Breaking & Entering

By jockedguy
published February 17, 2020
11669 words
Summary

Someone … or something … is breaking into Jeremy’s apartment.

1.

As a rule, I lock the door to the apartment every night before I brush my teeth, and go to bed.

That’s why it was so strange to put my hand on the knob this morning and discover that the lock, instead of being in its vertical engaged position, sat otherwise.

I didn’t specifically remember if I’d performed the nightly routine - I’d stayed up slightly later than I should have, and fell asleep reading. I woke up with the bedside light still on, a weird, ersatz orange against the morning-painted walls, but my book was nowhere to be found.

Sleepwalking, I guessed. Maybe I’d reshelved it. It wasn’t a big deal.

The lock, though - that bothered me. I’m very routine-oriented, and I don’t like it when something isn’t where it ought to be. I checked the important stuff - keys were hung on their hook, phone was in my pocket, wallet too.

It left me with a weird taste in my mouth. It colored the whole day…


2.

I’ve been getting a little ringing sound in my ears, a slight case of tinnitus. Made an appointment to see my PCP - he can see me around four in the afternoon.

No matter how much I shake my head or dig my little finger into my ear, I can’t get it to stop. It’s such a high, thin pitch that I can almost imagine that I’m hallucinating it. I’ve already tried shutting off all the electronics in the apartment, and yet I can still hear that needle-sharp sound, no matter what I do.

The doc’s gonna ask me how I’ve been sleeping. If the pills he prescribed are working. Sometimes, if I have trouble getting to sleep, I take one blue zolpidem and it knocks me for a loop. I sleep for hours, dreamlessly, and wake up feeling refreshed and alert. I’ll tell him, truthfully, that the pills do work, and that I’m sleeping fine.

I won’t mention the thing about the missing book, the unlocked door. I’m sure that was only a fluke, and I’m sure that book just fell under the bed…


3.

The doctor visit went fine.

He asked me a few other questions, mostly if I was depressed, or if I felt low on energy, and I didn’t answer right away, or quickly enough, and I left with a scrip for an anti-depressant. He told me not to worry about it. Everyone gets a little depressed in the winter, he said, and this wouldn’t be forever - just for now.

I wonder what else is in these pills. How much of it does what it says it does, how much of it just dissolves into the space between my cells, possibly even encouraging the growth of some invidious illness …

I try to banish those thoughts when they come in, deny them access as quickly as I can, as if the thoughts themselves could cause the illness, could sort of invoke them into being.

Even I know that’s superstitious bullshit, like crossing yourself, but I do it anyway.

Sometimes they come back in my dreams, but I don’t have any control over that - not much, anyway. A zolpidem will banish them, but then again, I don’t want to start an addiction to sleeping pills. I take them as often as I absolutely need to, and that’s that.

Anyway…


4.

Once, a long time ago, a mentor of mine told me that stories were written about people who were driven by either one of two things: money, or sex.

At the time, I laughed, thinking that it was an absurdly reductionist statement to make, but here I am, grinding out a living to make money, and fantasizing about sex.

I’m gay, but I never made too much noise about it. I keep to myself at work, and when I’m at home, I’m at my laptop, writing. I have no real desire to go out to the clubs, or whatever it is that men my age are supposed to do, but sometimes I go and sit and have a drink, and just let my eye sort of wander around the room.

I’ve been hit on. I’ve never really done any of the hitting. Sometimes, I’ve even gone home with a guy, if he’s hot enough. Always their place, never mine. If the guy is enough my type, that is - he’s got to be masculine, athletic if not muscular, with well-trimmed facial hair. Oh, and he should be taller than me. I like to look up into his eyes. His cobalt gray eyes.

I digress. Ahem. Sorry.

So, yeah, I use the apps that other gay men my age use. I let it ping me, every once in awhile, when there could be a suitable hook-up in the area. I make it clear what I want, and usually that’s all that happens. It’s very rare that I see a guy twice…


5.

So someone’s got to be fucking with me.

This morning, I found three crushed beer cans in the sink.

I don’t drink beer. Just seeing the cans in the sink brings back the taste of it to my mouth - Coors Light, even - and I shudder reflexively. Just thinking about the taste makes my head throb as if I were hungover. I have to take a couple ibuprofen.

I spill the cereal into the bowl, soak it with milk, throw some blueberries in it, and sit down to have my normal breakfast. For some reason, the Cheerios taste different today. I have trouble chewing, swallowing. It’s like I’m methodically putting blueberry-flavored cardboard into my mouth, again and again.

I check the box - the cereal isn’t stale, not by any means. I check the date on the milk, even though it’s almond milk, and the milk hasn’t gone bad. There’s no appreciable mold on the berries.

It’s just, somehow, the flavor of the cereal isn’t what my body wants. I feel distracted. My stomach was rumbling. For the first time in a long, long time, my body wants meat. Wants eggs. Wants a greasy, diner-style breakfast.

I took a sip of my green tea and almost choked. Somehow, I never knew how grassy it was, how bitter, how thin and unappealing.

I feel disoriented, as though on a bad trip. Had someone dosed me with something?

Was it possible I was dreaming, still asleep?

On top of this, the matter of the beer cans was still very much on my mind. Someone had to be breaking into my apartment while I slept.

… And drinking beer? Even my mind wouldn’t allow me that. Who breaks into someone’s apartment to drink their own beer?

I checked the windows in the kitchen, the one at the fire escape particularly, and ensured that they were both solidly locked. There was no reason for them to be otherwise, since it was dead winter and the cold already leaked in through the cracks where the walls met the floorboards.

Could it be the landlord? Both Georg and his son Marek had keys to the front door, and I knew that Marek was not exactly a teetotaller. In fact, I’d sometimes come home to the stink of his cigarette smoke in the front hallway, lingering and stale. But he usually drank his beers in his basement apartment, and only ever bothered me for anything if I happened to catch him outside, on the way in.

The hairs on the back of my neck were standing on end, ramrod stiff. I sensed something, someone. A gust of wind where none should have been. No sound - just … something.

I turned around.

A fly tizzed through the empty space.

No one was there…


6.

I considered, of course, changing the locks. Or asking Marek to do it for me, in his capacity as the superintendent of the building. That, and he spoke English better than his father, the actual landlord … which really was saying something.

I went downstairs in the afternoon, which is usually when you can find Marek when he’s only had a couple, not a whole six-pack, and he can usually be relied upon to help whatever apartment issue you’re having - a clog, a leak, he’s the all-around handyman. Probably because he had trouble keeping a regular job.

I didn’t look down on Marek, not exactly. Not like it sounds, anyway. I just felt a sort of pity for him. He couldn’t help his circumstances, maybe, but he could certainly make better, healthier choices for himself. That’s where I stopped feeling sorry for him. If he weren’t such a shiftless layabout, drinking and smoking his brains into mush, maybe he could make something of himself.

But for now, he’d have to be the guy who changes my lock.

