Those Screams

I don’t know what to say about this piece of flash fiction. It is easily one of the darkest I’ve ever written. (If you’re squeamish, feel free to skip this one. I promise, next week’s won’t be so rough.)

It takes a standard, familiar premise (the weird, old guy everyone in the neighborhood suspects is a killer) and pushes beyond the urban legends kids pass from one to another as they walk past his house every day to and from school. It makes him into a monster, something truly worth being afraid of.

I have to confess, though, I feel like a hypocrite posting it.

This is the second time since I wrote about the need to keep your fiction from going too dark that I’ve written something darn near hopeless. I honestly think I’m working through some things in my own mind that are finding their way onto the page in the form of these grim short stories. I’ve had a couple of rough months, personally. Some disappointments and unpleasant revelations. Since writing is somewhat therapeutic to me, that shit tends to wind up in my stories one way or another. It’s good for me, if you can believe it, but I question if I should be sharing the dark visions that visit me when I’m working through my own issues.

But then again, it’s Friday. I need to post some flash fiction and this is what I’ve written, for better or for worse. And honestly, writing this took a lot out of me. I don’t really feel like crafting a whole new story right now, so this is what you get this week, dear reader. I hope you’re in the mood to be disturbed.

The prompt came from Flash Fiction Friday:

Prompt: Tell us a tale about a nosy neighbor, and include the outcome of one of their routine snoop sessions. Let’s make this even more fun and include the following words in your story: Cellar, bottle, blinds, suitcase, and freezer.

Genre: Any your secretive little heart desires.
Word Limit: 1,500 words.

Fasten your seat belt and gird your loins. Here we go …

those screams

There has always been speculation about Mr. Kinter. In fairness, he is weirdly reclusive and he moved in just shorty before the Peterson boy went missing. The neighborhood rumor mill took to that like lonely teenage girls take to Twilight.

It doesn’t help that he’s an odd looking goliath of a man. Seriously, minimal costuming would be needed for him to go to Halloween parties as Frankenstein. He has a prominent, blocked brow, a chin that looks like it was chiseled by a beginning sculptor under duress, and savage, beady little eyes. Even adults give him a wide berth. In response, he sits on his porch for hours at a time, eyeing anything that dares to tread the sidewalk in front of his house.

I’ll admit it—his glare is oppressive.

I don’t like walking by that place when he’s outside. I feel like he’s looking at me in a way that leaves me naked, and it creeps me out. But I saw Kevin Underhill key his car. I watched the little shit put a deep scratch in it running from the front quarter panel all the way to the rear wheel well. If some kid had done the same to my car, I’d want to know about it, so I figured the neighborly thing would be to walk over to his house and tell him. He could work it out with the Underhill’s from there.

He wasn’t on his porch that afternoon. In fact, it looked like he wasn’t home at all. I knocked on the door a couple of times and was about to go home for a pen and some paper to leave a note when he finally opened the door. A musky smell rolled out. He didn’t smile.

“Yes?” he said.

“Mr. Kinter, I’m Jack Baker. I live across the way there. Listen, I saw one of the neighborhood kids key your car.”

He gave me a questioning look.

“He used a key to leave a long scratch down the side of it. It was Kevin Underhill. His folks live down the block at 4326. I thought you’d want to know.”

He gave me a curt nod and, having delivered the message, I smiled and turned to go.

“Won’t you please come in for a cup of coffee, Mr. Baker?” he said.

God, I wish I hadn’t.

The first thing I remember smelling when I woke up was formaldehyde. I hadn’t been around any since eleventh grade when they made us dissect frogs, but it has a distinct odor. You don’t forget it.

I was blindfolded and there was something in my mouth. Something round and rubbery. I could feel a strap holding it in place, leaving my jaw aching from being forced into an open position. I was drooling.

“It’s a ball gag,” Mr. Kinter said. “Some people use them for fun, if you can believe it. Sex games, that kind of thing. I actually ordered it from a BDSM website. I’ve found few other implements that suppress screams as well.”

I mumbled into the ball gag, my teeth biting down on the rubber and my tongue pushing against it. It did no good. He was right—it suppressed sound of any kind quite nicely.

