How far would you go for money? What if you are in an absolute bind? Would you put a gun to your head? Or kill another person? There's no backing out once you step into this room. Part 1 of 2.
a short story by Oscar Lopez Jr.
“I’ll keep this nice and sweet, everyone.” Craig glanced from Sally to Travis, and finally to Brittany.
They all nodded, apprehension running high.
They stole glances at one other, giving nods and silent greetings.
“Please sign your name on these sheets of paper before you. Here _____X and make sure to date _/_/_ right below that. I know you’re figuring, ‘Why does that potentially matter?’ Ultimately it does.”
“Why does it matter?” Sally tittered, brushing red hair over her plaid-shirted shoulder and out of her face.
“Cute.” Craig gave her a furtive glance. He coughed, returning his attention to everyone in the circle within the well-lit room. “There is only one rule, and that is no one leaves this room until the game is over. Other than that, do as you wish, as this very well may be—”
“This is all fine and well, Mr. Operator, this little stunt.” Travis bristled impatiently, checked a silver wristwatch. “When do we get this underway?”
“Eager, I see. In that case you and I will go first.” Craig, the Operator, stared at Travis, especially his fashionable haircut. He then glanced over at Brittany, who merely sat in silence atop the black stool in the 14x10 room. “Would you like to add anything?”
Brittany was staring down at the black plastic wrapped ground and walls.
Her appearance was the most troubled; pale, shivering. She shook her head, never removing her gaze from the black plastic.
“I’m sure none of you want to be a part of this activity, however, it is already too late walk out.” None responded. “Once each of you entered the room, it was already too late. Anyone have any last words before we begin?”
There was a cough.
“Fine,” Craig squared his shoulders, rose. “Suit yourselves.” He walked over to a shelf covered with a thin white sheet. “If there's nothing else . . .”
“Finally, we get to the reason we’re all here. Not all this useless chit-chat.” Travis crossed his arms together, flipping his hair with a motion of his head.
“I haven’t hidden from you the reason as to your being here. You all appeared at our door step of free will.” Craig fixed up his brown leather jacket. Dark fingers digging within one of the pockets for a pen. He placed it in the center of the table, eyeing each of them.
Brittany maintained her pose, merely staring at the ground, atop her stool. Her fingers slowly pulled up the blue and white striped sweater sleeve from her right arm. Her gray eyes still focused on the ground, mouth gaping, unaware.
“Is something wrong?” Travis watched her, her long black hair tucked into the hood of her sweater.
“I’m . . . I’m fine.” She whispered.
Sally took hold of the pen, scribbling on the sheet of paper before her. Each of them had their own with a long scrawl of lawyer jargon upon it. Instead of reading it, she skimmed through, signed and dated, sliding the sheet back onto the middle of the table and tossing the pen atop it.
“Good. Now who’s next?” Craig asked the remaining two.
“You go first.” Travis told Brittany. His arms still crossed, staring at the table where Sally's sheet lay. “Write your name.” He said to Brittany, this time more assertively. He took hold of the pen and placed it before her.
Brittany nodded, and holding the pen, began to read over the sheet.
“Just sign it.” Travis’ anger became steadily more apparent.
“Talk to your mother in that tone?” Sally’s brow furrowed. “Macho swaggering little boy flexing his whittle bitty muscles?” She glanced at him, but his attention was on Brittany.
“That’s enough. If you would prefer to brawl, do it elsewhere. Here, not only do you waste my time, but my employer’s time as well. If you did not wish to participate, you should have thought of that before entering.” His voice rose significantly, turning from Sally to Travis.
“Cremation . . .” Brittany said, reading aloud from the sheet of paper. Her gray eyes widened at the words: . . . at which point the body of the deceased shall be properly and efficiently disposed of by means of cremation.
“I told you not to read it!” Travis barked, slamming his fist into the table, rising from his stool, knocking it over in the process.
“Sit down, now!” Craig warned. “I’m beginning to lose patience. I am not your father and do not wish to put up with your bickering.”
“Of course you aren’t my father.” Travis mumble, leaning down to pick up his stool. “My father wasn’t a nigger.”
“What was that?” Craig leaned forward on his stool. “Would you please repeat that? I’m sorry, but my hearing isn’t quite what it was.”
