One of four stories published in necrology shorts, this short was inspired by real events. How much is fact? I’ll let you decide.
Brad raced down Salom Avenue on his way to his first patient. He glanced at the clock and cursed at it. He had a crazy schedule and his daughter’s birthday party tonight. That meant he had to get through nine patients in less than eight hours which was impossible unless you cut corners.
He came to a screeching halt in front of Clare Stah’s home. Her house was built like all the others in the neighborhood but looked barren with tall weeds and a deflated basketball littering the walkway.
He opened up his satchel, rifled through his files and came across Clare Stahl. He scanned for relevant details that would help him with the evaluation: CVA with left side hemiplegia, severe osteoarthritis, recent hip replacement, congestive heart failure.
From the admitting nurse he learned that Mrs. Stahl needed assistance with everything from eating to bathing. Brad sighed as he threw the file back into his bag and headed out of his car and towards the house. He tripped through a mess of empty bottles before climbing up the porch to a wooden door. Before he could knock the door opened revealing a scruffy young man with a Cheshire grin. Brad heard that Clare was living with her twenty year old grandson and his sordid bunch of friends.
“I’m a therapist here to see Mrs. Stahl,” Brad blurted out.
“Oh yea bro. Come on in. She’s where she always is,” the man said leaving the door open for Brad to slip through. As Brad walked into the entry way he saw the kid climb a staircase that went up to the second floor.
“Are you Dannie?” Brad asked as the boy stopped to yawn.
“Nah, I’m just a friend. Call me Shaggy,” he said with a wry smile. “Dannie’s still asleep. Grams is still in bed too but I’ll get her if you want to wait down here.” He leaned against the railing as though he had been shot.
“Sure I’ll wait,” Brad said. “I can always do some paperwork before I start.”
Shaggy shuffled up the steps calling out, “Grams? Grams! Therapy is here! Time to get your ass outta bed!”
Brad was surprised with how nice the place was. A sculpture of some saint greeted him in the entrance way which opened up to a large room where a leather couch and several lazy boy chairs sat around a 50 inch screen television. Scattered across the couch were packs of rolling papers and a bong.
Shaggy crashed back down the steps bringing the faint smell of marijuana with him.
“Actually man, could you come up. She’s won’t get out of bed for me,” he said.
Brad followed him up the staircase stepping over t-shirts and towels that lay in heaps. When they reached the second floor, Shaggy stopped before entering Clare’s room and motioned Brad to go in with a wave. He then walked past Brad down the hall and into the last bedroom, shutting the door without a word.
“I’m in here,” said a raspy voice.
Brad made his way into the room and found Clair half out of her bed. Her left arm and leg seemed to wither under her as she clenched the head-board with her right hand.
“Let me help you there!” Brad said putting his equipment down and helping the lady back into her bed. She was bone thin with Brad gently lifted her back into bed without much trouble. He noticed a sickly odor and decided either Clare had a urinary tract infection or a cat was dead under her bed.
“Thank you so much, I don’t know what I would have done if you hadn’t shown up,” she said smiling a toothless grin.
“Isn’t anyone here with you?” Brad asked.
“Sure they are,” she said pointing to the hallway where several other rooms were. “But you’d never know it. They sleep all day and don’t pay me any attention when I need to get up. All they want to do is eat, smoke dope and fuck.”
“I’m Brad by the way. I’m here for the occupational therapy evaluation.”
Clare ignored him saying, “I’ve been stuck here for three weeks! Three weeks in Godforsaken Kentucky!”
“Where did you live before?” He asked hoping this wouldn’t take very long.
“Atlanta. Beautiful ranch home with sunk in bath tub. Had a nice little garden where I could putter around.”
“Is that where you fell?” Brad interrupted trying to get Clare back on track.
“I was taking out the garbage when I lost my footing. It happened so fast”
“So who is here with you to help out? Daughter? Son?”
Clare’s features turned cold making her look more haggard than she already did. Brad knew he had seen that face before and decided it was the wicked queen from Snow White when she turned herself into an old hag.
“Nobody cares about me. They left me for dead! They took my money and rented this place out so Dannie could watch over me.”
“Is he here all the time?” Brad was typing now not listening to her response.
“He doesn’t have a job if that’s what you mean.”
“What do you need help with?”
“Well look at me! I can’t do a damn thing. It’s just awful. This wasn’t how my life was supposed to turn out. I could have been an artist but instead I spent over thirty years on the assembly lines so my family could have a better life. Look where that got me. I got arthritis so bad in my hands that I can’t hold a damn spoon to eat. Golden years…..what a bunch of crap! ”
Brad looked at his watch. “Do you have someone you can talk to?”
