Floorboards and Silverfish
by Dan Sanders
Supposedly our grandfather built it. Dad had always said the house belonged to our Uncle Kevin and the silence that followed Uncle Kevin’s name. The few times that name was mentioned Uncle Kevin was always “Our” Uncle Kevin, never “My Brother Kevin”, and was waved aside as our father turned away from the conversation, pulled a newspaper in front of his face, or turned the volume on the television back up. Our only interaction with Uncle Kevin was spending an awkward moment in his absence while my brother and I realized our father was done talking to us.
Dad tried to discourage us, saying that it was in a swamp, that it was dangerous and filthy. His father built it too close to the water and “The swamp probably ate it by now.” We were kids. It was dirty and dangerous and we could never go there because The Swamp was a monster that ate houses, and we could never be so brave enough to go near it.
We’d probably need weapons. I’d need a sword. My brother would take a crossbow. We’d have to find The Swamp’s weaknesses, sneak around and observe it for months, learn its habits, make a plan. We’d need a map. We’d need ninja stuff. Maybe there’s a dragon too? No. No dragon. The Swamp would have eaten the dragon. A hungry green mouth in the woods that sucked in anything that dared get too close. It was too good to be true.
We had bunk beds and talked about it at night. “We could get guns!” Don’t be stupid. It’d laugh at the guns and eat the bullets. “Grenades!” Hmm, better, but if it blew up, it’d just pull itself back together again. It might get bigger. “Oh. What about a Flamethrower?” Flamethrowers wouldn’t work because it was probably too damp and The Swamp was probably too clever for that, it would suck in the flame and spit it back at us. My brother saw something on television about those helicopters they use to fight forest fires – the ones that would tip over great tubs of water to seemingly no effect. “What if we got one of those” You’re going to add water to a swamp, don’t be stupid — “but filled with cement!” Oh wow. That would totally work.
Not only would we kill it, but we’d have an insta-monument to our victory. The only other option was to cover it with a giant cage (also dropped from the sky) and charge admission to see The Swamp. But after serious consideration, and weeks spent developing a pretty extensive business plan – if the Swamp eats the cage and escapes, then where are we? Dead. Not just us, but everybody. It’d be so mad it’d kill everybody. Better to sacrifice fame and fortune and just petrify it. Then, later, if we change our minds we can always sell tickets to the Swamp Statue. Maybe put a roller coaster around it.
This is how we spent years of nights. Fighting The Swamp and reclaiming our ancestral homeland.
“Do you think Dad’s hiding something?”
“You think there’s treasure?”
“Yeah, there has to be.”
“I think so too, goddamn it.”
A calm conversation, just before sleep that made us suspect our father for months. “What’s with you two?” It made sense. Anyone not telling you everything you want to know is hiding something and it’s usually treasure. We weren’t sure if all adults had treasure, but we assumed that the odds rose sharply in the event of a secret swamp house.
It probably looks like an old abandoned houses so that nobody goes near it. But probably behind a picture frame, or beneath the floorboards there’s piles of money. Maybe there’s a whole substructure, like a Batcave under the house. And then the Batcave is full of money. It’d be wrong to steal it, but we could keep an eye on it. Make sure The Swamp didn’t get the house. Protect it. Maybe buy some comics. But only a couple. Because we’re going to be there protecting it, we’re going to need food and things to do. Maybe a pinball machine or something. We’re going to be working long hours. We’re going to want to unwind.
Dad died later. When we were older. When we were mostly done with The Swamp. Before I found Uncle Kevin.
There was some strain between my brother and I after Dad died. Mom was long gone, one of us wanted to find her and the other didn’t. I focused on work. He found our Mother and stood at her front door explaining who he was, who we were, who Dad was and where he was buried. She cried, but never touched him, never opened the door more than a crack, and apologized to him like he was selling two sons door to door. She closed the door abruptly and “I just started laughing, I don’t know why. It was just funny all of a sudden.” But he was heartbroken about it.
I tried to console him, but my heart wasn’t really in it, I was mad at him for looking and trying to get me to look for this person who didn’t’ want to be found. Most importantly, I tried to not say I told you so, but I did, and we didn’t speak for months.
