Monday, July 1, 2013

Issue #55 -- July 2013

By Ryan Sayles

Jim tried one more time to shove his sandpaper-dry tongue through the gym sock stuffed and duct taped into his mouth.

No good. The tape only clung to his stubble and pulled little pinpricks out of his lip, his chin. The taste of the sock was well-marinated in sweat and foot powder. It must have been worn for a week straight before it rubbed the roof of his mouth. Before it wrapped his swollen tongue and squeeze-dripped between his teeth. What were left, anyway.

Jim strained and then dropped his head back on the table. The wood and his skull thumped together, and all he could think about was how that one sound scattered out into the concrete room. Grey and dank. Water-stained. Crumbling.

They were underground somewhere. The seeping coolness told him that. Empty. The average concrete basement, an average of six feet below the surface, it averaged about sixty-five degrees, right? Been a long time since he thought about that.

And besides, the soft way the chill licked his skin drew out the goose bumps. Did nothing for him now.

A single bulb dangled from the ceiling, naked as Jim was. It was half-burnt out. Jim couldn’t tell if the buzzing he heard was from the bulb, his own ears, or maybe flies off in the distance. Flies circling someone else this guy killed.

The guy, who was near enough to Jim, stood over the only other piece of furniture in the room. Another wooden table. Jim’s weary eyeballs studied the man like he was a piece of art. The man was maybe fifty-five, still a solid ten or fifteen years younger than Jim. His hair and eye color didn’t matter; Jim would not later be describing him to the police. Pigs were never any help, especially not to Jim’s kind.

The man wore sweats and a white t-shirt, both flecked with Jim’s blood from the beating on the street. Jim could still taste all that copper, tacky and cold now inside his mouth. Jumped. Coward. You look ’em in the eye first, Jim thought. I always did. See if they’re brown or green or blue.

Then you whip ’em.

If the man could tell Jim was studying him, he didn’t let on. He was absorbed in his preparations. Almost in admiration. The man picked up an implement, a tube maybe six-inches long. Some funky design on the end. A balloon-shaped feature. Jim couldn’t tell from the distance. It wasn’t that far, but his vision trembled from the final kick to the teeth that blacked him out. It resounded.

With eager fingers, the man picked at the tube’s balloon-end like a sculptor tweezing off yesterday’s dried clay from his tools.

Jim recognized the way the man carried himself. Righteous, righteous, righteous. Endowed with greater purpose than what he saw around him. The ferocity to make it happen. Jim was used to being that man. He racked his strangled mind to discover a way to prevent this.

Jim tried to speak. His words gnarled by the sock, by his newly missing teeth, the split in his lip. It was mush. All his words were mush. The man turned around.


“That was mush, Jim. Hang on.” The man turned back around, looked down at his spread.

He shuffled through the various screw-on tips, feeling the characteristics. Different surface textures, sharp points, dull bulbs, barbed features and the spiraling, alien designs. So many to choose from. If only this could last months.

Even the shaft thicknesses differed greatly, like drum sticks. A jazz drummer who graced across his instrument with toothpicks had no need for the tree trunks a marching snare drummer swung.

He set the tips down, lined up like scalpels on a surgical tray. He ran his hand across them, just a faint breeze, titillated by contact here and there. The metal, the plastics. What they meant. This was finally happening.

He turned, studied Jim as he slowly, lazily walked nearer.

“Now Jim, I can’t remember this room smelling like shit before we came in here,” the man said. His goatee was white as snow. His temples as well. The man looked like yesterday he was eighteen, vibrant and fulfilled, but whatever happened during the night aged him forty years. “Funny. It stinks so bad now it’s hard to believe you did that all by yourself.”

Jim, splayed and bound to the table, burned holes in the man with a gaze reserved for the insane and predatory. The man smiled.

“You can call me Cenric. It’s Old English for ‘bold power.’ That’ll do for now.” He reached out and touched a tattoo on Jim’s chest. “Unless, of course, you can remember my actual name?”

Jim’s eyes crawled along every crevice, every detail and crow’s foot on Cenric’s face. Name? I should know his name? Jim’s mind raced along the back roads of his memory. Clawing at the dirt, pulling handfuls of grass and roots, throwing them over his shoulders. Digging. The frost heave of sixty years made it a tumultuous effort. Hard to jump from what was happening to who this guy was to what his five senses were screaming about to—

“It’ll come.” Cenric said. “You look road weary. What’s the cliché? Rode hard and put away wet? Yes. Of course, in an hour that will have new meaning. But these tattoos…cheap ink. What do they make that with, anyways? I saw a special on TV once. Made me think of you. I saw some Mexican using candle soot, baby oil, and shampoo or some such. Not very sanitary, I must say.”

