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Miasma – Daniel L. Naden

 

Daniel Naden

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Blood.  

I saw it explode from my face in a halo of fine mist as once again Mikey’s fist slammed hard into my jaw.  The skin there and on my cheekbone had already split from swelling and previous punches, the jawbone underneath broken and grating on itself.  Even with all that damage — and the pain Mikey brought me really was exquisite — I couldn’t help but find distracted by the spray of blood.  

It was like a snapshot of a punch in the boxing ring:  the flash of the camera freezing a moment in time; the force of the impact contorting the boxer’s face and atomizing the mixture of sweat and blood there.  For a moment, I had a brief vision as if I was looking at myself from outside my body. As if the trio of thugs orbiting my chair and taking turns beating on me had all been captured in some flashbulb still life that was being scrutinized by someone else.  Someone angry.

Then it was gone and my world resolved itself back into a kind of throbbing, sickening agony.  Another punch landed, this one just below my rib cage — couldn’t have been good for my liver — and I doubled over as far as the binding ropes would allow, throwing up a combination of snot, blood, and bile.

A rough hand grabbed a fistful of my hair and pulled me back straight, an exquisite spasm of pain shot through my battered midsection.

“Pay attention, Raymond,” said a voice from behind me — maybe Carlo, maybe Rich; I couldn’t really tell — and I felt his knuckles rap the backside of my head.  “Mikey’s gonna ask you the question again.”

Slowly, the room swam back into focus.  I was tied to a chair in a space not much bigger than a closet — in fact, it looked like a janitor’s closet.  The shelf along the back wall was stacked with cleaning products and the air carried the unmistakable tang of disinfectant and dry rasp of slowly-moldering mop heads — over the scent of blood and puke, that is.  A single bare bulb overhead lit the whole affair, casting dim shadows of the three brutes jammed in claustrophobically around me.

I’d kinda lost track of time since I woke up in here in my…well…unpleasant situation, but the guys couldn’t have been working on me for much more than a half hour.  Rich and Carlo opened up on me, each taking a few good, hard shots on me. They did a pretty good job of it, truth be told.  But Mikey? Well, Mikey’s always been a true artiste.  

He’d only just started working on me and I was already ready to talk.  Hell, I would’ve ratted out my grandma to keep him from hitting me again.  The guy really knew how to make it hurt. He slapped me again to get my attention.

“So tell me again, Ray,” Mikey said without a hint of threat in his voice of the malice suggested by the blood on his knuckles.  “What happened to Mr. Anthony’s money?”

“I..I don’t know,” I said.  My voice sounded like I was speaking through a mouthful of marbles.  “I didn’t skim any of it!”

Mikey peered at me with exaggerated sadness.

“I’m really sorry to hear you keep saying that.”  

He flexed his fingers before forming a fist.  I could see that the skin over his knuckles was split from the force of his blows on me, but it didn’t seem to bother him.  He cocked his arm back and swung. In slow motion, I saw the punch coming. His face clenched in a grimace, Mikey’s fist raced toward me in a blur.  I tried to brace myself against it, but then Mikey’s shoulder dropped and the looping hook turned down. He hit me hard in the groin, pinning my genitals to the surface of the chair before I could flinch my legs closed.  

I vomited again, the exhalation of the breath I’d just taken in, spewing gore all over myself and Mikey.  Then a wave of agony slammed through me, starting low in my gut and ramming its way up my spinal column. When it hit my brain, I blacked out.  Or at least, I think I blacked out.

Instead, I found myself looking at the setting as if from outside my body.  I saw the janitor’s closet crystal-clear, to the finest detail. I could read the labels on all the cans and bottles on the shelves; I could hear the water gurgling in the drain in the middle of the floor, right below where my fucked-up body was currently tied to a chair; I could smell the after shave that the Mikey was wearing and the conspicuous absence of it from Carlo and Rich.  I could see it all, lit up like someone had just flared up a hundred halogens in the room, just for me. Only I was seeing it from the ceiling, as if I was about five feet overhead.

