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One of the exercises I had the most fun with in fiction class was the mugshot exercise. My professor Googled for "crazy guy" and found the beauty below, and told us to write a story about the guy.

Ain't he a beaut?

I looked into those eyes and said to myself "this guy has seen something," and then it hit me that this would be a great opportunity to get into the backstory of an incomplete novel I've been working on periodically for the past three or four years (part of which I serialized on Smart Bitches, if you're hankering to read more of my execrable fiction). Anyway, here's the story of the guy in the mugshot, his kid brother Eddie, their lock guy, Maurice, and what happens when a crazy Russian named Karkossian hires them.

Some cautions: pretty graphic violence. It's a horror story. And you really need to read it or hear it being read by some guy who's trying way, way too hard to be James Dean, or maybe one of the greasers from The Outsiders.

The deal was simple: Eddie, Maurice and me, we were supposed to break into this old guy’s house and steal a book. This really valuable old book. The Russian guy wanted it. Karkossian. I think he was Russian, anyway. He could’ve been a Pollack too, I guess. Whatever he was, he was fucking crazy. Not throwing shit at people or running around naked or talking to himself crazy. It’s just that, I got the feeling, looking into his eyes, he was the kind of guy you could be talking to, gassing it up, knocking back shots together, and he’d pull out that big knife with the curved blade he always carried in a holster along his side and slit your throat just to see you trying to talk with two mouths. Not because you owed him money, or because he knew you’d been balling his girl behind his back. Just out of plain old curiosity.

It was a really fancy place we were breaking into—I won’t tell you whose it was, but let’s just say I’ve lifted more than my fair share of TVs with this guy’s name stamped on them. Right from the start, I could tell that there was something kinda weird with the job. I mean, Karkossian gave Eddie some real specific instructions, but Eddie wouldn’t tell either Maurice and me what they were, just told us they’d work, all we had to do was follow him close, and that he needed Maurice to open the lock on the safe and a couple of doors. He wouldn’t even tell Maurice what kind of safe it was. Just told him it was real easy. A piece of cake. Like I said: weird. But the two of us went along, because Eddie knew how to sniff out a good job, and he hadn’t let us down yet.

Eddie was the brains of the outfit. Don’t get me wrong, I’m no dummy, but I’m no genius, either, and Eddie? Eddie was really smart. He was one of those guys who could do math as fast as you could read the numbers to him, you know? He was my own brother and my best friend, but I’m not gonna lie, that kid had a cold, cold streak, too. He had to. He didn’t like being a two-bit hood. He was always hustling, trying to figure out a better angle, a better deal, and if that meant leaving a buddy to dangle in the wind sometimes, he was OK with that.

So yeah. Karkossian found Eddie, or Eddie found Karkossian, or maybe they found each other—maybe it was meant to be, like one of those crummy love novels you can buy at the drug store, and they hammered out a deal, and Eddie was real excited. I mean, Eddie had told us how much the job was worth, and our eyes had about fallen out of our heads, but I knew Eddie, and I knew there was more to it that he wasn’t telling us, something real juicy, and I knew he was going to keep the fattest cut for himself. I was OK with that. He was my brother, you know? As long as I got a good cut, I was happy, and if Eddie was happy, I was happy.

So the night of the break-in, Eddie gave us these dark goggles to wear and weird, heavy gloves. Lined with lead, he said. Maurice bitched long and hard about them. He was our lock man, and he hated having anything interfere with his hands. He fussed over those hands of his more than a woman did, I swear to God. Those gloves were heavy as hell. Maurice said trying to do anything with those gloves on was like trying to fuck while wearing two condoms. You could see that something was happening, but you sure as hell couldn’t feel anything. Eddie told him we didn’t need to put them on until we got close to the book, but that we absolutely weren’t allowed to touch it unless we had the gloves on. Maurice wanted to know why, but Eddie didn’t want to tell us. Maurice kept pressing, Eddie kept dodging, saying that orders were orders—no gloves, no deal—and Maurice grumbled but finally shut up.

