Tolliver stamped his foot loudly. Shut up down there!
He walked back out to the van and brought in two cases of soda. He still missed the tall, returnable glass bottles of his childhood. One of his earliest sexual memories came from the thought that his lips were touching the same bottle that hundreds of other lips had touched. The thought still made him shiver with secret delight.
Another noise from the basement. Another muddy boot stamp on the linoleum.
He turned on the gas oven and went into his bedroom.
When he came out he had changed into a terry cloth bath robe and slippers. He still wore his white socks and threadbare white briefs. He was still too nervous to buy new underwear so he tried to make these last. The thought of the girl, it was always a girl, at Kresge’s looking at him as he bought underwear filled him with a falling elevator feeling. Maybe he could get them some other way.
He took a grease blackened cookie sheet from the cabinet and laid out his dinner. French fries and soft pretzels from the freezer, corn dogs and pizza rolls from the new groceries. He never read the boxes for each item. He baked everything at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. That should always be enough.
There was another sound from the basement, a grueling sob or the retch of vomiting. Tolliver went into the living room and turned the television up to drown out the sounds. You will not ruin my suppertime he thought determinedly.
He watched a show about people doing something for awhile. All the shows were an hour or longer now. He missed half hour shows. They made cooking easier. After what must have been thirty minutes he went into the kitchen and took out the cookie sheet using an oven mitt that had been his mother’s. The mitt was gritty inside and had a scorch mark along one side from having been too close to a burner. He never washed the mitt. He knew his mother’s sweat had crystalized in the glove and he didn’t want it to ever go away. Whenever he took the oven mitt off he always licked his fingers. He poured the food onto a large melamine serving platter, shook salt over it and poured a large puddle of ketchup in the center.
There was a television show on about something. He watched as he munched the food. some of it was cold in the center, some of it was burnt. He rammed each piece through the ketchup puddle and ate.
He was turning channels when he saw a woman dancing. The camera must have been laying on the ground because she seemed to be taller than him as she shook her ass and tits. Occasionally a man would appear and scream at the camera but it would always cut back to this woman as she shook herself to the beat of the music. Tolliver felt himself getting hard. He opened the robe and touched himself as he watched the woman. After he was finished he turned off the TV and went to sleep.
Sounds from the basement woke him from a dream about his dog.
Tolliver had had enough. He walked into his bedroom and put on coveralls, gloves, heavy boots, and a welder’s mask. He felt like he was putting on armor, like a knight or a riot cop. Then he picked up his bat, a yellow plastic Wiffle Ball bat filled with quickset concrete and a single piece of rebar. The bat was so heavy that he rarely had to swing it with any force to subdue the monsters in the basement. A slight swing seemed to hit them with just enough power. And the plastic didn’t tear the skin as bad so they lasted longer.
Hefting the bat he unlocked the basement door and turned on the lights. Six banks of fluorescent bar lights sizzled on as the monsters scrambled away from the brightness. The walls of the basement were smoothed concrete, as finished and water proof as a swimming pool. The join between the floor and wall was a quarter round fill and the basement floor sank smoothly to a large drain. Metal mesh covered the ceiling and the lights. The stairs had to be lowered from the upper floor and were pulled up every time that Tolliver left the basement. The concrete was stained from the liquids inside of the monsters.
The stairs descended smoothly and chunked nicely onto the basement floor. As Tolliver slowly walked down the stairs the monsters scrambled away from him with more anxiety than they had from the lights. Tolliver grinned beneath the welder’s mask, happy to see the reaction. He loved to see the monsters try to get away from him.
Wait. What’s this? One of the monsters was staring at him, sitting with his back against the wall his forearms propped atop his knees. Just staring at Tolliver with an expression of boredom. The other monsters tried to crawl into the concrete to hide but this one just sat and looked at him.
This couldn’t happen could it? He was the monster’s master. He had collected them, from schoolyards and parks, he had thrown them in here and beaten them into submission. They had to be afraid of him! This wasn’t fair. This little monster wasn’t playing fair!
Tolliver strode over to the sitting figure and rammed the bat into his shoulder. The monster rolled with the blow and grunted.
“ You can go ahead and smash my head in you fucking cocksucker or you can shove that bat up your ass.” the monster said softly.
“ What...wait, what?” Tolliver stammered.
“ You heard me you stinking jack-off. Kill me or go fuck yourself. I’m tired of sitting down here.”
Tolliver hit the kid in the mouth with the bat before he knew he’d done it. Yeah that was right, they were kids. Seven young boys, like he had been once, young boys who had been picked by Tolliver to pay for his own painful childhood. Bullied and alone he had sworn vengeance. But his vengeance had to be against the same type of boys who had teased him. Besides they were easier to beat up than adults.
