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Sticks and Stones

sticks and stones


Estimated reading time — 19 minutes

My heart was already racing when I sat down in the passenger seat of the filthy and foul-smelling land yacht of an ancient Cadillac. The large man who was to be my chauffeur for the night barely spoke a word as we sped from one downtown city road to the next, but I was glad of that fact. What he had in store for me before the sun should rise again, I had no real way of knowing, but I was certain it would be nothing good.

I used to love reading stories, but as much as I enjoyed indulging in the good ones, I couldn’t resist picking apart those I didn’t care for. I would rarely comment on the tales I enjoyed, but the ones that didn’t do it for me; well, I wouldn’t hold back. I made sure to point out every single little typo or error I could find while making sure the author knew how much they let me down as a reader.

They say to write for an audience of one, and as far as I was concerned, I was that lone reader who was meant to be appeased by the writer. For the most part, I wouldn’t get any replies to my scathing reviews, but when I did, it would almost annoy me when it was a pleasant rebuttal. Things like:

“I’m sorry this didn’t work for you. Perhaps next time.”

Or:

“I know my work isn’t for everyone, but thanks for taking the time to read it.”

I’m not going to say I was looking for a fight or anything, but friendly replies to my likely hurtful words felt almost like I was being casually dismissed. That still wouldn’t stop me from letting my footnotes fly whenever I came across something, not to my liking, but I couldn’t have known what it would lead to. I don’t imagine anyone could predict anything like this, but I wish I’d realized how much my words could hurt me, even if I didn’t care how much they offended others.

The writer’s name was Viatoribus, and I’d left comments on just about every story he posted. In all honesty, his tales weren’t all that bad; a little too graphic and gruesome for my liking, but enjoyable for what they were. They all featured the same narrator; some creature pretending to be a man while inflicting its own brand of brutal justice on those it deemed deserving of its wrath. Basic guilty pleasure stuff, but sometimes entertaining and worth a read.

It was the typos and grammatical errors that drove me nuts, as well as his inability to use punctuation the right way. Now, I can’t lie, I’m not the best with punctuation myself, plus I tend to have some regular spelling flubs too, but that never stopped me from bringing it up. This isn’t about my own hypocrisy, or otherwise lack of tact in the way I critique, though it most certainly changed my outlook on all of that.

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I had a pretty rough day when I came across his most recent story. I was in an awful mood; not exactly up to reading some gory fiction, but I did anyway. It was so damn long-winded, filled with gratuitous violence and swearing, and just all-around painful to read at the time. I did finish it though, plus I even found myself on the edge of my seat a time or two, but all in all, it wasn’t my cup of tea; not the kind I liked to drink when I was in this sort of mood anyway. Being the most important of all of his respective readers, I tore it to shreds.

“Don’t even get me started on this steaming pile of illiterate crap! Verbose, drawn-out slog to read through, filled to the brim with unnecessary and juvenile swearing, and all-around insulting to anyone with a modicum of intelligence. The ‘author’ likely lives in his parents’ basement, listens to heavy metal music, and has never even had any sort of meaningful relationship with anyone other than his pillow! You should be ashamed of yourself for this, and I feel dumber for having endured reading it!”

Was it necessary to outright insult the guy? Of course not, but that didn’t stop me. Did I genuinely think the story was that God awful? Not at all. Any other day I would’ve likely enjoyed it, left a few mildly scathing remarks, and went on with my day. Between not sleeping much the night before and getting treated like an indentured servant by my boss, I used this poor guy as an outlet for my own misery. I wouldn’t admit that to myself at the time, but I realize now the error of my ways, even if it is too little, too late.

For the next few hours, I kept checking back on my comment to see if it had garnered a response. It almost frustrated me that all it had gotten was a handful of thumbs down, but not a word from the author; not at first anyway. I was still grouchy when I made one last look to see that the writer had indeed left a reply. I almost felt my mouth water after reading his short response.

“You can do better?”

I instantly felt my face getting warm, as though he had the nerve to even ask such an outlandish thing!

“Of course, I can! I could write better than this slog with one arm tied behind my back!”

