I thought I grew up in a good neighborhood, surrounded by good people. Everyone said good morning to each other in the morning, my mom was friends with our neighbors, and we all went to church together. In my young mind, that made us very good people.
Then Daffodil came to town and turned my world upside down.
I first met Daffodil when he knocked on our door. Mom was absorbed in a book she was reading so I went to go answer the door. I thought I was mature enough to do so at six years old, and plus, I had Bear- a dog mixed with a million different breeds but was big and looked pretty intimidating. Dad got him for us before he shipped out overseas, for his own peace of mind. Someone to keep us safe while he was off keeping the country safe.
I didn’t expect to see a skinny rail of a guy standing on the porch, bouncing on his heels as he waited for someone to answer the door. His cheeks were bright red, he had a short beard and curly blond hair, a guitar that had seen better days was slung over his back, but what really got my attention was that he wasn’t wearing any shoes.
“Hello!” He knelt down to my level, grinning broadly. “Is there any chores or work I could do for your family to earn my bread?”
I glanced at Bear to see his reaction to this bizarre fellow. Normally my dog would at least be a little apprehensive around a stranger, but much to my surprise Bear was happily panting away. The man looked at Bear and actually squealed. “Oh, a good boy!” He gave Bear’s ears a scratch and Bear licked his hand.
I craned my neck in and yelled for my mom, “Mom, there’s a man here who wants to do work for bread. Can I have him help clean my room?”
Of course, my mom was distracted. She loved her books. But since she said it was okay, I let the man in. He bowed his head politely. “Thank you, thank you so much. Sun was about to burn me alive. My friends call me Daffodil, what’s yours?”
“I’m Will. Come on, let’s go clean my room.” Mom said I had to, after all, before I went to go play, and if all Daffodil wanted was bread then what was the harm?
Daffodil was a very efficient cleaner, and I learned quickly he was a complete weirdo but he was nice. He asked the names of all my stuffed animals, asked about my favorite games to play, my favorite color. When he wasn’t asking about me, he was humming tunes to songs I didn’t know.
We just got done when Mom popped in to ask who I was talking to and screamed when she saw a strange man in her son’s bedroom. “Who- Will, who is that?!” She grabbed me by the back of the shirt and yanked me away.
“Mom, it’s the man I told you wants to work for bread! You said it was okay!” I complained.
Daffodil politely bowed his head. “Not to be argumentative, ma’am, but he’s right,” He said.
My mom was pretty embarrassed, but in the end Daffodil did end up staying for dinner. She came to the same conclusions I did- weird, but absolutely harmless. He was a traveler, just planning on cooling his heels in town for a while.
How long was a while?
“Maybe a week, maybe a century. I’ll make up my mind later.”
As he left, he gave me a dried out flower. “Thank you for dinner,” He said before tipping his head once more and skipping down the street.
I still have that flower on my desk.
Daffodil did end up staying a while, several years in fact. He’d typically go door to door, asking for work in exchange for something to eat or a place to sleep. If he wasn’t doing that, you’d find him in the park playing guitar for tips or selling pressed wildflowers. His songs told stories of home, of gardens that went for miles and a wife named Rose and another named Dahlia and their dozen children inbetween them. I rather liked his songs, even though apparently he had some raunchier ones that my mom told me about when I was older. He never sung them around the kids though.
My mom gave him a pair of my dad’s old boots during winter, and I swear he did a little dance and promised to dedicate a song to her. When my dad got home, he was also a little hesitant about Daffodil (I’m pretty sure I heard him ask mom if Daffodil was a queer), but I thought it was impossible not to warm up to such a charming fellow.
I learned better when I got older.
See, Daffodil never minced his words. Never pulled any punches. He got into several heated arguments with one of the neighbors, Mr. Robert Miller, about why he wouldn’t go to church. Miller was a quite devout Christian, always trying to convince the ‘lost sheep’ of God to join the flock. Most people knew better than to try to argue with him about it.
Daffodil was not most people.
I was about nine when I overheard one argument between the two.
“Mr. Miller, I am well aware you’ll put a roof over my head and food in my mouth if I go to church, but again I don’t think it’s very Christ like to blackmail me like that.”
“It’s not blackmail. I’m just trying to help you-”
“No, no, you’re helping yourself feel good.”
