by David Clark
The huge metal door swung open with a loud and uncomfortable creak, allowing Jack to enter and assess his surroundings. A settee no cushions, the fabric ripping off revealing warped wood and stains like the inside of a rotting mouth. The springs jutted out of the seat area making it difficult to see anywhere one could possibly be comfortable. In front stood a tiny bed side table, the main table for the room. Across the floor was an arm-chair, similarly ridden with mold and a lack of cushioning. The floor was tiled and bare. It was strewn with dirt which, while relatively sparse across the main areas, clustered in the corners and was crawling with bugs. The walls…..torn and splattered with who knew what bodily fluids. All of them.
And now the room was complimented by Jack Hooper’s presence. His belly protruded from his floral shirt which didn’t come close to reaching the waistband of his ridiculous burgundy three quarter length shorts. He wore moccasins and ray bans. His hair was grime. Jack wore a trend starting beard. His head was lifted so that his chin pointed to the far corner of the roof meaning he looked down his nose, under his glasses and into the dark room into which he had entered. One would rather spend time in this room, alone and hungry, than spend 5 minutes listening to or merely, breathing in the same air as, Jack.
The room had now been thoroughly assessed by Jack and he made his way across it to the armchair and seated himself. The springs under the fabric pressed against the small of his back and his buttock cheek bones but it was a discomfort Jack was happy with. It made him feel superior. He could deal with this; just like he’d dealt with that whore not 2 hours ago. He laughed to himself as the memory of her blood and tear smeared face recovered itself in his mind. He’d fucked her, he’d beaten her, and he’d paid her. And now he was here, in this ugly, dim and stale room. Three men entered after him. They were local. Two of them were huge with bodies like titans. They scowled at Jack. They positioned themselves, standing, either side of the settee onto which sat the third man. He was small but not fat like Jack. He was reassuringly ugly. His features resembled a sewer rat and his grin was yellow where there were any teeth to be seen. His mannerisms were sharp and hurried. He fidgeted, grinned and looked from side to side and then towards Jack with a demonic and slightly crazed glint in his eye. He looked away quickly and facing the wall with his eyes closed and a painful grimace etched on his face, he began:
‘’Bon Jour Monsieur. How can we help you today?’’
Rabat, Morocco. Jack’s wife knew he was on a business trip in Hong Kong. He’d be home in a day. Jack’s colleagues knew he was in the Lake District with his wife and two children. Jack’s children knew he was fighting the bad guys. Jack knew he was fucking whores, hammering drugs and dining on voluptuous amounts of red meat and wine in front of homeless Arabs.
Jack drummed his fat gross fingers on the arm of his chair and looked cockily back at the rat like man who, still, declined to return Jack’s gaze. Jack replied:
‘’Just drugs today my good man. I know what you people are like, you’d try and do me out of my life savings if you could. Drugs and drugs only.’’
The rat took no offense to Jack’s racist remark, He merely clicked his fingers and ushered his henchman towards Jack:
‘’Of course. Money first.’’
Jack stood up slowly cradling his belly, and walked over to the tiny table, laying down 4 or 5 notes which were immediately snapped up one of the titans.
They withdrew and allowed their mangy leader to throw down a packet of brown pills on the table which Jack snapped up immediately before making for the large metal door. A large hand on his chest stopped him in his tracks and his host spoke again:
‘’please stay, share and enjoy your time with us’’
Jack looked back at his smiling host, flashing yellow teeth at him, his stinking breath oozing out into the hot and uncomfortable room. Only now did the discomfort of the room become real for Jack. Before it was business. Now he had to stay. He returned to his seat and slipped a pill down his throat, an action replicated by the other three.