I actually had to retype those words a few times as my fingers were trembling so violently that I kept smacking the wrong keys. I just stared at the screen when I was done, waiting for the guy to have the nerve to say another word. When his two-word reply popped up beneath my blunt retort, I was finally lost for words.

“Sounds good.”

I still left that screen pulled up on my laptop while I tried to figure out if I should type anything in response, but I couldn’t even think of anything to say. Was it some sort of dare? Did he want to challenge me or something? I just gazed at the screen for a few more moments, before walking away from it to find something else to occupy my mind. If nothing else, I wasn’t angry anymore, just a bit perplexed. I wasn’t entirely sure why, but I couldn’t stop thinking about it until I laid down for the night.

I had only been asleep for maybe two hours when the pounding on my front door caused my eyes to blink back to life. I groggily pulled my phone from the nightstand to check on the time, instantly lighting a fire beneath me when the heavy knocking repeated. I threw the blanket off my body, cursing under my breath as I pushed my bedroom door open so hard I cracked the drywall when the knob smacked against it.

“Do you have any idea what time it is!?” I said after yanking open my front door with even more aggravation than I had the one that led to my bedroom.

“How do?” The greasy-looking man in the long trench coat asked.

“Pissed off and tired! What do you want!?”

I felt my back tense up when I finally allowed my eyes to raise to meet the face of the hulking man. He was somewhat unusual-looking, though I couldn’t quite put my finger on what it was about him that made me feel that way. He appeared to be maybe in his mid to late forties; shoulder-length, messy and knotted brown hair with light streams of grey, thick beard stubble, and a very weathered-looking face. His crows’ feet had crows’ feet, and his cheeks appeared almost sunken and perhaps lightly scarred. He looked to have a solid build and stood about half a foot taller than me.

I think it was his clothes that made him appear more out of place. His dark grey trench coat was thick and almost business looking, though worn in places and speckled with a variety of stains. His striped blue jeans came down to where they tucked into pointed, black cowboy boots, which were also in fairly rough shape, with duct tape holding them together in some places.

He wore a red and white, checkered shirt, unbuttoned halfway down to reveal a black t-shirt with small holes throughout. He had five necklaces; two gold, one silver, and two with brown leather cords. Whatever hung from them, I could not see, as they were hidden below where his shirt was buttoned. There was also the dusty bowler hat upon his head, which is something you just don’t see that often anymore.

“Don’t s’pose I could come on in, could I?” His voice sounded either southern or Cajun a bit; worn and graveled, yet strong in its tone.

“Don’t s’pose you can,” I replied, wrapping my fingers around the open door in preparation for slamming it in the stranger’s face.

“Aw, c’mon now, don’t be like ‘at…” He gave me a wide grin, revealing yellowed and chipped teeth, except for one golden canine, and the other made of silver.

“Ok, we’re done here. Have a good night…”

As I made to close the door, he quickly pushed past me, swatting the door from my grip.

“Hey!” I belted, instantly stomping after the man who now had his back turned to me.

I grabbed his shoulder to spin him around to face me, but he wouldn’t budge. Well, it was more like I couldn’t budge him, not even a little. His body didn’t even shift! He just turned his head to give me a sideways look with the one eye that faced me, along with a crooked smile.

“You can start somet’in’ if ya want, but it’d be a might better if we could just talk a lil bit.”

“What do you want?” I asked, pulling my hand from his shoulder as my fingers began to tremble.

He raised his eyebrows with a tilt of his head, gesturing toward the couch and chairs in the living room. He practically dropped onto the couch, stretching his arms out across the back. I noticed his oversized hands, with thick and dirty fingernails that looked as though they could carve into dense wood with little to no effort. He pressed his head against the wall, tilting his bowler hat upwards, before settling in to get cozy. I could see an almost muddy smear from where his hat rubbed against the wall, along with trails of dust or dirt that had flaked from his coat onto the tan suede, leather couch.

My body felt almost numb while I took a seat on the matching recliner to the left of the couch. I could feel my knees attempting to shake, but I could only hope it wasn’t overly obvious. I didn’t want to let this guy; whoever he was, know that he scared the shit out of me. I can’t entirely say why he had me so unnerved. Yes, it felt like I tried to move a giant tree with my bare hands when I attempted to turn him to face me, but I could rationalize that as little more than him being stronger than me. There was something about him that felt, I don’t know, ancient, maybe?

