Dealership

I sat in the lobby of the Nissan dealership that Saturday morning, looking up at the decorative clumps of balloons clumped together by a string, hanging from the ceiling. They were a mix of white, red and black, and were covered in a layer of dust, which gave me the impression that they needed a better cleaning service. The large lobby was nice. Wood paneling surrounded the room with large windows above them, showing office spaces beyond them. Those balloons did not do the room any favors.

I looked around. People sat around the tables and chairs that were scattered about, all of them, glued to their cell phones. My guess was they were all getting their cars serviced, as was I, and all of them had no intention on making any kind of human interaction. Fucking humanity! So selfish and self-centered, not willing to exchange a friendly smile or greeting. But Who can blame them, I have to include myself in that observance. I laughed as I flipped through the bullshit political posts on Facebook thinking ‘look in the mirror my friend’. Fuck it. What are we supposed to do? Who gives a shit, let it all fall apart.

I glanced at my watch – 9:30am. Its been over an hour and a half. Way longer than I was told I’d have to wait by the mechanic for an oil change on my Rogue. I was growing impatient, the weekends were my only days to relax and recoup from the tireless routine of an eight to five during the week. I should be home relaxing, playing on the Xbox or binge watching the shit out of The Sopranos. The overhead speaker came on, a name was announced to head to the back counter. Their vehicle was ready. It wasn’t my name.

The Right Man For The Job

The ashes from the cigarette flicked off and landed on the tabletop, dissolving into powder clumps upon impact. Judy Shields did not notice as her hand nervously trembled across the counters surface, leaving long grey streaks. She placed the filter between her lips and inhaled another hit. The stranger sitting across from her observed. He could feel her leg bouncing uncontrollably under her, making the floorboard’s squeak. The Snack and Rack Diner was nearly empty, and their booth was located in the rear of the establishment. The waitress, the only one working the night shift, had just placed two cups of fresh coffee before returning behind the counter to dry off the rest of the dinner trays.

“What is that, your third cigarette?”

“What?” Judy replied. She ran her hand through her neatly kept hair, trying her best to avoid direct eye-contact with him. A hundred thoughts raced through her mind.

Cigarette,” he pointed at the plastic ashtray next to her. “I believe that’s your third straight. Do you usually chain smoke them like that?” She looked down at the half-smoked cigarette between her fingers, and quickly put it out. The butts were stained with her bright red lipstick. A feature the stranger thought she could do without.  

“No. Of course not.” She said. “I’m just…a little on edge.”

“Yes. I can see that.”

She adjusted herself in her seat. “Are we here to get down to business or to discuss my smoking habits?” The man gave her the chills. He did not take his eyes off her, looking her over with an unsettling smile on his face. But she promised herself she would not show her fear, regardless of how he came off. They had only spoken over the phone once a few days before, the rest of their interactions, had been over text messages.

“I don’t wish to be here any longer than I have to be,” she continued. She drew out another cigarette from the pack in her bag and fired it up.

” So, can we please just get this over with?”

 “Sure lady!” he said. “As long as the money is right, I’m all ears!”

Judy did not appreciate his wit. Looking over her shoulder, making sure no one was within ears-reach, she leaned in cautiously and spoke.

“Like I said on the phone,” she said in a low voice. “I would like this to be done fast. The person I mentioned to you before –”

“Your husband?”

“Yes. My husband. I want him gone.”

“Killed?”

A long pause.

“Yes,” she said, finally. “He needs to disappear. I don’t want him found. Can you guarantee that?”

 “Lady, for fifty-thousand dollars, I’ll grind that poor bastard into fine powder. Don’t you worry, you’ll never see him again.”

Please,” she insisted. “keep your voice down! Someone is liable to hear you!”

He grinned.

“You been watching too many murder mysteries! We’re practically the only ones in here.” He leaned over and caught a glimpse of the waitress preoccupied with the stack of food trays. He nodded towards her. “I doubt that bitch behind the counter will hear us kicking up a fuss.”

Even so,” she maintained. “Let’s keep this conversation as low as possible.” He raised his hands, submissively, his smile unchanged.

“Alright, you got it,” he whispered, mockingly. “Let’s get this over with. If I’m not mistaken, I believe we agreed on half the payment now, half when it’s done.” He looked her over, disappointed. “I don’t see my twenty-five thousand. Is it in that fancy bag of yours?”

“No! It’s not.” She drew the bag near to her. “I don’t have it with me. But don’t worry, I assure you, you’ll receive every penny. I must be sure I have the right man for the job first.”

 “You don’t pay, we don’t play,” he said. “This isn’t a hitman department store. I don’t see any other kill-for-hires standing around. You want to stop fucking around, and stop wasting my time?” She swallowed hard, leaning back in her chair.

“I meant to say, I just needed to make sure we both were on the same page.” She drew a lengthy hit from the cigarette. “Shall we proceed?”

“That depends,” he said. “Will I be walking outta here with the first payment?”

 “Yes,” she said. “It’s in my car. Forgive me, I had to know…”

The man lowered his brow. “Know I was the right man for the job?”

She took a deep breath.

“Yes.”

 “Whatever,” he said, exhausted. “What’s the plan?” She smashed the cigarette on the ashtray and rubbed her hands together.

“He’s taking that skank to a Broadway show tomorrow night. Hamilton, I believe. Fucking hypocrite! He swore he’d never see that show as long as blacks portrayed the founding fathers. I guess cheap pussy did wonders on his racist views, huh?” Her knuckles grew white at the tips from tightening her grip.

“What can I say,” he said. “Men are pieces of shit! But then again, you did marry him, So there’s that.” He raised his cup, blew on it, then took a cautious sip. “Nevertheless, I don’t have a problem getting rid of such a character. It isn’t my first time.”

“Good,” She approved. “The show starts at 7:00pm, and they should be getting back to her apartment around 10:00pm or so. That’s plenty of time for you to sneak in and wait for them to arrive. Then you…do what you have to do.”

“You’ve really given this some thought, huh?”

Enough. I’ve given it enough.”

“Okay, then, Tomorrow night. Did you remember to bring a picture of him? And her?”

“Yes.”

Reaching into her bag, she pulled out a photograph, a yellow post-it-note attached to the back. She placed it face down and slowly slid it to him. He shook his head, amused, and picked it up. He flipped it over and analyzed it.

“I pictured him more of a… sleaze bag. But I gotta say, this guy looks half decent. What the hell did he do to deserve an early death?” He threw the image down on the table.

“What difference does it make? I’m paying you to get rid of both of them. If this is going to eat at your conscience, let me know and I’ll find someone who — “

“More coffee?” the waitress said, walking up behind Judy. Startled, she quickly placed her palms over the photograph, veiling it from view.

“I’m sorry,” she said, apologetically. “I didn’t mean to scare you. I just wanted to see if you two wanted any more— “

“NO!” Judy stopped her mid-sentence. “WERE FINE, thank you!” The waitress sensing her rudeness, pressed her lips tight, holding in words she wished not to say out loud.

“I’ll have some more, sweetheart,” the man said. He pushed the saucer towards the edge of the counter. “Fill her up to the rim this time, would ya?”

“Of course.”

