Gabe checked in with the prosthetics-lab receptionist, then chose a
half-hidden seat beside the fish tank. The obligatory television blared montages
of robotic miracles—working hands, flexing ankles—but Gabe ignored it in lieu
of the aquarium. Nearly three feet long, it was bigger than any he’d ever seen.
One of the tetras in the tank was missing part of a fin, but it swam okay. That
struck Gabe as appropriate for the office.
Waiting to be
called, he zeroed in on the tank filter’s Zen-like
bubbling and “went away,” as he called it, disassociating from his surroundings
as he’d learned to do to survive since infancy when facing a tense situation. Zoned
out watching the tank, he didn’t notice the guy rolling up on him till he spoke:
Gabe turned to see a man beside him in a wheelchair. The guy looked
about mid-twenties. He had one complete arm, part of another ending above the
elbow, and no legs. His electric wheelchair had a joystick control.
“You aren’t going to ignore me, too, are you, bro?” the man asked,
grinning. His hair was cut in a military style. “We have to stick together.”
“Do I know you?”
I’m Peter.” The man extended his one hand. Gabe shook it.
“It’s bad enough the public won’t say ‘hi’ on the street, let alone look at us.
We got to look out for each other.”
Gabe nodded. “Sorry.”
“Naw—save your pity. We get enough of that,” Peter scoffed. He
scrutinized Gabe’s left arm that ended in a stump above the missing wrist. Stress
and malnutrition had always made Gabe small for his age, but he’d gained a
couple inches since going into foster care the past year. It was partly why he
was here—he’d outgrown his last hand. The state would pay until he turned
missing the arm, huh?” Peter asked.
Gabe gave up on the fish. “Yeah. Just the arm.”
Gabe knew Peter wanted him to ask about his own missing limbs, but
he didn’t. If he’d been chatty growing up, he’d be dead. He knew when to talk and
when not to, the latter being most of the time.
“It’s all right to ask me,” Peter said, gesturing to his missing limbs.
“We know everybody wants to, right? It’s all they see—the parts we’re missing.
But they never ask. Why is that?”
“I don’t know,” said Gabe. In his fifteen years on earth,
secrets had never paid off in his favor. He refused to ask.
“You a veteran?” Peter asked.
“Then count yourself lucky you won’t be. When you walk through
hell, some of it sticks to you.” Peter paused, and Gabe steeled himself for The
Question. Gabe didn’t like The Question; was glad for whatever squeamishness,
embarrassment, or courtesy kept most people from asking it. But his fellow
amputee had no such qualms:
“So,” Peter asked. “How’d you lose the
“Hold him up!” Cody yelled, slipping gloves over the bleeding
knuckles of his hands.
Gabe looked at Cody through the one eye he could still see through
as Jerry lifted him off the basement floor. Wink shuffled around, trying to
help, but Jerry was over 300 pounds compared to Gabe’s 120, so Wink did
nothing, as usual.
“Where’s my bag, Gabe?” Cody’s punches continued, but Gabe didn’t
feel them anymore, hadn’t since the first few had broken his collar bone and
he’d “gone away,” withdrawing into a state of semi-shock and semi-awareness.
He’d learned to “go away” when his father, then his mom’s procession of
“boyfriends,” beat him or worse. Only his brother had never struck him. Gabe
wouldn’t forget that, couldn’t blame his brother for only saving himself by
swiping Cody’s dope and fleeing town. Gabe glowed warm inside the pain,
fantasizing how his brother might beat the odds stacked against them both since
birth. He’d never talk.
Cody was panting. They’d been beating him for an hour, with Cody doing
most of the work. If Jerry had been hitting him, Gabe doubted he’d be
breathing. Wink had phoned him to come over and “discuss things,” as he put it.
Gabe came because—what else could he do? Jerry had opened the door and jerked
him inside, then dragged him down to the basement. When the gag fell off and
Gabe didn’t yell, they didn’t bother replacing it. Lucky again, he thought,
since Cody had smashed his nose shut in the first ten minutes.
“Screw this,” Cody said, shaking his aching hand. He jerked Gabe’s
head up by the hair. “You enjoying this? You want it to stop? Tell us where
your brother is. That’s all we need to know. Then this ends.”
Gabe had lost some teeth, thought he’d swallowed one, knew his ribs
were broken and things were bleeding inside, but he answered same as before through
his busted lips: “I don’t know where he is. I don’t know where your bag is. I
don’t even know if he took it.”
“Then who did?” Cody snarled, his eyes flicking between Wink and
“I don’t know,” Gabe mumbled, his head slumping as Cody released
him. Jerry dragged him over and laid him against concrete wall.
“Shit!” Cody yelled, kicking the washing machine. “We’re dead if we
don’t get it back!”
