Oats

Folks ask all the time how I came to be raising my brothers and sisters. I tell them that my Mama and Daddy, they just run off. Guess they tired of having us kids. I tell folks that. It’s much easier than the truth of things.

We was poor back then. We still poor right now, but we was piss poor then. My brothers and sisters, we ate oatmeal from the same bowl. Notice I didn’t say shared cause when it come to five hungry children, well, five hungry children they don’t share. Five hungry children bite and scratch when food comes near. Mama, she gave up getting between us early on, on account that we needed to learn to fend for ourselves. I ain’t raising no babies, Mama would say, even if we was only babies in our own right. My brothers and sisters and me, make no mistake, we all loved the other, but we learned right quick to eat that oatmeal the second Mama ladled it into the bowl.

Now Daddy, he be out working all day long. Sometime I hear him rustling around when the sun still down and then the whoosh of the front door as he left. If he was lucky, he’d come home just in time for dinner, all us still round the table. We ate that oatmeal for dinner, too. That’s the only time we did share, ’cause Mama always ate first. Daddy too, if he was home in time. He’d scoop it right up from that bowl, right up onto his plate with those black hands of his. Daddy scrubbed his hands all the time with that bristle brush atop the slop sink, but Mama said when you work so hard sometime the dirt, it just curl up inside your skin.

Daddy worked real hard, I know that. He was never no lazy man. Sometime when you work construction, the money, well it just ain’t there to be found, I remember Daddy saying. “Ain’t no money to be found,” he’d tell Mama and me and my brothers and sisters as we ate our oatmeal. “Still ain’t no reason for me to ever stop looking.” I was always proud of my Daddy. Proud of him and his black hands.

I eventually learnt that being hungry and poor does funny things to grownups. Us kids, we made do, mostly ’cause we didn’t know any better. Us kids, we forgot we was poor until oatmeal time rolled round, mostly. After awhile Mama and Daddy though, they started grumbling under their breath about it. Time went by, their talking got louder and louder. Sometime us kids was sleeping, but other times, Mama and Daddy kept us up at night bickering about it. All that shouting. Cabinet banging, too.

Mama, she got real quiet round Daddy when we was all together. She got jittery-like. That made me nervous. And Daddy, we noticed the change come down over his face. He started coming home earlier and earlier every day. His hands not so black any more. Heard him whispering to Mama how the construction was nearly dried up. When Mama told him forceful like that he’s got to look harder for the money, he turned around, face all swollen and red like he just got himself stung by a bee.

***

I remember real clear the time Daddy told me he was gonna rob the Tooth Fairy.

I was hanging laundry on the line for Mama. Daddy come around the corner of the house, wringing his hands worse than Mama wringing the washcloths. He called my name. When I see how wild his face looked, I nearly spilled my clothespin bucket. “How long that front tooth of yours been loose, girl?” Daddy asked me, voice all strangled like.

“Week or two,” I say.

“Should fall out soon then. Real soon. Don’t you think?”

“Yes, sir. I reckon it should.”

He nodded, but it wasn’t a nod like a man agreeing to something. Daddy nodded like he was sentenced to death. I ain’t never been so scared in all my life. “Good,” he said, but he ain’t talking to me no more, he’s talking to himself. “Good, cause that tooth meant to fall any day now. Maybe any minute. I’ll be ready. Sure as shit, I’ll be ready.” My Daddy, he realized he never used cuss words in front of us kids, and it snapped him back to the here and now. “Listen, honeysuckle,” he said, ’cause that’s what he called me, honeysuckle. “Daddy found a way to make money. I ain’t proud ’bout it, but it’s a way. Now you keep this secret from your Mama, and brothers and sisters too, you hear? I’m gonna take the money from the Tooth Fairy when it come for your tooth, you understand? Don’t look scared now, girl. You know Daddy ain’t never find no reason to stop looking for the money. Well, I been looking, and I been thinking, and I found us something real good.”

“Stealing ain’t never good. You taught us that, Daddy,” I said, close to tears.

Daddy brings his face real close to mine, and my tummy hurt when I realize I don’t know this man no more. “That’s right, honeysuckle. But I know that Tooth Fairy gonna have more than enough of what we need.”

***

I slept with my hands stuffed in my mouth, terrified about that tooth falling out of my head, pressing just as strong as I could press to keep it up inside my gums. I remember waking that morning, waking with my arms down along my sides. I scraped my tongue all around inside my mouth ’till I felt that horrible hole where that tooth should have been.

Daddy stood, just waiting there in the doorway, body all slumped like the air’d been sucked from his chest. His eyes was wilder than any animal I’d ever seen. He brung a hand to his lips and shushed me real gentle like. Leaving me trying to decide what terrified me more…the fact that the black was gone from his hands, or that he was rolling my tooth between his fingers.