She poured the hot coffee into the cup; her presence created an awkward moment between the two of them. When she finished, he smiled and winked at her. She smiled back hesitantly and went on her way. He stared at her ass with approval as she walked away, then slowly focused on Judy.

“You really need to relax, lady. Your starting to make me nervous. In fact,” he straightened. “I’m starting to think you might be a cop. You isn’t no pig, is you?” His smile disappeared and his face turned ice-cold. She looked at him, befuddled, unsure of what to say. Immense fear washed over her.

“I….no, I’m not a cop. Jesus! I’m just nervous that’s—-“

He belted out a laugh.

“I’m fucking joking with you! Loosen up a little!” He took up the photograph, still unable to compose himself. He peeled off the post-it-note.

“This is where she lives?”

 “Yes,” she replied. “45th and Sloan. Apartment 38.”

“I’ll give him this much; he certainly has great taste in ass!” He stared at the image with admiration, rotating the image as if trying to look up her skirt.

“Can we get serious?” she said.

A pause followed.

“And what shall become of her? Will she be disappearing as well?”

“NO.” She paused. “Death would be too merciful for her. I want her to suffer!

“Suffer? Like what, kick the shit outta her?”

“YES! I want her to remember the day she chose to fuck with me! Even if she’ll never know it.”

Wow! Fucked him that good, did she?”

She destroyed my life! My family! He’s divorcing me and threatening to take away my kids. AND THAT I will not allow!” The stranger ran his finger around the rim of his cup.

“So why kill him?” He said. “Take him for half of everything he’s got! Custody. Child support. The courts always side with you broads! I’m telling you, lady, you want to make him pay? That’s the way to do it.”

“Are you suggesting I reconsider? You’re willing to lose out on all that money for this piece of shit?

“Woah take it easy! Let’s no go that far. I’m just saying, sometimes revenge is sweeter when you stick the court system up ones ass.”

 “No! He has to die!”

He observed her hatred and knew she was set on seeing it carried out her way.

“It’s your dime,” he continued. “So, I beat her to a bloody pulp. Then what?”

Acid,” she said, promptly. “I want you to pour battery acid all over her face! Every inch of it!

“HOLY FUCK, are you serious? That’s kind of fucked up. Even for me!”

“Don’t grow squeamish on me now. Can you do this or— “

“I’ll do it, I’ll do it! Don’t start that up again.”

 “Very well. How will I know it’s done? I don’t want you calling my cell or showing up at my home. These text messages are bad enough.”

He raised the cup and took the last drink.

“Get yourself one of them pay-as-you-go phones, then give me a call on it. I’ll call you on that number when the job is done, then get rid of it immediately. Understand?”

She nodded in agreement.

“Now, about that money?”

“Yes. Of course.”  She looked around again. “Wait here while I go get it. I trust that you can take care of the bill?”

“Lady, it would be my uttermost pleasure!”

She left him and headed towards the exit.

She sat on the passenger side seat of her vehicle, looking around for any sign of him. When she saw no one, she reached down the side of the seats fabric, and dug her fingers into a slit she had made the day before. It was large enough to fit a medium sized envelope stuffed with cash. She struggled to pull it free, when she did, she opened it and scanned through the brand new hundred dollar bills that were stacked inside.

“Is that my payment?”

Judy jumped and turned. She saw him towering over her in the darkness of night. His eyes did not wander from the money in her hands.

“…I thought I told you to wait inside?”

“I did. Then I didn’t…and now… I’m here.” He stretched out his hand, gesturing for the envelope. “Twenty-five thousand. That was the price.”

She hesitated, clutching the envelope tight, making the paper crinkle. After a moment, she loosened her grip and placed it in his hand. He quickly snatched it away and opened it, skimming through it carefully.

“It’s all there,” she said. “I counted it.”

He gave her an unsettled glance. “All the same, I’ll have a look anyway.” She lowered her head and looked off to the side, clutching her keys into several spears.

After he finished, he said, “Looks to be okay. So far so good.”

“Good,” she said, hurriedly. She pressed the lock down on the driver side door and began rolling up the window. “So? Were good then?”

His demeanor relaxed as he stuffed the thick envelope inside his coat pocket.

“Almost….”

“What do you mean? What else is there to discuss?”

He took a step forward and bent down to meet her at eye level. He placed his hand on the top of the glass window, keeping it from rising. She leaned back in her seat, the fear returning to her. She raised the keys sticking out from between her fingers. He chuckled.

“It’s gonna take more than that to stop someone like me, lady. You go ahead and take a swing if it makes you feel better.”

Her posture did not change.

“What else did you want to say? I would like to leave as soon as you’re done.”

“Alright,” he said. “You should know, the next time you go looking for a hitman, the last place you’ll want to do it is from a computer the way you did.” He reached and pulled his coat aside, revealing a revolver tucked in his waist. Her heart sank into her stomach and her eyes grew wide like a corpse.

“No!” she said, frantically. “Please, don’t hurt me!” Thoughts raced through her mind, but she quickly managed to compose herself.

“…if you do…you won’t get the other half of the money! You wouldn’t want that, now would you?”

He smiled.

“Oh, I think twenty-five thousand is enough for a guy like me. No need for greed, my daddy used to say.”

He straightened. She panicked and screamed, fearing he would go for his weapon. Then, with his other hand, he pulled back the other side of his coat, waist level, revealing a shiny police badge looped around his belt. Her eyes grew even wider and her heart pounded.

“What’s the matter?” he said. “You look as if you wanted somebody killed?”

The Final Affair

Jake sat at the small wooden desk in the hotel room. The thick woven drapes were closed shut, with only a sliver of sunlight penetrating through. Melancholy filled him. The air felt heavy and cruel, like something that did not want him. He twisted the cap off the last miniature bottle of whiskey from the bar and let it fall where it pleased. The alcohol burned his throat as it traveled down, but he needed courage. And courage would not show its face until intoxication overcame him. Signing his name at the end of the letter, he tore the page away from the spine and laid it on the edge of the desks surface, placing both wedding rings on top. The iron from the pistol felt cold as ice against his hands as he drew it from the drawer. Two bullets rested within its chambers, each one destined with a dreaded purpose.

The muffled voice started up again. Bounded legs restlessly scurried back on the mattress, the headboard knocking against the wall. Monica attempted desperately to undo the ties that restrained her hands behind her back. Every effort was futile. Tears flowed down her face, carrying clumps of black eyeliner with it. She pleaded to him in an abstruse, agonizing groan. But the man she knew (or thought she knew) no longer gave in to such sympathy. This was a man who’d made up his mind and had no intention in wavering from it.

“Remember,” he said, softly. “I asked you to stop. I cautioned you about seeing him again. Now look at you? Was it worth it?” He reached down and yanked her battered lover up by the hair. The tip of the barrel rested against the side of his head. 

“Was this home wrecker worth it?”

She glanced down at him. Hours before, he had caressed her breasts and kissed her passionately in all the right places. Now, he struggled to balance himself, naked, bloody and bruised at the hands of her husband. Monica had only known him a few months, but the look she gave him seemed as if it were from a life-long devotion. Jake hadn’t seen that look for many years. But he knew what it implied, and it cut through him like a well sharpened sword. If there was even an ounce of hesitation left, it ceased to exist at that moment.

