What you are about to read is based on actual events. All of the characters depicted in this story are real. This really happened. Really. A lot of this really happened. As you read it you will think, Yeah no, I don't think so, I don't think this really happened, and you would be wrong because you're not psychic and you didn't write it and I did and you can't prove it's not true and much of it, many of the things, these tremendous things, they were just tremendous and these were the best things and they totally happened and look at my face right now and you will know in your heart and in your feet and in your butt cheeks that this all could have probably happened if it did happen.
The interrogator clicks the record button on the small camera. It beeps on its tripod, the sharp red pupil of its digital eye dimming to black.
“I'm sorry, are we cutting? I didn't hear cut but it looks like...”
The interrogator's fist slams into the man's forehead. His head totters over the back of the steel chair. The chair's metal legs screech at their bolts against the cement floor, accenting the man's maniacal laughter.
“Whoa, sorry, I'm sorry. Was it that bad? You know, you're right, if I'm being honest you're right. That was a little stiff, a little forced. Again, I'm sorry, that was the first take so maybe if we could just take it again from one.”
The second punch sends the man's head back again, harder, and the base of his skull bangs into the metal. A hallow, tinny note hums in the air.
“Okay okay okay, wow, easy! That was a hard one, do you all hear that, the ringing? Is that a high D? Ah, sorry, of course, more takes, more money. We're going to Clint Eastwood this thing. Cool, I'm down, I guess I just need a little more direction. What is my character feeling in this scene? What is his motivation? Fear of jail? Fear of a beating?”
A broad man in a black suit rubs his knuckles, not because they hurt, but more like he is rubbing in the feeling, letting his knuckles savor it.
“Got it... fear, more fear, let's go again.”
“The incident,” the interrogator says.
“Pertinent facts. Where is your wife, Mr. Sortor?”
“She's crazy. Can I start with that? I guess you already know that but the lady is nuts. Are you married? Sorry, not pertinent, right? Seriously, though, are you? The anger, that rage bubbling up around your neck and jaw, would suggest that you are married. Are things not going well?”
The next punch finds the man's rib cage, first left side, then right.
“Sorry, sorry,” the man wheezes, still laughing. “We all have our soft spots, I get it.”
Another punch, solar plexus. This one takes a few seconds...
And then he's back.
“That one felt extra angry. Do you work with your wife, is she nearby? That punch felt like she is on the other side of the glass? If she is watching you right now so you can't answer honestly, stare at me menacingly.”
The interrogator cocks back his fist.
“Oh my God she's your supervisor?”
Another punch to the head. This shot draws the first blood. The man lets it drip from his mouth in gloppy strings and laughs at the shapes the blood makes on the floor.
“Agent,” comes a quick chirp over the intercom. It is a woman's voice.
The man laughs. “Oh no, oh no I was just kind of reading the room and shootin' from the hip but I nailed it, didn't I? I accidentally nailed it. Of course I did. That was her, wasn't it? That was your lady on the intercom, the old ball and chain. She is your boss!”
The man's bloody, crazed smile causes the interrogator's hand to draw back again. The fist is about to swing when:
“Ha, look, a caterpillar!” the man says, looking down at the spit-spattered blood. “Well, I see a caterpillar but that's just my perspective. What do you see, agent fluffy fists? Do you see your bread-winning super successful and I'm-the-boss-of-you wife? You should be happy, with your wife leading your family you can focus on the things in your life you care about. Like...”
The detective's hand disappears into a pocket and returns with a switch blade. The man in the chair smiles into the glinting metal as it nears his face.
To his left, the only door into the room opens. A figure steps in without a word and the interrogator stops. The blade slips back into place and is pocketed. A woman steps forward as the interrogator leaves.
“That guy is great,” the man says, spitting another swirling nebula of blood onto the floor.
“What happened tonight?” the woman asks.
“I feel like if you'd let him live his passion, he'd be a much easier person to be around.”
“Just think, you could come home to a piping hot dinner he made from scratch. He could tell you all about his day taking hip hop lessons and crocheting Charlie Brown sweaters for his pet hamsters.”
“Where is your wife, Mr. Sortor?”
