The darkness was total and immense. A presence. It was a hand clamped onto the shoulder of his soul. He sat in the cage and tried to ignore the small tickling legs of things that ran over his skin in the night. When the light came, it came in stabs and small incisions. Stabs to bring food or to bring pain. Needles of light just to check on him. To say 'goodnight, you little faggot'.
His mother had died. That was the last thing that had made any sense. She was sick for a long time, and then she died, prune-skinned and grey. And then his father started to drink and smoke and, suddenly, he was a different man. The first beating was incomprehensible. He could hear the whistle of the belt louder than he could hear his own screams.
The cage was small. Made for inside dogs so they could shit outside without supervision. He could not stand in the cage, so it was almost with relief that he greeted the beatings. He could stand, and the belt brought feeling back into his legs. He had lost his relationship with physical pain. It did not register as pain anymore. He hoped to god the man would kill him.
He tried in the beginning.
"Dad, this is not you. You need help...please...I know..."
"Fuck you, you faggot piece of shit."
"Dad, Mom died. You did everything you could."
"That whore? I'm glad she's dead. That dirty backstabbing bitch. I'd kill her myself if she was here now."
"That's wrong...Dad. You loved her. She loved you. You love ME!"
None of it registered. All of it made things worse. The night he had tried to really get through, his father beat him until he could barely see. His eyes swam in a white half-conscious haze.
He was bent over a table and his old man was beating him with a golf club. He was numb from the waist down. Naked from the waist down. He squinted and saw a pen near the edge of the table. He reached for it. The whistle preceding the explosion in his hand was exquisite. His flesh opened and his bones cracked. The hits kept coming and he drifted in and out of darkness. In his mind, he was in the past. He was in the backyard with his parents and they were cooking out. Everything was so achingly normal.
He sat up through the blinding tracers and saw his father slumped in a chair sucking from a bottle of whiskey. He looked scared. Then, Ben looked at the floor around him. So much blood. Too much. He felt his head lighten and swallowed hard. He could feel the warm ooze of blood out of his head and nose, creeping toward his chest.
He laughed. He laughed until he was on his side coughing up thick, red blood.
"You did it, you know? You goddamn son of a bitch."
"I'm going to die. Tonight."
"No, fuck you. I loved her, too. Fuck you. She was my fucking mom."
"You shut your goddamn..."
His head fell to his chest, and Ben felt himself slipping into a dream so dense and thick that he knew he would never leave it. He wanted to live...so, he could explain what had happened. So his dad would get better again. But he knew he wouldn't. Some things stay broken. By dawn, he was dead, and flies swarmed over the smell of blood and whiskey breath.