Mom

gothic_church_by_snowelfwithsun.jpg

He finished through the last row of vines and entered the tower in a blaze of panic. It had been 2 days since his last full glass of water and a meal a few berries. Lenny was in no mood to make new friends.

They smiled at him. Sharp, ear to ear grins.

“Congratulations,” the one with a black pendant necklace said. “We believed in you.”

A colony of men and boys. Heads, eyebrows, and faces all completely shaven. Wearing white, priest-like robes.

Lenny, on the other hand, had a beard, a torn Metallica shirt, and tennis shoes.

“Who are you?” said Lenny.

“I’m your keeper,” said the one with the black pendant. “My name is Sugar.”

“Sugar?” began Lenny, still panting. He grabbed the glass of water before a colony member had offered it and took a swig. “Your momma name you that?”

The colony grinned smugly, but none so much as chuckled.

“No,” said Sugar. He reached out and retrieved the empty glass. “But momma would like to meet you.”

Two of the more husky-looking colony members grabbed Lenny by each of his arms. Lenny resisted, snapping free from their grasps and turning for the door. He was stopped short by a dagger point aimed at his eye. Lenny returned to Sugar.

“I don’t know what this is,” Lenny gritted out. “I don’t remember what happened before I entered that bullshit maze. I just want to go home. I just want to return to my boring life.”

“Meet mom, and you’re free to go,” said Sugar.

Lenny eyed the rest of the room. These bald-headed clowns all displayed the same mindless expression. He’d been kidnapped by a goddamn virgin convention.

“Let’s do it,” said Lenny.

He followed along with the colony outside of the tower. So far he had seen swords and daggers, but no sign of any guns. Even if he was to fight his way free, where would he go? Lenny had fought so hard to escape that maze but he never imagined he’d find himself in a more perilous situation.

The walk from the tower was illuminated with Tiki torches lining the dirt path. The fires ran tall and provided some welcome warmth. White-robed colony members flanked Lenny on all sides as they walked in step-by-step unison toward the Gothic Cathedral. The outdoor area was surrounded by an Iron gate. Arrowed spikes decorated their peaks. Then Lenny spotted something – a gate, appearing badly damaged. It had been busted apart by some kind of army jeep. Whoever had tried to break in hadn’t made it very far – there were pikes still sticking out from the windshield.

“This way!” One of the colony members with a thick, low voice shouted at him.

“You might not be afraid of us,” Sugar said to Lenny. He stopped at the doorway, flashed a devilish smirk, then yanked the fat spiraling door handle to the large door of the cathedral and directed Lenny to enter.

The rest of the colony laughed.

“I ain’t afraid of your fucking mom,” Lenny said.

A set of hands shoved Lenny from behind, and he fell onto his hands and knees inside the building. The door shut behind him, and he was filled with cold dread.

The pews were of old wood, vacant of any church parishioners. The statues inside were nothing like the Catholic saints he had seen growing up – these were of dragons flying, wolves eating, and at the front one giant black leopard, in the pouncing position.

“Hello,” said Lenny, surveying the empty building as his voice echoed through the chambers. His foot struck something – a spotted dog, with a knife in its head. Blood pooled around it.

The sound of glass shattering brought Lenny to jump. It had come from up ahead.

Lenny knelt down, rubbed the bloody dog behind its ear, then tugged the knife out from its skull. He stuffed the blade into the waste of his jeans, then adjusted his ragged shirt to hide the handle.

“Lenny,” said the voice ahead. It was a sort of whispered moan. The type of voice you’d expect to hear from a dying creature. “Bow down to me.”

“Fuck you.”

“Bow down to me!”

The smoke from the candles inside swirled together, materialized into a sort of foggy witch, then sucked the knife out from Lenny’s waistband and plunged it straight through his foot, nailing him where he stood.

“Arrgh!” grunted Lenny. He gripped the knife but a sort of magnetic energy kept him from withdrawing it. The black smoke dispersed into a cloud of locust, swarming the inside of the church. Lenny slapped as they attacked at his face, and when he opened his mouth two crammed their way into his throat. Lenny coughed them out.

The locust dissolved into dust, floating like a dark cloud throughout the empty church.

“You’ve caused me great distress.”

Lenny shook his head, and returned his focus to the knife. He couldn’t get it to budge as his own blood puddled around his foot.

“You entered and were never invited. You destroyed my gate, and have brought with you a curse upon my sons. You will die for this, Lenny.”

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    • Thomas M. Watt

 

 

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After ten minutes of silence, Ashley sighs, then holds out her phone out and drops it in my hand.

“My life’s in there.”