“I'm going to tell you about her, I am, really. There's nothing I want more, the weight of it all off my chest will be just so...”
The man brings his formerly handcuffed hands up over the table and drops the lock-picked handcuffs onto the steel surface with a sort of drum roll melee.
“Freeing,” he finishes.
He looks to the window and smiles. The woman puts her hand up so the interrogator doesn't come back and shoot the man in the face.
“He's so mad right now, whew. I hope it doesn't make things harder for you when you're alone with him tonight. The last thing I want to do is drive a massive, spiked, poisonous wedge between you two. Everyone needs their cuddle time.”
The woman collects the handcuffs and slides them silently into the inside pocket of her gray blazer. She pulls out the chair on her side of the table and sits, hands folded.
“Mr. Sortor, please, tell me what happened tonight.”
The man sits back, snapping his fingers and humming. A smile is building on his face. He can't contain it.
“Oh, alright. I'll tell you, but you have to promise to tell only the people who will be terribly upset by the story. Can you do that?”
“How will I know before telling them whether or not someone will be upset?”
“Terribly upset,” he offers.
“Terribly upset,” she echoes.
The man shifts again and slaps the table.
“Well, my wife, like all wives, is crazy. Quite crazy, I would say quite crazy. And I don't mean that in a bad or a mean way. I know some wives are crazy in that bad way, that 'Do you like this dress?' and 'Why haven't you given me a baby yet?' kind of crazy. That crazy isn't much fun. I prefer the type of crazy in a woman that is like working on a rubix cube that sporadically sprays mace in your eyes or becomes ferociously hot before freezing and then exploding in your face because you 'fart dismissively.' The truth is I AM listening, most of the time. It's just hard to listen fully and follow everything she says all the time when she is saying crazier-than-the-designated-hitter-rule type nonsense for sadistic fun. But you know what? I'm not going to do that. I'm not going to be that husband who is arrested when his wife goes missing and just badmouths her to a police station full of strangers. And truthfully, when I say my wife is crazy, I mean it as a huge compliment to her, because her crazy is so unique and elegant and hilarious, it is one of the things I love most about her: 'Oh my God, smell this!! Smell it, do you smell that? It smells like radiation. Do you think the Fukushima plant leaked radiation into this imitation crab meat? Oh my God I have radiation poisoning, I know it, I do! I can feel it. I'm getting a headache, I can't breathe.' Of course you can't breathe, you're holding your breath, honey. 'Blurry vision, I have blurry vision, is that a sign of radiation poisoning?' I don't know, sweetie. It's been so long since the government used my radiation-sniffing abilities to diagnose imitation crab meat viability. I felt like the worst superhero of all time. Imitation crab meat radiation smelling guy, to the rescue. The past few weeks started to feel like every classic hero movie. I was being asked to come back from retirement for one more job, to put my skills to use one more time.”
“We need you, Sortor, now more than ever!”
“I don't know, Captain, I'm not that guy anymore. My nose isn't what it used to be, I don't know if I still have what it takes.”
“Dammit, Sortor, you were the best. Even on your worst day you could smell three microns of cocaine in a strippers ass crack from two rooms away!”
“I can't go back to that life!”
“Wow, you are gone. The man I knew would never have backed down from an assignment. The man I knew wasn't a quitter.”
“I'm not that guy anymore.”
“You're not a MAN anymore.”
“DAMN YOU, ROGER, YOU DON'T KNOW WHAT IT'S LIKE!!”
The woman puts a hand up.
“Mr. Sortor, please. This isn't your Netflix comedy special.”
The man's smile fades. He lets his head drop forward, lets a pout pull at the corners of his quivering mouth.
“You asked me about my wife and I'm telling you.”
“Something tells me between 95% and 100% of what you just said was a lie.”
“Well, if you don't want to hear the rest of my amazing story, that's fine. No, no, don't tell me to finish my story. You're fussy fists' boss, not mine!”
The woman sighs, settling back into the chair.
“Of course. Please continue.”
