Stanton McCaffery, author of “There are places I’ll remember”, has previously published short fiction in Vautrin Magazine, Shotgun Honey, The Flash Fiction Offensive, and Mystery Magazine. He has published two novels: Neighborhood of Dead Ends, and Into The Ocean. He is also the Editor-in-Chief of Rock and a Hard Place Magazine.
Mystery Tribune has previously published Noir Flash Fiction “No Such Thing” from Mr. McCaffery.
The visions started a week after I sat crying in the doctor’s office. I’d left with a handful of scripts. I thought my brain was making things up, but it turned out to be something else. They came at night, after Julia and I went out to dinner and I never saw her again. We argued while waiting for the menu. I had yelled at a homeless man in the parking lot and she chastised me for again failing to be the better person I had promised to become.
It was foggy. I hadn’t seen the man approach. When he stepped in front of us and asked for money I was startled and I jumped. He smelled like a sickly combination of sweat-logged clothes and rotten food. His clothes hung from him like they were multiple sizes too big and he had visible track-marks on his hands. I was embarrassed at being so easily shaken. Before I could catch myself I swore at the guy. “Why don’t you leave us alone, you fucking loser?”
His clothes hung from him like they were multiple sizes too big and he had visible track-marks on his hands.
I had gone to the doctor for a number of issues, all of them dealing with my inability to cope with life. Despite my best efforts over the years, I was wound too tight, depressive, anti-social, and prone to adult temper-tantrums. A lost wifi signal, a red light, a microwaved lasagna with the middle still frozen, a broken shoelace, a perceived slight at work – all of them and more sent me down a spiral of profanity and despair. Things were like this for as long as I could remember. I know I’d gone to see people before but for the life of me I couldn’t recall what they had told me to do. I figured if it meant keeping Julia in my life I would give professional help another chance.
She took a sip of water and looked at the table. “You don’t need to say things to people like that,” she said, refusing to make eye contact with me. “You’re so much better off than he is. How would you feel if somebody treated you like that? You don’t know the kind of experiences he’s had.” Even while she was criticizing me, her voice was calm and comforting.
She was good, and she made me want to be better. Truthfully, had she known the trouble I was having, I know she would have been more patient. But I kept my struggles and my feelings hidden. I thought if I opened up to her I’d have to offer some explanations and I didn’t have any. I didn’t know why the hell I was the way I was.
Her hand was there on the table palm down, the freckles on it as charming as ever. I put my hand on hers and looked at her. Her eyes were an ocean I wanted to get lost in so I could find myself. “I’m sorry,” I said. “Everything you’re saying is right.” She told me it was alright and gave me the sort of smile you’d give a puppy after it went to the bathroom on the carpet. I know it’s a little weird but I was always attracted to Julia because of how maternal she seemed.
The first vision came right then. I looked away from Julia for a second because I thought I heard someone gasping for air. I searched and looked at the ground, about five or so steps from where I sat. I noticed drops of blood on the polished wood floor. I followed them along and they grew larger. A woman laid in a pool of it, soaked in it. Her hands were at her neck, trying to keep her life inside, redness spurting out between her fingers. She looked at me like she was sorry for being hurt. She tried to say something but then she was gone. Not dead, just…gone.
“Are you alright?” Julia asked.
“I don’t know.”
I apologized again when I dropped her off at her place, but I knew it didn’t sound sincere because I was still shaken by what I had seen . . . or imagined. When she said goodbye and got out, I reached my hand over to the passenger seat and rubbed the fabric. I leaned forward and put my forehead on the steering wheel, took a deep breath in. I stared at the car’s instrument panel. When I got home, I went to the back seat and laid down. Something about cars always made me feel like I was safe.
A neighbor was nearby when I came out. I’d seen him before. He often smiled and waved, though we never said any more than hello. He was in his sixties with salt and pepper hair and cheek bones that looked chiseled from rock. He always looked at me longer than I thought was normal. What really bothered me was that I swore I had seen him at other points in my life, at other places I had lived. It was like he followed me from a distance, watching.
When he walked on, I noticed a homeless man sitting in a cardboard box on the corner. My neighborhood was one of those on the edges of gentrification. People like him had been moved out of squats as they were leveled and high-rises were put in their place. I figured both he and I would soon be in similar circumstances once the developers started looking at my street. To atone for my earlier behavior, I stopped and waved. He looked at me puzzled and went back to scratching his bare feet.
Drinking a glass of water at my kitchen table while looking at the homeless man through the window, I had another vision. The woman was there, this time on my kitchen floor, writhing in pain. She told me she loved me as a man came with a knife, held her shoulder and lifted the blade into the air.
I had no interest in seeing any more that night so I went into the cabinet and grabbed one of the pills the doctor had prescribed – a sleeping pill. I took the little blue guy with the remains of my water and went to my bedroom, hoped the paperwork that came with the meds was correct – that side-effects would wear off after two weeks – and threw myself on my bed, exhausted and ready to escape consciousness.
