The Sins of the Father

Submitted into Contest #169 in response to: Write about someone finding a monster under their bed.... view prompt

27 comments

Drama Crime Fiction

This story contains themes or mentions of sexual violence.

Nothing looked the same, yet everything was just as he remembered. 


Rob had not been down that path since he was thirteen. If it had not been for the letter, he might never have walked it again. To his left and right were oaks and poplars, the same ones that had guarded the trail some twenty years earlier. The trees, like him, were a little older, a little bigger, and a little worse for wear—but their branches, like arms, still surrounded him, making him feel slightly claustrophobic. 


There was nothing he could do about the narrowness of the path, but he could loosen his tie. With a tug or two, he felt cooler air make its way down his shirt. It didn’t make his breathing any easier, though. Painful memories have a way of constricting the throat more than a necktie. Loosening their grip is far more complicated. 


That night was supposed to be a good one for Rob and his family. The irony of that thought made Rob nauseous. As usual, good days were the ones that he had ended up ruining. He should have left Rob alone those days long ago, but he never did. Birthdays, holidays, and family gatherings were both to be looked forward to and dreaded—because of him.


Accepting an award for community service, Rob had spent a pleasant evening with his wife and son, Robbie, at the neighborhood center. Rob could always be counted on to help those in need, no matter the time or personal cost. He supported his son’s PTA, served meals at the local soup kitchen, and even coached Robbie’s Little League team. Rob was the envy of all who knew him—only no one really knew him. That was the reason why he had agreed to meet him one last time. 


The letter Rob received had been handwritten, mailed in the archaic fashion of using a stamp and the post office. The upper left corner of the envelope showed the name Robert Watkins, with the return address that of the state penitentiary. Rob didn’t need that information to know who the letter was from; he’d recognize his handwriting anywhere. The scrawl was a little less frantic then he remembered, but that’s because inmates can’t get “falling down” drunk in prison.


The letter was as unexpected as it was unwanted. Rob threw it away several times, but for reasons unknown, each time he would retrieve it from the waste basket. Finally, unable to contain his curiosity, Rob opened the envelope.


Beads of sweat appeared on his forehead and his hands shook as he unfolded the correspondence. All at once his heart started to race and the hair on the back of his neck stood on end. A long-forgotten yet familiar queasiness welled up in his stomach. Against his better judgement, with a necessary glass of Jack Daniels in hand, Rob read the letter silently. It contained words like unimaginable and unspeakable and unforgivable.


There were no excuses or explanations or mentions of the particulars. Rob had been both relieved and upset about that last part. He didn’t want to relive the trauma of a grown man doing unnatural things to a little boy, but he wanted an acknowledgement. The letter informed Rob of his pending release and suggested a reunion with no such acknowledgement of his childhood abuse. 


Vague apologies don’t soothe the wounds of specific sins. Most offensive to Rob was the proposed location for the meeting. The letter referenced their Special Place—a fishing hole no one knew about but Rob and him. It had been home to the few genuinely good memories Rob had with his dad, Robert, Sr., but even those memories had been tarnished by the abuse that scarred the years before his thirteenth birthday.


Walking the footpath, each step closer to his destination, Rob felt himself transported back in time. He remembered his thoughts from the day vividly. Surely his dad wouldn’t ruin this place, too. His father couldn’t force himself on him. Not here. He should have left Rob alone that night but he didn’t.


It was the last time his father would touch him.


Everyone told Rob he should be proud of himself. He had called 911. He had sat confidently in the witness stand to fully recount the years of abuse. He had found the strength to look his father in the eye as the verdict was read. 


Truth be told, Rob wasn’t proud. He was ashamed. Ashamed he had been a victim. Ashamed he had let it happen. Ashamed of sending his father to prison. That thought, once again, produced an uncomfortable chuckle. He had stolen Rob’s innocence, yet Rob had spent the last two decades dealing with the weight of unwarranted guilt. 


