I met Lizzie at a blood bank. How's that for a red flag?
There isn't much to say about her, really. At least not when it comes to looks. Shoulder-length black hair that wouldn't stay out of her face, pale skin, and an under-slung jaw that gave her a Jack O' Lantern grin. When you could see her mouth through the lifeless dark hair, that is.
Listen, I've lowered my standards over the years. The decades, really. I started out as a teenager, shooting for the cheerleaders, the hot chicks, the mini-socialites playing with Daddy's money. Running into those walls as hard as I have for as long as I have meant that a woman with a face like a carved gourd was still on my radar.
So I talked to her. Just casual small-talk as we're chilling in the waiting room.
"Giving blood, huh?" Smooth opening line.
"Yes." Her voice was high, child-like, and the single word started low before raising at the end. It was like a verbal check-mark affirming my assumption.
I cleared my throat and went back to reading whatever the fuck magazine I had in my hands. TV Guide or National Geographic or Hi-Lites. Who knows?
"Altruist or Capitalist?" She broke the silence after a few moments.
"Altruist or Capitalist? Saving lives or earning money?"
"Ah, yeah, I mean... I have nothing against helping people, er, I mean I like helping people, but I could use the extra cash, too. I'm a student and, let's face it, the job market for shitty creative writers is slim."
"Ah-ha." A deep-throated, guttural sound of understanding came out of her. I couldn't tell if it was disappointment or just this chick being a freak.
I caught a flash of her pale blue eyes. I couldn't pick out the whites, just the icy blue. She regarded me with the slightest glance and went back to staring at a beige stain on the stark white wall.
"I come here a lot." She once again spoke up, entirely unprovoked. I started to get the feeling that she was ready to do the work needed to get into my pants.
Which wasn't very much work at all.
"I see," I smirked and tossed the magazine aside, "Altruist or Capitalist?"
She grinned again. I wanted to stick a lit candle in that head and be done with it.
"Niiice. That's great. So I suppose you donate your take, then?"
"Yes." Another oral check-mark. Almost like a toy dog's yelp.
"Really?" I laughed. She was too much.
"All for the upkeep."
"Upkeep? So... what, elder care? Animal rescue?"
I knew the money wouldn't stretch that far. She was obviously trying to sound like a good person... and I guess at least making the attempt was enough for me.
I could tell by her outfit that she was an oddball. You can be born goofy-looking and that isn't your fault. Wearing a little loose-fitting black dress, black and white striped stockings, and weird metal-and-leather Steampunk heels was another matter altogether.
I couldn't make out the symbol on her necklace, but I knew it wasn't a cross... or even a pentagram. The last thing I needed to do was stare at her chest right now.
She looked directly at me... the cold, frozen blue eyes fixed on mine. She had tiny pupils... pin-pricks... I didn't know what kind of drug could do that to you, but I figured she must have been on it.
"I know lots of places where you can get what you want."
"Like?" I asked, but in my mind I was just chanting "Like DRUGS." over and over.
"I don't get what you're saying."
"Anything. Anything you want." She leaned toward me, across the armrest of her chair, and said something I've never heard a woman say before or since, "You can have anything you want. I'll do it for you."
... Pants problem.
Willing myself to calm down a bit, I followed Lizzie out of the blood bank. I had no idea what she had in mind, and I had no idea how she'd look without that rumpled little dress, but I knew it couldn't hurt to at least take a gander.
I imagined she'd be slight. Boney. No chest, no ass, just a skinny little thing with a crazy pumpkin head and those cold eyes that made you ashamed to look at them. I felt that if I moved wrong... touched her the wrong way... I could break those eyes. That if I handled her without care, they'd roll right out of her skull, they'd hit the floor, and they'd shatter into a million glimmering shards.
It's weird, I know. I thought it was weird right then, too.
I followed the girl to her car, a beat-up little black thing adorned with shining silver duct-tape. One of the rear doors sported a trash bag that thought it was a window.
"So what're you thinking?" I asked, my voice was disturbingly meek given the situation.
"Nothing? We're doing nothing?"
"No, you're getting what you want."
"Anything you want."
She stopped by the car, put her arms out like Christ on the Cross, and spun in place, face toward the darkening sky.
"Anything, anything, anything, anything, anything, anything..." she sang.
