Jackpot, p.1

Jackpot, page 1

 

Jackpot
 

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Jackpot


  Jackpot

  Shane McKenzie,

  Adam Cesare,

  David Bernstein,

  & Kristopher Rufty

  Sinister Grin Press

  Sinister Grin Press Austin, TX

  www.sinistergrinpress.com

  September 2014

  “Jackpot” © 2014 Shane McKenzie, Adam Cesare, David Bernstein, & Kristopher Rufty

  All characters depicted in this book are fictitious, and any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in whole or in part without the publisher’s written consent, except for the purposes of review.

  Cover Art by Jim Agpalza

  Text Design by Brian Cartwright

  One

  Booker ran the razor over the woman’s pubis, wiped the hair off with a damp paper towel. The strands looked like a handful of crushed daddy long legs, and he tossed it into the waste basket and pressed the blade to her skin again. He shaved her in the opposite direction this time, removing the stubble, making sure she was nice and smooth. The woman’s body was nearly hairless as it was, except for the usual spots: head, armpits, cunt.

  “There we go,” Booker said, running his fingertips over the bald, pale flesh of her groin, then up her bulging belly, all the way until reaching her scalp. After what he had done to her, to all of them, a little shave was nothing. “Smooth as a ping pong ball.”

  The woman stared at him with wet, quivering eyes. Booker could tell she wanted to say something, probably beg for her life some more, ask him why he was doing this to her, tell him she wouldn’t say anything to anyone if he let her go, that she would do anything if he set her free— the usual shit.

  But she couldn’t speak. Her lips were sealed.

  Booker had sliced her lips off days ago—along with everyone else’s—glued her mouth shut so that when the wounds healed, they would fuse together. He did the same with the palms of their hands and the soles of their feet. All five of them hung from chains by their wrists, stretching their arms above their heads, palms sliced off and stuck together, seamed shut. Their legs were spread, knees bent, the bottoms of their feet pressed tight against one another and also sealed. They looked as if they had been frozen while diving into a pool and then hung in his garage like slabs of beef.

  Though their lips were sealed, they could still make noise. Weak whimpers whispered out through their noses, muffled screams at the backs of their throats.

  Booker felt good about this group. Felt lucky.

  He would win this time. He could feel it in his guts, could feel it in the hot, humid air of the room.

  He moved away from the pregnant woman and strolled across the room to the young black boy. The kid’s clothing lay in a heap underneath him, soaked in blood from when it had rained out of his wounds. When Booker stepped up to him, the boy tried to turn his head away, sobbed, his face purple and bruised, glistening with tears and snot.

  “Now let’s see what we’ve got here, yeah?” Booker fished a plastic Batman wallet out of the jeans’ back pocket. No driver’s license. Got me a youngbuck, huh? It was hard to tell with kids these days. A learner’s permit was tucked into the wallet, and Booker pulled it out, unfolded it, searched for the date of birth. “June 12th, 1997,” Booker read, then pinched one eye shut as he calculated. “Sixteen. We got our first number.”

  Booker gripped the back of the boy’s neck. The kid bucked, thrashing his body the best he could. The chains rattled. Blood dripped as he ripped parts of the glued flesh of his hands, feet, and lips apart, exposing the raw, red meat underneath. The wounds had already started to fuse together, enough so that the boy couldn’t separate them completely.

  “The jackpot is over two hundred million tonight. Two hundred million,” Booker said as he pressed the box cutter’s blade to the boy’s scalp and pushed it into the dark skin, pulled it down. “Can you believe that?”

  The boy screamed and coughed through his sealed lips as Booker finished carving in the number one. Then started on the six beside it. The others watched with wide, bloodshot eyes, all weeping, all mumbling incoherent words.

