Jake Floral had woken up earlier than everyone else. His mother would be at work until at least noon that day, leaving him responsible to make breakfast for himself. He was in the process of pouring his cereal when metallic clanging echoed in from the living room. Grandma Floral was awake.
Jake had always hated his grandma. This was mostly due to the partiality she'd always shown for his sister, Joanie. But now the old bitty was getting hers, yes sir. Granny-fanny was in fact already caught deep in the clutches of Alzheimer's disease, probably only months away from needing to be put into a home. How he loved staying up during the nights, listening to her scream or laugh or cry to the delusions of years long past. Sometimes, he even sneaked into her room, watching as she descended into what his dad called “one of her episodes.” On a few occasions, he'd actually whispered things into her ear that contributed to her psychosis.
What could it hurt? He would think with rebellious excitement. It's not like the old bitch is going to remember what I'm doing. And, as far as he knew, she never did.
She was now hustling her way into the kitchen. Her curly hair looked like an Afro made of snow. The pink nightgown she was wearing swam on her gaunt frame like a tarp draped over a stick figure. She was puckering her lips to the inside of her mouth and chewing them—a sure sign that she’d forgotten to put her dentures in. Carefully, she ambled her way to the chair closest to the entrance and flopped herself down.
“Get me a bowl of Raisin Bran. And give me a little spoon, not a big one.” She never even so much as glanced at the child she called grandson.
Without a word, Jake walked over to the cabinet and picked out a bowl for her. He snatched the pink cereal box from the top of the fridge, filled the bowl up half way, then went back to the fridge to get some milk. On his way over, he happened to notice the mouse trap sitting next to the window sill. Would she notice, he wondered, if he happened to bury it into the bottom of her precious breakfast? Would she scream like she did during the night, not in retrospective terror, but in very real, very physical pain as the cold metal bar snapped down across the sunken skin of her arthritic fingers? Would the brittle bones snap; would she bleed; would she cry?
“Get your ass on the move!” she yelled from the table. “The Today Show's on in twenty minutes!”
“I'll give you a show to watch, you miserable old hag.”
“What did you say, Jacob? You need to speak up!”
He spoke up in full voice now. “Nothing, Grandma. I'm pouring the milk in now.” Oh, how he wished he could grab for the mouse trap. That would fix her, yes sir.
They ate in complete silence (save for the disgusting slurping noises she made when sucking the milk from the spoon). He looked at her after she'd finished. Little brown flakes of bran were pasted to the sides of her lips, a thin line of milk getting ready to bead over her chin and drip to the table. Her posture was hunched over like always; her head was pointed downwards, as if there was something particularly interesting to see on the checkered table cloth. Just looking at her completely sickened him, so he chugged the last of his own milk and hopped up as soon as he was done. It was almost time to catch the bus for school, anyway. He'd almost made it to the front door when he heard her voice shouting back from the kitchen.
“Norman, you crazy little man! I told you I'm not that kind of girl! Keep your damn hands down your own pants, unless you want to lose what's down there! Filthy cock sucker!”
Jake was sent into an uncontrollable burst of the giggles. During all his observations, had he ever heard Grandma speak like this before? He wondered who Norman was, and exactly what had transpired for her to be speaking so crassly to him. Any thoughts of school were put on the back burner. On his tip toes, he crept his way to the kitchen's opening to hear what she was saying more clearly.
“Oh...OH, that's a little bit better, Norman. I told you, you need to wine and dine me first before you catch yourself a peep show. And don't you think it's going to be any more than that! I told you, I'm not...OH, NORMAN! That's DELIGHTFUL!”
Now Jake was not just giggling, but actually pounding his fist against his leg in his thrall. Oxygen became a waning commodity as he tried to catch his breath in between the snorts and snobs of his own silent laughter. When the fit had gotten too bad, he accidentally banged his fist into the wall instead of his knee cap. That's when things went from being a trickle of funny into an all-out shit storm of hilarity.
“Norman, what was that!? Oh gosh, I hope that isn't my husband Frank! He'd rip you apart if he knew what we were doing in here! Run, Norman, get out now! Hurry!”
“Oh my...Oh my fucking…wow!” Jake was now leaning against the wall, trying to contain his laughter as hard as he could, but with no success. He was actually crying, his face clothed in a transparent mask of tears. Oh, if there was ever a time to fuck with Granny, right now would be it, so for sure!
“Who's out there!? Who's laughing at me!? Frank!? Frank!?”
Jake put a hand to his lips and cleared his throat. Trying to be serious, he started speaking.
“Yes, Clara, it is me, Frank Floral. I have...” he started laughing full-out again, “I have come back...from the dead for you, my sweet heart. I want to take you into heaven, where we will...we will s-s-s-s-sip gingerbread wine, and sing Lady Gaga karaoke with Buddha. Would you like that, my beautiful Clara-Bell milk sucker?”
“Frank!” Granny Floral shouted in surprised fear, “it's not what you think! Norman was just adjusting our water pressure out back! Nothing else happened, I swear it!”
