The final confession of Reginald Davies, the Butcher of Broad Street

My name is Reginald Harmon Davies, although you might remember me as Demon Davies, the Butcher of Broad Street. I was convicted of murdering twenty-three people over a five year period in central Ohio back in 1998.

My arrest and trial made all the major news outlets, but that was twenty years ago. When I die, I probably won’t even get a name drop on the evening news. Maybe a blurb in the crawl while the sports anchor reads basketball scores, but that’s about it.

I was just informed that my last appeal has been denied. According to the guards I have about 3 hours until they inject me with the blue juice cocktail that will stop my heart. One final trip to the crematorium and then I’m a pile of ash, nothing more.

If you’re reading this, it means my lawyer followed my instructions to get my story out. This isn’t a plea for mercy or a claim of innocence. I am a remorseless monster; I have earned this fate. But I do have one last confession to make before I go. My final victim, one that didn’t make the papers. One the cops didn’t pin on me.

This is about Anna, if that’s even her true name. To be honest there’s much about my encounter with her that frightens me even more than the needle that’s about to go into my arm. Lovely young Anna, and the ride we never took.

(While reading my confession, if you would indulge me in performing one last experiment I would be grateful. Eternally so, as it may be. I’m already dead.

When prompted, I want you track how many breaths you take as you read. That’s it. Breathe as often as you feel the need, but count them with your fingers or mark them on a piece of paper, either works. Just wait until I prompt you to begin counting.

It’s a simple enough task. Plus if you do this, I promise you will learn something about yourself when we reach the end of my story.)

I met Anna in the parking lot outside of a Kroger near Bexley, Ohio on a cold rainy night in November of 1996. It was around 3am, I had just finished work and had stopped to buy ice cream for my daughter’s 7th birthday party on the following weekend.

I’ve forgotten many things over the years, but I’ll never forget that rain. Cold, biting, near freezing, the type of rain that feels like ice picks against your skin. Not the type of weather where you’d expect to see a girl standing all alone late at night.

Anna was wearing a thin light blue cotton dress that clung to her pale skin, far too little clothing for as cold of a night as it was. Her wet black hair hung over her face as she held her shoulders, shivering in the night as she stood under a lamp post next to the cart corral near the back of the lot.

She didn’t look any older than fifteen, but I’m a horrible judge of age. Capital University was just down the road, so she could’ve been a student there. Or a professor; like I said, I’m a horrible judge of age.

I wasn’t hunting that night, but seeing her alone triggered my predator instinct. I approached her and waved hello, offering as warm a smile as I could muster considering the weather.

“Are you okay?” I asked as I walked closer. I could see the goosebumps on her bare arms and legs. I remember wondering if there was any way of preserving those when I peeled her skin off her later.

She smiled through a shiver. “Can you help me? I got lost walking home from a party when this rain hit. I left in a hurry, so I didn’t bring my coat. Can you let me in your car?”

Her teeth chattered as she smiled again, shivering as a cold wind kicked up.

“I’m Anna, by the way,” she said, then added, “with two N’s.”

I couldn’t pinpoint why just yet, but a strange feeling washed over me. This felt wrong. Too easy.

Looking back, it probably how she was offering too much information before it was asked. Maybe it was her own discomfort or her way of trying to set me at ease considering the odd nature of our meeting. Whatever it was, her efforts to comfort me by explaining why she was alone in that parking lot at 3am only led to more uneasiness on my part.

“Which direction are you headed?” I asked.

“Back that way,” she said, throwing her head in the direction of the campus. “Which car is yours? Just let me in, I’ve been shivering out here for hours.”

She smiled again, taking a step closer. I took a step back.

I had a knife hanging from my belt and a gun in my inside jacket pocket. I was far bigger than her and trained in hand to hand combat, so I shouldn’t have had any doubts that I could overpower her should the need come.

But at that moment, I wasn’t so sure. Something was off.

It wasn’t how she was asking, or why she was asking that bothered me. It was what she was asking for.

She wasn’t asking for a ride; she was asking me to let her into my car.

Anna must’ve sensed my apprehension because she offered even more information, seeming to pick the questions from my mind before I could ask them.

“I didn’t have any money, so I couldn’t go in the store,” she said. “Just let me in, please? Before I catch pneumonia?”

The hair on the back of my neck stood up, but not from the rain. I was a hunter, an apex predator, but I did not feel in control of this situation. I felt like prey, just before the snare tightened around my neck.

When I was on the hunt, I took care to stalk my victim from a distance for many days, learning their habits and finding the right moment to approach them. You might think I did most of my work at night, but the truth is I hunted in broad daylight, approaching my targets in crowded places. Places where they felt safe. It was disarming.

Everything about Anna’s appearance should have put me at ease. A young girl, alone, cold. Easy pickings, right? She should’ve seemed helpless or scared, but nothing about her demeanor gave me any indication that she was either of those.

She was in control of the situation, and doing her best to put me in my comfort zone. After all, I was a predator. The best way to hunt a predator was to make yourself look like prey. And that’s exactly what Anna was trying to do to me. It made me wonder if she had been stalking me prior to our meeting that night.

My jacket was zipped, so I shifted the ice cream to my other hand and unbuckled the strap on my knife.

Anna grew annoyed by my indecision to take the bait, letting out a frustrated sigh.

“Come on man, will you let me in or not?” she pouted.

She threw her hair back, looking up at me for the first time.

I felt the overwhelming urge to scream but I was paralyzed in fear, unable to speak or move. It was like sleep paralysis, if you’ve ever experienced that. But I was wide awake, standing upright. All I could muster was a low whimper between my teeth.

(Are you ready for our experiment? Take a deep breath and start counting.)

Her eyes. They were all white, like a marble statue in a museum. No pupils or irises, just a pair of dull white orbs staring back at me with a tiny black pin pricks in the middle.

The look on my face must’ve given me away because her eyes shifted down, away from me. She kicked her foot at a rock on the ground as she giggled. Her intent may have been to disarm me with innocence, proving herself an easy target, but it just creeped me out even more.

“Big strong man like you, afraid of a little girl like me?” she asked. “Please, I’m so cold, just let me in. I won’t hurt you.”

My fear paralysis gave way. My heart pounded in my chest, but I could move again. I was in the snare, but as long as I kept her out of my car I wasn’t too far in to escape.

I turned and walked to my car, hurrying my step. She followed after me.

“Please mister, let me in. There’s no one else, you’re my only hope.”

I walked faster. I heard the clack of her heels as she picked up her pace. I shifted my keys to my other hand and placed my right hand on the hilt of my knife, ready to draw.

“You don’t want to ride with me,” I said, without turning around. “My rides don’t end well.”

“How about you just let me sit in your car to warm up? No driving, just let me in and turn on the heat, please that’s all I ask!”

I took off in a dead sprint to my car, fumbling with the key as I tried to work it into the lock. She took off after me, catching up just as I got the door open and flung my purchases into the passenger seat.

I felt the cold grip of her hand on my elbow. I spun around, acting on instinct as I drew my knife and buried it deep into the middle of her chest.

(Are you still counting your breaths? Good. Keep going, you’ll see how important this is when we reach the end.)

Anna didn’t cry out. She didn’t struggle. She sucked in a gurgling breath and coughed as she clutched her hands at the knife’s handle. Green bile looking blood dripped down the edge of her mouth and stained her teeth as she stared at me, unblinking with those pin pricked marble eyes.

She dropped to the ground, still smiling. She coughed up some more green blood as she tried to speak.

“I almost made it. I almost had you,” she said, giggling in between raspy coughs.

Her giggling grew louder until she was laughing, throwing her head back as the rain washed over her face.

I left my knife and hopped into the car, pulling the door shut and locking it.

When I looked up, I saw them.

Two more dark haired kids standing on the passenger side of the car. Both the same indiscriminate age as Anna, both with milky white eyes with tiny black pin pricks in the center.

The shorter of the two, a boy, leaned his face against the passenger window.

“Can you let us in? It’s so cold out here,” he said. He smiled through chattering teeth.

I reaching over and slammed my fingers on the lock button. It was already locked, but couldn’t be too careful.

“Please?” The taller one added as a grin spread across his face. His teeth looked sharper than they had any business being.

I didn’t reply. I started the car and peeled out of the parking space. Before exiting the grocery store parking lot I took one last look back in the rear-view mirror. The two boys were dragging Anna’s body into the trees along the side of the store.

(Keep counting, it’ll be worth it when we get to the end, I promise.)

The next day my knife was found. No Anna, no green blood. But it still had my prints, and it didn’t take long for investigators to link it to a string of unsolved homicides. I ended up missing my daughter’s birthday party that weekend, and every one since.

I don’t know what they were, and I haven’t heard of anyone else who’ve crossed path with the likes of Anna and her two friends. I don’t know what would’ve happened if I had let Anna into my car, I only know the fear I felt as I stared into those milky white eyes. I don’t think it would’ve ended well.

I’ve had twenty years to think about Anna and our chance meeting that night in the Kroger parking lot. I had more in common with her than any of my other victims. It’s why I’ve kept her secret for this long. Anna was a hunter, like me. And even though she never got into my car that night, she did have a hand in my death twenty years later.

Let me end this with a final bit of warning, my parting wisdom to the world.

In my five years of hunting, the most important thing I learned is that it doesn’t take much to get people to do what you want, even when they have nothing to gain from it. People in general are accommodating, docile creatures that will do what’s asked of them, some without question or a second thought.

I know what you’re thinking. Not me. You’re too smart to fall for anything like that.

If that’s true, then why are you still counting your breaths? Because I asked? Because you thought you’d get something out of it in the end?

Like I said, it doesn’t take much to get people to do what you want.

Whether you counted the whole time or just a few breaths, the only thing you’ve learned is how lucky you are that you never met someone like me. Or Anna.

If you had, you would’ve stopped breathing long before you had a chance to read this.

Reginald Harmon Davies, 63, died by lethal injection on Monday October 15, 2018.

Dubbed by the media as the ‘Butcher of Broad Street’ during his much publicized trial in 1998, Davies was found guilty on 23 counts of first degree murder. According to court documents and records from the trial, Davies mutilated his victims while they were still alive in the basement of his home in Worthington in a soundproof room below his daughter’s bedroom.

