Cliff is finding that he doesn't much like being the subject of his cameras lens. What would he have to reveal to his captor(s) to tear himself away from this predicament? How long can he last holed up with minimal food and toilet water to drink?
A day went by, minimal food, no shower, and he sat cross-legged on the edge of his bed, eyes sunken. He ate around the pieces of bread that hadn’t quite taken on mold, though it made him sick to his stomach. He almost puked it up, but fought to keep it down, and spent the rest of the day and night tossing and turning on his bed.
Cliff slipped into sleep at some point, possibly in delirium, and dreamed about Juliet. It was the last day he saw her alive, though her eyes were downcast, her brown hair was flat, no makeup. She walked with her hands in the pockets of her light yellow cardigan.
When Cliff said something, she gave a soft smile, put on, and went to his side. They walked together, when he wrapped his fingers with hers, they were limp, and finally he stopped trying to hold her hand. He stopped to ask what was wrong in front of an old tavern that had been there since before either of them had been born. His father drank there, where he met Cliff and Sheryl’s mom, and where the woman forced him to stop going when she became pregnant.
She didn’t want her children growing up around a drinker. If he wanted to be in their lives, he’d have to buck up or get out.
When he asked Juliet what was wrong, she shook her head, smiled again and tried to walk. He stopped her, asked her to elaborate, and then her eyes fell to the sidewalk, she let out a breath. She told him she loved him, but felt she wasn’t good enough, told him he was such a good guy, he deserved a better girlfriend. She said she was always down in the dumps and he was always such a good boyfriend.
Cliff held her chin up, kissed her lips, and told her he loved her no matter what. Then they hugged and kissed. A need to piss came on, so he headed into the tavern, asked her to wait for him, and she nodded ‘yes’ smiling more fully now.
When he came out there were people outside, some were whispering, but they were all watching and they were all recording. He pushed some people away to get a look at what they were seeing, and that’s when he saw it too. There was blood everywhere, he dropped to his knees beside her, screamed and cried, held her head to his. Her eyes were wide, lifeless, and her yellow cardigan was stained red, flowing freely.
He awoke early in the morning to find he was still in the same predicament, trapped in his apartment. He wanted to cry out, not only because he was still stuck in his hell, but because he had to relive his girlfriend’s murder. The police never did find her killer, and ever since, he’d spiraled deeper into the black.
When he was a kid, his father died in a bar fight. He promised his wife he wouldn’t drink, took to doing it secretly, gargling mouth wash before going home. He measured his steps to seem sober when he was obviously drunk, and mom knew about it, but she let it go. Two incomes were better than one.
He came home from school one afternoon to find his mom sobbing at the dinner table, his older sister Sheryl with her hand on her mother’s head. Sheryl was strong, even back then, and didn’t cry.
His father and another man got into a fight over a beer, each claiming it belonged to him, and so they dropped to the ground, having at it blow for blow. The other man rose, his father stayed down—forever.
They didn’t have much after the old man died, so his mother took to working another job, remarried soon after because she needed the money. The new daddy figure wasn’t much of one. His sole interest was their mother, and trying to get her with another child. She never told him she tied her tubes after her second was born, being that they didn’t have much to begin with, two more mouths were plenty.
Despite her not getting with child, he stuck around until Cliff was sixteen, then one day up and left. By then, they were all working, Cliff in a mail room where his sister worked as a bill collector. Their mom cleaned homes, worked in a laundry room, and did tire tech work out of an old motor place. When male customers saw a woman changing their oil or rotating their wheels, they’d go right back inside and demand their money back.
In truth, no one really cared or noticed that the new daddy was out of the picture. Their mother working three different jobs didn’t have enough time to notice the deadbeat was out of the picture. He was always in-between jobs, never able to hold onto just one, when the woman he was married to juggled between two and three.
And then there was the instance in which the guy took him and Sheryl to see some new movie, maybe in an attempt to win them over, or maybe just to make his new wife happy. Fifteen minutes into the film the main character’s father gets brutally murdered, stabbed to death in a bar. It didn’t take long for an eight-year-old Cliff to cry, and a twelve-year-old Sheryl to drop her head into her palm and shake it slowly.
After that, never again did the new daddy try to befriend either child.
Cliff figured he grew to be this way, introverted, anti-social, depressive, spiteful, and vitriolic . . . because he never had a father-figure who wasn’t a scumbag.
Juliet came around when he was at his lowest point, when the world was about ready to consume him the way a heron does a baby duck. Life couldn’t piss on his parade any more than it already was, and then she showed up.
