There's a man, sitting in front of me, head shaved down to a central fire-red line from forehead on back, dyed to an unnatural extreme. He's wearing a filthy cloth shirt, covered in what looks to be the end of other people, in all types of little pieces. And he's looking at me, eyes shining with a kind of rapacious curiosity, as if ice could be imbued with the sense to be fascinated. Stubble on his face is uneven, at angles, like it's been cut with scissors, and quickly. Combat pants and boots coated with equal amounts of grass stains, mud, and far worse beyond. My eyes are only just coming to terms with the poor lighting, and I don't think I want to be able to identify much of it.
He speaks, not waiting for a sound or encouragement. Not that I can produce either, with what looks like, from the bottom of my eyes, a strip of duct tape over my mouth.
“Did I ever tell you how much I love it here? Have I ever told you? Maybe? I love every thing about it, even the things I hate, It's just so fucking great. I love it.” There's a brief whisk of his wrist, and there's a cruelly sharp knife in his hand before I can blink. He points it at me, smiling, and then touches it to his cheek, pensive, before the hand holding it descends to his lap. “I mean, you look at a place like this, and I don't know how the locals can stand it. They've got a poor frame of mind, man, a poor frame. They need to be more like me, I mean, fuck!” He stands up, knocking his chair back. I can barely see where it clatters to, the bare bulb that lights the room only hints at the barest of shadows. But this guy-- I can see too clearly. “And you know, I can't get angry at them, I can't. I mean, I do, but I can't, I shouldn't. They just need-- they need adjusment. Yeah. That's what they need.” The knife, again, goes to his cheek. He starts scratching, not so much pensive as absent-mindedly. “But you don't know what I'm talking about. You're just off the boat, right? Make the world a better place? Right? Fuckin' little white coat and pills and fuckin'-- tinctures and shit to coat the lining of this acid-filled place.”
He begins prowling, and he's nicked his cheek with the tip of the blade, but hasn't noticed. “Yeah. Acid-filled. Like a stomach, right? Stomachs have acid, all this corrosive stuff to make life easier. Break down to build up, that's what it's for. I guess I can sympathize. Acid.”
I nod, not knowing what else to do.
“Acid. I remember, once--” he looks back and then sets up the folding chair again, flipping it to sit with its back to me, him sitting with his chest resting on the back, akimbo. He turns points his middle and index finger, gunlike, at his head, “I shot this guy, right? Not in the head, in the stomach, I shot him through the back, through his ribcage, I think. Bullet went in and carried out more on the other side, tore a hole the size of, like, a teacup, where it came out. The worst fucking kind of smell you ever had hit your nose. Like something that comes out of the 'fridge after the power's been out for a week, but, like, instantly, you know? Fuckin' reeked. Haha- fuck-- never managed to get that smell outta the carpet he spilled out onto. All these little scraps just, y'know, melting into... Like, like the way your hands get when you douse 'em in bleach-- just wet, slippery, like, your skin can't make its fucking mind up whether it wants to get off or stay on. Break him down or try to build him up.”
He stands up again, and puts the knife back in its sheath. His cheek is bleeding with a slow, steady trickle. “All that life leaking out of him couldn't make up its mind either. Instead, just went and ruined my fucking carpet. But I bought another one. And you know, it was all so cheap.”
There's a laugh, deep, throaty, and booming. “Fuck, man, that's it. That's what I love about it here. It's all so goddamned cheap. I can't even remember why that guy needed to have that bullet in his belly, but I'm sure there was some good kind of motivation, y'know? But there's no need for a why here, wasn't back then, and there's no need now for me to, ah, y'know, elucidate a meaning, or whatever, now. It's all so cheap.”
Pain isn't enough to make my brain go for those endorphins that will calm everything down, take the edge off. I'm on an edge, tied to this chair, slowly waking up to the bruises and cuts, slowly waking up to the likelihood that those aren't going to be the last. The likelihood that I'm not going to make it out of here at all.
“So cheap. So I can't be angry at him. I don't think I was at the time. I mean, fuck, that carpet, I got another. Same price. Same price, the entertainment he bought me.” There's a gun, now, a dark gleaming under the bare light. “That's what I love here. Everything is so cheap. These, all these--” He thumbs out the release for the clip, deftly catching it as it falls out, his other hand then beginning to pop out bullet by bullet of ammunition. “Not even dollars, not even pennies. Nothing like what you'd have to pay back in the city, man. They grow crops of these here, and each season is richer than the last. There's a market, too, man, there's people selling this shit by the barrel, maybe just hoping that by being sellers, they won't be buying something far worse, be on the receiving end of their products.
“I can't believe it, here, why you'd stay at all if you didn't have this understanding that I have. How these people sell what you can pick off the ground for free. How you can buy someone's life so cheaply and sell it in the blink of an eye. Sometimes, you don't even have to pay.
“Yeah. Carpet costs the same as a man: one bullet. One bullet at the right time. Maybe when they answer their door, maybe when they're down on their knees, begging for the safety they ain't got. They don't understand, like I do, how that cheap little bullet is all they're worth. I mean, fuck, some people, a lot of people, as a whole, around the world, they know. They know that if they pay for that little chunk of powder-propelled lead, they're buying a change that binds.”
There's a grin of yellowing teeth. Icy eyes again settle on me. “Like you're bound now. Like you could be changed now. Think you didn't come cheaply?”
Sweat covering my forearms doesn't leave me enough lubrication to try and slip through the rope without losing skin. Life or limb is the encroaching decision, a coin-flip waiting to be called. Like he'd been sitting, the back of my own chair is against my chest, my hands tied together around it, a line of rope running down to between the ropes below. The ropes below that tie my feet together to the chair's back legs, together. My shirt's sticky enough to almost glue me to the chair-back. I can feel down my back, there's enough flowing down into the seat of my pants to stick me to the bottom of the chair there, too.
“You come to the lion's den, chico. You come selling nothing, just walking in on your little dreams of goodwill among men and that shit? Hah, you guys kill me.” He grins, tossing the empty clip to the ground, and in a gesture, snapping another into the gun. There's the sound of the slide swinging forward with a click. In the movies, that's how they tell you the gun's loaded, ready for use. Ready to be used on me. That's what he's telling me. “You kill me, I say that, but nobody can. I kill me. I'm doing it slowly, surely, deliberately, and with that calm fucking kind of crazy that you see so viciously poised in front of you, man. Nah, crazy, that's me. Now, insanity, insanity's the thing that's got this whole goddamned continent soaking in clotting seas that they never stop filling. Insanity is their sanity, and that makes anyone who's crazy the only lucid ones around.”
He's up, walking, that little cut dripping down his chin, drip by drip between the stubbles of hairs, little dime-sized blots collecting on his shirt. Little spots on the carpet. He's behind me, now, and there's a small chuckle. A drop lands on my shoulder, and I feel the prickles of hair next to my ear, a hotness of breath. I feel a circle of metal pressed suddenly against me. The gun is pressed to my back, left side, lower part of the ribcage.
“Did I ever tell you-- how much I love it here?”