He lived in a dusty old shack my uncle owned fifteen or twenty years ago. It was about thirty minutes outside of town off a dirt road that had no name. I knew exactly where the place was because I’d been to visit my uncle on occasion as a child.
I didn’t have any trouble finding it, though it took a bit of work to look at it. The house was a dilapidated heap nestled between two tall oak trees that gave it shade. Since one of the trees leaned, the house looked like it sat off-center on the small lot.
Not only was it in serious need of condemnation, an unholy smell had taken over. Bags of trash piled up next to the bedroom window, the one facing the single car aluminum garage. The bags had been torn open in places, revealing empty cereal boxes, coffee grounds, and old deli meat packages. I had to cover my mouth with the bottom of my tie to be able to approach the house.
I didn’t want to kill him, but a thousand dollars is a lot of money for a man who owes a lot more than that. It was a start. Hell, it was a little over half of what I owed. I was in debt two thousand big ones to Jim Solarski, but it would probably turn into a couple more before I could scrape together enough to pay him. I had made a few dubious investment choices at one of Jim’s establishments and then made a few more, allowing my debt to pile up like the garbage outside this old house.
A clap of thunder sounded off somewhere in the distance. A storm was on its way but wouldn’t arrive for some time. I looked up at the approaching gray clouds. They were well on their way but moving slow. It would be late afternoon before a drop of rain would hit the soil.
We need it, I thought.
It had been a real dry summer and we needed some rain. We hadn’t had a good, long storm down in South Georgia all summer.
I held my breath and wiped the sweat from my temples before heading toward the house. The front door was open, but I couldn’t see anything because of the damn screen. There was no noise coming from inside. The television wasn’t on and neither was the radio. No dishes clanked and there wasn’t a dog to be found. It would go down perfectly if he didn’t expect me. It was awfully quiet, though. The grass in the front was very dry and it made a slight crinkling sound as I walked over it. My heart banged against my chest so loud I though the slob would hear it from inside the house.
It was hard to know what to expect. I had never met the guy, but from the looks of things he was not the cleanest turd in the bowl. I half expected to see an overweight, balding man with poor hygiene wearing a wife beater and colorful boxer shorts, watching something terrible on television. I also don’t like to make assumptions. That’s what got me in this mess in the first place.
I pulled the stolen revolver from my pants and held it tightly in my hands. My heart surged in my chest and for a moment I didn’t want to continue. Another guttural burst of thunder shook the sky in the distance, making me inch forward a bit faster. Little flecks of paint jutted off of the house like skin off a burn victim. The smell of the trash on the side of the house worsened the closer I got. I could barely stand it. I had to take breaths from my shirt so I wouldn’t have to smell putrid milk and rotten chicken that spilled out of the opened garbage bags.
When I reached the front porch, I could hear flies buzzing around inside. That’s when I realized that the guy I’d been hired to murder might not need my help after all. Still, I didn’t want to take any chances. I pulled the hammer down on the revolver, holding it under my shirt to muffle the loud click. My shoes made a distinct sound on the wood of the porch, even though I tried to silence my steps. They were new and I don’t know why I had worn them. My palms gushed with sweat and I had trouble holding the gun steady.
Under the shade of the porch, I could see in the house now. Clothes and dishes lay scattered all over the floor in the living room. The buzzing was even louder just beyond the front door. It sounded full, not real, the way bees and flies sound in the movies. As I opened the door, a small parade of insects whizzed past me and disappeared into the afternoon sky. I took another deep breath and stepped inside.
Chicken bones and unfinished sandwiches littered the table that sat in front of the couch. Magazines with scantily clad women on the covers lay all over the floor. Pictures of naked women had been nailed everywhere, covering it so fully that I had a hard time finding the actual wall.
And there were the flies. They had nearly taken over the entire house. They covered the food and the tables and chairs. The creatures had besieged the old black-and-white television that sat on a small T.V. tray under the only window in the living room. They got into my hair and eyes. I had to close my mouth and blow air out of my nose to deter them. A few managed to fly down into my shirt and tickle my back. Every second that I spent in there was a second I wanted to run screaming to my car, which sat in the woods a half-mile from the house.
