Not many people can connect with HauntedMTL and RBY at the same time, but Tony had us at ‘Fuckin’ metal!’ – Jim

Death of a Titan

His back hurt.  It hurt a lot these days.  Atlas had been pulling a lot of double shifts as of late.  His supervisor at the hospital was grateful, and offered Atlas as many shifts as he wanted.  He had a way of making the patients and staff feel safe, while his size was often enough deterrence for any pill-popping mook to think twice before cutting up.  But anyone who was too far down the rabbit hole, or just lacked the instinct of self-preservation, was usually subdued without incident.  A talent Atlas had been become locally famous for.

            Despite being well loved, being a security guard for a hospital wasn’t Atlas’ first career choice.  But he had been good at rolling with the haymakers life had a reputation for throwing at him.  His adaptability had been his single greatest weapon as the Navy’s heavyweight champion, fifteen years before.  All his opponents feared his strength, but often underestimated his speed and predator-like instinct for catching them unaware.  A torn rotator cuff during his second title defense had abruptly put an end to a vocation he had planned to pursue deep into the World Boxing Organization.

            Instead of signing million dollar contracts and being the resurrection of a dying sport, he sat outside his three bedroom home he rented with his wife Sara and their three kids.  He didn’t mind though.  He was a simple man with simple pleasures, not the least of which was the secret smile Sara always wore for him after a long, honest day’s work. 

            Sixteen years after meeting Sara during a joint force competition, she was still a knockout.  She had been an Army medic who was assigned to the medevac team when he was visiting Fort Drum during his rise to notoriety.  He had his insecurities she was only into him because he was an up-and-coming contender, so it had come as a surprise she stayed with him during his physical therapy after his injury.  She had taken all of her personal leave to make sure he wasn’t alone as he confronted the truth that his calling in the Navy had prematurely concluded.  Three months later he had proposed to her, not knowing she was carrying his child.

            He ignored a spasm in his back as he got out of their only car, carrying melting ice cream and a bag of baby carrots.  There was only three other times in his life he had bought that unusual combination of snacks per request, and all three times ended in diapers and footie pajamas.  None of his children had been planned, but he never thought of them as mistakes.  All three times, he’d taken Sara in his hammock hands and cheered, “Won the lottery!”  Still, the lottery was becoming expensive.  They had opted for a vasectomy five years ago, just after their youngest was born healthy.  Yet here they were, Sara’s baby bump just starting to show and finding themselves in need of a bigger house. 

            He was nothing if not adaptable.

            Atlas fumbled with his keys, trying to be quiet in case Sara had fallen asleep with Megan on the couch, watching “The Brave Little Toaster” for the seven hundredth time.  Certainly their fourteen year old son, Scott, was still up playing Call of Halo, or whatever the hell kids these days played on their idiot box.  The middle child, Trish, was the only one who seemed to have any sense, often reading before turning her lights out promptly at 10 o’clock.  Atlas chuckled, wondering not for the first time where she inherited her enhanced sense of responsibility.

            Atlas put the key in the front door, expecting to hear the excited whimper from their pit bull, Theia, on the other side.  When he opened the door, the entryway was empty.  Most lights, save for their “security” light in the kitchen, had been turned off.  Atlas figured perhaps Sara had managed to get the kids to bed, and maybe had let Theia out to the back yard.  All he could hear was the quiet hum of the window AC unit in the living room.  He checked his watch. 9:15 pm.  Too early for Trish and Scott to be asleep. But really, it was 9:10.  Atlas subscribed to the theory if he set his watch five minutes late, he’d have a tendency to be five minutes early.  He knew the truth, of course.

            “Sara?” He called up the stairs to the upper floor of their split level home which held most of the family’s activities, as well as two bedrooms.  The girls shared one room.  Directly across the hall was the master bedroom that he shared with Sara.  Scott’s bedroom was in the basement, or as Scott amiably refers to it, the dungeon.

            No answer.  He whistled, knowing if Theia was anywhere in the house, she’d come running, tail wagging furiously like an unattended live electric wire.  Nothing.  He climbed the steps into the kitchen, talking as he put the ice cream and carrots on the kitchen counter.

            “I got two different kinds of ice cream: mint chocolate chip and peanut butter cookie dough.  They were out of the regular cookie dough.”  No response.  He exited out the other side of the kitchen into the dining room.  It was dark, so Atlas didn’t see the pool of crimson liquid on the floor.  He slipped, narrowly missed hitting his head on the side of the dining table, and landed hard on his bad shoulder.  Hot white pain filled his vision.  He groaned and blinked, trying to wash away the stars and adjust to the absence of artificial light.  The moon shown through the sliding glass door that led to their deck and the back yard.  Slowly, the shapes occupying the space of the dining room came into focus.

