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Upside Down

Updated: Dec 16, 2018

I learned something pretty interesting today. Apparently, hanging upside down for too long can be fatal.

We were suspended by rusty chains wrapped tightly around our bottom halves, some ten or so feet off the floor in a mysterious underground building that had somehow gone unnoticed for decades in the forest next to the gas station where I work. It was cold, and damp, and our only light source was the trio of burn barrels organized in a triangle around us, and I’m pretty sure this place wasn’t ventilating all that smoke properly.

I was annoyed, but at least I had my coworker Jerry there, hanging next to me, volunteering as a distraction from the situation at hand. To pass the time, he showed off his impressive repertoire of show tunes and told awful dad jokes despite my repeated requests for him to stop.

Around the two or three hour mark, our captor came back to check and see how we were doing. Or maybe he was there to taunt us, I don’t really know, his motivations were unclear.

At first, when I heard the metal door scrape open, I was relieved that we were finally getting this show on the road. I don’t want to sound ungrateful, but there’s only so many times I can hear Jerry ask if his joke had gone “under my head.”

He walked into the room slowly, one deliberate step after the other, and I’m sure he had theme music playing in his mind and probably thought this looked way cooler than it actually did. He was wearing cargo pants, a black leather jacket, and an apron splattered with blood. In one hand, he held a machete. In the other, an oversized hook. And on his face he wore the stupidest mask I had ever seen, like some kind of nightmare Bugs Bunny with black fur, sharpened buck teeth, and pointy elongated ears that scraped the top of the door frame as he entered.

He pointed the machete right at me and said something in an intimidating yet muffled voice.

“What?” I asked.

He repeated himself, now slightly more annoyed but still as equally muffled.

“What’s he saying?” asked Jerry.

“I have no idea.” I answered.

The man in the mask made a muffled scream and shook his weapons at us.

“Dude, just take the mask off!” Jerry said, interrupting the muffle.

“Yeah, we know that’s you, Beaux. We’re not idiots. You smell like Axe body spray, and you’ve been casing the gas station for a week now.”

His name was Beaux Couvillion (For those of you who aren’t from the deep south, this is pronounced “Boh Coo-Vee-Aw”), and he had been a huge jerk for as long as I had known him. We met back in elementary school and established on day one that we weren’t ever going to be friends. He wasn’t the first person I’d have expected to resort to kidnapping and torture, but I wasn’t all that surprised by this development either.

It would be generous for me to say that Beaux was a product of his upbringing. Sure, he came from a stupid, angry family in a stupid, angry town. And one might be tempted to say that he never had much of a chance of breaking the cycle. But I feel like maybe that’s letting Beaux off the hook too easily.

My memories of Beaux growing up most revolve around attempts to avoid him in gym class. And out of gym class. And everywhere. In tenth grade, Beaux had a brief stint of popularity after the school board refused his grant request for five thousand dollars to sponsor a high school “Klan Klub,” a student organization intended to celebrate Anglo Saxon heritage by driving four wheelers around in the mud. He and his father (well, mostly his father) sued on the basis of “racial discrimination” and settled out of court for an undisclosed sum. After that, he started shopping for clothing exclusively at Hot Topic and wearing his ginger orange hair in spikes like a nineties punk rocker. Then he printed off a bunch of copies of the anarchist cookbook from the computer lab, started selling cigarettes in the school parking lot, spray painted a bunch of swastikas on the English Teacher’s car, and eventually made a name for himself as the edgy too-cool-for-school kid.

Shortly after all that, he literally became the too-dumb-for-school kid and got kicked out for bad grades and chronic truancy. They sued the school again, but I never heard how that case turned out. I didn’t keep up with him, except for what I overheard at the gas station. He was still stupid and angry, and he blamed everyone else for everything...from his multiple DWI’s to his sudden and inexplicable weight gain. Beaux was always pretty husky, but these days he was about four feet tall lying flat on his back, which was one more reason why it was so pointless for him to wear a mask.

When we first noticed Beaux hanging out in the gas station, I assumed he was just planning on robbing us. He was never anything even remotely clever, but the level of “suspicious” he was behaving was on the verge of comical. Wearing a hat and trenchcoat, parking his truck at the edge of the lot, squinting to see if we had any security cameras anywhere in the building. Coming in twice a day and never buying anything. Then last Friday he tried to talk up the female cashier while they were alone. I’m sure he thought he was being seductive, but that’s the power of self-delusion for you.

Rosa told me all about it after I came in to take over the safe. “He asked if we had any ‘hidden weapons’ in the store. Because if I needed it, he was more than happy to stick around and offer me his ‘protection.’”

“Well,” I said, “That’s pretty obvious, isn’t it? Did he open with that?”

“He started by being super creepy and asking me about where I was from, how long I worked here, yadda, yadda. Then he asked if I was alone.”

“Why would he think that was okay to ask? What did you tell him?”

“I lied and said you, Jerry, and Mack were in the back room rotating inventory.”

