I forced her to grab one of the other knives from the kitchen drawer and we proceeded. The garage was rarely used by my mother or me, so we approached via the side door rather than the main entrance used for the car simply because we were most accustomed to going in that way. The handle had a neatly constructed little spider web stretching from the tip onto the roughcast wall. It was precise, and newly drawn, with morning dew dripping from the edges. The spider was nowhere in sight and for a brief second I felt guilty destroying this piece of work. After all, if my father was in there, undead, we’d slam the door behind us, call the Preservation and never, ever, turn that handle again. The garage was his space, his domain. He was an electrician by trade but was also keen on building things and learning skills, and I couldn’t have brought myself to touch his tools or his work area if the worst had happened. That spider could build a web any day after that and it’d be perfectly happy in its existence.
I had to break the silk. My hand dangled there for a lifetime before I quickly spun the knob to the left and jumped back two steps. My mother stood behind me, staring into the darkness. Droplets of dew fell into the black space. No-one emerged.
“Dad? Dad? Dad? Dad? Dad?” I must have called his name a thousand times, but I couldn’t walk through the door. The not knowing was agonising but the answer could have been even more so. I continued to call out. My mother cried, the kind of cry where the face is contorted, but there’s no energy to be audible or recognisable, instead just waiting to accept the very worst fate.
I eventually edged closer, my mother so close behind I could feel her irregular breathing on my neck. The dawn light flooded the room but there was no staggering figure. To the right I could make out my father’s workbench and various tools hanging neatly on the wall, as normal. To my left was his estate car, a Volvo almost as old as me. There was a gap of about six or seven feet from where we stood, next to his tools, over to the bonnet of the vehicle. Still no-one was in sight. As we looked at each other, unsure what to do, the main garage door to the back of the vehicle began to roll up and open, allowing light to cascade in. We were startled, and even more so when the headlights of the Volvo flashed on, illuminating our shadow on the garage wall behind us but blinding us to the extent that we couldn’t see anything but white.
The engine started.
The car rolled back into the driveway, through the garage entrance. My mother and I, I recall it as vividly as any moment I’ve experienced, froze to the spot with tears gathering in our eyes.
The car jolted to a stop in the driveway about twenty feet from us and the engine and lights went off. Our eyesight adjusted as the car door opened and my father emerged, slowly, with his hands clearly in view, like a criminal in a police shoot-out. He may as well as well have been handcuffed.
He called out our names. He urged us to stay exactly where we were. He was staring in our direction, but the arm of his jacket shielded his face from us.
He rhymed off my date of birth, my middle name, my favourite film, food, movie star. He told my mother the date that they had met, the day they had been married, their honeymoon in Venice, the day I had been born, details that only a loved one would remember. He lowered the arm of his jacket. His eyes were white, like one of them. But he didn’t attack. He kept his distance. He promised us he remembered us. Remembered himself. He was healthy and urged us not to attack. He was fine.
What were we to do?
We cowered back into the garage wall until we almost merged with the brickwork. This was purgatory of the worst kind. An undefinable element of NZ that we had been assured was impossible. The kind of situation never encountered or discussed. But here it was.