“Daniel” – A short story


The image used in this story was created using ChatGPT4 DALL-E. There are some issues with it, such as rain appearing inside the room, but it is an interesting exploration of AI Art, so I decided to keep it. Now, on with the story…


I was sitting in the lounge room watching TV with my parents. It was like any other night. Everything was dusty, and apart from a lounge suite, the television, and a large clock hanging precariously on the wall, the room was empty. I could hear the clock ticking and the rain falling outside, drumming against the tin fence that was near the window. Almost paper thin, the windows let the cold in and the heat out, even though the curtains were drawn. I always thought the glass panes would break if heavy raindrops hit them too hard. We were watching one of those true-crime docos about a serial killer in a small country town in America.

Nothing unusual. Just a regular night at home. Then the dog started to growl.

Thud, thud, thud. Three pounding knocks in quick succession on the front door. The dog barked, and my father told her to be quiet, but he didn’t move. He was too busy watching the TV.

Thud, thud, thud. Louder this time.

I looked at my parents. Both of them were staring at the TV, unmoved by the pounding on the door and the barking of the dog. Neither of them stirred.

“I’ll get it,” I said as I stood and walked between them and the TV. I swear I didn’t see them blink. They just stared at the TV. Mesmerised.

“Move!” I snarled at the dog.

She stood aside, still growling but now hiding behind my legs.

“Who is it?”

“Police. Open the door!”

I couldn’t work out why they would be here. Nothing was out of the ordinary. Everyone was home, just watching TV.

Thud, thud, thud.

“Open the door. We need to speak with you.”

I peered out through the spyhole in the door. I could see a police car parked in front of the house. The red and blue lights were flashing on its roof, distorted by the drizzling rain. There was another car parked, abandoned, behind the police car. There were three people standing on the porch, protected from the rain by the overhanging roof. Two were in police uniforms, and one in a dark suit and a white shirt, no tie. No one was wearing hats, but they looked official.

“Who do you want? Why are you here?” I asked them through the still-closed door.

“We need to speak to Mr Smith. Is he here?”

I hesitated. “Which one? Junior or senior?”


“That’s my father. He’s… busy.” I felt a sense of relief. It was usually me they wanted to speak to. They always harassed me for all the little things. Shit happened, and they always thought I did it.

The dog growled and barked, still standing behind me, although now she had squeezed between my legs. She peered at the door from her position of safety. Good move, I thought.

I paused momentarily, then looked back towards the lounge room and saw the flickering light from the TV bouncing around the walls. The TV was blaring, and both my parents were still glued to the screen, staring like zombies into the abyss. There were cops on the TV raiding a house and knocking down doors. I’d heard the scene played out a hundred times before on all the other shows I’d been forced to watch.

What the hell, why not? I thought as I opened the door.

Click. The lock turned, and I opened the door. The screen door was already open as I eased the solid door back.

My heart began to race as I was forced backwards by the rampaging army of three. I was thrown off balance and landed with a thud on my arse as they came running into the house, pushing me aside and heading straight for the lounge room without even a sideways glance in my direction.

The dog barked and growled as she cowered behind me while I struggled to my feet.

“Get down on the floor!” I heard one of the uniforms yell as she ran directly towards my father. The other uniform began to echo his partner as they pushed my father down and wrenched his arms behind his back.

I ran into the lounge and saw them holding my father on the ground. The two uniforms were kneeling on him. One had her left knee pressed firmly into the back of his neck. The other had both his knees on the back of my father’s lower legs. I could see my father’s eyes scrunched closed. He was gasping for air as the female uniform put handcuffs on his wrists. It looked uncomfortable. My mother sat motionless, still transfixed by the TV.

“What the hell!” I yelled. “What are you doing to my father?”

The suit just looked at me, then seemed to soften.

“We need to ask him some questions. This is for his safety as well as ours,” he said.

The two uniforms, now dusty from sprawling on the floor, hoisted my father up off the ground like he was a bag of wheat. They lifted him by his arms and spun him around before pushing him down into his chair. My father’s eyes had opened, and he was now staring at me instead of the television.

“Where are they, Mr. Smith? Where did you bury them?” the suit asked, glaring at my father.

I saw my mother and father look at each other, and for the first time in my life, I saw them both crying, tears running silently down their cheeks.

“What are you talking about? Buried what?” I yelled at the suit. He ignored me and continued talking to my father.

“You know we’ve got you all worked out, Smith,” he said. The suit was getting more forceful now.

“Where are they? Their families need closure, and I intend to give it to them,” he continued. His voice seemed softer again, like he was trying not to get angry and smash my father’s head into the ground.

“At the old mine site,” my father finally whispered.

“Where?” the suit asked, this time more excited. He was like a shark circling a bleeding surfer. His senses were heightened, and he was moving in for the kill.

“Where are they? Exactly,” he asked.

My father looked at the suit, then at my mother. I saw her nod slowly, in tiny movements. The tears were flowing quicker now, like the rivers of rain running down the outside of the windows. The tears created two neat little wet patches on the front of her t-shirt.

