Joseph lay on the bed, struggling to breathe. Every day was constant pain now, ever since he had stopped taking all the drugs they tried to force on him. He didn’t like how they made him feel, sure they dulled the pain, but they dulled everything else too. Days seemed to just float on by, wasted. He wanted his wits about him at the end. The disease had ravaged his body, though no one could tell him what, exactly the disease was. He heard one or two doctors talking about it, saying it might be something new, not that it gave him any comfort to know that, but it seemed right. He always did like to be a bit of a pioneer. He knew that they’d probably name it after what ever doctor claimed credit, but he’d get a note somewhere.
A nurse walked in carrying a tray full of food, soup, water, jello. She placed it onto his table and left, she didn’t chit chat with him anymore. Not that he blamed her. Apparently, while under the influence of the medication, he had become quite irritable and difficult to deal with. He was sorry he had made their lives more difficult, but they were the ones who kept shoving the meds down his throat. He had told them time and time again he didn’t want them. He looked at the food and his stomach did a slow, lazy flip. He knew if he tried to eat any of it he’d just throw it all up again. The doctors would want him to eat, keep his strength up, but he was dying, what difference would it make? A small part of him wondered if they just wanted to see the next stage of the disease, well, they’d be disappointed either way, he wasn’t planning on hanging around here much longer anyway. He knew he was going to die in this room, with its white walls and harsh chemical smells, and he knew it would be soon. He could feel it, a deep, steady ache in his bones and a small pulsing thud, a promise that it would be over soon. He welcomed it, a release from the pain. Before he had always thought that you could get used to it, the pain would just become background noise and become the new normal, that what was once an agony would become no more than a small twinge. He had been wrong. The pain came in ebbs and flows, fading away only to spring back, making sure he was always on his toes, that each new wave of pain was fresh agony, one that couldn’t be ignored.
He had lived a long life and like everyone he had regrets. He knew the nurses thought his family abandoned him, that he was some crotchety old man that drove a wedge between himself and everyone who loved him. He didn’t bother to dissuade them of that idea. He didn’t like talking about what happened, he didn’t like to dwell on it. Here in the hospital though, there was nothing left to do but dwell. The TV would prattle on mindlessly, a false comfort as he drifted in and out of thoughts. It helped ground him, remind him of the world outside and when the memories become overwhelming he could use it as a lifeline, one to pull himself up and out before the memories consumed him. He had forgotten many things in his life, but he had never forgotten the feel of the blood, the weight of their cold bodies. He knew that those feelings and thoughts would remain with him forever, a stain on his soul following him into what ever afterlife there was. The pain of finding his family slaughtered was much worse than the pain he was feeling now. The pain had faded over the years but talking about it made everything fresh, ripping open the scars so they could bleed again. He let people think he had no family, that he was alone because he drove them away or because he never married. It was easier to let them believe that than tell them about Marie and the way her laughter brightened the room, about how her blond hair had been stained red by the blood. About Ed, who was so curious and how he would take things apart just to see how they worked, about how the ropes had been tied so tight they bit into his skin, drawing blood. About Theresa, how she loved to play with her dolls and have picnics in the garden, about how they never found her head. No. Those memories were better locked away, deep inside. He knew it was his fault, he was supposed to be their protector. No matter what people said, that was the truth and it would never change. It was better to let people believe that they never existed at all then to relive that pain.
He hoped he would see them again, somewhere in the afterlife and that they would forgive him for his failure. He could feel it building inside, that steady promise getting stronger. His breathing was becoming ragged, difficult. His chest felt too heavy, his lungs too weak. He hoped that their deaths hadn’t changed them, that they would be the people he remembered. But he knew that even if it had, he would love them regardless. He closed his eyes and allowed himself to relax, there wasn’t much time left, but that was ok. He would see them all again soon, he knew he would. They’d be together again. As he relaxed his memories surged to the surface, showing him the good times, the happy times, each one drawing him closer to the darkness, the promise of reconciliation, of redemption, they flashed by faster and faster until finally, the last one, the weight of the axe, heavy and reassuring and the satisfying thunk it made as it chopped through Theresa’s neck and hit the wood floor beneath.