Friday, March 18, 2011

FICTION: The Cure to All Troubles By Philip Roberts

Before the cancer and before the near constant trips to the doctor, the insomnia set in. During the early nights of long hours spent in front of the TV, Roy didn’t know anything about what was already growing inside him. Whether or not this insomnia had anything to do with his future woes was something Roy would never put much thought to. By the time the pain first spoke to him and the doctor told him his fate, Roy was so used to the endless nights and tired days he didn’t even mind that much.

He first noticed the teen shortly before his diagnosis. Around four in the morning he sat on his balcony and stared out across the apartment complex he had purchased so many years ago. By four most of the late night parties had ended, a few stray drunks sometimes wandering around, though on a Tuesday morning the night was calm.

With his beer nearly completed and his late night cigarette smoked, Roy had been intent on turning in for the night so he could lie awake in bed, but before he turned from the serene parking lot he caught sight of movement. From behind a building the young man emerged, nearly hidden by the night. He walked casually, though there was something about his calm stride that made Roy look closer. While he had no real reason to believe it, he almost thought that the teen faked the casual nature of it. There was purpose etched across the indifference in his face.

There was nothing particularly odd about the teen’s appearance. His clothing was what Roy would expect from a boy his age. It only took him a minute to cross the parking lot to the street, and Roy found himself moving through his apartment to look out his front window at the street the teen emerged on. He continued his stroll beneath the bright streetlights, but as soon as he left the light and delved back into the darkness, he was gone.

The next day the police came to Roy’s door to ask him about the tenant in room C6. The twenty year old had killed himself, they said—slit his wrists in the bathtub and bled out. Roy didn’t know anything about it, he told them, and only after the door was closed did Roy remember the teen from the night before. The thought didn’t hold. By the next morning it was forgotten.


Some part of Roy might have laughed at himself, had he still been the man he had been on the night he first noticed the teen. So little time had actually passed when Roy considered his life as a whole, maybe two months at the most, he thought, and yet that time had changed everything. He blamed it on the cancer. Life reached him through a filter, the reality of it warped into something Roy didn’t like. And so the position he found himself in, deep within the shadow of a building with the gun gripped tightly in his hand, held no humor or horror.

As he had on so many nights before, the teen walked down the street and into the parking lot. They had seen each other face to face before as Roy built up his courage and tried to remove any discouraging thoughts. The teen had glanced up at Roy, a near bald, overweight man with stained teeth and squat legs. Had the teen known about Roy, or better, known what Roy intended to do, death would have certainly found Roy all the sooner.

The teen’s path was usually the same. He always passed near the building Roy flattened himself against, or as flat as Roy could ever hope to go. And when the teen drew as near as he needed to be, Roy quelled any mental resistance and stepped out into the light with his gun drawn.

Before he ever left the darkness Roy saw the teen’s eyes move to where he waited. He had known Roy was waiting there, but the teen hadn’t altered his path. He had allowed himself to walk right into the trap. The eyes that stopped upon Roy held only indifference; the teen’s skin the pale white of someone who had spent too much time hidden away from the sun.

“And what do you want?” the teen asked him with that same lack of interest, his mouth threatening to smile.

“I want to know something,” Roy said.

“And what might that be?” the teen asked, to which Roy smiled. He let every yellowed tooth shine, not at the question, but at the realization in the teen’s eyes right before the gun fired.


Three bulbs lit the large cement room. Only one window allowed any light into the cellar, and through it, a pale yellow glow from the lamps in front of the building spilled in. Roy sat on a chair turned around backwards, his arms propped up on the backrest, intently watching the show before him.

Twenty minutes prior the teen’s eyes had been lost to the bullet. The magnum was powerful, and as close as Roy had been, it did a thorough job of removing the teen’s face along with most of his brain and the back of his skull. Roy almost hadn’t done it for fear that the damage would be too much, the myths inaccurate, and while he still couldn’t say how accurate they really were, the flicker of recognition that marked the teen’s mental return assured Roy that the shot hadn’t been fatal.

Once the teen was fully aware he began to move, or attempt to, from the seat Roy had placed him in. Handcuffs held the teen’s wrists along with thick chains wrapped around his arms and legs.