He sat alone at the end of the bar, in a booth, of the tavern his father was killed in. She sat down with him, said she’d seen him around, said he seemed nice, and asked if she could buy him a beer.
That cynical part of him, that voice that told him everyone had some sort of agenda, wanted to think she was trying to drug and rob him. He let her buy the drink, watched it poured and watched it delivered to him, and took it before she could poison it. He offered a mumbled ‘thanks’, downed it, and felt a little better.
“What’s your name?” he felt a little friendlier now, what the drink did to him. Sometimes it made him act like an asshole, but sometimes it made him act like a human being.
“Juliet Valentino.” She was a redheaded girl with big bright teeth, straight even. His weren’t, they were crooked, but he figured his face wasn’t so bad, aside from the birthmark between his brows that made it look like he had a unibrow.
“Cliff Ortiz,” he offered to shake her hand. His dad was Argentinian or something, pale as a ghost, and his mom German. “It’s nice to meet you, Juliet.”
“I see you in here sometimes,” she was wearing the yellow cardigan she would be murdered in eight months later. “You look like you could use a friend.”
She found out her long time dog, fourteen years old, had cancer, so she had to put it down. She didn’t feel like being alone, and admitted to finding Cliff to be the least threatening of those present at the tavern. She admitted this later on while the two were in bed, the first time they’d had sex, and they laughed about it, the awkward approach.
He hadn’t been back there since she died. He hadn’t reached out to her parents or to anyone, deleted his social media accounts, and wiped his face off of the earth.
He had the website domain, thehardtruthofdepravity.com, for a few years, but never posted much of anything to it. The name came from a song by his favorite punk rock band of the time, whose name he couldn’t remember anymore. He used to upload his friends’ skate videos, which never got a lot of hits, unless someone fell or got hurt. The ones of them getting physically injured, those upped the view counter considerably.
DAY 2 was painted in white letters over the black screen, with the view counter at 5 viewers.
He stared at it, tired, hungry and dizzy.
He rose from the bed, went to the window and saw a homeless man standing below, staring up at him. The longer he stared at the man, the more apparent it became that he was the one thrashing about in the library the other day.
Regardless of that, he shouted down at him to get help. He banged on the window, screaming at him, becoming dizzy. The sliding door wouldn’t budge either.
The man dug into a black plastic bag and brought out a cardboard box. Cliff stared at him perplexed, wondering what the hell he could be writing. Then he saw the sign, the old vagabond holding it up for Cliff to see, “NOT HAVING FUN ANYMORE?”
He backed away from the glass slowly, shiver running down his spine.
The next day, the counter was at ‘10 viewers’, DAY 3 plastered above it to spite him, in case he’d forgotten.
The bread in the kitchen was like to spawn a new life-form. Maybe in time he could hunt it and kill it. Still he opened the fridge every so often as if some food would magically appear. He was so hungry he considered cutting off a finger or a hand, something to end his starvation.
Water was the only thing he had left, which he was scooping out of the toilet bowl. It disgusted him doing so, but there was no piss in the bowl, and it was the only way for him to stay hydrated. He was starving to death, sure, but at least he was drinking fluids.
Cliff wondered who was watching him, who set this up, and why? He thought about asking the monitor, but for whatever reason, he didn’t feel broken down enough to. He wouldn’t give the bastards the satisfaction of begging them for his life and body, when he’d done so little to take care of it in the first place.
Without Juliet to share this life with him anymore, what was even the point of carrying on? Yet he did, and for whatever reason, he didn’t feel like dying.
No one had come by to see him, not Sheryl or anyone else, and he was starving for human interaction. Despite claiming for so long to be better off alone, he wished he could hear another person’s voice. He missed his sister, although he hated to admit it, even to himself.
When he walked over to his window, there was a small group facing up at him, all staring sullenly. Two of the six or seven people had their phones out, pointed upwards, and he felt their eyes on him.
He banged on his window, but none of them acknowledge his screams.
“What do you want from me?” he was on the verge of tears. “What did I do to you people?” He caved despite saying he wouldn’t, it was all becoming too much for him, and punched the glass.
His hand throbbed, blood smeared across his knuckle and the glass, but neither broke. The split in his skin was the worst of it, for now. In time he assumed he’d be delirious enough to smash his head against the glass to put a stop to it all, to give those gawkers below a show worth the price of admission.
At the end of the day, people were all gawkers, birds of a fucking feather. How many times hadn’t he been held up going down one side of the highway, when the accident was on the other? This is an age in which when people see a woman stabbed and bleeding out, their first instinct is to record it. Juliet bled out and these parasites watched her die, filming it so they could upload it and brag about how they saw someone’s life come to a close.