Right around 2 in the morning, we snuck around to this small gate in the back wall of the mark’s estate. It was a really clever gate, too, set completely flush with the stone and made from exactly the same stuff as the wall. If Karkossian hadn’t told us about it, we wouldn’t have known it was there. Maurice tried to find the lock, but couldn’t find a damn thing, and hissed at us that this was a door that opened only from the inside, you numbnuts, but Eddie told him shut up, he had this one, and shouldered Maurice out of the way.

This next part sounds crazy, but I swear it’s true: Eddie grabbed this small blue rock out of his satchel, whispered something to it and set it against the stone, and whaddaya know, a couple seconds later, the door swung open, quiet as you please. Maurice almost fell over from surprise. We filed into the garden, quiet as Indians, Eddie leading the way.

Getting into the house was weirdly easy. Eddie told us he’d taken care of the alarms earlier, and all Maurice had to do was figure out the locks. Maurice whispered that Eddie should just use his goddamn blue juju rock, but Eddie shot him a look meaner than two rattlesnakes fucking and said it was a one-time use kind of a thing, and Maurice wasn’t being paid to give any kind of lip, so pick the fucking locks already.

The place was crazy. All marble on the outside, and even more marble on the inside, and what wasn’t marble was a bunch of dark wood. It looked more like a church than a house. We entered through the kitchen, of all the damn places, and slowly worked our way to the safe in the study where the book was. We passed a bunch of creepy statues that stared at us with blind eyes, and there were all these small jeweled things in all kinds of shapes—animals, birds, flowers, weird shapes that didn’t mean anything—in glass cabinets. I could see Maurice’s fingers twitch at the sparkles, but Eddie hustled us along.

Sometimes Eddie would pause, tell us to stop moving, hold up a hand straight out from his chest and whisper something I could never quite make out. A couple of minutes after that, he’d tell us to follow him again. I got the heebie-jeebies, ain’t gonna lie. Every time Eddie whispered, if I listened too close, I’d start to feel a bit sick and black spots would float in front of my eyes, so I stopped trying to listen. Eddie was my brother, you know, and even if I didn’t trust him completely, I loved him like nothing else, so I went along, even though part of me—the part of me that had told me to run away as soon as Eddie pulled that trick with the weird blue stone—was scared shitless. As we worked our way through the house, I noticed that Eddie moved just a bit slower every time he did that stop-and-whisper shit, and he kept rubbing his stomach, like it hurt, or like he was pregnant.

The safe wasn’t what I’d expected. I was thinking like a big old thing bolted to the floor, three-inch steel plate full of knobs. But it sat tucked away in the corner of a dusty bookshelf, and it was small. No bigger than a breadbox. But it was deep, deep black, the kind of flat lack of color you’d see in an empty doorway on a moonless night, except even more so. It was like somebody had cut out a box-shaped piece of reality and set it away somewhere else and forgot about it. Looking at it me made me feel like I was going blind. Eddie told us to put on our goggles and gloves, and the goggles made me feel a bit better, blunted the blackness somehow, but looking at it straight on still made me want to scream. Maurice had his hands clenched into two tight fists. I don’t think he knew he was doing it. I think he was glad he had those heavy gloves on after all.

Eddie gestured at Maurice to open the safe. Maurice turned his head, looking like some kind of insect with those bulky gloves on his hands and those dark goggles covering half his face, and he didn’t say a word but his whole body shouted please don’t make me touch it, please please, but Eddie wasn’t having none of it, he just whispered two words, Do it, and Maurice turned away, miserable as a whipped dog, and set his fingertips on the surface, as gently as a mother touching the cheek of a baby.

