The award-winning talent assembled for DEATH/GRIP, juxtaposed with the pitiful product, made an argument for it being the most disappointing horror film ever made. Many less competent films had preceded it, but DEATH/GRIP didn’t have the excuses of an inexperienced cast and crew, minimal budget, or rushed production. Watching it was like watching each member of an Olympic relay team trip and fall. It was sad, comical, farcical, and by the end seemingly conspiratorial.
Alicia wasn’t surprised when it became her father’s favorite movie.
“Have you seen the DEATH/GRIP Challenge meme?” Benito Oliveira said.
“Yeah, it’s pretty funny,” she said.
“It’s people pretending not to kill something with their off hand,” he said, as though she hadn’t responded.
“It’s dumb,” said Robert, Alicia’s uncle. He was driving his niece to school, then taking his brother to a job interview at Robert’s office.
“You’ve got no sense of humor,” Benito said. “Alicia thinks it’s funny, right, kiddo?”
“She’s humoring you,” Robert said. “I’m sure she also doesn’t like being called kiddo at her age.”
“I can speak for myself,” Alicia said.
Benito looked back at Alicia and winked at her. She smiled. Part of her hoped he wouldn’t get the job, though he needed it. He had always been more boots and hard hats than suits and dress shoes. An eight-to-five tied to a desk and phone would be hard enough for him even without working for his brother. Living under Robert’s roof and having to report to him might prove torturous.
Alicia took her phone out, searched for DEATH/GRIP image macros, and found one of a man pretending to reach for a lone slice of pizza. He seized his left wrist with his right hand as if to restrain it. He bugged his eyes and drew his lips back in an exaggerated expression of horror. The text at the top of the image read, “NO! I PROMISED MY WIFE THE LAST SLICE!” At the bottom was the most quoted line of the movie. “IT’S NOT ME, IT’S THE DEATH/GRIP!”
Alicia texted the image to her father. A few seconds later Benito laughed, a sputtering, breathy sound that made him sound like an old engine that ran on air.
“What’re you laughing at?” Robert asked.
“You wouldn’t like it,” Benito said.
“Well, I hope you get all your laughs out now before the interview. Unless you’re trying to tank it.”
Benito reached over to put a reassuring stump on his brother’s shoulder. Because there was no hand at the end of Benito’s wrist, just a smooth nub. “Come on, Robert,” Benito said, “don’t you think I can handle it?”
Robert grunted and bit his lip to keep from saying anything. He hated any mention of his brother’s long-lost, amputated hand. This just made Benito smile wider. He turned to wink at Alicia again. She was happy to see him happy. She tried to picture him maintaining that happiness while sitting two cubicles down from Robert for eight hours a day, but instead saw the knot of his tie sloppy and loosened, his antiperspirant failing him as one customer after another rejected his sales pitch.
Then she imagined him sneaking a glimpse at the latest DEATH/GRIP meme on his cell and stifling his laughter, and figured that would get him through each day. She shouldn’t worry about him so much, though it was hard not to.
The author of the book that DEATH/GRIP was based on wrote a blog post disowning the adaptation before its release. Many people online—even discounting the ever-present misogynist sect—deemed her an ingrate. Then rumors surfaced about how the film differed so much from the novel that it would only have character names and the basic concept in common. Then the first trailer showcased a less satirical and more somber tone than the novel. Finally, the film had its festival debut and early reviews characterized it as not merely bad, but gloriously so, on a level that only a failed message-horror film about a psychosomatic epidemic could reach.
Jokes at the film’s expense didn’t explode until the movie left theaters and came to streaming services. Its viewership leapt, making it an even larger target. Soon, the DEATH/GRIP Challenge meme was born.
Take a picture of yourself using your strong hand to keep your weak hand doing something evil. The more mundane the evil, the funnier the image. Add the appropriate text and you were now part of the viral image macro sensation of the moment.
