Whisper to Me - Nick Lake

I was—

Okay. Okay.

Okay, so it’s not like you need me to introduce you to Oakwood, New Jersey, or to the boardwalk or the amusement park. I mean, you weren’t born here like me, but you know every street in this town.

The day it all began was a Sunday. I spent most of the day in my room, reading. Me and my dad never used to hang out or anything, even on the days when he wasn’t at the restaurant.

You’ve never been in my room. It’s not very interesting: there’s a bed, clothes on the floor, old posters on the wall from when I used to be into horses. I’ve never taken them down. All along two walls are bookshelves my dad built for me. There are piles of books on the floor too.

Late afternoon, I felt like getting out of the house. When I came down, Dad was in his den at the back, next to the kitchen—I could hear him moving around in there, feeding his pets, or something.

“Where are you going?”

That was Dad, calling to me as I passed.

I leaned in the door. “Beach, maybe,” I said. I had my sketch pad, and I felt like finding something to draw down there.

In Dad’s room, glass tanks ran along the wall, glowing with yellow and blue light. Twigs and branches in them, moss. And if you got too close—which I didn’t like to do—you could see creepy things. A praying mantis. Centipedes.

Dad was in the corner, at his computer, peering at the screen. Hunched over, his muscled shoulders tight. He’s spreading a bit in the middle now, but he’s still strong, still tough. Once I saw him pick up a full trash can—one of the big wheeled ones—and move it, without thinking, so that he could mow a patch of our yard. I don’t think it even occurred to him to roll it.

“Don’t be late,” he said. “Not with that guy around.”

“What guy?”

“The guy. The Houdini Killer.”

“Dad,” I said. “It’s still light out.”

He shrugged. “Don’t be late.”

“What are you doing anyway?” I asked.

“There’s a guy on the forum got some beautiful Tonkinbolus from Koh Chang, Thailand—he went there and collected them himself, you believe that? Anyway, he’s selling them, fifty bucks a piece. Blue-and-reds, fire-legs. Amazing.”

Oh: this is something you need to know.

There are forums for people who collect bugs. I know. It’s unbelievable, isn’t it? And these people have little avatars that say whether they’re newbies or Grand Master Bug Collectors or whatever, and signatures every time they post that tell you how many different bugs they have, and the names of them all, and sometimes some kind of generic inspirational quote that has nothing to do with bugs as far as I can see. My dad’s list has a lot of bugs on it.

“What’s a Tonk—whatever you said?”

He shook his head at me, like my ignorance on the topic of bugs was a great disappointment to him. “Millipede.”

“Right,” I said. “Anyway, see you later.”

“Millipedes are ancient creatures,” he said. “They’re survivors. When threatened, they roll into a ball, protect themselves, you know that?”

“Yeah,” I said. “You told me.”

“Okay. So don’t be late.”

I nodded and turned to leave—he was already facing the screen again, typing something on the keyboard. Then he smacked his fist down on the table.

“And clean your ******** room, Cass. I’m not going to ********* tell you a-*******-gain.”

This is living with my dad:

He says nothing nothing nothing nothing all day long

and then sometimes he says millipedes blah centipedes blah stick insects blah blah blah

and then


like a camera going off, he hits you with something like that.

The only good thing is he doesn’t actually hit me. Like, with his fists. Just with his words.

It isn’t like he doesn’t have excuses, for his anger. I have to admit. His wounds, I’m talking about: the ones you can see and the ones you can’t. He didn’t have armor, like a millipede; he couldn’t roll himself into a ball. We’ll get to that later.

Also, he curses a lot. And I don’t really feel comfortable with writing down those words so I’m using stars, which I like, because it means when he’s really, really pissed—and that will happen later in this story—the page will be filled with stars, like a constellation.

I got out of there quickly, left him with his stupid forum. I went out into the little front yard with its grass brown already, even though it was only May, and over a month of school still to go. It