THE chains hung down from giant rings embedded into the ceiling and held the hooks into her back, pulling the skin taut. Feet dangling, the overhead light threw shadows onto the wall, rivers of blood trickled down her back, buttocks and legs only to drip off onto the floor. She sobbed, strands of long blonde hair clinging to her sweaty forehead. She tried not to move for fear the hooks would pull away and tear her apart. She was like a baby in an infant carrier minus the safety harness.
“Whitney.” Anthony Fraser replied in an eerie whisper. “Don’t be afraid. It only hurts when you move around like that.”
Whitney peered at the broad shouldered man leaning in the corner, his arms laced across his chest. He pushed himself away from the wall and stepped up to her, his plastic butcher’s apron winking under the overhead light. The straps from the goggles on his face looked tight against the sides of his egg-shaped head. He slid the back of his hand across her cheeks and flicked her lips with his finger.
“Do you know what these are?”
She stared up at him through the curtain of blonde hair shading her face. Her gaze fell back to the floor as the chains and hooks gleamed in the light. Something in his hand rattled like broken teeth.
“That’s okay. I understand if you don’t want to talk. I’d do the same thing if I were in your shoes. They’re plain, ordinary dice.”
“Why…are…you—.” Whitney said between sobs.
He rolled the dice in her hand, pacing back and forth like a teacher waiting for an answer. She watched the dice roll around in his hand, her head spinning from the recently administered drug.
“These are the keys to your fate. Since their invention, dice have always played a part in our lives. In board games, we either go forward or backward. In crap games, we roll an odd number and win or end up with snake eyes and go belly up. Which is where you come in,” He handed her the dice. “If you roll an odd number, you live. Roll snake eyes and your die. Don’t worry, the dice aren’t loaded so you’re guaranteed not to lose.”
Whitney rolled the dice inside of her trembling hand and threw across the floor. They rattled together like cracked knuckles, struck the wall and tumbled into place. One dice showed a one but the other teetered on the edge, switching between six and one. He walked over to the corner of the room and watched the dice away. Her heart beat echoed in her throat, her nerves twitched and her breath became difficult; fear wrapped a cold noose around her throat, rending her speechless.
When the dice settled, Whitney raised her hands in the air, screaming, “Seven. I rolled a seven.”
Anthony stood beside the switch on the wall. He looked at her with sad, basset-hound eyes.
“You have to let me go,” Whitney pleaded. “That was your rule, I could live if I rolled—.”
Without a word, Anthony flipped the switch and jerked the hooks from Whitney’s back, spraying blood across the room, leaving hunks of meat and strips of skin hanging from the tip of the hooks as her body plopped onto the floor like a wet, bloody dishcloth.
“OKAY, Anthony.” Dr. Robin Hammond said, “What do you see?”
Lying on the plush orange couch, his hands overlapped on chest, his eyes closed, Anthony said, “I’m walking down the hallway heading to third period class. Everyone’s smiling at me. Some of them are laughing inside their little circle of friends beside their lockers. I see my girlfriend for the senior prom pulling her books out of her locker so that I can carry them for her.”
“Who is your girlfriend?”
“Amber Dunn. She’s as beautiful as ever especially when she’s wearing her cheerleading uniform.” He gasped audibly. “Something wraps around my hips. When Amber turns to hand me her books, she looks down at me and starts laughing and pointing at my crotch.”
“What happens then?”
“Everyone starts laughing and pointing, even the teachers. I look down and see my pants down around my ankles. My dick’s hanging down like a wind sock on a hot day. Amber’s pointing and laughing even harder then Scott Richards walks up and puts his arm around her waist and when I got up to say something he pushes me back down onto the floor and as they’re walking away they’re kissing but I’m crying too much, pleading for everyone to stop laughing but they’re still laughing and pointing and laughing and pointing and laughing and—.”
Anthony’s left leg twitched, his foot shot out and kicked the glass of water off the coffee table. It struck the wall, spraying glass and water across the room. He sat up to see what happened when the door flew open; Dr. Hammond’s red-haired secretary walked into the room. Hammond was knelt down on the floor, picking up shards of glass with his bare hands.
“Be careful, Doctor.” The secretary cautioned, “You’ll cut yourself.”
“It’s okay, Sydney.”