“Don’t s’pose I could trouble you for somet’in’ to drink, ‘fore we git started, could I?”

“Anything in particular?” I replied, feeling a certain desire to get on his good side, ‘fore we git started, as it were.

“Beer, whiskey, rum…whatever ya got…”

I quickly grabbed a six-pack of beer from the kitchen, sat it on the wide coffee table he had since placed his muddy feet on, and grabbed one for myself, twisting the cap off. He reached for two, picked them up between his fingers, placed them against the lip of the coffee table, and smacked his other hand across the tops. Both caps practically flew off, as they tore deep chunks from the wood of the table. It was at that point I realized he was trying to get a rise out of me. Whether it was to intimidate me or piss me off, I wasn’t sure, but I wasn’t about to give him what he wanted either way, even if I did feel my face flush.

“A’ight then,” he said after placing one beer on the table before chugging down a good half of the one he held, “What we gon’ do about dis?”

“Um, about what, exactly?”

He just glared at me, swishing a mouthful of fresh beer around in his mouth. He sat the bottle on the table, next to the one that still awaited him. He reached into his coat, pulling out a thick and wrinkled cigar. As he lit it with a small wooden match, he just stared right into my eyes. I hadn’t noticed before that his irises were an almost shimmering, light purple. It felt as though I were looking into some sort of nebula or cosmic storm as we gazed at each other. No, this man was no human; I did not doubt that.

“Don’ play wit’ me boy…”

Though he spoke quite calmly, his words sounded more threatening than if he had screamed them. This was the first time he had allowed the smile to fade from his lips. He puffed away on his cigar, but he would not break his gaze from mine. I wanted to look away, but it felt like staring down a dog to assert dominance. When I first met him at the door, I thought I could possibly handle myself if the situation got out of hand. The more I shared his company, the more I knew I had been fooling myself before. I wouldn’t stand a chance against whatever he was.

“You t’ink you write betta dan me?”

“What? I don’t even know who…”

I couldn’t convince my lips to keep muttering my words when I realized who it was who sat across from me.

“V-Viatoribus?”

“Aw, you ‘member my name. Ain’t dat nice… You ‘member what you said too, no?”

My lungs were suddenly struggling to do their job, while my chest felt so tight I thought I may well pass out. I dread to think what this guy would do to me if I lost consciousness in front of him. Not only could I not fathom how he found me, but what were his true motivations for visiting me at two in the morning?

“Look, man, um, sir. I didn’t mean to be so harsh. I…I had a bad day, I mean, your story was really good, I just…”

“Don’t go grovellin’, boy! You said what you said, and dat ain’t no small t’ing.”

“I’m so sorry, sir! I didn’t mean to…”

“Ain’t dat part what brung me here, kid. T’was de other.”

He raised his eyebrows, smiled wide, and winked when he said that, making me feel strangely more on edge than I already did. I can’t lie, this guy had me terrified. Not only did it look like one scratch of those gnarly fingernails would be likely to give me ebola or something, but he looked like he could effortlessly tear me in two if he had the urge to. He almost appeared more like a beast than a man. There was something almost feral about him; something hungry.

“T-the other p-part?”

“You said you could do betta’! You ‘member?”

“I didn’t mean to, sir. I was rude and cold and just a complete asshole! I swear I…”

“Ain’t not’in’ to git worked up fer, boy. But you is gon’ go fer a ride wit’ me. When you git back, you gon’ write ’bout what you seen, you hear me?”

I just nodded, or I think I did anyway. My whole body was shivering, so it could very well have just been my trembling making me a life-sized bobblehead doll. He lifted himself from the couch, leaving a large man-sized imprint of grime and dust in his wake. As he casually strolled over to the front door, he wrapped his fingers around the knob, looking back at me before pulling it open.

“If yer good, I might even let you keep both yer hands to type it out. Ain’t no need in tearin’ one off, if I don’t got to.”

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Those words almost caused me to lose control of my bladder. Even though I had offered to write a better tale than his with one hand tied behind my back, he obviously had no interest in using rope to bind me. I had no idea where he intended to take me, nor what the story I was expected to write would entail, but I could only hope I would qualify for whatever he considered ‘good’.

