|Running At Night
Author: Travis Smith PM
When 26 year old Terry Glausen loses his job as an over-night manager he turns to running at night to ease his mind and body, however in order to move forward he must confront his past.Rated: Fiction T - English - Horror/Drama - Words: 9,092 - Reviews: 1 - Favs: 1 - Published: 07-31-12 - id: 3046548
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Running At Night
It had been nine days since it happened. Terry Glausen's body was still adjusting. He had attempted to sleep that night, but pain in his shoulder made him toss. It was decided, as he lay upon his bed, the air from a June night flowing downward into him, something had to change. He looked over to his alarm clock, 11:34 PM. The time was foreign now. A stranger in a strange place he thought how droll. He stood, unhooked his belt, removed his pants and began searching through the top dresser drawer. Under a pile of photos was a half pack of Lucky Strikes he had been hiding from himself, wish I didn't find those he thought, really wish I didn't find those.
Terry wanted to inhale those suckers. Every last one of them, like little diamonds, and feel the nicotine surge through his veins. They would make tiny homes, light windows and breed energy. The chance never came though, there was still strength in Terry—He held down the urge and dug until he found what he had been searching for, mesh shorts and a solid knee brace. Old but still usable. He placed both of them on and tilted his head back, stretching his back leg up, and grabbing onto his foot with his right hand. Ten seconds, simple enough. The cigarettes laid in his mind. Really wish I didn't find those.
He felt the upper portion of his chest and stretched his arms, his face all the while remaining uncompromised. It had been nine days since it occurred. He never imagined his body would refuse to adjust. It hurt. His body was in pain. Sometimes his shoulder felt as it would rip right off. The last several days he would lay awake, staring at his clock. Almost midnight and still wide awake. Those cycles have no master. On those nights, the worst thing he imagined, was never going back to the way things were. And the follow-up question would send his mind in circles—What was the way things were? Before the work? Before school? Was it mom and dad when I was young? None of those questions appealed to him. Everything before had to have an end. And on a warm June evening , the ninth day after, he decided to rise. I'll just run it off he said standing straight up. It'll be my new job. like a drug that makes you better.
That was when the Lucky Strikes found him, and he needed to get far away from where they were. He put the knee brace on, took an aspirin, guzzled some black coffee and before setting off looked in the mirror. He was twenty-six, lived in an apartment complex east of the river, alone, had finished college, worked on and off, and now had to face something which he had been blocking for almost a week and a half. Running, Terry suspected, was a good practice, healthy, good for the heart, makes a sound mind. Yes, good, it's a good thing you're doing. The face in the mirror looked back only on occasion. This night it was getting closer than it had in some time. After rinsing his mouth of coffee he set out.
Outside, the night had become immense, blistering off the trees and finding their way through the shallow corners of the street. This he was used to. He realized that there may never be going back, that his past was a familiar face. Round and jolly, it was a close friend. Many times the jolly man turned dark, made hideous gestures, laughed at his misfortune. This now resembled the darkness, ahead the unknown future where his running he was hoping would shed light, maybe help him find a family. Fuck maybe it's just something to occupy the time? Did there need to be a reason? There did need to be an uneasy addiction. The body needed healing. Cigarettes were no good. He drank coffee like a fiend. The endorphins made the pain dull. Guzzling down folgers freaked the body, made him super-man if only for a time.
Powerful enough to outrun this? At his age Terry had already seen too much. Several years ago his brother fell asleep at the wheel of his Chevy while heavily intoxicated. He slammed into a tree and was killed instantly. It marked the last family member Terry would know. He remembered how at the funeral, he and the one priest looked at each other eye to eye in the rain. A black devil had him pinned, gutting him ever since. Day to day he had to rebuild. After the funeral ended, Terry had no family.
He cut the thought off there-The end of the street appeared in the distance. Terry took a deep breath, channeling his pain, and began running.
Elation seeds doubt. Christopher Columbus was high on Opium when he discovered the Americas. All true Christians are addicted to invisible wires. Yes, it was true, men in coats hide guns. Bank tellers wear skirts. Pain supercedes only when the desire to overcome it weakens—right now nothing was weak. Running the street, every step further and further into the dark—the unknown dark where bumps in the night are born, where monsters creep into houses and lay nests under beds. That beautiful night wind like grey furry twisting back the past. Everything when you run ends up in your rear-view mirror. Nothing you feel gets close to the way running cures your mind. Little ghosts flew away. Terry's mind felt clear.
And the heat fell off him. Terry ran as if behind him, a great fire was spinning out of control. A tornado of doubt. Distance from loved ones. A killer on the loose.
There was no pain as he continued his pace. He buried his mind and went into a safe home. No one was fired. No one was dead. His knee felt as fresh as a baby's. His legs felt like they were twenty-six again, not an aging lunatic already walks with crutches wherever he goes.