She muttered something to her lover, the gag distorting her words. It was a painful and intimate cry, something that only the both of them understood amid their looming demise. He mouthed something back, his words silent under his breath. He appeared to try to put her at ease, his face full of affection towards her. Jake seemed to disappear from their presence as they managed to embrace one another from a distance. Their connection turned Jakes bowels to liquid, everything he consisted of collapsed into a pile of desolation.

The shot went off.

A flash of light engulfed the room, his head jerked violently from the force of the blast. His eyes detached from her and shifted away into nothingness as he went limp and fell lifeless. Blood poured out from his shattered skull, the carpet under him drank it up with a fierce thirst.

Monica screeched loudly, that even with her mouth covered, the sound of her voice managed to echo through the room. She imploded into herself, sobbing hysterically, digging her fingernails into her back and drawing blood. It went on like that for some time. Jake watched her. He observed how a part of her perished. How all of a sudden she showed no interest whether she lived or died. When she was done, she met his eyes. Her expression became dead and weary.

“Kill me!” she said, muffling her words. “Please, just kill me. Kill me, please!”

Jake lifted the pistol slowly, aiming it at her. She receded back and closed her eyes.

“No,” he said. She opened her eyes to find the pistol resting under his chin.

“You live with it.” He pulled the trigger.

Severance

“Sidney?” Mr. Woodland called out.

Sidney Harris sat at his desk, his body reclining back on an old squeaky chair. Turning his head, Woodland stood over him, gesturing him over to his office. He stood and followed.

He entered the office, shutting the door behind him, turning the lock on the steel knob. Pictures of Frank Woodland, on various hunting expeditions, filled the walls. Different species of birds lined the back shelves, all of them, showing a remarkable work of taxidermy.

“You asked to see me?” Frank said. “You got five minutes, I have lots of things to do today, Harris.” He took a seat behind the large, dark wooden desk.

“Sit.”

Sidney sat, adjusting himself in a very comfortable chair.

“Well? Time is money!”

Sidney finished taking in all of the hunting paraphernalia, before giving Frank his attention. Frank noticed, and was not too pleased.

“I hope that what you have to say, is more interesting than that look you’re giving me?”

“You done?” Sidney said, calmly.

“What?”

“Are you done? Spouting your bullshit?”

Frank Woodland straightened. Slowly, he twisted his neck from side to side, airing out the hot temper that accumulated on his chest.

“What did you say to —”

A glock-19 emerged from inside Sidneys breast pocket, dangling loosely in his grasp, pointing straight at him. A smile appeared on his face. Frank looked at the situation in front of him, not registering the realness of it.

“What’s the meaning of this!” He said.

“Keep your voice down, Frank! There are lives at stake out there, and you don’t want innocent blood on your hands, now, do you?”

Frank wanted to scream. How dare he tell Frank Woodland what to do? But the cold barrel of a loaded gun, aimed directly at his face, made him sustain his silence.

“Good,” Sidney continued. “Thats a good egg.” He leaned forward, lifted the elegant cover on the cigar box with the tip of the gun, drew one out and placed it between his teeth. He chewed the tip softly, letting it mold to his bite.

Frank fumed.

“Now,” he continued. “I’ll cut to the chase, Frankie. This afternoon, you and Melissa out there, will take a trip to your special deposit box in Zerling County, and withdraw the one million dollars tucked inside of it. Then, you will hand it over to Ms. Lawson, and she will depart from your company. You’ll never see her again, so make sure you say your goodbyes.”

Frank burst out laughing, unable to contain the chuckles that shook the desk. “What kind of sick joke is this, Harris? Did Paul put you up to this?” He anticipated no other answer but yes.

Sidneys smile shrunk. Removing the cigar and tossing it on the carpet below, he reached into his side pocket and revealed a set of earbuds. He threw them at him, Frank partially blocking them from smacking his face.

“Put them on! Quietly.” He placed a splitter over the jack on the side of his cell, routing one set to himself , the other to Frank.

Noticing the seriousness of his demeanor, Frank untangled them, clumsily, and slipped them over his ears. Sidney tapped on his cellphone screen, then after a moment, he turned it over, displaying an outgoing video-call. The contact picture over the number, made Franks jaw drop. It was a picture of his oldest son, Jeff. There was no doubt, now, that the man before him was dead serious.

“Yankee,” said a man with a black ski-mask, popping up on the display.

“Put the prick on,” Sidney said, coldly. He raised a finger to his nose, cautioning Frank to go through with it quietly. Moments later, Jeff appeared.

“Dad?” He was forced on his knees, a large revolver pointed to the side of his temple.

“Son!” Frank cried out. Looking at Sidney, he said, “don’t you hurt him, you son of a bitch! Please, don’t hurt him.” Sidney shushed him.

The smile returned.

“They’re threatening to kill me!”

“No! They wont harm you son, I’ll take care of everything real soon. Just do as they say. It will all be over soon.” Frank looked at Sidney, desperation in his eyes.

“You proved your point, Harris! Go easy now!”

Sidney had him right where he wanted. If only Mellisa could see him shitting his pants. She’d have a pisser. Now, the only thing to do was to reinforce the threat.

“Keep looking,” he said, redirecting his gaze to the screen. “You’re going to miss it!” He spoke into the microphone.

“Do it!”

On the screen, a handful of hair yanked back Jeffs head, the revolver poking deep into his left cheek. Frank could see a tear run off the side.

“Hey, Frankie?” Sidney said, snapping his finger. “This is the price for the first fuck-up. The next one will be through his brains!”

A loud blast sounded through the earbuds, a sharp pain pounded in Franks ear drums. On the screen, a bright flash from the revolver sheared through both his cheeks, projecting torn flesh and shattered teeth out of view. Jeff screamed in painful gurgles as the blood gushed out from his mouth. The grip released the clump of hair, sending Jeff falling to the floor.

Frank clutched the earbud wires tight in his hand, grunting in devastation. His teeth gritted and his eyes closed into themselves, hot tears plopping on the desks surface. The pain he felt was almost as agonizing as the gunshot Jeff endured. Sidney leaned back in his chair, reveling at the sight. The phone went black.

“Alright,” Sidney said. “Get it all out, Frank. Lots to do today, remember?” He pulled the earbuds from his ears, coiling them in a ball and stuffing them back into his pocket. “Come on, buck up! Time to do this thing.”

Regaining his composure, Frank said, “You wont get away with this. I promise you.”

“You let me worry about that, okay Frankie? Just gather yourself, we don’t want to call attention to this thing of ours.” Frank wiped his face and snorted back the mucus in his throat.

“How do I know you’ll keep—”

“If you don’t get your ass moving, old man, my friend Astro is parked outside your wife’s house, waiting for my call to pay her a visit!” He leaned forward. “You’ll never know, until you know. Now get your ass up and lets go!”

An awful chill shook him as he rose to his feet. Sidney pulled and shoved him towards the door. Frank opened the door, Melissa stood outside, a bright smile across her face.

“Shall we get going, Mr Woodland?”

Exit 231

Jordan Farmer turned up the dial on the volume. 80’s on 8 played on SiriusXM. His shift was over at the steel mill, and now, he faced the long, stressful drive home. He had been used to it by now. It had been five years and counting, that he’d traveled such long distances. As a ten year employee, he had acquired a respectful position as a foreman. The job came with great benefits and decent pay. He had no intentions of starting over, even for a closer commute.

