Dennis, Dad and I
A Short Story by Jim McCollum
Written using the suggestion "Mirror"
Originally featured on 09-04-2007
As part of our series "Alternative Universals"

When my older brother Dennis came back from the war, he went to live upstairs with our dad and then I was in charge of caring for him along with Dad. I could hear them through my ceiling, rolling over the slatted wood floor above me, back and forth, throughout the night. Mom tried to visit Dennis upstairs when he first got home, but Dad wouldn’t let her come up after that. Then, only I went up to see them. Mom couldn’t speak their language anyway; she just wanted to see Dennis.

I would bring Dennis and Dad food, or their medicine, and Mom, my sister, Amy, and I would stay downstairs. I was the man of the house, “for the downstairs.” That’s according to Dad, but his eyes seemed so sharp, and he blinked disapprovingly.

Sometimes, Amy would have friends over, and my Mom would bake a cake and have party hats, paper cut-outs along the walls, and would stay up trying to talk to Amy and her friends, who were really getting to old to be mothered like that. Laughing would fill the house, and the lights from the living room would bleed into the darkened corridors, down to my room. Sometimes, I would try to take some cake to Dad and Dennis, but they were never hungry, and let me know they didn’t like the noise, as if I were the one making all the racket!


My Dad has ten or eleven different names for me, and Dennis has three or four too. Some of the names scare me, and I don’t like to be called those things. There’s one name, my Dad blinks once, really slow, and then his eyes flutter like hummingbird wings, that he has only called me once, after I tried to introduce him to Beth, my first girlfriend. I started to have the dreams about spiders after he called me that.

At first, little black spots were barely there. I had a dream about a table, with fruit on it, piles and piles of fruit, and sweet too! The best kinds of fruits were there, mangoes, peaches, kiwis. Then I saw a tiny spider crawl over one of the pieces. Maybe I had been dreaming about spiders before, but that one I noticed first.

Soon the spiders started appearing on people. One would crawl over someone’s shoulder, but they would never notice it, a secret spider.

Of course, I’m good at seeing things in real life too, I saw Oh-De-Yaga buy the rifle he shot those people with. I saw him carrying it out of Beck’s Army Surplus down on Grand Avenue when I had a bag of groceries for Mom. He smiled at me and touched the side of his nose with his finger; he spoke a fearsome language. He knew something about me, he knew I came from a family where some men forgot how to stand and walk, forgot how to use their tongues. Maybe he envied me. The paper’s called Oh-De-Yaga a “garden variety” schizophrenic, but Dennis, Dad, and I were real psychiatric marvels. Someone could write their dissertation on us.

After a while though, the spiders started to appear in places they shouldn’t, crawling out of people’s noses, or jumping out of their mouths when they coughed, which people only seem to do in my dreams!

Pretty soon, I had dreams only about spiders, big spiders that lumbered around, hefting their fatty bulk on their eight pinpoint legs. I had a dream about a spider in my room, one of the fattest I have seen. Its eyes reflected me a hundred times over. It rolled its sides around, and it had my Mom’s face inside its fatty rolls.

“Oh, honey,” she said, and the spider hissed. “Oh, honey. Honey.”

Beth, my first girlfriend, was small and pretty. She had short cropped hair and her parents read the Bible. She whispered prayers to herself when I took her to the fair and we rode on the big rollercoaster. The fairgrounds were up on a hill overlooking the center of the town, and we could see all the lights from everyone’s houses from the top of the track. She kept whispering to herself, and I grabbed her hand and held it up above our heads. She screamed, and I screamed, and the wind caught our voices as we rushed down, down, down.

When I introduced Beth to my Dad, it was before Dennis came home. I took her up the long stair case, stopping at the landing to explain that sometimes Dad gets tired, or angry, and that we might need to leave after only a few minutes. When we got upstairs, Dad was staring out the window onto the lawn. He looked over at us when we walked in and blinked, long and slow.

Hi Dad, I said, this is Beth.

My Dad blinked again, quickly.

I lied and told Beth he said he was please to meet her.

I’m very happy to finally get a chance to meet you, said Beth.

My Dad blinked again, and then he blinked the name for me that I will not repeat here.


A year after Dennis came home; I had to start thinking about college. I didn’t end up going, however, because I stayed home to take care of Dad and Dennis. I got scared I would end up in one of those God-damned chairs too.


One night, my Mom said she was getting worried about me.

You haven’t said anything in two days, she told me.

I blinked fast, twice.

Why are you doing this to me? She asked, are you mad at me for something?

I blinked again, but then I found words, No, Mom.

She smiled, and then she hugged me.

When my younger sister turned eighteen, my Mom hired a catering company to come and make the food so she could focus on decorations. The whole house had brightly colored paper pinned across the walls in all manner of shapes, stars, hearts, pops, people holding hands. Each section of the house had a different theme. The main entrance way to the house had been converted into a discoth

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