And then he hit his high. This wasn't something he invented. Real experts coined the phrase, and Terry almost had to laugh when he thought of it. "Runner's high". Mile two, and high as a kite. Freud would have a field day with this one he thought. Maybe. There he was on the couch belting out words about his mother and father. Telling him why sucking cigarettes was like a proverbial teet and drinking coffee kept the bad thoughts away—"but I run," Terry would say, "that's healthy right?", "Of course" the reply would be. "And is it okay that I get high when I run?"
The trees now became distant, and Terry slowed his pace a bit, settling in to a brisk stride. The trees came back into focus. He was at the intersection of Lafayette Ave. Between a little plaza with a movie-rental store and a laundromat. Terry stopped completely for a moment and breathed. He felt better. Everything that had kept him up was somewhere behind him now. In that space between the moon and his mind. Maybe he thought, walking now Maybe they don't even remember me there anymore.
It may have been a true sentiment. It was the business he had been in, of quick moving products and a revolving door of people. You didn't just turn it off. The lifestyle was who he was now.
That was the Food-Way. Where he had worked as the over-night manager for five years, until nine days ago, when something he was still attempting to piece together changed his life.
Like ghosts into a mill, every night at 10:30 P.M, men would rise from their graves. They would enter the Food-Way doors for the over-night shift, grizzly specters who appeared stuck in time. Terry was one of them, although more of boy at the time. His clean-cut face and boyish appearance made him stand out amongst them. That was the strange part. He didn't look like one of them. He was like a boy-scout working with a bunch of grave-keepers. In their circle he was the misfit of society. An outcast among dregs, ex-convicts and army drop-outs. No one there ever anticipated a college graduate to be that desperate for work.
The first night Terry showed up, a lot of the lights were off, it was dim and empty. The entire store kept running, but it was one of those things that people took for granted during the day. While every day society slept, the un-dead would fill shelves in a dingy super-market. Terry remembered the lonely feeling which came over him the first time he entered for his shift. There was no one in sight, no cashiers, no boisterous moms or crying children, no feeble senior citizens smiling like they were too old to realize where they were. No pissed off teen-agers working their summer jobs. No hollowed out shells they called "lifers" who made a career out of working there, or surly managers who walked like their shit didn't stink. Instead, the life came in glimpses, towards the backs of aisles you could see pieces of men, always old and pale, a lot of times with beards. Men who never saw their family, never saw day-light. Society had not quite thrown them out, just placed them absent regions of time and space.
The first one Terry met was a man they called "Simple John". He always wore flannel and a hat. His shirt looked as if he tried to tuck in but the back always fell out and he ended up messy. He was tall, and had a round belly that made his shirt protrude, and contributed to it being untucked all the time. Terry was at the clock punching in for his first shift when John, dragging his feet like didn't know how to walk, approached him. "You want to buy a soda?" he said. "I sell them for fifty cents. It's cheaper than the vending machine."
"No thanks." Terry replied. "but I'll keep it mind."
"That's good. Mom won't give me enough allowance, but I sell sodas to make up for it. She doesn't know though."
John didn't say anything more. He turned around dragging his feet all the way until he the registers blocked him from sight. An incarnation of Norman Bates had just made his informal introduction-Terry had to laugh slightly although the interaction left him uncomfortable. Something about a grown man with that size, in love with his mother was unsettling.
Terry punched in, and walked to the back of aisle three where he met the man who would train him, an ex-wrestler named Franco. Ring-name Bobcat Coward. He made his rounds during the winter months on the board-walk at Sea-side heights, pandering to fatso's and hicks who lived by the sport. During a routine match, Franco broke a guys sternum when he tossed him out of the ring. Unable to speak, his opponent couldn't relay the agony he was in and the match continued. The guy never spoke correctly again, and some time later over-dosed on pain killers. Franco left the sport upon hearing the news. Although he always got quiet when discussing the specifics of his parting. Terry never knew if he felt bad, or was fired. Either way Franco looked thin for an ex-wrestler, thin around the eyes and in his gut.
Terry learned this over time. He got bits and pieces from Franco about his wrestling days, he always liked hearing about them but that first night neither of them said much. It was a simple job. Mindless in a lot of ways, but it had it's merits. An evening crew had lined up pallets of product and placed them in front of the aisle. Terry's job-Fill the shelves with the product.
Franco only gave instruction, he said little else. Terry was well adept and had things down in an hour. It would take time to learn where all the product was but that he was sure of would come in time.
After about a solid hour of little to no talk, Terry decided to break the ice,
"I met John."
Franco kept moving, filling shelves. "Simple John."
"Seems harmless enough." Terry replied.
Franco laughed a bit, it wasn't endearing. It was kind of like hearing someone dead laugh. "I hear he's got bodies in his basement."
Terry didn't say anything else only kept to himself that upon meeting John, he got the same feeling. That gut kick that told you something is off about this one. A lot of times John would walk around with his jar of quarters from the sodas that he sold, keeping track of his inventory, his losses and gains. It was a joke to everyone, but hidden underneath his child surface, Terry saw glimpses of something dark.