But none of that mattered today.

Nothing could get him off his cloud-nine. He received a significant raise, much bigger than he had anticipated. Mr. Ellis, his supervisor, informed him how pleased he had been with all his efforts to produce for the company. He gave him a pat on the back, encouraging him to keep up the good work. Pride enveloped him, promising Mr. Ellis he’d try his very best moving forward.

Pulling into the Arco, next to the 65 freeway, Jordan stopped to gas up and buy a couple of Monsters for the long ride home. The sensor beeped as he entered the Econo-Mart, the clerk behind the register, quickly taking notice. Jordan scanned the store, locating the cold beverages behind frosted glass, against the back wall. He stood, looking over the many options he had. After brief consideration, he pulled two tall Monster cans off the rails, and headed towards the register. The clerk, an older man of Indian origin, eyed him carefully.

“Is that all?” he asked. Reaching out, he grabbed the Monsters from his grip before Jordan had a chance to set them down on the counter.

“No,” Jordan said. “Let me also have forty on ten.” The clerk tapped and swiped the screen.

“Forty-three-thirty-five,” he exclaimed.

Raising a brow, Jordan removed his debit card from his wallet, slipping it into the card reader. After a couple of prompts, the transaction completed, and the card returned to its leather slot.

“Receipt?” The clerk asked, rudely.

“No thanks,” Jordan replied. The clerk tore the receipt, mid-print, crumbled it and threw it into a plastic container.

The gas cap came off and dangled by its chain. Jordan removed the nozzle from the cradle and started pumping fuel into the tank. The Monsters rested atop the pump dispenser as Jordan kept his eye on the counter display. Reaching for one, he accidentally knocked the other over the edge, sending it crashing to the concrete below. It exploded on impact, sending a stream of sticky spray in every direction, fizzling out gradually.

“What the fuck!” A voice called out. Jordan turned and saw a tall, muscular man, staring him down from the pump, opposite to him.

“Shit!” Jordan said. “Im so sorry bro! Dammit Jordan!” He bent down, picking up the empty can, unsure of what to say next.

“Sorry?” The man scoffed. “You sprayed that shit all over my ride, asshole!” He looked the car over, growing angrier by the second. “I just had it washed and waxed!”

“Shit, brother,” he continued, apologetically. “I don’t know what to say? I take full responsibility. What can I do to correct the situation?”

“You can start by wiping that shit off of my car!”

He sprang into action. “Hell yes, brother! Of course.” He pulled a handful of paper towels from above the waste bin and started for the hummer.

“What the fuck are you doing?” The man exclaimed. He swatted at Jordans arms, knocking the paper towels away.

“Not like that! Your gonna scratch the paint, dumb-ass! I meant you’re gonna cough up some money to have it re-washed and waxed.”

Jordan didn’t even realize he was being insulted. He felt stupid, not thinking the whole paper towel situation more carefully.

“Dang, dude, your absolutely right! Of course ill pay to have it re-washed. Forgive me, I’m completely out of it right now.”

“Damn right you will!” The man scratched the back of his head, irritated.

“How much do you need?” Jordan pulled his wallet out, shuffling through the loose bills inside the fold.

“A hundred and fifty,” the man said.

“One-hundred and fifty dollars?”

“One-hundred and fifty!” The man restated. “Did you think I was planning on running it through the drive-n-wash? I’m gonna have to get it detailed by professionals.”

Sorting through the bills, Jordan realized it all added up to a total of sixty-dollars. He quickly began doing the math in his head. His debit card balance was less than fifty after the last transaction. His heart dropped to his stomach. Holding out his palm, the perturbed man gestured payment with a jerk of the fingers.

“I’m sorry,” Jordan said. “I don’t have that much cash one me at the moment. I have around sixty-bucks on me, your more than welcomed to that.” Jordan extracted the bills, extending them out to him.

The man glanced at the notes between his fingers, then pushed them away. “Horse-shit!” He said. “You’re not gonna pull that one over on me. You will give me that money!”

Defeated, Jordan raised his hands. “Im sorry. I don’t know what else to say? This is all I have.” The mans brow sunk low, his anger rising at a fast rate.

“Then you’re fixing to get your ass whooped! Cause thats all I got on me, understand?” He came up to him, shoving him back.

“What the hell is your problem?” Jordan protested. “That wasn’t necessary, its just a couple splashes, relax!”

His words only infuriated the man. He lunged forward, his intentions were nothing good. Just then, another voice called out to them.

“Whats the problem here, gentlemen?”

A young man in a security guards uniform stood at the end of Jordans vehicle. He was making his rounds around the plaza, when he overheard the two men squabbling.

“Why don’t you ask him,” Jordan said.

“Sir?” The guard said to the man, who had not taken his eyes off Jordan. After a moment, he redirected his attention to the guard.

“This doesn’t concern you, rent-a-cop! Get lost.”

“Maybe not,” he replied. “But if you keep causing a disturbance, I’ll have the authorities called out. Then we’ll see how effective your remarks sits with them.

‘Ding!’

The pumped rang, causing a distraction. They all stared at the lifeless machine, as if alive. None of them said a word for a while.

“You’re lucky, faggot!” The man said, aiming his index finger at Him. “You don’t know how lucky you are!” He turned and stormed off, cursing under his breath. Jordan said nothing, leather wallet in one hand, tens and twenties in the other.

“Lets get moving,” the guard urged. “Secure that nozzle and get out of here.”

Jordan complied.

Placing the nozzle handle back in its cradle, he quickly hopped in his car, turning the engine over. Once inside, relief washed over him. He could not believe what had transpired, was over spray on some vehicle. The thought of it, brought a humorous grin as he shook his head in disbelief.

Knowing he shouldn’t, he could not help but glance over at the hummer. The man sat inside, fuming and mouthing something into his cellphone. Jordan stared, wondering, that if a few splashes of liquid got him that riled up, he’d hate to imagine what a more serious scenario would bring out of him. His thoughts had him so entranced, he did not notice the man staring back at him. Jordan had half a grin on his face. The man bit down on his lip, his stare was cold and unforgiving.

The car pulled away and merged onto the freeway.

A couple of miles down the highway, normalcy started to return to him. A sudden burst of courage as well. Jordan thought of the different ways he could of handled the situation. A more manly way. He spoke loudly, role-playing the dialogue of all parties involved. His character, always coming out on top. It went on like that for several miles. He knew it looked childish, but it made him feel better about himself. And no one would ever know.

Boy George came on the radio. Karma Chameleon began to play as he neared exit 231. The altercation faded from memory, and he found himself humming and tapping to the beat on the steering wheel. He pulled into his gated community, the gate retracted, and he continued down the path to the parking stalls ahead. The car came to a stop at the back of the complex, the gear shifted in park, and the ignition cut-off. The music stopped, echoing slightly throughout the interior. Jordan opened the door and stepped out.

Turning, the muscled man stood in front of him, raising a pistol to his chest. Jordans eyes widened, the keys came away from his grip, falling to the ground below.

