Entertainingly Evil
21
Jun

Free Coffee, Compliments of Telford Nature Explorers of Washington by Jason B. Sizemore

The pot was right where it should be. Electric drip. Classic Bunn-O-Matic machine. The blue road sign for the Telford safety area had not lied about the coffee.

It appeared to be the good stuff, the decanter’s handle and drip lid were black, meaning the contents contained caffeine. A faded and sun-stained sheet of paper taped to the speckled concrete wall hung above a portable card table: “Free Trade Organic Guatemalan Coffee courtesy of the Telford Nature Explorers of Washington.”

Yes, definitely promising.

Jack Thompson grabbed a small Styrofoam cup, spotted a dead fly in its bottom, and tossed the cup—with fly—into a garbage can sitting next to the table. A second cup proved cleaner on inspection, and he took the decanter in his left hand and poured himself a cup of brew.

He toasted the sign. “Here’s to you, Telford Nature Explorers.” Then he took a large swallow.

Coffee and spittle exploded from his mouth. Cold. Rancid. Gag-inducing.

“What the hell?” Jack placed the tip of his finger to the decanter and then the burner. Room temperature. This wasn’t coffee any longer. It was swill, and it clung to his tongue like the foul odor of sweat to gym socks. I pulled over in the rain for this, Jack thought.

The visitors’ center had two water fountains, but neither worked, and he swore at the bone-dry spigots. He’d have to dig up some dollar bills for the vending machine.

A wooden bench rested against the wall opposite the card table, and he dropped down with a loud sigh. In his pocket, his phone vibrated: probably a message from his wife Bethany asking of his whereabouts. He missed his son, and looked forward to putting him to bed that night after reading a chapter in The Phantom Tollbooth. Jack knew it would be polite to call her, but the promise of being teased for not flying soured the thought. Bethany had had a bit too much fun with the playful suspicions and good-natured ribbing over his unusual long drive, but he didn’t have the moral courage to explain himself. And, truthfully, the drive to Boise had been obscenely pleasant. Beautiful.

The drive back, not so much. After five long days of networking, sitting in lectures, and going out late-night drinking with a young female software developer he found especially charming, his stamina had run empty. And the storms. Gutter-busters unusual for the time of year. Jack’s back ached from too many hours in uncomfortable chairs and behind the wheel. He yawned, arched his back to encourage blood flow, and grunted when his spine erupted in a cacophony of popping joints. Yeah, Jack was more than ready to have the drive behind him and to be home for the evening.

A maintenance door creaked open, its hinges in serious need of WD-40. Out lumbered a squat man, dark of skin with a bald head as shiny as a spotless plate of china. The stranger looked to be the sole maintenance-slash-janitor type working at the Telford safety area this day. If so, the man’s job performance left a lot to be desired: toilet paper and urine on the floor of the bathroom, door windows filthy and grimy, inoperable water fountains.

The janitor scowled at the mess Jack had made on the floor. “You do that?” the janitor asked.

“No,” Jack mumbled. “It was like that when I got here.” Jack’s voice sounded weak, shredded by five nights of loud bar discussions and far, far too many Moscow mules.

“So you say…”

Jack held quiet.

“Not like the coffee?”

Jack stared at the man’s forgettable face. No scars. Moles. Tattoos. A few wrinkles around a set of dark, livid eyes, but nothing recognizable or remarkable. His mouth not more than a sliver cut beneath a bulbous nose.

He wore blue coveralls, and stitched on the breast was a half-torn yellow badge with black letters spelling out “Zager.”
“I did not,” Jack said. “Zager,” he added, as though making an unannounced threat, “the road sign clearly stated ‘Fresh Coffee’.”
“So it did…”
Jack leaned forward, placed his face in his palms, and closed his eyes. “Never mind,” he said through his closed hands. “By the looks of this place, I should have known better than to expect anything more.”

Silence.