But there was no escape from who I was and what I had seen.
I had no interest in seeing any more that night so I went into the cabinet and grabbed one of the pills the doctor had prescribed…
Three hours after falling asleep, I woke up, terrified of some unknown gore in my dreams and with a headache like a fence post had gone through my eye socket. I wasn’t steady on my feet or entirely with it on account of the sleeping pill, but when I made it to the kitchen to get some pain meds I noticed it was pouring rain, water hitting the window like bullets and lightning illuminating the dark house.
Someone yelled and I prayed hard it was the real thing and not another hallucination. At the window, a scene on the street was lit by the dim yellow of a nearby streetlight. Through torrents of rain I could see three men. When I made out what was happening I changed my mind and wished it was imagined. Two men in trench coats holding long black umbrellas were standing over a third man that appeared to be the homeless man I’d waved to earlier, kicking and punching him while he made pointless attempts to block the blows and cover himself. Rain washed redness all over his clothes. He was on all fours and they made soccer-kicks into his rib cage. He went on his back and they stomped his legs. If it wasn’t for the thunder I think I could have made out the sounds of bones breaking. When he was on his back like a dead fish, one of the men took the pointed end of his umbrella and forced it into the man’s mouth.
I turned my head and went to the counter for the pain pills. Whatever was going on out there, it was none of my business. Once the pill and water were down my throat, I heard Julia and something she’d said to me at dinner that night. “The type of person I want to be with cares about other people.” Back at the window, the beaten man was alone.
Outside, the rain washed my head, water entered my mouth, thunder beat my ears and it felt good being so inundated. Nothing could happen in my head while I was so overwhelmed by what was going on outside of it.
When I found him, he was coughing a thick redness that looked mixed with phlegm. In my mind I reached down to help the woman whose throat had been cut. In reality, I reached to grab the man who’d been kicked and punched as I felt the sleeping pill kick in again and my knees weaken. I fell over onto his wet cardboard. I thought about Julia and I thought about the man I wanted to be.
I got up, bent down, and put my arms around his waist. I don’t know where the strength came from but somehow I hoisted him onto my back. Every muscle in my body screamed from the pressure and I closed my eyes. In my head I saw a man, dirty-blonde hair, a beard, and built like a bar-room brawler with a flannel shirt to match running at me holding a long kitchen knife over his head like an icepick. I opened my eyes again to the relative calm and safety of the rain and the dark street.
The man on my back groaned. In my delirium I thought it was some final death rattle. “You have to live so you can tell people what happened,” I said to him.
It’s possible I could have put him down right in front of the steps going to my front door. It’s possible he would have been fine there. I could have run inside to get my phone and called the police. But it was also possible for the men to come back to finish their job. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment, you don’t know why you do what you do. Something deep inside at the base of your brain just takes over for your rational thought. So, I took him up my front steps, with my back burning and the sleeping pill causing the world to spin and blur all around me.
We made it through the front door when my knees started to buckle. I concentrated on moving my legs. The couch was within sight. I would put him down there and call for help. But we never made it. I went down on my face with another man’s weight on top of me and I lost consciousness.
Somebody’s voice woke me. “You left your front door open, Garreth.” I didn’t recall ever telling the friendly neighbor man my name, but I had other things on my mind at the moment so I didn’t bring it up.
It was light out and the homeless man was no longer on top of me. After a quick scan of my surroundings, he wasn’t nearby either. “Where did he go?”
The neighbor bent and looked at me. I’d taken a hit to the head and had bled all over my face. He told me I should go and get it checked out. He said no one else was there.
“Where the fuck is my car?”
The homeless sonofabitch had stolen my fucking car and I had started to panic.
“You’re not acting right,” said the man. “We need to get you seen. You musta hit your head pretty darn hard.”
I pushed him off me and ran outside looking for the car thinking perhaps I had parked it somewhere else.
I fell to the ground and started to cry and he held me like a father would hold a son. My head went back to that woman, only she wasn’t dying. This time she was holding me in her arms and telling me she loved me. I thought of Julia and how I wanted her to hold me like that to make all of this go away.
“I know it’s more than a car to you,” the man said.
I looked into his eyes and knew he understood something about me I didn’t know about myself.
“My head is killing me,” I told him.
We took his car to the pharmacy to get more painkillers and I held the inside door handle like it was the only thing keeping me alive. With my other hand I held a rag to my head until the bleeding stopped.
With my eyes closed, I had fragments of thought. There were two boys. The smaller one was me. Then there was one much older, a teenager. Wiser and more weary. My protector.
I told the neighbor to wait in the car. I said I appreciated all he had done for me but that I needed a minute on my own. He said he knew that what I was going through was difficult, like what he was talking about was something other than a stolen car.
Limping and covered in dried blood, the man who’d taken my car was walking in the drink aisle of the pharmacy opening and closing freezer doors. He took out a can of soda and put it to his forehead. His face was swollen like he’d been stung by a thousand bees. Because it could have been another vision, I closed my eyes and shook my head. But when I opened them he was still there.