“I’m sorry, Doctor.” Anthony pleaded. “I didn’t—.”
“Maybe you need to—.”
“It’s not his fault, Sydney. Mister Fraser’s anger got the better of him and he kicked the glass. It happens.”
Sydney sighed and stormed out of the room, shutting the door behind her. After assisting the doctor with the clean up, Anthony slumped back onto the couch, sweating profusely. Dr. Hammond returned to his chair and placed his spaghetti-thin arms together on top of his desk. The dull gray sunlight outlined the gold curtains.
“It seems that we’re making progress.”
Sighing as if he heard a bad joke, Anthony said, “You call that making process? I could’ve hurt someone.”
“From what you’ve told me on the chart I asked you to make, the dreams are not as persistent as usual.”
“Constant.” said Dr. Hammond. “You’re not having the dream as much as you did when you first came to see me.”
“The pills are doing great.”
“I thought so.” Hammond smiled at first, then took it away. “Which is why I’m going to up your dosage.”
Hammond scribbled on a nearby prescription pad, tore off the sheet and handed it to Anthony. He wished Anthony a nice day and asked him to make his next appointment with Sydney. Slipping the prescription into his jacket pocket, he left the room and walked up to Sydney’s desk. She was talking to someone on a headset telephone; she rolled her eyes, put the person on hold and dropped the headset onto the desk.
“I need to make my next appointment.”
She searched the computer, moving the mouse with the celerity of an person hurrying to get out.
“I have the tenth of next month.”
“I can’t I have—.”
“Okay, the tenth it is.”
She clicked the mouse a few more times, printed a sticker displaying his next appointment time and handed it to him. Anthony stood, looking at her as if trying to figure out a math problem.
“What’s your problem?”
“What did I ever do to you? You sit at a desk all day long. We’re both human, Sydney and we need to—.”
“We don’t need to do shit. The way I see it, there are some people who can be saved and there are some who can’t. No one can save you, Mister Fraser.”
Anthony slipped the appointment card into his front pocket and took the elevator to the lobby. Since he’d been going to Dr. Hammond about his nightmares, he never understood what Sydney had against him. During his visits, he tried his best to avoid her at any costs so as not to give her a reason to berate him but it was too hard since the doctor stopped making his own appointments. He imagined her inside of a giant dome where no one could invade her space. No matter how hard he tried not to, he always took up too much room.
Before the day that would stain him forever, he attracted the opposite sex like a paper clip to a magnet. Nowadays, he was as compatible with them as the left shoe going on the right foot. Internet dating was out of the question; speed-dating—non-negotiable. He was no stranger to the nightlife and usually came home alone, his breath reeking of beer except for last night when he met Whitney and she was as easy as drunk girl got.
Of course, later on last night, he was worried about the booze making a strange combination with the sleeping aid and kill her before he had the chance to kill her himself. The events that took place at Logan Middle School fifteen years ago had, and would, stain him forever. He could never love a woman enough not to kill her, let alone marry her. He was more than willing but the desire for an honest relationship was impeded by the gut feeling that she would betray him just as the entire school had done and ruin him forever.
Crossing the lobby and out the door to his car, Anthony overheard an old couple chatting to a middle-aged woman in a dark blue business suit who was rubbing her hand over the back of the old woman’s shoulder.
“These things happen, Eleanor.” said her husband.
“Our baby boy has gone out on several dates and he’s always been home the next day, John.” She cried into her fist, the one holding the balled-up tissue. “The only thing I regret is letting him get that tattoo of his mother’s name on his chest. For all I know, he’s probably joined her in heaven.” Walking between two parked cars, Anthony dug the little ball of dried blood out of his opposite finger and flicked it toward the parking lot when a young husky woman stopped dead in her tracks, her high heels clicking. She looked down at her strapless pink shirt, then up at Anthony, her face twisted by disgust.
“What the hell was that?”
“You call that nothing?”
She pointed to the little black dot on her dress. His face flushed and grew hot; he almost gasped but he kept his composure.
“I’m sorry. I was doing some gardening before my appointment.”
“What are you?.”
“I’ll pay for the dry cleaning.”
“No shit.” She sighed disgustedly.
