Trent heard the whispers first. The low murmurings undercut the throbbing radiating from the base of his skull and beating like bongos on the back of his eyeballs. He squinted and flinched from the bright beam of light slicing through the crack of his lids.
The callous clarity of the statement made him shudder. Gritting his teeth, Trent forced his eyes open and peered into the surrounding neon glow.
Shadows moved beyond the column of light and he lurched away when one skulked to his left. The effort nearly toppled him from the chair he found himself adhered to at his ankles, waist, and wrists.
Glancing down, he spied ducted tape circling the lower half of his torso and down his bared arm, the dull silver a contrast to the baby-blue of his uniform’s polo shirt and the jazzy logo at his breast. The adhesive smell blended in with the remaining musk from the pizzas and his deodorant’s efforts against the sweat beginning to pop out from every pore.
He jerked his arms, but merely wrenched his shoulder, aggravating his old pitcher’s injury. Steeping in frustration, new and old, he squinted at his surroundings.
Concrete at his feet sent his heart thudding. The trailer park’s homes had all been on cinderblocks, even the one he remembered knocking on right before….
Frowning he sought the details of his last moments of consciousness. He’d parked his hatchback alongside number 22, gone up to the front door and banged on the screen’s frame. Footsteps preceded the door swinging open, revealing the girl.
His first thought had been approval for her bronzed limbs, then a surprising concern for her short-shorts and plastered tee-shirt and how they might fare against the October chill. Her smile had been warm enough, as had her invitation inside only until she’d found the cash for the extra large vegetarian with extra olives, of course.
He remembered thinking his evening had taken a brighter turn, redeeming his miss of Mike’s Halloween party and discovering what Missy Callahan had concocted for a costume this year.
When the door had closed behind him, though, he recalled the blur out of the corner of his eye while the girl’s hip sway had magnetized his gaze. Then the world had gone black.
Another shadow joined the first, one at either side like prison guards.
Trent scowled and looked between the two. “What the hell’s going on?”
One of the shadows drifted to his right. “Do you still think it will work?”
“The height and weight are what is needed,” said another voice on the opposite side of the beam, a soft soprano whose familiar timbre made his skin crawl.
“But the attitude is…combative.”
Trent shook his head and glowered into the darkness where the girl and the other shade conversed over his head. “Who are you? What the hell is this?”
“It can be broken,” said the girl.
“Listen,” said Trent. “I’m not sure who put you up to this but you better let me go or I’m going to…to….”
“It is aggressive, but not particularly creative.”
“Not many are.”
“Did Mike put you up to this?” He started laughing and looking about for the camera. “Very funny guys. Happy Halloween to you too. Now let me go or Vinny’s going to have my hide.”
“What do you think a Vinny would use its hide for?”
“Another avenue to explore.”
“Give me a break.” Trent jerked his arms again and wiggled his feet. The duct tape held and he slouched back into the chair. “What do you want? Money? The tips are in my wallet and the cash box’s under passenger seat.”
The shadows floated around until they stood behind him. Out of sight, he felt their attention on his shoulders, on the lump the bat or club had generated at the back of his head. Their voices, however, had gone quiet.
Besides his breathing, he couldn’t hear another sound. Not the ambient noise of the trailer park or the streets beyond. No trick or treaters squealing and knocking on doors in search of candy, or the older kids snickering with more mischievous intent. Basement drips and the hum of electricity failed to puncture the stillness, leaving the black outside of the beam like an impenetrable bubble separating him from the world he knew lay somewhere outside. Or, at least, he hoped it did.
“What is it?” He craned his neck, seeking another glimpse of his wardens. “What do you want with me?”
For all the creepiness in the girl’s soprano, he would have given anything to hear her voice. Instead, the light started dimming. Some primal instinct warned him of the shadows moving closer, and Trent felt suddenly certain they were able to claim whatever it is they sought.