It seemed like a good time to find Uncle Kevin. He wasn’t difficult to find. He’d never left home and had been working. He was a security guard at a not-so-nice Mini Mall far from the highway and on the other side of town. He looked like my father.
When I told him that my father had died and he took a deep breath and I had to watch him shake off emotion for a moment before he said “Ah, well. He never liked me anyway,” faking a laugh before lowering his head to look into his coffee. He started to ask how it happened, never lifting his head, but just said “no, no, nevermind. Nevermind that.” and asked if I wanted some coffee.
It was windy and cold, we stood side by side and looked over an empty parking lot. “I have to write down in that book if anything unusual happens. I’ve never had to write anything in there.” He nudged me with the notebook and it said “BROTHER DIED.” And we laughed hard enough that he had to shush me, and pointed to the houses on the far end of the lot.
I spent the rest of his shift with him, talking, catching him up on my life, on my brothers life. He told me about himself, he’d been a bastard, but had gotten help and gotten better. He’d reached out to my father a few times, and they spoke, but “it didn’t take and I don’t blame him.” We went backwards in time, from the last time they spoke, back to their childhood and their parents, who were “like wild animals.” They had a difficult time, their father disappeared for stretches and when he was there it was worse, nobody knew where he’d disappear to until he died and “We found out he had this house out in the woods.”
“It was a mess. The wood was rotten everywhere, the whole house was infested with bugs and most of the roof had fallen in. We thought were going to fix it up. We were 21 and 22, I think. It was a bad idea.” laughing “Just never going to happen. But your dad was so serious about it. Had a whole plan together, went broke buying materials. I was bad already. I was making it difficult.”
“But we got pretty close. Your dad got pretty close, anyway. He did all the work. I was barely there, really.”
I told him about how much we’d thought of that place, how we’d imagined it, secret lairs under the floor, The Swamp. We were going to live there. We didn’t even know where it was, but we were going to find it and live there forever. “You sound like your dad.” He said.
“Mostly the only thing I remember was the day the storm came. Everything was closed so I was sober. The whole house was cleaned up and your dad was mostly through with the roof. We’d spent the summer there, just scraping by. Your dad thought he could get the roof finished before it really hit. But it was raining first thing in the morning and just got worse and worse. I was in the truck, and he was up on a ladder trying to get the tarp tacked down onto the roof. It was impossible, but he was up there. Hitting the damn thing with the thunder and lightning coming in behind him. It was terrifying. I only got out of the truck to get him into the truck. But before I know it he’s got me up there and trying to save this horrible place. When you think about it, it’s not exactly a holy place, you know.
And then it just rained so hard that we gave up, exhausted. We let the tarp go into the wind and it whipped above where the roof should be and kind of watched wave goodbye before it pulled off and flew away. We shouldn’t have been there but it was hard not to be there. There was someone on the news saying not to be there. We had nowhere else to go, your grandmother was worse than me, then. Your dad talked me into staying. Said it wasn’t all that bad. We spent the night in the truck, soaked and half frozen and the next day we found the tarp tangled in some power lines. So we just went home. We left it there and went home. Your dad left a few months later, I think. Me and your grandmother were hard to be around.”
I called my brother and let him know I’d found Uncle Kevin and he just wanted to know when we were going to The Swamp.
Uncle Kevin gave us directions My brother and I found the house. It was far back from the main roads and we got lost a few times getting there. But then we found it. It was a shack on stained cinder block risers with no roof. The Swamp was barely that; a pool of rainwater and muck. The mosquitoes were terrible and we sat in his truck deciding whether or not to go inside.
The house was still standing, but just barely, it was pitched to one side, the roof was open. And we tried to see where the newer wood was, where our father had tried to patch it. But it was all the same mess and indistinguishable from our grandfather’s construction. It looked like it was going to fall over at any second.
“Should we check under the house, see if there’s a Bat Cave.” I’m not crawling under there. “We could probably just tip it over. Pick it up from one side, take a quick look.” Might be able to knock out the cinder blocks on the far side, it’d probably just roll over. “I could probably just push it into the swamp.” By yourself? Might need a few more — “No, I could drive into the side of it, and push it into the swamp.” Oh wow. Yeah. That would totally work.
Next Week’s Prompt: Coyotes and Potato Chips