For a brief moment, I had the feeling that I was dead — that my consciousness was now piggybacked to my soul and together, we were hanging around waiting for whatever afterlife awaited a bum like me.  I found an ethereal kind of peace there: a finality to the struggling, frustrating, rat race of life, the comfort of being able to set it all aside and forget everything. I could have stayed like that forever, balanced at the nexus between my before and my after, in the next instant, everything went red.

I know it sounds weird.  What had been calm turned chaotic, an instant boil of rage.  The tableau below me that I had viewed with relief at leaving behind, now I saw a lens of hatred.  Surging, throbbing anger; roiling thunderclouds of gathering doom. All of the pain and outrage I’d ever felt was collecting to a focal point centered on Mikey and Rich and Carlo and the only way I can describe it is red.  

I fell on them.

***

Later, how much, I couldn’t tell, but I came awake still seated in the chair in the janitor’s closet.  I was no longer bound and apparently, no longer injured. I sat in a neat circle of relative clean. Around me, every inch of the room was covered in blood.

My senses reeled from the vertigo of it all.  One second I was hovering outside my body, the next…well…it was like a bomb went off, spraying bits of what I assumed was Mikey, Rich, and Carlo all over the janitor’s closet.  At first, I didn’t even remember precisely how it happened, but as I sat there, ragged snippets of memory began to fill in.  

I recalled a glimpse of a terrified Carlo, his mouth closed, one hand pinched over his nose, as if he was submerged, trying to keep water out.  He’d backed himself into the corner formed between the side wall of the closet and the rack of shelves, his legs pistoning even though he couldn’t go any further.  At the same time, Rich was writhing on the ground, his arms flailing wildly at his body, as if putting out flames that only he could see.

With Mikey, I felt the oddest sensation.  My fingers had been implacably working their way between Mikey’s lips, wedging their way through his clenched teeth, prying open his mouth.  Every centimeter I gained, every gap that opened up, I seemed to be pouring into him, filling Mikey with immensity of rage he had spawned in me — then filling him further.

At some point, the rage swept away all awareness.  I don’t really recall what happened next. A quick sensation of stretching, like flexing a beefy bicep in the sleeve of a sausage-casing shirt…then I opened my eyes to this abattoir.

Between me and the door, there was a single square of clean floor.  I tried the knob and was only mildly surprised that the door was no longer locked.  Cocking an ear, I waited, but as far as I could hear, there wasn’t anyone outside. I slipped through the door into a painfully bright world.  It was a hallway, fortunately empty.

My eyes adjusted and I took a look around.  Apparently, I was in an office building. A nice place, as far as offices go:  clean, orderly bays of cubicles branching off on one side or the other. Here and there, a piece of modern artwork on the walls.  The circumference of the building featured a whole bank of floor-to-ceiling glass windows. It was through these windows that an ungodly amount of sunlight was shining in.  Given the angle of the sunlight, I surmised that it must be either just after dawn or just before sunset. As I said, I didn’t really have an accurate guess on how long I’d been out before the guys started in on me.  Maybe it hadn’t been very long, but I didn’t have much way of knowing for sure, at this point

I figured that whatever time it was, there wouldn’t be nosy people hanging about.  I also ventured a guess that the building was one of Theo Anthony’s real estate investments, where he spent a tiny portion of his illegal earnings in some legitimate enterprise, just so he’d portray the veneer of legitimacy.  Such investments also came in handy, it would seem, for…um…addressing problems with former employees in remarkable privacy.

That privacy helped me now.  I strolled to the elevator without seeing anyone and punched the down button.  I was on the fifth floor and the elevator, when it arrived, had a button marked “P1”.  For the parking garage, I presumed. Good ol’ P1. I decided on the spot that I was a big fan of P1.  

It was a short ride, and I took it, half expecting the car to be stopped short by building security.  Evidently, though, no one was home at the security desk watching the monitors. Taking a couple hours off at the behest of Mr. Anthony?  You betcha.

The doors dinged open to a well-lit parking garage.  I stepped out and tried to get my bearings to the nearest exit.  The garage was almost entirely empty. The only cars on the P1 Level were off to one side:  a handful of white Fords, all identical. Fleet cars for the company. I made my way past them with hardly a glance, more interested in getting to the outer edge of the garage, out into the real sunlight and the holy fuck away from this place.  I did not, therefore, see the figure sitting in the shadows behind the wheel of one of the fleet cars. But I heard it when the car started.

