The Best He Could Give

Morgen Knight

How do you kill your daughter? Your only child? Ralph knew that it was the right thing to do, the only thing really, but now that it was done he couldn’t help but feel the weight of shame and desperate void in the place where his soul use to be. He wanted to take it back, damn the consequence. But he couldn’t. His hand had struck that vital blow; his hand, a familiar appendage, which he looked at as traitorous, as though it had acted of its own volition, without the parental guidance of his brain. Muscles, tendons, bones–a cabal working with a secret agenda.

Ralph sat with his aching back against the wall, his beloved daughter laying on his legs, her still head against his chest. His hand combed through her red oak hair, brushing over her porcelain face. She looked ageless, but Ralph could recall all sixteen of her years.

“Sidney,” he’d said, holding his little girl for the first time. She had been wrapped up in a pink blanket and wearing a pink cap. Eyes half aware, mouth moving. He had never understood love at first sight until that moment. It was no longer about him.

Sidney, and now he was holding her head with much the same care that he had held her infant body. The basement was dark and foul-smelling. Rot and blood filled his nose. He could see but only because he had been down here for so long, holding her. There had been very little heat in his daughter’s body to begin with–all stolen heat–but even that limina radiance had leaked away. How long had he been here? It felt to him like days. Hours, for sure, but as the outer edge of dawn filled the uncovered window, he knew that he wouldn’t be able to remain here much longer. He wasn’t sure what a new day would bring with it, exactly, but Ralph was sure that no one was going to show up here, now. No one had arrived all night. He was glad about that. There were more stakes in his bag, so he had been ready to handle whatever might have come through that door, but it was better that nothing had. His nerve had burnt up quickly after the spark of life had hushed in Sidney’s blanched eyes–it was a dark spark, true, but now that he saw no spark at all, he wasn’t so sure which was worse.

The wooden stake remained in Sidney’s chest, an outline of red around it. His forearm had been pulled back against her throat, her hands digging into his sides, mouth chomping at empty air as he’d brought the weapon down, plunging it through her sternum and into the unholy pit of her black heart. His screams had matched her own, two deaths at once. Only, his body was still moving, his thoughts still fresh. But inside, Ralph was dead. He was the unnatural creature, now.

He held her as though comforting her and wept while dawn approached. This girl who had been afraid of the dark would finally be taken away from him by the saving light.

Saving? No. The horrid, inimical daylight. A harsh god that burned what it caressed, a god that had boiled centuries of blood spilt by those that worshiped it. An uncaring body that held its dominion in jealous hands, glancing in whims at its creation, the gravity of which can destroy as it creates.

Ralph touched the cross on his necklace. Was he still talking about the sun?

The question was: had he ever been?

Sidney had been such a happy little girl. Generous with her laughs and smiles. Thinking about those numerous scenes where her light shined so brightly it hurt him, but it was better to remember her that way. It wasn’t only in the big moments, either. In fact, they were almost devoid of strong emotion, like what the moment brought with it had been used at the time, the fuel that was left only there to keep the memory alive. He thought about birthdays. Holidays. Her first bike ride, her first date, her learning to drive–they were golden moments, sure. Milestones for Sidney. But the magic lay between the towers. Fried moments like watching her sleep from the cracked door. Seeing the concentration on her face as she read.  Being witness to her growing and becoming a person.

From the instant that he had first seen her, he had wanted to protect her. Odd, isn’t it, that he had given her death? Was it such a bad thing? There are things worse than death, he believed, and what Sidney had become was something that he was sure she would not wish to be. The way that Ralph saw it, she had been dead already. What he had done was give her peace. It was the best that he could do for her. If there had been another way . . . anything . . . but there wasn’t.

The morning sun was full in the box window. The musty basement was losing its shadows slowly. The bright square of decoct light was moving across the floor. Ralph could see the floating dust passing through it. He had long adjusted to the foul smells. The room was full of clutter and filth. A ten-speed bike lay against the wall. Clothes in piles, torn, stained in red, some. Broken appliances. Traces of rats. Dried blood–some of it was Sidney’s but not all. He wasn’t sure if this trash was like trophies or not, but he had been in rooms like this before. Seen these kinds of piles of offal.

He wasn’t exactly sure how many people he had killed tracking Sidney–hurting seemed an awful word to apply to your treasured daughter. Under twenty but over ten. How long had he been searching for her? Two years, now. And it hadn’t been easy, but once you understand trail, it was not impossible. A matter of time, unless you’re killed. And Ralph had come close so many times to a violent death, needing to bring his daughter peace. The screams did not haunt him, nor their blood–trepid and thick. What bothered him–

No, he wouldn’t think about that. There was time for that next. He touched his cross again.

He had tracked Sidney from Vicksburg to Conception to Kansas City to here, and that bright block of sunlight had arrived to present the end. Part of one, he amended. He held his beloved daughter as the sun climbed atop her body, ignoring sounds of crackling and the ensuing smell like burnt hair. He tried not to cry as she became hot in his arms and then lighter as her body changed to charcoal ash, holding her form as the sun held his face. This was no longer his daughter, nor a monster, but a body of ash.

It could have been his breath, it could have been the weight, it could have been her freed soul, but the ash collapsed, dusting down all over him, her clothes falling unfilled, the stake thumping against his thigh as it fell. It was the silence that he found to be the hardest thing to handle, so he filled it with his weeping. For hours, tears no longer falling, the sun moved on, and only his disgusted soul left to cry out unintelligible.

He loved his daughter, and now she was gone. To rest in true peace, he believed. It was the best that he could give her.

Not now, no, but before night he would have to move. Not now, of course, but before night, he would have to put this aside for a while longer. Because, not now, but before night, Ralph would have to start considering how to track his wife.

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