I was not planning on facing my potential demise when I started on my stroll, that chilly late December night. My intention was no more than to find something to quench my very pregnant wife’s cravings, along with some desperately needed solitude for myself.
I don’t mean to sound insensitive by any means; I do love my Christine very much. I think I fell for her within the first few moments of the initial meeting that brought us together. I had been alone for many years before my friends took it upon themselves to arrange the blind date. I had never cared for such things, but even an introvert such as I could be consumed with loneliness from time to time.
She was truly a delight to be around, and it amazed me to find that we had so much in common. I consider myself to be of fairly unique taste, and it has always been difficult for me to form relationships. My small circle of friends had been in my life for what felt like centuries sometimes, but I never could have predicted they would be the ones to introduce me to my soulmate.
We married within mere months of being together. I worried we were rushing things a bit; that perhaps we had not yet outgrown our honeymoon phase, but I had never been so happy in my life. Over the years, our love for each other never grew stale or predictable, and when she became pregnant, we were overjoyed at the thought of bringing a new member into the family.
Unfortunately, my poor Christine endured some complications over the last few months and has found herself mostly bedridden. I have done my best to be the loving and supportive husband she has needed over this troubling time, but this has left little room for me to be alone with my thoughts, a necessity for the introverts of the world. So, when she had a late-night craving, I was more than happy to take it upon myself to head out for a spell.
She was hesitant to let me leave, as it was getting quite late, and surely few stores would still be open. I assured her I would be able to track something down, but she still practically begged me to stay home. There had been a rash of killings of late in our humble little town, but the victims had primarily been brunette women. Four dark-haired ladies, and three men of no distinct pattern, to be precise.
Our local sheriff feared a serial killer was at large, but I presumed he had just watched entirely too many crime shows. Perhaps I was too quick to dismiss his suspicions, as well as proving a little too eager to escape the house for a bit, but I understood Christine’s concerns. I promised her I would keep my phone handy should she need me, before I kissed her on the forehead and made my way out into the night.
It may have been wiser for me to arm myself with something more intimidating than my trusty pocketknife, but I wasn’t overly concerned. This wouldn’t be the first time I had braved the brisk night air for a midnight snack for my love, and I’m sure it won’t be the last. So, I left out for my stroll, leaving the snow-covered car parked. It would have obviously made my trip faster had I chosen to drive, but I wasn’t the biggest fan of driving on slippery roads. Plus, the walk would allow much more time for me to enjoy a bit of solitude.
Once I was far enough away from the house, I lit a cigarette. My wife wasn’t exactly fond of the habit that had been a part of my life since my teen years, but that wouldn’t stop me from sneaking a few in when I got the chance. This was another thing that was far rarer of late. There are worse things people do behind their spouse’s back, so I wasn’t exactly burdened with guilt over it.
She does have an uncanny sense of smell, though. I always keep hand sanitizer and a small bottle of cologne in my jacket pocket for such occasions. Normally, on nights like these, she would be too distracted by whatever goodies I brought her, to be concerned with whether or not I had snuck in a smoke or two.
Within fifteen minutes, I was pushing through the door of the Gas ‘n’ Sip. It was a decent little convenience store, which they had all decked out in Christmas flare. I toured the snack aisle while the Little Drummer Boy echoed from the speakers above my head. I always looked forward to hearing the festive music in the stores, this time of year, though many would just have the droning elevator-style tunes for ambient, background music. Fortunately, my old buddy Eduardo, behind the counter, made sure to provide songs from his own playlists. Many gas stations wouldn’t provide such things for their guests’ brief visitations, but I think Ed did it more for himself than anyone else.
There were only two other people in the store at this hour: an older gent scratching lottery tickets up front, and another guy in the back, sporting a brown hoodie, and a thick winter coat. I couldn’t see his face, but he appeared to be just aimlessly window shopping. I couldn’t help but wonder if he was just waiting for the place to clear out so he could pull a gun on Ed, but he’d only have himself to blame when my friend would inevitably draw the twelve gauge he kept under the counter.
I shouldn’t just presume anyone’s ill intent just because they seem to be trying too hard to be inconspicuous, but the world has become a crazy place. Finding nothing to fit my wife’s cravings just right, I just delved into the snack cakes. I dropped my armful of Twinkies, ding songs, and donuts on the counter, to which Ed chuckled.
