Brian reached to his left and opened the refrigerator. Bright light flooded the area around the floor in front of the open door. He reached in an extracted another beer can from the half empty case that was the lone occupant of the fridge. He cracked the top, then brought the can up to his lips and tilted his head back. He really didn't swallow; he just sort of opened his throat and poured whatever he was drinking down. Seconds later, he snapped his head forward and tossed the now empty can across the room where it joined a small pile of similarly empty cans. He belched and then leaned forward to the ashtray where a half smoked joint was smoldering. Picking it up, he brought it to his lips, inhaled deeply, and held it, letting the drug course through his body. He blew out the remaining smoke that was in his lungs, replaced the joint in the ashtray, and then reached for another beer. Strains of Pink Floyd's The Wall flowed from the stereo that he had carted down from his bedroom. He barely heard the music though, even though it was close to deafening.
Through the haze of smoke, he looked around at the basement where he was sitting in a lawn chair. His childhood home, he had remembered helping his brothers and the old man dig the basement out by hand when he was eight years old. Wheelbarrow after wheelbarrow of dirt and clay was wheeled out of the basement and dumped in the garden out back until the room stretched the length of the house. He remembered watching them put in timbers to support the walls and roof, then the day that the cement mixer came and load after load of concrete poured onto the dirt floor until it was covered, anchoring in the supports that had also been put in. He had watched his father put up sheet-rock, run electricity, and even put in a shower until the basement was done. It wasn't intended to be a permanent room, just a place where people could sit to escape the brutal sun on hot summer days. There was no air conditioning in the basement and it was never necessary. Even in mid-July, like now, the air was always cooler down here.
Far from being happy though, Brian was a stew of rage. He reached into the fridge and grabbed another beer, ruminating on where his life had gone. He had been married at 25, divorced 12 years later. He told everyone it was because his wife had wanted children and he hadn't which had led to their split. The true reason, however, was that Melissa, his wife, had found out about his affair with her sister. She had confronted him with this accusation; railing at him and throwing things across the room at him. He had denied and denied, but it was no use; the truth was written plainly across his face. She had left the house that very night, returning over the weekend while he was at work to collect the rest of her belongings. A few months later, he had received divorce papers. With the stroke of a pen, they were divorced, Melissa receiving half of everything that they owned. Unable to come to an agreement on the house that they had had built, they agreed, through their lawyers, to sell it. Without a place to go, he returned to his childhood home where his father still lived, his mother having died years ago of cancer.
It was not a happy time when he returned home. His father knew the truth about the divorce and, although his father welcomed him, once Brian got to drinking his father would scream at him, accusing him of being a "goddamn drunk" and a "worthless bastard." When this would occur, Brian would just sneer, go out to the bar, and continue to drink. He would stumble home, sometimes drive, and pass out usually before he was in the house. Once, had had passed out during the winter and had almost froze to death before a neighbor, going out to get her paper, saw him and knocked on the door, bringing his father out.
He never learned though, he kept drinking as much as he was able to. His life had started to careen out of control: he had showed up to work drunk and was ordered to take a urine test to determine his blood alcohol content. It came back showing a .16, which was double the legal limit, but it also showed a positive reaction for cocaine and marijuana. The combination of all three was enough to cause him to lose his job. He started to drink even more, culminating with his arrest for no less than his fourth DUI. While he was out on bail and awaiting sentencing, his father had died, leaving him the sole owner of the house as was stated in the old man's will. Shortly after burying his father, he was sentenced to a year and a half in prison for his driving convictions.
It was hard time. Due to a mix-up with the paperwork, he had not been sent to a local county facility, but was instead sent to a state prison. Locked in with murderers, rapists, and other hard-core felons, he started to reexamine his life. It was useless, however, all he wanted was to get out so he could drink again. He went to the mandatory meetings, toed the line, and said what they wanted him to say. He "had an addiction, alcohol destroyed his life," et cetera, et cetera. He didn't believe any of the bullshit they were feeding him. He just wanted to get out. The day he was released, he took a cab to the bus station and bought a ticket to the depot near his house. He called another cab when he arrived but, before going home, he had the driver stop at the liquor store. That was two weeks ago.
He had lost his wife and severed connections with all of his family members. He had no friends, no job, thousands of dollars in fines that he had to pay, and no way of paying them. He had recently began to sell off his mother's gold jewelry in order to make ends meet, but he usually wound up drinking any money he made. He was trapped in a vicious cycle, but he didn't care when he was drunk. All he cared about was that the stereo kept playing and the beer kept flowing. He realized the can in his hand was empty and he tossed it away, reaching for another one.
Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed that a cloud of smoke had seemed to gather near the floor in a corner of the basement. He peered through the haze and, incredibly, the cloud seemed to take on a shape. He first noticed two feet, then legs, a body, arms, and a head. As he stared, almost paralyzed, the smoke-body came into sharp focus and he realized he was staring at his father. Unable to move or speak, he was terrified, Brian simply stared wide-eyed at his old man.