Along with prison personnel, 6 witnesses and 4 members of the press traveled to the execution at the state prison in Lucasville, about 80 miles south of Columbus.

He offered no last words as he was strapped to the lethal injection table. His lips moved in silent prayer as the drug cocktail was injected into his veins.

The injection was administered by prison officials at 11:45 am. After the injection, witnesses reported hearing Davies gasp several times and, at multiple points, screamed out “Anna please no” before going limp on the table. He was pronounced dead at 11:54 am.

How to summon the Butter Street Hitchhiker

(With all stories of this nature, the disclaimer “Do not try this at home” is a given. That being said, I could probably prevent copycats by changing some of the details so that even if you managed to find the right pickup spot you wouldn’t be able to summon the Hitchhiker. But hey, if you’re adventurous, go for it. If you follow the rules it’s perfectly safe, but the knowledge you gain may not be.)

There’s an urban legend in my hometown about a hitchhiker on Butter Street that will appear if you follow a series of instructions. Once summoned you drive him to his destination, and if you play the game right, he will answer an unknowable question for you. If you play it wrong, well, just don’t play it wrong.

There’s an old gravel pit at the end of Butter Street, the water there is the deepest blue. It’s almost like staring into the ocean, that’s how deep it is. More than one car over the years has been dredged up from the depths there.

Officially these drivers all fell asleep at the wheel. But unofficially, the deaths from cars careening off the road into the gravel pit during the wee hours of the night only add more veracity to the urban legend. They were the poor souls who broke the Hitchhiker’s rules.

So far no one has pinpointed the origin of the legend. I’ve reached out to the local historical society and searched through newspaper archives in the local library and haven’t found any mentions of the Hitchhiker. It’s a modern piece of folklore passed around coffee shops and diners in the early morning hours until it eventually made its way to high school cafeterias. It wasn’t until someone posted about the Hitchhiker on a local Facebook group that people began sharing their experiences and the rules of how to summon him.

But as more people shared their experiences, the details about the Hitchhiker varied from person to person. His clothes have switched up over the years, growing more modern. His speech doesn’t reflect any particular time period either, no mannerisms or 23 skidoo phrases to help date him. Sometimes he’s in his late teens, sometimes he’s much older. Even with these differences, everyone who claimed to have summoned the Hitchhiker swears that he was real.

The only common thread in all of the stories of the Hitchhiker is that he’s always wet when he enters the car, followed by what were always his first words to the driver.

“It’s a bad night for rain.”

To which you reply, “Is there ever a good night?”

He laughs, and that’s when you know you’re playing the game.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. I should go back to how I got him in the car.

The game starts by turning your car on exactly at midnight. Where doesn’t matter, only when. And once the car is on, you can’t get out, nor can you let anyone else in. Just you, in your car, at midnight.

What comes next is a lot of waiting, because you have to be at the pickup point on Butter Street at exactly 3:00 am. That’s right; three hours in the car. Those are the rules.

With three hours to kill, a lot of people show up early and just cruise the road so they can time getting to the pickup spot at exactly 3am. But as the urban legend has grown in popularity, the local police will pull you over if they see your car circle back down Butter Street more than once. The local cops all know the rules, so if they pull you over they’ll have you turn off your car and get out of the vehicle, thus ending the game.

On the night I decided to summon him, I filled up my car at the gas station at 11:45, then went in and took advantage of the facilities to ensure I wouldn’t need to make any pit stops before 3am. Then I waited in the parking lot until it was exactly midnight and started up my car.

I should add that it doesn’t matter what type of car you drive, but a four door car is preferred over a two door or a pickup. You don’t want to look directly at the Hitchhiker, not until the end of the trip. That’s much easier to do if he’s sitting in the back seat vs. sitting beside you.

I drove in a big loop around the county until it was time to head to the pick up, avoiding any of the known police traps to keep from having to try again another night. I kept my Maps program running on my phone so I knew exactly what time I had to make my way to Butter Street. I can’t imagine how difficult it was to be an urban legend hunter before realtime GPS maps.

Sidenote: you can play with the radio on or off, it has no impact on the Hitchhiker. Radio on is preferred if you choose not to engage him. He can get quite loud and belligerent if you won’t talk to him.

I pulled up to the pickup spot, stopped the car and then followed the summoning instructions. The rules posted online had small variations, but attempts that contained the following actions had the highest rate of success.

  • Leave the car on and in Drive but engage the emergency brake.
  • Turn off everything but the car (lights, air conditioning, radio, phone).
  • Unlock the car doors three times.
  • Roll down all the windows.
  • Press the brake pedal three times.
  • Turn the headlights back on.
  • Wait three minutes.

If he’s not there by 3:03 am, then you did something wrong.

With the lights off I noticed a fog rolling in. Whether it was part of the ritual or not I don’t know, but it added a creepy aesthetic to waiting on a dark road at 3am for a ghostly Hitchhiker.

Other than the idling of my Subaru, the road was still and quiet. I had even shallowed my breathing so I could listen for footsteps, giggling teenagers, other cars. But there was nothing.

I never even heard the car door open. I only heard it shut.

“It’s a bad night for rain,” a voice said from the backseat.

I felt every hair on my body stand up as a chill ran up the back of my neck. Over my stuttered breathing I could hear the steady drip of water from his pant leg hitting his shoe.

I didn’t turn around, but I stole a peek in the rearview mirror. He wasn’t a big guy, maybe my height. He was dressed in a white Doctor Dre The Chronic t-shirt, a red windbreaker and what looked like dark denim jeans. The rules said the mirror was fine as long as you didn’t turn the lights on in the car. But never look him directly in the face, not until he’s out of the car and ready to answer your question.

I gathered up my courage to reply back, but the words stuck in my throat. I cleared and tried again.

“Is there ever a good night?”

A pause as I stared back in the mirror at the shape in my backseat. I held my breath, waiting.

Then after what felt like ages I saw his hand slap against his wet knee as he laughed. I let out the breath I was holding as I disengaged the parking brake.

“Hold up, put your wipers on, champ,” he said. “With all that rain you won’t see the road.”

This was a scripted reply, part of the game.

“Right, sorry.” Also a scripted response.

Despite his insistence on the rain, it was bone dry outside. Per the rules, I turned on my windshield wipers, setting them to their fastest setting. He settled back against the seat, laying his arm across the back window.

“Mind if I turn on the radio?” I asked. This wasn’t part of the game, but I figured it was best to ask and be polite.

“It’s your ride,” he said. His voice was a smooth baritone. “One request, no country please.”

“Sure thing,” I answered. I put on a local top 40 station.

I pulled back onto the road just as the clock hit 3:03. I stole looks in the rearview mirror as often as I felt comfortable while still keeping the car on the road. Luckily this part of Butter Street was pretty straight and not a lot of traffic.

From his voice and the hand tapping against the wet knee in the backseat, I could tell he was a black man, maybe mid twenties, and dressed like he came straight from 1996. Nothing like any of the descriptions I read on the Facebook post about the Hitchhiker.

“Where you headed?” I asked. This was a scripted part of the game.

“I’m headed to see my girl, I worked the late shift tonight, thought I’d pop in to surprise her.”

His response to this question was always different. That, coupled with the fact that the appearance of the Hitchhiker seemed to shift led many to believe that it’s not the same spirit every time.

I pulled up at the stop sign at the end of Butter Street.

“Yeah, you want to make a right here,” he said.

I followed his orders, turning right. Other than following them, the destination and directions were irrelevant. The ride goes until 3:33am, when he tells you to pull over.

“So what’s your story, man?” he asked.

A scripted prompt, but how you reply was completely up to you. Some have ignored talking to him altogether, which apparently is not recommended. Some have shared a little out of politeness. Others have talked right up until drop off time, filling the air with their own words. The more you talk to him, the more he talks back. It doesn’t impact the game, it just makes the journey a little more interesting.

Even though I’m driving a ghost, his voice is disarming, making him easy to talk to.

“I have a day job that pays the bills, just boring office stuff, but in my spare time I like to explore urban legends and haunted places. Go out looking for proof of life after death.”

“Aw, for real? Damn, that sounds spooky as hell.” Unscripted reply.

He leaned forward, putting his elbows on his knees. In the rearview mirror I could see the sleeves of his windbreaker were shredded.

“What’s the scariest thing you’ve seen? Take a right up here.” Unscripted.

I wanted to say “besides this?” but I held my tongue. All indications from everyone who has played the Hitchhiker’s game say that he was unaware of his situation. He’s just a passenger getting a ride to his destination. Attempts to get him to recognize his ghostly predicament do not go well, so I do not advise bringing it to his attention.

I took the next right as I continued my story.

“About two years ago, I was on a overnight ghost hunt at the Ohio State Reformatory, it’s an old prison up in Mansfield, where they filmed Shawshank Redemption,” I said. I figured if he was from the 90s, he might remember the movie. “So there’s a group of six of us on the tour and we’re over in the administration wing, and I felt this hand press into my back, like it was guiding me forward.”

“Oh hell no, my ass would be gone up out of there, I ain’t even playing.” Unscripted response.

It’s about this time that I realized that all of the street lights were off. Not just the lights on the streets; everything was dark. Granted it was the middle of the night, but we drove past a Taco Bell that was open twenty minutes ago when I passed by on my way to Butter Street. Now, it was completely dark, not a single car in the parking lot.

That’s the second thing I noticed, no cars. We’ve driven fifteen minutes without passing a single car. Not only were there no cars on the road, there weren’t any cars in any driveways or parking lots. As we rolled by a Ford dealership, the entire lot was empty. It’s like we’d stepped completely out of reality into a different one.

“So what did you do?” Unscripted. I’ve got his interest apparently.

I continued the story. “I turn and look and no one is behind me, but I can smell rose scented perfume. Apparently one of the ghosts there is the wife of the warden. She was killed when the warden’s gun went off by accident. It fell out of the closet, went off and shot her in the lung.”

“That is crazy, man. But I can feel why she might be hanging around still, you know what I’m sayin’? Like she’s got some unfinished business and shit because her life was cut short like that.”

