Layover

​The explosion tore through the terminal like shattered glass through sinews and flesh. 

Then gunshots came – shotgun blasts, I thought they were, though of course I wouldn’t know – and people screaming. Then it was just this rising wave of panic that I could absolutely just feel in the open air of the terminal, and more blasts, echoing down the glass-roofed atrium past the ‘D’ gates, and screaming, and people were running, and the din of the wheels of their luggage rolling on concrete was deafening.

I stood, frozen, like a stone in a stream with a raging river passing around me.

Farther down I saw two security guards running, the crisp white of their shirts beneath their bullet-proof vests soaked red with blood, and behind them a man giving chase. Two men. Then a whole horde came stampeding around the corner. They were all bearing down fast on me and I just stood there like a deer in the headlights.

Finally I found myself and joined the fleeing throngs around me, the wheels of my luggage joining the cacophonous chorus being played, and I tore down the floor of terminal.

The second blast came from the other side of the airport in front of me, and this time the screams of everyone around arose immediately and loudly and the palpable panic in the air grew even higher. I saw more people come running around the other side on the far end, rounding the corner near the Mexican restaurant. They were waving their arms and their mouths were open. They were making horrible noises. They were covered in blood.

I heard the loudspeakers all around come alive into too-loud static, then into the voice of a woman, trying to sound as calm as she urged everyone in the terminal to be: “Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm… this is an Emergency. Proceed to the nearest exit as quickly as you can. Ladies and gentlemen, please remain calm, and proceed to the nearest exit. Emergency response personnel are on their way… please remain calm. This is an Emergency…”

They were closing in and I was going to be pinched in the middle. Something overcame me, something hard and sharp and tight in my chest and I ran, ran and turned sharply and before I knew what I was doing I ducked into a handicap bathroom and locked the door behind me.

There was something wrong with them. Something in their eyes. Their skin too, I saw, at just the last moment. The screams are so loud now, they’re everywhere, and gunshots. I can hear them, those people, those things – growling, and sounds, wet sounds.

They’re eating them. They’re… they’re monsters. What do I do?

Reflection

Yesterday I awoke
To find my reflection in the mirror
twisted
bloated
disfigured
monstrous

I feared the worst
but no one noticed
not one on the train
nor the drones at work
not even my wife
only I could see

Now each morning
I awake to find myself
the same abomination
or worse

With every lie I tell
each person I hurt
My face grows more horrible
disgusting
repugnant
inhuman

What I fear most now
is not the face in the mirror
but the knowing
that one day I’ll awake
and find
that everyone else
can see it too

Marooned

John was the first to go. We were in the interior, exploring, collecting wood for the fire, and trying to find something, anything, we could eat, when it happened.

One little misstep and he was enveloped by a grey cloud. He screamed and he screamed and he thrashed and thrashed but there was nothing we could do to help him. Soon he lay dead on the dirt of the jungle floor, covered in thousands of tiny welts. Killer bees, just another thing to watch out for on this god-forsaken little island.

After he died we heard strange sounds coming from the jungle. Moaning, and sorrowful howling, like that of a lonesome wolf.

The next day the blond woman – Jenn – tripped and a machete came flying end-over-end out of the trees and caught her dead center in the forehead. At least she didn’t suffer. But when we looked down and saw the tripwire she’d sprung lying limply across the path our collective horror only grew.

There was something else out there besides us. Other intelligent life. And it wanted us dead.

We were demoralized, in shock, but we had to keep surviving. Two days with only the little water salvaged from the boat and already some of us were weakening. We headed further into the interior and the bodies mounted.

Armand fell through what looked to be a pile of palm leaves on the ground, into a pit of sharpened bamboo spikes. I’ll never forget the horrible twisted look on his bloody face staring up into the jungle canopy, his one eye pierced through from behind with one of those wretched spikes.

Alastair stepped into a snare and was yanked into coils of rusted barbed wire hidden in the underbrush. We found the sapling with the other end of the rope attached afterward, sprung by what foul mechanism we could not ascertain.

There’s just three of us left now. As we sit around the fire in the darkness of the beach, tired, hungry, thirsty, demoralized, I hear the howling, the inhuman cries coming from the all around us.

I look into the jungle and see them coming out – the skin on John’s face is porous like a wasp’s nest made of dried mud, thousands of the tiny creatures crawling on him and buzzing all around. The machete still juts from Jenn’s forehead as she lumbers toward us. Armand is already rotting away, the bamboo stakes still protruding from his torso and through his pierced eye. Alistair is falling apart, his entrails spilling out of him as he slowly shuffles forward. And there are others, others I don’t recognize: a man with a caved-in head, a woman with a giant jagged scar all down her body, children missing their arms.