I knocked on the basement door around four PM, and I could tell by the repeating and insistent thud of the music that he was around. It took a few knocks, the last in the series louder than the others, and finally the volume cranked down.

When the door opened, it was only opened a crack, and I saw his beady, dark eye darting around, questing. “Jeremy? Jesus!” He opened the door fully, and I saw that he was half-dressed, his baggy pants sloping off of his narrow hips and revealing about a full inch worth of his patterned boxers. His scrawny, caved-in chest was a riot of tattoos - some so blurry that you couldn’t even discern what they were. On the top of his disheveled brown hair was a winter hat, pulled down over half of his forehead, with the word “DOPE” on the cuff. “Why you gotta knock like the cops, eh?”

His words were a thicket of eastern European accent, poor grammar, and slang, and though I could understand him, it always felt like we were one idiom away from being totally lost in translation. “Hey, Marek,” I said. “Look, man … is there any way I can get the lock on my apartment door changed?”
 He frowned, and started digging around in his pants pocket for something. He pulled out a bent cigarette and a black Bic, and lit it in front of me.

I couldn’t help but notice the NO SMOKING signs posted all over the tidy front hallway, but Marek didn’t seem to care, inhaling and exhaling smoke like a skinny white dragon, jetting it from his nostrils. “What the fuck you want that for?”

“I think someone’s been coming in while I’ve been sleeping.”

Marek snorted a plume of smoke. “No way. When?”

“I don’t know. Night time, I guess. While I’m sleeping.”

“You must sleep like rock.” He grunted, and waved me into his apartment. “Come in.”

“Uhh, I just wanted to - “ I gestured, not really wanting to go in. “You know.”

“Come in, come in,” he said, more urgently, stepping over a pile of clothing.

Regretfully, I followed, unable to come up with an excuse.

“How you know?” He asked, over his shoulder, lowering himself into a ratty-looking armchair. He gestured at the accompanying couch. Across from us, the TV (an astonishingly pristine 55” flat-screen) flickered and blared with color, but no sound. He reached over for his beer. “You wanna beer?”

“Uh, no, no thanks,” I said, feeling my bile rising again.

“Too many last night, huh?” He said, wryly clicking his tongue. “Anyway. So.”

“Uh … right. So, yeah. I found beer cans in my sink, and I don’t - uh, I don’t know where they came from.”

“You left them there,” Marek said, pointedly, laughing, dropping his cigarette in a different beer can. “You have too many, you passout, you forget! Mystery solved.”

“No, Marek, I don’t - I don’t drink beer.”

He blinked, as if his attention was caught by something invisible, zipping across the room. “Right, sure. Listen, Jeremy. Changing lock … not something we do. Sure, it’s just your … uh, your … wyobraźnia. You know, like dream, but not.”

“Hallucination? You think I’m crazy?”

“No, no, is not crazy. Is, you make it up. You see?”

“Thanks, Marek,” I said, standing up. “I gotta run, but, uh. Appreciate your time.”

“Time flies,” he said, jokingly, raising his can. “YOLO.” And started laughing.

The volume of the music turned up after I left, climbing the stairs and shutting the door behind me. “Idiot,” I muttered to myself…


7.

I went for a walk around the neighborhood. It was cold enough to need a hoodie, but just warm enough that I didn’t need anything else but my tried and true pair of jeans, a t-shirt and my beloved New Balance 574s.

I’m not a sneakerhead, not by any means - those are my only pair. I just happen to know that’s what they’re called. They’re all black, except for where the wear is showing on the sides of the soles, and I’ve had them for more years than I can remember. All you really need in life, I’ve always felt, is one good pair of shoes.

I burrowed my hands into my hoodie’s pockets and limped down the street. The day was brisk, biting, and soon enough my fingertips were tingling, even in my pockets.

I walked into the crosswalk and watched as another man walked towards me from the opposite direction. He was fully winterized, with a dark black puffer jacket obscuring any details - even his face was hidden inside the deep hood. He moved with a surprisingly purposeful gait - the kind that you see on someone after they’ve just consulted a map.

I didn’t make eye contact as he passed. My heart started thumping, erratically and uncontrollably.

He walked by without incident.

Up ahead, I could see another man, hunched, shambling over a metal shopping cart. I could hear the echoey sound of metal on metal as he collected cans from the neighborhood trash receptacles.

He, too, was wearing a dark winter jacket with the hood up.

I wasn’t walking anywhere in particular, mind you. Just a walk. A breath of fresh air, get myself out of the apartment, which lately had become sort of threatening. Haunted.

I daren’t breathe the word - not even in my imagination. No such things as ghosts.

Except for somewhere in my heart of hearts, where I keep the viper’s den of superstitions twisting and uncurling, I know otherwise.

My phone started twingling in my pocket. I extracted it to glance curiously at the screen’s flickering, twisting blue light…


8.

I crossed the kitchen from the bathroom, mouth still tingling from the peppermint toothpaste, in my bare feet. I crouched down, staring at the lock in its horizontal position, imprinting the picture of it on my memory.

I lifted my hand to the lock. I twisted it, turning deliberately and forcefully to the vertical position, engaging it. I heard the satisfying click as the bolts moved to secure my apartment from any intruders.

I moved to the kitchen windows. Each of them were locked tightly, and I savaged my fingers making sure that the one by the fire escape was unlockable by human efforts. I checked the small rectangular windows over the couch, even though no one would be able to fit through them, and ensured that they were all secured tightly.

I closed the door to the kitchen, walked through the living room, paying attention to the small details of my tidy life. Everything was put away, clean, spotless. I walked through into the bedroom and closed that door behind me, too, and twisted the lock on it, just for good measure.

Once inside, I shut off all the lights except for the one by my bedside and crawled into bed. Before pulling the sheets and covers tight to my chin, I connected the charging cable to my phone and set it on my bedside.

One last reach up, and the switch on my light was flicked. The only light remaining in the room filtered in through the wooden blinds on the windows. No draft stirred. The little hum of the air purifier in the corner was pleasant, reassuring.

I felt my eyes start to close, and I willed myself with every fiber of my being to remember every detail of my evening ritual. Dishes washed, dried, and put away in their homes. Door locked, windows locked. Lights out. I closed my eyes.

The wall by my bed glowed with blue light as my phone received a message, but I barely saw it or registered it. The black maw of sleep was opening wide, and I fell into it as though greeting a lover…


9.

I still can’t find that book, but at least there’s been no further signs of invasion. I’ve kept to my rigid routine, night after night, checking and re-checking the windows and doors. I’ve even - though there’ve been no evidence of further break-ins - considered buying a deadbolt of my own and attaching it to the doorframe.

It’s a Saturday, and I’m blissfully free of work. Work is drudgery. It’s sometimes physically painful to be there. But that’s how everyone’s job is - no one likes work. If they did, it wouldn’t be called work. So I grit my teeth, I go in, I do my job, I collect my pay.

My money is carefully budgeted. Eventually, I’ll have enough to move out of the city, maybe set down roots in a quiet town somewhere, and write a novel. That’s always been my dream.