Alicia found a handful of the images amusing, usually those where people took a more creative approach to restraining their weak hand. Nimbly holding it underfoot or securing the thumb and forefinger with Chinese finger cuffs, for example. Most of the jokes were too obvious to be funny. The masturbation jokes grew stale within a day a two, as did most of the jokes about reaching for other indulgences, unhealthy foods, alcoholic drinks, and drug paraphernalia, mostly. The more politically inclined took pictures of their rogue hand reaching for any book espousing an ideology they despised.
Despite typically being above such silliness, Alicia had to participate. Her friend Sam took a picture of Alicia in a store, reaching with her left hand for a DVD copy of DEATH/GRIP. The top text stated, “NO! MY HAND THINKS PHYSICAL MEDIA IS STILL RELEVANT!”
At the bottom was the requisite quote: “IT’S NOT ME, IT’S THE DEATH/GRIP!”
She shared it and it briefly trended after DEATH/GRIP’s lead actress reposted it, stating, “Okay, this one’s not bad.”
When she showed her dad how many likes and comments her post had received he beamed like he was watching her walk the graduation stage two years early.
“You don’t think it’s a little strange?” Emily Oliveira said to her daughter over dinner. “He shares these images all day. It’s a little much.”
“He’s just trying to stay sane at work,” Alicia said. Benito had been offered the job at Robert’s office immediately after his interview and started work the next day, a Wednesday. He posted two memes on the morning of his first day and three more in the afternoon. The next day he shared seven. Ten that Friday, more over the weekend, and even more when he was back to work on Monday. Yesterday, his fifth day on the job, he posted sixteen images and two videos during office hours, which Alicia figured had to be against policy. Was he trying to get fired?
Or was he just trying to keep his spirits up? Since he’d started working with Robert, he wasn’t as upbeat in the car after school. He needed an outlet, and his missing hand was one of his favorite things to joke about. Something he had to joke about to keep from raging. DEATH/GRIP and its associated challenge seemed uniquely suited to his circumstance and sense of humor.
His posts were getting grimmer because the challenge itself had taken a turn. People had graduated from restraining their rogue hand to pretending to punish it. Close-up images of damaged dummy hands—stabbed, burned, or broken—trended for a few days. Next came videos, the most popular being a man pretending to fry his hand on the stove. The video’s creator insisted it was authentic, despite the hand looking like a ten-dollar Halloween decoration.
It was still all meant to be funny, so Alicia wasn’t more concerned about her father than she normally was.
“Wait, you’re still following him on social?” Alicia said.
“Of course,” Emily said. “We’re still friends in real life, why not online?”
Alicia shook her head. “You should let him move on.”
“It was his idea.”
“Then you should both disconnect to let the other one move on.”
Emily’s brow furrowed and her head tilted as she prepared to go into a lecture, but she caught herself, took a breath, and relaxed. “You know, most kids in your position try to keep their parents together.”
“It’s way too late for that, isn’t it?” Alicia said.
“Well … yes, but that’s not the point.”
“If you weren’t going to stay together because I exist, you aren’t going to get back together because I say please.”
Emily sighed and looked at her phone. Alicia pushed some food around her plate with her fork. After a brief silence, Emily gasped and nearly threw her phone across the counter.
“What is it?” Alicia said.
Emily gave Alicia her phone.
The video Benito had shared was titled, “DEATH/GRIP Challenge Gets Real for This Guy.” In the thirty-second clip a man knelt on top of his left hand, pinning it on the floor. The fingers twitched and stretched as though trying to free themselves. He held a hunting knife in his right hand. As he brought the knife down the fingers tried to curl away from the blade.
The man sawed off his fingertips in two strokes. The blood and bits looked real enough, but Alicia was sure it was fake, as it came from the internet, which had an endless supply of false quotes, debunked claims, Photoshopped pictures, and faked videos. What bothered Alicia about the video was that her father had shared it. It wasn’t silly or audacious enough for him to find it funny. Maybe the man in the video said something that made her dad laugh?
