I was never one to believe in an actual Hell. I was more of the type to bring Hell onto others and watch them squirm at first under my gaze and then succumb to my unleashed terror. It was my way—how I had learned so quickly to survive on the streets of Scarborough. So much that many of the law enforcement officers in my district had learned very quickly to give me all the room I needed to gain control. I started small as a mover in the skids. Moving and receiving shit that either no one would or dared to touch. I was fast and clean with just a handful of crewmembers. Now I manage the whole north side. I own the old abandoned buildings and refurbished them just close enough to pass code, then turn around and rent or lend them to welfare recipients, the old and the handicap. I was mostly occupied by the lost and confused (nut jobs). Then, there are the small venues I take a cut from, people of all ages, social ranks, and nationalities. From stealing to pushers, all the way to the trashiest prostitute to the most pleasing five-star whore. If anything of value washed up on our harbors, we got a cut of it.
One day, my accountant brought to my attention that one of our regulars was behind in his payments. I knew the guy. He had been one of my Lieutenants fucked over by a deal that had gone bad. The guy was never the same; his body was lame as shit, but his mind was intact. I didn’t have the heart to put a piece of metal through his brainpan, so I took care of him. I set him up nicely and forgot about him. But his step-up came back to me with this news, and I bit onto the hook. So off I went on a personal quest in my gorgeous black Chrysler 300 (with three of my cleaners) and headed to a university campus where the little shit was staying.
Now I’m a fair man, a patient man. I didn’t get this far in the game to get personal by a missed payment or a slacker, but I sure as fuck wasn’t one to be the one to hold the bag on this lame-ass cripple.
We rolled on the curb to the campus and got out. We all noticed that the place has gone to shit.
“The fuck happened here?” I gestured to the condition of the grounds looking around. “Where the fuck is the students?”
“Place got shut down,” one of my men retorted.
“No fucking shit,” I glared at him. “I can see that for myself, but why wasn’t I told about this?”
The same thug shrugged, “payments and goods were coming through, and then…they just stopped.”
“No,” I held up my index finger. “Why does it have warning contaminated ribbons all-the-fuck over it and the goddamn place boarded up?”
“But boss,” He pointed to the power and cable lines feeding to the abandoned campus. “The place is still occupied. He’s there alright.”
“Fuck,” I let the tutti-frutti flavored vape through my mouth like an angered dragon. “Get the tools.”
“You want us to?” One made a gun sign with his finger to his head and then thumbed it, firing into his head.
“Just bring the goddamn tools from my trunk,” I readjusted my jacket. “I don’t want to get my Armani filthy.” Then added, “-and none of you better not get a fucking scratch on my car doing it.” I turned my attention back to the boarded-up frat house, “I just had it waxed.”
The three men exchanged an uncomfortable glance as they double-timed it to the back of my car.
“Un-fucking-believable…” I reflected with an e-cigarette dangling from my lips.
We cut the cable to the outside world, disconnected the power, and then tore the boards off the entrance doors. By we—I mean my men. They mumbled under their breath, but I contended to ignore it with a GLOCK 36 gripped in my gloved hand. There was no sign of anyone approaching, and nobody batted an eye because of the late hour and the location. Not even the prepaid police officers bothered; they simply exchanged a brief nod and kept going. Finally, we got into the place, and it was a complete fucking shit hole. I was beyond livid and looking at packaged up goods and furniture with clear plastic covering. The windows were all boarded-up, so we had to contend with flashlights instead of getting any streetlight to help see. Maybe my decision to cut the power was a bit hasty. I was old school and thought maybe this would bring the little shit out, but nope—we had to break in like some goddamn landlord owed money for rent.
I eyed the top of the stairway, “hear that?” I thought I saw the light at the top of the floor, the hum of fans, and the clicking of a keyboard.
“He has a backup generator?” One of my men blurted out.
“Mack Cullen’s a fucking techie. Of course, that lame shit would have a backup generator.” I was broiling mad as I gestured for them to follow me upstairs. “Quietly now…” I hissed out.
“What’s he doing in there?” One of the men slowly cocked his pistol as he held it downwards. A thing he had drilled in his head during military training.
“After his early retirement, he became involved in cryptocurrency and dark web shit. The bastard’s a bloody prodigy at it; not overly bright in anything else, but if you put a computer or a cell in his hands-”
The trio exchanged glances and shrugged.
