No Strings Attached

Chapter 1: Marionettes Creep Me Out

"Can I help you find something?" asked the shopkeeper sweetly. Mike turned to her and returned the smile, "no thanks, I'm just browsing." After all, what else would he be doing there? The shop had a new look to it. Despite all of the old merchandise, the creepy marionettes and creaky wooden puppets hanging on the walls and stocked onto the shelves, the small store seemed modern and new. Outside hung freshly painted signs beckoning any wandering souls to stop by and have a look.

Mike had been one of those people. He had wandered in with the hopes of finding a marionette creepy enough to scare locals. Maybe little kids in the park. His deranged thoughts expanded until they became horribly inappropriate and he laughed in jest at the thoughts.

The shopkeeper was upon him again, giving him an overly sweet smile. He turned away from her, now determined on avoiding her altogether, though he knew how hard that would be while he was still inside the store. He wandered further inside, wondering how often people actually came here. When he decided that there was absolutely nothing of interest to him in the shop, he headed for the door.

From the inside, the sign said OPEN and the CLOSED sign was on the outside now. But as he pushed on the door, he realized that the shopkeeper had locked him in the store. Frantic, he began searching the counter drawers for a key. After sifting through pens, pads of paper, twine, and screws, he found nothing. Anxiously, he headed to the back and looked for an exit. What he ran into unexpectedly, was the shopkeeper herself, fiddling with an electronic device and lots of string.

"Oh, I didn't think anyone was still in here," she said with a different tone that was barely audible under the syrup in her voice. Mike replied casually, "yeah, can you let me out? I need to get home." She beamed at him and replied mysteriously, "but dear, this is your home."

He was taken aback by the comment and, thinking he had seriously misheard her, asked for confirmation. The grin stayed plastered to her face as though it had been permanently painted on as she explained, "I could use a soul like yours for my story. You'd be the perfect main character for it."

He had no idea what she was rambling about, nor did he particularly care. He wanted to go home and leave this freak shop behind. Unfortunately, she wouldn't allow it. Inexplicably, a thin thread, sharp as piano wire, strong as twine, wrapped itself once around the confused boy's throat. It bit into his skin roughly and forced him to move backwards with the pull.

His wrists were next, each being pulled back from where he was grasping to loosen the wire along his throat. When he was pulled against a wall, he could breathe again. As he heard her mutter something about writing, he replied callously, "Write whatever the hell you want! Just let me out of the effing store!" He struggled to move his hands, but the sharp string bit into his wrists and he decided loosing circulation wouldn't help him escape.

"But in order for this to work properly, I'll need your soul," she countered. He glared at her now, "You're going to have to buy one off Satan on eBay," he replied, "I need mine so I have something to barter with later." He felt a sensation of tugging at his ankles and craned his neck, seeing two near invisible wires wrapped around them and drawing his legs almost out from under him. If he hadn't caught himself and strained to keep himself up, he would've hung himself.

Although a burning fire seemed to build within him, he remained cool, fixing her with a fierce stare. She looked him over, "Almost," she said, turning back to the wooden work bench she had been working on. She picked up a metallic object and turned it in her hand, examining it, before finally turning to him and stepping forward. From what he could tell, the object looked like a metal collar. He struggled in vain, avoiding the collar, but she tweaked a string near her that choked him into submission as she slipped the collar around his neck. There was a quick, sharp pain and then blackness.

He awoke on the sidewalk outside the shop. Mike didn't bother checking the store itself, but felt rather uneasy and was glad for an excuse to leave it behind. As he left, he felt his wrists and neck. Nothing. No strings. Someone put a hand heavily on his shoulder, causing him to spin on his heels. On sight of his older brother, however, he sighed, aggravated, "Bitch, don't sneak up on me!" He prepared himself for an expected smack upside the head, but it never came.

Instead, he was brought into a bear hug. Mike squirmed out of his brother's death grip after the five second shock had worn off. Panting, he gave his brother an incredulous look. His brother simply beamed back at him and said, "I'm sorry little bro, I didn't mean to scare you." Mike glared suspiciously, "David is this some kind of sick joke?"

David's face didn't change; the same, plastered smile was worn on his face. "Are you sick? You must be. I'd tell you to go back to bed but we probably wouldn't see you for 18 hours." David shook his head, "don't be silly little brother, I feel just fine. I love you." He attempted to scoop Mike up into another big hug, but Mike was quicker this time and back stepped him immensely. "You can't possibly be my brother. My brother's a lazy, insensitive douche." As he said that, David got behind him and grabbed him in a tight headlock. Unable to breathe again, he sank to his knees, aware of being pushed down before he lost consciousness.

Mike groaned and shook his head. He tried to reach up to hold his head but his wrists were tied down with rope. "Wha-" he lifted his head to get a better view. It was dark, but his eyes were adjusting quickly. He recognized his basement, small in size with its doors leading into many long, corridor-like storage spaces. Against one wall there was a bookshelf stocked with odd, shiny objects. "I don't remember there being a torture chamber in our basement," Mike said casually.

"It's new," David replied just as coolly. His back was to the wall of the bookshelf, his hand caressing one of his many collected swords. Doing his best to remain calm, Mike continued, "is this another of your sadistic jokes? 'Cause the joke is over now, so can you let me go?" David's voice was cynical and cold with his curt response. "No."

"David! Come on! This is waay too weird, I'll tell mom and dad," there was a hint of panic in his voice, his brother could be unrelenting in his jokes sometimes, but he was far more likely to talk him to death than to actually physically threaten him. However, he refused to give in to the fear that something was wrong. "Name something-" David said suddenly, "something you'd be afraid to lose."

"David, quit being a bitch and let me up!" Mike's voice was beginning to get quite loud, his frustration growing. David turned to him quickly and was up in his face, "I already told you, no." His voice remained level and cold. The sword waved dangerously close to Mike's face as David turned back around and paced the small room. He sighed and held the sword horizontally at eye level. He turned back towards the table, intending to strike and cleave his brother in half, but something grabbed him from behind and pulled him off balance.

David lost his footing and the sword flew out of his hand as he landed on his back. A figure pinioned him to the ground, yelling at Mike, "Run, dammit! I can't hold him for long!" he squinted into the darkness, trying to make out the silhouette that had crashed the torture scene and said, "I'm kind of tied-" he stopped when he saw another figure standing over him, a female, cutting his bonds with one of the various knives. She dragged him off of the table and forced him to run until they reached a familiar small, white car.