Unfortunately for me, I was now standing equidistant from either end of the ramp leading out of P1.  Just as far back to the door as it was to the next level. And probably too many steps away from one of the sides to bail out there.  I was pretty royally screwed. I ran, knowing that I was already too late.

The white Ford rocketed from the parking space and closed the distance between us.  Instead of slowing, it accelerated, weaving slightly in response to my pathetic attempts to zig or zag.  Serpentine running might work in war movies, but it sucks for escaping when a couple thousand pounds of car is bearing down on you.

Still, I almost made it.  In my mind, I visualized the sliding, head-first dive I made at the little wedge of space between my ramp and the one above it.  I was gonna be Willie Wilson, stealing second. Screw the road rash or the drop on the other side. I could visualize myself disappearing into that slot at precisely the instant the Ford crashed into the wall.  I was that sure I was going to make it.

But I didn’t.

The Ford sped up and caught me, just as I tensed to dive.  I was scooped backward onto the hood with a sickening thunk of meat on metal and the twin gunshots of my thighbones snapping like kindling.  I screamed loud enough to hear the echoes bouncing back to me from the concrete walls of P1.

The Ford’s momentum carried it into the wedge of concrete, right where I’d been hoping to end up.  I tumbled, head over heels, giving me a clear view of the windshield. I was approaching it, pronto.  Up close, in the last instant before I splatted on the glass, my eyes locked with those of the driver.  

I recognized him at once.  

Tito Esperante was Theo Anthony’s right hand man.  He served as the boss for all of Mr. Anthony’s crews and had a finger on the pulse of all of his illegal activities.  Word on the street was that Tito would inherit control over Mr. Anthony’s empire.

The same Tito Esperante who was driving the car that was currently rolling me up over the hood.

It made sense.  Tito had tasked three of his best wet work guys to express Mr. Anthony’s displeasure with my…umm…financial integrity.  He’d probably been sitting out here when his thugs dragged me, unconscious, into the P1 elevator.  Imagine, then, his surprise to see me walk out from that elevator some time later, perfectly undamaged, to wander unescorted through the garage.

I saw the surprise in Tito’s eyes, saw his determination to finish the job his thugs didn’t get done.  I saw it all, right before my face impacted the windshield.

He had to have been doing 40 or 50 when I hit the glass and I felt my head split like the proverbial melon.  Part of me winked out — unconscious or dead, it didn’t matter — that part of me rolled limply over the top of the Ford and was landed in a boneless heap on the pavement behind.  I wasn’t there. That part of me didn’t matter.

I was, instead, surrounding the car.  Over it. All around it, all at once. I had a vague awareness this time of being separate from my body, a continuity of my consciousness.  Once again, I was also filled an immense, red rage.

The driver’s side door of the Ford began to open.  I felt it push into me, like a breeze whispering into curtain sheers, an insubstantial, invisible caress.  Tito Esperante was wanting to review his handiwork, I suppose, but I didn’t give him the chance.

I pushed back on the door, a gentle nudge, and it slammed shut, hard.

No!

I don’t know how I was able to physically verbalize the word — after all, my mouth was over in the pile of skin on the pavement — but I’m sure that he heard me.  His eyes became very large, very frightened. He immediately tried for the other door, but I was holding the car now. Holding it very close, indeed.

He kicked madly at the windows, first trying the driver’s side, then the passenger.  He even produced a revolver from inside his jacket and emptied the clip into the windshield.  The windshield, of course, wouldn’t give, so the bullets bounced crazily around the inside with Tito.  It’s a minor miracle that he wasn’t cut to pieces by the ricochets.

“WHAT DO YOU WANT?”  His voice, high and cracked with panic.

I held the car lovingly in an ethereal, encompassing hand; felt the rage in me plummet into new icy depths.  What did I want?

I want you, Tito,” I told him.  “I want you.

I closed my fist.

***

Some time later, I found myself at convenience store.  I’d walked here when I left the parking garage and called a cab to get me home.  I tried to piece together how I got back into my body; how my body had been, once again, healed of its fatal injuries, but that part was blank for me.  I suspected that, if this happened again, I might gain memory of even that part, just as I remembered what I’d done to Tito. And his car. It seemed a logical assumption, at least.

