After examining the facts for eight-odd years, in which both his wife and his job fell away like a second, unnecessary skin he’d never even known he had, Rick finally decided that it had been obvious, really, and, being not just rational but bound by the smallest of indicators, he had no choice but to admit that that day he’d taken his four-year old son to the beach it had, yes, been almost solely to have him dragged out by a shark. If there had been a painting of that day, he knew, then he and Danny would have been at the center of it, every brushstroke radiating out from them. But there had been no painting, and he hadn’t even known then to be looking for the brushstrokes—the way the car only started on the third try, the way the red light at the second intersection had buzzed. The hundreds of reflections of themselves smearing by in all the windows they passed. How Danny had asked if his friend down the street could come, and Rick had said no. It was like, at some level, a Rick inside of Rick—the one who had to keep living, maybe—had been able to read all this, but had gone ahead to the beach anyway. Had made the decision to go ahead to the beach. Because of stubborness, Rick thought. Because it felt cavalier to buck fate, and win. To risk Danny’s life. What he’d had for breakfast that morning was two slices of bread around some leftover meatloaf, still cold in the middle. That alone, he was pretty sure, should have been enough to keep him away from the water that day. It was like the world was warning him. Wouldn’t the snooze on his alarm have worked better if he’d really been meant to take Danny to the beach? But it went back farther, too, to the day before, the way his creamer had hung in his afternoon coffee instead of mixing in, and the week before, a cloud he remembered seeing on the way home from work, and, before that, January, when he’d been flipping through the channels and seen the ocean for about five seconds. And it even went back to when Danny was born—maybe Rick had been planning the shark then, in his fatherly way. He didn’t doubt it. He was capable of anything, he knew, even eight more years of studying what he’d started calling The Prelude, teasing apart the facts layer after layer to get to the real truth of what had happened. Maybe even somewhere in there he would find the time to visit the empty grave, and say goodbye. But not today. When he was done, he told himself. When he’d figured it all out, when he understood why, and could explain it to Danny, and apologize for not having paid proper attention to the way the rearview mirror that morning had been angled down at the passenger seat. In the reflection, just for a moment, Danny had been looking away, out his window. Rick, though, killer that he was, just creaked it back to see behind him instead, like that was more important.
Stephen Graham Jones has seven novels and two collections on the shelves, with two more novels coming (from Dzanc). The most recent two books are “It Came from Del Rio” and “The Ones that Got Away,” each horror. Stephen teaches in the MFA program at the University of Colorado at Boulder. More at http://demontheory.net.