Because of NaNoWriMo and a nasty little stomach bug, I’m a bit behind on publishing Cruelty: Episode Two. So here’s an excerpt from the next installment to make up for my laziness. No promises, but the next segment should be live before November 10th. Thank you for your patience.
Turtle needed a fix. The ants were crawling, had been since Jennifer ran off with the mark. Where is she? How long has she been gone? All these thoughts tracked heavy boots through Turtle’s thoughts, leaving depressions in his mind; caverns too dark and confusing to navigate.
Twon had called four times so far. The cook wanted his money. Turtle didn’t blame his supplier. If Turtle had fronted two grams of primo crank to two layabout tweakers with a promise from said addicts to sell the goods, Turtle would expect his money as well. Twon didn’t play. Turtle was scared. And in the crushing fist of a rather vicious case of withdrawals.
Naked, Turtle sat upon the leather sofa in the living room, picking at his already bleeding foreskin. His real name was Simon Allison, but that name was so far removed from him that even he referred to himself as Turtle. The nickname had come from the boys in the locker room, back when he was in high school. Those boys had said his cock looked like a frightened turtle, one with its head tucked inside its shell. Turtle had a rare condition. Basically, his manhood didn’t look like manhood at all—rather, a second belly button with a set of balls dangling beneath. His condition wasn’t what made him itch, though; the jonesing did. His fingernails came away smelling of rust and man-musk. Crank. He needed some crank.
For the umpteenth time tonight, Turtle sprung from the sofa, turned, and headed to the trailer’s open kitchen. Whining like a hungry pup, he grimaced at the empty cabinets. He’d checked the cupboards so many times that nothing remained inside; their contents were scattered across the peeling linoleum under his feet. He climbed onto the counter, feeling the faux-wood flex and crack under his hundred pounds of skin and bones. He stood spread-eagled over the sink. Blood from his scratched foreskin dripped into the basin as Turtle reached into the upper cabinet and ran his hands over the bottom of the cupboard.
Nothing. Of course there was nothing. He and Jennifer had smoked it all. And when his Bic ran out of fluid, they’d crushed up the remaining shake with the butt of the lighter and snorted the dust. Even the drips were gone; that lovely meth-laced mucus that slid down the back of his throat like sour syrup.
Why is it so fucking hot? Turtle thought as his hand found its way back to his gouged foreskin.
Pick, pickpick, pickpickpickpick…
Someone knocked on the front door. Turtle started, spinning his arms at his sides in an attempt to regain his balance. His fix-deprived brain acted in reverse, sending a foot backward over the edge of the counter. He went down hard, his right hip taking the full brunt of the impact. Turtle trundled across the small kitchen like a child learning how to stop, drop, and roll.
The knock came again followed by, “Open tha door, muddahfuckah!”
Even through his pain, Turtle recognized Twon’s accent. The cook was from the Caribbean. Where exactly, Turtle didn’t know or care.
Twon called again, his words punctuated by the rap of his fist upon the door, “Imma come in, Turt’, and if I do, you be hurtin’, seen?”
“I’m comin’!” Turtle squealed as he pushed himself to his knees. His right hip protested, locked up, and he collapsed onto his side.
Outside, the rusty hinges on the screen door screeched seconds before the frame crashed against the side of the trailer. The front door came down like a drawbridge, landing with a thump on the carpet in the living room. Turtle stared in amazement at the fallen door, wondering how in the hell Twon had managed to knock it down in such a fashion. Turtle had only seen such a thing in cartoons. He found it almost comical.
Twon strode across the downed door, looking forever tall from Turtle’s kitchen floor vantage point. The cook wore a solid blue tracksuit with a Nike swoosh over his left breast. When he set eyes upon Turtle, Twon’s chocolate-colored features creased with confusion.
“The fuck you naked for, Turt’?”
“It’s hot in here,” was all Turtle could think to say.