She turned up the volume on the phone as the video neared its end. The man raised his bleeding fingers to the camera and said, “Had to show it I was serious. Bet it won’t go rogue on me again.”
“Jesus, Dad, I hope you didn’t think that was funny,” Alicia said.
“Funny?” Emily said. “That’s awful. See? I told you it was getting strange.”
“You really want ‘I told you so’ points right now?”
“Could you talk to him about it when you see him, please? I would, but if I brought it up it would turn into an entirely different discussion.”
“Sure,” Alicia said. “I’ll ask him about it tomorrow.”
“And tell me what you find out. I just … I’d like to know.”
“You’re really worried about him.”
“Just because you stop getting along with someone doesn’t mean you stop caring about them,” Emily said.
The video didn’t last a day on the major social platforms—didn’t last an hour on many of them—but in that time had already been viewed or heard of by enough people to become an inescapable story. Harold Pritchard of Portland, Oregon. Forty-nine years old, married, two daughters, owner of a small engine repair service. Nothing was known yet about what might have motivated an ostensibly ordinary, successful man to do what he’d done. That didn’t stop the speculation. He had slapped his wife or one of his children. He’d groped his secretary. He was a hardcore fundamentalist punishing himself for onanism, because no matter how played out it was, the masturbation jokes would not die.
Alicia didn’t care about Harold Pritchard. She cared about her father. She’d see him today after school. Until then, she’d have to wait and wonder. She didn’t want to text him about the video, or even about how his day had gone. It was too easy to misinterpret a text. Even easier to ignore one.
At school, her classmates were back in on the DEATH/GRIP Challenge, which had been on the doorstep of becoming last month’s meme before Harold Pritchard’s video. The question was not whether copycats would follow, but how far they would go.
“How long before someone really cuts their hand off?” Sam said. She sat with Alicia and Candice at the concrete benches in the courtyard during lunch.
“Another month, maybe,” Candice said.
“Another month?” Sam said. “Hell no. End of the week. Probably some guy from Florida.”
“It’s Wednesday. You think somebody’s going to go from zero to hand-off that quick?”
“Have you seen how crazy people are? Because people are capital-‘cray’ crazy. You never know what anybody’s going to do, except that you always know that somebody is going to do the worst sooner or later. With this, it’s going to be sooner.”
Candice shook her head. “I don’t know. This guy just took his fingertips off. I could see somebody cutting some tendons or something, and then maybe working up to a pinky. Not their whole hand. Like if I lost my pinky tomorrow, that wouldn’t be good, obvi, but after a while I’d just be like, ‘Oh well.’ I’d miss it, but I wouldn’t really miss it. But your whole hand? I feel like that would really suck.”
“It really would,” Alicia said flatly. Her friends looked at her, waited for her to say more. She knew they expected her to make a joke. She wasn’t sensitive about her dad’s hand. She shared his lightheartedness about it, but she wasn’t feeling that today. She wasn’t mad at her friends' jokes either, she was just worried about her dad.
Robert picked her up after school.
“Is Dad okay?” Alicia said.
“He went straight to the guest room when we got home,” Robert said. “Said he wasn’t feeling well. I asked him if he wanted to come and he said he didn’t want to get you sick.”
It reeked of a lie, but Alicia just said, “Oh.” Less than a year ago, just before the divorce, Benito had picked her up one day as he always did, despite persistent sniffles and a dry cough. Alicia had called him Patient Zero and Typhoid Benny. He replied that he was suffering through the earliest stage of viral zombification and asked if she had it in her to put him down before he turned.
“Only if we make it as dramatic as possible,” she had said.
Benito had smiled. “Well, tell your mother I love her very much.”
“And tell your father he was one of the greats.”
“Don’t make me lie, damn you.”
“Fine. Then promise me you’ll tell your uncle he’s an asshole.”