We rode in silence for a bit, I don’t know for how long. I tried looking back at him in the mirror but he hung to the shadows.

Then I felt his cold breath against my neck, sending shivers up my spine.

“Could you imagine what that’s like?” He said. Unscripted.

“What do you mean?” I replied, also unscripted.

“Having your life cut short like that due to the careless act of another human being? That’s pretty fucked up.”


My heart thudded against my chest. Did I mess up? Did I not follow the rules? Did he-

He laughed and sat back in his seat. “I’m just playin’ man. You need to relax.”

I felt his hands gripping my shoulders, giving them a little rub. They were cold as ice. He patted my shoulder and sat back. I felt a trickle of water go down my back from the cold wet spots on my shoulder where he grabbed me.

“Oh this right, coming up.”

He leaned forward, pointing at the road. His skin was ashy and his thumbnail was split to the nailbed. The smell of wet loam wafted into the front of the cabin. I made the turn.

I peeked at the clock on my dashboard and saw it was 3:29. Only four minutes to go.

“You got any family?” He asked. Scripted. I felt my heart leave my throat and drop back into my chest, we were back on script.

“I used to. Just me now.”

“That’s tough I know. Before my girl, I was all alone. I don’t know what I’d do if I didn’t have her. Life would be just… empty.”


A quiet stillness followed, like he was hit by a pang of remorse. For a moment it was so quiet I wasn’t sure if he was still back there, but then I felt his wet cold hand clap me on my shoulder.

“But don’t worry, man. You seem like an okay dude, going out of your way to help a young man like myself on a rainy night like this. I’m sure you’ll find someone. Just takes time.” Unscripted.

We rode in silence as I stole glances down at the clock on the dash. As soon as the time flipped to 3:33am, I heard his weight shift as he leaned forward.

“Oh this is me, up here.”

He pointed to a spot up the road. There was nothing there, no house, or driveway, not even a place to pull off.

I pulled the car onto the shoulder and eased to a stop. Just like when picking him up, I turned off the lights, radio and engaged the parking brake, leaving the car in drive. You don’t have to bother with the locking and unlocking three times or the business with the brake pedal. Just unlock.

Also, and this was very important, don’t watch him get out, don’t look at him in the rearview mirror, don’t do anything but look down at your hands on the steering wheel. Keep them on the wheel, ten and two. And wait.

This time I heard the car door open and slam shut. I could also hear the sound of his shoes against the gravel as he walked around the front of the car to the driver’s side. I wanted to look up, but I managed to fight the urge by counting the seams on the steering wheel.

“Thanks for the ride. Do you have a question for me?” he asked. Scripted. It was still his voice, but unlike our previous conversation it was completely devoid of personality or emotion.

Once you completed the ride, you were allowed to ask him a question. It has to be something personal but unknowable. You can’t ask for lottery numbers or things like that. People have supposedly asked about locations of lost heirlooms, the exact date and time of their death, the fate of long lost relatives, all sorts of personal questions they’d have no other way of knowing.

For the second time that night, the words failed to leave my throat. I took a deep breath and swallowed.

“Is she at peace?” I asked, then without thinking I added, “does she blame me?” My words were barely above a whisper, but I knew he heard me.

After you ask, then and only then are you allowed to look directly at him. So I did.

I felt all the color drain from my face as I looked up.

The Hitchhiker had no face at all. Only two shiny black spots where his eyes should be. He had no mouth, no nose, nothing else. Just two quarter sized black pools of what looked like liquid ink where his eyes should be, and they reflected every star in the sky. I couldn’t look away from those eyes, even though I very much wanted to.

“That’s two questions, my friend,” he replied. Unscripted.

My heart jumped back into my throat. I broke the rules. I fucked up. I asked two questions!

I was paralyzed staring up into his face. I sat looking up at him for what felt like hours.

I pulled back a little as his hands moved up to the sides of his face, just under his ears. I thought for a moment he might rip off his false face and reveal another, more terrifying one.

He didn’t remove his face. Instead he pulled his hoodie up over his head, returning his empty face to the shadows.

“But since you were kind enough to save me from walking all this way in the rain, I’ll answer you.” Unscripted.

Before I could exhale a sigh of relief, he gripped the door frame and leaned down so I was staring directly into his empty eyes.

“She’s not at peace; and she does blame you.”

Even with the hood up, I could still see every last star in the night sky in those inky black pools. I can’t fully capture what I saw in them. It was like staring at both vast infiniteness and vast nothingness. They held everything and nothing at the same time. His eyes, they were like staring into eternity.

As he stood up from the window, I let out the breath I was holding. My hands shook as I pulled them off the steering wheel.

“Drive safe.” Scripted reply. The last thing he says before he leaves.

He walked away behind the car. You can watch him walk in the rearview mirror, but don’t turn around or get out or try to follow him. I watched until he disappeared into the darkness and waited until I could no longer hear his footsteps against the gravel.

When I turned on my headlights I realized I was back on Butter Street, parked on the side of the road next to the drop off for the gravel pit. This was always where you ended up after the Hitchhiker leaves.

All I had to do was release the parking break and the car would roll towards the drop off, gaining speed until it launched off the cliff into the deep blue water waiting below.

I don’t know how long I sat there with my hand on the parking brake release, contemplating his answer to my question.

But then, I saw them. Headlights. A car was coming up the road towards me. The cars were back, as were the streetlights and houselights. I was back from wherever the Hitchhiker took me.

I locked eyes with the driver as they drove by, having one of those weird moments where time seems to slow down. It was enough to jolt me back to reality. I released the parking brake and aimed my car back onto the road. I got home a little after 5am.

I tried to sleep but was too worked up from my adventure so I called in sick. I laid in bed all day, thinking about the Hitchhiker, his words, and all those cars that end up in the gravel pit on Butter Street.

Maybe those cars aren’t from people who played the game wrong.

Maybe they all played it right, but couldn’t handle his response to their question.

It’s been three days since I picked up the Hitchhiker. I can still smell the wet loam in my car, and his muddy footprints in the floorboard of the backseat are still there.

As I write this, I look up from my monitor and look at the photo of my Abigail, taken two weeks before she died. She’s beautiful, smiling and happy.

“She’s not at peace; and she does blame you.”

It’s my favorite photo of her. I think I’ll take it with me when I take a drive later tonight.

I’m going back to see the Hitchhiker. I have a hunch, and I don’t know if it’s relevant, but I feel it’s important to share with anyone reading this that I’m wearing a gray Adidas hoodie and jeans. If somebody out there reading this picks up the Hitchhiker later on and sees something similar in get in their backseat, well, then I guess we’ve solved part of the mystery.

If you do pick up the Hitchhiker, I hope you get the answer you’re searching for.

As I look outside the skies are cloudy, but I hope the weather holds up for a drive later.

It’s a bad night for rain.

If you can see this, it is very important that you keep reading

This is Col. Jacob Wayne of the United States Air Force. If you’re reading this right now, it is very important that you keep reading until the end. It should take three to five minutes, and it is extremely important that you read carefully and follow the instructions provided.

Humor me if you must, but please don’t look away until you’ve finished reading. Oh, and please try to stay calm. Any increase in your stress levels will draw Their attention.

Ergo, I won’t go into detail as to how you got where you are. How you got here isn’t as important as getting you out. Believe me when I say we are working on that right now. The best way to help yourself is to keep reading. Don’t scan ahead. Don’t read out loud. Just read.

Right now, you’re probably thinking back on the past few days and nothing felt out of the ordinary. You went about your regular daily activities with nothing unusual to report. That’s because They are very good, so good most people don’t even realize they’re in the simulation.

Even as our code works its way deeper into Their program, They are monitoring you. So please, remain calm.

It was tricky, but we found a way in to communicate directly with you. We had to embed this message into your daily routine so it didn’t draw Their attention. You’re probably reading this on Reddit, Facebook, or some other social media site. Might even be in an email forward or a book, we don’t know. We can’t control how the message gets to you; we only know that you are receiving it.

Subliminally, as your eyes are passing over these words, a code is being uploaded into your brain. Think of it as a computer virus, or in this case, an antivirus. Your brain is an organic computer, and They exploited that. They hacked right into your subconscious mind and overwrote it with Their simulation code. That’s how They got in, and that’s why everything appears normal. You might think that you’re going about your daily life, but in reality you’re strapped to a table with tubes sticking out of your body.

Now that the code is uploading, you may begin to feel some sensations. For example, one ear might feel slightly warmer than the other. You might even feel an itch or tickle. Don’t scratch, just let it be. Ignore the dull background hum you might hear as well. That’s Their program. If They catch on before our code has time to work They will abort the simulation. If that happens, you will be lost to us forever.

Oh, and don’t be alarmed, but by now They realize we are in Their system. You may notice some small changes, specifically a slight shortness of breath or that you have to control your breathing manually. This is normal.

We know from other communication attempts that whenever They discover a code break in, the first system They power down is the one controlling your breathing. Thankfully, even in the simulation you are capable of breathing manually. Try it. Breathe in. Breathe out. Inhale. Exhale.


You’re doing just fine.

They’ve probably figured out there’s a glitch, but if our code is working we’ve disabled Their ability to do a hard reboot. Because of this, They will try other methods to disrupt the upload. It is very important that you ignore anything that might draw your attention from these words. If They pull you away before the upload completes it will delete our code. Block them out. Ignore the movements you see in your peripheral vision. Those sounds you hear, the voices, they aren’t family, friends, or coworkers in need of attention. They may even try to use your pets. They know your weaknesses.

Overlook the notifications popping up on your screen if you’re on a phone or computer. Block them all out until you finish reading. It’s just another way They’ll try to break our communication link.

Evidently, if our code is working, the next thing you’ll notice is an overwhelming urge to swallow. You don’t realize it, but there’s a feeding tube down your throat. You’ll only know it’s there because your tongue won’t rest comfortably in your mouth. You might also become hyper aware of the amount of saliva being produced. Don’t overreact. If you have to swallow, just swallow. It’s only weird if you make it weird.