I’m not close to my goal, but I’m not far, either.

I’ve given up on finding the book. I figure I must’ve lost it somewhere. Somewhere between work and home, somewhere between the bed and the wall - though I’ve checked, and checked again. I was sure I fell asleep reading it that night, but maybe that was all a dream. Possible, maybe even probable. Whatever, I’ll just buy another copy online.

Since it’s Saturday, I’m taking out the trash, I’m collecting the recyclables, all to haul down to the front garbage cans. The trash is very full this week, and I’m struggling a bit to get it out of its container. I’ve got it about halfway when I see it - too late - the rip that’s going down its side. Before I can stop it, the garbage spills out all over the kitchen floor.

“Goddamnit,” I mutter, and bend to clean up the mess.

That’s when I see it, poking out of a tangle of rotted vegetables and chicken bones - the spine of my missing book, at an awkward angle.

I gingerly lift it out of the midden heap, between thumb and forefinger, brushing off slimy curls of cucumber peel.

I gasp.

The pages have been ripped out of it, and flutter out of the vivisected spine of the book like wistful leaves from the trees…


10.

“Someone is fucking with me,” I said, clearly, leaning against Marek’s doorjamb. “Things are … missing.” I didn’t mention where I’d found the book, or in which condition.

“Sure, sure,” he said, equably. Today he was fully dressed, in a scream-red tshirt that draped nearly to his knees, which was also where the crotch of his baggy jeans began. “Missing. Like, necklace? Rings?”

I stared at him, trying to summon what I would imagine would be a cold expression. “Do I look like the kind of guy who wears necklaces or rings?”

He raised his hands, shrugging, and lifted his stained cap to one side, scratching at his scalp. “Sure, okay. But, listen, Jeremy, okay. We have camera. See?” He pointed to the dim corner of the ceiling in the front hallway, where a small webcam was mounted, its single red light blinking meritoriously. “We can see. Someone one comes, goes, we see. Okay?”


I felt a little ashamed of myself, and my bluster died a little. Of course they had cameras. What apartment building in the city didn’t? “Oh. Uh … I see.”

“You see? Someone coming, we know. Call cops. Or I … “ He cracked his tattooed knuckles. K - I - N - G on one hand. Nice. “… deal with them, me. You know?”

“Sure,” I said, backing up slightly. “No problem. So, you haven’t seen anyone … strange?”

“Only you,” Marek said, and displayed his teeth in a startlingly loud laugh. He leaned forward and clapped me broadly on the shoulder. “Is joke. I make fun. Eh? You come in, huh, we have beer.”

I twisted away from him, slightly awkwardly. “Uh, no. No, thanks. I don’t drink beer, I told you. I uh - I have errands to run.”

He stared at me. Did I imagine a glint of hostility in his dark eyes? Whatever it was, it was gone when he shrugged, leaning his scrawny weight on the doorframe. “Is no trouble. You OK, Jeremy.” He stared at me so penetratingly that I thought I should check to see if there was a scorch mark on the wall behind me. It seemed like he was expecting an answer, but I didn’t know what the question was, so I nodded and backpedalled away.

“Yeah. Sure. I’m great,” I muttered to myself after wishing him a good day. My headache was back, and the thin, thready ringing in my ears was getting louder, seeming to increase with every step I took back up to the third floor…


11.

All doors locked.

All windows shut. Locked.

Lights off.

Phone plugged in.

Blue pill, swallowed.

Bedside light, off.

Sheets up to my chin.

My eyes darting around the dark of the bedroom. My heart jolting at every passing schuss of the cars on the street below. The whole building shifting, creaking, under the weight of my neighbors in the adjacent space. I can hear the muffled murmurs of the occupants, unless it’s the television.

I close my eyes and focus on the steady, invariable sound of the air purifier. I breathe in, and out. Normally. Relaxed.

A muscle going lax jerks in a sudden spasm, and my whole body reacts beneath the sheets. My eyes spring open. Drift closed again. Breathing in, and breathing out.

I imagine that I’m closing the movie theatre of my mind for the night, powering down the projectors, sweeping the lobby. Back, and forth, sweeping, breathing in and out.

It’s easy to unspool into dream like this, wading in the shallow waters of sleep.

But light leaks out of the bottom of the movie theatre doors. I look, catching just a glimpse of something moving beyond, and follow its trail as if entranced.

Behind the door, rows and rows of plush red seats, all unoccupied.

The projector up in its small square is vibrating with energy, rattling, casting out a severe glow onto the screen ahead - someone’s here. Someone’s inside, and they’re playing a movie.

The screen is too big to look away. Everywhere I look, the images are there.

“You are now / listening,” intones a voice, directly into my ear, and yet issued from somewhere distant. The crackle of electricity, a brief static, interrupts the words only once. “You are now / listening…”


12.

I went outside for my normal cigarette.

Marek was there, on his phone, yelling at someone on the other end in his language - Polish, I think. His eyes surreptitiously flicked to me, and he stabbed at the screen of his phone to disconnect the call.

“Fucker,” he said, and spat contemptuously on the ground ahead of him. “Eh, Jeremy? Fucker.”

“Uh, sure,” I said, inhaling and exhaling. Breathing in and breathing out.

“You want beer?”

The smoke I was breathing was mentholated. I looked at the cigarette with confusion, noting that it was printed around the filter with the word NEWPORT.

I don’t smoke Newports.

I mean. Wait a minute. I don’t smoke at all.

I flung the cigarette away from me, yelping as if it had burned me, and Marek looked at me with his gimlet eyes, raising his smoke to his lips. His mouth curled in a funny way, again, unreadable. “You OK, Jeremy?”

“Yeah,” I managed after a moment. “Yeah, I’m - I’m good.”

“Good.” said Marek. “So, you come. Have beer, yes?”

I checked the time on my phone, squinting from the glare of the sun. The time read 3:45.

I was sure it had been around 11 when I came outside. My head spun slightly, so I shook it to regain my sense of balance. I saw Marek, but didn’t quite hear him. I felt like I was trudging through molasses to the meaning of the words I was thinking.

“Yes,” I tried, though it wouldn’t come out as yes. It would only come out as yes. I mean, yes. Not yes, but yes. The sound of the word itself mutated in my thinking patterns.

“Good,” said Marek, and gathered me into his skinny wingspan. “You come.”

“Yes,” I said again, though the word had lost all meaning to me. It was only a collection of sounds that sort of fit together in a clumsy symphony.

Somehow, the fact that I was slowly losing my grip of the English language should have occurred to me. At that moment, though, I was being guided by Marek’s strong arm into the apartment building.

“I mean, no! No!” I gasped out, finally, feeling as though I’d just surfaced from deep underwater. I wanted to rub the salt and sting out of my eyes, even though none were present. “No, I’m - wow. Uh, sorry. Another time.” I shrugged his arm off of me, and stood there for a moment, fists clenched at my sides.

“Marek! Chodź tu!”

