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.”
“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.”
“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?”
“No,” we both answered at the same time.
“Now I have what I need to summon forth the beast, Cayergan. He is an eternal being from another world, stronger than you can even fathom. I’ve given him everything he needs to enter our realm, except for the final ingredient: the blood of a man in tortured anguish.”
Beaux went to the corner where the chains were all connected to an old crank device and turned the wheel until Mel’s body was lowered all the way to the floor. Then he unhooked Mel’s chains, listened for a heartbeat (really, he should have done those two in the opposite order), and dragged Mel across the floor to the spot in front of the pentagram.
“Hey dude,” Jerry whispered to me, “When we get out of this, I think we should seriously reconsider buying a shotgun or something for the store.”
Beaux got down on his knees and fished a large pocket knife out of his cargo pants, flicked it open, and kissed it.
“You losers are about to see something you’re not even worthy to behold. The gates of hell will open, and you will literally be in the presence of the dark lord Cayergan. Tell me, have either of you seen an actual god before?”
“Yes,” we said in unison.
I looked over at Jerry. “Wait, really? When did you see a god?”
“It was back when you were in the hospital for a few days getting your leg thing taken care of. There was this bat-god named Plabu or something. He was trapped in a small universe thing inside a bottle of Strega Liquor. Of course, I was on a lot of mushrooms at the time, so I might have imagined it all. What about you?”
I answered, “Remember that time we were all escaping the zombie nudists in that underground cavern and we got separated by those giant hands that burst out of the walls? Yeah, I got sucked into this throne room of a dark tree god. He turned out to be pretty cool though. Of course, I was on a lot of painkillers at the time, so I might have imagined it all.”
“Our lives are weird,” Jerry responded.
“Hey!” Beaux yelled, “I’m being serious here! This is real! And you’re about to see for yourselves. Watch!”
With two hands around the hilt, he plunged the knife into Mel’s chest.
Mel’s eyes shot open, and he screamed and bolted to his feet.
“It worked!” Jerry yelled, “Mel is a zombie!”
Mel screamed again and looked at the weapon sticking out of his chest.
“Mel! Go get help!” I yelled.
Beaux struggled to get his fat ass to his feet, but Mel turned around, punched him in the face, and darted out the door down the hallway.
“Get back here!” Beaux screamed as he threw his hook after the escaping victim. It clanged against the wall several feet from the door and fell to the ground, and Beaux huffed and ran out after him.
A few minutes later, Beaux came back into the room with his head hung low, his eyes red and watery, and snotty blood flowing messily from his nostrils. It looked like that punch might have left Beaux with a broken nose and, as pathetic as he looked, I couldn’t possibly feel sorry for him.
“This is all your faults!” he growled at us.
“How do you figure?” asked Jerry.
“You lied to me! You tricked me into believing Mel was actually dead!”
Jerry snapped his fingers and said, “Bitch, get off this persecution complex. You’re the one that brought us down here to torture us to death. You don’t get to cry over how we weren’t nice to you.”
“I’m gonna kill you!” Beaux hollered.
“Yeah, so you said,” Jerry taunted back.
Beaux wiped his bloody nose off on his sleeve and flung it onto the ground, then screamed again, “You have no idea how powerful I’m gonna be! You’re gonna learn your place! You’re all gonna respect me! And when I’m done, I-”
He stopped mid sentence and his face went pale. Then he turned and looked at his bloody spatter on the floor, then at the pentagram on the wall.
“Wha-what?” he stammered to nobody in particular.
Jerry gave me a look that said this dude is four equal sides short of a square.
“Oh, yes, of course.” He was speaking to the wall.
“So, like, you want to let us down now, or what?” I asked.
Beaux looked at me with a giant ugly smile and asked, “Do you guys hear that, too?”
“Hear what?” I responded.
“That voice? He’s right there!” Beaux pointed at the pentagram. “He can hear me, and he’s telling me that I’ve done well. The blood was good. My blood. He just needs more. Of course. All he needs to come forth is for me to make the ultimate sacrifice.”
Beaux picked up his machete with his right hand and held it to his left wrist, then closed his eyes and took a deep breath.
“This is it. This is why he chose me to summon Cayergan. Because he knew when the time came, I would have the strength to do what’s necessary.”
“Who chose you for what?” I asked. “I’m lost.”
“Yeah,” Jerry said, “Me too. I really wasn’t paying attention. Was Mel a zombie or what?”
Beaux opened his eyes, forced another fake laugh, and said, “There is a man in town. I never got his name, but I didn’t have to. He found me; he offered me a job; he gave me purpose. And now I’m part of something greater than myself. All he asked is that I summon Cayergan into this world. It’s all part of the great plan. And soon, it will be finished. It is an honor to be able to give my life so Cayergan can rise!”
He closed his eyes and lifted the machete, then slowly put it back against his skin.
Then we waited. For like thirty seconds.