I passed through the dining room, which contained only about half of the flies and spoiled food of the living room. The door leading from the dining room to the bedroom was closed firmly. I could see that from across the hall, and I got scared. My feet refused to move me in the direction of the guy I’d been sent to kill. Damnit. I crouched down and began to shuffle across the floor.
I gently grabbed the doorknob, touching it first with three of my fingers and then grasping it fully in my empty hand, and slowly turned it.
The door was locked.
Instead of kicking it down or anything rash like that, I decided to head around to the bedroom window to take a peek. I had a feeling the guy was already dead, but it had to be verified. I couldn’t afford to mess up. This was one of the last opportunities I had to pay back some of the money I owed. Besides, knocking down a door would put me at risk, especially if he had a piece, and I definitely did not want that.
After crawling back across the dining room and struggling through the fly room, I stepped around to the side of the house, which was home to all the smelly refuse. I looked for a dead animal or two in the pile, thinking that there was no way just trash and food could ever smell that bad.
Then something moved.
I barely saw it but something in the pile of garbage definitely moved. My heart jumped and my imagination took off on me. For a second, I thought the guy had waited for me, biding his time until he could surprise me from deep within the trash pile. I stepped back and waited for whatever it was to reveal it. After a few moments of rustling around, a small rat popped out from under an empty bag of crinkle French fries and scuttled under the house through a small crack in the foundation.
I crouched under the bedroom window and rested the revolver on my knee. It terrified me to think about who or what lay in the room just behind my head, so I was afraid to look. When I finally mustered the courage to peek above the window’s frame, I was horrified. The filthy guy dangled from a belt that had been fastened to a board somewhere in the ceiling. His face held no expression of agony or surprise and his toes could almost touch the floor. Judging by the discoloration in his skin, he had been dead for quite some time. His face was three or four shades of purple and a thick green substance oozed out of his mouth. He looked nothing like I had pictured him. He didn’t wear a wife beater. In fact, he didn’t have a shirt on at all. His bloated, distended belly was a sharp black in parts and a deep purple in others. I didn’t want to look, but I couldn’t look away. It mesmerized me to witness a scene like this, something I had seen only in movies. I stared at the guy and wondered how long he had been hanging there. At first it seemed as though he had killed himself.
I looked at his hands and saw that they had been fastened with fishing line. It dawned on me then that he had not committed suicide. He had been murdered and someone quite possibly wanted me to see him like this.
Is this a trap? I thought and glanced around.
It hadn’t been a trap and that, too, worried me. I started to think about how I would explain this to Vince and Murtle McGillis. Surely they wouldn’t pay me if I didn’t kill him. I tried to make excuses in my head, all of them terrible. Apparently this guy did some heinous things to get where he was. the payout was proof of that, but what had he done to have so many people wanting him dead? Was it a message for me? I began to see myself in the dead man’s place, a bloated purple-and-black version of myself held in suspension like that, so still that I looked like a photograph.
Then it hit me. I could just cut the guy down, put a few rounds in him, and walk away, easy as that. The McGillis brothers wouldn’t care, so long as it looked like I had done it.
I stepped around the house, humming a tune I hadn’t heard in years, and stopped dead in my tracks. The screen door was open and a man wearing an expensive looking suit stood in the doorway. He looked familiar, but I couldn’t place him. My mind was too busy racing and telling me how badly I had messed up to recognize random people.
I leaned against the side of the house, holding the revolver up by my head. I closed my eyes and tried to think, but no thoughts would come. I heard the screen door slap against the frame and hoped that the guy was on his way out. The living room window lay by my head, so I could hear the guy in the fancy suit walking around inside. He made a few loud, throaty sounds and spat on the floor.
The revolver shook violently in my hands. My knees didn’t want to hold me. I knew I had to kill the man inside as well. He couldn’t tell anyone how the guy had died. I had never killed so much as a rabid dog before, but he deserved it for snooping around in things that didn’t involve him. The McGillis brothers hired me to kill a man; I intended to do a good job one way or another. Besides, if someone else wanted the filthy man dead, he had been too late. The filthy guy was deader than hell. He sure didn’t need any more help getting there.
The ten or so steps from the side of the house to the front door were the longest of my life. I expected the guy in the fancy suit to burst out of the door, guns-a-blazing.
