by LAURENCE BLACK
yra clutched the mountains atop her chest with shaking, swollen fingers. “Muhh heart,” she croaked through heaves and pants. “I can’t breathe, oh God, I can’t.” Myra always thought in pictures. When an image wasn’t right for a particular situation, she thought in letters. This time, the letters were crimson and dripping and dead. The words ‘TICK TOCK’ scrolled through her mind’s eye.
“Hennerrrrr!” She huffed in a garbled, ugly shrill. She called him Henner now, no longer Henry. Henry grew into Henner as her ass grew into a square conforming to the shape of the E-Z chair. It was one of many things that changed with the trade.
Henry whirled around, his stench wafting through the damp air. Old cigarettes and gasoline clung to him like soot to a chimney. “What got-dayumed? Whazzit now?” His tone came out annoyed, but on the inside, Henry was scared shitless.
“Muh chest issa hurt’n. Like somebody’s knifin’ muh n’ta guts.” Myra’s four chins quivered as she huffed in a flare of pain. Myra howled, this time louder. Was it her heart? Naw, she didn’t think it was old tick-tock. She thought tick-tock would be her end, but not yet. Ol’ chug-a-lug had a few more years, at least!
Henry swayed on his feet with a flutter of panic. I got to hide it. Can’t let’er see I’m scared. Truth was, Henry was terrified; terrified at the prospect of living out his days in loneliness, terrified of the black. His mind flashed back to when he was a boy. The closet Papa Paul called The Black Bed. Henry slept in the bed for three years. He had no desire to go back.
Myra’s mind looked backwards remembering the Cowboy. The way his pants bulged as he watched her writhe and twist and die in blood stained dirt. She didn’t remember how he got the car off or how he put her guts back in. It... It just happened. She had agreed to his trade. In that moment her life changed forever.
“Henner. Henner , I need you t’call t’amb’lance,” she whispered through globs of spit and over a swollen tongue.
“You ain’t need no amb’lance!” Henry shot back, coming off irritated and agitated. In reality it was the anxiety, not agitation, the fear of losing Myra, of going back to the black. Anxiety burned like a wildfire in his chest.
“Do too,” she pushed out with a croak. “Can’t breathe, Henner.” She closed her eyes and placed bloated hands in her lap. Her sewing needle plucked an inflated finger. Blood wept from her claw onto Henner’s mangled jeans. The jeans, compared to her mammoth knees, looked like something belonging to a child, not a six foot one man with a forty two inch waist.
Another contaminated rocket of fear shot through Henry’s eyes. The Black Bed’s a’waitin on you boy, Papa Paul’s dead voice boomed. Henry’s hand barraged his pocket, rummaging for the go-phone. The trailer dipped, and then straightened as the man (no small thing himself) found the phone. Henry wished it was him rather than Myra. I ain’t goin’ back to the black. I ain’t. I swear to God I ain’t. Images of a damp and dark tin box caked in thick, noxious air filled his brain. He slicked sweat from his forehead onto slimy, peppered gray hair. Henry saw himself sitting in the E-Z chair, in the dark, day after day, night after night, in the black. Every second of every day, in the black. Henry closed his eyes, wiped tears from the corners, shuddered and dialed.
The sirens wailed with red and white churning lights, but Myra didn’t notice. The only thing she knew was the gut-wrenching madness that boiled under her hanging breast like a puddle of tire-maimed entrails left to cook on hot Georgia asphalt. Myra howled and Henry hobbled out of the way as paramedics rushed through the deteriorating screen door.
The crackle shouted through the trailer. Myra stopped her breathing, holding tight. He’s here. The Cowboy’s here. Her overworked heart gave a quick jerk and fell with relief when she saw the peach faced paramedic pull the radio from his belt. T’ank God t’ain’t him . . .
“We gon’ need a crane mor’an likely.” The peachy paramedic laughed, laughing at her. In another situation, Myra would have raged, throwing a tantrum of filth harder than the peachy paramedic would ever see. Nobody laughs at Myra Champion. But, alas, Myra was dying and was in no condition to rage.
