by Tony Noland
A sequel to Simple Geometry
The writer woke in dimness to the smell of blood and urine. He was dizzy and his mind was fogged, slowing his recognition of the warm, human aromas. When he finally made the connection, it was as though a block had been removed from all of his senses, and the pain from his ankle shot up his leg. He jerked backwards in his seat, or tried to. Masses of red duct tape held him in place, strapped down to the heavy wooden chair, which was itself bolted to the floor.
His sweater was gone. One sleeve of his shirt was cut away, leaving his right arm bare from the shoulder. He was soaked in urine from his crotch to his seat. Vomit rose in his throat as he realized that he must have wet himself while unconscious. The left leg of his pants had been slit; craning forward, he could see a blood-soaked towel wrapped around his ankle, held in place with more duct tape. He swallowed hard and strained at the tape, but it was useless. Everywhere he was secured, at least a dozen layers had been wrapped around and around. Wrists, elbows, both shoulders, torso, waist, knees, calves, ankles - he was secured down like a... like a... package, ready for shipment.
"Are you fully awake, Mr. Wentz? I'm anxious to get started."
He twisted to face the voice, and could just make him, silhouetted in the doorway. With a metallic sound, the man he had come out here to interview slid his stainless steel prosthesis up the wall to turn on a switch. Overhead fluorescents flicked on with a buzz, long tubes filling the room with light. Wentz could see that he was strapped down in the middle of large room, like a garage or workshed. Metal walls, metal ceiling, concrete floor... and himself in the middle of a huge pentacle, twenty feet wide, at least. At each point was an article of his clothing: sweater, both shoes, both socks. He was facing one of the points, where the circle had a small gap. At the point was his left shoe, and a little ways away, a blood-spattered plastic bucket sat with a paintbrush balanced on its rim. It was the kind of brush used to paint windowsills, about two inches wide, the same width as the lines of blood that made up the pentacle.
Convulsively, Wentz threw up onto himself, his panic and lightheadedness overcoming him. Instinctively, he tried to lean forward, but his bonds prevented it. The vomit burbled and cascaded down his chest, onto his lap and splashed on the floor at his feet. From the doorway, his interview subject - his captor - stood and watched, saying nothing. With a jerking limp, he used the crutch with his intact left arm to cross the room so he could stand directly in front of Wentz.
"I don't need you to be clean, Mr. Wentz. Just fully awake. I'm sorry, if I could do this with you asleep, I would have done it before the chloral hydrate wore off. But I was told to make sure you were aware of what was being done. I'm sorry."
"What? Chloral... you drugged me? You son of a bitch, you drugged me?" Not being a brave man, Wentz's voice rose to a hysterical shriek. "Untie me, god damn it, right now! Untie me!"
"Yes, Mr. Wentz, I drugged you. It was in your coffee. I've been waiting for someone of just your size and complexion to come interview me. And, if you'll permit me, you're not tied, you're taped. I can't manage to tie anything with only one hand."
"But... but why? Jesus. Oh Jesus. You're crazy, aren't you? Jesus, the crash and the fire made you go crazy. Jesus. Jesus!"
The man used his hand to rub at the heavy mass of scar tissue where his nose had been. "No, I'm not crazy. I just... owe a debt that you are going to help me repay."
"What? You want money? You're kidnapping me? I don't have any money, I'M A WRITER!" He was shrieking again, and it echoed from the bare walls and floor. "I'm just a freelancer, for God's sake, I told you that! I came out here to interview you, to get your story. It was supposed to be a human interest piece about how you survived the plane crash and everything, that's all!"
"Ah, if only that were all, Mr. Wentz," the man sighed, "if only that truly were all to the story. It would have made a good one, too. An ordinary man in 13-C, a perfect nobody, survives a plane crash in the Alps. All rescuers kept away for a week by a blizzard, and then an avalanche caused by the same blizzard throws the wreckage down the mountainside. The lone survivor loses an eye, an arm and a leg, is burned to the bone during the avalanche by a ruptured fuel tank. Burned, frozen and buried all at once, yet he survives to be dug out and rushed to a hospital. Such a miracle!" He sighed again. "Such a miracle."
The scarred, twisted man stooped down to pick up the brush and dip it in the blood. "It was no miracle, Mr. Wentz, and it was no accident. I paid for my salvation, paid dearly. However, I was careful in negotiating my... transaction. It has a designatory clause. Do you know what that is, Mr. Wentz? It's a banking term. It means that, although I cannot unload my debt onto any single individual, if I can find several someones to take on shares of my debt, then I will get my investment back and they will take on responsibility for the payment. Of course, the sum of their shares is considerably more than my original debt, but were it otherwise, why would the original lender agree to the escape clause?"
"This is a bad dream. This is fantasy. Untie me! Right now, untie me!"
"No, this is most assuredly reality. If this were just my own fantasy, I would be dead already." He paused. "Believe me, Mr. Wentz, if I'd known that being burned alive was part of the deal, I might have settled for a slow death up there in the wreckage. That part was not at all pleasant, and it's why I wish I could close this part of the transaction with you unconscious. I'm not a cruel man, and I would spare you pain if I could. However, since I can't, and since you are now fully awake..." With one swipe of the brush, the circle of blood was complete. A sound like a door slamming reverberated through the room. The overhead fixtures dimmed and flickered, making the blood on the floor pulse with light. Wentz tried to scream with the sudden shock of pain, but no sound came from his mouth. Head thrown back, his muscles clenched, he began to smoke.
"Of course," continued 13-C, "I must admit that part of making you a designatee means that I get an extra compensation in the transaction. I had my choice, actually, my pick of what to take as my finder's fee." The man held up the stainless steel and plastic prosthesis that was strapped to what remained of his upper arm, undid the velcro and let the appliance drop to the floor. "I had a hard time deciding between taking your skin or taking your arm. In the end, though, I've always been the sort of man who was practical first, aesthetic later. There will be plenty of opportunities to get replacements for the rest of me."
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