“But … but I—“
“But I already tell him every day!”
It hadn’t been the first time they’d run that particular joke gauntlet when he’d been sick. Illness had never prevented him from sharing a laugh with her, much less sharing time. Either he was very sick, despite appearing healthy just yesterday, or something else was wrong.
Robert would not have lied about Benito being unwell, Alicia knew, but she wanted to blame him for her dad not being here. Hearing him refer to her dad’s room as “the guest room” had annoyed her. At least Robert had stopped referring to it as “my guest room.” A small change, but it was progress.
After a quiet car ride to Robert’s house, Alicia went straight to Benito’s room. She opened the door without knocking and found him in bed, atop the covers, phone in hand.
He turned to her. “Bobbito didn’t tell you I’m sick, kiddo?”
“He did, but I wanted to see you. You don’t look that sick. Do you need me to make you some soup or something?”
“I can make my own soup. Which, I guess, means you’re right, I’m not really that sick after all.”
“I didn’t say you weren’t, I said you didn’t look—”
“I know what you said, and I know what you meant,” Benito said. “Your dad’s not quite as dumb as you think, kiddo.”
“I’ve never thought that.”
“First time for everything. Anyway, you didn’t come in here to offer me soup, so what’s on your mind? It’s about what I posted last night, isn’t it?”
Alicia sat beside him on the bed.
“What’s going on with you?” she said. “I’m worried. Mom’s worried, too.”
“I bet she is.”
“Don’t do that. She really is. Probably even Uncle Rob. Is it the job? If you don’t want to work with him, you should tell him. I don’t think anyone would blame you. You can always find another job.”
He scoffed at the last part, though not with contempt, but like he was swatting away an unearned compliment. “If I had known that sharing that video would be a big deal to you and your mom, I wouldn’t have done it. Hell, it’s not like it’s the worst one I could have posted. You should see some of the others.”
“Others?” Alicia said. “Where are you seeing other videos like that?”
“Dark web. I’m in deep.”
“I joined a group for people like me. We watch them together.”
“You mean other people missing a hand?” she said, speaking as frankly to him about it as he had always told her to. “Mom always thought you should join a support group. Mind if I tell her you’re finally taking her advice?”
“She wouldn’t approve of this group. We’re probably a little more fringe than what she had in mind.”
“Fringe like what? Militant?”
“Yeah. You ever heard of the Black Hand?” he said. “Well, we’re the Lack Hand.”
“Enough with the jokes. Especially when they’re that bad.”
“Okay. It’s just a little private group for anyone missing a part of themselves. A foot, or an ear, or anything else. We’re inclusive like that. And we all have our own stories about how we lost what we lost and why we have a right to feel bitter about it. The group was created by a psychotherapist who lost her right arm because of a drunk driver. She talks about how it’s important for us to see every side of this. Some of us can laugh at it, some of us want to cry. Some feel mad enough to fight, or worse. The doc says it’s important for us all to experience all of those emotions. She started sharing some of the self-harm videos with us a couple of days ago. She said it was good for us to get a jump on seeing them before they go viral. We can see them in our own supportive little space and get all our feelings out about it. I even get to talk about how mad it makes me sometimes. I’ve never been able to really talk about that with anyone. Not even your mom.”
“You could talk to me,” Alicia said.
“I’m not going to burden you with that, kiddo.”
“I’m not really a kid anymore,” Alicia said.
“I guess not. And maybe I wasn’t all that sick today either, but I sure didn’t feel well. Still don’t.”
“Well, sitting alone in the dark won’t help. Let’s turn a light on. Maybe even get you into the living room where there are some windows.”
“Hey, we could watch that DEATH/GRIP movie, I hear it’s funny.”
“Kidding. Let’s see what’s on Food Network. That never lets me down. Bobbito might even join us.”
“We’re sure we want that?”
“Be nice. He got me a job. I’m officially no longer a deadbeat.”
“You never were,” Alicia said.