“Who’s Mack?”

“He’s a guy I made up to tell Beaux. Mack is an ex-marine with impulse control problems. He’s just trying to do right by his ex-wife ever since they let him out of the slammer, where he did time for a crime he didn’t commit. All he wants is to be part of his kids’ lives and make some extra cash here at the gas station while he takes night classes to get his MBA. But an old acquaintance from his days in the service comes back into his life suddenly and unexpectedly, pulling Mack down a dark rabbit hole that will challenge everything he stands for. Will Mack make the right call? Find out in… ‘Mack the Knife.’ Anyway, I think we need to call Deputy O’Brien.”

“There’s not really much she can do until he actually breaks a law.”

“We can put a gun under the counter. Do you have any idea how ridiculous it is that we don’t keep a stash of weapons here at the gas station?”

“I’ll think about it.”

I did think about it, I really did. And I even came to the conclusion that Rosa was right, we should start arming ourselves, just in case. But then I got lazy and started reading a book. And then I forgot about it. And then last night I came in to take over for Jerry and start my overnight shift, but he wasn’t there.

Instead of Jerry, I found this fat dummy holding a machete and a gun, wearing his silly rabbit mask and forcing me into the back cab of his truck. Then he drove me out into the woods, down an old dirt road, to a giant metal bunker door, and walked me inside, down a concrete hallway coated in dirt and graffiti, past rooms half flooded with stagnant rainwater, past giant metal silos and crumbling columns and metal beams and finally into this huge empty room where he tied me up with chains and hoisted me to the ceiling next to Jerry.

And that’s how we got here.

Between knock knock jokes and Jerry’s terrible acapella renditions of Broadway hits, we wondered out loud what Beaux’s endgame was. The room he had placed us in contained a giant pentagram freshly painted on one wall with a ladder, brush, and an open can from Sherwin Williams sitting next to it. After that, I surmised that all the blood on Beaux’s apron was actually just paint. The best theory we could come up with was that he had gone off the deep end and was planning to sacrifice us to the devil.

Turns out, our theory wasn’t that far off.

Beaux finally took off the mask, revealing the look of annoyance on his chubby, round face.

“You shit sticks don’t even know what kind of hurt you’re in for, do you?”

A moment passed, then I said, “Oh, wait, were you waiting for an answer? Sorry, I thought you were being rhetorical.”

“You think you’re so smart, don’t you? Well you know what? You aren’t.”

Wow. Clever.

“Come on, Beaux,” I said, “Just let us down from here. We can pretend this whole thing never happened.”

“No we won’t!” interjected Jerry, “As soon as you let us go, I swear I’m headed straight to the sheriff’s station to hand your ass in, and there’s nothing you can do to stop me or change my mind!”

I cut my eyes at him and muttered a quiet, “Shut up…”

Something must have clicked in his head, because Jerry started to backtrack, “Oh. Ohhh. Yeah, you’re right. Nevermind, Beaux. I forgive you. Now let us go. Or else!

Beaux let out a forced laugh that didn’t sound even remotely convincing, then said, “You’re staying here for the rest of eternity. This is where you’ll die! Did you know that the Chinese used death from hanging upside down as their most feared form of torture?”

Again, I caught myself waiting for him to continue, only to realize he was asking us a question.

“Oh, uh, no. No I didn’t.”

“Let me explain to you the different stages of pain you will go through before death. First, you will feel your lungs slowly being crushed under the weight of your other organs, until the very act of breathing becomes nearly impossible. Then your heart will overload from the extra work of pumping blood all the way to your toes and back. Then the vessels in your eyes will rupture. You will go permanently blind as you struggle for each breath. And then, after you’re finally dead, I will bleed you dry and leave your bodies down here to rot.”

I’m not a doctor, but none of that sounded right. However, I wasn’t about to tell Beaux that he needed to up his torture game.

“Hey,” Beaux yelled, pointing his machete at the guy hanging on the other side of Jerry, “What’s going on with that one?”

By that one, he was referring to Mel, the new part-timer that Jerry had been training when Beaux came in earlier to kidnap him. It was only his first day, and the poor guy was already in a secret underground torture chamber.

Jerry answered “Yeah, he passed out like right off the bat. We’ve been trying to wake him up, but he is lights out hard. Hey, Mel! Mel, wake up! You’re missing the villain monologue!” Jerry swung an arm at Mel, but we were all suspended just out of reach of one another.

“Is that guy dead already?” asked Beaux.

I studied Mel for a moment, but couldn’t see any breathing or other signs of life. “Yeah,” I answered sadly, “I think he is.”

“Wow!” Beaux said with a strange smile. “I did it. I took my first life. Now I know how it feels. This power. It’s amazing. It’s something you pathetic sheep are never gonna feel. You’ll never know the power of snuffing out another person’s very existence.”

Jerry chuckled and said, “Okay dude.”

“Oh, this is it! I have everything I need. Do you idiots wanna guess what’s about to happen next?”