Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Fingers by JC Crumpton

“Larry,” said Michael, shaking his head and letting a quick shudder escape through his body. “You’re one sick mother fucker.”

Michael looked across the rickety card table in the center of the room at his friend. The lid on the size 10 ½ Adidas shoe box sitting between them was pulled open only a few inches, and an appalling odor – like rubbing alcohol mixed with something overpoweringly sweet – wafted through the dimly lit room. A lamp without a shade sat on a wood bedside table, and its low-wattage bulb pulsed as if it could not get enough power to last much longer. Six years worth of dust and grime covered the window to the Cicero neighborhood outside, but the open pane allowed the evening traffic sounds into the room with them.

Glancing over his shoulder, Michael made sure he had locked the door. The last thing he needed was for Larry’s old man to come in here and see this shit. He pushed his fold-up chair away from the table, standing and brushing his hands on his pants as if he were trying to clean dirt off them. Reaching over carefully, he pulled the box lid closed and shook his head again. Then, he stepped around his chair and began to wind a path through the dirty clothes, old Playboy magazines, and CDs to the door.

“Michael?” Larry called quietly from behind him.

“What?” he asked without turning around, and his hand gripped the door handle.

Larry said nothing for a moment. “Are you my friend?” he finally inquired.
Michael exhaled and released the doorknob. He ran the fingers of his right hand through his shoulder-length brown hair and turned to find that Larry had risen to his feet.

“Yep, Larry. I’m your friend.”

“Then why were you going to leave?”

“Because your little collection there about makes me want to puke.” Michael smiled, nervously.

Larry looked down at the box, and he grinned tight-lipped and slowly. “This is just a hobby.”

Michael swallowed. “Where’d you get them?”

His friend shrugged, staring with his eyes nearly black in the dim light. “Just homeless people at first.”

“What do you mean – at first?”

Larry’s smile grew wider, splitting his mouth to reveal clenched white teeth. “Do you remember Marsha Sweeney?” he finally asked. “She played her flute at the high school concert two months ago. Beautiful hands that could dance magic out of her instrument. Such beautiful, powerful hands.”

Michael opened his mouth and put his back against the door. Marsha had disappeared a week after that concert. Her body had been found nearly a month ago along the shores of the Des Plaines River north of Waukegan, badly decomposed and missing all her fingers.

An hour ago, Michael thought he had been coming over to his best friend’s house to smoke a bowl and listen to music, but after he had been shown a box full of finger bones, he realized that his friend had vanished – replaced by this monster. He felt himself begin to shake uncontrollably.

“No,” Michael gasped.

Nodding, Larry flipped the top of the box off and reached in, pulling out what looked like a set of hinged, smooth white tube. “Yes.”

He held them up in the light, and Michael realized that the bones were held together by small wires and polished to a shine.

“Why?” asked Michael, breathlessly.

“Why?” Larry shouted. “How the fuck can you ask me why?” Little drops of moisture sprayed out of his mouth and misted onto the tabletop. “She had such energy in these hands. And now, the power is mine. She has given it to me.”

Michael moved his left arm towards the doorknob, but stopped when Larry’s own hand came up from under the table wielding a large kitchen knife. It was the same blade Larry’s mother had used to trim fat off a couple of t-bone steaks for them two nights ago. Michael’s body shook so badly that he was certain the backs of his knees were pounding against the door, but he couldn’t hear for the rushing of blood behind his ears. He glanced around the room for any way out.

“Don’t do this, Larry,” Michael begged. Sweat began to bead along his forehead, and his bottom lip quivered as if he were about to start crying.

Larry stepped around the table, bringing the knife into full view. “Do you know what power you have, Michael?” he asked without even acknowledging Michael’s plea. “Do you?”

“No,” he replied. A tiny whimper escaped through his lips. “I have no power.”

Nodding, Larry insisted, “You have great power. Just look at those speaker cases over there.” He waved the knife towards the bed to Michael’s right. “Look at what you can do with wood.”

Michael glanced at the cases he had made for Larry’s sixteenth birthday. The maple had been nice to work with, soft and supple beneath his hands. Larry was right. He had always been good when it came to creating things from wood – a skill that he had honed nearly to perfection many hours after school in the woodshop. The cases hugged the Bose 301 Series V Directing/Reflecting speakers Larry had bought two years ago with the money he had earned from sacking groceries at Bob’s Market down the street.

When Michael looked back, he found Larry had moved two feet closer – within easy reach with a sudden lunge. He lifted his hand up slowly, keeping his eyes on Larry. “You don’t want to do this, Larry. We’ve been friends for twelve years.”
“You have a power that I need, my friend,” Larry insisted.

Michael sobbed, “I can teach you.”

“You can give that power to me.”

“They’re just hands, Larry. You have to learn. You have to practice.”

Larry stepped even closer, the knife held at his left side. “I will.”

Michael spun and grabbed the doorknob. While he fumbled for the lock with sweaty hands, he felt ice slide between his ribs just above his left kidney. He gasped at the suddenness of the pain. It arced up his back, twisting his muscles and slamming him against the door. His fingers groped uselessly at the knob.

He felt the blade pull out of his back and warm blood flow down his skin below his waist. Larry grabbed his shoulder and twisted him around. Cold, black eyes watched him slide to sit on the floor with a moan. He never made a sound other than a quite crying until Larry forced his left hand open on the floor. The blade bit into his wrist just above the bend, and all he could do was scream. His vision tunneled until all could see was the knife sawing back and forth. Before he fell under the heavy blackness that forced its way in from the edges of his eyesight, he watched his arm pull back to his body, away from his hand.

“We’ll share now, Michael,” Larry said and turned. He smiled, picking up the hand and setting it on the table. Michael tumbled over to the floor unnoticed.

Chris popped open another Budweiser and sucked the foam in before it could tumbled down the side of the can. Down the hall, he heard a sudden shout that nearly caused him to jump out of his skin.

“Damn kids,” He muttered to himself. “Probably down there doing drugs and listening to that damned death metal music.”

His son had come over with Michael nearly an hour ago, and until the yelling, they had left him alone with his beer and Tuesday night baseball on ESPN. Time and time again, he had asked Larry to keep the noise down before one of the other tenants called the super.

“Keep it down, boy!” he shouted. “Or you’ll feel the backside of my hand.”

Frank Thomas hit a homerun on the television, and Chris quickly lost himself in the game. The noise down the hall quieted to a few murmurs and low talking.

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