Robert indeed joined them in the living room to watch television, and was in a relatively good mood for a little while.
“I always wanted to take a cooking class,” he said at the end of the second show they watched. “Ben, if I signed up for one would you come with me?”
“Maybe,” Benito said. “As long as they’ll give us a little space to learn on our own. You know I like a hands-off approach.”
Robert’s face turned sour, and for once Alicia wished her father had shown a little restraint instead of needling her uncle.
“Don’t you ever get tired of that?” Robert said. “I know I do.”
Benito held his stump toward his brother. “Hey, Bobbito. I’m giving you a thumbs up, not a middle finger. Promise.”
They continued watching television together for another hour, but hardly a word passed between them.
A yoga instructor from Charlotte posted a forty-second video in which she broke the fingers of her left hand one at a time.
In South Dakota, a construction worker with a nailgun put seven shots through his left hand.
A left-handed lawyer in San Francisco wrapped a string of firecrackers around his trembling right hand and lit the fuse.
None of these videos stayed long on the most popular sharing sites, but they were still easy to find.
Alicia had viewed these videos and dozens more. Seeing each person’s bad hand convulse and cower almost convinced her that something more than mental illness or hysteria possessed these victims. It was as if the collective attention given to the film had pulled DEATH/GRIP’s psychosomatic epidemic into the real world.
The alternative theory floating online was that Harold Pritchard’s severed fingertips had been a blood sacrifice that brought the DEATH/GRIP disease to life. Alicia made herself laugh this notion off each time it popped into her head, just as she made herself find and watch each of these videos as they appeared on LiveLeak or other shock sites. It was the only way she could keep tabs on what she knew her father was watching.
Benito hadn’t responded to her text messages or calls for a week. She had asked her mother if she’d heard from him, and Emily had said, “I was going to ask you the same thing.” The only information Alicia had on her father came from Robert, who picked her up from school on the appointed days, passing along that her father wasn’t up for a visit.
“He still isn’t feeling well?” she said.
“I think he’s tired from adjusting to the job. It’s an earlier wakeup than he’s been used to. He doesn’t look sick when I see him at the office.”
“You don’t see him at the house?”
“Not much. He stays in the room. I think he’s just getting extra sleep.”
Alicia didn’t ask for more details. Robert sounded concerned, but not so much that he’d say more than, “Ben will be fine,” if she pressed him.
She endured her father’s silence until she was awakened after midnight by a phone call. When she saw her father’s smiling face on the Caller ID she snapped out of her grogginess and answered.
“Nothing’s wrong,” he said.
“You avoid me for a week and then you call me out of the blue this late? Bullshit there’s nothing wrong.”
“Don’t ‘hey’ me. I’ve been out of my mind worried about you.”
“I’m sorry. I didn’t mean to upset you. I’ll call back later—“
“Wait,” she said, her heart pounding. “I’m sorry. Please don’t hang up.”
“I wasn’t avoiding you,” Benito said. “I’ve just been busier than usual.”
“I get it. You’re back to work.”
“Yeah, there’s that. And there’s been other stuff.”
“The group I told you about,” Benito said. “They’re really helping me with some overdue therapy. I won’t bore you with details. Plus I don’t want you to hear your old man sounding weak.”
“Don’t worry about that. You can tell me anything.”
“Your mother has a foot fetish.”
“What? Oh, gross, Dad!”
“You said ‘anything.’” He laughed, but it didn’t sound natural. “Seriously, I’m sorry for not getting back to you before now. I don’t have a good reason. And I don’t have one for calling so late, either. I just needed to let you know that your dad’s okay. You shouldn’t be worrying about me, kiddo.”
“Of course I should, I’m always going to worry about you.”
“Well, then I did a shit job of parenting. Kids aren’t supposed to worry about parents. It should be the other way around. So I’m sorry about that.”