“Don’t go waking your brothers and sisters now,” he says to me, ’cause we all crammed into the same room, our mattresses squeezed up one against the other. “I’m gonna lay this tooth ‘neath your pillow tonight, honeysuckle, and come the morn I wager we’ll be set just a little bit better.” And with that, he just slipped away like a ghost in the stories me and my brothers and sisters scare each other with at night.

I did as Daddy said; I didn’t say nothing to nobody. Didn’t feel much like eating oatmeal that day either. I guess it was ’cause of keeping that hole in my mouth a secret.

Mama tucked us all in that night, and Daddy came in after. He kissed me last. I wrapped my arms round him like he was the teddy bear I wished he and Mama could buy me. His lips were tender on my cheek. Then I felt him fumbling under my pillow. He pulled away, and I wish I could of said Daddy don’t do it, Daddy there’s got to be better way! But he swore me to a secret, and I ain’t never disobeyed my Daddy. It was late by the time I fell asleep, that tooth beneath my pillow giving me dreams something wicked.

I’m still not sure what time it was when that window started sliding upward. Mama kept it locked come autumn, but the draft still found its way in and the nip, it always got right down to your bones. But somehow that night, that window come unlocked and sliding upward. Sure enough, the wind start moaning through the room. I squeezed my eyes real tight and did my best to make-believe I was sleeping. The window, it just keep creaking open. I started praying to the baby Jesus that the wind howling through our room was the worst thing I’d hear. But it wasn’t.

I heard it. It was a whole lot raspier than my brothers’ and sisters’ breathing. Real harsh, like nails dragged across shingles. I straight near piddled my panties when something meaty dragged itself over the windowsill. I sensed something hovering over me, its shadow darker than the dark of my closed eyes. It snorted, its stinky breath wetting my cheek. Next thing I know, my pillow done lifted straight from the bed, then settled down again. Coins start rattling in my ear.

Our bedroom door suddenly banged open, and I heard a big tussle. Groans and grunts and screaming… god-awful screaming. Then a shotgun blast. Something splattered all over my face. When I opened my eyes, Mama was sliding down the wall, but she ain’t got a head no more. And my Daddy, he be choking on a knife stuck straight through his throat. I grabbed my brothers and sisters and dragged them half-asleep from the room quick as I could. We ain’t never slept back in there again.

Since then, I ain’t never had the chance to stop looking for the money. My hands are black now, just like Daddy’s used to be. And those folks, they ask all the time how I came to be raising my brothers and sisters. No one’s gonna believe the truth. The truth of how my Mama and Daddy really done killed each other. The truth of how I saw the Tooth Fairy leaving through the window. Crooked finger at its yellowy lips, shushing me real gentle into yet another secret. I don’t tell no secrets, never have, never will.

We still eat that oatmeal. Got to—especially since I used Daddy’s old pliers to pull out every last one of our teeth.

~ Joseph A. Pinto

© Copyright 2013 Joseph A. Pinto. All Rights Reserved.

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About Joseph Pinto

Author of the poignant novella Dusk and Summer (2014). Horror author of the novel Flowers for Evelene (2005) as well numerous published works of dark fiction. Member of the Horror Writers Association. Cofounder of the Pen of the Damned. Rumored lycanthrope. New Orleans Saints fan. Pancreatic cancer advocate. Twitter: @JosephAPinto Share his unique spin at josephpinto.com Indulge in Pen of the Damned with Joe and the Damned at PenoftheDamned.com

46 responses to “Oats”

  1. AR Neal says :

    This needs to be a graphic short story–we need to see this story!

    Like

  2. mari wells says :

    What a story! I was not expecting the ending, I should have, but I wasn’t. It was great.

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hey Mari! 🙂 Aah, see, never expect what you think you should expect when expecting endings with me…except that you should expect something other than the usual expectations. Got it? lol Thank you so much 😉

      Like

      • mari wells says :

        🙂 You’d think I’d already learning expecting the unexpected is the only thing I should ever expect to expect while reading your work.:D That was fun…:D Seriously wonderful story!

        Like

  3. moondustwriter says :

    That would be some Grimm Fairy tale
    The black hands the teeth and the oatmeal great elements
    excellent work

    Like

  4. Cristina says :

    I love the voice in this story. Made me think of a Grimm fairytale, like someone else already mentioned here. Really enjoyed this.

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hi Crisitna 🙂 I’m sorry for the very long delay in replying back to you. Thank you very much for your kind words; yes, ‘Oats’ does read a bit like a dark fairytale. Think of me when you eat your breakfast next time, wont you? 😉 lol

      Like

  5. gabidaniels says :

    Incredibly crafted story Joe! I’m not surprised by how good this is, just so damn impressed by the voice. You blurred the line between fantasy and her grim reality in such a believable way.

