He was out in the rain for too long and came back. He was stretched out. Tall and suckered thin like a victim of the Photoshop skew tool.
That’s how Dad came back home.
I was on the porch keeping a watch while Mom called up all the neighbors one by one to ask if they’d seen him. Dad needed to bend ninety degrees at the waist to get under the tarp we’d strung up over the deck. Bending, Dad looked like one of those hourglass waitresses he used to eye in the burger joint. The ones Mom would smack him for. It seemed like he would have to bend his whole body into a question mark to look at them now–they would be so far below him.
Stretched, he was twice my height, easy, and I wasn’t a kid anymore. I’d have moved out already if housing prices weren’t so damn high with all this new rain. He was soaking wet and we didn’t let him in the house, just threw a towel at him, which he didn’t seem to know how to use, and waited for the rain to let up.
We tried to make it work. We really did–I swear it on my grandma’s muddy grave. When it wasn’t raining I took him to the park to play football. His new arms worked wonders. If there was a hunger in him he probably could have passed that ball halfway from Seattle to Los Angeles.
People gave us dangerous looks. But there wasn’t a law against keeping people like Dad around. The government was still trying to decide what to do with them. News claimed that a Stretched person’s brain showed lower levels of consciousness. They were supposed to be in this state of impotent docile bliss.
I don’t know about docile though.
One time I saw a Stretched homeless person pluck a stray cat off the roof of a convenience store, then eat it. That was some real shit. The thing was kicking and yowling and scratching but it didn’t matter none. Dad wasn’t like that though, he just wasn’t.
Mom would tease on how had to bend and fold himself so she could kiss him. And how his lips were all stretched out.
“I feel like I’m kissing a dinner plate.” Then she would laugh. Mom used that line a lot.
I’ll admit, I was the one who mentioned divorce first.
She looked at me like I’d came out of a trash chute, instead of her own womb. They had been talking about it a lot before Dad went Stretched, talking divorce that is. So I guess this was the best thing to happen to their marriage in years.
She didn’t talk to me for a couple days, but it was worth knowing how she felt; The thought of Dad being forced to live on the street had been churning in my gut ever since he came back.
Though I’m not sure we could have kicked him out in the first place. Whenever it started raining he would run and crawl into the house, or sprawl out on the porch. He was reliable in that way.
Most Stretched people didn’t mind the new rain one bit. I always hoped that Dad’s aversion meant there was something in him that hadn’t been pulled thin yet. Something he was keeping dry for us. He hated the rain as much as I did.
We tried playing Scrabble. His long fingers struggled to grip even one of the little white and black tiles. Quivering, grimacing with a long mouth, he spelled out Shazam, and Alakazam, and Ta-da and beef. The next day Mom tried to hire a therapist to rehabilitate him. I could hear them laugh at her, even through the phone and across the living room. I don’t know if they kept laughing when she started screaming at them. Wild cat.
He couldn’t really move around inside at first–was too tall for it–had to crawl about like a drunk stick bug. He would tangle up in doorways and I would pull him out one gangling limb and joint at a time. He’d break the door getting out himself. Being Stretched made him strong.
Stronger than anyone knew what to do with.
He could have crushed a skull in his gangly hand–definitely a cat skull, but probably a human one as well.
Fancying myself a handyman, one day I carried home a long section of rain gutter that had broken off and fallen into the street. It was about as tall as me and I took great care to grind away any sharp edges with an old file in the garage. I gave it to Dad as a cane. Mom complained because it left some hellish scratches on the hardwood floor. But it gave him something solid to hold onto. He’d jam the piece of rain gutter against his right shoulder for support, and then shamble from room to room almost as if he were a normal person again.
I think he liked it. He couldn’t say one way or another because his vocal chords had been pulled long and thin just like the rest of him and he didn’t know how to work them very well.
It was odd how his insides had been stretched out just the same as his outsides, even though the new rain hadn’t gotten inside him at all. What would happen if the water went inside first? Like if you drank it for instance. I spent a lot of time thinking about stuff like that.
I pulled out a plastic water bottle and carefully unwrapped the layer of duct tape that was covering the cap. We were at Gas Works Park, water on one side and that old rust covered factory block on the other. There was a small hole in the cap’s center. Behind me the sun was glowing red in the face, slinking away to the horizon. I tightened my grip on the bottle and a jet of dark rainwater splattered out onto the grass. It was oily, from the new rain.