“ Y-y-ou be k-k-k-quiet.” Tolliver stammered.
“ Y-y-y-you go f-f-f-FUCK yourself!” The kid mockingly stuttered out around a bloody mouth of smashed teeth.
The cable ties around the kid’s arms were looped through ties on the other boys. They were all cable tied together in a mass. This mass now pulled away from Tolliver and pulled the defiant boy along with them. Tolliver took a step towards the boys and then stopped. He had to get out of here fast. He thumped quickly up the stairs and pulled them up behind him.
He wheezed a little as he poured soda into a plastic glass. He threw back the soda like a drunk swallowing a shot of whiskey. How could this happen? All the months that he’d been keeping these kids to beat and abuse he had never had one stand up to him, never heard anything but sweet begging and pleading. Now he had one who would curse and spit at him. He would have to get rid of the new boy. Cut his ties and take him away somewhere. Tolliver knew the boy would have to die but he wasn’t sure where to dump him afterwards.
He needed to sleep, to calm down. He’d understand things better after he’d slept. He went into the bathroom to run a bath and relax.
The roar of the water into the tub drowned out his thoughts for a few moments. He eased himself into the water and laid against the back of the tub. He turned the water off and the silence made his thoughts come rushing back, broken only by the drip of the tap.
How dare that little monster talk back to him? Tolliver was the big bad man now. Tolliver was tough and strong and not afraid. The little monsters had to be afraid of him, wasn’t that right? Tolliver sank down into the water to try to hide from something that he had not yet named.
It was when he sat up again that he heard the voice from the basement. It came up muffled and quiet but still determined and strong. The little monster who’s teeth he’d smashed in. He was talking to the other boys, like he was giving a speech or something. The other kids moaned or whimpered but the kid kept talking. Tolliver reached over and punched the floor next to the tub. A scream that could only be “fuck you!” spat out of the basement. Tolliver stopped himself from punching the floor again. The moans and whimpers of the other boys stopped.
That night Tolliver had trouble sleeping. There were voices from the basement all night long. He wasn’t sure what they said but they sounded secretive and scheming. But if they were trying to keep their talking secret why were they talking so loud? It was like they wanted him to know that they were plotting against him. He no longer heard the defiant monster’s voice as separate from the group. All of the voices whispered in the same low rumble of kids whispering loudly. Even when Tolliver fell asleep their angry whispering was in his dreams.
Time to finish this for once and all. He couldn’t go through another might like last night. He got out of bed and put on his coveralls. There was no sound from the basement. They must all be asleep. Tolliver quickly drank a cup of soda to give him energy. He reached into a kitchen drawer and pulled out a heavy pair of kitchen shears. He’d cut the loudmouth out of the bundle and take him away to kill him. Tolliver would not give up the weeks of pleasant torture that he had planned for the other six. He was still the big man, still the toughest and strongest. The game would still be played by his rules and this time he would win.
The basement door opened quietly, the lights blinked on quickly, the stairs descended smoothly. The concrete filled bat in his gloved hands felt hard and reassuring. He stepped slowly down the stairs into the basement.
Tolliver had expected to see the seven boys asleep in a pile against one wall, the way that they normally would be before he woke them up. He blinked behind the welder’s mask to clear his eyes. None of the boys were asleep.
Instead they all sat facing him, as much as the cable ties would allow, and glared at him with a feral anger. It was a more pure version of the anger he had felt as a bullied child but Tolliver had always had his anger dissipated by doting parents and junk food. None of the boys seemed to blink, they tracked his movements as a group, each set of eyes and each head slowly nodding as he walked down the stairs. The mass of boys was suddenly very solid and very dark., They seemed to breathe together, the mass of heads, bodies, and limbs rising and falling slowly with each breath, in the rhythmic way that a prowling lion breathes. Tolliver began to sweat behind the mask.
When the patrolmen finally walked down into the basement of Tolliver’s house they found something that had once been a man. Although it still mewed and squirmed it could no longer be called a man or even a human.
Small sets of hands had dragged Tolliver down as he reached for the troublemaking boy. The hands had long nails that crept under Tolliver’s defenses and scratched and tore at his skin. The boys moved in a mass, like an amoeba moves, and pulled him down to the concrete floor.
Their childhoods had been stolen by Tolliver in an attempt to torture away his own feelings of weakness. But the seven little boys had taken it all back using a pair of kitchen shears and a concrete filled Wiffle Ball bat.
Brian S. Roe narrowly escaped a situation once, too. Most of the time, though, he was unable to escape and found himself very Stockholm'd. He has acclimated very well to the sunlight, though, the internet and prose. One day his diaries will outside the Bible, because only in the his diaries will there be more violence and redemption. I'll make sure of it.