A tense moment passed before Jack looked up and motioned around the visitors’ center. “Business always this slow.” Jack had been the only person in the men’s bathroom and his Mercedes was the only vehicle in the rest stop’s parking lot.

The man’s sliver of a mouth raised on one side. “Fresh coffee?”13CourtesyCoffee1

Jack cocked an eyebrow. “What coffee?”

“Fresh coffee. Would you like some?”

Jack considered the offer. After experiencing the poor upkeep of the rest area and distasteful shock of cold, old coffee, the novelty of free—no, the exact word was “fresh”—rest area coffee had disappeared. What had started as an inquisitive adventure had turned into headache and regret. And a sour mouth.

“I don’t know.” Jack eyed the stained decanter on the burner and the cheap plastic Bunn-O-Matic. “When’s the last time that pot’s been washed out?”

Zager scowled. “Just a couple hours ago. You sayin’ I serve my coffee in a dirty pot?”

“Not at all,” Jack acquiesced, hands up in a placating position. “But I assumed it isn’t your job to make the coffee or clean the pot—you’re a…janitor. Where’s this Telford Nature Explorers group at?” He nodded at the sign. “Shouldn’t they be working the station?”

To be honest, Jack was surprised Telford had much of anything, let alone a Nature Explorers group and a rest stop. Few cars passed by on US-HWY 2. No houses, strip malls, gas stations, or other signs of civilization marked the lonely stretch of highway—just yellow lines and innumerable mile markers ticking off the passage of time and distance. Snow-capped mountains could be spotted far off to the west while driving over the occasional gentle rises in the road, but otherwise the view was all dirt, road, and shrubbery.

“The Telford Nature kids left at four. Two teens—a boy and a comely young lady.”

“Did they give away any coffee?” Jack asked.

“I had a cup or three, but otherwise, no. The young lady was a looker of the highest order.”

Jack ignored the creepier side of the janitor’s answer. “What do you mean ‘no’?”

“Not many people stop here, especially on a rainy Sunday. You’re the first today.”

Jack chewed on this new information. He was the first? That was hard to believe. He’d noticed that a few cars had driven past since he’d entered the visitors’ center. Certainly, one or two people here and there wanted fresh coffee, or to be more practical, needed to stop and empty their bladders.

“That’s…weird. Why waste your time promoting your organization if nobody traffics this place?”

Zager had rolled out a portable mop bucket from the maintenance room and began slopping around a wet mop head on the floor. The damp slaps of mop cotton against stone sounded like an old man sucking on his teeth after a meaty meal.

Zager said, “The pretty one…yes…Sam was her name…she says it’s some state highway program. Travelers get free coffee and smiles, and they get to promote their organization and earn a few dollars via a tip jar.” A bright row of teeth appeared behind that slit of a mouth.

Jack felt it was time to go—put some miles between him and Zager, the cold coffee, and the desolate rest area. “Oh, right, I think I’ve heard something about that. Well, I need to get back on the road. My wife is expecting me home tonight.” He stood to leave.

Zager leaned over, grabbed Jack by the forearm. The skin of his palm was burning hot, searing through the fabric of Jack’s polo shirt. “Tell you what, Mr. Thompson, let me make you a fresh pot of coffee. I work hard to maintain this rest area, and I’d hate to see you leave with a bad impression.”

Jack tried to jerk free, but the janitor’s grip was implacable. “How do you know my name?”

“I’ve seen you on the news, of course. You own that electronics company, Hambly & Thompson, am I right?”

“Pharma-tech firm, actually. Hamburg & Thompson Pharmaceuticals, but you’re halfway right. I’m the CEO.” And they had been in the news of late due to the recent merger.

Zager finally let go. “Let me make it up to you, I have a sealed bag of honeyed Guatemalan beans that my brother gave me the last time he was in the states. How about I get out my grinder, and we’ll have a cuppa together, then you can be on your way after the rain lets up.”

