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Stephen Morgan

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upchuckc.jpg
Art by John and Flo Stanton

Up-Chuck Charlie

 

Stephen Morgan

 

 

          It's dark. My mind moves sluggish like I've just woken up, and I guess I have.

          I hear voices.

          "You think the boss bought it?"

          "'Course he did. Told us to dump the body, didn't he?"

          A sharp burst of light as a car trunk opens. I'm in some plastic bag, a small hole torn in the side. I try to rip my way out, but my whole body is in on some joke.

          I can't move.

          Two guys come into view. Relief washes over me. It's Mori and Louis, my best friends.

          "Guys," I say, but my tongue sits in my mouth, lifeless.

          They fumble around, unable to get a good hold. In fact, they get me out of the trunk only to drop me on the ground.

          I smell something rotting. I've got long enough to think it smells like garbage before I see exactly that through the bag hole. We're at the garbage dump. But that's crazy. Only reason to go to the dump's to drop off dead bodies.

          Oblivious to the people around it, a rat scurries between Mori and Louis and sniffs around the bag.

          Go away, I say. But my mouth won't move.

          Mori, the fat kind of Italian you see in mob movies, except he's the real deal, says, "Why you gotta be so clumsy?"

          Louis, skinny, shaved head, dumb but loyal, the kind of guy that could have joined the army and maybe done all right, drops my feet. Mori, unwilling to hold me up on his own, lets go of my head.

 

          Rain starts to drizzle onto my head. In seconds it pours down, beating me in the face and blurring my vision. I reach to clear my eyes, but of course I still can't move.

          "Hurry up," Mori says. "This shirt's Italian knit."

          The rat finds the small hole in the bag and sticks its nose in. It likes what it smells, opens its mouth and starts chewing that little hole into something big enough to fit through.

          But they grab both ends of me and, thank God, pick me up. The rat hangs on for a moment, ripping the bag open further, but then it falls off.

          "No," Louis says. "Why you gotta be so clumsy? You ever wonder why they put a safety on a gun? 'Cause'a dummies like you."

          "Shut up, idiot."

          What's Louis talking about? Did he shoot somebody?

          No shit, I tell myself. And if you're wondering who, maybe you oughta take a look at who's in the body bag.

          See, I remember a gunshot. A hit on a local baker that refused to pay for protection. Except something had gone wrong. The boss trusted me. Heck, when we wanted to bring in more . . .  questionable . . . members of the family, he asked for my input. Like with Louis and Mori. So when he called me that evening and asked me to pick two men and show the baker how we do business, well. Not even a second thought as to who those two guys should be, right?

          I told my wife, "Darleen, honey, I'll be home soon." With a longing look at those legs men would kill for, I walked out, a man happy with his lot in life, and to be honest the envy of many of the men I worked with.

          Me and the guys, we just wanted to put a little scare into the baker. Show him what kinds of trouble waited if he didn't pay for us to keep the other families away. We would never hurt him. But he hadn't believed us. He knew we were coming and pulled a gun. Mori and Louis ducked behind some bread, like that'd help any. Me, I didn't break stride, just watched the baker fumble to find the courage to shoot me while I pulled out my pistol and told him to drop it. He fired but missed. When I fired, he wasn't so lucky.

          Then I remember hearing a click behind me as one of the guys cocked their gun. I remember a gunshot . . .

          An accident? Except Louis had shot me instead.

          Now they were just going to pitch me over the side. Shouldn't they at least make sure I'm dead?

          But that still doesn't add up, because even if it had been an accident, the boss would give me a proper funeral. Only reason he would throw me in the dump is if I had betrayed the family.

          I wonder if it's a dream, but my thoughts are too, I don't know . . . rational, for that to seem plausible. Then a second, terrifying thought: Maybe this is death. No Heaven. No Hell. Just eternity in a rotting corpse.

          That must be it. I must be dead, because otherwise I'd have just puked. Up-Chuck Charlie they called me, dependable as always to lose his lunch when it mattered.

          I'm dead. Dead, dead, dead, and I'll just be another piece of trash for the rats to walk over, maybe take a bite out of—

          A single tremor in my stomach and thank God for that awful, burning bile that touches my throat, proving my body still functions.

          So I'm not dead. They shot me in the head, paralyzed me, but I'm still alive. I will myself to throw up, to move, anything to show them I'm alive—

          "But Mori," Louis says. "What're we gonna do if the boss finds out Charlie didn't sell us out?"

          "He won't find out!" Mori drops his side of me and wipes sweat off his forehead.