Myra’s heart stopped twice on the ride. Both times the paramedic shocked her back to life. The young one was horrified. Peachy tried to focus on other things; her heart monitor and pulse, blood pressure, the hiss and pop of dispatchers crackling through his radio. Anything. Anything to keep his eyes off the mountain of lard swayed on his gurney. It was no use. Despite her monstrousness, the popped pimples, the alien appearance, Peachy could not, would not, turn away. Her girth was mesmerizing.
The second time she died, she let out a sharp moan. Peachy jerked the stethoscope from her sticky skin, repulsed. The smell of dirty flesh filled his nose as the sirens shrieked overhead, the driver’s foot forcing the ambulance, willing it, up to a respectable forty-five. The ambulance groaned. Peachy gagged. His eyes frantically searched for available space. There’s nowhere to puke. Myra filled the entire area. Peachy was crammed into a corner unable to stand or move. How they had gotten her in he never knew. Horrified, Peachy swallowed it down. Had Myra known, she would have been impressed.
“Jesus Christ, look at that Frank,” Dr. Stephens said in a hoarse whisper as surgical steel hissed over the volcano of human flesh. Dr. Marvin watched with a perplexed scowl as Stephens work his way under flap after flap.
“How is she alive? She must be seven hundred pounds. At least!” Doctor said to Doctor.
“We’ll worry about that after, Frank. We have, uh, some major work to do here,” Dr. Stephens replied. “Team, hold your breath. This is going to be bad.” With latex hands and vibrant, steely tongs Stephens pulled the breast away from the pink and filthy skin underneath.
Forgetting he was in surgery, with hands covered in God knows what; Dr. Marvin smacked his hand over his eyes. The shock of it caused the usually stoic man to lose it. Splotches of blood covered his eyelids like mascara. He let out a gurgling gag and a tumble of curses. An aroma of decayed flesh filled the room. Frank’s eyes twitched in his head.
“Smells like hot garbage. Fuck!” Dr. Marvin whispered between gags. No one replied. The surgical team knew exactly what he meant.
The sandwich was black, in most parts, green and turquoise in the others. It seemed to grow from the mound of white , scaly skin that hung from the blob of Myra Champion.
Dr. Stephens pulled the sandwich from the flap of skin. The sound shimmied through the room. Exposed maggots squirmed and churned. The stench thickened. A female surgical tech fainted. The room twitched. Two ran. One made it to the restroom before tossing his lunch. The other only made it as far as the lobby. The remaining team worked for hours, slicing and removing bits and chunks from the woman’s upper torso.
“What the fuck is this?” A medical student, just arriving to observe, asked with arrogance. He poked his head over students gathered in the back.
“What the fuck do you think it is?” Dr. Stephens spat, annoyed. Disgust hung on his face, not from Myra, but from the stupidity of the question.
No one answered, just breathed . . . breathed heavy air, fraught with rot and death and meat and terror. Everyone knew what this was... . . . . . . . . . .
This was a sandwich. Uneaten, dropped, forgotten... left to rot, and rot it did. It had begun to rot flesh with it, ushering in a plethora of hungry infections, from staph to necrotizing fasciitis.
The gaping hole of the infection hung open a daunting eight inches from end to end. The doctors did what they could, but the flesh eating bug was too much. There were no limbs to hack or bones to saw, this bad boy was in her chest cavity, eating away at Myra.
“It picked the right one,” Dr. Martin sputtered in.
“What do you mean?” Dr. Stephens said back, in a flat, unemotional voice. He glanced sideways at his partner clearly annoyed. Stephens hated a lot of things. He hated being interrupted while working most of all.
“The necro fasciitis. It went to the buffet this time. It got the whole cha-bang.” Neither doctor laughed.
He came again. She shouldn’t have been awake. Not with the amount of propofol in her system. She dared not speak, not yet. “Always wait to speak until you’re spoken to,” her mother had always been sure to tell her. “Never speak out of turn!” Is what always followed.
Myra watched him move with sedated eyes. He lurked about her room in a quiet, dark, gait. Her heart, strained to kingdom come and back, pitter-pattered recklessly.
“You knew I was a’comin’ for you,” he said in a quick, short jab. Myra would have trembled but her body could not move, only her eyes and mind.