He didn't pursue the conversation with Franco, just kept it to himself. Around 1 A.M Terry learned an important rule. One of those things no one bothered explaining to you because it was a better lesson to learn on your own. Like a prison, you had to learn these rules in order to survive. On a trip to the bathroom Terry took a short-cut through aisle 12. Unaware of any policy he had violated, he continued ignorant of what was coming forth.
Gaff, an ex-marine who had also spent some time in jail for shady dealings, stopped Terry in his tracks. "This is my aisle." he said.
Great Terry thought I've violated ancient code
"There's a penalty for walking down my aisle." Gaff said, "Push-ups. Everyone knows. Now drop and give me ten blue boy"
Terry hesitated for a moment, blue boy? What the fuck did that mean? but he saw that Gaff wasn't backing down. Here Terry was on his first day unable to walk down an aisle without having to drop on his knees like a submissive animal. Haze the new guy, typical and cliché, he hated the idea of it more than the actual push-ups. Stick me in a closet, throw me in the showers, push-ups. I just want to do my eight hours, get blitzed and pass out watching court TV. I didn't enlist in the cub-scouts damn it.
Gaff said it again. "Drop and give me ten. Now"
Terry paused for a moment, and took a look deep into Gaff's eyes. The institutions had sent him on a power-trip. Gaff mopped his own aisle at the end of the night, ripped on John for having his shirt un-tucked and not looking tidy. Everything was as organized as a barrack, not a product out of place. There was something else under that in Gaff and Terry saw it when he looked in his eyes.
He didn't say anything further though. Terry crouched to his knees and then into a pushup position. The beige tile, mixed with a dirty gray from years of traffic looked a bit like a a snow-field to Terry, with the grey making houses in between. He went down, counting each push-up until he got to ten. Standing up he brushed off his hands. Gaff looked satisfied, but Terry didn't say a word.
"I suggest you walk through frozen. No one walks through my aisle while I work." Gaff eyed Terry like fresh meat as he turned around and walked all the way through frozen to use the bathroom.
When Terry returned to Franco, he told him about the incident and got a big laugh. "Good to hear you're still in one piece."
That scene always stood out to him. There was one other thing as well. John usually just walked the aisles at night. They gave him a spray cleaner and paper-towels because the real work as they put it was "beyond" him. John had walked down too many sacred aisles, not meaning any harm, but still enough times to piss Gaff off severely, and do enough push-ups at the whole crews expense. He was dragging his feet like always, when he went to go return a jar of mustard to it's rightful spot, Gaff's aisle. He tried to yell at John, but the words just came out funny when facing him, it was like they hit a wall and just stopped—Gaff felt bad a couple times. He didn't even make him do the push-ups after a while.
No one had the heart to really lay into John , and no one ever would. They gave him his spray cleaner and had him get the registers shining like diamonds. Other than that, simple John didn't bother anyone.
Terry bought scratch offs and had a beer around 7 A.M at the bar across the street. By himself, in an empty bar he drank beer after beer. He made friends with the bartender who offered him ten cent shots. Terry finished the beers and moved on to the hard stuff. Soon it would become a ritual, drinking alone after a long shift in a dive bar. After a week, he couldn't imagine living any other way.
At the end of his street a path opened leading into the woods. The recollection of the Food-Way faded like a dream as Terry walked deeper. He meant to cut through this small path and make a circle around the Garden Plaza North, and pace back home. This plan would suffice. His knee was holding up. It hadn't yelled out in pain at him yet or stiffened up the flexibility of a rock. It had stayed mobile and Terry thought if it continued this could be a productive way to keep the demons on a leash—healthier than booze or cigarettes, he could still drink his coffee, but he realized putting his past behind him meant first moving forward-
Or as he soon found out, meeting his demons face to face. In that moment of self-analysis he heard it. It broke his thoughts like thunder waking him from sleep. A deep howling echoed over the trees. Coyotes?...no. It sounded like one, but it couldn't be. The sound, a deep bark was too horrific to be a dog. Terry froze in a panic. The thought of a rabid dog sent him back to his child-hood. When he was seven years old, he had a piece of his lower lip ripped off by a neighbor's doberman—immediately he reverted, remembering the dominance that leapt on him as he laid pinned like a giant steak. If not for his uncle reacting to scene by cracking the damn thing with a shovel, Terry might have lost more than his lower lip.
Seven years old again. Time to react and move past this. He ran out of the woods and into the street. A mile down the road the street bent into a curve and led back to his apartment complex. It was close. The howling continued, this time getting closer. Terry continued running until a smell hit him, like rotting meat. It must have been road-kill dragged into the woods. It reminded him of being in science class, when they dissected frogs. It was that same hospital smell, stiff but stronger. He found it several yards to his left. It at one point may have been raccoon, hell it could have been a squirrel or a large skunk for all he knew—the way it was shredded and picked clean. A scavenger may have gotten to it, but it hit Terry enough to make him realize that whatever had killed this animal made sure no other could claim it. He ran home without stopping again.