“Didn’t think you’d give it up.”

“The thought of you touching me is making me nauseous.”

I roll my window down and am on the verge of flinging it as far from the road as possible.

“Don’t! Just stuff it in your pocket!”

I load the gun, reach the phone out the window, then fire a bullet through it. The phone is blown to bits and scattered by the wind outside.

“What the eff? You killed it!”

I don’t respond. Mainly cause phones don’t die. Instead, I try to develop a plan for this hotel killing. Could it be a set-up, where the man in 203 is waiting for me? Don’t think so – it doesn’t seem like Master wants me killed. Not yet at least.

So why kill this person? And if I do, will Master even know? That question lingers in my mind for a while. He has men working for him in the real world – that much I’ve figured out. The thug who drugged me at my doorstep, the one driving the white van – at least two of them. I don’t believe in supernatural phenomena, but the thought of him having a peephole into my soul scares the shit out of me.

“Weren’t you supposed to be in the NFL or something?”

My eyes snap to Ashley, then cut back to the dark horizon out my window.

“Didn’t work out.”

She laughs. “Loretta made you quit, didn’t she?”

I show at her and hold up gun again.

“That’s what people say, she made you stop.” She dances her fingers through her bleached blonde hair. “God, if you get me on the news I’m gonna be so eff-ing pissed.”

I pinch the bridge of my nose and shake my head. “You love attention.”

“I’m not wearing any make-up.”

I turn to face her. She is wearing make-up, and looks beautiful. Scratch that – the kind of good-looking playboy models are.

“So sorry I look so ugly,” says Ashley.

I don’t say a word. She’s fishing for compliments. That shit rubs me the wrong way. Some girls really are ugly, so I never understand why I’m supposed to reassure the pretty ones they’re still society’s A-listers.

“I said I’m sorry I look so ugly.”

“Don’t worry about it.”

I hear her jaw snap shut and steal a glance – she’s got her arms crossed, and looks like she’s trying to shoot laser beams out of her squinted eyes. I can’t help but smirk for the first time all day.

“Why are you kidnapping me?” she says.

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CHAPTER 8

I wake up screaming. I’m bloody, my shirt is ripped, and I’m surrounded by desert. My head is attached to my body; my upper torso is no longer spooned clean.

A brief chill. Then the torment returns.

“No.” I push myself up. I grab my expos cap, jam it on until I’m eye-deep, then rip it off and throw it to the ground.

Somebody’s handgun is in my pocket.

I pat my pockets down – no phone, no wallet. I do a three-sixty. My family is gone. Loretta and Avery are hostages.

Master has them. In real life.

My eyes glaze over the sand, then the rocks around me. How is this possible? Am I delusional, have I gone full-blown insane?

I pick one of the rocks up, then hurl it. How could a psychopath from my dreams kidnap my family? I snatch another, then fling it forty plus yards.

I grab a third, then sprint forward. I swing my arm back, then hurl it through the air. My pace diminishes to a clumsy limp. Two more lifeless steps, then I stumble and fall, face-first into the sand. My wrist jams from my half-assed attempt to catch myself. Grains of sand fill my mouth and catch in the cracks between my teeth.

I slip the handgun out from my pocket and stare down the barrel.

The sicko has my family. He could be raping them, torturing them. Maybe he’s killed them already. Maybe he’s right – maybe I’m doomed to fail.

Have I lost my mind? Has ‘Master’ really infiltrated my dreams and abducted my family? Does he even exists, or has paranoia deranged the shit out of me?

I think hard about my morning with Loretta, searching for some alternative explanation. Is it possible our love wasn’t mutual, and she opted to take our daughter and run? No – She wouldn’t do something like that, I’m sure of it.

That cop who pulled me over – he seemed tormented, too. Especially when he blew his brains out. Maybe Master had him.

I flip the gun aside.

I’m dehydrated, hungry, and disoriented. I push off my belly then sit on my knees, gazing absently at the sun. I remain there until only a faint orange glow remains. I drop my head, let out a breath, then rise to my feet.

I have to get going. I have to save my family.

There is a roadway in the distance. I look down at the handgun, bend over to grab it, then stop. I swipe my expos hat up instead, then fix it over my shaggy hair as I walk toward the roadway.

I’m not going to kill anyone. Like I said before, I’m not a man of violence, and there’s no way in hell I’m going to let Master get to me. Even with my family in jeopardy, force and intimidation is not part of my lifestyle. I clean pools for Christ’s sake.

I pause short of my fifth step. What choice do I really have, though? My wife and daughter are in his hands. He’s the one calling the shots.