Beads of sweat, instantly cool in the concrete air, cut lines down Jim’s temples and pooled on his ears. He could feel a puddle develop on the nape of his neck. The sensation of them tracing the outline of the tape over his mouth. Carving paths between his thighs. Wet fingers.

“You’re still fairly rock-solid for your age,” Cenric said, examining him as if he were a science specimen. “I never cared for the way some people’s hair would turn a tobacco yellow rather than just white. Even grey.”

Jim thrashed as best he could. This was killing him. Cenric smiled. Jim’s kidneys slapped up and down against the table. His fists clenched, jerked against the ropes. His ankles burned as they twisted against their binds.

“All right, all right,” Cenric said, patting Jim on his quivering chest. “Let’s talk about power, shall we?” Cenric turned and strolled in a wide arc. Power. How to demonstrate power? Cenric considered using a .22 to kneecap Jim, then draw a .357 magnum for the other kneecap. Just for comparison. Cenric considered many things, really. He made lists, crossed out ideas, added new ones. Jotted notes in the margins. If only this could last months.

He turned back. Met Jim’s eye. “Let’s talk about power.”


The drizzle from the sock ran down Jim’s throat in a sour mash river of vomit and rubber.

The man, this Cenric or whatever, he was possessed. By what was the question. Jim knew he would die here if he didn’t become a player in this game rather than the ball. Whatever was the motivation would determine how he would die.

Jim knew four murderers. Tyson was a gang banger who shot some other banger over turf or dope. Good riddance. But Tyson just wanted to do it and get it done, so he shot the guy on his front stoop in the middle of the day. Boom. Done. On to bigger and better things, until the other banger’s mother squealed to the pigs. Tyson took a deal; he knew how black trials went. Jim didn’t like that guy when they met, and he didn’t care when word came ’round that Tyson got plugged. Good riddance.

Daniel wasn’t a real murderer; he came home while his whore wife was fucking the neighbor. A baseball bat and a black out later and the happy couple were dead. That was revenge. Insanity by way of love. He was proud of squaring away that tramp, but he wasn’t cut from the same cloth as a real killer. He wound up sucking a lot of dick.

Bounce was a crackhead and killed another crackhead for a rock. A single fucking rock. The pains of jonesing. That was an itch. He OD’d on toilet hooch. He probably would have lived if anyone gave a shit enough to tell someone.

But Dick Morgan, that guy was a killer. A real killer. Everybody flowed around him. The man was blank, but he was there all at the same time. On a subconscious level it was disturbing. Nature didn’t do that often. Dick Morgan tied up women and dissected them. Played kitchen scientist and was rumored to have been fond of injecting them with cleaning chemicals and juices from raw meat just to see what the reaction would be. He carried himself the way Cenric did, but Jim could see the trembling rage beneath Cenric’s skin. Dick Morgan didn’t have that. Dick Morgan was calm as a small pond.

So Jim knew what that meant. This was going to be a poor death. He tried to work up a tear, let it run down the side of his face the way they always seem to do in the touching moments of Hollywood movies. The tear that turned the tide. Jim tried tilting his head just right so the ammonia smell from the sock could rise up, sting his nostrils, his eyes. It didn’t work. No matter how potent the gym sock was, Jim had smelled worse in his life.

He’d smelled real tears.


“Power. Power is defined as the ability to do or act. Also, the possession of control or command over others.”

Cenric rubbed his mouth, swallowed his salivating excitement. “For instance Jim, right now I have total power over you. I have the ability to do or act all over your wrinkled, punched-in ass. I have possession and control of you. If I so desire, I can go outside to my car, remove the battery and bring it in here. I can then alligator clip it to your nipples or your testicles. Spend the next several hours lighting you up, one Die Hard at a time. That’s power…within the context of our situation.”

Cenric used a fingertip to trace hard circles around Jim’s nipples. His face was placid as he did.

“Jim, have you ever had power?” Cenric asked this as he took hold of Jim’s right hand, looked at the tattoos on the fingers. He crossed the table, examined the other hand. “Love mutt, how cute.”

Jim’s fists clenched. He’d had love tattooed across the first segment of his right fist thirty years ago. Mutt inked across his left fist just after. It was the nickname he’d given himself. An inside joke.

Cenric drew a pocket knife. The blade snapped open with a sobering clink. The tip, gleaming and unnerving, hovered like a gnat just above the surface of Jim’s unblinking eye. “Still think you’re a love mutt?”

Jim’s tongue stabbed at the inside of the sock, even as the blade lowered further. The rhythm of the jabbing cranked up, then mashed against the sock and shoved shoved shoved as the tip dug in. Jim blinked hard, and even as his eyelids fought the pressure his head knew better than to squirm.

The wet pop echoed off the walls.

Jim’s lungs burned and his throat so raw as he screamed against the gag.