            He saw two cloudy eyes staring vacantly at the bottom of the dining table.  There lay Theia, motionless, on her side with her head twisted to look straight up.  Not understanding what happened, Atlas sat up and reached for his dog.  The dog he had rescued from a violent and often neglectful asshole while he had accompanied a doctor on a house call when she was just 8 months old.  Atlas had been worried she was abused too long to make a full recovery.  But Theia had bonded instantly to her rescuer, and had been a happy and loyal companion to Atlas for the last three years.  She had watched over Atlas’ family like they were the most precious objects in the world, second only to Atlas himself.  And now she was dead.

            He scooped her up, wincing at the hot pain flashing in his shoulder.  He paid no mind to it.  His hands became sticky as he supported her head in his lap, examining her wounds.  One of her canine teeth was broken, and her tongue hung uselessly out of her mouth.  Her forehead was a soft mixture of bone and brain, with at least two bullet holes perforating her skull.  If Atlas had taken just another moment to cradle his best friend, he might have felt a permanent part of his heart crack and chip off.  As it was, Atlas was a quick study of the situation and immediately shifted his concern for his wife and children.  Getting to his feet like a bull, he ran down the hall. He didn’t notice the obvious signs of a struggle in the living room.  He checked the girls’ room first.  It was empty and undisturbed.

            “Sara?!  Trish?!  Sara!”  He yelled in a most authorative manner, as though a demand for her presence would produce such results.  Nothing.  He bounced from that doorway and burst into his bedroom, hoping to see Sara peacefully sleeping, sandwiched between his two daughters.  It was a habit he often sought to change, and often found had little to no influence over.  A thought occurred to him:  If they were laying still together in bed, they wouldn’t be sleeping. A flash of Theia blasted into his thoughts. Panic rose in his throat like hot broken glass.

            But the bedroom was empty, bed still made and everything in its proper place.  He lumbered back down the hall, checking the bathroom and closets along the way.  When he turned on the light in the living room, the scene caused another moment of shock.  The couch, a sectional, had been partially pulled into the center of the room, had a few slashes in the cushions, and had been splattered with blood.  The coffee table was broken and lay stupidly in the corner of the room.  The lamp shade that hung over their couch had been ripped off, and there was shards of the broken bulb littered over the couch and floor.

            Atlas, who had usually handled most critical situations alone, and victoriously, didn’t even think to call the police.  Perhaps if he did, things might’ve gone drastically different.  But as it was, he left his cell phone on the kitchen counter next to his keys he set down in order unburden himself of the pregnancy snacks.

            He heard a whistle coming from the lower level.  A whistle that mocked the same one he used to beckon Theia.  Theia, who lay lifeless under the dining room table.  Atlas didn’t consider any options other than immediately pursue the sound.  He didn’t think to retrieve the 9mm Beretta pistol he kept in a shoebox on the top shelf of his closet.  The pistol he assumed no one else in the house knew about.  Scott, however, had found it about four months ago, and regularly took it out when he was home alone and acted through several pretend scenes in which he played the ever hard-assed hero with a sniper’s accuracy.  Scott, not knowing anything about guns except what he’d seen in his shoot-em-up video games, hadn’t the knowledge to determine if it was loaded.  Fortunately for everyone involved, he never actually squeezed the trigger during his role playing, just in case it would fire.  It was loaded with hollow point rounds, with a round in the chamber.  Atlas kept it loaded for situations exactly like this, where quick and decisive action must be taken.

            He barreled down the stairs, using the bannister as an anchor as he swung past the halfway point, and down the next set of stairs.  He threw open the door to the room where his son played his games on a large flat screen, and he kept his weights and other workout equipment. 

            “Sar..” He started.  He was greeted with the business end of a Desert Eagle .50 cal.  There, he saw the entirety of his family restrained and muzzled to cold, hard, metal folding chairs.  Behind them was a man taller than Atlas, and almost as muscular. He was smiling a mouthful of rotten teeth.  He wore a stupid expression, a combination of excitement and violent.  It looked as though he had suffered several nasty bites and scratches from Theia on his face and arms.  He certainly had been bloodied. 

Standing between Atlas and his family was the man holding the gun.  Long and dirty hair hung unattended to either side of his asymmetric face.  He wore an old brown leather trench coat, open across his chest and without a shirt.  His face was pocked with acne and deep scars.  His stomach was concave, and his ribs looked starved for nutrition.  He looked like a Ziggy Stardust look-a-like reject. Atlas guessed he was about forty years old. In one hand, he held the hand cannon pointed directly at his heart from about 8 paces away.  Too far to close the distance in hopes of ripping the firearm from his tweaker hand before he could fire.  What stopped Atlas dead in his tracks was his own pistol in Ziggy’s other hand, pointed directly at Trish’s head.

