His Old Smoke Coat (Short Horror Story)

The thick string raced along the leather like the water moccasins on our pond. The poor little thing would soon be gone if the drought continued. My mom only needed to bid her time before she could replace it with a pool, maybe surrounding it in a mesh fence if she had some spare change. Keep the snakes away, you know?

They always came back.

I firmly held the pedal down with my bare foot, its ridges indenting my sole. If I laxed my hold, the grease, piled from its daily use, would cause my foot to falter, and for the needle to diverge from its mandatory path. I only allowed my foot to slip when I neared a blue tipped pin. Several more of its duplicates lined the folded seam.

As I took it out, I noticed a gray stain outlining his jacket’s tear. I brushed it off, and a puff of smoke escaped into the air, blown across the room by my desk fan. It had been a somewhat humid July night. Especially with my ceiling fan acting up. It dangled above me, rocking gently side to side. The breathless breaths of my large desk fan did not help keep it or my nerves steady.

We could break at any minute.

I heard his rocking, like I did the cicadas in the dewy summer twilight. His raspy voice, clawed of warmth by the cat which rested heavy in his Adam’s apple, murmured witty tales from the margins of his case notes. But it was his Cuban cigars that I remembered most.

As I stitched scraps of my grandmother’s fabric together, he would cling to his smoke like a man should to his wife (mother was never the touchy type). When he too was alive, our golden retriever, Georgie, would lay beside us, tail thumping against the patio, ears perked attentively towards the wildlife. My grandmother often visited, before settling here permanently. She claimed that it was for her own sake, yet her health was far better than my father’s. Better than he ever could be.

Didn’t help that my mother refused any medical service not covered by insurance.

My needle wobbled, cutting deeper into the jacket’s fur lining. My old man’s old smoking coat. In his last days (the look in his eyes told me he knew his time was coming) he had claimed that it had been his favorite. Not his favorite piece of attire, not his most prized material possession. Just his favorite thing, a cheap thrift store buy my mom had bought as a joke. Anything was a joke to them. I could hear her laughing now, nearly choking on her chorus of tight giggles. It was so funny, so funny how your husband dropped dead, how the house spins and spins and clanks and clanks. Knowing that would make your long nights less fun, wouldn’t it? Less of a thrill trip with your friends shopping or drinking or still clasping those damn cigarettes between your smiling teeth…

A line of silver shot out towards my face. I dodged it, the broken chip spiraling in a curved ark towards my disheveled bed. I remembered how I packed, unpacked, packed, unpacked my clothes, a rhythm of opening and closing my suitcase, the same color as my father’s cigars, of his cracking leather peacoat. If I fixed it, maybe I could fix him. But it was hopeless. Every seamstress knows that you can’t repair leather, that the stitches will be loud and boisterous until they carved a fleshy patch in the wearer, a choppy silhouette of emptiness clouded by its dark, heavy covering.

You can’t stitch life from death. You can’t avoid what has been torn, what has been ruined by the grimy hands of its greed. When it came to your doorstep, you had to accept it. If you were lucky, it would take you somewhere wonderful. For most of us, however, the most it could provide us was relief, a sense of unity and finality among all the mistakes you made, and all the things you lost, all the people you lost.

I titled the machine backward and shoved it into my wall. A cloud of dust exploded like a firework, falling to litter its faded white shell. The spool wobbled, and the upper half of the sewing needle fell into the tread. The bang was loud yet unsatisfactory. Modern machines were made of that plastic junk, the cheap hollow stuff with no weight, no tangible value. My grandmother would never let me near her nice machines, their thick metal bases able to pack a punch against the cement.