“Stop apologizing. I didn’t mean—“
“Look, just tell me that you’re not going to worry about me. Do me that little favor. Just have a little belief in your old man this once.”
“I’ve always believed in you. I always will.”
“All right then,” he said, and she heard the smile in his voice. “That’s all I needed to hear.”
Alicia lay awake the rest of the night, wondering if her father was awake too, sacrificing sleep to watch more videos and chat with the people in his support group.
In the morning she told her mother she didn’t feel like going to school. Emily saw the fatigue under Alicia’s eyes and said, “Are you coming down with something?”
“Just tired,” Alicia said.
“Need me to stay home with you?”
“I’ll be fine. I’m going to try to get some sleep. Just need to try to rest some.”
Emily looked at her suspiciously, like she didn’t trust whatever ailed her. “I’ll take a long lunch to come check on you. If you need anything before that, you call me right away. I mean it.”
“I’ll be fine,” Alicia said.
After her mother left, Alicia tried to get to sleep for close to an hour. It was almost a relief when her phone rang. She picked it up and saw her mother on the caller ID.
“Hey … hey, did I wake you?” Her mother sounded out of breath, but not tired.
“No. I’m still trying to get to sleep.”
“Oh. Okay. Okay. You should do that. I’m on the way home now and—”
“—I’ll stop and get you something to help you sleep, all right?”
Alicia sat up in bed. “Mom, what’s wrong?”
“Nothing, honey. I’ll be home in a bit.”
“You’re lying. I can tell something’s wrong. If something happened you have to tell me.” It occurred to her that it could only be one thing. “Is it Dad? Did he call you? Is he okay?”
“Just try to rest for now. I’ll be home in a minute and we’ll talk then.”
Alicia’s phone buzzed with a new notification. She looked at it hoping to see a text from her dad, an immediate sign that he was okay and that her mother was being cryptic over something less consequential. Instead she saw a headline that read, First Fatality of DEATH/GRIP Delusion?.
“Are you still there?” Emily said. “Alicia, what are you doing? Talk to me.”
Alicia set her phone down. She didn’t hang up to click on the link in the notification. Her mother would just keep calling back to interrupt her. Instead she opened the drawer of her nightstand and took out her tablet.
The link brought her to a news site. A disclaimer at the top of the page warned: DISTURBING AND GRAPHIC CONTENT. In the center of the screen was a video thumbnail featuring her father’s smiling face.
She tapped the “play” icon.
The warning at the top of the page repeated within the video, then her father appeared facing the camera. She recognized the painting behind him from her uncle’s dining room. She heard a stifled whimper coming from somewhere off-screen.
“Hello, everyone,” Benito said. Dark circles hung under his eyes. His lips were chapped and his hair uncombed. “I’m Benito Oliveira, and I’m here to tell whoever needs to hear it that you’ve got it wrong. You see this?”
He showed his stump.
“I’d give a lot to get this back. Not an arm and a leg, obviously.” He laughed as hard as he could, which amounted to a breathless cough. “But I’d give up a lot. And here you’ve got all these people destroying something that I had taken from me. For what? Because of a ‘challenge’ inspired by a stupid movie? No, it’s something deeper. I think we’re all starting to understand now. Something very real is happening to some of us. But for those of you who think it’s a ‘challenge’ that you have to resist, that you need to maim yourselves to keep from doing something bad, you’re wrong. You should just follow whatever this is. It’s leading you to do something that will make you whole. In some cases, you know, in spirit, and in other cases literally. The good news is it’s not too late for any of us. I’ll prove it in just a moment.
“But let’s back up a second. I introduced myself. Let me introduce someone else.”
Benito turned the camera to show Robert seated at the end of the table, bound to a chair by rope and duct tape. A long strip of duct tape encircled his head to keep his mouth covered. Bruises marked his eyes and cheeks. A lazy stream of blood dribbled down his forehead.
“Dad, what did you do?” Alicia said.