For a solid hour, he guided his massive car up and down parts of the city I had never seen before. I couldn’t tell if he was looking for something specific, but I was growing more nervous by the second. With the type of storytelling he specialized in, I could only hope his work was mostly fabricated, horrific fantasy, but I would soon observe firsthand that was not the case at all.

He finally parked the ancient caddy across the street from an especially dingy-looking motel. It came off like one of those places you could rent a room by the hour or maybe a glorified crack-den or something. He tilted his head, gesturing for me to follow along while he lifted himself from the car. As we walked into the lobby of the inn, I could see that my first instinct about the place had been quite accurate.

It looked as though it should be condemned; every wall was riddled with holes, filth, and varying sizes of creepy crawlies darting one way or the other. There were at least three somewhat malnourished-looking people; two men and a young woman passed out in the small room. Again, my guide gestured with his head toward the stairs, where we passed by two more passed out or possibly dead young adults. They looked as though they hadn’t bathed in weeks, but they didn’t so much as twitch while we weaved around them.

After climbing about three floors worth of steps, navigating down and across a few short hallways; each lined with more individuals in various stages of chemically induced bliss, the big guy pushed open a door to one of the rooms. It was distinctly different from the rest of what I’d seen; brightly lit, well furnished, and actually smelled quite nice. It was about three times the size of the lobby, and held about ten or so perfectly healthy-looking and fully sober men, along with four women who I couldn’t help but assume to be working girls.

I don’t mean to sound presumptuous or anything, but the women were all dressed quite scantily while they fawned over the well-dressed men. Again, not to make assumptions, but everything about these guys read like mob enforcers or otherwise less than legally inclined individuals. The two slender, older men towards the rear of the room, counting and arranging stacks of cash didn’t exactly make me think I was judging too harshly either.

While I followed my guide across the room, towards a few important-looking men, sharing a couch with one of the girls, each head turned to face us as we walked by. When we got close to where the guy who I would guess to be the boss sat, I noticed that some of those we had strolled past had closed the gap between us. As we neared the man on the classy loveseat, another guy a little bigger than my guide, got in his face.

“You don’t belong here. Turn around, forget what you’ve seen here, and all will be…”

His words were silenced quickly when the big guy quickly butted his head against that of the bodyguard. That one hit knocked him out cold, inspiring the others in the room to move in closer.

“How do?” My guide asked, tipping his dusty bowler hat to the distinguished-looking older man in the neatly pressed suit.

“Do I know you?” The man asked, waving his hand towards those who now walked up beside us.

I was growing more terrified by the second. At first, my only concern was that my taxi driver for the night was planning to leave me bleeding in a ditch somewhere, but now I had no doubt I was about to get plugged by a couple of professionals. In all honesty, I could have worded that a lot better, but how often does one get a chance to say something like that?

“No sir, I can’t say dat you does, but I certainly would ‘ppreciate you hearin’ me out.”

The big guy pulled off his bowler hat, trailing a slender cloud of dust behind it. He seemed to be showing a good deal of respect to the older guy, but I had to believe the two beside us and the three to our rear with their guns drawn were a factor in that. They were most definitely the major influence on my heart attempting to beat free from my chest. While I was shaking like a leaf in a tornado, my guide looked as composed as if he was just shopping for hot dog buns.

“Go ahead then, but don’t waste my time.”

“Much obliged,” he said, placing the hat back on his head, “All I wants to aks, is if y’all would be willin’ to move your lil operation somewhere else? Dis used to be such a nice lil ol’ place, ’til you and yer peoples moved in.”

He spoke so light and carefree, as though he was simply asking to borrow a cup of sugar. The older guy leaned forward, shaking the young girl off of his shoulder, to gaze into the eyes of the large man who looked down on him. Without warning, the man on the couch began to laugh so hard he almost started to choke. The goons to our sides and backs let out awkward chuckles, seemingly feeling inspired to join in, whether they found the situation funny or not.

“I aksed you nicely,” the big guy said, allowing even the glimmer of respect to fade from his voice, “won’t aks again.”

“Who the hell do you think you are!?” The older man asked, still laughing in between his words.