Myra’s lips quivered, trying to produce a word, any word, but nothing came from her except the rasp of the respirator and the sloppy gurgle of tubes. The Cowboy looked at the mouth in amazement. God’s work never ceased to amaze him. He chuckled dirty, satisfying laughs. And they say I’m the cruel one. He imagined Myra’s mouth opening like a festering wound.
“Thught’d yugh wait lon’gah,” Myra managed to wheeze.
The Cowboy stared with deep, black eyes. Myra looked at them through a blurry haze. It’s him al’ight. She knew before she saw. His spurs scratched and screamed echoes down the shadowed hall. His eyes terrified her the same as they had ten years before as she lay dying while Tom Petty crooned about an American girl from a smashed tape deck. She had seen his boots first, appearing next to the shattered driver’s side window. “Do ya wanna keep dancin’?” He had said. She said yes, of course, and gave him the greatest price a human being could give, her soul.
Myra had been skinny in the days before the trade. Had known what life would have been like after, she would have kept her damned soul. The former Miss Coweta County turned to food. Not because of the cruel memory of the wreck. Not because she felt sorry for herself and lost the ability to run, jog or even walk. No, Myra ate to console her terror. Myra jammed glob after glob of anything edible into her mouth. For relief! Relief from the perpetual knowledge of The Cowboy coming back and taking what she traded him in return for an extra decade of tormented mortal life. “A Cowboy don’t never turn on his word,” he had said and Myra completely believed him,
The Cowboy curled the corners of his mouth into that infamous, wily smile. Myra gagged from his wretched breath. It covered her own stink and enveloped her mind in revulsion.
“Why child, ain’t it a doozie! All them years I gave you. And for what? Your pathetic little soul?” The cowboy cackled again, sending spittle flying from his pointed tongue. Myra cringed. Oh God, keep it off! Please God, PUH-LEASE! She was sure it would burn through her skin.
“Oh Myra, Myra.” His cackles exploded in the cold ICU with pestilence and rage. The nurses did not hear, nor the other patients. Only Myra. Only Myra heard his quips and giggles and anger and lunacy. The Cowboy grabbed the tip of his hat and pulled it down casting a flickering shadow over his black eyes set deep in his skull. A flood of fear exploded in her chest. This is it. I’M GOIN’ TA DIE! The Cowboy took the hat from his head and covered his heart, or the place where it should have been. “Before ya ride off into the wild black yonder with me . . . I gotta present for ya, Miss Myra MOOOOO.” He moaned mooooo like a gutted cow. “I hope you like it,” he twisted his lips into something vicious and cruel, “I know you will.” Revolted, Myra tried to shrink away from him, to anywhere as long as it’s not with HIM. He clapped his hands together, shaking with excitement, like a child on Christmas morn. “You ready Myra MOOOOOO, for your present?”
The Cowboy raised his right hand and snapped his fingers. The world bled together in a violent swirl of reality. Myra’s world dissipated.
The hospital room was gone. So was the beeping of her pulse, the slurping of tubes, the bed and the cheap TV that only seemed to play generic talk shows. She longed for the return of the bopping beeps. It soothed her in a queer way. Now she only heard cold silence and heavy heaving of air from her suffocating lungs.
Myra was naked, strapped with old, corrupted rope to a chair. She cast her eyes at her surroundings, seeing only concrete. The plain, gray walls were depressing, bleak and bare. The old, worn cement surface reminded Myra of her son’s grave stone after years of weathering. The room stunk with something sinister and wrong. It smelled of death. Myra wrinkled her face. The scrape of the devil’s tongue, licking and corrupting her soul, throbbed in her mind.
Panic squeezed her head like a noose. I can’t moooove. The rope dug deeper into her skin, cutting off all circulation. Her pale flesh turned red where the rope strangled her veins. Her heart thudded in quiet, arrhythmical cadences beneath the pulpy wound. If her heart hadn’t been so stressed, it would have raced.