Tito’s car had been completely crushed.  It looked, for all intents and purposes, like a wadded-up Kleenex, squeezed into a ball inside a giant fist.  I could even see contours as if the metal of the car was pushed through fingers. Or what I envisioned as fingers, I guess.  Tito was in there somewhere, but he fared just as badly as his car. And as his hired goons before him.

Standing out in front of the convenience store, waiting for the cab, I’m watching people come and go, and thinking about what happened today.  I think it’s safe to say that my day took a bit of a bizarre turn. I mean, it’s not every day that you come back from getting the shit kicked out of you — beaten to death and pulped by a car — but instead of dying, your soul takes a stroll around, outside your body, to unleash a little vengeance.  It’s not every day that you find you can gather together all your rage and pain and hatred, distilling them down into a burst of pure, naked violence. A miasma of destruction.


Neat trick, huh.  

What does a guy do with a talent like that?  

I suppose I could just ignore it all.  Try my best not to violently die or be killed, and then on with my life like nothing weird ever happened.  

After today, though, I’m probably through with my career as an organized crime flunky.  Bad enough, that I skimmed cash from Mr. Anthony. Worse, that he asked Tito to take care of me and I somehow survived.  Even if I wanted to continue as a criminal, I’m guessing Mr. Anthony wouldn’t write me any references on my resume.

In fact, now that I think about it, I’m guessing Mr. Anthony won’t just let me fade off into the sunset.  Not after leaving such a mess in his office building and parking garage.

So walking away isn’t an option for me.  Not yet, at least.

I decide to pay Mr. Anthony a visit.

***

It’s almost dark by the time I arrive at the sprawling compound that encompasses Mr. Anthony’s mansion.  The sky held the last shades of pinks and oranges, but on the ground, tucked into the hills, the shadows had grown long.

I stood under the shade of a nearby tree, watching the front gate to the compound.  Mr. Anthony had guards with guns manning the gate and beyond, I could see more guards and dogs patrolling the grounds.  

I wasn’t sure how things would go, but at this point, I didn’t think I cared enough to worry about it.  Either I’d get to Mr. Anthony and finish things, or I wouldn’t. The difference was how many bodies would lie between us.

At the gate, the guards approached me, guns out.  

“Stop there, Mr. Davore.”  

The guard who spoke was tall, broad across the shoulders.  Built like a linebacker. His face was a sneer, dripping with the contempt that size, strength, and guns lent him.  The other guard laid back, his rifle level and steady, pointed at my chest. He was shorter, but no less confident in their advantage.  I paused, hands out.

“You should take me to see Mr. Anthony,” I told them.  

“Mr. Anthony asked us personally to expect a visit from you, Mr. Davore,” the guard replied.  “You’ll see him…but on his terms, not yours.”

I raised my hand.  

“I think…”

That’s all I got out.  The second guard shot me in the head.

***

I woke up, refreshed, as if I’d had a full, unbroken night of sleep.  At first, I was confused. I felt like I ought to be at home, in my bed, but instead, I was…somewhere else.  I’d been at…at…

It came to me.  I’d been at Mr. Anthony’s compound. The guard at the gate shot me and after that?  That’s the part I couldn’t really remember. I had a few random flashes — mist rising from nowhere, faces twisted in terror as they exploded, walls and stone, crumbling before me or being blown apart by the hurricane blast of my rage — but I couldn’t make sense of them.  I couldn’t put them together into any kind of rational sequence of actions that led me from start to finish.


It was only then I truly noticed the devastation around me.  

I sat at the center of a ring of destruction, radiating out from me as far as I could see.  Everything was knocked flat, as if by a massive explosion with me at ground zero, The guard shack, gate, and fence were kindling.  The only sign of the two men was a couple smears of red on the ground.

I stood up and turned a slow circle.  


Inside the compound, the mansion was leveled and the lawn between was smeared with splotches of red, marking the places where the patrol guards had died.  Whatever had happened — whatever I had done — was thorough. Nothing I could see was alive or intact. A wasteland. A war zone.

But I came here to take care of Mr. Anthony, so I made my way to the mansion.  I had to be sure.