Maybe it wouldn’t have made a difference, maybe she would have died anyway, but it didn’t mean they couldn’t be human enough to show empathy. He wanted to prove how parasitic man is, so he turned his site from showing skateboarders wiping out, to showing a wider array of human calamity. He went out and filmed all of the content on his site, from car crashes, to stabbings, to bike accidents, broken bones, fights—kids getting jumped.
People tried to submit their own homemade stuff, but he never took any of it. He watched everything that came across his computer, from a brutal gang rape, to some white boys jumping a black kid while yelling ‘nigger’ and ‘porch monkey’ at him. Both videos he anonymously forwarded to the local police, assuming these crimes took place locally. He sent copies of the same videos to the FBI, hoping it wouldn’t somehow come back to bite him in the ass for being a decent Samaritan.
Most of the videos were of people wiping out, some broken bones, broken teeth, fractures, cuts, and blood galore. There was even an instance of a beheading. The victim pled with God or with his captors, all in another language, before having his head removed. The video was obviously sent by someone who found it on some gore site and downloaded it. It was hard to watch and the image and screams never left him.
He heard a beeping coming from the computer speakers, turned, and walked slowly to the desktop. There was one word, a name, in place of the day and view count:
“No,” he got up, flung the chair into a wall. “NO! You don’t talk to me about her!”
He flung the chair at the window, but it didn’t break, he threw dishes at it, knowing they’d be doing him no good without food to put on them. He screamed and cried as he smashed the dishes his mom gave him as moving in gift.
“Let me out of here!” he barked, moving around in circles, dizzying himself.
He heard the keyboard clacking, and returned to find: ‘Answer to what you did.’
It then returned to the day and view counter, which now counted 55 viewers.
A new day dawned and he didn’t care that he was being watched, the screen showing a red DAY 4, accompanied by a count of ‘100 viewers’.
He was pissing into one waste bin, shitting in another. The piss bin was the only one he was filling, as he had nothing left within his body to shit. An aerosol can kept it from smelling too bad, though it was getting more pungent with each passing day.
It was the only way to preserve the toiler water. He didn’t want to risk flushing the toilet and it not filling back up again.
He wasn’t a big eater to begin with, having two meals in a day, usually rather small. Still, he ate something, but right now he had been starving for four days. He felt sick, dizzy, didn’t want to get out of bed, but forced himself to make the effort.
“I get it,” He stood before the monitor, the camera on tripod watching him. He held out some sliver of hope they’d let him go.
The counter had jumped to ‘125 viewers’.
He walked over to the window to find a bigger crowd of people standing below, looking up at him, most of them with some recording device or other pointed up at him—phones, cameras, camcorders, even a news camera was pointed up at him. Most of them were on a sidewalk, but some had spilled out onto the street.
He flipped them off, before screaming for them to save him, to feed him, but they kept their stoic poses.
There came a scratching outside his room, heard strange noises, so he went to inspect, almost falling over in the process. He peered out through the peephole, to find a chicken roaming the hallway.
He remembered now, there was a Mexican guy that lived in that apartment, the empty one. People could have pets, but they had to be discreetly kept, and the chicken running around wasn’t too discreet. Not to mention the old lady adjacent him having cats that got out, too. They were likely chasing the big bird around, trying to capture and kill it—such as their natural instincts dictated.
He watched the chicken run around clucking, pecking at the red carpet, fluttering its wings. If his door opened right now, he would hunt it down and take the biggest bite in the world. Blood would ooze down his face, feathers on his cheeks, and as luck would have it, the old woman would come out of her apartment at that exact moment. He’d hiss at her, crawl away to the farthest corner, curl up and devour his prey.
Watching the chicken roam freely in the hallway, he remembered Juliet meeting the man who lived in that empty room.
A chicken or a rooster, he couldn’t remember exactly, got out when he opened the door. Juliet happened to be walking by and managed to grab it up off of the carpet. She let out a shrill laugh as it tried to flap out of her arms, stuck it out as the man ran over in time to take it from her. He laughed, she smiled, and Cliff felt jealousy roil in his veins. He was at the peephole, watching them interact, and the man said his thanks in broken English, headed for his apartment. Juliet waved and went down the hall to Cliff’s door.
He ran to the bed, sat down, and checked his fingernails. Juliet’s key wrangled in the lock, and a moment later it opened up, she was still laughing. “Babe, you’ll never believe what just—?
“Are you ready?” he asked heatedly?
“Y-yeah,” the smile dropped from her lips, “let me just use the rest room first.”
