With a yawn, I woke up. My wife wasn't in bed, and I could hear loud sounds coming from the living room. Typical Saturday morning cartoons. I practically staggered out of the bedroom, still not dressed, and out into the living room. The kids were hypnotized by some dumb show about talking chickens. I went into the kitchen to find my wife making pancakes. Now that I could get hypnotized by.
"Hey," I said.
"Good to see you up. It's only 11," she said, standing over a pan of batter as it cooked.
"So I'm early," I said, opening the fridge to get some milk. There was none in there before stupidly realizing that it was already on the table.
"Not very focused when you wake up, are you?" she laughed, shoveling a pancake out of the pan and onto a plate.
"Not that I ever am," I answered.
"Mom!" I heard my son call from the living room. He had apparently run dry on his supply of pancakes. My daughter was still working on her stack. My wife sighed and exited the kitchen with a new stack. As I left the kitchen with a glass of milk in hand, I found my kids arguing fruitlessly over a stuffed animal while my wife tried to eat her own breakfast. She wasn't the type for kid shows, but you acquire a taste for it when your kids cry if you turn something else on. I sat down in the other chair to complete the picture, sipping milk the entire time. Since it was Saturday, my kids were unlikely to get dressed any time soon, so we just had to weather their excited storm for now.
As I settled in to watch the adventures of Cricky Crow or whatever the fuck his name is, our family Saturday was interrupted by a knock at the door. I don't think we've ever gotten visitors on a Saturday, so that was a bit weird. I grumbled and worked my way out of the armchair. I walked over to the door, readying myself to look out the peephole to see who it could possibly be. Before I knew what had happened, I was laying flat on my back on the floor, the front door was on top of me and everyone else in the house was screaming. I remember a loud crash. Within a second or two, there was tremendous pressure on top of the door. I felt like I was being completely crushed. I felt a crack as both of my feet were snapped backward by the pressure. I could hear a lot of commotion. There was a lot of yelling, not all of it from my family. From what I heard, at least five people had entered our house.
"Everybody lie on the fucking floor!" I heard a man shout, his voice a deep bark. I could hear the kids crying. Suddenly, the immense pressure on the door eased up as two feet stepped off from it to the floor next to me, revealing a set of loafers and green socks. What the hell could I do. There were a lot of them. With my new-found foot problems, there was nothing I could do against this many attackers. But I had to at least try anyway. I reached out from under the door and grabbed the ankle of the person who had previously been standing on me. I have no idea what I was hoping to accomplish with this, but I began trying to twist and pull his leg, anything I could do to bring at least one attacker down to my level. He didn't budge. It was like trying to bend a tree trunk one-handed. His other foot lifted and stomped on my hand. I felt at least one finger break from the impact. The door was suddenly flipped off of me with a force that reminded me of a sheet of cardboard being blown around in a hurricane.
With this, I was able to see our invaders. What I saw truly confused me. There were seven men standing around our living room. All of them dressed identically. They wore pink cat masks, heavy winter coats, and jeans. The only discrepancy in their outfits was that the one who stood on me wore a red coat, where the others wore black. I noticed, to much confusion, that they seemed to have matching, pink cat tails hanging from the backs of their pants.
"Hey, daddy," the guy in red practically sang, his voice muffled under his mask. I was too confused to say anything back. He kicked me in the face, sending a tooth flying over to the wall. "Watching Crikey Crowster? He's my favorite cartoon, too." he said, a mocking tone to his voice. He had this weird voice; it had a sort of soft edge to it, but at the same time he sounded kind of high-pitched, almost whiny.
By now, my wife and kids were huddled on the floor.
"Don't be scared," the guy in red said. "Nobody has to get hurt here."
"What do you want?" I said, spitting blood from my mouth, attempting to sit up against the wall.
"Want?" the guy said, kicking me in the head and knocking me on my side. "What kind of person 'wants' anything? Selfish people, that's who."
By now, it was pretty well established that the guy in red was the ringleader of these bastards. I noticed now that every one of them was carrying a big gun, possibly AK-47s, although I don't know anything about guns. All of them except the guy in red. Time seemed to slow down as I stared up at the armed men, who loomed over us. I became aware that a thick smell of ammonia had filled our house. I became aware of the fact that the "grunts" all wore black gloves and the ringleader wore white. I became aware of the fact that I had been kicked in the forehead.