Jack raised an eyebrow while rubbing his pained wrist. As though urging him to stay and have a cup of gourmet coffee, torrential rain had started falling outside, the runoff creating trails of rushing water crooked and broken like shattered glass. The thought of driving through rain like that made his back spasm, his nerves unspool nervously.

“Fair trade?” Jack asked.

“Of course.”

“Rainforest Alliance certified?”

“Come on, Mr. Thompson, of course.”

“It’d be a travesty to brew it in that Bunn-O-Matic.” Jack nodded to the old machine.

Zager shrugged. “Eh, you make do with the equipment you have on hand, my dad always said.”

“Okay,” Jack said, “only because I’ve never had honeyed Guatemalan before. And please be fast about it, I really do need to be on the road.”

“What’s the hurry?” Zager asked. “Nobody should have to drive in a storm like that. It’s dangerous.”

Jack scowled and sat back down as Zager leaned his mop against the wall and disappeared behind the maintenance door. Soon after, he heard the shrill call of a coffee grinder followed moments later by the sweet scent of freshly ground beans. A hint of honey mixed with the strong scent of earthy Guatemalan grounds set Jack’s mouth to watering. He briefly wondered why a janitor would have a coffee grinder stashed away in a maintenance room, but he’d encountered more extreme java fans than this old janitor during his brief time living in Washington. Heck, his Seattle-born administrative assistant had even bought him a portable grinder as a birthday gift. He’d packed it for his trip to Boise.

The maintenance door squealed open again, and Zager reappeared with a small bag of grounds. He emptied and washed the pot in a sink hidden away in the other room, filled it with water that he poured into the Bunn-O-Matic’s reservoir. No doubt unfiltered tap water, Jack mused. Then he scooped two heaping mounds of the Guatemalan into a fresh filter, closed the machine’s lid, and flipped a switch.

The song of boiling water and brewing coffee filled the visitors’ area. Jack waited, stomach aching in anticipation.

“I prefer siphon brewing over a coffee maker, myself. Immersion. Vacuum pressure. And fire.”

Jack grinned. “Best coffee I ever had was from siphon brew. My friend would make a whole production of it.”

Zager nodded. “So he would…”

For five minutes neither man said anything, but watched the machine’s drip slowly fill the pot—entranced as a pair of cats watching field mice. The machine finally exhaled, signaling the pot was finished, prompting Zager to pour two cups. He handed one to Jack, and he sat next to him on the bench. The taste…oh the taste…Jack could not believe such a miracle could come from a standard brew machine.

“Wow. Just wow,” Jack said.

Zager nudged Jack and smiled. “Good, right?”

“Would it be any trouble to take enough home for a couple of cups? I’d love to share this with my wife.”

“No problem, Mr. Thompson. Anything for your beautiful spouse.”

“What?”

“Your wife.”

“How do you know what she looks like?”

Zager laughed and nudged Jack again. “A wealthy drug baron like yourself, of course you married an attractive woman. Probably even have a few on the side, am I right?”

The comment bordered on offensive, and Jack had to talk himself into staying calm. After several deep breaths, he noticed that Zager wore a strange odor about him. Like someone who’d been in the woods for too long. Sweat. Rich, fertile dirt. Forest vegetation. Jack scooted to the far end of the bench to give himself some breathing room.

“Mr. Thompson, has anybody ever told you the origins of coffee?”

Both men took drinks from their cups. The rain pounded on the visitors’ center doors.

“No.”

“Thousands of years ago, they say a man in Ethiopia was tending to his goat herd grazing in some unfamiliar countryside. He saw the goats’ bellies were full and distended. The goats brayed and were restless. Would not sleep. He did some investigating and tracked the source of recent meals to an unusual berry known by the locals to be useless and distasteful. So the monks and villagers gathered up all the berries and threw them on a great fire. ‘Be gone,’ they said!

“But the roasting berries smelled of the gods and the heavens, and they extinguished the fires, dunking the berries into water. The monks drank the berry water, and found magical energy coursed through their bones.