“Myyyyyyy-Raaaaaa MOOOOOOOOOO! Welcome to the Cowboy’s Puhhh-rizzze Show!” The room boomed with sound. Concrete crumbled and tumbled to the floor. A door appeared on the gray wall. Dread dropped in Myra’s gut, churning and burning. As it turned, the rusty door knob reflected a shot of light, piercing Myra’s pupils. She squinted, trying to see around the sunspot that floated in her vision. But the light was dark. As dark as the night under a stormy sky. She didn’t need to see anyhow. She knew he was there; taunting, teasing.
The Cowboy stepped through the door as it creaked open. The creaking ate at her soul like the grave eating at a corpse. He lurched with a crooked gait into the room. The spurs of his boots scraped the ground, the malignant sound authentic to the Cowboy. It crawled inside Myra’s head, invaded her brain and died there, leaving a stinking, rotting carcass of corruption. The her arms trembled as she tried to jerk her hands over her ears. The rope did its job and held fast, keeping her bound to the chair.
Her scream came out brief and hushed as the Cowboy careened to the chair. Myra flinched, and shot her eyes down. Afraid. She looked at the vast stomach that hid everything but kneecaps. She couldn’t remember the last time she saw her own knees or knew what it was like to lift herself from the E-Z chair without Henner’s help.
The Cowboy touched the collar of his old leather jacket, cocking his head slightly to the side. “Today, Myra, we play what I like to call... Tastin’ Heaven on the Highway to Hell.” He ripped his head upward, took in a hideous gulp of breath, and laughed. The cackle tore through the small room, sending echo after echo through the grim glow of gray. Myra thought the sound would never leave as it tore through her cerebrum.
Smells of hot dogs, sausage, cakes and cookies, orange soda by the gallons, chips dipped in hot sauce, pie, and roasted pork wafted through the open doorway and into Myra’s nostrils. The nausea vanished, replaced with a wicked rumble of weakness.
“Gawd!” She croaked.
At the Cowboy’s hostile command, waiters ushered in cart after cart of delectable, hidden smells. Myra’s pupils dilated and her stomach screamed with bliss. Her hands shook with pure passion as her tongue licked and lapped at her lips. Saliva spilled from her mouth.
The situation around her had changed in with the mere snap of the Cowboy’s fingers. Gone were the violent trepidation and anxiety. The old, decaying ropes binding her like an animal no longer mattered. What mattered most to Myra was the food. Tha got dayum’d food.
Myra thrashed against the ropes, growling and hissing as if possessed. In a way, she was. “LE’MUH GO MOTHA FUCKA!” She roared. The Cowboy watched with satisfaction and snickered with delight. Blood percolated around the rope, seeping through her over-sized pores. Beading perspiration raced over the pimples on her face. The Cowboy guffawed, taunting her . “GET DEEZ ROPES OFF!” She spat with the lust of a horny teenage boy. “LE’MUH EAAAAT!” She stared into the devil’s eyes, unwilling to look away. Other men, men as strong as rock and mean as fire, cast their eyes away with fright when looking into those black hollows. Myra did not. Not when he stood between her and the magnificence of pickled beets and roasted ham.
The Cowboy coiled his mouth into that infamous smile and held it tight as he spoke. “Alright Myra MOOOO. Have at it . . .” The ropes slackened and tumbled softly to the floor. Myra’s chins quivered with lust and naked anticipation. Saliva squirted with violence under her tongue.
Myra cried out, frustrated, as she fought trying to push herself from the chair. She huffed and puffed with strain the way a child might while trying to unwrap a large gift.
“But there’s one more thing, before ya get to eatin’.” The smile dropped from his gleam like a snake uncoiling itself to strike. Something giddy and obscene danced in the black of his eyes.
Inside, Myra raged. She did not care for this one more thing. The food, and only food, mattered to Myra. Like a crack addict, she would deal with the repercussions of her addiction after her fix.
“What?” She asked without taking her eyes from the trays of food and vapor and steam that rose and curled like a beacon. Beacon or bacon? Bacon, she thought vehemently deciding bacon was the word she was searching for. The word stood in her mind like a golden idol. Mouthwatering brown with crisp, black edges.