"So, it's a nice day, isn't it?" the ringleader asked, walking over and crouching next to me. "But we can't let the air conditioning out, can we?" He motioned to two of the other men, who lifted the door and propped it up against its hinges. I heard my kids crying loudly.
"Why are you doing this? What are you doing?" my wife asked. I saw her practically laying on top of the kids to cover them.
"Just watching some cartoons," the ringleader said. Seeing how close he was to me, I tried to stand up, only to be met with a hard kick to the ribs. "Don't you think Crikey Crowster went down after season two? I mean, they introduced that stupid cow character. Who cares about cows, right?" he said, twisting my good hand under his shoe the entire time.
"Please don't kill us. Please," my wife pleaded. The ringleader froze up, almost as if he'd been told something truly shocking.
"Kill?" he said, sounding if anything like he didn't know what that word meant. He paused in his tracks, as if contemplating that. "People who kill are bad people," he said, finally, in that mocking tone again.
"Well please don't hurt us," my wife begged.
"Hurt you?" he contemplated again, not for quite as long as before. "But nobody's gonna get hurt here," he said, kicking me square in the chest.
"Dad!" my daughter cried.
"Don't worry, honey, it's alright," the guy said. He finally stepped away from me and sauntered over to my family. The guys in black parted to let him pass to them. "Nobody here has any reason to be scared." As he said this, he caressed my daughter's face. My wife slapped his hand away, I suppose purely on instinct.
"Don't touch them," my wife said, now seeming more angry than afraid. The ringleader stood there for a few seconds.
"This is a huge distraction," he said, then turned slightly and swiftly kicked the TV screen in. I could see the kids flinch when that happened. The ringleader then plopped down in one of the armchairs. He sat on the stuffed toy my kids had been fighting over before.
"Whose is this?" he asked, picking it up.
"M-mine," my daughter said, shaking. My son went to protest before realizing that now was probably the worst possible time for that.
"No, no, you were gonna say something," he said, looking down at my son. "Is it yours or is it yours?"
The two kids looked at each other. At this point, neither one of them came forward to claim the toy. The ringleader suddenly grabbed the gun from one of the guys in black and pointed it at my son's head. "Is it your fucking toy!?" he screamed.
"Leave them alone!" I yelled from the floor, still trying to navigate my broken feet. He shifted the gun to my daughter's head.
"Or is it fucking yours!?" he demanded. Both kids simply cried at this point. He began switching the gun's focus from one kid's head to the other.
"Stop it! Leave us alone!" my wife cried. I tried to crawl over to them when I heard the gun go off and my wife scream. I looked up to see my wife clutching her leg.
"Hey 'mom', I smell something good. Why don't you go make us some?" the ringleader said. A few second passed silently. The ringleader sat there staring up at the ceiling. Without moving, he chimed in again. "That wasn't a question, I'm sure we're all hungry here."
My wife was still reeling from her wound, plus she wouldn't leave the kids undefended. One of the guys in black came over and grabbed her around her waist, hoisting her up to a standing position, which she resisted the whole way.
"Hey! Stop it!" I shouted, attempting once again to get up.
"Oh, I kinda forgot about you," the ringleader said. "Don't worry, sweetie, the kids will be fine." With a finger point toward me, two of the guys had grabbed me under my arms and dragged me over to the kids, tossing me on top of them like bag of trash.
"You alright?" I asked. Both of them nodded, still crying. I looked up into the kitchen to see one of the guys forcing my wife to cook at gunpoint. The other five guys in black simply stood around the living room, holding their guns like professionals.
"What do you have to drink around here? Not a very good host," the ringleader said. I turned my head toward him to see him leaning forward in the chair, his forearms resting on his knees and his hands hanging weakly between his legs. With focus, I now saw details I didn't notice before. Their masks were not rubber or plastic; they looked more like scaled down mascot heads, barely larger than their actual heads. They wouldn't be able to get those masks on or off without discomfort and difficulty. His mask had actual pink fur, matted and a bit patchy. The cat face itself had a pretty neutral expression, a very slight smile if anything, the big, blue eyes staring lifelessly at me. I could just barely see the slits for his actual eyes to see out of.