As I stepped onto the porch, I could hear plates and cups being tossed around. The guy was looking for something. Good luck, I thought. There wasn’t anything in there to have, unless you had a penchant for salmonella-ridden chicken bones. I stood by the door, waiting for him to find whatever it was he wanted.
I knew I hadn’t missed anything in there. Or had I? Rather than risk a shootout, I decided to wait for the guy to come back out, fire off a few rounds in the back of his head, and take his findings. It felt good to finally be in control of a situation.
The rustling inside didn’t stop though. In fact, it got worse the longer the guy stayed in there. At one point, I thought I heard the T.V. being pulled over. The bugs were probably starting to get to him, because if he hadn’t already found what he was looking for, most likely he wouldn’t find it at all.
Then it ceased. The sounds slowed gradually, the same way a vacuum cleaner shuts itself down. I couldn’t hear any footsteps. I wanted so badly to look inside the house, but I couldn’t. I couldn’t force myself to look in there. Then the guy started walking, but he walked in the opposite direction, toward the bedroom. There was a loud boom and the sound of the door slamming against the wall came next. I craned my neck just far enough to look through the screen door. I saw the guy standing there, staring at the swinging dead guy the way a puppy stares at a strange sound. I couldn’t see him but I knew what he was doing. He was smiling. I would bet (well, maybe I wouldn’t) that he smiled a gritty, disturbing smile, full of decay and hatred and happiness. The whole thing intrigued me. I wanted to see what was going to happen next, but from my vantage point all I could see was the fancy guy’s back.
I hurried off the porch, trying my best not to draw attention to myself. I passed by the mound of garbage, mindful to hold my breath and not look directly at it.
I stopped just before reaching the bedroom window and breathed out. My head hurt and I was covered in sweat. I hadn’t noticed it, but now I wanted to take a cold shower. All my crevasses were caked with dust and sweat and every move I made felt grimy. I blocked it out of my mind and took a deep breath, holding it for as long as I could. I listened for any sounds coming from the bedroom, but I could hear nothing. Then a sound so small I had to close my eyes to be able to hear it floated from the bedroom window. It was the sound a knife makes when it passes through bruised fruit. I couldn’t place it but it sounded bad.
I squatted beneath the window and leaned back, hoping to catch a glimpse of what was going on. There was a loud splash of something liquid hitting the floor.
I had to close my throat to keep from throwing up right there on the window. It was the most horrible thing I had ever seen in my entire life. The man in the fancy suit had split the hanging guy from breastplate to bladder, leaving him open like some kind of science experiment. The fancy man was elbow deep in the hanging guy, ripping out pieces of his innards and shoving them hastily into his mouth. I had to turn my head and choke down the chicken pot pie I’d eaten for lunch that day. What the hell had I gotten myself into?
My brain felt like it was swimming. It was like I had taken a dozen tranquilizers. I had trouble processing all the new information. There was a guy in gambling debt sent to kill a man who was already dead, but a well-dressed ghoul interrupts the whole process?
I looked through the window again, hoping to get a better sense of the situation.
The ghoul’s eyes were fixed directly on me.
They were filled with lusty rage. He was actually human, but his face was filled with something almost supernatural. He grinned broadly. Pieces of flesh hung from the corners of his mouth and a thick black liquid surrounded his lips and ran down his chin. He stared at me with those eyes, just daring me to stare back at him.
I raised the revolver and emptied it into the window. A multitude of sounds erupted from the house. There was a dry thud, the sound of shattering glass, the ricochet of the bullets, and a guttural scream. I couldn’t see anything because my eyes were closed. It was the first time I had fired a weapon in years. Anyone who has ever seen me shoot knows why. When I opened them again, I saw the man in the fancy suit lying at my feet. His arms were outstretched, as if he was reaching for my legs. He didn’t quite make it, all thanks to Christ. His hands were covered in that black liquid.
I kicked him to make sure he was dead. His body quivered with the force of my foot, but he didn’t make a move on his own. I used the toe of my shoe to roll him over onto his back. He was still smiling that vicious grin. You still didn’t get me you little bastard, it told me.