It took me a few minutes to pick a path through the rubble, but I eventually got to the spot where his office had been.  A perimeter of body parts was all that remained of the guards protecting him. Inside the office area was a single body, pierced with a hundreds shards of wood, glass, and metal, so many that I could hardly make out the face.  But I could still tell who it was..

Mr. Anthony.

I had no memory of his death.  No flashes of wispy insight. No red-tinged sense of violence.  I couldn’t recall the act of turning him into a pincushion, but I had no doubt I had killed him.  

I made my way back to the gate as the first wave of emergency vehicles arrived.  Police cars, firetrucks, ambulances, all arriving at the same time.

 

Policemen from their cars first, guns drawn.  They took up defensive positions in an arc, facing me, guns pointed at me.  Over a bullhorn, a voice said:

“Stay where you are!  Lay down on your stomach with your hands over your head.”

I shook my head.

“I’m not the bad guy, here,” I replied.

“I don’t care,” said the officer.  “Get down first, then we’ll work out who you are.”

Damn.  What a mess.


So far, I’d killed people who represented a direct threat to me.  Guys who were going to kill me, like Tito and his thugs. Guys like Mr. Anthony who sent Tito my way and whose lackeys here at his compound shot me without having to think about it first.

It sucked, the pain I went through, the death (or almost-death) I experienced, but every time I came out of it, I felt better.  I felt great.  

Powerful.

 

I don’t know how it happened, how I came to acquire this…talent.  Maybe it’s a self-preservation thing, maybe it’s a gift of the gods.  What I know is that up until this point, I’ve not had much choice over any of it.  I was trying to survive. Mr. Anthony and his men were intent on killing me — hell, they had killed me — so what happened to them?  If I was defending myself, well…they had it coming, didn’t they?

Now, these police?  They’re a problem.


They’re just a bunch of guys, doing their jobs.  They don’t know me from Adam, don’t know if I’m responsible for the destruction here.  Even if I explain it, they’re not likely to understand why I’m responsible for the destruction here.  Or on P1. Or in the janitor’s closet.

I can’t imagine what they’d do if they figured out what happens when I’m violently injured or killed.  I don’t know that much about it, myself, for that matter. What I do know is that they’re not likely to let me go.

So I have a choice:  Surrender, or…or…

I feel it coming this time, a thrill of anger rising in me.  The air around me fairly crackles with energy and with it, a sense of outrage, of being wronged, clouds my vision.  For an instant, I have the time to wonder if I’m really in control, of any of it.  Is it really me who rises to avenge my death and, in doing so, revives me?  If it’s not, who decides when, and who, to kill?

Against my will, my hand dips behind my back, a simple motion ingrained in a thousand Hollywood movies:  a guy going for his gun. It didn’t matter that I had no gun. The motion was all it took.

A dozen police guns fired, almost at once.  I feel bullets rip through me, feel pain. From the smoke of their guns, the spray of my blood, I feel the miasma rise once again.  I see it begin to kill.  Police, firefighters, EMT’s.  The miasma uses my rage, my pain and death to murder others.  To fill a bloodlust deeper than anything I could conjure out of my pathetic little life.  The horror of it all grips me.

The miasma kills and kills.  I am just along for the ride.


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4 thoughts on “Miasma – Daniel L. Naden

  1. This doesn’t count as a comment, but I’d appreciate your thoughts, good or bad, about my story, Miasma.

    Thanks!
    Dan

    1. Truthfully, I got about a page or two into the short story, then skipped ahead to the conclusion. Then, to be fair, I went back and read the whole thing.
      I don’t mind blood or violence, but IMO, this is a bit over the top.
      And yet, you have a good command of the language and the story pulls the reader along, like it or not…
      Frankly, I am a bit ambivalent about the story. Not really my cup of tea, too much blood & guts! 🙂

      1. Thank you for leaving a comment. I appreciate all feedback, especially on things that might help me improve as a writer.

        I will say, not that I started out wanting the story to be so visceral, but that’s how the idea came to me: a very visual image of how the story started, followed by the equal and opposite reactions of what came next.

        Still, it’s worth keeping in mind, not pushing the envelope all the time. Thanks again!

  2. Excellent

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