  When the 16 was complete, Booker sidestepped until he stood in front of the older woman. Her brownish- yellow breasts and stomach sagged, all with faded, wrinkled stretch marks—the nipples bitten off days ago, spat out like bubble gum that had lost its flavor. The stitched wounds looked like puckered geezers’ mouths without their dentures in. Her slanted eyes squeezed shut when Booker ran his hand over her scalp. Her wallet sat in her purse, and he unclipped it, pulled her license out. “Fifty-nine years old. And look at that…your birthday was just last week. Holy shit. Hope it was a good one. Did you make a wish?”

  For the most part, the woman remained still as he sliced the ribbons of skin away from her head. The wrinkles at the corners of her eyes deepened and her nostrils flared, but besides the trembling, her body stayed motionless. Booker tossed the skin strips to the floor with a wet slap and moved on to the next person.

  Five total. There was the sixteen-year-old boy, the fifty-nine-year-old woman, plus a thirty-seven-year-old man, a fifty-year-old man, and the twenty-nine-year-old pregnant woman. He finished up with the twenty-nine- year-old, wiped the seeping blood off her scalp, though more flowed from her open flesh right away.

  “Two hundred million,” he said to his Numbers, admiring the digits sliced into their bald melons. “And I’ve got a little surprise for you all. If I win the jackpot… you all live. I let you go.” He grabbed Number 50, pressed his thumbs to his eyelids and pushed them up so that the whites of his eyes were showing. The man’s penis had been butterflied like a shrimp, and the two halves hung to either side, the insides encrusted with scabs and hardened blood. Booker gave it a flick and the man shook, gagged. “How does that sound?”

  Number 16 and Number 29 looked up with hope in their eyes, but the others just continued weeping, their heads drooping from their necks. Booker slapped Number 50 on the cheek and then let his head drop, wiped his hands on his thighs.

  Booker smiled at his Numbers, bent down, pressed his right cheek against Number 29’s round belly. He ran his finger over her protruding belly button. Lightly scraped his nail over it in circles and watched her flesh prickle with goosebumps.

  “I mean…it’s only a one in a hundred and seventy- five million chance, right?” He chuckled. “That’s fair, isn’t it? Better odds than most killers give their victims, I can tell you that much.”

  Number 29 tensed up when Booker ran the blade’s tip across her belly. Not hard enough to break skin or draw blood, but enough to get her attention. The baby kicked from within, as if it could sense danger. Number 29 looked ready to pop at any moment, and Booker couldn’t help but wonder how amazing it would be for her to give birth right there in his garage.

  Not that it would matter in the end. The baby was coming out either way.

  “But see, there’s five of you. Five numbers. I still need a powerball number. And what better than our little ball of power right here?” He snickered when the baby pushed against his cheek, wiggling from within its mother’s protective womb.“Can’t use zero, so I’m thinking we can just round up, yeah?”

  Number 29’s eyes went hard then, sharp, and she glared at Booker as if her stare could set him on fire. She fought the chains, her muscles tightening and rippling as she tried to rip her hands and feet apart. The skin around her mouth went white as she widened it as hard as she could, the fused flesh tearing free, blood pouring down her chin, over her chest and belly. The flesh pulled apart with an audible rip, and along with the flowing blood came a shriek that made Booker wince and back away fro
m her, covering his ears and shaking his head.

  “ You fucking motherfucker!” She fought her chains with everything she had, her eyes never leaving Booker’s. “ You don’t touch my baby…you don’t fucking touch my baby!”

  Her words were sloppy and wet as they blasted from her bleeding mouth, and Booker hit her with a closed fist, cut his knuckles on her teeth. The screaming stopped, but the woman still growled, still groaned.

  Booker hit her again and again, knocking out her front teeth, then reached into her mouth and seized her tongue, pulled it out as far as it would go, stretching it like taffy.

  She screamed again as he started cutting, sawing the box cutter’s blade into the dry pink flesh of her tongue. The cut was uneven and jagged, but he got enough off that she wouldn’t be talking again. She coughed and choked as blood filled her throat.

  Booker pressed the box cutter’s blade into her belly button, then slid it upward around the curve of her belly. Not deep enough to cut the baby or spill her guts, but still the fetus within erupted with violent movement as Booker cut. He added the small lip at the top of the number one and the line at the bottom. Number 29 wailed, attempted to speak but only managed to spray blood and mumble.