“Well, I'll just close the story out with a 'don't worry.' In the end, I find a reason to re-enter the life I left behind and I sacrifice myself valiantly, heroically to save all mankind from radiation poisoning and death and destruction. It's kind of a big deal, is all I'm saying. So anyway, my wife can smell radiation, apparently, and she asks for my help in deciding whether something is deadly or toxic or actively giving her cancer at that very moment. I used to be very understanding. I used to try and help quell her fears and reassure her that the donut she was eating would definitely not send her into cardiac arrest. But now, I'm not as helpful. After years of my reassurances being ignored, I found it harder and harder to give them out. If she was just going to waste my empathy and sympathy, I was going to save them for people who valued them... and maybe be a little less helpful to her. 'Oh, wow... yeah I think you're right, it does kind of smell like radiation, hon. Matter of fact, it smells like it's already affecting you. You didn't already eat any of this crab meat, did you? I think I can smell your hair dying. I can smell you prematurely aging. I think I can smell your ovaries drying up like apricots in the vicious central California sun.' You know, the usual husband and wife banter.”
“Oh my God,” the woman says.
“I know, right? Women, what are you gonna do?” the man asks with a shrug. “She glares at me to show her disdain, but that just fuels me. It sustains me, num num num. Sometimes, I'll top the sundae off. Something like, 'Wait, there's something else... it smells like your friends all secretly hate you and love to trash you behind your back. It smells like they are being catty about you RIGHT NOW, and loving every minute of it. It smells like you are going to grow old before your time and die alone, surrounded by a crowd of your most painful regrets.”
“Okay,” the woman says, “so we've established that your wife probably hates you.”
“Strangely enough, these most recent exchanges caused her to ask my opinion of smells and such less and less. Who cares, it's adorable and hilarious, great fun for me.”
“Adorable and hilarious, yes, thank you. What a beautiful back story, very moving and informative. You have such a knack for storytelling.” The woman is mumbling with disdain. “You know what I want?”
“What you really really want?” the man asks.
“I'll tell you what I want.”
“What you really really...”
“I wanna... I wanna...”
“Now you're doing it!” the man yells.
“I wanna know why your house exploded tonight, why we picked debris out of the neighbors' yards four hundred feet away, and why you don't have a mark on you? I wanna know that and I wanna know where your wife is?”
“You know, agent boss lady, it was amazing getting to know my wife before we got married because she did things and thought thoughts that I had never heard other human beings admit to doing or thinking. Up to the age of about seven, she thought that if she had her mouth closed that any noise she made, only she could hear. She thought it stayed in her head, her own little secret conversations. She thought only she would be able to hear it, and it gave her comfort and satisfaction to chirp and bellow to herself in class. It worked, too, for a long time. Too long. It worked for a long time because she was so weird and crazy that no one dared question why she was making those noises.”
Hey, that crazy Kristina girl is making those whale and chimp noises again and I can't concentrate. Tell her to stop.
You tell her to stop.
I'm not going to tell her she is closer to you, you tell her.
Holy Jesus she is looking this way.
“She would stare at them like a lion guarding a kill, eyes wide and wild, teeth clenched under grinning lips, her frantic pencil scribbling little drawings of flowers and vampire bats. I always pictured her crouched over her school room creations, speaking madness she thought only she could hear, like Gollum from Lord of the Rings: Precious... our silent mouth chirps is precious. We can hears its but they cants hears it. No one can hears its but us, precious, NO ONES!!”
“So I don't know how many years she got to babble crazy talk to herself but eventually a teacher told her she was audible and disturbing to the other students, and possibly autistic, and she took it pretty well. She didn't speak publicly for 8 months and frequently peed her pants in class. Problem solved, done and done.”
The woman leans back in the chair and folds her arms. She knows she has to listen, and she knows the man is going to continue spouting nonsense and it seems like he could do so for the rest of the night.
