Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 535
Daddy Norton, a self-appointed prophet and religious fanatic, has fallen in the front hall of the house and broken his leg. Professing that he has foreseen this event in a vision, he refuses medical attention and gathers his sons Theron and Aurel and his wife to attend him. He commands his wife to read to him from the book of the Holy Word, in which he has recorded the revelations he has received from God. As the hours pass, Theron begins to get hungry and asks Mama for breakfast. Following Daddy Norton’s instructions, Mama refuses and threatens him when he tries to get past her to the kitchen. Eventually Theron gets up and brings back some bread and a bottle of whiskey for him and his brother Aurel.
Waking in the middle of the night, Aurel discovers his father attempting to saw off his leg with a butcher knife, which gets snagged in the bone and falls to the floor. When Daddy Norton asks him to retrieve the knife, Aurel hesitates and then wakes up Theron. With his eyes closed, Aurel listens while Theron repeatedly stabs their father with the butcher knife. Sometime in the night, Mama has died. Theron moves his mother’s body beside Daddy Norton, wipes her hands in the blood, and places the knife in her hands.
On the day of their parents’ funeral, the brothers remain in the house alone. Taking off the clothes given to them for the funeral by a rival preacher, the boys sit naked in the hallway of the house in which their parents died. They are visited by one of their parents’ creditors, a woman, who runs away when she is confronted by the naked brothers. Becoming sexually aroused by the encounter with the strange woman, Theron rapes his brother Aurel.
As Aurel becomes increasingly lethargic and unresponsive, eventually slipping into a catatonic state, Theron begins to explore the house. Wandering into the many rooms and halls, Theron cannot bring himself to enter the chamber that was Daddy Norton’s private sanctuary. The supplies in the kitchen having finally run out, the boys put on shorts and venture out of the house in search of food. They find a dog chained to a tree outside a house. Theron shoots the dog in the head with an air rifle that he finds in an upstairs room back home. The pellets from the gun do little damage, however, so Theron has to shoot the dog repeatedly in order to kill it. In its death struggles, the dog bites Theron on the foot. Limping on his wounded foot, Theron is forced to carry the dog on his shoulders while dragging Aurel along the road behind him.
Theron’s foot becomes infected and infested with maggots. While he lies on the floor of the hall, Aurel recovers and begins to explore the house himself. He enters Daddy Norton’s room and finds the Holy Word, a collection of his father’s divine revelations and prophecies. While Aurel becomes obsessed with Daddy Norton’s books, Theron dies from the neglected wound. Slowly starving to death, Aurel finally lies down in the hall, holding the putrid corpse of his brother.