He was silent while I struggled. I could feel my hands now. My feet, too. I could tell I was strapped down to a chair, my arms behind my back with my hands tied together. The air was cool and crisp with an earthy smell, which led me to believe we were in his cellar. I was a captive within 100 yards of my own home. I pulled at the bonds, twisting my arms and trying to kick my legs, but it did no good. Finally, I screamed into the gag, but that, too, accomplished nothing. In frustration, my throat raw, I stopped.

“There is typically an initial fit, like the one you just threw. Calm yourself. You are securely strapped down to a very solid oak chair. You aren’t going anywhere.”

I could hear him moving. I could feel the air in the room swirl as he walked past me on the left and then around me, returning on my right. I heard a chair move and I guessed that he sat down.

“Now, we have some … unpleasantness to discuss. I doubt you remember the coffee you took from me. It was laced with two chemicals. The first knocked you out. The second was a derivative of methanol. Are you familiar with what methanol does to a person when ingested?”

I shook my head and tried not to break down.

“It blinds,” he said.

Realization swept over me like a lawnmower sweeps over grass. I wasn’t blindfolded. I was blind. My stomach rolled and I began to feel nauseous, but with my mouth so thoroughly gagged, if I threw up I would drown in it.

I rocked back and forth in the chair, pulling at my bonds again and yelling into the gag. I could feel slobber streaming off my chin onto my chest. The chair teetered to one side and I threw my weight in the other direction, pushing it beyond balance and rewarding me with an abrupt encounter with the concrete floor.

Mr. Kinter tisked. “You nearly knocked over my suitcase,” he said. “Not that you can see it.” He sounded glib, even happy. I could hear a smile in the fucker’s voice. “You might have damaged some of my toys. We can’t have that.”

He walked around me and lifted the chair back into an upright position. I sat in it, held in place by rope like a rag doll. That’s what I felt like—little more than lifeless meat and bone in sack made of skin.

“I have a bottle of water here,” Mr. Kinter said, shaking it within inches of my face so that I could hear the fluid. “Would you like a drink?”

I grunted at him, or at least that’s how it came out. It was considerably more colorful in my head.

“Very well. Perhaps I’ll offer it again in a while.” I could feel him close to me now. His acrid breath was in my face, his large hands on my shoulders. He leaned in close and whispered into my ear, “Or perhaps not.”

Then he chuckled. It was the most alive I’d seen him since he moved in. Not that I actually saw him. Not with my ruined eyes. But in my mind, I could see his sweaty smile, his grossly plump lips pulling back from yellow teeth in a sick pantomime of joy. I could see his eyes, typically deadpan, now dancing with delight. And I could see his hands, large and rough and lethal, tracing along my collar bone, brushing across my chest as he pulled back from me.

I wanted to kill him. I wanted to see him red.

“I have a deep freezer here in the basement,” he said. “I like to keep things. Souvenirs. Scottie Peterson’s hands are there. He had the most lovely hands. I wish I hadn’t skinned the fingers, to tell you the truth. They were lovelier before. But then again, his screams were lovely, too.”

I hated myself for it, but I began to cry.

“When you’ve settled down, I’ll take out the gag. I’ll let you have some water and maybe some food and we can begin. I could take the gag out now—no one can hear you from down here. The walls are sound-proofed—but I don’t like whiny screams. I like the more passionate screams. The screams that are born in the purity of pain. Oh…those screams…”

He sounded like he was becoming aroused and, again, my stomach lurched. Now I wanted to throw up. To drown in vomit would surely be better than anything he had planned.

He moved toward me again, his fingertips caressing my face while I sobbed.

“You will know the pain. Oh yes. You will feel its kiss, its thorny embrace. I will take you to places you’ve never even dreamed of, and then, when we’ve frolicked enough, I will set you free.”

He pushed his fat lips against my cheek while I thrashed.

Having finished his Judas kiss, he ran his fingers through my hair and, finally, mercifully, he walked away. I heard him on the steps, ascending, leaving me alone in the dark so I could calm down and give him the screams he wanted to hear. I heard him reach the top step and stop. He stood there for a moment, watching me, I suspect, and said, “I think I’ll keep your head.”

And then he left, and all hope left with him.