He leaned in close, his lips inches from her left cheek. She used all her strength to draw in a lungful of air. His stink invaded her mind the same way the screech of the spurs had. Myra’s mother had died of cancer. In her last days Myra had smelled the same thing coming from dear old Momma. Cancer . . . death . . . the devil.
“You can’t stop Myra. Once you start eatin’, good eatin,’” he reminded her. “You have to keep going til you can’t go no more.” The smile reappeared, thin and hideous. Myra paid no mind. She had no problem with this ‘can’t stop’. If this was how she was meant to go out, Myra Champion could think of no better way.
Her elbows crumbled as she again tried to force herself up. Myra plopped from chair to floor and rolled to the first cart. “Ain’t nuttin’ keepin’ me from this.” She mumbled, speaking more to herself than the Cowboy. He cackled with a wry rasp and urged her on with smack on her bare, sticky ass.
With schlops, plops, gulps and gurgles Myra worked her way through cart after cart after cart. She stuffed honey glazed donuts on top of chicken teriyaki until her mouth could hold no more. She washed everything down with prickly bubbles of orange soda.
“MMMM,” Myra moaned. Her breaths were quick and erratic. Her screams were nasty and vile like a pounded prostitute. Grape jelly and mayo lined her mouth, making her resemble a monster in a milk commercial. Myra’s eyes were alive with a sick high. Her mouth opened and closed, open and closed, open and closed each time taking in something new, chomping like a starved dog.
The Cowboy took it all in like a child mesmerized by Mickey Mouse. The way she ate, the way her throat galloped and her mouth prodded and gulped. He was amazed. “Dadgum! What a beautiful creature God made!” He shrieked with hysteria. God didn’t make this beast. He did! Pride pounded through his bones.
After hours and hours, to Myra only minutes passed, the silver carts lay cleaned and overturned. The once fresh white linens were now stricken with food stains. Crumbs and clumps lay scattered about the floor like corpses on a battlefield after a gun blazing clash. Myra was caked in foodstuff. Cake, brownies, beans, mashed potatoes, half chewed chips, cheese, sour cream, salad, fish, and miles of food cascaded from her mouth to belly to toes.
With all crumbs consumed and all food digesting, she rolled to her back and let out a grunt of satisfaction. Drowsiness began to wash on her like a black cloud moving to reveal the glow of the moon. Myra began to doze into the sleep that graced her after every meal.
Like a rocket, Myra jerked up from her daze as if yanked by an unseen hand. A train of food carts were again whisked by black tied waiters into her cell. Myra groaned, this time not from lust, but from cramps in an overtaxed stomach.
The Cowboy whispered in her mind, “Get back to work. Ain’t no time for restin’.”
The last bite of chocolate cake slithered down her throat with the speed of a three legged turtle. Myra wanted to stop but she couldn’t. When she told herself no, her hand kept reaching and her mouth kept chewing.
Still on her back, unable to do anything but move her robotic arm, chew and swallow, Myra choked down handful of skittles. She never knew a day when she didn’t love the sugar-coated candies, but, alas, that day had come. The day of a malignant Cowboy riding her back like a diseased tumor. Her eyes shifted to the line of carts awaiting her. Can’t stop. Can’t stop. The words scrolled through her mind’s eye in bold, bloody letters topped. Myra didn’t know if she conjured the thought or if it was sent by the Cowboy. She chewed on with cracking jaws and crumbling teeth.
The Cowboy stared into her eyes, they were full of pain and terror. Fear. The Cowboy cracked, “Almost diddly-done!” He cheered like a Daddy coaxing a child to finish a jar baby food. “Keep a’goin’. Can’t Stop!”
Myra reached for a slice of ham. Her arm hung in the air, reaching. It quivered and shook as she stretched for one more slice. At last, Myra Champion gave in. Something Champions never do. Myra always finished her meals. Always. Can’t stop. For the first time since her deal with the Cowboy, she met a meal she could not finish. Tears of shame pooled at the corners of her eyes.
Like a cannon, The Cowboy leaped over a capsized cart, landing over Myra, his feet spread as far as his legs would allow. Myra, beneath him, stared, fraught with terror. He ground the toe of his boot into a half-eaten banana. It ripped, oozing mashed banana guts from the split peel.