“Those monks used the berries to lengthen their days. They worked longer, harder. They could pray for longer periods of time. And accomplished more in the moon’s cycle than they could have in three. And coffee was born.” Zager chuckled at his own story.

Thunder rocked the visitors’ center.

Jack finished his coffee and stood. “Thank you for the…conversation and coffee. I’ll be sure to let the Washington highway department know how accommodating you are.”

“Wait, Mr. Thompson. Allow me to gather some coffee for your lovely wife. Are you sure you want to drive in this weather? What if you have an accident?”

“I’ll be fine. I really want to get home to my family.” Jack said.

“Have another cup of coffee with me?”

“No thanks, Zager. But thank you for sharing it with me. It was delicious. Good day.” The words—even though he was saying them—seemed distant.

Jack opened the door, allowing the rain to blow inside.

“Excuse me, Mr. Thompson, but one more question before you go.”

Jack’s head felt heavy. Tired.

“What?” he said. The word dripped out of his mouth.

“How long have you lived in Washington?”

Jack leaned his head against the metal doorframe. He was getting soaked. He took a deep breath, trying to clear his muddled thoughts. “Two years.”

“Have you ever seen a sasquatch? Perhaps better known as Bigfoot?”

Jack fell to his knees.

“No,” Jack mumbled.

Outside, a battered white windowless van backed up to the visitors’ center. A large man, bearded and monstrous, exited the driver’s side, came around the vehicle, and opened the van’s hatch. He wore a red trucker hat emblazoned with the words “I Brake 4 Sasquatch.”

“Amazing beasts, really,” Zager said. “Docile. They’re not the terrible creatures the media makes them out to be. Remember that for me, okay?”

Jack’s consciousness blinked out like a pinched candle.

#

Jack awoke on an uncomfortable, padded adjustable bed shaped like an eggshell that cradled its occupant like a newborn. Naked head to toe except for a pair of powder blue shorts made of paper, Jack’s arms were restrained to his torso by Velcro straps wrapped tightly around his wrists and forearms up to his elbows. Likewise, his legs below the knees to his ankles were bound and immovable. Two larger black straps ran from behind him and over his chest and thighs.

“Help…” he croaked. His mouth felt like it was stuffed with cotton that had been soaked in Zager’s Guatemalan brew. A thin layer of grit coated the insides of his cheeks and tongue.

A physician’s lamp glared above him, hanging from a long cord that disappeared into a barrier of impenetrable darkness.
“Help!” he called out with a bit more force. He knew he wasn’t alone. There were voices nearby, mumbling. Laughing. Jack yanked on his bonds and looked around frantically, searching for them, searching for rescue.

The bearded man from the visitors’ center stepped inside the cone of light and crouched over Jack. “Good morning, Mr. Thompson!” The man clapped Jack on the shoulder and smiled. Like Zager, he had teeth that were bright enough to illuminate a surgical theatre. “I apologize for the restraints. In the past our volunteers have a bad…habit of wandering off after they awaken.”

“Help me!” Jack begged him.

“Did you like Zager’s special blend? The man knows how to make a cup of joe.”

“Help me, please!”

The man withdrew a digital camera and snapped a photo of Jack, the flash creating twin blinding afterimages that Jack blinked away. Several more snaps followed, some closer, some at different angles. In between pictures, Jack did his best to size up his captor—intent on remembering every detail of Zager and this monstrosity of humanity for the authorities. The guy must have been edging seven feet tall. Muscular. Hair covered every visible part of his body except for small areas on and around his nose, forehead, and the cheeks below his eyes. Was this hypertrichosis?

Fitted on the bundle of black curls like a king’s crown was that ridiculous red hat. The man’s outfit was a replica of the maintenance coveralls worn by Zager, right down to the yellow name badge that was half-torn, but this one read “Evans.”

“Like my outfit? Standard issue from the department of transportation. If you follow the rules like a good boy, you might be given your very own.”

Jack shook his head “Evans. Please let me go.”