If she saw me now, it would confirm what she thought all along. That I was a mere infant, a byproduct of two slightly larger children, a microscopic entity with a matching brain and conscious. Death could not hurt someone so young. No middle schooler could understand anything outside of a teacher’s punishment or campus drama. No adolescence could comprehend the great suffering such a morbid event has on the wizened soul, on the enlightened, elder being. No one so insignificant had the right to compassion, to understanding, to anything more than a new dress hastily fashioned for a funeral, a cheap funeral by a stingy widow and equally careless mother. They claimed to be ‘deeply affected’ by his death. It did not seem like they had much to choke on, besides the three-course dinner they had the following night. Delicious, how the red of the meat stained their straight white teeth, how the steak sat on their tongues for only an instance as they devoured more, and more, just as they always had, even as my father sat there with no lungs, a heartbeat congested by the cholesterol clogging his veins and the oxygen omitted from his arteries. Nothing was better than the crunchy, cooked exterior of blood vessels, suffocated from animals who suffered like my father had for a moment’s pleasure, the flick of an eye and the spark of a match.

They were eating, again. Without thinking of me, without thinking of anything besides their voracious appetite, they chewed, they chewed in a rhythm hollowed out by the indents of their canines and molars. I could hear the crackle, the broken flesh in their jaws as they gripped those muscles tightly, bemused by the pork, by the chicken, by a cow’s liver. The flames would begin in their stomach, before bursting in one hellbent act of animosity towards a world they only sought to drain. It would gut them out, searing their bodies of fastened possessions, ripping apart their skins, tearing apart their bones until they, at last, could give back, give back to a void-less existence.

But that would not be enough to fill the abyss, and life would have to take something else.

As I gripped my forehead, my fingertips puckering a deep red violet drained from my hard fastened complexion, the house stopped. I do not know how else to describe it. I suddenly lived in a voiceless existence. There was no more laughter, no more dangling or rotating fans, not even the radiator’s white noise hum. The only thing permitted to speak was a small knock at the base of my door.

The thing at the door continued to knock, scuffling its appendages against the wood. The splintering sensation felt like the auditory equivalent to hairs being pricked from the back of my neck.

I stood up, and, with one hand continuing to massage my ongoing migraine, I opened it.

I was sitting in my desk chair, and Georgie was standing at the edge of my room.

Except, not exactly.

My body had slipped down my chair’s nylon covering, my hips crammed between its wheeled legs. And, while the creature in front of me had a striking resemblance to Georgie, it was no dog at all.

The creature had the distinctive blonde fur and folded ears of a golden retriever, yet its front legs dangled above the ground, positioned similarly to a kangaroo’s. Its hunched figure was dressed in an elegant tux and a tan, tailored coat. A translucent pink accented the pockets and collar. I had never seen the crinkled, though seemingly silky texture in any man-made fabric. It balanced an appearance of delicacy with an unnatural immovability. Not once did it sway as the creature hung it on my doorknob.

“Where did you get that jacket?” The question was effortless.

The being chuckled. Stretch marks of age wrapped around its skull like wax paper. I could hear its laughter, yet its broad, sunken expression remained unchanged. It did not open or close its mouth.

“Let me help you into your chair.” I blink, and it is standing in front of me, tail wagging up and down against the floor.

“Would tea be nice?” It sat down.

On my palm rested a black cup more suited for a doll. The cloudy liquid swished against the creature’s rhythmic thumps.

“Yes, I suppose,” I blew on the liquid. It began to spiral.

I studied its disfigured skull, the shadowed gap under the wide brim of its hat, where the flesh sagged like the unwinding twine of a sinking bridge. I was moving without thinking-I was speaking without thinking. Even my eyesight was placed upon the creature like an immovable microscope. I had no control over whatever dampened plan had been placed upon my shoulders. The best I could do was smile and nod, smile and nod. Just do what I did at the funeral.

“You’ve been thinking of your father, haven’t you?” It tapped the rim of my cup.

“Ya,” I held my head down, staring at the motionless tea. A sip of its bitter taste released the words resting on my tongue. “It’s difficult, you know? Having no one to talk to.”

“It must be. He was a good man, though.” He looked back at the doorknob. “A good man consumed by an evil he didn’t deserve.”

“This sounds horrible, but…” I tighten my grip around the cup’s handle. “Why couldn’t it be her? She’s so much more…awful than he is. She smokes too. She drinks more. Why…” I sigh, shaking my head back and forth in a spastic vigor. “What I’m saying is awful, but…I can’t help it!” My vision blurred, and my lungs emptied my bottled up tension and panic.