            They sat in a row, each bound by duct tape and twine.  The twine had been discovered in the family’s utility room, but the intruders had to provide their own duct tape. Not enough information to determine if this was a crime of opportunity, or a planned attack in Atlas’ absence. Atlas supposed none of that mattered now.

            From left to right:

 – Scott – who had suffered a vicious blow to his left eye after he took his father’s gun and pointed it at the intruders with a shaky grip.  When challenged to fire at will, Scott had closed his eyes and squeezed the trigger.  Nothing happened, and the two men looked at each other and laughed.  Scott yanked the slide back like he had seen on tv.  He ejected a bullet and chambering another.  When Scott let go of the slide, he felt the power of death at his hands, and his confidence increased.  He again raised the Beretta, aiming at the smaller man’s face, and squeezed the trigger a second time.  Again, nothing had happened.  Ziggy laughed once more, and as he violently relieved Scott of his weapon, he made sure to education the young man the functions of safeties.  “Didn’t your dad teach you this?”  He had mocked, as he brought the butt of the pistol down on Scott’s left eye.

– Sara, his beloved wife and partner in all things.  The spaghetti straps of her night gown had been ripped, and the front of her dress hung down low enough to expose both her breasts.  Her hair was wild and snagged, as though she had been dragged downstairs like a cavewoman. She had been.  She had kicked and thrashed, but not for her own benefit.  It was in a vain attempt to grab Megan from the meat hooks of the much larger man.  Atlas had expected Sara would have been crying.  But there were no tears nor fears in her eyes.  Only hate for the trespassers, and complete trust that Atlas would handle the situation now that he was there.

– Trish, who very much unlike her mother, had been sobbing uncontrollably.  Understandable, since it was her face the intruder was carelessly pointing a loaded gun.  She too had a black eye, and Atlas subconsciously promised her he would make the son of a bitch who hit her feel real pain.  He’d do that for her. 

– Lastly, Megan sat on the far end of the row.  Megan seemed entirely occupied by the dirty sewer rat of a man who was pacing back and forth behind them.  He looked about ten years younger than the man clearly in charge.  He wore faded denim overalls and a plain black t-shirt underneath.  He didn’t have a gun, but rather a large knife.  It was sticky with fresh blood.  Megan wasn’t sobbing like her older sister, but she had begun to whimper.  It wasn’t out of concern for herself, but to protectively keep the attention of the man who Theia had tried desperately to defend her family.  The blood on his knife was Theia’s.  Though she was the younger sister, she had done everything in her power to protect her older sister, including biting this bastard’s hand when he had struck Trish.

“Ah ah ah!” Ziggy said in a playground kind of authority.  Ziggy’s real name was Zeke Pentachuck.  But neither he nor his partner seemed particularly interested in introductions.  “That’s as far as you go big boy.  Now be a good boy and put these on one of your wrists.” Zeke said as he threw a pair of law enforcement hand cuffs.  Atlas, still processing what he was seeing, his entire family subdued and helpless to a couple of pyschos, was not prepared for articulate conversation.  The cuffs bounced right off his chest, and rattled on the floor by his feet.  Atlas never took his eyes off Zeke as he bent down to retrieve the cuffs.  Zeke faked like he was going to kick Atlas while he was bent over, and Atlas startled himself backwards and on his ass.  Atlas’ cheeks flushed with fury.  He slowly got back to his feet, holding the handcuffs in front of him like they were contaminated.

“You want me to do what, now?” Atlas asked through gritted teeth. 

Zeke didn’t seem bothered by Atlas’ anger.  Contrarily, he responded almost amicably, “Put those on one of your wrists.” He kept the Desert Eagle aimed at Atlas’ head.

Almost instinctively, with little or no conscious thought, Atlas moved to disarm the intruders.

“Nah, uh Uhh.” Zeke said, not looking alarmed at all.  He thumbed back the hammer of the Beretta and began slowly rotating the muzzle in front of each restrained member of Atlas’ family.  “Anything other than total compliance WILL result in one of these beautiful people catching a bullet in their brain cage.”  He smiled a neighborly smile.