4:30 P.M. Terry rose from a deep sleep. The phone was ringing.
"Hello", he said in a voice that implied he was not awake.
A voice on the other line paused a second and he heard a tape begin to play Hello Mr. Glowsen (they pronounced it wrong) you've just been selected-
He slammed the phone down, still alone, still an absent voice on the other end. The light outside came through his bedroom window and he pulled the curtains open to reveal a sunny afternoon that looked like as if it would warm to a nice temperature. He contemplated running but decided he enjoyed it more at night. Terry walked back to the phone and dialed a number, he heard it ring a few times, until he realized no one was picking up. He placed the phone back down and lay in his bed. No reason to be awake this early.
The night came and his legs felt strong. There was little pain. The breathing was easier. 11 P.M. A ghost in shorts foraging the absent night, making this a home. Little knights in dresses with their armor broken.
Little and broken underneath the towering trees, the quiet night. Terry was alone, running down Baker Ave., past the legion hall at a dark intersection. The traffic light signaled to the horizon a red light. A good spot for a piss, underneath the glow of the traffic signal. There, beneath the tall grass, while letting his lizard bleed, something caught Terry's eye. A second animal had been torn to shreds. The smell hit him hard, pushing the little he had eaten up into his throat. Terry managed to hold it down, but if he stayed any longer he knew he wouldn't hold out. The site crept into his skin pushing the undying fear from his childhood back. It was a larger than the animal before, and smelled even worse, like rotten amonia, it sank into him.
He ran just to get away from the smell—he knew something rabid was on the loose. When the air became clear and he was sure that he was a safe distance Terry stopped. From the bushes came a growling, hideous and serene it sounded as if something was being torn apart because a high pitch cry came shortly after, like when you hear a rabbit getting eaten alive. The helpless cry of something with basic instincts, now emitting an all too human plea for help. There was no help. Whatever was pinned soon was unable to cry out any longer, and a dying pitch faded as the sound of tearing rang out.
Then a barking and soon silence. A half moon created something of a light as Terry walked, his eyes kept looking back and over his shoulders to see if he was being followed but whenever he thought he saw something it quickly faded as only a glimpse of life. The uneasy feeling made him want to get home and fast. There was a small path behind a house to the North. It led through the woods and circled back to his apartment complex. -And then it returned. The smell of dissection, of hospital morgues and boiling flesh. In the midst of rotten decay, baked into the ground Terry could see through the darkness another dead animal. It was easy to spot. No one could miss something that large. This time it was a deer. It's head was intact but the body had been broken down until all that was left was bone. It's blank eyes were staring up at Terry. He could see into the heart of this animal. It had no conscious thought other than basic animal instincts, but the face said something human. Looking into it's heart he could still see life. This time there was no holding it, he up-chucked everything he had eaten that day into a nearby bush. When his stomach settled he wasted no time running towards home.
There was a desperate surge in his feet. This must have been roadkill nothing more. Nothing this large gets eaten alive—this is a dream where these things happen and when I wake up i'll be hunched over in bed, a half bottle of wine ready to go. The pain lifted and Terry ran from the woods and through the street at full stride. The houses rushed by him, gliding with speed and at times he was not sure if he was moving or at a standstill with the sky moving by him. This was an anomaly of nature, the deer was hit dragged in the woods and scavenged by other animals. There that's it.
Only there was barking, no there was no dog, no dog. Then he heard the growling. Louder than before. Almost as if a cat was being thrown into a pool of water, but more desperate. More like a Jaguar than a kitten. It stopped for a moment. Then started up again in another direction. The shrieking bark of an animal possessed. Terry realized as the sound was getting closer he had been followed. Something was hunting him. He stopped to catch his breath. The door to his apartment was in sight. In the darkness of the moon the light of the complex shown home and he was almost relieved to be near, then while taking a deep breath Terry turned and there it was. Sitting obediently in the darkness of the moon, as if he waiting for the command to pounce. A rottweiler with intensity circling in his eyes. Foam poured from it's mouth and it's eyes glowed a dark yellow. It barked and the shrieking sound made sense. Terry had one chance. He couldn't hesitate. He waited a brief moment as the dog sat and waited. In a duel showdown the victor must be quick—Terry bolted with all his might towards his apartment. The dog began chasing. Barking and spitting foam from it's mouth as it ran.
As the dog came in closer and closer to his heels, he felt as if it was on him. The animal was simply toying with him, waiting to let him think for a few moments he had a chance of living. It was as close as that. The animal ran possessed by nature and rabies, a chemical experiment gone mad and let loose into the wild. Terry ran until he hit his front door. Having to stop for a moment he thought he was done, but he quickly opened the door and slammed in shut. The rabid dog almost losing itself in the gap. But as Terry locked the door with every bolt, the fear riding down his face, he looked out the peep hole. The dog retreated back into the woods and then disappeared.