“I said my father wasn’t a nigger.” Travis repeated nonchalantly, eyes upon Craig, returning the man’s glare.
“Wow, so not only are you a misogynist scumbag. You’re also a racist.” Sally clapped, and gave thumbs up with both hands. “You’re definitely a winner. Am I right here, guys?” Sally leaned forward him in her stool.
“I didn’t realize you were a feminist. Dressed so provocatively, I’d have thought you were a cun—”
“Alright! That is enough.” Craig interrupted, further losing patience. “We are not playing roles in some paraphilic infantile fantasy. I will not baby a single one of you or change your soiled cloth.”
"Wow, nice autonepiophilia reference, there Craig.” Sally said smiling, flashing those straight white teeth. “What kind are you Travis? Are you an adult baby . . .”
“Mind your own business.” Travis gritted.
“Or, are you a sissy baby.” Sally further poked, leaning forward.
“What’s a sissy baby?” Brittany asked, turning towards Sally. She seemed genuinely interested. “Auto...panemia..?”
“Autonepiophilia: people that role play as babies and even go as far as to wet or defecate in adult diapers. Depending on the person or situation, one might like to be bathed and cleaned. Others, however, may like to be punished for being bad girls or boys, chastised for doing such a naughty thing.”
Ignoring the two men in the room, she spoke directly to Brittany.
“Basically, a sissy baby is a person who likes to dress up as the opposite sex. And that’s what Travis here is, a big ol’ sissy baby.”
“How about you, Sally?” Travis fought back, squeezed the table until his hands turned pale. “Do you like to be spanked and gagged, spread eagle, and have a blistered thumb shoved up your starving asshole?”
“Sounds like a Friday night.” Sally said coquettishly, winked.
“That’s gross.” Brittany quivered, gaze on the black plastic wrap. Hair fell over her pale face, which she tucked behind her ear, blue polish atop the nail plate.
“We’re waiting on you.” Craig said to Travis, eyeing the sheet of paper before him. He took the pen from atop Brittany’s paper and placed it before Travis, sliding the paper closer to the man. “Write.”
Craig held onto an oddly shaped object under a white sheet. None of them could make out what it was, but were already pretty certain that they knew. After all, it was the reason they’d all been gathered here, within this tiny room.
“So, tell me about yourself, Brittany. What do you like to do for fun?” Sally leaned her elbows on the small round plastic wrapped table. Brittany sat on the other side of the table, Craig to her right, and Travis to her left.
Brittany glanced away, blushed.
“What’s your pretty little story?” She asked playfully, red hair casually spilling over her shoulder and onto her chest. She flung it back over the red, blue, and black plaid long-sleeve.
Craig stole glances at Sally. When she glanced at him, one of her eyes had a spot of blue near the top of the iris.
“There isn’t anything to say.” Brittany said coldly, fingers of her left hand played with the sleeve of her right. “Mind your own business.”
“Is there an echo in this room? You know, you’re the second person to tell me to mind my own business today?” She shrugged, smiling, and crossed her arms over her chest. “Guess you don’t want to play with me, either.”
When she glanced up Craig was staring at her. She gave him an awkward kind of smile.
“You okay, buddy?” She winked at him. “You look like you’ve never seen a female before. I’m sure you’ve played with many, the way you’re built.”
The ambiance of the room changed with her mood, dispensing the sarcasm freely.
Craig turned his attention away from her and towards Travis, who’d finally written his name at the bottom of the sheet of paper. He glanced back over at her, saying, “It’s your eyes. I’ve never seen anyone with . . . well . . .” He fumbled for words.
“You’ve never seen someone with selectoral heterochromia?”
Craig stared into her eye almost dumbfounded.
Sally shrugged, “Not surprising, I haven’t either. Had a really bad infection when I was younger and bam, this was the result.” She pointed a finger at the eye and smiled at him.
Travis placed the pen and paper atop the table and leaned back with his arms crossed, flipping his hair again. His gray eyes were fixed on what Craig held in his right hand. “We’re all ready, Mr. Operator. Though, I fail to see what you’re even doing here. Shouldn’t you be in some control closet, directing the cameras and having a nice hot coffee?”