Despite all warning signs, it still sounded like a Hell of a deal. Anything. I'll just take a moment here and let you sit back and think about what your "anything" would be.
Are you with me a little, now?
We drove for miles. Out of the city. Finally, logic was winning out over the promise of some (incredibly) strange and I was getting concerned... really, really concerned. The wind roared within the musty and damp vehicle. I couldn't hear her, she couldn't hear me, and any time I showed some indicator of concern she just mouthed "Eh-nee-thiiiing".
I started thinking about how much she'd have to slow down before I could safely roll out of the passenger door.
We pulled up in front of a run-down trailer on the outskirts of the county after what seemed like a half hour journey. The place looked unkempt, like a used and re-used home that a pack of feral dogs wouldn't call home. Within these walls, I surmised, was an entire Manson Family of no-neck hillbillies. I was desperately hoping they were only interested in money.
"C'mon!", she skipped toward the front door.
I hung back by the car.
"I'm not exactly sure what's going on. If it's okay with you, I think I'm going to have to pass."
"Don't you want it?"
"Anything-what? I don't think you have any idea what you're offering. Seriously, are you hard up, or what the fuck are you even doing?" I was in full rant mode, "You have no idea who I am. I could be a killer. YOU could be a killer. I don't even know your name, and while something anonymous could theoretically be kind of hot, I think you're kind of killing it. You know?"
She sighed, stooped her shoulders, and shook her head at me with disappointment. I felt that at any moment one of those eyes was going to roll out and hit the dry soil like a Christmas Ornament.
"Lizzie," she said as if scolding a forgetful child, "My name is Lizzie. El-Eye-Zee-Zee-Eye-Eee."
"So c'mon, then."
"What! You're silly," she took a step toward me, fists clenched at her sides, and suddenly her mood turned dark, "Stop. Being. Silly."
"What do you want from me?"
"Nothing much," she said in a matter-of-fact way, "A charitable donation of your time and effort."
That's when it hit me. I flashed back on our conversation at the blood bank and realized I must have overlooked something. She must've been speaking in code. Some strange underground swinger double-Talk. I reasoned that it must have been like tapping your foot in the men's room to signal the willingness to hook up. Somehow, I had agreed to something and that's why she was acting as if I was the one now acting weird.
I still wasn't entirely sure if she was a harmless nut or someone I should be running away from. Frankly, without the car keys I had nowhere to go unless I wanted to run aimlessly through the woods. That never seems to work out well in these sorts of situations.
I stepped around the car, toward Lizzie, and she once again turned and trotted toward the building. I forced myself to start accepting the idea I might have to do something physical to get the keys away from her.
"C'mon, c'mon, c'mon, c'mon!" She was singing again. When she reached the front step, just before she pushed open the unlocked door, she bent at the middle, flipped her skirt, and shot me a moon. A black and white striped moon, due to the matching underwear. I was right - no ass.
I cautiously followed her from room to room. The inside of the house... the trailer... had the same musty, wet feeling of the car. As she made her way along with me lagging behind, she stripped off bits of clothing. Her shoes left standing with no one in them. Her dress pulled up and tossed into a corner. Stockings peeled down over knobby knees and little troll feet. As she rounded the last corner, she was bare save for her stripey underthings. Lizzie looked just how I had imagined. Slight, boney, like a miniature human scarecrow.
She disappeared into a doorway, into darkness, and I stood inert at the threshold.
"C'maaaahhhhhhnnnnnnnnuh..." Somewhere in the pitch blackness, her voice had turned into an impatient, anticipatory moan.
The moment I stepped into that door, I was jarred by a surprise. Despite how alert I had been, I hadn't been expecting a sudden drop in the floor. My foot landed with a crunch against the first step in a staircase that seemed to lead downward into the darkness. What was down there? Sex dungeon? Regular dungeon? Either way, I didn't want to find out now.
I got the mental image of a love-blinded insect buzzing its way into a cloud of pheromones, only to find the clacking mandibles of a predator within.
"I think I'm going to head back." I called down the stairs.
I took a step down and called out louder.
"I THINK I'M GOING TO HEAD BACK."
The door creaked closed behind me. A metallic click told me all I needed to know, but I still frantically tried to find the doorknob on that side. There was none. I threw my shoulder against the door a few times, sending the sharp sound of bone on wood echoing down the claustrophobic shaft.
"What're you DOING?" came the scolding voice below.
