display | more...
"What are you doin', Zeke? This house looks like absolute shit."

"Stay the fuck outta my life, willya? And stop callin' me Zeke. Jesus. My name's Herb, fer chrissake." Herb moved around frantically, throwing cushions off the couch and digging through a year's mess in search of something.

"Man, Zeke, you was much more together before the operation. You're all wiry and on-edge, like."

"Do you want me to murder you? Is that what you want, ya fuck?" Herb considered, briefly, abandoning his search for the something and looking for his hunting knife instead. An eight-inch serrated blade might be just what he needed to nail this fucker's pencil neck to the wall. A moment's reflection, however, convinces him of the futility: he was never able to kill his antagonist in any permanent way.

"How 'bout some tea, Zeke? Should I boil you up some tea?"

"Fuck off."

"Mint okay? You like mint tea, Zeke?"

"Yeah, mint's good. Christ, I'm gonna murder you one of these days." Herb resumed his frantic search. It had to be there, somewhere. He overturned the couch, he swept the empty bottles off the windowsill. He could feel a deep, groundless paranoia welling up inside him with every dustball he overturned. "Whad'jou do with it, ya puke? D'jou hide it somewhere?"

"Hell, I dunno, Zeke. Check under the floorboards, I guess."

"Aha!" Herb was enlightened and cheered at once. Of course. It was so simple, it was classic. The floorboards, of course! He hopped over the wreckage of the couch and ripped the closet door off its hinges. Boxes and winter coats came tumbling out. Swimming through the disarray, he dug up his crowbar and returned to the room.

He jammed the iron wedge into the cracks and gloried in the sound of rending planks. The nails squeaked as they gave way; the wood chipped and splintered off at odd angles. Working quickly, Herb unearthed a dark spot he never knew existed in his home. There was a wealth of grit and ant nests unimagined. Below that, there was only a deep nothingness, a blackness fading off into the depths.

One by one, he pulled the boards up, working maniacally. The large, black hole in the middle of his floor began to expand. Soon it took up nearly half the room; before long it would cover more area than the remaining floor. Furniture and miscellaneous debris began falling into it, spiraling out of sight in a swift descent. Herb had to keep to the rafters to avoid falling in himself, but still he kept working.

"Tea's ready, Zeke. What're you up to now?"

"Stop callin' me Zeke or by almighty God I'll devour you raw!" he screamed, not looking up. He was yelling at a stubborn floorboard more than anything else. He worked and heaved and pushed but the little fucker wouldn't come loose.

"You've sure made a mess here, Zeke. I feel like a spider in a web, treadin' these narrow beams above this abyss you've uncovered. Here, have some tea."

"Yeah, thanks." Herb took the tea and gulped it down. He cursed with extreme abandon as the steaming liquid burned his tongue, blistered his esophagus, and maintained a degree of hellish simmering in his gut. "Yowza," he said at last. "That's good tea. D'jou boil it?"

"Course I did. That's how I always make yer tea, Zeke."

"It's nice. Thank you, kindly." Herb cast the cup into the hole below them and took again to ripping up floorboards. The stubborn one came off, and dropped into the pit. For a time, he labored in silence, neither of them speaking. He worked and sweated and cursed, losing sight of his purpose in the endless cycle.

"Whatchya rippin' up yer floor fer, Zeke?"

"Heh? Whaddya mean? This is where you hid it, ain't it?" He paused, and a look of murderous accusation set itself onto his face.

"Naw, Zeke, I didn't hide nothin' from you."

"You traitorous swine!" he bellowed. "You lyin', connivin', ignorant, mutinous spawn of sulfur and pitch! I'll eat yer goddamn liver fer this!" And Herb sprang into action like a mountain cat, swinging his crowbar as he went. But he missed and caught the leg of his pants on a rusty nail. The momentum of his blow sent him reeling until it seemed the nail was the only thing between him and the yawning abyss below. He cursed all the while, as his fate hung at the top of its arc, ready for the fall. He wavered for an instant, and with one final "You fuckin' swiiiiiine...!" he pitched backward.

But the nail held. Wrapped tight in faded blue jean, the nail held and he swung like a lean pendulum over nothingness. All his malice was spent and all he had left was fear.

"You think it's down there, Zeke? Don't look like there's nothin' down there."

"Forget all that, ya nit! Dial nine eleven or somethin'! Help! Heeeeelp!" And Herb swung, a helpless hanged man.

"Yer always lookin' fer things, Zeke. And losin' other things all the while. Looky here: you done lost yer floor lookin' fer God knows what."

"An' I'm gonna lose my ass," screamed Herb, "if'n you don't get off yers, ya...ya...you kindly, saintly person you," he added meekly. "Help?" he inquired. He looked up, with kind, hopeful eyes.

Later, they were sitting out on the window ledge, watching the sun go down behind the train depot, and Herb had calmed down a bit. They passed a whiskey bottle back and forth and managed to laugh a little.

"So whaddya say, Zeke? Still lookin' for somethin'?"

"Naw, guess not. Seems like I'm alla time lookin' for somethin' 'stead of countin' them things I got." Herb pulled on the bottle and sighed. "Yeah, life's pretty good as it is...don't suppose I needed that thing anyway."

"Course you don't need it, Zeke," she said, throwing her arms around him. "You already got it."

Log in or register to write something here or to contact authors.