Evans took a clear plastic bottle of water from a nearby surgical stand and placed the nozzle in Jack’s mouth. Jack sucked greedily, the lukewarm liquid mixing with the aftertaste of Zager’s coffee.

“Whoa, slow down. Sometimes the Guatemalan can make your tummy turn upside down, and dumping a bunch of water on it only makes bad things happen. I don’t fancy cleaning up vomit just yet.”

Evans was right. Jack’s stomach gurgled, and the urge to puke made his mouth fill with saliva. He struggled to hold it down.

“Where am I? Why did you abduct me?”

The hairy giant stretched his arms out, the tips of his fingers extended beyond the cone of light cast by the lamp above. “Welcome to the Telford Nature Explorers Headquarters.”

Jack sighed. Closed his eyes. He wondered about his phone. Would the authorities be able to track its location? How long had he been unconscious? He imagined Bethany would be hunting for him soon. Hoped to God she would.

“Zager poisoned me.”

Evans laughed at the accusation. “I assure you, he would not taint his coffee with any poisons.”

“Yet here I am…”

Evans winked. “Yet here you are.” He sat on a padded rolling stool and wheeled close. “We added a pinch of ketamine. Well, Zager did. He’s the roast master. No flavor. Not a poison in the right dose.”

“Fuck you,” Jack spat.

Evans pinched Jack’s cheeks, giving him fish lips. “You need to be a good boy. That’s how you need to act right now. Please tell me that you’ll be a good boy.”

“Ffthhhk thffuu.”

Evans pinched harder. Jack’s jaw audibly popped. If the big man squeezed much harder, he would surely crack his mandible in half.

“I’ll ffbeee a…good ffboy,” Jack said in panic.

“Do you promise?”

“I ffpr—” Evans let go of Jack’s lips, “—promise.”

“Now I have your word. And if we don’t have our word then what do we have, Mr. Thompson?”

“Bethany. And Josh. They’ll be worried about me.”

Evans smiled, those fencepost teeth practically glowing. “I’m worried about you, too.” A beat, then, “But Zager has that handled. He’s a pro when it comes to planning for all contingencies. He’s been doing this a long time.”

A door chirped and squeaked opened from somewhere beyond. Zager stepped into the small circle of light, feet scuffling along the cement floor. He carried a clipboard in one hand and a clear plastic bag stuffed with Jack’s personal items: key fob, cellphone, wallet, and utility knife.

“Give me my phone!” Jack struggled against his bonds. “I need to call my wife.”

“You’re a volunteer, Mr. Thompson,” Zager said. He feigned a confused expression. “Volunteers are not granted phone calls.”

“I’m not your damn volunteer.”

Evans leaned in to Jack. “Such language…you promised me you’d be a good boy. This slip up is free. The next one, I start breaking fingers,” Evans whispered. He smiled, cheerfully, only inches away from Jack’s face. “That’s a promise!”

The door chirped again. Then footsteps echoed throughout the darkness. A young woman stepped into the lit space. Zager handed her the clipboard.

“Good job, the boss will be pleased.”

Zager nodded and disappeared.

The woman wore a white doctor’s robe over denim shorts and an old Seattle Supersonics basketball jersey. Her plain brown hair was pulled tightly into bun. Black-rimmed glasses rested far down her nose, and she peered at Jack over them.
“Thank you for volunteering. The Telford Nature Explorers appreciates your commitment to the natural sciences.” She spoke in quick tones, like an overly-caffeinated and bored administrative assistant going over paperwork for a client to sign. “Jack Thompson: age 43, Caucasian male, blood type AB-. Currently on Ativan, Zoloft, and the occasional Ambien.” She paused, pursing her lips as if deep in thought. “Interesting. How are you not a zombie? Are you a zombie, Mr. Thompson?”

Jack barked a laugh. “Are you joking? Let me out of here. Where’s my phone?” He struggled and rocked back and forth trying to find slack in his bindings.

Crack.