“EAT BITCH EAT!” The Cowboy screamed. With a fury Myra had never seen, the Cowboy thrust his hand into a cherry pie. He pulled it, dripping thick with cherry juice and shards of crust, from the pie. It oozed from the clutches of his liver-spotted hand. “Open,” he hissed. Myra scrunched her face and slowly opened her hole. Nauseous trepidation emanated from her bowels.
The Cowboy slammed his pie-filled fist into her mouth. Stained teeth stabbed into his flesh. “SWALLER!” He screamed. Somehow, Myra swallowed. With repetition after repetition, The Cowboy forced the entire cherry pie into her. A pot roast came next. When that was done, he fed her a plate of pigs-n-a-blanket. Myra’s eyes glazed. Pain shot through her insides, tearing at her like childbirth.
The Cowboy shoved one last piece of meat into her mouth. He thought she wouldn’t swallow, but she did. With pep back in his step, the Cowboy hopped away. That old wily smile returned as he licked grease, sugar and Myra’s spit from his fingertips.
Myra’s belly quaked. She shrieked something wretched and discourse. Sickening sounds reverberated from her body. A rumbling could be heard, that became louder, like an oncoming freight train.
The Cowboy hopped and bopped from one foot to the other, unable to contain his giddy excitement. His cock swelled with anticipation.
Myra’s eyes rolled. The first rip began to open, originating from the hole beneath her breast. It ruptured in a jagged line, from end to end.
“It’s like the fucking equator,” The Cowboy whispered with astonishment.
Her stomach gave way to the pressure. Pink organs, globs of half-digested food, and lacerated tissue exploded from the fissure. Her insides smacked with gusto against the cold concrete walls.
Myra only had a fraction of a second to look. Her stomach was flat and mangled with bloody tears of grotesque skin. Her eyes darted away from her horror and looked to the uneaten food. Gone was the trepidation of her soul’s future. Gone was the depression and anxiety. Gone was the pain of an overloaded stomach. Ohhh Gawds, muh stomachs empty. Gots’ter fill’er . . , Myra thought with longing as The Cowboy devoured her soul in the same way she had devoured the endless supply of food. In a way, they were very much alike . . . Neither of them could stop, if if they’d wanted to.
“I’m sorry Mr. Hankins. There was nothing we could do. The bacteria was advanced and in the worst possible place. I’m sorry for your loss,” Dr. Stephens strode away from Henry with a stoic, uncaring look plastered on his face. The image of Myra Champion’s diseased body would slither in his thoughts until the day The Cowboy came for him.
Henry sank into the cheap, cloth seat, watching the doctor walk away. “You sorry sack of shits!” He yelled after Dr. Stephens. In a short time, the anger left and was replaced not by grief, but terror. Henry wanted to melt into the chair, wanting to disappear. Escape. But where to? He had no one . . . nowhere. The image of the dark, trash strewn trailer filled his mind like acrid smoke in a burning house. Tit’s muh destiny. Tit’s muh destiny t’rot alone in The Black Bed. When I die, no’un will ‘member I ex’sisted tat all. A dark curtain decorated in dread scraped across his mind.
Henry buried his face in his palms, whimpering like a frightened puppy. A screeching of metal cascaded down the hallway and into the waiting room. The sound was repulsive, disgusting, dark. Henry’s mind saw the devil scratching a chalkboard with long, dirty nails. Sickened, he spread two fingers and peeped through. A cowboy, clad in a blood stained tunic, walked in. The Cowboy’s hands were caked in dried food. Henry covered his ears, hoping to shut out the sound of the spurs. It made no matter, the sound seeped in anyway. Henry’s heart did a crazy little dance in his chest and jumped to his throat. The man stunk with something rotten and sweet. Something dead. Something . . . Hell, he smells like Myra. Henry pulled his face from his hands and gagged.
Looking at Henry, the Cowboy licked his fingers and smiled. It’s the devil! Myra’s voice rang through his head. “Mr. Henner, I presume?” He stuck out a crusted hand. Blood and cherry juice caked under his nails. Revolted, Henry recoiled. The Cowboy laughed, taking no slight from Henry’s unwillingness to shake. A look of disgust splashed on Henry Hankin’s face. Terror rattled in his bones. Get out, get away!