I knew there was something else out there. I don’t know what kind of island this is we’ve run aground on. But now I know that even the dead get lonely.

The Masochist

If I asked most people they’d think it’s degrading, depraved, twisted. They’d never understand how it’s only in feeling subjugated that I am empowered, it’s only in surrendering control that I truly gain it.

Pleasure and pain are not opposites, just different expressions of the same thing. The spectrum of human feeling isn’t a line; it’s a ring, like the one I wear on the chain around my neck – a circle, and those two sensations sit at the ends.

Kyle is riled up tonight, more than he has been for some time. It turns me on and I’m excited about what we’re going to act out.

You want me to tie you up, you deserve to be tied up because you’ve been a bad girl?

Yes Daddy, please time me up, tie me up because I’ve been a bad girl.

Kyle pulls the rope tight, too tight. Tighter than he should.

Ouch, Daddy you tie me too tight. Kyle, you’re hurting me. Banana! Kyle, banana! Stop. Kyle, what are you doing?

I can’t move or turn around. He pulls the rope tighter still, burning me, binding me to the bedframe. I struggle. Kyle, please stop! I sob. What are you doing? Please! Banana! Banana!

I hear him leave the room and I struggle with the ropes, sobbing. Then he’s back, his voice behind me again.

Did you think I’d never find out? he says, his words cold and dead. I found out. I found out about him.

Kyle, baby, please don’t hurt me! I’m sorry. I’m so sorry! Please don’t hurt me!

I hear him pull the ripcord, and the sound of the chainsaw.

Night Drive

The night is dark and the headlights of the oncoming traffic are blurred and hazy, not entirely from the rain. My head my feels light and full of stuffy air and cobwebs. I shouldn’t be driving.

“Dad-day! My seatbelt!”

Mikey is crying and fussing in the passenger seat next to me. It wasn’t bothering him before, why now? Rain pours and the windshield wipers beat out their syncopated song. I stop at the light, its redness is blurry beneath the water still trickling down the windshield, refusing to succumb to the machinations of the wipers.

“Don’t fuss, Mikey, here, here,” I unbuckle him and try to buckle him in again.

“Dad-day! Dad-day!”

“Mikey, stop!” I struggle with the metal tip and his resistance at being resecured.

I lean over, too far, I feel the leaden liquor pulling me down. My foot slips from the brake.

“Dad-day!” he screams.

The car rolls out into the intersection but I feel – I know – it’s already too late to do anything. I realize I’ve seen this moment a thousand times before. Lived it, a million times before, and only once.

The world of the car interior is blasted with blinding white light, the headlamps of the oncoming transport truck. The horn sounds, loud and low and angry.

“DAD-DAY!” Mikey screams one last time, the terrified scream of an innocent child, and then there is only the sound of the collision and twisted metal.

I awake calling his name into the empty darkness of the bedroom, and the coating of sweat on my face is indistinguishable from my tears.

My son is gone, again, until tomorrow night.

The Sadist

Strange things we do to the ones we love.

It’s hard to know what drives the desires of people, the things tucked away deep within the psyche, the secret lusts held in the heart, the twisted desires only revealed in the bedroom.

Those who don’t take part will never understand, can never understand; pleasure and pain are not opposites, but different sides of the same coin. They are not far removed from each other, but close – the spectrum of human sensation is not a line, but a ring, and they sit at its ends.

It’s strange things we do to the ones we love in the name of pleasure, but it’s how we care for them afterward that matters. No matter how many lashes rain down, no matter how hard I hit, no matter how bad the bruising, how many tears are shed and how much blood flows, I will always be there to care for her afterward. To show her that I love her, that I truly do.

Harder, she screams. More, she cries out. Do you want it? I say. Do you want it?!

Yes, please, she says, weeping. I want it. I want it more than anything. I love you. Please do it. Do it. I want it, please baby. I want it so bad.

I do it and she dies the little death, and then another.

I pull the zipper up the bag and heave her over my shoulder. There are shovels in the shed in the backyard. I will take care of her one last time, to show her that I loved her, that I truly did.

Dispatched

Back in my home country, I could have been a doctor. I came to America to pursue a better way of life, a dream. But I discovered that there are lots of other people in America trying to be doctors too, and my degree from back home wasn’t worth so much compared to theirs.

