January 27th, 2019 by Patrick Starks
Nothing but white walls surrounded. Even the jacket that wrapped around my neck to my stomach like an anaconda was. And whenever I’d open my eyes from a long night’s rest, there would be the man with the owl eyes, gawking at me through a rectangular window, that of which was carved into a door that was only but two steps from where I sat.
Every now and then I’d hear voices. From my left to my right, and then from behind, sometimes feeling so much as a whisper clash against the back of my neck, oddly. No doubt about it, my body would then form goosebumps and get a feel for the chills all in one. And all I ever really wanted was to just go back home to my wife and kids, although, I’d be surprised if any of them would even recognize me by now.
“Son… You still hearing things,” said the security guard sarcastically. “You know, I can always call Mrs. Thornberry in. She’ll put some ease into your misery.”
As if I’d already dealt with enough psychologically for one day. By the word of ‘Thornberry,’ my body would nearly go into shock. From the way she dressed, from the way she walked, any newbie of Blossomvale Psychiatric would have thought Mrs. Thornberry to be a guardian angel. Her hair was completely silver, perfectly straightened, and bounced with her for every step she’d take. She had an hourglass body, with legs longer than her torso, like the Barbie dolls my daughters played with from what I last remember. It had been a long time since I’d been with a woman, my wife that being. But call me desperate all you want, but Mrs. Thornberry could have easily been a model, for vogue or Victoria secret. But her eyes. Whenever I looked into that woman’s eye’s I saw only emptiness. And to fill it…
“Oh man!” yelled the security guard. “You are luuuucky. Looks like the thorn has plucked herself another berry.”
“No! Please! I’m fine, I promise, Noo! I’ll tell you anything you want! Just please,” yelled a man.
Another newbie, I thought. His screams were agonizing, like nails to a chalkboard. I honestly don’t know how many of us there were. Maybe fifteen, twenty, hell… maybe sixty. And the sad part to it all was that most of the poor bastards had no business being there. Except for me, of course.
There was silence now. Only footsteps, that of which echoed the halls like a yodel on a mountain top.
“Step by step, day by day,” a voice echoed. “Only time will tell. But you know what they say, we’ll make it better. The second time around.”
Then the door opened, and the first thing to be noticed was a pair of Ugg’s complemented by, of course, an all-white trench coat.
“Well don’t look so surprised Malcolm. You knew that I’d be back around to you eventually,” said Mrs. Thornberry, hands still bloody from her previous patient.
“Why am I here? What do you want from me? I told you… I don’t have any money,” I said.
“Oh, I think you know very well why your here Mr. Y.”
The door then closed behind Mrs. Thornberry. It was just me and her now. I didn’t think anyone really knew of my secret identity, but still, I wasn’t about to begin admitting it to her. There was too much at stake.
“Alright let’s cut to the chase, shall we. Are you or are you not part of the X Faction?” she asked.
I said nothing.
“Oh come on now Malcolm. I already know. No need to hide it from little old me,” said Mrs. Thornberry.
“Then why even bother asking me then?” I asked.
“For the sere sport, I guess. I just wanted to hear it from those pretty little lips of yours. You see, I got cameras in every room, every room Mr.Y. Camera’s waiting for each one of you terrorist to confess of the crimes you have committed. And rather you liked to believe it or not, you sons of bitches are going down, and are going away for a long time I promise you. Weights, deli sandwiches, and dropping the soap is all your going to be getting for the next twenty years. Am I making sense now.”
Suddenly the room felt a little colder. From her coat pocket, Mrs. Thornberry would then pull out a manila envelope, and from it, she laid out three pictures on a small coffee table the security guard had brought in prior. One, of my family. Two, of a woman in turquoise, and three, of a symbol that looked, in fact, like an X.
“Yes. I know your family is quite beautiful aren’t they,” said Mrs. Thornberry, with a smile nearly reaching the tip of her ears. “So sad, beautiful wife… Does she know?”
“I swear if you lay a finger on…”
“No. Mr. Y, I think the only person that has been laying fingers on anything is you. But come on now, your wife is so much prettier, I think. So why the switch, Finch?”