"Let me out!"
"Don't be silly. Now for the last time, C'mon!"
I felt along the wall as I made my way down the squishy yet crunchy wooden stairs. My fists were balled up tight, ready to strike out at anyone or anything that so much as brushed against me. It was getting easier and easier to imagine myself beating Lizzie to a bloody pulp.
After an implausibly long descent below what I can only call "the Earth's surface", I finally caught a glimpse of light. A door at the bottom of the staircase slid open, left to right. The dim illumination caused a small army of cockroaches to scatter from my path.
The stairs ended at a metal floor, and the clatter of my shoes on its surface sent a shiver through my body. The area was expansive... tremendous... it took the longest time for my mind to even comprehend what I was seeing. It was as if I'd left the stairs and entered an abandoned missile silo. At the edge of the metal floor was a bare metal railing, strictly there for safety. As I peered over that rail, I could see nothing below. Nothing but a gradual fade into darkness. I felt in my gut that, impossible as it may seem, this drop was truly bottomless.
"Don't go over." Came a concerned voice.
I whirled around and noticed her standing within inches of me. As soon as I saw Lizzie again, when I looked into her strange eyes, my fists unclenched. She was wearing a black bodysuit that clung to her non-body, ridiculously oversized boots, and a pair of rubber gloves.
"Listen, I..." I didn't even know how to finish that sentence.
Lizzie slid the door closed, the one I had just come through, and walked off down the narrow platform. I tried the door but, again, found no knob, no lever, nothing but smooth, featureless steel that would not give way to force.
About twelve feet away from me, she turned back and gestured for me to follow. I did so, basically out of a lack of options. I thought about running in the other direction... wheeling madly down that thin walkway... but where would I end up? There was a sinking feeling in my belly that said this place never ended. Worse yet, I considered the fact I'd arrive back where I started as if I was on some demented, large-scale moebius strip.
We passed a series of doors, some with slats at eye height, others without. Each door was unmarked, save for the same odd symbol Lizzie wore around her neck. It was almost like a Celtic knot, mixed with an optical illusion from a children's book. The lines came together and twisted in was that wouldn't work in the real world. It was as if someone had commissioned Escher for their corporate icon.
"The Eyeless Crab." Lizzie absently gestured to one of the doors as she passed it.
I stopped at the door and looked through the slat. Inside the darkened chamber just beyond, I saw a series of seven or eight logs sharpened to points and leaning together in a cluster.
Then they... IT... moved. The tree-sized objects were armored brown legs, and at the center where they seemed to lean together was the boulder-sized body of an impossibly large crustacean. True to Lizzie's words, the massive thing had no eyes though it began sifting through the room's sandy floor and periodically lifted things to its whirring, clicking jaws.
"Adapting Man." She gestured to another door as I closed the distance between us. That thing, that crabomination, terrified me more than the woman ever could.
I looked through the slat she had just referenced, more out of a grim inability to ignore it than an actual desire to see what resided just beyond. I was relieved to see the beige, grimy room was completely empty. Then, as my eyes adjusted to the lighting, I saw the lidless eyes on the wall... the lipless, chattering mouths... the ears and nostrils that dotted the fleshy, fuzzy surfaces of the room. The walls, the ceiling, the floor.
I reeled back in horror as a six-fingered hand uncurled from just above the slat and grasped the frame. I backed away, and didn't stop until I caught myself against that railing over nothingness. If I'd been even marginally more careless, I'd have toppled end over end into that gaping chasm.
I started screaming. The echo created a chorus of identical voices, shrieking madly in the darkness. At least... I THINK they were all my own...
"Don't be frightened," Lizzie now sounded comforting, or at least as close to it as she could come, "The Universe made them this way. The Universe, and fate, and, and, and... sometimes bad luck. They don't WANT to be what they are! Few things do."
She tilted her head to the side and sighed, her eyes like crystal blue lasers dicing my soul to ribbons. Blackness gathered around her eyes, like old, dead blood was pooling just behind her thin skin. A single tear rolled down the side of her nose... it was as icy and blue as those fragile eyes.
"The Corrupted Blob, Empty Head, The Weeping Golem, Eight-Sided John... all of them! They don't WANT to hurt people."