“Just a concerned citizen, bud. Y’all been havin’ a bad influence on dis here street. Can’t allow it to go on no more.”

“And what exactly can you do to…”

He moved so quickly that neither I nor the goon squad had a chance to react. In one swift motion, he whipped the old man from his comfy spot on the couch by the throat, spinning to face me and the ones who raised their guns the second he turned around. They couldn’t even steady their aim by the time he held their boss in front of him, gripping his neck so tightly, that it looked as though the head would pop right off any minute now.

“Got yer attention now, don’t I?”

The now visibly trembling borderline senior citizen attempted to speak, but couldn’t seem to muster enough oxygen up to make anything more than a wheezing moan. Everyone else in the room, aside from the girls who were running for the door, had their firearms trained on the big guy, while I slowly descended to the floor.

“So, y’all gon’ be vacating de premises, or I gotta evict you right here an’ now?”

The man finally managed to force one single word to breach his lips, though it was not the best choice in my opinion. I may have been little more than a terrified observer of this madness, but even I knew he made the wrong decision.

“FIRE!”

Two men who had crept up behind where the big guy stood unleashed a barrage of bullets into his back. I curled up into as tiny a ball as my body could form, but I still winced at the sound of the lead tearing into the meat of my chauffeur. When the echoing gunfire fell silent, I allowed myself to glare up to see what was left of him. To my surprise, he still stood in place, having turned the old man to face him while giving him an expression a parent would give to a misbehaving child. That ‘not angry, just disappointed’ look.

He still glared at him with that condescending stare while he tightened the grip of the hand around the neck he held. I could hear the bones crunching while the face reddened and swelled. As the large hand closed into a tight fist, the eyes protruded from the balloon that was once a heavily wrinkled face, before the head flipped over sideways with one final loud crack.

Whether the room’s other occupants were so stunned by what they’d just witnessed or were putting together a plan to escape with their own necks intact, I had no idea. They all just continued to stare at the big guy when he dropped their former employer to the floor. As soon as the old man flopped lifelessly onto the hard floor across from me, every gun in the room unleashed.

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I skidded my body across the floor, hoping to stay out of the path of the swarm of bullets ripping the room apart, finally making it to a large table by the left wall. I couldn’t make out any more than a blurry shape as the big guy darted from one of his attackers to the next. I saw him briefly when he stopped for long enough to tear through one throat before moving on to the next.

One by one, the well-dressed goons hit the ground; each gushing bodily fluids from deep and grizzled gashes across their chest, faces, and necks. I watched on as the crowd thinned, giving my guide a chance to take his time a little more; no longer making quick work of the poor bastards. Of the three that remained: he wrapped his large right hand around the top of the first one’s head, charging towards the next in line, still dragging the man by his scalp.

When he reached his next victim, he snatched him up by the head too, only pausing for a second to allow them both to scream at the top of their lungs. When he slowly pushed their heads together, he twisted his wrists from side to side as he mashed their flesh until the skulls split, forcing jagged shards of bone through one face and into the other. Even after the horrifying shrieks fell silent, he continued to smear them into one almost flattened, meaty and grotesque, fleshy pancake.

The last man had already run for the door by the time his associates fell to the floor, still glued together by sticky gore. The big guy didn’t storm after him, just idly walked toward me, pulling another cigar from inside his long coat. I was pressing my back so hard against the wall, I almost felt like I would shatter my spine against the wood like two skulls being smashed together. I was sure that he was about to squeeze or shred me apart, just as he had to just about everyone else in the room, but he just stood in place when he got to the table I was hiding beneath while still trying to push through the wall beside it.

“Ain’t gon’ hurt ye, kid,” he calmly said, lighting his cigar.

He held his blood-soaked hand down as though he meant for me to grab it, but the sight of it just made me squeak out a startled yelp.

“Aw shit,” he said, wiping his hand back and forth on his pants, “my bad. Wasn’t thinkin’!”

Once his crimson-stained mitt was at least somewhat dry, he held it out to me once more. I can’t say I wasn’t scared, but I thought resisting his offer would just add to the insult that led to our meeting in the first place. I raised my shuddering hand up to grab his before he effortlessly pulled me from under the table, holding me out in front of him by the hand, and dropping me to my shaky feet.