Atlas stopped in mid-step, and almost stumbled to the floor again.  Atlas considered this threat, and sense finally took hold of his motor functions.  If there was even a small chance he wasn’t bluffing, it wasn’t worth the risk.  Atlas had been wicked fast in his prime, but he believed even at his pique conditioning, he wasn’t quicker than a junkie’s trigger finger.  As though Zeke understood, he raised his eyebrows in a Go ahead and dare me kind of way.  Atlas willed his anger to subside, fearing he’d get one of his children or wife killed. 

When Zeke felt confident he had control of the situation, he spoke with more authority than Atlas believed he deserved, were it not for the hand cannon and the backup.  “Now, TAKE A FUCKING STEP BACK, and put the cuffs on ONE of your wrists.  Do we understand each other?” He motioned for Atlas to move toward a support post in the middle of the room.  Atlas did as he was bid.

“Hug that post like it was your beautiful wife here” with that, he bent and licked the side of Sara’s face with a wet tongue.  Sara cringed with hateful disgust. “And put the cuffs on the other wrist.  Go on big boy, I know you ain’t as dumb as you look.”  Another flick of his wrist holding the Desert Eagle as if to punctuate his meaning.

Atlas sighed, not seeing any other option for the time being, and did as he was told.  As long as these monsters held a gun or knife to his family, Atlas figured he’d play along.  He was hoping like hell the neighbors had heard the shots that killed his best friend upstairs, and the police were on the way.  Not entirely likely though.  They lived just a few miles from the last of the truly urban developments, and only had two neighbors within 8 acres.  Atlas was sure one of them manufactured meth, so it’d be doubtful they’d call the authorities on anyone’s behalf, much less a neighbor they barely knew.  The other was a retired farmer and a barn full of empty stalls. He and Sara exchanged a look. Play along.  Keep the children safe.  Wait for an opportunity.

A sickening and wicked smile spread across Zeke’s cracked lips.  He lowered both guns, tucking the Beretta into the front of his waistband.  He walked behind Sara without taking his eyes off Atlas, and grabbed her left breast in his hand and squeezed hard.  Lactate oozed from the nipple. Sara let out a muffled gasp of pain.  Her mouth gag became soaking wet with saliva. Tears and spit from the pain ran down her chin, pooling in the nook of her collarbone, then streaming down the middle of her chest.

Behind him, on the bookshelf Atlas kept for his boxing trophies, was a small mirror Atlas was able to see himself in.  Atlas was dismayed to see excitement in his own eyes.  He didn’t quite understand why.  Perhaps it was the inner comic book hero he always thought lingered just under the surface preparing for epic heroics.  Perhaps he didn’t truly believe the desperation of their situation, and was actually looking forward to hurting Zeke and his half-wit partner as soon as he got the opportunity.  Either way, he wished to convey a muted authority to both his family and the intruders.  But a look of excitement would undo that if anyone were to recognize it for what it was: bloodthirst.

“Now the whole family’s here, we can finally have some fun, can’t we Duggy?” Zeke said to his partner has his hand slipped from Sara’s breast to her crotch.  Sara squeezed her eyes shut, not wanting to look at Atlas while she was being violated.  But Zeke just let his hand rest on her pubic bone for a moment longer, then stood up straight.

“Please…” Atlas began to say.  He hoped he sounded pleaful.

“Uh Yuh.  Fun!” Duggy responded, bending to smell Trish’s hair with his eyes closed, pressing the blade of his knife pressed firmly to Megan’s throat.  She suffered a small cut when he did this, and a drop of blood ran down her neck.  A moment later he opened his eyes and asked like a child, “Can I Zeke?”

“Yeahhhr.” Zeke said.  But he rolled the end of the word, almost making it sound like a pirate.  Duggy immediately tried to remove his dirty overalls, fumbling with the button while still holding the knife.  “But not just yet. Save it.  We have all the time in the world.” Zeke said, twirling around in place with his palms and cheeks pointed at the ceiling.  Duggy looked visibly disappointed, but obeyed.

Atlas felt Scott’s fiery gaze, demanding Atlas do something about this.  Atlas gave his son a slight nod, then turned his head to his captor and asked, “What do you want?”

Rather than immediately answering, Zeke knelt down in from of Sara and began sucking on the breast that he had squeezed.  Sara tried to pull away, rocking the chair she was tied to backward.  But Zeke just pointed his hand cannon at Trish’s face, and Sara fell back into submission.  Zeke closed his eyes, seeming to relish in the moment. 

Atlas wondered if the ceiling would collapse if he were to put his shoulder into the post he was cuffed to.  He imagined himself as Samson from the Old Testament and pictured ripping the post from the foundation and causing the ceiling to collapse on Zeke and Duggy.  Of course, that was a foolish plan.