He froze, and then—oh God, I’d never seen anything like this—he threw his head back and stiffened up and started screaming, except no sound came out, and every muscle and vein and tendon in his face and neck and everywhere started bulging and writhing, like a bunch of fat worms thrown on a hot griddle. Eddie walked up right next to him, drew a knife out a holster under his jacket, a big fucking knife with a curved blade, Karkossian’s knife, and quick and neat as you please, he slipped the point right behind Maurice’s Adam’s apple and then stabbed through to the other side, then sliced down and forward, ripping a slice open on his neck, and Maurice’s blood sprayed out like a flower, and then, God, I swear this is true, it, all of that blood, it gathered itself, it fucking funneled, it condensed, it became this long ropey hose and started shooting straight into the box. And Eddie, Eddie my kid brother, I mean I remember the day mom brought him back, all wrinkled and red and angry at being alive, and I remember playing cops and robbers with him, and fighting with him over baseball cards, and sneaking away dad’s skin mags so we could beat off together in the woods—my kid brother holstered that knife and grabbed Maurice’s head with both hands and yanked that head clear back with more force than I thought he could be capable of, and I could hear the snap and pop of Maurice’s tendons and bones and skin giving way as his neck bent at right angles, and the tear in his throat got bigger and looser and gaped like the biggest, widest toothless grin, and all of his blood, such a deep red that it was almost black, gushed out faster, and it wasn’t a hose now, it was a fountain, it was a motherfucking river.

And that box drank it all up, every drop. Not a splash landed anywhere.

The river eventually slowed down, and it became a stream, then a trickle, then drops, and then Maurice was dry, bone dry. His body was the palest shade of blue. Eddie let go of Maurice’s head, and it slumped forward, but he still stood upright, every muscle in his body locked in position. Eddie kicked him over, a good solid blow to the thigh, and Maurice keeled over and hit the carpeted floor with a sound like a dropped log, his hands still cupped like they were holding the box. The blackness of the safe rippled, like it was sighing with satisfaction, and its top slid open. We both leaned over to take a look.

And there it was. The book. It didn’t look like anything much. Real small, like one of those pocket Bibles my grandparents carried around everywhere. Plain. Bound in dark leather. Somehow, I knew what kind of skin it was, and I could feel more fear crawling over me like a fat old spider, but this big, heavy hand held me still, and some voice inside told me to see this through.

Eddie hissed through his teeth and looked at me, and he whispered, you still with me? All I could do was nod, even though every part of my body was screaming no, no, no, no, no, no. So Eddie reached into the box, taking care not to touch any part of its walls at all, and carefully, so carefully, lifted the book out. I could tell he was holding his breath the entire time. When he’d pulled the book out completely, he grinned at me, sweat dripping off his face, and he opened his mouth and laughed a soundless laugh. He held out the book in front of him and shook it at me, and I flinched back and tried to smile back, and he said, voice cracking, “Piece of cake.”

And then I don’t know why he did it. I think he just plain fucking forgot. Or maybe he was just so fucking happy he’d managed to grab the book without touching the box. Or maybe the book made him, like the book was glad to be out and wanted to ride Eddie for a little while. But for whatever reason, Eddie brought the book to his lips.

And kissed it.

I could see him starting to do it, and I tried to scream at him, to knock the book out of his hand, but it was too late. His eyes met my eyes, and in that last moment I could tell that he had taken this job for me as much as for him, he wanted us both to get out of our crummy fucking lives in our crummy fucking town, and then his eyes started bleeding, and two long black spurs shot out of my brother’s eye sockets.

I don’t remember too clearly what happened next. I remember Eddie’s body rippling, forming and unforming. I remember teeth, needle-sharp and needle-bright. I remember grappling with the thing that used to be my brother, and grabbing for Karkossian’s knife. I think I stabbed it. The rest is pure darkness.

The next thing I remember was coming awake in a cop car, except it wasn’t really coming awake, you know? My eyes had been open the whole time, and my mouth was talking, it wouldn’t shut up, but I couldn’t tell what the words were. They sounded like the kinds of words you’d hear if you played a record backwards. I couldn’t stop in the car, I couldn’t stop in the station, and one of the cops finally clipped me across the mouth to make me quit. They told me they were booking me for burglary, and the murder of Maurice, and I don’t know what the fuck else, but I didn’t care, because what I did know was that they didn’t find what used to be my kid brother, and they didn’t find the book. What I did know was that the thing that used to be Eddie knew me. It had my scent in its nose. It was on the loose.

And it was hungry.

Date: 2010-12-03 11:40 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] tanjent.livejournal.com
Lovecraft would be proud. :)


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