I shut my eyes and sigh.

“Goddammit.”

I return to where I sat, grab the gun, then tuck it in the waistband of my jeans and hike through the desert sand over to the roadway.

I’m not going to use it. But I’d be an idiot not to take it.

I wish going to the authorities were an option. Too bad cops don’t file police reports about nightmares. Plus I’m freaked out about how Master tracks me in real life. Could be some wacko shit like Being John Malkovich, where there’s this portal that allows people to observe life through some famous actor’s eyes. I forget the actor’s name.

Master? Who is this guy? Why did he pick me to carry out his dirty work? Somehow this complete stranger has jacked the steering wheel of my own life and taken me for a joy-ride.

I reach the road, then wait on the side. A trailer approaches. My arm is outstretched, thumb aimed skyward. I step out for the driver to see me. He tugs the horn and swerves around.

Five minutes pass without a single other vehicle passing. Then a truck rumbles my way. This time I jump in the road and wave my arms frantically. They slow to a roll, and I move aside and signal for him to lower the window.

Guy laughs and gives me the finger, then drives off.

Enough with the bullshit.

I hold the gun firm with one hand. Next car is mine.

A red mustang comes tearing down the highway. I flag them down from the middle of the road. I hope to God the driver isn’t one of those mad-as-hell gun owners who live for murdering in self-defense. The mustang pulls over and stops, but the tinted window remains up.

I take one last breath, then aim my gun at the driver’s side window. I fight jitters as I reach out for the door handle. Part of me fully expects my head to be blown off before I ever see who’s inside. I tug the handle, and hear the snappy click – it’s unlocked. I bring the door toward me.

“O… M… G,” she says.

Fuck me.

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CHAPTER 7

It’s raining this time. I can tell through the window. Down below I see the same trees and cars as last time. Sitting in the couch opposite my own is Master. My first instinct is to stand and charge him, then beat his ass to a pulp. But I can’t move any body part lower than my jaw – this dream belongs to Master. He scribbles in his notepad.

“Ever had your heart broken, Mr. Gordon?”

“Where are they?”

“Some say the emotional wrench of lost love far surpasses any harm that can be inflicted physically.”

“You have them, don’t you?”

Master stops writing. He folds his hands and sets his heel over his opposite knee. “Your wife and daughter have been kidnapped. They will be returned, alive and well, as long as you observe my instructions.”

“What are you? Who are you?”

“We discussed this already. I am Master.” He sets the notepad aside, then adjusts the square box glasses sitting over his nose. “Our meetings will take place in your subconscious, though the threats and demands I will make pertain to the real world. Your wife and child are mine, I told you this during our previous session together.” He rubs the tip of his index finger against his temple. “Tell me, Phillip, how would you react if the love of your life left you for another man?”

My teeth clench shut.

“Well?”

I breathe through my nostrils. “Return. My. Family.”

Master sighs, then traces his finger along his chin. “You are important to me, you know. If I am Morpheus, you are Neo.”

“You touch Loretta, I’ll end you.”

“Loretta and Avery will be returned to you, unharmed and intact, so long as you comply.”

“Lay a finger on either of them I’ll slit your god-damned throat.”

I breathe. I stare.

Master rises from his seat, then strolls around the room. His wrist swoops up imaginary snow as he talks.

“I don’t think you’re capable of saving your family, Phillip. That’s just me being honest, man to man. You might be big and strong, but underneath all that meat you’re nothing but a coward.”

My head rattles in place. He stands still and faces me.

“I’m inside of your mind, and all that surrounds us are your countless fears, troubles, and anxieties. You do not think you can save your family, not even for a moment. You plan to try, yes, but you don’t plan on succeeding. Oh, no, no, no. And it’s not the first time, either.”

“What are you talking about?”

“Football, Phillip. You quit. For so long you persevered, for so long you improved. But at some point along the journey, a realization occurred to you – you’re just not good enough, and never will be. The thought of failure doesn’t bother you; not in the slightest. You’re happy to walk around town as the loser you are. You hate success because it doesn’t match your personality. Failure, yes, that’s your comfort zone. And after your family is killed, and everybody is telling you how sorry they feel, you’ll be ecstatic deep down, your little secret between you and yourself – you lost; the side on which your personal preference resides during competition. You’ll be relieved to no longer concern yourself with providing financially for other humans beings. Gleeful that Loretta didn’t live long enough to leave you – and yes, she would have anyway. A woman like that deserves better than a failure like you.”

Master grins, then continues. “Loretta will be murdered before she can divorce you. Remind you of anything?”

I don’t respond.