McGhee

The dawn rose gradually behind snow capped mountains, turning the sky into a bronze canvas. Sunlight reflected off the glazing from the high-rise structures that towered over the city. Vapors from the cold engines, ascended into the atmosphere as the highways piled up with steady traffic. McGhee sat on the edge of the matress, a sliver of sunlight penetrating the half opened-blinds, casting a bright vertical line across the dim unaired room. Her face was draped with melancholy, a dead stare faced forward, unaffected from the glow that burned into her eyes. Unsticking her tongue from the roof of her mouth, the taste of meat wedged between her teeth, mingled with the stench of a dozen Marlboro reds. The odor escaped and crept up her nostrils. 

She felt the shakes coming on.

Not taking her Saxagliptin the night before, her sugar levels spiked, causing her to perspire and refocus her blurred vision with hard blinks. The alarm went off:

5:45am.

The urge to lay back down and pull the covers over her head, tempted her greatly. But it had been the third day straight she had called out sick, leaving her with no more to spare. Anymore, and it would be deduced from her pay. Beside the half-dozen bottles of medication, an old wooden picture frame, stood propped up at an angle. It was a photograph of her and her ex-husband, vacationing at the Grand Canyon three years ago. The long smile on her face was almost alien to her. She had not smiled like that, since Earl had run off with his much younger receptionist the previous summer. There was no doubt in McGhee’s mind, that the girl was only interested in him for his bank account. But that young, naive, twenty-nine year old girl, had turned McGhee’s whole world upside down. Even still, she looked at her ex-husband with unwavering devotion, counting the days he’d get tired of her lies and return to her. Popping a handful of pills into her mouth, knocking them back with a tall glass of water, McGhee stood, her knees buckling and cracking at the weight of her heavy frame. She took a deep, strenuous breath, and braced herself for the day in front of her.

A day on Interstate 80

The sweltering heat from the sun fumed down on Benjamin’s back. Sweat drenched his shirt, it clung to his chest, bringing a brief cooling relief against the humid air. His flesh, once light in pigment, now seared red to the touch like burning coals. Perspiration seeped out his pores and ran off him to the earth below; the ground swallowed it up eagerly, quenching its thirst for sheer seconds before it became parched once more. His stomach churned and twisted from hunger, triggering painful spasms and bouts of nausea. He stood for a long time, his feet ached and pricked at his arches; his arms grew heavy from holding a cardboard sign all day.

Please help! Homeless and hungry, the sign read in bold black letters. It followed up with a familiar saying from the good book; Love your neighbor as you love yourself. His pocket rattled with change as he walked up and down the exit ramp on Interstate 80. Today had been particularly hard, traffic was unsympathetic to him – it was like that sometimes. On better days, he would make enough to eat and have enough left over for a snack, or the occasional beer he enjoyed if the mood was right. But today, he appeared to be invisible to the fast-paced way of life.

A maroon colored Toyota Corolla was at the front of the line, waiting for the red light to turn green. Benjamin stood next to it, leaving him only minutes to work with. He approached the drivers-side window and tapped on it gently with a knuckle. A young woman in her twenties, eyes veiled behind designer shades, did her best to avoid the drifter. Another tap followed, he waved at her, making sure she noticed him. She observed his hands; filth invaded every crevice and fold, dirt clung under every fingernail. She recoiled at the thought of having her hand meeting his. She felt sick to her stomach, fixing her eyes on the knuckle impression left on the glass. She said nothing, shaking her head at him, rejecting his inquiry.

“Change?” he asked. The woman gestured no with her head, hoping that would be enough to disassociate herself from him. She ran her fingers awkwardly through her hair.

“Mam?” he pressed on. “Please mam, I’m awfully hungry. Anything you could spare would help me greatly!” He stared up at the light – still red – he hoped there would be enough time.  After giving him the silent treatment, he knocked on the glass with more urgency. She grew irritated, glancing up at the red light, cursing it for not turning quick enough.

“Mam?” he continued. The whirring of the motor dislodged the window from its frame, allowing the scorching heat to rush in and clash against the coolness of the A/C that blew inside.

“You don’t take NO for an answer, do you?” she said, impatiently. “If I wanted to give you something, anything, I would give it to you. If you’re in such need of money, why don’t you do what we all must do – get off your ass and get a job, you bum!” She pressed the lever on the door handle, the window began to rise again, cutting off the odor his body gave off. Before Benjamin could say anything, the light flashed green, and the tires of the Corolla jerked with excitement, thrusting itself forward, gaining acceleration and speeding off.

She disappeared. Benjamin couldn’t understand what he said or had done to deserve such hostility towards him. It wasn’t surprising, he’d heard it all before, but couldn’t help feeling hurt from it every single time. It was so disheartening, it felt like someone had ripped out the last bit of dignity he possessed. Being homeless was bad enough, being reminded of it by someone who had no idea of his suffering made it ten times worse.

A job? All that he could attain one. He had attempted it several times early on as a homeless person, but he soon found out no one would hire him. One time, three years back, he had inquired at a gas station about a position, pleading and explaining his situation to the store manager. It was met with negativity at the mere sight of him. Every attempt he made ended in similar fashion.

He smelled, and no matter how hard he tried to keep his hygiene in-tact, without a home or clean clothes, without running water or the necessities needed to be accepted in ‘society,’ he soon gave up on it altogether. Hunger mattered more than someone’s approval.  The world was a cruel place to those who survived on the streets. What the majority did not understand, was that not all homeless were lazy and waited around for a handout. Some were the victims of hard economic times. He used to have a normal life at one time, a family and kids with a home and a good job. But bad financial decisions hit him hard, causing him to lose everything. His marriage had fallen apart when things did not pan out, which eventually caused his wife to leave, taking the children with her.

This part of his life he chose to forget. It was the only thing he could not cope with; life on the streets was unforgiving to all that succumb to it. It weakened and crept into him, made him sick and crippled. Thoughts of suicide would rush through his mind under those conditions, and life is something he still cherished, regardless of his situation. It was easier being labeled a bum as the woman had referred to him. That he could manage, it was the lowest any insult could go – his demise could go no deeper. The light blinked red again, a new vehicle pulled up, an older man this time in a green pick-up. He lifted his sign and walked over to it, still feeling the sting.

Once a Rat, always a Rat

The tattered burlap sack lifted violently off his head, revealing a face so battered and bruised, that Clive was hardly recognizable to anyone who knew him. The overhead lamp, hanging from a chain suspended from the ceiling, swayed back and forth, in a circular motion. The light cast a spotlight across the concrete floor and up the stone walls. Countless dust particles, displaying their own universe of suspended vitality, came alive when encountering the light. It took Clive several minutes to make out his environment.

“Make sure to double-up on the wrists,” Tony stated. “He’s a big one, we wouldn’t want the bastard running off on us before Rob gets here, now would we?”

“He don’t scare me none,” Kim scoffed, as he stretched out the duct tape, winding it around Clive’s wrists – he flinched as the tape clamped on tight and cut off the circulation in his hands.

“Alright,” Tony said. “I’m going to do you a solid, big man. You’re going to tell me where that rat-bastard brother of yours is hiding, and I’ll spare you any further beating Rob will want to unleash on you when he gets here.” Clive’s head slumped forward, the swelling around his face seemed to add weight to it, pulling it down. His breathing was labored as his chest rose and fell. Kim landed an open palm to the side of his face when there was no answer.

