The table was set for one. Dreamcatchers with feathers in a multitude of colours hung in the windows.
“What are those for?” asked Rodeo.
“Pa don’t like ‘em. Keeps him away.” Cam opened a closet and took out a greasy bag and a broomstick. “And these are for Ma.”
Rodeo couldn’t hear the dog bark, and their chickens were too quiet. Something wasn’t right. He grabbed Cam’s arm. “Are they gone?”
“No, they’re all right,” said Cam.
They left through the backdoor. The opening to Scooter’s doghouse had been fitted with metal bars. Two grey hands gripped the bars.
Cam grimaced. “Don’t get too close. Ma bites worse than Scooter.” He banged the bars with the broomstick and the hands fell back into the dark. A low growl echoed from inside. A sewer-like stench wafted out. Rodeo nearly threw up. He turned around, disgusted.
“What the hell is that?” said Rodeo.
“No food deliveries for years. Gotta take what’s around.” Cam opened the bag and threw pieces of dripping meat inside the dog house. The sudden burst of crunching and squeaking made Rodeo’s body tense.
“Ma’s infected so you keep her as a pet? What does Pa think?” For a moment Rodeo wanted to push his brother into the doghouse.
Cam zipped the bag and turned to Rodeo. “He don’t care, as long as he gets somethin’ too. Wanna see ‘im?”
“You’re out of your mind!” Rodeo backed away.
They went around the back of the house to where a tall fence had been raised. It was painted green up until where a thin figure in ankle chains wobbled with a brush. Pa’s bald head had cracked open on one side, and his left hand went up and down the fence.
“He’s lendin’ a hand,” said Cam with pride. “I’m gonna make it electric to keep any other Biters away.”
“Why don’t you let them die in peace?” Rodeo didn’t know if he could take much more of this. His loving parents becoming monsters was difficult to understand.
“You don’ know what it’s like, brother! Good folks changing, disappearing, or dying, every day. I couldn’t let that happen to our parents.” Cam’s eyes welled with tears. “And we thought you was dead. The farm needs protecting and I need all the help I can get!”
Rodeo nodded. “I’m sorry I came too late.”
Cam reached into the bag again and took out a scrunched dog ear with caked blood around its edges. He threw it to Pa who immediately dropped the brush and munched on the snack with a satisfied snarl. His black jaw and rotten teeth chewed on the piece while he stared at Rodeo with one twitching eye.
“We can’t live like this,” whispered Rodeo. “This is crazy.”
“Whole world’s crazy. I’m only doing my part.” Cam wiped his eyes with his sleeve. “Ready for supper now?”
The sky shimmered in crimson when they returned to the house. The smell of stew permeated every room. Rodeo removed the still loaded shotgun from the mantelpiece.
“I’m happy you’re home, brother,” Cam called from the kitchen. “I’ve even saved a plate for you.” A rustle came from the drawers. “You’re a lifesaver. Pa’s happy too, he just don’ know it yet.” Cam’s voice quivered, revealing a sharp edge to his tone.
Rodeo had encountered many Biters before, but never like this.
An axe hurled through the room and buried itself into the bookshelf. Books and pictures crashed to the floor. Rodeo dove behind a chair. “What the hell are you doing?” he shouted.
Cam stepped out of the kitchen, clutching a knife. His eyes glistened with madness. “Can you believe Ma bit me last night?”
Rodeo cocked the weapon. “We’ll figure something out.”
“Who’s gonna fix the roof after I turn into one of ‘em? I ain’t paintin’ that fence wearin’ no chains.”
Rodeo stood up and aimed the shotgun.
“Ah, there y’are,” said Cam and grinned. “You ain’t plannin’ on shootin’ your brother, are you?” He drew his arm back and motioned to throw the knife, but Rodeo fired twice. Blood sprayed the walls, and Cam’s body thudded to the floor.
Rodeo checked the ammo and walked out in the yard. “No more fence painting.”
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Daniel is a Swedish teacher who lives in London with his wife and two children. He’s had work previously published in publications such as Zetetic, Elbow Pads, and Flash Fiction Magazine. You can find him on Twitter: @lindhoffen