Peeling paint, sagging porch. Spooky house. Barry chided himself for hesitating — this guy’s just an old man, and the son-of-a-bitch needs to be put in his place. Barry clenched his fist and knocked.
The screen rattled as flecks of gray paint came off on his knuckles. No answer.
He pounded again. This knock reverberated throughout the house, answered by a “the hell?” from somewhere inside.
A chair squeaked on a tile floor, a drawer clattered open, then heavy footsteps.
The man appeared at the end of the hall, a shadowy figure through the mesh. “May I help you? Say, you’re one of them boys from down the road.”
“Good eyesight, mister. But I don’t like talking through a screen. We need to talk face to face.”
“Man to man, eh? Well, why don’t you come in then?” The man swung the door open.
Barry grabbed the door and held it, but didn’t enter.
The old man’s hands were thrust into the pockets of a tweed jacket. He was tall, looking down on Barry. His gray hair was unkempt. Underneath the jacket he wore patched khakis and a t-shirt. He may have been way over the proverbial hill, but he was solid, a threatening presence on his home turf.
Barry shucked that feeling: he would not be intimidated by this geezer. “I just come to deliver a friendly message. Mind your own fucking business. Grow old in peace. Any more calls to police, harassing us, there could be an accident. Understood?”
The old man nodded sagely. “Understood. Eloquent, in its own way — I especially liked ‘grow old in peace,’ though that’s a challenge with boys like you living down the block. I would dispute your characterization of the message as ‘friendly,’ though.”
“What are you, a professor? Fuck the fancy talk, old man. You should be apologizing to me — I had to go to court because of you!”
“An interesting assessment. Funny but I don’t remember being around when you drank to excess, then chose to drive. I was looking out that window when you drove into my parked car, but I don’t think I had anything to do with your decision to drive off hoping no one saw you. What am I apologizing for?”
Face reddening, Barry raised his fists. “You’re apologizing so I don’t beat the living shit outta you.”
“I see. Not only is your reasoning flawed, you’ve also miscalculated your position of power at this moment. I have a .38 special pointed at your chest.”
Registering the bulge in the man’s jacket, Barry began to spew “take it easy don’t want trouble” words — signifying nothing except “I don’t want to be shot.”
The old man cut him off. “You came to talk. Now it’s my turn. Your choice of words — you had to go to court not because you ran into my car, but because I reported it — suggests to me that you belong to the one percent of the population who are clinically psychopathic.” He spoke in the monotone of an instructor lecturing a disinterested student. “Oh, that doesn’t mean one out of a hundred people is a serial killer. Only that they’re narcissists who don’t have a developed sense of conscience. Basically, they lack empathy. That’s really all conscience is, isn’t it: being able to imagine how others will feel or be affected by your actions? Conscience can be a liability. If you aren’t burdened by one, you can go far in business, or in a gang. Let’s go into the kitchen.” He waved the bulge in his pocket, motioning Barry to walk ahead of him.
The décor was creepy-old, permeated with that old-house smell.
“Open that door, would you?” The man indicated a door by the pantry.
Barry did as told. Rickety steps sank into inky blackness. A damp, moldy smell wafted up from the basement.
“Down there, I have a chair with straps on the arms. If you sat in that chair, I would pull those leather straps tight, and then oh what a time we would have.”
Barry’s jaw dropped. He started to protest, but averted his gaze when he met the man’s dark eyes, which were lit with an intensity suggesting pure bestial rage just barely confined.
The man drew near and, in something between a hiss and a growl, began to describe in vivid detail the time they would have: “…long, sharp straight razor… just that much pressure and the eyeball pops out of the socket nearly intact…”
As the man droned on, Barry felt light-headed, like he might lose control of his bladder, on the verge of fleeing despite the gun.
Reciting his slow-torture mantra, the man’s wrinkled face contorted into a relishing, demoniac grin. “…lick the back of your own eyeball. How many people could say they’ve done that?”
Barry wanted to run, but the man’s maniacal eyes riveted him. Barry’s voice quivered and broke as he pleaded again.
Leaning in toward Barry’s ear, the man spoke just above a whisper. “Here’s how it will be. I don’t ever want to see you again. If I do, I’ll think of the fun we could have. You see, you’re crazy… But I’m crazier.”
“Best you forget all about this visit. Don’t think about me. And never, never say my name. The Devil has ears. In the deep dark of the night. And I’ll come fetch you. It could be three a.m.. I’m your new Bogeyman.”
Barry dashed to the front door and stumbled headlong down the steps.
A woman entered the kitchen through the back door, wiping her hands on her garden apron. “Jim, was someone here? I thought I heard a knock.”
Jim pulled a potato peeler out of his jacket and dropped it back into the drawer. “One of the boys from down the street stopped by.”
Concern registered on his wife’s face. “What did he want?”
“Oh, selling something.” The man shrugged. “I don’t think he’ll be back.”
Nicholas Ozment received his M.A. in English from Winona State University in 2006. His stories, poems, essays, and reviews span a wide range of genres and styles, and his award-winning work has been anthologized, podcast, and performed on stage and radio. Recently his flash fiction was anthologized in The Best of Every Day Fiction Two. His poems have appeared in the online literary journal The Smoking Poet, print journals Aoife’s Kiss and Mythic Delirium, and numerous other publications. He is co-editor of the webzine Every Day Poets.