“That was mush, Jim. Hang on.” Cenric put the knife to his lips and let the fluid languidly run down his tongue. He resumed his lazy strolling arc. “Sorry, Jim. Got ahead of myself there.”

Cenric watched through a glaze of giddiness as Jim writhed in absolute torment. The man’s body was alive with a slithering electricity; seizing every muscle from his toes to his forehead. Yanking the tip of every nerve and pinching. Doing something to act out how much losing an eye really hurt.

Jim’s good eye was crying. His deflated eye was weeping. His eyebrows flexed hard enough to break stone and his mouth tore at the tape. Let him get it undone. Cenric wanted to speak with him anyway.

Still tasting the fluid on his lips, Cenric said, “I think you have wielded power in your former life, Jim. Considerable power.”

At those words, Jim’s overly taxed body dropped back onto the table. It ground to a halt. No winning here.

Cenric took a photo from his back pocket, an old 5x7, ran his fingertip down the picture as his lips trembled. “Candace. White girl, twenty-two. In nursing school. Brown hair, brown eyes, short with large breasts, looked sweet and naïve.”

He hung his head over Jim’s. “You know Jim, like the others.”


The searing agony in his eye socket could not drown out the next words, or the hollowness in which they were spoken.

“My Candace, her hair was brown but only when it was cloudy. It was chestnut in the summer sun and walnut in the winter light. Her eyes were brown but not the dull color of it you see in so many other people’s eyes. They were deeper than that. They held hopes. She was short. Her head fit right under my chin. Her breasts fit into my chest and my—odd to say it but—my gut fit under her breasts. We were matching puzzle pieces.”

Jim tried to shake his head. The jostling just made his burning eye socket explode again and again. He absently kept tonguing the sock. All at once the dry thing blew out through the bottom of the gag, peeking out like earthworm. Newly energized, Jim frantically worked it around. Futilely trying to sever the duct tape glue from his stubble as if getting it off would change things.

A bleak smile inched across Cenric’s face as he hovered, delighted. “Wanting to talk, Jim? Do you want to join our discussion?”

Jim nodded frantically. Eye screaming. Cenric unceremoniously gripped the tape and yanked it back like he was pull-starting a lawn mower. Jim’s mouth flooded with the sweet smells of the shit-tasting air. Might as well have been a cold draft beer.

“I got married at eighteen!” Jim shouted. “Alice! We were high school sweethearts! We saw Grease at a double feature at a drive-in and listened to Andy Gibb on the radio! Billy Joel, the Bee Gees! Alice loved sour cherries and potato salad! She tattooed my name on her shoulder! I’m human, man! I’m not some fuckin’ sex slave torture mannequin! You gotta understand I have feelings and a daughter and I-” A hand over his mouth. Firm and silencing.

“Candace was naïve,” Cenric said. Jim’s interruption just a paper-thin reed in a Zen stream. The captor’s narrative flowed around it without so much as leaving a wake. “She was sheltered growing up. That’s probably why she thought it was safe to walk through a four-block stretch of bad neighborhood at dusk. Cost her, though. Just like the others.” He lifted his hand.

“GET ME THE FUCK OUTTA HERE!” Jim screamed. He was met with a punch so hard the exclamation point of his statement was knocked across the room like a broken tooth. Jim’s head went with the roll; heat spread through his jaw. Oddly thankful for the blood cascading inside his lips. His mouth was so dry he welcomed any moisture.

Cenric wagged a finger, scolding. “No outbursts. We’ll discuss this like gentlemen.” Shook the sting out of his fist, paced.

Jim, bleeding from everywhere on his face, he couldn’t help but laugh. Absurd. “Gentlemen? You stab my fuckin’ eyeball, beat me senseless and tie me naked as a jay bird to a table and you want to discuss this shit like gentlemen? Fuck you! FUCK YO—”

Jim’s gut blew out with a hammer fist raining down. Jim could feel himself trying not to shit right there on the table as the force caved in his pelvic bowl. Did he piss himself? He didn’t know. Jim did taste the vomit and he choked it back. There was never a better gag than stomach contents. It made the sock look weak.

Cenric leaned over Jim, placid surface, raging just below. “All I want, Jim—”


“—is an apology,” Cenric said. “I want you to tell me how sorry you are for Candace. For what you did to her.”

Cenric clenched his right hand around the roll of pennies he had inside it. If necessary, he’d strike Jim’s gut again, but he wanted the words.

“You owe me that, Jim.” Cenric’s eyes dragged themselves slowly across Jim’s quaking body. The papery skin, old and worn. The shitty tattoos, the sheen of sweat. The way his toes twitched nervously, uncontrollably. His bony fists squeezing themselves bloodless. How this feral animal of man selected Candace, dragged her off to—

“I don’t owe you shit, you fucking crazy cock sucker!” Blood spit up with every word. Cenric stepped back, watched the geyser.