Letting go and seeing, fully seeing all these emotions created a new sense of panic. I desperately try to suck them in and cling to them and curl up with the final image of my father’s lifeless body.

“He’s gone,” I sob, the revelation ringing bells of horrendous sound in my mind. I drop my cup. It shatters.

“He’s gone, he’s gone, he’s gone!” I scream, rocking back and forth, sobbing in a five-year-old tantrum.

Within the corridors of brass cacophony, I sense a familiar humidity, like the mildew of early summer nights. My heaves slow, and I pace myself between tears.

The thing, no, Georgie, my family’s prized golden retriever, had wrapped his coat around my shaking figure. It clicked. He had repaired my father’s coat. In some strange, magical way, he had sewn together the aching gap at its center. It was filled, I was filled, and I turned to see his large, toothy grin.

Except, not exactly. The coat was itchy, the lining nearly nonexistent. It pricked with what felt like goosebumps, and I soon could not bear to wear it any longer.

“What do you think of it?” He asked.

“The coat?” I was puzzled. “It’s…” I attempted a false smile. “not complete?

He nodded. “A coat is made of a variety of parts and pieces, like a family. Sometimes, such pieces can be accidentally construed with look-alikes, creating an abomination of a garment. However, in the end, as the garment reaches its end, repairs can be made to restore it to its intended glory. I can do what this life never could. I can allow you to ascend to the level of perfection no other can. Think of the coat as, like, your-”

“Father.” I blinked back tears.

I saw him, an angel silhouetted in a rusted hue. His translucent light fell upon Georgie’s darkened features.

“Exactly!” He stepped forward. “You have known it all along. You were the only who ever cared about him. You were the only one who was ever truly by his side, through life, and, possibly…death,” He lifted the coat up, resting it on my lap.

“If, indeed, you love him-” My father’s apparition began to secede.

“I do!”

“Then, you would make your pact eternal. Fix the impossible, do what your mother and your grandmother’s sin-ridden lives and flesh never could!”

I fiddled with my fingers, leaning back away from the pressure of his words.

“You’re dying too-you know that, right?” He grinned and pointed a paw towards my chest.

When I did not move, he made the gesture again. Hesitantly, I looked down. I began to shake.

I should have realized it sooner.

The dress I wore was the same one from the funeral, except it had become littered with tears and unironable creases. For the past day, week, I could not be sure, I had only paid attention to the calloused masses which were my hands. I had not looked in a mirror, not even touched my face, and as I did I felt the deep rivulets lining my unblinking, sleep deprived eyes.

Nonetheless, I continued to keep my distance. Some part of me, no matter how desperate to arrange this pact, could not afford to extend my hand, to lean forward in agreement. It was something in my gut, some irrational bout of fear I could not fully comprehend.

“Fine,” He muttered in a shallow growl.

“I need you, Lily,” My father spoke sing songingly, his figure so detailed that I could detect the remnants of a 5 o’clock shadow. His shadow danced as he spoke, though his lips remained sealed. “You mean the world to me, Lily. I could never ask for a better daughter. I could never ask this of anyone else.”

With a final pound of force, my intuitive caution experienced a blackout. I ignored the snarl, the agape mouth and the gnarled, blackened teeth emerging from the carcass of my loyal pet. I only saw those words, and I only noticed my relief.

I wanted to cry, but I could not. I had to be strong for my father, a father who, despite his dying words, had come back for the only thing in his life that truly mattered-his daughter. My knees bruised the wooden floor as I knelt to kiss his polished black shoes, thanking him in incoherent shouts.

I should thank Georgie as well. After all, it was he who had come to release me when no reaper or god would.

Or, maybe, there was no one to thank. This was all but an illusion, a deceitful apparition my brain desperately unwound to create a false sense of finality, a fulfilling conclusion that not even death could provide.

I scoffed at the very notion, yet…if this was an illusion…just if…the small, hidden part of me, however, muffled, knew I had not been its puppeteer.

Fin

Image: https://inter-pret.us/pages/relaxed-urban-modernism

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