Thursday, February 16, 2017

Pandora's Playground 7

The huge man snorted as he was wrenched from his dreams by a noise he was not yet awake enough to identify. Stretching his neck, he could feel a glob of snot that bridged all the way to his no longer white tank top. He failed to wipe it off twice before remembering that he had to do that with his left hand. Everything had to be done with his left hand, now. He looked around for any furniture he could reach, but resigned himself to clean his hand by way of his jeans again. The noise came again; it was a rapid succession of knocks on the door.

"Gimmie a minute!" he shouted, pushing forward on the stick controlling his wheelchair. It groaned forward; the motor was not made for as much weight as it had to carry. Halfway to the door, his right leg, held stiff and straight out by a brace, brushed a pizza box off of a table. The hardened, leftover slices spilled out next to a pile of crumpled beer cans. The rattling of the cans urged him to reach for the bottle of pain pills he kept on that table. He popped a few into his mouth and chewed. It was too early for this shit.

The door rattled against the frame when it was assaulted this time. An agitated voice yelled from the other side, "C'mon! Two more deliveries after this. I ain't got all day!"

"One goddamn minute!" He was almost there, but he would have to stand up and walk through the little hallway to his apartment door. Crutches leaned against the corner, one modified to fit the stump of his right arm, which ended at his elbow. After limping the last couple steps, he leaned against the wall, ripped the door open and glared up at the unwanted visitor.

The tall young man outside had been about to beat the door again, but froze in shock when the door opened. A large wad of red gum fell out of his open mouth. He held a metal clipboard against his dark brown uniform and stood in front of three wooden crates, stacked to just over his head and on a dolly. Tufts of blonde hair peeked out all around his company hat and a short pony tail stuck out of the back.

"Oh," the young man stuttered, "Oh, man. I'm sorry, man. I been beatin' on this door for, like, half an hour. Man, I am so sorry. I didn't know nothin' about your, uh..."

"S'alright." Way too early for this shit. "The hell is all this?"

"I got a, uh, delivery," his eyes took a moment to search his paperwork, "for a Mike Romeo in Eight-Thirteen. That you?"

Confirming with a nod, he stated, "I go by Flint."

"Sure thing, Flint." The delivery boy handed the clipboard over, then fished a few pieces of nicotine gum out of his pocket and shoved them in his mouth. "Just sign here an' I'll bring everything inside."

"I didn't order anything." Flint started to close the door, but the young man stopped him. When Flint pushed harder, the delivery boy braced and was able to resist him. Strong kid.

"Look, man, I just got a job to do." His lips smacked as he chomped on the enormous ball of gum, "I don't care what you do with it. Ain't my problem, but this shit's insured for a lot, so it's gotta be expensive."

"How much is a lot?" Flint stopped pushing on the door.

The kid shrugged. "Over forty grand. They also gave me special instructions with this'n. Again, man, I'm sorry. I just, uh, y'know, gotta get all this shit done." The kid let his next words drone on like an overbearing manager, "Get everything inside. Don't open the crates. Get a signature. Can't leave until someone accepts the delivery."

Flint opened the door and waddled out of the way, watching as the crates were wheeled in. As he was sitting back down in the wheelchair, the kid was looking around the apartment like a lost puppy.

"You uh, got anywhere in particular..." rather than finish the question, he just pointed around in a circle, chewing.

"Against the wall's fine. Can get my chair around 'em." Flint grunted as he hauled his stiff leg up onto its resting place.

"I, uh, got one more in the truck," he finished the sentence like it had been a question. Scratching at his scalp under the hat, he added, "It's a little bigger."

Flint made a grunt that was equal parts protest and giving up, then huffed, "Just anywhere in the room on the left."

"Two bedrooms, huh? Nice place. You think they got any more like this? I been looking to move into a new place since my landlord's a real dick. Boiler type that likes to burn my shit when I'm late on the payment." After chomping a couple times, he asked, "Your landlord ain't a dick, too, is he?"