Clare’s frown slowly faded and she looked calm for the first time since Brad had walked into the room.
“Yeah. Some of Dannie’s friends aren’t too bad. I can cry in my milk and they listen.”
“What sort of goals would you like to work on Clare?” He was pulling out several forms for her to sign.
“I don’t know. You’re the therapist! I just want to get my arm and leg back to the way they were before. I went to the hospital after my fall and that didn’t do a lick of good. I fell while I was there and got some blood infection. You might say I’ve had a run of bad luck.”
Brad quickly checked his watch again and said, “I’ll be back in a few days and we’ll start on that arm of yours. We’ll also practice getting in and out of bed and the shower.”
“I don’t need help with showers. Trent helps me with sponge baths,” she said.
Trent? “Okay. But we’ll still need to work on getting you up and out of bed. Should I set times up with your grandson?”
Clare rolled her eyes, “You better cause there’s been a lot of ruckus with all the nurses and therapists these past days. Who knows when he told them all to come? You’ll have to wake his lazy butt up.”
Brad thanked her while she signed his paperwork. He hated being in the middle of family conflicts and hoped this case wouldn’t put him in any bad positions. After checking several rooms he found Dannie asleep in his jeans and Type O Negative T-shirt. Brad knocked on the wall to announce his presence with Dannie’s eyes slowly opening until they glazed back at him.
“Sorry about that Danny. I’m setting up my therapy schedule to see your grandmother and was wondering when a good time would be.”
Still lying down, Danny shrugged and turned onto his back. “Whenever. Someone is always here. Just walk in.”
“Thanks I’ll just set my business card on your dresser with tentative times.”
Dannie was already snoring as Brad thundered out of the house.
Brad learned a lot over the next few appointments. Clare had been a sculptor and was planning on attending the Atlanta College of Art when she met an attractive car salesman named Jim Stahl. Mr. Stahl was a good husband who loved his family. Unfortunately he also loved to drink and died of cirrhosis of the liver when he was 45. Clare also mentioned a son Tom who would steal the hat off a dead man. But Clare was closest to her daughter Sandy who was the level-headed one of the bunch. She had always thought Sandy would take care of her in a time of crisis. But after the stroke, Sandy had acted just like her brother—-fretting about money and worrying that her mother was going senile. Clare was sure it was Tom’s idea to sell her home and car, but Sandy was still at fault. Her daughter had always said, “you can always count on me.” Now stuck in a house full of derelicts, Clare knew such words were a bunch of bull. She ranted each session about her rotten life. When Brad attempted to redirect her anger towards getting better, she would stop only a few minutes before getting riled up again. Only once did Brad succeed in getting Clare to talk about something pleasant.
“You said you were an artist?” he asked.
Clare’s hardened features melted away.
“Yes. I loved to sculpt.”
“Pots? Animal? What was your subject?”
“People mostly. I tried to replicate the masters. Take a look next to me,” Clare said pointing to a three-foot statue that stood next to her chair. There sat a beautiful maiden with wavy short hair. She had a sheet that encircled her legs and came up to her waist revealing a naked torso without arms.
“Wow! You did that?” Brad leaned forward for a closer look and marveled at the detailed work.
“Yes sir. Took me almost six months. It’s a replica of the famous Venus De Milo which is thought to be the Greek goddess of love.”
“Aphrodite? She’s beautiful,” Brad said caressing the smooth stone.
“She means a lot to me. When I get down in the dumps I just look at her an remember all of the good times I had with Jim.” Clare’s eyes looked somewhere else as tears fell from her cheeks. She didn’t speak the rest of her treatment but smiled peacefully until Brad had left.
On Clare’s fourth week of therapy something strange happened. Brad arrived for therapy and found her dressed as though she were ready for a night on the town. Clare’s face beamed from the fresh makeup while a floral printed dress adorned her gaunt frame.
“You’re looking great today,” Brad said half meaning it. “I guess Dannie is getting the hang of things.”
“Dannie? HAH!” she spat. “Dannie wouldn’t get me dressed if his fat butt depended on it. It was Trent. He’s a good boy. Don’t know why he hangs out with Dannie and this bunch.” She threw up her right hand not caring that several of Dannie’s crew were sitting nearby watching the Texas Chainsaw Massacre in high-definition.
Brad hadn’t met Trent and was curious, “So he’s a friend of Dannie’s?”
“Yes, they have known each other since grade school. He was always hanging around after Sandy’s home. Shame what happened to him.”
Before she could explain, a giant came into the room and stood staring down at Brad. His shoulders bulged out of his black tank top and were covered in ink. His huge frame was evenly distributed making him look just as wide as he was tall. He had a scowl on his face and a scar to match that ran from his left eyebrow all the way up and across his thick bald head.