“Answer the man!” he demanded. He dug his thumb into the massive lump under his right eye. Clive pulled away in pain, but Kim chased it with bad intentions.

“That’s enough,” Tony said. “He’s half-dead already from the work you did on him earlier.” He walked over to him and lifted his head, grasping a handful of hair. “Where is the rat? We’re going to find him one way or the other, save yourself the punishment. He doesn’t seem to care all that much that his baby brother is getting the living daylights kicked out of him, why should you care about keeping him safe? Brothers my ass!

Clive swallowed. “You won’t find him,” he said, struggling to speak. “I’m the only one who knows where he is, and I’m willing to die three times over for him, you coward piece of shit!” He managed to give off a smirk from the corner of his mouth, though it was barely visible from the swelling.

Tony joined in on his amusement. “Well, we might just have to do that then, won’t we?” He turned to Kim, gesturing him to get the duffle bag from the trunk of the car outside the warehouse. Kim smiled with delight and ran off to retrieve it.

“Let’s just see how much of that brotherly love is inside that big frame of yours, shall we?” He removed his leather coat and placed it on top of some wooden crates. He rolled up his sleeves halfway up his forearms. “I ain’t no monster, I’ll have you know. People say that I’m a good egg, so if you want to reconsider, I’ll tell Kimmy there to put his toys back where he got them, and we’ll play nice. What do you say?” No answer came from Clive. Only his breathing grew, preparing himself for whatever was coming. “Suit yourself, sweet brother. Suit yourself!”

Kim returned with a bag in hand, rattling with heavy metal objects inside. “Can I do it?” he said, setting the bag on a metal table. The bag made a loud clunk. He unzipped it and rummaged through the contents hidden inside.

“Why not,” Tony said. “I’d like to see you break this one. Let’s start with something simple,” he pondered, rasping his whiskers under his chin. “I know, start with the toes.”

Kim raised his finger with excitement. “Excellent idea Tony!” He rummaged some more, then pulled out a pair of rusty bow cutters. He exercised their handles, loosening up its rusty movements into manageable strokes. “Right!” Kim continued. “Let’s get started.”

Clive’s sneakers came off, followed by his socks. He squirmed in his seat, trying to pull his ankles away from Kim’s hands trying to take hold of them. The duct tape that bound to his legs was serving its purpose, limiting his movements.

“Easy now,” Kim protested. “Take it easy, it will only hurt for a minute or two.” He belted out a sinister laugh. He grasped the handles in each hand and positioned the blades between his small toe. Clive attempted to wiggle it free, but Kim clamped the blades together, locking the toe in place. He looked up at him, smiling and displaying his discolored teeth. “Here we go, big boy!”

The bow cutters began to close, the small toe rose and straightened as the blades cut into it. Clive grunted, then followed up with a painful yell. Kim stopped momentarily and allowed the pain to pass to normal levels, before squeezing the handles again. Clive jerked and convulsed the deeper the blades sliced through his flesh. When it was over, the small toe flew off and bounced off into the darkness. Kim yelped a yee-haw and went scrambling for the severed toe. Tears ran down the sides of Clive’s face, burning his open wounds.

“The rat, where is he?” Tony said. “Well do this all night if we have to. Tell us, and well make this quick.” Clive took deep, long breaths. His fingers digging into the wooden chair handles that he was strapped into. He didn’t say a word. Tony observed him and was taken back by his willingness to not give his brother up. “You got to be kidding me?” he continued. “Fine, have it your way.” He gestured to Kim to proceed. He approached Clive with the cutters in one hand, the small toe in the other, dangling it between his thumb and forefinger. He laughed, enjoying the whole process.

The next three toes came off with excruciating pain, and each time, Clive refused to give them what they wanted. But the pain was too much to bear, and he began to fade in and out of consciousness. Tony instructed Kim to stop.

“Stubborn bastard!” he said, lighting up a cigarette. “Anyone else would have spilled it by now, it appears we underestimated our brawny friend.”

“He’ll talk!” Kim said, unconvinced of Clive’s willingness to remain silent. “A couple more toes, and he’ll squeal like a pig! You’ll see.”

“No,” Tony said, taking a long drag off the cigarette. “We need to step it up, grab the hammer, let’s smash every bone in his pretty little hands.”

“That works too!” He turned and walked over to the bag to locate the hammer.

Tony kneeled by Clive and examined the damage done to his face. “You’re really gonna make me smash every bone in your hands?” He took another drag, slowly blowing the smoke in his face. “You are, aren’t you? Shit, you should have joined our crew, you would have fit right in with the pair of cojones you’re carrying!” He extinguished the cigarette on the floor by his severed toes, then rose to his feet. “Go on, get it over with.” Kim approached Clive, the hammer gripped in his hand.

The flat face of the hammer came down hard, landing on top of the back of Clive’s hand. The sound of bones shattering through the skin sounded, Clive screamed in agony, shifting back and forth in the chair as if there was an electric current running through it.

“Again,” Tony instructed him. And again, the hammer came down, crushing bone even further. It continued for a while, each time with brutal force. Clive’s tolerance finally gave way, blacking out from the blows. Streaks of sweat rolled down Kim’s forehead.

“Alright, stop it!” Tony said. “What the hell is wrong with this guy? What is it going to take for him to talk?”

“Son of a bitch is tougher than I thought,” Kim finally admitted. “We need to switch this up,” his mind began searching for a solution. “I know, lets pop one of his eyes out! I bet he’ll talk then.”

“Are you insane?” Tony replied. “He’ll be in pieces by the time Rob gets he if we start dismembering him, they’ll be nothing left of him! And if we can’t get him to talk, Rob will have our eyes plucked out.”

“You have a better idea? Because…?” Tony recognized what he was getting at. Whatever methods he was using wasn’t getting the job done, and Rob was expecting an answer when he arrived.

“Dammit!” he said, finally. “get the clamp!” He pulled out another cigarette from his breast pocket and popped it in his mouth. He lit it and allowed the toxins to do their job.

“He’ll talk, you’ll see,” Kim said, his tone full of confidence.

“Hey!” Tony said, kicking the side of the chair. “Wake up!” he slapped him gently on the cheek. “Do you understand what’s about to happen? Were gonna pop your fucking eyeball out of your face, do you understand? You ready for that?”

There were very few movements coming from Clive. Tony slapped him harder.

“Answer me!” he said. Clive lifted his head slowly, forcing his swollen eye open.

“You’re going to have to kill me,” he said. He breathed in heavily. His relentless boldness angered Tony, turning his ears into a red rage. He grabbed a handful of his hair, a mix of sweat and blood splattered on his face as he yanked back on it.

“Then that’s exactly what I’ll do!” he released his hold on him with a hard jerk. “Kim, do it slowly, let him squirm in his hollow pride!”

“You got it boss, nice and slow.” Kim grabbed him by the hair, pulling his head back. With his other hand, he held a metal clamp, his fingers inserted and gripped tight. He positioned each end on the corners of his bruised and bulging eye. Clive winced at the touch of the steel against his skin. He pressed the metal deep into his eye socket, causing him to shake his head violently. The clamp pressed deeper and deeper, leaving very little room for both the clamps and the eyeball. Slowly, the eye began to rise from its base, like yeast in a hot oven. Clive screamed and groaned in agony. Tony called out to Kim to stop.

