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.”