“Yeeghh, yeah. Dat’s me. I jus’ los’ mah girlfrin’. I’d like t’be alone,” Henry managed to squawk.
“Alone? Alone?” He said, his voice rising an octave. “That’s what you’d like? I was going to offer you the opposite, but as you wish, Henner.” The Cowboy finished turning away. I can give her back. The words wheezed through his mind like a cool breeze.
Henry’s heart lept, his ribs barely able to hold it in. The old man squinted his eyes under overgrown eyebrows. “What’d you say?” The words rolled off his tongue in familiar, South Georgia twang.
“Nothing, old man. Go back to being alone. You need to get started, you have a long time of it. Run along now and make your Black Bed.” The Cowboy said in an easy yet violent tone.
“You said Henner,” Henry squabbled, ignoring the remark, “N’body call’d muh dat but Myra.” He squinted at the devil that hovered above him like a ghost. Henry reached out and poked his arm. Images of death, destruction, pestilence and rage bombed his mind. Henry’s head flew back, cracking against the window behind his chair. A crack of glass shot and stopped halfway up. It rang through the room like a gunshot. The Cowboy cackled and hissed. Henry tried to draw further away while rubbing the back of his head. No blood but I’ll have me a knot lat’rrr. Lat’rrr . . . in The Black Bed.
Fear buzzed through Henry. His body went cold and his teeth chattered. He shuddered and shook, unable to stop. The soft pips and quiet paps of dripping water announced Henry’s fright as yellow droplets rained from soiled britches to the floor. The Cowboy curled his mouth at the urine, revealing corroded teeth, much like Henry’s own.
“Who’rrrrrr youggghhh?” Henry forced himself to say. It was a stupid question. He already knew.
“It doesn’t matter who I am. What matters is what I can give you.” The Cowboy winked and leaned down to whisper in Henry’s ear. Henry recoiled but sprang with a shot as The Cowboy spoke his plan. A faint smile spread over Henner’s face. His eyes gleamed with hope. Blood rushed into his cheeks and relief touched his soul.
“Ok. Ok. I’ll d’it,” Henry stammered.
Henry burst from the room. He shoved nurses, patients, anything that stood in his way. He heaved himself into a food cart; sending the cart, it’s food and its attendant flying. Plates crashed and utensils clashed and people screamed. Myra would have . . . No! Will! Will! She will kill muh for wastin’ dat food!
Henry ignored the shouts. He had to get home! Images of the The Black Bed no longer conjured darkness and depression. Now, with the help of The Cowboy, the trailer issued images of Myra. Myra and her companionship. He’s bringin’ her back! I won’t die alone! I won’t! I ain’t got’er go back to bed. I ain’t got’er!
Henry barreled through the hospital doors with a crash and boom. The sun hung in the sky like a beacon of hope. Henry’s hands shook as he fumbled with his keys. Air rasped from his lungs in quick, short bursts. At last, the key penetrated home and Henry cranked with a thudding heart.
The tires squealed and wailed as he peeled onto the highway. Burned rubber drifted to the heavens. Henry paid no attention to the red light.
“Myra. Myra, baby. Myra. Myra. Imma comin’ baybeee. The Cowboy said you’s was waitin’. Imma comin’ sugah. Henners comin’ home,” he hissed through sobs of glee.
Henner never heard nor saw the eighteen wheeler. It ripped through his truck like a rabid dog ripping through the neck of a chicken. What was left of Henner’s head, minus a body, rolled to the center of the road, dead eyes staring at the light as it changed from red to green.
Henner went home alright. Right on home to the Cowboy’s den. And the Cowboy didn’t lie. Myra was waitin’.
Laurence Black is an aspiring novelist and writer hailing from the depths of the Okefenokee Swamp in South Georgia. Laurence lives miles from civilization with his hound, Rook, under the canopy of the swamp. He spends his days fishing, writing and making folk art. Laurence has been influenced by Southern Gothic writers such as Flannery O’Connor and modern day writers such as Stephen King and George R.R. Martin.
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