  A few seconds later, Zeke stopped sucking with a loud and slobbery POP!  He stood between Atlas and Sara and looked around.  He spotted a traditional red metal tool box atop an old folding table.  He let out a giggle and almost skipped to it. 

He rummaged through the tool box, grinning like a madman, and finally produced a crescent wrench.  With the Desert Eagle in one hand, wrench in the other, he strode back to Atlas.  Standing on his toes so he was eye to eye with Atlas, Zeke stared placidly at him.  No emotion, Zeke’s eyes suddenly emptied and that terrified Atlas.  For the first time, he sensed the real danger they were all in.  They weren’t dealing with rational, intelligent people.  They were dealing with psychopaths. Zeke brought the wrench across Atlas’ face, breaking his cheekbone.  The flesh around the wound immediately swelled, letting out a small amount of blood through a small rip in his skin.  Sara let out another muffled scream. Scott began thrashing against his restraints, and Duggy promptly backhanded him, tipping him over. 

Zeke put the Desert Eagle in his waistband next to the Beretta so he could handle the wrench with both hands.  Grabbing Atlas’ right ring finger, Zeke applied pressure with the wrench.  Staring directly into his eyes, Zeke violently twisted the wrench, snapping Atlas’ finger like a cold carrot.  Atlas stifled a shout of pain.  Without thinking, he headbutt Zeke, causing Zeke’s nose to explode with blood.  Zeke dropped the wrench and flew to the center of the room, holding his nose with both hands.  Atlas put his foot on the wrench, hiding it from view.  Zeke then angrily launched himself at Atlas, punching him in the face before grabbing the broken finger, hanging only by a torn tendon and skin, and pulled with a sudden strength Atlas didn’t think him capable of.  It ripped off Atlas’ hand, squirting blood on Zeke’s chest.  Atlas let out a frightening yell deep from the center of his chest – something Sara had never heard. 

Zeke transformed his anger to glee, and he belted a hearty laugh.  He took a bite from the finger as though he were eating beef jerky and tore the tip from the finger.  He chewed with his mouth open, then swallowed.  The squishing and crunching was enough to make Atlas forget the pain in his hand and direct himself not to throw up.

“We want…we WANT…you to shut the fuck up.  We WANT….well, shit. Duggy, what do we want?” Zeke asked nasally.  To Sara, it seemed as though Zeke genuinely forgot their purpose here.  It was clear the broken nose

Letting out a dumb chuckle, Duggy replied, “We want to have fun!” And again, began to unbutton his shoulder straps.

Zeke let out a gleeful EEEEH, and began trashing the room.  He pulled the TV off its bracket on the wall, letting the screen smash on glass entertainment center directly below it.  He ripped the cushions off the couch Scott spent so many hours playing video games.  He set the guns on the folding table and threw the toolbox over Atlas’ head, hitting the wall opposite and spilling the contents with a series of metallic clangs.  He walked behind Sara and the kids, exposed himself, and urinated all over the trophies on the bookshelf.  Before he was empty, he turned around and showered Trish with the rest of his urine.  When he was done, he yanked his dirty jeans back up quickly.  He violently pulled Trish’s piss-soaked hair back, leaned over, and gave her a terrible kiss on the lips.

He skipped back to the folding table like a child on a playground, and grabbed his Desert Eagle.  He reached for the Beretta when he was distracted by the sound of Atlas’ voice.

Atlas had fallen to his knees, as though praying to the support post he was attached to.  He tried to adjust himself so his massive back would block Zeke and Duggy’s view of the wrench.  He began to fake sob, and started pleading with them.  “Please! Please don’t harm my family.  Take me and do what you want, JUST LET THEM GO!.”  He picked up the wrench as he spoke and fastened the teeth on the chain in the middle of the handcuffs.  When he raised his voice, he twisted the wrench – and SNAP!

Zeke stopped his ravings, still holding himself in one hand, brought the other hand to his cheek.  He cocked his head and suddenly looked contemplative, rubbing his rough, poorly shaven cheek. Between Atlas’ fake sobs, Sara and Trish could hear the stubble rub against Zeke’s palm.

“Anything?” Zeke asked genuinely, like a kid who’s asking the neighborhood bully if his offer to use his bike is real, or a trick.

Standing up with his back to Zeke, Atlas tried to appear as though his hand were still bound.  Hanging his head down and trying to sound defeated, Atlas responded, “Anything.”

Zeke flashed another wicked smile.  “Would you give your life for the life of someone in your family?”

Without hesitation, “Yes.”