“What the fuck is going on here.” The words flew viciously from the teen’s mouth while his body strained to break free. In the sharp lighting, when the teen spoke, Roy could see the elongated teeth. The eyes were the other oddity, the evidence to suggest what the teen really was. Roy had trouble thinking of a proper way to explain them, the best his mind could suggest was that the irises swirled with multiple colors, though Roy wasn’t entirely sure that that was what he was seeing.

Roy still held the gun just in case. He let the teen see his smile again. The teen looked so frail and small compared to Roy’s massive form, but he could see the metal chains bend just enough from the pressure the teen exerted to understand that the skinny child could easily take him.

“What’s your name?” Roy asked him. The teen spat in response. The thick wad of phlegm nearly struck Roy’s shoe. He saw a hint of red in the slimy wad. “Okay then, why don’t I tell you my name instead. I’m Roy Burler and I own these apartments.” The teen didn’t answer, those ever changing eyes narrowed to such a point as they bore into Roy that he felt a flicker in his stomach. Could the teen do something to him with his eyes? Roy had heard something about hypnotics. He shifted to stare more at the teen’s mouth than his eyes. “In case you haven’t noticed, you’re my prisoner now. If you want to just glare at me, be my guest, but it won’t get you out of here any sooner.”

The teen seemed to understand this fact and loathed it all the same. He glowered as he tried desperately to break free of his bonds, but the chains held.

“What do you want then?” he asked.

“I’d think that’d be obvious given that I haven’t killed you yet. I’m dying, and I think I’d rather not, and you seem to be my ticket out.”

Roy honestly expected the laugh that followed his request. Arrogant, he thought, and who wouldn’t be arrogant if they had that kind of power?

“It doesn’t work that way,” the teen said.

This time Roy did look him in the eyes. He held the boy’s gaze, and saw him grow nervous under it. Who’s hypnotizing whom, Roy wanted to say to him. “Be like that then,” Roy said. “Be the arrogant prick and see if I care. You’ll regret it.”

“Are you going to torture me then?” he asked, and smiled in spite of his tension. “Make me suffer until I give in to your demands?”

Roy stood up and pushed away the chair. His smile outdid the teens. “I’ve seen a lot of strange shit in my lifetime, kid. I’ve seen a lot more than most men, in fact, but before now I’ve never seen one of you. I’ve got plans for you, you better believe that, unless you give me what I want.”

“I can’t do it.” The smile faltered.

“Then tell me who can. Someone did it to you, so tell me who can do it to me.”

The teen didn’t answer. Wouldn’t even look at Roy anymore. He pouted like the child he was, probably only turned into his current form a few years prior.

The sun wasn’t quite up yet when Roy walked out onto his balcony. He didn’t even feel tired. He’d wait until the sun was spilling light onto the city, let the teen get a little nervous, and then put up a sheet over the window down there. After all, he couldn’t have the boy getting killed this soon.

The current form of Roy’s life was over. That was something the teen didn’t understand. Things were going to change whether Roy got what he wanted or not, and if that ended in his death, well, it was bound to happen eventually.


The corner was busy with the midnight crowd. Roy rarely ventured into the downtown district, especially not at night. They simply weren’t his people. That night he pulled his van to a stop near the corner and surveyed them. Plenty of people, he thought. He wanted a big audience.

He made sure the gun was tucked in his pants before he got out. A few people glanced over at him, this middle aged man. Once he started shouting, everyone was looking at him.

“Who believes in vampires?” he screamed to the crowd. Most of the people stopped. His smiling face jumped from person to person. “What if I were to tell you they were real?”

A loud bang uttered from the back of Roy’s van. The teen was getting nervous. The game had been revealed to him now.

“What are you getting at?” someone asked.

“Proof,” Roy exclaimed. “I have in my van here living proof of the famous bloodsuckers of legend. Don’t let his appearance fool you, for what worthwhile vampire wouldn’t be able to pass for human? Can’t survive very long if people can pick you out, now can you?”

More and more people now. A crowd of over thirty surrounded his van.

“Behold,” he yelled, and pulled open the van door. The teen had managed to knock his chair over, but he remained tied to it. Roy climbed in the back and pulled the teen out for the crowd to see.

Sweat glistened on the teen’s nervous face. Roy had hoped the sweat would be blood, as he’d heard in one story or another, but it looked normal enough. If he hadn’t known better already he would have thought the teen was simply a frightened kid. The crowd obviously thought it.

“What is this?” someone shouted.