“I should say that she is also very normal in a lot of ways. I shouldn't sit here and ramble on like she shows nothing but lunatic behavior all day every day. Examples, examples... well, she tells me I have to wash my dishes before I put them in the dishwasher. I was skeptical about this the first time she said it, but turns out it's true. You are supposed to wash your dishes off before you put them in the machine called a dishwasher. Isn't that fun? What else? Oh, she wants me to bathe and practice at least semi-decent hygiene on a semi-regular basis. I'm not a huge fan of general daily hygiene, but that seems like a pretty normal request. She says things like, 'I can smell my brain,' which is normal, right? Oh, and she reserves the right to believe that I could, at any point, become possessed by a demon, and she has lovingly assured me that if this happens, she will promptly shoot me in the head or stab me about the face and neck until I am dead.”
The woman sits up suddenly, slamming her feet into the floor. The handcuffs jingle in her pocket and she folds her hands and tries to play off her reaction.
“Normal stuff, you know? Things women need to feel safe and to feel loved, so I grant her these simple things.”
“So much of what you've said is silly, but that last one felt so specific. If that is true, why would she have the worry that you might become a demon and...”
“Yes, become possessed, the process of shifting control of the human mortal to the eternal, formerly divine high being, now derogatorily referred to as 'demon,' is possession. Possessed.”
“Possessed, okay. Why would she be worried about you becoming possessed by a demon?”
“Great question, boss lady, best question of the night. Four months ago, about a year into our marriage, we were lying in bed. The lights were off and I was nodding off to sleep. It had been a hard day, I was sore, mentally done, so I was happy to be in bed and winding down. She was lying there, next to me, quiet and peaceful and, I think, totally asleep. There's nothing quite so soothing as finally settling into bed next to your partner after a long, tough day, right? So my thoughts were quieting down, I settled into a steady breathing pattern, relaxed, let my eyelids close...”
The man slowly presses his palms together and lays his face against them, closing his eyes. He smiles as he simulates peaceful sleep and light snoring. The woman squawks when he suddenly slams his hands down on the interrogation table.
“Screaming! Suddenly the bed was filled with her wild screaming and kicking as she thrashed back and forth under the covers. Her fists slammed into my arms. She was kicking at my legs, the covers were whipping up around us, and I felt her toenails dig into my tender calf flesh and tear out a bunch of my ample leg hair. My heart exploded up to 200 beats per minute, eyes shot open, I was ready to defend her against whatever ninja or alien or infamous puddin' pop comedian was attacking her.”
“I WILL DEFEND YOU, MY LADY!!!”
She stopped. She just lay there panting out exclamations of relief.
“Holy crap, what? What's wrong, are you okay?”
“At that point I was coming back to a normal level of consciousness and starting to make guesses about what could possibly have elicited her response. First thought, someone was in the house, that she was screaming because we were about to be robbed, murdered, or zombies were going to chew our faces off. But I quickly realized the house was silent, there was no one else in the room, and she didn't try to get up and run anywhere, so that wasn't it. Next thought, anyone? What could have woken the sleeping beauty into such violence? Spider. Must have been a spider, or what she thought was a spider, crawling over her feet or something. And yeah, that is one of the most horrifying possibilities in the universe. What's that, there is an 8-legged arachnid crustacean creature with 8 eyes and toxic venom and huge fangs that drinks liquefied bug guts and it carries it's babies on its back and can jump like a hundred times its own body length and produces one of the pound for pound strongest filaments in the world from its BUTTHOLE!!! THAT THING, just crawling around my bare legs a mere inches from my genitalia? Yes, by all means, you scream and I'll scream, too. Let me scream like a tiny newborn and be freaked out of my mind. I'd kick and punch whoever was next to me if it meant I wouldn't have to get bitten by a spider. I'd elbow my wife in the throat to get out of a spider bite. I'll head butt a baby, I don't care, that baby will recover, it would be a light head butt, I have control. But if a spider crawled up my inner thigh and jabbed its two slimy, venom-dripping, bug-blood soaked fangs into my pale flesh, I would never be the same. I would never sleep peacefully again, I'd be ruined as a human being. Every time my back hit another bed I would feel hairy exoskeleton legs tap-dancing around my crotch, scrawling little Xs to mark the spots it would want to BITE ME AGAIN!!! I would never stop feeling the tooth pinch, never stop seeing those eight crazy eyes looking at me when I closed my eyes, so yes, if she did indeed feel a spider crawling on her leg or something, thrash away. I fully support your decision. Mash that little bastard up into bed lint. Crush his essence, smash his very memory from earth, TEAR HIM FROM THE BOOK OF LIFE!!!”
