Hard to Swallow by Nick Nafpliotis [horror]

Imprint - Horror Imprint Logo 200wHard to Swallow by Nick Nafpliotis

When most people hold a pill in their hand, it represents some manner of impending relief. Whether it’s prescription strength meds or a good old-fashioned, over-the-counter pain reliever, swallowing that little pellet is supposed to do something that will make you generally feel better. Hell, even the bad stuff that you’re not supposed to take is all for the sake of acquiring some badly desired short-term benefits for your brain and body.

But for me, this pill represents something that will wreak all types of havoc on my heart whether I take it or not. This is the old “red pill/blue pill” scenario, only both options are attached to varying degrees of nobility and suffering.

If I take this pill, like I did diligently a couple months ago, then I finally get to be a normal, functioning member of society. Sure, I might be the guy who causes folks on the subway to look over their shoulder more than once. But I can live with that if it also means I get to wake up in the morning, go to work, come home, and go to bed like everyone else. If that type life comes with friends and the potential to actually talk with people other than my shrink, I’ll gladly take that as well.

The real benefit to it all, however, would be the added storage space. As it stands right now, the cutting equipment alone is taking up the entire basement. Once you add in the bones and hanging frames for each one, I can barely move down there. Sixteen bodies doesn’t sound like a lot at first, but people come in all different shapes and sizes. There’s no standard way to set and arrange them all in the proper positions without utilizing a large amount of square footage, most of which is taken up with the arms and legs jutting out from the torso in whatever stance The Rattler tells me to put them.

I learned long ago not to argue when The Rattler tells me to do something. It’s best just to make the offering, clean off the flesh, bleach the bones, and put everything just the way he wants it. Otherwise, the screaming between my ears gets so loud that it feels like my eyes are going to pop. Procuring and preparing the offerings is fairly gruesome business, but I know that it needs to be done.

I also know, however, that I’ve been pretty damn lucky so far. This isn’t like the serial killer shows on TV where some suave psycho keeps up a normal life while hacking away at fleshy versions of his own personal demons. I know that if I keep this up for much longer, I’m going to get caught…which honestly didn’t matter that much until I met Liz.

The Rattler had told me to bring him someone with her build and features, so I figured it was my lucky night when she sat next to me on the subway home. You can imagine my surprise, then, when she started talking to me like we had known each other for years. Hearing voices, seeing things move inside the walls, food coming to life and trying to eat you first…she’d been through all of it. I couldn’t tell initially if she had to procure offerings like I did (there’s no casual way to ask about something like that), but I was pretty sure she didn’t. Her master had been an addiction to drugs and some fairly unsavory work, all of which she now claimed to have left in the past.

As we continued to talk, I purposefully ignored my stop. After making the entire loop three times, it became clear that she had done the same. I also noticed, after observing her as more than just another mark, that Liz was absolutely stunning. She was short, with huge brown eyes and short black hair that she let fall right above her shoulders. Her tan skin framed a muscular build, which indicated someone who could hold her own in a fight and took care of herself a hell of a lot better than I did.

Seeing Liz like that was the first time in forever that I’d noticed another human being in a way other than just making cold, calculated observations at The Rattler’s behest. It felt strange to be attracted to someone again…and even stranger to suspect that the feeling was reciprocated. As we got off the train that evening, she gave me her number without me even having to ask.

This is the point in the story where I expected some sort of cliché commandment by The Rattler to kill the woman I had grown too fond of. I wouldn’t have done it, but the impending confrontation and subsequent torture was not something that I was looking forward to. To my surprise however, He didn’t really seem to mind at all. As long as I was still out there procuring his offerings, He couldn’t really care less if I had a girlfriend or not.

Things between me and Liz started off well and got better from there. I kept waiting for the other shoe to drop, but it never did. Instead, we got closer and closer to the point that I shared pretty much everything with her (except for the stuff I had to do for The Rattler, of course). At every point where I expected her to figure out that I was crazy and kick me to the curb, she ended up either being completely understanding or even more crazy herself.

I’ll never forget the day that I met Liz’s mom for the first time. I worried that the meeting would be an entire evening at Olive Garden filled with bread sticks and judgment. It was, but not for me. Liz’s mom berated her incessantly about various things to the point that the awkwardness was numbing. To Liz’s credit, however, she handled every barb and quip with aplomb.

My favorite part was when her mom went on a rant about Liz having fake boobs. I, of course, was completely fine with it. My policy has always been that if they exist on this plane of reality, then they’re real. But Liz’s mom seemed to think it indicated some sort of deep-seeded flaw in her daughter’s character.

“You were born beautiful,” she’d said while slurping up some type of awful-smelling lemon soup. “Why do you have to ruin your body like that?”

“Whatever…I love my bionic enhancements,” Liz responded with that beautiful little half smile of hers. “In fact, I want my next one to be a robotic arm with a shoulder-mounted laser like the one in ‘Predator.’”

Yep, this woman was pretty much perfect for me…which also made me want to stop working for The Rattler. I didn’t want to go to jail for the rest of my life or be executed (depending on which state found out about me first). I just wanted to be with Liz.

As you might imagine, The Rattler was not very pleased about my new outlook on life. But I was determined to do things my own way for once. As the screaming blared in my ears, I made an appointment with a shrink. It was absolute torture at first, but to the guy’s credit, he called BS on enough stuff I was saying that it became apparent he was actually listening. After diagnosing me with a slew of disorders (some of which I didn’t even realize existed), he prescribed an anti-psychotic, which I began taking immediately.

In the beginning, it was perfect. The voices were still there, but they’d gone from a deafening roar to barely being a whisper. I no longer felt like I had to find offerings for The Rattler, either. I could wake up, go to work, come home, spend the evening with Liz, and repeat the beautifully perfect and normal cycle day after day.

After two months, however, I noticed something: Liz wasn’t making any sense. At first, I figured that maybe it was just one of her little obsessive phases she had, only this time about something that I didn’t understand. But after weeks of trying to decipher what sounded like complete gibberish coming from her mouth, I started to realize that it was me who was changing. By the fourth month, I had gone from being blissfully happy whenever she was around to feeling completely repulsed by her mere presence.

Making things worse was the fact that Liz could feel it, too. She would cry and scream and ask why I didn’t love her anymore. Despite how cold my feelings had grown towards her, it still killed me to see her like that. My heart may have not felt like it had before, but I still remembered what it was like when we were madly in love with each other.

So I stopped taking my medicine. I also stopped going to my shrink. With every voice mail and text message from him that I deleted, I could feel The Rattler slowly easing back into my life…along with that small fire in my heart for Liz lighting back up again.

It took a while for us to reconcile. At first, she didn’t want to get anywhere near me out of the fear that I would break her heart again. Hearing her say that now with so much more clarity hurt more than any physical pain that I’ve ever experienced in my life. But after a month or so of talking to each other again, she could tell that I was listening to her like I’d used to, hanging on every word and taking them in like wine into a glass. I understood her again. I loved her again.

And unfortunately, I also had to start working for The Rattler again. Despite my best efforts at resisting His call, I had no choice to but start filling the orders…which meant that someday, probably very soon, I was going to get caught.

So here I am, standing in front of this mirror, covered in bleach and blood while holding the pill that can make it all stop. No more offerings for The Rattler…no more Liz. Either they remain a part of my life together or I turn my back on them both.

I’ve weighed the decision, so has The Rattler, and so have you. What will I do?

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