Owen lurched to attention as a warm loogie showered his face. He didn’t remember falling asleep, but his foggy head told him otherwise. His entire body felt anesthetized and when he wiggled his fingers, a sharp needle-like zap rushed up his arm. He waited for the loogie to run down his cheek before peeking. Skullet was hovering over him; a large grin smothered his taut bony face. Owen closed his eyes again, pretending to sleep.
“I missed you all day. I couldn’t concentrate on anything else. You don’t know how happy I am to see you. Wakey-wakey.”
Skullet clasped Owen’s head. Owen didn’t resist, but neither did he want to give this monster any attention, so he kept his eyes firmly shut. Skullet began to shake Owen’s head from side to side, whapping it between his palms. These slaps were nothing compared to the agony ravaging the rest of his body, so Owen had little trouble ignoring them. And after a moment, Skullet stopped.
Owen was just about to relish this minor victory when he felt Skullet’s warm tongue slither across his closed eyelids. This slimy sensation tormented Owen far more than any punch. It grew more miserable as a dabble of spit wormed its way down his face. For the first time, Owen was grateful for the duct tape; otherwise it would’ve run right into his mouth. Unable to stand it any longer, he catapulted his bound legs into the air.
Whack. His kick landed right on Skullet’s shins. Skullet dropped to his knees. He spat a mewling cry as Owen readied for a second strike, this time hoping to catch the bastard square in the jaw. Skullet’s face seemed to taunt him, floating right in front of his swinging feet, but just before the collision, he rolled to the left. Owen attempted to kick a third time, but by then, Skullet had scrambled well out of reach.
“Kill them with kindness,” Skullet muttered, stumbling to his feet. He crossed the room and disappeared behind Owen.
That’s right coward, run away like a little girl, Owen thought, while swinging his feet another time to emphasize the point. The steps creaked as Skullet shuffled up them. Yeah, go hide upstairs, you sissy. Owen smirked underneath his duct tape gag. Still, he feared this was anything but a retreat.
Wa-thump, wa-thump, wa-thump.
Skullet was dragging something. From the racket, Owne figured it was something large. A sprinkling of dust showered down from the overhead beams. The door leading into the basement squeaked open and for a moment, everything stilled. Then, a thundering clatter shot out as something toppled down the stairs. There was a sharp crack as it shattered onto the floor.
Owen steadied his feet, ready to kick again, when something small whirled past his side. There was a metallic clank as it landed, skidding across the floor. An axe. Similar to the ones used by firemen, the axe was painted red with a pointed pick opposite the blade. Owen stared at it, tucking his feet as far back as his legs could reach.
“Kill them with kindness,” Skullet said, standing right behind the chair, but Owen didn’t even attempt to look in his direction. His eyes were locked on the axe.
“My mother always told me that. Kill them with kindness. It’s what she said anytime I was bullied, which was quite often. That’s probably why I’m so keen on justice today. I can’t stand bullies. Not a single one. Bullies, sinners, evil-doers, they’re all cut from the same cloth.”
A shadow crawled up the wall as Skullet stepped closer. There was a grating rasp as he dragged something across the floor.
“Evil-doers, that’s a peculiar phrase. Since one doesn’t have to do anything to be evil. It’s like that quote says, all that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing. That’s what happened when I was a child, none of the other kids helped as the bullies had their way with me. Not a single one.”
Skullet appeared next to Owen, dragging a large wooden dresser behind him. From the crack on its side, Owen figured this was what he’d heard being tossed down the stairs. One of the dresser’s doors was missing, while another stuck out crookedly, appearing ready to fall with the next tug. Somehow it defied gravity and remained in place as Skullet yanked the dresser closer.
“Still, my mother always told me to kill them with kindness, so I never fought back. I treated the bullies with respect, hoping someday they would finally see the light. But the beatings only grew worse and worse. It got so bad that one time, instead of stealing my milk money, the bullies forced me to eat it. Twenty-five cents, two dimes and nickel. Thank god it wasn’t a quarter, since I would’ve certainly choked on that.”