“Good question.” Sally said, hand pulling a strand of hair over her face, measuring its length with her blue and green eyes.
Craig peered down at the two of them, from Travis to Sally. He closed his eyes and breathed out, placing the object wrapped in the white sheet atop the table.
Their eyes collectively fell upon it.
Craig removed the cloth, “Clean the gun. Travis and I go first.”
Brittany shuddered at the sight of it.
Travis picked it up, taking the white cloth in his right hand and the gun in his left.
“Where’s the bullet?” Travis asked, popping open the cylinder. He had it angled in Sally’s direction, but she pushed the barrel away. He glanced up at her with reproach, “It’s not even loaded, and the cylinder is out.”
“Be that as it may, it’s not yet my turn.” Sally moved away from the gun’s trajectory.
“I honestly don’t get why you’re here.” She glanced over at Brittany again, who kept her eyes to the ground. “You’re the only one of us to even show fear. The three of us, we’ve made a mends with what might happen, but you, you look . . . stricken.”
Brittany chose the silence over making small talk with someone who might be dead in the few minutes.
“I’m holding onto the ammunition until we are ready to play.” He nodded at Travis. “For now maintain focus on cleaning it.”
“Sure thing, hoss.” Travis grunted. “Any Full Metal Jacket fans in the house?”
“Which reminds me,” Craig cut him off, “after each round we play, the gun must again be cleaned. Health code violation, not my choice.” Craig said stacking all three of the papers in the corner of the room atop the shelf where the gun previously rested. “Ironic? I know. No need to point it out, Sally.”
“You got me, Craig.” She said with a playful look of defeat. “I’ll find another ironic moment to exploit later on. Don’t you worry.”
One question remained on their collective minds: why was Craig here with them?
“So, you didn’t answer sissy baby’s question.” Sally glanced at Craig inquisitively, licking her lower lip. “Why are you playing? Don’t get me wrong, not that I mind having you here . . .”
“Why do you want to know?” Craig returned to his seat. His shiny shoes gleamed in the white lights of the ceiling, along with his freshly shaved head. He had a short boxed beard which was nearly all dark, except for bits within which were a lighter brown.
“Curiosity is killing my cat.” Sally stared at him sincerely.
“Sure, why not. Curiosity . . .” Travis repeated, still cleaning the small weapon. “You know. My father was big into guns. Why doesn’t this one have a name? Kinda looks like a snub-nose.”
"Because of legal issues, neither I, nor this company may utter brand names. However, the weapon is has a six bullet capacity, black rubber grip, barrel length is 2 inches, has a built-in silencer, and has a matte stainless finish. It weighs approximately 22 ounces and is a 9mm revolver, in case you were wondering, Travis.”
“You sure know your weapons.” Sally applauded him.
He was significantly older than the lot before him. Sally may well have been 25. Travis was about the same, maybe a year older than Sally. Brittany looked about 21, obviously the youngest.
“So how did you end up in this room with us?” Travis repeated, working around all the small talk.
“I did something that I shouldn’t have, and for it, this is my punishment. What I did cannot be easily forgiven or forgotten, and judging by the person whom I hurt, it will likely never be forgiven or forgotten.” Craig watched Travis clean the weapon. He turned to Sally with her green and blue eye.
“Vague . . .” Sally laughed. “What did you do? Wow, I feel like a broken record, constantly asking you the same question.” She blinked her eyes when she laughed.
“Quit dodging the question and answer it already.” Travis said, eyes moving from the cleaning his fingers were doing, to the distressed Brittany. He flipped his hair again, still leering at her.
“It’s bound to happen eventually, right?” Sally said to Brittany, in an attempt to console her.
“Yeah, you’re right.” She said in a low voice, finally raising her eyes from the ground and focusing them on the table instead. She watched Travis’ fingers work over the guns surface, arms resting upon the table, looking completely innocuous.
“It really doesn’t concern either of you, though, I am feeling a bit generous, I guess.” He straightened himself up, ran his fingers along his ear as if searching for a cigarette. “For a very long time I maintained a relationship with a married woman. Her husband found out about our meetings not too long ago and quickly put a stop to it. It was all vacuous, really, the whole thing.” His hands balled. “Yet that did not stop it from having very severe repercussions.”