I’d never wanted to strangle someone so bad, and I never thought it would be a woman. But if Chanelle ever found out… If my daughters…
“Okay. I’ll tell you… But you don’t understand what’s going on here,” I said.
Mrs. Thornberry’s eyes then blossomed.
“Malcolm X… Loved to play tix tac toe,” I said.
“What the hell is that supposed to mean!” yelled Mrs. Thornberry, slapping the taste out of my mouth.
“Exactly what I just said,” I spat. “X’s and O’s. That was the name of the game, and that was the game Mr. X liked to play.”
Mrs. Thornberry looked frightened, eyes pinging around her skull like a pinball machine. For once, the thorn in berry had been plucked out.
“I’m sorry but just what the hell does tic tac toe have anything to do with you blowing up half a city block!” she yelled. “And what does Malcolm X have to do with any of this. He’s been gone for years now. This isn’t the 1960’s Mr. Y!”
“That’s what you think,” I grinned.
Mrs. Thornberry then got up out of her chair and took a few steps back. She needed a moment to reflect. Maybe she had signed up for the wrong case, she pondered.
“Mrs. Thornberry. It’s one thirty. Your ki…”
“Shut up! Shut up, you idiot! Don’t you think I know that? Give me a damn minute will ya.”
The security guard sweated profusely and took no time at all to close the door back, making sure that it, in fact, hit him on his ass on the way out. And on the outside of it, his heart beat faster than a drummer at a Rod Stewart concert, for he still struggled for just a gasp of air that Mrs. Thornberry had just taken from him.
“I don’t know what’s going on in that twisted little mind of yours, Mr. Y. But I’m going to find out who’s running this operation and shut it down one way or another,” said Mrs. Thornberry.
I didn’t know what to think anymore. I was worried yet relieved in some ways. I would have never suspected a woman like Mrs. Thornberry to have children of her own. And knowing so made the whole entire task at hand a lot more challenging than what I thought it would be. No matter how crazy the woman was, I couldn’t let anything happen to her or her family. Spilling innocent blood just wasn’t my forte.
Little did Mrs. Thornberry know, I had let myself get caught, willingly as they say. I needed in, especially if I was going to end all the chaos outside of the prison we were all held in. It was in Mr. X’s notes that the final piece was hidden here in Blossomvale. But Mrs. Thornberry had no clue to what she was getting herself involved in. She was wrong. I didn’t blow up half a city block, it was just a mission that had gone south, the first mission. And all who was to blame was a man who was so full of himself that he’d declared himself as the GOAT. But when trialed, he claimed that it was an honest mistake.
Five years ago I remember taking the girls to school and… Jesus… Five years already… They must be… Right, back to what I was saying. Before taking the girls to school I remembered seeing suicides day by day on Luv 14 News. A topic that had sadly become a trend it seemed. Reporters kept saying that it was from deep depression, but they like most daily News Channels delivered false answers. The real problem was that corporate leaders were beginning to pull their chips away from the table and that anyone that worked for them was, well… Up shits creek. And Mr. X being one of those leaders knew exactly why they had done it. He did his best to stop the economy from falling to greed, but it was inevitable with the power the men at the top held. Mr. X had always said that the day would come for me and the others to make a decision—to be heroes or villains, he left us with. I just never thought it would have come so soon.
“A man who stands for nothing will fall for anything,” he said.
And he couldn’t be any more right. There were at least thirty of us, but now it was just down to me and Flora, for everyone we worked with had gone rogue. Flora was the woman in picture two, with the turquoise. She reminded me of Chanelle in some ways—strong, loving, driven, although, not a mother of two, surprisingly. We’d gone on a couple of missions together, Mr. and Mrs. YZ, our adversaries called us.