“Git some air conditionin’, seen?” Twon looked around the small trailer then leaned back and craned his neck to glance down the short hallway leading to the single bedroom. “Where yo bitch?”
“I t-t-told you on the phone, man, she’s off tryin’ t’ score your cash.” Turtle grasped his sore hip and whimpered. “I fell off the fuckin’ counter!”
“Does I give a fuck? Lookit me,” Twon said as he pointed to his nose. “Not one fuck given. Nar’ bit. Now, git up, you fuck. Up!”
“I can’t stand!”
“Oh, you muddahfuckin’ bitch, you. I said—” Twon rushed Turtle, dipped down, and scooped the tweaker under the arms, “—git up!”
Turtle’s hip popped as he was lifted from the floor. Strangely enough, the joint felt better. Then Twon shoved Turtle back into the lip of the sink and an all-new pain shot from his coccyx to his neck.
When Turtle could focus on the surrounding world again, Twon had a nine-inch butcher knife clutched in one hand. Turtle didn’t know at what point Twon had grabbed the shiny piece of cutlery, but he recognized the crimson handle. The knife had come in a Paula Deen gift set that Turtle had bought Jennifer three Christmases ago, back before she hooked him on crank. Before the scratching and the weight loss. Before some angry meth-producing islander seemed intent on carving Turtle from his shell.
“Imma fuck you up, kid. I won’ me money, and me won’ it now, seen?” Twon’s eyes twinkled with menace.
“I ain’t got it. I’m sor—“
Twon slashed with the Paula Deen Special and Turtle’s left bicep split like a rotten tomato. Turtle’s knees disappeared. It wasn’t the pain that made him collapse; it was the blood. All that glistening red flowing from his arm. As he fell, he cracked his head on the lip of the counter. He should’ve blacked out, but the Twon situation alongside a shattering case of the DTs had his adrenaline going. He clutched his lacerated arm, sobbing. He could see muscle between his fingers. There was something white in there, under the blood.
That’s your bone, Turtle, he thought. He cried louder.
Twon didn’t approach him. Instead, the cook turned on his heel and moved toward the hall. He vanished into the corridor.
Fight or flight was not a question Turtle bothered himself with. Only one verb popped into his head. Flee. Still clutching his gushing bicep, Turtle slid himself up the cabinets at his back, inch by inch, until he was standing. He could hear Twon making a fuss in the bedroom, tossing what sounded like dresser drawers this way and that. The cook was busy. Turtle could escape.
Turtle hobbled toward the busted-down front door. His limping gait slowly became a jog as he rushed through the empty frame and down the four wooden steps to the gravel dooryard.
A beastly, wall of a man looked at Turtle over the barrel of a shotgun. The bore seemed to smile at him. This new guy was just as white as Turtle, but twice as big; corn-fed and blond to boot. Turtle came to an unsteady stop two feet in front of the stranger.
“Yo, Twon!” the stranger called as he racked the slide. “Your bird’s leavin’ his nest!”
Turtle craned his head back in time to see Twon coming down the steps. The cook shook his head as he went.
“The fuck you t’ink you doin’?” Twon pointed the tip of the Paula Deen Special at Turtle’s chin. Gingerly, Twon touched the blade to the underside of Turtle’s jaw and rotated it, as one does with a screwdriver. “You wan’ die tonigh’, Turt’?”
Turtle shook his head. The knife cut into him. Warm blood slid down his neck. He froze. Snot ran from his cupid’s bow, across his lips, and over his chin. He didn’t dare suck it back up. Any more movement would surely be greeted with death.
“Ollie,” Twon hitched his chin at the stranger, “git tha duct tape outta tha trunk. Make a mummy outta `im, seen?”
“Yup,” Ollie said.
Gravel crunched under the stranger’s feet as he went about his duties. The trunk popped open. Things banged around inside. Ollie returned. A slow rip sounded as the heavy adhesive tape was unwound.