So, if you’re still reading this, the code upload is about 90% complete. We’ve locked onto your location. You’re doing great, but you’re really going to need to focus now. Once the upload is complete there will be instructions you will need to follow to exit the simulation. That is, if you’ve followed the instructions and haven’t looked away.

Complicating matters is the fact that They now know we’re here, and They know what we’re doing. Their attempts to divert your attention through the simulation proved unsuccessful, so now They’re going to use your body’s systems against you. THEY ARE IN YOUR BRAIN. They want you to blink. Don’t blink. Your life depends on keeping your eyes open.

Almost there, just a few paragraphs more until the code upload is complete. Don’t scan down, or up, just keep reading. I got you this far. Stay with me. Eyes open, eyes front, keep them locked on the screen.

PLEASE FOCUS! I don’t want to lose you. I’ve lost so many already. Ignore it all! Block everything out. Ignore that tickle on your scalp and the itch on your arm. That’s them, attempting a manual override. Don’t give up now, you’ve made it this far. FIGHT IT. You’re almost there. Just follow the instructions below and we can get you out.

Embedded in this text are the steps you need to follow to unplug from the simulation. If we did this correctly, the first letter of each paragraph will tell you what you need to do. DON’T LOOK YET. The upload still needs to finish. I hope you didn’t look.

Upload complete. We’ve done everything we can on this end.

See you on the other side.

The Alligator

[My parents were doing some housekeeping and found this. It’s a short story I wrote for my creative writing class during my sophomore year of college.

I remember turning it in and expecting the professor to hate it. Then to confirm my fear, the professor singled me out before class and asked me to stay after to discuss my story. I fully expected him to tell me that my story was terrible and that I should drop the class. After all, I was a chemistry major, what am I doing taking a creative writing class?

I braced for the worst sitting through that 50 minute class. And then, he told me that he loved it and wanted me to submit it to a writing competition.

This story is the beginning of my twenty year love/hate relationship with writing. I retyped it from the pdf scan Dad emailed to me (with a few small edits… because of course I would).

Enjoy – CH]

6:00 a.m.

The consistent blaring of the clock radio shook Norm from his sleep. He had been dreaming he was cliff diving in Hawaii, or at least he suspected it to be Hawaii. Norm had never been to Hawaii nor had he ever tried cliff diving. If presented with the opportunity to cliff dive, Norm probably wouldn’t do it. Too many risks involved for Norm’s liking. A strong gust of wind could alter your descent, causing you to crash head first into the jagged rocks.

Not a good way to die, Norm thought as he sat up in bed. Too much time to think about your demise on the way down. Skydiving would be worse of course. Plummeting at a hundred fifty miles an hour, pull the cord and nada. That leaves a good thirty seconds to think. Nope that’s definitely no good. I’d probably try to repent for my sins in every religion in the world.

While contemplating whether to repent as a generic Christian or as both a Catholic and a Protestant during freefall Norm realized his alarm was still going off. He thought he had set it to play music but the buzzing sound of the alarm made it sound like a garbage truck was backing into his bedroom.

“Shut the hell up,” Norm uttered as he reached over and reset his alarm for seven, making sure to queue the radio this time. Thus began Norm’s morning ritual.

Norm would always set his alarm for six, wake up, and then reset his alarm for seven and sleep for another hour. Norm cherished this last hour of sleep. He had read somewhere that the last hour of sleep is the “deep sleep” when the body reaches maximum relaxation, and Norm wanted to be able to enjoy it. Most people sleep through this last hour of sleep without even realizing it. To Norm, it was like eating the last cookie in the box without realizing it was the last cookie. You reach for another but, alas, the box is empty. You find yourself darting your tongue around your mouth, between your teeth, trying to find bits of the last cookie to make the taste last because, after all, it was the very last cookie. It leaves you feeling empty, yearning for more. Norm didn’t like that feeling, so he made sure to savor every last cookie, and of course, every last hour of sleep.

Norm laid his head back down on the pillow, closing his eyes. He was almost asleep again when he heard a noise. Or at least he thought he had heard a noise. Norm wasn’t sure if the noise he heard was real or leftover dream impulses from his earlier excursion of cliff diving. He sat up in bed, listening for the sound again.


Just a dream, Norm convinced himself. That is, until he heard it again.

Click! Click!

“What the hell is that?” Norm said, sitting up in bed. Definitely not a dream. He reached over to the nightstand and switched on the lamp. His eyes ached from the jolt of light in the dark room, so he held his hand over his eyes until they adapted. He looked around the room, searching for the source of the noise. The lamp only managed to throw more shadows on the room, causing the small recesses to appear as deep chasms. He sat still, listening, trying to get a bearing on where the sound was coming from. The only sound was Norm breathing and flicking his teeth with his fingernails, a nervous habit that stuck with him since childhood.

Must’ve been a tree limb on the window, Norm thought, still flicking his teeth. He let out a big yawn and stretched, popping every vertebrate from his head to his ass. He wiped the sleep from his eyes and looked over at the clock. 6:17 a.m.

“So much for that last hour of sleep,” Norm said, speaking aloud to break the silence. “Might as well get up and fix a pot of coffee, big meeting today.”

Norm was an accountant for a manufacturer of novelty items, Bags o’ Gags. It was the largest novelty manufacturer in Minnesota; in fact it was the only novelty manufacturer in Minnesota. They made all sorts of stuff: fake vomit, whoopee cushions, pepper gum, chattering teeth, you name it. Norm was tasked with allocating funds for their newest novelty, SilliSnot. It works just like SilliString: shake the can, point and shoot. But instead of shooting string, it shoots a gooey, stringy, snot-like substance. Norm gagged the first time he saw it. Almost all new products at one time or another are tested on Norm; for Norm was not only an accountant, he was an easy mark for pranks.

Norm scooted to the edge of the bed and was about to put his feet on the floor when he heard the sound again.

Click! Click! Click!

It startled Norm because it was close. Very close.

“Definitely not a tree limb,” Norm said, moving away from the edge of the bed. The sound was definitely coming from inside the room. It sounded as if something was tapping on the hardwood floor.


This time Norm was listening close enough to get a bearing on the sound. It was coming from under his bed.

“I really don’t have time for this shit,” Norm said, talking to himself and to whatever was making the sound. “I need to get up. I need to prepare my presentation. What I don’t need is to act like a scared child because I heard a noise. It is time to get up.”

Norm moved back to the side of his bed. He positioned himself cross-legged, looking down onto the floor. The sun had made it’s ascention into the sky, casting an orange hue over the room. He could begin to make out the grain in the floorboards. He could hear the sound of cars being started by his neighbors, people who had already gotten out of bed to start their days.

But Norm could not bring himself to stand up.

He uncrossed his legs and lowered his feet onto the sideboard of the bed. There, that’s a good start, Norm thought, collecting himself. His bed, a large colonial style four poster, sat high off the ground and his feet couldn’t touch the floor while he was still sitting on the bed. With the box spring, the top of the mattress was almost four feet from the floor. The woman who sold it to Norm made the joke that he would need a stepladder to get in and out of bed. So there was no way to get up slowly or get up half way. It was all or none.

Click! Click! Click!

The sound was coming from under the bed, no doubt about it. And from where he was sitting, Norm noticed something else when he heard the tapping sound.


“Oh shit,” Norm said, bringing his feet back up onto the bed. Something moved. It moved, whatever the hell was under the bed, it moved. Norm drew some ragged breaths as his heart thudded against his ribcage.

You didn’t see anything, calm down, Norm thought to himself, trying to get his breathing and heart rate back under control. It was just your mind playing tricks on you. Shadows, only shadows. Or maybe the silhouette of a bird or plane flying by.

“There was no plane, I would have heard a goddamn plane fly overhead,” Norm said, arguing with himself. He looked over the edge of the bed again, hoping to see something, but also hoping to see nothing. He glanced over at the clock on his nightstand. 6:47 a.m.

Click! Click!

He looked over the side of the bed again, but saw nothing. What the hell did you expect to see, Norm thought. A monster? Elves? Elvis? Norm let out a nervous laugh. “Elvis ain’t dead, his fat ass is stuck under my goddamn bed, and his mouth is stuffed full of pork rinds. Next thing you know Bigfoot will walk through the door and piss on my head.”

Click! Click!

Maybe it’s an alligator.

Yeah, Norm thought. An alligator crawled up from the sewers, opened the door, moseyed its way up the stairs and sat himself under the bed. Norm remembered reading something in the paper about a small child that was killed by an alligator that had crawled into a house through an open door. He had also watched many nature films on alligators, mostly on Discovery Channel, which was Norm’s favorite channel and home to his favorite television event, Shark Week.

I wonder if he’s hungry? Norm thought.

“Probably not,” Norm answered aloud, “Elvis is probably sharing his pork rinds with him, you dumbass!” Now was not the time to let the imagination run wild.

Click! Click! Click!

“What the hell is the matter with you?” Norm asked himself. “It’s not an alligator. What the hell would an alligator be doing in Minnesota? In November? In your goddamn bedroom?”

Click! Click!

Norm looked at the clock again. 6:54 a.m. Almost time to get up. The only way I’m going to get moving is if I look under the bed and find out what is making that noise.

Norm took a couple of deep, calming breaths to settle himself. He moved to the side of the bed closest to the window for better lighting. He gripped the sheets tight in his left hand as he leaned out onto the nightstand on his right, craning his neck to get a better viewing angle of the floor under his bed. The dust ruffle around the bottom of the bed fell to about four inches off the floor, blocking his view. He cursed himself for ever buying the damn thing. It gave the room such a feminine look, and was now the only thing standing between Norm and his sanity. The lady at the store said it added to the decor of the room, or some shit like that. Norm wasn’t really paying attention to her spiel about the importance of dust ruffles, but had apparently nodded in agreement and didn’t want to make a scene at the register when she rung it up.

I gotta reach down and lift up the ruffle, Norm thought.

Norm released the sheets from his left hand in order to lean out onto the nightstand a little farther. Bullets of sweat were forming on Norm’s forehead and upper lip. He wiped his left hand on his pajama bottoms and leaned down, trying to grab the ruffle. It was still out of reach. No good, Norm thought. Gotta lean over a little farther.

