The Lost Ring

Where could it be? Where could it be? Oh no, oh no, oh no, how could I have been so foolish? Beatrice Benedict was in a panic. It has to be here somewhere. It has to be here somewhere. Oh my God, my God, I’ve got to find it or Ralph is going to kill me!

She’d turned the whole house upside-down already in a panic. At first she’d not even noticed her ring was missing. It hadn’t been until she’d finished cleaning everything.

Beatrice Benedict trembled at the thought of her stocky husband bursting in through the door, coated in grease from head to toe, then turning bright red in anger when he discovered she’d lost it, the one true symbol of their beautiful union, and then the sound of his thick leather belt flying through the air and the thwack thwack thwack as the blows rained down upon her. God help them, she knew Little Johnnie could hear it, even from upstairs in his tiny bedroom beneath the comfort of his little rocket ship bedspread.

Oh God, oh God, I’ve got to find it! Beatrice overturned all the couch cushions she’d vacuumed only an hour ago and turned over only 10 minutes before once again. She shook them out above the ugly brown striped pattern of the sofa, hoping, just hoping, that her repeating the same process and expecting a different result wasn’t insanity. That her precious missing wedding ring would fall out onto the floor, and then she could breathe a sigh of relief and all would be well again. But it wasn’t there.

Beatrice collapsed to her knees on the carpet, buried her face into her hands, and sobbed. She cried and cried and cried, the sound seeping out into the surrounding beige walls of the simple bungalow she and Ralph called home, and the walls watched silently, shaking their heads in disapproval.

Oh Bertie, Bertie, Bertie, the one wall, the one behind the China Cabinet, cooed out to her. It seemed older and wiser than the others. She felt that maybe it was their mother. Could walls have mothers?

You’ve gone and made a real mess of things, haven’t you? the wall continued. Ralph was right all this time. You really are worthless. How could you lose the ring like that? Don’t you care about Ralph? Don’t you care about your marriage? About Little Johnnie? What’s wrong with you Bertie?

Well, I’m not surprised. We walls all saw it coming. We see everything. And we’ll see it all when Ralph gets home soon and lays into you with his belt again. Just like he has so many times before.

Beatrice stopped crying and sat up. She’d already turned the living room over a dozen times. Then she thought maybe it’d fallen from her finger and gotten sucked up by the vacuum. She’d emptied the bag out and pawed all through the dirt with her bare hands. She’d gone through all of the bedrooms, tearing apart all the sheets and comforters on both her and Ralph’s and Little Johnnie’s bed, but there was not sign of her missing ring.

What was she going to do?

Wait, the bathroom sink? Or the drain in the tub? No, she’d put on her stretchy long yellow latex gloves as soon as she’d started on the bathroom, just like she always did, because she so hated cleaning the bathroom. She knew that the chemicals for getting rid of the kind of filth in there – stray pubic hairs and evil bacteria and mold caked into the grout and festering disease and rot and microbial death – were harsher than anything else she’d use to clean anywhere else in the house, harsher than anything she’d use in the kitchen.

Of course. The sink. She’d taken her ring off and set it on the counter next to the faucet, hadn’t she? Terribly absent-minded of her. But had she put it back on? And that clattering in sink had been that fork the fell from the drying rack, she’d seen it. But if she’d accidentally hit her ring with her elbow at the same time the fork had fallen then…

The garbage disposal. She had to look.

Dark and foreboding, the circular maw of the metal beast gaped at her, taunting her. I’ve got your ring, Bertie, now what are you going to do? You should have listened to the walls! The metal monster laughed maniacally at her.

Beatrice peered down into the depths of the hole, but could see nothing. She glanced from all angles but all was black; there was not so much as a gleam of light reflecting off the blades at the bottom.

She ran to the hall closet and bent down to the bottom shelf, rifling amongst the ratty old comforters and a big box of ancient used batteries. She found it, the big yellow plastic flashlight, the one her and Ralph had always taken camping with them each summer those first few years after they were newlyweds. Beatrice Benedict pushed the big black circular button with her thumb and it made a satisfying click-click. The beam from the light was still strong and lit the rusty brass hinges of the closet door next to her.

I don’t see it. I don’t see it. Beatrice squinted. She tilted her head every which way, this way and that way and a hundred other ways, but it was just so damn hard to see anything down that little hole, even with the light of the flashlight. Please God, please. Let my ring be in there. Beatrice tilted her head again and squinted into the depths of metal tunnel leading into the belly of the garbage disposal.