“He was my right-hand man, plus he gave me an offer I couldn’t refuse. He’s a smart little prick, so don’t let your guard down.” I pointed to the tiny webcams in each corner. “Since his accident, he’s been a real paranoid fucker.”
We all reached the top of the stairs, and the hardwood floor carpeted with dust, stacks of empty cardboard boxes, and bags of garbage. We coughed and gagged at its rank smell. I stood at the door and saw written on it in felt marker: Hell starts right here. In the far of the hall, we spotted an emergency fire light pointed at us. The door down the hall caught my attention. From it came the sound of water filling up the porcelain bowl. That meant only one thing: someone was still here.
I stepped to the side of Mack’s door to listen. My eyes kept to the shadow and listened as his chair squeaked around.
“Put your guns away,” a voice from multiple speakers situated throughout the dorm echoed. “You won’t need them here.”
“Mack, my man; how’re you holding up these days?” I still had my pistol up and looked at the three that accompanied me. “How’s that leg of yours?”
“You know—fucked.” Mack replied, “No thanks to you for shooting it.”
“You were outta line,” I wet my lips. “You got clumsy, and I had to do what I had to do.”
“So Whaddaya want?” Mack clicked a few more keys on his keyboard. “You didn’t come all this way to say hi, or see how I’m doing, did you?”
“Not really,” I answered back. “You have some outstanding debts that you have to pay in full.” I looked around at the shape of the dorm. “Not to mention what the fuck happened here. I set you up with a nice racket here, and this is what you’ve done to it.”
“You’re blaming me for this?”
“Come out, Mack, so that we can talk.” I offered.
“You know I can’t do that.”
“Don’t trust me?”
“You break into my home,” Mack retorted, “I think that if you wanted to come here, you wouldn’t have come with a few goons.”
“We had some accounting issues to work out.”
Mack grew quiet. I heard him clicking away on the computer like a badass. The fucker was up to something all right. He didn’t need a gun. He could easily ruin a man’s life from his keyboard and never see his victim’s face.
“What’s he doing?” one of my men asked.
I shook my head and signaled for one of them to bash the door down. One of my men stood prepared to bust down the door at my signal.
“Done,” Mack’s voice echoed through the speakers throughout the frat house.
I lowered my pistol and motioned my man to stand down. “What did you do, Mack?” I squinted and bit my lower lip.
“I transferred double the amount I owed.”
“Just like that, huh?”
“Yeah,” Mack snorted. “I’ve just been a little busy lately. Sorry about that.”
“Well, while I’m here, we need to talk.”
“No, we don’t,” Mack said dismissively. He kept clicking away.
“I say we should,” I nodded for the man to bash the door open. “Besides, I have some questions that need answering.” My assigned goon bashed against the door to Mack’s room and found himself sprawled to the floor, stunned.
“I wouldn’t bother to break down my door, and it’s reinforced and well…long story short: I made this into a nice cozy panic room.”
“That son-of-a-bitch…” I gnashed my teeth. “Stop pissing around and come out here, or I will fucking get people here to extract you, even if it means taking this place down brick by brick.”
Mack finally relented after a few uncomfortable seconds. “Fine, but first give that Glock of yours over to one of your goons. Then, after they go away, you can come in.”
“What? No fucking way,” I spat out.
“Then we can talk this way,” Mack retorted. “You got your money, and now I can answer any question you have. It’s that, or I will send my feed to the feds along with some other interesting things I’ve collected on you through the years.”
“Fine, alright. Fucking asshole,” I handed my handgun to one of my men.
“You still carry that butterfly knife with you everywhere you go?”
“Yeah,” I eyed the nearest mini camera in the corner.
I dropped it to the floor and kicked it away, “happy now, fuck face?”
“Not yet. Tell your men to head back to the car. We’ll be quick.”
I looked to my men, threw my car keys at them, and motioned for them to leave with the tilt of my head.
“But what if he tries to kill you?”
I shrugged, “then you burn this mother to the ground.”
After my men left, the door to Mack’s room unlocked like it was some kind of private vault. I rolled my eyes at the absurdity and paranoia that this maniac had been going through. I mean, even the students that had shared this dorm were either silenced with bribes or with-
An unthinkable thought began to surface.