Norm twisted onto his side and moved more of his body off the bed so that only his lower extremities were still on the bed. The nightstand creaked from the weight of Norm’s torso. The beads of perspiration on Norm’s forehead accumulated into one big drop at his brow, which trickled down his nose and fell with a tiny splash on the floor below. He eased down farther, his right arm straining, trying to support his weight and hold his position. Norm took a deep breath, pushing it out hard through his nostrils.

It’s now or never, Norm thought.

He reached down with his left hand and grasped the dust ruffle, lifting it.

Except for a couple dust balls, the floor was empty. But even from this angle, more than two thirds of the floor under his bed was outside his line of sight. He pulled himself out farther on his right hand, his muscles shaking from holding his position. Norm was about to lower his head down for another look when he screamed.

K95.7, your favorite in the morning. That was Eric Clapton’s Layla. We’re still waiting for a caller who as the correct answer to today’s trivia question-

It was 7:00 a.m. The sound of the DJ’s annoying morning drivetime chatter filled the quiet room, scaring Norm half to death. Apparently music wasn’t better than the buzzer.

Norm’s right arm collapsed from fatigue. He was falling. He reached for the handle on the top drawer of the nightstand, just barely catching it with his fingertips. He dropped the dust ruffle and grabbed the corner of the sheet dangling from the bed. The sheet was caught under his legs so he was able to steady himself. Then the handle on the drawer broke.

Norm rolled from his side to his stomach, trying to hold himself up using the sheet. His head came forward and smacked on the sideboard of the bed, bloodying his nose. Norm gripped the sheets with his toes and reached for the post by the headboard with his right hand. His right arm was aching, about to cramp up again, but he managed to hold on and scoot himself back onto the bed fully.

We’re still waiting for that correct answer to today’s Morning Stumper. Let’s check in on Highway Joe in the K-copter for traffic-

“Shit, shit, shit, shit, SHIT!” Norm snatched the cock off the nightstand, ripping the cord out of the wall. He wrapped the cord around the clock radio and threw it across the room, where it exploded against the wall into a thousand tiny shards of plastic. Norm then removed the case from his pillow to clean the blood from his face. His heart was pounding.

Calm down, Norm thought, trying to slow his breathing. Let’s not have a heart attack.

Click! Click! Click!

“LEAVE ME ALONE!” Norm screamed. The blood from his nose trickled down into his mouth, leaving a salty, coppery taste. He wiped his face with his pillowcase and threw it on the floor. Norm moved into the very center of his bed, hunching up his knees so that no part of his body was near the edge of the bed. He was shaking violently.


“Please leave me alone,” he said, pleading. He started crying, blubbering like a two-year-old every time he heard the


clicking sound. Eventually he fell asleep.

Norm awoke rudely to the sound of his phone ringing. The morning sun shined brightly through the window, warming the cold, dark room. His nose had stopped bleeding, leaving a trail of crusted blood on his face. Norm answered his phone just before it went to voicemail.


“Norm?” It was Dave Rothstein, his boss. “Are you still at home?”

“Huh?” Norm sat up, trying to gather himself. “What time is it?”

“It’s 9:35, don’t you have a clock, Jenkins? You have to give that presentation to the board in an hour, remember? You sick or something?”

“Ah, no sir. I guess my alarm didn’t go off,” Norm said, looking over at the pile of plastic which used to be his clock.

“Well get your ass in here,” Mr. Rothstein said. Norm could tell he was not in a very good mood. “We need to go over that presentation one more time before the board sees it. See you in thirty?”

Norm sat in silence. But there’s an alligator under my bed, Norm thought, but couldn’t bring himself to say out loud. He was already late for work, and he didn’t need his boss to question his sanity.

“I’ll be there,” Norm said, dropping his chin to his chest. He hung up the phone.

I have to be at work in thirty minutes, Norm thought. It’s a ten minute drive, so that leaves twenty minutes to get ready. Norm reached up and felt his stubbly chin and scratched flakes of dried blood off his face. Five minutes for shaving. Skip the shower, wet the hair, comb it, throw on some cologne and some deodorant. That leaves approximately ten minutes to get dressed. Should be plenty of time.

Click! Click!

One problem.

“I almost forgot about you.”


I have to get out of bed, get my clothes from the closet, and get dressed without disturbing my reptilian friend, Norm thought. He looked around the room for a way out. The window was the easiest exit, but he couldn’t go to work in his pajamas. Plus his keys were downstairs. Not to mention the ten foot drop to the ground.

His dresser sat six feet from his bed.

I could jump, Norm thought.

He stood up on his bed and looked up at the ceiling which was only three inches above his head. Nope, not enough clearance to jump.

Then Norm got an idea. He crawled down to the end of his bed, grabbing the bedpost with both hands and pulled the top portion of the post away from the baseboard. I’ve freed Excalibur, Norm thought. I am the true king of Camelot! Norm laughed. “Maybe I am crazy.”

The post was about four feet long. Perfect.

Norm stood up and walked diagonally across the bed to the corner opposite the dresser, counting off his steps from one corner to the other. Four steps. He repeated the process again , just to be sure. Definitely four steps, Norm thought.

Click! Click!

“No time to repent,” Norm said. He clutched the bedpost in his hands, his fingertips white from his grip. He crouched down, bouncing up and down on the bed. He closed his eyes and took in a deep breath. Upon exhaling, he opened his eyes and ran towards the dresser, counting his steps.


Norm lept from the bed, feeling his hair brush against the plaster ceiling. While in midair, Norm thrust the bedpost towards the ground and pushed off. He extended his body, reaching with his feet for the dresser, landing with a crash and kicking over a bottle of cologne. Norm smiled. He had just pole vaulted off his bed onto the dresser.


“Can’t celebrate just yet,” Norm told himself. He dropped the post and opened the first drawer on the dresser and removed a pair of boxers and a pair of socks. He shut the drawer, opened the one below it and pulled out a tie. Norm stripped off his bedclothes and threw them towards the bed. Standing naked, Norm walked down the dresser and reached into his closet for his suit, placing it on the dresser beside his underwear. Norm then proceeded to get dressed.

Shoes, Norm thought. I need shoes.

He walked down his dresser to his closet again, and could see his black loafers on the floor. He tried reaching down and picking them up but they were out of his reach.

“Shit.” Norm, sensing that time was running out, bent down and removed his socks. Then, he stretched out and snatched the top of the closet door with both hands and let his legs fall from the dresser, leaving him hanging from the door. The hinges on the door moaned in protest.

This was a brilliant idea, Norm thought, mocking himself. He reached with his toes on the insides of the door frame and pulled the closet door almost closed. Norm used his toes again to reach down and pick up his shoes, grabbing them by the heels.

“Got ‘em,” Norm said. “Now what?”

Norm’s fingers were losing their grip on the top of the door as sweat poured off of him. He pushed off the back of the closet with his foot to open the door again. He reached down with one hand and grabbed the shoes from his toes and tossed them onto the dresser. Panting, he placed his hand back on top of the door and bent his knees, lifting his feet back up onto the dresser. With his feet, Norm walked backwards, pulling the door towards the dresser. When his knees were finally on the dresser, he let go of the door. He was back safe on the dresser again.

He put on his socks again, and then held his shoes over his head as if they were a trophy.

“Yes!” Norm put his shoes on and walked down his dresser to the doorway of his room. The door stood open a couple feet away.

“It worked once,” Norm said, and jumped from the dresser.

Norm once again found himself hanging from a door. The force of his body slammed the door into the wall, leaving two concentric circles in the drywall where the doorknob hit. He placed his outside leg on the wall and pushed himself and the door away. As the door swung closed, Norm released his grip from the top of the door and jumped back, grabbing the doorknob and pulling his bedroom door shut.

He was out.

Norm ran down the hallway to the bathroom and shut the door. He turned on the faucet and placed his head in the sink, wetting his hair and removing the rest of the dried blood from his face. Norm then dried his head with a hand towel and combed his hair. He unbuttoned his shirt and applied a good coating of deodorant, then applied a second coat for good measure since his cologne had been sacrificed during his pole vault landing on the bed.

Hair looks okay, Norm thought. Don’t smell all that bad either.

Norm opened up the bathroom door and shot a quick glance towards his bedroom. Still shut. Good. He grabbed his cordless razor off the counter (I can shave in the car) and ran down the hall to the stairs, taking them two at a time. He stopped briefly at the kitchen counter to pick up his wallet, briefcase and keys. He looked at the clock on his microwave. 9:51 a.m.

“Damn I’m good,” Norm said, opening the door to the garage. He pushed the button to open the outer garage door and jumped in his car. After fumbling with his keys, he managed to get the right one in the ignition. It started on the first try.

Norm threw his car into reverse, backed out of the driveway and sped away from his house, leaving treadmarks on the street.

“See you later, alligator,” Norm said, laughing hysterically.

* * * * *

On his way home from work, Norm stopped off at a grocery store to buy some earplugs for when he went to bed that night. He wasn’t about to tell anyone that he thought there was an alligator under his bed, nor was he going to stick his head under the bed to look. Norm figured he had to go home eventually, and he didn’t want to waste money on a hotel room. He just hoped that the bedpost was close enough to the dresser so he could vault back onto bed.

I’m going to have to start setting my alarm for 5:30 if I have to do this every morning, Norm thought.

Norm also stopped by the meat department and picked up a ten pound turkey.

Norm smiled. “Alligators like turkey.”

“You Don’t Know Me.” – Short Fiction

(Short fiction from a writing prompt on

Tim turned the collar of his ragged coat up against the wind, but the fabric was so riddled with holes it didn’t make much of a difference. He shivered as he held up his sign on the corner of 5th and Vine. Shivering may be a good thing actually, he thought. Might coax a few more dollars out of people’s pockets.

It was December, but no snow, not yet thankfully. A few blocks away he could hear the Christmas music accompanying the people ice skating in Fountain Square. He tried to get closer so he could get a few more donations but the police shooed him away. With all the improvements made to downtown, the police shuffled homeless away from the city center during holidays or big events. Too depressing for people to be reminded of the homeless problem, it was bad for business and bad for the city’s image.