          You cover your own asses telling the boss you had to shoot me 'cause I betrayed the family?

          I try to kick Mori in the face, but nothing happens.

          Through the hole I see the edge of the cliff. One big drop to a pile of trash and lots of dead bodies put there by me, and soon to include yours truly.

          Mori and Louis drop me to the ground, next to a second garbage bag. I'm not alone. They weren't nearly as careful with my companion. So many rips run across it that the baker's bloody, blown apart face stares at me. I can't be sure, but I think I see chew marks across his mangled face. That's our fate. We'll lie in the bottom of this dump until the rats nibble us apart.

          "Gonna be lonely without you, Charlie," Mori says. "Don't know what we're gonna tell your missus."

          "True," Louis says. "Miss ex-Charlie might need some comfort."

          I focus on my big toe. Just move, I tell it. Let the rest of me know—

          "Get in line," Mori says. "Everyone's tried to get a piece of that fluff."

          My stomach heaves, but still nothing comes out. Oh, God. Help me. I can't believe I did this to anyone else. I promise I won't throw anyone else into the dump if you just get me out of this—

          "Well," Louis says. "Maybe they just ain't been man enough."

          "Oh, yeah? What you mean 'man enough?'"

          "Mean maybe old Charlie didn't realize how lonely his wife was." I can't see Louis, but I bet the skinny prick has that dumb smile on his face.

          "You didn't," Mori says.

          He didn't.

          "Did," Louis says. "Just waited for someone to man-up, s'all."

          "Unbelievable." Mori shakes his head. "Ironic, when you think about it."

          "Howzat?"

          "Only reason I shot Charlie was so I could be with her."

          "Aw, Mori, aw no. You said it was an accident! I lied for you!"

          Mori sighs. "Yeah... Guess if you're with her though, it was all for nothing."

          "Hell, Mori . . .Listen, we'll keep it between us."

          "You won't tell the boss it wasn't an accident?"

          "I owe ya that much for taking her from ya." Louis slaps his new best buddy on the arm. "Now let's drop him."

          Mori nods and glances at me. "Suppose we oughta say something?"

          "Right, right." Louis rips the hole in the bag open even more, looks at me. "Sorry, Charlie. No hard feelings, eh?"

          Plenty of hard feelings, you idiot. I'm still alive! Hear me? I'm still—

          Louis frowns. "Hey, Mori. Is a dead guy's mouth supposed to move—? Hey, what're you—!"

          Mori grabs Louis. "Sorry, Mori. Only room for one of us with Charlie's missus. Won't have much chance if the boss finds out about our little mishap."

          "Mori, please, don't. I won't—"

          "Can't take that chance, eh?" Mori pushes Louis, watches him fall until we hear a sickening splat.

          Mori grabs me next. But the bag rips and I topple out.

          Mori holds me under the armpits. "All the luck. I tell ya. I got all of it." He drags me back to the edge, where I can see Louis landed at an impossible angle, his legs bent in the wrong direction, now part of one big pit of dead bodies and Oh God that can't be me—

          I can't hold it anymore. My stomach lurches and out comes anything left in my stomach.

          Mori screams and drops me. He scrabbles at the vomit on his face, on his shirt, and he looks at me, must see my eyes meet his, and suddenly he's a little afraid. He takes a step back—

          But too late realizes there's nowhere to go. He flails, reaching for something to hold onto where there's nothing, and then he falls. A distant crunch, then nothing.

          For a few minutes, I lay in the rain, staring at the sky, happy to be alive but wondering what to do. There's nothing left if someone doesn't find me.

          Something tickles my fingers. The rat's back. It licks the tip of my pinkie, and I swear it looks like a fat man about to feast.

          It bites down onto my finger—

          My whole hand jerks. The rat screeches and runs away.

          It's not much. But as the rain turns to a sprinkle, I smile where it matters.

          A dead man just moved.

 

 

Stephen Morgan is a freelance writer living the dream. When he's not working on his latest piece of fiction or helping develop other small-press magazines, he and his wife are busy running their company, Quality Freelance, a ghostwriting service specializing in Fiction, Website Content, Press Releases, Sales Letters, and Professional Blogging. His publication credits include Skin-Deep (in the horror anthology Atrum Tempestas), Break These Chains (at The Monsters Next Door), The Next Big Whatever (at Abandoned Towers), and Up-Chuck Charlie (published right here at Yellow Mamma). To keep up with him, visit Quality Freelance, or check out the Quality Freelance blogs: The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly  and Adventures of a Carnivore.

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