So now I drive a taxi, like so many other immigrants. I don’t resent it even, I’ve been doing it for almost 5 years now. It’s not so bad, really. If I’d come over here with a family to feed I’m sure it would be a struggle, but it’s just me. I don’t have the nicest apartment, but it’s much better than any place I’d ever have back home, and at least I don’t have to worry about being awoken by the terrifying sound of jets screaming overhead, or bombs being dropped on me.

I’ve found that when you’re a cabbie for a while you start to get the same sorts of questions over and over again from customers – well, the sober ones anyway. Busy night? How long have you been driving a cab for? What’s the largest fare you’ve ever had? What’s the craziest thing you’ve ever seen?

I get that last one a lot. As a taxi driver you get to see a cross-section of life afforded to few others in this world. You see it all, unfiltered, unedited, unflinching; life, with all its dark corners, and all the sordid vignettes that play out so many thousand times a night unnoticed. I’ve witnessed so many cross-sections of humanity and most of the time they act like I’m not even there.

But the craziest thing I’ve ever seen? The worst thing I’ve ever experienced in my line of work? Well, when the customers ask me about that, I always lie. I always tell them the story about that group of drunk college kids I made the mistake of picking up on St. Patrick’s Day in 2012. They’d stolen a keg from the bar and one of them, a frat boy type, was naked, and threw in up in the backseat.

Why would I lie? Because in order to be a good driver you have to make the customer feel at home. You have to have a good relationship with them, no matter how short their ride is, make them feel comfortable and safe. And if I told any of my customers the real story about the strangest thing I ever witnessed, they wouldn’t feel that way, because it terrified me more than anything else I’ve ever experienced in my life.

I’ve never told anyone else before, so you’ll be the only one. But first I need to tell you about dispatch, and a little bit about what it’s like to be a cabbie – because the strangest thing that I ever experienced as a driver wasn’t something I saw in my cab, but something I heard over the radio.

Dispatch calls out the names and addresses what gets called in, and we on the radio, if we don’t have a fare, answer back to accept, depending on who’s nearby. Of course, sometimes you have a fare picked up off the street, so the car accepting what’s called out by dispatch isn’t necessarily the closest one. And some of the other cabbies were lazy, and would lie about having fares, or say they weren’t nearby when really they were. Some of those assholes would even call out the wrong car number or steal other guys fares, knowing they’d never get caught.

You see, it’s a strange thing to work with people you never actually meet face to face. I mean sure, I come in to work every day and pick up my car, and make sure it’s clean and in good order before I head out, so I’ve met some of the other drivers. Tommy from Nigeria. Hank, the retired guy that used to own the pub down the street. But the majority of the other voices I hear on the radio are nameless, anonymous, coming out of the silence with only a number to identify them.

I’ve never met the dispatchers either, but I’ve gotten to recognize them by the sound of their voices and the way they operate. Michael has a low voice, gravelly and rough, so the other drivers are always asking him to repeat himself. He talks more than he should, too, and jokes around a lot.

I like Navid better. He’s got some kind of accent, I’m not sure what exactly, but his voice is higher and melodious, and he’s all business. When Navid is on dispatch, the company is a well-oiled machine, churning through fares like one of those money-counting machines the tellers use at the bank.

When Navid was on dispatch, the sound coming out over the radio was a mesmerizing symphony: him succinctly calling out the fares, the other drivers taking them, and the chirping and warbling of the radio in between as dispatch and drivers squeezed and released the buttons on their handsets.

“Jennifer, 11 37th Street outside The Green Orb Room.”

“Yup. Car 3134.”

“Thank you. Mrs. Hutchinson on 324 Sycamore. She’ll need help her with her wheelchair.”

“Got it. 1554.”

“Thank you. Avinder at 1919 Wallace Drive.”

“Copy. 5821.”

“Thank you. Mr. & Mrs. Brindley outside the Metropolitan Opera House…”

And on and on it went. It made me happy, and was so much better than working with the other dispatchers, some of who would get caught up in mindless chatter, or even argue with the bad drivers. That always bothered me.

The terrifying thing I ever experienced happened that one night in 2013, the last night Navid ever worked. I was on the late shift, 6-6, and it was probably around 3 AM. I was coming back from a fare I’d taken out to the airport, so I had the long drive on the highway all the way back to downtown, with nothing but the warbling of the radio and Navid conducting the Symphony of the Dispatcher keeping me company. But the melodious tones of Navid’s cheery voice and the chirps and squawks of the radio quickly turned into a dark drama, one that I knew to be real.