“Want some insulin to go with that?” He laughed.
“May not hurt to grab a shot or two,” I replied with a smile.
“Chris about ready to pop?” Ed asked.
“You have no idea!” I laughed.
We had been frequenting this gas station for some time, so Ed was more than familiar with us. He had even been by the house on the rare occasion he had a day off, but he stayed extra busy of late since his father retired. The store was family-owned, but he hoped to be able to hire a few more hands after the first of the year. God knows the poor guy needs a break.
“You know that guy?” I asked, nodding my head to the man in the brown hoodie, who still stalked the rear aisle.
“Never seen him before,” Ed replied, handing me the double-bagged sack of goodies.
“Just be safe, man,” I said.
“No worries, brother.” My friend said with a wink, knocking the barrel of his sawed-off shotgun against the back of the counter.
I just gave him a smile as I took the bulging plastic bag from him.
“Merry Christmas, Ed,” I said with a wave while I headed for the door.
“Back at ya, man,” he replied.
The cold breeze practically smacked me in the face when I pulled the door open. It was almost stiflingly hot in the gas station, and I had almost forgotten how chilly it was outside. Though I was sure the snacks I had gathered would suit my own sweet tooth, I hated the idea of disappointing Christine. Even with how miserable her advanced pregnancy had been, she rarely asked for anything. The only other store that may be open at this hour was a good couple of miles away. Perhaps I would take a drive tonight after all.
Having decided to return to my house to grab the car, I turned my back to the Gas ‘n’ Sip and began my trip. I figured I’d check back in on my wife before heading back out into the cold, though I was sure she would try to talk me out of it. Still, I would be damned if I was going to let her down, so my mind was made up. I dug my earbuds out of my jacket pocket and queued up my own Christmas playlist to guide my path home.
Perhaps it wasn’t the best choice to tune out the world around me. I likely should have been paying more attention to my surroundings as I traversed the snowy sidewalk to my festive melody. It was my own fault that I didn’t even see it coming. Whatever it was that struck me across the back of the head immediately knocked me unconscious. I can’t be sure how long I was out, but when my eyes opened back up, I found I was strapped down to a frigid, metal table in a darkly lit room.
Leather belts were buckled around each wrist and ankle, and my coat and shirt had been removed. It was freezing, to the point I could see my shaky breath exiting my mouth while my heart thumped so hard, I could see my chest bouncing. After a moment, fluorescent lights flickered on above me, causing my eyes to burn slightly.
“Wasn’t sure if anyone else would be out this late,” a voice said from behind where I lay.
“I was about to settle for the old guy before you walked in,” he continued as he strolled around the metal table.
He pulled down the brown hood to reveal a thin face with dark beard stubble. I’d say he was maybe early thirties at most. Thick, shaggy hair, long pointy nose, pale skin, and immaculate white teeth, from what I could tell. He appeared taller now than he had at the convenience store, but that could just be the effect of my being strapped down to a slab close to his waistline.
“Didn’t wanna grab the guy behind the counter. He’d likely be missed, plus the security cameras would surely catch me draggin’ him out. Ain’t never seen you before, though,” he said, nonchalantly as he unlocked the large closet at the back of the room.
The double doors opened up to reveal an assortment of especially nasty-looking bladed weapons. Some were long and curved, some short and serrated, but all of them looked sharp enough to slice through a Thanksgiving turkey with little to no resistance. Were I to wager a guess, my body would be taking the place of the traditional birdie in this case.
“Ain’t as easy to snatch folks up this time of year,” the stranger, who was now slipping out of his padded coat said.
“May have to move to a more populated town soon, y’know?” He continued, unzipping the hoodie.
“I try to keep movin’. Ain’t too smart to linger anywhere for too long, with hobbies like mine.” He lay the hoodie over the desk that sat against the rear wall while reaching for the apron that hung on the inside of the cabinet door.
“Couldn’t resist tryin’ to get one more before the end of the year.” He tied the apron lace around his waist before studying the contents of his well-armed closet.
“Bein’ Christmas and all, I’ll show you a bit of compassion. What do ya say?” He asked, turning to face me for the first time since our, well, introduction.
