“Hey! Hey, Log! Your bobber’s done went and gone under!”
I blinked hard, my eyesight blurry. In front of me, there sat a hazy outline of a young boy. I could make out a blob of short blonde hair, tanned arms and legs, and two bright pinpricks that could only be green eyes. I blinked again, and my vision cleared. The warm sensation of the sun on my shoulders had briefly lulled me to sleep. My eleven year old brother, Avery, was looking expectantly at me from the other end of my silver dinghy. I pushed myself up and grabbed hold of my fishing rod, which had begun to slide on the deck.
“Hey yourself,” I grunted out to Avery while grappling with my rod, “you know I hate it when you call me Log.”
“Why, Log? That’s your name ain’t it?” he taunted, laughing as I began to reel in my catch. Log isn’t really my name. My name is Logan Wittman. I got the nickname “Log,” five years ago when I slept through a tornado warning in the basement of my lakeside home. My mother always had a smart comment at the tip of her tongue. So naturally, as soon as I awoke her first words to me were: “Jesus Logan, I reckon you sleep like a goddamn log.” For whatever reason, Avery had thought that was pretty funny, and the name “Log” stuck.
An idea occurred to me, and a smile started to spread across my face. I looked at Avery, saying, “If this is anything less than a bass when it gets on this boat, I’m going to throw it at you.”
“What? No!” Avery yelled, already shielding his body with his hands. He could tell just as well as I could that no bass has been caught. While he continued to protest, I took my time, reeling my line in the rest of the way.
“Oh well, look what we have here,” I purred, examining the tiny bluegill attached to my hook. With the ease of an expert, I plucked the hook out of the mouth of the fish and hurled it at Avery. There was a loud, wet smack as the bluegill connected with the upper arm that was protecting Avery’s face.
“You suck, Log!” Avery trumpeted, his classic devilish smirk right back on his face.
“Should I try another shot?” I asked playfully, reaching for the cooler possessing our catches of the day. In response, Avery reached for the bluegill I had thrown, which was now desperately flailing on the deck. He snatched it up, but immediately dropped it again, muttering a few swear words under his breath.
“Hey, you alright?” I asked.
“Yeah, fine. He just finned me. That’s all.”
Finning happens when a bluegill uses the sharp end of its dorsal fin to cut you. That’s why there’s a very specific way to handle them; a way that Avery had evidently neglected. While they hurt like sons of bitches, fin wounds rarely bleed and are never really harmful. Avery revealed his palm, showing me the thin vertical slit. I began reaching for the first aid kit that was half hidden under two kneeling pads, but Avery merely scoffed, “Don’t need that, Log. It’s all good bro.” I could tell, however, that he was thankful for my concern. Avery spat in the wound, as was custom, and began to rub his saliva in the cut. Doing such would prevent an infection. I leaned back, fitting another worm onto my hook. Instead of casting my line, however, I stopped in my tracks and looked at Avery. He was about to dip his injured hand into the water to alleviate some of the stinging.
“Ay!” I cried out sharply. “Don’t do that!” Avery flinched at the abrasiveness of my tone and gave me a questioning look. I began to lecture him, “You ever heard of Naegleria fowleri, Avery?”
His response was baffled when it came, “Nae—What?”
“Naegleria fowleri,” I said, enunciating each syllable, “it’s more commonly known as the brain eating amoeba. It’s a single celled organism that feeds on human brain tissue. They are usually found in ponds, rock pits, and…” I gestured at the surrounding water of Lake Tillery, “warm lakes.”
I was partially deceiving him. Naegleria fowleri usually entered the body through the nose rather than an open cut. Also, reported deaths from the brain eating amoeba were more common in parts of Arizona and Florida than North Carolina. I had merely been trying to impress Avery with my knowledge; a mission that was surely a success.
“You’re really serious ‘bout all that weren’t you?” Avery whispered. A curious expression had beset his face. “When you were arguing with Dad, you weren’t kidding? You really want to get out of the south? Be a vet?”
A shadow slid across the lake, darkening our surroundings. I glanced up to see a mass of thick grayish clouds gathering overhead. I took a shaky breath before replying to Avery’s inquisitions, “Yeah, I was serious when I was talking to Dad.”