It was Georg, the landlord and Marek’s father.

Marek’s face dissolved into a smear of resentment and resignment. He chucked his cigarette into the street and turned back to me, all humor again, all jokester, faux-slugging my shoulder. “Another time, eh, Jeremy?”

“Sure,” I said, as Georg’s white head came into view. He was already speaking strongly, in Polish, admonishing Marek for something he’d yet to do. Marek was already responding, in the aggrieved tone of someone half his age, walking away from his father.

I hurried up the stairs. A new thought had come to mind.

Of the three people that had access to my apartment, Marek was one of them. And I was willing to bet he’d been fucking with me - all he did was fuck with me - and breaking in at night.

My spine tingled with fear and revulsion, imagining Marek prowling around my neat and ordered kitchen, chugging his Coors Light and leaving the cans in the sink. Or, God almighty, even sneaking into my bedroom as I slept, prying my book from my —

I retched, and almost fell over the top two steps as I stumbled towards my apartment. Tears of shame and violation sprang to my eyes and blinded me, but I reached the doorknob and shut myself into my apartment, falling down behind the door as it shut, mercifully securely, behind me.

In my pocket, my phone started to hyperventilate, and I ignored it, feeling the blood thumping in my brain. It continued to vibrate, insistent, urgent. I sighed and pulled it out of my pocket. Who could be calling me, and for what reason? I inspected the pulsing blue light of the screen, searching, trying to find the words in all the flashing lights…


13.

“I felt bad,” I explained to him. “I didn’t want it to seem like, you know, I didn’t want to hang out with you.”

After awhile, the smoky smell of his apartment didn’t even bother me. It was just like it faded into the background. Every once in awhile, I’d add my own jet of smoke into the air, adding to its fabric. “Is all good, Jeremy,” Marek said, his face splitting into an aw-shucks kind of grin. “Father needed work, anyway.”

“Ah,” I said, and took another sip of beer from the can.

“You drink like woman,” Marek observed from across the table. He was in his armchair, and I was in my favorite spot, the one by the arm, with easy access to the ashtray and a coaster. “You even sit like woman.” He grunted, and thrust his two legs out, as far as they could go, slouching into the chair. “You see?”

I tried it, for shits and giggles. It felt good. Relaxed. My worn-in jeans, perhaps a little too worn in, didn’t quite work with the sudden motion, though, and I heard a sound of them ripping down the crotch as I thrust.

“Oh, fuck,” I heard myself saying. “You’re kidding.”

Marek’s eyes widened, and he burst into his staccato sounding laughter, like a machine gun fired in a cement room. “You OK, Jeremy?”

“Yeah, I … look, I’ll be honest, I think my pants just ripped.”

“You are like clown man,” Marek said, grinning, literally slapping his thigh with continued bursts of laughter. “Here. You wait.” He got up, limping off towards a room down the hallway. I heard the sound of a drawer opening, and then shutting again.

A second later, a piece of fabric flung itself out of the dimness and landed at my feet. I looked at it. It was a shiny silver pair of basketball shorts, with some rips and some pilling. “For now,” Marek was saying as he returned. “Is OK, is good.”

He returned to his seat, gesturing, opening himself a fourth beer. Or fifth. I couldn’t keep track, he drank them so quickly. Guzzled them, actually, with his unshaven Adam’s apple pounding in his throat.

I shuffled off one sneaker with one foot, hesitantly. “Uh, you got a — bathroom, or something?”

“No, is fine. We all men.” His eyes glittered again.

“I’ve heard of someone giving you the shirt off their back, but — “ I tried, and failed to make the joke. Marek sat there, his attention on packing a bowl with green buds. “Okay.”

I shuffled off the other sneaker, and then quickly, awkwardly, slid out of the destroyed jeans, hopping with my socked feet as quickly as I could into the charity shorts. Once situated, I relaxed back onto the couch - this time, like Marek had described.

“There, you see?” Marek grinned again, positively beaming. “Much more … how you say. Przyjemny.” He fumbled with English, trying to find the right word. “Better relax.”

“Comfortable,” I said, and nodded. I did feel more comfortable in Marek’s shorts, beer in one hand, cigarette in the other. I even nodded my head along to the music he was playing.

“Na zdrowie,” said Marek, cryptically, and lit up the bowl.

“Whatever you say,” I said back, and cheersed him back with my beer…

“Ah, fuck,” he erupted, and sloshed back his beer. “Work. Fix sink in 2L for father before he back from work.”

“Work?” I was confused. Oh, right. He was the super. “Ahh, right. OK then. I’ll … be on my way.”

I went to stand up, but felt a sudden rush of dizziness. My tinnitus swept frenziedly from ear to ear, like a bat gone insane. “Whoa.” I grabbed onto one of the arms of the ratty couch for support.

Marek grinned. “You like beers,” he proclaimed. “Maybe you meet friends.”

“Friends?”

“You know. How you say, like. Pieprzyć.” He guffawed at this, scratching at his groin with his right hand. I could read the knuckles: B - R - E - A.

So his knuckles read KING BREA.

Who the fuck was that…?


14.

Marek was standing in front of the van, and the sun was reflecting off of the hood, singeing my eyes with its fury. I blinked, winced, and stepped back to the curb, barely hanging onto my Newport.

It was exactly the kind of panel vehicle you’d see in an episode of SVU; no windows on the back, painted entirely white and sporting a variety of street-scars from minor fender benders, or collisions with parked objects.

On the front side door, a variety of peeling block letters, so destroyed that it was impossible to see which business the van belonged to.

Marek threw open the side door and I could see that it was stuffed to the ceiling with various tools. “You keep your tools in your van?” I said, out loud.

“Not expensive ones,” said Marek, shooting me a sly smile. “Bring in house. Safe.”

“Yeah. Safe,” I muttered to myself, darkly, flashing on an image of my book in the garbage, ripped to shreds.

“Here,” he said with a grunt, thrusting some kind of machine at me, its tail dragging behind it in a knotted mess. I caught it, but barely.

“What’s this?” I asked, staring at it.

His answer was lost in the interior of the van. I didn’t ask again, since I didn’t care that much.

My thoughts wandered. It was chilly. I could feel the winter wind grabbing at my bare shinbones. My skin retracted slightly, and I could feel my socks sliding down to my ankles. “You are cold?” Inquired Marek, suddenly.

“No,” I replied. “Let’s just do this and get it over with, huh?”

“You are the one who is offering help,” said Marek, and returned to his tool hunt.

“Huh?” I what? I offered to help with what?

I searched my memory, but all I could come up with was the basement apartment, where I spent a good amount of time smoking and drinking with Marek. I remembered ripping my jeans - I’d needed new ones, anyway - but when on Earth did I volunteer to help him out with his job, fixing something in one of the apartments?

“Hey,” I said. “Hey!”

“Eh?” Marek slid out again, dusting off his hands. “Found it. Come.” He clapped me on the shoulder again, and I was snagged by a fit of coughing - a cough which originated somewhere deep in my lungs and ratcheted up into my throat and mouth. I bent double, dropping the machine, with Marek’s hands clapping futilely on my back.