“It’s okay Trent,” Clare said speaking as though she were addressing a child.
Trent just stared for a while making Brad’s face go numb. He was about to introduce himself when Trent lumbered over and patted Clare’s thigh. He glared at Brad before heading through the TV room and out to the kitchen.
Clare looked over Brad’s shoulder to see that Trent was gone and whispered, “Car accident five years ago….messed his brain up bad. The accident took away his speech. He never was much of a talker but now he needs pills to curb his terrible temper. He’s good as long as he takes those pills. The kid can still fix anything. He always was good with his hands.”
“He seems to like you,” Brad said staring towards the kitchen.
“That boy has a thing for me. He’d do anything I ask him to,” she chuckled.
It was nearing Halloween and Dannie had transformed his grandmother’s home into a cheesy haunted mansion. Every inch of grass was covered in fake cob webs, plastic tombstones and grim reapers. The front porch looked like a Vincent Price movie with a black cauldron and matching skeletons surrounding a witch made of straw.
Brad walked up to the house and began knocking on the front door.
“Go to Hell! Go to Hell!” a skull cackled over and over making him flinch.
As he walked inside he noticed that Dannie’s crew was nowhere to be found. In their place were an assortment of trinkets ranging from talking ghosts to paper mache caskets making the television room look like a twisted funeral parlor.
Brad was in a hurry to get this over with and headed towards Clare’s room ducking a multitude of rubber limbs that hung from the ceiling. It had been five weeks with little progress which meant that she would be discharged from home health. He had to prepare Clare for the fact that she may soon end up in a nursing home. Brad hadn’t discussed the discharge with Dannie who was usually passed out. Today he found him as always, strewn across his bed.
“Dannie!” Brad shouted causing the boy to fall out of bed and curse profusely.
“What the hell man? Can’t you see I was sleeping?”
“Dannie I know our office has talked to you about Clare’s discharge but have you mentioned it to her?”
“Well I only have two more visits and I think she should know what your family has decided to do.”
“You do it. She’d never forgive me if I told her.” Dannie sat on the floor staring at his crossed knees.
“You’re kidding me right?” Brad could feel his anger rise in his stomach.
“Mom said it was just a matter of time before she went into a home anyways. I can’t take care of her forever.”
Brad clenched his fists and stared down at Dannie who dragged himself to his feet before climbing back into bed.
“Someday you’re going to piss off the wrong person and I would love to see it,” Brad blurted.
“Fuck you. Close the door on your way out,” Dannie said pulling his bed sheets over his head and turning away.
Brad slammed the door shaking from rage. He made his way to Clare’s room but when he walked in, Trent and Clare lay together like two newlyweds. Brad felt his face blush and tried to walk out of the room quietly but Clare was already awake.
“Come on in. We were just about to get up weren’t we sweetie?”
Trent didn’t answer, but kissed her gently on the forehead before climbing out of bed naked. Brad gave Trent plenty of room as the man-child walked past him and into the bathroom.
“Does this upset you?” Clare asked with a frown.
“Not at all. None of my business. I’m just a therapist,” Brad said unpacking his computer.
“Hold on a second,” Clare said. “I need to throw this away.”
Brad raised his eyebrows as Clare pulled a broken prophylactic from under her sheets and tossed it into a nearby garbage can. Brad didn’t mention anything about a nursing home.
It was Clare’s last session and Brad knew he was walking into a fight. He could hear screaming as he made his way through the front door.
“I’m not going into a nursing home without a fight!” Clare shouted from her lazy boy while Dannie stood over her like an angry parent.
“Well you can’t stay here. Who’s going to watch you all the time?”
“You never watch me! If it weren’t for your friends, I’d probably be dead by now!” Her eyes flashed like hot irons. “My money is the reason we’re both here and you know it!”
Dannie looked as though he were about to hit her.
“Everything alright?” Brad asked as he walked into the room.
Clare shook her head before saying, “He won’t do a damn thing. He knows he would lose his meal ticket if he did.”
Dannie jerked around to face her then picked up the statue of Aphrodite.
“Don’t you dare!” Clare shouted. “That was a gift I made for your grandfather…”
But before she could finish, Dannie hurled the statue to the floor smashing it to pieces.
“It was a piece of shit anyways,” he said before disappearing upstairs.
Clare began gasping as though her lungs were filled with lead. Brad quickly knelt down beside her and held her hand, his words gushing out of him.
“Are you alright? What can I do? I’ll call protective services and the bastard will be out of here by tomorrow night!”
Clare placed her left hand on his face. It felt cold and dead.