Just yesterday, my father and I had had an explosive argument. I had decided years ago that I wanted to be a veterinarian. The entire concept of the job was fascinating to me to begin with. And I had always loved animals to the point where even shooting a deer was impossible for me, an anomaly that rendered Avery incredulous. But I kept my passion secret. From the very beginning, I had known that this wasn’t going to go over well with my father. He would never stand for me disappointing him by choosing such a profession. All he wanted me to do was stay where I was and eventually join the military, an idea that I personally detested. “Yes sir Logan, that’s just what you’ll do,” he would always say, “When you get big and strong like me, you’ll join the military and you’ll serve this country just like the proud young American you are.”
Yesterday, he had uttered that irritating statement one time too many. I decided it was probably best to break the news to my dad in the most benign way possible. So, I sat him down, looked him in the eye, and said, “Dad, I don’t think I want to join the military. I have other plans.” He had been quick to spiral out of control. My father was a good man beneath his various redneck shenanigans, but his sense of strong patriotism could be overwhelming. It was determined that I was entering the military, and that was final.
“I’ve got to get out of here,” I whispered to myself, but Avery just barely caught my words.
“Get out of where Logan?” he questioned seriously.
“Out of here, the south, I mean. The minute I turn eighteen I’m going as far away as I possibly can.”
“Hey Logan, come on man, you can’t do that.”
“Why the hell not?” I retorted, “It’s not like I’m going to get what I want around here anytime soon.”
“Come on Logan. He’s Dad. He’ll give into you and you know it, he’s just trying to do what he thinks is good for you, that’s all. He’ll get it.”
I did know it. My dad would come around eventually, right? A thought came to me then, and I asked, “Avery, why do you seem so desperate to keep me here?”
“Well…” Avery hesitated, “It’s because you’re my brother, man, and I’ll miss you.”
A sudden, crushing sense of affection for Avery overcame me. We were different in so many ways, and yet we were best friends. I had long ago left behind my redneck slang, exchanging it for a more educated jargon. Avery loved the southern way of life, while I despised many angles of it. He, with his deep green eyes and attractive blonde hair, was a heartbreaker, while I had never gone on a single date. He was deeply superstitious, while I had a more scientific way of looking at things. Every time we stopped fishing and began to steer the dinghy in for supper, Avery would search through the cooler containing our catches. Once he had found the smallest fish, he would throw it back into the lake as an offering to the Lord of Lies: a supposed evil spirit living in this region of the Yadkin Pee Dee. Every time he did this, I would laugh to myself at his foolishness. Although Avery could be an asshole at times, he always redeemed himself. He was a great person. He was my favorite person, I realized.
“Hey Avery,” I said quietly, a smile beginning to curve my lips.
“Aren’t you forgetting something?”
“Tomorrow, Avery, it’s a special day for you.”
Perplexity continued to dominate him for a moment, and then his face lit up. “Tomorrow’s my birthday! I turn twelve.” He grinned at me, “I’ll be catching up to you soon!”
I laughed, “Don’t get ahead of yourself, you’re not sixteen yet.”
“So what’re you getting me?”
I thought about this for a moment, and then answered, “You know what? I think I’ll give you your present now.”
“You’re sitting in it.”
Avery looked down at the deck of his dinghy with complete awe. Avery had wanted a boat of his own since he was eight, and now that he was old enough, I might as well give it to him. Avery pulled up his view and leveled his eyes with mine. “I love you, man,” were his only words, but they were instilled with great multitudes of fondness and warmth. Maybe that moment should’ve felt awkward for me, but for whatever reason, it didn’t. That’s when I felt the first droplet of rain hit my forehead.
“We should probably start heading in soon, it’s going to storm.”
I spoke, but my voice seemed far away, as if I was hearing an echo of myself off the walls of a canyon. Then there came a sharp ping, as a single bead of rain struck the deck. I looked down at the drop for a good few seconds. The drop of rain was bright red.
“Avery, are you seeing this?”
I looked up at Avery, but he appeared to have frozen in place, the look of adoration still as stone on his countenance. Confusion overtook me. I tried again, saying “Avery, hey!” there was still no response. He remained immobilized.
Then, it started to rain.
Sheets of red rain came pouring out of the sky in buckets. The rain hit my face, and sudden terror began to set in. Something was horribly wrong, something colossal. The red rain felt unnaturally wet, hot and sticky against my skin. I tried to push the rainwater out of my eyes, but even more of it blinded me. The metallic stench gave it away. I realized: It was raining blood.