And then she saw it. Thank you God! A glimmer of light reflecting off her wedding ring.

Beatrice took a deep breath. She knew there was nothing in the kitchen, no implement, no wooden spoon or whisk or spatula or pair of tongs or scissors that would reach the bottom of the disposal. She’d have to reach down there with her arm and nimble white fingers and pluck the ring from those hungry metallic depths herself. It was the only way.

Think. Think about Ralph. Think about your ring. What that ring means.

She rolled up her sleeve and then stopped, recalling horrible stories she’d heard about household appliances turning on by themselves. About young boys reaching for things in the bottom of blenders and having their fingers turned into strawberry milkshakes with crunchy pieces of bone. About housewives falling headfirst into clothes dryers and being tumbled-dried to death, roasted alive all alone in empty basements while their cries for help went unheard, echoing in the scalding air of the hungry metal drums.

No, Beatrice Benedict thought. I have to. For Ralph. For Little Johnnie.

Beatrice took another deep breath and stuck her arm down the black hole, down into the hungry maw of the garbage disposal, and felt around with her nimble white fingers for her precious wedding ring. Her hand pawed and slipped against the wet steel, and she swore she could smell something foul rising up from the throat of the beast, up into the sink basin and assaulting her nostrils. Her digits danced a clumsy dance in the darkness. It was there. It was in there. I saw it! Just a little deeper. Just a little deeper. Before Ralph gets home.

There was a loud bang as the front door swung on its hinges and slammed shut. Beatrice looked up from the sink with a start.

“Bertie!” her husband called out. “I’m home!”

Oh God, it was Ralph! He’s home early! Beatrice thought. I can’t let him find me like this! And the ring! Oh God, the ring!

And then Beatrice realized her arm was stuck. And then she began to panic. She pulled and pulled and pulled but her arm was jammed in the hole of the drain at the elbow – she was like a minnow that had swum into a steel trap and but couldn’t squeeze its way back out.

She pulled and pulled but the circle of the drain was a snake coiled around her arm. She heard Ralph’s footsteps coming toward the kitchen. “Bertie? You there?” She was panicking now. She yanked and and twisted, and then her elbow turned the screw in the sink assembly and the metal monster roared to life.

Beatrice Benedict screamed as the garbage disposal ate her arm.


“She’s heavily sedated,” the doctor in the white coat said. “But she’s conscious. You can speak to her now.”

“Thank you,” Ralph Benedict said heavily. His wife lay docile beneath the hospital green of the bedsheets, an IV snaking down to her left wrist and surrounded by beeping machines keeping vigil.

“Ralph?” she said weakly. Her eyes fluttered. “Are you there?”

Her right arm was hidden within the cast. Ralph knew it was a courtesy. A sham to hide an ugly truth. He knew beneath that plaster his wife’s arm was all ground up to hell, a potpourri of flesh and skin and bone. The doctors did what they could, but had already told him she’d never regain use of her arm, let alone her hand, for as long as she lived.

A tear welled in the corner of the burly man’s eye, and slowly wandered down the side of his face. He hadn’t cried since his father’s funeral when he was 11.

“Ralphie,” Beatrice said weakly. “I’m sorry…”

“I’m sorry too,” Ralph said, reaching into his pocket for something. He set it down on the tray above the bed.

“It was in the car,” he said. “Found it beneath the passenger seat on the way home. It must’ve fallen from your finger the other day. You’re just so careless, Bertie, just so damn careless…”

Ralph Benedict’s wife cried.

“I’m sorry, Ralphie!” she sobbed. “I’m so sorry! I just didn’t want you to be mad! I’m so sorry for everything….”

“I know,” he said, rubbing his face with his hands. “I know. So am I.”

He took off his ring and set it down next to the other one the tray over the bed, and it rolled in place in a circle, rattling against the cheap plastic. The monitors behind Beatrice kept their steady pace, but nothing would ever undo what had been done.

Ralph Benedict stood and left. A doctor passed by the open door to the room, and the halls of the hospital continued to smell of antiseptic.

That Escalated Quickly

Everyone is pushing, pushing and shoving – busy, busy, busy in the mall. Everyone in a hurry to get somewhere, anywhere, not sure where but they need to get there fast and shop, shop, shop.

“Hey man, your shoe’s untied,” a hipster with a skateboard says, rudely cutting in front of me and boarding before I can.

The escalator is crowded and I can feel the other bodies around me in my bubble, pushing against my personal space, all standing, rising slowly with the brainless mechanical steps as they complete their transcendence to Pedestrian Transport Valhalla, only to be reincarnated at the bottom as steel amoebas and do it all over again.