“Want a drink?” I asked, turning the bottle towards the group of men who had been harassing me and my father.
“You’re fucking crazy.”
They might have been right. But I took a step forward and they broke, turning and running at full nut case back up the grassy hill.
Me and Dad watched them go. One slipped and fell, getting a face full of damp grass, but he got up and kept going like nothing had happened. The new rain lost its potency after some time on the ground, it got diluted or something.
It kept pretty well in a plastic bottle though.
I could tell it was still ‘good’ because it had this dark oily look to it. You learned the looks of dangerous and harmless rainwater pretty fast. Got to know which puddles are safe to step in on your way to the grocery store.
Dad just kind of watched them go, and then loped over and stooped. His long fingers came back up holding the football we’d been tossing back and forth. He turned to me and made as if to throw it, but I waved him down. We used to do this all the time when I was younger.
I ditched school often and when Dad was out of a job he would find me, one way or another, and we would play catch for half an hour or so, and then he would send me back to school.
But now it was getting dark. My arms ached from throwing that ball back and forth for what must have been hours. I was so fucking tired. Playing catch was all he ever wanted to do.
He threw the ball at me.
I jerked back and slapped it out of the air.
“Where are you?” I shut my mouth. I think I’d meant to shout–to demand to know, what’s wrong with you, or something similar. But that would have been a rhetorical question.
Dad made a low kind of spluttering gargle in response. I picked up the ball and started walking.
Three months had passed since Dad came home Stretched. Mom must have finally decided that he wasn’t ever going to really come back because she was busy ‘moving on’ and I was in charge of keeping Dad out of the house while she got nasty with some random dude. I wished she wouldn’t use our house to do it. But maybe she had the right idea about things.
Dad walked beside me at full height with his cane click-clacking against the sidewalk. A kind of handle had formed near the top from where Dad’s grip deformed the metal. His fingers were long enough to wrap around several times and squeeze it tight. He held it gingerly now though, like he was afraid of breaking the thing I’d given him.
It got dark and we walked circles around the same four or five streets. Our eyes glinted in street lights and the long beams cast out by lit windows.
After I’d cooled down, we talked. Which means I talked and he gargled back.
At one point I must have said something pretty funny because he leaned down on the cane and grinned at me, looked me in the eyes. We were bathing in the yellow light which burst onto the street from a nearby kitchen window. Inside, a mother, two children, and father, were having dinner.
My father’s eyes were vertical ovals, they couldn’t rotate down or up in the socket because they’d been stretched into cylinders, so the pupils just spun from side to side. His teeth were long and thin. Pointy at the end. Cave spires in a dark maw. Stalagmites and tights.
But he was smiling.
And there was my father. Soft voice turned to gravelling nonsense. Fingers too gangly to hold a pen and write what he could not say. Stuck in a body he did not want to own. What would it be like to get locked up in one of those things? It would be enough to drive anyone a little crazy right? Maybe he’d never left at all.
A drop of water fell from the sky.
The new rain didn’t work by the old rain’s rules. It would never mist or pour down suddenly. It came out like drops of molasses. Ink being wrung slowly from a freshly dyed cloth. Then it would speed up to a full downpour in five minutes or so. Really, it was crazy we went outside at all–considering a few drops on your bare skin was all it took to start turning that part of you into a human Picasso painting. When the new rain first started no one went outside for weeks. But people get used to the craziest of things.
My coat, boots, and pants were all waterproof. So I would probably be safe until it started really coming down. I pulled on a pair of disposable latex gloves from my pocket, and tucked the ends of my sleeves inside the rubber. Then I started scanning for some kindly face in a window that might offer me shelter until the rain let up. I’d done it lots of times before. It was fine. I would be fine.
Then Dad straightened and started to run.
My mind caught up to the horrid reality of the situation too late. I had to find a place to hide from the rain. But whenever the rain came, Dad got scared and ran for home. But if he made it home before me he would find Mom vigorously ‘moving on’ with her latest version of Paul from accounting.
I lunged, trying to catch hold of my father’s hand, waist, leg, long toed foot, anything.
My fingers and face scraped against the sidewalk. I crawled upright in time to hear another drop strike pavement, and see my father loping towards home. He was absolutely silent, swerving around street lamps like the largest alley cat I’d ever seen. His long spidery legs propelled him away from me at a reckless speed. Then he turned, scurried easily over someone’s backyard fence, and was gone.