I swallowed hard. I would've gotten on my knees if I thought it would have had any effect on her whatsoever. I wanted to attack her, to smash her face in regardless of what happened to those eyes, but I couldn't. I felt like an ant. Incapable of anything but following, for the good of the Queen. In this moment I wondered how many of these decisions had truly been my own.
"Please... please just tell me what you want from me..."
"Just time. An hour, a week, maybe a month. I don't know yet."
"A month of WHAT?" My heart started pounding even louder than it had been.
She smiled and wrapped her arms around herself, swaying from side to side as if some profoundly wonderful notion had seized her mind and filled her with ecstasy.
"I can do that. I can. Whatever you want to do, we can do it. I'll do anything you want."
"No, silly!" she let out an irritating, throaty laugh, "That's what YOU get! Anything you want! That was the deal. Besides, you're not MY companion. All I want is to bring some joy to the poor things. They need company just like anything else!"
Lizzie paused, pressed her finger to her cheek, and thought for a moment before adding, "You know, like a therapy kitty!"
She started to walk away again. Now, I thought, was the opportune time to do it. To shove her over the railing and take my chances with the impenetrable door. Maybe I could find something to pry it open... some hidden control panel... I could try to guess the pass code if there was one.
She stood on her toes and looked into one of the slats.
"Thrashing Tripod... No, you just had a visitor I think."
She continued to the next slat.
"Upset Paul? You don't play nice. I'm not giving you another one until we have a talk."
The next slat.
"Pink Lester is sleeping, I think. It's so hard to tell with you, Lester!"
Finally, she arrived at a door that seemed to meet her unknowable specifications. She turned to me with a smile, pulled the door open, and pointed inside.
"I think I've got it!" she spoke with the affect of a parent teasing their child about a Birthday surprise.
She gave me a full-on stare and I was standing next to her before I had even noticed my feet were moving. I looked into the room... the cell... and was all at once both relieved and confused. At the center of the confined space was a little stone platform, and on that platform was a single bone. A femur, most likely.
"The Twisting Bone." She said excitedly, clasping her gloved hands over her mouth like a little girl looking at a bunny.
"That's it?" I whispered.
"Yes." her check-mark voice, again.
"Just a bone."
"The hardest ones to pick a companion for are the ones that make no sense. The ones that do things you can't understand for reasons that aren't clear. You're a very strange man, and this is the hardest placement I've made lately, so I think maybe you two will get along."
She was calling me strange.
SHE was calling ME strange.
"So I spend a month in there, with that bone, and I get anything I want? Anything, no matter what it is?"
"Yes, but it might not be that long."
I cast one final glance down the infinite row of doors. I couldn't even find the one I'd entered through if I tried. How long before I was too exhausted to escape? How long before I starved to death? I looked Lizzie in the eyes... deeply... giving myself a near overdose of whatever crazy influence she had... and compelled myself to enter the room.
The door closed behind me, and then all I could see was the blue sparkling orbs through the slat.
"Sorry I didn't tell you all this right away," she sounded genuine, "But I knew you had a good heart and you would help. I didn't want to scare you off, because I think this whole thing might've sounded a little crazy."
She was gone almost immediately, and no matter how I angled myself at the door, I could catch no glimpse of her. My thoughts were actually clearing up, now. I should never have talked to her. I should never have gotten into her car. I should never have done everything I had done tonight.
I turned and looked at the bone. I stared at it, waiting for any sign of what was going to happen.
It appeared to be a normal human bone, and disturbing as that might be under other circumstances, I was thankful for that.
I sat on the dirty metal floor for what seemed like an hour. Then two. Clearly, I wasn't one of the lucky ones... whoever they were... that only had to wait out sixty minutes in this horrible mind-fuck of a freak show.
When I heard the first crack, I thought it was just me... that I'd been sitting so long some joint in my body popped. When I heard the second and third crack, I once again turned my attention to the bone. Several fine lines were now adorning its bleached white surface. Hair-line fractures.
The cracking continued, and became more frequent. Before long, the sound was like that of walking on thin ice. Crack, crack, crack-crack-crack-crack. The bone broke in several places, but instead of falling into pieces it simply contorted itself into sickening new angles. I could see where the "Twisting Bone" moniker had come from.
Like the steadily increasing pop of corn, the cracks grew numerous and deafening within the room. The bone seemed to be getting longer, breaking and re-setting itself, then breaking again. It spiraled at both ends, propped itself with a bend at the center, then fell again as the bend broke and set. It continued like this unabated, rolling and falling and breaking and setting and twisting and cracking and cracking and cracking.