Terry grabbed for his phone on the dresser and dialed 9-1-1. He reported the untamed mutt which almost ripped him apart. An animal control unit arrived, searched the area but found no trace of the animal. Terry told them about the mutilated carcasses as well, but as Bud, the animal control supervisor told him, "There ain't nothing here man. We searched the whole area. It's 2 A.M. Don't do it again asshole." That was it. Case closed thought Terry. Is this the kind of bullshit that goes on over-night with the rest of the world?
Nothing ever the made the night go by quicker then having more than enough to do. When a large shipment came, they would all have to hustle to set up the morning crew by 7 A.M. The last shift Terry worked, the shipment that came was exceptionally large. In addition there was a new kid starting that night, a college drop-out who wrote poetry and dawdled around the heavy work. Not stupid, just out of place, a lot of people slip through the cracks in society and end up in these backwards end-of-the universe type jobs that don't exist until your life somehow brings you to them, you meander, mess about, drink when you want, listen only a selection of lifes lessons assume you know the rest, and end up in a pit working overnight-this was the new kid, Jimmy Thompson.
It had been five years since Terry started. He want worked his way up, seen his fair share of people who came and went—watched several get fired, made some friends, lost some friends, drank obnoxiously at the bar every morning at seven A.M, sat wondering where his life went wrong. And then before he was able to get a good answer for himself, was appointed over-night manager. He never missed a shift, and the line of succession finally came to rest on him. Some of the lifers had seniority, but they were dinosaurs, dead dinosaurs who rarely were able to notice nor care about these things.
So being the veteran, Terry decided to take Jimmy under his wing. It would not be a long relationship, everything in Terry's world was about to change. If you asked him he may have welcomed a change, but the variety of change often brings with it consequences. This was one of those changes with a catch, that Terry may not have signed up if he had been given the option.
He wanted to warn Jimmy, to not get sucked into this world. It was a dark, futile world that once immersed in, was difficult to escape. Maybe he would have the talk, but Terry realized kids that age didn't respond to lectures—so Terry let things take their course. After few hours of stocking they went into the backroom. The heat that day surged up to in the hundreds, even at night it stayed around the upper eighties. This had a terrible result for the back room. The garbage compactor being made of solid steel sat directly in the sunlight and would heat up to well within the mid hundreds, cooking a mix of rotten produce, seafood, and meat.
Walking by it was unbearable. Even after five years Terry still held his breath. He warned Jimmy but when they went by it, words did little compared to the actual smell. Everyone had the same reaction, something like a gag reflex mixed with nausea. People complained, but it was in the back room away from customers and management just didn't care.
The backroom was a narrow warehouse. Terry had to show Jimmy how to use the high-low. A forklift that was used to grab pallets from high up in the rafters—like driving a car it took a few times to get it's quarks down and learn how to move with the tank of equipment. After a few instructions, Terry handed the thing over to Jimmy and let him try it out. The machine was bulky and the kid bumped into shit, but everyone did the first time. After a little while though, the kid looked like he was getting the hang of it and was even able to get a pallet of dog-food off the top rafter. The two ton pallet hung in the air, supported by the forklift. Too many times Terry wondered at these points what it would be like to see one of them fall from that height, to see it come crashing down from 30 feet up.
The delusion faded-Terry helped him guide the thing down, but he got a page at that second. Something was happening up front. This would mark the beginning of events that in retrospect seem to be the start of a dream, everything rushes by and like remembering a movie, you only get certain clips that stood out-so here was the dream. The page came to Terry, Gaff said something about one of the old-timers but it was hard to hear, it was inaudible and all Terry could make out were a few phrases. It was choppy with broken static mixing in, but the desperation was there.
At the front of aisle 12 Terry found him. One of the old timers George Cooper was passed out. There was no one else around. The store was empty. Where were Gaff and Franco? And where had the page come from? Terry didn't know—he checked the old mans pulse. His skin felt like a snake, rough and with age. George's eyes were closed, and with his long beard he appeared even more like a specter. There was no blood, and George wasn't breathing. It must have been a heart-attack. He tried to dial 9-1-1. His phone was dead—he ran to the nearest store phone and picked it up. There was no sound, no dial-tone, just a dead line.
A sweat started to pour from Terry's face. The light had somehow become more dim. A few of them had gone out altogether creating new shadows that fell upon the registers. A black tint laid upon the windows as Terry tried to look out. 3:30 A.M. The hour would stay in Terry's memory for some time, a reminder of at what point he started to realize something was very wrong.