“Talk!” Tony said. When nothing but moans came out of him, he gestured to Kim to proceed. The thrashing continued for a while. When the pain got to be too much, he blacked out, only to be brought back from the twisting of the metal clamp digging into his flesh.

“Talk damn you!” Tony continued. Kim twisted and squeezed. Clive’s eye suddenly popped out of its frame and dangled from its ligaments against his bruised face. His convulsions made Tony’s stomach churn, but he kept it from showing.

“Stop!” Clive finally said. “Stop, I’ll talk! I’ll talk, just stop!”

The redness dissipated from Tony’s ears, relief rushed through him like living streams. He tapped Kim on the shoulder, waving him to back off. He stood over him, observing how the eyeball rolled back and forth, dangling from the dark hole where it used to be lodged in place.

“Alright,” Tony said. “Start talking.”

Clive’s words struggled to come out, he felt faint, his head swayed from side to side. Tony grabbed him by the throat and squeezed.

“Talk!” he said, frustrated.

“…Deli…..Maloney….Maloney’s Deli,” he said. The words seemed to drag out forever.

The Deli?” Tony said. “He’s at the Deli?” Maloney’s Deli was no more than a couple blocks away from the warehouse. All the intel they had gathered led them to believe that the person they were looking for had fled to another state. California perhaps, maybe Arizona. But the Deli? They would have never guessed it in a million years.

“Call the boys,” he said to Kim. “Tell them to bring me that piece of shit alive immediately! The boss will be here at any moment, he’s gonna expect us to have some good news.” He tightened his hand around his throat again. “He better be there,” he said. “Or you’re not going to like what body part comes out next!”

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Twenty-five minutes later, Tony’s cell rang. He answered impatiently. “Tell me something?” he said. The silence on the other end felt long and torturous.

“We got him,” a voice came through. “He fought, but we have him, were on our way to you now.” The phone hung up. Total and absolute relief spread throughout the dim room.

“They got him?” Kim asked.

“They got him,” Tony confirmed. “They’re on their way.” He walked over to Clive and patted him on the head. “You see, was that so hard? Now you got an eye hanging out of your face, and for what? I told you, we were going to get him no matter what, you big dumb bastard.”

Suddenly lights beamed through the windows, a car approached, the tires rolled over dirt and gravel, coming to a stop in front of the entrance gates.

“Is that them?” Tony said. “Go check.” Kim approached the window, squinting from the bright light against his eyes.

“No,” he said. “It’s the boss.”

Shit,” Tony said. “Alright, watch your words, who knows what type of mood he might be in.”

The sheet metal door rattled open, and Rob walked through the doorway. Two men were with him, he instructed them to remain outside and keep watch. He approached the two men calmly – They both couldn’t tell if it was a good or bad sign.

“I don’t see a rat in front of me, Tony,” he said, his tone was like ice. “I assume you have a location or that he’s in one of these rooms. Which is it?”

“We have him, the boys are on their way now.”

Rob looked over at Clive’s battered body. “By the looks of that eye, I’m assuming he was determined not to talk?”

“It took some experimenting, but its nothing we couldn’t handle,” Tony said, trying to make it sound easier than it really was. Kim looked at him, watching him squirm uncomfortably within himself.

Rob walked over to Clive and stared at him momentarily.

“Your brother is a rat,” he said. “I don’t know who protects a rat? Brother or not.” He leaned in on him. “Maybe you’re a rat too? Rats are known to stick together. What do you think Tony?”

Tony knew Clive did what he did out of love for his brother. He was his blood, and no matter what, Blood was thicker than water. But in this business, with these types of people, that way of life didn’t exist. He said the only thing he knew to say. “Once a rat, always a rat, boss.”

“Damn right he is!” He reached behind his back and pulled out a pistol from his waistband. He aimed and emptied the clip into Clive’s chest. His body burst open with every shot, leaving him limp after the gunfire ceased its chaos. Rob spit on him, turning away from him with disgust in his expression. Tony and Kim looked at their boss who didn’t hesitate to take the man’s life. Tony wondered what his reaction would of been towards them if they failed to deliver the man they sought. Rob stared them both down, his eyes reaffirming who it was they should fear. He exercised his jaw, like a boxer about to trade gloves. He bit his lips, leaving a temporary white impression before they regained their color once more.

“One rat down,” he said. “One more to go.”

Carl’s Refusal

Carl stood in the bathroom gazing at himself in the mirror. He turned his head to one side, then to the other. He appeared older, he noticed wrinkles and grey hairs where there was none before. He took a deep breath and exhaled in disappointment. Shit, he mumbled under his breath, stretching the newly discovered wrinkles out with his fingers. He had his fortieth birthday two days before, and like many aging men, he began to reaccess his life and where it was going. When he was younger, he’d always envisioned himself better off than he now found himself. He pictured himself financially secure with a better position at his job. Perhaps by now, he’d be a foreman, leading his own crew and making a hell of a lot more money. Instead, he found himself severely in debt and holding the same position he had five years ago. Newer and younger men had come in and passed him up in rank, regardless of how unqualified they were. He felt hopeless; the aging thing didn’t make it any better.

“You alright hon?” Beth said, peering into the door from the hallway.

“Yeah,” Carl said. “Just have a lot on my mind, that’s all.” He did his best to hide what he truly felt.

“Come to bed, a good night’s rest will do you tons of good.”

“I will,” he said. “I’ll be right in, I’m just gonna brush my teeth.” She smiled at him and walked away.

He stood there for a long time, looking at himself, almost expecting for the image in the mirror to rescue him by giving him some secret remedy. But his reflection looked almost more confused than his actual self. Thanks for nothing, he told himself, reaching for the toothpaste. He brushed hard, the bristles cutting deep into his gums. Blood splattered on the sink as he rinsed, the stinging between his teeth lingering for a long time. He gave himself one more glance before switching the light off and retiring to bed.

He laid on his back, staring up at the speckled ceiling, Beth was deep in her sleep. A grown man shouldn’t cry, at least that’s what his father used to say to him. But Carl couldn’t help but feel the tears rising and settling on the edges of his eyelids. He had never felt like such a failure as he did that night. Eventually, his eyes grew heavy, and he drifted off to sleep.

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“Carl!” Beth cried out. “Carl, wake up!” He felt her nudging him firmly on his arm.

Carl attempted to speak, but nothing came out. He tried opening his eyes, then attempted to sit up, but he couldn’t move. Beth! He cried out within himself, I can’t move, Beth, help me!

He heard Beth begin to cry, then the sound of the phone dialing. “Please,” she cried out. “I need an ambulance, my husband is unresponsive, and I can’t wake him up!”

I’m right here Beth, right here! What’s going on, please help me!

“twenty-five seventy-three Cleveland Road,” she continued. “Please hurry, I don’t know what to do.” The phone hung up, and she nudged him some more. He didn’t budge.

Carl tried to move with all his might, groaning and yelling within himself but was unable to break out of his paralysis. A fear unlike any other he had ever felt in his life set in and began to plead and beg for deliverance.

“Don’t be afraid,” a voice called out from the darkness. Carl went silent trying to pinpoint and identify the source of where the voice came from.

“Who is that?” Carl said. “Please, help me, I can’t move!”

