If you’re joining Mapping the Edge late, this week, I’m sharing samples from an in-work concept. It’s thinking out loud.
Harry and Sled’s conversation started on yesterday’s post. Today, they end their talk, and what happens next is … I guess we’ll find out tomorrow, because I don’t know until I put fingers to keyboard!
. – . – . – .
Harry and Sled sat for a while in silence. Harry waited for the full effect of the drugs he had injected into Sled’s partially collapsed vein. Sled anticipated where the unknown substance and unknown dosage would take him, and wondered if it would bring him back. They stared at each other and around the room at inconsequential things.
“Know any good jokes,” Sled asked.
A voice spoke through the wall speaker. “Good news: The state’s execution committee has again exceeded its quota. That means that this year’s Absentia Asylum and Crematoria benefit yard sale will include a wide choice of slightly used personal belongings. As always, there will be games and face painting for the kids. This year’s raffle prize will be an intimate photo with the inmate of your choice.”
“Fun, fun, fun,” Sled said.
The announcement continued: “The photo will be autographed if the inmate is allowed to have a pen, which technically is categorized as a sharp object. Also, be advised that not all of our inmates have hands, but at least one possesses a third one. Thank you and have a sane day.”
Sled grinned. “This is just like our old high school days, huh?”
Sled reached for Harry’s throat. As his hand got closer, Sled’s long curved fingernails pinched air like a crab. Harry looked down, cross-eyed, watching the pinching come closer and closer.
“Sled, what are you doing?”
“My question still stands. What are you doing?”
“I said hold still.” Sled picked the thinnest of white hairs from Harry’s collar and examined it. He tasted the hair then held it up like a lit match.
“You and the little woman have a new addition at home. Another feline mouth to feed. Let me guess: white Persian, maybe ten years old? This is cat number five, I believe?”
Harry laughed for the first time today, then caught himself and stopped. “Try seven. Good guess on the make, model and age though.”
“Seven rescue cats. And they call me insane.”
Harry almost laughed again. “I know. Life’s not fair.”
“Sweet (only it came out suh-weet). It’s no secret that I love animals. Adore them. Especially babies. Newborns. Kittens are my favorite. So helpless at that age. They excite me.”
“Stop what? There’s nothing better than having one of God’s most fragile creatures under your care, or in your case, one of the fragile older ones. I love curling up with the little things and loving on them.”
“I said stop.”
“Harry, get a winch and tow your mind out of the gutter, then load it on a flatbed truck, take it to the local car wash and hose it down. Hose down your mind, man.”
“I just assumed —”
“Yes you did. Incorrectly. “This world is too cruel. Homeless animals need people, good people. It’s great that you rescue animals. You take in the abused and neglected, give them a home, a new start, and most of all, acceptance. You help them regain their dignity. I love that about you.”
Harry actually blushed.
“I just thought you were going down a different path.”
“What path? The one that ‘my kind’ start out on, abusing animals before we move on to people? That my people take pleasure in setting fire to small living things? Then when we get bored, we move up to the good stuff, like raping, killing, and sometimes setting humans on fire?”
“It’s just that, studies show that —”
“Studies, schmudies! I know what studies show, Harry. Bad people, the really bad ones, hone their skills on helpless animals first, then humans. There’s the difference between me and your study buddies: The sickos who took Mary are not ‘my kind’. They are opportunists, out for a buck. They don’t care what they do or how they do it.
“You make me sick, Harry. You act like, you act like, as a kid, I was stupid enough to ask for something bad for Christmas one year, something that your kind would never have asked for. You think I begged Mommy or Daddy or old Aunt Ellie or Santa or God for a rape and torture starter kit?”
Harry was still. He let Sled vent.
“I love how it’s all relative with you. You label me and ‘my kind’, based on your judgement, which is your own skewed, biased assessment. You curse me for being bad out in the open, and you praise yourself when, in private, you act no differently. Your private life is like my public one. You’re just too much of a coward to admit it.”
Harry started to protest but saw that Sled was not done.
“Harry, you’ve always acted so superior to me. The truth is, when you’re caught in something similar, your kind crumbles from the shame. That’s called weak, Harry. Own it. Own your sins and perversions. Confess it. Try to do better if you want, but at least admit that you’re scum like me, you just want better.”
“So,” Harry said, “I’m the prisoner, and you’re the free one? Are you proud of what you’ve done and who you are, Sled?”
“No, I’m not proud of it. Who would be? But at least I know who I am and what I am.”
“Sled, if you think I do what you do, only in hiding, you couldn’t be more wrong.”
“Want proof,” Sled asked. “You know I write, right? Write, right, okay so I could have worded that better, since I write, but you know what I mean, don’t you?”
“Yes I do. I’ve read samples of your memoirs. You’re writing is not bad.”
“As you said, I’m excellent, but I digress. When you read my writing, is it obvious who I am and what I am?”
“Very. Almost to a fault.”
“Thank you. Guess what?”
Harry waited for Sled to continue.
“Well, I said guess what.”
“What, Sled, what?”
“I know you’re a writer too.”
Harry smiled. “I write reports of findings. That’s not a writer, Sled.”
“You write ghost porn.”
Harry’s face went blank and pale. “What did you say?”
