When he opened his eyes, the first thing he saw was an energy saver light bulb dangling from a greasy length of wire about 30 inches from his exposed abdomen. He couldn’t move his arms or legs and had to roll his eyes downward to the point of discomfort to see past his first of several chins. He could taste the onions from his veal stew in the rivulets of sweat that began to pool and drip down his lips and into his fat, privileged mouth. His panicked eyes impotently scanned the room for a sense of familiarity to relay to his quickly dissolving psyche. Other than the light bulb, he could see a large set of metal shelves in the northwest corner of his narrow field of vision. On the shelves, rested vague shapes of horror drenched in the colors of mildew, rust, and evil. On the other side of his half-circle of vision he could see only contours of darkness, merely suggesting the presence of clutter in this dank and unknown place.
“This looks like one of the places Carmine Mullhaney used to bring young politicians when they went too far off the script during a speech,” he thought to himself. Carmine is the Irish-Italian CEO of Sea Salt Realty, LLC. Sea Salt Realty, LLC is the shell corporation that launders all the money Carmine and his army of bureaucrats and uniformed thugs, known to the taxpaying public as cops, collect up and down the Dogwood Coast, North Carolina’s preeminent coastal vacation destination.
The sense of familiarity finally arrived but provided no comfort to his confused, terrified mind. “Carmine has no reason to bring me here. I’m no politician; I’m a god damned businessman! The only script I follow is the tax code and I’ve given that fat bastard every penny he thinks he deserves, and then some!” His state of advanced fear had given the voice of his thoughts a dialect of primal rage.
Unbeknownst to the man restrained on the table, his raging thoughts pleased the man in the mask standing out of view, behind a panel of two way glass. The man in the mask was a telepath, and not one of the man-made kinds that had to take pills and intravenous particle transfusions to sustain the ability. He was the real deal; An honest-to-your-God mind reader from birth. Primarily for this reason, he preferred to work alone. The man in the mask was never good at taking orders and only followed enough of his own rules to keep himself alive and out of prison.
It was almost time for the man in the mask to begin his work. His work is always appalling and vicious, but he enjoys the brutality of his attention to detail. Yes, his work is brutal, but the games he plays when his work is finished are enough to make the devil weep with pity for the poor soul strapped to the game board.
The poor soul currently strapped to the game board heard a large-sounding metal door slide open across a concrete floor. His anxious trembling instantly switched to absolute paralysis. The only part of him that moved was his eyes. They had frozen themselves to the dangling light bulb, now blinding the man with burning mercury. A breeze from the open door had turned the lightbulb into a nerve-racking pendulum, forecasting a nightmarish near-future for the fat, rich man with a full calendar of business lunches, campaign fundraisers and rendezvous with underage prostitutes lined up for tomorrow. It was election season, after all.
The man on the table heard the man in the mask’s slow, equidistant footsteps approaching from behind his expensive toupee. The scratching of the masked man’s feet were in direct syncopation with the pendulum sway of the dangling light bulb, giving full sensory arousal to the man on the table’s life-threatening state of pure terror.
The man in the mask did not synch his footsteps with the light intentionally. However, as the man on the table became mentally aware of the phenomenon, so did the man in the mask. Though unplanned, he took delight in the happy coincidence and chalked it up to the dramatic irony of the cosmos.
The man in the mask’s scraping footsteps finally ceased after what seemed like a thousand years to the man on the table. The important businessman had not been counting footsteps, but the man in the mask who could read minds had, for he had made this short trek numerous times, always with patience. 27 steps. His lucky number.
The man on the table felt the presence of a figure he could not see. A few moments of quaking silence had passed since the last scrape of a footstep when the businessman heard the low, resonant exhale of the man in the mask behind him. The businessman’s panic-induced paralysis ceased and once again his body shifted to violent trembling.
“W-w-wh…” He couldn’t finish the first syllable before a hand too big to be human appeared from invisible shadows and placed itself on his mouth, pinning all noise under its weight.
The man in the mask could hear his thoughts, however, and answered the question the man on the table had not been able to say out loud, “I’m going to make you a better person and give you a chance at redemption in the next life because that is something you have lost the ability to attain in your current life. If you’re waiting for an angel to rescue you, wait no longer, for I am he. It is with love that I perform my spiritual work upon your flesh today because I cannot provide assistance to those for whom I feel hate. Yes, I hate your flesh, because your flesh propagates the evil lie of the Neo-Man, the “God” man.” The man in the mask’s voice transformed from the cold, rational tone of a computer to the phlegmy warble of a drunken blues singer, “You are no God! You’re nothing but a bureaucratic warlord! You pillage with ballpoint pens and empty gestures!”
“Mrrrppph!” A familiar noise of carnal exasperation rumbled and seeped through the giant hand on the now-sobbing businessman’s mouth. In a singular, superhuman motion, the man in the mask plunged his thumb and index finger into the other man’s mouth and back out again. Pressed between his frighteningly long but well maintained fingernails was a small piece of the other man’s tongue, about a quarter of an inch in diameter. The man on the table began to choke on his own blood.
The loud clanging of a metal latch being released screamed with furious reverb against the dank metal walls of the masked man’s nest of torture. Suddenly, the man on the table and the table itself were standing upright and perfectly straight.
“Tell me, do you taste the evil in your blood,” asked the man in the mask. “The sour poison of a life spent taking everything you can from those you deem weak and undeserving, all the while deluding yourself into a grand sense of nobility and purpose? Your scum-flesh must be potent enough to burn your taste buds to oblivion. Or, perhaps you’ve developed a craving for scum over the years, the way a cannibal is said to become addicted to the taste of human meat. More likely, the taste pleases you,” beneath his mask, the man’s face squirmed with disgust and he felt the urge to spit, but could not so, instead, he grunted, “Scum-Flesh!”
That night, the garbled and blood soaked screams of the important man on the table could be heard neither in the heavens nor anywhere on Earth. When news broke of his death, no one mourned, but all along the Dogwood Coast, crocodiles began to shed their tears at the foot of the money tree.
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