The lake was quickly beginning to turn a dark shade of maroon. I made a pathetic attempt to scream, but the blood smothered my speech, drowning out my cries for help. What the hell was going on? I endeavored to call out Avery’s name, but the blood sought refuge in my mouth, and I gagged violently at the revolting coppery taste. Finally, I shielded my hands over my forehead, allowing me sight to some small degree. It was then that I saw Avery.
The blood seemed to have an effect like acid on Avery’s body. Hair was falling out of his skull in thick clumps, his eyes rolled crazily before falling out of his head, his skin melted off like it was nothing more than cheap plastic, giving way to sinew and muscle, his ears became knobs of flesh that withered away, his arms and legs were enveloped in blood from the sky as well as his own. I watched, paralyzed in complete horror as Avery’s tissue dissolved, revealing a miniature skeleton that was even then crumbling to dust.
Then, I did scream. I screamed loud and hard, shredding the entire universe in half with my panic. Everything I knew was disintegrating; my world vanished.
I was still screaming when I woke up.
I had jolted myself straight upright in bed. My entire body was covered in a film of cold sweat that caused my nightclothes to stick to my skin. I took in a deep shuddering breath and looked at the digital clock on my nightstand: 12:03 PM. I lowered my aching body back into the comfort of my bed. I knew that I’d no longer be bothered by any dreams of what could’ve been. Something was new about this one though. Usually when my visions ended, they simply faded to black. It was only every once and a while that these dreams took a turn for the nightmarish. The storm of Blood, for example, that was completely new.
I tossed and turned on my bed for what seemed like hours, but sleep didn’t come. I finally realized that I would have to take the pills. I got up in the darkness of my bedroom and took a few shaky steps forward. My hand groped blindly for the doorknob, and eventually, I found it. The door opened with a steady creak, and I winced. If my father found out I was awake, he’d probably give me a couple new bruises to add to my collection. My left jawbone was still sore from where he had struck me the other day.
I listened for a moment but heard no signs of argument. That is, if you can call what my parents do arguing at all. It’s really more of my father yelling at my mother in a drunken rage while she cowers in the corner of the room. The bathroom is at the far end of the hall, and right next to it, Avery’s room. Bit by bit, I inched my way down the hallway, being especially careful when passing the master bedroom. Finally I was confronted by the two doors. Nobody had been inside Avery’s room for years. Whenever I happened to pass by it, my pace was sure to quicken.
I felt the unavoidable temptation to open the door. To take a quick peek inside, for the sake of curiosity if nothing else. In past experiences of these temptations, I had always been too frightened to open the door. But now, I could tell, the time was right. My hand went for the doorknob, and I grasped it tightly, turning it slowly. Then I pushed the door open. I was breathing fast, and my hands had grown weak. My imagination was churning out every possible monstrosity that could be waiting for me inside that room. All sorts of leviathans, behemoths, demons, and ogres danced inside my head as I stared into the darkness. The worst fiend of all that I was envisioning was Avery himself. However, it was not the Avery that I had grown to love, but instead a perverse evil twin. I could practically see him standing in a dark corner of the room. His eyes were a dark yellow instead of the sea green I knew so well. He had a smile of menace that promised many different forms of eternal torture. His arms were reaching out to me, long black fingers wanting nothing more than to drag me down to hell…
My hand reached into the darkness, scrabbling for the light switch. I found it and flicked on the lights.
There was nothing there. Of course, there was nothing there. A thin layer of dust had settled over the room. I gagged on the overpowering stale smell. There were a couple of dressers, a closet, and of course, Avery’s crib sat in the corner. He was just a baby when I killed him. It was only when the dreams started that his age really began to progress. I cut off the light, shut the door, and entered the bathroom.
Moments later, I stared into the mirror on the wall. A pale, thin, sallow teenage boy stared back. His hair was long and greasy; it had been a while since anyone had bothered to cut it. His body seemed to slump a little as he stood, giving the illusion of his being shorter than he really was. His cheeks were flushed, his thin lips chapped, and he looked strangely ill. The most noticeable feature of this boy was his eyes. His faded blue pools seemed unnaturally dark. The white surrounding his irises was bloodshot. The skin around his eyes was red and puffy. A long time ago, the mother of this boy had told him that eyes were windows to the soul. If this was true, the boy’s soul was surely rotting.
