“Hush Honey, And Give Daddy Back His War Hammer”

The kids were exuberant, and very loud – it was movie night, after all. The smell of freshly popped popcorn filled the family room. Anticipation of enjoying another movie together hung in the air.  Joyous escapism for the children, and a much needed escape for him, though the magic of the old ritual had begun its waning long ago. He’d long ago resigned himself to much-less-than-optimal movie-watching conditions: with children such luxuries became a thing of the past.

He retrieved the remote control, slick from potato chip-greasy fingers, and paused the movie just as the opening titles appeared on-screen. “Just a minute, guys.” He stood and left the room, to exaggerated groans from the children and gentle admonishments from his wife. He left them with the movie’s title looming before them in bold letters, an old action film from his youth entitled, appropriately, Escape From Detroit.

When he returned a moment later, he was carrying a sledgehammer. He’d taken it down from the shelf in the garage where it hung alone, separated, as if respectfully – reverentially – from the myriad of other tools he’d acquired over his years as a handyman. He cradled it across his chest like a cherished object.

His wife eyed him comically, smiling. She’d always enjoyed his antics, the way he’d never forgotten his youth, and how that allowed him to understand the minds of their children, and often – too often, she thought ruefully – allowed him to communicate with them on a deeper level than she was able.

Seeing the immense tool, his children erupted joyously. “Daddy, lets knock down a house!” “That belongs in the garage, daddy!” “Ew, that’s gross – it’s all dirty! Get it away from me!”

He wrinkled his brow at them; he adored his girls. They were their mother’s daughters through and through, girly-girls as far as possible from anything resembling the tom-boy he might have preferred; but still he adored them.

Little Erwin scurried to his father’s side and succeeded in extricating the sledgehammer from his fingers. His father allowed him to take it, though the sheer weight of the tool nearly toppled the child.

“I’m Conan!” roared Erwin, trying without success to heft the sledgehammer. “I shall vanquish thee!” He was a good boy, a voracious reader of comic books – barbarian titles in particular. Conan the Cimmerian was, wisely, his favorite pulp hero. The boy’s father smiled, proud of his son emulating his own enthusiasm for the pulps. A pang of sadness touched his heart as he watched the antics of the child, so innocent, so oblivious to the darkness breathing at the walls between which they nestled together. He knew no fears or sadness, the world still held magic in its secret cracks.

“Hush darlings,” came his wife’s gentle reprimand. “And give daddy back his hammer. Maybe he needs to fix something so we can start the movie.”

He took the sledgehammer from his son. With it in his fists, he turned to the couch. His family was gathered there, a family in a place and time where perhaps even a whole tribe might not have stood a chance. He examined his wife, her quizzical, amused expression, her sexy body in her around-the-house jogging pants and faded Nike tank top. He loved her very much, had from the day they’d begun dating while still in school together. The fault didn’t lie with her at all, the world was as it was because it was the world.

He raised the sledgehammer high on the air – like a barbarian king claiming a crown, like Thor summoning the power of storms into his steadfast Mjolnir – and he smote it downward onto his wife’s head, killing her instantly.

The children shrieked in chorus. He continued striking his dead wife amid the monkey-like clamor of his children. Over and over and over again he struck her with the cement head of the hammer, pulverizing her skull, her face, her hands and arms, and chest and legs. He pounded her remains like a character of myth might smite an eternity of enemies, until his hands ached and burned with the efforts, and there was little left but the red dust of her bones filling the ragged heap of her clothing. Even then, he continued his relentless assault upon the lump of red-stained jogging suit, demolishing the sofa upon which her remains lay, until it too lay in ruins on the carpet and a cloud of blood-tinged dust darkened the air.

He turned to the children then, each of whom was frozen with shock and terror, and, one by one, turned them into bloody raw dust too.

Only when his family was no more, long and deep into the wee hours, an eternity of hammer-blows later, did he pause, breathing heavily, sweat drenching his shuddering body, his fingers and palms blistered and bleeding from his work, tears streaming down his cheeks.

“Finally,” he said, into the huge silence of the room. “A small peace. Sleep forever, darlings.”

He cocked an ear toward the window, listening. The muted sound of a car driving past on the rain-wet street came to him; the Autumn wind gusting through the eaves, rattling the elm’s branches in the yard; the distant murmur like thunder from the city, where something like a dark storm brewed.

He stood still a moment, head hung low, focusing his thoughts, gathering strength inside his mind, his heart.

“Yes, your Angel is ready,” he said through the tears in his eyes, raising his head and striding to the door.

He let himself into the night, entering the misty streets to finish his task of bringing the world to the dust from which it might one day rise again — remade, innocent, better than what was before.