A Tasty Twist
Stephen L. Wilson
I was waking up. “Coming to” was more like it. My head throbbed, and my mouth was dry. What was that horrible smell? An organic, deathly permanent smell.
Where had I been? Memories were fragmented, flashing in my mind like bits of archaic newsreel. My lifelong friend, Jason, was taunting the old woman, laughing as he pushed her against the dumpster in the vacant alley.
“Who’s your daddy, Rumpelstiltskin?”
Rumpelstiltskin. That was the name given to the woman by the kids in the neighborhood. She moved, broken and bent, with a cane. She always wore that stained brown pea coat covered in cat hair, and a drab, yellowing scarf wrapping her ancient head. None of us remembered her ever speaking; only glowering at our hateful antics with cold, black eyes which pierced our very souls. Oh, we would laugh and taunt, but with a nervous fear to drive our actions. Usually Rumpelstiltskin would stay close to her home, which was a tiny shack of an A-frame, hiding in a jumbled, foreboding nest of overgrown shrubbery and a few tired trees with branches dangling precariously over the withered and dismal dwelling. On the few occasions when one of us would boldly approach her, she would skitter to her sanctuary with surprisingly quick movements, staring; staring back at us with those shiny eyes once she was in the safety of her surroundings.
Another memory flashed through my mind. Rumpelstiltskin, bouncing off of the dumpster, losing her balance. As she stumbled forward, she was unable to avoid a bar extending from the receptacle. Her head met the protrusion with a sickening crunch. As her body sagged and fell toward the Earth, her face held her up, as if in proud defiance. After a moment, it too gave up, and released her to the ground. She was moaning softly, making helpless motions with her legs. It was as if she was running in slow motion.
I looked at Jason, who was clearly shocked. I turned back to Rumpelstiltskin, noticing first those eyes. Wide and glossy; hurt and accusing, framed by the black paint now covering her face. As she writhed, and the moonlight captured her expression, I saw that it was actually blood, which was now pouring from a cavernous dent just above her eyebrows. For the time, I heard her voice. It was raspy and crisp, like the clicking of a playing card in the spokes of a bicycle wheel.
What the hell? Unless I was not hearing her right, that knock to the noggin must have been worse than I thought. Apparently it was, because no sooner had I thought this, than Rumpelstiltskin had expired. There was no need to check her pulse, or perform any type of test to prove it. Jason and I both just knew. Her legs had stopped pumping, and her black, glistening orbs remained open to the world, staring through us even in death. Maybe it was my imagination, but I swore I saw the reflection of both of us in those deep pools of ebony, framed by the crimson of her lifeblood.
Neither one of us spoke during the walk home. Jason was a specter, his face so white it was almost transparent. I couldn’t believe that we had just killed Rumpelstiltskin. I wondered what our fate would be, if the cops would know it was us, if I would ever live past this gruesome moment. When we walked up to my house, we looked at each other one last, grim time, and then I went inside. I quietly and slowly trudged upstairs to bed. Despite my experience, I fell asleep quickly. I must have been drained.
And now I am awake. Again, that smell. That putrid, unhealthy, rotting and eternal smell. For the first time I realize that I cannot move. I cannot open my eyes. My arms are pinned to my side; my legs bound together. Where am I? Am I in bed?
I am now alert and frantic. I feel like I am on some kind of trampoline. My body bobs in rhythm, as if to a slow, gentle imaginary beat. What is going on?
There is a guttural noise to my right. Is that Jason? I feel the trampoline quivering, and a louder, more distinct groaning sound. Yes, it is Jason, but he is not saying anything; only making loud, indistinct noises. At once the trampoline bounces wildly and I thought I was falling. As suddenly as it began, the bouncing settles, and once again I am bobbing to that imaginary beat. Still, that God-awful smell, so unfamiliar to me, permeates my senses.
I have to find a way to see what is going on. I realize that my face is covered with rope or gauze of some kind. Maybe there is some way to loosen it or at least peek around it. Even though my body is tightly bound, I discover that I can move my head a bit. Maybe I can work the rope loose enough to catch a glimpse of my surroundings.
As I writhe my head around in an attempt to free my vision, I hear crusty words being whispered. I can’t quite make out what they are saying, but my heart quickens, and I increase my movements. The trampoline jerks suddenly, and I hear a crunching sound. Jason gurgles an unintelligible scream, which quickly fades to silence. Not exactly silence. His desperate wail is replaced with a steady slurping, which sounds like Jell-o being sucked through a straw. I close my eyes tight and increase my efforts to break free, my head now a wild, whiplashing metronome, moving to the frantic beat of an internal Danse Macabre.
After a moment I lay still, my body gently bobbing on the trampoline. The ghastly slurping sounds have stopped. I open my eyes, and find that my efforts have paid off. The rope has slipped somewhat, and I see a couple of pinhole lights, which are stars in the black sky. I roll my eyes to the right, and see a long, tubular bar with rows of hairy protrusions. Before I can process this information, the trampoline bounces viciously again, and my eyes slam shut in reflex.
The bouncing gently settles into the now familiar pattern of bobbing in time to a slow, silent waltz.
I open my eyes. Directly in front of me are two long, yellow, pointed shafts, about a foot apart. As I focus, I look to the top of the shafts. I see what appears to be dozens of hemispheres in a variety of sizes, each one neatly imitating the next, arrayed in geometrical rows. They look hauntingly familiar. Then I hear the raspy, creaking whisper:
I don’t know if my scream was audible. I just know I shrieked with my psyche and every fiber of my being as the fangs plunged into my chest. My fear became agony as I realized that the crunch I heard was my ribs breaking and shattering. I could feel the pain and pressure as Rumpelstiltskin withdrew my internal juices with her strong vacuum. The newly familiar slurping sound was all I could hear. As the life faded from my body, my last sight was the visible dent above those rows of eyes. Those probing, knowing, glassy eyes, shrouded by the smell of eternal death.