I reach the top and the hipster steps off in front of me. I follow him but am jerked back suddenly.

“Dude, your shoelace!”

And then I’m stumbling like an ungainly newborn fawn trying to find its feet. The brainless hungry steel machine is eating my shoelace like a stringy earthworm – pulling it slowly down into its hidden mechanical depths and my leg with it. The other passengers behind are piling up on top of me, alarmed, shouting, not knowing what is happening, trying to get past me.

“Help me! Please!”

The escalator continues churning away, pulling my foot into the tiny crevice between reality and abstract thought where the stairs disappear. The gap is a giant steel mouth with hideous sharpened steel teeth, pulling me in, crunching the bones of my ankle with its monstrous jaws, eagerly devouring its meal, as I can only listen to the sounds of my bones crack and grate against the brainless mechanical beast, helpless.

Went the Chainsaw

ruhn ruhnnnnn went the chainsaw
out of its cardboard box brand new
with a wicked smile I made it roar
and cut my dog in two

reeean reeeeeeean went the chainsaw
said the girl, “I’m young to die”
“so unfair,” I laughed, in streams of blood
as i carved into her side

raaaawr rawwwr went the chainsaw
“I have a family!” the man begged
“I know,” I screamed maniacally
“and you’ll join them when you’re dead!”

reeeee reeeeeee went the chainsaw
in the mirror all alone
“why?” I asked my reflection
he said “you’ve always known”

ruuhn ruhhhnnnnn went the chainsaw
and I…. reeeeeee raaaarrrr ruuuuuuuu
RAAAOAORRRRR REEEEEEEEEEE
tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-tut-

Look Mommy

“Look Mommy, that man has a cake!” Jessie said excitedly.
“Yes honey, he does.” I said, and patted her blonde hair. “Maybe he’s going to a fancy party.”

The lanky man who’d stepped onto the bus at the last stop did indeed – he carried a white cardboard box, the kind from a bakery. He sat down across from us, setting the box onto the empty seat next to him.

The wheels on the bus went round and round and the engine roared and our little metal ship slowly made its way further from downtown, one stop at a time. Passengers came on and off.

No one sat next to the tall bearded man in the trenchcoat across from us, or his cake.

“Mommy, look a robin!” Jessie was kneeling on her seat backward, peering out the window at the bright sunwashed streets and trees as they sped by.
“Yes honey, spring is in the air.”

The bus stopped at the corner of Elm Street with the sound of escaping compressed air. The doors closest to us shuffled open and the tall man rose from his seat and strode off into the sunlight like a wraith.

“Look Mommy, the tall man forgot his cake!” Jessie squealed, turning around. The white box sat alone across from us.
“SIR!” I yelled, getting up from my seat, but he ignored me and continued down the sidewalk.

The doors swung closed. Again there was the sound of compressed air, and then of the bus engine revving.

The noise subsided, and it was then I heard a sound coming from the box – the sound of ticking.

Going Up…

DING.

“Ground floor, going up.” A pleasant voice, a woman’s.

“It really is a nice building,” he said. “Please, after you.” He gestured.

I stepped into the elevator and turned around. There was a mechanical clank and I watched the door slide shut with him behind, smiling back at me; he hadn’t followed.

“Hey!” I yelled, and went for the open door button.

Every hair on my body stood on end. Panic shot up my back in a cold electric chill.

There were no buttons. Inside the elevator there was only smooth steel.

“HEY!” I yelled again. “What…”

There was a loud thunk. Slowly, the elevator began to descend.

The Stonecutter

“Give me the skinny,” I said, stepping up out of the driver’s seat.
“We got ’em boss,” Greaves said, smiling beneath weary eyes. “Two witnesses placing him here the night of her disappearance. Plus all the blood in the hotel room. It’s open and shut. We got the bastard.”
“We’ve got a strong case,” I muttered, trying to stay his blossoming enthusiasm. “Where is he?”
“Holed up in a trailer in the back. Apparently he just went back to work and kept cutting brick. Duck’s with him now.”
“Weapon?”
“Found a .22 and crowbar in a ditch behind the trailer. Didn’t pitch ’em too far. Not the sharpest tool in the shed if you ask me.”

A stonecutter, the kind with a hard disc of diamond flake, sat lonesome in the distance on pile of its unfinished work. The blade was worn down from grinding away stone, the stone the suspect and his ilk had been laying down for the pavement of the square.