  “There we go,” Booker said as he stood and smiled at his Numbers.“Now you guys sit tight. Only three hours before the drawing, and I’ve got to go buy our golden ticket. Think happy thoughts, now. Visualize the win. Because if I lose, we all lose.”

  Booker ran his fingers over each of the carved numbers on their heads, then over the bleeding, thrashing belly. For good luck. Then he washed himself off, threw on his lucky shirt and jeans, and headed out the door.

  ***

  “Back again, my friend?” The clerk smiled at Booker as he stepped into the Quik Stop. The line was unusually long, extending back toward the soda cooler, almost every person with their lottery form pinched between fingers, the bubbles filled in to show which numbers they had chosen. “You win, you give your friend Hamid a few million, right?”

  The others in line snickered, shot Booker a look as if he knew something they didn’t.

  Booker winked and smiled. “Of course, Hamid. You know you’re my man.”

  Hamid chuckled, nodded like a dashboard bobble-head on a cobblestone road, then went back to ringing up the customers, printing out ticket after ticket. Each person licked their lips or wrung their hands as they plucked their lucky ticket from Hamid’s fingers, dreaming of a better life. A life where they wouldn’t have to stress about bills anymore, where they wouldn’t have to even glance at another price tag. A life of luxury. A life other than their own.

  Booker pulled the cardstock form and a small pencil from the lottery booth toward the back of the store at the end of the chip and jerky isle. He had the numbers memorized, red and bloody in his mind. His hand shook as he filled out the form, just as it always did.

  16…29…37…50…59

  “And my lucky little bundle of joy,” he whispered as he filled in the number one in the powerball section. He inhaled deep, exhaled through his nose. This is it, he told himself. I can feel it.

  With his winnings, he would make a new life for himself. He imagined building a mansion like H.H. Holmes, a labyrinth full of hidden rooms and passages. A wonderland of pain and torture. He would be a god there. A god of agony, of flesh and blood. His cock swelled just thinking about it, and he was nearly brought to tears as he fantasized.

  “Good luck.”

  The voice, thick with Texas accent, came from Booker’s left, and he turned to find an elderly woman grinning up at him, her glasses magnifying her eyes so that she resembled a cartoon character. The powdery scent of her perfume nearly choked him, but he handed over a blank slip and the pencil he had been using.

  “Same to you. Big jackpot tonight, huh?”

  She waved off the slip and pencil. “Quick pick for me, mister. Always played that way. Won three hundred dollars few years back.” She leaned in close, grabbed hold of his elbow. “Y’know you’re shit out of luck, don’t you, honey? Gotta be old or colored to win the lottery.”

  “Is that right?”

  She shot him a look like this was common knowledge, gave his elbow another squeeze, then waddled off toward the ice cream section.

  Booker checked his watch as he waited in line, anxious to get back home to his Numbers, anxious for the drawing. He only had about two hours before it started, and wanted to be home, wanted to rub his Numbers for good luck a few more times.

  When Booker reached the front of the line, Hamid reached out his hand for Booker to shake it, as always. Over the years, the two of them had become so familiar with each other, they were almost like friends. Almost. The Arabic man was the closest thing to a friend Booker had—the man who sold him his lottery tickets. They never said anything more than small talk, the usual cliché bullshit, but Hamid had come to symbolize hope for Booker. He was the gatekeeper to Booker’s fantasy, the one standing between him and his dream.

  Of course, Booker knew that wasn’t true. Hamid was just the store clerk, the guy who printed the ticket. But over the years, he had become much more than that in Booker’s mind, and Booker had decided that if he ever actually won, he would give Hamid a little something.

  “You gonna use some of your ancient elephant magic on my ticket, aren’t you, Hamid?” Booker shook the man’s hand, careful not to squeeze too hard. Hamid’s grip was always so weak, frail like a sick woman’s.