“Okay, Clara-Bell, I believe you. There is one thing...” he snickered again, “just one thing I need you to do for me. Walk to the stairs near the microwave stand, and throw yourself down them. That shall be the only way I can forgive you.” He leaned against the door frame again and resumed his fit.
“That's crazy, Frank, just absolutely crazy! I'm going to leave if you keep acting so crazy. Dirty old cocksucker, I wouldn't have to cheat on you if you showed me a little affection; slipped it in my old cubby hole every now and then instead of one your whores!”
In between his laughter, Jake managed to hear Grandma get out of the chair and unsteadily clang her walker on the floor. Not prepared to give up the game just yet, he slipped out of his hiding place and sneak-stepped into the kitchen. Granny had her back turned to him, walking towards the stairs of the basement with a hobbling, yet determined gait.
“No, Grandma, no,” he said in between his snickers. “Okay that's enough, come back here, now.” He approached her just as she was on the border of the carpeted stairs. He reached out and gently grabbed both of her arms from behind.
“Let me go!” she screeched in her cracking old woman's voice. “Let me go, cocksucker! Dirty brute WHOREMASTER!”
Grandma Floral spun around with the quickness of a youth long forgotten and slapped Jake hard in the mouth. Her balance already in jeopardy, it was completely lost as he pushed her backwards in reflex. In what seemed like slow motion, her left foot slipped out over the edge of the top step. Both of her arms were flailing in the air, looking like two elongated wind socks caught in a gale. Jake tried to reach for her at the last second, but her weight was already unbalanced past the tipping point. She fell backwards and rolled down the stairs, repeatedly going head over heels in a series of loud reverberating thumps. Her head knocked against and broke three of the case's wooden rails on her way down, causing a rivulet of blood to drip from her forehead by time she reached the bottom. Both of her arms were sprawled out, like she was getting ready to catch a ball that would magically drop through the ceiling. Her chest wasn't moving.
“Grandma...” Jake whispered to the body lying fifteen feet below. “Grandma. Oh, man, oh, man, oh, man, oh, man!”
Before Jake even had time to think of what to do, the thumps of erratic footsteps were thundering down from above. Within ten seconds, his father, sleepy eyed and hair not even combed yet, was standing in the doorway of the kitchen. His confused eyes were trying to piece together what possible noise had awoken him from such a sound sleep. The first thing he noticed was Jake's arms hanging above the entry way to the basement.
“Jake,” Daddy Floral said groggily. “what the fuck happened down here?” Then, he saw the abandoned walker standing beside his son. His eyes went wide.
“Where's your grandmother, Jake? Where's my mother!?”
“Dad, I...she...I couldn't...accident! I swear it! It was an accident!”
His dad stared at him stupidly for a few more seconds before realization dawned on him. That's when the sleep completely cleared from his eyes and rage shown on his face. The kitchen floor quaked in response to Daddy Floral’s thunderous footsteps. Within seconds he was at the sink, rubbing one hand against dehydrated lips as the other grabbed the longest of the steak knives from the basin underneath the window. He turned to his son again, his lips snarling and bloodshot eyes opened wide.
Without thinking, Jake ran around the microwave stand and towards the doorway of the living room. His father caught him before he'd even reached the frame. With a feral grunt, Daddy Floral grabbed Jake's wrist with his free hand and made a hard slicing motion through the air with the other. The knife connected with the top knuckle of Jake's middle finger, slicing it straight down the center in a clean cut. For just a second it hung limply on the flap of remaining skin, the pointer and ring fingers getting showered in a torrent of blood. Then gravity took over and the fingertip fell to the ground with a light splat.
“You killed my mother!” his father howled into Jake's crying, whitening face. “And you didn't do your homework last night, you little son of a bitch! Big man on the varsity football team! Little snot nosed puke! Let's see how tough you are now, huh!?”
He braced back and plunged the knife into his son's sternum. Liking the way it felt, Daddy Floral began stabbing his son over and over again. The white marble of the floor began looking like an abstract artist’s canvas. Little droplets of red fell and accumulated onto one another, conglomerating and consummating until there was not a spot underneath Jake Floral that was not part of the blood puddle. After a minute or so of stabbing, Daddy Floral’s arm finally became tired and he stood back to admire his handiwork.
The center of the white My Chemical Romance shirt Jake wore was now a reflective candy apple red. There were as many as two dozen slashes crossing the front, the lacerated skin underneath pasted to the cotton fabric thanks to the natural adhesive gushing out from all sides. Now alone to himself, Jake swooned back and forth across the kitchen, holding his stomach with one hand while weakly slapping at the air with the other. Finally, he fell against the oak wood table he'd eaten breakfast on a thousand times. The table capsized on top of him with a loud thud, pinning his body to the ground as he reached to his father with a dying, bloody hand.
Before he had time to register what had just taken place, Daddy Floral's face was obscured behind a clear sheet of plastic. Whoever stood behind him pulled back with all their weight, completely cutting off all oxygen until he was seeing nothing but orange polka-dots. He got up all the strength he could muster and flung his body forward. The person suffocating him went airborne, flying four feet over the floor before smacking back first into the doors of the kitchen counter. Daddy Floral watched as the attacker stood up, gazing in absolute horror when their identity was revealed in full.