Anthony took a napkin from his coat pocket—he always kept a supply on hand in case the nightmare made him cry which was very often—and wiped the speck of dried blood from the dress. Looking up at her, he fell back onto the pavement in a failed crab walk. The heavily built woman had been replaced by the beautiful Amber Dunn ala cheerleading uniform, pointing and laughing, pointing and laughing. The blue sky morphed into the middle school’s plaster ceiling; the parking lot was now a rank of gun-gray lockers and Formica flooring. The vehicles in the lot became the students of Logan Middle School, looking superior as they laughed at his pain.
The past had successfully twined with the present, playing with his mind. He looked down to see if his pants were in place but the laughing seem to pierce his pride and gnaw at his soul. He looked around, crawled to his feet, rubbed his eyes with the back of his hand and took long deep breaths like the good doctor suggested. The laughter began to fade away, replaced by the noise of afternoon traffic and tree-cloaked birds. At the moment he was supposed to have been pushed down, something struck his left cheek, and woke him up.
“What the hell?”
The nightmare faded; the world was back. Traffic whizzed by as the wind bent the treetops. Shadows bled everywhere like motor oil on a white cloth.
“I’m sorry. I’m sorry.” Anthony said. “I usually don’t do this kind of thing in front of a beautiful woman such as yourself.”
“You think I’m beautiful?” The woman asked, her eyes dazzled by the sun. “My boyfriend tells me I look like a roast with a pink ribbon around it.”
“Forget him. Can I make it up to you? Take you out to dinner tonight, my treat.”
Blushing like a schoolgirl, she said, “Okay. But I don’t know your name.”
“Trisha. You know like Trisha Yearwood. I’m a tax—.”
“I like country music, too.”
They exchanged phone numbers and set a date for tonight at seven-thirty.
IT didn’t take him long to get Trisha back to the house, via sleep aid. Getting her into the house was a different story altogether. Instead of escorting her through the threshold like a newlywed couple, he dragged her into the house by her arms and shut the door before anyone else saw him. He stripped off her dress, a floral affair this time, and hooked her up to his latest contraption; she was so heavy she would’ve pulled the hooks out of the ceiling before he had a chance to give her the dice. He opened the skinny contraption, set her inside and locked everything into place.
The date had gone off without a hitch. They chose a fancy Italian restaurant. He ordered the chicken parmesan and she ordered the fettuccine Alfredo with stuffed crabs. Although he’d ate until he was comfortably full, there was nothing stopping her. He waited until she got up to use the bathroom before dropping the pill into her Diet Coke.
He’d chose a booth in the back as not to attract any witnesses. He slipped the ruptured pill packet into his pocket as she came back to the table. She asked him what it was; he told her it was his heartburn medicine. She insisted, if he felt that bad, they could get everything to go and go back to his place. He said he was fine and insisted that she finish her meal.
After the stuffed crabs, she became groggy. She blinked her eyes, as if she were fighting sleep. He paid the check, got their food to go and carried her out to the car. He drove around until the pills took full effect, giving them plenty of time to get ready.
When she opened her eyes, Trisha looked aimlessly around the room. Anthony was standing in front of her, wearing his trademark butcher’s apron. Tears slid down her cheeks as the leather straps of his latest contraption pressed into her pasty white flesh like bread dough wrapped in a thong.
“Wake up, sleepyhead. This won’t take long, I’m sure. No wonder your boyfriend doesn’t find you attractive. I damn near pulled a muscle gettin’ your fat ass in here.”
She closed her eyes and cried, her sobs muffled by the rag in her mouth. Her arms hung down from the straps like two dead weights. She fought against the straps, whipping her hair this way and that. He grabbed her shoulders and held her in place.
“It’ll only hurt if you fight it. This is something of my own design I like to call, The Peeler. You see, you’re being held by the straps in an upright position. The blades on all sides of you are going to peel your skin off like an onion. Don’t be afraid, though. I’m giving you a chance to save your life, Trisha. It’s okay if you don’t want to talk. I know I wouldn’t. If you roll an odd number, you live. If you roll snake eyes, you die. Your fate is in your hands.”
He put the dice in her hands and smiled. She took the dice and rolled them across the floor. They struck the wall and rolled into place; their heartbeats drowning out the sound of the dice tapping together. She bit her lower lip, muffling her cries. Looking at the two dots staring back at her, she squeezed her eyes shut as if suppressing the image of the dice. A sound of applause echoed in Anthony’s ears like the sound of a television audience.