“You quit before you had a chance to enter the NFL and become the wasted draft pick you knew you were bound to become. Just as comfortable as you are with that decision, so shall you one day be with the death of your family – with your inability to save them in time.”

He clicks his teeth together so I can hear them, half a dozen times, then speaks.

“I don’t understand why you failed to properly warn Loretta about our last therapy session. I told you I was going to abduct her.” He balls his hand into a fist, advances forward, then knocks his knuckles against the side of my head. “You could have prevented all of this, you know.” Master returns to his seat, crosses his legs, and taps his fingers on his kneecap. “Sheep would sooner follow the herd off the cliff then risk communal castration by reversing their direction.”

“I don’t care what anybody else thinks.”

“Of course not, you’re a loser. That’s what losers do; they accept their inability to contribute to the rest of mankind. You’re dead weight, lying down and covering your ears is what you do best. Allow others to step all over you, allow others to take the little you have. You don’t care, after all you’re content with just being ignored. You don’t care what others think because you know what they think: You’re an embarrassment – your entire town is ashamed of you. You, more than anybody, should have escaped this dung-ho community and made millions of dollars with all the fame and fortune a celebrated life entails.” Master breathes a laugh. “Pathetic. A miserable wash-up. Why did I pick you?”

“Why did you pick me?”

“Oh, oh-oh oh.” Master points his index finger at me, then stands again. “Now you’re asking the right question.”

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CHAPTER 6

My left hand chokes the steering wheel while my right sticks to my phone. I flip it open, push ‘send’ for Loretta, then wait. Voicemail. I ring again. I speed along the roadway. I’m not far from home, and I’ll see that white van coming a mile away.

“God, protect my family. God almighty, for the love of God protect my family.”

I don’t breathe. I’m locked on the road. I enter my neighborhood doing 50 plus. When I see him, it’s too late. Charlie – wearing the red-shirt, playing with chalk.

Now he’s drawing in middle of my street.

I press the brake pedal down, but I’m way too late. I rip back the parking brake – fumes from burnt rubber swarm my pick-up. I’ve veered right, straight for my neighbor’s oak tree. Charlie flees blind – and heads the same direction.

“No!”

I punch my horn and hold it down.

He watches me barrel toward him like a dumbfounded deer.

I crash.

Airbag deploys. Everything’s hazy. Blood and glass are everywhere.

Oak tree splits the front end of my truck. I wobble outside, then search my surroundings.

“Charlie? Charlie, are you okay?”

I’m dizzy; my brain is still bouncing. I don’t see his body anywhere. Then I hear crying. I turn to see –

“Oh my God.”

Hand to my chest. The kid dove into some bushes. If it weren’t for the tree, my Dodge pick-up would have obliterated him. He’s got a few twigs and thorns in his arms, but that’s it.

Charlie screams and goes running inside. I don’t blame him.

Tires screech. I turn around – the white van. It just turned onto my street. I see one roided-out driver, but his comrade from the passenger seat is gone.

“Loretta!” I scream. I pump my arms and race home. “Loretta!”

I reach my driveway. The van skids behind me and stops with a loud ‘bang’ against my garage door. I fly up the front porch and turn the door handle.

“Loret-”

Shotgun clicks from the monster holding it the second I shove the door open. He smiles, then stabs my neck with a syringe. A shooting pain enters my neck as I crumble to the floor. The injection comes from the man I saw in the passenger seat of the van – one with the cleft lip. He’s been standing here, waiting for me.

I’m too late.

I slip out of consciousness.

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CHAPTER 5

I turn the key, start the engine, and drive off.

Charlie notices me from the driveway he’s marking up with chalk. His red shirt is halfway up his back and he doesn’t even know it. I give my horn a light honk. He shouts and waves with the chalk he’s holding, then returns to drawing some elephant-dinosaur hybrid. I feel obligated to warn him about how dangerous it is to draw so close to the pavement, but neighbors don’t always appreciate well intended advice – especially when it comes to their kids.

I grab my expos cap from the passenger street and screw it on my head as I exit my neighborhood and start along the main road.

A few repairs to do today, but mostly standard cleaning. Fortunately, most clients won’t be home. I like people; just not the way they look at me when I clean their pools.

I turn on the radio hoping to hear some jams. Instead, I get the stupid AM morning shows that nobody wants to hear. I switch to this popular jackass on FM – he calls himself ‘McWatty9’, and even though I listen to him I swear I can’t stand him. The guy reads the news off like he’s doing standup. Something he says catches my attention. I turn it up.