"See anything you like?" he asked. Before I could react in any way, he turned his attention toward the kitchen. "Hey, do those have chocolate chips?"
My wife balked at answering. Such stupid, idle chitchat in a situation like this. "No," she finally answered sadly.
"Oh, well fuck 'em," the ringleader said. The guy who was in the kitchen with my wife suddenly grabbed her by the back neck of her shirt and slammed her face-down onto the counter. I tried to muster the strength to stand, but my feet stopped me. I looked up to see him grab the half-cooked, but still very hot pancake batter, and pour it down the back of my wife's shirt. She screamed as it burned her. "No! No! Stop!" I shouted. Not that it would do any good. I could barely move around and these guys weren't going to listen to anything I said.
"Oh, well why'd you do that?" the ringleader practically whined. The guy who had burned my wife said nothing, simply turning to the ringleader and giving an exaggerated shrug. He grabbed my wife by the back of her neck, her still reeling from the injuries, and dragged her out of the kitchen, throwing her onto the floor next to us. I tried to reach over to her, but the ringleader grabbed me by the hair and tossed me against the broken TV.
"Hey, hey, no touching," he said. I struggled and flailed a little bit before going limp. They were probably going to kill us and there was nothing we'd be able to do about it. I could only hope that, when the ringleader shot my wife, the sound was loud enough for the neighbors to hear. With any luck, the police would be on their way here soon.
"Hey, you know what could be fun?" the ringleader said, picking the gun he took from off the floor and handing it back to its original holder, "Let's tell stories." One of the men grabbed my daughter under her arms and lifted her up as if she were an infant.
"Don't touch her!" I shouted. I tried to do something about it, rising to all fours, but a second guy stomped on my back, forcing me back down to the floor. I could hear my wife screaming. I saw a third man standing over her, his foot pressed solidly in the bullet wound on the back of her leg. The guy carried my daughter, who was kicking and screaming the whole way, over to the ringleader. She was placed on his lap.
"So, what do you want for Christmas?" he chuckled. "By the way, did you piss yourself?" She was too busy shaking to answer.
"Please, leave the kids alone. Please don't touch them," I begged. The ringleader simply ignored me and began.
"So, honey. Once upon a time, there was a cute little family. They were all very happy and enjoyed pancakes very much. Then, one day, a great, big dragon appeared and scared them. The parents were scared, but they tried to stop the dragon from eating the kids. But they failed, and in the end, the parents chose to save themselves and let the dragon have the kids," he rattled it off with sadistic glee. He told it so quickly that I got the impression this wasn't the first time he'd told that story. With a sudden jerk, he pushed my daughter off his lap and onto the floor. She cried and crawled over to us.
"Nasty," he said, looking down at his pants. As I looked at his pants to see the wet spot he was indicating, I saw something that I had no way of explaining. There were things falling out of his pant legs. They were small and yellow, and I couldn't make out what they were quite yet. The ringleader threw himself backward, his legs up on the coffee table now. When he did this, he kicked some of the yellow bits toward me. Maggots.
"You know, this family is pretty boring," he said. I looked up at him. His head was all the way back in the chair, his neck exposed, the first part of his skin he'd let get exposed since we first saw him. "I do have a way to stir up some excitement."
With no actual command or anything, one of the men grabbed my son by the shirt and dragged him away from us.
"Stop! Don't!" my wife protested. My son was dragged over to the wall and the man held a gun to his head.
"Are you afraid of the big, red dragon?" the ringleader asked smugly.
"Don't hurt them," I pleaded. "Do whatever you want to us, but leave the kids alone."
"Now that's pretty selfish, don't you think?" he replied. "You'd do just that, leave your kids all alone. Kids need to be raised by somebody, don't they? Selfish fucks."
"Why are you doing this?" I asked, my head in my hands.
"I'm not doing anything," he said. "All I did was get in a little scuffle with you and tell your daughter a bedtime story."
The ringleader suddenly stood up. He paced over toward the front door.
"Tell me, son. Do you love your wife?" he asked.
"Yes. Of course," I answered.
"How much?" he asked. He turned to face us. I couldn't see his face, but I could tell he was thinking something awful. The man who was stepping on my wife's wound suddenly bent down and picked her up. He dragged her over to the couch and threw her onto it.
