Red Paint, Purple Bruises
4am. The dog always barked when he got home. It lashed at the chain-link fence, snarling and charging. Its chain rattled. 4:06, he scaled the fence closer to the back door. It was easier that way. He had to make sure the dog was alive each night.
Sliding the keys from his coat pocket, he wrenched the door open with a screech. The dog usually calmed down once the door was shut again.
4:17am, he left his coat on the counter. There was a thick, sickly-sweet stench in the air, like burnt toast or fermenting coffee beans. The stove was responsible. No matter how many times it’d get cleaned out, the smell lingered. It reappeared whenever it was in use.
There was a pot on the stove.
“Did you see Alec anywhere?” his wife asked. She leaned against the wall of the kitchen. Her blue scrubs were unwashed, stained in the arms with dark, brown blood. There was a cup of steaming liquid in her hands.
“You’re up early.”
She shrugged. “Couldn’t sleep. Vergil had me jacked on coffee till midnight. I had to practically jump out the window to escape. There’s really no end to them.”
“It’s getting worse?”
“You know Knox. Worse is the new better there.”
He slid one hand along the counter top, jaw tight. “What do you want to do, Tam?”
His wife snorted. She took a good long sip from the mug, and shrugged again. “What do I know? I’m only a staff assistant, right?”
“You save lives.”
“Where’s Alec, then?”
4:28am, there was a heartbeat of silence. “Alec’s making his own decisions. Neither of us can prevent that. We should give him space,” said Clyde.
“That’s all we give him!”
“Then you shouldn’t worry about it anymore. Let the boy be.”
He took a step toward the hallway, turning his back on Tamara and the kitchen. The eternal stove-smell remained.
“So, I guess we’re done then. No more to say, right?”
“I’m tired. We can talk about this later.” His hand slid along the banister up the stairs. Each one creaked and moaned. The bedroom door shut a little harder than he’d wanted. 4:34am, he was fast asleep.
8:12, his wife and daughter left. 9:21am, the phone rang and went unanswered. 11:02, the dog went crazy. It barked and growled and snarled in its small, fenced-in backyard. 11:11, Clyde woke up.
The first thing he did was shower. Dirt spiraled into the drain at his feet as he scrubbed at rough, calloused flesh. His wife bought floral shampoo, but it did little to mask the subtle scent of soil and smoke that clung to him.
He shaved his face next, razor running along his scarred, prickly jaw. Sunlight poured in through the window in the restroom, and just outside, he could catch a glimpse of fellow West Fort homes. The foundations all looked the same, but there were stark differences between each abode. Some were more colorful with graffiti or lawn ornaments. Some had mowed lawns and others had weed-beds. They lived toward the edge of town, and therefore, the air was quieter. Most of the life in West Fort came awake at nightfall.
Brushing his teeth last, he watched himself in the mirror without really watching. His prosthetic hand shook with motion, and he found himself staring at the reflections in the sleek and polished metal. He would be sure to shine it later, and oil it, too.
11:39, he traipsed downstairs for a glass of water. More sunlight flooded the room. Picture frames lined the hallway leading into the kitchen. Varying images of brightly-dressed, smiling kids seemed to watch his every move. The pictures were nearly six years old, and neither he nor his wife appeared in any.
As Clyde made it around the corner, his eyes fell on the backdoor. It was backwards, but through the glass, he could read it plainly. “FUCKWAD” was written in bright red paint. He noticed his son next, outside, sitting on the porch steps with his back against the door. The dog was at the very end of its chain, lying quietly a few feet away from him.
Clyde forgot the water. He went to his son, and slid thedoor open. The dog leapt to its feet. It barked as the older man sat down. 11:44, he spoke to his son.
“You scared your mother.”
There was only silence. His son hadn’t even looked over. He stared at the dog, eyes glassy and dim. There were dark, purple circles under his eyelids and bright red paint in his blond hair. His clothes were torn and trashy. It was clear he hadn’t changed since he’d first disappeared.
“Have you been eating? I suppose you’re here for some cash, no?”
Again, there was no response. After a moment, Clyde shifted to point at the paint on the door screen. “Did you do this?”
That time, his son shrugged.
“You shouldn’t mess with this property. I told you that once. Do you remember?” He paused. “Alec.”
“I’m talking to you. Can you hear me?”
“I said, you can’t pull this shit anymore. I told you a while ago what would happen if you vandalized my property again.”
“It wasn’t me.”
Clyde’s jaw clenched. “You’ve heard my warning, so hear me now. We’re cutting you off.”
That time, Alec’s eyes widened. He turned to face his father. “Dad, you can’t do that. I’d drown. You know I would.”
“Maybe you could use a little drowning.” Clyde stood up. Both hands went into his pockets. “Maybe it’d teach you to value your life a little more.”
“Don’t come back until you can give me a reason to endorse you.”