Eventually, Jerry’s voice crept into the silence in his best Emperor Palpatine voice, “Yesss, that’s it. Do it. Let the darkness be your strength. Let the anger guide you. Let the hate flow through you.”
“Dude,” I said, “Quit it. You’re going to mess him up.”
Beaux threw the weapon to the ground and screamed at us again, “You bitches have no idea what it’s like! How hard I have to struggle! I’ve gone my entire life putting up with shitstains like you two trying to keep me down, and I’m sick and tired of it! Soon Cayergan will come and all the people that make life worse, all you people, will get exactly what you deserve!” I had actually forgotten that he still had a gun until this moment, when he pulled it out of the waistband of his cargo pants and said, “This is what real strength looks like,” and put it in his mouth.
I closed my eyes and braced for the noise. This was going to be super gross, and I really didn't care to watch.
After a few seconds, he still hadn’t pulled the trigger, and I opened one eye to see that he was frozen there with the gun still in his mouth.
“Hey man, I have an idea,” Jerry said. “You’re clearly having trouble riding that struggle bus over there. Why don’t you let me down from here. Give me the gun. And let me kill you. Yeah? Right? Sound good? You want to die. I want to kill you. It’s a win win.”
Beaux pulled the gun out of his mouth to the sound of a wet plop and spat on the ground.
“You don’t have what it takes to kill somebody.”
“No really, I’ve totally got a hard on for homicide. Just ask Jack.”
“It’s true,” I said, “Before he worked at the gas station, Jerry was the only surviving member of a murder cult.”
Beaux walked angrily over to the crank wheel and started lowering Jerry to the ground.
Holy shit, is this actually working?
Beaux took the chains off of Jerry, tossed the gun next to him, then held the machete like a baseball bat right underneath me and said, “Okay asshole. Here’s the deal. You can’t back out now. If you don’t spill my blood and open the portal, I’m going to kill your friend and-”
Jerry didn’t hesitate for one second to shoot.
Beaux screamed and flopped onto the ground, hugging the foot with the fresh bullet hole.
Then Jerry fished his pack of smokes out of his pocket, lit one up, and took a puff.
“Hey, uh, dude?” I said, “You wanna let me down from here now?”
But before he could answer, the fire from the burn barrels started flaring up, roaring, and growing. Before we knew what was happening, they had formed giant cyclones of burning red and blue, blazing swirls that climbed to the ceiling.
As the heat from the fires swept over me I saw a crystalic sparkling light in the center of the pentagram grow from the size of a pin prick into an enormous swirling vortex of pure shimmering lights.
“Well check that out,” Jerry said.
Beaux started frantically laughing, and I think he was just about to give us a smug “I told you so.” But before he could, an enormous skeletal hand reached out from the void and grabbed him around the waist.
I can’t describe exactly what this hand looked like, because I don’t think the entity it belonged to was part of our world or understanding of physics. It was, at the exact same time, the size of a normal human arm and the size of Manhattan island. It was a color that has never existed. It had five fingers, and each fingertip split into five more fingers, which each broke into five fingers, which broke into five more fingers ad infinitem. I could somehow hear the creature’s arm moving with my eyes, and the smell of its flesh was very similar to gum drops (Jerry later insisted that it smelled like spiced rum).
Beaux let out a gasp as the infinite fingers squeezed around him, then the arm dragged him slowly through the swirling void.
“Holy shit!” Jerry yelled, “That asshole had my wallet!”
“Jerry!” I yelled to get his attention. When he looked back at me, I pointed at the spot on the ground where dumbass Beaux’s foot blood had started to pool. “You have to figure out a way to close the portal!”
Jerry put his lit cigarette between his lips, unzipped his fly, and started pissing into the puddle of blood, and amazingly that worked! A noise like the crack of thunder filled the room and the portal disappeared, along with all of our light as the fires from the burn barrels immediately extinguished themselves.
In the darkness, all I could hear was the sound of Jerry pissing on the floor. After a while, he finished up and said, “Wow, that’s a relief. Man, I gotta tell you I’ve been holding it ever since he kidnapped us.”
“You gonna let me down now or…”
“Sorry, I’m on it.”
It took about ten minutes for him to find the wheel in the dark and lower me to the ground. By the time we got the chains off, we could hear sirens growing louder in the distance.
Deputy O’Brien took our statements, then balled them up and threw them away and told us to try again. Our second version of the events left out the part where an evil being reached into our world to grab Beaux and drag him to a hell dimension.
She informed us that the building was some kind of satellite power plant from the fifties. The place was shut down and demolished, but they forgot about the basement level, and after a few years nature reclaimed it. From the look of things, Beaux had been living out there by himself. Officially, he was a lone gunman, a single maniac, and with him gone we had nothing to worry about.
Unofficially, we’re all a little on edge about who hired him to summon a demon. Maybe we’ll find out, maybe we won’t. Either way, we need to find somebody to replace Mel, because something tells me he isn’t coming back to work any time soon.
In other news, I just learned that the carnival is coming to town soon, so that’s pretty exciting.