  Hamid burst out laughing, nodding vigorously again. “Yes, yes. You win for sure this time. I guarantee it, my friend.”

  “That’s what I want to hear, my man. That’s what I want to hear.” Booker slapped his card on the counter, stared at it for a few seconds before removing his hand and allowing Hamid to take it.

  The foreigner ran it through his machine, still nodding, still smiling. His oversized teeth stuck out of his mouth, curling his upper lip back so that his gums were showing.

  The machine clicked as it read the slip, then buzzed and whirred as it printed the ticket. That sound always sent tingles down Booker’s spine, always pumped blood into his cock. He reached down, grabbed hold of himself, squeezed.

  Hamid handed over the ticket, put his hands together and shook them at Booker. “Don’t forget about me when you are bigshot, yes? You can spare a few million?”

  “Of course. Might as well call your boss tonight, let him know you’re done here. Because tomorrow, you’ll be able to afford a fucking elephant farm.”

  Hamid cackled as he waved and then moved on to the next customer—the heavily-powder-scented old woman, now gripping a pint of Rocky Road ice cream with her arthritic-looking hands. She winked at Booker once, then ordered her quick pick lottery ticket.

  Booker hopped into his car, sighed as he slid his key into the ignition.The ninety-eight Ford Taurus choked and coughed as it struggled to keep its engine running, its timing belt squealing—the interior was instantly filled with the scent of exhaust. The clock didn’t work anymore, but Booker’s watch told him he needed to hurry.

  This is it, he thought, pressing the ticket against his forehead.

  Then he pulled out of the parking lot and sped toward home.

  ***

  He sat on a milk crate in his sound-proofed garage, right in the center of his Numbers, whom he had arranged in a circle around him. His hands were bloody from rubbing his palms across the peeled numbers on their freshly- shaved scalps again and again and again. Fifty-Nine had passed out at some point, but her belly still inflated and deflated as she breathed. The others wept, still mumbling behind the wall of tattered flesh that was now their mouths. Twenty-nine’s mauled lips moved, but the only things that came out of her mouth were strings of bloody saliva.

  The television sat on another crate just in front of him, splashing vibrating color over the Numbers’ flesh. An older tube-type television with an attached VHS player at the bottom. The static got really bad at times, but right now, right at that moment, the picture was pe
rfect.

  The ticket sat on top of the television. Booker didn’t want to get his bloody fingerprints all over it. And besides…he didn’t need it. He knew his numbers by heart.

  “Here we go,” he said, rocking back and forth, his hands locked together, fingers intertwined so hard that his knuckles ached and throbbed. “Here. We.Go.”

  The theme music started up as the state lottery’s logo flashed onto the screen. An attractive Hispanic woman—Selena Gutierrez—dressed in her usual cleavage-revealing pant suit smiled at Booker, her eyes twinkling, her red lips pulled tight across her face. The lottery balls swirled and danced within the plastic globe beside Selena. She spoke, but the white noise inside of Booker’s head prevented him from hearing a single word.

  Words didn’t matter. Only numbers did.

  The Numbers around him began to struggle again as the lottery officially began. His Powerball squirmed within its uterine prison, every movement causing more blood to ooze from the bold, red one on its mother’s belly.

  The first ping pong ball rattled into place. Booker’s breath caught in his throat and the images on the screen went blurry for a moment. He ran his knuckles over his eyes, blinked the fog away.

  “Fifty,” Booker said as he stood up and kicked the milk crate away. “Number fifty…you see that? You see?”

  He rushed toward Fifty, grabbed him by the chin and lifted his head so he could see the TV. Fifty’s eyes were barely open, each blink looking painful and slow. He groaned, too weak to cry.

  “That’s you,” Booker said, pointing at the screen. “You’re fucking famous!”

  Then the next number was revealed.

  “Sixteen…” The word slipped from Booker’s mouth at the same moment his knees went weak. No big deal, he told himself. I’ve hit two numbers before. It’s nothing.

 
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