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by Jason Beech

I love a good story, me. Love to tell them. To see how I contort faces in all kinds of shapes as I control it. The only warmth I get now is from the pub’s heater.

“Heyup, Jack.” Brendan, if I remember. He used to love my stories. Now he smirks, his bird tight to him. She eyes me, all nervous at how I hold the pint to my lips with the palms of both hands. I nod, flash eye contact, keep my mouth shut.

“Got any stories for us?”

I scan the pub, a nervous tic now.

***

A bunch of my half-arsed theories, blabbed for all the pub to hear and pass on in Chinese whispers, led me down that deserted gennel between rows of houses with boarded windows like patched eyes he could have gouged with his thumbs. The man who chased me, Carlo, has hands big enough to wrap round my skull. He could lift me in the air and chug my brain fluid, empty me of my ideas of how Manny had disappeared. Fallen branches snapped like twigs beneath his size twelve — or thirteen or fourteen — feet. I hid behind a wooden gate in an overgrown garden, dead leaves crystal in frost and crunchy underfoot. The gate is the only one without holes. A giveaway.

He knuckled the fence every few feet until he rattled the gate my cheek rested against. His breath billowed above my crouched body. I squeezed my teeth tight to prevent their rattle. He kicked the fence. I jumped, but I cupped a hand to my mouth and pushed that yelp back down my throat.

The air hushed, primed for Carlo’s explosion.

If I ran for it now he’d Hulk-smash through the rotten wood and make piano keys of my teeth. I gulped an egg-sized gob of air down and creaked to my feet. An apology — my best bet. We faced each other, our bodies divided by the gate. His eyes flickered all gorilla, confused by my species. Who stands and confronts a beast like him? I did what Sigourney Weaver did in that ape film and hung my head all submissive. He’s one monster-sized bastard capable of killing another monster-sized bastard — such as Manny.

I made to apologise for my malicious jabbering in the pub, when his cold marble eyes sharpened. “How the fuck did you know I killed Manny?”

My tongue fattened and filled my big gob, or that’s how it seemed because my mouth flapped ineffective and threw out disordered vowels and consonants like scrap. I’d only spouted wild theories in the pub — and I’m right?

The big man splintered that gate as I stumbled away. He dragged me to the ground, stabbed my back with a knee and pulled my head back with two fingers up each nostril. He inserted that blade into my mouth and sliced off my tongue like a practiced surgeon. I screamed and grunted until I passed out.

***

The taste of iron in my mouth is a warning I’ll never forget. Carlo cut all the words out of me. I wipe my fingerless hands across my lips. My tongue’s ghost tingles. I can only offer Brendan and his missis a terse shake of the head. I’m a walking advertisement of the dangers in spouting loose words.

I palm-lift my pint for another sip, sad at the stories I can no longer tell.


Jason Beech lives in New Jersey but was made in Sheffield, England. His novel, Moorlands, and his Bullets, Teeth & Fists short story collections can be found at Amazon. You can read his work at Shotgun Honey, Out of the Gutter, Pulp Metal Magazine and Plots with Guns.

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