“Anyone, or just a certain someone?” Zeke asked, eyebrow raised, squatted on his heels and hugged his knees, Desert Eagle dangling loosely in his right hand.  He scanned the restrained and terrified family purposely, reminding everyone they are still at his mercy.  Zeke lowered his voice conspiratorially and asked, “Do you have a favorite?  I bet you do.  I know I do.” And gave Sara an invasive glance up and down her body.

“Anyone.”

“Okay.” Zeke said flatly.  He lowered He nodded at Duggy.  Duggy nodded back, with a look of serious understanding.  Then Duggy smiled, stepped past Megan, and stomped over to Atlas.  Atlas waited for his moment.  He waited until Duggy was in striking distance, spun around and swung the wrench at Duggy’s head.  Duggy, who looked dumber than a tree stump, had enough sense to predict this and move out of the way.  He then drove his knife deep into Atlas’ guts.  Atlas, surprised he was beat by a dull doorknob, stared at Sara.  All of the remaining captives began to scream, muffled by their gags.  Megan’s eyes were as wide as dinner plates, finally letting the terror bring her to tears.

Duggy just smiled an imbecile smile, and stabbed Atlas again, coming down through Atlas’ collarbone and into the top of his lung.  Atlas let out a strained gasp, and fell to his knees again, this time involuntarily.  The wrench fell loosely from his hand.  Zeke let out a whoop and began stroking himself over the top of his pants.  Duggy drove the knife into Atlas’ back in three quick strikes, piercing his both his kidneys.  Atlas, unable to breathe, scanned the terrified looks on his family’s faces.  He vowed use the last of his life to end the lives of these…evil doesn’t quite sum it up…bastards.  Amazingly, he began to stand back up.  Duggy remained unimpressed, waited for Atlas to stand erect.  Atlas tried to say something with dark anger, and all that came out was a spray of blood and phlegm.  He took an uncoordinated step toward Duggy.  Duggy just smiled and drove his bloody blade through Atlas’ right eye, deep into his brain.  Duggy let go of the knife and admired his work.  To Duggy, Atlas looked like a spooky Halloween pumpkin.  Duggy giggled. 

Atlas’ muscles didn’t quite get the message and remained rigid for a few moments longer.  Then, without fanfare, without championship titles on the line, without any appreciation, Atlas’ enormous body fell face down, driving the blade out the back of his skull and snapping the hilt.  The handle lay useless in a large pool of blood, bonded to the carpet.  The blade tip, exposed on the backside of his skull, was gruesomely coated in hair, bone, and brain.

 Sara was screaming uncontrollably.  Zeke paid no mind to her agony and grabbed her breast with one hand while still stroking himself with the barrel of his gun with the other.

“No, wait.  I promised I wouldn’t.” Zeke said to no one in particular.  Duggy seemed unilaterally interested in kicking stupidly at the corpse laid at his feet.  “He broke my favorite cutter Zeke!” He screamed almost entirely through his nose.

 Zeke regained his composure (if any composure could be held by such a lunatic) and let go of Sara’s breast.  Leaving the forgotten Beretta on the folding table, he grabbed another metal chair and placed it in front of his captives, sitting backwards with his arms folded in front of him, the Desert Eagle dangling menacingly in his hand.

“Duggy!  Stop yer dribblin’ you dumb nutsack and pick the boy up.  I want to look at all of them.” Zeke ordered.  Duggy, still clearly upset, stopped kicking Atlas and did as he was told.  Once all four remaining family members were seated upright and looking at Zeke, he demanded, “Quit yer fuckin crying, or I’ll put a bullet in each of your skulls and let Duggy fuck yer carcass after!  He likes that kind of shit.”  He turned his head and spit blood on to the floor.

All of them quieted for a moment, but when Sara stole another look at her titan lying dead on the floor, a flood of emotion poured out of her face like puss from a burst boil.  She sobbed loudly.  This time, Zeke pointed the gun at her belly.  Sara took a moment, visibly pained from reigning in her emotions, and straightened her face out.  She wanted to check out.  She wanted to hide in some corner of her mind until this was all over and she could wake safe and sound, wrapped in Atlas’ powerful arms.  But she couldn’t.  She was still responsible for the safety of her remaining three…no, now it’s four…children.  She had to be strong in a way she never thought she’d have to.  She steeled her gaze, and brought her eyes up to meet Zeke’s.  She waited to hear what he had to say, ready to fight with all her strength at a moment’s notice if he showed any indication of harming her children.