I’d be caught out in the rain if I raced my father home. And I would arrive after him. There was nothing I could do and I should lay low in a nearby house until the rain stopped. How would Dad react? Another drop.
Then another, close to my foot this time.
I was a statue on the sidewalk, illuminated in yellowish light and about to be slicked down with rain. What would it be like to slink home afterwards–see the aftermath, the fallout? The nuke bomb crater or whatever else I would return to. Or maybe Dad wouldn’t care who Mom was bringing home, or what she was doing with them.
But then I remembered how he had smiled at me, and how sharp his teeth looked. And how his eyes rotored from side to side like a vase on a turns table.
I was running through the rain, head down. I could feel cold drops fall and strike against the thin latex that protected my hands. My vision was limited to only few yards ahead for fear that if I raised my eyes to look, some rain would slip under the hood.
Water splashed up from puddles as the sky poured itself out. The oily liquid sought entry–an orifice in my clothing–but couldn’t find one, not yet.
My coat and rain pants were sopping by the time I crossed the threshold. Scrabbling crashes and quick cries echoed through the home. I sprinted past the living room and to the hall.
My father had folded himself in to fit, rain gutter still in hand, but apparently forgotten. I could hear two voices coming from inside the master bedroom. My mother’s shrill screaming, and a man’s angry shouts which went out at regular intervals as Dad furiously pounded his body against the door, gargling angrily.
I ran, took hold of my father’s arm, and started pulling him away.
A leg whipped out. It caught me in the gut and I tumbled away, breathless. I got up, ready to try again. Then Dad grabbed up the old piece of rain gutter I had given him.
And with the strength of a man who could have passed a football halfway from Seattle to Los Angeles, he plunged it through the door.
The door was peeled off its hinges like an old scab. It fell into the hall and landed at a slight angle, propped up by the gutter. The large, hairy body of a man was stuck to the back. Half clothed and jerking slightly. A rain gutter sprouted out of their back.
Dad made to crawl through the doorway but recoiled, gargling. A can of pepper spray hissed into his face. I grabbed him again, this time by the hand.
His gaze spun towards me.
I got my other hand on his as well. I wrapped one around his knuckles. My second hand went around just past the first joint. Then I broke his fingers like a bundle of sticks.
He chased me through the living room and into the kitchen. But there were knives there.
Metal flashed and gangly limbs recoiled, bleeding red. Red covered over my black raincoat and latex gloves. I hurled a plate across the room and it shattered against the far wall. Then another. Then nothing.
Half blind cylindrical eyes whirred back and forth in vertical sockets.
My crouching behind the counter island blocked line of sight for the both of us. Long legs and elbows scraped against the tile floor. Long fingers brushed the low ceiling. Deep breath grew closer. I sprang and stabbed. And then stabbed. And stabbed. And metal struck against bone. A human grunt of pain went out as one of his fingers punctured my pant leg and tore a long cut.
But then, cut, cut, cut. And then nothing was moving except me.
I shifted in the chair, rearranging limbs.
Water had gotten in where my father cut me. The oily liquid had slicked off my pant leg and into the wound. Now my right leg splayed out under the desk. My knee jammed against the wall, and my shin splayed out under the chair.
The leg worked just fine, other than being twice as long as my other one. My current walking method was to tie my ankle to the back of my belt, and then hobble around on my knee and normal leg with a human sized walking stick for support. Dignified? No. But hell, it worked.
That night I’d hobbled outside and rolled around in the dirt until my tainted raingear lost its potency–rather than risk taking it off normally. After that I just stayed in my room for a couple days.
Mom hadn’t done much more, other than to call the police. She didn’t invite any other guys over though.
There was a window on the other side of the desk, and a laptop on its surface. But I wasn’t looking at either of them.
There was a plastic bottle in front of me. It had a hole in the cap and it was filled with dark oily liquid. I just looked at the thing. Held it in my hand. It was heavier than the knife I’d used to kill my father, but not by much. I wondered at what would happen if I drank it.
Impotent docile bliss, that’s what they said on the news.
I was out in the rain again, watching my father run. Unable to stay, terrified to go.
Finish the job. That’s what fathers were supposed to say to their sons.
I lifted the bottle.
I looked at it from every angle, this way and that in the light, thinking slowly.
A lover of all things horrific and or fantastical, Nick Satnik makes home in Bellingham WA. He’s a student at Western Washington University and is pursuing degrees in both Creative Writing and Mathematics.