Alec tried scrambling to his feet, but fell down, slamming his knee into the ground. “Dad, don’t do this. Please. It was a joke.” There were tears in his eyes. “I’m your son.”
Clyde stepped through the door, sliding it almost all the way closed. “Get off my lawn. No loitering.”
11:52, he said goodbye to his son. 11:55, he had himself a glass of water. 1:12, his son gave up on his fit. He had cried for nearly twenty minutes, and bashed his fists against the door. 2:51, Clyde went out to wash the windows. 3:12, Jade returned. She met him outside.
“Hey, Dad, I’m home.”
Clyde grit his teeth while he worked. “Hey, home, I’m Dad.”
“Nothing. Have you started on your homework?”
Jade crossed her arms. “I just got back.”
“Then check over the dishes before getting started. Your mother would appreciate it.”
There was a long pause as Clyde continued to work. He didn’t have to look over his shoulder to know that Jade was still there, though. He could feel the procrastination in the air.
“What’re you doing?” she asked.
“Oh.” She went silent again. ”What’re you cleaning?”
3:21, Clyde squeezed the towel. Soap water ran down his arms. “Paint. Is the homework going to finish itself?”
“I mean, I guess not.”
Sighing, Clyde went down to dunk the towel in the bucket again. “Do you need any help, Jay?
“No! Ms. Lori said I read at a high school level now.”
“That’s great.” Clyde smeared paint on his jeans.
“Has Alec stopped by?”
“Oh.” Jade ran a hand along the dog’s head. “Okay.”
He didn’t see her go inside, but he heard the door open and close. He was nearly finished with the “K” when Jade came out again. She didn’t say anything. Instead, she sat down on the porch with her knees pulled up to her chest. By the time Clyde finished his cleaning, it was almost 4:00pm. Jade was fast sleep on the steps, snoring.
For a moment, Clyde allowed himself to sigh. The bucket was heavy in his hands, but he couldn’t look away from the sleeping child. Her chest rose and fell softly with sleep. She had his dark hair, he noted. It was long, tumbling down her shoulders in waves. But he saw Tamara in her nose and eyes.
Clyde pried open the backdoor and the dog jumped to its feet, barking. Jade woke with a gasp.
“Let’s get some dinner started,” he said, ignoring the dog.
Jade followed slowly. “Bye, Cooper.”
5:19, Tamara returned. She didn’t even take off her uniform while she ate. It was pasta with homemade sauce, like usual. Jade ate in the other room, on the phone with her friend. Clyde and Tamara ate in silence. 5:38, Clyde got his jacket and left.
The sun sunk in the west as he took a bus to Ward Street. He sat toward the back, jostling in his seat over every pothole and crack. He rode through the business and shopping district of West Fort, eyes watching people as they crossed the street or hung around corners. The bars would be opening soon, and new life would flood through the neighborhood.
The bus whined to a halt, and he left the ticket stub on his seat. The buildings surrounding the Ward Underground Subway were boarded-up shambles. Graffiti painted the walls and doors. The stench resembled old cigarettes and sewage, and the entrance was like a black pit. As he neared it, he could feel the change in temperature. The air was thicker—murkier. Down the stairs, he eyed the posters plastered to the walls. The typical “Have you smiled today?” propaganda was colored over. Various other verbs replaced and scratched out the word “smiled.” One of his personal favorites was, “Have you bitten dat baby today?”
Down below, dim, flickering fluorescent lights lined the walls. He made his way into the opening, and eyed the dismal surroundings. Not many people were bustling around. It was early yet. Just the way he liked.
His workplace was nearly a mile down. It was a fairly long trek. He walked through the tunnel along the subway tracks, eyes flickering back and forth between empty chip bags, various bottles with various mystery liquids, and takeout boxes.
6:59, he’d made it to his second home.
Two guards stood at the door of his abandoned subway car. Skullie was already inside. He could see the scrawny man mosey about, picking up various trinkets and examining them. Clyde could only imagine the odd request the equally odd man had in store for him.
Clyde passed through the guards, and slammed the subway-car door behind him. “I don’t believe I gave you permission to sniff my stuff," he said. His voice was a low growl. He pulled the hood of his jacket down over his face.
Skullie’s eyes went wide. “My apologies, Caw. My curiosity itched.”
Skullie was indeed the strangest man Clyde had ever laid eyes on. He had pale, snowy-colored skin and black bones tattooed along his body. His bald face resembled a skull, of course. Two, white irises shifted around the room. He wore beat-up, black jeans and well-scuffed boots. The man had an overzealous amount of facial piercings, and his normal teeth were replaced with shiny, metallic ones. He looked like someone who had let the Underground all too easily devour him.
“Did Gem send you?” asked Clyde.
“Uh, yes! But no.” Skullie shook his head, tilting it to examine a copper bird book weight. “I mean, not what you think. Stupid.” He struck his skull. “Gem wanted you—me! To give you this.” He pulled a folder from his jacket, handing it out to Clyde without looking at him.