“So why am I here?” I said, and lit a cigarette. There was dust everywhere.
Greaves squinted under the bright noonday sun.
“No body.”
I took a drag and exhaled. Absentmindedly, I hunched down and began to drawn in the dust, like Jesus.
“Well, we’ll have to get in touch with…” I looked up at the sign on the chainlink fence. “LaBrique and Partners. Arrange a…” I froze, then slowly began to wipe the dust away with my hand.
“Boss?”
“Grab the tape,” I said. “We’ve got a crime scene.”
Staring back up at me, inset within the brick, was a perfectly formed human eye.

Nothing Personal

“I’m blind,” I uttered out into the void. I’d opened my eyes but was greeted with only black.
“You’re not blind,” came a voice out of the darkness from up above me, a man’s voice. “It’s an effect of the sedative.” The voice sounded distracted.

When I breathed in the air was dusty and stifling. I became aware that I was lying on my back. I could feel hard uneven earth beneath me. I tried to lift my arms but found I could not.

“I can’t move,” I said. Fear gripped my heart. “What’s going on?”
“Again, an effect of the sedative,” said the voice. I could hear his footsteps in the earth above me. “Actually, that’s kind of the point.” He chuckled.

I heard a loud mechanical noise – a lever being pulled – and then the sound of heavy machinery. An engine running. The hand on my heart tightened its grip.

“What… what is this? What are you doing?” I stammered.
“I’m doing” – the voice was louder now, to be heard above the running motor – “what I was paid to do.”

I heard another noise and the puttering of the engine was joined by a low mechanical drone.

“What’s that noise?” I called out.
“God, shut up,” said the man. “That is the last noise you’ll ever hear my friend. You didn’t really think you could take all their money and get away with it, did you?” He was laughing now.

He was wrong though. The last noise I heard was the sound of the concrete splashing as it filled my grave.

Woodchipper

That summer was shaping up to be the best ever. I finally quit my job roofing with McGill and told that cocksucker where he could stick it. I’d had just about had enough of that prick telling me what to do day-in day-out for barely enough pay to drink a few PBRs after work. That and I couldn’t deal with my fear of heights day-in day-out anymore either, ever since the I fell off that scaffold and cracked my collarbone. ‘Course I never told the rat bastard that.

I got a new gig working with some guys who were in the tree business. Arboreal work the boss called it – he was a fancy guy, educated I guess. I saw him the first day I came into the office and never again after that.

Anyhow it was a good deal, with better pay. And I didn’t have to worry about falling off a roof and breaking my neck, since all the other guys that’d been there longer did all the work up in the trees. I just stayed on the ground and fed all the branches they cut down into the ‘chipper.

This was a helluva machine since sometimes those long branches could be as thick around as your arm or thicker, and two or three times as long. The foreman, grimy bastard that he was, had given me the long and the short the first day on how to run the thing.

“There’s only two rules for working the ‘chipper,” he’d said afterward at lunch, while we drank beers in the shade. “Always face towards it when it’s runnin’. That way you won’t fall backwards into it.”

“That’s only one rule.”
“Wiseass, eh?” He took another swig of beer. “The second rule is that if ya fall in to make sure to go in headfirst.” And he gave me a knowing look over another swig. I didn’t laugh.

Over time we learned to get along and he let me start driving the truck. I was glad – I wanted to keep the shit I was responsible for on the ground. I’d no desire to be yanked up one of them trees and be all dangling up there with my balls hanging out. Still couldn’t stand the thought of working at heights ever since I fell off that scaffold.

It was hard work: long days of long hours until after the sun set, but beers over lunch helped me get through ’em  and I always looked forward to the ones waiting for me at home after. Day after day I watched the other guys chop and saw up in the trees. Day after day I gathered up the giant branches off the ground and fed them into the chipper to be turned in sawdust and woodchips.

The foreman started to take a couple days a week off on account of his time being split between two crews now (business was booming) so some days I was the last one on the job, since I drove the truck. All the other men (“arborists”, the owner had called them that first day) went home earlier and I took all the equipment back to the shop and closed up.

The shop was on the foreman’s farm property and I remember the first time his wife came out and brought me and him cold beers after a particularly tough day. It’d been a long one, hotter than hell, the temperature never falling below 90 and the whole lot of us just sweatin’ like pigs, even in the shade of the mighty oaks.

So the foreman and I were closing up the shop and out marches his wife in a little summer dress, like some black-haired angel, with a big smile and a bucket of ice filled with cold Buds for us filthy sweaty men.