One night we had done our best, taking down two, no, four corporate leaders, giving back all that was taken from the people and the whole damn city would rejoice in the streets as if we’d just won the Olympics. A celebration was in order. A few shots of bourbon, a few sips of wine, some pepperoni pizza, and by the next day I’d wake up in the same bed as Flora. Did we do something or not, I don’t know. Flora still to this day refuses to tell me. Its as if she likes to have some sort of collateral over me, but for what, I still wondered. But if there was anything that calmed me out of the whole situation, it was that I at least still had my pants on. Which meant maybe the night might not have gone as bad as I thought.
Everything had finally gotten back to normal. Mrs. Thornberry was gone for the day, even the man with the owl eyes. All who was left now was Janitor Bob. He was a muscular man, tall as a tree, like a linebacker, I thought. Why he wasn’t part of security still rambles in my head today.
“How’s it going Malcolm,” asked Janitor Bob.
“Good, good. You know… Had another run-in with…”
“Mrs. Thornberry. Yeah. I know. That woman’s been a thorn in my you know what for weeks. Bob clean this, Bob clean that, Bob you’re late, Bob put that down, Bob what are you doing, Bob hurry up, Bob don’t stop, don’t… Uhm… I mean. Well…”
“No… You, and her. You dog,” I laughed. “Jesus Bob. I mean she’s a beautiful woman and all, but think more with your head instead of what’s down below. Mind over matter my friend, mind over mat-ter.”
“We connect you know… We got this thing,” said Janitor Bob, scratching the flakes from his head.
“Yeah. What’s her first name then? When’s her birthday? What’s her kid’s name?”
“She has kids?”
The alarms then went off, and flashes of red swirled around Janitor Bob like a disco party.
“Bob… What’s going on out there?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “I’m going to go check it out. Hold tight.”
Before I could call Bob back, smoke filled the halls like fog, making it impossible to see through the small window. But then the door to my room opened.
“Bob! Bob where are you?” I chocked.
I then took a peek through the door, looking down the hallway to my left. It was Bob, in a corner not moving a muscle.
“Bob! Yo Bob! Everything good,” I yelled.
Bob gave no response. And out of a nowhere I would be run over by a man in a full sprint.
“Get the hell out of my way man!” they yelled.
“Wait! Wait just a damn minute, relax. What the hell’s going on?” I asked.
“You mean you don’t know?”
“My god… You, you really don’t know, do you… We’re all going to fucking die man! There here! There fucking here man! They were in the trees man, from outside the front of the building. They were just sitting there, with their beady little eyes man, in the fucking trees man! In the trees!”
“Who? Who’s they? Snap out of it!” I slapped, leaving a red hand print on the side of the man’s face.
The man now had a twinkle in his eye. He grabbed my shoulders and then threw me back to the floor as he continued his full sprint. About time he’d reached the corner of the hall, all any could hear was a blood-curdling scream.
“Damn,” I sighed.
On my way over to Bob, I picked up a broken piece of glass, cutting myself free of constraint. My arms were aching. Straight-jackets are a lot worst than handcuffs let me tell you that.
“Bob. Hey friend you alright,” I said, resting my hand on his shoulder.
Bob then fell back in my arms, knocking us both to the ground. His eyes were empty as I held him in my arms, and his shirt looked as if it been clawed away at by a beast of some sort, blood seeping from underneath it his white shirt like cherry Kool-aid to a paper towel. I pulled it back, and immediately I would recognize the symbol. An X. Just like in the picture, although, this wasn’t the traditional X that the faction was known for. This X was modified.
“Well, well. Mr. Y, Mr. Y. You’ve been a bad little compadre friend,” said a voice on the intercom.
It sounded familiar.
“You almost ruined our plans you know. You and the other group of flunkies,” said the voice. “I honestly don’t know what the hell he saw in you. I really don’t. But let’s make it perfectly clear. You are not the leader of this faction anymore. I am. And you need to understand Mr. Y, that the GOAT always gets what he wants, always. I just wish good old Mr. X would’ve seen some light to where I was coming from. Shame though that he died by an overdose. You know they say nightshade can be a son of a bitch if ever mixed with someone’s medication. Drug plus poison. Shit, I hope it was at least a quick death for him.”
“You bastard! What have you done! The whole worlds going to suffer! All we needed to do is do…”
“Oh, you mean take down the corporate. Ha, son, I am the corporate.”