Was Mack, in fact, a latent psychopath that I didn’t even see it happening on my watch? Had he hidden it that well so even someone like me couldn’t recognize it? Naw, that was utter horseshit, and even I wasn’t going to believe in that. He always was a sneaky little bastard. A bit creepy and devoid of morality (the way I like them: utterly corruptible), but overall, he was the kind of person that was too smart for his good.
I sure was on the mark with him on that one.
The safe room was dark. Mack’s back was to me, and he was still typing away on something that looked like lines of code on the monitor. It would’ve been so easy just to reach out and throttle the gimped little bastard. I didn’t need a knife or even a gun. I could’ve easily throttled the shit out of him and finished the whole thing. What was one dead ex-partner in crime to me? This man had initially taken a bullet from me and lost the use of his leg. Then on top of it all, he became hooked on opiates and was useless to me, even after rehab.
As I drew closer to him, I noticed something strange about him. Something so terrifying that it gave me reason enough–to pause.
On the back of his skinny, freckled neck, he had these awful-looking bead-like bumps. Each looked half the size of a sunflower seed, semi-embedded in his skin, in a neat little row. Some looked shiny and wet. The others looked like something was under his skin, like a tiny cyst or skin tag. I kept staring at them until they started to wink back at me like tiny pearlescent bug eyes. I looked at his reflection on one of the many monitor screens and noted that he didn’t look well at all. He looked fucked up. Like them old photographs of children with smallpox covering their entire body.
“What the fuck happened to you…” I stood back as if asked to shake hands with a leper.
“Nice to see you too, Franklin.” Mack turned around to face me. His face was far worse than I had remembered it.
I gagged at his disfigured appearance.
He spun back to his work, “I know it must look bad, but it’s painless, like having little metal beads under your skin.”
“W-what did you do?” I felt the fear and disgust creeping over me. “That’s not normal.”
“Really?” He turned in his swivel chair to look at me. The little beady eyes had covered his face, neck, and (I suspect) further down his chest (God only knows where else). “A strange artifact with organic properties was brought to my attention, and I was curious of its origins. So I started to try and see what was in it…” Mack pointed to a weird object on his desk. It was the size of an ostrich egg, and split open on the top, like a fleshy flower with sappy barbs. “When I got the thing open, it sprayed me and others in the group with these weird spores that attached to our skin and started to change us within days.”
I was aghast and had to know, “W-why in Hell would you let me in if you were infected?”
He looked me right in the eye and gave me an innocent smile. “Because I’m the last host,” he unexpectedly gripped onto my hand. A fleshy popping and squishing sound came from him as he struggled to stand but failed miserably. Instead, he grabbed on to me. He smelled like the contents in the garbage bags just outside in the hall. Whatever he had, it was rotting him from the inside. The beady little eyes blinked at me as yellowish-green goo streamed down each of them like tears.
I tried to pull back, but his hold on my arm was unexpectedly solid and unyielding. I hesitated to smack him. I raised my arm to strike him in the face filled me with dread. All he did was mock me with those dead eyes of his. A yellowish-green slime slowly trailed out of his tear ducts, nose, and ears. Whatever was happening to Mack, he was becoming something too horrible to imagine.
All the while, those damnable little insectile eyes watched and blinked up at me.
So I bunched up my fist, and I gripped that son-of-a-bitch by the collar, walloped him hard in the face repeatedly; until I felt his nose break, eyes swelling, and bled like a stuck pig.
Mack gave me a toothless smile and laughed at me as he spat out a loose tooth. “You think you have hurt me? I am beyond pain. Don’t you see by my withered state? I am long dead…and all that is left is this husk of a man that once was. A man that-”
He started to choke.
My fingers were on his throat, and I started to squeeze tighter and tighter until his eyes bulged as more of the pus-colored liquid pushed out. Mack’s hands started slapping and trying to push me back. But I was relentless until I had dragged him out of his wheel chair, and he lay dead at my feet. I labored for breath over him. I washed a hand over my long chopped hair that was in my eyes, and looked down at the poor bastard. The tiny eyes that covered his body kept looking back.
“Will you—stop, looking at me!” I raised my foot and brought it down on Mack’s body repeatedly. I felt the multitude of little beady eyes popping wetly. I could almost feel Mack’s brittle bones breaking, his soft head and weakened chest cavity caving in. I felt the wet slime from his open wounds splattering against my NIKE shoes, my GUCCI pants, and my Armani jacket. But I didn’t care in the slightest. All I wanted was this creeping madness to end.
