The last moments I was with my daddy, they came for him – the town and all hundred of its residents. That was the first and last time too that my daddy would tell me what I was going to do.
I was a ripe ten years old back then, but these days, I'm eleven, all grown up, armed with memory and flashes of truth – the real truth. Nothing much has changed since those days, and that's the problem. Those days are over, but those days are still with me, in my head.
Sometimes you have to make change yourself, though.
Those days. In those days, my daddy told the future for a living. The town was superstitious but also religious. Most believed him to be a prophet sent from God. The truth is, when the coal mines shut down, he was left with few options. Predicting the future always had been his gift, though, there's no denying, because even before I was born, he was palm-reading and conducting such hocus-pocus; certainly, my daddy wouldn't lie to his own son.
He was his very own traveling carnival, in a way. Much like the fortune-telling gypseys, he'd go around with a colourful costume and a crystal ball, charging a buck or two to brave folk wishing to hear if they'd get rich or not some day, how they would die, what they needed to do to change their lives.
He'd been at it for no less than a year when that fateful knock on the door came. It was a Tuesday morning approaching ten, chilly for a Texas day, the clouds looking like the apocalypse. In the kitchen my daddy was having a breakfast of bacon and eggs while I was dangling threads of wool teasing Tabitha the silly black cat in the living room.
I couldn't hear the conversation that transpired, because they were speaking in hushed tones. Strange considering my daddy believed it was polite to always speak loudly so everyone can hear what you're saying. But the next moment, my daddy wasn't on the porch anymore but out there, somewhere.
I went out to see, curious of the noise as well.
There were so many townsfolk out there, on our front lawn, that it looked like we were hosting a play and we were the entertainment. Just reading those scowls on the faces of the townsfolk, you come tell something wasn't right.
They were saying and spelling out wretched things. I wondered why they were so harsh, chanting and calling for a hanging. They themselves appeared to be wild beasts. I don't know how my daddy felt right then, but personally, my own knees could barely keep me upright.
Hiding by the door, I continued to listen. The crowd's roar died down, then the man leading the mob had something to announce. In his hand, he had a noose. He seemed to be telling my father things he didn't want to hear.
“...The families whose fortunes you told are here as testament. You foretold that Rebecca Harrison, Lorne Kutcher and Joanna Green would die soon – and they did. Their bodies were found dumped in the river, bearing knife wounds...”
And that was all I heard. Then my daddy snapped his head around, throwing the most scolding glare my way, as though he'd suddenly turned into a monster and I was no longer his son. But I understood. I was ordered back inside.
Only my prayers helped me get through the following minutes, while my daddy was at their mercy. I thought he was never coming back, but then he did. Overwhelmed with relief, I ran over to hug his leg. I didn't want to let go. I felt him trembling.
The relief was temporary. The townsfolk weren't leaving, they were staying and had other plans now. As soon as my daddy had come inside, he'd locked the door, at the objection of a hundred threatening catcalls outside. Then the townsfolk came up on our porch, intent on some kind of disorderliness, their collective raucous causing me and my daddy to have to communicate in shouts.
My daddy had his back pressed up against the door. I'd never seen an expression like that on my daddy's face before. It was the face of someone on their death bed, confronting the grim reaper.
I cried against his pants, even though he'd told me many times to act like a man; this time, he let me cry, he let me pour out all my tears, because I wasn't the only one crying.
I asked him why so many people were angry at him, and he answered simply that it was because he told the future. After a long pause, he added that they were regarding him as a witch because of his abilities; the town being religious and all, behind the times, stuck in olden, medieval days.
Those moments were madness. I didn't know what was happening anymore. In an instant, my daddy's expression had seemed to change. I was just as much shocked by what the mob was doing, having the audacity to hammer on our windows, as what my daddy did next.
My daddy touched the top of my head for me to let go, then he resumed his seat at the kitchen table and continued breakfast. He forked a portion of bacon and brought it up to his mouth. He sat there in a crazed euphoric-like silence, nipping on the food listlessly, while the mob was on the verge of breaking into our home.
I didn't know what to do except stay with him. Being a little boy, I still didn't quite comprehend what was happening, although the fear was clear in its message. The fear made me want to run. But if I did that, what would my daddy think?
But then he called me over to his side. “Tommy, I want you to do your father a favour, boy.”
“Yes, daddy,” I replied, trying my best not to sound so cowardly with my snivelling.
“You're gonna go away from your daddy, go out the back door, go into the woods, go as far and fast as you can, leave town and hide.”
I couldn't believe what he was saying. “No, daddy.”
“You have to, boy,” he growled, right as a brick came smashing into the kitchen window. I was the only person in the room who flinched. Not even Tabitha was affected. She was watching us patiently from underneath the table. “For Christ's sake. Otherwise they'll hang you, too.”
“But why can't you come with me, daddy?”
“Because it's no use running no more. See, I knew this was going to happen.”
I didn't understand. I just didn't. “But why?”
“Because I say so.”
“But why must I go alone?”
He didn't respond.
“Why are you staying here?”
My daddy apparently had enough of my questions, and had stopped answering. Even as I tugged at his arm.
Tabitha jumped on the table. She quickly lapped up some of the yolk from my daddy's eggs, as though she knew this was her last chance. She must've known, just like my daddy must've known, too. But my daddy shoved her off before she could sample more.
“Damned stupid cat is just like your mother was,” he muttered to himself with a weak chuckle. He looked at me and said, “Listen, boy.”
He closed his eyes, bringing his fingers up to the sides of his temples. “I'm making a prediction, just for you, boy. In the future, you're going to return to the town and burn it down, burn it to the ground.”
“Yes, daddy,” I replied, and he opened one eye.
“Now go,” he said in a humbled whisper, and he didn't need to tell me twice.
I ran. I joined the trees and watched the back of the house for a short while. Tabitha jumped through the bathroom window out into the yard and came to wait and purr beside me.
We waited around long enough to hear the hellacious gunshot, when the birds above my head departed from the shelter of the trees. We left town, just the two of us. Me and Tabitha. Tabitha led the way. Wherever she smelled food, we'd go there. Clever cat. The mother I never knew.
We returned to town every few months, but only under the night sky. The house was boarded up at first, then eventually a new family moved in, then another, and then I knew it was the right time to make change.
My daddy was a good, honest man. His name was Jacob Lawrence. He was thirty-three when he died. He raised me to be the best boy I could be. He only wanted the best for me. Do you hear?
My daddy was a good man, so I'm making the change the town needs. I'm burning your town down, down to the ground.