My vision pulsed black around the edges, and the sounds around me grew muffled and garbled. “I - “

Jaromir. Jeremy! You OK?”


“I, think so. Yeah.” I shook my head. The tinnitus was gone. I felt like my ears had popped after being on a long and arduous flight. “My ears just popped.”

Marek stared at me as though I had turned into a brick wall. “You know, like, when you’re flying, and your ears … “ I made a “popping” motion at the sides of my head. “Dizzy.”

“Dizzy,” he repeated, and then shook his head. “Sure, OK. Dizzy.” He laughed, and we started back towards the apartment. “Come. Losing time…”


15.

I’d had an idea.

After hanging out with Marek, we’d seen his father, and I explained to Marek that I’d lost my key, and needed to make a copy. Could I borrow his copy until I could make my own?

Of course, Georg assented, and slipped the key off the ring right in front of me, pressing it into my hand with a doubtful, critical look to accompany it. “Tomorrow,” he said, finally, and nodded before walking away.

I hadn’t lost my key. It was, in fact, still hanging in its spot just inside the door. But if I had all the keys, then no one else had any of the keys, and so I could sleep soundly for once, knowing I would wake up with everything in its own place. I didn’t like this apartment anymore. It didn’t feel safe. Even with the windows and the doors continually checked and locked. Even with both keys in my possession.

The apartment was whirling around me like a scene from a horror movie. I gulped, tasted bile, swallowed it down. Sipped shakily at a glass of water.

It was almost bedtime. I’d have to be up early in the morning to get to work - the weekend had come to a close, and much faster than I’d imagined it would. I barely had had time to prep my meals for the week, and I hadn’t even taken the laundry. I’d have to dig deep in my wardrobe to find something all right to wear to the job, and just take the lot of it tomorrow.

“Tomorrow…” I breathed out, leaning my head back to rest on the couch cushions. In, and out. Dispel the whirls. Breathe, and exhale. Easy and slow. Easy and slow…


16.

I woke up fast, jerked up out of a dreamless sleep as if I were on fire. I looked around, both ways, bleary and sleep-fuzzed.

It was dim in the apartment, but not night time. The light of morning streamed in from the bedroom door.

I’d passed out on my living room couch, still in Marek’s shorts, still with my sneakers on. I’d have to go down and return them. After I washed them. But they were really comfortable. I didn’t want to return them, not really.

I yawned and stretched and scratched myself and wondered about coffee, or an energy drink, or a beer. Something wet. My mouth was fourteen kinds of dry, and my tongue would barely move in my mouth.

I heaved myself up from the couch and shambled into the kitchen, scratching at my face. It’d been a few days since I’d shaved, and I was getting bristly. It’s not that I hadn’t shaved - I remember specifically going into the bathroom, picking up the razor and shaving cream, but then getting … distracted, by something, and forgetting that I was doing it.

Besides, I did look kinda better with a little scruff, even if it was patchy. Made me look a little … tougher, a little more masculine. Should really keep the hair on top trimmed, though, I thought to myself, rubbing a hand over my shaggy head. Maybe a skin fade. Those look cool.

I had some things to do, but I was putting them off. First, something wet - and the first thing my hand hits when I open the fridge is a cold can of Coors Light. I don’t even care what it is, I crack it, I swig it, and I instantly feel better.

Hair of the dog, and all that. It hits my system fast, and I find myself listing to one side a little, grinning sloppily. It doesn’t take much to reignite the drunk, I suppose. I hiccuped, comically, and dug around in my pockets for a lighter and a smoke. Maybe Marek’s around, I thought to myself dimly, and I can smoke up with him.

Out on the landing, I felt a weird stillness about the apartment building. Usually, there were some noises coming from the insides - muted, but still chatter in a foreign language. Today, nothing but silence. The only movements were my own, coming down the stairs, squeaking on the linoleum a bit. I frowned down at my black New Balance. The sole was detaching on one side from the upper, and flopped around just enough to be annoying when I walked.

I got to Marek’s door, which was shut, and knocked.

No one answered.

“Where’d you go?” I asked the air. “I know you’re not at church.”

That’s probably where everyone else in the building is, since it’s Sunday.

Wait. Yesterday was Sunday.

It’s … Monday.

It’s almost noon on Monday!

I bolted back up the stairs, two, three at a time, diving into my apartment and to the couch, where the black oblong of my phone sat. I flipped it over, and registered with mounting panic the number of missed calls and texts, all from Work, emails, all sorts of Work-related business, and I hurriedly scrolled through as much as I could. I’d never been late before, let alone just not show up, or answer any calls… I had to do something, and fast.

And then a cooling, drifting sensation chilled my body, as though I’d left a window open somewhere in the apartment and a gust of winter wind slipped inside. I stood still, my mouth hanging open, and found myself curiously unable to move, or think. If I’m honest, it felt … nice. It felt … real nice. It gave me an incredible erection, one of the hardest I’d ever been.

My hand was freed from the invisible bondage, and I let it drift to my cock, right there in the kitchen, plunging into Marek’s shorts and beginning to pleasure myself, eyes fluttering half-shut.

A deep part of me was echoing something, something shrieky and shrill, and I shut it down with barely a swat. This was what was important. This, right now, my hard cock. Everything else faded with a ghostly moan into the background. Only this mattered.

I came with a sweeping roar of sensation, buffeting my entire being - I exploded into the shorts with a surprisingly guttural sound, abrading my throat as I uttered it. And the image I held in my mind was Marek, grinning in my mind’s eye, slumped against his door, staring at me with his black, rat-like eyes, arms crossed over his bare chest.

Instantly, as though a low-pressure front had suddenly moved on, I felt a gust of shame, a powerful, negative sensation, and I moaned in confusion. Marek … was my best friend. My bro. How could I be jerking off over my best friend?

Still whirling, I crept into my bed, pulled the sheets up over my head, and slammed my eyes shut. My breath heaved in and out of me, and I couldn’t alter the tempo of it.

I wriggled out of Marek’s shorts and kicked them away from me. I was still sticky. I threw the covers back and noticed my phone on the bedside table. It was lighting up, again. I saw out of the corner of my eye that it was MAREK calling me.

Which is when the pounding on the door started. “Jeremy! Bro!”

I put the pillow over my head and tried to breathe evenly. Nothing was making sense. I felt like I’d inhaled some goofy gas or something, something that was making me doubt what was real. My bedroom was real. My pillow and sheets were real.

My rising boner was real, even as I was drifting into the sliding puzzle of unconsciousness…


17.

You can’t sleep forever, even if you want to. At some point, your eyes pop open, and you realize where you are if, if not immediately when you are.

It happened to me, hours later, groggy as fuck, with a painful erection. My bedroom smelled like sex, the thick, musky aroma of cum still icing the stale air. Was it days, or hours? How long had I passed out for?