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hey hey Gabi! 🙂 I apologize for taking so long to respond. Thank you so much! ‘Oats’ was a lot of fun to write…especially actually speaking like my character as I continuously read my tale aloud during edits. Who said anything that this was fantasy?? lol My advice though: keep pliers around your house at all times 😉 Thank you again, Gabi!

      Like

  6. Nina D'Arcangela says :

    Another terrific story, Joe! Great concept of ripping-off the tooth fairy with a very tragic twist. Excellent as always! :}

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hi Nina! First off, I apologize for the eons it took in responding to you. Yes, damn that tooth fairy (but dammit, how I love oatmeal so!! lol) Thank you so much, Nina! I always value your opinion :}

      Like

  7. John says :

    As someone who eats oatmeal every morning, all I can say is that I’ll be eyeing my breakfast tomorrow with new eyes….. they’ll be my eyes, not some I’ve taken from someone else.

    Like

  8. Sue says :

    Excellent voice. Ok even though I know now to expect the unexpected on this site, robbing the tooth fairy gave me pause. Excellent last line!!

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hi Sue! I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to respond. But thank you very much. You’re going to learn that when reading my work, whether it’s style, voice or plot line, I’ll zig when you think I’m going to zag lol Thank you for your support, Sue! 🙂

      Like

  9. Daemonwulf says :

    What a great fucking story! The voice was believable, the story was engaging, the tension was palatable, the ending was a surprise. I was really looking forward to Daddy killing the TF (*no-spoiler grin*). Honestly very enjoyable, Joe.

    Like

  10. blazemcrob says :

    Great story, Joe! I’m trying to get the visual out of my head of you as the protagonist, wearing panties, and trying to keep from piddling. It’s not a pleasant one, but that’s why you’re Damned!

    Blaze

    Like

  11. Thomas Brown says :

    Most unsettling! A really effective tale. I love the description of the Tooth Fairy dragging itself through the open window, and you voice the writing very well. Congrats, Joe!

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hi Tom! Apologies, my friend, for the insane amount of time it’s taken me to respond back to you. Thank you for the kind words, I’m very happy that ‘Oats’ may give you some pause the next time you settle down for breakfast 🙂

      Like

  12. Christa Thompson @ChristaTravels says :

    Wow, what a way to start my day lol I woke up at 4am couldn’t sleep and saw your message. Loved it…. Totally creepy. Wld make an awesome tales from the crypt short. Xo

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hey Christa! 🙂 Thank you! Well, don’t ya know I used to live in a crypt…well, maybe not really, but let’s go with it anyway lol I love waking people at 4am with creepiness on the horizon 😛 Let me know next time you make some oatmeal for your son… 😛 Thank you, Christa!

      Like

  13. Tyr Kieran says :

    Joe, I agree with all the praise commented above. This was a well crafted piece. I loved every word of it! Truly a work to be proud of! Your skill shines in every aspect of the tale and the ending was fantastic… in fact one might say that it was superb, Joe. Superb. Superb. (Empire Records anyone? Anyone?)

    Like

    • Joseph Pinto says :

      Hi Tyr! First, I’m sorry that it’s taken me so long to respond to you. The people have spoken! And the people want oatmeal! Oatmeal oatmeal oatmeal!!! lol Thank you Tyr, it’s humbling for me to hear (read) kind words concerning my prose, but it stays with me, drives me, & is always greatly appreciated!!!

      Like

  14. LeeAllenHoward says :

    Hey, Joe. I love a good disturbing story. And I’m a sucker for stories with kids. And squalor. Excellent read!

    Like

  15. Dan Dillard says :

    Love me some spooky fairy tale. This one sounds like something an old lady might tell her kids on a breezy autumn night when they were misbehavin’ just a bit. Great voice, Joe!

    Like

  16. zkullis says :

    Love this story. The language, the imagery, and the immersion into a damned twisted family is nothing short of fantastic.

    Like

  17. Magenta Nero says :

    awesome piece, loved it, very creepy and really skillful as always. I have tweeted it for you. x

    Like

  18. 2old2tap says :

    Awesomely creepy tale! I knew there was a reason I can’t abide oatmeal.

    Like

  19. poesravenlady says :

    Much deserved praise for another well-crafted masterpiece of horror. Exceptional characters, wonderfully engaging, sublime imagery. It’s love being inside your wicked head! Well done, Mr. Pinto…as always. 🙂

    Like

  20. Joseph Pinto says :

    Hello Ms Raven Lady! Thank you for your kind words! I’m thrilled that you enjoyed ‘Oats,’ & as always, extremely appreciative of your support 🙂

    Like

  21. Jennifer Writings of a Mrs says :

    You blurred and blended the lines beautifully. Well done.

    Like

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