“How dare you!”
I enjoying a good amount of eavesdropping as a kid, so I kept myself hidden behind the fence dividing our two yards as I continued to listen in on this bickering.
“I’ve been around the block a few times, Mr. Miller, I know how it works. The moment we’re done here, you’re going to run to all your other little church friends and talk about the heathen that won’t hear God, you will pray together and pat yourselves on the back for doing a job well done.”
“What is wrong with you?!”
“Nothing. Or a lot of things, depends who you ask. I found my version of god in song and in nature. I’m at peace with that.”
“You’re one of those, aren’t you? Is that why you won’t go to church?”
There was a pause before I heard Daffodil sigh.
“I am not inclined to share my sexual past with anyone, Mr. Miller. Good day.”
“You are then! You’ll burn in hell, faggot!”
I’d never heard that word before. But the way he spat it out so venomously almost frightened me. I almost asked my mom what it meant, but I lost my nerve, given it sounded like a bad word and I didn’t want to get in trouble.
Didn’t lose my nerve to ask Daffodil though, next day while he raked leaves for old Ms. Reed.
“What’s a faggot, Daffodil?”
He didn’t even miss a beat as he twirled the rake in the air. “A bundle of sticks,” He responded.
“That’s all? Like a bitch is a female dog?” I couldn’t say these words around my mom. But I could ask Daffodil anything and he’d tell me the truth.
I remember him laughing and performing another twirl of the rake. “Will boy, just know that Mr. Miller meant it in a way to cut me down. It’s a nasty word, so don’t use it. You can use some of the other bad words when you get old enough, but that’s just one of the words you can’t.”
“Why?” I asked.
Daffodil never got mad when I asked why, but this time he looked a little sad as he reached over and ruffled my hair.
“You’ll understand one day.”
And I did understand one day. I suppose Daffodil wasn’t exactly hypermasculine, he put flowers in his hair, danced down the street to no music, cried when he was emotional and was not afraid to get excited over things like baby bunnies or dogs. To be totally transparent though, I don’t think Daffodil was gay. He was too much of a flirt with any women close to his age.
Didn’t matter though. He was a piece of pyrite surrounded by the asphalt on the cul de sac and people didn’t like that too much.
It really came to a head when I was twelve. Daffodil was one of my friends, my parents loved having him for dinner and it wasn’t often that he wasn’t crashing on our couch, snoring like a freight train and his oversized legs hanging over the couch arm. I felt like he was a cool uncle, the guy I could turn to whenever I had a problem or question.
I was doing dishes while my mom was enjoying a glass of wine with Mrs. Miller in the living room. I still hadn’t learned not to eavesdrop, so I took a break from the suds to listen in.
“-And I just don’t know if it’s a good idea to have him hanging around Will all the time.”
I heard my mom laugh. “Anna, Daffodil’s harmless. Weird, definitely, but harmless.”
“Well, you know he’s… you know… like that. What if Will turns out like that too?”
“Anna, you can’t seriously believe Daffodil is homosexual. Really, I think you’re making a mountain out of a molehill.”
“I just care about you and your son! And god knows what he might have if he is a homo, what if he gives Will AIDS?”
“Anna!” My mom sounded horrified, and I felt the same. I did not like the implication that Mrs. Miller was throwing out there.
“I’m being serious!”
“And I’m being serious when I say, again, Daffodil isn’t gay and he doesn’t have AIDS. Besides, I think the neighborhood’s done well with him around. You know we haven’t had anything really bad happen since he started staying around here? No one’s lost their job, everyone has a good looking yard, no one’s gotten badly sick or died…”
“What, are you saying he’s had something to do with that?”
“Well, maybe he’s a good luck charm. Let’s change the subject. How’s Levi, has his grades improved?”
I went back to the kitchen after the subject changed. I genuinely hoped it was just the Millers with such nasty thoughts, that their venom was contained in the family.
I was wrong. Mr. Miller was a deacon at the church at this time and had the respect of a lot of parishioners. His nasty thoughts had taken root in many people’s minds.
I don’t know why I was out late that night. It was hot, maybe I couldn’t sleep, but I wasn’t really the kind of kid to wander the streets after dark. This is the only night I remember doing it. I heard a commotion and followed the sound, curiosity killed the cat but satisfaction brought it back, Daffodil taught me.