The abuse had affected every relationship in his life. It left him confused about his sexuality and his culpability. Rob became so guarded that no one truly knew him—not his coworkers, not his friends, not even his wife.


He had one last chance to put the past behind him, and that chance lay at the end of the path, next to a fishing hole known only to Rob and him.


All journeys have destinations. For Rob, this particular journey led Rob to both a place and an opportunity. As Rob took the first few steps out of the tree lined path into the opening that overlooked the pond, moonlight and memories washed over him in equal portions. For a moment, Rob actually felt at peace—but for just a moment. Rob was no longer alone. To his left, on a fallen tree, sat the author of the letter: his dad. Him.


“I wasn’t sure you would come,” his father said softly, breaking the silence. “Part of me hoped you wouldn’t.”


There was so much Rob wanted to say. He wanted to scream at the top of his lungs: I hate you! He wanted to grab this man—who had ruined his entire life, who had defiled his childhood, who had taken any hope of normalcy—and shake him until he understood.


“You wanted to talk, so talk,” was all Rob managed to say. 


In that moment Rob tried valiantly to sound controlled, strong, even disinterested. In his mind, however, he was a little boy again, trying to make sense of the senseless. The reality of having a father taking advantage of him—his body, his mind, his soul—was still devastating.


“I’m not here to ask for forgiveness,” his dad began. “I don’t deserve it.”


“You’re damn fucking right you don’t, you coward,” Rob interrupted, finding the voice he had been searching for. “You destroyed me! You get that, right? You fucking raped me, over and over. You made me a…” Rob’s voice trailed off.


In the matter of a single moment, a time frame so short it almost didn’t exist, Rob felt who he really was for the first time in over twenty years.


“I loved you, you goddamn bastard. You were my first best friend.”


“I know, but . . .”


“Shut up. I’m not finished,” Rob said, pointing a finger right at him. “All those years I kept quiet. I defended you. I kept your secret.” Rob paused to swallow hard, blinking back hot tears. “I convinced myself it was my fault. How do you like that? You made me feel guilty. To this day, I still feel ashamed.”


Without warning, Rob began to sob as he finally articulated the worst part. “When all my friends at college were bragging about their first time, I knew my first time was with you. I was eight years old, eight fucking years old. You were supposed to protect me. Instead? You were the monster under my bed.”


Rob’s father paused for what seemed like an eternity in an interminable silence. 


“Son, I just wanted to say I’m sorry. I know the words can’t fix anything. You have every right to hate me, but the one thing I wanted to do was to look you in the eye and to let you know that I know what I did. It was wrong. You didn’t deserve it. It wasn’t your fault”


The words were jarring for both their sincerity and contrition. It was undeniably true his father’s words couldn’t erase the emotional scars. They didn’t come close to wiping the slate clean, but Rob felt slightly disarmed. That fact left him disoriented.


For a moment both men stared silently at each other in somber reflection. 


Finally, Rob regained his voice. “So you said your piece. What now?”


“Now I disappear. The one last gift I can give you is the certainty you’ll never hear from me again. No one knows where I’m going, and, God willing, when I get there, no one will know who I am.”


“So that’s it? You leave and never come back?"


“That’s it.”


“And no one knows where you're going?”


“Not a soul.”


“Who knows you came here to meet me tonight?”


“No one. I’m leaving everything and everyone behind.”


“Well dad, I'm afraid that’s not good enough. I’ve thought long and hard about what I would do if I ever came face to face with you again.” Rob had a grim smile on his face as he pulled the Glock 21 from his pocket, pointing it directly at his father.


“Rob, no.”


 “Goodbye dad.”


The report of the gunshot was louder than Rob had expected, but there was no one within miles to hear it, or the splash the body made as it fell into the water. Rob didn’t even wipe his fingerprints off the gun before he threw it in the pond.


It turned out Rob had a really great night after all—his best night ever, he thought to himself as he headed back down the path and into the woods.


To celebrate that great night of all nights, Rob knew he should leave his son, Robbie, alone in his bed.


He knew he should, but he also knew he wouldn’t.