That’s right, folks the suspect with the penis-hairdo cops hunted like nymphos for has… finally-been-nabbed! Documentation confirms he’s the alleged bomb plotter whose made strange, mange, and deranged purchases up and down the county area. This dickhead won’t stop yammering to authorities either, but he… won’t give us a hint about what he’s done with all his bomb materials! Assuring us he’s not insane, the phallic-tipped bandit claims a man from his DREAMS made him do it!

           

My heart pounds. I pull over to the side of the road, put my truck in park, then turn the volume up.

And that, folks, is your… bum-ba-da- dum! Nutjob of the week!

(sound effect – a parrot chirps, “He’s a nutjob! He’s a nutjob!”)

           

I turn the radio off. Mere coincidence. Has to be. Still, I wish I knew more about the suspect’s story. I wish I knew more about the man in his dreams.

Part of me wants to call Loretta, right now, and tell her to take Avery to her mom’s house. I shake my head instead, then remind myself how ridiculous I’m being – it was a dream. Am I really so paranoid as to think ‘Master’ is real, and has some kind of power over me? I mutter to myself the best piece of advice my father ever gave me.

“Stop being an idiot.”

I get back on the road and head to my first house. It’s a nice place, overlooking the beach. Owner’s a tool, but his pool is beautiful. The water spills over the edge, giving it a ‘waterfall’ effect.

A white van approaches on the other side of the road, traveling the opposite direction as me. Its driver stares at me as our vehicles cross paths – he’s a white male, with serious power alleys. The man in the passenger seat is equally buff and terrifying. A scar runs from his nose to his lip, and he glares at me like a hungry wolf smells blood.

I keep track of the van in my rear view mirror. It disappears from view, driving somewhere in the direction of my neighborhood; in the direction of my family.

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She’s hidden beneath the covers, and I know she hates being woken up. The only exception is Christmas morning. Then again, she’s wide awake every Christmas morning.

I peel back the cover just enough to see she’s facing away from me. I rest my hand on her brown hair, and she doesn’t move.

“I know you’re sleeping right now, Brussels-sprouts. I just wanted you to know-” I pause.

I lived a very lonely life. That’s what people don’t get about me; that’s what they miss. Until you’ve gone without love, you have no idea how powerful it can be when it finds you. It’s not just a saying, and it sure as hell isn’t something I tell myself to feel better about giving up football. I don’t mean to get sappy, but as I stand here at my daughter’s bedside, knowing a short hallway away rests a beautiful woman who loves Phil Gordon the pool guy, I can’t help but thank God for all the life I have, and forget to give two shits about the one I gave up.

“I love you, Brussels sprouts.”

She turns over, and I finally see her face. Avery puts her hand in mine, then rubs her eye open.

“What time is it, daddy?”

I smirk. “Too early for you.”

She giggles.

I kiss her on the forehead, then get up.

“Wait!”

“What is it?”

“Come over here!”

I sigh, then do.

“Pinky.”

I grin, then hold out the finger. She locks her tiny pinky around mine.

“Say it, daddy.”

“You sure? Figured you’re too grown-up for that.”

“Say it!”

I smile. “Daddy cauliflower always returns for princess Brussels Sprouts.”

“Yay!” says Avery, kicking her legs and feet. I can’t help but laugh along with her – she hates vegetables.

I proceed to the kitchen, scoop out some Columbian roast, toss it in the filter, then add about four cups worth of water and turn the coffee pot on. I wait with my hands on the counter and my head dangling over my chest.

It was a dream, I remind myself. Nothing but a dream.

Still, ‘Master’ seemed so real. The entire scene did. Some dreams are so ludicrous you realize you’re dreaming while you’re in the middle of them. Other dreams fool you a little more, but as soon as you return to consciousness you realize you’d been tricked.

The coffee finishes brewing, and I pour myself a cup.

But then there are those other dreams, when long after waking, you are still convinced that you were in the presence of another being. Maybe not physically, but maybe metaphysically. The universe is a strange place.

“Are you trying to freak me out?”

It’s Loretta – she’s standing in the doorway, glaring at me.

“Yes, just the dream. Don’t worry-”

“You don’t spook easily, Phillip.”

“I know.”

“So why do you look so disturbed, baby?”

I think for a moment, and some primitive part of me urges me to warn her about Master. I almost want to stay here, just to watch over my family and make certain everything remains alright.

“Like you said, it was just a dream.” I hand her the mug. “Here, I don’t even want this. Have a good day, babe.” I kiss her and head for the front door.

“So why are you so upset?”

“Just being paranoid, like you said.”

“Love you, Phillip,” she says as I leave.

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  • Thomas M. Watt