“T-thank you!” I said, my muscles still spasming with fear.

“You ‘member the way back out?”

“I think so.”

“Meet you at de car. Gotta catch me a stray!”

With that, he turned on his heels, sped through the door, and was out of sight within seconds. I just stood there, frozen for a minute, darting my eyes around the room, while fighting against the lump in my throat from the mess of carnage before me. When I finally convinced my limbs to work again, I quickly paced back to the door my guide had fled through only moments before, weaving in between the still unmoving guests of this fine establishment. When a blood-curdling scream bellowed out from floors below, it froze me in my tracks again.

Assuming the hunter had indeed found his prey, I began to move once more. My still shuddering legs made descending the stairs no simple task, but when I arrived back on the ground floor, it took every ounce of self-control I had not to vomit evidence all over the lobby. When my eyes met the upper half of the man who had hoped to find freedom when he darted from the once pleasant room in the otherwise moth-eaten hovel, I chose not to seek out where his bottom half was; only held my breath as I charged towards the fresh air of the world beyond the door.

The moment I left that awful place behind me, the chilly breeze almost collided with the burning acid in my stomach in a less than friendly manner. I still fought to maintain my composure, even when the old caddy on the other side of the road revved its engine one good time, instantly pulling my attention back to the fact my chaotic night may not be over just yet. Feeling my guts bubbling over, I ran as quickly as I could towards the land yacht, falling to my knees and retching into the breakdown lane before I could even think about stopping it.

I was still buckled over, gasping for breath when the passenger door across from me opened up.

“You a’ight, kid?”

“I’m good…thank…thank you,” I replied, still dry heaving.

When I finally composed myself as much as I could hope to, I climbed into the stretched-out Cadillac without a word, clicked my seat belt buckle, and stared vacantly through the filthy glass. Feeling the eyes of the stranger carving into me, I turned to see him cocked to one side in his seat, gazing at me with a smirk on his face. When he moved his arm, I winced and tensed up, but he just patted me on the chest with a look of something resembling pride on his face.

“Ye done good, kid!”

With that, he shifted himself back into position, revved the engine one more time, threw it into gear, and got back on the road. Throughout the drive back to my home on the outskirts of the city, my chauffeur happily and loudly sang along to the greatest hits of seventies classic rock. I almost began to feel a little more comfortable and even a bit thankful to still be alive until I took in the grim nature of his gleeful, celebratory karaoke.

When we pulled back into my driveway, I tensed up again with the fear of the night’s festivities having reached their end. He turned the radio volume down and shifted himself to face me again.

“You got a week to write ’bout what you seen tonight. I ain’t gon’ watch over you or leave you wit’ one less hand or nothin’, even if that was the deal,” he said with a chuckle, “but let’s jus’ see if you can really put together a better tale than me.”

“A-and if I can’t?”

He just gave me a wide grin, revealing those yellowed teeth, bookmarked with his gold and silver canines. He didn’t answer my stuttered question; only leaned over me to unlatch the door to my right, causing me to damn near piss myself for a second. It wasn’t until I climbed out that he spoke one last time, while he shifted back into his driving position.

“If it ain’t no drawn-out slawg, maybe we can collaborate again some time; have us a meanin’ful relationship. Git me outta my momma’s basement and all,” he gave a wink before shifting the old caddy into reverse, “See you ’round, kid…one way or t’other.”

I still stood in place shivering from head to toe while he backed up, cranked his radio back to full blast, and drove out of sight.

Even though he gave me a week, I started writing as soon as I got out of my extended shower. The sun was already beginning to rise beyond the glass of my windows, but there was no chance of convincing my frantic thoughts to calm down enough to let me sleep anytime soon. Besides, I wanted to make sure I at least got a rough draft down before anything I witnessed that night got otherwise altered or exaggerated by my subconscious.

Whichever way this goes; whether he likes my story or not, I’m certain I haven’t seen the last of Viatoribus, but I truly hope he likes this. I tried to revisit his previous posts to delete my childish criticism, but he had already taken them down. It could be that he plans on making me his personal scribe if he enjoys my story. Of course, if he doesn’t like it, maybe he will write another. One more tale of dark justice, featuring me in painfully vivid detail.

Credit: William Rayne

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