Jack was a bad man. Jack ran a large section of a large bank. Jack embezzled money. Jack framed his colleagues. Jack spat on the homeless. Jack was a bad man. But no one knew except Jack. To others Jack was a great entrepreneur. A man with business nous. Jack was a great father. Jack was a great husband. The line between the truth of Jack Hooper and the fallacy which shrouded his whole life and the people around him, was discreet. The truth was a lie. Jack was a bad man. Jack had no morals. Where would morals get him after all? He wouldn’t be enjoying this room now. He wouldn’t have had the pleasure of three Moroccan beauties with morals. He couldn’t have broken their fingers with morals. He couldn’t have bitten ones lip till it bled with morals. He couldn’t retain his job, his family and his drug addicted life with morals. Jack was a bad man.
The drug took hold. The room faded. The rotten, crumbling walls were fixed in a blur and Jack’s forehead sweated. The springs massaged his back, like hands pressing through the fabric. Trapped bodies in the armchair, reaching for help. But Jack wasn’t going to help. He was drifting away. His hosts yellow smile stayed with him into the blackness, a light in his mind. And then black. The smell of sweat and stagnant air. Then black. No smell. No sight. No sound. The hands massaging him retreated and he was alone.
On waking Jack remembered little. The black subsided so quickly, he had to shield his eyes from the piercing sunlight. Sunlight? He was outside. It took a moment for him to realise. He was sitting down on some soft ground and once his eyes had adjusted to the light he noticed that it was sand he was on. His skin woke up and the sand burned his hands, throwing him to his fat feet. Jack turned and turned in a haze, a delirium of not knowing where he was. The sun was ablaze, high in the sky and there was nowhere to shade himself from its fury. The white cotton shirt he wore aided him little and his skin immediately began to burn and blister. He watched as the red skin cracked and threw tiny streams of puss and blood running down his wrists. Jack threw himself back down onto the burning sand and caked his bare skin in it, the only protection he could find from the sunlight.
His throat was parched. As soon as his mind drew focus from his burning skin to the dryness of his throat, swallowing became an immensely difficult and painful activity. Breathing grew more and more difficult until each gasp for air felt like it may be the last. Jack’s whole torso was tense with the pressure that breathing had put on him and his sand crusted blubber. He squinted his eyes at the satanic sun before once again rising and wandering no more than 5 feet forwards and 5 feet back. There was no sign on anything. He was well and truly alone, isolated, marooned, in this deserted land.
Jack had seen a colleague of his fired for Jack’s own misdoings. Framed by Jack. He had embezzled funds from his company account, framed his friend and colleague, and got away with the whole thing. His friend had not. In the pain of losing his big salary and west end flat, his money grabbing wife and silver wheels, he killed himself, in the river. And now, abruptly and incongruously, this dead former colleague of Jack’s, sprang unwelcome into his mind. Jack was responsible for his death. It took a moment for him to feel any guilt. He looked down at the sand and saw his own reflection looking back. His reflection was weeping. The washed up corpse of his colleague now came floating into view on the sea of sand and slapped up against Jack’s own reflection. It bent one way and the next, trying to find a way around Jack’s sand strewn and tear jerked reflection, but it couldn’t. The body hung on, stuck against Jack like a branch on a rock in a river. The body dislodged itself and floated out of view. Jack’s reflection weeped a second longer then a smile cracked across it’s face. While laughing it slowing morphed into a grotesque green beast which stared back at Jack. Eyes ablaze like the sun above him, the beast grinned and growled, showing its blistered tongue. Its skin was bloodless and dead and the hair straggled loosely over its hideous face. Jack noticed two horns jut out of the monstrous head. They shone against the sun. Jack fell to the sand and smothered the reflection, his body burning once more against the sand which he wrestled. He closed his eyes and dug at it, writhing around painfully. The malevolent beast looked back at him when he re-opened his eyes. It winked and disappeared. Jack remained for some time on the sand; his hands covered in dark red, congealed blood and sand.