October 27, 2022 23:28

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27 comments

Cindy Strube
17:52 Oct 31, 2022

Harsh. This is very well written - you pull readers in to feel compassion for Rob, and we start to realize what he’s been through. It just keeps building to a crescendo, and BANG! But it’s still not over… I watch a lot of true crime, forensics, &c. on YouTube, and the ones that make me angry are child abuse cases. I have cousins who went through horrible experiences with an evil stepfather. They have suffered irreparable damage. You know how to stir the emotions…

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Thom With An H
18:19 Oct 31, 2022

Thanks so much Cindy. This one was a tough one to write. I think the hottest spot in hell is reserved for those who hurt children. The problem is so many abusers were themselves abused. There are no winners only losers.

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Kristin Neubauer
12:49 Dec 02, 2022

This is a phenomenal story - I can't believe it didn't win. It left such an impact the first time I read it and yet again. It has stayed with me all this time as one of the top short stories I have every read....chilling and disturbing and important. You always seem to come up with powerful endings for your stories....do they just come to you? Coming up with twists is hard for me - I'm not sure if I am not creative enough or just see things in such a linear way that twists are a struggle for me. But you are a master at them. I wish I cou...

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Thom With An H
16:02 Dec 03, 2022

Thanks so much. I’ve been revisiting some of my older stories. I have really been enjoying tinkering with them and making them better. You should try that as a way to jump start your creative juices. Your stories are already fantastic but you’d be surprised at how much you’ll enjoy making them even a little better. I also wanted to share a link with you. It’s a podcast my friend Jason was on. He is doing so much better since I wrote about him a few years ago. Please don’t feel obligated to watch. It’s about an hour long, quite the commitment...

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Kristin Neubauer
21:23 Dec 03, 2022

Wow - I am only 45 minutes into the podcast so far, but I am simply overwhelmed with Jason's story. Talk about courage - his willingness to be so open with his story and emotions is incredible. That's not easy. And I love how the host, Bruce Kittle, pauses to acknowledge certain important moments and feelings. I also really appreciated the whole conversation about animals, because it helped me understand myself and my connection to animals better. And you got a mention too! I don't think I realized (or maybe I didn't remember) that you ...

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Jennifer Cameron
09:18 Oct 31, 2022

I literally sat staring at my computer speechless for a few minutes after reading this. I love a story that will shock me, and the ending definitely did that, incredible writing. Haunting but so incredible.

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Thom With An H
18:20 Oct 31, 2022

What a profoundly kind thing to say. I am a fan of your writing so your words carry extra weight for me. Thanks for taking the time to read and let me know your thoughts. It is sincerely appreciated.

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Jennifer Cameron
07:39 Nov 03, 2022

You're very welcome :) just reread it and I loved it just as much as the first time I read it!

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AnneMarie Miles
14:31 Oct 30, 2022

Woah, this was like living a nightmare. Reality is often worse than what we experience in our dreams. I am a huge fan of law&order SVU, so despite it's vile nature, I really appreciated this unique and real take on the prompt. You did a great job of making us feel the trauma, and I imagine that wasn't the easiest thing to write. The ending did surprise me. It's a good ending for a fictional story, but I still found myself cringing.

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Lindsay Flo
12:52 Oct 30, 2022

Ahhhhh, the creepy uncomfortableness of the twist at the end. Wasn't expecting that, but I'm thinking the references of "him" italicized were meant to tie both Rob and his dad in the same category? It also paints a picture of generational trauma--you spend the whole story with sympathy for Rob...then at the end you find out he really is his father...and his father was likely a child who was abused as well. Heavy topic, definitely gave goosebumps in a different way than expected.

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Thom With An H
19:10 Oct 31, 2022

Lindsay!!! Another of my favorite Reedsy writers. I hadn't actually intended the italics to mean both but I wish I had because it's perfect. In fact from now on I'm going to say I did. I did choose the same name for all three as a hint to the ending. The worst part is I'm not sure if it is the ending. The horror is now passed to Robbie.