I’d never seen his face before. But I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It sounded all too familiar.
“No, it can’t be… The man with the owl eyes?”
“Of course, it’s me. You didn’t think I was going to let you just breeze right on in and ruin all my plans, did you? Seems at Blossomvale there pretty desperate for security nowadays, and being the courageous man that I am. I figured I’d take part in a little community service. But don’t you worry about that now. There are much bigger things at hand. Matter of fact, I think you got a reunion to attend.”
Out from the shadows turquoise emerged.
“Hello, again Malcolm. Long time,” said the woman.
“Yes. It’s me,” she said. “Wow, you don’t look a day over thirty. You finally quit drinking I see.”
“No. No, you, you died on the last mission. We buried you. The GOAT said…”
“Sorry to disappoint. But I honestly couldn’t keep working beside you. You’re just how should I say, too soft. And the GOAT… Well, he knows what he wants, and that’s just something I find extremely attractive in a man.”
“What the hell… I thought we… But we…”
“Oh that. Sorry to disappoint again. I never realized how much of an impact tranquilizers would have. One slip in your shot of bourbon and you were out like a light, and slept through the flight.”
“We weren’t on a flight you crazy b…”
“I know. I just wanted to say it. I love Drake don’t you,” laughed Flora. “You see, while you were passed out I’d collected all the plans Mr. X had for the faction, and right off your laptop, which you left out, unlocked. I saw it all Malcolm. Who Mr. X was looking to promote and who he was looking to let go. And what do you know, the bastard had me of all people on the naughty list. And you knew about it… But I guess the nightshade was a good boost of karma at the end of it all thanks to Doctor Blue.”
“No way… He’s involved too?” I asked.
“Of course, we all are sweetheart. You just happened to be outcast, sadly.”
My body shivered, and my teeth chattered, all while Bob’s body still rested in my arms. This is it for me, I thought. I’d been played. Another mission failed. All I could think about now was when I was gone, would they leave Chanelle and the girls in peace.
“Oh and don’t worry about your family Malcolm. We’ll take real good care of them,” said Flora, pulling out a forty-five from the holster underneath her dress.
“Don’t move a fucking muscle!” yelled a woman.
The woman looked beat up, trench coat bloody, and hair the same pigment as the moon that beamed at us through the window ceiling. Mrs. Thornberry, I smiled. Thank the heavens. Although, she had a different look in her eyes. This was Mrs. Thornberry on steroids.
“What did you do to Bob! Where are my babies?” she yelled.
“Mrs. Thornberry. You…”
“Shut up Mr.Y! I’ll deal with you later, but first I want to handle the witch in front me.”
Flora looked over her shoulder and smiled. Other than me she was one of the best. I’d only hoped that Mrs. Thornberry was aware of it.
“What exactly do you think is going to happen here?” said Flora, still holding a strong grin. “You shoot me and its all over. You’ll never see your precious babies again. Tell her Malcolm. Tell her how foolish she looks right now.”
“I told you, Mrs. Thornberry. You don’t know…”
“I said keep your mouth shut Mr.Y!”
“Oh I like this one,” said Flora licking her lips. “Tell you what let’s play a game of tic tac toe. If you win you get your babies back. But if I win, well… you die. Ha, ha, ha.”
“Don’t do it, it’s a trap,” I yelled.
Flora then fired off a shot near my head and gave me wicked stare. There was no way in hell she’d miss such an up-close shot. Not a 97.9 accuracy like herself.
“What is it with you people and tic tac toe…” whispered Mrs. Thornberry.
I could tell the fight was already over before it began. Flora was a graduate student from Harvard, MBA in Psychology. She was known in the faction for the psychological games she played, which was all the more reason I should’ve been on my toes from the first time we were paired together. Looks like I should’ve practiced a little of what I’d preached to Bob. But too late for that now.
We were at a stand-still. And the clock and the background ticked to the silence in the hall. The only question was now, was I the hero Mr. X always saw or was my story meant to just end right then and there?