Mr. Brewer wrapped his arms around a little pig-tailed girl. “You come back and see me now,” he said quietly. “Next time I won’t be so tired, I promise.”
The hint of a smile appeared on the child’s face. “I love you grandpa. I’ll come back as soon as mommy lets me. Like maybe next week.”
“I’ll be counting the days,” Mr. Brewer stated, releasing his granddaughter from his weakening grip.
Everything had happened so suddenly; one minute he was lying next to his wife back in Atlanta, the next his love had died of pneumonia and he had been deemed too much of a burden to care for by his only daughter Shelly. She wasn’t wrong, however, and Mr. Brewer by no means had any animosity toward his daughter. She simply had made the decision that was most appropriate for her family, and that was just fine.
But life at Serenity Summit was not what Mr. Brewer had expected it to be. On the pamphlet Shelly had presented him during his last weekend as a free man, he noticed all the folks living at the Summit were smiling and having a blast, their images plastered under the title, “Serenity Summit #1 for its Engaging Family-Oriented Atmosphere.” Although it was true that during his stay he had acquired new friends, actual family visits were scarce – he imagined he wouldn’t see his granddaughter again until next month, but Shelly’s demanding lifestyle was to blame for that, not so much the hospital.
“Goodbye,” Mr. Brewer shouted, to which the girl shot him one last hopeful grin before walking out of the facility.
Suddenly, a nurse dressed in Peanuts scrubs nudged the man in the shoulder. “Wow, Hayley has sure grown a lot since I first saw her.”
Mr. Brewer stared blankly into the nurse’s eyes, the name echoed in his mind. “Who?”
“Your granddaughter, Mr. Brewer. You remember Hayley, don’t you?”
Irritated, the old man straightened his posture. “Granddaughter?” He chuckled. “You’re mistaken, miss. That was my daughter Shelly. Isn’t it a bit early to be talking about grandchildren? I mean, by God, she’s not even six yet!”
“You get some rest now, Mr. Brewer, so you’ll be full of energy for the bingo game tonight,” she encouraged, giving him two pats on his knee before walking over to another resident.
Hayley. The name resonated in his head. Surely the nurse was mistaken, he thought. There was no way he could have a grandchild.
In an attempt to find a photograph of his daughter, for proof that he wasn’t losing his mind, Mr. Brewer rolled himself into his room, and sure enough he found it. On his nightstand was the picture of a grown woman who closely resembled his Shelly – she even had the same birthmark on her face just like his daughter.
“Damn,” Mr. Brewer cursed, dropping his head.
He hadn’t realized his roommate Greg was in the corner reading a newsletter dated from 1942. Nor did he realize that Greg’s record player was on. Mr. Brewer finally realized that his wife Nelly was right: he had gone bat-shit crazy.
“What’s the matter? Nurse didn’t get you that green Jell-O you like so much?”
“Naw, just seein’ things more clearly for the first time in a while, is all,” he replied, noting that the music was getting louder. “Hey, turn that down would you?” He motion toward his buddy’s record player.
Greg was dumbfounded. “Huh? I don’t hear nothin’. It’s not on.”
Mr. Brewer wasn’t about to let himself be played as an ignorant fool. Just who did Greg think he was, anyway? “Greg, I said turn the fucking music off. It’s not the ‘40s anymore, so you need to stop reading that goddamned paper and listening to that ridiculous song every afternoon!”
“Bud, I swear there ain’t no music playin’.”
The old man lost it and knocked a vase to the floor, sending dozens of ceramic shards spiraling across the cream-tiled floor. “You listen to me, bud,” spat Mr. Brewer. “I’m not taking your shit anymore. You’re always treating me like a sucker, and it’s going to stop today.” Then, with one of the longer pieces of ceramic, Mr. Brewer shoved the spike into Greg’s throat, puncturing his jugular artery.
The white room was painted red in seconds, after a frenzied Mr. Brewer continued to stab his old friend. With each puncture, a memory was brought back to Mr. Brewer: with a gash to the jugular came that of his wife Nelly, who had given birth to the most beautiful baby girl in the world; then a splurge of hot blood on his face brought a replay of Shelly’s wedding into his vision, and then of Hayley’s birth; with a swift plunge to the chest, he remembered that his withering consciousness and his temper were what landed him in Serenity Summit to begin with. His rage subsided after the strings of red goo expanded into a dark crimson pool. His buddy reduced to a ripped blood fountain, the gurgling of blood made Mr. Brewer vomit into his palm.
“Oh my God, what I have I done,” he asked, dropping the bloodied ceramic shiv – the spike shattered on the hard floor. Turning to the record player, he realized that Greg was telling the truth after all; there was absolutely no record spinning, but Chattanooga Choo Choo still blared through the speaker.
Suddenly, Mr. Brewer opened his third story window, revealing a beautiful expanse of wilderness. And to make it even more desirable, the music didn’t reach outside. So, with his face chapped with tears, he jumped. He never felt freer than the second before his skull met the sidewalk.
Several states over, a similar chilling melody hummed down a drive of freshly fallen snow. Death’s stale tune whisper met the door of an honors boy and precious Mumu.