“Two cars to Key Lofts at 517 Albion for Melvin and his friends.”

“3814. On my way.”

“Thank you. Someone else?”

“5 minutes, this is 4582.”

“Thank you.”

And then another voice came over the radio, one I’d heard about ten minutes ago, accepting a fare on the outside of town.

“Hello dispatch, this is 4317. I’m out at this house in the Gables, but it doesn’t look like there’s anyone here.”

“4317, please try the number. Dr. Johnson at 451 Oak Street to the airport.”

“OK. 2323.”

“Thank you.”

“Dispatch, I’ve tried the number no one’s answering. Think I’ve got the wrong one, could you say again?”

Navid said the number. “Michelle at 837 University.”

“Got it. 4518.”

“Thank you. Mr. Brindley at…”

“Hello dispatch, I’ve tried the number, there’s still no one there. Could…”

“Cut the chatter please, 4317. Mr. Brindley at 13 Northampton Crescent.”

“Car 1325. Yup.”

“Thank you.”

“I’m going to leave, dispatch there’s nobody here. I think they flagged one.”

“Negative, 4317. Please check the door. Arnold at 9987 15th Street at the Velvet Palace.”

“Copy. This is 3624.”

“Thank you.”

“Dispatch, the front door’s open, something doesn’t seem quite right here. Should we call the police?”

“Negative, 4317, cut the chatter and check the door, I have other cabs to dispatch. Tehmina at Eastsider’s Pub at 582 Monarch Road.”

“1147. Got it.”

“Thank you. David at…”

“Dispatch, there’s something behind the door. It’s too dark inside, I can’t see but…”

“Cut the chatter, 4317!” Navid was getting annoyed, I’d never heard him raise his voice before. “David at 935 Slater.”

“1321. Got it.”

“Oh my god, it’s a man, he’s covered in… no it’s huge… it’s…”

“4317, hello?”

“Holy shit, it’s coming! Oh my god, no! Please! I…”

“4317?”

“…”

“4317? Hello, do you copy?”

“………”

“Hello, 4317? Do you copy….?”

The Grinder

Anton Krisanov. The press called him The Grinder.

We were finally able to track him down when he got sloppy. His last victim managed to cut him with a kitchen knife before she met her grisly end. The weapon didn’t fit his usual MO. We ran the DNA of the blood on the knife and bing-bang-boom – there he was – two counts of sexual assault in 1997. Then it was simply a matter of knocking on that Russian bastard’s door and paying him a visit.

Graves and I headed right to his place in the East End as soon as we found out.

Knock, knock, Anton.

“Anton Krisanov? This is the police! Open up!”

Bang bang, two shots through the door. One right into Graves’ neck. One a leaving a burning trail of exploding pain left of center in my chest, and me flat on my back.

I fought to remain conscious. The ceiling tiles blurred and melded into each other above me.

Then I heard the door creak open, and his footsteps, and a terrifying sound, the sound of an engine, of a machine with a spinning blade.

The sound grew louder and I heard Anton’s voice singing in a Russian accent:
Fee-fi-fo-fum
I smell the blood of an Englishman
Be he alive, or be he dead,
I’ll grind his bones to make my bread

The Man on the Train

I stepped onto the deserted train as a lone passenger stepped off, a tall man in a trenchcoat.

Immediately the train lurched into motion and I nearly lost my balance. Hurriedly I sat down, then realized in my haste I’d inadvertently sat directly across from the only other passenger aboard.

No matter, my ride was short. But as the silver vessel carried us through the twisting tunnels of the underground I began to feel uneasy. The man was staring.

I shifted uncomfortably, and played with the cuffs of my coat. I looked up again. Still staring. I cleared my throat. But he did not look away.

This was getting awkward. Why? Why in this giant empty train did I have to sit down across from one of the creepy ones?

I stole a glance up from my lap again. Still the awful stare, eyes fixated straight ahead on me.

This was unbearable, I had to leave. Still five stops away from mine, I hurried off at the next, praying to God he wouldn’t follow. Thank God he didn’t.

The train pulled away and I sighed a breath of relief on the platform; never again. If I was going to come home from the city this late, from now on I’d take a cab. I didn’t want to get assaulted or murdered by some sicko.

The next morning I was horrified to find the man’s face on the front page of the newspaper. But my horror was even greater when I finally realized why he’d be staring. The headline screamed the truth at me from the page:

SERIAL KILLINGS CONTINUE, ANOTHER FOUND DEAD ON TRAIN