The woman scratches at her neck. She can feel the spider legs tickling.
“So I was like, 'What happened, is something in the bed?' I wanted to know. For her, sure, to protect her I guess. But I needed to know for me, too. She was hyperventilating, sweating, pawing blindly into the darkness and looking to take hold of something solid to assure herself of her safety. 'Oh my gosh... oh... man... I thought... I thought your foot was a hoof.' I blinked two or three times before responding with, 'Um, what?' I thought maybe I was still groggy from the sudden pull from near-sleep, and from the mental and emotional trauma of my wife screaming me back to reality. It sounded like she said she thought my foot was a hoof. So I asked her to clarify. She said, 'I thought your foot was a hoof. It felt like a hoof.' Hmm... okay, first off, rude! Very rude, I loofah these bad boys at least three times a week. They are soft and supple and shiny and beautiful, so how dare you gently rub up against them and think they might be hooves. Second, you thought my foot was a hoof? Tokay, I guess that is scary, I guess, because it is more common than you might think, that your husband will turn into a goat at night when you fall asleep. Most of the time we turn into goats, sometimes llamas or alpacas, sometimes we turn into common sheep. Horses, zebras, deer, bison, water buffalo, pigs, depending on how we're feeling, but usually we turn into goats. Anyway, besides the point, whatever... a hoof, animorphing into some other being? Yeah, that would be scary. But in that vulnerable moment, I made a mistake. I started laughing. Hysterically. At the time it was so mind-blowingly funny to hear my wife tell me she thought my foot was a hoof and be completely, sincerely honest about it. It was adorable, like when a child comes to you, teary eyed, and tells you they saw a monster in their closet. Something very sad about it, and this other part, a darker part, that is eyes-tearingly, gut-shreddingly hilarious. As you might guess, she didn't share my feelings that it was hilarious.”
“Shut up, it was scary. I thought you were turning into a demon.”
“Boom. Forget goats or pigs or horsies, my wife thought I was becoming a horned, hoofed, hairy, fanged, drooling, winged, fire-breathing fallen, a spawn of Satan, an enemy of God. Spiders? HA, I laugh at spiders, I'm a demon sent from hell to my wife's bed to gently rub my hairy hoofed leg against hers. No towers of screaming fire, no smoke or violent speaking in tongues of strange hellish language that when played backwards are the lyrics to the songs of Matchbox 20. Just a gentle leg to rub, that is what a demon would do, though, right? I guess some demons might come in with locust swarms and flames and Hootie and the Blowfish playing. But I guess demons are different, at least as different from each other as humans are from each other, right? Some might melt your skin with mouth lava. Other might sink their fangs into your throat and swallow your head and carry the rest of your lifeless body out to the nether realm. Maybe others are just a little bit weird and creepy, not too over the top. Subtle. Maybe some demons just like creepy whispers, strange noises, hoof to leg contact in bed. Seems possible.”
The woman stands, dropping the handcuffs back onto the table. She walks to the door, opening it, and looks back.
“Mr. Sortor, I'm going to leave now, as I am done having my time wasted. If you feel like actually saying something important, kindly let your guard know and he will arrange another meeting for us.”
“Wait, you don't want to hear the ending?”
The woman shakes her head and goes to leave.
“But it's the best part,” the man whines.
“The best part of your ridiculous stories, Mr. Sortor, is when they're done. And guess what... they're done. Enjoy your stay. Maybe after spending the weekend in a cage, you will feel like telling a story that is a little more helpful.”
The woman leaves, closing the door on the man's pleas for her to stay. The interrogator is standing in the dark waiting for her.
“He's fun,” the interrogator says without smiling.
“He's insane,” the woman replies. “This guy has worked for the city, for the mayor's office, he was on the Governor's staff for two years and he is completely out of his mind.”
“Positions of power always draw the finest people.”
“His wife was killed tonight in an explosion at their home and all he can do is joke about it? If she survived the initial explosion then she most likely burned to death, and look...”