“Big boy over yonder there did a miraculous thing, say thank ya.” Zeke began, speaking as though he was teaching a class of delinquents and praising the first student to do as they were told.  “He traded his life for one of you.  I suppose with him bleeding from his skull like that, it’s up to me to choose.”  He tapped his chin with the Desert Eagle, seeming to comtemplate.  He sat quiet like that, with Duggy standing next to him, regarding his four prisoners for a long while.  He was almost daring another outburst of emotion from Sara.  Amazingly, the two younger girls understood how unhinged everything had become, and sat placidly waiting for further instruction.

“The boy.” Zeke said finally, looking up at Duggy.  Duggy smiled, produced another knife just as big as the first one from some unseen pocket, and ambled up to Scott.  Sara screamed again and pulled at her restraints like furious badger.  The only thing she succeeded in doing was tipping over sideways, losing her view of her one and only son. Scott’s eyes widened with terror.  Scott’s breathing was heavy beneath his gag, and he threw up a little.  He had no other choice but to choke it back down again.  Zeke just sat there, watching like he expected all of this to happen.  Scott tried to wrestle from his restraints, attempting to scream “NO!” from behind his cloth gag.  He fell backward again.  This time, there was an audible SNAP from his left forearm, as his weight came down on the back of the chair, pinning his arm in a way it wasn’t meant to be restrained.  He let out a muffled cry of agony.  The girls and Sara all began to yell as Duggy lumbered over Scott with a sick a twisted grin stapled to his simple face.  Duggy brought the knife down, and cut the duct tape and twine that had been used to pin his ankles to the legs of the metal folding chair.

There was a moment of quiet confusion, as all of them watched Duggy cut Scott’s arms free and stepped back.  Zeke, still sitting backward in his own chair, gave Scott a simple nod.  Scott stood up, warily watching both intruders as he backed into the bookshelf behind him.  Trophies shook and threatened to topple, but kept their base after all.  Scott reached up with his right hand and removed his gag, then immediately used his right arm to support his left.  His forearm, held horizontally, sickly sunk in in the middle, which had already blossomed into a dark purple swollen mash of broken flesh.  Scott looked at Zeke, who just sat there with a calm expression on his face, and then to his mother.

“Mom?” Scott asked weakly.  He seemed incredibly conflicted about his next course of action.  He looked at Duggy warily and wholly untrusting.

Sara began nodding emphatically to the door from the basement.

“Go on son.” Zeke said, eerily fatherly.  “Your dad bought your freedom.  Do with it as you like.  But you should probably go.  You’re not going to want to see what happens next.”  Trish let out a small moan, and finally released her bladder through her nightgown.

Scott moved to the far wall, and began walking along it as though it were a ledge aside a snowy mountain.  He skirted by Duggy, who just stood menacingly brandishing his second knife.  Atlas’ blood on his overalls still reflected the overhead light.  He reached the puddle of blood his father lay his head in and stopped.  He looked entranced by the sight of his father’s remaining eye staring blankly at the wall next to where Scott stood.  Scott thought about how he was going to maneuver around the corpse when he looked past Atlas at the folding table tucked away in the corner.  He saw the Beretta laying there, beckoning him.  He stole a look at Zeke, now whose back was to him, and measured.  Duggy was still watching him closely.  But he thought he could get to the gun quick enough to shoot Duggy before he could stop him.  He took one last look at his mother, as though to summon courage.  Sara looked as though she didn’t understand why Scott had stopped, and beckoned him to keep going with her head.  Scott took that as permission, and he leapt.

Duggy didn’t move, which Scott took as a good thing.  He would now have enough time to shoot Zeke in the back of the head, then turn the weapon on Duggy.  Don’t worry dad.  I’ve got it from here.  The girls are safe.  Ignoring the pain from his left arm, he grabbed the Beretta with his right.  Flipping the safety off with his thumb as he turned, he was already squeezing the trigger before he had fully turned toward the intruders.

There wasn’t enough time for Scott to recognize the situation had suddenly changed.  Having stood up with a speed Sara had only seen Atlas produce, Zeke had anticipated Scott’s ill-fated plan.  Zeke had his desert Eagle leveled at Scott’s head just as Scott had picked up the Beretta.  Both Scott and Zeke fired at the same time.  Scott’s bullet stung into the drywall some three feet from Zeke, while Zeke’s .50 cal hit its mark – dead center.  The report of the shot was deafening.  Scott’s face exploded in a spray of blood.  His eyes were pushed back into his skull, as the rest of his thoughts were painted on the wall behind him.  The Beretta fell from his limp hand, as the rest of his body fell backward into the folding table, collapsing the legs and sending the tool box sprawling on the floor, dumping its contents.

The two girls began screaming, while Sara just looked at her first born baby boy’s body lying in a crumpled and undignified heap.