I knelt down and searched through his jacket. I didn’t find any money or a treasure map or anything else like that. I did find his badge, however. He was a damn cop. Officer Grady Danbury. I had killed a cop, never mind the fact that he was a lunatic. This would not sit well with my employers. What could I tell them? “Hey, guys, I didn’t get the guy you wanted me to kill. I shot a whacked-out cannibal cop instead. Where’s my money?’
Nope. That wouldn’t work.
I stood there for some time, trying to figure out what to do. I wanted to get the hell out of there. If anyone else showed, I wouldn’t have any idea how to explain the situation. I don’t think anyone in his right mind could do it justice.
Instead, I ignored my instincts and tried to better the situation. I hadn’t seen a car all that day, so getting the body as far away as possible presumably wasn’t a bad idea. There was a field out behind the house that stretched for a few acres and, last I heard, nobody owned the land. The only problem was I’d left my car a ways back and didn’t want to walk back to get it. It was risking a lot to walk down that road in the brightest stretch of the afternoon, even if the damn thing was nearly deserted.
Still, I did it, just like I knew I would.
I left my shirt on the porch and pulled my hat down tight on my head. It was a hot day and I’d rather be sunburned than passed out in a ditch along the side of a nearly deserted road. The sun had fought off the looming clouds, which had receded into the distance of the skyline. No rain today.
I could have just dragged the body out into the woods and buried it but I knew I wouldn’t be able to stomach touching him more than necessary. Dead people aren’t a gambling man’s thing, and I had no intention of starting up a new hobby. The authorities could only find the swinging fat man.
I made it to my car without incident and headed back toward the house, praying that I wouldn’t pass anyone on the road. I didn’t want to be tied to this thing in any way, shape, or form. That would put me in a bad spot with the law and the shady people around town, who, no doubt, would make sure that I never saw trial.
The dirt road was a long straight one, so I could see a ways down it, despite all the old trees on either side. That’s why the small cloud of dust that appeared in the distance worried me. It was indicative of a car coming right for me. I had to hurry my ass to that house. I stomped the gas pedal, causing the car to surge forward a bit. I figured that the man (or woman, I suppose) probably knew someone else was on that road, but I hoped to make it to the house before he did. Even more so, I hoped that the driver wasn’t the inquisitive type.
I turned into the small driveway just as the other car topped the hill leading to the house. I pulled my car around back and hurriedly shut off the engine. The other car roared past the house without so much as slowing down. I smiled to myself in the rear-view mirror. You lucky bastard, I thought as I slid out of the driver’s seat.
I popped open the trunk of my sedan and turned to retrieve the cop’s body. It was no longer where I had left it. The guy was trying to crawl away! I had to laugh. He was still moving, making inarticulate gurgling sounds as he clawed at the hard Georgia clay.
The revolver lay on the ground near the window – or what was left of it – and I picked it up to finish off the cop. Unfortunately there were no bullets left and I didn’t bring any with me. I walked over to my car and peered into the trunk. There was a shovel, a small-handled hammer, and a tire iron at my disposal. I grabbed the shovel and tracked down the wounded cop.
He managed to make it to the edge of the woods near the west side of the house. His movement had slowed considerably and the gurgling sounds had been replaced by short, choking breaths.
“Hey,” I said. “Hey, can you hear me?”
He ignored the question.
He stopped writhing. His fingers twitched ever so slightly and he tried to roll over on his back, managing only to reach his side before giving up. His suit was now a grotesque mixture of grey and red, the blood having covered much his chest and stomach.
“Don’t,” he said, his breath kicking up a small cloud of red dust. The black liquid that encircled his mouth had dried into a thick, disgusting paste. I raised the shovel and meant to drive it down hard right on top of his head. The sun punished my back and I realized that I had left my shirt under the porch. I had to remember to grab that on my way out.
“Why were you out here?” I rested the spade on Danbury’s chest but didn’t put any weight on it. He tilted his head as far to one side as he could, trying to look up at me. His eyes were dull, the way a dog’s eyes look after being struck by a car.
“Kill you.” It came out like a single word, killew, and I couldn’t discern his accent. He didn’t have the drawl that was prominent around this part of southern Georgia. When I finally caught up with what he said, my face flushed. It had been a set-up and a damn good one at that. Thank god for my cowardice, or else I’d be right up there with the fat man.