Skullet yanked the dresser to a stop. With a flick of his wrist, he toppled it onto its side. There was a small thud as it crashed, mostly intact, onto the floor. Skullet turned and grabbed the folding chair, but instead of taking a seat, he slid it right in front of Owen.
“Here, kick up your feet, relax.”
Owen didn’t move, locking his feet underneath the chair.
“That is exactly what happens when you attempt to kill someone with kindness. They’re never smart enough to take you up on the offer.”
Skullet spun around and kicked, launching the folding chair across the room. It bounced a couple of times before skidding to as stop.
“And where am I supposed to sit now? No good deed goes unpunished. That’s another saying, but nobody told me that when I was being bullied. Nobody.”
Skullet stormed off and returned a moment later carrying an ottoman. He tossed it next to the chair, taking a seat at Owen’s side. He placed his hand on Owen’s limp arm and gave it a pat before reaching down and plucking up the axe. He tapped the pick-end against the dresser. There was a pop-pop-pop as a couple splinters broke free.
“No good deed goes unpunished. You see, I didn’t want to get anyone in trouble. I was no snitch. So I told my mother I’d eaten the milk money on a dare. And because I was always a good kid, she believed me. She did the right thing and took me straight to the doctor. But neither of our good deeds, well, you know.”
Skullet twirled the axe in his hands, spinning the blade just above Owen’s arm. He then swung wide and impaled the axe into the dresser. A couple of splinters shot out, dusting the floor. He released the axe, letting it just hang there. He stared down at the floor, his gaze lingering on Owen’s feet.
“And she did exactly what the doctor ordered. For an entire week, I pooped into a plastic bucket and my poor mother had to filter through for any sign of the coins. God bless her soul, since she found a dime and nickel in the filth. And even when the second dime failed to appear, she continued to search, since that’s what good people do. Even if it’s unpleasant, dirty, and just plain revolting, they do what has to be done.”
Skullet slid the ottoman up to the chair. This time, he situated himself away from the path of Owen’s kicking legs. He reached down, curling his bony hand around Owen’s ankle. Giving it a firm tug, he yanked Owen’s legs into the air and shoved the ottoman underneath. They landed atop it with a soft plop.
“Sometimes there are great lessons in the grotesque. I learned my mother was a saint. All of them are. Imagine that level of selflessness, sacrificing everything for another. Especially for a child who only takes and takes and takes. Not that you can understand this. But as my mother also was fond of saying, nobody is stupid, some are just slow learners. All they need is some extra time and another whack at it. Whack, whack, whack!”
Skullet removed the axe from the dresser. Owen bucked in his seat, swinging his legs into the air. Skullet chuckled while reaching underneath the chair. There must’ve been a lever there, since Owen dropped towards the floor. Owen’s legs slammed against the ottoman, but now with the chair so low, he could barely raise them above its padded cushion top.
“I see someone’s been busy while I was gone.”
Skullet ran his hand across Owen’s feet. The tips of his socks were stained red, crusted with a layer of dried blood. All the result of Owen’s feeble attempts to dislodge that piece of wood. Skullet removed the socks, revealing a set of purple-bruised toes. They stung as Skullet brushed against them.
“No matter. There’ll be no more kicking from now on. Hold still, since the more you move, the more it’s going to hurt.”
Owen froze as Skullet placed the blade of the axe underneath the cuff of his jeans. There was a rip as he tore a deep gash through the denim. Skullet cut up to Owen’s knee, even tearing through the piece of duct tape binding his legs together. Still, with the axe pressed to his skin, Owen didn’t dare move.
“You must understand bullies don’t stop. Once they get that taste of blood, it’s always in their mouth. No kindness was going to cease their cravings, so I started to hide outside the house where their leader lived. Spent night after night in the nearby bushes, seeing the lights pop on and off. I watched as he showered and brushed his teeth, learning everything about him. Sure, he was a monster, but even they bleed. Everyone bleeds.”