“Do you prefer, ‘paranormal erotica’?” Sled made air quotes.
“How do you …”
“How do I know?”
“How did you …”
“How did I find out? Don’t ever underestimate me, Harry. Or should I call you, Peri Anne Gilligan?”
Harry covered his face.
“Harry, I’m not shaming you. I’m setting you free. I’m saying don’t be ashamed. Own it. If you like writing ghost porn from a woman’s perspective, then write ghost porn from a woman’s perspective. Just stop being fake about it. Does your wife even know you write ghost porn?”
“She has no idea.”
“So, how’s that transparent marriage working for you?”
“I get what you’re saying. I get it. It’s just not as easy as you make it out to be.”
“Fear complicates things, doesn’t it? Harry, you and I are more alike than you’re willing to admit. When you finally come to terms with that fact, you can move on, and maybe we can become good friends again. How does that sound, Ms. Peri Anne?”
“I’ve got one question, Sled. You say you’re kind to helpless animals. Fine. Yet you are as unkind to humans. You crush the souls of the youngest and most helpless members of the human race. Why?”
“Simple. I satisfy a natural urge, and I don’t hide from it. It’s who I am. I’m not saying I’m proud of it; I’m saying it’s me.”
“You satisfy an urge alright. With underage girls and boys and if truth be told, anything else that moves, including animals. How about some transparency from you, for once.”
“And probably some things that stopped breathing at some point during the satisfying of your natural urge, your animal urge.”
“I said shut up!”
“You rip kids apart. You rip families apart. You destroy dreams and take the lives of the most fragile beings: humans. But you’ll curl up with a motherless rat? That is, until your natural urge drives you to kill and eat it too.”
“No! No! No!” Sled slammed his fist on the table with each word. I would never harm an animal. I would gut anybody who did, eviscerate them, and their family and friends and everybody they’ve ever known.” Sled paused and fought back tears. “I’m going to stop eating meat as soon as I get out of here.”
“You mean stop eating the meat of animals, right? Because your criminal record states, let me see, I have it here…”
“You shut up! Shut up, Harry! Don’t you dare compare a tainted human to an animal’s innocence! A human has none, not at birth, not ever. You have no idea how hard they fight back, how much they try to repay pain for pain. Animals just want to get away. People fight back. People have hatred in their eyes, Harry. I’ve seen it. And when it’s aimed at me… I hate when I see that kind of hate looking back at me, judging me. I hate that! I hate, hate, hate it. Hate it! Hate! Hate it!”
“And, I think we’re done here!” Harry nodded to Cabo and Hatu. “Take him away.” Harry looked at Sled, and saw a man his age, wrapped in chains and smelling of stale sewer, and appearing twenty years older.
“Do whatever you want with him.” Harry slammed the folder shut and put it away. “Goodbye Sled.”
The guards approached him. “Stay,” Sled yelled. They did. “Wow. I thought that only worked on Bulldog,” Sled said. “Apparently, it’s a universal command. Who knew? I’ve got one more thing.”
“Sled, it’s over. We’re done. Done.”
“I said, one last thing, Harry.”
“What, Sled? What?”
“Just acknowledge me. I get the impression I may never see you again. Harry? Harry, look a me. Get out of this heck hole. Go find that girl. Find Mary. From what I saw, she may not have much time.”
“We’ll do what I can.”
“Really? I expected more from you, Harry.” Sled said. “You disappoint me. You and your kind.”
“Well, Sled, you’ve met my expectations, again. Take him.”
Cabo and Hatu gripped Sled’s arms. “Watch yourself, Harry. Those who have Mary are not amateurs out for a good time. They’re part of something bigger.”
The twin guards wrapped Sled in the chains and locked the padlocks. They lifted Sled off the ground and turned toward the swinging door to the kitchen.
Sled looked back at Harry as they carried him toward the back. “When I look at Mary, I see a spider web entangled with the roots from a grove of century-old oak trees. Not good.”
“If they are not your kind, then what are they? Human traffickers?”
“Worse, Harry. Worse.”
Normal and abnormal are separated by an a and a b, Harry thought. Natural and unnatural, by a u and an n. So similar. So close to the same word. Harry resisted thanking Sled.
“Hang in there,” Harry yelled.
“Good one. Hang. I see what you did there. See what he did, guys? Hey, is that my root beer?” Wiggling fingers reached between chains and pulled the bottle from the pocket of either Cabo and Hatu.
Before Sled was carried out of the cafeteria, he said something that only Sled could say. The guards turned Sled upside down and put him on his head.
“Head spin,” Sled said.
Harry watched one of the guards hold Sled upside down. The other took the unopened root beer bottle, and after a few golf practice swings, swung and drove the base of the bottle into the bridge of Sled’s nose, which was just off the floor. Sled convulsed. He tried to tuck his bound legs into an upside-down fetal position but was unable to bend from the restraints.
“Great,” Sled said. He spit blood. “Now it’s gonna spew.”
They slid the root beer under one of the tight chains binding Sled’s chest. The guards swung Sled back and forth, until they had sufficient momentum. They used Sled’s skull to open the swinging door. They half-drug, half-carried Sled through the kitchen and out the back toward the dark dumpsters, and into the shadows of the old school chimney.
The swinging door to the kitchen swung a few times, then stopped.
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