“Brett, wake up.”
His voice echoed, came to my ears from great distance.
“Wake up, you worthless slag.”
Cracks of light burned my eyes. Slowly they grew until I saw the familiar boots of Sam Brooks. Those stupid fucking skull buckles… Peculiar how my first thought lent itself to something so unimportant.
He grabbed my collar and pulled me from the floor. “Come on, you shit, we’re going to see the boss.”
My attempts at a response led to no success. Throat dry, lips cracked, desperate for water—I couldn’t even croak. Not that I knew what the fuck I would say. I had no idea where I was and little memory of how I got there. Something about a bar and a yellow neon light; I’m pretty sure it was shaped in the name of some cheap beer.
Sam dragged me down the hall, jeans riding along the splintered wood floor. The dark stains didn’t instill comfort about where I was headed. They spoke of bad things, blood spilled.
His fist against the door thundered in my ears. Three hard knocks and the door opened. Sam dragged me in and dropped me on the floor at the foot of an old metal desk.
“So here he is,” Maxwell said. “Where ya’ been? You know I hate when I have to look for someone. It just gets to me.”
Sam kicked me with his stupid fucking boot. “I found him at the bar on East Main,” he said.
Maxwell laughed. “Figures.”
“He was all liquored up and ready for the taking.”
“So you didn’t give Sam here much trouble then, did ya’ little fella.”
“No, Boss,” Sam said. “No trouble at all.”
“That’s good. That’s very good.” Maxwell shook his head, took a half-smoked cigar from his ash tray, and lit it.
With great effort I managed to cough out a few words. “What am I doing here?”
They laughed at my question.
“I think he’s a bit confused,” Sam said, still chuckling.
“Won’t be for long.” Maxwell pulled deep on his cigar and blew a cloud of smoke in my face. “You took my money from Bobbi. Now why would you go and do something like that?”
I tried to focus, tried to remember who the hell he was talking about. I repeated the name in my head until it lost meaning.
“Come on, Brett,” Sam said. “Just admit what you done.”
“Bobbi?” I asked. “She’s the one with the scar on her cheek, isn’t she?”
“Well look at that. His memory is starting to come back.” Maxwell sat up from his chair and walked around the desk. He grabbed my hair and lifted my head, looked me in the eyes. “Why’d you take my money?”
“I don’t know what you mean. I didn’t take any money.” I couldn’t remember whether I did or not, but it didn’t seem like something I would do.
“Oh, you took it, alright,” Maxwell said. “Bobbi wouldn’t lie to me. Isn’t that right, Sam?”
“Damn right, Boss.”
“Now you gotta pay for what you done. And a few black and blue marks aren’t going to cut it. Are they, Sam?”
“No, sir. Not even close.”
I knew I was a scumbag. Who didn’t? But I was pretty sure I didn’t take any money, not from Maxwell.
“Take him to the cellar,” Maxwell said.
“Jesus, Boss. Isn’t that a little harsh?”
The uncertain tone in Sam’s voice spoke of something more horrible than I could imagine. He had an iron stomach and no conscience. The wavering of his words told me it was something even he wasn’t going to enjoy. And that terrified me.
Sam tied my hands behind my back and lifted me off the floor. He dragged me back through the hallway and outside into the alley. Normally that would be where it ended, with a bullet to the head. But I knew they had something more sinister in mind.
He opened the back door of his old Chevy and threw me in. I heard the engine roar to life and he drove with a heavy foot. I watched familiar streets go by until we ended up in an unfamiliar place. We must have traveled a few miles without seeing a single house.
The car stopped and the engine went silent.
“I’m sorry,” Sam said.
It was that moment reality became apparent. Sam probably never apologized to anyone his entire life, especially not to someone like me. But he did, and by the sound of his voice he meant it. The sadistic bastard was actually sorry for what he was about to do.
I thought back on my life; years flashed by in moments. I saw things I’d done and it put a sour taste in my mouth. I’d been a good for nothing piece of shit since I was able to raise my middle finger. But if Sam felt sorry for me I didn’t deserve what was coming.
He dragged me out of the car and walked me toward an old wood shack surrounded by dark forest. Few stars shined through the canopy above. My guts felt like they were about to come out of my ass.
Sam stopped at the door and stood motionless. He took keys from his pocket and looked at them for a while before undoing the padlock and pulling me inside. We descended stairs that went down into the pit of the Earth. At the bottom a pale yellow light glowed.
I heard something move and Sam jumped. It was then I realized why Sam had an issue with what Maxwell ordered—even he was afraid.
“What’s down there?” I asked, my voice barely able to formulate the words. “What the fuck is it? Just tell me!”
Sam ignored my pleas and took a deep breath as we got to the bottom of the stairs. A wood bar stool sat in the center of the cellar. The yellow light came from a neon sign just like the one at the bar, with that same logo for cheap beer, the one I sat next to most nights of my shitty adult life.
Sam pushed me toward the stool. He kept me at arm’s length, keeping his hand on my back. He forced me to sit and tied my hands and feet to the wooden legs.
Black, stringy appendages shot out from a dark corner of the room and latched onto my skin. Dozens of them stuck all over my body. It was as if they each contained thousands of tiny teeth that chewed through my clothes and bit down on every nerve receptor within their vicinity. Intense pain flooded through me like electricity. Whatever it was could not be seen. It was blacker than the emptiness of space, something that didn’t just absorb light, but pulled it completely out of existence.
A foul looking tube crawled along the floor like a serpent. Its slime-covered surface glistened in the yellow light. It worked its way up my leg, pulsating and releasing a nauseating odor. The intestine-like appendage entered my mouth and forced a slick mucus down my throat. I gagged against it but it flowed like a fucking river. I felt my own vomit forced back into my gut. It was feeding me, feeding me so it could keep me alive for who knows how long while it suckled on my flesh.
“I just wanna let you know something,” Sam said as he backed away toward the stairs.
My eyes rolled in his direction.
“It was me. I took the money.”
∼Lee A. Forman
© Copyright 2016 Lee A. Forman. All Rights Reserved.