Skullet grabbed Owen’s other leg, likewise ripping a long gash in his jeans. Yanking the fabric up, he exposed Owen’s bare leg from the knee down. Still, Owen didn’t move.
“Then, one day, when I knew he was alone, I rang the doorbell. He immediately began calling me names, even before opening the door. I pretended to be scared and ran off. He followed me into the woods. There, I’d hidden a baseball bat. It only took one swing to take him down. He fell and began to cry like a baby. Just one brutal swing.”
Skullet swung the axe. He stopped just before hitting Owen in the chest. The silver blade brushed against the edge of his shirt, but Owen held still. He’d only have a single chance and he’d have to time it perfectly.
“Of course, I knew that wouldn’t be enough. No matter what the bully cried while I hit him, I knew once he returned to his gang, things would just go back to normal. I had to make it permanent. And for change to be permanent, first there must be pain. Pain itself is neither good nor bad, but with any transformation, it is inevitable.”
Skullet twirled the axe within his palms. The curved blade spun like a top, before Skullet snapped it absolutely still.
“I’d kept that plastic bucket, filling it daily with my filth. By then, it’d become a routine. All the result of this bully’s actions. All his fault. So, I plopped the bucket next to his side and told him to eat. Of course, he refused, so I bashed his foot with the bat. I told him he’d never walk again, but still he refused. Some people just need a little more convincing, but eventually change is inevitable. I dunked his head inside that bucket, and he did eat.”
Skullet raised the axe over his head, dangling it like a guillotine.
“As gross as it was, it did seem fair. I always hoped that missing dime was somewhere in that bucket. Just seemed right that he should eat my lunch money for once.”
Owen steadied himself. It would be difficult from this angle, but if he could kick out his legs to either side, he could use the ground as leverage and topple the chair. After that, it was anyone’s game, but the alternative of just sitting there was out of the question.
“And the Polaroid I took ensured he’d never bully me again. I still have that photo today. A permanent reminder of a permanent solution. Because they’re the only ones guaranteed to work.”
Skullet swung the axe. Owen kicked out his feet. His left leg dropped to the floor, but his right got stuck on the lip of the ottoman. It tipped into the air. There was a crack as the axe slammed down. Owen knew it had missed him. He planted his feet onto the hardwood floor. They were throbbing and sore. He shoved down. The chair didn’t budge. Skullet began to chuckle.
“It’s bolted down pretty good, but maybe if you push just a little bit harder. Push, push, PUSH!”
Skullet released his grip on the axe. He hadn’t even swung at Owen, detouring at the last moment into the floor. Owen jerked again, but the chair remained stuck. Skullet reached into his pocket and removed a white tube. He bent over Owen’s struggling body and squeezed the tube. A layer of translucent goop spread over the ottoman. Glue. Owen thrust one final time to no avail, before deciding to kick.
It was too late. Skullet grabbed his ankle and slammed his leg back onto the ottoman. Using his body weight to wedge it in place, he caught Owen’s other leg, locking them together. Owen bucked, but with Skullet pressed down on him, it was useless. He felt the sticky glue bind with the back of his bare calves.
Skullet waited a few minutes for the glue to set before releasing. Owen kicked up, but the ottoman remained attached to him. And before Owen could jerk a second time, Skullet had wrapped a long piece of duct tape around his legs, securing them to the ottoman. Owen struggled some more, even though he knew he was hopelessly snared.
“Now you have no choice but to kick up your feet and relax. I guess my mother was right, you can kill with kindness. The cleanup is so much less messy. You should’ve listened to your saint of a mother; maybe you might’ve learned a thing or two.”
Skullet grabbed the axe and began to hack at the dresser. A jagged piece broke off and he shoved it over the looping legs of the ottoman. Once it was situated, he went off and gathered a drill. In no time, Skullet had anchored the broken wood from the dresser to the floor. He repeated this with a couple more planks, ensuring the ottoman was locked in place. And as soon as Skullet disappeared back upstairs, Owen tested his handiwork.
Snug as a bug. A damn squashed bug.