I had to face the music at some point. I’d just … skipped an entire day of work, without even registering what day it was. Furthermore, I found myself uncaring. Maybe I could make up an excuse, say I was in the hospital, anything, really.

I shook my head and flung the covers back, rubbing at my eyes. It was dark in the room, but the shades weren’t pulled. I’d slept the whole day away.

The shadows were twisting and jumping. The wind outside was howling, and rain flung itself against the windowpanes in a frenzied, staccato pattern. From the apartment below, I could hear the muffled sounds of raised voices, arguing in Polish.

I got out of bed and shuffled towards the kitchen. There, the wind was even rougher, and I could feel the building responding to its assaults by creaking and groaning in protest. I opened the fridge and pulled out a beer, cracking its top immediately and guzzling down its refreshing, clear contents.

I rubbed at my chin and face, surprised at the amount of stubble and grizzle that was there. A quick glance in the bathroom mirror confirmed - I looked years older with a darkening beard around my jaw and mouth. My eyes even looked hooded, half-lidded, like a stoner’s aloof gaze. I yawned and scratched at my face idly. The beer was helping - a litle fuzz around the edges of my thoughts - and I casually stripped off my clothes to get into the shower.

The water drizzling down - I’d always had bad water pressure - made lazy rivulets through my unkempt hair and beard as I stood beneath the shower head. I played with myself, idly, thinking how long it had been since I’d hooked up with anyone.

And still, the image of Marek lingered there on the edges. I could still see his tattoos, his scrawny arms and shit-eating grin. It conjured up a host of memories, as though I’d clicked through a folder of photographs -

Marek on the couch, still in sweats and some brand-new looking Jordans, playing a first-person shooter on his Xbox.

Marek in a t-shirt two sizes too big for him, yanking at the belt on his pants, almost tripping over his unlaced Timberlands.

Marek in his basement apartment, watching with arms crossed as one of his friends fucked me in the ass. The smell of marijuana and sex coiling in the air. The casual, indifferent look on his face as he flipped through his phone, the screen brightening his face. His eyes had no irises - the entire globe was ink-dark.

I came again, and my mouth curved into an unbidden grin of lust… and then shaped itself into an O of terror. I clawed at the walls. I screamed soundlessly…


18.

Someone’s been in my apartment again.

I’ve given up on figuring out who or what has been here. I’ve decided that I just need to move out, and I should’ve done it a long time ago. I need to put distance between myself and this place. Maybe it is haunted.

Now the recycling is overflowing with empty beer cans, and my bookshelves are thinning out with a surprising speed. It’s almost as though someone else is living in my apartment in the times when I’m not here, as though they’re just somehow always behind me, or just outside my peripheral vision.

This morning, I found two brand-new pairs of Jordans in my bedroom, scattered next to the bed as though someone had just slipped out of them and then crawled into bed - my bed - to sleep.

I got an uncontrollable case of the shudders, and slipped on a hoodie to ward off the chill. It was only when the sweater fell oddly, bulkily, around my frame, that I realized the hoodie wasn’t mine - it was an XL sized, Jumpman branded hoodie.

I wanted to yell in despair. It felt like my life was being swallowed whole by this presence, this night prowler - as though I were being systematically erased, and eventually one day, I’d come home to find the locks changed.

Who, then, would I become?

I started gathering the things that I recognized as my own and packed them away into boxes, into duffel bags. I’d start getting ready to move now. The “new” stuff, the things that belonged to the “intruder,” I left where they were. I’d move out and I’d move on with my life. This stalking situation, despite the fact that I had both sets of keys, was getting to be too much.

I was getting ready to go to work. I slid on a comfortable pair of jeans and a t-shirt, did up a button-down, and then cast about for my shoes. My tried-and-true black New Balance 574s. They were nowhere to be found. I checked everywhere in the small apartment - by the front door, by the couch, under the bed, under my desk. They did not turn up.

Resignedly, I looked to the Jordans. There were two pairs - one were the … retro 6s, the carmine colorway. The other was a Bred colorway retro 13 - mostly black, but with bright red accents. Either way, they’d be noticed, especially at my job, where most people just wore comfortable office shoes, if not plain wingtips. A few of the “bros” wore some flashy sneakers, but I didn’t have much to do with them.

I sighed and slid my feet into the 13s, figuring the black might not be noticed as much as the flashy white, and looked at myself in the mirror. All told, it didn’t look that bad - my button-down was a red and black plaid, so it even matched. I turned this way, that, moved my feet around in the Jordans, and even let myself grin and throw up middle fingers at my reflection.

Man, I needed to shave, I thought, scratching at my beard. Hopefully, work would just let the missing day slide, and I wouldn’t have to worry about any disciplinary action, or anything like that.

I slipped my backpack on over my shoulder and headed for the door, locking it behind me, testing the doorknob out of routine - it was locked securely. I put the keys in my pocket and whistled tunelessly as I descended to the first floor. Now that I had a plan, I was back in control of my life. The intruder could intrude all they wanted - I was moving out.

“Jeremy!”

My heart sank a bit as I grabbed the lintel to hit the first floor - I was going to dash to the front door, throw it wide, and escape into the cold world outside like a convict from the pen - “Hey, Marek,” I said, feebly, feeling at once very clumsy, and very tired, as though shackles had attached to my body.

“You are OK?” He approached out of the dimness, materializing with a concerned look on his scruffy face. He was, again, shirtless, shuffling along in slides and white socks, still in sweatpants.

“Yeah, yeah,” I bluffed. “Feelin’ good. Gotta, uh, gotta get to work though.”

He crossed his arms over his chest and blinked. “Work?”

“Yeah, my job. So, sorry I can’t chat, but - “

“I thought you fired.”

“What?”

“Fired.” He pointed at me, and shrugged. “That is what you said last night. Before we drink. A lot.” He grinned. “You drink a lot, Jaromir.”

The reality of my hangover crashed down into me like a cartoon anvil. Suddenly, my head was splitting, and my mouth was as dry as asphalt in July. “Fuck,” I breathed.

“You need smoke,” Marek said calmly, but his mouth was twitching at the corners, as though he were barely concealing a laugh. “Make better.”

“Yeah,” I said. It would. God, would it ever. I could just float away on the gray cloud of relaxation and ease that the marijuana imparted.

“Come on,” Marek said. “No worries.” Then he looked down, and his face split into a grin … of pride? “Nice kicks,” he said, pointing to the 13s.

I experienced, more than felt, my body responding to Marek’s directive. He made a “come-on” motion with his hands, and I felt myself gliding, stumbling once, across the floor to the mouth of his humid basement apartment.

He was right, of course. I had been fired, hadn’t I? I’d received an email. But that was the second day … no, I’d only missed one day. Hadn’t I?

And yeah, my kicks were pretty sick. Comfortable as fuck, too.

“Relax,” Marek said, and clapped me firmly on the shoulder, shaking me a little. “Relax, Jaromir.”