A cold wind bit at his lower legs. The fabric was worn so thin on his jeans that they were almost down to thread. He looked down at the money in his jar. $8; if they didn’t have another pair at the shelter, he’d have to spend money on a good pair to get him through the winter. The closest Salvation Army store was north of town, quite a hike but one he’d have to make if he didn’t want to get frostbite this winter.

“God bless you sir,” Tim said, almost robotic as a woman in her fifties dropped some change in his Utz pretzel container that was his latest incarnation of a collection jar. The logo had been ripped off revealing strips of white paper where Tim had written “Please Help, God Bless” in crayon on the side.

“Excuse me,” a voice male behind him said as he tapped his shoulder. “I was hoping you could help me find someone?”

Tim turned around, almost dropping his sign as he made eye contact with the boy. The boy was maybe in his late teens or early twenties, with sandy blonde hair, green eyes and freckles on his nose. He averted his eyes, staring down at his feet.

“Don’t know that I can help ya, son,” Tim said.

The boy leaned in, moving his head to get into Tim’s line of sight. Tim turned around back to his spot on the street corner, his shivers now accompanied by a few drops of wetness on his cheek.

“Grandpa?” the boy said. “Grandpa, it’s me, Timothy.”

Tim sniffed and took a deep breath before speaking. “Sorry son, but you don’t know me.”

“It’s you, Grandpa. I know you. We’ve been looking for you. It’s okay now, everything is okay. We want you to come home again.”

Tim’s eyes glistened as he stared out into the street, his stomach turning in knots as the lump in his throat made it hard to talk. He managed to speak, just above a whisper.

“You don’t know me.”

The boy put his hand on Tim’s shoulder, “Grandpa…”

Tim turned around grasping the boy’s arm and pushing him against the building, screaming as he pressed his face into the face of his grandson.  “I said you don’t know me, boy! You don’t know me! YOU! DON’T! KNOW! ME!”

Tim shoved the kid, turning to grab his tip bucket as the other people on the corner stared at him. He fled, running down Fifth street and crossing into an alley, working his way down to the overpass where he had been sleeping. His eyes burned with tears as he slumped down on his piece of cardboard, shoving the money from his collection bucket into his pockets.

He reached into another pocket, pulling out a plastic bottle of vodka and a torn photo from Christmas three years ago, the last time he had seen his family.  Tim pulled the bottle to his lips and took a long, deep drink staring at himself in the photo. A single tear fell on the picture before he crumpled it up and shoved it back into his pocket.

“You don’t know me,” Tim said, sniffing and wiping his eyes.

Cheap Heat (Short Fiction)

wrestling ring

Jesus, where am I?

Brody opened his eyes. He was lying on a weight bench, his head throbbing.  Above him hung a banner of some no name high school in who gives a shit Georgia. Preston Bulldogs, it read. A high school gym, it was coming back to him now. The banner was flanked by the typical motivational bullshit you’d find in pretty much every high school weight room. “The pain of discipline is nothing like the pain of disappointment” “Pain is weakness leaving the body.” ”Go hard or go home.” If his head didn’t hurt so much, he would’ve rolled his eyes.

Brody got the notice of the gig the night before from a booker he worked with up in MidValley South Wrestling. Brody had driven down from Nashville to Atlanta for a Chikara show; he wasn’t booked for a match, just hanging around to see if they needed him. He wasn’t a big draw, but he had name recognition from his run in the WWF back in the 90s. Sometimes he’d get lucky and get put on the card, but they had a full show scheduled. He even offered to put someone over in a squash for $50, enough to cover his gas and a meal for the ride, but they turned him down.

Brody set up a stand in the parking lot to sell shirts after they told him he wasn’t going to make the show, managing to sell a couple to a few old school fans before security shut him down.  That’s when he got the call about the gig in Preston. The heel for the main event match had cancelled due to a MRSA infection in his leg so they needed someone quick. It was a fundraiser show for the athletic boosters, but the pay was decent: $200 plus money for a hotel room, and he would get a table for signing autographs and to sell his shirts and DVDs.

He drove all night, fueled by some cheap Molly he traded for a few shirts and even cheaper gas station coffee to arrive at Preston High School at 8am for a 1 o’clock show. Since he didn’t need a room his hotel money just rolled into his pay, turning a $200 gig  into a $300 gig. He met with the guy he was wrestling, a babyface who spent a few years as a Gaijin in Japan and was looking to make a name for himself on the Indy circuit that he hoped would parlay into a WWE tryout. The kid had the size and looks to make it on the bigger stage, but was still pretty green in the ring. He was a good talker though, which was important. If you can’t talk and get a crowd invested in an angle, especially a small crowd gig like this, then you weren’t going to put on a good show.

They worked out the finish, deciding Brody would go over due to heel tactics but the ref would reverse it and restart the match and the kid (Sterling? was that his name? Brody couldn’t remember) would get him in a crossface and Brody would tap out. Brody was the bigger star, but he was also the bad guy, and in small shows like this the babyfaces get the win. Brody knew his role was to get the crowd to hate him and help put the kid over.

Brody sat up, his head still pounding.  Across from him the sign that read “Go Preston! Beat Rockdale!” hung from a single thumbtack on the bulletin board by the football sign in sheets.  He could hear the crowd stomping in the gym next to the weight room as the undercard tag match was taking place. Brody didn’t know who they were, just that it was a team of luchas against a couple Ring of Honor has beens. The luchas were going over, doing their flippy shit finisher that crowds like this ate up.

Brody hadn’t even noticed that he wasn’t alone in the weight room until he heard the sound of metal plates clanking together as someone loaded up the incline bench. He looked over to see his opponent warming up, getting his chest and arms pumped for the match. Back in his younger days Brody would do the same, but at 46 years of age with two reconstructed knees his prematch routine consisted of chewing three Oxycontin and chasing it with Mountain Dew.

Brody walked over just as Sterling (that was his name, his singlet and boots were emblazoned with it, and a monkey for some inexplicable reason) pressed the bar from the rack. He had three plates on each side of the bar as he sped through eight reps. Jesus, this kid was a monster. Outside he heard the crowd clapping and stomping in a steady rhythm, meaning one of the luchas was about to make a hot tag. Crowds like this are easy to work. As expected the crowd popped with a huge cheer as the tag was made.

“Luchas are about to go home,” Brody said as Sterling re-racked the bar. “You ready to blow the roof off this place?”

Sterling nodded, feeling his chest as he flexed. “We’re lucky you were available to step in on such short notice. Our booker was scrambling trying to figure out how to work this show being down a heel. They talked about dressing up one of the other guys in a rival mascot costume and just have me beat the shit out of him for fifteen minutes. You ever have to do something as stupid as that coming up?”

Brody laughed. “There are worse ways to be booked than squashing a rival mascot, kid.”

Sterling’s face was smooth, not the crisscrossed mess of scars that littered Brody’s forehead from years of hardcore matches. He could tell the kid about the show in Mobile back in ‘91, when a fan stabbed him with a broken bottle after beating down a babyface. Or the time in Dayton back in ‘89 when he was knocked out in the ring and guys took turns breaking fluorescent light tubes across his back. There were still some promotions where that shit happened, but extreme matches are less the norm these days.

“I grew up watching you,” Sterling said. “You had a run with the belts didn’t you? Like around 96?”

“Yep, me and Outlaw Joe,” Brody said. They had traveled doing shows together, they were a decent draw up until Joe died. Three years ago, no four. Overdosed in the hotel room the night before a match in Charleston. In the gym the crowd chanted along with the count… one, two, ohhhh! Save by the heel partner. That was the last false finish, after a flurry of flippy shit the luchas were going over and then Brody was on.

“We’re up,” Brody said as the crowd made the three count. “You better hang back so they can’t see you when I come in.”

Sterling stood up from the bench and extended his hand. “Let’s give them a show.”

Brody shook his hand; it was a bit too firm. First the shiny boots, then the prematch warmup with a shitload of weight, and now a firm handshake. The kid was going to stiff him in the ring. Brody smiled as he popped three Oxy into his mouth, then decided a fourth was needed. He washed it down with a flat bottle of Mountain Dew. Kids gotta learn.

Brody walked down a narrow hallway from the weight room to the doorway of the gym. Marty, the booker was there holding a mic. He extended it to Brody as he walked up.

“Two minutes and keep it clean,” Marty said. He was dressed in a tux, as if dressing up somehow lent an air of professionalism to a wrestling show in a high school gym. Brody peered through the small window of the door, it was a packed crowd, maybe a thousand or more.

The lights in the gym dimmed as opening guitar riff of AC/DC’s Thunderstruck played over the soundsystem. The crowd clapped along as the announcer spoke.

“And now, ladies and gentlemen, your main event! First, weighing in at 247 pounds…”

Brody smiled as he thumped his palm against his belly. I haven’t been 247 in a decade he thought.

“He is a former world tag team champion from Chicago, Illinois, Brody Thunder!”

Brody stepped into the gym just as AC/DC started chanting Thunder, and soon the whole crowd was chanting and cheering along. He was getting a babyface entrance, but he’d soon turn that around. Nothing was more fun than getting a crowd that wanted to cheer you to turn against you.

Brody made his way into the ring, running the ropes and posing for the crowd before his music cut and he was left standing in the ring as the crowd chanted “Thunder!”

“Hello Preston Bulldogs!” Brody screamed into the mic, erupting the crowd into another frenzy. Mention the town name, easy cheap pop. Usually it was the babyface’s job to milk the town name for a pop, but Brody figured the more he built them up the more they’d boo him when he went heel on them.

“I drove in last night from Atlanta just to see you, just to come put on a show for the Georgia famous Preston Bulldogs. And as I drove in last night over the War Memorial Bridge, down Main Street past Dooley’s Pizza, I said to myself, ‘Brody, does this look like a town that needs a little Thunder in their lives? Does this look like a place that’s ready for Brody Thunder to call down the Thunder and Lightning in the ring here and tear the roof off this gym?’  What do you say Preston Bulldogs, are you ready to get Thunderstruck?”

More cheers and chanting of “Thunder!” Even in his medicated state last night driving in, he managed to glean enough information about the town to work into his promo. The crowd was into him, and he was so over that it was almost funny when Brody took the wind out of their sails.