The smile wasn’t for the foreman, it was for me, I saw, I could tell she took a shining to me right off the bat. The way he talked to her and the way she looked at me, even on that first night, I could tell he wasn’t layin’ the boots to her like he used to and she wanted something to make her feel like a woman again. Some big strong man to make her all warm and tingly down there.

Which is why when the foreman went up north for a week the gig got even better.

I wasn’t acting foreman or nothing, but I was the one that drove the truck which meant I was the one to close up shop. Back alone at the foreman’s farm with the sun dipping low in the sky, and wouldn’t ya know it his wife comes out the house with that big smile of hers on her face and bucket of beers, but this time the beers are just for us.

We sat on the porch of their little country home and drank and laughed. Come an hour later and I’ve got her bent over their kitchen table, moaning, and staring at their wedding photos while I’m giving her what for.

That was a great week when the foreman was gone. She was an animal. The week when he came back, not so much – I drank a lotta PBR by myself those nights; a lot more than usual.

The days flew by with me driving the truck and watching long thick branches disappear into the noisy spinning drum of the chipper and getting turned into sawdust.

The foreman kept giving me the stink-eye and I thought something was up, thought he knew. But he never said anything. Then I had my day off when he was down on the quarry line grinding up oaks, and I went by their country home in the morning, drank his beers and fucked his wife again, this time in their own bed. It was like I wanted to get caught.

Two weeks later all the other men had gone home and the foreman and I headed back to the shop to close up. We were all finished sweeping up when out comes his wife again with a bucket of beers. Only this time she wouldn’t make eye contact with me. She set the bucket down on the cement of the shop floor instead of handing us cold Buds dripping with ice water and condensation.

“Stay and have a brew with us m’dear,” the foreman said, popping the cap off of his.
“No, I don’t think so,” she said, in that sing-songy little angel voice of hers.

She still wouldn’t so much as meet eyes with me and she just stared into the cold gray cement of the shop floor. She disappeared back down the gravel drive and I tried not to watch her beautiful ass swinging beneath those shapely hips given that her husband, who was my boss and I’d made a cuckold, was standing there right next to me.

He and I started getting into the drink and talking about trucks and women and love and life when and all of a sudden he stands up and heads around to the side of the shop without so much as saying a word.

“What’s up?” I came around the corner.
“D’ya mind helping me with this for a spell?” He said, gesturing at the woodpile. “I wanted to get some of this done before I head in for dinner with the missus.”

The chipper lay like a sleeping dog with its hitch atop an old log nearby. It was his machine and he used it to grind up the wood from his property into sawdust and woodchips on the weekends and after the workday was through.

“Sure thing,” I said, even though I felt a little off about the whole thing. I was spooked what with his wife acting all strange around me, and now here we were nearly three sheets to the wind and him wanting me to help him run the ‘chipper.

We took it from its resting place and dragged it over to the woodpile, turning the chute towards the enormous mountain of woodchips and the hopper towards us and the pile of large branches behind the shop.

We woke it, the sleeping dog, and that monster roared into life and that didn’t help with me being half in the bag from all those Buds none. The foreman he stood behind me and I stood facing the ‘chipper and we started feeding them enormous thick branches into the hopper, and the grinding sound from it was even louder and shriller than the roar of the ‘chipper’s engine and the spinning of the toothed drum.

I was waiting for him to hand me the next branch but nothing came. I turned around to see what was going on and he was already up on me and that fucking rat bastard shoved me hard backward. My arms windmilled and I fell and put one out to break my fall. I felt my elbow connect with the steel of the hopper funnel and then I screamed when my hand went into the business end of the ‘chipper.

That pain was the worst thing I’d ever felt in my life; worse than falling from that scaffold and cracking my collarbone, worse than when that fucker in Toledo cracked that beer bottle over my head, worse than when I had to watch her walk away after she set the bucket of beer down on the shop floor and couldn’t so much look in my eyes.

The chipper was grinding my arm into fleshy bits now and pulling me up into the cone of the hopper. I looked over and saw the foreman coming on strong toward me with this dead set look in his eyes. I felt pain again when that bastard kicked my legs out from under me and my knees hit the dirt. The  ‘chipper kept pulling me upward and spitting out red and white bits of my flesh and bone like the deranged monster it was.

I looked up at the foreman and he was standing further back now. He had his elbows out and his hands around his mouth like he was shouting to someone far away so I could hear him above the noise of the ‘chipper.

I know about you and Margaret, I heard him shout.