Through the viewing window they watch the man pose his fingers on the table like they are legs. The hands walk toward each other and stop to bow before dancing across the shining metal. He is humming. It is quiet but the woman recognizes the tune.
“Once upon a dream,” she whispers.
“The song... he's humming the song from Sleeping Beauty, Once Upon a Dream.”
Her faraway look brings the interrogator to his feet. He grabs her shoulder.
“Hey, you okay?” he asks.
“What?” she says, still looking through the window. She forces a smile.
“Sarah,” he says, shaking her slightly.
This time she doesn't respond. She doesn't look at him, she is watching something else. When the interrogator looks through the window, the man is waltzing his hands across the table and humming. Words begin to emerge from the intercom, quietly at first, louder every few seconds.
“I... know... you...”
Sarah joins in, “I walked with you once... upon... a dream.”
Soon she and the man are singing the song in sync.
“Sarah, what the hell is going on? Stop it!”
“I... know... you...”
“That look in your eyes... is so... familiar a gleam...”
The interrogator stands in front of her and stares directly into her eyes. His hands go to her shoulders to move her out of the room. Pulling at her shoulders is like trying to move a tree at its base. She doesn't budge. He raises his sleeve cuff to his mouth.
“Interrogation room three, I need backup immediately, over!”
The voice on the other side comes back, but before it can complete a response, the interrogator's earpiece sends a piercing beep into the center of his mind. The noise destroys all thought except remove the earpiece. He yanks it, tossing it across the room, and the skull-splitting noise stops.
But there is another noise below it, rising.
“And I know... it's true... that visions are seldom all they seem...”
The interrogator goes for his gun. He takes a step toward the door but stops. Sarah pulls him back to the viewing window and slaps the gun from his hand. She grabs the back of his head and holds his face to the viewing window. She has impossible strength, and she holds him in place while still singing along.
“But if I... know you... I know what you'll do...”
“Sarah! What are you doing, stop! Don't do this. Stop!”
She slams his face against the glass.
“You'll love me at once...”
He winces against the pressure.
“The way you did once...”
When he opens his eyes, the man at the table is still seated, his hands folded on the table in front of him. He is smiling. The interrogator can see the man's lips moving in sync with Sarah's last line.
“Upon... a... dream.”
A darkness begins at the floor of the room and spreads up the walls. The man's pants shift beneath the table, and at first the interrogator can't tell what is going on, not until the man stands and rips the table from its bolts in the floor and tosses it into a nearby wall.
“This isn't happening,” the interrogator hisses into the glass. “This can't be happening!”
The man stretches out his arms. His shirt begins to tear at the seams as his flesh churns and expands beneath it. The interrogator can't fully process what he is seeing but two large dark masses appear behind the man. They open up and stretch out toward the wall and ceiling, shuddering slightly. If his mind were working, he might think he saw the man getting taller, and wider. He might even say the massive dark appendages were wings.
“Please, Sarah... please!”
Her grip on his head and neck don't change. He tries to close his eyes but they are being held open by a force he can't see.
They are being held open so they can see everything.
The man doubles over and his head begins to change shape. Two sharp edges appear from the top of his head and sprout up and back. Thin spikes stretch up into the darkening air from the man's back. His hands are thickening, his fingers lengthening, and sharp nails are extending from his finger tips. A cough rocks his body and smoke chugs from his now snarling and fanged mouth. Another cough doubles the smoke, then sends fiery embers sparkling to the ground. After the creature is still for a moment, it looks up at the viewing window. Its eyes are glowing red. Its teeth are clenched and small streams of smoke escape between them. When it stands up to full height, its horns stab into the interrogation room's ceiling, ripping the plaster apart.
“A cage?” Sarah's voice, but not her. She is whispering into the interrogator's ear now.
“Oh, detective Carter, this isn't a cage.”
The beast swings a massive, horned tail against the viewing window glass. It explodes inward, the shards hailing down on Sarah and detective Carter. The beast leaps in front of them, roaring hot saliva into their faces, singeing their skin and hair with lashing flames.
“Not a cage, detective... this is a buffet!”