“No, you’re not ready,” he said as the “Thunder!” chant came to an abrupt, confused halt. “I look at this crowd of peanut farmers and I wonder why Brody Thunder wasted his time driving here. I mean come on Georgia! I thought you were famous for your peaches, but when I look at the women in this crowd, all Brody Thunder sees is pits.”

Brody could see it materialize in their faces as it sank in that he was insulting them. The boos grew louder as he amped up his attack.

“Maybe Preston isn’t ready for Brody Thunder. Maybe Brody Thunder should go somewhere he’d be more appreciated. maybe Brody needs to head to a real town, like Rockdale!”

If anyone was on the fence before, they turned white hot against him at the mention of the rival town. The boos were deafening, and a few people even threw trash at him in the ring. Brody picked up the balled up popcorn bag and threw it out of the ring back at the crowd.

“Now you’re throwing trash? Just what I would expect from a low class city like Preston. You don’t deserve to see Brody Thunder. You don’t deserve…”

Brody was midway through the ropes when the kid’s music hit, Guns n Roses Welcome to the Jungle. Sterling stepped through the doorway into the gym and the crowd went nuts for him. After the setup Brody did, even Vladimir Putin could’ve came through those doors and the crowd still would’ve cheered.

“Battling out of the blue corner, weighing in at 278 pounds he is a former Japanese super heavyweight champion from Stillwater Florida, Gorilla Sterling!”

Gorilla, Brody thought. That explains the monkey on his singlet.

Sterling stepped into the ring as the crowd cheered. He posed from the corners, flexing and pointing to the crowd before stepping down and staring Brody in the face.

“You know, Gorilla Sterling grew up in a small town much like this. Gorilla Sterling had a blue collar mom and dad who worked late shifts, night shifts, overtime, time and a half, double time, all the time! Whatever we had we worked hard to get! Maybe Body Thunder doesn’t understand how we do things here in the South!”

The crowd cheered. Brody played his part as the shocked heel.

“ What do you say, Preston?  Should I show this Chicago thug a little down home, Southern justice?”

More cheers erupted. Sterling turned his back to Brody to address the crowd.

“Once I lock in the Gorilla Vice, Brody Thunder won’t…”

Brody kicked him in the back, knocking the kid down. He stomped him down as the crowd booed. Brody didn’t go too stiff with the kicks, just enough to sell the attack. The kid went down as he was supposed to, selling Brody’s offense. Maybe the kid’s going to be okay, Brody thought.

Once Sterling was down and rolling on the canvas in pain, Brody did a couple mocking poses for the crowd as another shower of boos rained down. Brody rolled out of the ring and dragged the official in, berating him to start the match even though his opponent was still dazed by Brody’s kicks to the back of his head. Although he was reluctant, the official signaled for the bell.

The match was over; all they had left to do was wrestle it.

This is Hell, after all


Tom didn’t know how he got here. He remembered stalking the woman through the parking lot, waiting for the right moment to make the grab. Her Coach handbag dangled from her elbow as he tagged behind her, pretending to text on his phone to lessen suspicion. He waited until she exited the parking lot onto the busy sidewalk of Broad Street before making his move. He walked up, bumping into her as he slipped the purse off her arm and ran. He remembered hearing her yell as he stepped out onto the street, and then the sound of a horn. Was that a bus? Sounded like a bus. Then everything was quiet, everything was dark.

And now this.

Tom was wearing a grey jumpsuit, standing outside of a gray building with no windows on a street lined with buildings of the same design. The street stretched on for miles into the haze in both directions. Above him the sky was a lighter color gray filtering the light shining through.

Am I dead? Tom thought. He took a deep breath, feeling his lungs expand. Could I be breathing if I was dead? Is this really air?

Tom walked toward the building. There were no signs, only a revolving door leading to a lobby. He considered walking to one of the other buildings but they all looked the identical. What if this one was “his building”, and after checking the other buildings he didn’t remember which one was his? If he was dead, he didn’t want to end up an aimless spirit lost in purgatory because he lost his building.

Tom stepped through the revolving door and entered a small lobby leading to a receptionist’s window. The walls were bare except for a single painting of a dog, hanging askew. There was a small alcove with a table that had a few magazines on it, all 1970s issues of Sports Illustrated. Tom walked up to the receptionist’s window and pressed the buzzer. When the window opened, a small red creature with black horns greeted him.

“Jesus!” Tom yelled, stepping back.

The creature cocked an eyebrow as it spoke. “I get that a lot. Honestly, we don’t look a thing like each other.”

“Where am I? Is… is this Hell?” Tom stuttered, staring at the creature. Besides the red skin and horns, its eyes were all black with no pupils. It was dressed in a forest green blazer that had a nametag clipped to the lapel. Whatever it was, it’s name was Nybbas.

The creature was standing on the receptionist’s chair in order to reach the window. Tom could see its little cloven hooves digging into the fabric trying to steady itself as the chair tried to swivel under him.

“Didn’t the dog tell you?” Nybbas said.

Tom looked around behind him. “Dog?”

Nybbas snorted. “Dammit, that dog… always running about, he’s supposed to guard this place! We put one of those Invisible Fence collars on him, but does he care? No! Just runs right through it. I told them he needed a collar for each head, but procurement wouldn’t authorize buying more than one. Just give me a sec, okay?”

Nybbas plopped back down in his chair and picked up his desk phone and dialed. “Lydia? Nybbas. Cerberus is loose again, you need to call Thade down in… you need to call, Lydia. No, you do. Because you’re in charge of him. Yes… no… Lydia, he won’t listen to me. No… Lyd… Lydia… when the big guy finds out… Uh huh. Yeah. What’s that? Are you serious? How far can he run? Is that really your response right now? We’re floating on a lake of fire, Lydia! Just call Thade. Call Thade, Lydia. That’s your job. Thank you.”

Nybbas set the phone back on the cradle and stroked one of his horns between his fingertips. “I can’t deal with this shit today.”

Nybbas sat like that for a few minutes before Tom coughed, reminding him of his presence.

Nybbas looked up and spoke. “Oh, new guy. Yeah this is Hell. Let me pull your file up. Name?”

Tom cleared his throat, his voice shaking a little. “Tom Northrup.”

Nybbas typed his name into the computer. “Let’s see, new arrivals, ah! There you are! Theft, Lord’s name in vain, general dickish behavior. Wow! Got popped by a bus after lifting some old broad’s purse! This isn’t your day, bub.”

“So that’s it, I’m dead? And in Hell? Nothing I can do about it now?” Tom felt a lump in his throat as his eyes watered. “I’m still just a kid! I’m too young to be dead already. I have so much still to do, and mom, oh shit my poor mother…”

“Oh boy, we’ve got a crier,” Nybbas said. “Listen, Hell isn’t so bad. You ever hear the expression that history is written by the victors?”

Tom nodded, sniffing as he dabbed his eyes with his shirt collar.

“In a nutshell, that’s Hell,” Nybbas continued. “The Bible talked this place up like a real shithole, but what else was the big G supposed to do? Had to keep you humeys in line, didn’t he?”

Tom took a deep breath and straightened his shirt, his collar damp from wiping his tears. “Doesn’t matter much now anyways, does it? I’m here.”

“There’s the spirit!” Nybbas said. “And look, since it’s such a slow intake day, you’re going straight up to meet with Satan.”

“I’m meeting Satan?” Tom asked, his voice shaking.

Nybbas nodded. “You should be honored! Most humeys have to wait a week before they get to meet him.”

Tom stepped away from the desk, looking back at the revolving door.

“Don’t get any ideas kid,” Nybbas said. “Outside that door? Still Hell. Run for a hundred miles in any direction? Still Hell. And on the off chance you do make it to the edge, there’s the whole lake of fire you’ve got to deal with. Runners never make it, and it just pisses everyone off. Don’t make me have to call Lydia again. You’d really be busting my balls if you did.”

Tom gave the door another glance before stepping back to the window.

“Good call, new guy.” Nybbas stood back up on his chair and leaned out the window. He handed Tom an envelop. “Before you go up, this is your new resident packet. It has your badge in it, that’s what you use to get back to your quarters after you meet with Satan. Just put it in the slot in the elevator and it will do the rest. After he gives you your punishment, the key will update with that information and take you to your punishment site when the time comes. Got it?”

Tom opened his packet, pulling out his badge that was attached to a lanyard made of braided horse hair.

“The lanyard is a bit itchy, but this is Hell.”Nybbas said. “Just put it in your pocket, no one really cares. This isn’t the other place, we’re not big on rules. Just don’t lose it.”

Tom stuffed the badge and lanyard in his pocket. The rest of the packet were typical welcome literature, phone lists, and a FAQ page.

“Big guy is ready for you,” Nybbas said. “Step on the elevator and insert your card in the reader.”

“Elevator?” Tom asked. “But there’s no…”

When he turned to look, one of the walls of the lobby had opened up, revealing an open elevator door. Tom stepped into the elevator, which was all black and had no controls other than the card reader. Tom slid his card through it; the door dinged and closed behind him. Just before the door closed, Nybbas called out to him.

“New guy! When you meet Satan, be sure to…”

The door closed.

Be sure to what? Tom thought, as the elevator started moving. Up or down, he couldn’t tell.

The elevator played an instrumental version of We Built This City by Starship. As the elevator moved, the thought occurred to Tom that maybe the elevator was to be his torment. He was claustrophobic, perhaps he would spend an eternity trapped in an elevator? His breathing quickened and his heart thudded against his ribcage (or was that just in his mind?) as the elevator continued its journey.

Just as he was about to break, Tom heard a ding as the door opened. A great red serpent pushed its head into the opening of the elevator. Its fangs dripped with venom as it looked into Tom’s eyes, its tongue darting between the gap of its front teeth. It let out a horrible hiss, causing Tom to cup his hands over his ears and curl into a ball on the floor of the elevator.

It spoke in a deep, raspy voice that rattled in Tom’s chest and felt like his ears were going to pop.

“Welcome to Hell!” it boomed, followed by maniacal laughter. And then poof, it was gone.

