The old man held out his hand, a variety of hard candies on display. “Pick one,” he said, his voice tinted with a bit too much excitement for the occasion.
He chuckled in a way that made my instincts take notice. Something wasn’t right about him, but dismissing him would be rude. I hesitated before snatching a red one from his offerings.
“Cinnamon,” he whispered. “I just love cinnamon. Don’t you?”
“Yeah,” I said. “Sure.”
I started for the door, picking up my pace when I glanced back and saw him coming around the counter, watching me intently.
Man, that guy took creepy to the next level. I dug in my pocket for the key to my old beat up S-10. I nearly made it to my truck before realizing I’d left the keys on the counter while paying for my Propel and Fritos.
“Damn it,” I muttered turning around. I nearly jumped out of my skin when I saw the man standing at the door, still watching. I couldn’t leave without my keys. I had no choice but to go back.
He smiled in a way that I supposed was intended as friendly, but my stomach tightened at the sight of his crooked teeth reflecting the amber lights high above the parking lot. Taking a breath, steeling my nerves, I headed back inside.
“Forget something?” he asked as I pushed the door open, making the bell above it jingle.
I smiled in return and held my hand out. “Thanks, mister.”
He didn’t drop the keys in my hand, but nodded toward my pocket. “You gonna eat the candy?”
“Sure. I wanna eat my chips first, though.” I pushed my hand toward him again.
He licked his dry, cracked lips and let out a slow breath, looking like I’d somehow disappointed him. “I just love cinnamon,” he whispered, setting my already anxious nerves screaming.
“Can I have my keys?”
“Cinnamon’s my favorite.”
Exhaling, I dug the treat from my pocket and unwrapped it. I clearly wasn’t getting out of there until I did. Popping the candy in my mouth, I lifted my brows and let out a long “mmm” to show my appreciation. His smile widened, and his eyes practically started to dance.
Holding my hand out again, I waited, but he wrapped his wrinkled fingers around my keys.
“Won’t be needing these anymore.” The smile on his face took on a sinister turn just as the candy in my mouth started to taste bitter.
I began salivating so much I could barely swallow fast enough. I spit the candy out onto the floor. “What the…” My words trailed. They sounded slurred to my ears. Taking a step back, I stumbled, unable to keep my balance. Oh God. I’d been drugged. The candy was drugged.
I tried to turn but tripped over my own feet. I landed hard on the cracked tile floor of the convenience store. I blinked, long and slow, as my mind seemed to dissociate from my body. Old, worn brown boots came into view. One nudged my shoulder until the old man was able to roll me onto my back.
The ceiling tiles had turned brown in spots from years of leaks. One of the stains—three circles that had run together—looked like Mickey Mouse. I almost laughed at the realization…maybe I would have if my entire body hadn’t gone numb.
I also would have asked what the crazy old man was doing if I’d been able to find my voice. The ceiling started to move a foot or two at a time. No. Not the ceiling. Me. My body was being dragged across the dirty floor.
I didn’t feel the grit I knew to be there against my back. I didn’t feel anything.
I just lay there, staring, unfeeling as the ceiling changed to a much darker room. Then a door was opened and the darker room turned into a dusk sky. Over the ground I went, surely with rocks and debris cutting into my sink. But I couldn’t be certain.
After what seemed to be an eternity, the sky disappeared and a high, open ceiling came into view. There was the distinct scent of oil in the air. I must be in the run-down garage behind the convenience store. I’d only noticed it because when I pulled into the parking lot, there was a light on, illuminating the empty space. I had felt bad for the old guy, the one dragging me now, because he didn’t seem to have much business.
I hated seeing how these smaller towns and tiny businesses were dying out. I actually wanted to give him my business because I wanted to contribute a small amount to keep him open just a bit longer.
I should have kept driving.
The ceiling stopped changing and the man came into view, looming over me with his crooked smile and menacing eyes. He seemed to be memorizing my face and for the first time, which seemed so silly, I realized I should be scared. For some reason, as I was being dragged around, my brain hadn’t registered the need for fear.
But now, now that he’d gotten me where he apparently wanted me, my heart kicked into a frantic pace and my brain started flashing full of horrific thoughts about what was going to happen. My senses heightened, and the garage became a house of horrors.
Urine. I smelled the distinct scent of old urine. And the metallic stench of blood.
I couldn’t move my head, but I could glance from side to side. Nothing seemed out of the norm upon visual inspection, but much like when I’d accepted the candy from him, I felt things were not quite as they appeared.
“Cinnamon,” he said as he leaned over me. “Cinnamon is my favorite. Oh,” he smirked, “who am I kidding? They’re all my favorite. Now, don’t you move.” He chuckled as he disappeared from my view. Sounds of metal hitting metal filled my ears. He was getting something. His footsteps, one foot dragging ever so slightly, echoed through the space.
“Know what I like about cinnamon?”
God, please. Someone help me.
“That little bit of heat as it melts on your tongue.” He reappeared over me and the evilness living in his soul practically spilled out of his eyes. He held up a small red container with a spout on the end.
Oh, no. No.
The sweet but brutal scent of the chemicals filled my nostrils as he splashed liquid over my body. I couldn’t feel my clothing getting soaked, but I didn’t need to. The smell was too overwhelming for my skin not to be coated.
I closed my eyes as the spout neared my thrust toward my face. If I’d been able to cough and gag, no doubt I would have. My lungs burned from inhaling over and over, but I couldn’t stop myself from gasping, convinced I could somehow find a breath of clean oxygen.
I sensed my body moving again, not felt, but sensed in some mystical way. I dared to open my eyes again. The man held my wrists as he tied something around them. A cable. A hoist.
Jesus. He was going to lift me up, dangle me in the air, and light me on fire.
What kind of sick bastard was this? What kind of monster had I stumbled upon?
The quiet sound of an engine filled my ears and the cable started retracting. My hands were pulled higher, higher, higher. If I had any sensation, surely the biting of the cable would have made me cry out.
In that moment, I decided it was a blessing that I couldn’t feel. Or cry. Or beg.
Certainly I would, and I didn’t want to give this lunatic the satisfaction of knowing who terrified I was at the moment.
If I were going to die here, like this, at least I was numb and silent. I could pretend, somewhere in my mind, that gave me dignity that I’d have lost otherwise.
My arms were above my head now. Higher. Higher.
The sound of feet—mine—scraping the ground.
I couldn’t hold my head up. It was dangling as far as my limp neck allowed. Above me, my wrists had started bleeding. Not just bleeding. Peeling. The cables were slowly tearing the flesh off my muscles.
Then an orange glow erupted with a whooshing sound. The smell. An awful smell. But the flames were beautiful in a way that I wouldn’t have expected.
Oranges and reds and yellows danced around me. I couldn’t breathe. My lungs screamed. But the colors were pretty.
I didn’t want to close my eyes to them, they were fascinating, but I like the rest of my body, I didn’t seem to have control of them. They closed, surrounding me in darkness, but in my mind, I saw the colors.
Bright. Beautiful. Warm.