“SHUT UP!!” Zeke yelled, aiming the smoking barrel first at Trish, then at Megan, then at Trish again.  “I SAID SHUT….THE…FUCK….UP!!”  Again, the girls quieted down, their hysteria broken by the very real possibility of taking a bullet themselves.  Sara didn’t seem to notice any of this.

“Now?” Duggy asked again, groping his crotch, which had become visibly excited.  Zeke half spun and slammed the butt of the revolver into Duggy’s mouth, breaking one of the front teeth and leaving a nasty gash in his upper lip.

“You too, shit-fer-brains!”  Zeke yelled.  Duggy recoiled and put his free hand, the hand he had just been using to rub his crotch, to his mouth and let out a slow but quiet cry.  The tent he had been pitching quickly collapsed through the pain.

Zeke, who once seemed like this was all a fun game to him, suddenly looked very seriously at Sara.  He crouched low so Sara could smell the rot in his breath. An unseen wild intelligence burned in his eyes, and Sara was forced to return to the situation.

“Your boy there made his choice, mama.  I gave him his life to do with as he pleased, and he chose wrong.” Zeke snarled.  Then he stood up, and shrugged his shoulders.  Amicably, he said, “After all, a man’s got a right to defend himself, doesn’t he Duggy?” He looked over at Duggy, who reciprocated the look with one of an angry child.  But Duggy seemed to know better than to give Zeke any attitude about it.  Duggy, through fingers drenched in his own blood, simply muttered, “Yup.”

“But I’m a man of my word.  I think by now you see what’s really going to happen here.  Duggy’s made that very clear.  But I like the idea of a this-for-that kind of bargain like your old man gave me.  You want to make another deal?  Maybe one your daughters are keen to fuck up like your boy did?  Or maybe you just want to see how this plays out and hope for the best?”  Zeke smiled at her.  There was a simple kind of malevolence in that smile.  It was a smile that said, I’m going to make you all suffer, because that’s why I came here.  Not to steal, not even for sexual gratification, though that would likely occur anyway.  No, I’m going to make you all hurt…for a long time.  Because I want to.  And I can.

Sara looked at him solemnly.  She dropped her eyes down at her cheeks, and back to him again, indicating she’d like to speak.  Zeke, half amused, pointed his revolver at Trish with one hand, and reached over and pulled Sara’s gag with the other.

“Please.” She started, almost inaudibly. “Please, let my girls go.  I’ll do anything.  Please.  They’re my baby girls.  Don’t hurt my baby girls. Just…please.”  She couldn’t say any more.  All the strength she had left was burned by begging the devil for another chance.  With both her hero husband, and her courageous son lying dead just a few short meters from each other, she felt defeated. Tears of authenticity rolled down her face, and for a moment, it looked as though Zeke was genuinely moved by her display of raw love and emotion.

Zeke’s expression went from horror and dismay, back to that wicked smile.  “Your life for theirs?” He asked.  Sara nodded weakly.

“Hmmm.  What do you think Duggy?” Zeke asked.  Duggy looked disappointed.  Rather than waiting for Duggy to respond, Zeke said, “All lives matter, yeah?  No life is worth more than the other, wouldn’t you agree Duggy?”

Duggy looked as though to speak, when Zeke cut him off again.  “Ok lady.  You got yourself a deal.  Your life for ONE of theirs.”

Sara looked pained.  She had done the math.  Her shoulders slumped and her face screwed into a sort of agony that only a wife and mother who had just seen her soulmate and only (so far) son brutally murdered right in front of her face could ever convey.  Now she’d have to decide which of her baby girls she had given birth to….no, she couldn’t.  She wouldn’t.  Helpless, she whimpered, “…no…please…don’t.  My girls….they’re my girls.”

Upstairs, ice cream began to melt on the counter, creeping its way to the bag of baby carrots.

Zeke hardened his face, put the barrel of the Desert Eagle against her forehead (which was still warm from shooting Scott)

Zeke peered unsympathetically through the sights of the big revolver.

“Choose.”

Double rock out salute with Author Tony Craidon in GI fatigues and a reverse mohawk with shaved head.
Author Tony Craidon

I am a combat veteran of the U.S. Army. After serving 11 years in Germany, Bosnia, Alaska, Arizona, Louisiana, and Iraq, I settled in Minnesota to raise my three children with the help of my wife. I’ve turned my ambitions from a soldier to a writer, focusing mainly on fictional short/flash fiction and poetry. I obtained my B.A. in English from St. Cloud State University. My midnight snack of choice is either a peanut butter and honey sandwich or a bowl of cinnamon Life cereal.

About the Author

Real skull. Don't ask. You wouldn't believe it if I told you.

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