“That’s just a kid,” another added.

“Oh no,” Roy yelled. “This is far more than a mere child you gaze upon. But what proof can I offer to you? What would convince you without even the smallest hint of doubt in your minds?”

“Don’t do this,” the teen whispered to him. His hair was matted to his head with sweat now. His pale skin had managed a lighter shade. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

The teen recoiled at Roy’s smile. That’s where it hurts, isn’t it, he thought. The boy could take pain; had even egged him on into the torture. But this spectacle, to be revealed to the world as Roy was about to do? That hurt not just the teen, but every vampire in existence. Eventually someone would deal with Roy.

“I have your proof,” he said while turning back to the crowd, and pulled the gun from the back of his pants. Some people shouted in surprise while others simply pulled away, but almost none ran completely. This was too interesting to run away from.

“Someone please help me,” the teen screamed to the people.

The teen’s hand was Roy’s target. He grabbed hold and pressed the gun against the back of it. People in the crowd were saying things, asking things, shouting things, but Roy ignored them and the screams that followed when the gun fired.

The crowd broke apart at the teen’s scream of pain. Roy ignored them. He stared at the bloody hand and waited for it to heal. A siren blared somewhere close by. Feet pounded across pavement and the teen wouldn’t stop screaming. The hand remained the same.

For the first time Roy felt his face pale. He reached for the mutilated hand and tried to find any hint of what he’d seen happen to the teen’s head just last night. The healing had begun almost instantly before.

Cars screeched to a halt next to his van. A cop shouted. Roy fell to his knees and grabbed the teen’s head. “Please don’t shoot me again,” the teen pleaded, but Roy ignored him. He shoved his hands into the teen’s mouth and pulled it open to reveal nothing but ordinary teeth.

“Back away from him,” a cop roared.

Roy fell back from the boy. The gun dropped from his fingers, his eyes never leaving that ragged hole in the teen’s hand. He didn’t struggle against the handcuffs or them leading him into the cruiser. He watched them remove the chains, free the boy, and get him medical attention.

And through all of it Roy asked himself what the hell had happened.


They questioned him. Henry Reynolds was the teen’s name, and he had gone missing over seven months prior from a city halfway across the country. They asked Roy if he had been keeping Henry in the basement all that time. They asked him why Henry and what he had been trying to pull with his public display. They asked him all kinds of questions that Roy didn’t bother to answer until he was shoved into his cell and left alone for the rest of the night.

That is, until his visitor arrived.

Roy didn’t know how she got into the cell. Roy had managed a light slumber, only to be awoken by a woman standing over his bed. She wasn’t a particularly attractive woman, he first thought, though there was a hint of beauty in her face. She reminded him of the teen, he realized, both of them casual and plain in their appearance. Nothing about either drew one’s eye.

“You wanted to talk to me?” she asked him. While her mouth remained neutral her eyes smiled.

“What happened tonight? What happened to Henry?”

“He was taken to the hospital, but now he is free. You were imaginative. Unfortunately for you, we can control whether or not we heal, and the prominence of our teeth.”

“So what are you doing here?”

“You provided me with some entertainment tonight. I appreciate that. So few things amuse me these days, but that spectacle was certainly appealing. I come to give you something.” From her pocket she lifted a small red vial. Roy took the offering without hesitation.

“Will this change me into one of you?” he asked, but when he looked up the smile had left her eyes. He saw nothing in that face.

“You stole one of my children and held him hostage. Amusement can only repay for so much. I won’t tell you what that will do to you should you drink it. Consider it a gift or consider it a punishment, or perhaps simply a practical joke to bring a smile to my face. It could be anything. Drink it if you will or break it on the ground. I leave the decision to you.”

He watched her walk over to the window in his cell. The night seemed to reach in and engulf her. Roy’s eyes couldn’t fully grasp the sight he beheld. And then he was alone in the cell with the small red vial.

What could it do to him, he asked himself. Was there a fate worse than the one he now faced? Perhaps.

But one thing Roy had never been was a cautious man. Even more than that he felt the low pain in his chest and saw the fluorescent lights of one of any doctor’s office. What did it really matter? Her eyes smiled in his mind. It felt like a good enough sign.

“Here’s to the cure of my troubles, or the beginning of something a whole hell of a lot worse,” he said to the empty cell, and drank the offering.

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