We have been trying to kill my father for a long time.
The first attempts, admittedly, were clumsy.
My sister and I pushed him off the edge of Longdrop Gorge, which was his first request. It was a long fall. When we reached him at the bottom, expecting to find a soulless body, his bones were already starting to re-knit.
The second time we tried a soft pillow over his face, pressed hard with my full weight balanced in both hands. When he lay silent and still, we lifted the pillow and waited. His pulse returned about a minute later, just before his eyes opened. I remember how he sighed, dejected. He squeezed my hand and assured me I tried my best. As time passed, we got more inventive. We tried drowning, then a knife in the gut. We buried him alive and he was on the porch the next morning covered in black earth. Nothing worked. Nothing stuck.
We finally narrowed it down to one culprit. Despite our best efforts, since our mother died his heart refused to cease beating—it plodded on with the same regularity, the same despondent constancy. Even when we dismembered his limbs and separated them in the forest his heart continued thumping, acting as a compass, a guiding signal calling all his pieces back together.
So, we followed the advice in the black book, the one hidden under the floorboards cut from old-growth trees in the deepest shadows of the forest. I seared my father’s chest open with fire. As he gasped in agony, I pushed my hands into his flesh, past torn veins and crisped bone. I knew as soon as I reached it; I felt movement against my slick palms, the repetitive pulsing, dependable as sunrise. I drew back and little by little I pulled his heart, blackened by fire, out of the cage of ribs. My father, flayed open, continued to breathe in synchronicity with the heart, which shuddered in perfect rhythm even as his blood trickled down my elbows like warm rain.
“What do you want?” I whispered. The heart thudded in my palms. “What keeps you here?” Silence. The same thud, thud, thud. And then I knew. Relief shone in my father’s eyes as the heart seemed to quieten, the beats settled, less frenetic. The route unfolded before us, so clear it was hard to believe we had ever missed it.
It took us less than an hour to devour the heart. I gulped down arteries and ventricles, my throat warming with swallows of ruby blood. My sister took a bite and handed it back to me; I tore out pieces with my teeth and we shared our burden until it was gone. My father’s empty body lay on the table, finally serene as the key we’d made creaked in the lock, the barriers fell, and his soul fled. Outside, owls began to hoot from silent trees. We toasted to the jubilance of a successful departure with bloody hands as midnight fell and the dark began to rise and hum.
SHANNON LAYNE — Shannon (she/her) is from Humboldt County, CA. She holds a B.A. in English Literature with an emphasis in Creative Writing from UC Davis. Her work has been featured in literary journals The Bookends Review and The Kreaxxxion Journal and appears semi-regularly on the Betches website. She lives in Northern California with her wife. You can find her on Twitter (@shannonlaynee) and Instagram (@shannonlayneee).
Art by CARISSA MCQUEEN — Carissa began attending studio art classes at 7, and tagged along to a California College of Arts summer atelier in junior high where she learned printmaking and attended her first life drawing class. She paints mostly while traveling, and is excited to collaborate with literary and musical artists in 2021 to interpret new themes and experiment with techniques. She loves brilliantly adapted novels, sailing and speakeasies. You can find her living in Los Angeles with her 6-speed Mini Cooper and a tiny but mighty butterfly garden. Or raiding her sister’s supply closest for brushes and gel medium.