This kid was already bringing the migraine back. Flint contemplated eating more pain pills from another nearby bottle. "Hardly know 'er. If my money's in the box on time, she don't bother me at all."

Satisfied, the kid rocked the first crate off the dolly and dropped it down with a floor shaking thud, but it landed a few inches away from the wall. With one arm, he lifted half of the crate and slid it back, then repeated the action on the other side.

Curious, Flint prodded, "You a strength type?"

Shrugging as he moved the second crate, "Never had no tests done to check. Maybe, but definitely not like you. Class two, right?"

Flint grumbled an affirmative and massaged the stump of his right arm while the third crate was shoved against the wall. There was an awkward pause until Flint felt eyes lingering on him and growled, "You gonna get the rest of this shit?"

Without another word, the delivery boy hurried out the door, failing to shut it on the way. Flint wheeled up to the third crate, waiting to hear the elevator chime before ripping into it. The screws tore free after a solid effort, the lid giving way to reveal a few cardboard boxes. Inside the first box were a few different hammers; the second carried three pair of metal tongs. He tossed those boxes aside, along with a third he did not care to open. Under them he found metal ingots of various hues, each one stamped with a pair of letters. None of it looked like gold or silver, but it should be easy to sell. Free money.

The lid of the next crate did not hold together, snapping along its diagonal. Inside was another set of tools and material. Flint dug around, pulling out pieces of a torch and a big metal pot. The bottom of the crate was covered by at least thirty glass jars of different powders. At this point, he expected to see an anvil in the third box, but the elevator chimed before he could find out.

The delivery boy backed into the apartment, needing to dip the tall crate and shimmy it through the door frame. Flint got out of the way and pointed at his spare room to remind the kid where he needed to go. They both wheeled in, the kid surveying the room for a moment before a certain feature trapped his interest.

This room was less disheveled than the living room. It would have made a cozy bedroom, but no furniture fitting the role was present. A few boxes leftover from the last move sat in one corner, dusty exercise equipment in another. Between them lay a heavy bag, resting on a pair of workout mats. A short length of broken rope dangled from the anchor in the ceiling. Tucked away against a wall was the rest of the rope tied in a crude hangman's knot.

Flint watched the kid's eyes lock on the failed noose and widen until he retched. He must have swallowed his gum forcing the vomit back and started choking.

Annoyed, Flint asked, "You alright?"

"Me?" the kid shot back, incredulous, "Are you alright, man? It looks like-"

"I tried to kill myself, yeah," Flint cut him off, "but I can't even do that right."

The kid shivered. Timid, hesitant words came out, "What happened?"

"Nothin'. The rope snapped."

"I mean..."

"I damn well knew what you meant." Flint snapped. He did not want to revisit the memories of meeting a metal monster on the shore, or what that monster had done to his friends.

"Did it, uh, have anything to do with..." motioning at Flint's missing forearm, he prodded, "y'know, when... that happened?"

Flint hung his head and groaned. There was no helping it now. Fresh sensations of the torturous gauntlet and later amputation surged forward. Anger boiled up at his friends who would not listen to his pleading. Flooding in from behind, fear came as the shadow of a murderer he imagined would one day come to finish the job. Everything washed away with the certainty that he was incapable of helping himself, let alone others, ever again.

Broken and teary, Flint spilled the story, "Some guy did this to me. My friends wanted to get back at 'im. I told 'em not to. They did it anyway. He killed 'em. At least they had it quick. I get to die slowly, waiting to see if he ever comes for me. I think he's forgot about me by now, or else he knows I'm suffering more alive."

The delivery boy had set the tall crate flat on the ground to sit on it. He wiped sweaty, shaking palms on his pants. Some color had left his face and he could only stare at the ground. What was his problem?

"Fuck it. It's done." Flint rolled forward. "Get up. Let's at least find out what I got."