“You can’t move because you’re doing all wrong!” the voice said. “You’re trying to move with your body, you can’t move your body no more. Don’t feel bad, we all get it wrong the first time.”

“Please, I’m so scared, help me up, I beg you!”

The voice laughed out loud. “Friend, all you have to do is open your eyes!”

“I’m trying, but I can’t!”

“No!” the voice corrected him. “Not your physical eyes, open your eyes!”

Carl remained silent for a moment, then almost instinctively, opened his eyes. The room was no longer dark, but bright with a haze to it. He observed Beth looking out the window, anticipating the ambulance to turn the corner. He felt his body finally give way and begin to move. Immediately he sat up and called out to her.

“Beth, sweetheart, I’m right here! I’m okay now.”

Beth ignored him, her full focus remained out the window.

“Beth?” he said. “I’m okay now, come to me.”

“She can’t hear you,” the voice said. Carl turned towards its direction. A man dressed in a black suit sat on a chair against the wall, arms crossed, a smirk on his face. They locked eyes with one another.

“Surprise, you’re dead!

Carl jumped up and away from the bed, his back was now against the wall, opposite the stranger. He looked over at Beth and called out to her, attempting to grab her by the arm, but his grasp went right through her.

“Weird isn’t it?” the voice said. “I know, you’ll get used to it.”

“Who are you?” Carl said. “What are you doing here?”

The voice let out another chuckle. “I’m supposed to be here Carl, I’ve been waiting for you a couple of days now.” He rose and walked around the bed over to him. “You’ll need some time to realize what exactly is going on, so please, do what you have to do. I’ll be out in the living room when you’re ready.”

The man exited the room into the hallway whistling a tune. Carl watched as he disappeared into the living room.  His attention went back to Beth, she was leaning over the bed comforting Carl’s lifeless body spread out on the mattress. Carl Stood there befuddled. He approached her slowly, the view of himself laying on the bed came into sight. He rested his hand on her shoulder, but it went right through her. He pulled it back quickly.

“Please wake up, baby,” she whispered to him. “Don’t you leave me here all alone!” She broke down and sobbed, her head resting on his chest.

“I’m here Beth!” he told her. “I won’t leave you, I promise.”

She rose and walked over to the window looking for any sign of an ambulance – she saw none. Carl made his way into the hallway and into the living room, where the man said he would be. He found him sitting on the couch, his feet up on the coffee table, popping peanuts into his mouth from a bowl he had left out earlier. Carl did not understand any of it.

“What’s going on?” he said. The man turned around and gave him his attention.

“You’re dead,” the man replied, popping another peanut into his mouth.

“You’re eating,” Carl said. “Are you dead as well?”

“As a doorknob,” he said. “Oh, this?” He gestured at the handful of peanuts in his hand. “Just a cool trick one learns after a while of doing what he does. Don’t worry, I’m not actually eating them, in fact, they aren’t the real thing. Existence on this side is boggling even to those who have been here a while.”

“I don’t feel dead.”

“Trust me, Carlton, you are very dead.” He rose from the couch and walked over to him. Carl retreated as he approached. “Come now,” he said. “I don’t bite! Besides, you best to get used to me, we’re gonna be attached to each other for a while.”

“No!” Carl said. “I don’t want you near me. Just tell me how to wake up and be on your way.”

“Sorry Carl,” the man said. “I’m afraid you ain’t got a choice in the matter. None of us do.” He tossed the last of the peanuts in his mouth and dusted his hands of their residue. Carl observed him as he did it. “Come, sit.” He gestured Carl over to the couch. “I’ll lay it out for you as best I can.”

They sat staring at one another, silent and awkward.

“If your dead,” Carl finally said. “How are you sitting and eating?”

“What? Were you expecting a ghost?” He wiggled his fingers, mocking ghostly sounds at him. “I ain’t no ghost pal, well, not in the sense humans think.”

“Then what are you?”

“Spirit, just like you.” He sat up on the edge of his seat. “See, you see a body on me, and you’d be correct, that exactly what it is. Only it’s not made of flesh and bone. Those are fake bodies, you just haven’t realized it yet. Our real bodies are, well, spirit.” Carl looked at him even more confused.

“Look, dude,” The man continued. “When we were humans, we had a small glimpse of what the afterlife was like, but we didn’t know the half of it. Humans are a selfish, greedy, deceitful bunch. Making their own truth up as they go along. They refuse to believe in the unexplained, and always will because it’s just how they are. I can’t blame them, however, ain’t nobody ever crossed over to see for themselves, so I guess assumptions is all they have.”

“So now what?” Carl said, impatiently. “What happens now?”

“You mean heaven? Hell?” He smirked and let out a laugh.

“What’s so funny? Are those things not real or something?”

“Oh, they’re real,” the man said. “But we’ll cross that line when we get to it. For now, its best to process this whole life and death thing, get it out of your system before we head out.”

“Head out? I told you, I’m not going anywhere.” He stood up defensively.

“Carl,” The man said. “You can hang out here for a thousand years, you won’t be able to crawl back into that body. Trust me, what’s done is done, there’s no going back. Besides, you’re missing the point, life on that side has nothing on this side. You just can’t see it, it’s understandable.

“I don’t care how life is on this side, I don’t want it, you understand me?” He walked over to the hallway. “I want that life!” He pointed down towards the bedroom where Beth was. “And I ain’t leaving her, not for you, not for anyone or anything!”

“You don’t know what you’re saying, your body is still in shock.” He stood and tried to usher him back towards his seat.

Carl jerked away from him. “Don’t touch me! You stay away from me, you hear me?”

The man sighed. “Are we really doing this? You are dead – get that through that soul of yours! There’s something better waiting for you down at the end of the tunnel, there’s a happy ending, after all, get it? Now please, go in there, say your goodbyes, and let’s go. We have a long trip ahead of us.”

“No!” Carl stood his ground. “I’m not going anywhere with you. You can’t make me, I won’t let you!”

The man’s patience started to wear thin. He threw his hands up, walking away from him. “You’re right, I can’t make you. No one can. If you really wish to stay here, that’s the way it’s gonna be. Those are the rules, and they can’t be broken. But I warn you, it might seem like the reasonable and logical thing to do now, but I promise you it gets old quick. And once I’m gone, I’m gone! There ain’t no calling me back.”

“Good!” Carl said. “I heard what you said, and I choose to stay, so please, leave us alone!”

“I’m trying to help you, Carl, come and see what I have to show you. You won’t regret it.”

“Leave us alone!” He turned and stormed down the hall into the room. The man stood and watched him disappear. A knock sounded on the door, EMT’s called out to Beth. She ran out of the room and towards the door, opening it and letting them in.

“Quick!” she said. “In the room, hurry please!” She led them into where Carl’s body was.

Inside the room, EMT’s where trying to revive Carl, performing mouth to mouth resuscitation as one of them charged the defibrillator. Carl stood amongst them, watching it all unfold.

“Last chance Carl,” The man said, standing next to him. Carl stood still and silent for a long time.

“Go. Leave us alone.” He walked over to where Beth was and placed his hand on top of hers.

The man sighed from all his failed attempts. He turned and exited the room, never to return.

Carl looked over towards the doorway and observed his absence. He turned his focus back to the scene in front of him, uncertain of what lay before him.