I found a mob of twelve men and all of them had surrounded Daffodil. For the first time in my life I saw Daffodil look afraid.
“You don’t have to do this,” He said, hands raised in the air. He wasn’t armed. He was defenseless.
I saw Mr. Miller lift up a baseball bat. “We told you to leave, Daffodil. You wouldn’t listen. You forced us to do this,” I swear I heard pure evil in his voice that night.
Daffodil looked down and then he looked straight at me. I heard him mutter ‘stay put’ before he looked back at Mr. Miller. “Then I suppose I’ll cease to speak. My words have fallen on deaf ears for long enough. Do what you came to do.”
They descended on him like a pack of wild dogs, and he never fought back, not once.
I watched them beat him into the ground with bats or golf clubs or whatever the hell they brought. They beat him while he howled in pain, they beat him until he only whimpered, and they beat him until he was still and quiet. When they left, all clearly proud of what they’d done, that’s when I crawled out of my hiding spot and hurried to Daffodil’s side.
He didn’t even look like a human anymore, he looked like fresh roadkill. That friendly face that I never saw without a smile before tonight was swollen and broken, the flowers in his hair were squashed on the ground…
Somehow, Daffodil turned his head towards the sound of my voice. “… Will. Good… good boy, for not leaving your hiding spot…”
“Why wouldn’t you let me help you?” My eyes overflowed with tears, they landed on my friend’s face.
“Because… I couldn’t stand the thought of you getting hurt for me, my little friend.”
A shaky hand, one with fingers bent in horrifying angles, reached up and touched my face, smearing blood across my cheek.
“Thank you for listening to me. Thank you… for being my friend.”
I waited until he seemed to stop breathing before I dragged him off the road and into the nearby woods. He was far too heavy for me to consider doing this in a sane state of mind, but I was on autopilot at this point. All I could think of was how they might further desecrate Daffodil’s body in the morning. How they’ll say he deserved it, and then put him in a grave that didn’t have a proper headstone and not even a name.
I folded his arms over his chest, like he was just sleeping. I covered him in leaves and flowers. I took one and put it in his hair, tucked behind his ear.
This was the grave he deserved. The best a twelve year old boy could do.
I didn’t eat for two days after Daffodil’s death. I didn’t leave my room. My mom was confused as to what was wrong until she realized Daffodil hadn’t shown up. Miller claimed he just left town but mom knew he wouldn’t have left without saying goodbye.
She managed to pry the real story from me and then she called the police.
Here’s the kicker though- the body was gone. They found the grave I made for him, the piles of leaves and flowers, but there was no Daffodil. My mom told me that maybe Daffodil was okay, that he got up and just chose to quietly leave, but I knew I saw him stop breathing.
You know how my mom said Daffodil was a good luck charm, right? I think she was right. Well, half right. Daffodil was good luck to the people that did him good, and their neighbors prospered because of that. But Daffodil wasn’t going to give that kindness any longer to the people that beat him and left him for dead.
The week after Daffodil’s death, I saw him.
I couldn’t sleep. I hadn’t been able to sleep well since the incident. I was staring out the window when I saw a familiar head of golden hair walk into the space between ours and the Millers. I couldn’t believe it. I rubbed my eyes a dozen times before I got up and pulled the window up, ready to call out to my friend to see if it was really him or if it was just a dream.
The word froze in my mouth when I realized I wasn’t sure if this was really Daffodil. Sure, he had the golden hair and the beard, but he was… different. Taller, which was quite a feat given he was already a giant. There was this unnatural glow about him, and he wore strange clothes. If this had been a few years later, I’d say he looked dressed to be in a ren fair.
One look confirmed though that he wasn’t wearing shoes. It was still Daffodil.
He turned to look at me and now he smiled, but there was an unfamiliar mischievousness to it. He put a finger to his lips to shush me before he opened the window and reached inside. Out he pulled the Miller’s infant daughter, Rebecca. He cradled her for a brief moment before he turned his head behind him and whistled.
Two women walked out from the bushes. I didn’t recognize them. Both were also quite tall, one with hair almost silver in the moonlight wearing a white gown and the other with midnight black hair cut short to her jaw and a sword hanging from her waist. Daffodil handed Rebecca to the swordswoman who bounced her up and down a few times before walking away. I saw the silver haired woman slip in through the window and a few minutes later left the front door with the Miller’s two sons, four year old Micah and seven year old Asher. Both were still in their pajamas but clung to the woman’s hands and looked at peace with her. She walked down the street and vanished in the dark.