“What were you looking for in the house?” His eyebrows curled and he did not answer. I stood there under the afternoon sun and waited for him to reply for some time. His eyes grew very dim and he stopped looking around, so I gave up. Drawing the shovel high above my head, I fully intended to end the Danbury’s suffering but decided it was unnecessary and tossed the shovel on the ground by his head. He did not flinch.
I walked back to the house, my throat screaming for a cold beer, and grabbed my shirt. It felt hot on my sunburned skin and I suddenly did not want to wear it. Passing by the broken bedroom window, I looked in at the hanging man. A large congregation of flies had gathered all over him, covering most of his face and concealing the grotesqueries of his innards.
Hurrying over to the car, I slammed the trunk door and hopped in the driver’s seat. My mind had cleared a bit and I was glad. Everything that happened had become a single mushy glob in my mind and putting it all into perspective would be difficult, but it would have to be done eventually. That could be mulled over later, after the job was finished. I turned the key. The car sputtered to life and I made my way for Danbury’s body.
This time, the body had not moved. It actually took a few tries to be able to put my hands on the dead man. I was not accustomed to that brand of work and had hoped I never would be. I got close once, though. During a particularly heated poker game a few years before, Frank Barlow shot a man and asked me to help move him. If I hadn’t been drunk off my ass and throwing up, I probably would have.
Since he was a heavy guy, dragging him to the car was not as easy as I thought it would be. I managed to get his thick legs into the trunk without breaking too much of a sweat. After pushing him up to a sitting position, I wrapped my arms around his chest and tried to pull him up into the trunk.
All in all, it took a good five minutes from start to finish to get him into the trunk. I set out for any good secluded spot in the woods, hoping that I wouldn’t catch up with a hunter or anything. It was almost over, and I’d be a fool to let something petty get me into trouble.
A large, rusted fence that ran the length of the field marked the end of what was formerly my uncle’s property. I drove for a few minutes, looking for an opening in the fence. Finally, I reached a small aluminum gate, barely large enough for a single car to pass through. There was a rusted lock on the chain that held the gate shut and I had to use the hammer to knock it loose. That bastard didn’t want to give, but I finally got it. Sparks flew as the lock broke free and dropped to the ground.
The sun had moved down, settling just above the tree line. In Georgia, the sun can linger for what seems to be hours before heading down into the dusk. It’s something you take for granted until you’re in dire need of the sunlight.
It took all of twenty minutes to find a good place to stop. I was a bit fearful of spending too much time out in the woods after dark, especially after what had taken place back at that house. I couldn’t tear my mind away from the things I’d witnessed. As I looked down into the trunk at the dead cop, I wondered what had caused him to go berserk, to rip the poor swinging man to pieces right there before me. I don’t think I could answer that without talking to the people who had hired me.
I hurried through the burial process, hastily digging a three-foot hole and tossing Danbury into it. I did not want to bury him deeply; I just wanted to keep him concealed long enough to keep my ass out of the fire.
By the time the cop was in the dirt it was well after dark. I patted down the top layer and tossed the shovel in the back of the car. I slid behind the wheel and drove without headlights to the house. It seemed a lot eerier in the dark than it had in the daylight. It was a wonder that anyone could live there. Instead of going back through the fly-infested living room, I climbed through the gaping hole in the side of the house, staring blankly into the darkness.
At first, there was nothing, just a solid black sheet draped over my face. I blinked rapidly, hoping to facilitate the whole process. Then, slowly, the silhouette of the swinging man began to take shape in the room. At one point I could even see the outline of the lone chest-of-drawers in the room.
I pulled a small knife out of my pocket and flipped open the blade. I approximated the whereabouts of the swinging man’s wrists and reached out, first catching a handful of the huge cavity in his stomach. Upon finding the man’s wrists, I placed the knife between the two hands and tugged hard. The material ripped and the man’s hands fell free. One of them bumped into my thigh as I reached up to find the belt that secured the swinging man to the four by four near the ceiling. His dead, bloated body rubbed against me as I sawed at the belt.
Christ, what a mess this was going to be to clean up.