"Stop! Stop!" I kept shouting. I was ignored, except for the guy holding me down. What happened next was horrible. The kids were permitted to avert their eyes, but the guy holding me down kept my head faced in the right direction. I kept begging for it to stop. I began to lose the energy. At one point, the guy holding me down put his mouth next to my ear.
"Shh. You might miss something good," he whispered.
"You want it to stop?" the ringleader asked. I nodded, crying. "Then you know what to do."
With that, I was allowed to move. The guy holding me down had backed away. I crawled over to my wife. I put my arm over her and tried to talk to her.
"Well, get to it," the ringleader said. He pointed in our direction, but not at us. I looked back to see the one guy still pointing a gun to my son's head.
After what happened next, I don't think my wife and I could ever talk to each other the same way again. It was reminiscent of a person caught in a trap sawing their leg off to escape.
"Wow, that's pretty fucking sick," the ringleader chuckled, as if he weren't the one responsible. "But, it's clear now. You love your wife. I'm proud of you, son," he said, that last bit in an odd, deeper voice that he imitated. "But I'm still not convinced. You got a favorite kid, Jackson?"
"No. Please let us go now," I begged.
"Aw, you're no fun," he said. "Besides, our game's not over yet. I've got another fun idea, but it requires a little bit of your participation."
I'm sorry, but I refuse to talk about what happened over the next hour. I can't think about it at all without going half insane. The images of it still claw at my mind whenever I remember that it happened at all. I apologize, but please, don't make me think about it.
As I was thrown back to the floor, I writhed in pain and horror. My son had closed his eyes so as to not see it anymore. My wife looked into my eyes in horror. I looked back with a look of nausea on my face. My daughter retreated to an area next to the TV. She huddled there, crying.
"I'm sorry," I begged. "I'm so sorry. You know I'm sorry. You know I wouldn't... Jimmy would've..."
"I-I understand," my wife sobbed. I don't know if she meant it or not.
"Alright, now that we're all settled in, it's time for the next portion of our game," the ringleader said. How much more could he possibly have in store for us? Hasn't the worst of the worst already happened?
Two of the men grabbed me and lifted me up. All of a sudden, I was handed one of their guns.
"Tell you what. You kill somebody you care about and we leave," the ringleader said. "Oh, and there's only one bullet, so don't waste it."
They had made a mistake giving somebody in my position a gun. I didn't even think about it. I pointed the gun toward the ringleader and pulled the trigger.
"Oh, shit, that's right," the ringleader said, slapping his forehead. "That's the one I shot before. Shit, we fucked up." Before I could say anything, I heard a loud bang and felt a sharp, burning sensation in my back. I'd been shot. I clutched my lower back and knelt against the coffee table.
"Well, we gave you a chance and you proved yourself. You'd do anything to keep these people alive," the ringleader said. He patted my shoulder, then grabbed my head and turned me toward my son. "You really do love your family, although I'm also flattered that you apparently love me more."
The man that was holding my son produced a knife, then plunged it into my son's stomach. My wife tried to stand, but the wound in her leg caused her to fall over.
"I'll kill you!" I screamed as the ringleader suddenly forced my head downward, under his arm, and threw both of us onto the coffee table, in what pro wrestling circles would call a DDT. I could feel a torrent of blood and some splinters coming from my forehead. My ears rang and my head spun.
"Good God! He's broken in half!" one of the men shouted from across the room, the others laughing. The leader now personally held me down as my son was mutilated. The man slowly dragged the knife upward, cutting his torso open. Blood began spilling onto the floor. Maggots fell out of the ringleader's coat sleeve as he held my head down. I had to blink to keep them from entering my eyes. Maybe I should've let them. My son made a croaking noise as he began to fade. One of the men held my wife down, his knee on the back of her neck. The man reached into my son's open torso and pulled out a length of intestine.
"Please. Please stop," I begged, my voice now a hoarse whisper, knowing in my heart that it was probably already too late for my son. The man was unusually gentle in his performance. He scooped the organs out as if he didn't want to damage them. I don't know when, exactly, my son had died, but I assume it was partway through the impromptu surgery. He'd stopped moving before the man was completely finished.
My son was gone. He was only five. He'd never get to experience anything of life.