“What if he don’t know?” Wink asked. “What if his brother didn’t
tell him? I mean, he’s just a kid—”
Gabe heard a smack and Wink started whining, “Ow! What the hell,
“He knows, and he’s gonna tell us.”
The calm in Cody’s voice told Gabe the end was coming. Of course Gabe
knew his brother had taken the bag to Milwaukee to sell, probably for far less
than it was worth; knew he was off to Chicago after that; then to Texas to
enlist where nobody knew him. The thought made him smile.
“Something funny?” Cody crouched and hissed into his ear: “You made
me do this, Gabe. This is all your fault, okay? Bring him!” Wink held the door
and Jerry carried him upstairs and rolled him into the bathtub.
“Last chance, Gabe. Where’s it at?”
Staring up at the moldy ceiling, Gabe tongued the empty sockets in
his gums and said nothing.
“Do it,” Cody said.
\ Gone far away, Gabe had thought
himself beyond all pain until Jerry
grabbed his left arm in his beefy hands and snapped it below the wrist. Finally
screaming, Gabe convulsed, spraying vomit over Wink, who was holding him down. Then
Jerry grabbed Gabe’s flopping hand and yanked it down, unrolling the red flesh off
the white sticks inside. Gabe’s distant mind returned enough to stare as the
blood pulsed over the jagged ends of his exposed bones. They released him and
he fell back in the tub cradling the mangled arm in the other.
“Damn, that’s some blood. Look at him shaking—I bet he can’t even
talk now!” Wink said.
"Let’s get some towels.” Cody and Wink left the bathroom.
Jerry sat down on the edge of the tub. “Too bad, Gabe. You seemed
all right, little man. Sorry it had to—urk—”
Gabe pierced Jerry’s throat with the jagged ends of his bones,
blinking at the sudden spray of blood on his face. Jerry’s eyes bugged, hands
clasped to his neck as Gabe stood and nudged him off the edge of the tub,
grabbing the pistol from the small of Jerry’s back before he toppled over. Wink
and Cody’s running shook the floor and Gabe turned and fired as they rushed in.
Wink’s skull popped at the first shot, the next two penetrating Cody’s side as
he twisted helplessly to shield himself. Cody collapsed and began dragging
himself into the living room until Gabe put two more in his back. He wrapped
the towel tight to staunch his own bleeding, shot Jerry in the temple to be
sure, then dropped the gun in the toilet and left.
Sometime later, a black-and-white found the fourteen-year-old
wandering the streets in shock. He told them and the doctors he had no memory
of what happened. The social worker who contacted his mom swore she’d never
send him back to that snake pit. Gabe’s brother never called.
Gabe didn’t tell Peter any of that. Didn’t mention he’d gotten a
grant from Medicaid, supplemented by a robotics lab in Chicago, to get fitted
with a true bionic arm, one with moving fingers under synthetic flesh that might
even pass for real. His septum had been restored through surgery, and he had a
set of false teeth better than the rotten ones Cody had knocked out. Gabe had
hit the jackpot, really. All for the price of silence.
“Whew,” Peter responded to the tale Gabe was spinning him. “You
lost your arm just flipping off a bicycle?”
“Yeah. Flesh-eating bacteria got in the cut, they said.”
“That’s some bad luck. I’m already down to my last arm; guess I
better give up cycling to be safe?”
Gabe grinned at the joke. The nurse came out and called his name. Gabe
stood up and clapped Peter on the shoulder, “Let’s keep it between us, okay?”
“Always,” Peter said as they bumped fists. Then Gabe followed the
nurse through the clinic’s swinging doors, and left them flapping in his wake
like the exit from hell.
plucks banjos and pens horror, thriller, and crime fiction on the south bank of
the Piscataqua. His recent stories have appeared in Hoosier Noir, Bristol
Noir, and Thriller Magazine. Follow him @Pteraton on
Darren Blanch, Aussie creator of visions
which tell you a tale long after first glimpses have teased your peepers. With early influence
from America's Norman Rockwell to show life as life, Blanch has branched out mere art form
to impact multi-dimensions of color and connotation. People as people, emotions speaking
their greater glory. Visual illusions expanding the ways and means of any story.
arts mastery provides what Darren wishes a reader or viewer to take away in how their own
minds are moved. His evocative stylistics are an ongoing process which sync intrinsically
to the expression of the nearby written or implied word he has been called upon to render.
View the vivid energy of IVSMA (Darren Blanch) works at: www.facebook.com/ivsma3Dart, YELLOW MAMA,
Sympatico Studio - www.facebook.com/SympaticoStudio,
DeviantArt - www.deviantart.com/ivsma
and launching in 2019,
as Art Director for suspense author / intrigue promoter Kate Pilarcik's line of books and
publishing promotion - SeaHaven Intrigue Publishing-Promotion.