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by Peter DiChellis

Am I alive? Dead? Dying? I’m not sure.

I can smell thick, fetid air.

I feel insects crawling on my skin, beneath my clothes, all over me. Tickling me with their tiny legs. Then biting and stinging.

But I can’t open my eyes. Can’t stand or sit up. Can’t move at all. Can’t talk. Can’t plead or scream or even whisper.

And through it all, my mind won’t stop thinking and remembering.

***

Old man Stegmann saw us coming. Saw Tommy and me. Coming to rob him, to rob Steg’s Corner Deli. His neighborhood shithole. Old man Stegmann let us get close, then shot Tommy in the face. I dropped my gun and a cop rushed into the deli yelling, “Police! Police!” Old man Stegmann shot the cop dead too. And now, alone with my mind in Stegmann’s basement, I think maybe Tommy and the cop were the lucky ones.

Because when I ran scared through the doorway to Stegmann’s basement, he laughed. “You go down there, you won’t come back,” he hollered. “It’s a special hell down there.”

And then he shot at me, again and again. I heard the bullets zip past and watched them rip open the wall. I stumbled down the stairs to the basement, swallowed by the blackest darkness I ever knew. Heard low buzzing and slithering sounds and soft crunching every time I took a step. Then tickling and biting and stinging on my legs. Then numb dizziness and bottomless darkness and the cold concrete floor against my face.

***

Back when Tommy and me were little kids, old man Stegmann terrified us. Fat and mean. Ugly as poison. Dirty and sweaty. We never went inside his deli, of course. Partly because we never had any money. Partly because we didn’t dare. But on summer afternoons we stood on the sidewalk outside the deli, watching cars go past. Wishing our families could afford cars too. Some days old man Stegmann would step outside, right onto the sidewalk, to chase us away. We always ran.

One time a neighborhood kid named Dooley said he peeked through the grimy window into Stegmann’s basement. Said he saw dead people hanging on meathooks, covered with bugs. Tommy and me didn’t believe him. We figured we would’ve smelled dead people even from the sidewalk. But the next day, the window was covered and old man Stegmann seemed scarier.

***

Tommy and me finally got into high school and we decided to rob old man Stegmann because we learned he bought a new Buick every year. And we knew we’d have to ride the bus our whole lives, just like our parents did. But fat, mean, ugly, dirty, sweaty, scary old man Stegmann had himself a Buick. A new one every year. It was just too much for Tommy and me to stomach. I remember it all, every bit of it, and it makes me wonder: Am I alive?


Peter DiChellis concocts sinister tales for anthologies, ezines, and magazines. He is a member of the Short Mystery Fiction Society and an Active (published author) member of the Mystery Writers of America, Private Eye Writers of America, and International Thriller Writers. For more, visit his site Murder and Fries at http://murderandfries.wordpress.com/.

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