The sleeping pills were in my hand, and I scowled down at them. If only I hadn’t killed my brother.
I was only five years old when it happened. My mother had recently given birth to her second child, Avery. We had had him for a solid five months, and I loved him more than anything else in existence, as did my parents. I was playing with him in his crib, having a pillow fight that was admittedly a bit one sided. At one point, I thought it would be a good idea to press a pillow over his face. I was too busy laughing to notice Avery’s own joy turn to struggling. I stayed in his crib for a couple of minutes. I poked his cold dead skin, wondering why he was so unresponsive. The next thing I knew, my mother’s strong arms were lifting me out.
“My God, Logan, what have you done?” Were the shocked, hurtful words she had spoken. The next thing I knew, she had a phone in her hand and was dialing frantically. Not five minutes later, I heard the shrill scream of sirens approaching our house. It was all for nothing. Avery wasn’t coming back. I could tell from the way that my mother was crying that there was nothing anyone could do to save him now. I had gone a step too far. Even at that young age, the guilt was acute.
Afterwards, there was a funeral. One tiny casket was lowered into the ground. Plenty of tears were shed by all members of the family. There were also a good number of accusatory stares in my direction. I clutched at the arm of my mother, but she wrenched herself free of my hold, giving me a cold look. Everyone, including me, shoveled in a handful of dirt. And all the while, a very old looking priest read somberly from the Bible. The thing I remember most about the funeral was the words that my father spoke to me. His hand clamped down on my shoulder as soon as the service ended, and I stared up at him. He was looking back at me with an expression of unconditional hate.
“Why did you do this to me, son?”
Just like that, I was a piece of human filth. Nobody looked at me and said: “That poor young boy Logan… he just lost his brother you know.” Instead, there were insults aimed my way. I didn’t know what I was doing to Avery. I didn’t know it was wrong. I didn’t even know it was going to hurt him. And yet everyone seemed to think of me as a murderer.
The toll it had on my parents was momentous. Having an infant die is one thing, but having to live with a killer is another. I wasn’t their son anymore, I was a boarder. While my Mother cooked me meals and did my laundry, she didn’t do it for her son. She did it for the other person living in her home that would leave once he was eighteen. My father began to drink more and more often. He used to crack a cold one with his redneck buddies every once in a while, but this was different. His moods became more and more violent with the more alcohol he consumed. His friends became nonexistent. My mother started to leave the house more often. She was horribly depressed, and staying home became impossible. She never told me or my father where she went.
The dreams started a couple of months after Avery died. After another gloomy day, I fell asleep and had a dream of me and Avery playing in Avery’s crib. We were pillow-fighting again, but this time, it was safer. I was more careful. After all, something very bad had almost happened not too long ago when we played with the pillows the last time. It was very lucky that my mother had been around to stop it.
The dreams were always of me and Avery, and they followed the course of what my day would’ve been like if he hadn’t died. I began to live two separate lives. One of them was in a dismal world with an abusive father and depressed mother, and the other was in my sleep, growing up with Avery at my side. I was the one who taught him to walk. I took him by the hand, leading him at first, before letting go and watching him take his first few steps. As soon as he could walk, I wanted to show him how to swim. I brought him down to the shallow waters of the lake, fitted him with floaties, and pushed him into the water. It took years before I took the floaties off, but when I did, it turned out he was a natural swimmer. After that, I wanted to teach him to shoot, and after that, to fish.
If I hadn’t killed my brother twelve years ago, my days would be spent fishing on Lake Tillery. We would shoot our guns in the summer and throw snowballs in the winter. As it is, I don’t even own a real dinghy. That boat had been a birthday present from my mother when I turned ten, but only in the world of my fantasy.
I closed my eyes. What wouldn’t I give, for the biggest problem in my life to be my dad wanting me to join the military? At least when I was in that predicament, I knew he would eventually give in to my proposals. With the alcohol, there was no choice for him. He chose beer and whiskey over everything: His wife, his happiness, his son.
What wouldn’t I give, for Avery to be here right now?
After all, shared blood runs thick.
Written by SnakeTongue237