Benito turned the camera back to himself. “That’s my brother Roberto. Mom called him Bobbito, but he wanted to be called Robert. And Robert is the kind of man who thinks he should always get what he wants. Even if it’s a woman at a bar who’s not interested. It doesn’t matter that she’s with some guys who’ve told him to back off. He doesn’t care. He wants what he wants and he’ll fight for it. Even if he’s so bad at fighting he’d lose to a one-handed man.” Another dry laugh.
“But sometimes you pick a fight with somebody who’s even more drunk and reckless than you, and they aren’t interested in talking shit and fighting fair. They’re willing to take it to another level. They got a big knife on ‘em, and they’ve been waiting for a moment like this.
“Now if you’re Robert’s brother, you know he’s an asshole, but you don’t think he deserves to get stabbed. So you step in, and in the course of things your hand gets so chopped up that the doctors can’t save it, so they amputate. But at least you saved your brother, right? You did the right thing.
“And in all the years that pass you don’t have any regrets. You just want one time to hear your brother say, ‘I’m sorry.’”
The whimpering grew louder, became a plea, and Alicia knew that her uncle was trying to say the words that might have saved him a week ago.
“Or how about, ‘Thank you,’” Benito said. “That would’ve been appropriate. Instead the best you get is, ‘I didn’t mean for that to happen.’ Like it was an accident, and I’m the jerk for holding a grudge. Because that’s the kind of man Robert is. He never wanted to say thanks or apologize, so he didn’t, and I made myself think that was okay and that I shouldn’t hold a grudge. I never yelled about it. I never gave him the silent treatment. I never told him to let me get one clean punch to his stupid mouth. Hell, I even tried to make fun of it to convince him—and myself—that I wasn’t angry. He wouldn’t even get in on the jokes.
“Anyway, enough about that. You just needed to know why I’m going to do what I’m going to do. But here’s how it relates to the ‘challenge.’ The DEATH/GRIP.”
Benito tilted the camera down to show an empty black leather glove on the table. With his right hand he opened the cuff of the glove, then slid his left wrist in just enough to be covered.
“Like I said, something real is happening to people. All these people hurting themselves feel it. They know. But they’re misguided. They think it’s a bad thing, when it’s really a blessing.
“For those of you wondering why I’m using the glove for this, my therapist suggested using a visualization aid. I’ve tried it without the glove and it doesn’t work as well. And I know that because of this a lot of you are going to say this is fake. I don’t care. You don’t have to believe it. I know one person who believes in me, and that’s all I need.”
Alicia trembled. Don’t put this on me. I didn’t put my faith in you for you to do this with it.
Benito reached with his right hand for something off-screen and brought back a chef’s knife. He placed its handle in the palm of the glove and waited.
The glove’s pinky twitched, then curled over the handle. The ring finger curled over the knife next, then the middle and forefinger in tandem. The thumb closed over them all to secure the grip.
Benito turned the camera to Robert, who screamed through the duct tape and fought with his restraints. Robert rocked in the chair until he knocked himself over. Benito was upon him by then. Alicia was grateful that the table obscured the act, though it was impossible not to tell what was happening. Flecks of blood flew against the wall each time Benito brought his hand up. Alicia started counting the strikes because it seemed the only sane thing to do. She made it to sixteen before her father stopped, and he’d been over halfway through before she’d started counting.
Benito approached the camera and held out his gloved fist, still tight around the knife. With his right hand he pulled at the cuff of the glove to remove it. The glove lost hold of the knife and flopped to the table.
Benito stared at the place where his left hand had been. “That was me,” he said. “All of me.” Tears filled his eyes.
Alicia dipped her head and fought tears of her own. She wished she could disbelieve what she’d seen. But this was her father as he really was. The full version of himself that he didn’t want to burden her with, not just the man who had made her laugh when he didn’t make her worry. She had said he could tell her anything. This was everything.
Her thumb drifted over the video’s “replay” icon and tapped the screen.