Tom looked up from his fetal position to see a humanoid demon with red skin and long black horns pointing at him and laughing. The demon was dressed in a business suit with his hair pulled back in a ponytail. The well dressed demon almost fell over and was holding himself up against the wall of the elevator, pointing and laughing.

“Your face right now,” he said in between laughing fits, “oh my God that’s priceless! You didn’t piss your pants did you? No shame in that, no shame at all.”

Tom wasn’t sure. He looked down and didn’t see any wetness, so he shook his head no.

“That’s good then, save you a bit of embarrassment wetting yourself the first time you meet Satan. Which is me, hello.” Satan did a half bow. “Then it would be all awkward the next time you saw me, you’d be wondering if I’d be telling everyone that you pissed yourself when you left the room. Which I would if you did, but since you didn’t I won’t. Alright, come on now, up with you.”

Satan reached out for Tom to take his hand.

“It was just a joke, rather funny one I might add” Satan said with a beaming grin on his face. Tom reached out and Satan pulled him up onto his feet.

“In case you were wondering about the snake thing, Revelation 12:9 ‘The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent, who is called the devil and Satan, the deceiver of the whole world’, so it’s kinda required. His orders.” Satan pointed up, rolling his eyes. “Well, not really. My idea. I get a kick out of it, it’s a good icebreaker.”

Satan led Tom to a seat in front of a giant desk in the middle of the room. Satan sat in the chair on the other side of the desk, leaning forward, his elbows on the desk as he rested his chin on his fists.

“Well here we are, I’m Satan, this is Hell,” Satan said.” And you’re…?”

“Tom Northrup,” Tom replied.

Satan gasped. “Did you say Tom Northrup?”


“THE Tom Northrup?”

“I, I guess so?” Tom stuttered.

“Oh wow, this is big. Real big. We’ve been waiting for you.”

“Really?” Tom asked.

Satan nodded. “Oh yeah! Biggest new arrival since Hitler.”

Tom’s jaw dropped. “Me? Really? I wasn’t that bad, was I?”

“Oh yeah, we’ve got a huge file on you, Tom,” Satan said, as he leaned down and lifted a hefty file from the bottom drawer of his desk. “Everything in here says you’re a bad dude.”

Tom was stunned. Sure he, stole a few things and wasn’t the nicest person, but was he really that bad?

The devil leaned forward, talking just above a whisper. “Wanna know what it says about you?”

Tom nodded. The devil opened the file, shaking his head and clicking his tongue as he turned the pages. His face shifted from disgust to shock with every turn of the page.

“I can’t tell you everything in there, for reasons of security, but can I ask you something?”

Tom nodded.

“What was it like diddling all those puppies?”

Tom furrowed his brow. “Does it say I did that?”

“Yeah! Right here,” Satan said, pointing to no page in particular.

“There must be some sort of mistake, I never…” Tom said, but was interrupted by Satan laughing and smacking his hand against the desk.

“I got you again!” Satan said. He wiped tears of laughter from his cheek, one sizzled as it landed on the desk. “You’re easy, Tom. If that IS your real name. And it is, I know because I’m Satan and all that.”

Tom exhaled. Or at least he thought he did; he still wasn’t sure about the whole breathing thing.

They sat in silence, the devil staring at Tom, smiling. It was an awkward silence, Tom unsure if he should say something or if Satan was just looking him over. Tom glanced around the room, avoiding Satan’s gaze. The walls of the office were bare, except for a giant window along the side. Outside, gray buildings stretched for miles in every direction. Off in the distance, the glow of fire rimmed the edge of the buildings.

“Do you like boats?” Satan asked.

“Boats?” Tom repeated, puzzled by the question.

“Yeah, boats. Were you much of a boater in life?”

“No, I can’t say that I was,” Tom answered.

“Oh, that’s too bad,” Satan said.


“Oh, no reason,” Satan said.

More silence. Satan picked up a pen and began drawing on the cover of the folder.

Tom grew up in a Southern Baptist household, and even though he hadn’t been to church since he was eleven he recalled the fiery sermons his pastor gave describing Satan as this great deceiver, liar, and tormenter. Satan was a monster. He devoured souls and tormented them for eternity in a lake of fire. At no point in his Sunday school studies did the devil scribble crude drawings of cats with gigantic dicks on a folder.

This reminded Tom of what Nybbas had told him about Hell: history is written by the victors. Maybe Satan was kicked out of Heaven because he was annoying, and he was sent to work in the warehouse like he was the retarded son of a wealthy business owner.

Then again, maybe none of this was real and what Tom was experiencing was the last gasp of firing neurons in a dying brain.

“So, what happens next?” Tom asked, breaking the silence.

“Huh? Oh,” Satan said, like he almost forgot Tom was sitting in front of him. “Tell me about your life.”

Tom cleared his throat. “Well, it was pretty normal, I guess. I was born, went to a small school out in the country, graduated high school and went to Duke University…”

“Blue Devils!” Satan exclaimed. “That’s like me, but you know,” Satan gestured to his face, “Blue.”

Tom nodded. “Yeah, that’s the one. My dad went there so he got me in. I didn’t really have the grades or demeanor to succeed. I got mixed up with drugs and flunked out, ended up disowned by my parents and living on the streets. Then the last thing I did when I was alive was steal a lady’s purse, ran out into the street in front of a bus and now I’m here.”

The devil shook his head. “You were only 23, right?”

Tom nodded. “Yes.”

“Quite the wasted life, wasn’t it, Tom?”

Tom’s eyes welled up with tears again. Whether this was real or not didn’t matter, he did get hit by the bus and was either dead or dying. “It’s not how I wanted things to go. I just got mixed up in the wrong crowd, one thing led to another and I ended up where I was. That’s not how I wanted my life to be, and now… it’s too late to change anything.”

Tom was sobbing, burying his head in his hands.

“Oh, this is awkward,” Satan said, he walked around his desk and stood in front of Tom with his arms outstretched. “Come on, bring it in for a hug.”

Tom shook his head. “I’ll be okay.”

“You sure? Might be the last one you get. This is Hell, after all.”

Satan was smiling, his eyebrows raised as he bounced on his knees, enticing Tom to accept his hug. Tom got the feeling that Satan wasn’t going to move until he agreed, so he stood up and leaned in for a hug. Satan squeezed him tight in his arms, stroking Tom’s hair.

“There you go, buddy,” Satan said.

This is too fucking weird, Tom thought as he felt Satan pat his back. Then he heard humming. Tom recognized the song, but he had to be mistaken; there was no way Satan would be humming that song. Tom’s certainty of the song was confirmed when Satan began singing the chorus in a soft falsetto, stroking Tom’s hair.

Hold me closer tiny dancer.
Count the headlights on the highway.
Lay me down in sheets of linen.
You had a busy day today.

Satan released Tom from the hug and looked down at him. “How’s that? Doing better now?”

Tom nodded, still a bit dumbfounded by what just happened.

After releasing Tom from the hug Satan returned to his chair.

This has to be a dream Tom thought as he sat back down in his seat. There’s no way Satan is this…

Weird? Incompetent? Lonely? All of the above?

“So now,” Satan began, “your assignment. Your eternal damnation for a lifetime of sin. Are you ready for it?”

Tom took a deep, possibly imaginary breath, then nodded.

“You can’t just nod, you have to say, ‘I’m ready’.”

“I’m ready,” Tom replied.

Satan cleared his throat.

“Your punishment,” Satan began, pausing for dramatic effect after each clause. “For all of eternity, which is until the end of time, and then after that, and then even after that, will be… pitchfork cleaner!”

Satan was trying not to giggle. He shoved his fist against his mouth as he looked at Tom.

“Pitchfork cleaner?” Tom replied.

“Yep,” Satan said, stifling his giggling as he spoke. “Your job is to clean all the pitchforks of all the lesser imps and demons.”

Satan was shaking, biting his lip.

“All of ‘em.”

A small giggle broke through.

“All the pitchforks.”

Tom sighed, then nodded. “Alright then, when do I start?”

“You start…” Satan let out a burst of laughter. “You start… never! Because that’s a joke! I got you again!”

Tom shrugged. “Yeah, you got me good that time.”

“You were all, ‘pitchforks? I don’t know!’” Satan crossed his eyes and threw up his hands. “That’s you, that’s what you looked like.” He crossed his eyes and shrugged again. “’Pitchforks? I don’t know!’ Priceless!”

Satan slapped his hand on the desk and laughed. Tom just sat and waited for him to finish.

“You’re a good sport Tom,” Satan said. “Hey, tell you what, you wanna help me prank the next guy?”

“What, really? Can I?”

“Sure! Let’s do it!”

Satan hit the intercom button on his phone. He looked up at Tom, putting a finger to his lips to shush him as he tried containing his laughter.“Nybbas, is that you?”

“Yeah it…”

Satan cut him off. “Are you there, Nybbas? I can’t hear you.”

“Yes, this…”

“Nybbas? Can you hear me? It’s Satan.”

“I can-”

“Nybbas! Nybbas! Can you hear me Nybbas?”

A heavy sigh came over the intercom as Satan chuckled. “You can hear me, can’t you sir?”

“Got you!” Satan said, laughing. “That never gets old, does it?”

Another heavy sigh came over the intercom before Nybbas spoke. “Nope. Never.”

“Nybbas you can send the next one up.”

Satan stood up from behind his desk and ran over to the elevator, motioning for Tom to join him. “This is going to be good!”

“So what about my assignment?” Tom asked.

“Oh yes, about that,” Satan said. “I’ll be honest with you Tom. Hell is a pretty boring place for me. You wanna just hang out? Help me welcome new humeys?”

Tom shrugged. “Sure, why not?”

“Great! Let’s get ready for the new guy. Where is your pitchfork?” Satan asked.

Tom shook his head. “I didn’t get a pitchfork.”

“Did you already lose your pitchfork? That’s pretty serious Tom, you need your pitchfork.”

“But I didn’t get one downstairs, they just,” Tom began, then noticed that Satan’s eyes were bulging as he bit his lower lip to contain his laughter.

“Is this another joke?”

Satan laughed, smacking Tom on the back. “You catch on quick.”