“Joanie!? Joanie, why? Why would you try to kill your own father?”
His daughter looked at him with a predatory twinkle in her eyes. “Because it's all or nothing, Daddy. Jake killed Grandma, you killed Jake, and now I have to kill you. It's just like pro wrestling, Dad. You just ran the gauntlet, and now you have to face me.”
“Ohhh,” he said as if this logic made complete sense. “I get ya now. Alright, but no more sneak attacks. Completely fair, one on one. You get a weapon, I get a weapon, and we have this out, right now.”
Grinning, Joanie grabbed an empty bottle of Daddy’s Bud Platinum from the recycling bin beside her and smashed it against the door frame. Returning her grin, Daddy Floral opened one of the drawers and pulled out a cheese grater. He held it high and swung, brandishing it through the air like King Arthur's Excalibur.
“To the death; only one winner will come out on top!”
Nodding her head in agreement, Joanie ran straight at him with the jagged end of the bottle thrust outward. Just as she neared him, Daddy Floral moved to the side. He pressed the grater against her scalp as hard as he could. In the process, she smashed the remains of the beer bottle against the kitchen cabinet, leaving her holding nothing but the neck end where the cap would normally go. She let out a shriek as blood began pouring down her face and neck. Daddy Floral ripped the black chunk of Joanie’s skin from the metal grid and threw it on the ground.
“Now...you'll...never...get a date to the prom,” he taunted out of breath. He bent towards Joanie and grabbed her by the hair. He dropped the cheese grater in the sink, then retrieved another knife from the wash basin. This one was a long butcher's special.
“And now, every one of you will see why...father...knows...best!” He raised the knife above his head with both hands and smiled at her.
Right before Joanie Floral became another victim to spontaneous hysteria, she heard light but quick footsteps rushing in from the living room. She looked up just in time to see her mother bolt into the kitchen, still in her cooking apron from work and with a look of concerned confusion on her face. Daddy Floral turned towards the noise, giving Joanie ample positioning to jab the remains of the beer bottle up into the crotch of his pants, lacerating the genitalia beneath. With a scream, Daddy fell to his knees, cursing his wife and daughter for being such a diabolical duo.
“Finish him, Mom!” Joanie rasped. “Grab the knife and finish him.”
Mommy Floral looked down at her wounded husband and carefully plucked the knife out of his hand. Considering it, she then looked to her son lying on the floor in a pool of his own blood, and then to her daughter, utterly mutilated with a gaping wound on the left side of her scalp. Careful not to sully her work uniform, she got down on one knee and raised her husband's head with her hand.
“You did this?” she whispered in the rhetorical. “My babies? My Joanie...my precious, precious Jake? Mark, how could you? How could you hurt my babies?”
Daddy looked Mommy in the eyes. The blood from his shredded testicles was leaking through his hand to his shoes like a stream.
“He started it, Cheryl! He killed my mother, and...and...I just lost it! Pushed her right down the stairs, Cheryl! It wasn't my fault! I was just playing the game, and you're going to make me lose now! I could have won! I could have won!”
Mommy Floral was shaking her head in horrified denial. She began to slowly lower the knife to the floor.
“No, Mom!” Joanie screamed. “You finish him! We all played the right way, and now you have to play the right way! Right across his throat! RIGHT ACROSS HIS FUCKING THROAT!”
“Cheryl, baby,” Daddy Floral pleaded one last time. “Don't. Don't do it. We love each other! We're married! We're a family, honey!”
“That's right,” she said coolly. “We're a family, and families stick together; do everything together. You've all been playing a game, and I wouldn't want to be left out.”
Mommy Floral smiled at him and placed the knife against his throat. Pushing all her weight into it, she pressed and then ran the blade's edge across his pulsating, beard-stubbled jugular. She jumped out of the way as the floor ahead was covered by an incredible black fountain. So deep was the cut, the initial geyser made it all the way to the fallen kitchen table before finally dissipating back to its source.
Mommy Floral walked over to Joanie and helped her to her feet. Together, they watched Daddy lie on the floor and die in a gargling seizure. After he was done twitching and his breathing had stopped, mother looked to daughter and spoke.
“Joanie...Joanie, what have we done? We're going to both be in so much trouble! So...so much trouble....”
Joanie gently took her mother’s hand in her own.
“What did you say, Mom, about us doing everything together as a family? Well, what did the rest of the family do today?”
“They died, Joanie. But—”
“That's right. But, a family's not a family with only one person. That's the only way to make this right, don't you see? If there's only one of us left, then we didn't break the rules, because there's no family anymore. So, what do you think we should do?”
With hesitation, Mommy Floral let go of her daughter's hand and took a few steps backwards. Sighing, she wiped the knife covered in her husband's blood against her apron until it was gleaming clean again. Then she held it in front of her.
“Are you sure this is what we need to do?” she asked apprehensively.
Joanie slid a fresh bottle out of the recycling bin.
“It's the only thing we can do. It's the only thing that's right. Ready to play the game?”
Joanie bashed the bottle against the wall, pointing the jagged end outwards.