He wanted to go check on George again but a sound made him turn—It was John. He was dragging his feet with a dead stare in his eyes. With his bear-like hands he was carrying a shovel. sliding things off the shelves with the end of it, the glass upon linoleum echoed out in the silence. There was blood on John's hands and he was mumbling. Something sent him over the edge. It could have been years of being looked down on, but the man they called "Simple John" had risen, and being looked down upon teased with a simple epitaph and hazed as an overnight dunce, made him dangerous. Whatever had been seething under skin was walking towards Terry now, shovel in hand, eyes in a haze like the undead, his innocence now buried, his malice now surfacing.
"John,?" Terry yelled. "John what happened? What are you doing?" Backed against the a register now Terry felt over-powered.
There was no answer. Simple John had no answer. He just kept walking towards Terry.
Jars of pickles and ketchup landed on the ground in front of him, shattering and making a mess on the floor.
"I'm not a simple man." John said "I'm not a simple man."
"I know John." Terry said, moving to his left to make a break. "We all know. Where are Franco and Gaff?"
"In the eyes of the lord, meeting the maker on the hill who's distilled temper will decide judgment."
John was getting close now.
"Yes." Terry said, "Yes, they must be. Where have they disappeared to though?"
"The eyes of the lord..." John repeated, now only several feet from Terry.
John was ready to strike with his shovel but Terry was quick—he ran as fast as he could through another aisle, and to the backroom. Jimmy was gone. The high-low sat with a full pallet of cans in mid-air, 30 feet up in a dying light. Then Terry heard a sound, like a crying from a kid. It was coming from his right. He followed the half scream to the garbage compactor and opened it.
It was dark and the rotten mix overwhelmed him. Someone—it must have been Jimmy was at the bottom of that shit hole-
"Are you in there?" Terry yelled
No answer. The shrill cry had stopped.
Terry had thought of climbing into it, but before he could get the courage, the lights went out. It was completely dark now. For a few moments Terry stood frozen. The solid darkness enveloping him. No sound, broken images of fornicating light came through him. The manic had no middle. Corners were now circles. Where was the light? Where is the light Terry?
And then let there be light. With a flash, the entire backroom lit up. The power had reset, and the compactor began to move. It was pushing with all the force of a hydrolic press that had no give—no obstruction could stop it, large metal or a body. It would crush anything it could. Terry pressed the emergency stop and thing halted with a dud. No screaming came. There was no shriek of pain but it did nothing to comfort him.
Behind Terry, John stood in the light. A backwoods farmer risen from his grave. He was shaking, his body pale with the hands that somehow were child-like despite their size.
"I've got to get home to mother now." he said.
It was almost 4 A.M. The sun was about to rise and simple John needed to see his mother.
"She'll worry he added. She always does when I'm not there in the morning."
"I know." Terry said appeasing the maniac.
"Is it okay I leave now?" John asked.
Terry nodded. "You're shifts over John."
With that John dropped his shovel with a high pitch thud. He turned around and began to walk towards the exit. Before he went to punch out, police had arrived on the scene.
They didn't know what to make of the mess. John was deemed insane, and they tried to pin a lot of it on Terry. It was typical police work. They found no trace of Gaff, Franco or any of the other evening crew. It was as if an entire night crew had disappeared without a trace. Like ghosts circling home into thin air. After an interrogation, a polygraph and what seemed like weeks of ruthless questioning about the incident, Terry was found innocent of any crime and released. Simple John got most of the blame and sent to an asylum east of the river. He cried the whole time. He had never been without his mother before. It didn't end there though. The owner didn't want Terry around anymore, he said he bred too much of the incident and it made people uncomfortable. He was let go in a poor excuse for a letter that came in the mail a few days later.
3:37 P.M. Friday. Colonial laundromat on Main st. All tides gain...solo. None of these work on colors.
It had been nine days since the incident at the Food-Way. His body was still adjusting. His mind...that had been adjusting in a non-constructive direction, towards breaking. He was being hunted, he looked in his past and it was circling him in the night, coming to claim him. This would eat him alive. You just didn't go back to living the normal lifestyle. Going to laundromat felt backwards, going to the bank was like stepping into the twilight zone. So Terry slept all day, and ran at night to ease his psyche. Only there was the dog. The black devil had him pinned. Soon, if he let it, it would eat him alive.
He didn't go running for three days after the rottweiler chased him home. When he stepped outside during the day, he looked for signs of the mutt pacing through the forest or digging through trash but he saw nothing. No more dead animals. He thought it over and considered it something he imagined. Then he doubled back over that thought and as he looked down the street where had been chased, concluded it was real. It had to be. The fear and intensity were just too real. He grabbed his mail and he looked around. An elderly woman in a robe walked by. Her face was ravaged and moth-eaten. She looked at her mailbox, giving a stare at Terry and moved on. Terry took what he had in his mail, student loan bills, car bills, phone bills, and a letter from his cousin who was vacationing in Bangkok. Terry brought it up stairs and looked it over. The letter stated his cousin would be home soon and wished to catch up with Terry. There was a postcard as well. On it was a picture The Temple of Dawn. Terry tossed in the garbage and thought nothing more of it.