The kid snapped up to his feet just as Flint lifted the first corner of the crate. These screws were weak and the whole lid came up as the delivery boy stuttered a weak protest. Beneath the lid was a harrowing sight. Staring up at Flint was the familiar red and black, bullet scarred metal helmet of his nightmares. The situation he was in fell into a sudden clarity.

"Get out of here, kid." Flint lowered the lid back down.

Still stunned and not looking up from the floor, a reflexive word came out, "What?"

"This guy's comin' back for me. You don't wanna be here when he does." Flint wheeled up and slapped the kid in the gut to wake him up.

"No," his breathing hastened, "I can't..."

Flint grabbed his wrist and wrenched him towards the doorway, forgetting his own strength. "I don't know how long you have, but you gotta get out of here, kid."

"Wait!" The kid shouted as he caught himself on the door frame and rebounded to his feet. "I can get you out of here."

The kid dashed over to the large crate and overturned it, spilling metal bits of armor across the room. With little effort, he set it back down upright and empty. "Get in, Flint. I'll close it up, take you outta here and wherever you wanna go. That dude'll never know!"

"Chill out!" Flint shoved the kid back towards the box. "Just... sit down for a minute. What's your name, kid?"

Sitting and entirely off guard, he stuttered, "D-Dan. Uh, Dan Gerson."

"Arrite, Dan, listen up." Flint shook his head briefly, then rested it in his hand and heaved a sigh. "Thanks. It's nice of you an' all, but I ain't gonna live on the run. I can't even walk. Ain't no where you can take me that he won't figure it out. And when he figures out you helped, you're dead, too."

"Flint, man, before I met you, I didn't care about you. But now I have, and..." Dan tried to finish his statement a few times before he chose the right words, "and I don't want you to die, man."

"Forget it. My joints were already starting to go when it happened. All class twos get like that sooner or later. A couple more years an' I'd be in this wheel chair without meetin' Deathgrind," Flint chuckled for a solid moment. "I'm sorry. I still laugh whenever I say that name out loud."

Uneasy laughter was forced out of Dan, trying to keep the mood light. "Yeah. I guess it is a silly name. What about yours? Where's Flint come from?"

"S'from my middle name, Flynn."

After a silent pause, Dan cracked up with genuine laughter. Gleeful, he exclaimed, "M. F. R. Your initials. You're a real em effer, Flint."

They both shared the heartiest of guffaws, escaping reality for the brief moment. It passed, leaving them together with nothing to say and no idea how to say it. Flint decided to just get it over with. He reached out a hand, "Thanks again, Dan. Now get movin'."

Dan stood up, but froze in place before he could shake hands. Flint watched his face go pale and his eyes shoot out of their sockets when sound came into their room from the rest of the apartment. The door swung open and crashed against the wall, heavy footfalls echoed in, followed by a muffled thud. Flint spun his chair around, waving at Dan to hide.

As quietly as the motor would let him, Flint crept forward to get a view of the living room. What he saw could not have been farther from expectation. A frail looking figure stood with her back to Flint; a mess of dirty blonde hair hung over her face while she dug through a duffel bag he did not recognize on his couch. Flint gave an awkward cough; the girl replied without looking up.

"I've got enough to stay for a week," she spoke like she knew who was listening, "Please tell me I can get a hot shower. And where do I get to sleep?"

"You can stay in my room but sleepin' ain't on my mind," the words were entwined with a throaty chuckle, "I mean, I wish you had some more meat on your bones, but I'll take what I can get before I go."

Flint finished his sentence with a stupid grin on his face. She still had not looked over when his vision was blocked and he felt strong pressure on both sides of his head. The room spun to a chorus of crackling bone, but he could see again. Dan's face looked down at him, teeth bared, brow furrowed, and the trace of a tear in his eye. The image faded, and the last sensation to register was a voice twisted with anger and remorse.

"Should have gotten in the crate."

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