Turtle didn’t take his eyes off Twon as Ollie rounded him with the duct tape, securing Turtle’s arms to his sides. The pressure would stop the bleeding in his arm; at least, Turtle hoped it would. When Ollie was done, Turtle couldn’t feel his hands. His circulation had been cut off. Gotta take the good with the bad, he thought. Though he was currently doing his best impression of King Tut, Twon had yet to kill him.
“Now,” said Twon, “we go’n go back inside t’ talk. Ollie, bring `im.”
As Twon walked back up the steps, Ollie shoved the shotgun in between Turtle’s shoulder blades and dug in. Turtle took the steps one at a time, trying to prolong what little time he had left in this world.
Back inside, Ollie directed Turtle to the worn leather sofa. Ollie pushed him down on top of the cushions. Turtle landed on his side. Twon helped him sit up then dragged the glass-topped coffee table flush with Turtle’s shins. Atop the glass sat Jennifer’s Scooby Doo pipe, a fund-less Green Dot prepaid card, a thin coat of powder leftover from the last of Twon’s meth, and the empty Bic lighter. Twon brushed the drug paraphernalia onto the floor and sat down on the glass.
“Where yo bitch?” Twon asked.
“She went off with some trick to try and score your money. The dude only had enough to pay for a lay, so she made him take her to an ATM. But that… that was hours ago.”
“I don’t know, man!”
The Paula Deen Special slid into Turtle’s bare thigh, as if Twon were doing nothing more than placing it back in its sheath. Turtle bucked in pain. The knife jerked and the incision grew longer. Turtle could feel the tip of the knife scraping against his femur.
Turtle exploded, “For fuck’s sake, maybe three hours ago! Four… I don’t know!”
Ollie said, “Might should ask him who the guy is that she went off with.”
Twon nodded in agreement. “Who she run off wit’?”
“Some guy my buddy Kirk put her on to.” Turtle tried not to squirm, for fear that the butcher’s knife would open his leg further, but he couldn’t help it. Not only had the pain become dizzying but the ants were back, too. And he couldn’t scratch. Somehow, that was the worst thing of all.
“You don’ got a name?” Twon asked.
“Fuck naw, man. He’s… he’s just some teen out t’ score some pussy.”
“You whore out your old lady?” Ollie grimaced. “You balls deep in secondhand materials. Yuck.”
“How your buddy know this guy?” Twon asked.
“They room together.” Turtle’s breaths were coming easier now, and the pain in his leg had subsided. He’d heard somewhere that the body shuts off receptors to alleviate the agony of death. God damn, he hoped that wasn’t the case here.
Turtle saw a light at the end of the tunnel—a little beacon of hope. Words fell out of him. “In Fredericksburg. Nancy Lane Apartments. Corner of North Brundidge and Ridgeon. Kirk Something-or-other. He lives in 10C.”
“I know the place,” Ollie said. “Nice digs. What’s this Kirk guy do?”
“I don’t know. He spends most his time working out. Why the fuck does it matter?”
“So he’s a big guy?” Ollie asked.
Turtle shrugged. “You got a street-sweeper tucked under your arm, man. Ain’t nobody bigger `n that.”
“What we do wit `im?” Twon asked Ollie.
Turtle’s brain misfired and he hiccupped, as if the two actions were connected somehow. Things were coming together. It no longer seemed as if Twon was the boss and Ollie the lackey. Turtle doubted that Ollie was in charge, though, as Twon had ordered him to bring Turtle inside. Partners, maybe, but not boss and subordinate.
“You got a knife. Handle it.” Ollie glanced down at his shotgun before heading for the door. “Ammo’s expensive these days.”
Turtle deflated. “No.”
Twon gave him a soft, almost kind face. “I trusted you, Turt’. I don’ trust lightly, seen? Goodnigh’, muddahfuckah.”
The knife came out of Turtle’s thigh. The addict didn’t feel it. There were no shouts or pleas for his life. The ants stopped marching. He laid his head on the back of the sofa.
Twon slit his throat.
Turtle took a long time dying.