Two weeks went by. Terry saw nothing more of the Rottweiler. He had not found found a job and a collection of Miller Lite cans was turning into a metropolis in the corners of his apartment. Maybe the day has come he thought. The end of all things. In a drunken stupor he stumbled throughout his apartment and finally passed out on his couch. A pile of bills was giving the beer cans a run for their money, and empty packs of Lucky Strikes could be found like easter eggs if the observant eye could look past the heap which was once a life. The is the fucking end Terry thought The fucking end.
Not yet, it would not be an ending as Terry suspected. Several days later with a raging head-ache he rose up. In his bath-robe he stepped outside to get the mail. The sun light burnt his eyes. Shit—like a vampire with a paper route. He stepped back inside. The garbage piling up had made it difficult to traverse but a simple path had been forming over the past week.. He followed the beaten trail he made clear and stepped into the bathroom. Looking at himself, Terry saw a ghost. His skin was pale, a half-eaten face with dark circles under his eyes looked back. Soon a recollection was forming of himself as a boy, learning to shave from his father, but before the vision developed further it was gone.
The empty fucking Jesus who downs beer then cries about his father and makes no attempt to build his future and destroy any chance of a rel-The thought stopped. He hunched over and decided in his greatest moments he had the ability to lift himself out of funks like this. This was more than a funk though he thought. This was borderline catastrophe. Nothing is as bad as it seems. The rent was due in two days. The last of his savings. After that there was nothing left. I can make it through that he thought.
Another realization came upon him. Forget the rent, the car insurance, the phone bill, the gas, the food—Fuck I could be a hermit I dont need any of these things. The thing he did need crept into his mind. A living dream, support beams that held him up. They had been sawed away bit by bit until cracking caused them to tumble over. That's it. Time for one last run.
Running, however would be difficult. His knee was becoming as trusty as a broken gate—and well the beer made him "soft". That was the nice word he told himself, but it had to be attempted. Giving in meant giving up—at least he equated the two in his mind because the desperate measures were growing short. Terry was geared up by 10:05 PM. He planned to as least walk towards the Garden Plaza just east and make a circle around the school and the food-way before returning home. A short walk, a brisk pace perhaps. No sweat. Recovery would be a drug, sweet at honey.
Terry didn't think about the Rottweiler. It was an aberration. In fact he felt rather embarrassed at the whole ordeal. Pathetic in a sense. It was one of those things that crept in the dark, and turned out to only be a shirt or your little brother trying to make you piss your pants. He hadn't pissed his pants or was even that afraid, Terry wanted to overcome this demon—the one that was stalking him ready to rip him limb from limb.
Outside, he turned right out of his complex and began walking. Insects made love and mailboxes went by him at a snail-like pace. The knee was holding up so he picked up his pace slightly, walking a bit faster. His girth was larger now. His body was not his own. Beer and torn ligaments had made him like a decrepit mummy on a bender. He wrapped his knee so tightly with bandage and ben-gay he feared he may cut off the blood flow. At Baker Ave, he loosened it a bit but the pain shot up his leg and soon he felt himself hunched over, under an empty street light that had just turned red. It seemed to never change. Terry was fixated on it, watching the light stay put as he sat and massaged his knee. It was 12:01 midnight, and he was already tired.
That's when he heard it. The fear rose up in him. The familiar fear. It was like an old friend who goes away for a while. It only takes a few moments to realize when he returns he has not changed much. The shrieking was louder this time. It sounded as if something had just become prey. Terry bandaged his knee and rose up. He moved slow at first then quickened his pace. The adrenaline dulled the pain but the hellish nightmare was still engrained within his psyche. Then the shrieking came louder. A bark like a wolf on caffeine pills. Terry was running now. He wondered if he was being watched. Was the animal hunting him down? Toying with him?
At the end of the street was the cul-de-sac and the path through the woods home. He had not heard the barking, but he was not relieved by that. It was a mistake to do this. I'm no where near this. Terry went through the woods behind the house. The deer was rotted to a skeleton, in pieces where he had last seen it.
He walked through the path and into the woods. At that moment Terry could not see an inch in front of him. There was a black shape at all angles. The moon light had gone blind, and shackled him in an unforeseen darkness. To his left he heard a noise-a pacing upon the leaves. Something was walking with him deep in that woods. Watching him. The noise quickened—to his right it seemed to come from an unforeseeable angle. All around him, the pacing quickened as if an animal was ready to pounce. Terry got down, crouching and pressed against the floor of the forest. He heard the barking, louder now, and decided he need to make a run towards a nearby house.
Terry lifted himself without hesitation and ran. He was moving faster than he ever had before, turning the forest into a quickened carousel of lost images. The sky was a spiraling black horse on a merry-go-round, distant yet familiar in the night. As Terry came closer he could see the street-lights. He quickened some more until everything stopped—He hit the ground hard, his knee slamming into a rock.
