Things are coming to a head in the Kinter house basement. If you haven’t read the other stories in this series, click here to read them before getting into this week’s installment. (Start at the bottom and read them in the order they were posted.)
I feel the series drawing to a close. It won’t be long before we know who lives and who does not. Just a few more weeks, I think, but between now and then I hope there are a few more twists and turns in the mix–for me and for you. (After all, writing all of this based on prompts, I really have no idea what will happen week-to-week.)
The prompt I’ve chosen for this week could have easily led to the end of the series, but it did not. It leads, rather, to the end of something else. The prompt comes from Flash Fiction Friday. Here it is:
Prompt: Tell us a story about a character facing the end of something–a job, a relationship, their sanity… What is actually ending can be whatever your imagination dreams up, but also let us know how it turns out for him or her. Give us some type of ending (pun intended).
Word Limit: 1,500 words.
I’ve gotten some positive feedback from a few friends about this series, dark and demented though it is. If you have any thoughts, critical or complimentary, feel free to share them in the comments.
As always, thanks for reading.
The boy’s screams were delicious.
There was a brief intermission following the removal of the ear. It was understandable. The boy had exhausted himself during the process, thrashing to and fro and making a hard task that much harder. Ears are small compared to other appendages, and of irregular shape. Even if you have a firm grasp on the cartilage, as soon as the first cut is made there is blood everywhere. It gushes. It spurts, it spews, it sprays. It makes the skin slippery and the ear a difficult things to manage.
The first time James removed an ear it was from a cat. That was easier than a human ear, and he still nearly cut off one of his own fingers in the process. Jessica had done a poor job of holding the cat down. In frustration, he ended up driving the X-Acto knife directly into the animal’s eye socket. He finished the ear after the cat stopped twitching, and then he dealt with Jessica.
He was confident she remembered the lesson well. She still bore the evidence of it.
But the boy’s ear–that had been a chore well worth undertaking. It was delicate work, lifting and slicing just so. The boy was left with a dark, wet hole where his ear should have been. He was hoarse from the screams. It was all so breath-taking.
To James’ delight, the flaying had gone well, too. Flaying sounds hard until one has done it a few times. It’s not so difficult. The boy found new air in his lungs and the screams came again. They were intermingled with cries for his mommy and begging pleas to make the pain stop.
“No, no, my boy,” James said to him, running a bloodied hand across his forehead. “We welcome the pain.”
The girl was still knocked out on the floor, and Mr. Baker was as good as dead. In James’ considerable experience, the newly blind are helpless. Jack Baker’s world had been reduced to sound, smell and touch. But he was tied up and could not touch anything. If he was awake he could certainly hear things–the boy screaming most of all–but that would only serve to indicate his future. And the predominant smell in the basement was the metallic odor of blood mixed with the fowl scent of urine, courtesy of the other boy writhing and crying on the floor.
The situation was well in hand. James had not planned for four guests. Truth be told, he was concerned when he drugged Mr. Baker that perhaps he should have waited. It wasn’t so long ago that Scottie Peterson had been in this same basement, his screams filling the holes James and Jessica had in their hearts. It was as if fate had delivered Jack Baker to him. It could not have been easier. Furthermore, it was unlikely that anyone would associate the Peterson boy with a grown man. No one would think the same person had abducted both.
Easy, peasy, he had told Jessica.
But now, with these nosy children in the mix, well, what could be done? Each must meet the pain. Each must be dealt with. Each must learn what his beautiful sister already knew, and more. That James Kinter is not a man to be trifled with, and that the pain is powerful. It can change the shape of your whole world.
When he finished with the left hand, he stood. The boy was losing a lot of blood and James didn’t want him to pass out. Not yet. The time would come for that and then he could move to one of the others, but he wanted a little more time with this lad, first. He was so energetic and enthusiastic. Just a few more screams.
He made a decision. He looked back to Jessica and said, “The hatchet.” She nodded, his faithful sister, and pulled a small camp axe from its place on the tool wall. “The wood block, too.”
“Of course,” Jessica said, her eyes alight.
She tucked the hatchet under an arm and scooped up a large, round wooden block. Its top surface was chipped and ridged and stained dark with crimson. James had used it in the past for all sorts of amputations. It was easier to cut or chop with a solid surface below. The wood block was actually a cross section of a tree trunk. It stood about 2 feet tall and had a diameter of roughly 18 inches.
James sawed it, himself, from a tree in the yard he’d grown up in. He used it as a chopping block with his mother, when he showed her what he and Jessica had discovered. When he taught her about the pain. Her blood was still there, his mother’s, deep in the grain of the wood. Like a first offering.
The first of many.
Jessica set the wooden block next to the boy and James placed his skinless hand on top. “Hold his arm,” he told Jessica, but the boy, now moaning again, made no effort to pull his ruined hand back. Perhaps he wants to be rid of it, James thought. A welcome end.
And that was when he saw it.
He’d spent years ducking and dodging, building an identity so he could explore the pain again. These four guests were bringing a swift end to his time in this small town before he’d even gotten started. He had hoped to dance the blood dance with a dozen or more before picking up and moving on, and he’d hoped to do that without having to go into hiding again. Life is too short to spend in fear. He wanted to live, and he wanted to do it on his terms.
But he could see this was la fine of that dream. He could see the house lights coming up. He could see the credits rolling, the cast so much smaller than he’d hoped. And he could see that he and Jessica would need to go back to a life of hiding so much sooner than he’d planned.
This was the end, these four. At least for a while. It pained him to realize it. Not a pain to be worshiped, but rather an aching pain. An emotional pain. The kind of pain he’d spent his life trying to outpace.
He shook his head. Enough of that melancholy non-sense, he told himself. What’s done is done. I’ll make the best of it, as I always do.
Jessica was still holding the boy’s arm, his hand on the wooden block. James could feel the familiar weight of the hatchet in his hand. Perhaps this is the end, he thought, but what an end it will be!
“Sweet Jessica,” he said, “when I’ve removed the hand, I’ll need you to fetch the gas torch. You’ll have to be quick. I want to cauterize the wound without the boy slipping from consciousness. To do that, we must move fast.”
She nodded with solomen reverence.
“You’ll need to light the torch. When you hand it to me, be mindful of the flame. If you wish, you may stay close by. When I’m done with his hand, I intend to kiss his cheek with it. You’ll want to watch that.”
She smiled. “Yes, James. Thank you.”
James Kinter looked down at his sister, her hands wrapped around the boy’s arm. Blood dripped onto the wooden surface of the stump and ran along its length to the floor. Jessica’s scarred, twisted face contorted to form her smile. It was a lunatic’s smile, James knew that. The smile of a sweet psychopath, but he loved it. In that moment, knowing the end drew near, knowing he might not be able to worship the pain again for some time, he was happy. His heart felt whole. He had all he needed to feel fulfilled and content.
What more could a man want?
He returned Jessica’s smile and winked at her. She smiled wider, the braided flesh of her cheeks pulling her lips back from her yellowed teeth. It was beautiful.
He heaved the axe over his head and brought it down on the boy’s wrist. The hand, as though it had a life of its own, toppled from the wooden block and skid across the room coming to a stop before the crying boy. He pulled back from it, the stupid child, as though it might bite him. And then, believe it or not, he wet himself again.
Oh, that one will be fun, James thought. Fun all the way to the end.