“Want it quick and easy, or want me to take my time a bit?” He was speaking as casually as if he was asking what side I wanted to go with my burger.
“Can I think about it for a while?” I asked, shrugging as much as I could while strapped to a cold ass table.
“That’s a big nay-no, partner, but can’t blame you for tryin’!” He replied, bursting out laughing at the end.
“Worth a shot,” I sighed.
“So,” he continued, drying his eyes with the back of his hand, still chuckling slightly. “What’s it gonna be?”
I adjusted my head as much as I could, to look the man in the face. His dark eyes had a certain hunger behind them. I thought I may attempt to stall him a little. At least give me some extra time to come up with some semblance of a plan to get out of this.
“I can’t say I’m pressed for time, or anything,” I replied, “I’m sure my wife is getting worried by now, but I assume you’re not planning on letting me head home any time soon.”
“Of course, I imagine it’s safe to say that ‘taking your time a bit’, as you said,” I waved my fingers in air quotes, which were far less effective while strapped down, “would be a good deal more painful for me, though I would think far more satisfying for you,”
“On the flip side,” I continued, “what you call ‘quick and easy’, is sure to kick my bucket far sooner than I’d like, so….”
“You gonna drone on all night!?” He whined, interrupting my train of thought.
“Well, it’s a relatively big decision,” I reasoned.
“Jesus Christ! Just gimme an answer, or I’m gonna choose for ya!” He belted out.
He was glaring at me with his hands on his hips and head tilted to the side. It felt similar to the time I accidentally chucked the baseball through the windshield of my dad’s truck. That ‘I’m not angry, just disappointed’ sort of look. The idea of someone I presume to be a serial killer being let down by my actions almost made me feel like giggling a bit.
“Well!?” He yelped.
“Um, I don’t know,” I retorted, “what would you choose?”
“Huh,” he said, instantly calming from his previously aggravated state while forming an expression that almost resembled a poor attempt at a Robert De Niro impersonation.
“Guess I never really thought about it from the other side of the table.”
He grabbed the armrest of the chair which rested in front of the desk and glided it across the floor to my bedside. He rubbed the back of his neck while taking a seat next to where I lay.
“I mean, I get what you’re saying now,” he said, “it really is a tricky situation.”
“Right!?” I replied, feebly shrugging again.
“Sure, quick wouldn’t hurt nearly as bad. Wouldn’t do a whole lot for me either, to tell ya the truth” he continued, showing almost exaggerated effort on his face.
“Slow would definitely not be a walk in the park for you, but I’d sure as shit have a good time,” he was rubbing his hand across the stubble on his chin.
“That way is a hell of a lot more tiring too, and it’s been a long friggin’ day.” We glared at each other, each of us puzzling over both sides of the equation.
“It’s a conundrum,” he said, shaking his head with a half-smile.
“A dilemma, even,” I remarked.
The room fell silent as we considered our options. Though I wouldn’t say I was in a particular rush to come up with whatever would qualify as a mutually beneficial selection, I would imagine we each had a different desired outcome in mind.
As I lay there considering my next move, I became aware of the lump in my back pocket. The stranger had apparently not thought to remove my wallet as he stripped down my upper half in preparation for the night’s activities, and it would appear he had also neglected my trusty pocketknife, which felt like it still lay snugly in the other pocket.
“Flip a coin?” I suggested, breaking the silence in hopes of distracting the pondering man for a moment.
“Now, that’s a good idea!” He exclaimed, holding his pointer finger up, as though were chanting ‘Eureka!’
He quickly got to his feet and practically sprinted the small distance between the chair and his jacket. He rummaged around in the pockets, while I gently slid my left butt cheek in the direction of my leather-bound wrist.
“I’m gonna say, heads we make it a quickie, and tails we go all night. Whatcha think?” He asked, spinning in place to look me in the eye.
I was attempting to be as discreet as possible, but I was almost caught red-handed when he turned. Luckily he appeared too distracted to notice what I was attempting to do.
“Sounds fair,” I said, tilting my head.
He grinned like a madman and went back to digging through his coat and hoodie. Before I felt secure enough to get back to my quest, the man dropped his hands to his side dejectedly and turned to face me again.
“No coins! Goddamnit!” He said, shaking his head from side to side.