“What the hell is going on?” I screamed. The dog was now standing next to me, shaking. She’d peed on the floor.

My father looked at me pleadingly. He didn’t say anything. He didn’t have to. He just looked. The colour had drained from his usually ruddy cheeks, but he was calm. It was surreal. He stood up from his chair and looked at the suit.

“I’ll take you to them.” I could barely hear his words as the tears began running down my own cheeks. I looked at my mother, who was staring at me with wide-open eyes. It was like she was begging me to do something. I looked away. I didn’t know what to do.

The two uniforms and the suit took my father with them as they left. The suit walking ahead and the uniforms bringing up the rear with my handcuffed and broken father between them. His head was bowed. I followed them to the door and watched as they left.

Neighbours had come out to see what was happening, and they, too, watched as my father was led away and put into the back of the police car. The walk of shame, followed by the drive of terror.

Shutting the door, I shuffled back into the lounge room, where my mother was stroking the dog’s ears. They both trembled and looked at me as I entered the room.

“It’s time for the truth now, Daniel,” was all my mother could say. She sat there, crying, stroking the dog as they both whimpered in unison.

The news stories were all over it. The headlines proclaimed, ‘Daniel Smith arrested for murders of missing workers’ and ‘Smith hid bodies at mine!’ It was hard for me because, in their wisdom, my parents had given me the same name as my father. Daniel. The papers and the TV news broadcasts didn’t say ‘junior’. They just said, ‘Daniel Smith’. Everyone thought it was me.

I saw the interrogation tapes as they played in court. There was nothing. No inkling of remorse. No pangs of guilt. Nothing. My father just stared ahead and barely said a word. He never explained why he did it or how. He just sat. Silent.

At least by now, everyone knew it was my father and not me. No one asked if I was OK. No one asked if I had been affected by the mistaken identity. Not even my mother asked me how I was handling it. No one cared about me. They were just interested in my father.

They said he killed five itinerant workers that he’d met at the pub, but they had only found three bodies. They said he’d befriended them and then taken them to the mine, maybe to smoke a joint or something. They said he’d killed them and dropped them down a shaft. They said he was a cold-blooded murderer. A serial killer. But he was my father. He wasn’t a killer.

The witnesses all paraded through the court, one at a time. They all said the same thing. My father, the friendly guy at the end of the bar, had become chummy with each of the missing men. They had all left, alone, with my father.

The days of the trial stretched into weeks. And then months. At the end of it, the jury said they’d reached a verdict; guilty.

It seemed strange. My father. A killer. A serial killer. It was surreal, but he’d been tried in a court of law in front of a jury of his peers. He was found guilty and sentenced to life in prison. It must be true. They couldn’t get something so serious, so life-changing, wrong. Could they?

I spent most of the weeks that followed the court case alone. I was in a daze, unable to focus. Nothing made sense anymore; my whole world had been turned upside down. I had always known my father as a kind and gentle man, never getting angry or lashing out. I often found myself walking to the old mine site and standing in front of the rusted iron bars closing off the openings to long-abandoned tunnels. It seemed appropriate, like I was looking through the black-painted bars into the darkness of a desolate cell. I would wander around for hours, just looking without really seeing anything, but I always ended up in front of the bars.

Trying to get on with life after the court case was hard. There was a stigma attached to being the son of a convicted murderer. People were different around me, avoiding me when they could and talking to me only when they really needed to. When they looked at me, their eyes bore into me like they were trying to see into my soul. I could sense they wanted answers, but they couldn’t bring themselves to ask. People even crossed to the opposite side of the street when they walked towards me, making me both angry and relieved. I was angry they were avoiding me but relieved I didn’t have to talk about my father.

When I walked into the supermarket, people turned and looked away, people I had gone to school with. No more smiles and nods or questions about what I’d been up to. Nothing. As I passed them, the hairs on the back of my neck bristled; I could feel their stares following me, but still, they wouldn’t speak, except in hushed whispers when they thought I couldn’t hear them.

I just had to get on with my life the best I could, trying not to think too much about what my father had supposedly done. It was hard. Everywhere I looked, there were reminders; the never-ending stories in the newspapers about how the victims’ families were suffering. What about my family? My mum was suffering too. It seemed harder for her, crying herself to sleep most nights.

Thud, thud, thud. Three soft knocks in quick succession on the front door. We never did get that doorbell fixed. The dog barked. I got up and went to the door. Looking out, I could see two uniforms. No suit this time.

What now? I thought as I opened the door, my heart pounding in my chest with memories of their last visit still swirling in my head.

The uniforms came in and stopped just inside the door before shuffling silently to the lounge room. They looked uncomfortable, like they didn’t want to be there. I think it was the same two uniforms that arrested my father. They told my mother and me there had been an incident at the prison and that my father had been killed. Then they left. I think I saw one of them smile.

My mother’s tears began to flow again. Rivulets of acid etched her face as they ran down her cheeks. She looked at me pleadingly once again.

“Where did you hide them, Daniel? Where did you hide the other two?”


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