The way he said my name made me feel funny - funny ha-ha, like bubbling up with giggles. I restrained myself, though, feeling my eyes half-lid with fatigue and the weed.

“You can talk to me,” Marek was saying, detachedly, taking a huge rip from the glass pipe. Clouds of smoke pillowed out into the air, disintegrating into hypnotic spirals and whorls as they floated away.

We were sitting on his couch. I was in my spot. The video game was paused, but the screen still moved with animations and minute flickers of light.

“I’m gonna need a job,” I said distantly. “Can’t not have a job, yo.”

“You can work for me,” Marek said, easily.

“What?” My mind was turning, slowly, sluggishly.

“Sure,” he said, shrugging. “Need help with job, Father owns many buildings. You will be … “ He struggled with the English, noticeably. “Helper.”

“I don’t know much about what you do,” I said, uncertainly. I felt like something huge and uncertain was hanging in a very, very delicate balance, and that I shouldn’t do anything to disturb it, lest it fall …

“Think about it,” Marek said, and snatched up his controller. At once, the game resumed, and I found myself staring dumbly at the big screen as it dwarfed my vision, my ability to think, and any other sensation…


19.

It was late afternoon when I mounted the stairs again, two by two, to my third-floor apartment. It felt strange, as though my actions were super-imposed on my actions, living through repeated muscle memory. It wouldn’t be my apartment, I figured, by the time I got to the top landing, opened the door, I’d be entering into someone else’s -

The door was open.

Not all the way, but enough that I could see inside. It swung slightly, as though just moved, as though inviting me inside … or warning me to stay out.

I scratched at my head, still feeling the itchy buzz of marijuana and beer. To Marek, being unemployed was just another reason to get fucked up, and honestly, seeing how my life had completely and irrevocably changed in one day, I didn’t give much of a fuck either. I welcomed it. I sank deeply into the arms of the booze and the weed, feeling the world swim by me.

“Who’s there?” I asked out loud, angrily, before moving past the threshhold.

Nothing within responded. Nothing without responded.

“I know you’re in there,” I said, with a bit of tremor in my voice. “I’m giving you this last warning to get the fuck out and stay out.”

Still, nothing.

“All right,” I said, more bravely than I felt. “I’m coming in.”

And in I went.

To my surprise, very little had changed. I was expecting an entirely different apartment, for some reason - with every little detail completely foreign to me. The entryway, the kitchen, even the bathroom - it was all the same.

A rustle down the hall perked up my ears — and my heart rate — and I turned to look toward my bedroom. I could see the western sun fibrillating the blinds, casting barred shadows on the hardwoods. I could see the swirl of dust motes in the air, moving in something’s wake, and all the hairs on the back of my neck stood up at once, ramrod. Everything inside of me pulsed Klaxon red - get out, get out - but I stood my ground.

This was my apartment, goddamnit.

I slammed the door shut behind me and felt the walls shudder with its impact. I was blinded by a sudden rage - it filled me up behind the eyes, jolted every muscle into motion, and I strode off down the hall, fists balled and ready for a fist-fight. My pulse was hammering at my wrists, at my throat, even down to the insides of my knees. I felt sweat trickling down from my temple.

Nothing.

No one.

I stepped into my bedroom, moving carefully around. The boxes and bags I’d packed earlier were gone, disappeared as if into the dust swirling casually around the room.

But they hadn’t disappeared. I’d taken them to Goodwill. I’d taken them with…


20.

Marek. He had helped me load it into his van. We’d had to move some of the tools out, locking them inside his apartment, but most of the boxes and bags I’d packed up fit inside the back of the panel van. “Safe,” Marek had reiterated, with a sly grin.

“Be glad to get rid of some junk,” I said.

“Happy can help,” said Marek cheerfully, clapping me on the shoulder. “You will see, Jaromir. Is better this way. My way.”

“Is better,” I repeated, slowly, unsure of myself.

“Have smoke,” Marek said as we climbed into the front seats, proferring me the bowl. It was dingy and grimy in the van, and fast food wrappers rustled at our feet like little animals. I lit up, and inhaled deeply, greedily, and the fuzzy sensation rushed back in. I felt like I was dreaming.

Maybe I was.

It was mid-day, and the sun was beating hotly down on a still winterized world. Marek handed me a pair of shades, some cheapo black mirrored pair he’d probably got at a Rite-Aid, or a gas station.

The van shuddered, as though it were recalcitrant to abet us in our task, and made whining, guttural noises from under the hood.

“I will teach you to fix,” said Marek, as if from a distance, his eyes fixed on the road ahead. He chewed loudly and importantly on peppermint gum, the scent of which was overpowering alongside his heavy use of cheap cologne. That, mixed with the stale scent of cigarette smoke … well, at first it gave me a headache, but I was quickly becoming used to it.

I nodded. “Sure,” I said.

“You will see. New life. Is better. You didn’t want, at first, no?”

“No,” I said. Everything was wrapped in a hazy, gauzy light. I felt like I was tripping.

I could see, from the way he held his hands on the steering wheel, that his tattoo didn’t read KING BREA, as I’d thought - it read

BREA KING.

“Breaking,” I said, with my mouth full of cotton. I needed a drink.

“Eh?” Marek risked a glance at me.

“Your tats,” I said, motioning to his fists. “Breaking.”

“Ah,” he chuckled, darkly. “Yes. Breaking. I break things, a long time ago. In old country, I was Marek the Breaking.”

“Why?” I said, confused.

“Break to build,” he said, even more confusingly, and smiled. Once again, his eyes lacked irises - were a shiny, total black. I yelped in fear, and his right hand came down on my shoulder again. “Relax, Jaromir. Relax…”


21.

I clenched and unclenched my fists rapidly, my breath coming in fits and starts.

It was Marek. He’d been the night creeper, the breaker and enterer, the invader of my life. How he’d gotten in, well, I don’t know, but he’d gotten in like a shadow under the crack of the door, and he’d wedged himself into my life somehow. He’d confused me, he’d tricked me. Was he some kind of demon? What the fuck was with his eyes?

And why had I completely blacked that out?

“Losing time…” Marek had said, and it was true. I had lost time. I’d lost great big chunks of it.

And in those blackouts, while I was sleeping, he must’ve snuck into my place and re-arranged things. Threw things out. Dissected my book, thrown it in the garbage. All along, I thought it was some kind of burglar, or some kind of haunting - all along, it had been him. Marek.

Invader. Breaker. Enterer.

I began to shudder uncontrollably as my memory flooded back to me, in fits and starts. All the things I’d done, and forgotten about. The days I spent, high and drunk in Marek’s apartment, while he held onto my phone for me. “Safe,” he said, every time, as if that explained it. He said that I’d be too high to see if someone was calling me from my job. I wouldn’t be missed, he explained, soothingly. How could I disagree? I was a low level employee who was hardly even an individual … taking a few days off, even ungranted ones, how could it possibly matter?