I stopped mutilating his dead body and panted for breath. I looked over all of the monitors he owned and noticed that my men were at my car smoking a jay and talking shit. So I clicked on one of the buttons that said loudspeakers and kept selecting button after button until my men stopped to look around.
“You hear me now?” I repeatedly asked until I had a response.
Finally, I saw them nodding, and looking around.
“I need a tank of gasoline and a book of matches, pronto.”
“Boss?” one of the infrared images of my men was looking for the source.
“Stop fucking the dog and get your ass in gear, or I swear I will-”
“Right away, boss,” the other infrared man slapped the other in the chest and gestured for them to go. “We’re on it.”
“Fucking better,” I held up a dirty hand and then whipped it on my pants in disgust. “Shit, I should’ve told them to get me some disinfectant while they were at it. God only knows what that freak had.” I turned back and made a face at the gruesome mess. No one would know what happened here, not when I was done with the place.
I fumbled through my inner jacket pocket, withdrew my e-cig, and took a long drag on it. My hands, though, still trembled from the action. I had never gone this far before. Usually, I had someone else do it for me. That was my way.
So I sit on the bed and look at Mack’s body lying on the floor close to the computer equipment. To my surprise, the body began to shrivel up as if deflating. But then the smell hit me: spores. I started to cough and hurry over to the steel door just as I saw my ride pulling up the walk. I hurried over to the mike, pushed the button on the panel, and through a coughing fit, managed to get my boys hurrying up the stairs to come and get me out.
I started to get delirious, and I fought to remain conscious. After a few minutes of trying to stay awake, I could hear them beating on the door. Then, I felt I was fading.
Time passed, and I’m on the floor, delirious and incoherent, as my boys cut their way through the door to Mack’s room. I didn’t know how much time had passed, but I come too, just as my rescuers forced their way through Mack’s panic room. My men came in and found me feet from what remained of Mack’s body, which had become a pile of ashes.
I was barely coherent, but I managed one order before I pass out. “Burn this mother to the ground.”
From the passenger seat of my car, I’m watching as flames licked the ceiling and devoured the frat house. I can see through the kicked open front door that everything was in place. Wall mount, cabinet, pieces of living room furniture, and the table were all in flames. Whatever was in those garbage bags on the second floor, the intense heat would reduce them to ashes. The night air stank with a blanket of caustic smoke that tried to block out the stars above. In the distance, I heard fire trucks approaching, and instructed my driver to go.
As we distance ourselves from the burning building, I spotted a fire truck pulling up to the curb at the blazing frat house, while I passed out in exhaustion.
I drifted in and out of consciousness and coherence. My men suggested taking me to the hospital, but I kept rejecting the idea. I kept telling them that I was okay, and so we changed the subject. Over the days, I washed, scrubbed, and tried every disinfectant on the market to wash. As a hypochondriac, I kept close by a magnifying glass, and during breaks alone or lulls in conversation, I’d meticulously scour every inch on my body for little eyes. I even went as far as hiring one of my call girls to go over the parts that I couldn’t. I paid her well to keep quiet about it too. Which, of course, word got out that I had lost my fucking mind. I guess you can’t keep a thing like this quiet when others thought that I couldn’t take care of matters, as I used to. But what my boys had forgotten was how I had gotten this far.
The day that I asked for a big meeting, I had the lights set just low enough so that no one could get a good look at me. A week previous, I had been getting weird symptoms and unnatural cravings. Yet nothing would deter me from accepting defeat while I was still in my prime. I kept my back to the group as they came in. I could see them all as clear as day. They fussed about the lighting, but I made some excuse about the janitor being too busy and pushed for a talk. My Lieutenants said that they were concerned about the business. They all heard strange rumors that I was not well and that I should step down for a while until I got better, that they would appoint a stand-in until then.
I laughed at their suggestion and had the lights turned up as I spun around. Some of them gasped in utter horror, while others got sick right on the spot. One had even called me an abomination, brought out his gun to shoot me.
“You cannot stop me! Nothing can!” I shouted as the bullet sunk into my chest and I exploded into a massive cloud of crimson spores.