He heard the cries of his children welcoming him home from his business trip, their hero. He heard his wife’s lascivious moans as he thrust roughly between her spread legs, with his lips pressed angrily against hers in a passion that is prevalent after a long time apart. He heard the smash of the plate against the kitchen wall when she found out what he’d been up to, when she found the unopened packet of condoms in his luggage and he heard the door slam as she threw him out of the house. He heard the children crying upstairs and he heard the HIV he had contracted during his trip, slowly beginning its life ending journey through the woman he once loved. He heard the breaking of his cheek bone when his divorced wife finally succumbed to the vicious illness, and his once loving son, now a grown man, had come to take revenge on his ugly, leech of a father. He heard the closing of the briefcase which had just declared him bankrupt. He heard his muffled tears and cries of pain as he lay homeless and decrepit on the street, no one to love him. Not even close. He heard the slow funeral march and the closing of the coffin door. The incinerator being lit and his body being cast into the flames. He heard the undertakers joke about the lack of attendance and the futility of his vagabond life. He heard nothing at all.
The desert was still stretched out for miles and miles ahead of him but the sky had turned grey as if preparing a storm all around him. The congealed blood on his hands and wrists faded. The room returned.
At first he couldn’t make out anything. His eyes stung and his arms and legs wouldn’t move. He felt his chin against his chest and his head hanging down, not able to support its own weight. As his eyes came to, he watched the slow rising and falling of his belly and used the rhythmic breathing to focus his energy on lifting his head. The room came to view, dark, as it had been when he left it. The furniture was as it had been but there was no one there to occupy it except himself. The rat and his cronies were gone and Jack was left alone. His chest was soaked through with saliva and sweat and he still failed to lift himself from the chair. It was excruciatingly uncomfortable now and Jack tried helplessly to free himself from its tyranny.
Shouts then came from the hallway. In Arabic. A definite dispute. One of the shouts was recognisable as the rat. Then it was French. ‘’ Vous ne pouvez pas venir ici!!!’’ then ‘’ Il est un client payant!!!!!!’’………………Jack didn’t know what it meant but he was worried and tried harder and harder to get up with no success. He dribbled some more. Only his neck and saliva glands functioning. There were more exasperated shouts and a bang. Another bang and screams. They were fighting but the fighting was ugly. The screams became more frightened before turning to pleads for mercy. ”S’il vous plait! S’il vous plait!!! Pardonner!!” It sounded as though the rat was being tortured. The bangs became cracks, like that of a whip but louder and muffled. Three, four cracks sounded and the shouting stopped. The main door creaked open and in came three men whom Jack did not recognise. The men were huge and Mid-west African, not Moroccan. One wore a knuckle duster. Another brandished a long kitchen knife. The final man held a Magnum revolver in one hand and the decapitated head of the rat in the other. All 3, Jack could now see, were blood soaked. As they drew closer, Jack attempted furiously and pointlessly to move but, while his mind was free of the trip, his body had not awoken. And just for a moment, as this thought passed through his mind, he saw the desert again. The desert was visible in a hole on the lead man’s head. He stood there, gun in one hand, dead man’s head in the other but Jack just stared, engrossed, into his skull. The screams of pain resumed from outside. One of the rats’ men, possibly taking his final breaths having regained some kind of consciousness. The desert disappeared from the attackers head. The trip was over. Jack leaped up from the seat but was immediately pinned down by the other two men and he acquiesced to their superior physicality. The leader pulled his gun up from his waist and loaded it in front of Jacks eyes. He grabbed a loose pillow that was sitting on the floor and placed it over Jacks face, slowly suffocating him. Jack began to scream violently. He kicked screamed and kicked and screamed. He retched into the pillow and the vomit rebounded and cascaded back into his open screaming mouth. It was pitch black and he didn’t know what they were doing or when it was coming. Something pressed against the other side of the pillow. The final crack of the whip smashed into Jacks world, flashes of brilliant white light ran through his eyes. The ringing in his ears became a tremendous crescendo, louder than anything he’d ever experienced. His body was paralysed and he could feel the warm blood trickle through the hole in his brain. It congealed again and then there was more fresh blood, filling his nose and eyes and then joining the vomit in choking him. The flashing lights stopped in his eyes and were replaced by complete blackness. The ringing ceased and was replaced by complete silence. Jack did not wake up. This time there was no desert to save him.