When I had my hands clasped as tightly over my ears as I could manage, when my screams were engulfed by an inescapable din of snapping bone, I knew that I could not survive this experience for long. If I didn't go completely made from the sound alone, the terror of the situation would easily cause a heart attack or stroke.
I leaped to my feat, unsteady like a bludgeoned animal, and rushed the pedestal. I gripped the twisting bone in my hands, both hands, and lifted it over my head before finally throwing it against the far wall with a desperate cry of impotent rage.
After the bone clattered to the floor and skidded to a stop, there was only silence. I considered the fact I might've gone deaf, but the sound of my labored breathing came to me after the ringing in my ears stopped.
"Fuck," I said to no one in particular, "Who knew it was that simple?"
I returned to the corner I had been wedged into and collapsed to the floor in exhaustion. I didn't know how long I would be here, but at least now I had a fighting chance of surviving the ordeal.
Then, my finger popped.
I had been smoothing out my clothes, and my right pointer finger popped as if I'd cracked the knuckle. No big deal.
Another pop, this time from my wrist. I held my hand out and studied it.
With the same gradual build-up I'd seen in the bone, my pointer finger turned, cracked, and reset it self at an awkward angle. Following suit, my wrist contorted with sound of grinding muffled by flesh. My fingers, all of them on my right hand, began to twist and dance, cracking and resetting themselves in separate, seemingly directionless circles.
I screamed again, as you'd imagine. My entire nervous system lit up as I was wracked by the pain of a hundred tiny fractures... then a thousand... My arm slowly spun and danced of its own free will, bending at joints that didn't exist, creating reddened stretches in my skin and the tearing of muscle. I could feel tendons snapping, and unlike the bone, those did not reconnect.
I fell to the floor, on my back, as a paralysis of intolerable pain gripped me. I could feel my guts seizing, my stomach attempting to empty itself the wrong way. I could only watch through a flood of tears as both my arms raised above me, cracking and turning of their own volition.
Back of my hand, palm, back, palm, back, palm, in a complete and unending rotation.
Faster and faster my limbs broke and set themselves again. I felt a scream deep within my body... a primal, inhuman death scream that welled up within and seemed as if it would tear through my chest to get out. As far as my jaw opened, near the point of unhinging, I couldn't open my mouth large enough to let that scream out.
"Well look at this!"
I opened my eyes to see the ridiculous boots standing near my felled head. My vision was blurred, and my whole body ached. If I had been drawn and quartered via motorcycle gang and managed to survive in separate pieces, this is how I would've felt the next morning.
"Home..." I said in a barely audible groan, "Want to go... home..."
Lizzie helped me to my feet, though it was a bit like being assisted by a wet rag. I was surprised I could even stand, given the damage I'd suffered. I was even more surprised when I raised my hands to my face to wipe my raw, red eyes. My fingers worked, my hands worked... I was fine, save for the agonizing ache of past injury.
I looked to the platform and saw the bone resting there. Unbroken. Taunting me with its sleek perfection.
"I see you two did okay," Lizzie added as she served as my unlikely crutch, "I hope you weren't bored. The bone isn't a talker!"
She laughed at her own joke, but all I could do was remain vaguely conscious.
I don't know how she accomplished it, but after I blacked out on the stairway... I woke up at home. In my own bed. Fully dressed and reeking of my own sweat and piss. The fading pains in my every bone confirmed the fact I hadn't been dreaming. Further evidence came when I went to splash water on my face and caught sight of something in the bathroom mirror...
On my cheek was the tiny, peach-pink mark of a thank-you kiss.
For the longest time after that, I tried to wrap my mind around the whole experience. I've failed many times over. I couldn't figure out the "how" and "why" since I had no real idea what had happened in the first place. All I knew was that I'd been subjected to unholy torture by a woman I shouldn't have known in a place that shouldn't have existed.
...And I didn't get my "Anything". She hadn't even held up her side of whatever insane bargain we'd made.
Well, that's what I thought until recently. Looking back, as a writer struggling through Community College, lacking any real motivation or imagination... I guess what I wanted more than anything was an original story to tell. I can't say how many nights I'd spent wishing, begging, pleading for something to come to me.
Thanks, Lizzie. Thank you, and please don't give me what I want ever again.