Sin-eater.comMark Finnemore / Horror
By Mark Finnemore
Copyright 2011 Mark Finnemore
"Time to go, Gabe."
Gabe turned to face a grizzled old man with a fringe of grey hair spiking his head like a crown of horns. He took a step back and shook his head. "Huh?"
The old man smiled a yellow, snaggle-toothed grin. "Time to honor your agreement."
Gabe reached into his pocket and pulled out a wad of cash. "Um, here. Get something to eat, maybe a place to stay?"
The old man clawed the money from Gabe's hand and snorted out a laugh. "You can't pay this debt with money, Gabe. We'll be back for you. We got your whole life."
The old man walked off and disappeared into the mall crowd. Gabe turned away to find Bethany behind him with a sneer on her face. It wasn't her best look, and almost made her seem ugly, if ugly was physically possible for her.
"How'd that guy know my name?"
Bethany waved a dismissive, expertly-manicured hand and sighed, clearly bored. "Whatever. He probably recognized you? We're in L.A. after all--even the bums follow celebrity news."
Gabe didn't share Bethany's confidence in his star power. And he couldn't forget the nightmares. "He said it's time to honor my agreement."
Bethany sighed again and looked down at her cell phone. "If it bothers you so much, why don't you accept that offer?"
"Sell out to a soulless corporation?" Gabe shook his head. "Never!"
Bethany looked up from her phone and rolled her eyes. "Whatever. Why'd you drag me to a mall anyway?"
Gabe shrugged. "I guess I'm feeling disconnected from reality. I'm new to this whole rich-and-famous thing."
"You're not famous," Bethany said. "You're rich, true, but being engaged to me is what makes you famous."
The cadenced hob-nailing of approaching boot-steps drew Gabe's attention. The security guard marching toward him was tall and wide-shouldered, his arms thick beneath rolled-up sleeves. A drill-sergeant's hat shadowed his eyes. As he passed, he gave Gabe a conspiratorial smile. The stench of burnt matches and stale cigarettes trailed after him like a phantom stalker.
A sudden cramp seized Gabe's gut. "Ah! I really gotta go!"
Gabe pushed through the door beside the restroom sign. The door slammed shut behind him and echoed down the hallway ahead. Overhead, the lights flickered between dim fluorescence and total darkness. The strobe effect made Gabe dizzy; he put his hand out for support and bitter cold seeped through the cinderblock walls, way too cold for L.A. in July. He would've turned around but he didn't think he could hold it.
Gabe smelled the bathroom before he finally felt his way around a corner and saw the door. He winced at the reek that washed out when he pushed it open, like a rarely-emptied porta-potty on a hot August day. He held his breath, tip-toed across the piss-puddled floor, and locked himself into the last stall. While he waited, sitting on the cold plastic throne, he read the humor scrawled on the walls.
He was halfway through a joke about a religious man drowning after a boating accident when the restroom door slammed open and heavy footsteps entered.
"Why read the wall? The joke's hanging between your legs!"
The smell of smoke and sulfur wafted into the room as a pair of spit-shined boots walked up and stopped outside Gabe's stall. Above the door, Gabe saw the top of a drill sergeant's hat.
"Hey--I'm talking to you, Gabe!"
Gabe's breath caught as he remembered the hulking security guard. How did he know his name too? He pulled his feet in, acutely aware that he sat half-naked in a restroom, down a long dark hallway, cornered and trapped. He reached for the toilet paper and the roll fell to the floor and tumbled away.
The guard laughed and kicked the TP across the room. Then he leaned against the stall door; it groaned in protest as the guard stared through the crack. Gabe saw the glint of an eye and the glimmer of an amused smile.
Gabe closed his legs and put his sweaty hands in his lap. He cleared his throat and took a breath. "What do you want?" He tried to sound confident, forceful, but his question came out as a whine.
"Payment!" The guard spit the word as if the taste of it sickened him.
Gabe jerked back as spittle sprayed through the door crack. He felt his fingernails digging into his palms and he loosened his clenched fists. His knuckles ached.
The guard took a step back and shifted his weight from foot to foot, his boots splashing in a puddle of piss.
Gabe held his breath. Cold drops of sweat slithered down his spine. He rocked back-and-forth, his thighs sticking to the toilet seat. Beside him, the next toilet over squealed and whined with leaking water.
The guard stopped his pacing and kicked out a booted foot. Gabe covered his eyes as the stall door burst in on him.
"Whoa! What the hell's going on here?"
"Dude, I don't even wanna know!"
Gabe took advantage of the distraction and pushed past the guard and the two teens that had just entered the restroom.
"Think there's somewhere safe, Gabe?" The guard shouted after him. "Just think of it and you'll be there. We love a good game. That's what we exist for! But we'll find you, Gabe--we've got your whole damned life!"