by Gary Inbinder
Niemand checks his messages. The phone vibrates in his palm, like a handshake gag buzzer. He clicks the mail icon and reads: “666. It all ends today. ;)”
“Damn.” Niemand drops the device on his bedside table. He hates spam. He complains to his Mobile carrier. They assure him all such messages will be blocked. “Have a nice day, Mr. Niemand.”
* * *
Niemand walks along an avenue that bridges a railroad yard. He stops half-way across the viaduct to gaze at the tracks below. A switching engine rolls past a long line of freight cars parked on a siding. Niemand watches the efficient machine, comparing its purposeful motion to his aimlessness.
He focuses on the vast concatenation of steel rails, and the black iron riveted girders of the bridge. They remind him of the fine-spun silk of a spider’s web. Could life reveal its secrets in a sequence of seemingly disconnected, yet in fact artfully joined, events? Was the message he received that morning a strand of a web meant to catch a fly named Niemand? And what difference does it make, whether those messages are the random transmissions of petty swindlers or part of a greater scheme, an invidious rip-off devised by a master spider?
A leaden overcast splatters the pavement. Niemand wipes drizzle from his forehead with the back of his hand. “It all ends today,” he thinks. “What ends? A sale? An offer for something I don’t need or want? Maybe I end today?” He shakes his head and walks on.
Niemand turns down an unfamiliar street. The rain’s stopped, but the sky’s still gray. Three and four story brown brick buildings line both sides of the block. They loom tall like headstones in a cemetery, from a creeping insect’s perspective. The storefronts are boarded up. He looks at the address on a door — 666. He grimaces in response to the insidious coincidence.
He’s walked too far; he’s breathing hard. Reaching into his jacket pocket for his cell phone to call a cab, he realizes he’s left the damned thing on his bedside table. He walks to a bus stop. When he nears the corner he sees a large vacant lot across the street, weed-ridden, trash strewn and surrounded by a chain-link fence. Beyond are ruins, the empty hulks of abandoned buildings. Desolation.
He checks his watch and glances up at the bus stop sign to see if he can make out the route schedule. Taggers have scrawled graffiti all over it. “Sons-of-bitches,” he growls.
“Hey, old man, whatcha doin’ here?” The voice — young, accented, foreign sounding — emerges from a gray hoodie.
Niemand glares down at a short boy, who seems no more than fifteen. “I’m waiting for a bus,” he replies.
“This is my bus stop, old man. You wanna wait here, you pay me.”
Niemand’s pissed. He was pissed when he got spammed, now he’s doubly pissed. He’s sick of being ripped off. He thinks of slimy telemarketers spamming their cryptic messages and connects this kid to their confidence game, an agent in a cosmic fraud in which he, Niemand, is the intended victim. He shoves the boy aside. “You want money, get a job.”
He starts across the street to escape his tormentor. But the boy won’t go; he clings to Niemand like a blood-sucking leech.
“Where you going, old man? Huh, huh? I’m talkin’ to you. Where you goin’? You give me money — now!”
Niemand halts and turns on the boy. At that instant the kid personifies every evil that Niemand has endured. He decks the kid with a quick, hard right. Then he jeers: “How you like that, you little bastard?” But he doesn’t watch his back. Niemand doesn’t see the kid’s bigger friend who sneaks behind him with a two-by-four. The first blow stuns Niemand. He staggers and slumps to his knees, like a steer in a slaughter-house. The second blow shatters the skull, spattering blood and brains on the pavement.
Niemand sprawls face down, unconscious and dying in a puddle of filth. The boys grab his wallet, his watch and gold wedding band. They drag the half-dead man to the curb, turn round the corner building and disappear into a nearby alley where they are greeted by a pack of starving children.
The kid in the gray hoodie smirks. “Brothers and sisters — fresh meat!” he cries.
The children swarm like rats. They rip Niemand’s clothes, tear his flesh from his bones, and guzzle his warm blood. The kid in the hoodie whips out his phone and starts texting.
All across the city, cell phones buzz —“666. It all ends today. ;)”
Copyright © 2011 by Gary Inbinder