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Susan Catucci
12:28 Oct 30, 2022

These sorts of wounds never heal, they just don't. Because they occur during a person's "development," they become part of a person's fabric. The only way to stop the bleeding is to stop the perpetuation of the abuse: recognize it, accept that "it" happened, do not invest in it. Strive to be the best you can be, because you have already experienced what the worst is. Not a simple fix, but one well worth the pain and the effort.

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Daniel Allen
07:51 Oct 30, 2022

This was a fantastic story. It became more and more chilling throughout as you builtin tensions and revelations. And that ending... simply outstanding work.

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Rebecca Miles
06:25 Oct 30, 2022

Oh my this is tragedy writ large and a deeply unsettling read as we see the victim we cared about turn predator. You took a writer's risk and slashed all sympathy for your protagonist with his final cyclical act. Thought provoking and risk taking this week Thom.

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Thom With An H
18:26 Oct 31, 2022

I can't tell you how much your feedback means to me. First, you are one of the truest talents on Reedsy so your words mean more than most. Second, you validate my choices. It's hard to write a story with no heroes. Thanks for the encouragement.

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Eileen Turner
00:48 Oct 30, 2022

Like Susan Catucci said, fictional monsters are less horrible. So, the question your story begs is: will vengeance/justice heal the wounds?

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Thom With An H
02:16 Oct 30, 2022

I think vengeance is a hollow victory but sometimes it’s the only victory victims get. Thanks for your time and insight.

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Ebony Colvin
00:35 Oct 30, 2022

Oh wow. That ending! What a superb, heartbreaking twist. I read the last few lines over and over. It really made a huge impact. Very haunting.

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Thom With An H
02:13 Oct 30, 2022

I think the gut punch at the end is this legacy is all too common. Thanks for your encouragement. It means the world to me.

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Francois K
15:39 Oct 29, 2022

That last twist at the end! The title should have been a tipoff, but did not see it coming. It makes sense that the cycle often carries through into future generations. Chilling!

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Thom With An H
02:14 Oct 30, 2022

I’m glad you mentioned the title. I really hoped people would say of course after the end. I wanted it to be both a surprise and in a way expected. Thanks for taking the time to share. It’s much appreciated.

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Susan Catucci
13:21 Oct 29, 2022

This is horror on steroids. It makes the worst of the worst fictional monsters pale in comparison. These are the real monsters to be feared, those that take the lives of children and crush them before they've had a chance to develop into their best selves. The effects can, as you conclude with your last line here (devastating, btw), seep into and destroy many generations to come. And, finally, as far as "justice" goes, a stint in prison just doesn't cut it. Bravo!

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Thom With An H
02:11 Oct 30, 2022

This was tough to write. Too many people live this truth and most never get revenge. Thanks so much for your fantastic feedback. It makes me glad I wrote it.

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ER Castaneda
17:20 Nov 07, 2022

Phenomenal story. I loved the unexpected ending and the story kept me entertained and intrigued.

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Michał Przywara
20:50 Oct 31, 2022

A great story around a horrible topic. There's three endings here, and they tear us in different directions. The first, Robert Sr. admits in person what he didn't even acknowledge in the letter. That simple admission, we think, might be something that can help Rob Jr. get some closure, and perhaps one day heal. But no, here is the first twist. Jr. was hoping for this day, planning for this day, and he gets his closure with a gun. It's murder, but we find it hard to blame him for it, and there's a sense of justice to it. By slaying his fa...

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Lizzie Hudson
19:17 Oct 31, 2022

What I assumed about this story crashed with your burn at conclusion. Well done, and brave. Few writers place themselves in the heads of pedophiles, and the lack of awareness and swagger that Rob brings to this character is beautifully rendered.

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Thom With An H
19:48 Oct 31, 2022

This was an attempt to write something different. I write so many happy love stories that I needed to see if I could write something darker and boy howdy did I. I still get uncomfortable reading it. Thanks for your feedback. It definitely helps.

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