Now it was just Daffodil again. He looked at me, still smirking, before he rubbed his hands together before lifting them up to his mouth and blowing on them. I saw sparks fly out from his palms and dance in the air before going black.
The next thing I remember is waking up the next morning to police all over the street. The three youngest Miller children were gone. And the eldest, seventeen year old Levi, was dead. Autopsy would later reveal he had gone undiagnosed with brain cancer, even though he’d just had a physical a few months prior and he was healthy as a horse.
Sure, I was asked if I’d seen anything, since my window was closest to the Miller’s, but I just remembered Daffodil putting his finger to his lips and told them nothing.
Only one child of the Millers would be found, baby Rebecca, returned to her crib. But a week in and Mrs. Miller looked ready to have a meltdown. A teatime with mom and she confided all about how Rebecca never slept, only cried, and how she swore she heard her daughter giggling whenever she wasn’t in the room.
That child was certainly not Rebecca, but once again I kept my mouth shut.
Things went downhill for the Millers the fastest, but they weren’t alone. Several other households faced their own bizarre and sudden catastrophes. The Petersons were in a terrible car accident that cost Mr. Peterson his legs and Mrs. Peterson her memory. To her death, she believed every morning was July 21, strangely not the day of the accident but the day of Daffodil’s disappearance. The Caldwells had a nasty divorce after Mrs. Caldwell got mysteriously pregnant, even though Mr. Caldwell had a vasectomy. It’d later come out she was approached by a young handsome man and they had a moment of passion in the backseat of Mr. Caldwell’s car.
The Anderson’s house burned down. The Rivers were infertile. The Ward’s prize garden wilted and died while Mr. Ward wasted away with an illness no doctor could diagnose. The Reeves lost their jobs. I could go on. But I’m sure you guessed by now what each of the families had in common.
Each of those families had someone directly involved with Daffodil’s beating.
While everyone else’s family was suffering disaster after disaster, ours only prospered. Bear’s health held strong until he was nearly sixteen, long time for a big dog. My parents thought they were out of luck when it came to having another kid, but mom became pregnant with twins. I insisted one be named Daffodil. They compromised and Marie’s middle name is Daffodil. They were also approved to adopt and that’s when I got a brother just a few months younger than me, Brian. We became thick as thieves the day he came into our lives and we’re still quite close. My dad got an amazing job when he was discharged from the army, mom got some serious promotions so we got to go on amazing vacations and make amazing memories.
I was eighteen when Mr. Miller finally cracked and hung himself. He’d lost everything- his job after he failed a drug test that he should’ve passed with flying colors, his position as a deacon after said failed drug test made common knowledge, his wife after she was just done with his bullshit, he just had to give up the car because of the debt he was in and was about to lose the house. In his suicide note he did confess to Daffodil’s murder and named the other conspirators as well. A few of them were already dead from various means, but the others got in pretty deep shit, even though they couldn’t be officially charged without a body apparently.
Sometimes I wondered if I dreamed that night I saw Daffodil outside. Sometime I even believed it.
But it’s been a long time since then. I have a family of my own now, married the love of my life and we have a six year old daughter, Iris. I actually own the Miller’s house, I got it for a steal because of the suicide. My wife thinks it serves for great inspiration, she’s a horror novelist, so that works out.
Maybe I would’ve forgotten Daffodil one day if my daughter hadn’t run to get the door before I could stop her. Girl has no fear, probably like I did when I was her size.
I almost reached the living room when I heard her yell back, “Daaaaadddyyyy, there’s a man asking if we have bread!”
“Erm, not quite, if you have work so I can have bread. Close enough though.”
I never forgot that voice. I ran for the door, nearly tripping over the dog in the process. I whipped open the door the rest of the way, nearly bowling over Iris in the process.
He looks exactly the same as he did back then. Same beard, same guitar slung over his back, same lack of shoes. He stared at me for a few moments before his eyes widened and he grinned.
“Hello, Will! It’s so good to see you again. Mind if I help around the house? I like to work for my bread.”