This article is part of the That Insidious Beast series.
The lawn is brown and overgrown. How long has it been since I was here? It feels like an eternity and yesterday. I am still here.
"Hello?" I call as I walk through the unlocked door.
It is cold. Windows stand open in the living room. I can see into the kitchen, to the back door that stands slightly ajar.
I take out my pistol.
"Kay?" I call out. "Kay, honey?"
Dry, dead leaves circulate across the carpets and gather against the walls. There is water damage beneath the windows.
A picture of Spencer in his peewee football uniform hangs crooked on the wall. I can hear someone upstairs. I carefully lean the guitar case against the wall and steady the gun with a shooter's grip.
I ascend the stairs as quietly as possible. My heart hammers against my ribcage.
I reach the top of the stairs. Something dark moves towards me. It is big to be a wild dog or raccoon. I bring the gun around.
"Stop!" I shout and fire a warning shot in the same moment.
The gun is impossibly loud in the confined space and my good ear begins to ring.
"Jesus Christ, don't shoot me, man!" It's a pale-faced teenager.
I almost don't recognize him. He looks so much different with his patchy facial hair and his hooded sweatshirt. It's Jamie, the neighbor's older kid. His younger brother, Ace, is friends with my son, Ryan.
I lower the gun and haul him to his feet.
"What the fuck are you doing in here?" I demand.
"You're supposed to- I didn't know who you were!" he protests. "All kinds of people around here these days. I thought maybe you were a looter."
"You didn't answer my question," I growl. "Where is my wife? Where are my kids?"
He chuckles, a nervous laugh, and he throws up his hands in protest.
"Look, man, I-I...I know you know my mom, but I can't, I mean...this is some heavy shit."
"Spit it out!"
"They thought you were dead!" Jamie blurts. "Your wife, I mean, all of them. They had a funeral in your backyard. They buried you."
"I'm right here!"
"They got part of you in the fucking mail. Mailman delivered it. They said you were dead. They got the letter. They put up a gold star in the window to-"
I slam him against the wall. I scream into his face.
"Where are they!? Where the fuck are they!? Where is my fucking family!?"
He's too terrified to answer. My breath is ragged. My temples are pounding. I let go of him and take a step back.
"Look man, maybe you should talk to-"
"Just tell me what happened," I mutter.
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it's hard to shake the feeling that I've always got five stars in this Grand Theft Auto known as life.
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