“How does that get you in here?” Sally’s brow furrowed. “Unless the man is . . . Oh.”
“So, you were giving it to your boss’ wife.” Travis was ever more snarky, cleaning the barrel of the weapon. “Classy.”
“Normally such an act would get a man fired. Or, he would expect to face very severe consequences. In this instance, the boss is family—a half-brother to be specific. And now it seems the only apology he’s willing to accept from me is my life.”
There was a sudden bang on the other side of the plastic wrap covered wall. It was quickly followed by another louder bang. Then the sound cut out altogether, and each of them, with the exception of Craig, turned towards the wall behind Craig—where the sound emanated.
“What was that?” Brittany asked fearfully, her dirty sneaker tapping rapidly against the black plastic. The once white laces interwoven through the shoe were coming loose as she tapped rapidly. “Is it bad?”
“That . . . is the sound that I should stop with this story. If I wish to continue it, this little game will be over before it’s begun.” Craig took a long deep breath.
The man had been in the other room, watching the cameras, and listening to all of this. Odds were even if Craig walked out he wouldn’t stay on two legs for long.
“Wow, I’m starting to wish I hadn’t even asked.” Sally followed it with an awkward laugh.
Craig studied Brittany, her erratic behavior, all the moving and fidgeting. He glanced over at Travis, his pupils seemed constricted and his teeth kept grinding together. Sally was the one no one could figure out. Why was she here?
“Hand it to me.” Craig said to Travis, extending his hand to receive the weapon. The time had finally come to get this all going, just as Travis had earlier desired.
Travis sneered, placing the gun atop the table and casually slid it in the man’s direction. He tossed the white cloth over the table as well and crossed his arms, turning towards Brittany, watching her leg tap.
“Stop that.” He said to her, eyes wide, expression lines visible.
She stared at the gun atop the table, closed her eyes tightly, and then opened them up again, rubbing her arm under the sleeve.
“What was that?” Travis’ voice rumbled. “I didn’t hear you.”
“I’m sorry.” She said with a knot in her throat, her voice practically a murmur.
“Why don’t you leave her alone?” Sally was beginning to rise. “Or does it make a chauvinistic pig feel better by putting down a scared girl?”
“Aww, how adorable . . . You wanna protect her, don’t you, you fuckin’ dyke.” Travis barked, leaning back, arms crossed.
“That’s really cute, Travis. Do you know any other big words? Maybe you wanna call me a bitch . . . or a whore. Oh! Maybe you wanna call me a—”
“That’s enough!” Craig boomed over the both of them. “As Iam still a game operator I will decide who goes first. Travis and I will go, though, him before myself. Then the two of you will be next.” He eyed each of them. “If I die, you must continue the game without me to guide you. Dig into my pocket and produce the rest of the bullets—remember that you must first clean the weapon before proceeding to the next round, or that round will be void.” Craig showed the bullet, made sure each of them saw it, and placed it within the cylinder. He spun it and snapped it shut, sliding the gun across the plastic wrapped table towards Travis.
“About time we get to the festivities.” Travis mocked and took the loaded gun into his hand, his fingers caressing the black rubber, and just then the fear started to hit him.
“What’s wrong, tough guy?” Sally pushed him, leaning over. “Are you scared?”
It must not have worried her that he could easily turn the weapon on her, or any one of them. He wouldn’t, though, if he really did intend on winning this game. Hurting another participant is an instant out, right there on the paper, plain and simple.
Travis placed the gun against his head, ignoring Sally’s taunts, his heart pounding rapidly within his chest. His fingers tingled and his stomach churned. He took a long slow breath, finger on the trigger, and pulled.
Travis breathed out, heart pounding fast in his chest, admitting to feeling a little bit light-headed after that. He slid the gun back towards Craig.
“It’s your turn, Mr. Operator.” He said and crossed his trembling arms, flipping his hair over his brow.
Craig stared at the gun for a moment before picking it up. He took it and placed it against his shaved head, right against a vein, feeling his heart beat, calm as the ocean.
So many people came here claiming to not fear dying, but when their time came, they cried and fought for dear life. Not this guy, even if this is his last sight, staring face to face with Travis, he would go out a man.
He pressed the cold barrel to his temple and pulled the trigger.