Of course it mattered! I’d spent days, soaking up beer and sucking down smoke, bleary and witless, splayed on Marek’s couch, not even knowing what day it was. I’d lost my job. I’d let my carefully constructed life fall into flinders all around me, and here I was, even now, setting fire to the ashes!

I straightened up, not even realizing I’d bent down to pick up the phone, which was vibrating intensely, spinning its blue whorl of color directly at my eyes.

No. I slammed the phone down, screen first, and stared directly into the darkness.

The only sound I heard was my heart, thudding madly against my rib cage.

I couldn’t think. I was lost. Where could I go? With no job, and dwindling funds, I could probably barely even afford to make rent here.

Not that I could stay. Not after what Marek had done to me.

I could tell his father.

No, he’d never believe me. What would I say? That his son had put some kind of spell on me? No, I’d done it all to myself. I’d made choices, and now I was paying the consequences.

I was getting hard, thinking about it, too. Thinking about how I was helpless to make any other choice but the one Marek had made for me. Thinking about that time I got up to go, and I’d felt his heavily-inked hand settling on my shoulder, his onyx eyes settling deeply on my own… it was clear, in that moment, what decision I needed to make — and that decision was no decision. I didn’t need to choose. I just needed to sit still. Sit still, smoke, obey.

“You need to answer your phone when it rings, Jaromir,” came a voice out of the dark, then, and I jolted back to reality. Or whatever this was.

“It’s you,” I hissed. “What have you done to me?”

“Nothing,” Marek said, coming into the rapidly dimming light of the day. The blinds made their barred shadows over his face, over his body. He had on another extra-baggy t-shirt, sweatpants, and a sick pair of Jordan retro 4s. I knew them as well as my own, since I had a pair of my own, now. On the wall with the other Jordans, Nikes, and the other hand-me-down sneakers that Marek had gifted to me. “I did nothing you didn’t do yourself.” He shrugged. “Were you happy?”

“I was myself!” I raged. “I was who I was!”

“Were you?” His eyebrow waggled comically, and his grin tilted. “I thought you wanted my help.”

“I — what?” I sagged in confusion again. Had I asked for this?

No, of course not.

“Yes. You asked me to change you.” He shrugged. “Not, you know, in words. But I hear you, anyway. Your thoughts.”

“You hear my thoughts.” I stared at him incredulously. “You’re sick, Marek, you know that? Fucked in the head.”

“Everyone is fucked,” he said, somberly. “You more fucked than others, yes?” He laughed, and images flooded my mind again - his friends, fucking me, down in his shitty bedroom apartment, my legs up and over my head, still with my sick kicks on -

“Goddamnit!” I shouted, and flung myself at him, fists flying, screaming unintelligbly. “You fucking ruined my life!”

“Relax, relax…” He fended off my attacks easily, more powerfully than I could have expected, his wiry arms easily subduing my flails, grabbing me and freezing me in a hold that I couldn’t wriggle out of. “So what will you do?” His stale breath hissed into my ear, and I heard that same high ringing sound, that same tinnitus, needle-sharp, behind his words. “Go back?”

“I … I can’t,” I sobbed.

“No, you can’t,” he said. “So, what will you do?”

“I can leave! I can … I can, move out, I can find another place, I can … “

“Can you?”

“No, I don’t even have a job, I don’t … fuck!”

“Relax, relax…” He stroked my head, and I felt a sudden instinct, a strange one, a fierce and loyal one, blossoming inside of me. I curled into him, still sobbing, face wet with emotion and confusion. “You are safe.”

“I could … I could tell your father,” I tried weakly, as a last salvo against the encroaching darkness.

“No,” said Marek, almost sadly. “Is that it?”

“That’s … yes,” I said, and I surrendered to the dark glint of his pupils as he pulled me in for a lasting, rough kiss, my mouth to his as though he were vaccuuming out the last vestiges of my personality…


22.

“I want to fuck you,” he said, clearly, but as always, heavily affected by his accent.

“Fuck. Yes,” I said, drooling a little. I was always drooling a little these days. Marek had to constantly, almost tenderly, wipe at the corner of my mouth. Sometimes my eyes drooled too, a little leak of tears that had to be sniffled back or wiped with a corner of my shirt.

Well, not my shirt. Marek was letting me borrow some of his clothes, since I didn’t really have any of my own, anymore.

“You want that?” He was asking me, as though I had some kind of choice in the matter. His hand on the nape of my neck was forcing my head to move, up and down.

Where were we?

In the front seat of the panel van. On a job. It was … Tuesday?

The sun strobed through the filmy windshield, and I took another drag off my Newport, letting the gray smoke fill my lungs, and exhaled through my nostrils like Marek had taught me to. “Yes,” I said, even after Marek’s hand had left my neck.

He grinned sloppily. “Good,” he said, patting my leg vigorously. “And today, you get your first ink, yes?”

“Yes,” I said, sleepily. I dimly remembered I had an appointment somewhere, in the neighborhood, with one of Marek’s friends. “With Karol.”

“Yes,” said Marek, encouragingly. “You are ready, now.”

“Yes,” I confirmed, by rote.

The outside world sped by, and I barely registered the individual houses or the people walking by on the sidewalks.

The van entered into a tunnel, and all the world was swallowed up in its sudden darkness.

As I watched the darkness speed by, the ringing in my ears intensified, and the sound of the van over the asphalt got louder and louder. I opened my mouth as if to speak, and then, in the next instant, shut it again.

At the end of the tunnel, the light was growing brighter and brighter, intensifying. I felt a scream rising from somewhere in the back of my mind, but it never made it to my face.

In the windshield ahead, I could see my dim reflection. Not my face, but my face now. It was as heavily stubbled as Marek’s - hell, we could have passed for brothers - and just as sunken-in. My hairline was receding, but then - hadn’t it always been?

My phone rang, just then, and I turned it over sleepily in my hand. It was Georg, Marek’s father. My boss’ boss, I guess you could say.

Dzien dobry,” I heard myself say, the twisting and sibilant sounds of Polish flowing out of my mouth, unnaturally naturally. “Tak, w drodze.”

I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Marek’s grin grow wider, triumphant. I figured it was just from passing some dupek on the highway. Georg wanted to know where we were, how long it was going to take us to get to the job.

I didn’t know, and eventually Georg exasperatedly hung up on me. I was getting used to that kind of treatment - most of the folks I hung around with, all Marek’s friends, regarded me as kind of an idiot because of how slowly I had to talk. Around them, Marek wouldn’t let me speak English, and let’s just say Polish isn’t the easiest language to learn.

“Here,” said Marek, and I blinked. We’d gone from the tunnel to the job site as fast as I could blink. More lost time.

I was getting used to it. More comfortable with just trusting Marek - nothing important happened during those times. I was just someone who sometimes had blackouts. I needed Marek. He might not have been the best-looking guy out there, but I knew I could trust him to look out for me. We might not have been brothers, but he was the closest thing I’d ever had to one. I felt good with him.

I felt …

Safe.

Hot
Mind control
Wanking material
Writing
Idea
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