We ran out the front doors, both of us grunting and yelling. He kept apologizing. I kept telling him that I didn’t care if he was sorry, I wanted my car back. We must have run through a mile of the old decaying city when we both slowed to jogging. He was limping. He reached one hand around and put it on his lower back. He cried out that he was sorry. He coughed and spat blood on the ground. I was just about walking because of how badly my lungs and sides burned. He tripped and the asphalt caught his face. Bloodier, he got up and kept going.
We’d run into a labyrinth of a storage unit, surrounded by beige stucco walls and orange corrugated metal doors with padlocks. His back slammed on metal as he backed into a door. We both shook with surprise. He was trapped. I closed both fists and put my chin down, ready to charge. He put his hands up. We made eye contact.
“Tell me where it is.”
“Shit, motherfucker, I am telling you, I don’t know where it is. Those fucking guys beating me, they got it. I either got them something or cash or they’d kill my ass. Fuck was I supposed to do?”
“Not take something from somebody else. Not from the guy that tried to save your life.”
“Listen to me. That shit wasn’t personal, alright!”
“Whether you meant it personally or not, it was.”
I ran at him. He cowered as if he could melt into the door. My shoulder landed on his chin. Our bodies slammered into the metal, leaving a crater-sized dent. The sun was coming down as we fought. I knew I was no better than the men I had watched pummeling him from my kitchen window, but I no longer cared.
He ripped hair from my head as I held him in a bear hug, listening to his ribs crack. He hammer-fisted the top of my head. I lifted him, turned my hips, and brought his body to the ground. My knuckles met his lips. My elbow greeted his nose. My knees obliterated what was left of his sternum. I grabbed his neck and I squeezed. I shook. I slammed his head into the concrete until I heard wetness. When I realized what I had done, blood was pooling beneath us. I rolled from on top of him onto my back and held my palms against my eyes. I screamed.
I was surrounded by the smell of death. It smelled like home.
Someone else was there, breathing. They let out a gasp. “I was afraid something like this would happen someday.”
He lifted me up carefully, like I was a kid who’d fallen at the playground. He took me to his home. It was a cozy place with an old recliner and wood-paneled walls. It smelled like whiskey, dust, and regret. He cleaned me up and gave me water in a plastic cup. I was frozen, traumatized, and surprised by my own actions.
He sat across from me. He had tears in his eyes. “He found out about the affair.”
I looked at him.
“Your father did.”
It was full dark. I jumped at every sound. I knew they had cameras at the storage facility. Someone, sooner or later, would see what I had done even if no one nearby had heard anything. It was only a matter of time.
“I met your mother at work,” the man said. He was looking right at me, not phazed at all that I had just killed a man. “To this day I don’t know how he found out, but that must have been it, why he’d done it. The way the scene was, the way it was described in the papers, I mean. Rage had set the man on fire. He cut her throat. Nearly took her head all the way off.”
He got up from the table, walked to another room with one hand on his hip, the other looking for furniture to hold onto for balance. His hands were shaking. He came back with a wooden box with a flower etched into the top. He took the lid off and removed faded newspaper clippings. He also had yellowing polaroids of the woman from my visions. The newspaper articles had pictures of a man. There were pictures of bodies covered by blood-soaked sheets. There were pictures of two boys, myself and a teenager. Pictures of a car.
“The police, they told the papers your brother tried to save your mother. He fought with your father, got hurt pretty bad. Your old man smashed his head into the ground. Nobody knew how much you saw or what. I asked around a lot, much as I could without people figuring out the whole damn mess was because a me. I was married at the time, you see.”
My hands had started to shake just like his. Sometimes you can hide the fucked up shit you experience in life, but sometimes you can’t.
“Your brother” he said, now whipping tears from his face,” they suspected he got hold of the knife he killed your mother with and stabbed your father in the leg. That gave him enough time to get you and get out of the house. He was hurt pretty bad though. The two of you hid in your mother’s car for hours before anybody thought to look there for you. You were terrified, wouldn’t speak or nothing. Your brother had succumbed to his injuries but the neighbor lady found you said you were still holding on to his hand for dear life.”
He touched my shoulder and told me he was sorry. He asked me if I remembered any of it. I told him that I didn’t but as I sat there listening to him and looking at the contents of his wooden box, things started to come together in my head like puzzle pieces.
“I talk to your mother every night still,” he said. “And I tell her I’ll keep an eye on you. There were so many times I wanted to introduce myself to you and explain what happened. I was just too scared.”
I thought about killing myself at the old man’s table, taking a kitchen knife and slitting my wrists like my father, but then I remembered what my brother told me as he was dying while we hid in the car. “You have to live so you can tell people what happened.”
The man stood again to put his box away and refill the glasses of water. Flashing lights came through the windows. There was a firm knock at the door. I wondered if Julia would open my letters if I wrote to her from prison.
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