Electric agony arced from his pinky finger up his left arm, rendering half his body momentarily numb. He screamed his voice raw until a huge hairy hand clamped over his mouth.

“Undead or not, your medications and…” she leaned for an examination of Jack’s left hand, “oh yes, and a definitely fractured digitus minimus, shouldn’t affect our test results.”

Jack stared down at his hand, then retched all over his bare chest and the floor: the pinky finger was bent at a gruesome 120-degree angle, like a crooked nail sticking from a loose board.

Evans put his forefinger to his mouth and made a “Shhh” motion. Then he held out a red ball gag, snapped the strap over his head and forced the gag into Jack’s mouth in a lightning quick motion. Jack’s breathing became shallow and mania crept around the edges of his consciousness.

“Want me to clean up the mess, Doctor?”

“Yes. Thank you, Evans.”

Evans smiled and winked. “Welcome.”

The woman took a seat in a rolling chair in Jack’s line of vision. She crossed her legs and leaned back.

“You don’t … wouldn’t know me, Mr. Thompson. I’m Dr. Patrice McMurphy, government liaison and research administrator with the former Hamburg Research & Pharmaceuticals. My colleagues call me ‘The Murph.’ Whichever you prefer is fine with me. Government handlers have significant concerns regarding your … commitment to certain critical research paths.” Murph leaned in. “We’re doing important work for the men and women who protect this country, but I’m told you want to put an end to our caffeine enhancement experiments. For the sake of our investors and this great nation, I’m here to change your mind.”

All Jack could do was grunt, cry, and slobber.

Jack looked from the doctor to Evans. He remembered discussing the ongoing caffeine experiments with one person—the young woman at the bar. His tongue has loosened after too many Moscow mules. He wanted to impress his companion. But Jack didn’t want to permanently end the tests, only put them on hold while the company explored more ethical practices.

“Your eyes are asking a question: How? If we didn’t pick you up at Telford, there would many more opportunities to do so. Not a question of how, Jack, but of when. You were never getting home.”

Doctor Murphy stood up.

“Evans, are you ready?”

Evans nodded. “This is exciting!”

The doctor snapped on a pair of gloves. “Oh, yes, it is.”

Jack strained against his bonds, but stopped when he saw Evans frown at him.

Doctor Murphy used an alcohol swab to clean a spot of skin over a vein in the crook of Jack’s arm. She removed a fresh catheter needle and port from a sterile plastic bag and held it up.

“No reason to be afraid. I’m just setting your catheter.”

In a practiced motion, and with little pain to Jack, she had it planted. She wrapped it with a few strips of surgical tape.

The doctor raised a hypodermic needle to the light and measured the fluid inside its reservoir.

13CourtesyCoffee2“This is a cocktail of modified experimental caffeine, psychedelic drugs you’ve never heard of, and a bit of something…special I’ve cooked up for you.”

Doctor Murphy injected a brown fluid into Jack’s catheter. Jack started to resist, but saw Evans watching him nearby.

“Don’t worry, Mr. Murphy, I’ll set your broken finger once you reach caffeine bliss, though you’ll need to see an orthopedic specialist about any torn ligaments.”

The injection’s effects took an immediate and noticeable toll on Jack’s physiology. His head swam. His mouth dried out. The tears stopped flowing from his eyes.

The doctor chuckled. “That was only a taste. Hang on to your seat, Mr. Thompson, I’m turning the tap wide open.”

A warm rush surged through his right arm. The drugs caused a strange limbic response: his mouth sucked at the gag like a large pacifier, his fingers and toes twitched. His vision sparkled as though he’d been knocked across the head by Evans’ big hand.

Jack’s mind cleared briefly before scenes from his life ran in double time. The last drink he’d shared with the adorable junior programmer from the conference. Her charming southern accent and the way she bit her lip when she listened to him talk. The night of loud, passionate sex he’d had with his Bethany on their bedroom balcony before he had departed for his Boise trip.