The figure took a step forward, and then raised its arm, seeming to point at Brian. "You worthless, no good bastard drunk," the figure said, its voice low and gravelly, closer to a growl than a voice. "I knew you were a piece of shit since the day you were born. Your mother and I tried to give you everything, but we should have known it was useless. I should've killed when when I had the chance." "
Whatever had been holding Brian immobile seemed to break. "You're dead," he flatly stated. The figure didn't move, only continued to stand there, pointing at Brian. "You're dead," he repeated. "You're dead, you're dead, YOU'RE DEAD!" he screamed, throwing the unopened beer can at the ghost of his father. The can sailed through the figure's head, dispersing the smoke and Brian whirled, unwilling to see what was happening. He ran to the steps that led away from the figure and which connected the basement to the rest of the house. Taking them three at a time, he flew up the stairs, and then slammed the door behind him, locking it tightly. Shaking, he went to the rest of the doors, locking them tightly and peering out into the gathering gloom of the approached twilight. He saw nothing and, as he listened, Pink Floyd hit their final notes and died out, signaling the end of the casette.
Brian awoke with a start, jerking upright from where he had been reclining on the sofa. The memory of what had occurred earlier came rushing back and he fearfully looked around, trying to see around him in the darkened living room. He brought his watch up and pressed the button to illuminate it, reading 2:45AM. He shook his head, trying to remember sitting down, but all he remembered what he had seen in the basement and his mad dash up the stairs. Just to be sure, he snapped on the light and checked the door lock leading to the basement, satisfied that it was still in place. He hadn't intended to fall asleep. Truth be told, he had told himself he would never sleep again after what he had seen, but the combination of the weed and alcohol had apparently held stronger sway over him than his will power. Reflecting on what had happened, Brian shook his head and a small grin started to creep across his face. "Of course that wasn't the Old Man," he said to himself, out loud as if he was trying to convince someone other than himself. "There must have been something mixed with the pot," he continued. "Mental note: never buy from that dealer again." Shaking his head again, feeling a little foolish for believing he had seen his father, he turned off the light and stumbled into his bedroom. Without bothering to undress, he fell forward on the bed and, with another small laugh, fell asleep again. In the living room, the only sound that pierced the silence was the rhythmic ticking of the grandfather clock. The pendulum swung back and forth, as reliable as a metronome. The big hand crept closer and closer to the twelve, until, hitting the number, the clocked started winding up and the bell chimed out: "BONG." "BONG." "BONG." With the echo of the last chime dying, the clock continued its ticking. The clock, although it had a face, was unable to see what had started to happen as the chimes rang out. A long, thin tendril of smoke had seeped out of the floor vent and now lay like a snake across the floor. Slowly, inexorably, the smoke began to worm its way towards the bedroom where Brian lay sleeping. The smoke climbed up the foot of the bed, then started to creep across the mattress. Brian lay oblivious, deep asleep. The smoke stopped its advance by his side and began to pool, growing larger by the second. Out of the center of the smoke a thin tendril emerged and, poising for a second, it suddenly shot forward into Brian's mouth, forcing itself deep in his throat. His eyes shot open, wide with shock and pain. Moments before had had been asleep, but now he had no idea where he even was, let alone what was happening. Just then he saw the smoke that had gathered by his side. He scrambled off the bed, but he couldn't get away, the tentacle of smoke remained in his throat. He tried to pull it out, but he couldn't grasp it. He tried waving to disperse it, but it wouldn't. Worst of all, he couldn't run; he had leapt off the bed in the direction of the closet, not the door. The smoke started to grow thicker, then incredibly, it began to swell, growing larger by the second. It seemed to solidify, blocking Brian's throat. He gagged, then he became silent. His eyes bugged out of his head, he couldn't breathe. Looking up, he realized that the smoke was no longer a pool. It had taken on a shape and, even through eyes blurring with tears and burning lungs, he recognized his father. He hadn't been hallucinating earlier, he realized as he began to lose consciousness. Brian realized that his father's arm was the tentacle that threatened to choke him to death. Brian fell to his knees, weak with a loss of oxygen. He wanted to ask his father why, what he had done to deserve this, but he knew. He had lived his life as he wanted; taking advantage of others and not caring what the repercussions of his actions were. The tentacle had solidified, but Brian was too weak to even try to pull it out. All he could do was hold onto the cold, dry arm of his father that was impossibly long and, even now, reminded him of a snake he had once handled. The capillaries in his eyes began to bleed from the lack of oxygen, his body starving for air. His father didn't say a word and the last thing Brian saw before he died was the stern, disapproving glare of his dead, but not gone father.