Jim thrashed about, a marlin hooked and on the deck; a badger gnawing at its foot caught in a trap. Cenric recognized it as a last stand. One final, grand effort. Jim was being defeated, dominated. If only this could last months.


“For what? For fucking what?” Jim screamed.

“For kidnapping and raping my Candace.”

“You’re fuckin’ high if you think—”

“James Lee Cartwright, born September 21st, 1959, you were convicted of three counts of aggravated rape thirty-four years ago and now you’ve been out of prison five months. You’re registered on all the FBI websites. I testified against you. After Candace talked to me all those long, long nights ago. Those nights where she would relive it. Relive you. It rotted her. It took her sweet naiveté and it left a cancer. An all-consuming, devastating sickness that polluted her every fiber. Her soul. Now, don’t fuck with me. Tell me why I testified against you. Tell me before I start treating you the same way you treated her.”

Fine. Jim’s eyes changed complexion. He didn’t know what this man had in mind, but Jim knew he was completely insane, and he did not believe for a moment he was bluffing. Jim was intimately familiar with baseless posturing. He knew what it looked like when those guys in the pen would talk out their asses when they were backed into a corner. If this crazy bastard ass-raped him and then forced a blow job, Jim would never sleep again. Then he really would cry.

“Fine.” Jim felt small, and it wasn’t Jim’s place to feel small. To be weak.

Jim tried hard to push the miniscule whimpering out of his head, the door mouse of fright scurrying about in there, he couldn’t make it disappear. It grew. Like Mr. Hyde it grew gigantic. This unnamed man had Jim exactly where Jim liked his women to be.

All that rage bubbled up. All that poison filling him, he cultivated and polished it for years as he fed on it and grew strong. It made him into a certified Greek titan. But now it left him when he needed it most. Fuck. This was the way it was going to be? Fine.

“Fine,” Jim said. His voice hard. Sharp. The way all those years in the pen made it. “You testified because she was dead. Cunt couldn’t handle my cock so she punched her own ticket.”

“That’s the Jim I know.” Cenric said, so relieved the room’s atmosphere shifted. “Alice left you when she found out. Laura cut you out of her life. I remember your daughter looking at her own newborn baby girl, then back at you. Like you were going to fuck that kid also. Probably would have. Sold everything to pay the attorney. You were exposed that day, Jim. I was a part of that.”

“Fuck you, monkey dick,” Jim growled. “Candace was a sloppy piece of ass. Not worth the rusty knife I cut her with.”

Cenric smiled, fulfilled. “Now, we can get down to business.”

He dropped his pants, stepped out of them. He went back to the tray and pulled out the strap-on belt system he bought from the fetish store.

“Thirty-six years ago you robbed me of my wife. Candace and I were married seven months when you came along. She never got past it. Never got past you. Not even for me. Your power was too…well, powerful, I guess. You still possessed her even after you left her for dead, the taste of shit in her mouth. When she killed herself what she was really doing was finishing what you started. I’ve spent thirty-six years salivating for this. And now, I’m so amped up to possess you, to let you experience me, I don’t think I need the strap-on. My erection is rock-solid.”

Cenric selected one of the tips and screwed it into the receptacle on the groin of the belt. “Of course, my erection isn’t ten inches long with rough-edged studs and a sharp point.”

Jim’s eyed widened as Cenric smiled. Strutted over. With a laugh he said, “Funny thing. My name is Jim also. I figured you would’ve remembered that. But oh well.”

Cenric used a single finger to pull a dangle of sweat-soaked bangs out of Jim’s face. He wanted to see it. “All right, love mutt, let’s do this. Let’s experience power.”

Suddenly Jim regretted everything he had ever done. And as he began to scream, he shouted those regrets out loud.

Jim’s entire life, excruciatingly bemoaned with every push, push, push.

Ryan Sayles's debut novel, The Subtle Art Of Brutality, is out through Snubnose Press. He is a founding member of Zelmer Pulp, works at Out Of The Gutter Online Magazine and The Big Adios. His fiction has appeared in around than two dozen online journals, ezines and print. He may be reached at Vitriol and


  1. Dammit Walnuts you can sure make the old toes curl and grip the carpet like eagle talons. I suspect you might get some flack from this one, but you know what? Screw em! Pictures sharp as a Speed Graphic flashbulb at a back alley murder scene and just as unrelenting. Pace that keeps the reader turning pages faster and faster. Morality at it's hardest diamond sharp edge. Justice of the most savage kind. It's freakin' brilliant, man. Cool.

  2. vivid, powerful and unsettling, but above all brilliantly written. Ryan, you are completely fearless and I salute you for it.