The movie pulled deeper into his memories: the day he became co-owner with Hamburg of their pharmaceutical company, Hap’s damp hand shaking his. The brotherly hug they shared afterward. Jack buying his first Mercedes when his checking account hit seven digits and the subsequent trip down the west coast with Bethany and Josh.

Flash.

Further back. To the birth of his son. The night of his conception. Meeting his future wife at the regional office party.

Flash.

Memories dug from their graves and replayed for the first time in decades. When he had to shoot a rabid dog. Being kicked in the balls by a girl in the 3rd grade. Falling in the creek and shredding his knee open.

The crash that had killed his father.

Twenty minutes. Twenty long minutes he had spent trapped in the front seat of the old Buick that had skidded in water pooled in the grooved road of the mountain parkway. He sat, immobile, so close to his dying dad that he could touch him. So close to his dad whose broken body hung halfway out of the shattered windshield. So close to his dad impaled through his abdomen by a cold steel pole.

“Jack…Jack, kill me!” Dad pleaded.

“No. I can’t!” Lightning flashed and his dad’s face lit up in a rictus of pain and pleading. More lightning exploded, detailing his father’s intestines steaming in the cold night air.

“Please, Jack!”

He wept then as he did now. He wept for himself. For his wife, his parents, the sin of greed that had led to the hostile takeover of Hamburg Pharm, the sins of the terrible people who had kidnapped him.

A bright white light, like the flash of Evans’s camera.

A distant chirp. His brain resets. The picture show rewinds and it begins again.

He watches it all.

Ad nauseum. Ad infinitum.

#

This is what Jack knows:
1) Time is a construct with no meaning.
2) You can withdraw willingly from consciousness.
3) The pain goes away when he’s a good boy.
4) He is now beyond saving.

#

A day in the future—when and where no longer matter to Jack—the Velcro straps are removed from his arms and legs. He does not move to run for escape. He only waits.

Doctor Murphy stands in front of him. Jack recognizes her, but she’s an abstract presence in a world that exists on a temporary plane of time.

“Mr. Thompson, the Telford Nature Explorers thanks you for your service. Our tests are complete.” She studies Jack for a long moment. “Your body has been immobile for a long period of time, so take it easy for a few days, though our atrophy therapy should have taken care of the worst of it.

“You are free to go.”

She walks out of his world, into the darkness beyond the cone of light. The diminishing footsteps marking her path to the unknown universe. A chirp and she is gone forever.

Jack examines body. Black hair covers his arms, legs, and chest. His fingers tug at a hairy face.

He is a beast.

Five of his fingers ache and respond poorly to autonomic functions. They remind him to be a good boy.

He stands slowly. When his feet touch the floor, an array of fluorescent lights flicker on revealing a cavernous room. Jack’s arched chair is the only equipment he can see.

A door stands open. The man named Zager stands in the door frame.

Zager smiles. Jack knows that smile.

Zager’s arm is extended, motioning for Jack to step forward. He does. It is a loping step. The shape of the padded bed has been imprinted on Jack’s spine.

Jack steps outside and stops. It is nighttime. The area is heavily wooded. Snow falls from the sky and dusts the ground like powdered sugar around sky bound, majestic pines. Jack smells old earth and rotten things, of honey and coffee. His eyes look at Zager without accusation.

“One last thing, Mr. Thompson, Bethany and Josh…” the slit of a mouth lifts on one side, a creepy bright red swoosh, “…are well taken care of, so they tell me.”

Jack nods, understanding this is good.

The wind blows and a vast world calls to Jack.

Zager points toward a copse of pines. “That’s northwest. Keep going that way until you reach the sea. Then you’ll be home. There are others like you. They can help you.”

The last that Zager, and the world, sees of Jack Thompson is a dark figure loping silently into the woods.


Jason B. Sizemore is a writer, editor, and publisher from Lexington, KY. Irredeemable, his collection of dark SF and horror, is now available from Seventh Star Press. For more information visit Jason-Sizemore.com.





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