When The Shadow Begs to DanceDecember 27, 2017
The Janitor, the weasel. His eyes are sunken in, bloodshot from not sleeping the last two and a half nights, visions of the Muskrat filtering past the occasionally vodka sloshed outer cortex, no doubt. His apartment is likely trashed, brown water stains surrounding leaky, exposed pipe with white and green minerals growing at the seams. Least I hope they are minerals. They could be spores of mold. Christ, I hadn’t thought of that.
The Janitor walks his worn wooden floors and looks out of the cracked window pane to see if there is a black sedan illegally parked in front of the fire hydrant. There never is. There will be, though, he must be thinking to himself. He paces back and forth, wearing down the already worn floorboards and just has to wonder what sort of stain his brain matter will create when it hits that worn, wooden floor.
The Janitor. What a fucking waste of a human being. He is skinny from not eating and drinking just a little too much. He smokes too. Fucking smokers, right? His hair is chopped unevenly above his ears. I think he cuts it himself. He eventually pulls on his green coveralls and looks outside his cracked window pane and sees for the eighteenth time today that there is no black sedan waiting for him. It won’t be a black sedan, I’m afraid, but I don’t think he knows that yet. He then looks around his broken room and maybe thinks about how he has come to this. Maybe thinks about how the Muskrat will get him. He should have slept, but who could sleep with the Muskrat lurking about?
Work is a four floor office building just a little too far on the wrong side of the tracks for them to charge very much rent. The Janitor comes in just as the sun is setting and the fat slobs in cheap ties and white shirts are leaving for the night. I don’t think he knows what they do in the building. He only knows simple things about them, like that they don’t recycle as much as they should. He knows they leave soda and frosting stains on the conference room floor every time someone has a birthday. I think they are a call center for some other company. They might sell some kind of office supply, I’m not entirely sure, and neither is The Janitor.
The Janitor goes around collecting trash cans and emptying their contents into a big translucent plastic bag, the kind that rip if you look at them too hard. He is thinking about the Muskrat, no doubt. Is it Muskrat? Or is it something else? He thinks it’s something close to that, probably. English is not The Janitors’ first or even second language, but he has heard stories in bars, no doubt. He knows enough. I wonder, for a moment, what will happen when he is found.
Shit. The Janitor wakes up. He has fallen asleep somehow. He is wondering how much time has passed. The plain looking clock on the wall tells him it was only a few minutes. He reaches into his pocket and finds an orange little plastic bottle that has a name on it that is not his. He presses down and twists the safety cap and withdraws two pills that will help with his drowsiness.
Two small offices clean, he moves on to the main conference room. Half a leftover cake. It will make a decent meal so he reaches for it, but there is a sound coming from the hall that makes him stop. He turns around and sees something, perhaps a slithering shadow that moves across the doorway just from the corner of his eye. I think he panics for a heartbeat, his eyes becoming wide and dilated in anticipation of an unknown danger. But had there been a danger? Had he seen a shadow pass the door? Had the shadow been a man? Did the man have a razorblade jaw and a rubber face?
No. A trick of the light, he assumes. Down the hall a fluorescent lamp flickers like an insect trapped in a bell jar, sparks of power trying to stay alive though immeasurable torture. He fixes the lamp with one trip to a supply closet, then moves down the hall towards the big offices. The ones at the corners. The ones he is fearing tonight.
The big office flushes fear through his thin cheeks. He is exposed there, with the lights on, he probably feels like he is being watched. Maybe he is. He cannot see out, but all can see in. He is on display. He is being judged and talked about while he empties the trash in this brightly lit fish bowl. This is nonsense. No one cares about The Janitor. If he died tomorrow no one would miss him. He pops another pill and tries to rationalize it, but somewhere in the back of his confused mind is the truth about the pills. He doesn’t need them. He knows he doesn’t need them. But he cannot stop. Sometimes you cannot stop just because something is a truth.
With the big corner office done he retreats into the safety of the dimly lit store room, with its big warehouse windows. There is a cargo elevator that goes down to a loading dock. He looks out of the window and for a moment and I swear he sees something in the shadow, something moving. He keeps rigid attention like he might lose whatever he has seen there if he dares to breathe. He probably thinks it is a cat, but he continues to stare anyhow. He is staring at the depth of the shadow, the hallow space that is filled with nothing. It is strange thing, to look at one spot for so long. You begin to feel it changing in front of your eyes, like it is trying to stare back at you and you are both straining to hold onto the known world, to the thing you have set out to see. Another pill to calm the ill.
I’ve been watching him now far too long. I can’t help it. He fascinates me. His gambling debt needs to be paid, and blood can pay any bill a man owes, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t like The Janitor. I wait for him to turn away from the shadow outside the window. I want him to finish his business there. When he turns he only sees me for a moment. But it is enough. My mask, Halloween discount store trash worn inside out, giving it a gruesome, murderous sycophant quality. He sees this only for a moment, a perfect moment only given to cerebral fear. I hold a razor blade, fresh from the package, and make an exact quarter inch deep incision across his throat in one practiced motion.
The Janitor holds his throat closed, fighting the advancing asphyxiation that will consume him. His neck pours blood quickly, then slowly as he collapses to the floor. His brain is receiving less oxygen than it needs to maintain his equilibrium. The lack of blood feeding oxygen to the rest of his body is making his muscles go into shock. In minutes he will die, but his blood will try and clot the wound anyway. I look at my watch.
I reach into my bag for the staple gun and the large diaper gage gaze. I work fast clearing the blood with the gauze. I confirm that my blade didn’t slice into the trachea. I staple six times across the wound. I check his pulse and blood oxygenation with the pulse oximeter I keep in the bag. They are both low. I remove the small O2 bottle from the bag and open the valve to fifteen PSI and connect the rebreather mask around his head. He is passed out, but breathing on his own, the pure oxygen supplied in the bottle increases his oxygenation. I begin to sew up his stapled wound, working quickly. I use a braided, non-absorbing suture so he will have to pull them out later on his own. When I finish he looks like a monster, but it will heal well over time.
He is still passed out when I pull him from the van and take him to his bed, dragging him across his worn, wooden floorboards. I drop him on his stained, sunken mattress. I use his stove to heat the branding iron. It smells acrid when I burn his skin, just over his heart. I burn it backwards so it can be read in the mirror when he wakes up. It will read to him, “One Week” in his native tongue.
He is stirring when I leave, just before sun up. I check his vitals one last time and set a bottle of Amoxicillin on his kitchen counter with instructions for use. My tools were sanitized, but infection has been known to be a problem in the past. When he wakes up he will know how serious it has gotten. He will know that he can never run from this. When he sees that scar on his neck, the burn over his heart, he will find the money to pay. He knows that if he does not, the Muskrat will find him.
The Muskrat, what a dumb name, but it is fun to think what fear it instills in men despite the furry creature it is derived from. The Janitor will tell his drinking companions about me, about the horror of what happened to him and how he got his scar. He will tell them that a faceless man emerged from the shadows like a dancing spirit and sliced into his neck. He will be confused, but he will find the money to pay within a week, or the shadow will come find him once again. It is always better for a man to pay then it is for a man to die, and a living man will tell the horror stories long after a dead man is forgotten. The Janitor will pay. He will pay or the shadow will come to dance with him again, and maybe next time it won’t be so merciful. Maybe it will drag him back into the depths from which it came.by