“It’s alright Brad. It’s all gonna work out. I didn’t want it to end this way but…..”
Brad check Clare’s vitals and made sure she was alright. He reminded himself that this was a family dispute and he didn’t want to get too involved. It was true that Clare would be better off in a nursing home. At least then she would have 24 hour care.
“Clare I have to tell you something,” he croaked.
“I know what you’re going to say honey,” she whispered and looked directly into Brad’s eyes. “You all have done everything you could. You aren’t the cause of this anymore than Trent.”
Brad nodded and began the process of completing his discharge paperwork. When he had finished Brad placed his hand on Clare’s withered shoulder.
“Are you sure you’re going to be alright?”
“Yes Brad. I am sure,” she said winking to someone behind him. When he turned his head, Brad saw the hulking figure of Trent smiling.
It was a cold October Friday—the last before Halloween. Brad had made his usual rounds and was excited that his day was winding down early. He was a few blocks from home when he came across Salom Ave where Clare lived. It had been a week since he had discharged Clare and he wondered how she was doing. Brad checked his watch and decided to pay the Stahl’s a quick visit.
As he pulled up to her home he noticed that all the lights had been turned off with a thick blanket of fog hovering around the porch. Brad laughed when he heard the Munster’s theme song greet his arrival. Even though Dannie was an idiot, he could appreciate his love for Halloween. He slid out of his car and approached the house dodging inflated pumpkins, stuffed scarecrows and screeching black cats.
“Go back while you still can!” a ghost warned as Strobe lights flicked around him making the fog seem like clouds from a thunderstorm. When he arrived at the front door, a bloody head grinned back at him like a ghoulish wreath.
“Go to Hell! Go to Hell! Go to Hell!” a skeleton screamed.
“Don’t go in there!” a voice pleaded.
Brad shook his head and wondered how much of Clare’s money Dannie had wasted. Now the Adam’s Family theme blared out of two speakers that sat on either side of the front door. Brad knocked several times but there was no answer.
Why are you getting involved? This is none of your business.
He thought about leaving but could not shake Clare from his mind. As always the front door was slightly ajar so Brad decided to step inside. But as he entered the home, Brad noticed something on his hands. Looking back to the smiling head, Brad noticed red goop dripping from its neck. He stumbling into the entry way cursing and holding his hands like a doctor ready for surgery. Brad threw his satchel down and was looting through when a dark emotion swept through him.
Something is not right.
In all his visits, only once had someone opened the front door for him. In a flash Brad saw the image of Shaggy smiling down at him, covered in blood. He began to take his cell phone out when Trent towered over him.
“Trent!” Clare called out as though he were a dog. “Don’t be rude. Come in! Come in!”
Trent stalked Brad like a zombie following him into the TV room where Clare sat amidst the decorations.
“Clare can we speak in private?” Brad stammered.
“Don’t be silly Brad. There’s nothing to hide.”
“Clare you shouldn’t be here,” he whispered.
Clare reached to touch his face saying, “I’m already packed and ready to go. We’re just having a little going away party.”
“YES! We both though that Dannie needed a little help so this morning while he and his “buds” slept we fixed things up. Do you like it?” Her arm spread out to the room behind Brad.
A roaring chain saw caused Brad to jerk around where Letherface was carving up his victims. Sitting in their usual places were four of Dannie’s friends dressed up like zombies. Brad wanted them to look up or cuss him out for standing in their way but nothing happened. Instead they sat like bloody mannequins while a massacre raged on in surround sound. Each had a beer bottle neatly placed in their blood splattered hands. Their vacant stares told Brad more than he wanted to know.
“I—it’s disturbing,” Brad gasped while stumbling through the carnage.
“You haven’t seen anything yet!” Clare cackled. “Go into the kitchen and see what Trent did.”
Brad’s feet seemed to stick with each step and his breathing became shallow. With Trent behind him, his only escape would be out the back kitchen door.
“I think it’s the best going away present anyone could have given me,” Clare called as he rounded the corner searching frantically for a way out. But something was blocking the door. Something that made Brad forget where he was.
“What do you think?” Clare asked from a far away place.
Brad gazed at a standing male figure wrapped in a sheet that encircled his legs and waist. The man’s bare torso sagged forward supported by a metal pole that ran up the rectum before exiting a few inches above his head. His arms were missing revealing chunks of bone and flesh. Yet Brad did not notice a single drop of blood anywhere. A pale face stared down at Brad confessing its sins. At first Brad didn’t recognize the man, his eyes too fascinated by the sickening site.
“Trent thought someone should pay for my statue,” Clare said.
At that moment Brad remembered the last words he had said to Dannie.
And he wished he could take them back.