"That was pretty cruel," the ringleader said. "Hey, you don't deserve to live after doing that."
The ringleader got off of me and grabbed a gun from one of the other men. He carefully aimed at the man who butchered my son and shot him. None of the men protested or even reacted to this, not even the man who was being shot. What I saw next, I'll never truly be able to explain. When the man fell, his clothes collapsed as if they were empty. There was no body wearing them. The pink cat head rolled weakly into the kitchen before stopping at the leg of the kitchen table. The pile of clothing moved slightly. Instead of a body, a number of maggots began crawling out of the coat.
Everybody stood in silence for several minutes. I had lost all hope. I had lost all will to fight, all will to live. My wife simply stared at the floor. My daughter looked to have passed out from trauma. "He was a good man," the ringleader said, solemnly.
One of the men tapped the ringleader on the shoulder, pointing to the window.
"Ah, there's the final buzzer," the ringleader replied. He damn-near skipped over to me. He knelt down next to me. "Sorry about the mess. We're not the best guests, are we?" he asked. I said nothing in response. I suddenly heard a gunshot behind me. I looked back to see one of the men with his gun pointed to the back of the TV, where my daughter had been hiding. Blood coated the wall just above the TV now.
"Well then, great to see you, buddy," he said, patting me on the head. "Call you when we get home, let you know we got there safely. Sorry about the TV, I'll foot the bill." I said nothing in response. I didn't look at him. I watched as another of the men pointed a gun to my wife's head. My wife looked at me, pleading, apologetically, before she was shot too.
"Maybe next time, we can do this at my place," he said. I assumed that a bullet would be coming for my head, too. I waited for it, hoped for it, begged for it. But no bullet ever came for me.
"Wanna know what happened to the man who lost everything?" he asked. A few maggots crawled out of the eye holes on his mask as he leaned in to whisper something to me. "He lived happily ever after."
After that, he ran out the back door, along with the rest of the men. Seconds later, the front door was kicked in, not hard since it was already off its hinges. A SWAT team entered as I blacked out. I awoke in a hospital. After telling the police what happened, I was placed in a prison cell. I don't know why, they never told me. I assumed there'd be clear evidence that there were other people at the crime scene, plus the fact that I didn't have any guns. The case went to trial, with me being the prime suspect. I was convicted in what I can only describe as a thoroughly rigged trial. Nobody believed a word I said and almost all parties involved lied about the evidence every chance they got. To this day, I have no idea who was responsible for my incarceration or how or why they did it.
As I sat in my prison cell, I was alone. Completely alone. The cell across from me was empty, as were the two next to it. I slept there for three days until it happened.
One day, I woke up to a pressure on my chest. I looked up to see a pink cat mask and heavy, black winter coat sitting on top of me. Looking it over, the jacket had a bullet hole in the chest and dried blood at the ends of the sleeves. My son's blood. Inside the cat head was a note.
"Next time, we can do this at my place."
On the back of the note were directions. It was then that I noticed my cell door was open slightly. I opened it and stuck my head out of the cell. The entire cell block was completely empty except for me. All of the doors were open. I picked up the cat head and put it on, having to bend my ears slightly to do so. I put the coat on. I walked out of my cell and out of the prison. The streets were empty.
I found my way to the place the note told me about. The basement of an elementary school, the access being a stairwell outside. I climbed down the stairwell and entered a freezing-cold room that smelled of ammonia. Worn-looking furniture was down here, a TV, and the men from that day. The man in red sat on the couch in front of the TV. Without turning to me, he spoke up.
Although I have joined these men, I have no loyalty to them. The men in black never speak. The man in red watches TV and plays video games on his couch most of the time. None of them ever take their costumes off. Once again, I hold no loyalty to these men. Men or monsters, I will kill them one day. I will make them suffer for what they did to me and my family. Make them suffer worse than we did.
I'd better stop thinking thoughts like this. Whenever I think negatively about the man in red, he stares at me until I stop. I hold no loyalty to these men, but I must fake it for now. Until the time is right, I will deal with the maggots that now crawl in my skin, I will deal with the seemingly sub-zero temperatures that their home normally hovers at, and I will perform the tasks they ask me, no matter how horrible, until I am able to make everything right.
To my family, I'm sorry. Dear God help me, I'm sorry.