“Well shit,” I agreed.
He glanced around the room, as though there was a secret stash of quarters he had neglected.
“Be right back,” he stated, before heading towards the door he had previously entered through.
“Don’t go anywhere!” I heard him chuckle as he darted up an apparent stairway.
With the door ajar, I could make out the sounds of the odd individual rummaging through drawers, seemingly right at the top of the flight of stairs. I wasted no time in continuing my efforts to free my knife from my pants. I finally gripped onto it with my fingertips while I heard items heavy and light scattering across the floor above.
I pulled my weapon of choice free and flipped the blade open. I slipped it between the strap and my wrist and quickly began carving through the belt. Just as a jubilant yell echoed from above, followed by excited footsteps thundering down the steps, I managed to break my left hand loose. I gripped my knife underhanded and prepared to strike as soon as he got close enough, when something happened, I don’t think either of us saw coming.
Given the fact the cold, steel table I was propped up on was facing away from the entrance to the room, I can only speculate what occurred based on the noises I heard. The hammering footfalls seemed to come to a halt as soon as the man hit the threshold of the room I occupied. There was a loud snapping sound, followed by the beginning of an f-bomb leaving the man’s lips, accompanied by a screeching ‘oof’. I then found myself able to view the shaggy dark hair of the man, as he slid face-first across the floor to my right, while a shiny nickel rolled toward the cupboard full of nasty carving tools.
The complete absence of anything audible afterward left me to conclude that he had knocked himself out cold. I took the opportunity to unbuckle the belts around my other wrist and ankles, before heaving the man from the ground to the table I had previously occupied. Unfortunately, by cutting through the left strap rendered me unable to buckle all of his limbs, so I simply sliced through a few tendons in his forearm while he slept.
I managed to locate my shirt and jacket, which had been tossed on the plastic-lined floor in the corner of the room. Once I felt the warm blood make its way through my extremities again, I dug through the stranger’s jacket in hopes of finding a phone to call my wife. I could only assume my own device was still on the side of the road I was abducted from, but I had committed Christine’s number to memory since our first official date.
Not only was my search successful in locating a phone, but I also recovered a set of keys. I had absolutely no clue where I was at the moment, but I should be free to use whatever vehicle these operated when I was done here. With his device in hand, I was finally able to check on what time it was. Seeing that it was a little after four in the morning, I had little doubt that my love would be bordering on frantic at my delayed return home.
Even though I was calling from an unfamiliar number, she answered within two rings, and, as predicted, she was bordering on tears when she heard my voice. I informed her what had happened and assured her I would be home as soon as I was able. Even though I had little choice in the matter, I still apologized for not being able to track down what she had a hankering for. Still, I promised I would bring her home the heart of the dark-haired man who now lay strapped to the cold metal table. She had been craving nothing but brunette women for a while now, but she still sounded delighted when I promised to bring her the tasty snack momentarily.
It wasn’t always easy being married to a werewolf, but my own unique talents paired with hers quite nicely. Even more so since her pregnancy rendered her unable to hunt for the last few months. I must say, the wealth of tools I now had access to would make things much easier for me. Though I was very skilled with my trusty pocketknife, it’s always a bitch to get through the sternum, especially on these cold nights when I can barely feel my fingertips.
“I’ll be home soon, baby,” I said to Christine, making kissing noises into the phone, while the man bound to the table was moaning himself back to awareness.
He spilled a mass of profanities and grunts when he realized that we had switched positions. I pulled his apron over my head and tied the cord around my waist while he writhed and shouted.
“So,” I said, interrupting his alarmed curses when he realized he could not control his left arm.
“Would you like it quick and easy, or should I take my time?” I asked.
His reply was not very helpful, as it only concerned the variety of things he would like to lodge between my buttocks. Fortunately, while the stranger continued to rage on, I noticed the light reflecting off the shiny nickel that lay at the base of the tool closet.
“Heads!” I exclaimed, retrieving the coin from the floor.
“Looks like ‘quick and easy’ for the win!” I continued before reaching for his phone once more.
I made a quick search for a festive playlist to provide a joyful soundtrack for the work ahead. I smiled as I shuffled through the vast menu of Christmas tunes, with the knowledge I would be back in my wife’s loving arms soon.
Credit: William Rayne
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