They were praising him for a job well done. The dragging, the lifting and the set up had finally paid off.
“Fate’s a bitch.” Anthony said, reaching over for the switch on the wall. “It was nice knowing—.”
A white light whipped across his vision; his head swiveled on his flaccid neck. The room spun on carousel legs and his legs buckled. His hand slid away from the switch and down the wall. On his hands and knees, his breath was hard. He tried to stick his fingers into the back of his throat to puke out the drug but his hand was too heavy to lift. He rolled over onto his back to see Trisha unlocking herself from the contraption and
stepping onto the floor.
“Sleep aids are for amateurs. I like the kind where you spray it on your clothes and all it takes is one whiff to put them down. My mamma didn’t raise no fool.” She said and kicked Anthony against the side of the head.
WHEN Anthony woke up, his arms had been pulled up over his head and his wrist had been tied to a hook embedded into the ceiling of a large wooden shack. Sunlight slipped through the cracks in the wall, laying gold neon across the dirt floor; the heat made his head greasy slick with sweat. The rope that bound his wrists rubbed harshly against his skin as if he were being dragged across carpet. He tried to wiggle free, but his efforts
were fruitless. Feeling the drug wear off, his head felt less painful and his vision cleared.
“It’ll only hurt if you fight it.” A familiar voice spoke from across the room.
Something clicked and a harsh fluorescent light lit up the shack. Trisha walked across the room, wearing nothing but a plastic apron and a pair of goggles. She came to the left side of the room, pulled back an old army blanket and revealed an array of tools sitting on a dirty Formica folding table. There were several knives, saws—both handheld and electric—a comb, a can of oil, two scalpels, a pair of shears, wire cutters, a small pair of scissors, tweezers, three different kinds of needles and a claw hammer. She picked up one of the needles and examined it, letting the metal wink in the sunlight.
“I’ve got to admit,” She said, kneeling down in front of him. “you were easier than the others.”
Trisha walked past him and flipped a button. Brass-colored light filled the shack, winking off the tools sitting on the table. Anthony looked around and stopped.
Neatly arranged against the left-side wall, nestled inside tall glass containers, were six motionless young men. Some were cute; some wouldn’t have bagged a girl to save their life. She’d had them in neat order and frozen in different poses. The first one, a dark-haired fitness freak, was dressed in a dark-red football uniform minus the helmet. The one after that was in a golf uniform but the last one was what caught his attention.
A medium-built bald man with pale skin—with the name MELODY tattooed on his chest.
The only thing I regret is letting him get that tattoo of his mother’s name on his chest.
“Look, Trisha. I was just playing a little*.”
“Shhh!” She put her finger to her lips and asked. “Do you know how long it takes to learn a hobby? A lot of practice. A beginner like myself has to endure a lot of time and patience to make you look more life-like. Sometime you have to—.”
“I thought you said you were a tax attorney? You said something about tax—.”
“You never let me finish. I went to say taxidermist but you interrupted me.” Trisha replied. “Something you have to freeze the specimen and then remove the skin, which can be tanned and preserved for a later time, of course, that’s after all the important pieces are taken out like the liver, kidneys and other body parts.”
She stuffed a rag into his mouth and picked up the scalpels. His eyes swelled in surprise.
“I’m going to start with your legs and then go up from there.” She said, kneeling down in front of him. “It’s okay. I understand if you don’t want to talk. I’d do the same if I were in your shoes.”
She pushed the blade into his left leg, spraying blood across her apron and slid the scalpel down, peeling the skin clean away from the bone.
Bio: Brian J. Smith has been featured in E-Mails of the Dead, Book Of Cannibals 2: The Hunger, Pill Hill Press’ 365 Days of Flesh Fiction, Metahuman Press’ The Dead Walk Again and And The Nightmare Begins…Vol.1: The Horror Zine and such magazines as Dark Gothic Resurrected Magazine and New Voices In Fiction and such e-zines as The Horror Zine, Postcard Shorts, Thrillers Killers and Chillers, The Carnage Conservatory, The New Flesh and The Flash Fiction Offensive. He currently resides in Chauncey, Ohio with his mother, his brother the writer J.R. Smith and six dogs.