Chapter 1: The Glitch
I was 10 the first time I saw someone glitch out and die. It was the scariest damn thing I’d ever seen. He let out this awful scream and started clawing behind his ear. I could smell his burning flesh; hear it sizzling. Within seconds he was down on his knees, tears and spit just pouring out of his face. And that face! It didn’t even look human anymore. The agony was so clear in his features that I feared him as I would a monster or beast. Both of his hands covered his ears and this gutteral roar emitted from his entire being. It was louder than any man should be able to yell.
I watched in horror as he managed to drag himself over to a small corner table, maybe 3 feet away. Slowly he reached out with his left arm and dug his fingers into the hardwood floor. I could hear the nails breaking like tiny twigs, one by one. With that arm he pulled his entire body weight a few inches. His right hand still digging at the back of his ear. He repeated this ghastly display about 7 or 8 more times until he was finally close to the table. The entire time I stood there with my mouth gaping, wanting to flee, and never once thinking to help.
As his fingers felt the hard edge of the table leg, he grasped it with all he had left and pulled himself upward. The screams had turned to raspy moans by this point, but they were no less pitiful. Half kneeling over the table, steadying himself on his knees, the man leaned over as if to vomit. No sooner had I mustered the wherewithal to wonder why he crawled all the way there to puke, he began bashing his head on the table.
If you’ve never heard a human skull smack against a wooden table – the dull thud that’s eerily like the final split of a sliced watermelon – I suggest you keep it that way. Every bam/crack sent shivers down my spine and bile to my throat.
Bam/Crack! Bam/Crack! Bam/Crack!
Each bam/crack made his knees buckle, yet he continued relentlessly. Charred sizzling chunks of meat were slipping off his head and onto the table. The sight of it made the bile in my throat churn a little more. His bloodied hands still tore at his flesh between thuds, frantically searching. I swear to you I could see half his finger disappear down the hole behind his ear as he rooted around in there.
Within seconds, which felt like an hour from where I was standing, he had retreived his prize! The chip was larger than most, maybe half an inch square. Congealed blood hung from the left corner, threatening to drop in the already darkening puddle of him on the table. The man looked at it with relief softening the unhuman mask that his face had become. A final sigh escaped his lips as he flopped over onto the floor, pulling the doilies and magazines from the table on top of him.
Did I mention that man was my dad? The entire time these events were unfolding, I never ran to him. I never yelled for him in disbelief. I never cried out for my mom. I just held my breath and watched. In my defense, I was 10. But still, to stand idly by and allow your flesh and blood to be reduced to a pile of, well, flesh and blood. It was disgraceful.
At some point mom screamed from behind me and I heard something crash to the ground. The commotion snapped me out of my daze and I spun around in time to see her rushing to his side. She cradled his mutilated head in her arms, kissing his forehead and saying his name over and over again. “Sam. Sam. Sam.” Her tears ran freely, mixing with all the carnage on his face, as she cried words of comfort over him.
Her mournful wailing also mixed with his death rattle creating the most gut wrenching low sorrowful tones. She was matching his breaths, ragged as they were, and his death hum. Completely in sync my mother followed my father through his journey out of this world. Her head flung backwards, dark locks of wavy hair dipping in the coagulated blood on the table behind her. Only the whites of her eyes were visible now as they were rolled into her head. Her cries stopped as neither of them had air left in their lungs.
A few seconds passed in complete silence as my father’s body expelled the last of itself on the floor of our living room. The floor that a week ago he’d told us for the 10th time that he was going to finally get around to polishing. The floor that mom had just yelled at me for rolling my skateboard across this morning. This is the floor where my father glitched and died, and where I stood as the new man of the house.
After my father’s last breath, my mom’s color began to return to her cheeks. Her eyes, black as night, settled back into their normal positions. She straightened herself back upright, smoothing her damp matted hair down her blood stained apron. Turning those black eyes toward me, ringed in the deepest red from her crying, she spoke in a whisper. “Go find your sister.”