“They have one at the restaurant.” He rose, took up his jacket and slammed the door behind him, leaving her in the room.
“Is something wrong?” she caught up to him at the curb. Her eyes searched his features, “Are you really jealous of that old guy? His chicken got out . . . Are you fucking seriously pissed off at me?”
He refused to respond, faced the walk signal.
“I’m not doing this with you today.” She realigned the purse over her shoulder, started back in the other direction.
“Let’s go to that hipster Montana town you like so much.” he called after her, “My way of saying sorry.”
“Missoula isn’t a hipster town, you idiot.” She smiled, coming back. “Promise me you’ll stop with this jealous boyfriend shit.” she stared off, breathed in the cold midday air, “It’s getting really old.”
The chicken disappeared around the corner and didn’t come back into view. He moved away from the peephole, feeling a ceaseless grumbling in his stomach.
He knew he wasn’t the best boyfriend at times, he had his faults, but he loved Juliet to death. He would have protected her from anything.
When they were finally in Missoula, Montana, some frat guy tried to hit on her. Despite her telling him she had a boyfriend, the guy wouldn’t take ‘no’. As long as the clown kept his hands to himself, he decided he would do as she asked—be a less aggressive boyfriend. Standing there, watching it happen, slowly it burrowed under his skin.
Juliet made to walk away, the frat guy’s hand came up to impede her escape. That’s when Cliff came around and smashed a bottle into the guy’s head, watched him topple like a ton of bricks.
Juliet screamed, he cackled and kept kicking him. Someone pulled him away from the guy, yelling, “That’s enough!” “What’s your fucking deal?!” another patron shouted. “Call the cops!” another joined in.
People were gathering around, phones were coming out of pockets, out of purses.
He took Juliet’s hand and made a run for it.
“What the fuck, Cliff?!” she shrieked, the two of them walking down the street, his adrenaline running high. He leaned over and kissed her, she pulled away, pushed him. “That was uncalled for! What if he dies?!”
“He grabbed your arm!” he was trying to be serious, but the laughter kept building up within him.
“I can take care of myself!” she was so pissed, but she looked radiant under the moon and streetlights. “I did it for twenty-three years before you came into my life!”
He couldn’t help laughing, not at her but at the dope on the ground bleeding out. He laughed for the rest of the night, and went to sleep with a smile on his lips. It was their last night in town, when they awoke in the morning they got their things together, and took a flight back to Seattle.
“I wonder if his chicken got out again.” They were coming off the eighth floor steps, when Juliet noticed the Mexican’s apartment slightly ajar. She laughed, pushed it open, found the apartment completely empty, “I guess he moved out.”
“Or maybe I.N.S. got him.” Cliff gritted, went to their apartment door, shoved the key into the hole, turned it, and headed inside.
“What do you mean?” she followed after him. “Cliff,” she put a hand on his shoulder, turned him around. “What do you mean?”
He gave her a long sour look, threw his things onto the bed.
“No,” she shook her head, put her hand on her mouth, “you didn’t . . .” Tears welled up in her eyes, “What’s your fucking deal?!”
“He could have hurt you!” Cliff fought back finally.
“Are you insane, Cliff?” She never let go of her bag or her duffle. “You attacked a guy! You got mad at me because I helped your neighbor find his fucking chicken! He’s the most harmless man I’ve ever met. He has a family that he’s taking care of! He sends them money, I’ve seen the pictures—a wife and two daughters!”
“He has kids?” he threw his hands into the air. “Well, that changes everything. I guess that means he isn’t a depraved fuck, because Albert Fish didn’t have children or anything.”
“Who can honestly believe you?” She stared at him, astonished, lost, and ready to give up. The next words out of her mouth would likely be, ‘It’s over’.
“You don’t know what kind of sick shit he’s doing in that room.” He sat at the edge of the bed, arms crossed over his chest, “You know people say he’s a witch. You could have been his next sacrifice, but I saved you from that.”
“You are low,” she grabbed up her things, headed for the door. “Don’t call me, don’t look for me . . .”
“Juliet,” he went to the door as she slammed it behind her.
The computer keys were clacking, snapping him out of the daze, and he turned to find:
‘Tell us what you did, Cliff . . .’
“What I did?” He shouted at the computer. “I didn’t do shit to deserve this, you fuck!”
‘To Juliet . . .’
“Go away . . .” his voice quivered.
‘To your neighbor . . .’
“LEAVE ME THE FUCK ALONE!” he screamed, dropping to his knees, hands at his head, hair thinning more with each passing day.