It took a few moments to recover, to realize what had happened. It must have been a root he thought. I must have tripped on a root. He felt his face, he wasn't bleeding. His knee however was in bad shape. It had twisted it landed directly on a flat rock, smack in the middle. Terry thought it might be shattered, but he was able to stand and regain his composure. He wanted to see what tripped him. He attempted to walk, and although painful, it dulled until he was able to at least walk.
It wasn't a root. There on the ground was what he had fallen over. It was the body of a young girl. She was ripped open from her chest down and emptied like a bag. In the darkness Terry had not even seen her and may not have until he tripped over her. He became frantic and couldn't move. This couldnt be real. It had to be a nightmare, it must have been. He wanted to yell and scream and cry but couldn't. Terry couldn't move-And then through the darkness emerged the predator. On his back Terry watched as the rottweiler came forward, blood foraging from it's teeth, yellow eyes glowing through the black void-and then it let out a viscous bark as foam poured from it's mouth. Leaning on his back Terry was helpless as the dog came towards him. It was ready to pounce but before it did, it walked back into the darkness, dragging with it the body of the girl.
Terry ran from the scene. His body no longer ached. The adrenaline kicked up in him. He reached the outside of the woods and breathed heavily in the air. He got down to his knees and sobbed. The sight kept going through his head—the cold eyes. The lifeless girl who once dreamnt of the summer ahead. In his mind she was screaming for help. Crying as she was ripped apart. He would never know her name, never see her as a real girl—only as a rotting corpse being devoured by a mutant rottweiler. That image would be the only recollection the only piece of information he be able to remember about her. Even if they found out who she was, her life story, to him that final image of her in the woods, that was it. It would haunt for the rest of his days.
Terry had to get to a phone fast—as he gathered himself, he looked at the edge of the forest and ran as quick as he could out of it. The scene before him playing over in his head. The young girl mutilated but still crying as if the pain was still running through her. Terry would imagine that face, never being able to look at it eye to eye, the pain would be too great, and often in his mind she was speaking to him. Telling him to get help and save her from being nothing more than a mauled piece of meat for a rabies infested dog.
The nearest house was in sight, he ran towards it in a panic. The street felt like an ocean. He could see the other side but the horizon kept getting pushed back as if it would never come. When he did reach the end of the street he was out of breath. Panting, and the image of the body never fading. He pounded on the door and rang the door-bell until an older woman finally answered. She was reluctant to open the door, with the hour being so late and predators roaming in all corners, but her better nature prevailed, and although she didn't let Terry in, she did dial 9-1-1 and reported a frantic man at her door.
Police arrived momentarily, thinking it was a raving derelict. He must be high or drunk, or looking to hurt someone. Terry had sweat pouring down his face, his body a mess as he spoke and told them about the girl and rottweiler.
Police checked the area and found nothing. There was no body. No rabid rottweiler. It was the second time he had made a false report of an incident. Animal control never found a dog. Neither did any of the police. Terry spent that night in a local precinct, and was released in the morning with a thousand dollar fine. At first they chalked him up to being a lunatic, but once he calmed they simply did not know what to believe. He was booked but never charged.
The boy who cried dog when there really was a dog...fuck the whole thing was a dream. Maybe I am losing it. But the girl. I smelled her. I saw the empty eyes that were crying...like the fear I felt when being chased. Oh Terry—you shit for brains no good asshole. What are you doing?
He spent the following afternoon laying in his apartment replaying the scenes in his head. His skin felt pale and his whole body was aching. His knee swelled up to the size of a honeydew, so court TV and booze it was. Only he couldn't focus. The judge spoke and it was him she was mindlessly chastising.
You killed her you fuck. You did it. Where's the weapon find it. Find it now!
He closed his eyes and there it was. The young girl ripped open, eviscerated from time and space. Butchered like a cow in a Sunday field.
Terry downed another beer, and then one more. This time when he closed his eyes, everything went into a spiral haze. The sky was darkening and falling upon him. A dead horse was rotting in the sun. There was the girl next to it. She turned her head and spoke through decomposing skin.
I'll never leave you she said...Never ever. Try me. Drink another. Burn your brain cells into oblivion. I'm yours now.
Terry drank one more. The last one. Every drop was like honey.
Two days later. The humming of a fan went through an empty apartment. The heat that day would reach 103. A radio that had been left on was announcing The Mets and Dodgers in a tight affair. The refrigerator door was open, dripping onto the floor where a young man lay. He had put a bullet in his brain the previous night. Empty beer cans sat next to him, mixing with the water and small pool of blood which was now beginning to dry. Outside a Rottweiler sniffed the premises before coming to an open back door. It walked in and came to the body. It smelt around before licking some of the blood off the young mans face. Then the dog gnarled it's teeth and dug in, free to claim it's prey.