Clyde took the folder. “What is this?”
“Stuff! People, like, dead things and stuff. Work. You know. Anyway, thanks for the company. I-I mean, for hosting. I mean, for having me over.” Skullie bowed clumsily before slapping the door open and ambling outside. Markus, one of Clyde’s guards, shut the door again.
7:12pm, there was only silence.
Clyde stared down at the cream-colored folder. Tentatively, he brought it to his nose to smell.
A lot of lavender.
Too much lavender.
So much lavender, he began to think that Skullie’s facial piercings had been a bit more modest.
Clyde tore the folder open, pulling out the first page. It was indeed a handful of work. Even more work than there was lavender fragrance in the world. His eyes scanned over the pages of various murder victims, and his blood pressure notably spiked. He had only just gotten inside, and yet his night was already mapped out for him. It would take hours to slug through. Blood practically seeped through the pages, and he was expected to wipe it all clean before dawn?
7:16, he began to work. “Amanda,” he said. He looked over at the tablet on his desk. The screen was dark. “Amanda, wake up.”
The screen lit up and a scratchy AI voice started. “Wakefield filtration is a blossoming industry...”
“Amanda, do a search on something called Mod.”
“Searching something called Mod.”
7:19, there was a knock on the subway door. Clyde turned around, and tossed the folder onto his desk. It was Markus.
“Caw, we found a guy snooping around our supply crates earlier.”
“Get rid of him.”
Markus smiled. “He’s outside.”
There was a moment of pause as Clyde considered what Markus was saying. He peered over the man’s shoulder to see a young kid bound at the wrists and slumped against one of the columns in the subway station. He had orange, spiky hair.
Amanda broke the silence. “Mod is a term derived from ‘modification,’ and implies a change made to something. Synonyms include; alteration, adjustment, refinement, revision...”
7:22, Clyde quit the paperwork. He pressed Amanda’s power switch and the voice cut off. He turned to Markus, removing the glove from his metal hand. “Let’s give the kid a little talking to. Is our inventory intact?”
“Then it’ll be a warning.”
Clyde stepped off the train and onto the subway platform. A couple of his guards stood next to the kid, and he lifted his head as Clyde approached.
“P-Please, I didn’t take anything, I swear!”
Clyde glared at Markus. “And you didn’t even gag him.”
Markus shrugged. “Figured he had a little story to tell.”
The guards backed away as Clyde loomed over the kid. He had his hands behind his back. “What were you doing on my property?” asked Clyde.
“I got lost and—"
“You’re a junkie.” Clyde tilted his head to examine the boy’s baggy, bloodshot eyes. “Who told you where we keep our supplies?”
The boy blanched. “No one! No one, I swear. I just thought—"
“You know, you’re a little young to be snooping around this place. Especially deep into my territory like this. Now, since I’m sure you’ve missed plenty of school, I’ll give you a lesson. Pay attention.”
Clyde made a sweeping motion with his arm. “This is my property. My property is off limits to anyone other than myself or my associates. Transgress upon this system, and I’ll show you what it really means to cry home to your family.”
“I don’t have any family.”
For a moment, Clyde hesitated. In the dark, purple highways under the boy’s eyes, he could see a road where his son, Alec, liked to drive. He could see the pit the drugs created, and the desperation the boy nurtured in order to feed it. It wasn’t just an itch. The boy breathed for it.
Clyde leaned back on the balls of his feet. He sighed heavily. “You know, kids like you make me sick.”
7:28, Clyde beat a child’s face in. 7:35, Markus dragged the kid out into Anyman’s Land, and 7:41, Clyde cleaned blood from his metal knuckles and jacket sleeves. He returned to his train car in order to flip through the file, and mulled over the fact that there was still work to be done.
By 11:06, business was bustling. He and Markus discussed
raids on the junkyard above ground, for scraps and weapons and supplies. His associates enforced the law in the subway tunnels. He sold drugs for thick wads of cash. He smoked from his train, staring down at a picture of his family in his wallet from ten years ago. He sharpened his switchblades. He even listened to Amanda drone on about the weather and some celebrity news circulating about twin cyborgs and cancer treatments.
3:39am, he left the station through a sewer tunnel closer to his house. He removed the gloves, hood, and jacket, and walked home after catching a bus. The air was light and crisp, giving off the illusion of nighttime when it was a couple hours from daybreak. His boots squashed through mud, and the dog barked when he reached the fence.
4:08am, he saw the red paint on all the back windows. 4:57, he’d cleaned nearly all the “asswipes, fuckwads, slumsuckers, and dickfaces” he could from the glass. 5:03, he went inside, welcomed by the stove stench once again. There was a pot on the stove and a half empty cup of coffee on the counter. Tamara was slumped on the couch, her arm dangling over the armrest. At first glance, Clyde almost thought she was dead. There was a bottle of sleeping pills on the coffee table, but the bottle was still half full.